"Forget it. I'm coming with you."
Edward isn't joking. There's a bag in the backseat of the Volvo, one he packed unbeknownst to Bella. In case he changes his mind. Because he has always had every intention of going. It's why the companion ticket to Bella's was never cancelled, and why he insisted on giving her a ride to the airport. He has everything he needs to travel.
And he fully plans on doing it.
"No!" Bella insists. "Edward, you can't. I told you, it's okay."
It's really not. Bella wants nothing more than for Edward to change his mind, but she isn't going to say so. She tries to understand. There's nothing they can do. He has an obligation to his friend, and as much as it sucks, it's also a really good opportunity for him.
She doesn't want to be the one to take that away.
"It's not okay. I'm a dick," Edward vents. "I don't want you to go."
There's a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. All she has to do is say the words, and he'll tell Jasper to go fuck himself. It's exactly what he should've done in the first place. A weekend away with Bella sounds much more appealing than some stupid show, no matter who's watching.
"It's only a few days," she reminds him.
She's right, but it feels more like a lifetime. A lot can change in a few days. Bella knows very well what men are capable of, especially when put into the right situation. At Saturday's show, the alcohol will flow freely. The venue will be crawling with desperate women, girls who would do anything for a night with the attractive drummer. She'll have no way to deter them. No way to distract him. It's only a matter of time before he meets someone new. And if the band gets signed to a major label, it'll happen again and again.
This is the beginning of the end.
"Call me as soon as you land," he instructs. Edward's eyes nervously scan the security checkpoint before he looks back at Bella. "I'll miss you."
Other words play on the tip of his tongue, but he's too nervous to say them.
"Good luck on Saturday." She checks her watch. They've been stalling for the past fifteen minutes, and her plane will begin boarding any minute. "Okay, I really have to go now. Thanks for the ride."
He brings her in for one final embrace and presses his lips to her forehead, holding the stance for as long as he can get away with it. "Bye, Bella," he says finally, and it's with great reluctance that she pulls herself away.
Thirty-six thousand feet above the surface of the earth, Bella's perspective begins to shift. With every passing moment, she distances herself from Edward both physically and emotionally. She's bored. And angry. The empty seat next to her serves as a reminder of what could have been, and the idle time she has with nothing better to do than think proves disastrous for their situation.
He should've come. The trip was his idea, after all. She'll never be able to pay him back for the cost of the ticket, and by choosing Jasper's gig over her, Edward only solidifies Bella's insecurities about the relationship as a whole. At the end of the day, it's about sex and nothing more. She was a fool to think he might want something serious.
As angry as she is at Edward, she's also angry with herself. How did she end up in this situation to begin with? When Bella moved to Chicago, a relationship was the last thing on her mind. She didn't want to get attached. Establishing a career was the number one priority, but now it seems as if she's lost sight of everything that's important.
In just a few short days, Jacob is likely to offer her a promotion. She has a chance to start fresh, but she's barely given the opportunity a second thought because she's so occupied by the situation with Edward. She realizes that something needs to change.
She's wasting her time with him.
Distance will do them well. Space is what she needs. It's time to cut her losses, to quit while she's ahead. And with that in mind, when Bella steps off the plane in Seattle, she doesn't call Edward as he asked. Instead she texts. It's short, to the point, and when he fires back a response, she doesn't.
"God dammit, Edward. Get it together!"
Jasper yells over the feedback and reverb, beyond frustrated at his best friend. They've been practicing for hours in a tiny storage unit to prepare for tomorrow's show, but it would seem Edward has only gotten worse. His mind is elsewhere. Bella won't answer his calls. She doesn't respond to his texts.
Initially Edward attributed her unresponsiveness to being home and getting settled, but the more he thinks about it, the more he wonders if there's something else. The commute from Seattle to Forks takes over three hours, which means after Bella rented a car she had plenty of time to kill. And she's usually so quick to respond; her phone is always by her side. Perhaps the cell phone reception is spotty in the dense woodland of the Pacific Northwest.
