Sunday, June 3, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Addiction Chapter 3 - One Day At A Time

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 3: One Day at a Time

Eight months later...

I walked down the hallway and into the office, where Virginia smiled up at me. The smell of Breckenridge would probably always smell the same – cleaners, disinfectants, and fresh paint. The latter was due to the constant renovations of rooms once the occupants had vacated.

"Go on in. He's clear for now," she told me, waving me on.

Opening Dr. Franklin's office door, I leaned in the doorway until he looked up at me.

"It's a gazebo kind of day, don't you think?" I asked him.

"It's November, Bella," he countered, but grabbed his coat, scarf, and hat anyway, a smile on his face. "It's damned cold out there."

"Come on, wuss. You'll live," I chuckled, leading the way out to the gardens.

We sat down in the gazebo, and I lit a cigarette, blowing out a long puff of smoke.

"How's Donna?" I asked, glancing over at him.

He sighed but smiled softly. "She's good. She knew you'd ask about her. Her mother checked her out around June. She told me to tell you that they were moving to New York to be closer to family. Remind me, she left a forwarding address for you."

"Oh, okay," I said, a little disappointed that I wasn't going to see my friend, but the fact that she was out made me very happy for her. I took another long drag on my cigarette, feeling a touch lightheaded, because it had been awhile since my last one.

"I thought you were quitting that," he said, tilting his head at me.

"The gum tastes like shit, and the patches make me itch," I said with a grin when he laughed. "And...this is the first one I've had today, so consider yourself lucky."

"You look good, Bella," he chuckled. "Here...for old times' sake," he said, tossing a Hershey bar to my lap. "What brings you back to the scene of the crime? Certainly it's not to see little ole me..." he said, batting his eyelashes dramatically.

I smiled, shrugging, but took a hit of my cigarette. "It's a long story."

"I've got time. I'm done with my patients today," he stated, leaning back against the table and crossing one leg over the other. "I haven't seen you since my last NA meeting, so start there. Catch me up."

Grinning, I nodded. "Quitter," I teased him, but it was true. "Did you marry that poor, poor girl?"

"Yes, I did," he beamed proudly, holding up his left hand to show off a pretty gold ring. "One ring to rule them all..."

"You are such a dork," I laughed, shaking my head at him and taking another hit on my cigarette.

The first and last NA meeting I'd attended that he had conducted was indeed the last time I'd seen him. His sweet little girlfriend had found out she was pregnant, so he'd had to drop all extracurricular activities, except his position at Breckenridge. But it had also been one of the hardest meetings I'd gone to, because I'd realized just what a small world it was – or at least my world was fucking small. I wasn't quite sure which.

"Tell me about that night," Doc chuckled, nudging my shoulder. "You were pretty rattled when you got there. You didn't speak at the meeting, either."

~oOo~

I didn't last the week between seeing Edward and Alice again before I needed a meeting. Despite Esme's and Carlisle's constant checking on me, Edward's phone calls, and Alice's texting, I felt alone inside my old house. However, Phil didn't call at all, not that I'd expected him to, because it wasn't like I was itching to gossip with him.

The weekend when Edward was supposed to come home got closer every day, but instead of being excited about it, I worried. A lot. I worried that he wouldn't want to take things slow, that I'd fail him in some way, or that he'd discover that I wasn't exactly the same girl that he'd fallen in love with.

Because I wasn't that same girl. My biggest fear was that he wouldn't like the new me, the clean me.

And rumbling around my house alone didn't help. It looked the same, smelled the same, and felt the same as it had when my mother was still alive, as when I was still using. In fact, even though Phil had cleaned the place up, gotten rid of my mother's old hospital bed, her medications, and the alcohol, I still stumbled upon my old stash in the loose floorboard of my bedroom. It took all I had to bring myself to even touch it, much less empty it all into the toilet to get rid of it.

That night took two candy bars and a really long conversation on the phone with Edward to settle me down, and he had no idea just what chatting aimlessly for hours did for me.

As Friday loomed closer, my nerves wore thin, so I gave in to the list of meetings that Dr. Franklin had given me. He'd marked the ones that he ran himself, so I picked the soonest and closest one, which still happened to be in Seattle, but at least it was Wednesday night. I was damn sure I wasn't going to last until Friday.

Esme offered to take me, but I needed to do it on my own. And the long drive actually cleared my head a little. Okay, so it didn't really. It gave me the opportunity to scrutinize every single word that had been said by me or Edward the last time I was in Seattle. Had I cried too much? Said too much? Hell, hugged too much? Had he really waited an entire year for me? Did he really want to take on the monumental task of just...me?

Then there was Alice. She'd seemed okay the next time I'd talked to her, giving me some watered down version of what had transpired between her and Jasper the night of Edward's baseball game. But I knew it must've been hurting her. I had a feeling that she wasn't divulging details to me because she was sheltering me.

When I arrived at the church that the meeting was being held, I noticed that I was one of the first few cars there. I actually couldn't wait to see the doc, because he always tended to put things into perspective for me. Dr. Franklin had said that he always arrived early, just in case someone needed to talk privately, but I saw that I wasn't the only one that knew this. Two people that I'd recognize anywhere were up front with the doc, already deep in conversation.

"Did he hit you?" the doc asked Alice, his face calm, but I knew the guy well enough to know that he was analyzing her every expression for the truth behind her answers.

"No," she sighed, shaking her head. "But the things he says..."

"Jasper has to want to quit. Not for you, but for himself. It'll never work any other way," Dr. Franklin told her, and it was something he'd said to me over and over.

Edward looked beyond pissed at the conversation, but he stayed quiet, stirring his cup of coffee, until Dr. Franklin turned his attention on him.

"What about you?"

Edward smiled, shrugging a shoulder. "I guess you know Bella's home."

Doc grinned. "Yeah, I kinda know something about that. Did you see her?"

"Yeah," Edward sighed, and I wanted to laugh at the sweet, dreamy expression that came over his face, but Alice and the doc did it for me.

"Did you tell her the truth?" Doc asked, tilting his head.

"Yeah, I did. She took it amazingly well, actually," Edward replied, taking a sip of coffee. "I thought she'd be mad at me knowing everything about her past, but she wasn't."

"No, it's me she'll be mad at," Alice groaned.

"You didn't tell her?" Doc asked, grimacing at her nod. "But it was you that told Edward everything."

"I know..."

And I was pissed about that. It felt like a betrayal on my best friend's part to have told Edward everything about me back then. She'd sworn to me that she'd keep my problems a secret. I was conflicted over being mad at her...or grateful, because she'd told the one person that now mattered the most. Obviously, nothing she'd said to him had scared him away, so my slight feelings of betrayal fell away just as quickly as they'd come.

