Saturday, June 2, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Addiction Chapter 1 - Admitting the Problem

~oOo~
Definitions: NA – Narcotics Anonymous. AA – Alcoholics Anonymous. "Drug of choice" – whatever addiction the user has, which could range from drugs and alcohol, to porn...to whatever. It's something the user feels they can't live without.
~oOo~

Chapter 1: Admitting the Problem
BELLA

"Bella?" I heard the voice behind me. It was frustrated, but filled with endless patience, which always tended to piss me off.

Didn't the guy ever get rattled?

He sighed, but I kept my eyes closed, allowing the warm sunshine to beam down on my face, turning everything behind my eyelids a blinding red. I took a long, heavy drag from my cigarette, letting it out slowly. It was the only vice I was allowed. Though it came with the usual health warnings, it was at least legal, unlike many of my other addictions. The facility I was currently incarcerated in couldn't stop me. Okay, so I wasn't incarcerated... I was "checked in," with no hope for release until everyone said I was better.

"Isabella," he called again. "I allow our sessions outside because I think it helps you, but time is ticking. I'd at least like to hear something from you today."

I opened my eyes slowly, took another hit on my cigarette, and turned to face him. Dr. Franklin was a young psychiatrist, new to Breckenridge Mental Health Center. He was handsome in a nerdy sort of way, with dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He liked going against the system, doing things his way, because he considered the old ways archaic. Instead of a couch in a cold, sterile office, he allowed our sessions outside – rain or shine. In the rain, we sat underneath the gazebo. But today was sunny, so we were right smack dab in the middle of the gardens.

"Miss Dwyer..."

"Fuck, Doc!" I snapped, glaring at him. "I told you not to call me that. It's Swan."

"You were legally adopted," he countered calmly.

My nostrils flared, and I shook my head. "Not that I had a choice on that," I muttered, glaring down at a butterfly that was flitting from flower to flower in the planter by my park bench.

"Yes, we've been over that. Why don't you tell me what has you so agitated today. Do you want to talk about—"

I inhaled sharply, giving him another glare and silently daring him to say the name.

Dr. Franklin set down his notebook onto his lap and tilted his head at me. "You know we'll never get you out of here if you can't even say his name. I've told you before...your drug use was merely a coping mechanism."
"Yeah, yeah... I use to mask the deeper problem," I quoted dryly. "I actually listen in the meetings, you know."
"Are you craving today?" he asked, ignoring my jab. "We can talk about that."
"Not drugs," I sighed, fighting the feeling of prickling tears.
"Alcohol?"
I shook my head no, lighting another cigarette with shaky hands. "Nope," I murmured, popping the "p" softly.
A Hershey bar landed in my lap, and I gave it a watery smile. For some damn reason, chocolate took the edge off of cravings. It was a harmless substitute. It went against Breckenridge's rules for him to give it out, but that didn't stop him. He kept every type of chocolate known to man in his office.

"You're gonna get canned over this shit one day, Doc," I warned him, holding up the candy.

He smiled, shrugging a shoulder, and chuckled. "They can't say anything. I'm allowed snacks, and you're allowed snacks. There's no rule that says we can't share it."

I snorted, rolling my eyes at him. He was a rule bender. Maybe that was the reason he'd been the first doctor in months to get me to talk. I liked him. He also truly gave a shit or two – unlike the last therapist I'd had just before him, who'd texted her boyfriend during our sessions. Bitch. She'd pawned me off onto the new guy the day I'd shattered her phone against her office wall. It had earned me a week in the padded room, but it had also gotten me Dr. Franklin. It had been a good news/bad news sort of day.

"So..." He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his notebook tossed to the side. "What are you craving today? If it's not a drink or a hit...or my precious chocolate, then what?"

Cue the tears again. I sighed, looking back at the flower planter in order to fight them. My hands shook as I drew another drag out of my cigarette. Today was an anniversary of sorts...and it fucking hurt.

"I thought..." I sniffed, shaking my head. "I thought that when I dried out, this feeling would go away. I shouldn't need it, but I do. It's been a year, and I want that more than any drug."

"Want what?"

"Him."

"Okay, so you think it's bad to miss someone?" he asked, because we'd skirted around this topic more times than I could count, especially on days like today when I struggled to maintain.

"Doesn't that make me co-dependent or some fucking nonsense?" I snapped, hastily swiping away my tears. "Aren't I supposed to forget all the addictions in my life? Clean slate and all that happy horse shit?"

He grinned. "Why don't you tell me about him? Let me be the judge. You never say his name, either."

"It hurts to say it."

"Did you love him?"

"More than anything. I still do. He was..." I sighed, unable to put into words just how I felt.

"Say his name, Bella," Dr. Franklin urged gently. "And then tell me why you think he's bad for you."

"Edward," I said through gritted teeth in order not to just sob relentlessly. My heart ached at the sound of it. I rarely allowed myself to think the name, much less about the person it belonged to. "And he's not bad for me... I'm not good enough for him."

"Now why do you think that?"

"Because," I sighed, sitting back on the bench. "He was perfect and beautiful. And then I came along and tried to ruin him."

"No one's perfect, Bella," Doc said.

"He was. He was just...everything. He even tried to save me."

"From Phil?"

"Goddammit, Doc!" I snapped, standing up from the bench and pacing furiously in front of him.

"This isn't fucking Harry Potter, Isabella. I refuse to call your adopted father He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

I scoffed, rolling my eyes, but that right there was the reason I actually respected Dr. Franklin. He wasn't afraid to speak the same language as his patients. "You're a real caring guy there, Doc – and a closet geek, I'm afraid."

He chuckled, completely unfazed. "Sit back down. I want to hear about this Edward." Once I was seated again, he asked, "Now, how did he try to save you?"

I huffed a humorless laugh, shaking my head. "Edward saw right through to the real me. Phil was his baseball coach."

"How'd you meet?"

"We were both seniors, but he was new that year. We hung out with the same crowd. But it wasn't until he started playing baseball in the spring that everything changed. A year ago today...he asked me out."

~oOo~

"Party at my place tonight!" Emmett boomed, grinning like a fool with an arm draped across Rose's shoulders as we all sat around our table in the lunchroom. "The 'rents are out of town!"

I glanced up from my book, smirked at him, and went right back to reading, until I felt a nudge to my shoulder.

"You comin', Bella?" Edward asked, a wrinkle between his eyebrows.

"Probably not," I answered, shrugging a shoulder, not bothering to look up from the page.

Edward was hot. That was a fact that hadn't escaped a single solitary female at Forks High School. And it hadn't escaped my attention, either, but Edward was usually never lacking for company. I tried my damnedest not to look at him too much, for fear he'd see right through me. Plus, I had my own problems to deal with.

"Why not?" he asked, looking rather disappointed.

"Don't you know?" Jessica scoffed from the other side of the table. "Bella's anti-social. She's too good to hang with the rest of us. She'd rather stuff her face in a book than have a good time."

I rolled my eyes, because it was no secret that Jessica wanted Edward, but it was Alice that came to my rescue.

