Chapter 9

A bit after eight-thirty, Edward's car pulls up in front of the house. I've had one glass of wine, and the kids are asleep. Hopefully, it's a good recipe for a difficult conversation.

Walking up to the house, he spots me on the porch and waves as he trips over a broken step, but he catches himself before he falls.

"Guess we all can't be as graceful as you, Cullen."

"You never disappointed, Swan."

"Yeah. Well, there are those who'd tend to disagree with you, bud."

Though I ask him if he'd prefer to go inside, Edward settles himself into a chair facing me and pours himself a greedy glassful of wine.

"Before we start, can I ask you a question?"

"I guess. I hope it won't kill the mood," I giggle.

Maybe that was a big glass of wine I drank?

"Well, it's been driving me crazy, and I'd like to know."

"Try waiting fourteen years."

And... I'm sober again.

"Y-ouch."

"You want to know why my kids' last name is Black."

"You know me so well."

"Well, I used to, but some things are easy to figure out," I say.

"So?"

"He's a cousin of Jacob's."

"Wait. You didn't marry Jake?"

Chuckling, I reply, "You were the only one who thought he had feelings for me. No, I didn't marry Jake. I attended the wedding of one of his sisters and met a distant cousin of his on his father's side. We discovered we lived close to each other, and so we kept in touch. And then we were more. Now, we're the parents of the kids sleeping inside, but that's all."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Bella," he says, reaching out to touch my knee. He stops himself and reaches for his glass instead. "It's his loss."

"Yeah, it is. But it's a story for another day."

After a lingering silence and a few sips of our wine, I gather my courage and start.

"My turn," I say.

Taking a big gulp of his wine, he settles back into his chair and nods for me to go ahead.

"Why'd you do it?" I notice his trepidation, but I'm not letting him off this time. "It's an easy question."

"Easy questions don't always come with easy answers. I was stupid, immature. Just eighteen. Scared. Peer pressure. I didn't do it to hurt you, Bella. That's the last thing I wanted. I believed it was what I needed, what we needed."

"You never said anything. No warning, nothing. How long had you been feeling that way?"

His face full of regret, he replies, "I'd been struggling with it the last few months of school."

The relief in my voice is obvious when I breathe out, "So when you were so busy and avoiding me, you weren't cheating on me?"

"No, Bella! No! How could you think that? I loved you! I thought we were soulmates."

"Soulmates? Who breaks up with their soulmate!"

"Apparently, I do. The guys at school were all talking about going away to college and partying, girls. They kept going on and on about finally being free from the rules of our parents. My dad was on me all the time about school. Keeping my grades up, working for him at the clinic. You and I were talking about moving in together, sharing a car. Everything was happening too quickly."

Stunned, I sit staring at him, not knowing what to say. Part of me is so hurt by his words and actions, but there's also a part of me that understands exactly what he's saying.

"Why didn't you talk to me?"

"I was scared. I didn't want to hurt you. You were everything to me, which was part of the problem. It all became too much. I thought we'd take the last few weeks of summer to readjust, and everything would be okay."

"The day you came over to talk..." I have to stop and take a breath, the words so hard to say. "I'd just received my acceptance... We could have stayed together, done the long distance thing."

"Trust me, I know," he says, the grief written all over his face.

"I didn't understand what had happened. I just couldn't talk to you. I was so hurt and confused. I needed to get away, so I left immediately. If only I'd known what you were thinking."

He looks at me with watery eyes. "I wondered, and then I knew. I waited until I got to campus to come talk to you. I was miserable. I went to your dorm to look for you on the first day, and they told me you'd given up your room. I called Rose and Alice, but they didn't know what had happened to you. I was too embarrassed to call your parents. When I finally got the nerve to call your cell, it was disconnected."

"I moved across the country. Decided to get a phone there. Alice found me, though. I spoke to her on my birthday," I squeak out.

Trying to keep my emotions in check is hard. I want to stay calm, to remain focused. My heart hurts so much. We lost out on so much.