I let the door slam behind me, reaping some sort of satisfaction when the three of them just about jumped clean out of their skin at the sound.

"Bella," Edward gasped, his mouth hanging open.

"What are you doing here?" Alice asked, and I could tell by the look on her face that she hoped to God and all that was holy that I hadn't heard their conversation.

"Seeing him," I stated, pointing to the doc.

"Bella," Dr. Franklin greeted, shaking my hand and then giving my shoulder a squeeze. "How are you?"

I huffed a laugh through my nose but ignored the question. "So much for anonymity, right?" I snarked, raising an eyebrow at him.

"It's still anonymous, Bella," he corrected, rolling his eyes. "Edward and Alice have been attending these meetings for quite a while now."

"It's my fault, Bella," Edward suddenly stepped forward. "I asked my dad which meeting to go to. He told me this one. When I found out where Rick worked, I hounded him."

My eyes narrowed onto the doc.

"I never broke confidentiality," Dr. Franklin vowed. "And they never asked me to."

I only had one question. "How long?"

"Since January," Edward answered softly.

I shook my head and sighed, because I couldn't fault Edward for coming to meetings, and I most certainly knew there was more to Alice's story than she was saying, so I merely looked up at Edward and pointed a finger at him.

"Now I know where you get it from," I stated, rolling my eyes. "Your parents are shameless and sneaky. And they spoil you rotten. Carlisle sent you to the doc here on purpose. If you'd have asked, they'd have probably kicked my roommate out at Breckenridge and checked your ass in."

Edward laughed, shrugging a shoulder. "Maybe. I didn't think of it."

I spun my gaze to Dr. Franklin. "And you...outside."

I rounded on the doc the second we stepped out a side door. "Is that how you knew?" I asked him, pointing back toward the church. "Is that how you knew Edward was a good guy? How you seemed to know that he'd listen when I finally saw him again?"

"Yes, but I couldn't tell him or you, Bella," he defended calmly. "He's busted his ass to learn everything he can about addiction and depression. And you know I can't tell you what's been said in meetings."

"I know," I sighed, not knowing whether I wanted to hit Edward or kiss him senseless. Repeatedly. The latter was quickly winning out.

"You really think his parents did it on purpose?" he chuckled.

"Oh, I'm damn sure of it," I said with a smirk. "He was the reason that you got a weekly phone call from the good Dr. Cullen to check on me, why my bill was paid, and why Breckenridge accepted me in the first place." I snickered at Dr. Franklin's unabashed smile. "And...his mother is another story altogether. If it weren't for her, I don't know if I'd have worked up the courage to see Edward yet. So yeah, they spoil him."

"They only want to be able to help you," he stated firmly. "I can't fault any of them for it. At all."

I nodded but didn't say anything, because he was completely and totally right.

"Yet you're here to see me?" he asked.

"Yeah, I just... It's been a strange week, you know?"

"I can imagine...going home, seeing your friends, facing daily problems," he mused, rubbing his chin. "Any temptations?"

"Once," I sighed, "but I got through it."

"Good girl," he praised, placing a hand on my shoulder.

"And Edward and I... We're going to try to continue our relationship, but...I'm scared," I admitted.

"It's okay to be scared. Relationships are scary enough, but this just adds to it. With you two, I'd say communication is the key. You've already told me that you couldn't scare him off, and now you know that he knew about your past all along, so I'd be willing to bet on that guy in there. Just a hunch," he said with a grin and a shrug.

"Okay," I sighed, trying to relax myself.

"Come on. This may be my last meeting, because my girlfriend needs me to quit. We're having a baby."

I grinned, elbowing him lightly. "Way to go, Doc!"

"Thank you," he chuckled, his face turning a little pink. "Anyway, you know the rules... It's your first meeting here, so you don't have to talk, but I think you probably could get away with it. It's up to you."

"We'll see," I murmured, allowing him to lead me back inside.

The meeting was fine, and I didn't talk, but the feel of Edward and Alice on either side of me was comforting. Although, I knew poor Alice was nervous.

When the meeting broke apart, she turned me. "You heard me," she guessed, and I nodded, which caused her to wince. "I'm sorry, Bella."

"It's my fault, baby," Edward whispered in my ear from behind me. "I begged her to tell me about you back then."

I smiled, rolling my eyes. "I'm well aware he won't take no for an answer, Alice. I'm not mad. I was, but I'm not anymore."

Alice laughed, and Edward pressed a kiss to the back of my head, but I turned to face the two of them.

"However," I started, holding up a finger, "you can't treat me like a china doll. I need you two to be able to listen when I need to talk, and you can't shelter me. I need to trust that I can speak honestly without freaking you out, and you have to understand I'm not going crack just because you talk about drinking or drugs."

"Fair enough, Bella," Edward said, his face filled with concern but complete sincerity.

"So...I want to know about Jasper."

~oOo~

"Well, that explained the look of panic on their faces when you left," Dr. Franklin chuckled, taking a piece of chocolate that I'd just broken off. "Did they tell you?"

"Yeah," I groaned sadly, popping a piece of candy in my mouth. "We went to a restaurant, and they told me everything. I mean, I knew Jasper smoked weed in high school, but I didn't think anything of it, because I had my own issues, and Alice seemed so happy. But I guess things went a little haywire once they got to UW.

"Jasper started drinking," I continued after lighting another cigarette. "And he couldn't just stop at one or two; it was drink-until-you-pass-out every time he did it. Edward was convinced that Jasper had moved on from weed and alcohol to something harder, but he couldn't prove it. Alice, though..." I huffed a humorless laugh. "She was miserable, because sober Jasper is as sweet and kind and calm as they come, but drunk Jasper? Holy shit! It's like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.

"Apparently, it got so bad that Alice had to call Edward a number of times in order to get Jasper under control. I'm not sure that he'd hit her, but he damn sure said shit to her to hurt her...probably worse than if he'd just...I don't know...punched her."

I took a hit off of my cigarette, letting the smoke out into the chilly air.

"Did it help? Talking about it?" he asked.

"I think it helped Alice," I answered with a shrug. "She was at least able to hear the addict's side of the story, but Edward was always quick to point out that I was never violent or mean."

"Doesn't matter."

"That's what I told them," I sighed, smiling up at him. "And I know it helped me, believe it or not, because I was able to give them honesty and slowly build back our friendship. With Edward, it helped show how much I'd changed, something that worried me. The love was there, but the foundation was shaky after being apart for almost a year. And his first weekend home was kind of a big test in my mind."

"How'd that go?"

