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Don't fall over all shocked now. I'm sure you all weren't expecting this chapter so fast. But it came to me much easier than I thought it would. So...here ya go!
As always my eternal gratitude goes to My-Bella and Hope4More!
I have to thank Skylar Grey and her song, Words, for lots of inspiration with this chapter. If you're looking for something to listen to as you read, it's a great song.
When we last left these two…
I waited for just a second to make she was going to remain quiet and when I was positive she would, I lifted my other hand to her face at the same time I adjusted the one already touching her so that I held her face cradled in the palms of my hands.
Lifting her face slightly so that I could look right into her eyes I said, "I love you."
Her only response was an audible gasp that echoed across the deserted basketball court as she stood there frozen, staring at me in her stunned state.
It hadn't been quite the reaction that I'd been hoping for, but at least she hadn't turned and run away. The fact that she was still here, still taking in what I'd just said to her, meant there was still a chance for us. Now I just had to tell her everything else and hope she would believe me.
Her brows furrowed slightly as she stared at me, probably trying to gauge whether or not I was being honest with her. There was more that had to be said before she would believe me.
"I mean it, Bella. I love you. And I'm not telling you this because you said it earlier, or because I'm worried you'll walk away if I don't. I'm telling you so that no matter what happens between us from this moment on, you will know how I truly feel about you."
I pulled in a long breath as I caressed her cheek with the pad of my thumb. Her eyes closed momentarily as she leaned into my touch, then she opened them back up and focused her gaze on me again.
"I allowed myself to get lost in my own head, worrying over shit that I should have just talked to you about. But I'm done with that now. I know I've hurt you and I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to walk away and never speak to me again. I can't take back the things I've done or words that I never said to you before now. Words I should have said. I've been drowning in my regrets for the last few hours, hating myself over the pain I've caused you, the time I've wasted—stolen from us. It feels good to finally tell you how I feel, but more than anything, I hope it feels good for you to hear it, to know how much I really do care for you, and it eases any pain I've caused you. Bella, I know our relationship to this point hasn't been all that you were hoping for, but whatever happens next, I just wanted you to know that I am so sorry and that I really do love you."
Her brown eyes sparkled in the lights illuminating the court. "You love me," she said softly. It wasn't a question, but she hadn't said it with complete conviction either. It was like she was trying it on for size, like a new pair of shoes, to see if it fit, or maybe as if I was going to take it back or she was going to wake up from a dream. The fact that it was so hard for her to accept what I was telling her as the honest truth showed me just how deeply I'd hurt her. However what was also true was that I deserved her reaction after the way I'd behaved the last several days, one minute acting as though I wanted to be with her and pulling away the next.
I knew that I had hurt her with my actions. I'd been hurting too. And despite the fact that I knew in my heart that I wanted to be with her, I'd been so confused…caught up in my own head…afraid to let her back in again. All the lies I'd suffered through before clouded my mind. In theory I knew it was wrong to compare Bella to others in my past, but it had been hard not to…Letting my head overrule my heart was a huge mistake and I really hoped she'd let me make it up to her. I knew now it's what I truly wanted more than anything. However first I had to get her to believe me.
"I do. Come sit with me," I told her, looking directly into her dark eyes while taking her hand and pulling her to the bench across the court. I had some convincing to do and I wasn't going to leave here tonight until I was one hundred percent sure she believed me.
We sat down and I kept her hand in mine, needing the connection to her. Taking a deep breath I dug in without hesitation, not wanting to let her have time for her reservations to grow into full-fledged disbelief.
"I don't blame you for having some doubts, Bella. I know my decision to not make a decision has made a real mess of things. I know I've hurt you. I hope you can believe me when I say that I never meant to do that. Now that I'm sure of what I want, how I feel, I'm hoping we can get past it. That is, unless you've changed your mind about how you feel for me—unless I'm too late."
She chewed on her lip as she contemplated what to say. Peering up at me she let out a long sigh, releasing her bottom lip and said, "No…my feelings haven't changed. But…"
"But," I returned, hoping she wasn't about to tell me it didn't matter, that I'd hurt her too badly.
"I'm confused. How can you be so sure now, when just a few hours ago you weren't?" she asked. Her forehead was crinkled and her eyebrows furrowed as she waited for my reply.
