Disclaimer: I don't own it.
Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity. ~Robert Morgan
I paced the living room. I checked the time. I made sure there wasn't shit everywhere... and then I did it all again.
Finals were done, school was over, and my time here was almost up. No matter how hard I tried to pull the reins, to slow things down, the passing of time was unrelenting.
And now, I was finally going to see Bella. I looked down at my phone and read the last couple of texts she'd sent. She'd decided she'd rather meet here instead of her place, obviously feeling the same way I did about meeting in public: that it was a horrible fucking idea.
Rose and Emmett had made themselves scarce, partly because they wanted to give us privacy, and partly because I was driving them batshit crazy.
I tried to keep my cool and focus on what today meant. I thought about the words I'd rehearsed over and over in my head for the past two days. When I reached down to arrange the mail, a soft knock at the front door froze me in place, my hand hovering over the envelopes on the table.
I straightened my back, my body stiff and rigid as I moved down the hall, my chest tightening as the door seemed to move further and further away. One last deep breath and I grasped the doorknob, the metal slick under my sweaty palm.
As soon as the door opened and I stood face to face with her, every thought, every rehearsed line, every pointer I'd given myself on how to handle today disappeared. There was nothing but her, us, and the ache in my chest that doubled and vanished over and over again.
"Bella," I rasped, my throat burning as my nerves sucked me dry. "Come in." I moved to the side as she nodded her head and passed.
I followed her to the living room, noticing her shoulders were set a little too straight, a little too high, her stride almost unnatural. Everything was all wrong, we weren't supposed to be like this.
We were supposed to be easy and carefree; nothing but crude jokes and soft touches, lingering gazes and mischievous smiles. And I wanted that back, all of it.
"Do you want anything to drink? I can get you something, or if you're hungry..." I trailed off, my hand cupping the back of my neck.
"No. I'm fine," she answered softly, her eyes quickly darting to me before sweeping over the room.
I wondered what she was seeing. Was it all of the good times that we'd spent in this room? Lazy Sundays on the couch watching bad television while Emmett and Rose threw popcorn at each other? Or was she remembering the last time she was here, when she'd read my journal and found out all my secrets—when I'd hurt her so fucking badly?
"Rose said there was something important you needed to tell me. I'm assuming she's telling the truth since it goes against our deal, so what's going on?" She moved to the end of the couch and sat down slowly on the very edge of the cushion, like she didn't want to relax for even a second.
"Deal?" I asked, confused.
"Yes." She sighed. "Our deal that we don't talk about you."
I wish I could say her words didn't cut me, but that'd be a lie. "I understand." I nodded. "I'm glad my mistakes and stupidity didn't ruin your friendship with Rose."
"Why am I here, Edward?" she asked, her eyes lifting to mine. But unlike before, she didn't look away. She stared at me, and that fire—that fucking fire that I loved so much about her—was there.
It wasn't alone though, because as hard as she tried, she couldn't cover the weariness reflected in the dark circles under her eyes.
"Bella, I—" I looked over at her and all thoughts about the FBI, the future, and everything else disappeared. There was only one thing I needed to say right now.
I walked around the coffee table and dropped down beside her, my hands automatically grabbing hers. Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second before she tried to pull her hands free from mine, but my hands had a mind of their own. My fingers gripped tighter, the thought of letting her go unimaginable.
"I'm so fucking sorry. Bella, please let me explain. At least hear me out. If—" I choked, the words I needed to say fighting to remain silent, to not be spoken. "Just at least give me that, and if it's what you want...what you really fucking want, I'll leave you alone."
I felt shame and sadness as the words left my lips because they tasted like a lie, and they felt like I'd sealed my own fate.
"I don't understand anything," she whispered, her face becoming red and blotchy as she tried to hold back the tears I could see filling her eyes.
"I look back at those first few months before I really knew you and I have so much regret, so much shame," I admitted, my eyes trained on our hands—the way my fingers gripped hers tightly as hers laid limp.
"You said horrible things about me. You usedme," she stressed, her breathing becoming labored. "And you know what?" She snatched her hand from mine and jumped to her feet, her fists balling against her sides.
I stayed in my spot on the couch, letting her keep the space she'd created and allowing her to say what she needed.
