Saturday, June 2, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Addiction Chapter 2 - Amends

~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 2: Amends
One month later...

"I ate a piece of cake today," Donna whispered, like she was confessing a sin.

"Is that why we're walking the hallways?" I asked her, raising an eyebrow up at her until she nodded with a sheepish look on her face. "You think you need to work it off?"

"Maybe," she huffed, shrugging a shoulder. "But it's my birthday."

"Well, then, happy birthday," I told her. "And clearly, you have to know that cake on your birthday doesn't count."
"Huh?"

"Nope, not a single calorie," I said with a grin and a wink.

It wasn't like Donna was overweight. She was maybe a size ten at most, but she was a few inches taller than me, too, so it seemed to fit her. Fuck what the fashion magazines said, because she was a beautiful girl. I think she even had a few orderlies crushing on her, to be honest. But her mom was one of those former Prom Queen/Beauty Pageant/Model-type bitches that was embarrassed that her daughter didn't inherit her size zero physique. In fact, after seeing the movie Mean Girls, I was pretty sure I knew what happened when those kids grew up. They just became meaner women.

Donna talked about her constantly – in our room and in group therapy – but I'd actually met Mrs. Donovan on one of her visits to see her daughter. Yeah, I hated her. Instantly. She'd snubbed our room, the staff, me, and even her own daughter. She'd arranged to meet with Donna in one of the therapists' offices from that point on.

"You lie," Donna giggled.

"Maybe," I allowed, "but hell, we've already burned it off by now. Now you can just walk me to Franklin's office."

"You're close to getting out, aren't you?" she asked, and her voice was a mixture of hope, jealousy, and sadness.

"I don't know. It's their call. Nurse Winecroft seems to think so, because Dr. Johnson has said I've improved in group and NA meetings. It's all Franklin's decision at this point, but he says I have to meet with some big wig from the board of this place before I can be cleared to leave," I explained.

From the moment I'd shaken Dr. Franklin's hand, I'd dived into my therapy head first. If I was having a bad day, I took it to him, and he always made time for me. I'd seen girls work the system in order to gain their freedom, but that wasn't what I was doing. Talking in group and NA meetings helped, because it showed me that there wasn't a single one of us that didn't have similar issues. They may have been different topics, but we all handled it the same way. Poorly. It was changing that way of thinking that was the hard part. Because despite the joke about drugs killing your brain cells, it was actually true. Chasing a high changed your chemical makeup so that you could never actually feel real joy again unless it was enhanced by drugs. I was now taking medication in order to correct mine – something I'd refused constantly from the minute I'd arrived at Breckenridge. I'd most likely be on it the rest of my life, but at least the nightmares had slowed down and my internal rage had calmed.

We turned down the hallway that led to the therapists' offices, and I came to a complete standstill, my mouth falling open.

"Bella, what's wrong?" Donna asked.

"Dr. Cullen?" I whispered, my eyes narrowing at the sight of Dr. Franklin and Edward's father standing just outside the office door. They were both smiling, shaking hands.

"Oh, Dr. Tall-Blond-And-Sexy down there?" she chuckled. "Yeah, he's on the board. I met him when my mother had to seek approval to get me in here. He's really sweet...and hot."

"That's Edward's dad."

"No shit?" she squeaked, which caused both men to look our way. "Now that's good genes right there," she muttered.

I snorted, but it caught in my throat as the two doctors made their way to us. Seeing Dr. Cullen was heartbreaking and heart-wrenching all at one time, because he brought with him a feeling of fear, remorse, and utter homesickness for Edward. Carlisle Cullen didn't really resemble his son physically, except for his walk. It was exactly the fucking same – long, sure, determined strides that held confidence and authority.
"Hello, Bella," Dr. Cullen said, his voice just as soothing as I'd remembered.

"Dr. Cullen," I said, barely above a whisper.

"Bella, Dr. Cullen would like to speak with you," Dr. Franklin said.

"I didn't want visitors," I countered, tearing my gaze away from one doctor to the other, but Dr. Cullen answered instead.

"I'm not here on a personal visit, Bella. I'm here to give you an evaluation," he said, giving me a crooked smile that was eerily familiar.

Board member. Final evaluation. My brain needed to catch up. Quickly.

"You're the big wig?" I asked, causing both men and Donna to chuckle.

Carlisle smiled warmly. "I'll explain it all. Dr. Franklin says you prefer to talk outside. You want to lead the way?"

"Okay," I said with a nod, leaving Dr. Frankin with Donna in the corridor. I was pretty sure I heard him wish her a happy birthday before I made it out into the misty, cloudy day.

I led him to the gazebo, lighting a cigarette with shaky hands, but when we sat down at the table, Dr. Cullen spoke first.

"You look...incredible, Bella," he gushed, sounding more like a father and less like a doctor, and the sincerity caused my heart to pound and tears to well up.

"Thank you." I swallowed thickly, letting out a deep breath. "Why are you here?"

"I volunteered to evaluate you. It was one of the conditions of your acceptance into Breckenridge.
Technically, I shouldn't do it, because it's a conflict of interest in more ways than one, but I actually think I'm the best judge for you," he explained vaguely.

"Conflict of interest?"

"I'll explain it after we've talked, okay?" he asked, smiling at my nod and flipping my rather large file open. "I can see you started rather rough, but from what's noted here, everyone in charge of you has nothing but gleaming things to say. And Dr. Franklin holds you in high regard."

I chuckled, which caused Carlisle to glance up at me. "I like him. He's been the best in here."

"You only just started working with him this past December," he stated, gazing at the file. "What changed?"

"I did."

I didn't want to say that the trigger for my therapy was Edward, though I was pretty damn sure that it was noted in my file by Dr. Franklin. And that thought only reminded me that one of my declared goals was to see Edward again, if only to apologize.

Dr. Cullen studied my face for a few seconds, only to nod and go back to his questions. We talked about group and NA, and whether I was to continue meetings once I was out, which was a yes. We talked about Phil and the last visit we'd had. And Carlisle told me that my adopted father was doing well and checked in on my progress regularly. Finally, he asked me about my one-on-one sessions with Dr. Franklin – and a few of my previous therapists.

"Did you really shatter her phone?" he chuckled.

"Yes," I huffed, frowning down at my hands. "I'm sorry about that, but she'd ask a question and then not listen to what I was saying. Not that I talked all that much back then. But she was a piss-poor doctor."

