A/N:*hangs head in shame* I spoke too soon last time, didn't I? Epic author fail. Anyway, it may not be a bad idea to go back to the last chapter and refresh your memories. If you're reading this, it means you've stuck around, so thank you! I mean it.

As always, I would suck monkey balls if it weren't for pinkaquaclouds and lyleslove. They deserve all the awards for their patience with me. For serious.

Hopefully this one is worth the wait! Enjoy!

Chapter 24: Pink-ing of You

The silence only lasts a total of six seconds, but it seems to stretch on for hours.

Hours of Bella and Ben staring each at each other as a million different emotions pass across their faces. They mirror each other's shock and embarrassment and horror and guilt. Bella keeps glancing away, searching for an escape, and Ben keeps rubbing the back of his neck.

Bella realizes that Ben is still holding out the jar of seasoning for her to take, and she reddens.

"Thanks," she mumbles.

Ben nods, blue eyes looking everywhere except at her, before he finally settles his gaze on a spot above her shoulder.

"It's been a while," he says casually. The words are forced. He doesn't want to make small talk any more than she does.

"It has," Bella responds, occupying herself with the items in her arms.

"Do you want some help with that?" Ben points to the load in her arms.

"Oh no, I'm fine."

More silence.

"So, uh, how are you?" Ben asks. "How's your Dad? I heard he hurt his foot."

"He's good. That was a while ago. I'm good, too. We're all... good."

Bella cringes at her awkwardness, but Ben surprises her with a small smile. It's charming; just like she remembers it. But this time, instead of charming her, the smile bothers her.

Why does he smile? Better yet, why does he look at her like that?

"What?" Bella asks, the irritation just barely evident in her tone.

Ben shakes his head distractedly. "Nah, it's nothing. You look good, by the way."

Bella's eyes narrow as she tries to figure out if he means it. She really looks at him, and realizes that he, too, looks good. More than good. He's more muscular than she remembers, slightly unshaved and rugged. His eyes are still as blue, though they look tired, but there's too much gel in his hair.

Sure, he's still handsome in a conventional, movie actor kind of way.

But the appeal is gone.

As handsome as he is, he's not her type and never was.

"Thanks," Bella says, smiling. She glances down at her arms. "I should really get these emergency items home..."

"I guess I'll see you soon?" Ben isn't looking at her again, but at the edge of a magazine rack that seems to interest him.


It feels like the weight of an elephant has been lifted from her shoulders when they finally part ways. She can't make it to checkout fast enough, nor can she walk any faster to the car.

As she peels out of the parking lot, Bella lets out a sigh of relief.

She wonders when she's going to stop running away.

The screen of Bella's phone illuminates the inside of her makeshift tent, and she buries herself deeper under the covers as she calls Edward.

Curling onto her side, she listens to the phone ring on the other end, excitement bubbling in her stomach. She needs to hear his voice.


The smile that spreads across Bella's face is instantaneous. "Hi."

"How was your day?" Edward asks, chuckling. The sound of his voice is a lot deeper on the phone. Bella likes it, and she subconsciously rubs her thighs together.

"It was all right," she replies. "It feels so weird being back... I miss you."

Edward sighs. "So much, Bella. So much."

"How's everything in Chicago?"

"Hectic. I'm glad for some peace and quiet. It's so good to hear your voice."

Bella hums in agreement, closing her eyes and rolling onto her stomach. She remembers talking to him like this before, back when they were in high school. It really wasn't that long ago, and yet it feels like it's been ages.

"Remember when we used to do this?" Bella asks in a whisper.

"I do," Edward says quietly. She hears rustling on his end, probably bed sheets. "Quite vividly."

"Doesn't it feel like it's been a decade?"

"It does. I like this better, though. I like what we have now."

"Except you were closer before," Bella says wistfully. "Only a window away..."

They fall into a nostalgic silence, embellished with nothing but the sound of their breathing. Bella listens to Edward's even breath, in and out, and allows it to lull her. Her eyes are beginning to droop when he speaks again.

"When do you suppose we should tell our parents?" he asks.

The question renews Bella's alertness. "About what?"


Thinking about it makes Bella cringe. She has no idea how her parents would react, not just to having a boyfriend at college, but that boyfriend being Edward. An atheist sexologist's son, and the boy she'd sat crying in the back of her parents' car for. Confessing their secret friendship and her inadvertent infidelity with Ben.

