"I did it on purpose, Edward," I whispered. We were just far enough away from the Biology classroom that I was sure no one would overhear us if we kept our voices low. "Eric was expecting you to high-five him. I did it as a distraction."
That surprised me. If he knew, then why did he freak out?
"It doesn't change the fact that you could have been hurt."
"Edward…" I sighed his name, then wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my forehead against his chest. "I will get hurt from time to time. It's inevitable."
I felt and heard him wince. The whimpering sound he made was heartwrenching.
"I can't bear the thought of it."
Intense was definitely an understatement. Could vampires lose their minds? He seemed on the verge of it.
"Then try not to think about it. Okay? Please? It kills me to see you looking so worried. I didn't even hurt myself. This time," I added.
"You have a bruise. I can smell it."
I did? He could? "A bruise is nothing. Really. I'm fine."
"This time," he repeated.
Okay, so we were back on the future problems subject. I pulled back just enough so that I could look up at him. "Promise me something."
He suddenly got very serious, but his pain seemed to ease. "Anything."
"Before, you asked me to trust you. Now I'm asking you to trust me. If I say I'm fine… believe me? Or, at least, can you promise to try to believe me?"
"Yes. If you promise me something in return."
"Be more careful?" I asked, smirking.
He cracked a small smile, but it dropped quickly. "Yes, but I have another promise in mind." I gave a nod, encouraging him to tell me. "Always be honest with me, when it comes to your physical and mental wellness."
That was fair. I nodded again. "I promise."
His smile stayed that time. I traced it, gently, smiling in return.
"You need to go to class now."
Of course. I rolled my eyes, then took his hand when he offered it to me and allowed him to lead me into the classroom.
Mr. Molina greeted Edward warmly. That made me smile wider. He was one of the best liked teachers at the school. He was my favorite, at least.
"Mr. Cullen! Will you be joining us again today?"
"No, sir," Edward returned respectfully. He seemed to like Mr. Molina. "I'm just seeing Bella to her seat."
And then he did. He held my chair out for me, waited for me to be settled, and then he leaned in and kissed my cheek. I could hear giggling, but I ignored it. It wasn't a struggle to, either. I just honestly didn't care if others found humor in Edward's affections or not.
He smiled so sweetly at me as he pulled back. "I will see you at three," he whispered.
I nodded stupidly, which seemed to make his smile grow.
As he left, he gave Mr. Molina a courteous nod.
I was dreading Gym, and the reason why I was approached me the second I reached my locker.
"Saw your little mishap in the cafeteria. I'm sure Edward will be glad when he doesn't have to babysit you anymore."
I didn't even have time to seethe. The last syllable had just left Jessica's mouth when my text message ringtone started going off. I could still feel the anger that had started to rise, but curiosity won out as the dominant emotion.
Ignore her. Please.
He was nearby!
Where are you?
I gave a little scoffing sound towards Jessica when I caught her staring at me.
"Did he get the short straw or something? Or do they all babysit you in shifts?"
It took everything in my power not to respond to her snide questions.
I am in my car, in the parking lot, as I am every day as I wait for you. Please, ignore her.
Wait. He didn't ever leave?
I'm doing my best to ignore her. You never leave? You just sit out there in your car and wait for me? Have you always done that? Since the beginning?
If I didn't get dressed out, I was going to be late for class. I shoved my phone in my pocket and whipped off my shirt.
And then I froze.
Oh, God. He could see me through other people's thoughts. I grabbed my gym shirt and quickly threw it on. Several shades of red colored my face, I was sure of it. The look on Jessica's face just confirmed that.
"What's wrong? Are you sick again?"
Ignoring her became easier. My brain was too preoccupied. I was almost afraid to read the newest incoming message.
No, I never leave, and with the exception of Wednesday, when I remained at your house, yes, I have always done so. Since the beginning. I owe you an apology, Bella. Will you please allow me to explain before you think too poorly of me?
Yeah, he could see me.
"You've been acting really weird lately."
"I've had a lot on my mind," I muttered.
