Playlist: From Where You Are by Lifehouse, Best of Me by The Starting Line

Chapter 14

2008

Alice and Jasper are curled on the couch, watching a movie. It's late, and I assume Carlisle and Esme are already asleep. They were always good about being present but not hovering so we could have our space.

"Hey." My voice is hoarse, hardly recognizable.

Alice cranes her head to take me in. "I want to ask how'd it go, but by the looks of your smeared mascara, I'm guessing not good."

"I'm just gonna . . ." Jasper gets up and heads into Alice's old room, leaving us alone. He is such a sweet guy. A calm guy. I envy what Alice has with him. Always have. Because I want it, too. I even tried to settle once, wanting so badly to love again and be loved. But that only ended in sorrow because it wasn't the real thing. Not for me anyway.

I plop onto the couch, and Alice strokes my hair, guiding my head onto her lap where I cry quietly but deeply.

"He told you," she says, when my breathing's normal again.

"He loves me. Or he loved me then."

"No, you had it right the first time. I know you're grown up now, but if I had to bet on it, I'd say he does. Or he's willing to. He could."

"What does that mean?"

"It means you have a choice to make."

How can she be so collected when I'm a mess?

"I don't think I can make this decision." I sit up, and Alice swipes her finger beneath my eyes, fixing my makeup, maybe. "We live in separate states."

"I think you and I both know you'd move, if you really wanted to. And Bella, he'd move for you. I know he would. I've been talking to him for a while. He's not the same guy. He's differe—"

"I don't care if he's different." I can't believe she's defending him. "He hurt me. He punched a big hole in my heart and left me alone with no answers and nothing to fix it. For years. I want to inflict physical pain on him. Awful, terrible, torturous things. And it won't even come close to what he did to me."

Alice squeezes my hand. "I know," she says, sighing. "But do you think you could ever—"

"Forgive him?"

She nods.

My ex-fiancé called me before I came here. Wanted to make sure I would be safe and that I really wanted to go since Alice tends to convince me to do things I don't want to do. She did that a lot after Edward left. She had to.

He told me about a girl he was dating, someone from his office. He wished me good luck and a good time, even though I left him alone once.

When he spoke to me after the chapel was cleared out, I waited for the yelling, for the stream of accusations, but none came.

"I'm sorry," I said, breaking the silence.

His reply: "Better now than later, right?"

I propped my head on his shoulder and cried while he held me. I made a mistake, and we both knew it. With my simple apology, I was absolved because he loved me.

He forgave me because he loved me.

And I love Edward. Still. At least the memory of what we had. And it's promising.

So can I forgive him? Can I?

The truth is this: "I don't know."

"I don't think he knows either. But I think he'd risk being with you, even if it was a trial. Even if you spent years trying to forgive him but ended up hating him anyway. He's on his knees."

"Well, he should be," I bark.

She pats my thigh.

"Alice," I whine, throwing my head back onto the couch and catching her eyes. "Is this my chance? To get answers? To live with love? To have it? To keep it?"

"You know what I think?"

"No, please tell me. Tell me what to do."

"I think the bride I found snot sobbing on the floor in her wedding gown after leaving her groom at the altar owes herself a chance at true love. I have known you nearly my whole life. I have watched you date and go in and out of relationships, and you know what?"

She doesn't wait for my response but sits calmly in the silence she's created by halting her speech.

"You have never been happier than when you were with Edward. And I know we've speculated. I know we thought maybe it was just lust. Infatuation. Maybe it was just young love. A crush. But I think that's bullshit. I think he's the love of your damn life. And if you don't go to him and talk to him while you have the chance and while he's begging you—he's begging you, Bella—you will regret it for the rest of your life."

"You're a good friend," I say, placing my hand on her cheek. She leans into it, a small smile on her sweet face. "He's waiting for me on the overpass."

"Go," she says.

And I do.