Something in her told her that her father would be reasonable.

Her mother? Not a chance.

Bella lets out a whoosh of air. "I'm nervous."

"I think my parents already know," Edward adds. "They don't know who... but they've always been annoyingly observant."

"Ugh, mine too," Bella says. "They noticed me texting all day. It even felt good to get away and go to Thriftway."

Thinking of Thriftway reminds Bella of Ben, and she flushes with the memory.

She can't hide this from Edward, as much as she wants to pretend it never happened.

"So, I ran into someone there..." She trails off, biting her lip and hoping he'll use his genius to figure it out from the tone of her voice alone.


Bella frowns. She didn't think Alice would be the first person to pop into his mind.

"No… Someone else."

"Well, judging by your anxious tone and reluctance to just outright say it... Benjamin Cheney."

Bella sighs. "Bingo."

Edward groans, and she hears him rustling around, probably sitting up and rubbing his face in annoyance.

Bella burrows herself deeper under the covers and letting her tired body sink into the mattress.

"Please tell me he was gentlemanly, although I doubt it. I don't believe he's capable of anything but Neanderthal behavior."

"It was really awkward. Painfully awkward. I wanted to disappear."

"Did you talk much?"

"Nothing past the formalities."

Edward pauses. "... How did you feel? Other than awkward?"

It feels like a loaded question, and Bella pauses to wonder what he really wants to know.

"I don't think we talked long enough for me to feel anything other than desperation to get out of there..."

Edward is silent, and Bella wants into his head.

"What?" she whispers.

"I just wonder, sometimes..."

"Wonder what?"

They're both speaking in quieter voices now, though there's no reason to. It feels safer and more intimate this way, like they could reveal their deepest secrets without actually facing them.

"Forget it," Edward says. "I'm reverting to my old, insecure teenage self."

Realization dawns on Bella.

"Don't," she whispers. "It's always been you, Edward. Always."

He sighs. "I know. I'm being illogical."

"You? Illogical? Impossible."

Edward chuckles, and the deep, rumbling sound gives Bella goose bumps, even in the warmth of her blankets. She rubs her thighs together again, and her hand slips between her legs. It sits there, unmoving, as she listens to him.

"I have my moments," Edward says, and she can hear his smile. In that moment, she wants nothing more than to see it.

More silence, and then Edward speaks quietly.

"I can't stop thinking about yesterday..."

His voice is a quiet murmur, barely audible through the phone, and yet she feels his words on her skin, as though he'd reached out and touched her.

"Me too," she whispers, and now she's aware of the hand between her legs. She doesn't move it, though she aches.

"I keep thinking about how amazing you are," Edward says. "I'm addicted to the memory of how beautiful you are when you..." He trails off, his breath hitching, and takes a deep breath.

Bella already knows what he's thinking, and the memory comes back to her in a flood of vivid images and bated desires. Only half aware of what she's doing, she strokes herself through her sleep shorts and longs for how Edward's hands felt on her.

"Mmm," she hums, and hears Edward's intake of breath. "That was fun."

More rustling on Edward's end, and then a sigh. She thinks about how much she loves him and how much she wants to do that for him. Please him the way he pleased her.

She doesn't know if her courage comes from being hidden under her blankets or from not having to show her face, but what she says next makes her feel bold.

"I want to do that for you," she murmurs. "I want to make you feel good. I want to touch you."

She blushes when she says it, but not from coyness or shame. Her face is warm with desire, and she wonders how she turned into this girl.

Edward is silent, but she can hear a change in his breathing.

"Bella?" he says after a moment. His voice is hoarse. "Do you want to... come with me?"

If it weren't for his husky tone of voice, Bella wouldn't have understood what he meant. But she is now acutely aware of the hand she has between her legs, and there is no doubting the meaning of his words.

"Okay," she whispers, her heart beginning to pound.

"Can you imagine me lying with you?" he asks. "Touching you like I did before?"

Bella nods, eyes closed, but then realizes he can't see her. "Yes."

"Imagine me doing that again. Except… except we're not wearing anything."

Bella stifles a whimper. "I just want to feel you. I want you in my hand. I remember how good you made me feel, and I want to do that for you. I want to watch you react to me, like how you watched me."