How do I explain this to her?
My thoughts were so loud in my head they were practically screaming at me. Then I remembered my mom telling me to just be honest with her and follow my heart.
Set on doing just that, I took a deep breath and started. "I guess you could say it was a combination of a lot of things. Things that prevented me from really accepting what I wanted. From seeing my feelings for what they really were, seeing where I'd made mistakes and how they had hurt us both. I've been a fool, I've been blind. You might say I wasn't looking at the big picture. For a long time I had been too focused on the fact you hadn't been honest with me and I let it cloud everything else. Things that were right in front of me." I shook my head and sighed. "You, Bella—the real you, the girl…woman that I got to know in the DR. If I'd just…If I'd just remembered her like I should have, I would have never accused you of the things I did."
"It's okay," she said. "I should have been completely honest with you in the first place. I should have trusted you then."
"Maybe, maybe not?" I surmised, shrugging my shoulders. "Rose asked me if I'd have allowed myself to get close to you at all if I'd known the truth back then, and the truth is I probably wouldn't have. Not knowing you then as I do now, I probably would have just assumed the worst and closed myself off to you."
She nodded and was quiet for a few moments. "I wanted to tell you. Fear of your reaction was part of why I didn't and I've already told you the other reasons why. I get how you were blinded by your anger over my being less than completely honest with you, Edward. But can you explain to me what these things were that allowed you to finally see how you really felt for me? How you finally worked through them? Give me something to go on here because it just doesn't make sense to me."
"I don't blame you for not believing me," I said with a sigh as I rubbed the back of my neck. I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but it felt like my whole world was hanging on this one conversation.
Maybe because it is; I don't think I could handle her rejecting me now.
She turned sideways on the bench so she was facing me. Next she reached over and took my hand in hers and laced her fingers through mine. "I'm not saying I don't believe you, Edward. Despite how the last few weeks have gone between us I don't believe that you are someone who would carelessly toss around a declaration like the one you made tonight. I just need for you to help me understand how you got to that point. If there is going to be an us, I don't want there to be any lingering questions, misunderstandings or misconceptions between us. I want everything out in the open so we can move on. Can you do that? I get that sometimes it's harder for guys to put their feelings into words, but I really need for you to try."
I nodded and closed my eyes while leaning back against the chain-link fence behind us. Listening to the ripples of sound it made from my weight hitting it, I thought about where to begin.
When I'd decided I sat up and made eye contact with her, hoping she'd see the conviction in them and know that I was being completely honest with her.
"At first I was just really angry. Very hurt, but also angry. But even though I understood why you had done things the way you had after I'd heard the argument with your mother, and after you told me everything, I still had a hard time with whether or not I could trust you to be completely honest with me again.
"Bella, I am so blown away with how you defended me and my family to your mother…I…seeing you do that should have been enough to convince me to trust you. I mean you cuts ties with your family and…and I realize it was for more reasons than just what your mother said about my family but…"
"But you still had trouble getting past what I'd done?" she asked finishing the sentence for me.
"Yes, and until today I couldn't figure out why. It was actually Rose who helped me see what I had done."
"Okay. Can you share that with me?"
I nodded and said, "You remember back on the island when we had the chat about the type of girls I was used to encountering and about Tanya and Bree when they were doing everything they could to work with me?"
Bella snorted. "You mean the one after the fake bug incident and after you…" Her eyes jutted up to the hat sitting backwards on my head, then back to mine. "…Stole my hat?"
"Yeah. That's the one," I replied with a chuckle, taking the hat off my head and putting it on hers backwards like I'd been wearing it so I could still see her face.
She rewarded me with a wide smile.
Damn she looked cute. Kinda sexy too.
Seeing her with that hat on again reminded me of her being so adorably flustered in the DR when I'd swiped it from her. She'd had a ferocious kitten tenacity about her that was so sweet and adorable while being so innocently sexy at the same time. It made me want to kiss her just as much now as it had then.
"And because I'd been so enthralled by you, so impressed by how different you were, I'd somehow put you on this pedestal and deemed you perfect. So when I found out who you really were—"
"Your vision of me was shattered," she stated softly, interrupting me.
"Edward," she said with a sigh. "If perfection is what you are looking for in a girl, in a relationship—"
I stopped her this time, placing my fingers over her lips again.