"She was. We let her go that very day," Carlisle stated firmly. "I believe she's working as a counselor in the county jail now."

My eyebrows shot up, but I said nothing.

Carlisle flipped through my file again and finally met my gaze after closing it and pushing it away. He was quiet for almost a full minute but eventually reached into the breast pocket of his suit coat, pulling out a plain white envelope.

"I've been monitoring your progress since you arrived here, Bella. I didn't visit you, but I would call in once a week to check on you because I have a vested interest in you. Again, I'll explain why in a moment. But I began to worry when you didn't progress like you should have. Once Dr. Franklin took over your case, even he noted vast improvements almost immediately. By the time you declared your goals, we knew you were ready."

My face felt hot at the thought of Dr. Cullen knowing my goals, but it was what it was. I needed to not only try to face real life and the possibility of school, but I needed to face my past, my lies, and my mistakes with Edward. I also couldn't hide in Breckenridge forever in order to stay clean.

Setting an envelope down onto the table, Dr. Cullen slid it toward me. "Your scholarship for UW has been temporarily reinstated. With glowing recommendations from not only myself, Dr. Franklin, Phil...and a few others, they've given you another shot. It starts this next fall. It's temporary, because you have to prove yourself the first semester. After that, they'll make another assessment."

I opened up the envelope, glancing over the words. The acceptance was for a full ride, but only if I maintained my grades, my attendance, and stayed out of trouble – which meant the first time I was caught with an illegal substance, I was gone.

"The day you leave here, Bella," he continued, "Phil has arranged to set you up in your old home, but eventually, you'll be living on campus, if school is what you choose to do."

I nodded silently, waiting for that next shoe to drop, but it didn't. He just kept going.

"Have you thought about what you're going to school for?" he asked.

"I want to..." I sighed, shaking my head, because it seemed like such a change compared to my old life. "I want to be a counselor. I want to help people like me."

The pride-filled smile that lit up his face was priceless. "Good for you, sweetheart," he praised softly, still smiling a little. "I'm going to clear you, Bella, because I think if anyone deserves a fresh start, it's you. Nothing that happened to you was your fault, but it did cause some heavy repercussions."

"How can you not hate me?" I suddenly blurted out, because his lack of anger worried me. "You should hate me. You should want me kept away... I almost..."

He chuckled, holding up his hand to stop me, but the look in his eye was sad, I noted. "You aren't the only one I know that has problems, Bella. You should sit down with my wife sometime. We got married young, lost our first child, and it sent Esme spiraling into a deep depression. She recognized it in you the very second you stepped foot in our home. No matter what I said to Phil, though, he insisted that it was discipline you needed, not 'coddling,' as he called it." He frowned, and it was a sharp contrast to his soft, kind features. "He's since changed his mind."

I opened my mouth to speak, but he went on.

"I told you that I had a vested interest in you," he went on, looking a little worried. After letting out a deep breath, he said, "It was me that got you in Breckenridge, me that's paying for your treatment, and it's my son that begged me to keep an eye on you."

I froze, blinking up at him.

He smirked, tilting his head at me. "I'm surprised you haven't asked about him."

"Believe me," I sighed, tears welling up again in my eyes, "I really want to. I'm trying to control my impulses." I smiled at Carlisle's soft laugh but went on. "I begged Edward to let me go. And then...there are things I'm not sure I want to know."

"Yes, well...my son." He huffed in a laugh, shaking his head once, but locked gazes with me. "He's one of your goals, Bella. Do you truly mean to see him?"

"I owe him some apologies, Dr. Cullen."

"We're done with your evaluation. Call me Carlisle," he chuckled.

"Fine, Carlisle. I need to clarify some things with him. I wasn't always honest," I explained, grimacing a little. "But then...I'm scared."

"What scares you?"

"These past few months, Edward has been sort of the key to getting better," I told him, glaring at the top of the table. "Talking about him made talking about other things not so difficult." I took a deep breath and let it out, gazing around the garden surrounding us as the rain picked up a little. "I'm scared that he did what I asked, that he forgot about me, but then...I'm scared he hung onto something that wasn't real."

"You think it was all in your head? Your relationship with Edward?" he asked, tilting my face up.

"No, not really. I'm just afraid of what I'll find once I see him again. I mean, I keep running these scenarios in my mind about how it will go, and it ranges from my inability to even speak to him to Edward being so angry with me for ruining everything that he won't listen."

Carlisle smiled. "Hmm, well, I suppose that would be scary."

"All my other goals aren't so frightening. I can face school...I'm looking forward to it, actually. Thank you," I said, holding up the envelope, and he nodded that he'd heard me. "Facing problems without drugs will be hard, but Dr. Franklin said that I could call him, and there will be meetings I can go to. But Edward is the unknown..." My voice trailed off, but Carlisle nodded again in understanding. "He was the one person that made me feel...real. With him, I was perfect just the way I was. So I don't know how I'll feel if I'm not that way to him anymore."

"Yet, you aren't asking me..."

I laughed, shaking my head. "I'm not. It's not right, asking you to give me the scoop on your own son."

He grinned, starting to stand. "Fair enough, Bella."

"Wait, please?" I nearly begged, stopping him. "One more question."

"Go ahead."

"Why are you paying for me in here?" I asked, frowning up at him. "I mean, shouldn't Phil..."

Carlisle held up a hand. "When you see my son, you ask him that question. Okay?"

"Okay," I whispered, following him back to the building.

Just before we went in, he stopped me. "I've spoken with Dr. Franklin multiple times over the last few weeks. I know that when Phil was here, he told you he was moving to California. And I know that your relationship with him is...strained. I want you to know that you aren't alone once you step foot out of this place. It may feel that way, but Esme and I would be happy to help you get settled, get you into school, or just if you need to talk, we'll be there – no matter what. You've been in here ten months. The outside is a lot to deal with by yourself."

I nodded once, my emotions almost overwhelming, because it seemed Dr. Franklin had been paying way more attention to my conversation with Phil than I'd thought.

With a deep breath, I said, "Thank you."

~oOo~

Gazing around my room one more time, I made sure I hadn't forgotten anything. After Carlisle's all-clear, it had taken only two days to process my release.