Or maybe she's ignoring him.
Edward fucked up. He knows that much. Bella has every right to be upset with him, if in fact she is. He checks his phone again. The only missed call is from his mother. Three more calls to her cell in quick succession go unanswered. His phone flies across the room.
Bella doesn't want to talk to him. By this point he's almost certain of it. The drum set in front of him becomes a magnet for his aggression. Darkness falls over Chicago. Palms blister and sticks break. Night turns into morning, and begrudgingly, Edward plays on.
Two thousand miles away, a dying man is ecstatic to reunite with his only daughter. Bella's visit is a welcomed surprise. Her father and stepmother smile ear to ear as she recounts the series of events that led her to visit home, omitting the details that involve Edward. It's better if Charlie doesn't know she almost brought a guy home with her. Showing up on his doorstep unannounced is enough strain on frail body. Having Edward with her probably would've sent the poor man into cardiac arrest.
And it doesn't matter, because Edward won't be in her life much longer anyway.
She's fairly certain of that fact now. Bella doesn't know exactly how she's going to break things off with Edward, but she knows it's not going to be easy. Even still, she doesn't want to end it over the phone. Regardless of the fine details of their relationship or lack thereof, he deserves better than that. Avoiding the situation is easy when he's nowhere in sight. She decides it's best to deal with it when she gets back to Chicago. In Washington, it's much easier to pretend there isn't a problem.
Charlie goes to bed early. After a busy day of traveling, Bella should do the same, but she intends to make the most of her time at home. She's also in desperate need of a drink. Bella sends out a mass text message to old friends. It's Friday night, after all, and there's only one place in Forks open past eight o'clock. She straightens her hair, puts on a nicer top, and heads out to the bar.
It's past two o'clock in the morning by the time Edward unlocks the deadbolt to his new place. He only received the keys earlier this week, and the house is still practically empty. Something's missing—or someone. It doesn't yet feel like home. He grabs a bottle of whiskey from the top of the refrigerator and collapses onto the hand-me-down couch in the living room. If Bella doesn't call soon he's going to lose his mind. He's given up on calling her.
Luck was on Edward's side when Esme showed him all of their vacant units. There were several apartments for him to choose from, but only one house. The floor plan isn't large or elaborate, but the house is in a nice area, and its rent is steep. He assumed his mother would never allow him to occupy such a high revenue property, but as soon as he mentioned his eventual plans to ask Bella to move in with him, she was more than happy to oblige.
A few minutes into his binge, Edward's phone buzzes with a long overdue message. It's Bella. She tells him she's out at a bar with friends and dances around the explanation of why she hasn't called sooner. The messages that follow wrench Edward's fragile nerves. She says she's fine. He knows she's not. He asks if she's pissed at him. She changes the subject. He tries to call.
She sends him to voicemail.
Edward turns on the television and takes another long swig. The bottle is almost empty now. He should go to bed, but his bedroom is on the second floor. Tonight the couch will have to suffice. He's too exhausted to drag himself up the stairs. His muscles are sore. His head pounds, and the ringing in his ears does nothing to drown out the voice in his head telling him his relationship with Bella is in serious trouble.
It's all his fault.
If only he'd gone with her, they wouldn't be in this mess. She wouldn't be avoiding him like the plague. What was he thinking, anyway? What form of logic made him backing out sound even remotely okay? Helping his friend achieve his dreams is a nice gesture, but sabotaging a relationship he actually cares about in the process is madness. He needs to talk to her, to apologize.
Bella needs to know how he feels.
Instead she's out at a bar, halfway across the country. Edward cringes to think of what kind of sleazy characters Bella might be encountering. Is that why she didn't answer her phone? Is she going home with someone?
No. She wouldn't do that to him. Or would she?
