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The concern on my mother's face when I show up at her Staten Island home at six in the morning is enough to reduce me to tears.
But I didn't cry when I left Edward and I didn't cry on the ferry and I'm not going to cry now.
"Bella, honey, what on earth are you doing here? Is everything okay?"
She ushers me inside; grabs the bag from my shaking hand. More questions are asked, but I don't know how to respond.
I can't tell her I have nowhere else to go. That I broke the lease on my apartment to live with my boyfriend. That I can't confide in Angela because she'd find out I'd been lying to her. I can't let my mother know I've spent the last nine months alienating my life for Edward. And now I have nothing and no one because I made him everything.
"I just really needed to come home," I tell her.
She regards me for a moment, but doesn't push for another answer. Instead, she pulls me into a hug, pours me a mug of coffee and asks me what I want to eat for breakfast.
When my dad finds me sitting at the table, he feigns a look of shock. "I know that's not my daughter. It's not Christmas or Thanksgiving, and she never visits her old man just because."
I don't have to look up from my pancakes to know my mother is shooting him a look right now, warning him not to ask me why I'm here.
I give him some vague, nonchalant answer about having time off work. I doubt he buys it, but it seems to be enough to keep his questions from being asked.
He gently squeezes my shoulder as he passes by. "Well, I sure do like seeing your pretty face this morning, Bell."
His affection gives him away. He must have an idea of why I'm here. It shouldn't, but it makes me feel small and pathetic.
It makes me feel ashamed.
Around nine, I call the gallery and let them know I won't be in today. I tell them I don't know when I'll be back because I'm sick, and it doesn't even feel close to a lie.
Eventually my dad leaves for work and my mom runs around the house, trying to engage me in mindless chatter while she does housework. When it's after noon, I offer to run errands for her—any excuse to keep myself from feeling suffocated.
I drive aimlessly for a while, then pull into a Starbucks parking lot. I don't get out, just sit in the car, finally allowing myself to think about Edward.
I wonder what he's doing right now. What he was doing at three o'clock this morning. I wonder if he's home yet and if he knows I've left.
But mostly, I wonder if he even cares.
I replay our fight. I remind myself of the words he spoke to me and how he reacted.
Anger is still present, but now that I've physically put space between us, doubt has sunk in. It anchors me to my seat, weighing me down. I second-guess myself to the point of a panic attack.
Was I smothering him? Was I being too pushy and demanding? Did I let my insecurity plant doubt that grew so out of my control?
These questions stay unanswered, and the ache I feel refuses to disappear. I don't know how I ended up back in this place, with my heart and everything it controls at the mercy of Edward.
When the sun threatens to leave the sky and there's nowhere else to go, I head back to my parents' house.
As I pull into the driveway, I see my dad sitting on the porch with a beer. He doesn't say anything when I walk over, just pats the spot next to him on the porch swing.
"Your mom was worried you'd gone back to the city without eating dinner first." He grumbles out a laugh, but when I don't join in, his laughter turns into a cough. "This about Edward?"
I shrug. I don't want to give him any information. I don't want to tell him things that will make him hate the man I love. They've met a few times over the years, but I think my parents know more than they let on. My mother knew from the moment she met Edward he was someone I couldn't hold on to. I didn't speak to her for two weeks after she told me that. Three months later, Edward and I broke up for the first time.
My silence forces Dad to speak again.
"I know you don't want to hear it, but he doesn't deserve you, Bell."
I keep my gaze on the ground, because there's no concern plastered on its face, and I know that's exactly what I'll see if I look at him.
"It's complicated," I mumble. "You don't know anything."
He scoffs, then takes a moment to drink his beer. "I know you're here right now and not with him."
I turn my head and give him a look. "Don't act like you and mom never had problems."
"Like hell we didn't. But I would've never let that woman leave. And you better believe that."
His words stir something inside of me and I begin to cry. Ugly, loud sobs that I've kept inside.
I don't want my dad's words to reign true. I don't want to believe that Edward never loved me and probably never will.
But the truth remains: he's the one who told me to leave. He's the one who pushed me away. And I'm the one who let him.
My tears subside until the only feeling I'm left with is embarrassment.
"Give me the word and I'll march right on over to that son of a bitch's house and knock some sense into him."
I sniffle through subdued laughter. "Please don't. I appreciate it, but no."
Dad shakes his head, then stands. "I don't hate the man, because I know you love him. But he'll never be good enough for you, kiddo."
With those last words, I'm left alone on the porch, wondering if I'll ever be enough for Edward.