I get to the overpass quickly. He's in the middle of the bridge, looking out over the road beneath him, his hair whipping around in the wind. I want to go to him. I want to talk to him. To tell him things. To ask him things. But my legs won't move.

I stand at the entrance, my hand on the rail, my feet glued to the concrete. And I stare.

Edward eventually spots me, and he stares back.

We stare at each other.

For fifteen minutes.

I know because he checks his watch, which makes me curious, so I check mine.

I spend a few minutes fidgeting, rearranging my purse, combing my hair with my fingers, putting on lip balm. And when there's nothing left to do, I take a step forward and another and another until I'm in front of Edward. But I've been standing for so long that I'm exhausted. So before he can say anything, I'm sliding to the ground, my boots crossed at the ankles in front of me. He sits beside me, almost in the same pose, keeping an appropriate distance between us.

"I didn't think you'd come," he says, expression solemn.

"I didn't think I'd come either." And I never thought I'd be here. But I've come far over the years. Maybe you have, too.

"Is it okay if I tell you some things?"

I shrug, slow and methodical. I don't know how I'm feeling, what I'm doing, or how this will end, but I'm here, so why not?

"Before I moved here I was such a user. My mom caught me with a joint. She was so pissed. I was able to talk her down, but when she found my stash of everything else, she knew it was much more than a one-time thing and dropped me at a rehab facility. I was there for four weeks, forced into sobriety of every kind. And I hated it. I hated my mom for suggesting it. I hated my dad for agreeing to it and passing me off like I didn't matter, but I never did. They treated me like a commodity, someone to brag about at social functions. I don't know if I did drugs to feel good or to get attention or what, but I had to do something. And that's what I chose.

"I was drug free, but my dealer was caught by the cops shortly after I returned home. He was mid-sale, and I was there. I'd gotten away simply because I was fast. Mom saw me right after that with some of my friends who were smoking out. She was livid. Again. She threatened to send me back to the facility, convinced I was using, even though I wasn't.

"By sheer luck, Aunt Esme called to chat, and I suddenly had a new place to go. A new place to stay sober."

After Edward left, Esme tried to have a few heart to hearts with me. I just couldn't do it. It was too painful. Talking with Carlisle didn't happen. He went back under his hood for a while. He never said it outright, but I think he was livid with Edward and what he'd done to me.

Alice and I talked about Edward but only when I brought it up. And I mostly cried. After a while, I simply wanted to avoid the topic altogether so I could move on. I thought it was smart at the time, but I wonder if more of my heart could've been saved if Esme had told me more about Edward's life. But I'll never know. And maybe it's best hearing it from Edward anyway.

"It was a joke at first. I thought Forks was the lamest town out there. But I stayed out of trouble, played ball. It even felt like acting. But you broke me down fast with your quick wit and long looks, and I knew you saw me. You knew behind the jokes and the wall I put up that I was open to life. To love, I guess."

Love? I spent so much time agonizing over love and what it was, what it meant, and if I'd loved him only to have my heart broken. But I suppose that's the best way to prove its existence. By experiencing it at its worst, by splitting your heart in two, making it an inescapable truth: love is real. And it sucks.

"You got me to admit to parts of me I hated and acknowledge parts of me I loved—parts of me you brought out. I tried so hard to stay away from you. I really did. But, dammit, you were so cute and so sad at times, and I wanted you. And I couldn't stay away from you any longer, so I just decided I'd give myself this one thing while I was here. You.

"And it was fun and simple, and then asshole Newton came along and asked you to a dance. I was lost after that, trying to figure a way out, but I didn't want out. I wanted in. Desperately, Bella. I wanted anything you'd give me. And you were so giving.

"Christmas was gut check time. I thought I'd go home, hook up with somebody or some substance, but that wasn't me anymore. Because you changed me. And I realized I loved you. Ironically, freaking out about that is what got me to score weed and smoke out. And that phone call . . ." He lets the words hang there, shaking his head. "I was still so messed up, so immature, an idiot. But worst of all, an addict. I mean, who responds to love by getting stoned? An addict.