I grinned and then broke into a laugh. "That might've been the most fun, super exhausting, and most relaxing two and a half days of my life, because both Alice and Edward came over. Even Edward's parents showed up for dinner on one of those nights."

"Really?"

"Yeah," I snickered, shaking my head. "And it all started Friday afternoon when Edward and Alice bailed out of school early."

~oOo~

The plan was set. I'd invited Alice to stay with me the weekend, while Edward would stay with his parents. I'd even extended the invitation to Jasper, but I'm not sure that Alice even told him. I think she just needed the break from him, in all honesty.

The two of them were to get out of class and head to Forks Friday night and then go back late Sunday night. We were just going to hang out a few hours the first night, eat some pizza, and then Edward was going on to his parents' home, leaving Alice with me. The rest of the weekend was up in the air. We were just going to play it by ear.

I was straightening the house, doing a few loads of laundry when they showed up early, pizza already in hand.

"You losers so skipped class, didn't you?" I teased them when I opened the door.

"Shut up," Alice gushed, rushing in to envelope me in a big hug, only to whisper in my ear. "He was driving me crazy. I finally just loaded his ass up in the car."

Laughing, I turned my attention to Edward. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself," he crooned, handing the pizza box off to Alice so that he could hug me. "I'm glad it's the fucking weekend," he murmured before dropping a heavy kiss to my lips.

I could see his restraint. He was holding back and had been since we'd talked the night of his baseball game. I'm not sure I could love him more for respecting my wishes for taking things slow, but sometimes, I just wanted him to kiss the ever loving shit out of me. I missed those kisses something awful. It was a conflicting feeling.

"Well, get in here, then," I said, trying to step aside to allow him to walk by. I ended up squeaking when his hug yanked me completely off my feet. "Edward," I laughed, squirming in his arms, but he was strong as hell.

"What?" he asked innocently, blinking his long eyelashes at me and wearing a deceptive smirk on his face.

"Cut it out, you two. I'm starving. I didn't eat lunch!" Alice bossed from the kitchen table.

She grabbed plates while I got sodas from the fridge. When we made it back to the table, she huffed, gave the house a frown, and said, "This place is like a fucking time capsule. Nothing's changed."

"I know," I sighed, shrugging a shoulder as I sat down next to Edward. "Phil said he didn't do much. That was an understatement. He removed all the medical stuff, but that's about it. I'm thinking I'll sell it when I start school."

"Are you sure?" Edward asked, taking a drink from his soda.

"No," I laughed, shaking my head. "I'm not sure at all. I hate living here, really, but it's paid for."

Edward chuckled, kissed my temple, and went back to his folded slice of pizza.

Alice, however, was eyeballing the house like an owl stalking a mouse. "You won't sell it if it looks like this."

"Hey," I whined, rolling my eyes and feeling slightly offended.

"Here we go..." Edward muttered.

"No, I'm just saying that it needs...a facelift," Alice argued with a grin.

"Alice watches way too much HGTV," Edward whispered dramatically in my ear.

My laugh caused me to choke, but I recovered quickly. "You want to make over my house?"

"My aunt is a realtor, and she says if the house looks fresher, it sells quicker and for more money," Alice stated haughtily, taking a bite of her pizza.

"The outside looks okay," Edward mused, looking out the kitchen window.

"That's because Phil painted that when he moved in," I explained, looking over at him. "So it's only been like five years."

"All it would take would be some paint, maybe some new furniture, and a few new rugs," Alice suggested. "You could even clean out the master bedroom and use that now."

"I like my room," I stated firmly with a frown, not expounding on that as I grabbed another slice of pizza.

Of all the rooms in the house, my room held the best memories for me. They started when I was small with my parents, and they ended with the handsome thing sitting next to me crawling through my window night after night. My mother had died in her room, the living room had so many memories of tears and arguments and sadness that I rarely even hung out in there, and the kitchen was where I'd sit and do homework, chat with my mom, or do school projects with my dad.

"Yeah, but it would be bigger...and it's downstairs," Alice continued.

"I like my room, Alice," I countered again, giving her a pointed look to drop it.

"Then keep your room," Edward urged, cutting Alice off. And I saw the look on his face; he completely understood it, because he knew how I felt about that room. Not that Alice didn't, but he had shown up with Phil the night my mother had died – they'd come straight from the game. Edward had noticed then that I wouldn't go anywhere near my mother's bedroom.

"Hmm," Alice hummed, giving it some thought. "Guest room? Den? Office?" she chirped, grinning when Edward and I chuckled at her.

"Whatever," I sang back.

"Then let's do it," she urged, practically bouncing in her seat.

"Now?" I asked.

"This weekend?" Edward groaned, but his sweet face already showed that he was along for the ride, no matter what.

"It's that or your mother will have you doing yard work, Edward," Alice giggled.

Edward's nose wrinkled as he glanced around the house. "Okay, what color?"

Alice cheered, and I just shook my head, because we were in for a busy few days. She immediately went into planning mode – measuring, plotting on what needed throwing away, and colors.

When I walked Edward to the door a few hours later, he asked, "You can tell her no; you know that, right?"

"Impossible. How do you think my bedroom is purple? She did that when we were like fifteen or sixteen. Besides, maybe it'll make staying here easier," I chuckled, leaning against the porch rail. "You don't have to do it, though. We'll be all right."

He smiled, mirroring my stance against the rail. "I'll be here in the morning, Bella. Hanging with you two all day is infinitely better than pulling weeds for my mom, okay? Painting, moving furniture, whatever. I'll even raid our garage to see what supplies might be in there."

"Thank you," I told him, standing up on my toes to kiss his lips. I was trying to keep to the same chaste kisses as the ones before, but the moan that Edward let loose caused my heart to sputter.

His arm snaked around my waist to hold me close as he pressed his forehead to mine. "Fuck, I really want to kiss you. Just...really fucking kiss you. I've missed you so much, baby. You have no idea." His words were a breathy whisper but filled with want and sadness and love.

My breath caught in my throat as I stared into deep, beautiful green. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I closed my eyes.

"I'm sorry," he whispered with a grimace, starting to let me go. "It's too soon, right? It is. It's too soon. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm an idiot. I can wait, I promise."

Edward's honest, sweet rambling was adorable, and I couldn't help but giggle. But fuck, I'd missed that face – that completely truthful, utterly sincere expression that was filled with want. I'd forgotten the power of it. He always made me feel like the best thing since sliced bread when he looked at me that way.

"I love you," I chuckled, "and you're not an idiot."

He grinned, but it was sheepish and apologetic. "Love you, too. I can wait."