"Shut it, Jessica. You should try cracking a book every now and then. You might learn something. There's more to life than what Cosmo says about blowjobs," my oldest friend told her, causing the whole table to explode into laughter. Alice was well aware as to why I didn't get out more.

"Maybe she should re-read that issue, because I hear she needs work on that, too," Mike Newton snarked, ducking a flying spoon that Jess had aimed at his head.

"Sounds like experience talking," I muttered, going back to my book and smiling when Edward chuckled soft and low next to me. The book was suddenly snatched out of my grasp, and I growled, "Hey! Give it back, Edward."

"Not until you tell me why you're not going," he countered.

"Why do you care?" I laughed, reaching uselessly for my book. Unfortunately, his arms were much longer than my own and he was way taller than me.

"Just curious as to why you never come to anyone's party...or show up when we all go out," he explained, grinning beautifully as I tugged on his shirt to try to get my book back. "Tell me, and you can have it back," he chuckled.

The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch, and I gathered up my trash and backpack, standing up from the table. I held my hand out for my book, a smirk playing on my face when he held it away from me. The rest of our friends left us to our standoff.

"Tell me." he said, raising an eyebrow, and I didn't want to admit just how sexy that look was on him.

"I'm grounded, okay?" I snapped, frowning up at him. "That's why."

It was the easiest way to explain it.

Edward's amusement slipped off his face as he set the book in my hand. "You're grounded for every party ever?"

"Something like that, yeah," I sighed, tucking my book into my bag as we made our way to Biology.
He stayed quiet as we walked, oblivious to the stares the girls in the hallway shot his way. I knew there would be even more once we were in class, because I apparently had the enviable position as Edward's lab partner.

I could feel his eyes on me as he sat down on his stool, so finally, I looked his way. He was breathtaking, really – dark hair with natural bronze-like highlights that tended to stick up everywhere, a sharp jaw line, and the deepest green eyes I'd ever seen. But it was when he smiled that he truly took my breath away, because it was honest and stunning, happy and adorably crooked, and it screamed that nothing bad had ever touched Edward Cullen's life. He simply had no worries. It didn't help that he was so very polite and sweet on top of it all. He held doors, occasionally carried books, and was extremely smart and funny. The icing on the cake was that Edward's parents had money. Lots of it. So he was always dressed in new clothes, drove a gorgeous and expensive car, and he acted like he barely had two dimes to rub together. He was a walking, talking, fucking daydream come true, but he never allowed it go to his head.

"How?" he simply asked, only to elaborate, "You're a straight A student, and I've never once seen you give a teacher a hard time. How are you always grounded?"

I groaned. "Why is my social life suddenly that important, Edward? It's not like you need a fucking date."

He scoffed, but he looked nervous as he scratched the back of his neck. Thankfully, he let it go when Mr. Banner started class, turning on a movie and turning off the lights. A sheet of paper slid in front of me with only two words on it.

Please come?

When I didn't answer him, Edward snatched the paper back and wrote furiously, only to push it back to me when he was done.

I don't want a date. I want the most interesting girl in this school to show up at a party. Can't you sneak out?

I snickered softly, glancing up at him before replying back.

I'm really not that interesting. Trust me.

He tsked, rolling his eyes, but he looked so hopeful as he watched me debate it. I decided a version of the truth might be my only way out this time.

My parents are strict, okay? It's just easier to tell people I don't want to go or that I'm grounded. Please, please don't push this, Edward...

He scowled at the paper but folded it up and tucked it away, letting it go. At least I thought he'd let it go. As soon as class was over, he stopped me just outside the door.

"Give me your phone, Bella," he ordered, holding out his hand. When I gave it to him, he programmed his cell number into it, only to call his own to save it. "There. If you can sneak out, call me. I'll come get you."

I sighed, looking up at him. "You don't know what you're asking, Edward."

"Hey, Edward," a group of sophomore girls chimed as they walked by.

He waved without looking at them, grinning when I raised my eyebrow up at him. It was crooked and sexy, with a touch of nerves to it. "I'll be straight with you. I don't want a date to this party...unless it's you. I want you to come. There's not a girl in this school that interests me except you, all right? I just...really like you, Bella."

His sincerity, his sweet green eyes, and the pout that he gave me as he laid it all on the line was what did me in, because I really liked him, too.

"Please?" he asked one more time in a whisper. "I'd like to get to know you better."

"No, you don't," I muttered, frowning down at my hands. I looked back up at him and gave in. "I'll try, okay? I can't make any promises. But I'm not sneaking out. It's why I'm in trouble to begin with. I'll see if Alice will help me out after school. They love her."

The smile that lit up his face had to have been the prettiest sight I'd ever seen, but my heart nearly pounded out of my chest when he bent down to place a soft kiss to my cheek.

"Just call me either way, okay?" he whispered before walking away.

~oOo~

"You lied to him," Dr. Franklin stated softly.

I nodded to him, coming back from the memory with my heart hurting. God, I just missed Edward to the point I was shaking. What hurt even more was knowing he probably hated me and had moved on once he'd gone off to college. We'd have both been finishing our freshman year at UW together, though I'd probably ruined that for him, too.

"What happened when you got home from school that day?"

"The dear, sweet coach was all for the party...in front of my mother and Alice," I said sarcastically. "Gave me a curfew of one o'clock, since it was a Friday night."

"What happened, Bella?" the doc urged.

I lit another cigarette, grateful our time was almost up. Turning to him, I whispered, "He... He cornered me in my bathroom. Alone." The doc was quiet as he let me work up the courage to say the words out loud, and I found that I wanted to say them, because I was tired of hiding behind my past. "He told me that he was only letting me go because my mother wanted it. He reminded me that she was sick and that she couldn't protect me for much longer. He..." I huffed a heavy breath through my nose, squeezing my eyes shut. "He grabbed my arm and forced me to the floor to 'remind me just who was in charge,' because he knew what I was up to. He reminded me that I was on shaky ground with him and that he didn't trust me."

My breathing came out in bursts at the memory, and suddenly, Dr. Franklin was kneeling in front of me.
"Breathe, Bella," he soothed. "Deep breaths. Did he touch you?"

"No," I whimpered, shaking my head. "Luckily, Alice interrupted."

"Good for her," he praised, his voice still soothing, still soft. "You fought Phil, didn't you?" he asked.

I nodded, finally looking at the young man in front of me. "Yes. I always fought with him. All the way up until the day I graduated. He wasn't a pervert, and he didn't hit me. He was...just a complete and utter asshole."

The doc sighed, his face filled with patience and understanding as he nodded. "You were eighteen," he stated.

"And still in school, with my mother dying of cancer. My adoptive father was the most respected member of the motherfucking community, because the Forks High baseball team had been state champs for five fucking forevers, Doc! He told me every single day what a worthless piece of druggie trash I was. What the blue fucking hell was I supposed to do? There comes a time that you start to believe the shit people tell you," I ranted, lighting another cigarette with the fire from the last one.

"Where was your biological father?"

"Dead...when I was twelve. He was the Forks Police Chief," I said, and even to my own ears, my voice sounded defeated. "You so know that shit, Doc. My file must be three feet thick," I sneered up at him, angry that I was feeling everything like it was fucking yesterday. I was pissed the fuck off that he was digging too close to the heart if it all.