"I can give you a pass for some of it. You know, the part where you weren't impressed," she hissed. "Because I know compared to some I'm not that much to look at. Although it never really bothered me until now, so thanks for that," she added sarcastically as she roughly wiped at the tears falling down her cheeks.
I shook my head, wanting to tell her I didn't mean it. That she was beautiful, smart, funny, and fucking perfect in my eyes. I needed her to know that those were the words of a bitter guy who only saw Jake smiling when he didn't deserve to, when he didn't deserve happiness. But she kept talking, completely ignoring my attempt to speak.
"I can even overlook the fact that you set out to ruin a relationship that didn't even exist. If I was willing to cheat on Jake, then I wasn't a very good person to begin with." She squeezed her eyes shut and drew in a deep breath.
"But what I can't ignore—what felt like someone stabbing me in the chest with a rusty switchblade—was what you did after you found out we weren't together. How you knew I wasn't with Jake, but you decided to stay with me just to hurt him."
She moved to the other side of the coffee table, her hands knotted in her hair, her lips moving but no sound coming out. I sat motionless, waiting for her to continue, to get out all of her pain and frustration.
"God, Edward." She breathed, her eyes wide as she stared at me. "What did I ever do to deserve this? What did I do to you?"
"You didn't do anything, baby," I whispered, ignoring the way she flinched at my words. "It wasn't about you—"
"The fuck it wasn't!" she screamed, her nostrils flared, eyes blazing. "How can you say that?" She moved around the table towards me.
"Huh?" Her face twisted with anger and hurt as her breaths escaped in quick, harsh bursts. "How in the fuck can you think for one goddamn second that it wasn't about me?" The muscles in her neck strained as her voice shook with the force and volume of her words.
"I'm sorry—" I started, stepping towards her and gripping her arms lightly.
"I don't want you to be sorry," she spat, yanking away from me. "I want you to take it back! I want you to fix it! I want—" she broke off, a sob tearing from her chest. "I want to go back to before, I want to feel like you made me feel before. Not this. Never this."
"Don't you know that I'd give anything to do that?" I croaked, lifting my hands to cup her face, my thumbs brushing over her cheeks. "If I could go back...even if it meant not being with you, never meeting you, I would do it. I would go back and change everything to keep from hurting you."
"But you can't," she whispered. "You can't take it back and you can't fix it."
"Baby, that guy...he's not me. I let my anger eat at me, turn me into someone I'm not. But you have to believe that how I feel about you now—how I felt about you before Christmas—"
"You were going to break up with me," she argued.
"Only because I felt guilty for the way I'd treated you," I promised. "I thought that ending things was the least I could do."
"But you didn't."
"I couldn't," I stressed. "That's when I knew. I knew that my feelings had nothing to do with Jake, and when you showed up on New Years, I just...I couldn't lose you."
I ducked down until we were eye level and brought my face so close to hers that I could feel each breath she exhaled fan across my face.
"I can't lose you." I gasped as my chest tightened, my lungs and throat constricting, refusing to expand, to offer relief.
Her eyes locked with mine as tears continued to slide down her cheeks, a dozen different emotions flashing across her face. Panic seized me as I watched them slow, and like a top on its last turn before falling on its side, her eyes dimmed, dulled, and faded; reflecting nothing but loss.
"No," I groaned, shaking my head.
"No," I begged, pressing my forehead against hers as my fingers tightened their grasp.
"No," I sobbed, my entire body heaving as I fought for air. "Bella, no. Baby, look at me."
I tilted my chin up, pulling my forehead back just enough so that we could look at one another.
"I love you, Bella. I'm so fucking in love with you. Please don't let me go, don't tell me that you don't feel the same way," I pleaded.
Her hands came up and fisted my shirt as she pushed the top of her head into my chest. My arms automatically wound around her and tightened, the feeling of her in my arms nearly causing my knees to buckle.
I dropped my head to her hair and breathed her in, everything in this moment healing and breaking me at the same time as she cried against my shirt.
"I can't trust you."
"Now," she continued. "I can't trust you now, and I don't know if I ever will. I feel like I don't even know you."
"You know me," I insisted. "I'm the guy who you've gone to bed and woken up with almost every morning for the last four months. I like my coffee black, but always remember to add a little sugar to yours. I've slept on the left side of the bed my entire life, until you told me you couldn't sleep on the right so I let you have it, even though you end up on the other side with me by the time we wake up."