Donna sat silently on her bed, looking a tad bit lost. We'd been together for the entire ten months I'd been in Breckenridge Mental Health Center. She had only arrived one day earlier than I had. I'd been brought in June fifth, and I was checking out two months shy of a full year later. I'd been sick with grief over my final conversation with Edward, nervous that I was being taken away from everything I'd ever known, and angry at the fucking world. I'd felt thrown away, tossed aside, and guilty about everything I'd ever done, especially the accident with Edward and my father's murder.

Dr. Franklin had been right; I hadn't said a word from the moment I walked through the doors until way after the hundred and some odd days it had taken to detox, because I'd felt utterly alone and figured I'd had no choice but to stay alone.

I knew differently now.

Phil was already signing for my release just down the hall with Dr. Franklin. He'd kept his promise, offering me a place to stay until school started in the fall, but I'd declined him. Nevertheless, he was there to help me get settled back into my old house. He'd even brought with him a new cell phone for me so that I could keep in touch with him. It weighed heavily in the pocket of my jeans.

Carlisle had kept in touch the last few days, telling me that he and Esme had been the ones to keep an eye on my house and that he'd offered to come to pick me up but Phil had insisted on doing it himself. He thought that Phil probably felt he owed it to my mother to continue to take care of me, despite the fact that I was a legal adult. It was why she'd had Phil adopt me in the first place. She'd been dying, and she'd wanted to make sure that someone would be there to watch out for me. When I'd been arrested, he'd been given the right to act on my behalf.

"What will you do first?" Donna asked, breaking me out of my musings.

I smiled and shrugged. "Go home, I guess. Though knowing Phil, he'll want to eat someplace."

"Are you scared?"

"Yes," I answered honestly. Her questioning look made me continue. "We're kind of sheltered in here, so getting out, living alone, and dealing with daily shit really scares me. I don't want to fail, but I'm sure I'll have set-backs."

She nodded, because she understood about set-backs. In the time that we'd been roommates, she'd attempted suicide once and gone through several periods when she'd refuse to eat at all. It's those times that kept her in here, because her mother just didn't want her out until she was completely healed. Everyone tried to tell her that Donna would never be completely healed, but it didn't matter.

"Do me a favor... Eat ice cream for me," she giggled, nudging my shoulder. "And make sure you share it with Edward."

I gave her a pointed look, because she knew that was my biggest fear of all. Just...Edward.

"Okay, okay." She chuckled, hugging me tightly. "I'll miss you. If anyone can make it out there, it's you," she said, pulling back and swiping at her tears. "If I ever get out of here, I'll come see you."

"You'd better," I told her, raising an eyebrow up at her. "Now go. It's lunchtime."

She rolled her eyes but left the room, giving me one last look before we went opposite directions down the corridor.

After endless praise and forced promises that I'd call him if I needed him, I finally shook Dr. Franklin's hand while Phil loaded my things in the car. He also reminded me that he ran a few AA and NA meetings in the Seattle area, so if I wanted a familiar face, I should come to those. When the trunk closed, the doc turned me to face him one more time.

"You have...so many people pulling for you, Bella," he whispered, giving Phil a flickering glance. "More than you know about, okay? Just...never forget you're not alone. Understand?"

"Okay," I said with a nod. "But what if..."

He chuckled, shaking his head. "Bella, I have a feeling that your conversation with Edward will go...just fine. And if he doesn't listen, then maybe he wasn't the good guy you thought him to be."

I wanted to argue, defend Edward in some way, but truth be told, Doc was right. I could give Edward all the explanations and apologies that I wanted, but it was up to him what he did with them. And to set myself up for disappointment would be detrimental to my recovery. I needed to face the possibility that Edward could merely be just one of my twelve steps.

The doc waited until I sorted that out silently in my head, and then he nodded. "Yeah, you get it. Now, go home."

The ride was quiet the first few minutes, but then Phil started rambling nervously. He talked about California, his new job, and how he liked it. As Forks drew near, he changed to subjects that were a little harder.

"Look, Bella," he sighed, tearing his gaze away from the road just long enough to make sure I was listening. "The house...it's much the same as when you left it. I didn't change much, and I certainly didn't touch your room, okay?"

"Okay."

"Here's the thing... It's yours to do with as you please. You can keep it, sell it, or rent it out. You'll be heading off to school in the fall, so I can't imagine you'll spend much time in Forks..."

His voice trailed off, but I understood what he was saying. If I couldn't handle the memories of the house, then I didn't need permission to sell it. When my mother married Phil, he had moved in with us, so he had no claim to any of it.

"Also," he said before clearing his throat, "you have a substantial inheritance that is now in your bank account. I made sure that you'd have everything you'd need. All the paperwork is in the kitchen."

"What?" I asked, my eyes narrowing on him.

"Your father was a cop, Bella. When he died, his life insurance and pension went to your mother. When she passed, it all went to you."

"Oh," I murmured, frowning out the window. I wasn't sure what to make of it, because money was the furthest thing from my mind.

The car went quiet again – this time, until we finally pulled into the driveway, and then my breath caught in my throat. Memories upon memories flooded me. My dad teaching me how to ride a bike, my mom planting flowers, and my sixteenth birthday getting my car. My car that no longer existed. My eyes drank in the house, finally landing on the tree by my window – the window that Edward had crawled through countless times just simply to tell me goodnight and kiss me.

Bad memories surfaced, too. That same tree was what I'd used to sneak out of my house to meet my dealer. James had lived a few streets over with his girlfriend. He had been the biggest provider of weed to the Forks High students, though he could get just about anything. The last I'd heard, he'd been arrested for domestic violence and possession right around the time I'd graduated.

But the good out-weighed the bad, because I wanted it to and because I'd tried to focus on the good while in Breckenridge. My mom was the most prominent of them all – hugs after school, warm cookies on Sunday afternoons, cleaning up scrapes after I'd fallen down, and her beautiful laugh when my dad would chase me around the yard, threatening to tickle me.

I remembered the night my mother died, watching her being carried out through the front door, all covered up. The day of her funeral was a strong memory, where I sat almost comatose on my front porch steps with Edward's warm, strong arms wrapped around me, his soft voice telling me that everything would be okay. And I'd believed every single fucking word he'd said.

I hadn't even gotten out of the car yet, but I could feel Phil's eyes on me. "I'm okay. I just...needed a second," I muttered, finally breaking my gaze from the house to meet his.