"It's not. I'm not. I see now how wrong and unfair of me it was to have that image of you."
"Good, because I'm far from perfect, Edward, and I don't know anyone who is even close."
"Neither do I."
I went on to tell Bella how Rose had helped me see my mistake when she'd heard me say how perfect my time with Bella was, and how I saw her as being perfect. I then told her how Rose made me confront the fact that I was in love with Bella.
"If you knew you loved me, then why did you fight it? Why couldn't you make a decision to be with me?" she asked.
I had a feeling she was going to ask me that and I knew I was going to have to be honest with her. Put your big boy boxers on, Cullen.
Looking into her eyes, I lifted the hat slightly and brushed back the hair that had been blown into her face by a gust of wind before placing it back on her head. Her eyes were imploring me to answer her. Sucking in a long pull of air, I did. "I was scared."
"What…how? I…I don't understand. Why?" she begged to know. When I didn't immediately answer her, she must have felt I was hesitating. "It's okay, you know. You can tell me anything."
I nodded and began. "The last serious relationship I had didn't end well. She cheated on me."
"She hurt you."
I nodded again.
"I'm sorry, Edward, that must not have been easy for you to deal with."
"No it wasn't."
"I'm guessing my keeping the truth from you stirred that all back up or something like that," she stated.
"Sorta, but not exactly," I told her. "While what Leah did to me hurt, I didn't care for her nearly as much as I do for you, Bella. I didn't love her.
"When we first met, I tried to fight my feelings for you. That didn't work out so well. They hit me hard and almost instantly, but I figured I'd never see you again after the summer so I fought them."
"So then when you found out I lived in Baltimore too, you let your guard down."
"I did. Not that it wasn't already crumbling, you were impossible to resist."
She smiled softly and blushed.
I reached up and skimmed the back of my hand across her cheek. "I've missed that." Her cheeks pinked up even more with my statement. I sighed and continued. "I've never been in love before, Bella. And I felt so hurt and betrayed when I found out who you really were. It hurt me so much more than Leah cheating on me ever had and because of that, I tried to fight my feelings again. Before I saw you that morning, I knew I was falling hard for you but wasn't sure if it was love. After that morning I kept telling myself if it hurts this bad now, what would it be like if you did it again. How could I trust you again and possibly set myself up for that kind of hurt and betrayal," I explained.
"I can understand why you would feel that way," she whispered. "But what about all the times you flirted and acted like things were going to be okay between us?"
I smiled and chuckled. "That was simply my failure at fighting my feelings for you, Bella. When I was around you it was impossible to do. I would try, but would always end up giving in to the overwhelming desire to just touch you in some way. There were times when it would happen before I'd even know it. Only way I can think of to describe it is it was like my subconscious was taking over and forcing me to do what I really wanted. And if I am being completely honest with you…there were a few times when jealousy played a part in it too."
"Like earlier at the club?"
"Yes. Now don't take that the wrong way. I'd been dying to dance with you all night, stupidly I was again trying to fight my feelings. But when I saw Luke put his hands on you and dance with you the way he was…I nearly lost my mind with jealous rage. You have no idea how hard it was for me to not hit him."
Wasn't so hard for him to deck you though. On instinct my hand rubbed my jaw.
"And, Bella, if we're being completely honest with each other, I know my flirting and being hot and cold with you was wrong and confusing, but you didn't exactly resist or pull back at all either. If you were so torn over the way I was acting, why didn't you say something sooner or ignore me or something? Why'd you flirt right back? At the club earlier when I questioned you about the way you were dancing with Luke, you said you more or less did that to get a reaction out of me. So why did you do that?"
She sighed and her shoulders slumped a little. "I guess it was because for one, the dancing with Luke was for obvious reasons—to make you jealous. I hoped that if maybe you thought I might move on or have interest in someone else it might push you to make a choice. Two, I really felt like I had to hold on to you any way I could. I was terrified that I was going to lose you over what I'd done and as long as you were still flirting and giving me attention I felt like there was still hope. So I clung onto it any chance I got. And three, well…I've had a taste or two of the green eyed monster myself," Bella admitted.
"Yeah?" I asked wondering if she was referring to Rose and me dancing at the ball.