And the list of things kept growing. I left unsaid that she was the proverbial pot, calling the kettle black. At least I wasn't stalking people.
Last message or I'll be late. I don't think poorly of you. I'm just embarrassed. We'll talk after school.
I kept my body turned slightly away from Jessica as I finished getting changed. That didn't stop her from pestering me, though. But I only knew she was because I could hear her voice, sounding a little like a tste fly buzzing around my head.
She eventually gave up and left the locker room.
The rest of the day, before the final dismissal bell, was like a blur. Hazy. I moved through it, functioned, but I was almost detached from it. Like I wasn't me at all, but some character in a movie I was watching.
I wasn't upset with him, like he probably assumed. It was just an unsettling thought. A thought that should have occurred to me before, if I was as perceptive as he seemed to think I was.
All the clues were there, yet I missed them. Alice had even said something before I learned the Cullen family secret. When we had been playing dress-up, she mentioned that Edward would want to see me 'firsthand'.
Why hadn't I made that connection?
So, no, I wasn't upset with him. I was upset with myself.
My eyes remained downcast all the way to the car. I only knew I had arrived at it because I saw his feet come into my line of sight.
I felt his finger touch my chin. Reluctantly, I looked up and met his gaze.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, and then he gathered me into his arms.
My embarrassment slipped a little as I allowed the love radiating from him to soothe me.
"You have nothing to apologize for," I whispered back. "It's not like you were keeping your abilities a secret from me. I just didn't make the connection before."
"I promise you, Bella, I try to avoid thoughts that would invade your privacy."
I believed that. It would be the gentlemanly thing to do, and he was that to a fault.
"Let's talk in the car," I suggested.
The atmosphere was awkward at first, as we started driving towards his house, but I pushed past it.
"I'm not upset with you, Edward. I'm upset with myself." He arched his eyebrow in response. "I'm apparently not as perceptive as you – or others – think I am. I feel like I'm stumbling around, trying to piece things together."
"These are very new concepts to you. In eight days, you have ascertained more than any other human I have ever encountered. Through the decades, a few people have suspected something, but none have been astute enough to arrive at the right conclusions."
His compliment made me uncomfortable. I didn't feel very astute.
"I should have explained my… ability… to you more clearly. I guess I'm stumbling around as well. I wasn't sure how much would be wise to share."
"Wise?" I asked.
"I didn't want to upset you. Or make you uncomfortable. Yet I did so, it seems, with my negligence."
"You weren't being negligent, Edward. I can understand how weird that would have been to talk about. 'By the way, I can see you through other people's thoughts when you're half naked.'"
He winced. Maybe it was a bad choice of words. Or maybe he was wincing at the memory of my very plain and uninteresting physical appearance when in that state of undress. That made me wince.
"I distract myself, Bella, I promise you. I'm not a voyeur."
There was no way to ask him, though. 'Okay, great, but did you like what you saw before you distracted yourself?'
"I believe you," I said instead.
"Do you? You seem bothered still."
I was, but I couldn't tell him what my concerns were. "Not bothered, really. Just thinking."
"Will you share your thoughts with me?"
"I'm not really comfortable sharing these thoughts. Sorry."
"May I ask why?"
My traitorous heart picked up pace.
"What's wrong?" he asked. Of course he could hear the pounding.
"Nothing. I'm just embarrassed," I whispered. I wondered if he would just drop it if I asked him to.
"Is there anything I can do to make this right?"
"If we could just drop it. That would be… good."
He seemed in pain again, as he traversed the winding path that led to his house. He said nothing further, until he parked and opened my door for me.
After offering me his hand and helping me out, he asked, "Have I ruined everything?"
I threw my arms around his neck and pulled myself into him. "Of course not. That's not where my thoughts are."
"I wish you would share them with me."
My thoughts shifted to the occupants of the house in front of me. I wasn't comfortable telling Edward, let alone the entire Cullen clan.
"We have a little bit of time, right? Before we have to leave? Maybe we could continue this conversation out of earshot?"