"I miss her, too," he simply said, nodding once when I hummed in agreement. "When you're ready, we'll get you settled."

Taking a deep breath and letting it out, I opened the car door. "I'm ready."

~oOo~

Phil stayed almost the whole week, just long enough to take me to buy a new car – since mine had been completely totaled – as well as to make sure that my identification was current and that I could cook dinner without burning the house down.

Honestly, I was ready to tread water on my own, but I knew he was afraid for me. I could see it on his face every time he spoke to his job on the phone. I could imagine he was worried that I'd slip, that I'd fall off the wagon, or that I'd stop taking my meds. It was when we had a visitor the fourth day he was there that I think he realized he could leave me.

"I'll get it," I called to him from the kitchen. I'd been cleaning up the lunch dishes. When I yanked open the door, my smile couldn't be contained. "Esme..." I breathed.

"Bella," she said, beaming as she drank in every inch of me. "My goodness, you look radiant, sweetheart."
Grinning, I rushed to her when she opened her arms.

"I heard you'd gotten home," she whispered, chuckling when I smirked at her. I couldn't imagine that Carlisle kept much from her. "Okay, so fine. Carlisle told me, but I couldn't stay away much longer."

I giggled, saying, "Come in."

She greeted Phil, though not as warmly, and he left us in the kitchen alone. I made us both a cup of coffee, and we sat down at the kitchen table.

Esme caught me up on the goings on of Forks. She told me that Alice had opted for UW, because that was where Jasper had been accepted, though at the moment, they were a little rocky. Rose and Emmett went away to the east coast. Emmett was at UConn playing baseball, while Rose attended NYU. They were a mere train ride apart.

We chatted about anything and everything...except Edward. He was a topic carefully avoided by both of us. And I wasn't sure why. On my part, I just didn't want to force his parents into any conversation that would make them uncomfortable, because I'd been responsible for placing Edward in the hospital. However, there was something I needed to say.

"Esme," I started, watching her carefully when she took a sip of coffee, "I need to apologize to you for the night of graduation."

She smiled sadly, nodded, and said, "You were...hurting, Bella. If anyone understands that, it's me. And Edward had asked you to pull over, which you did. Not a lot of people would do that if they had been in the same condition."

I finally couldn't take it anymore. Maybe it was giving into an impulse, or maybe I just felt that comfortable with Esme to ask her, but whatever it was, my heart asked the question that my brain had kept at bay since I'd seen Carlisle in the hallway of Breckenridge.

"How is he?" I blurted out in a mere whisper, wincing at my loss of self control.

A small smile curled the corners of her mouth as she tilted her head at me. "He's at school and doing fine. He healed very well, Bella...physically."

I flinched at the last word she tossed out there, but she reached over and took my hand.

"My husband, in his infinite wisdom," she started wryly with a roll of her stunning green eyes, "thinks that you should take your own steps, but I think you need a hand to hold in order to tug you a little. I'm going tomorrow to visit Edward. Carlisle has to work, and I'd rather not go alone. Would you like to come?"

Once again, my heart answered for me with a slow nod, while my mind was screaming that I wasn't ready to face him. I needed more time. Time to figure out what to say, how to act, what to do in case he hated me.
But my heart ached to see him, even if it was just simply to make sure that he was okay.

"Good!" she chirped, patting my hand. "You can follow me there. He doesn't usually like his mom to stick around too long."

I grinned but nodded, standing when she did.

"I'll be by around noon tomorrow. We'll have lunch before we go, okay?" she offered.

"Okay."

She cupped my face, giving a light kiss to my forehead. "It's good to see you, Bella. I'm glad you're finally home. Carlisle and I aren't far, so if you need anything, just call us."

"I will," I vowed, meaning it. And I realized that I would more than likely call them quicker than the man who was watching TV in the living room.

When I shut the door, I turned to see Phil watching me with a scrutinizing gaze. He masked it quickly, holding up his phone. "I think I need to get back, Bells. One of my players injured his throwing arm while pulling a stupid Frat stunt."

I smirked, rolling my eyes. "Sounds like a genius."

"He's not. Trust me," Phil chuckled.

I smiled, and it felt good and real and unforced for the first time around my adopted father. "When will you leave?"

"Well, if I head out in a few hours, then I'll make it through most of Oregon before dark," he replied.

I nodded, my heart clenching at the thought of really being alone in the house for the first time, but I understood. "Okay, well, at least let me help you. I can make you a thermos of coffee for the road, all right?"

His goodbye was short, his packing even shorter, because he was ready to get out of the house that held way too many memories of my mother. It was practically a neon sign on his forehead. He showed me where the spare key to the house was, made me promise to check the back door at night, and then told me to call him if I needed him. I knew I wouldn't, but I promised him anyway. Our relationship, while civil now, was beyond repair. He knew it, and I knew it.

That night, I could barely sleep. The house was too quiet, the air too still, and it was the first time in a very long time I dreamed of Edward Cullen.

~oOo~

Purple. It was everywhere on campus. If it wasn't purple, it was a picture of the mascot – a husky. I was a nervous wreck, despite Esme's calm demeanor at lunch. We'd stopped along the way so that we could eat, but I'd barely touched a thing – something that made Donna spring to mind more than once through the hour that we'd sat there, which only added to my guilt and nerves. It was when we parked and started walking that I realized where exactly she was taking me, and it suddenly became too much to hold in.

"He still plays?" I gasped almost in a squeak, stopping so suddenly that a group of people behind us had to dodge around us in order not to run into me.

"Bella, sweetie, you're white as a sheet," Esme said, guiding me to the closest bench. "Here, sit down."

I could see the field, hear the sound of ball meeting baseball glove and the ting of a metal bat. The smell of popcorn, peanuts, and hotdogs hung heavily in the air, but I simply couldn't wrap my head around any of it.
"Honey, look at me," Esme soothed, tucking my hair behind my ear. When my eyes met hers, she nodded. "Yes, he still plays. He didn't lose anything. His leg healed just fine, and he was able to build his strength back up before camp. Carlisle didn't tell you?"

I shook my head furiously, swiping at tears that just wouldn't stop. Those tears represented relief and probably a touch of exhaustion. I'd beaten myself up more over Edward's losses than my own. The images of him laying on the side of the highway, in the ambulance, and in the hospital bed were the last memories I'd had of him.

