I burst out laughing in spite of myself. I can't help it. Of all the things in the entire world he could have said, I never once would have expected that. And a part of me stops to wonder if it's at all possible he's telling the truth. Jesus fucking Christ. That cannot be the truth…can it? Of course, I silently tell myself to shut the fuck up.

But the laughing – the laughing feels good.

"Why…why…" I sputter. "Why would you say that?"

He laughs and it's nice. You know, his laughter. It's…yeah, it's nice. "I told you I would only answer one question."

He steps back and smiles down at me. It doesn't go unnoticed that even though I feel more comfortable with the distance, I kind of miss the closeness. The feeling of someone's body in close proximity to mine. Yeah, I don't do that anymore. Not with anyone. Not even my friends.

"You told me you'd tell me the truth."

"You're right," he says. His expression softens, deepens…but then he shakes his head before looking out the glass door. "It's raining."

"Fuck. Is it?" I groan. I didn't bring a jacket and my building is six blocks away. "I need to go."

"Do you have an umbrella?"

"No," I tell him. "But that's alright. I'll just run."

"You'll get wet."

"It's fine."

"Well, I do," he says. "I mean…I have an umbrella and I could walk you home…and you know…maybe tell you the truth on the way."

He looks hopeful.

"You're right. You didn't tell me the truth."

"That could have been the truth."

"If that's the truth, you should have it put on a business card. You could hand it out to random women at these meetings. I'm sure you'd be able to walk any number of them home."

"I'd like to walk you home, Bella."

His voice is soft again, genuine. And it immediately makes me uncomfortable. I stiffen and begin backing away from him. This has been too easy…and all of it's too much. I'm not ready for anything like this. I'm not ready to be here. In this place. With him.

"I'm not…yeah, I'm not going to do that."

"It's not a big deal," he says. "I live really close. It's doesn't even have to be like I'm walking you home. You'll just be sharing my umbrella."

I look at his face. The slight flush of his cheeks. The way his Adam's apple bobs in and out as he swallows. Almost like he's nervous. But he's not nervous. Not the way I am. And he doesn't really want to walk me home. Well, he wouldn't. Not if he knew.

"That's okay."

"What if I promise to make you laugh again?"

His persistence makes me want to stay. It makes me want to stay and that scares me and pisses me off. And I don't know if I'm pissed at him for asking, or pissed at myself because of the way that I'm feeling. Confused and torn…and vulnerable.

And I can't let myself be vulnerable anymore.

Vulnerability makes you susceptible to hurt…to fucking pain.

"No…I just….I can't."

My voice breaks on the last word and I know he hears it because he immediately backs off. Both figuratively and literally. And now, I want to cry because this is what my life has become. I can't even talk to a handsome man – or any man for that matter anymore. I've become this socially awkward outcast. I wasn't like this before. I used to laugh and flirt and have fun.

Nothing is the same now.

Nothing is ever going to be the same again.

"Hey," he says, and I look up and meet his eyes. I don't want to…but something in his voice makes me. Like, it literally pulls my eyes to his like a fucking magnet. "I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't…I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I don't have to walk you home. But don't go out into the rain. Stay here. Have some coffee. I can tell you the truth here. Or make you laugh. Whatever you want."

And I'm looking at him, knowing that if I open my mouth to speak, I'm going to cry. And I've already humiliated myself enough for one night. Why can't I handle this? Why can't I handle anything? Why did I let someone make me feel so insignificant that I've ended up here?

In fucking group therapy.

And his eyes – Edward's eyes – they're looking at me like they understand. He's looking at me like he knows what I'm feeling. But I can't handle him knowing…and I can't handle his understanding. I can barely handle myself.

So, with that I do the only thing I can.

I turn and I walk out.

Out into the rain.

Back to my life, where it's enough to just be getting by.





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