Before I could even register what had happened, he had closed the car door behind me, pulled me up onto his back, and we were flying through the forest.
I hid my face again, but not because I was scared. Well, okay, I was, but not of his running. I didn't know what I was going to say to him once we got to wherever he was taking me. I needed to concentrate, which was hard to do when scenery was rushing by at an alarming speed.
When we stopped and he helped me onto my feet, he stared at me with a mixture of worry and curiosity.
I hadn't had enough time to consider what I would say. The journey was too quick.
"Just… let me get my thoughts together," I asked of him. I turned away – I had to; his eyes were too intense – and plopped myself down under a tree. He joined me, a few feet in front of me, then he just sat silently and waited.
If someone could possibly die of embarrassment, this would be the moment it would happen. "I'm not upset with you because you… saw me. But… I just can't help but wonder… what you thought when you did."
He seemed confused. Excellent. I was going to have to spell it out for him. Hopefully, my death would be swift.
I pulled my legs up so that I could press my forehead to my knees. "I know I'm not very attractive—"
"Please, don't— I'm not looking for you to confirm it. I was just telling you where my thoughts were, so that you would know I'm not upset with you. Because I'm not."
"I don't think there is a way in which you are not unique. You're not cross that I have the ability to invade your privacy. Instead, you are concerned that I might not find you attractive?"
Apparently, one can't die of embarrassment. The anguish of it lingered. Death refused to release me from it.
I shrugged, continuing to hide my face from him even when I sensed him moving closer to me.
"You think so little of yourself. It saddens me."
I shrugged again. Maybe I did have low self-esteem. I never really cared before. My physical appearance was just a fact. I was who I was. It never mattered to me, because there was never anyone I wanted to be appealing to… until now.
"I don't wish to embarrass you, but I feel you should know… I find you attractive."
How was that possible? In comparison to his beauty, he was like a rose, and I was like a weed.
Or maybe he was lying to make me feel better. I braved a glance up at him, and was met by his very serious eyes.
No. He wasn't lying.
He was also nearer to me than I was expecting him to be.
"Please, Bella, tell me what you're thinking."
I dropped my attention to the ground as I shifted into a cross-legged position. I wasn't sure that being honest with him was the best thing to do, but I had made a promise to be. Earlier, outside of Biology.
"I'm feeling inadequate again."
He sighed. "I would give all I have, to be able to read your mind right now. For just this one moment. I am the inadequate one, Bella. Not you. Never you."
We made quite a team, Edward and I. Both of us self-deprecating. Both unable to understand what the other saw in us. Of course, in my case, I was justified. But, then again, he probably thought he was justified, too.
I had to scoff at that. "I don't get it."
"What don't you get?"
"How you can say that. What you see in me. I could not be more ordinary. And next to you, I'm literally a nothing."
He scooted closer, pulling me into his lap. "You're everything to me, Bella. Everything."
I still didn't get why, but I accepted it. I had to. Not only because I wanted it to be true, but because it clearly was true. He expressed that without question, as he held me tightly to him. Like I was the most precious commodity on the planet. Like I was literally his entire world. His entire reason for existing.
He slipped his hand into my hair, encouraging me to shift back. Then he leaned in and kissed me. Gently. And then he kissed me again. His lips left mine after a few moments, but they never broke contact with my skin.
He brushed them softly across my cheek, inhaling deeply as he did so. I knew where he was headed, and my breath caught in anticipation. But then he stopped himself. The disappointment was almost devastating.
Yeah, I always seemed to black out when he paid special attention to my neck, but I liked it. Maybe this time I wouldn't. I probably just needed to acclimate to the intensity of it. Something I wouldn't be able to do if he stopped himself.
I was just about to protest – tell him to please continue – when he sighed deeply while creating distance between us.
"We should go home now. You will need time to get ready."
Right. Date night. I didn't want to go, though. Not yet. I wanted more affection. As much as he was willing to give me, and take from me.
I nodded, but countered my agreeing gesture by kissing him again. He responded, which just encouraged me. Then I repeated what he had done, only I didn't stop.
