A/N: You guys are the absolute best :) Thank you for being here and cheering me on. It means the world to me!

Scheduled for Friday
by Anton M.

Act III

59: I Am Nala


Friday, February 24 (cont.)

Edward didn't turn north to get to Smyrna.

He didn't turn west to return to our old house.

Instead, he sped through subdivisions, turned south, picked a route off Thornton Road, and took a sharp right on Riverside Parkway. I checked and rechecked for anyone following us. Nobody did.

My heart beat rang in my ears as we crossed a freeway. I trusted Edward, I trusted him. He'd never hurt me. But when he took a sharp left and sped to the end of a random dead end road in need of repair, I felt spooked. A long, square gray building stretched on our side, a road was visible behind trees on the other, and when Edward finally stopped his bike in front of two blocks of concrete with a view to industrial buildings, he turned his head and gestured for me to get off.

His body was tense under my hands as I slid off his bike. Heart in my throat, I removed my helmet.

"Edward…"

He tore off his helmet, stumbled off the bike, jumped ahead of its clanking on the pavement and ran to the edge of the road.

He threw up.

"Edward," I whispered, frantically checking my bag for water before I walked closer to him.

I'd expected disappointment, sadness, rage, fear—but whatever this was, it felt worse. It was such a visceral rejection of what we'd just been through, and my brain hadn't even caught up to the obvious leak but I suddenly felt so ashamed of my fear of where Edward could've been taking me. He wouldn't hurt me. He wouldn't just drop me on the side of the road no matter how furious he was.

But what he would do, what he did do, was seek privacy. It was such a random, spontaneously-chosen dead end next to industrial buildings with barely any windows, he couldn't have chosen better. No parking lot, no humans, nothing.

This road had no meaning to either of us. Nobody could've thought to look for us here.

Fuck, he was smart.

I stepped closer to him, wanting to relieve him of his backpack, hoping to rub his back, but Edward jerked away from my hand.

"Don't touch me," he snapped, his voice sharp and hurt in a way I'd never heard. I didn't dare make a sound as he continued throwing up. Blinking away my tears, I held my half-empty water bottle and waited.

When his vomiting was replaced by spitting and slow, deliberate breathing, Edward dropped his backpack and helmet on the pavement and rubbed his forehead.

"I didn't realize I'm not the only chess player in this relationship," he said, looking at me with a twisted smile. He sat on the concrete make-do bollard at the end of the road, buried his face in his hands and laughed in a scary, near-maniac way. "But I think a part of me knew."

I had so many questions but I stepped closer and held my water bottle in front of his face.

"Take it. Please."

Frozen, Edward stared at my bottle before he snapped it out of my hands, got up, and rinsed his mouth on the side of the road. He didn't even glance at me as he returned my empty bottle, sat down, and popped a gum in his mouth. Saying nothing, he offered me one. My throat heated up at the gesture.

I didn't know how I'd shoulder the weight of the world if he wasn't there beside me.

"I'm sorry," I said in a small, whispery voice I wasn't proud of. "I'm so sorry, Edward."

"Underground fucking Memories," Edward said, ignoring my apology, running frustrated palms over his buzz cut. His voice shook with disbelief. "That's it—right? The only other Nala is in The Lion King, and no way would half of Hollywood camp outside our school for that. My fucking girlfriend is Nala." He looked up, face pale and eyes shining, straightening his fingers in the air before he kicked his backpack. "Fuck."

I stepped back. "I'm sorry."

"For what? For me being the only person in school who hasn't read the books yet? And fuck. There were signs."

"Signs?" I asked, desperately wishing I could've sat in his lap and hugged him close, held his hand, anything. "How did you know?"

He scoffed. "I didn't."

"You said—"

"I didn't know," he repeated, gesturing with his hands, tense and frustrated. "But… there were signs. More and more. I dismissed them. I mean, look at where you lived, for fuck's sake. Wearing your mom's clothes. Not having a fucking security alarm. Driving your parents' dusty old car. Living in a trailer not even three years ago." He groaned. "Fuck I'm stupid."

"You are not stupid."

"So stupid," he repeated. "You have a body double, Bella. A body double. Who has a fucking body double unless they're the star of the show? And I googled scleral lenses, you know, because why wouldn't you just throw them away? They are expensive. Expensive enough that, if they made them for random side characters, you bet your ass someone on set would've said something when you left. But a main character used to wearing them often enough that nobody checks anymore? Even the hotel, a few nights ago. I explained it away, thought you guys are just extra paranoid about the paparazzi discovering your show. But it wasn't just the show. It was your role. Because of course you were worried about your role. Because you're fucking Nala." Edward groaned. "I could be an Egyptian scuba diver with how deep in denial I've been."

The laugh that burst out of me felt so hollow I stopped immediately.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Edward. It wasn't supposed to go this way. I was going to take you to the studio today to sign an NDA. I wanted to be the one to tell you. I fought to be the one to tell you."