Dr. Franklin nodded, patted my leg, and stood up. "That's enough for today, I think. You did extremely well, Bella."

I nodded, stubbing out my cigarette.

"Tomorrow, I'd really like to hear the rest of that story. I'd like to know more about Edward," he said, but I knew his tone was an order, not a request.

"It hurts to talk about him, Doc. You don't know what you're asking," I told him, standing up and pocketing my chocolate bar.

He smiled. "Yeah, I think I do."

~oOo~

By the time Alice and I made it to Emmett's house, I was already stoned. Not only had we smoked a joint in her car on the way there, I'd also stolen a flask of vodka from Phil's liquor cabinet. I was so fucking angry after Phil had threatened me. I'd tried to beg off the party, but Alice had insisted. She'd said it would do me good to get away from talk of chemotherapy, Hospice care, and Phil's nasty attitude.

That was the thing about Alice. She knew. She knew everything, but she never said a word about it. She merely played defense when she stayed over, which was less and less as she and her boyfriend, Jasper, got closer. I wouldn't dare keep her from him, but I had made her swear with blood, on a stack of Bibles, and on her first child's soul not to say a word to anyone. 
 
The house was booming when we parked in the front yard. I could see that all of our friends were already there, as well as Edward's Volvo, which was parked out on the street.

"I shouldn't have come," I whispered once she'd turned off the car, but she followed my gaze to the shiny, silver car gleaming in the moonlight.

"He really likes you," she countered.

"I should stay away from him." I sighed, taking a long draw on the flask and wincing at the burn of the liquor as it slid down my throat. I wanted to be numb from it all – my blooming feelings for Edward, my anger at Phil, and the impending death of my mother.

"Bella, you've already been accepted into U-Dub. So has he. Baseball scholarship," she said, raising her eyebrows up when I spun my gaze to hers. "It's not long now and you'll be out of that house. He can't control you forever."

Without bothering to argue with her, I opened my door, only to run into tall, dark, and extremely handsome.

"You came!" Edward gushed excitedly, tugging me out of the car. "You were supposed to call. I've been fending off Cosmo girl all night."

"Just tell Jessica to go fuck herself," I snorted, rolling my eyes.

He laughed, draping his arm around my shoulders. "No. Mike swept her off upstairs somewhere."

"Ew," Alice and I groaned as we walked inside, which caused Edward to laugh again.

The party was in full swing, a picture frame already shattered on the floor in the living room. How Emmett explained all the mess away when his parents returned from their trip was beyond me, but something got broken every time he threw one of these parties. It was widely known.

"Hmm, drink?" Edward offered as Alice left us to go find Jasper. "Or there's some sort of video game contest. And I swear to God, there's a group in the den playing Spin the Bottle."

I laughed, shaking my head. "Drink is fine."

He grabbed me a beer, taking one for himself, and led me out onto the back porch, where we took the swing.

"So Alice worked her charm, I see," he said, tapping my bottle with his own and taking a long drink.
I tried not to watch his throat, but it was impossible. Even his Adam's apple was fucking sexy.

"Yeah, I guess," I sighed, shrugging a shoulder. "I rarely ask to go anywhere, so they didn't put up too much of a fuss," I lied, gazing down at his sneakers as they pushed us slowly.

I downed my beer, without thinking, and Edward's eyes widened.

"Want another?" he offered, but I shook my head no, pulling out another joint and lighting it up.

"Hit?" I held it out to him, but he looked like a deer in headlights. "Have you ever smoked before?" I asked, smiling when he shook his head no. "Do you want to try it?"

"I...um, okay," he conceded.

I should've stopped then. I should've walked away and left him alone. He was too good for me. But I'd wanted his company, wanted him to keep looking at me like I was the best thing he'd seen all damn day, so I'd pulled him closer.

"Just breathe in when I breathe out, okay?" I instructed, taking a long hit off of the joint.
I leaned closer to him so that my lips were barely brushing his. He inhaled sharply, but swallowed once before doing as I'd told him. He sputtered a bit at the end but smiled lazily once he exhaled. He was so fucking beautiful, his eyes turning a sweet evergreen as they watered a little.

I giggled at him, and he smiled shyly. He took another shotgun hit before turning in the swing to face me. He used one foot to rock us. When I snuffed out my roach and turned back to him, his face was so very close.

"You're so pretty," he whispered, his fingers trailing down my face. His eyes traveled all over my face, finally landing on my lips.

"That's the weed talking," I chuckled.

"No, it's not," he said seriously. "I wanted to tell you that today in Biology. Hell, I've wanted to tell you since the first day of school, but..." He shrugged a shoulder.

My smiled fell, and I looked away from him. "I don't feel pretty, Edward. You really shouldn't do this..."

"Do what? Bella, I really like you. And I think that you like me, too..."

Oh, God, I did. I liked him probably more than I should, because I destroyed everyone that I loved.
"I do, but..."

"Then what's the problem?"

"There are so many girls out there who are better for you," I told him. "I'm certainly not one of them. I'll only hurt you."

"I can take care of myself," he argued, cupping my face. "Kiss me. Kiss me and tell me you don't feel the same..."

I knew what would happen if my lips touched his, but I couldn't stop it, no matter how badly my hazy mind was telling me not to do it. Maybe I just wanted to feel normal, maybe I just wanted to be wanted by someone as sweet and kind and honest as Edward. Or maybe I just needed that next obsession, because when his lips touched mine, I was completely hooked.

And fuck, if the boy didn't kiss me stupid. He had soft lips, and his tongue tasted like beer and smoke and mint. He kissed me deeply, swirling his tongue with my own, only to suckle on my bottom lip. It was sensual and filled with more than just teenage hormones, because most boys kissed like they were trying to eat a girl's face. But not Edward. He kissed like he was trying to tell me everything all at once without saying a single fucking word.

"Christ," I panted once he'd pulled back a little. My heart was pounding, my head was spinning, and my fingers were threaded into his soft hair. "Oh, God... Edward, you can't tell anyone about this," I suddenly begged him, and his smug smile fell a bit. "I'm...um, I'm not allowed to have a boyfriend, so you can't let this get back to your coach," I said, trying to get him to understand. "This is so very important. Please, please tell me you understand."

Edward looked hurt until I said that last sentence, and his eyes narrowed on me. "Okay," he vowed. "I promise. If you call me your boyfriend, I'll keep any secret you want," he chuckled, kissing me again.

~oOo~

"You were protecting him," Dr. Franklin surmised, pulling me once again out of my memories. "Phil could've ruined him just to prove a point."

I nodded, glancing around at the dark, cloudy day as we sat beneath the gazebo. The sound of rain dropping down all around us was soothing. I lit a cigarette, letting out a heavy puff of smoke.

"How'd the rest of the night go?" Doc asked, and I smiled.