Bella marvels at how it feels to say this to him. It doesn't feel dirty or wrong. It's quite the opposite. Telling him how she wants to please him nearly feels natural, like it's supposed to be this way.

And it is.

It only takes a few more minutes of whispering to each other for Bella to be touching herself with fervor. His voice and his words nearly drive her insane with need, this need that he sparks in her with his words alone.

She hears his sounds and she wishes she could see his face, watch him close his eyes or bite his lip in pleasure. But she can't.

She can't watch him; she can only imagine. So she imagines his face and his broad shoulders and his strong hands, and she touches herself to these images, lets them fuel the fire beginning to burn at her core. She's so needy for him in this moment, so completely lost to the memory of him, and her next thought comes with such aching clarity that she surprises herself with it.

I want him inside me.

Before she knows it, she's panting, and the phone drops from her hands as she loses herself to the movement of her wrist. She loses herself to the slow, steady building in her abdomen, suddenly the only thing that matters.

She whimpers and then bites her lip, barely managing to choke out Edward's name, broken and barely audible, before she moans into the pillow and shudders.

Glistening with sweat and coming down from her high, Bella laughs in disbelief. She covers her mouth and laughs some more before picking her phone up to make sure Edward is still there.

His heavy panting on the other side is all the answer she needs.

"Wow, huh?" she giggles, and Edward laughs as well, sounding more relaxed.

"Well," he says, probably smiling. "That escalated quickly."

"I really love you," Bella says, grinning stupidly.

"I return the sentiment," he says, sounding sleepy. "Uh…"


"Need to change..."

Bella's eyes widen before she giggles nervously. "Should I call you tomorrow?"

"Don't go..."

She glances at the clock. "It's almost one in the morning. I have to be up in six hours to help Mom with Thanksgiving things..."

Edward sighs. "I'm greedy for you."

When they finally hang up, fifteen minutes later, Bella stares at the ceiling in a daze.

For the first time since coming back to Forks, she feels carefree and happy.

For the first time, she's not dreading Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning, Bella wakes up to blindingly bright sunshine and good morning texts from Edward.

She can't quite put into words how much she misses him. She's already counting down until the moment she lands in New York and into his waiting arms.

"Smells good already," Bella says, walking into the kitchen. "How long have you been up?"

Renee is already slaving away at the stove, and she wipes her forehead with the back of her arm.

"Five," she replies. "Breakfast?"

"I can make it," Bella says, grabbing a box of pancake mix from the pantry. "Why did you have to be up so early?"

"There's a lot to make," Renee states matter-of-factly, and she seems thoroughly distracted. "You might have to run back to the grocery store, actually; I don't know if we're going to have enough mashed potatoes."

Bella frowns. "Why do we need so much if it's only the three of us?"

"Didn't I tell you?" Renee says, still distracted as ever. "We've got guests coming over tonight."

They're interrupted by Charlie's entrance, and Bella is unable to get any answers before she's handed the car keys once again and ordered back to the grocery store.

The second she returns, she hasn't put the grocery bags down for two seconds before she's rounding on her mother.

"Who's our guest?" she asks, pushing down the bad feeling in her gut.

Renee, who had been putting something into the oven, calmly shuts it and turns to face her daughter with a deep breath.

The bad feeling at the pit of Bella's stomach intensifies as Renee eyes are warily, the smallest hint of regret in her eyes.

"Now, try not to overreact," Renee says.

"Tell me," Bella says, and she feels like she already knows the answer.

"The Cheneys have had a tough year-" Renee begins, and Bella can barely hear the rest. She turns towards the counter and places her elbows on the counter, bending forward with her face in her hands. Her mother's words are incomprehensible to her as horror and anger wash through her.

"You knew," she says, straightening and cutting Renee off. "You knew what happened with us and you still invited them?"

"That has nothing to do with it," Renee argues. "For God's sake, Bella, don't be so selfish. The Cheneys are the only family we're very good friends with, and we decided it would be nice if it was more than just the three of us this year."

Bella is seething, and is confused about whether or not she has a reason to be. Surely, her parents had to have considered her past with Ben before they decided to invite them.

Charlie walks into the room carrying a box of fancy china they keep in the attic.

