CHAPTER 19

"Would you like some?" Bella wondered as they settled down at the table.

"No, thank you." With all the squeezing and churning his stomach was doing, the mere mention of food made Edward queasy.

"So, how's the weather out?"

Edward raised an incredulous brow. Of all the things she could've brought up, of all the things they should be discussing, she chose small talk. Her train of thought was still impossible to follow sometimes. "You should know. You were with me."

She smirks sheepishly. "I was a bit distracted."

"And I wasn't?"

She shrugged. "You're the let's-go-for-a-hike guy. Nature guys would notice the weather."

"A reasonable deduction, Miss." Edward began with a tinge of Cockney in his accent. "To that, I say, that the weather was mighty fine today, with clear skies as blue as Benedict Cumberbatch's eyes and a whooping zero percent of rainfall predicted." Somewhere along the way his voice had deepened even further, causing Bella to smile at his silliness.

"You really have changed, haven't you?" Bella blurted out a few moments later. She hadn't been able to pinpoint it before, but now that she had gotten a clear glimpse of the change, she could see it everywhere. From the way he walked to the decisions he made, he was…lighter. As if all the crap that'd been holding him down, obscuring him, had drained out. Of course, some of it still clung inside him as residue, but he'd rid himself a chunk of it and it made the world's difference.

"I try. Aro and I have had extensive sessions on my problem area. I guess I never realized the extent of it until I started looking." Edward grimaced. "I haven't perfected anything, but—"

"You stayed, Edward. One step at a time."

He snorts. "You sure you haven't been talking to Aro?"

"No, but Jane preaches that to me enough times."

Another moment passed before Edward realized he needed to explain.

"I apologize for making you wait. I needed to work through some things for myself before I could try to explain them to you. Sometimes, I can't control it, as much as that pisses me off. It just gets in my mind and I panic."

"You scared me," she admitted. "What happened, Edward?"

Edward paused. He didn't know how to phrase without sounding like he was tricking her, but at the same time, he knew she had to know what he was thinking. He'd promised to be open. "I—I don't mean to sound assuming, but truth be told, I don't know how to live without you. You've been a constant fixture in my adult life, and I have absolutely no desire to change that. I think that's why I freaked out when you first told me about the divorce. Over the past few months, I've attempted to come into some sort of terms with it, but at the same time, I know that I hurt you very deeply and…well, I wouldn't want to be with me either. Let me finish please," he added quickly when he noticed Bella begin to talk. "I just realized a while back that I've somehow deluded myself into thinking that this would work out, that you wouldn't go through with this. I'd held hope about this, but when we talked, I…I realized that you deserve better. So much better. The things I did, what I said, you deserve someone who appreciates you. I abused your presence. I took advantage of the love you gave me, and for that, I am so sorry."

"Let me get this straight. You ran out because you thought I deserve better?"

He nodded.

"What about what I want? Don't I get to make a choice about who I deserve?" She looked calm. Her face was blank, but Edward could the anger brewing inside of her.

"And that's why I came back," he replied. "When I walked out the door, I realized my actions for what they were. I was running again, so I stopped, but I needed time to process. I needed to know exactly what I was thinking and if I was thinking right.

I was wrong. I had no right to even try and take that choice from you, Bella. Do I selfishly wish that you'd still love me after everything? Yes. Do I think you shouldn't make that choice? Yes. But it's your choice. I realize that now."

"Well…good." She leaned back in her chair and began eating again, the fire in her eyes diffusing.

"So," Edward sighed. "Where were we before I ran out?"

"Your parents' reactions to Tanya, I believe."

"Ah, yes. He threw me out, disowned me, with a few choice words." Edward frowned, remembering the insults his father had slurred at him. He'd never seen his father so mad before, screaming and throwing things at him for ruining his own life.

"He disowned you and you never told me?" The red was back again. This was going to much harder than expected.

"I wasn't in any shape to. I'd had to go to the hospital since he dislocated my shoulder. He didn't mean to," Edward hurriedly added. "He was just so angry. I'd never been scared of him before." Edward shuddered.

"Your father hurt you, physically abused you." Bella's face was pale, her gaze shocked and teary. This was exactly what Edward had been scared of, the reason why he had withheld the information.

"Just once. Enough for me. I didn't want to tell you, but I knew I had to. The entire way back to UDub, I prepped myself to tell you. I didn't want you to think badly of my father. I didn't want you to relapse or bring back bad memories. But when I got there, you were standing so close to that sleaze, laughing like old buds, and I lost it. I made some horrible decisions that you're well aware of." Edward grimaced, thinking back to his college days. It'd been so rough in the beginning with the baby and deciding to stay in Washington, but once they'd gotten hold of the right rhythm, Edward had held on for his dear life and it had brought him so much happiness he thought he'd burst…until it came crashing down.

"Not all were horrible," Bella admitted, bringing Edward back to reality.

"Hmpff?"

"Victoria. That—she—wasn't an entirely horrible decision. From what I hear and see, she's been quite helpful."

"She's great friend now, but she also introduced me to Mike and caused you to lose trust in me. Well, I suppose the trust thing is also my fault, since sex takes two people."

"It was your fault, as much as it was hers. I was confused when you came back. You were hurt and you didn't tell me why. You were so angry and you started withdraw from me. I felt so empty without you by my side. Then, came the drugs and Victoria. It had the worst two weeks of my college life." Edward felt himself nodding along with her words. He wasn't heartless, it almost destroyed him to be away from Bella, but he'd been terrified. The anger that had built up within him after his visit with his father was a entirely foreign feeling and he didn't how to deal with it. He was angry, scared, confused all the time and when Victoria had offered him the first joint, it'd felt like more like a lifeline not a death sentence.

"It doesn't make sense, you know. Your parents were so helpful throughout my pregnancy. That doesn't add up."

"Mom had called me around the same time I realized just how much I fucked up, apologizing for Dad's behavior and everything...worked out. I never brought it up again because, well, I was scared that it might bring back bad memories. You're pregnant with my baby, I started to realize, and everything just shifted. I kept making excuses to put my lie behind us by convincing myself that telling you would cause you pain and stress and something might happen to our child. I figured it didn't really matter since everyone was supportive of the baby."

Isabella sighed. "I guess I can understand, but I'm not okay with it. You should've told me. I thought we were partners in this, but I guess not." A twinge of bitterness seeps into her voice and Edward could feel the emotions piling inside of him again.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am. This entire thing is my fault."

"Mostly, it is," she corrected him. Another sigh. "Anyway, I like her now. Victoria. Back then I wanted to claw out her eyes for touching my man." Bella narrowed her eyes in mock anger, diffusing the tense moment.

"James changed her for the better. We should set up a lunch date. Vicky would love to talk to you. She's been scouting for embarrassing stories about me for a while now."

"I shall tell her about the ski trip—literally—then, or oh, the donut incident!" Bella teased.

"You shall tell her nothing, woman," Edward growled out. "Or—or I'll ruin your treeline painting!" HA! Edward smiled in triumph and leaned back in his seat. Bella had bought the painting at a flea market by Crys something something. It was ridiculous and ugly, but she loved it.

Bella gasped, too loud. "You wouldn't dare."

"Try me," Edward replied. He considered sticking his tongue out at her, but decided it was too juvenile.

Bella rolled her eyes. "Man-child."

"Snitch."

They locked eyes in a staring contest for a few moments before Edward forfeited to fix himself a teriyaki bowl.