"She told me. Wouldn't tell me any more. Said if I wanted to know, I'd have to call you."

"You never did."

A few tears fall down his face as he recalls that time. Wiping them away, he says, "No. I never tried. I knew I'd lost you. I felt horrible, but I deserved it."

Shrugging his shoulders, he continues. "I didn't do much partying, and the girls scared me. School was hard. Being away from you and my parents was harder than I thought it'd be. I missed my best friend, but I knew I had to let you go."

- HtbF -

Our history and the wine helps the conversation flow into other aspects of our lives. I'm not ready for a walk down memory lane, but I am curious about some of what I've missed.

"How'd you end up as a teacher? I have to admit, it was a bit of a shock. I mean, it's well-suited to you. Michael is thriving in your class and talks about you all the time. What happened to becoming a doctor?"

"My freshman year, I was lost. Hated the pre-med classes I was taking. The only class I actually enjoyed, and was doing well in, was an elective. Our friends were all busy, and it was hard to make new ones. I was pretty unhappy, and my grades were suffering. I'd lost some weight and was floundering, so my parents insisted I refocus over the Christmas break."

"How'd you decide on teaching?"

"I thought back to what made me happy. I'd always enjoyed being around kids when I was a camp counselor and coaching Little League with Emmett. I loved school and learning, but not what I was learning. I did a few 'ideal career' quizzes, and they all said I should be a teacher. They were right."

"Are you happy?"

"It was the one decision I made which was the right one. I had to work hard to catch up. I took several classes over the summer and some extra courses through the years, but it was worth it. Kept me busy and my mind off of my other failures." He looks at me, but he doesn't have to say it; I know breaking up with me was one of those.

"And Forks? After me, you were the last person I expected to find here," I say.

"One of my teaching placements was here. Well, I finagled it to be here. An opportunity presented itself, and I took it."

"And?"

"Forks is great. Yes, it seems small at times, but Seattle isn't far away. I visit Emmett and Alice when I can. Catch a game or two. Work keeps me busy, and I've made a life here.

"You never married?"

"Nope. Was engaged once. Didn't work out."

"Oh? Can I ask why?"

"I'm an open book, Bella. You can ask me anything." He's a bit chagrined as he says it, but time has allowed us to grow up. "She lived in Seattle, and I lived here. Ironically, we tried the long-distance thing for awhile. Both of us were never going to move, and so we decided to end it."

"Seeing anyone?"

"Nah. Forks isn't teeming with interesting single women." He turns to look at me, saying, "Present company excluded, of course."

"Of course."

"So, no. How about you?" he asks.

"Nah. Forks isn't teeming with interesting single guys," I giggle.

"Present company?" Shaking his head, he knows. "Too soon?"

"Yeah, too soon." Smiling sadly at him, I continue. "I never thought I'd be sitting here with you having this conversation. It'll take some time, probably not too much, but maybe we could try being friends again?"

"The day you brought Michael his lunch, I'd never been so happy to see someone in my life. I've missed you, Bella. I know I deserved to miss you, but I did. I want to to be friends with you."

"It's crazy when you think about it."

"What is?"

"I know we've had a long time to deal with this and all, but the fact I don't want to kill you kinda makes me happy."

He's so confused when he replies, "What?"

"Well, here we are, making jokes. We've laughed. Yes, we've cried, too. But I'm comfortable with you. I've been avoiding you all these weeks -"

"I knew it!"

"Well, it was pretty obvious I was. Before we started, I didn't think I'd be feeling happy right now, but I am."

"Same here."

We officially end the night by offering up a toast to tomorrow and to who knows what. After we say our goodbyes, I enter the house where we'd last closed the door on our friendship. This time, I know I'm opening the door to a new future.

I know he screwed up. So did I. Who knows? Maybe we wouldn't have made it as a couple. Or maybe we'd be sitting here, and it'd be our children sleeping inside? We'll never know. But I need to stop hanging on to the past. It's time we learned how to be friends again.

- HtbF -

A short epi will follow. I hope it was what you were expecting.