Bella rounds on him. "Did you know?"

Charlie freezes, staring wide-eyed. He gives Renee a chiding look.

Setting the box down on the counter, Charlie gives Bella a pleading look.

"We didn't know if you were going to be coming, honey. We invited the Cheneys a month ago."

Hurt flashes across Bella's face. "Why?"

"We didn't think you'd want to come from so far for so little time," Charlie explains. "New York is far, flights are expensive..." He shakes his head in apology.

"But Mom insisted," Bella says in confusion, looking at Renee.

"That's right," Renee says. "I wanted you here, honey."

Bella sees Renee's words as having a double meaning. A new realization dawns on her with horror and she sees red.

"You're trying to set me up."

She gets no immediate response.

Charlie looks thoroughly displeased, and frustration courses through her like fiery lava.

"I cannot believe this," she says, shaking her head in disgust. "I-" She opens her mouth, almost saying she already has a boyfriend, but snaps her mouth shut.

Instead, she whirls on her heel and stalks upstairs, ignoring their protests and explanations.

In her room, she yanks her phone out and dials Edward, growling in frustration when he doesn't answer. When he doesn't answer the second time, she sends him an urgent text.

SO PISSED. Call me as soon as you get the chance. -B

She sits on the edge of the bed and puts her face in her hands, wondering how she's going to make it through the night.

Edward's call never comes, thanks to a dying phone battery and a day out with his family, but his later texts manage to prevent Bella from pretending to puke so that she won't have to join the others.

Instead, she digs through her suitcase and pulls out the clothes she'd brought for Thanksgiving night. The pale pink cardigan and white tank top suddenly seem too girlish, too casual, yet she can't figure out why it matters what Ben thinks of her.

Deep down, she realizes that it does. The slightly immature part of her wants to look irresistibly good - so good that Ben wishes he'd treated her right when he had the chance.

With a jolt, Bella realizes that Ben never treated her wrong. He just wasn't attuned to her needs, simply because he'd been too young and immature. That was not his fault.

Nevertheless, Bella wants to be different when she sees him. She doesn't want to be the doe-eyed little girl from high school or the awkward girl from the grocery store. She wants to be the confident young woman that college and her friends have made her - all she has to do is look the part.

Approximately an hour later, finishes setting the table when the doorbell rings. Her stomach twists with anxiety and she peeks out the dining room window, though she can't see much.

Voices echo from the foyer and Bella takes a deep breath, reminding herself of Edward's encouraging words. She's not going to overthink this. She's going to be herself and not allow her emotions to get the best of her.

She plasters on a smile and steps into the living room, her eyes landing on Ben right away. He looks extremely uncomfortable as he shakes hands with Charlie, and his discomfort increases when his eyes land on Bella.

He looks good, Bella grants him that. He wears a brown, button-up shirt that manages to emphasize his blue eyes, and dark jeans.

"It's so nice to see you again," Mrs. Cheney says, surprisingly pulling Bella into a hug. Caught off guard by the tightness of her grip, Bella widens her eyes at Ben, who shrugs apologetically.

Ben walks over to Bella but keeps his distance. "I wasn't kidding when I said I'd see you soon," he says, laughing nervously and rubbing the back of his neck.

Bella raises a brow. "You knew?"

Ben frowns. "Knew what?"

Bella stares at him, newly aware that Ben had been in on the whole thing. Apparently, she'd been the only one who hadn't been previously informed about this "surprise" visit.

Pushing down the irritation she feels at her parents, Bella goes into the kitchen and helps her mother bring everything to the table.

She's not surprised that she very conveniently ends up sitting next to Ben. The tension between them is painfully awkward, and they sit stiff in their seats. Bella can see from her peripheral that sits rigidly, his fists curled tight in his knees.

I don't want to be here, either, buddy, Bella thinks. She wishes it were Edward who was sitting next to her.

"So, Ben," Renee says, smiling as they all load their plates with food. "How's school? You're up in Seattle, aren't you? And captain of the soccer team, I hear. That must be exciting."

Ben fidgets with his fork. "Uh, yeah, I am," he says. "And it is. I've always loved soccer. That's not really a secret." He chuckles slightly, but the sound is strained.

Renee looks far too interested. "That's wonderful." She pauses, glances at Bella. "Bella was thinking about joining a team, weren't you Bella? Maybe you could offer her some advice."