"Yeah. There was the ball when I saw you dancing with Rose. Of course I know now she's your cousin, but it was driving me mad seeing you with her that night. And…and then there's Kelsey."
My brows furrowed as I tried to figure out why she'd be jealous of Kelsey. "Kelsey Mathews?" I asked for clarification, hoping she'd elaborate since I didn't know any other Kelsey.
"That's the one," she quipped.
"Why would you be jealous of her? I don't want anything to do with her. At one time she was a friend. But that ended when she couldn't accept that's all we'd ever be."
Had Kelsey been spreading rumors? Was that why she seemed to be so pleased with herself when she realized I hadn't known who Bella was that morning?
"You never had any interest in her as more? None at all?" Bella asked.
"No. Never. And I let her know that more than once. What about you and Luke? Do you have any real interest in him? What if I weren't in the picture?" I assured her.
"First, about Kelsey, I didn't think she was your type. She's everything you said you didn't want, but I don't think she got the memo because she still seems to think she has a shot with you. And as far as Luke is concerned, he's a great guy but I've not even really given him much thought as anything other than a friend. He feels more like an overprotective big brother to me. If you weren't in the picture…I don't know. I can't honestly answer that, Edward, because I've never allowed myself to go there because my heart belongs to only one guy. To you, Edward."
I reached up and caressed her face gently and leaned over to kiss her forehead. "My heart belongs to you, Bella." I whispered. "So if neither of us wants anyone else, does it matter what Kelsey or anyone else thinks if we know the truth?"
"No not really. I let Kelsey get to me at first, but then I realized what I'd just told you, that she's not at all someone you'd want to be with. But…well it would make things easier if she did."
Bella's comment about it being easier if Kelsey were to leave us alone reminded me of what I was going to say before she admitted she'd had some jealous moments too.
"You're right it would. But let me ask you something. You said it didn't matter what Kelsey thought as long as we knew the truth, right?"
"So even if it made things a little harder, even if we had to work a little harder at our relationship because of whatever obstacles came our way, be it Kelsey or anything else. In the end as long as we have a relationship that we are happy with, isn't that all that matters? Wouldn't that be worth the annoyances or struggles we'd have to go through?"
"Yes," she replied without hesitation.
"Something that Rose told me was that I had to decide if I cared enough about you to put myself out there and take a chance. And I do, Bella. I've come to really see that anything worth having is worth fighting for and if we have some struggles along the way, what we'd have in the end would be worth it. I know things won't go back to how easy they were between us right away, but I want us to get there. I'm willing to fight for us to have that again. So I guess I just need to know if you do too?"
The moment of truth was here now and I'd be lying to myself if I said I wasn't nervous about her answer.
"Can I ask you something before I give you my answer?"
I felt my body stiffen. What did she want to ask me? Would her answer depend on whatever it was she wanted to know from me? Did I not explain my feelings to her clearly enough? What if I'd fucked this up so much more than I'd ever imagined?
I fought the urge to panic as I tried to remain calm with my reply. However I knew I wasn't succeeding when I heard Bella's voice pull me out of my head.
"Edward? Did you hear me? Can I ask you something first?"
You need to stay out of there, buddy. You only get into trouble when you get lost in there.
"Oh, um, yeah…I heard you. Sorry…I uh…got lost in my thoughts for a second. Um...sure. You can ask me anything." Total failure in the calm department, Cullen.
"I know the night we talked I told you to take your time to make your decision. And at the time I meant that. So do you understand why I had to give you the ultimatum?" she wanted to know.
"Yeah, I do. My flip flopping around and not making a choice was only hurting us both. Mostly you, but it was not good or fair for either of us," I told her.
"Right. It wasn't about the time frame. It was just too hard with the mixed signals you were sending to let things go on that way any longer. If things had remained neutral between us while you took the time to figure things out, I'd have been fine with waiting. I knew I'd broken your trust and that I'd hurt you by doing so, so I was willing to wait as long as I had to. But the way things were going was just too hard."
I could hear the pain in her voice and see it in her eyes. Right then I vowed to myself that I'd do everything I could to take that pain away and to never see her hurt again. At least not by me.