"Just about as perfect as I could imagine," I said with a grin. "We kissed, talked, and then kissed some more." I sniffed, gazing out into the rain. "I told him about my mom's illness that night, something that no one really knew about. He told me about his parents, and they sounded just as perfect as he was. I skirted around the subject of Phil. He asked about my real dad, but..." I took a hit of my cigarette. "I think Edward knew something then, but he didn't say anything." I frowned, shaking my head. "He was too sweet, too good to let Phil hurt him. And he could've really messed him up."

"You mean that baseball scholarship," Dr. Franklin guessed.

"Yeah, and that thing meant the world to Edward. It was something he'd earned. It wasn't just something handed to him by his parents. He was so fucking proud of it," I explained. "Though, I'm sure he lost it when all the shit hit the fan, and that would be my fault."

I was quiet for a moment, and the doc let me be. I took a deep breath, saying, "We were late for curfew."

"And?"

"Edward drove me home, but it was ten after one when I finally walked inside my house. Phil was waiting for me. He yelled at me, told me I was drunk and high, that I should get my ass to my room and stay there for the rest of the weekend. He gripped my arm and threw me toward the stairs."

Dr. Franklin cursed softly, shaking his head.

I glared down at the wooden floor of the gazebo, smoking the last hit on my cigarette, only to light another. "My mother was already asleep that night, the nurse having given her something for pain, so she heard nothing. Thank God. At that point, I found my mother's prescription for pain killers."

"Only it didn't end with pain killers."

"No." I shook my head. "But it's amazing just how perfect you feel when something so small as a pill can make all the bad shit just...fade away."

"And Edward?"

"I tried to break it off that next Monday, but it was impossible," I snickered, rolling my eyes at the memory. "He was...determined. We skipped Biology class, smoked a joint in his car, and he kissed me until I couldn't see straight."

"Sounds like he knew what he wanted," Doc chuckled.

"He did," I agreed. "I told him I couldn't come out anymore, that being late for curfew really did get me grounded."

"What did he do about that?"

I frowned down at my hands, saying, "He took it about a month, and then he started sneaking in my bedroom window at night. Stolen kisses in the hallway apparently weren't good enough for him."

"Why does that sound like bad news, instead of some romantic Romeo and Juliet gesture?"

"Oh, God, it was all of that," I groaned, throwing my cigarette butt into the rain and fisting my hair. "It was sweet and sexy and our own perfect little bubble. He made me forget what was just on the other side of my bedroom door. It was a bigger rush than any drug. He made me feel...everything and nothing. All at one time."

Dr. Franklin nodded, smiling softly. "Love tends to do that."

I huffed a laugh through my nose. "Funny you should say that. The night he told me he loved me was the first time that he heard Phil yell at me..."

~oOo~

We'd been Secret Significant Others for about three months – one of those months had been filled with his sneaking into my bedroom window. I'd fallen completely in love with him. He never complained about any of it. Not once. In fact, he was supportive, caring, and completely attentive. He made the bad shit fade away, making me use and drink less and less.

Edward had turned into my drug of choice.

"Where do your parents think you go every night?" I asked, grinning when I was pushed roughly onto my bed.

"Emmett's," Edward chuckled shamelessly as he crawled up my body.

We'd been having sex for about two weeks, and we were utterly insatiable. He'd been my first, and surprisingly enough, I'd been his. Every night he'd crawled through my window, we'd lose ourselves to kisses, skin, and sweet smiles that were reserved only for each other.

I was happier than I'd ever been. I should've known that the stack of lies I'd piled around me would come falling down eventually. I just never wanted to admit it. And I never, ever wanted Edward to know just what I was.

"My parents know about you, though," he murmured, pushing at my t-shirt until I relented and it landed somewhere in the twisted sheets. "They want to meet you."

"You shouldn't have done that," I sighed, grasping both sides of his handsome face and pulling it up so that we were at eye level. "They'll say something."

"No, no, no," he countered softly. "I told them that you aren't allowed to have a boyfriend. That we only see each other on approved dates. They promised to keep it to themselves."

His proud smile made me smile.

"I love you," he suddenly blurted out, and before I could say anything else, he started to ramble. "I do, Bella. I think I'll lose my mind with the feeling."

My eyes teared up, and I kissed his lips hard. "I shouldn't love you back, but I do. So much."

"Why?" he whispered, kissing my cheek, down my neck, and across my throat. "Why shouldn't you?" 
He lifted his head in order to see my face.

"I'm not a good person, baby," I sighed, feeling the walls of lies become shaky.

I wanted to tell him everything, but I was scared. He looked at me like I was the best thing that had ever happened to him, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he heard the truth from someone, and he'd run from me. I just wanted to hold onto him for as long as I could.

"You're beautiful...inside and out," he countered, his brow furrowing. "You don't see it, do you?"

"No." 
 
I'd heard way too many things I'd done wrong to believe the good he was trying to sell me. But God, he tried. Starting at my head and telling me how smart I was, Edward kissed every inch of me, murmuring all that he found beautiful about me. It was the physical and the internal. He told me that my eyes were soulful, like melted chocolate, at the same time that he said he loved watching the world through them. He kissed my chest where my heart was pounding for him, telling me that my heart was kind and sweet and thumped heavier when he was kissing me like that. He made me laugh when he couldn't say more than he just really loved my tits.

As he made love to me, he didn't stop telling me how much he loved me, how beautiful I was, and just what being with me made him feel. Edward almost had me convinced that we could make it the last few months of high school. That UW wasn't so far away and then I'd be free to be with him.

He gave me hope. And I loved him for it while I hated the unstable feel of it. Hope was not something I'd had. Ever.

The TV was on in my room, though muted, as we lay there in each others arms. We talked about college, really getting to go out on dates, and what classes we wanted to take together. It was just about time for Edward to head home when there was a pounding on my bedroom door. I got up, tugging on a t-shirt and shorts as Edward slipped silently into the closet.

"What now, Phil?" I groaned, faking that he'd woken me up.

"You think I'm stupid, don't you?" he growled.

Folding my arms across my chest, I said, "Well, that depends on exactly what we're talking about. I'll admit you know sports, but you'd be a bust on Jeopardy. I'm not sure you're familiar with the Periodic Table."

"Enough, smart ass," he huffed, rolling his eyes, but from behind his back, he pulled out a notebook and a bottle of prescription pills. "You think I can't count. You think I'm not watching you? If that's the case, then you're the stupid one, sweetheart."

I recognized my mother's bottle of Oxycontin from a mile away, but I simply shrugged. "I had a headache."

"Bullshit. There are fifteen pills missing out of this bottle from the last month...unaccounted for," he tacked on the last two words when I opened my mouth to tell him that my mother might've needed some. He pointed to me. "You're gonna end up just like her – dying due to these choices that you're making, Isabella. You almost fucking died once. If you're so determined to kill yourself, at least save it until your mother is gone. Otherwise you'll kill her, too."

I flinched at his last statement. "Get out of my room, Phil," I murmured. The knowledge that Edward could hear every bit of what he was saying was not lost on me whatsoever.

"Another thing," Phil said, leaning closer, his face filled with anger. "I'm also well aware of you and Edward Cullen. You should leave that boy alone, Bella. He's got a bright future ahead of him. He doesn't need to get himself wrapped up in someone that could ruin that for him."