She cursed under her breath before cupping my face. "Did you think this entire time that you'd caused him to lose his scholarship?" she asked, her mouth hanging open at my nod. "And no one told you differently?"

I shook my head no. "But I was afraid to ask," I said with a sniffle.

Esme studied my face, wiping my tears away with her thumbs. "Some of my son's journey this past year is his own to explain to you, but I will tell you this, Bella," she said, holding my gaze. "You didn't ruin anything for him. He worked hard to build up his strength again. In fact, he poured himself into getting better. It was what my husband would call a clean break, so it healed with no problems. Once that cast was off, there was no slowing Edward down. He wanted to prove to the coaches that he could still play. And he's ranked pretty high as one of the best outfielders in the country."

The sob that I let loose wracked my whole frame, and Esme pulled me to her shoulder, wrapping her arms around me and rocking me gently. My relief was overwhelming, because I'd wanted Edward to be happy, and despite the accident, he was still able to do what he'd always planned. And that was the best news I'd ever heard.

"Oh, sweetie," she sighed, rubbing my shoulder. "He told me what you said in the hospital. That you wanted him to forget you. That had to be the single hardest thing to do and so very brave of you." She tilted my face up. "But I'm going to let you in on a little secret. My son... He's very stubborn," she said with a wink and a smirk. "He gets it from his mother," she whispered conspiratorially.

I huffed a laugh, sniffling a little.

"He wanted so much to protect you," she went on with a sigh. "He hated Phil...still does, actually. I'm not sure he'll ever forgive him for the way that he treated you. But Edward also knew, after a very long talk with his father, that you were going somewhere to get better, and he came to terms with that. What he doesn't know...is that you're home."

My mouth fell open as I just stared at her. "But I thought... I mean, you knew, so I assumed..."

"Well, once again, Carlisle thought it was better to let you take this step, Bella," she explained with a shrug. "It's been almost a year, sweetie, and you've both been through some changes. But technically, the ball is in your court. We weren't sure how Edward would react had we told him." She leaned in closer like she was about to divulge a great, big secret. "Personally, I think you just needed a little push." When I didn't say anything, she went on. "Now, we can leave, or we can go watch a baseball game, which I think has already started. It's totally up to you."

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "No, I wanna go."

After a stop off at the restroom in order for me to splash some cool water on my face, she led me up into the stands. I'd forgotten the feel of it all, because it seemed like forever since I'd watched Edward play. My eyes immediately assessed the field, locking onto the number twenty-five. "Cullen" was clearly printed across his broad shoulders in dark purple edged in gold, the uniform in white with dark purple long sleeves underneath. Long, familiar fingers grabbed the bill of his baseball cap, took it off, only to adjust it back on – it was a habit that made me smile, because he couldn't run his fingers through his hair during a game. And I could see, only for a split second, that his hair was just as crazy as ever.

But there were so many subtle changes. Gone was the slight roundness to his face, replaced by a more masculine, more grownup look to his cheeks and jaw. He seemed larger than life, confident, which I realized came from the look in his eyes. There was a sharpness to them that I recognized from when I used to watch him play, but they also looked harder. And I wondered if that was due to being in the game or from life in general. When the ting of the bat caught my attention, I held my breath when he went into motion. He was graceful, calculating, and he'd caught the last out of that inning.

Edward was still just as beautiful as ever, if not more.

The longer the game went on, the more my courage waned. And as if she could sense it, Esme picked up my hand and held it gently. By the time that it was over and Edward had caught the last pop-fly, I noticed something else had stayed the same.

"Edward!"

"Cullen! Over here," the girls all screamed as the players made their way toward the dugout.

Edward still had fans. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, really. I wanted to laugh, because he looked pained at the sound of it, but I wanted to cry, because he gave them genuine smiles as he walked up to the fence to talk to them.

"Come on, let's tell him we're here. He'll come back out once he's cleaned up," Esme said, not leaving room for argument, because she tugged me up and off the bleachers without shame.

She led me through the crowd and toward the lower part of the fence, where the rest of the girls were scattered about the bleachers, but a familiar head of raven hair came flying up.

"That's enough! Leave him be," Alice ordered, shooing them away like flies.

"Aw," they all groaned, but they started to walk away, except for one.

"Edward, are you at least coming to the after party?" a pretty girl with light brown hair and blonde highlights asked him.

His gaze shot up to her, but he was already shaking his head no. "No, sorry. I've got other plans."

"That's right," Alice smirked, her surprised gaze meeting mine, but she shot me a wink. "He's got places to go and...people to see," she said, the last three words accentuated with three smacks to his chest with the back of her hand.

"Alice, why are you hitting me?" he snorted, looking down at her, but then he followed her gaze.

To say time stood still would sound cliché, but it felt like it did. Even the little group of girls stopped to see why their favorite player had suddenly gone slack-jawed and speechless. Ignoring the tension that was suddenly filling the air with a crackling electricity, both Alice and Esme moved simultaneously – Esme, to her son, and Alice, to me.

"Oh God, it's good to see you," Alice gushed in a whisper, hugging me fiercely, and I realized just how much I'd missed my oldest friend. She pulled back, giving me an appraising glance from head to toe, saying, "You look amazing. How long have you been... I mean... When did you get..."

I chuckled, hugging her again. "I've missed you," I laughed, pulling back and glancing up to see that Edward's eyes were still locked on me as he nodded as to whatever his mother was rapidly whispering to him. "I've been home about a week," I stated to them all, even the fan-girls that were eavesdropping.

"Despite the fact that he's stunned stupid, he really did miss you," Alice snorted in a whisper next to my ear, urging me closer.

I stepped closer to the fence, feeling rather short in front of him and nervous under his intense gaze.

"Bella," he breathed, reaching out to take my hand.

"Hey," I said with a smile, squeezing his fingers.

He leaned forward, pressing a kiss to my cheek, and I thought my heart would burst out of my chest. "You are still the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he whispered, pulling back to smile at me. "Please tell me you'll be here after I hit the showers."

He was so close that I could practically smell the game on him – sweat, sunshine, clay, and grass were just about to drive me mad, but I nodded. He was even more handsome than I'd remembered, especially when he was this close.

"We'll all wait in the usual spot, son," Esme soothed him, "but then I've got to head home."

He nodded. "Give me fifteen minutes," he stated, holding up a finger. "And don't you dare go anywhere," he ordered, though his eyes lingered on me.