"I'm so sorry I hurt you, Bella." I put my arms around her and pulled her to my chest. It felt amazing to have her in my arms again. But no matter how great it was, I needed to know what her answer was. It was killing me inside not knowing if I'd ever get to hold her this way again.
Tilting her face up, I asked, "Can you forgive me, Bella? Can we put this behind us and forget it and move on with a fresh start? Will you still be my girlfriend?"
"No?" I asked, barely able to get the word out, petrified that I had hurt her too badly and this was where she was going to tell me to go away and she'd run from me.
Seeing my reaction she suddenly got wide eyed and gasped. "Oh that's not what I meant," she blurted out.
"Then please tell me 'cause I think my heart just stopped beating," I urged, trying to swallow the lump forming in my throat, threatening to suffocate me.
Her hand slid up my arm and rested on my shoulder. "What I meant was that I don't want to forget. I want to forgive, but not forget. If we forget all that has come before now, then we are acting as if all that has happened that was good never existed. And we've had some pretty great times. I don't want to ever forget those moments, Edward. I want to cherish them for forever. But I also think if we bury the bad and forget it then we might not learn from our mistakes."
"So then we forgive and rebuild."
"I'd like that. But I think we need to take things slow at first. Things got pretty intense really fast between us. I don't want to go backwards and start seeing other people or anything like that, you're the only person I want to be with, but I just think we need to try to be a normal couple. "
"I'd love nothing more than to take you on dates and do all the things that normal couples do, Bella."
"Me too," she said before a huge yawn escaped her.
"It's getting late. I know I haven't been sleeping very well and I'm betting you haven't either. How about I drive you back to your dorm building and I call you tomorrow to set up our first official date?"
"That sounds great." She smiled widely and another yawn followed it.
Bella waited while I retrieved my basketball from the other side of the court and then I took her hand as we made our way to my jeep. I never let go except for the few seconds it took me to climb into the driver's seat.
Once we pulled up to her dorm building I walked her to the door of it. When we stopped she pulled the Orioles hat from her head and stood on her toes to set it back on mine.
"It looks better on you. Besides, you got it all sweaty and gross," she teased.
"Sweaty and gross huh?" I asked taking a step closer to her so that we were almost pressed together. She nodded. "Does that mean I'm too gross for a goodnight kiss?" I reached up and cupped her face with my hand, brushing my thumb across her cheek as I leaned my face closer to hers.
"No," she whispered so softly I barely heard her as she grabbed onto my shirt and stepped up on the doorstep and pulled me even closer to her. She was nearly the same height as me now and so close that I only had to hardly move at all to place my lips on hers. At first I just brushed my lips gently against hers a few times, but when her arms slipped around my neck, holding me to her, as she tilted her head slightly letting me know she wanted more, I didn't hesitate. She sighed as I traced her bottom lip with my tongue before slipping it into her mouth. We kissed, our lips and tongues moving in tandem until neither one of us could go any longer without air. Pulling away slightly I placed a few more chaste kisses on her lips before leaning my forehead against hers.
"I should go," I said through my ragged breathing.
She nodded and closed her eyes, resting her head on my shoulder as she hugged me tightly.
I kissed the side of her neck and whispered, "I'll call you as soon as I wake up, okay?"
"Okay," she mumbled back since her face was buried against my neck.
I knew if I didn't pull away, we might be there all night. So I encouraged her to go on in, as much as I didn't want to, and told her to call me once she was in her room. With one last quick kiss she did and I made my way down the walkway to my jeep.
I watched the area around the fourth floor of the building and soon knew which window was hers when I saw a soft light flicker on. I could see her standing in front of it as she took her phone out of her pocket and called me.
"I'm here. I see you," she said softly.
"I see you too. Good night, Bright Eyes, I'll talk to you soon."
"Good night to you too," she replied.
I was just about to tap the end call button when I heard her say my name. "Edward?"
"I love you too, Stretch."
"I love you, Bright Eyes. Night."
"Night," she whispered before I heard her end the call.
I waved to her and then drove off when I saw her turn from the window and walk away.
The whole drive home I couldn't quit smiling. I felt a sense of relief and for the first time in many days I felt alive again. I knew we still had work to do to repair our relationship, but I was confident we'd be able to get back what we'd lost and maybe even make things better than they were before.
Let me know what you think.
See ya next time,