"Right, I'll remember that," I sneered, trying to close the door, but his hand shot out to stop me.

"I'm not done. You'll bring me your bank card and your car keys, Bella. You'll have to find a ride to and from school. You'll get enough money to get lunch. Maybe if you lose the last of your freedom, you'll get your shit together before you kill yourself or someone else."

I handed him the things he'd asked for, slamming the door when he walked away.

I fell onto the edge of the bed, resting my elbows on my knees when Edward knelt in front of me. He was looking at me with pity and sympathy, but the love was still there.

"You should listen to him, Edward," I sighed, cupping his face. "He's right. I'll only hurt you."

"The only thing that could hurt me is if you didn't love me. Nothing else matters," he stated firmly without a single bit of hesitation. "What did he mean you almost died?"

I held out my wrists, tears falling down my face. I didn't say a word but let Edward figure it out on his own. Gentle, calloused thumbs traced over the scars on my wrists, and he brought them up to his lips to place a kiss to each one.

"When?" he asked softly, kissing them again before setting them down. He reached up and wiped away my tears.

"When I was fourteen."

"And your mother?"

"Phil blames my mother's liver cancer on her drinking. She went through...a phase," I explained the best I could without telling him that the phase was really my fault.

Edward nodded, leaning in to kiss me softly. "I love you. I mean it."

"Love you, too," I replied, because at least he could have that much of the truth from me.

"Good," he said, beaming and giving me a flirty wink when he stood up. "See you tomorrow."

~oOo~

"Nothing ever scared him away?" Dr. Franklin chuckled.

"Uh, no." I huffed a laugh, shaking my head as I took a drag. "In fact, he was more determined than ever. He showed up the next morning as my ride to school."

Doc laughed, glancing over at me.

"He did!" I giggled, because I just couldn't help it. "He just knocked on the front door and said, 'Hey, Coach, I'm here to take Bella to school.'" I chuckled again. "Edward used it as an excuse to come out to everyone...even Phil. He figured since my stepfather knew, then fuck it, everyone could know."

I lit another cigarette, my eyes falling to my hands. "Phil tried to deter him, gave him all these...vague warnings and rules, but Edward just... He just smiled and shrugged it off, like he couldn't care less."

"You know, we need to talk about your dad, Bella," Doc said softly, tossing a chocolate bar to my lap.

"Are you trying to make me fat?" I asked, evading his statement.

"Bella..."

"I know, all right?" I whined, shaking my head.

"Did Edward know?"

"He was told eventually," I murmured, taking a drag on my cigarette. "Look, Doc... I'm tired of talking today." I blew the smoke out of my lungs. "I can't think anymore about Edward right now."

He studied my face but conceded with a nod. "It was a good session today, Bella. You've come a long way."

I nodded, snuffing out my cigarette butt and following him toward the main building.

"Tomorrow, we're gonna do something a little different," he told me. "Meet me in my office at the regular time, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," I sighed, passing through when he held the door open for me.

I walked into my room and fell down on the bed. My roommate, Donna, was draped across her own bed, her feet in the air, and she glanced up from her book.

"How'd it go?" she asked, sitting up and setting her book aside.

"It went," I murmured, snatching open the drawer of my nightstand to toss my chocolate bar in there to join a handful of others. The action caused items in the drawer to shift, revealing a picture that I'd hidden away. I pulled it out, tracing my fingers down Edward's beautiful face.

"Who's he?" Donna asked, sitting beside me and looking over my shoulder.

"He's someone...special," I said, smiling over at her.

Donna was in for food addiction. She'd been through it all – bulimia, anorexia, and attempted suicide. She was working on her self-esteem. And it was getting there. She was quiet, calm, and I couldn't have asked for a better roommate. We'd been together for eight months.

"Gosh, he's cute," she gushed, and I chuckled over at her. "Is he... Is he your goal?"

I groaned, shrugging a shoulder. We all had goals on why we wanted out of Breckenridge. It was part of our therapy. Donna just wanted to be able to eat without overthinking her looks, her weight, and what her mother would say. A couple of girls in my NA meeting just wanted to get back to their lives, their families, without the weight of the world on their shoulders. They wanted to face everything without having to mask it with drugs or alcohol.

"I don't know," I muttered, gazing at deep green eyes and my favorite crooked smile. "I owe him an apology. I know that much. He's definitely a step I have to reconcile."

"What happened?"

"I almost killed him," I said, tossing the picture back in the drawer. "It's how I got here." I sighed, waving her off my bed. "Now, scoot. I need to sleep."

~oOo~

"What do you say we head home, kiddo?" Dad asked, smiling over at me from the driver's seat of his police cruiser.

"Yeah, sure, but can we stop on the way? I need glue for my science project," I told him, putting my seat belt on. I'd spent the afternoon with him at the station, most likely being a nuisance, but he'd never complained.

"You got it. What is it this time? Photosynthesis? Biodegradable garbage?" He chuckled. "I swear you'll be cloning shit in your bedroom soon."

I laughed, shoving his arm. "No! It's about how the sun helps things grow, Dad. And I don't like science all that much. I'd rather read or write."

"Well, then, do it," he said, shrugging a shoulder. "You can do anything that you set that stubborn mind to. You're starting seventh grade next year. Now's the time to really start making goals for what you want to do."

"I'm only twelve," I laughed, rolling my eyes.

"And you'll change your mind a million times before you're twenty. Trust me, kid, you will. There's no such thing as a bad choice, either. Now is the time to play with everything. Be a teacher, or change your mind and be a firefighter. It doesn't matter. You get me?" he asked, pulling into the convenience store on the way home from the station and turning to me. "Bells, you try it all. Something will snag your heart, and you'll finally know what it is that you want to do for the rest of your life."

"What if I only want have a kid, like mom?" I teased him.

He shot me a wink, saying, "Then I'll be helluva proud grandpa. But that means you hafta kiss...boys."

I grinned, because he knew I thought most boys were dumb, especially his friend Billy's son, Jake, who professed to like me, but he was only ten.

"What kinda glue, silly girl?" he laughed, ruffling my hair.

"I think it's just regular Elmer's," I told him, rummaging around in my bag for the list I needed. 
Pulling it out, I said, "Yeah, just regular old glue."

"Okay, got it. Be right back," he said, leaving me in the car.

I watched him walk inside but flipped through my notebook for science class. I was planning on getting started when I got home, because I hated to leave it for the last minute. The poster board was already leaning against the wall of my room. I scanned through the pages, realizing I needed one more thing. Without thinking, I opened my door and ran into the store.

I hadn't been paying attention. If I'd had, then I would've seen the scruffy guy with the gun. If I'd have been watching my dad instead of doing my own thing, I wouldn't have startled the gunman...or my father.

"Hey, Dad!" I gushed, bursting through the glass doors. "I also need paperclips!" I yelled, freezing when I saw everyone with their hands in the air – my dad, old Mrs. Connelly behind the counter, and the lady that I recognized from down the street.

The scruffy man, however, spun his gun my way with a gasp.

"Bells! No!" my dad yelled, diving for the gunman, but everyone screamed when the gun went off.