"My counselor told me not to date while I was recovering, but I just didn't . . . I couldn't not. But she was right: I wasn't ready. But it's not just that. I wasn't ready for you. You needed so much more than I could give you. I did everything wrong."

He looks up then for the first time, embarrassment in his eyes. Rightfully so. But I can't chastise him because now all I can think about are those good times, those times when we were happy and too young and stupid to really enjoy it. I would love to have that again. But with Edward? I don't know if it's possible. Or even if I want it with him.

"So what happened?" I ask, encouraging him.

"The night of the concert I was feeling it, loving it–this life and you–and damn, the way you danced. I just . . . I was so weak, but I thought as long as I didn't mess you up, mess up your life, drag you into mine too deep, that it was okay, that I could have you. For a little while, anyway. And I did have you, and it was the most amazing night of my life. I'd never experienced sex like that before. It was just so different. Better. And I thought, this can work.

"But then you told me you loved me." He shakes his head, taking a deep breath. "And I was terrified. I panicked. I saw our future: me in college at a frat party getting high or drunk, and you being pissed and hating me or finding me dead in a ditch somewhere. Or worse, you in a ditch somewhere. And I couldn't do any of those things to you. I wouldn't. I refused. So I left. Like a complete coward, afraid of admitting my fears, my insecurities, and weaknesses, I ran.

"I'm talking so much." He nervously runs his hands over his thighs.

"I'm glad. It's good to know," I say. "I thought for the longest time you left because of something I did. Maybe I was bad in bed. Maybe I upset you. Maybe I should've kept my mouth shut. Maybe I should've left you alone to begin with. I mean, I don't have the best track record with men. It's not something that's simple in my life. Riley died right after I kissed him, and right after you and I . . . I don't know. I started to think maybe I was cursed.

"But the older I got, the sillier that seemed, so then the blame shifted to you. Maybe you were a jerk. I mean, you left me even though you knew how abandoned I felt my whole life. Maybe you used me. Maybe you played me, never felt anything I did. But that was somehow worse. I never even believed in love until you came around, and you shattered that. I hated you."

He scratches at his stubbled jaw. "You asked me a few times if I missed using while I was here. I did sometimes, especially when I first showed up, but after a while, I didn't even think about it. I didn't need to get high or stoned or drunk because when I was with you, I virtually was. You're like my own drug. And I'm hooked. I can't drop this habit. I'm utterly addicted to you with no help of ever coming clean."

I'd imagined Edward's apology for years. He'd be on his knees, crying, professing his love, his devotion. But not once did I imagine us talking calmly on the overpass, him using a drug metaphor to describe how he felt about me. But for some reason, it works. It feels right. It's us. It's honest.

But I need to know more.

"Why did it take you so long to contact me?"

He closes his eyes briefly and pulls on his earlobe. "Shame," he says, barely audible.

It shouldn't, but it feels good to hear him say that. Part of me wants him to feel miserable about his actions. "What does all of this mean? What is it that you want?"

He turns, crossing his legs beneath him. "It means . . ." He takes a deep breath and places his hand palm up and open on the ground in front of me–an offering of sorts. "I'm in love with you, and I want to see what happens if you can love me back."

Wow.

"I . . ." don't know what.

Once I wised up and realized what happened to our relationship wasn't my fault and that I wasn't cursed, I was able to try again. To open my heart, to trust. And I did. Being engaged was amazing. A lesson in life I needed. I knew I was lovable, that not everyone would abandon me. It gave me hope, but it also terrified me because I knew I wasn't being completely honest. I didn't love him the same way he loved me. It wasn't fair, so I had to let him go. I wondered for a while if that's what happened with Edward—that he didn't love me enough or the same, but now I know different. Now I know what I may have been missing—Edward's love. He never said it, but when we were young I was certain we felt the same, which is why his departure had been so devastating at the time. Confusion can make the heart weep. And for years mine wept. I thought I was healed. And in so many ways, I am, but this—seeing Edward tonight—feels right. It feels real. It feels like the closure I've been seeking even though I didn't know I needed it.