I walked back a couple of steps and pulled her down on the couch with me, sliding my hand under her chin and tugging until she lifted her eyes to mine.
"I'm the guy who thinks about you every fucking second of every day, the one who misses you when you're only in the other room, and who loves to make you laugh. I'm the guy who knows how to touch you," I murmured, my voice barely a whisper. "Who knows how to love you."
She sucked in a sharp breath, her lips parting as her eyes bore into mine. "You're also the guy that used me, lied to me; the guy who hurt me so damn much."
"Just give me a chance to show you again how much I do love you, that's all I'm asking," I reassured her. "I miss you so fucking much, Bella."
Her eyes slowly slid shut as she ghosted her fingers over my knee. "I can't make you any promises, but I know that I need time. I need you to let me move at my own pace. Maybe...maybe we can start over, I don't know." She sighed, her voice low, frustrated.
The immediate burst of hope that shot through my veins and left me with the highest of highs suddenly fell into free fall, crashing and igniting into flames because we didn't have time.
"I got in," I replied softly.
"The FBI. I was accepted."
"That...that's what you wanted to tell me," she guessed, her eyes wide. A look of understanding crossed her face as she slid away from me.
"You're leaving," she stated.
I swallowed hard. "Yes."
"In two weeks." I took a deep breath and tried not to focus on the distance she'd put between us. Instead, I steeled myself to tell her what Rose convinced her to come here for. "Training lasts for five months... in Virginia."
"Five months," she echoed, her eyes brimming with tears again, her fingers curling around the tops of her thighs and squeezing.
"It isn't fair!" she cried, rocking forward. "You're going to be somewhere new and different, where you will have tons of distractions. Somewhere where every place you go and everything you see doesn't rip you apart because it reminds you of the huge hole gouged out of your chest."
Her words were jumbled and choked, chin shook and quivered, and her eyes were breaking and tearing me apart every second I witnessed the pain in them. The pain that I had caused.
She swallowed heavily, fighting to push the rest of the words past her lips.
"Where everything doesn't scream at you that the ache in your chest is caused from the absence of the person you love," she whispered, her gaze fixed over my shoulder, unfocused.
My eyes went wide as I processed her words, not sure if she realized that was the first time she'd said she loved me.
"Bella," I breathed.
"You're supposed to be here. Trying to live the same life you've had, but doing it without me. You're supposed to be as miserable as I am. I deserve that," she spat, her teeth gritted.
"Do you think I'm not fucking miserable?" I asked incredulously. "I wake up every morning without you, knowing I have no one to blame but myself. I have to live with the fact that I hurt you, my family, and a shit ton of other people because I was a selfish asshole."
I reached out and gripped her hand. I needed her to understand. I needed her to see exactly how fucking miserable I was.
"I have to live with the fact that you, my best friend, my entire fucking heart," I growled, my fist thumping against my chest over my heart, "may never forgive me. I have to live with the fact that I know who I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life with, but because I fucked up, my time with you may be nothing more than memories—that I may never be whole again."
"How am I supposed to do this? How are we supposed to fix this if you aren't even here?"
"Then I won't go," I answered without hesitation.
"You can't do that!" she protested. "This is your future...your life."
"You just don't get it," I murmured, brushing my thumb across the top of her hand. "You are my future, you are my life. I don't want any of those things if it means I can't have you."
"Don't put that kind of pressure on me," she warned. "I can't handle that. Not right now."
"What do you want, Bella? What can I do to convince you to give me a chance?" I needed her to give me something, some sort of hope that we could make this work.
"I don't know. I'm so mad at you, Edward. You broke my trust, you hurt my heart. I just don't know." She shook her head and pulled her hand away from mine, withdrawing from me.
"I leave in two weeks. Do you think...God, Bella, I don't want this to be over," I choked out, my mind bouncing all over the place, unable to finish one thought before jumping to another. "I promise you, if you will give me a chance, I will make things right. I'll show you that I can be the man you deserve."
I had no idea how I could show her when I'd be on the other side of the country, but I'd figure it out. I'd make it work, because the alternative was unacceptable.