"I think when I said 'take it slow,' I meant crawling in windows every night or the intense 'have to be together every waking minute' slow. I'm pretty sure kisses...are okay," I told him. "Does that make sense?"

"Yes, but I never want to push you," he countered, his arm tightening around my waist again.

"Then trust me to tell you when it's too much," I said, running my fingers through his hair.

He simply said, "Okay," before immediately claiming my mouth.

And dear God, it was everything I remembered...and more. It was that first kiss on Emmett's back porch swing, it was lazy make-out sessions in my bedroom night after night, and it was filled with longing and regret, with love and adoration. We kissed like we needed each other in order to breathe.

But it wasn't that feeling of being drugged. There wasn't a need to keep going, to keep him close for fear of losing him. His kisses were addictive, yes, but they were addictive because of how precious they were, what they meant, not because I needed him to make me feel real anymore. Lips swept over lips, tongues caressed deeply, tasting and claiming, and the combination of a deep moan and a light whimper echoed around us.

Edward slowed the kiss down, pulling back from me with one last soft kiss to my lips. "Baby, we have to stop or I will do something we'll probably both regret."

I smiled at him, kissing him softly once more before backing away. He didn't let me get far but linked our fingers together so he could pull me in to kiss my forehead.

"I'll see you in the morning," he vowed softly.

"'Kay," I whispered back.

He showed up the next day looking like sex on two legs, though completely oblivious. Wearing tattered old jeans and an old Batman t-shirt, he arrived with not only a bunch of painting supplies but also breakfast for us courtesy of his mother, who told him she'd be along later in the day to help us.

Once we turned on the radio and Alice got back from the hardware store, she put us to work. And it moved quickly. I taped the edges, Edward moved and covered furniture as well as painted the high parts, and Alice rolled up the rugs. There were sword fights with brushes and rollers, and paint was in everyone's hair. There were even hand prints on everyone's clothes. I was quite proud of my artwork on Edward's ass, which had happened when he'd stolen a rather heated kiss in the kitchen. The whole weekend was filled with laughter, teasing, singing, and catching up. Jasper was barely mentioned, and neither was my time away.

Instead of buying all new furniture, which was what Alice wanted to do, I suggested buying slip-covers, and I was backed up by Esme once she joined us. It took all of Saturday and Sunday morning to get it all done. It took a few trips by Esme and Alice to Port Angeles for supplies, two coats of paint, three iPod playlists, and more stolen kisses with Edward than I could count to get it all done. That Sunday night, we invited Carlisle and Esme over for dinner, and for the first time since my dad died, I felt like I had a real family.

Saying goodbye to Edward, though, was hard. Not excruciating, but really difficult, because I'd grown used to his and Alice's company, and now I had to wait another week to see them again. As much as I wanted to attend the meetings that he and Alice went to, Carlisle suggested something closer. Port Angeles had plenty of meetings at all times of the day, and I could get there quicker. But until school was out for them, I had to resolve myself to only seeing them on the weekends. And with Edward – weekends that didn't have away games.

"I love you," Edward said, cupping my face as we stood by his car. "I'll be here Friday."

"Love you, too. But don't skip class on my account," I chuckled.

"I'll try not to." He smirked, kissing me softly. "I'll be here the entire summer, though."

"I know. I can't wait."

"Um, Bella?" he started nervously. "My last game is at the end of May. Will you come? There's a party after, but we don't have to attend it. We can hang out in my dorm or something. I just want you there..."

Grinning, I wrapped my arms around his neck. "I'll be there. Not sure about the party, but the game is a must-see. Actually, your mom has volunteered me for just about all your home games."

He laughed and nodded. "She told me she liked having the company when my dad has to work. She's been watching me play since T-Ball, so I can imagine you make it more interesting."

"Oh, I bet you were so cute," I teased him, pinching his cheek and laughing when he rolled his eyes at me. "But if the last game is important, then I'm there for sure."

"Cool," he said with a grin, but it fell quickly into a serious expression. "Thank you for this weekend."

"What are you thanking me for? You painted my house, Edward."

"Just...being with you again... It means so much," he stated, his face taking on an expression that I'd never seen – sad, but sweet and grateful. It gave me a glimpse of the heartbreak I'd left him with.

"You were always with me," I told him, shrugging a shoulder and trying like hell not to cry, but I could feel the tears forming against my will. "You need to know that. I'm sorry if that when I left, I gave you the impression that I didn't love you. It hurt to say it then."

"Hey," he whispered, tilting my head up. "No more apologies. You've made your amends with me. I was never, ever mad at you. I missed you like crazy and I was a little lost, but never mad. It took me awhile to understand just how hard it must've been to even have that last conversation. So don't you dare apologize."

"How long?"

He grimaced, looking away. "Months."

I could imagine that he was confused for a long time. I'd told him to let me go, but he couldn't. Not to mention he was dealing with his injuries, for which I'd been responsible.

I nodded, but we both looked up when Alice showed up at the car all packed and ready to go. "Call me?" I asked of both of them.

"As soon as I walk in my dorm room," he vowed, and Alice nodded.

With hugs and kisses goodbye, I let them go for another week. But it was the start of a routine until the end of their school year.

~oOo~

"How'd the house look?" Dr. Franklin chuckled.

"Gorgeous," I huffed, shaking my head. "It really didn't look like the same house. And that helped me through the rest of the summer. For real. It didn't look like my parents' house. I could've kissed Alice for that."

"So the weekend was a success – in more ways than one."

"Yeah, it was." I nodded, lighting another cigarette. "There wasn't that uncomfortable tension around anymore. I guess they saw that I was the same, but different – hopefully, better. Alice and I talked like we used to, but she was still pretty tight-lipped about Jasper. She'd only talk about the good, never the bad, and I knew there was more to it. Edward and I... That was like putting on a pair of old, comfortable sneakers. We always just...fit, but this time, there was more talking, because we really didn't have a choice. He was at school, I was looking for a part time job and going to meetings, and we spoke on the phone just about every day." I grinned, shaking my head. "He'd text me random love notes. I love those."

The doc laughed, his head falling back. "Yeah, my wife does, too."

We were quiet for a moment, but the doc broke the silence with a question I was expecting.

"Did Edward ever go too far? Did you ever have to stop him?"

"Nope. Not one time. He let me lead. He was always a gentleman, even in high school when it wasn't cool to be that way, but it was just the way he was. I credit his mother, really – maybe both of his parents – but he was respectful of all boundaries," I explained, smiling a little. "Sometimes, he was too respectful, but maybe he knew me better than I knew myself."

"He didn't want to hurt you."

"No, never. Not at all," I agreed.