I nuzzled his neck, then brushed my lips, slightly parted, across it. When he moaned, arousal shot through me. Something about this was very appealing to him, giving and receiving. It was appealing to me, too, for reasons I didn't understand.
I deepened the kisses, like he had done to me before, then I settled my teeth against his skin.
He really liked that. He pushed his hand into my hair and moaned louder.
I don't know what happened. It was just instinct. I bit down. It was like trying to bite through a marble slab, not that I was attempting to break through his skin.
I felt him shudder, and then this… sound escaped him. It was like a combination of a groan, moan, and growl. I wasn't scared, but I was curious. I pushed back, staring at him.
His eyes were wild – I'd never seen them look like that – but I didn't have time to process it for long. They changed within seconds. Multiple times. From shock, to fear, to… shame?
Maybe, but I couldn't be sure.
The only thing I was sure of was… I had done something wrong. I didn't know exactly what, but it was obvious to me that I had.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
I was suddenly up on my feet, and he was holding me by the waist at arm's length.
"Why did you do that?" He seemed confused. Frantically confused.
"I don't know," I answered. "It just sort of… happened. I'm sorry," I said again.
Out of nowhere, Alice appeared. Her eyes were wide with worry.
"Take Bella back to the house," Edward said. Before I could question it, he was gone.
I just stood there, stunned, until I felt Alice's hand on my shoulder.
"I didn't mean to upset him."
"He's upset with himself, not you."
I seriously doubted that. "Why should he be? I was the one who bit him."
She smirked, but it dropped quickly. A seriousness I had never seen from her before followed.
"I'm going to let Edward explain this to you. When he's ready. Just trust me, he's not upset with you."
She then gestured for me to climb up on her back. I stared at her incredulously.
"Trust me, I can handle it," she said. Her bright smile finally returned to her face.
I was too confused to argue. I hopped up onto her back, and, whoosh, we were off.
Edward was definitely faster, but she wasn't slow by any definition of the word.
We entered the house through the front door instead of Edward's bedroom window wall.
"He just needs to clear his head," she said to me as she settled me onto my feet. "Go ahead and get ready for tonight. He'll be back soon."
I nodded numbly, then headed up the stairs.
I got ready, but I paid little attention to the task. I showered, dried off, got dressed, put on a little makeup, combed out my wet hair, brushed my teeth… all on autopilot.
When I got back to his room, he was standing by the window wall, facing away from me, staring out into the forest.
He knew I was there, but he remained absolutely still. He had changed his clothes.
I threw my crap down onto the floor by the bed, then just stood there, waiting.
Nine years passed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"I'm the one who's sorry, Edward. I don't know why I did that."
He slumped a little. "I'm the reason why, Bella. I encouraged it."
"You seemed to like it… at first," I mentioned. It was only after that he seemed to not.
"More than I should have." The pain in his voice intensified.
I was stumbling again, trying to make sense of things that were just outside my realm of understanding.
"Why?" It wasn't exactly an articulate question, but I couldn't think of any other way to ask.
He sighed heavily. Then he took another nine years to answer. "I behaved disgracefully, Bella. I don't deserve your forgiveness, but I ask for it."
Baffled, I shifted and took a step towards him, but stopped when he stiffened. "Am I not allowed near you again?"
"Do you want to be near me, after how I behaved?"
"Of course. I don't even get what the problem is here. I wish you would just explain it to me, instead of speaking all cryptically."
He turned to face me then. His expression held more emotions than I could count. Pain, guilt, frustration, confusion…
"Do you not understand what happened?"
I shook my head. "Explain it to me?"
Again, he sighed heavily, and then he looked away for a long few seconds before planting his gaze firmly on the bed. I took his cue and sat down on the edge of it, then he sat on the floor, exactly where he was.
"It's common amongst… our kind, to express affection in that manner."
Okay, then, that explained why he liked it so much. "If it's common, then what's the problem?"
His expression changed again, though it still held a million emotions. They seemed to be cycling through, one becoming more dominant over another.