The scruffy guy bolted for the door, and I rushed to my father, tears streaming down my face. When I turned him over, the store faded away and I was on the side of the wet highway, staring down at Edward, who was bleeding, his leg sticking out at an odd angle. The smell of radiator fluid, tree sap, and spilling gasoline hung heavily around me as I tried my fucking damnedest to wake him up.
"Please, please, wake up!" I screamed, shaking him. When I glanced up, everyone I knew was standing around me, all wearing faces filled with accusation and disgust.

"If she hadn't just bolted in there, Charlie may have taken the crack-head down," the first officer that was on scene to my father's murder said, tsking and shaking his head.

"You just had to stop, didn't you?" my mother asked, swirling her glass of whiskey around so that the ice cubes clinked against the sides. She was younger, healthier...still alive. And it hurt to see her.

"Why were you on the side of the road?" Esme, Edward's mother wailed, leaning against her husband, who was just shaking his head in silence.

"I told you, Bella," Phil chuckled darkly, folding his arms across his chest. "You did this. You ruin everything and everyone you touch..."

"Your fault..."

~oOo~

I yawned as I walked down the corridor on my way to Dr. Frankin's office. My sleep was shitty, due to the nightmares. I hadn't had them in months, but the night before, I'd been afraid to close my eyes for the rest of the night after they'd woken me. All the memories that the doc was making me relive was fucking with me hard. I wanted to rage against him, break shit, but I wanted out of this place. I'd been clean and sober from the minute I'd been checked in, which was going to be a year in a little less than three months. I'd suffered through detox, withdrawals, cravings, loneliness, and never-ending guilt. That last feeling never, ever went away, because I'd hurt everyone I'd ever loved.

I walked into Franklin's office, getting the nod from Virginia, his personal assistant. Cracking the door open, I froze at the sight of who was sitting across from my therapist.

"Phil," I hissed, unable to stop my lip from curling in hatred. I spun to Dr. Franklin, saying, "This? This is the something different you wanted me to do today? Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Your father called me yesterday morning—" Doc started, but I stopped him.

"He's not my fucking father!" I yelled.

"Bella, please," Phil begged, looking like I'd slapped him. "I need... There are some things you should hear. There are things I need to say to you, okay? Just give me...ten minutes, and I'll leave. I swear."

"Isabella, sit down," Doc sighed, looking like he was sweating bullets.

"I can hear him just fine from the doorway," I sneered, folding my arms across my chest and giving the clock a dramatic glance before turning back to Phil. "Nine minutes...thirty seconds. Go."

"Bella," Phil started, sitting forward in his chair, "I owe you an enormous apology. I went about trying to help you all wrong. I know that now. Dr. Franklin put me in touch with someone to talk to the minute he took over your case. I shouldn't have been so strict. I should have found help for you, not pushed and pushed until you were backed into a corner."

"You blamed her death on me, Phil," I growled, shaking my head and looking at the floor. "She was already dying, and you blamed it on me. Just because you weren't home... You had a game to coach, so I sat with her. I was fucking asleep in the chair by her bed when she stopped breathing. You hung the Do Not Resuscitate order on the fucking wall."

"I know I did," Phil said, his emotions thickening his voice. "And I blamed you for her drinking. We all handled it wrong. Your mother should have gotten you a counselor after Charlie. She should have seen what her drinking was doing to not only herself, but to you. You tried to kill yourself at fourteen – two years after your dad died – and she still didn't see it. I don't regret a single minute with you or your mother, but I do regret how we dealt with everything."

I shook my head, unable to stop the tears from falling down my face.

"The doc here says you're getting better...every day," Phil continued, taking a direction I wasn't sure about.

I locked gazes with a nodding Dr. Franklin. "He's a pushover. Tell him a few stories and he's like putty in my hands," I muttered sarcastically.

Both men chuckled, but Phil continued. "I need to also tell you...I'm moving, Bella. I've been offered a college coaching position in California, and I'm going to take it. It's time for me to start over. But you need to understand something. You'll always have somewhere to go. You'll always have a home. Okay? Whether you come to me or you go to the house in Forks, because that's yours. It was left to you by Charlie and Renee. I'll make sure someone looks after it until you're ready for it."

I nodded, feeling a strange sense of complete abandonment, because he was the only thing I had left, despite how we'd never gotten along.

"I also should apologize for the night of your accident, Bella. I pushed you. I forced you to do something extreme. I shouldn't have let you leave or drive. And I shouldn't have let Edward get in the car with you."

"You," I growled, my voice low. "You do not get to talk about Edward."

"He's doing—"

"No!" I snapped, starting to pace. "You gave me a choice, Phil. I made the wrong one. Edward...he chose to come along. These are our choices. You told us that we couldn't see each other until after graduation. You forced us to separate, because looking at us made you miss my mom. But without him, I couldn't even breathe, much less cope without drugs. Only this time, pain killers wouldn't do. Cocain helped keep me up and helped keep the nightmares away, Xanax calmed the shaky hands, and drinking just helped wash it all away.

"The entire time I was with Edward, I'd had one drink, two joints, and a single pain killer over the span of five months. After you banned him from me, I wanted to die. He was the first good thing to ever happen to me. He didn't look at me like I was a leper, like he blamed me for my dad like everyone else did, and he loved me...so much!" The sob I let loose actually hurt my entire body, but mainly my chest. "He never judged me on any of it. In fact, he helped me through cravings and withdrawals. He made me feel like I was worth something, like I counted. But you took all of that away."

"I know I did, sweetheart, and I'm sorry. I caused you to act rashly," he said, his own tears falling. "I wanted so badly to help you, but I went about it all wrong. I didn't know any other way. My own dad would have told me to pull my head out of my ass and act right."

I snorted, swiping at my tears.

Phil stood up, brushed off his pants in a nervous gesture, and locked gazes with me. "You take...all the time you need. This... This place has been completely taken care of," he said, walking to me. He set a heavy hand on my shoulder. "And I took the liberty of changing your name back to Swan..."

With that, he left the room, closing the door softly behind him.

Glaring over at Dr. Franklin, I huffed heavily through my nose. "Really?"

"He called me," he defended with a shrug of his shoulder, not looking apologetic at all. "Let's get out of here," he sighed, standing up and grabbing his jacket. "Looks like a gazebo day..."

We walked in silence as we made our way across the grounds, falling down at the table. I lit a cigarette as I gazed unseeingly at the water dripping down from the roof.

"Tell me about the night of the accident," he said softly.

"No," I whispered, shaking my head. "I'm sure you have my file memorized. You tell me."

He took a deep breath and let it out. "Okay. Fine," he conceded. "Your mother died two weeks before you were due to graduate from Forks High – with honors, I might add. The day of her funeral, you and Edward had a falling out with Phil. After meeting him, I can understand why. He was grieving, and he took it out on the two of you. Instead of seeing your relationship with Edward as something positive, he saw what he didn't have, and he lashed out, forbidding the two of you from seeing each other. At least until after you graduated, because he couldn't stop you then. You'd be going to the same college, you were legal adults, but as long as you were under his roof..."