"So how about that last game?" Dr. Franklin prompted. "Did you attend the party?"

"That..." I huffed a humorless laugh, shaking my head. "That was a fucked up night. Let me just tell you... Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The only good thing was that Edward's team won their game."

"What the hell happened?"

"Jasper," I stated, rolling my eyes up to Doc. "And a girl named Lucy."

~oOo~

Once again, I found myself surrounded by the smells of the game – grass, hotdogs, popcorn. The sounds were even better, because it was full stands, cheering, and all around chaos. My knee bounced excitedly, because the bases were loaded, the score was tied, and it was the last inning with two outs already on the scoreboard.

And Edward was up to bat.

My poor thumbnail was mutilated as I chewed the shit out of it nervously. And Esme and Carlisle were no better as they sat beside me. Edward's dad was sitting on the edge of the bleacher seat, Esme had my free hand clasped in both of hers, squeezing the shit out of it, and I was about to drool myself into a dehydrated state with just how gorgeous my boyfriend was.

White pants, a dark purple jersey, black long-sleeved shirt underneath, black baseball cap with a purple W pulled down low over his sharp eyes, along with the batting helmet. Just simply gorgeous. And the whole game rested on his strong, broad shoulders.

Per Edward's request, I was wearing one of his jerseys, so the name Cullen and the number twenty-five were splashed in purple across my back in his too-big shirt. It wasn't the only game I'd attended since that first one, but it was the first time he'd asked me to wear his shirt. It caused glares from his fan-girls and a few nods of approval from the men sitting around me. And at that moment, it was causing a stir from the people sitting with me.

"Your boyfriend better hit this shit," a man behind me begged, patting my shoulder.

"Your boy has an amazing average, especially against this pitcher. Knock it out of the park, Cullen!" another voice added to the mix of what was now just pure noise.

Edward took a few practice swings with a couple of bats, only to drop one down to the grass. He stepped up to the plate, got into position, and then glared down the pitcher, who was taking his cues from the catcher. Edward's face was fierce, his eyes sharp, like a hawk's, while he lifted his bat above his shoulder.

The first pitch went wild, earning the first strike. Edward shook it off and stepped back up to the plate. The second pitch was outside, and he let it fly right by. One strike, one ball. The third pitch was fucking perfect – right down the middle, just low enough that Edward's swing caught it hard and fast. The ting of the bat was loud, sharp, and the ball was just...gone.

The stands exploded, because Edward had not only hit a grand slam, but he'd won their final game of the season. And he'd just earned his seventh home run. Edward's trip around the bases was relaxed, almost smug, and I couldn't help but smile like a fool when he pointed toward me and his parents once he made it around third.

Instead of meeting us at the fence, we waited for him in the usual spot. He was practically assaulted when he emerged from the locker room in his street clothes – jeans, a dark blue button down shirt, and his hair still damp. But he thanked them graciously as he made his way to us, immediately scooping me up in a hug because he hadn't been able to come home the last weekend due to an away game.

"God, I missed you," he gushed, burying his face in my neck.

"Congratulations," I whispered against his cheek, but he simply shrugged off the win.

"Can we just...hang out in my room?" he asked, begging me with his eyes for me to understand. "We can go to the... I mean, if you want, but..."

"No, no...that's great. Your room sounds better, actually," I told him, and he set me back down on my feet.

After hugs and congrats from his parents, Edward took my hand and guided me through campus. It was going to be the first time I'd seen his room. I was excited, but nervous, because my self-control with him was waning. I knew it wasn't the right time, but the more we talked, the more intimate our relationship felt, and therefore it was all we could do not to show each other how we felt...physically.

"My name looks fan-fucking-tastic on you, by the way," he whispered, kissing the side of my head as we walked across a courtyard.

I giggled. "Your fans don't agree with you, baby," I told him, laughing harder when he merely rolled his eyes.

"They don't know me. They see me around school, watch me play. That's the end of it," he grumped, waving to a group of guys that called his name. "They see what they want to see."

"They see a hot baseball player," I snorted, rolling my eyes. "At least you're not mean."

"No... Why would I be?" he scoffed, holding the door for his building open for me.

"Some guys would take advantage," I murmured, shrugging a shoulder.

"I'm not 'some guy.'" He looked a bit pissed at this conversation as we walked up the stairs to the third floor. "I'm just...me. I just want to play, not hook up with every girl on campus like some of my teammates. That shit's ridiculous."

His little rant made me smile, because he was exactly the same guy I'd known and loved in high school. I adored the fact that he hadn't changed. Not one bit.

Edward's name was called out, more congratulations were thrown at him, and he waved to them all, thanking them. His dorm was co-ed, but he'd told me that his roommate, Pete, was already gone for the year – something about a family emergency – so he had the room to himself.

As soon as the door closed behind us, Edward pulled me in for a searing kiss – something that had become more and more heated in the last two month that I'd been back. They started sweet, soft, and oh-so-mind-scrambling, only to turn into heated, handsy, and filled with want and need.

We pulled apart, our foreheads touching as we breathed heavily.

"My name looks really good," he panted, grinning when I giggled.

"Then I'm keeping this shirt if that's how you feel about it," I laughed, backing away to give us just a little space.

"It's all yours," he chuckled, kicking his duffel bag out of the way at the same time I gave a look around the room.

It was your basic dorm room, small, with two beds on either side, though it looked like Edward was taking advantage of his missing roommate, because his stuff had spread out onto the other bed. There was a desk underneath the window that overlooked the courtyard we'd just walked through and a small TV stand at the end of the room. Edward's walls were covered with baseball posters, which made me smile, and his desk held two pictures of me – one I specifically remember him taking with his cell phone one night in my bedroom and the other of the two of us that Alice had taken at my house while we were painting. But it was the paperweight on his desk that my eyes fell to – or at least, that was what he was using it for. A large chunk of plaster sat on top of a few papers, and it was unmistakable what it was.

"Why?" I gasped, spinning around with the piece of his cast in my hand. "Why would you save this?"

I held up the only section of the cast that he'd saved, where my last message to him was clearly printed out: Thank you for making me feel beautiful. Love always, B. xo

"It was the last thing you said to me," he defended softly, frowning at the item in my hand. "And it was as close to you telling me you loved me before you left, Bella. I knew that you did and that you needed to go, but...I needed something to hold onto." He huffed an embarrassed laugh, shaking his head. "My dad thought I was crazy. He was the one to cut my cast off, and I asked him to save that one section. But he did it anyway...even cut it so that it was just the plaster and not the smelly shit inside from having it on for however many weeks," he explained, stepping closer so that he could cup my face. "I knew you blamed yourself for the accident, and that gave me the incentive I needed to get back into baseball, baby. I wanted to prove to you that you did nothing wrong, that nothing had changed the way I felt about you."