I smiled, shaking my head, and watched him trot off, only to disappear into the locker room.

"Who is she?" one of the lingering fan-girls hissed, but when I ignored them, Alice didn't.

"His girlfriend. Now shoo!" she snapped, rolling her eyes at them.

"Alice," I chuckled, shaking my head as we made our way out of the stands. "I'm not sure that's the correct term right now."

We reached an area with some trees and benches, and thank fuck, an ashtray. I immediately lit up a cigarette with shaky hands, because I'd been holding back all damn day with Esme, but this was just a little too nerve-wracking. The acrid smoke instantly soothed me, though I knew that I needed to quit. However, in the grand scheme of my life, it was the least of my addictions.

"Look me in the eye and tell me you don't still love him," Alice said suddenly as she glared at me, her voice almost sounding like a growl.

"I can't do that, Alice," I sighed, blowing out a lungful of air. "But it's been a long time, and we've been apart longer than we were together."

"Alice... Bella's right," Esme said, sitting down next to me on the bench. "Just let them work things out, okay?"

I studied Alice's disgruntled face, unable to place the emotion she was putting off until I realized something.
She was protecting him. She'd done it with the girls at the game, but it went deeper than that. She truly was upset with me.

"You watched over him...while I was gone," I whispered, lighting another cigarette.

She nodded, her eyes filling with tears. "And he watched over me. You wouldn't let us see you, Bella! We felt kinda lost without you."

"You really didn't need to see me in there, Alice," I sighed, looking away from her. "I was a total mess. It wasn't...pleasant. I'm sorry about that, but really, it was better that way."

"Better for who?" she asked, but her voice was joined by a deeper, more velvetier tone.

I glanced up to see Edward had now joined us, his duffel bag in his hand. He was showered and his hair was still damp, but instead of his baseball uniform, he was wearing dark blue jeans and a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His face was filled with a touch of hurt and anger, but he masked it well.

"For me," I answered simply, frowning a little. "It was hard enough to admit I had a problem, but it was even harder to say goodbye to you guys once. It would have been misery to do it once a month or once a week."

Edward's shame-filled gaze fell to the ground, and Alice winced as she realized it wasn't about them in this situation.

I stood up, stubbing out my cigarette. "Look, I owe you both a shit-ton of apologies," I sighed in defeat. "In fact, I don't even know where to start."

"So we're just step number eight of the twelve to you?" Edward asked softly, tilting his head at me.

Someone had been doing research, which pissed me off a little, but it also made me uncomfortable. It made me huff a humorless laugh through my nose, because I honestly hadn't considered them knowing how any of it worked.

"Why don't you all just calm down for a moment," Esme suggested. "Come. You guys can walk me to my car."

"Maybe I should follow you back," I told her, but we both spun when Edward cursed.

"Shit," he hissed, shaking his head as he continued to glare at the ground, but suddenly, he looked up at me. "Bella, don't leave yet. Fuck, I'm sorry. Can you stay a little longer?"

"I don't want to interrupt your plans," I murmured, trying my damnedest not to think of what they might be.
"There aren't any," Alice stated, smirking a little. "He tells the girls that after every game."

I snorted at Edward's embarrassed smile, because it was sweet, crooked, and oh so familiar.

"Except to get something to eat," he added, chuckling a little. "Please come?"

It was those two words that changed my mind. They rocketed me back to the first time he'd asked me out. And from the look on his face, he knew it. His raised eyebrow and smirk was sexy as all hell while he waited for my answer.

"Okay," I conceded, turning to Esme. "Let's walk you to the car."

Edward and Alice lagged behind us, but Esme spoke for my ears only. "Don't you let them drive you crazy."
"Been there," I sang back to her.

She grinned, stopping by her car. "Look, they're right. They were totally lost without you, and my son, he was just...heartbroken. But don't you dare let them make you feel guilty over doing something to better yourself, okay?" She paused, kissed my cheek, and whispered, "Sometimes, what may seem like a selfish act may benefit everyone in the long run."

"Thank you," I whispered, because the last two days with her had been more help than the whole week I'd spent with Phil and probably the last two therapy sessions with Dr. Franklin. She was quickly filling the role of my mother.

"Mmhm," she hummed, giving me a stern look. "Now, I expect a phone call when you do come home, though. I don't care the hour."

"Yes, ma'am," I told her, a little taken aback with the order.

She turned to her son. "I'm assuming you'll come home this weekend?"

He grinned, kissed her cheek, and opened her door for her. "I have laundry to do."

"Of course you do," she chuckled, ruffling his hair. "Then I'll see you Saturday."

Once she was backed out and gone, I turned to Edward and Alice. "Okay, where to?"

"Yes," Alice cheered. "IHOP here we come."

~oOo~

"Where's Jasper?" I asked, but it seemed everyone had a question on the tip of their tongue, because two more inquiries were tossed out onto the table of the restaurant after our waitress had taken our order. Alice and I were on the same side of the booth, while Edward took up the other.

"Why didn't you let us see you?" Edward asked.

And at the same time, Alice blurted out, "If you've been home a week, then why is this the first time you've come here?"

We all cracked the fuck up, but Alice answered me. "Jasper's a long story. You first."

I looked to Edward, his gaze carefully masked but still as warm as I'd remembered it. "The first three months, I was sick. Detox. I also didn't say much, so I wasn't exactly fit for visitors. I'm sorry." Turning to Alice, I answered her question. "Phil picked me up and got me settled back into my house. There was a ton of things to do...my license, getting a car, and basically just testing the waters. I've been away for almost a year."

"Phil," Edward scoffed, rolling his eyes. "How is my old coach?" he sneered.

"Back in California by now, I imagine," I snickered. "He's...not like he used to be, but I'm pretty sure we'll never be BFFs."

Edward chuckled, and it was breathtaking to see.

The waitress dropped off our food and left us once again, but I looked down at my plate.

"Phil apologized to me for...well, everything," I murmured, shrugging a shoulder. "Apparently, he's gotten his own help, but I think moving changed him a lot."

"And Esme?" Alice asked, smiling with us.

I sighed, smiling at her. "Both of Edward's parents have been...a huge help. It was your dad that I had to see before they'd let me out," I explained, my gaze falling to Edward.