The next morning Bella wakes up in her childhood bedroom alone with little motivation to open her eyes. Forks might be dull and cloudy compared to Chicago, but it's too bright for someone suffering from a massive hangover. Eventually she rolls onto her side and grabs the iPhone on her nightstand. Her eyes strain to look at the screen. It's not surprising that there are several new missed calls from Edward. Every message she reads makes her heart ache a little more.
She misses him.
Bella rolls out of bed, cursing herself for drinking so much. But after a few shots, it had been so easy for her to talk about her problems. Most of her friends said the same thing: leave him. Move on. Deciding on her own to end her fling with him was one thing. Hearing everyone else tell her to do it only made the situation all the more real.
"You alright, man?"
The band's set ended thirty minutes ago, after which Edward headed straight for the bar. He's been sitting there in silence ever since, a collection of empty glasses mounting in front of him. His best friend was just offered a record deal. He should be celebrating, not wallowing.
He couldn't care less. "Not really," he sighs.
"Heard from Bella?" Jasper asks.
"Not recently." Throughout the night she sent a text here and there, but the messages contained nothing to ease the weight in Edward's chest.
"Bree seems into you."
He spares a glance in the pretty red head's direction and wonders how much alcohol is affecting his judgment. She's chatting it up with a few of her friends at a nearby table, but it's obvious where her attention lies. Lustful eyes meet Edward's for longer than necessary, and she offers him her best flirty smile. He smiles back.
"She's hot," Edward admits. Very hot, he decides.
"So go talk to her," Jasper suggests. "Forget about Bella for a while."
There's no denying that he considers it. Under the original parameters of their relationship, he wouldn't be doing anything wrong. And besides, Bella would never know.
Bree takes the hint. Her friends whisper excitedly and practically push her away from their table and toward Edward. He swallows, trying his hardest to push back the voice in his head that tells him what he's doing is wrong.
Jasper pats him on the back. "Going backstage. Catch you later, man."
And suddenly in the middle of a crowded bar, Edward feels very alone.
"I still can't believe you guys are getting signed," she gushes. Bree started coming to Jasper's shows months ago when hardly anyone knew who they were. She's been on a first name basis with the band ever since.
"I'm not sure it's hit me yet. Everything is kind of surreal."
"Are you sticking around for good then?" she asks. "No more Adam?"
He shrugs. They haven't really discussed it. "I'm not sure yet."
"Do you think Jasper could load your gear up?" She shifts her body impossibly closer to his, making the first move. "I was thinking maybe we could get out of here."
It's the moment of truth. Edward knows exactly what will happen if he leaves now. He knows he can keep it a secret. Or he could blame the whiskey. It wouldn't be a total lie.
He could fuck things up forever.
"I can't." There's no hesitation in his voice.
"Oh," she says, confusion evident.
"I'm not single," he tells her. "My girlfriend, Bella, she's out of town visiting her dad."
Bree winks. "You know, she doesn't have to know."
He ignores her and rambles on. "I shouldn't even be here. I was supposed to go with her, but this goddamn show came up. Now she's halfway across the country and won't answer my fucking calls."
Edward checks his phone for good measure, and Bree plays on his fears. "So how do you know she's not with someone else?"
"She's not." He's sure of it. "She wouldn't do that to me."
His eyes seek anyone familiar to bail him out of the awkward situation, and it's not until he remembers that he still has to pack his gear that he successfully escapes the persistent groupie. She can't touch him backstage. Hell, she isn't touching him anywhere—that's a fact.
Backstage, Jasper looks up from tinkering with a guitar. He broke a string while on stage. Alice sits in the corner, scowl on her face. It's clear they've been arguing, and It doesn't take many guesses to determine what about.
"I thought you went with Bree," she says disapprovingly.
He gives his sister a deathly stare. "Will you relax, Alice? I'm not going home with anyone tonight."
"And why is that?"
"Because I'm in love with Bella."
AN: Last week I ventured to Chicago and TFMU. Thanks to everyone—those who were there, and those who weren't—who has encouraged me to continue this fic. Special shout out to my prereaders (libbeh, joo, kb) and beta (ooza) ILY! Happy fourth!