Tears were flowing down my face by the time he finished speaking, so he carefully took the section of cast and set it down on his desk before scooping me up and sitting down on his bed with me across his lap.

I kissed him senseless. I kissed him because even if I could've found the right words, they would've come out in hiccuping sobs and they probably wouldn't have made a bit of sense. As it was, my sniffles against his cheek made him laugh softly.

"Don't cry," he begged, wiping my tears away. "Please?"

"Did it help?" I asked, pointing to the plaster.

"Yes." He nodded slowly, kissing me one more time. "Every time I looked at it."

We were just about to kiss again, but his door suddenly flew open and a petite girl stood in the doorway.

"Edward, are you in here?" she asked, but when she caught sight of him – and more specifically, me on his lap – her cheeks burned a deep red. "Shit, sorry," she mumbled, fidgeting a little.

"Lucy, what do you need?" Edward asked, his voice calm but a touch frustrated. However, he helped me to my feet so that he could stand up.

"Well, I was going to ask you for your Sociology notes, but I was on my way from the library and saw something you needed to see," Lucy explained, and I noticed that she wouldn't meet his gaze.

Edward snatched a spiral notebook up from his desk at the same time he asked, "What did I need to see?"

"Alice," she said with a grimace, taking his notes. "She and Jasper are having it out in front of the library."

"Ah, fuck," he hissed, running a hand through his hair. "Was he drunk?"

"Isn't he always?" she countered, her gaze flickering to me.

"Oh damn, sorry. Lucy, this is my girlfriend, Bella. Bella, this is Lucy," he introduced, but snatched his phone and wallet up out of his duffel bag.

"Nice to meet you," I told her with a smile, but she merely nodded back, which told me that I made her uncomfortable.

She was a pretty girl, with deep red hair and a spattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. The fact that she was comfortable enough to just walk into Edward's room bothered me a bit, but at the word "girlfriend," Lucy's cheeks turned pink again as her eyes locked onto his back. However, Edward didn't notice, because his attention turned to me.

"I need to get over there, baby," he said. "He's gotten worse lately."

"I'll come with you," I stated, and quickly added, "for Alice."

"You sure?" he verified, nodding when I did. "Okay." He sighed, linking our fingers together. "Come on."

As we left the dorm and Lucy behind, I asked, "Who is she to you?"

Edward grimaced, gazing down at me, and sighed. "Just a friend. I swear. She wanted more, but I couldn't give it to her, Bella."

"Did you try?" I asked, my heart clenching that I could've really lost him the past year.

"No." His statement was so firm that he stopped me, his hands on my shoulders, and crouched a little to look me directly in the eye. "I didn't want to try. I told you, baby... There's no one for me but you. I can't think of anyone else that way."

"And if I'd never come back?"

He sighed, shaking his head, and kissed my lips. "Then I would've asked my dad to check me into Breckenridge as your roommate. I'm sure he considered it more than once."

I huffed a laugh, rolling my eyes. "Does she want you?"

"I've only ever been honest with her, I promise. She's a nice girl, but we're just friends. I can't help the way she feels. I think of her like I think of Alice...hell, not even that close." He stood up and ran a hand through his hair. "She's very shy, so I helped her in class. In turn, she helped me study, and as you can see, we shared notes. That's it. Please tell me you believe me, baby. Please? It's always been you. Just you. No one else."

The pain written all over his face at the possibility that I didn't trust him really just hurt to see. And I wondered – just for a brief moment – if he'd been any other guy, would he have taken advantage of the situation? Would anyone else have moved on? Would they have written me off after the first several months? I was damn certain that the answer would've been yes. But not Edward, and at that moment, I knew just how lucky a girl I really, truly was.

"I believe you," I murmured, kissing him and grabbing his hand. "Come on... We'd better get to Alice."

I hadn't seen Jasper in about a year at this point. Alice preferred one on one time when she came to my house on the weekends, and I never asked why, though I assumed she needed to get away from school. I also never quite understood what role Edward played in all of it...until that night. I trusted Alice and Edward to the ends of the earth and back, because they argued and teased like siblings. They also had leaned on each other when I left, so I kind of understood that part, but not why Alice needed him against her own boyfriend. Until we made it to the front steps of the library.

"Give me my fucking keys, Alice! I'm not fucking kidding!" Jasper yelled, trying to get his hands on her, but he was too wasted and she was too fast.

"Not happening, Jasper. Just...let's go back to your room. You can sleep this shit off, okay?" she tried to reason with him, which was useless. He was past the point of being reasoned with.

Edward and I ran across the grass to them just as Jasper almost got hold of Alice's arm. Edward lunged at our friend, strong arms wrapping around Jasper's chest.

"Jasper, stop!" Edward snapped. "You don't want to do this."

"Aww, hell, here we go again," Jasper groaned, shirking out of Edward's grip, simply because Edward allowed it. "Bitch, you called your boyfriend again? Well, ain't that sweet?"

"I swear, baby, I didn't call him," Alice argued.

"She didn't have to, Jazz," Edward scoffed, rolling his eyes and gesturing around the front of the library. "Look around you, dude. The whole campus is watching you act like an ass."

Keeping an eye on the guys, I walked to Alice, whispering, "You okay?"

She nodded, though tears were in her eyes, and from the bruises forming on her arms, Jasper had already touched her. He'd probably just grabbed her too hard, but it was enough to leave a mark.

"He wants to drive, Bella. To some fucking party," she hissed, shaking her head.

"Bella?" Jasper drawled, narrowing his eyes on me. "Is that you, darlin'?" he asked, which made Edward nervous for some reason. "Well, shit! We should celebrate! I'd heard you were back, but...you know...I've been busy."

"Hmm, I see that, Jazz" I mumbled, eyeballing him.

He looked like shit – deep purple bruises under his eyes, shaky hands, his nervous shift from one foot to the other, and his constant sniffing. Edward was right; Jasper had moved on from weed and beer. He was on something ever so much heavier now. My guess was coke. If his grades were slipping, he'd need to stay up to work. Coke did just that...but only temporarily, and then you needed more. Always more.

"Come with me, Bells. There's a party around the corner. We'll celebrate your...freedom," he said calmly, until he looked to Alice. Then he yelled, "Bitch, give me my fucking keys!"

"No," I stated, turning to Alice. "Give me his keys." With a shaky hand, Alice held out Jasper's keys, and I took them.

Jasper sneered and took a step forward, only to be stopped by Edward.