Bella frowns at her mother, shaking her head. "I don't… I never said that."

"Of course you did," Renee says, giving her an imploring look. "On the phone a few weeks ago. You said you weren't getting much activity at school and that you wanted to join a team."

Bella suddenly remembers the conversation, but her mother is still way off base.

"I think I said I wanted to try Zumba," Bella says.

Ben laughs. "That's not a sport, Mrs. Swan."

Renee looks putout, but Bella knows she's pretending. "Oh. Well, then."

Bella shifts in her seat, repressing an annoyed sigh. If this is the way her mother is going to behave all night, she'd rather fake an illness and go hide in her room.

Her phone buzzes in her back pocket and she discreetly checks it under the table, breaking the No Cell Phones at the Table rule.

Are you alive, or have you died from horror? –E

Bella bites her lip to stop herself from smiling and takes a few bites of food to keep up appearances before she responds.

Just barely surviving. Mom is going to be the death of me. –B

Throughout the dinner, Bella's mind is only half aware of what is being spoken around her. She falls into a familiar state of daydreaming

"I believe the wedding is in June," Mrs. Cheney says, sipping her wine. "It's about time, too. Honestly, with Mike's promotion at work and Jessica graduating, there's no better time. Mrs. Newton is over the moon."

Bella snaps out of her reverie at the familiar names. "Mike and Jessica from high school?" she asks.

"That's right; you two did go to school together," Mrs. Cheney says, smiling at Bella and Ben.

"I didn't know they were still together," Bella adds, and the surprise in her voice would be insulting to Mike and Jessica, had they been there.

"It's rare, isn't it?" Charlie says distractedly, digging into the dessert. "High school couples rarely last through all four years."


The tension and awkwardness between Ben and Bella intensifies and everyone looks everywhere except at the kids who long to disappear.

"Life goes on," Mr. Cheney says, giving Bella a sympathetic smile. "You meet new people."

"Speaking of," Renee begins, looking at Ben, and her smile fills Bella with dread. "How about you, Ben? Anyone special at college? You're a handsome boy – you must get many admirers."

Oh god, Bella thinks. Don't go there. Please don't go there.


Ben laughs awkwardly and plays with his fork. "Well, kind of." His smile is a little smug and Bella tries not to grimace.

Some things don't change.

"But no, no girlfriend," he states, nodding.

Renee looks at Bella again, and Bella widens her eyes in warning. Renee gives her an innocent look before smiling at Ben.

"That's a surprise," she says.

"It's for the best, I'm sure," Mrs. Cheney says. "Gives more time to focus on school, isn't that right, Ben?"

Ben flushes slightly, glaring at his mother. "Sure." Clearly, his academic standpoint is not very good.

"Most people meet their spouses in college, they say," Mr. Cheney joins the conversation.
"That's where I met Sarah." He smiles at his wife. "That's where Charlie and Renee met as well. College is the place, they say." He nods. "It's a fact. I think there are studies."

Bella shifts in her seat as she remembers something Edward told her. She can't help it.

"Actually, that's not true," she corrects, looking at Mr Cheney. She's been so quiet throughout dinner that her voice feels too loud. "While many people do meet their spouses at college, there's no conclusive evidence that says it's the most common place. You can meet the person you're going to marry anywhere. It's not science; it's chance."

Everyone stares at her, and she flushes, taking a sip of her water.

Mrs. Cheney clears her throat. "I'm guessing you haven't met anyone special at college, then?"

Bella feels her face heat up, and if the redness in her cheeks isn't a dead giveaway, she doesn't know what is. She can feel her parents' gaze burning a hole into her forehead and she downs her glass, her brain whirring with something to say.

"I've met many special people at college," she says evasively. She doesn't want to lie. Lying about Edward's existence feels like an insult to him.

"I'll take that as a no," Renee says, but her eyes pierce Bella's so intensely she expects her vision to blur. She turns to Ben's father. "Deacon, what was that thing going on down at the church tomorrow? Some kind of a Fall Festival?"

"Oh, yes. It's a carnival, set up by the Youth Group for charity."

"Remember when you two were in Youth Group?" Renee asks, eyes flitting between Bella and Ben. They briefly side-eye each other and nod. "You two should go together. It would be fun."