I wanted to ask him several questions – things that I didn't want Alice to hear, so I bit my tongue. Or rather, I ate my dinner instead. I also wasn't sure what or if I had the right to ask him. I'd let him go. But I'd missed them both so much that I was willing to wait.

The chirp of a phone went off, and Edward glanced up at Alice as she pulled hers out of her pocket. Sighing deeply, she quickly texted back, setting it down onto the table. Looking between them, I could see some sort of silent communication – Alice's face was filled with frustration, and Edward's with a touch of anger.
"Let me guess," Edward grumbled, pointing his fork to her phone. "He went to the party anyway."

"Yes," Alice whispered, grimacing. "He wants me to come."

Edward huffed a humorless laugh, shaking his head, but he said nothing for about a full minute before pulling out the keys to his car. "Go. At least you'll make sure he gets home safe. Bella and I will walk back to her car."

Alice looked like she was about to cry, and I wasn't sure if it was Edward's gruff demeanor that was the problem.

"You're leaving?" I asked, turning to her.

Her phone chirped again, and she nodded, ignoring it and hugging me instead. "Jasper needs me. Edward will explain it to you..." She paused for just a moment, giving him a glare. "And no matter what he says, it doesn't change anything. I still love Jasper."

"Okay," I said, smiling when she kissed my cheek.

"I'm so fucking glad you're back," she sighed. "Call me. Maybe I'll come home to Forks with Edward next weekend. We'll hang out."

"That would be good. You can stay with me," I told her, but I was worried about her, because my friend had gone from happy and hyper to what seemed like scared and sad all in the blink of an eye.

Alice tossed money down onto the table, gathered her things, and left us in the booth alone. My eyes landed on Edward for an explanation.

His brow furrowed, but he took a deep breath and said, "When we first got to school, Jasper decided to pledge one of the fraternities. And he started partying. A lot."

I grimaced, almost seeing where this was going.

"His drug of choice is beer. Lots of it," he added, shaking his head. "But I'm not completely convinced that he's not doing other stuff."

"Drug of choice," I repeated, tilting my head at him. "Interesting way to put it, Edward."

Edward froze, his eyes locking with mine, but he went on with his story. "Alice thinks I hate him. I don't. I'm disappointed in him."

"You had no problem dealing with me," I pointed out.

"No, never," he whispered, his eyes intense as he met my gaze. "But the difference between you and Jasper is that you..." He pointed again with his fork. "You didn't get...belligerent."

"Violent, you mean."

"Not yet, but he does turn into a giant ass," he said with a frown. "Alice can handle him most times, but let's just say she's had to call me more times than I can count. Luckily, he doesn't remember how he is..."

"He knows," I said knowingly. "He remembers everything. He just chooses to ignore it. If he ignores it, then he can ignore the guilt. It never happened."

"She's begged him to quit," Edward went on. "But it doesn't last long."

"So you attend NA meetings to learn how to deal with him?" I asked raising an eyebrow at him. His choice of words since he'd come out of the locker room were my clues – first it was "step eight of twelve," and just now it was "drug of choice."

"No, that started for me," he said, his cheeks tinging pink, and I smiled. "I needed to talk about what happened with you with people that could explain it to me. Alice chose to come with me."

I nodded, my eyes on my plate and not him. "I'm sorry."

"Are you better?" he asked.

"I'm an addict, Edward. That will always be true." I sighed and looked out the window. "I was a damaged person, and using made things better. Now that I know that, I can address my problems instead of covering them up."

"Was it hard?"

"Yes," I chuckled, shrugging a shoulder. "The hard part was learning that I didn't have to do shit alone. I tried. I didn't speak the first few months. I took my detox as punishment."

"For what?"

"For you," I told him honestly. "I thought I'd ruined everything for you with the accident, but I'm glad to see that you still kept your scholarship. You still play really well."

Edward's face ran the gamut of emotions – shock, sadness, and eventually, embarrassment. Finally, he slapped a wad of cash down onto the table. "Let's get out of here."

Once we were outside, Edward took my hand, linking our fingers together. "Sorry about the walk, but I wasn't ready to give you up yet," he said with a sweet grin on his face.

"I've been living in a twelve by twelve room for ten months. A walk is just fine," I chuckled, squeezing his hand.

We were quiet for a few blocks, and I could see that Edward was keeping pace with me. The comfort that he'd always brought with him – that calm, nothing bothered him demeanor – was there, and it was perfect and scary and made me feel things I hadn't allowed to surface in so damn long that I was suddenly nervous.
I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and tugged my hand from his in order to light a cigarette. My fingers shook so badly that I couldn't get the lighter to work, so large, warm hands enveloped mine and flicked the flame into life.

"Sorry, I smoke when I'm nervous," I snorted, blowing out a long breath.

"Why are you nervous?" he asked, frowning a bit.

I exhaled again and started to walk. "There are things I need to tell you, things I need to apologize for, and things I want to ask, but..."

Edward tugged me to a stop and turned me to face him. "You ask me whatever you want, Bella," he said forcefully. "And I'll listen to whatever you want to tell me, but I really don't want apologies."

"Why?"

"Why what?" He chuckled. "Why no apologies?" he asked, and I nodded. "Because you don't owe me any." He looked away from me, running hand through his hair nervously. "I was well aware of what I was getting into with you back then."

My eyes narrowed on him as I took another hit of my cigarette. "What do you mean...well aware?"

He groaned, but he met my gaze. "People talk, you know? When I first started at Forks, I thought you were the prettiest thing I'd ever seen. That hasn't changed." He huffed a laugh, shaking his head. "But you were this loner. I mean you were there, but you really weren't. In class, you were smart, funny, and easy to talk to, but still closed off. I asked around...about you."

"So you knew," I surmised in a whisper, dropping my cigarette butt, only to light another one. "About my dad, my...extracurricular activities...everything?"

"Yes," he replied, looking needlessly guilty. "But none of it mattered to me, especially after our first night out."

I smiled, shaking my head. "And here all this time, I thought I was pretty good at keeping secrets."

"You were," he sighed, looking pained. "I wanted so badly for you to trust me...and then Phil had to fuck up everything!"

"Edward," I said, stopping in front of him. "I did trust you...more than I trusted anyone in my whole life. You need to know that. Phil was just...hurting from my mother's death."

"Yeah, well, he didn't have to take it out on you...on us."

"No...no, he didn't, but it was only a matter of time for me to have found another reason to use," I told him.
"It could have been anything..."