"Man, you're my friend, but I swear in front of God and all these people around us that I will end you where you stand if you lay one finger on Bella. I'm not fucking kidding, Jazz." Edward's voice, though calm, was filled with pure truthful malice. "You want to party? Do it. But you will do it without those keys."

"Jazz, I'm going to give you a choice," I stated calmly, channeling my inner Dr. Franklin, because he was the best example of calm I could think of. "I'll drive you to your party, but you'll have to find a ride home. Or..." I paused, looking over at Alice, because this would send her over the edge. "Or we can call the police and press charges for assault. The proof is in the bruises you've left on her. Your choice, Jasper."

"Shut up, Bella," Alice hissed, but when I glared at her, she shrank back.

"Not a chance, Alice," I told her softly. "This ends now. Do you know why he yells at you?" I asked, and she shook her head no. "Because he can. He knows you love him, and he relies on it, leans on it like a crutch, because he knows you'll forgive him. Every-fucking-time. It gives him the feeling that there are no consequences for his actions. My mother did the same thing to me."

"Bella," Edward sighed, grimacing. "You're not taking him alone," he told me.

I nodded but looked back to Jasper. "Pick, Jazz!" I snapped, getting ready to throw the keys as far as I could. "But I will not let you make the same mistake I did. I could have killed myself, Edward, or someone else. I won't allow you do it. I'm sorry."

Jasper shifted on his feet, his angry, hazy eyes on me, which caused Edward to step forward a bit. Finally, Jasper bit out, "Fuck you! All of you!" He pointed a finger at Alice. "Bitch, stay away from me."

With that said, Jasper stalked away. He chose neither option. And it was a few months before I saw him again.

~oOo~

"You didn't call the police?" Dr. Franklin asked, breaking off another piece of chocolate.

"No," I sighed, my nose wrinkling. "In hindsight, I should have, but Alice was a fucking mess by the time he walked away. Edward and I stayed with her all night in his room, because she couldn't be left alone."

"What happened to Jasper?"

"We didn't see him for the longest time – well into the summer. He came home to Forks just like Alice and Edward, but we didn't hear from him. Alice would get the occasional phone call from him, but they'd just end up fighting," I told him, shaking my head. "I felt just awful."

"Why?"

"Well, she moved into my house for the summer. I put it on the market to sell, and she didn't really want to stay at her parents' house with all the stuff going on with Jasper, but while she was having the worst time, Edward and I were...just..."

"Blossoming?" he offered.

"Yeah, we were getting closer and closer all the time, especially since school was out. We had time to hang out and just...be. Edward even attended a few meetings with me, and we'd even moved our relationship back into the bedroom. It was the best and worst summer at the same time. Sometimes, though, Alice's issues would trigger a bad day for me, so Edward would have to ease me down from it, though my cravings were pretty much under control."

"Good for you," he praised. "But why do I feel a 'but' coming on?"

"Because there's a huge 'but,'" I laughed humorlessly. "I guess Jasper failed out of UW when he left – at least, that's what I've heard. So Alice was pretty bummed when it came time for all of us to go. While Edward wanted to rent an apartment together, I decided that I needed to keep the space we had. I asked him for one year in the dorms." I chuckled, looking over at the doc. "You'd have thought I had kicked a puppy when I asked him, but Edward understood it, and he made me promise plenty of visits. He also agreed that Alice and I would make good roommates, which was another reason I asked for a year. I wanted to keep an eye on her."

"And Jasper?"

"Got arrested. The first night we moved into the dorms. He came to see Alice, wasted as all hell, and they caught him leaving the parking lot all pissed off that she wouldn't come out," I sighed, grimacing a bit. "DUI, possession of a controlled substance, and resisting arrest. He called Edward to bail him out."

"Oh, damn," Doc groaned. "Did he?"

"At first, Edward didn't want to, but Alice begged him, even promised that she'd pay him back," I groaned. "Edward..." I sighed. "I love him, but he can't tell any woman he cares about no. At all. Me included."

Doc laughed a little. "So he posted bail."

"He posted bail," I sighed. "And Jasper ran. Never showed up for court."

"Oh fuck," Dr. Franklin breathed, sitting forward. "How long?"

"Until just last week," I told him. "They wanted to send him to county jail, and everyone seemed okay with it...except me." I turned to face him, seeing a familiar form walking across the gardens toward us just over Dr. Franklin's shoulder. "I begged Carlisle – Dr. Cullen – to send him here."

"And?" Dr. Franklin asked.

"He's here, and he's in the men's side of the building. But I'm here to ask a favor of you. I'd really like you to work with him. Can you request his case or anything?" I asked, sounding more like I was begging. Before he could answer, I rambled on. "He's just like I was – angry, independent, hard-headed...and now silent. He's sobered up a bit and feeling completely miserable and guilty for what he's done, but he needs someone like you. Someone that can help him. Someone that can stay calm when he gets pissed."

Before he could answer, heavy footsteps trudged up the gazebo steps. I smiled up at Edward, who looked like he'd been run over by an emotional Mack truck. But his eyes held a warmth for me that never seemed to go out, no matter what was going on in our lives.

"How is he?" I asked as he sat down beside me, leaning into the soft kiss to my temple.

"He's checked in, hating every last one of us, and yet, he's begging Alice not to leave him. He's also thrilled that he's not in jail," he huffed, shaking his head, but he held out his hand. "Hey, Rick," he sighed, and they shook hands firmly.

"Edward," Doc greeted, nodding once, but he turned his attention to me. "I can't make promises about his recovery, Bella, you know that, but I will request his case. I'm sure Dr. Cullen will back me up on it." He looked to Edward. "Is your father here?"

"Yeah, he's inside," Edward told him, jerking a thumb toward the main building. "I'm pretty sure you don't have to request anything. I think I overheard them assigning Jasper to you. Just...a heads up."

Dr. Franklin grinned. "Sweet! Less paperwork."

Edward and I chuckled, but I stood and hugged him.

"Thank you," I whispered, pulling back.

"Oh, no, Bella. Thank you," the doc stated, giving my shoulder a squeeze. "I have no doubt in my mind that you'll be one of my best success stories. And you call me when you're ready to intern. I want you here."

"Okay," I giggled, sitting back down next to Edward, who wrapped an arm around me.

Dr. Franklin left us with a quick wave and walked back inside. I gazed around the gazebo, snuggling into Edward's side. He seemed content to just sit with me, so I was taking advantage. As every word I'd ever uttered in that garden came back to me, my body gave an involuntary shudder.

"Cold, baby?" Edward asked, holding me closer.

"No, just...thinking."

"This is the famous gazebo, huh?" he asked with a slight chuckle.