Edward sits quietly, awaiting my words, but none come because my mind is racing, trying to figure this all out. It's so much to take in. Finally, he speaks. "When Alice called me six months ago, I thought she was going to rant and rave. But she never did. She just started talking about you. It wasn't long before I felt connected to you again. Then she told me about your engagement and everything that followed. I knew then I wanted to see you. I needed to see you. I was already figuring out how to make it happen when Alice told me about the reunion, and it was like . . . I don't know . . . it just felt like it was time. I had to do it before I let anymore time pass me by . . . pass us by."

"So here you are," I say, not knowing how to respond to his candor. He's never been this forthcoming.

"I'm so sorry. For everything. And I know you don't trust me. You have no reason to, but I promise for the rest of my life, for as long as you'll have me, I will do my utmost to gain that trust back. I want to fix this, make it better. And I think if you let me, I could make you really, truly happy."

"You want me back." It's a statement.

"I want you. Yes." His voice is strong, clear. His eyes, the same.

How could this possibly work? And, more importantly, do I even want to try it? My head is leery, but I think the pounding in my chest is telling me something else. I want to give in to his soft eyes and outstretched hand. He's offering me something special here, but do I take it? I want to. I want it, and it's so close, I just have to take it. I could slide my finger against his and easily fall into his embrace, but is it the smartest thing to do? And are we ready for that? To try again?

My mind wanders to the night we had sex and how conflicted I was. Excited but scared. Wanting but hesitant. Needful but naïve. It's such a simple comparison, but I am no longer a little girl, no longer insecure and holding onto the first boy that ever showed me love and affection. I am a woman with the facts. A woman with wisdom. A woman with a full heart. All are leading me in the same direction. Toward Edward. Toward love. But . . .

"But what about . . . our lives are—"

"I will go anywhere, work anywhere, do anything. Be anything you want me to be."

"I never wanted you to be anything different. I liked you the way you were," I admit.

"I never deserved you. It's weird. I always felt like we had this unspoken connection because of the way we were raised—we were virtually on our own. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was wrong. You weren't alone. You had this amazing family that took you in. You had Carlisle and Esme and Alice. They raised you, made you into this amazing, giving, sweet girl, and I was this punk. This kid that had no one, and I continued to let that be my excuse to do whatever the hell I wanted."

So much of what he's saying is true. I had Alice's family. They took care of me. But in some ways that made me feel even more alone. The only time I didn't feel that ache was when I was with him.

"They would've let you stay there indefinitely. They loved having a son at home again. Plus, I liked you there. And I felt that connection, too. Granted, I didn't know too much about your home life, but I knew we were similar. I just knew."

"Yeah, you did."

"But we're not the same anymore. I'm not that girl. What you did changed me. My education changed me. Moving across the country changed me. Being engaged changed me. What if I'm too different, too unrecognizable for you to feel about me like you used to?"

"I've thought about that. A lot. I know that I've changed for the better, and I want the chance to prove that to you. But as for you . . . I told you that I've kept in touch with Esme, but what I didn't say was that she kept me in touch with you. I probably know way more about your life than I should. Logistics anyway. And it definitely made me think about what I wanted when Alice called, filling in the details. From what I know of you, Bella, I'm not surprised. You're ambitious and smart and kind and you see the best in people. You expect the best."

"That gets me in trouble sometimes. It's probably my worst and best quality." I give him a soft smile.

"Well, it gave me a chance to be someone I wasn't. I can't ever say thank you enough because it taught me who I actually was."

"How long have you been clean?" I have to know.

"Years."

"You really want to try this? Take two?" My heart drums wildly in my chest in anticipation. We are making this decision today, it seems.