"It would be," Mrs. Cheney agrees, smiling. "I mean, it wouldn't hurt. For old times' sake."

Bella feels like her dinner is going to come right back up as she shakes her head. "I-I can't," she stammers. "I should pack to go back to New York…"

"You don't leave until the day after tomorrow, there will be plenty of time," Renee argues. "It would be fun."

Bella looks at Ben, hoping he'll also make some excuse, but he stares back at her, pensively. She gives him a questioning look, horror filling her as she puts a name to the look in his eyes.


"I really can't," she begins again, but Ben cuts her off.

"Why not?" he asks, shrugging.

Bella stares at him incredulously. "Because… I just don't want to?"

"That's no excuse," Renee says.

"For God's sake, if she doesn't want to go, don't force her," Charlie says, and Bella could have leaped across the table and kissed him.

"I don't see why not," Renee says.

"It's for a good cause," Mrs. Cheney pipes up.

"It's in the afternoon," Mr. Cheney adds his two cents, and Bella can't take it anymore.

She feels trapped, like the walls are closing in on her and Edward is standing in front of her, taking up most of the rapidly diminishing space. She realizes her love for him is stronger and more important than keeping secrets from her parents.

"I don't want to," Bella says loudly, overpowering their needless persuading.

"Bella-" Renee begins.

"NO." She slams her fork down, fed up. "I have a boyfriend! Okay? I. Have. A. Boy. Friend."


Renee gasps.

Charlie drops his fork.

Ben looks away.

His parents stare, openmouthed.

"What?" Renee asks, looking confused.

"His name is Edward Cullen," Bella says confidently, and saying his name makes her feel stronger. "You might remember him. Now, if you'll excuse me…" She stands up, dropping her napkin on the table and exiting the silent dining room and stepping out onto the porch.

The cold wind is refreshing, and she realizes how hot it was inside. The heat, however, had nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with the hot emotions that had been coursing through her – irritation, anger, embarrassment, stress, disbelief…


She sits down on the porch swing and wraps her arms around herself, letting the nighttime chill settle into her bones and distract her from what she'd have to face one she went back inside.

Light from inside the house suddenly illuminates the porch and she glances up to see Ben step outside, holding her phone.

He hands it to her. "You left this on your chair."

"Thanks," Bella says, and she looks away, hoping he'll take the cue and disappear. She wants to call Edward.

Ben hesitates, and Bella looks up expectantly. The light from the living room window illuminates his face, and his expression is one of uncertainty and regret.

This is not the confident Ben she once knew.

Everyone does change after high school, after all, she thinks.

Ben stares at his feet. "So… is this the Edward from high school?"

Bella glances up at him, giving him a funny look. "Yeah. What's it to you?" Her tone is a little more defensive than it needs to be, but she can't help it. She'd taken enough crap from Ben to last her a lifetime.

"Just curious," Ben says nonchalantly, shrugging. "Doesn't surprise me."

Bella narrows her eyes at him. "And why is that?"

"He was crazy about you."

"Still is," Bella says, looking away. She says it with conviction and smiles. There's no doubt about that.

"You were pretty crazy about him, too, huh?"

She glances up at him again, confused. "Ben, what are you doing here?"

She doesn't just mean here, on her porch. She means here, at her house, and here, in front of her. Talking to her and asking her questions about Edward as though he actually cares. As though he ever did.

Ben turns away and faces the street, hands in his pockets. He takes a deep breath and is silent for a moment, a moment long enough for Bella to notice how grown up he suddenly looks. Old, and aged, and he can't be older thane twenty-one.

"I'm not really supposed to be here," he admits quietly. He turns towards her again, pauses and then steps forward. "I was with my mom when your mom asked her over for Thanksgiving. I wasn't going to be here – I couldn't get off work. But then my mom asked your mom if you would be there, and she said yes, and… I dunno, I was curious. Talked to my boss. Something in me just… resurfaced. Is that the word?" Bella nods silently, eyes wide. Ben pauses and looks away, and Bella's heart begins to pound for an unknown reason. "You just, you've changed." He looks at her, eyes her from head to toe. "Everything about you is different. Better."

Bella frowns. "Should I be offended?"

Ben shakes his head. "Nah, just… You look good. When I saw you at the grocery store, I wondered if we could… start over."