"I know," he sighed, running another hand through his hair. "But I needed someone to blame, someone to be mad at...and I just couldn't be mad at you. And fuck, I missed you...and I was mad at myself, because I couldn't help you, because I felt selfish for wanting to keep you, and I needed to blame anyone," he ranted, closing his eyes. "But I never blamed you. I begged my dad to keep tabs on you because I needed to know you were okay. I also begged him to take care of your treatment because I just didn't trust Phil to do it."
My eyebrows shot up, because he'd voluntarily answered two of my questions.

"Yeah, I blamed Phil, too," I told him. "But it was you that helped me. You did more than I could ever explain to you, but it was you that started helping me get better."

I threw away my cigarette and took his hand. We were almost to my car, so when we reached it, I leaned against it, looking up at him.

"How?" he simply asked.

I smiled sadly and took a deep breath. "I fought therapy every step of the way. I stayed clean the entire time, but I refused to talk about my past. It hurt. A lot."

Edward reached up to touch my face, tucking my hair behind my ear, but he stayed quiet. His eyes were so warm, such a soft, comforting green that I couldn't help but tell him.

"I was having a particularly bad day," I said with a grimace. "It was like the first week of February, and I couldn't get you out of my head until I realized why."

So I told him. Everything. As I leaned against my car, I told him about missing him to the point of madness on the anniversary of him asking me out, how everything came spilling out of me, because talking about him made everything else seem okay. I told him about Dr. Franklin, about Hershey's chocolate bars, about rainy days in the gazebo, about seeing Phil for the first time after months of hating him, and I told Edward that eventually, he was one of my goals.

I told him about my scholarship for next year – which earned me the biggest, happiest of smiles – and I told him about my house and that I thought I'd have to sell it, because I hated rumbling around in it all by myself. But when I got to Esme bringing me to see him, that's when my emotions took over.

"I'm sorry about the accident. Your getting hurt haunted me," I sobbed, not realizing I was crying until Edward wiped away my tears. "I'm sorry for not telling you everything sooner. I'm sorry I left you to figure everything out by yourself, but it really would've killed me to see you and let you go over and over." I sniffled, looking down at my feet. "And it may have been selfish or maybe I was a coward, but I just didn't want to know if your life was moving on without me. I understood it, but I just didn't want to know about it."

Edward chuckled softly, his feet stepping closer, but he tilted my head up with his fingers under my chin. "When I said that I'd wait for you, I meant it. There is no one for me but you."

I threw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his waist in a hug that knocked the wind out of him, but he recuperated immediately and hugged me back fiercely, burying his nose in my hair.

"Baby, give me your keys," he whispered, and I felt the brush of his lips against my temple.

Pulling back, I handed him my car keys. He opened the passenger side door, sat down, and then pulled me into his lap. Once there, I fell into my favorite spot – the crook of his neck and shoulder. Edward gave the best, safest feeling, the most comforting hugs I'd ever felt. And God, I'd missed them.

We said nothing for a few minutes, but I played with his fingers.

"I'll always be...this," I said, sitting up a little. "I'll probably always be on medication, always crave, always have to over-think things. I can set goals, but really, I have to take everything by the day...sometimes even by the hour."

"I know," he said with a smile, and it was crooked and happy and all things I'd truly missed about him. "I'm okay with that. You're not alone, Bella."

"I know," I said, mimicking him with my own smile, which caused him to chuckle. "You may have to remind me."

"Gladly," he laughed, pressing his forehead to mine. "I'd invite you to stay with me tonight, but I have a feeling my mother would kick my ass."

"She might," I giggled. "She's become quite protective of me. Your dad's no better."

"I'm afraid that may be my fault," he snickered, looking embarrassed again. "When I told them all about you from my hospital bed, when I told them that I loved you and nothing could change it and that nothing was to ever happen to you, they finally understood. In order to calm me down, they looked after you."

I grinned, shaking my head at him. "I never stopped loving you, either, Edward," I whispered, fascinated as his eyes darkened in such a familiar way that my stomach flip flopped, "but I need to take this slowly. Please understand that. I need to make sure I don't trade one addiction for another. They warn against new relationships until we've been clean for a full year."

"This isn't new," he argued softly, but he wasn't mad. I could see that he was okay with it. His eyes were still dark, but his smile was relaxed and still so sweet.

"Ah, but it is," I giggled, kissing his lips, much to his surprise, because his breath caught for a second. "I'm not the same, and I'm sure you aren't either, so can we just...take this slow?"

"Baby, we can take this however you want us to. As long as you still love me, I'm so very good with it," he crooned, kissing me one more time. "Can I call you? Even better, can I see you when I come home this weekend?"

"I'd be devastated if you didn't," I laughed, standing up out of the car. "The tree is still standing. Feel free to come in that way," I teased.

He grinned, happy and shameless. "Nah, I'll use the door."

Giggling, I hugged him again, and he guided me to the driver's side of the car. "Give me your phone, Bella,"
he said, smirking at the dèja vu moment as he programmed his phone number in. "After you call my mom, call me when you get home. Okay?"

"Okay," I promised, closing my eyes when he leaned in to kiss my forehead.

"I'm glad you're back," he whispered, cupping my face. "I've missed you."

I smiled up at him, tears welling in my eyes at just how overwhelming it was to see him again, which was another reason to take things slow. "Thank you for waiting for me."


He smiled, kissed my lips chastely, and said, "I love you. Where else was I going to go?"

"You could've gone anywhere...with anyone," I told him, but leaned into his touch when he wiped away my happy tears as he shook his head no.

"I didn't want to," he stated with a shrug. "You'll always be the most interesting girl in the room, Bella."

I giggled, rolling my eyes, and sighed at his sexy smile. It seemed I wasn't the only one that remembered the little things. "I'm not that interesting."

He laughed, leaning to kiss my cheek. "Go home. And call me."

"See you next weekend," I said, finally pulling out of the parking space, because otherwise, I'd stay, and I wanted to do things right this time.

With one last wave, I pulled out, already looking forward to seeing him again. What had started as a nerve-wracking day had ended up being the best day ever. What Edward and I had together had survived, and I just hoped that it would continue to survive. I wasn't sure there weren't more tough roads ahead, but I was glad to know I wasn't as alone as I'd once thought.
~oOo~

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