"No, not take two. I don't want a repeat. Think of it as—as . . ." He looks around us, grappling for some idea and comes back to lock eyes with me. "Think of this moment, right now, as an overpass. That's our past all the way over there." He nods toward Alice's neighborhood. "And we're here now, on this bridge making decisions. But over there . . ." He points toward my home, his hand coming close to my body when he does, and I'm mesmerized by it. "That's our future. We just have to walk to it. Go from one side to the other. And I'm not saying it won't be scary or that we won't have problems, but I really want to get to the other side. I want to get there with you."

He drops his hand back to its original position–open and waiting for mine. The girl I was slipping into his bed and the woman I am now are one and the same, wanting the same thing. And that's okay. We are no longer foolish because we've grown up. So has Edward. And I can't wait to see where this will lead us. I slide my hand forward on the cement, fingers stretching toward his until they touch, inching over his palm, lying against his skin.

"Will you walk me to my dad's?"

Edward slips his fingers between my own and helps me to my feet. We walk slowly, keeping our eyes straight ahead to the end of the bridge–to the start of our future.

"Are you sure?" he asks when we reach the end. "You have every right never to speak to me again."

"And every right to forgive. I think in this case, it's a possibility."

"You do?" His voice is so small, so quiet.

"You once told me that once I had you I wouldn't want anyone else."

His lips turn up in the corners, and the familiar smile tugs at my heart.

"It was a joke. You thought you were so clever. But I've never heard truer words." The tears begin to fall again, sliding down my cheeks. "Edward, I've never wanted anyone else. Ever."

"I'm so sorry."

"Never hurt me again," I whisper.

"I promise," he says. He lifts our hands to his lips and kisses my hand. The moment brings me back to the last time he did that. It was the last time I saw him. But I decide this one cancels out that one.

We step off the overpass together, and he walks me to my old home. He stands on my porch, my hand in his. Neither of us says anything. We simply stare, taking in the changes the years have made to us, inside and out.

"Can I see you tomorrow?" he asks.

I nod and bite my lip.

He places his free hand on my face, stroking the apple of my cheek. "I missed you so much. I'm never letting you go."

I can't say anything. I hold my breath as he leans in. I want him to kiss me, but my heart is racing, trying to beat out of my chest because I'm simultaneously terrified and thrilled.

"Is this okay?" His words are a whisper against my mouth, kissing me on their own.

I don't answer. Instead, I slide my hand in his hair. He rolls his head, leaning into it, exhaling against my skin. With a shuddering breath, he brushes his lips against mine.

Soft. Sweet. Sensual.

"I can't believe I get to hold you again." The words are against my neck as he hugs me to him. He leans in one more time, a chaste kiss on my lips and a genuine smile. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He takes my walkway slowly, like he doesn't want to leave.

"Edward?" I call out.

He whirls around, eyes wide.

"Breakfast at Esmom's in the morning?" I ask.

"Yes. Definitely."

"I'll meet you on the overpass. Eight-ish?"

"I'll be there. I promise." He looks to the sky, his grin spreading, lighting up his whole face.

"What?" I ask, wondering what that smile's about.

"I think . . . we'll be really good together."

"So good," I whisper and watch him saunter down my road, knowing for the first time in over ten years that I'm going to see him tomorrow.

A/N: I don't generally point out the music, but this song! This song! From Where You Are by Lifehouse! Listen to it! It's on my blog.

Thank you all for reading, reviewing, reccing, pming, and fill-in-the-blanking!

Special thanks to my team _ss77_, modernsafari1, cejsmom, and perrymaxed. You girls are fantastically individual and individually fantastic!

There is no epi, but I've been throwing around the idea of one (It would bring us to the present!). Knowing me it will turn into a multi-chap and be posted separately, so I suggest following me if you want to see it.

As I said I'm moving, and I just started school again, however, Never Said I Didn't is sitting and beta'd. All I have to do is make small edits, so I don't imagine it will be terribly long before I begin posting. When the dust settles, you'll see me again. In the meantime, wait for me on the overpass!

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