Bella lets out a giant whoosh of air. "Ben…"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," he says, waving a hand dismissively. "You two were always all up in each other, even when we were together."

"Only because…" Bella trails off, biting her lip. Only because you weren't giving me what I needed, she wanted to say.

"Because what?"

She shakes her head. "Never mind."

There's silence between them, and she doesn't know if this is supposed to be a moment of closure or what.

She thinks back to the moment it all fell apart – when Ben walked in on her touching herself – and cringes.

She hopes he'd forgotten that, though it's not likely.

It was the most action Ben ever got, and he wasn't even a part of it.

"I'm just over it," Ben mutters, shaking his head. He sounds like he's talking to himself.

"Over what?"

"The girls," he says, shrugging one shoulder. "The cheerleaders, the party girls, the girls who throw themselves at me."

Bella raises her brows. "I don't know. That sounds pretty awesome for a college guy."

Ben snorts bitterly. "It was for a while, but it's getting old."

"You want commitment," Bella says, and she tries to not to laugh.

"Is that so crazy?" Ben asks, and it doesn't sound like a rhetoric question.

"It's not," Bella assures him.

"I think you were the only… sweet girl I ever dated. The only genuine girl."

Bella doesn't know what to say. She's flattered, but also terribly uncomfortable.

"Anyway, I kinda wanted that back," Ben admits. "It's clearly not going to happen now…" He stares at Bella expectantly, almost like he's waiting for her to disagree with him, or change her mind.

Instead, she shakes her head, smiling ruefully. Ben nods in understanding. "Didn't think so." He glances at his feet before turning towards the door.

"I guess I should go back in." When Bella doesn't respond, he hesitates for only a second, opening his mouth to say something. He shuts it instead, shaking his head before entering the house again.

Bella takes a deep breath, not knowing what to make of the situation. Was that supposed to be closure? It certainly doesn't feel like it. The very thought that Ben would want to be with her again seems unfathomable. Then again, the idea that his desire to "start over" became a conviction when he saw how good she looked ruins it.

Bella's phone buzzes and she answers it within seconds. "Hey."

"Why did you Code Blue? What happened?" As concerned as he sounds, Bella can't help but relax at the sound of Edward's voice. With a sigh, she lapses into telling him the story, choosing to step off the porch and wander into the backyard so that she won't be overheard.

She doesn't know how long she spends talking to him on the phone, but by the time her parents start calling her name, her fingers feel frozen and she's shivering.

Still clutching her phone to her ear, she takes a deep breath and stares at her house.

"I'm kind of scared to go in and face them," she admits, teeth shattering.

"Is that your teeth? You should have worn a jacket."

Bella rolls her eyes, but smirks at his disapproving tone. "I didn't know I was going to get annoyed and walk out of their in a huff."

"Bella!" Renee's voice comes from the open kitchen window and Bella sighs again.

"I'll tell mine tonight," Edward tells her. "You go in there and tell yours, and I'll tell mine right now."

Bella doesn't know why her eyes tear up at that. She tells herself it's the cold. "I can't wait to see you." In that moment, she wants nothing more than the warmth of his arms.

"I concur," Edward whispers. "Now go inside before you get in trouble."


"Also, please don't fail to remember that I love you."

After goodbyes that are longer than they need to be, Bella pockets her phone and crosses her arms across her chest. She stares at the back of her home, wondering if the Cheney's have left, or if they've stayed to watch her impending doom.

Either way, she has to steel herself for a slew of irrational comments from her mother and vaguely phrased, though blatantly doubtful, questions from her father.

Squaring her shoulders, Bella walks towards the house with determined steps, thinking about her liberated she'll feel once it's over.

But for now, she's ready to face the music.

A/N:My lips are sealed this time. Life hasn't cut me a break over the past few months and I can't say for sure if it'll stop kicking my butt anytime soon. However, I will say that I haven't forgotten about this story and I will finish it. I swear. I just need to stop making deadlines that I'm not sure I'll be able to meet.

Thank you guys so much for being patient and understanding. I'm not going to let you down with this story, I promise. I'm always thinking about it and I dowork on it when I can. Stick with me through the end?

Pink-ing of You (how adorbs is that?) is a dull pink by OPI.

See you next time!