I exhaled a long puff of smoke, looking over at the doc. He looked nervous, but he was doing so well.
Apparently, someone along the line took damn good notes about my fucked up life.

"Anyway, the forced breakup caused you to spiral out of control. Phil even pulled strings to take Edward out of any classes you shared, so you were completely apart. Your depression, your own grief over the loss of your mother, and your inability to cope with stress caused not only nightmares but a long binge of drinking and drugs. You weren't even sober at graduation."

"Which is the night of the accident..." I murmured, lighting another smoke.

"Yes," he agreed slowly. "That night, Edward showed up at your house, thinking the separation was over, and arrived in the middle of a fight between you and Phil. He wanted to extend the separation until you moved into the dorms, but you wouldn't have it. You wouldn't even hear reason, because you were high." He sighed, sitting forward with his elbows on his knees. "You were determined to make the graduation parties with Edward, so when he arrived, Phil tried to stop you. You got behind the wheel anyway."

"Yup, word perfect," I snarked, nodding one time. "You want to finish, or shall I?" When he didn't say anything, I went on. "It was raining that night. The roads were slick, and Edward..." I huffed a laugh, shaking my head. "He was just so happy to be back together that he didn't really notice the speedometer or my shaking hands until we were several miles from my house. He begged me to pull over...and I did. I just didn't pull over far enough." I sniffed, picking at an invisible piece of lint on my pants. "He tried to calm me down, telling me that it was all over, that we would be just fine, but before he could convince me to let him drive, a truck came around the bend..."

Squeezing my eyes closed, I could pretty much see it all like it was yesterday. The sound of squealing tires, the feel of Edward's fingers on my face, and the sight of his stunning smile as he told me he loved me over and over – it was all right there.

~oOo~

"Come on, baby," Edward chuckled, kissing my lips softly. "We'll stop at the diner, grab some food and you a cup of coffee and we'll head over to Emmett's, okay?" he asked, and I nodded, because he made everything so much fucking better. "How about you let me drive, yeah?"

Edward opened his door, setting a foot down on the asphalt, and turned back to me. He was just such a sight for sore eyes that I couldn't help but kiss him again and again.

"I missed you," I sighed, smiling at his sweet chuckle.

"And I love you. Come on. Let's go celebrate – us and the fact that we're almost the fuck outta here." 
He grinned, starting to step out of the car, and I ran around to his side.

We both looked back as the truck barreled around the corner. I was completely out of the car and already at his door, but Edward sort of froze, though they told me later that the fact that he was standing may have saved his life. When the truck slammed on its breaks, it lost control, rear-ending my car, which crashed into the closest tree.

The collision was loud and hard, sending Edward flying, his left leg badly broken. Blood was everywhere, as was my car. Luckily, the driver of the truck acted quickly and called 9-1-1. In fact, by the time we rolled into the ER, the driver had to convince everyone we knew that it wasn't my fault, that I'd been pulled over. But when they tested me, it didn't matter. I was way over the legal limit, stoned out of my mind, and an absolute emotional mess, because no one would tell me about Edward.

When I'd finally been released, I was beside myself, wanting to know something, anything about Edward. Instead of heading out to the waiting room, I went in search for him, only to come across Phil, Dr. Cullen, his wife Esme, and a shit load of police officers.

"She needs discipline!" Phil hissed, pounding his fist into the palm of his other hand.

"She needs help," Dr. Cullen countered firmly. "She's filled with anger, depression, and grief, and she's drowning it all with substance abuse."

My eyebrows shot up, because the last person on this Earth that I'd expect to defend me was Edward's dad. I'd just put his son in the hospital. I'd hung out at his house a handful of times and his parents were always kind, but I didn't think they'd care enough to defend me, as their son was hurting.

"There's a place not far from here. I can put a word in, Coach. She'll be in the best of care," Dr. Cullen urged, turning toward the officers. "And don't you dare cuff her inside my hospital. She's hurting enough as it is."

"Bella," Esme sniffled, rushing to me. "He's going to be just fine, sweetie, okay?"

"Where is he?" I sobbed, ignoring everyone else but the one person that was giving me what I needed.

"He's getting his leg set," Dr. Cullen answered kindly. "He'll be just fine. A few bumps and bruises, a possible concussion, but he'll be all right. He asked for you, but I told him that you were okay."

I nodded, swiping at my tears and looking at the officers.

"Isabella Dwyer, you have the right to remain silent..." one of them started, but I barely heard a word of it.

I was taken to the station, fingerprinted, processed, and released into Phil's custody. Dr. Cullen had sent a lawyer our way, getting the DA to drop all charges as long as I sought help. When I should've been getting ready to move into UW, I was packing for Breckenridge.

I was allowed to see Edward one time before Phil drove me to Seattle. It might've been the single hardest conversation I'd ever had.

Edward was propped up in his hospital bed when I walked in, his leg covered in plaster from toes to mid-thigh. His beautiful face had a few scrapes and bruises, there was a bandage on his forearm, and thankfully, he was alone in the room.

He glanced up from his phone, relief softening what was a harsh look on his face. "Bella, you're all right... I tried calling you, but no one answered."

"Yeah, I'm okay," I whispered, sitting down where he was patting the side of his bed. "My phone didn't survive the crash. How are you?"

"Aw, I'll live," he chuckled, shrugging a shoulder. "They said I was lucky I wasn't inside the car completely. A broken leg is better than what could've happened. The U-Dub coach isn't happy, but baseball isn't everything."

Tears welled up in my eyes at the thought of Edward losing the one thing he'd worked so hard to achieve. What hurt even more was that he didn't care. His only concern was me.

"Edward, you...you should be so mad at me," I told him, almost angry with him for not being upset.

"Why?" he laughed, reaching up to wipe my tears away. "You pulled over, Bella. It's the truck driver's fault that he didn't see us."

"I didn't pull over far enough. They said I was in the middle of the road," I explained, but really, it didn't matter. I needed to end this, because his comforting touches, his sweet face, and his happy smile were all just too much. He made me want to crawl in bed beside him and never come out from under the covers. And I couldn't. "They tested me, Edward. And they know I was driving, so they gave me a choice: jail or this hospital your dad knows about. Phil's dropping me off today, but I couldn't leave without seeing you."

"Leave? Baby, what are you talking about?" he asked.

I shot the door an angry glance, because they hadn't told him anything. "I'm..." I sighed, shaking my head. It figured that the first time I admitted I had a problem would be to Edward. "I'm sick. I need to be high to cope with shit that I can't deal with."

His brow furrowed as he studied my face, and the next question he asked was definitely not what I was expecting. "Why did you do this?" he asked, picking up my hands and turning them over so that my scars were visible.

For the first and last time, I told someone about my dad.

I stood up from the bed and walked to the window. "Everyone blamed me. They didn't always say it, but I knew. My mom especially. She started drinking. I had to feed us, get myself to school, and set up the funeral all on my own. I felt...so alone. I was...tired of the way she looked at me, tired of the whispers behind my back, and tired of the same fucking nightmare I saw night after night. I just couldn't deal with any of it."

"Bella, it wasn't your fault," Edward said calmly.