"NDA? Your NDA?" Incredulous, Edward looked up. "You're joking. What the fuck do I have that I could put on the line if I broke it?"

I hesitated. "Me."

"What do you mean, you?"

"It was going to be my money. The same amount as I'd have lost had I broken it."

Edward got up and towered over me with an incredulous expression before he rushed to the edge of the pavement and dry-heaved. Shoulders slumped, he leaned on his thighs with straight arms and waited for the moment to pass.

"You're rich," he muttered, grimacing at the word. "Of course you are."

I didn't say a word as he straightened and turned around, eyes shimmering, wearing the most heartbroken expression.

"I'm not mad because you didn't tell me," he said in a clear, low voice, teetering on the edge of emotion. "I'm not mad because you didn't break your NDA."

Stepping in front of him, I swallowed the heat in my throat and forced myself not to reach out and touch him. God, he was so tall.

"Why are you mad, then?"

Eyes glassy, Edward gazed into the distance over my head. His lips didn't wobble only because of how long he pressed them together.

"I thought we'd," he started, clearing his throat, assessing me with a wistful, heartfelt gaze. "I thought I'd go off to college and… do long-distance and I'd scrape some money together to come visit you as often as possible. I thought that one day, I'd…" Edward laughed without humor, shaking his head. "Never mind, that. I didn't know I only had you until—this."

"You don't. Unless you want to break up with me. Do you?"

Eyes glinting with emotion, Edward searched my eyes, but his lack of answer was everything. I lowered my gaze at his chest, blinking away the sting in my eyes.

"I see," I whispered. I fought the heat in my throat. "Just do it, then. I won't fight you."

"Feather-heart." A cold, steady palm slid into mine before Edward pressed my hand against his stomach. His breathy voice had a fragile quality to it. "I don't want to break up with you."

I squeezed his hand. My tears spilled over.

"No?"

"No," he replied with a smile in his voice. He stepped close enough for me to feel his breath on my forehead. He tilted my chin up. His face swam in my view. "But… I need time."

I kissed his knuckles. I hated how my voice trembled but I couldn't help it. "How much time?"

"At least… the weekend. It's not because of you, it's just, this ambush, this attention, this, this level of insanity… just give me the weekend."

"Of course," I replied, heart swelling with hope. I longed to kiss him but I didn't want to push.

Edward's face paled before he pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Fuck. Your parents must be terrified."

"I'll message them."

"Message them?" Edward repeated, exasperated as he scrolled through my parent's increasingly urgent texts before he called them. Scared that he'd avoid my touch, I didn't let go of his hand, and I almost cried when he absent-mindedly scratched his chest with my knuckles.

"Your dad told me not to go around and through the other subdivision," Edward said after he finished the call. "It's too likely that we'd teach the paparazzi the route. Instead, you text him when we get close and Emmett will help us inside."

"Okay," I whispered, as if that didn't sound terrifying. How many people were waiting in front of our house? Had my parents called the school to excuse our absence? Would I be able to go back?

Edward let go of my hand as he put on his backpack and picked up his helmet, and my expression must've revealed my fear because he returned to my side. His eyes softened as he kissed my temple.

"So who's your co-star?"

Relieved to see a sliver of the old Edward, I smiled. "Mike Newton."

Edward's lips parted. "No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Yes."

"You said it wasn't."

"I did no such thing."

"But Mike Newton is—Master of Whiners? Does he know this? You asked me to be your first kiss because you didn't want it to be Mike fucking Newton? You're joking."

"Not at all."

Edward wiped his face, scoffing. "Well, fuck."

I laughed.

Startled to realize that I didn't even know what had leaked, or when, or if it was my fault, I asked for Edward's phone, and I pressed a grateful kiss against his chest when he pulled me against him. Together, we read Google's search results.

'Bahati and Mike Newton Star in NorthDust Studios Leaked Teaser of Underground Memories'

'Hundreds of millions rejoice as the decade's most awaited TV show teaser leaks on YouTube'

'You will not believe how many characters G-Kam's daughter Bahati voices in Underground Memories!'

'Brazil's Tanya Apolônia directs Underground Memories'

'Mike Newton says 'nobody on set' knew Bahati's real father'

'Why is Bella Swan credited as Bahati in Underground Memories?'

Edward paled, clearly overwhelmed, running his palm over his buzz cut as he gave me an uneasy smile. "Why?"

"Bella Swan was taken in the SAG-AFTRA. Bella Bahati Swan is a mouthful, so… I'm Bahati to the world."

"But you're credited as Bella Swan in Little Elf."

"I wasn't a part of SAG-AFTRA when we made it."

Eager, excited, terrified—I locked Edward's phone. He felt stiff against me as he pocketed it and avoided my gaze. His posture spoke of uncertainty, fear and the crushing weight of unimaginable attention. I felt it, too.

"Edward," I whispered, scared of the words he didn't say.

"I just need time." He gave me a bittersweet smile and handed me my helmet. "But first, let's get you home safe."