"It's common amongst our kind." I just blinked stupidly at him in response. That seemed to bring forward frustration. "You're human, Bella."
Well, yeah. I knew that. I wasn't that stupid. "I don't think vampires hold the rights to that form of physical expression, Edward."
Irritation pulled forward, but it seemed self-directed. "I should not be encouraging you to emulate me in any form."
"I wasn't trying to emulate you… exactly." He quirked an eyebrow. Curiosity pulled forward. "I was just trying to be affectionate. I liked it when you did it to me, so I thought you might like it if I did it to you."
Shame showed itself. "I liked it," he whispered. It wasn't even really a whisper. It was just this very low almost-groan.
"I'm glad," I whispered back. And I was. I wanted to make him feel good, like he made me feel good.
Shock then dominated. "Do you not realize what could have happened? Did you not wonder why Alice came?"
Fear rushed through me, making my heart race. The wild look in his eyes. I had pushed him too far. He had almost lost control, because of me.
"I'm so sorry, Edward. I didn't mean to hurt you like that."
Sadness and pain. If he were able to, I would have sworn he was about to cry.
"You didn't hurt me, Bella. An apology should be to you, not from you. I encouraged it. I almost…" He let out this anguished sigh, with this kind of whimpering sound embedded into it. "Reciprocated."
I had to go to him. I had to. He was hurting. But when I stood, he tensed, like he was about to fling himself out the window wall thing behind him. I stopped, pointing my finger at him sternly.
"Don't. I'm coming over to you, and you will sit there and let me."
I heard laughter from downstairs. Emmett. Great. We had an audience.
I took another tentative step, to see what his reaction would be. He didn't budge. I finished the distance then and plopped myself into his lap.
He wrapped his arms around me carefully, like he thought I was breakable. To him I was.
"Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, Edward. You didn't, and that's the important thing. You stopped yourself."
If I'd ever thought for a moment that I was even somewhat normal, today had proven otherwise beyond all reasonable doubt. I had almost died, but instead of being scared, I was consoling the man who almost took my life.
"You said before that you want me to be happy," I reminded him. Then I pulled back and stared straight into his eyes. "Being affectionate with you makes me happy. Maybe today was a mistake, maybe it wasn't, but I don't regret it. There will probably be a lot of trial and error, but we'll eventually work it out. Okay?"
He nodded. Reluctantly, it seemed. When I smiled at him reassuringly, his pain and tension eased a little. Then he smiled back. It was slight, but it was genuine. I could just tell.
"You ready to face my friends?" I asked.
His smile grew. That was a yes. He scooped me up as he stood, then he kissed my lips for a brief second, tenderly, before settling me onto my feet.
I ignored Emmett's smirk as Edward and I walked towards the door.
"Have fun!" Alice called out.
I knew she'd had a vision of how the night would go. Her happy tone made me optimistic.
To be continued…
I am humbled by all the wonderful reviews and words of encouragement. Thank you. Sincerely.
ADarnell: Wait for it. (grin) (Read your last review to me. You'll know what I mean. Hopefully.)
The element I liked most about this chapter was the biting affection. I'm curious to know what others thought of it.
Next chapter is date night. I had the ideas for the next chapter from near about the start of writing this fic, and was very pleased with how it turned out. It felt good to see the scenes that were playing out in my head finally on the page, in print.
GoldenBeliever: I think that's why I'm so hard on myself right now. I feel like there has been a lot of… well, hype, for lack of a better term, about 'date night', and I'm feeling anxious. I don't want to disappoint. In the 'Friends' fandom, I felt comfortable, and loved, because I had been there for so long. I'm new here, and while I am thrilled by the wonderful welcome and encouragement, I feel like I'm... well, intruding, I guess, somehow. I don't know. I'm weird.
I got the wristcuff off ebay. Cost me a pretty penny, too. Forty dollars after shipping, but that's because they're not easy to find anymore.
Randomly, I'm loving the Eclipse soundtrack. Just thought I'd share.
Please review! And MTLBYAKY