I huffed a humorless laugh, spinning to look at him. "You're the first person to ever say that to me."

"Well, then they can all go to hell! You were just a kid," he said, his voice practically a growl.

"My mom met Phil while I was in the emergency room getting stitched up where she'd told them I cut myself when a glass broke while I was doing dishes. He was in with one of his players. She stopped drinking about that time, but I picked up where she left off. Only it wasn't just drinking. It was weed, cocain, pain killers...anything, really. I just didn't want to feel...anything."

"C'mere," he said, patting the bed.

He pulled me to him, and the tears that unleashed were hot, salty, and filled with so much poison. As best he could, he tugged until I was in the bed with him, lined up along his good side. He soothed me with kisses to my forehead, firm hugs, and fingers through my hair. When I was able speak again, I sat up a little, looking down at my favorite face in the world.

"I have to go," I whispered, leaning down to kiss his lips softly.

"How long will you be gone?" he asked, his own emotions taking over. "What about school?"

"I don't know the answer to that, Edward. The condition is that I get to leave when I've been cleared," I told him.

"I'll be here when you're done," he stated firmly.

"Don't. Please don't do that," I begged, my tears starting over.

"I love you. Nothing will change that, Bella," he gushed, grasping either side of my face and kissing me hard. "I will wait for you."

"I'm telling you not to," I sobbed, standing up off the bed. "I may never be normal, Edward."

"I don't want fucking normal. I want you...when you're ready."

"You don't know what you're saying," I sighed, swiping at my face and looking up when the door opened.

"Bella, we have to go," Phil said softly, glancing over at Edward. "How ya feelin', Cullen?"

"Okay, Coach," Edward muttered back, but his eyes never left me.

"A few more minutes, please, Phil?" I said, and he relented, closing the door behind him.

"He's...amenable," Edward noted with a sneer on his face.

I laughed. "Yeah, well, your dad handed him his ass the night of our accident."

Edward's eyebrows shot up, but he said nothing, merely tugged my hand so that I came closer. "I meant it. I'll wait."

"If you really love me, then you'll forget about me," I stated. Every word sliced open my heart, but it wasn't fair of me to ask him to wait. Watching him bleed on the side of the road had done something to me, and I couldn't ask anyone to love me. I was completely convinced that I was bad luck.

Those words shattered my sweet, loving Edward's face. It was a double-edged sword what I was asking of him. If he waited, then he was just holding on to false hope. If he let go, then I risked him moving on. It just fucking hurt no matter which way I looked at it.

"I can't, Bella. I'll never do that. It'll never happen," he stated, frowning up at me. "You just...get better."

I nodded, understanding but hoping that he gave it some thought. Leaning down, I kissed his forehead. "I gotta go."

Before I reached the door, he called out, "Bella...wait."

Spinning, I smiled as he held up a permanent marker.

"Sign my cast?" he asked, giving me my favorite crooked smile, though the sweet green of his eyes was dulled by tears.

"Sure," I said, taking the pen from him. Finding an open space close to the top of the thigh, I wrote my final words to him.

Thank you for making me feel beautiful. Love always, B. xo

~oOo~

"He was right, you know," Dr. Franklin said, handing me a tissue. "Your father's death wasn't your fault."

"I know," I sighed, nodding slowly.

"You never said 'I love you' back to him," he noted.

"I couldn't," I sniffled, hating that my emotions were all over the place. "If I had said the words, I would've never left that hospital room."

The doc smiled softly but only nodded once in understanding. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Shall I give judgment now?" he asked, chuckling when I looked up at him curiously. "You seem to think it's a bad thing to miss Edward. I told you I'd tell you whether or not that was true once I'd heard the story."

"It doesn't matter, Doc," I snickered, shrugging a shoulder and pulling out another cigarette. "Who knows whether I'll see him again."

"True, but still..." he allowed with a shrug of his own shoulder. "According to your file that you think I have memorized," he started, smiling when I snorted into a chuckle, "when you first arrived, you didn't say a word. Not even through your detox did you say anything – not in therapy, not in meetings, not even to the orderlies. It took almost a hundred days for your system to clean out. It couldn't have been easy. In fact, the detox from alcohol is longer and harder than most illegal drugs, did you know that?"

I shrugged. It all hurt like hell as far as I was concerned. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally painful to go through. I threw up, I raged, and I sobbed relentlessly, but I'd done it all on my own without one complaint.

"You felt you deserved the punishment, didn't you?" he asked, almost reading my mind. When I didn't answer, he went on. "You never asked for help, you never once complained, and you never let anyone in on the hell you were going through, because you blamed yourself for not only the accident and Edward's injuries but also for your father's murder and your mother's illness. That silence is what kept you in here this long, because no one could help you, nor could they see where you stood in your progress.

"You also...refused visitors," he stated, raising an eyebrow up at me when my head spun to look at him. "It's totally your prerogative, but it didn't go unnoticed."

"I was a fucking mess, Doc," I explained. "No one needed to see that. And it wasn't like anyone was banging down the door to see me. All my friends went off to school. Phil wasn't exactly father of the year, and Edward... I just couldn't."

"Okay," he conceded. "Anyway, my point is... You took it upon yourself to suffer alone. In fact, from what I can gather, you even got high and drunk alone. Bella, you don't have to be alone to get better. This is what I've been trying to tell you since I first took over your case. It's okay to need someone's shoulder to cry on, to need someone to listen on days it's really bad, and..." He paused, making sure I was listening. "It really is okay to miss someone that you love. This Edward sounds like he was one of the rare good guys. There are only a few of us left in the world, you know," he teased, nudging my shoulder until I cracked a smile.

I was quiet for a moment, but finally said, "Donna asked me if Edward was my goal to get out of here."

"Well... Is he?" he asked, running a thumb along the table's edge. "You've yet to declare one. No one will clear you until you give something as a goal to leave – whether it's going back to school, seeing Edward, or even just being able to cope with daily bullshit without first wanting to drown it in some sort of substance."

"Yeah," I chuckled. "All of that, really. Though, I'm pretty sure my scholarship is null and void by now. And Edward..." I sighed, shaking my head. "I want to apologize to him. I want to know if he's safe and happy and healthy...even if he hates me."

"That sounds like some pretty damn good goals to me," he snickered, picking up his notebook. "Should we make it official?"

I chuckled softly and nodded. "Sure."

"Excellent," he hissed, sounding like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, which only caused me to laugh harder.
"Seriously, dude. Admit it... You're a closet geek, right?" I teased him, standing up when he did.

"I swear on my Star Wars Special Edition DVD collection that I have no idea what you're talking about," he answered, grinning when I laughed.

"Whatever," I snorted, shaking my head.

As we reached the door back into Breckenridge, he stopped me. "My goals are now your goals.
Understand? It's my job to make sure that you meet them. So if you're ready...we'll get to work."

He held his hand out to shake on it. I paused for just a moment but took his hand and shook it.
"We have an accord," he said in a terrible British accent.

"Pirates, too?" I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "Oh, I have another goal. I'm outing your geeky-ness before I leave."

He cracked the fuck up, tapping his notebook with one finger. "Duly noted, Bella."
~oOo~

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