"I knew there was a chance you'd be leaving, that you'd get into the FBI, but I pictured us in a completely different situation." She shook her head. "Not like this."
"Don't give me an answer now. Think about it, please."
She stared at me, her eyes sweeping over my face before she slowly nodded her head. "I'll think about it."
I pulled her to me and hugged her, absorbing the feel of her body against mine before I had to let her go. I buried my face in her hair and whispered against her ear, "I love you."
"I can't give you that. I can't say it out loud... It's the only thing I have to hold on to."
I wanted to remind her she'd already said it, but wondered if maybe she didn't even realize she had. Instead of pushing, I whispered okay, and squeezed her tighter.
She pulled away from me and smoothed her tangled hair off her face. "I need to go."
I pulled her up from the couch and kept my fingers threaded through hers as we walked in silence to the front door. Turning the handle and opening the door for her to leave was physically painful, but she'd listened, and that was more than I deserved.
"I'll call you. Soon."
I leaned forward and pressed my lips softly against her forehead. "I'll be waiting."
She turned and walked away from the door, our fingers tangled until the distance finally pulled them apart. I was once again watching her walk away, but this time it felt different.
This time I didn't feel like she was walking away forever.
I held onto that feeling as I closed the door and retreated back to my room.
I would hold onto that feeling until she called, until she made a decision that could change everything.
Twelve days: I was leaving in twelve days. Rose and Emmett hadn't pressed for details when they'd come home two nights ago, much to my relief. Not that there was much I could've told them with so many things still left undecided.
But she knew now—she knew how I felt about her and what I wanted. I just hoped that it was enough.
I crawled into bed and pulled her pillow against my chest, hating the fresh scent of laundry detergent. I looked at my phone one last time before drifting off to sleep, feeling my heart clench a little as I stared at the blank screen.
Eight Days: I shoved my clothes into the box and wiped away the sweat dripping from my hair. I fucking hated packing, but it had to be done. I'd been run ragged over the last few days, between blood work, paperwork, and packing I almost hadn't had time to think about the fact that Bella still hadn't called. Almost.
Four Days: I was leaving in four days and I was a nervous fucking wreck. Rose and Emmett tried to reassure me; they tried to tell me that I was making the right decision, that regardless of what Bella decided, I couldn't stop living my life.
I'd asked them what they would do if it were them in this situation. It was no surprise they had no answer for that. I'd spoken to Bella a couple of days ago, but she was on her way to work, so it was brief...and awkward. And even her promise to text me later gave me little reassurance that things were going to be okay. Especially since a text never came.
Two Days: I had two days left before I flew to the other side of the country and started the next phase of my life. I shook my head as I thought back to last year and how fucking ready I'd been to get the hell out of Seattle; to get away from everything and everyone here and start over. Never once did I think that leaving Seattle would become the last fucking thing that I wanted to do.
Mom and Dad drove up from Forks and took us all out to dinner. They didn't bring up the fact that Bella wasn't there, likely because they hadn't expected to see her.
After everything that happened last time, I knew better than to shut them out or lie to them. The look of disappointment and sadness on both their faces as I confessed to all of the horrible things I'd done shamed me.
But when they hugged me goodbye, told me to be careful, and to remember to call home, Mom's whispered words of, 'if we're meant to be, then love would find a way', made me grip her a little tighter in thanks. And still, I went to bed without a word from Bella.
I turned the corner on my street and slowed my pace, taking in the scene around me for the last time. I was leaving later this afternoon and I still had so many things to get done. Mainly, tracking down Bella and forcing her to talk to me.
I couldn't leave without seeing her, or at least talking to her. It had been two weeks, and we'd had one brief phone call...and then a text from her yesterday asking when I was leaving. It wasn't enough, not by a longshot.
I jogged down the corridor and pushed the front door open, kicking my shoes off before heading to my bedroom. As soon as I walked through the doorway, I stopped dead in my tracks.
"Hey," Bella said quietly as she looked at my now bare walls.
"What are you doing here?" I asked stunned. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, because I am. I'm really fucking happy, but it just seemed like..." I trailed off knowing that she knew exactly how it seemed.
"For the last two weeks I have imagined every possible scenario of the choice I have to make," she confessed, bringing her knee up to her chest where she sat on the edge of my bed.
"Do I turn my back and walk away from something that could be amazing? Or do I stay, give you another chance, and possibly end up completely broken?"
"I'm not going to hurt you, Bella," I replied, walking over to the bed and sitting so I was facing her.
"After everything that's happened, knowing how it feels to lose you, to live without you..." I shook my head and leaned forward, pulling her hand between mine. "I'll never do anything that could take you away from me again."
She sighed and gave me a small smile. "You always say exactly the right words. But that's one of the things that scares me the most, because you've always known what to say, even when you were lying to my face."
"I know," I conceded, because it was the truth. I had spun every situation to make myself appear as someone I wasn't: a fraud, a fake.
"You have the power to break me beyond repair and that terrifies me," she admitted, turning so she mirrored my position, her other hand coming to rest on my knee. "But the thought of not giving you an opportunity to make me feel the way I did when things were good... I can't deny myself that chance. I'd always wonder what if?"
"So you're saying," I choked, the words stuck in my throat, afraid that if I let them go they would vanish.
"I'm saying, show me, don't tell me. Prove to me that I can trust you. Prove to me that what we had is worth it. Prove to me you love me like you claim."
I pulled her towards me and wrapped my arms around her waist. "I won't make you regret this," I swore.
"I'm not promising you anything other than I'll try. You understand that, right?" she asked, pulling back from me slightly.
"I understand. That's all I'm asking for."
"And you understand there's a chance things won't work out?" she asked forcefully.
I shook my head and smiled at her. "We're meant to be together, there's only one way this will end."
"Edward," she sighed, sliding off the bed and rising to her feet. "I can't...how can you be so certain? You lied to me for months, the person who you say you want to spend the rest of your life with. How is that even possible?"
"Because I was afraid. I was so scared of losing you that I let my fear cloud everything else," I reasoned, trying to find the words to describe how hard it had been for me to keep so many secrets from her.
"What about the next time you're afraid, or angry, or hurt?" she asked, her hands rising in front of her as she shrugged her shoulders. "Will your love for me be secondary to those other emotions again? Because I can't handle that."
"No, Bella. There won't be a next time. And I know it doesn't matter now, but I really was going to tell you everything the day that. Well...you know..." I trailed off, unable to think about seeing her face that day with her standing so close.
"You say that now, but I have to wonder...would you have been able to go through with it?" she questioned, her eyes focused on the floor as she shook her head slowly.
"I would have," I promised.
"But I'll never know now," she reminded me. She raised her eyes to mine and shifted her weight. "I have to go, I have work."
"Okay," I whispered, stepping closer to her. "Can I...will you let me hug you goodbye?"
"Yeah," she choked, her eyes filling with tears.
I crushed her to my chest, wrapping my arms around her waist and holding her as tight as I dared. Knowing this was the last time I would feel her body against mine for months...maybe ever.
"I can call you, right?" I needed to know if she was going to open up that line of communication with me...give me something.
She shifted uneasily, hesitating for a moment before nodding her head slightly.
"Yeah," she whispered, stepping away from me. "Be safe."
"Yeah, I will. You too," I murmured, my throat tight, my words thick.
After she left, I played the conversation over and over in my head, wondering if I could have said something different—wondering if I could have given her more reassurance—but the static in my brain kept everything out of focus.
When it was time to board the plane—even with all the promises and opportunities she'd given me—the moment the door sealed shut, every cell in my body screamed to run back to her: to stay with her, to never leave her side.
I sat heavily in my seat and pulled out the new journal I'd bought the day before. She'd read so much of the bad, so many horrible and shitty thoughts that I'd written, and it was time to change that.
It was time so show her exactly what I thought, and how I felt about her—about us—about our future...together.
Hiii! So I'm sitting in the backseat of my in laws car on my way to some safari in the middle of God knows where FL. I don't have the best of luck with animals people, if you don't hear from me again I was probably eaten by a bird.
Thanks to cejsmom for her beta badassness, Meg for her tetris ninja skills on making all the parts fit so well, & Kelly and Julie for prereading and so so much more.
OH Practice to Deceive and Dirt Roads have been nominated for the isparkle awards! You guys are more than welcome to give them a nod...you know, in case I'm pecked to death by a bird...
Thanks for reading!