"Yeah," I sighed contentedly, gazing up at him. "All my dirty secrets came out right here," I laughed, kissing his lips.

"You smoked," he pointed out, raising an eyebrow, and despite how it was supposed to be menacing, it really just came across as all sorts of sexy.

"Only two...okay, maybe three," I defended.

"Well, that's better than yesterday, I guess," he said with a shrug, but smiled anyway.

"See?" I sang, giggling when he rolled his eyes.

"Come here, baby," he snickered, curling me back to his side. "I can understand why you like it out here. It's quiet. Smells better."

I nodded, sighing deeply. I tried to think of my last conversation out here with Dr. Franklin, but it seemed forever ago. Though, really, Carlisle was my final session. I'd come into Breckenridge a mess, left a whole lot better, but it was the man pressing kisses to the top of my head that was there through it all, whether he knew it or not. Every tear shed, every bad day, every angry rant, Edward was there, lifting me, holding me so that I wouldn't fall any farther than I already had. And then when the memory of him pushed me through to the other side, the reality of him was waiting to take over. And he was the best example of patience and love I'd ever seen.

He never pushed me – not with meetings, or cravings, or with all the time and space I required, or even when Alice needed me. But when I needed him for any of those things, he was there. I knew I drove him crazy, that he would get frustrated, but he'd merely step back, only to come back to me again and again. And when I'd decided that we'd "taken things slow" long enough, I thought my heart would explode with the intensity of the love he showed me. Our first time was special, but nothing beat the night we truly came back together.

~oOo~

"How is she?" Edward asked over the phone.

"She'll be okay. She's finally asleep," I sighed, folding my pajama-clad legs underneath me in the middle of my bed. I glanced out the window into the rainy summer night. "What happened with you?"

"Aw, hell, Bella," he groaned, and I could practically see his hand clawing at his hair. "He's miserable without her, he knows he's an ass around her, but to deal with being apart, he just...drinks all the fucking more. And that just causes him to get pissed all over again. It's an endless cycle."

"I get that," I sighed, grimacing a bit. "Being numb is better than hurting. And Jasper's hurting himself and Alice, so numb is definitely better."

"Was that how you felt when Phil..."

"Yeah," I said, interrupting him, because he didn't need to finish that question. "I felt like I was drowning in just...shit."

Edward chuckled at the way I'd put it, but he knew what I meant. The fact that we could talk calmly about Phil and his forced separation on us just before graduation well over a year prior was just proof of how much we'd grown.

"Though he probably saved me from major embarrassment. I can't hit a baseball, Edward," I giggled, shaking my head at his laugh. "Little kid setting or not."

Edward laughed again. "You were doing just fine. I thought I was a damn good teacher."

"Your teaching skills were great. It's the student that was hopeless," I countered with a grin, remembering the amazing way that it had felt having his body wrapped around me, his hands over mine on the bat, and his sweet words of encouragement in my ear as he tried to teach me how to hit in a batting cage.

Alice, Edward, and I were hanging out in Port Angeles for the day. It was mid-summer, a Friday afternoon, and the three of us just wanted out of Forks for a while. We'd shopped, eaten, and were deciding on whether to see a movie or not, but when Edward had seen the batting cages, he'd lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Alice and I had rolled our eyes but gone anyway. Besides, he put up with way more bullshit, considering he was with two girls ninety percent of the time.

Edward and I tried to keep Alice's spirits up, and most of the time it worked. We knew that seeing the two of us together was hard on her, so we kept our touches to chaste kisses and hand holding in front her when we could. We'd wait until we were alone or when Alice would go to bed before we practically attacked one another. We had yet to consummate our relationship again. It was either too soon, or something would interrupt, or I wasn't quite ready. But as the summer slipped by and as Edward and I grew closer and closer, I found that I really just...wanted him. And I'd been close to telling him just that inside that batting cage, but the sound of Alice's phone changed everything, as did the fight that ensued not long after she'd answered it.

Alice missed Jasper but had finally admitted to us that she could no longer handle him, so she took his "stay away" command seriously. That was something that really pissed Jasper off – most likely at himself, but he took it out on her. Repeatedly. He'd call, begging and pleading, but when she'd deny him, he'd turn foul. And that was what had happened that night, only this time when he'd hung up with her while we were in the batting cage, he'd turned around and called Edward, who dropped us off at my house before going to him.

"Well, I'm sorry we were interrupted, baby," he sighed. "I'm pretty sure I could've had you hitting like Sosa before the night was over."

Giggling, I rolled my eyes. "I seriously doubt it, but I do miss you. I didn't get my goodnight kiss or anything," I huffed dramatically, smiling at his sexy chuckle.

The sound went straight through my heart down to my girly parts, because even though Edward was gorgeous and sexy and all things delicious, that laugh, his smile made him absolutely perfect to me.

"You want a kiss, Bella?" he snickered.

"I want more than that," I muttered to myself, picking at my blanket nervously, but it was the God's honest truth. We'd come so close time and time again, but I loved him way beyond reason, way beyond what I'd felt in high school, and it was all I could do not to beg him to let me show him.

"Really?" he gasped.

I paused for just a moment but knew I meant it. "Yeah."

"I'll be right there," he stated, the call ending abruptly.

I listened for the sound of the front door but squeaked in surprise when my bedroom window opened and Edward's large frame pulled itself through. He was soaked, dark-eyed, and beautiful.

"Okay, so your last broken leg was my fault. I won't be responsible for this one," I teased him, coming to stand in front of him with my arms crossed.

He flashed a quick grin, but it fell away quickly. "I didn't want to wake Alice," he barely breathed, but his heavy lidded eyes gave him away. "I was coming to kiss you..."

"Like old times?" I finished for him with a smirk, gesturing to the window.

"Yes," he whispered with a nod, swallowing nervously.

The air felt charged, electric when I stepped closer to him. His chest expanded rapidly with his heavy breathing, and his clothes clung to him like a second skin due to the rain. And he was giving me that look that made me want to moan aloud – the one that screamed at me that I meant everything in the world to him. The look that said the whole universe could come crashing down around him and he'd still be lost to me.

"Did you mean it?" he asked, not touching me yet.

"I am so sure," I answered him, and it seemed the tension just snapped like a rubber band that had been stretched too far, because we both moved at the same time.

Lips connected, fingers flew at clothing, and moans echoed softly through my room, covered up by rumbling thunder. Edward's skin was cold from the rain, his hands wet as he guided me backwards toward my bed. Off came my tank top and down went my pajama pants. His clothes, jeans, and sneakers all fell to the floor in wet slaps, and quicker than I expected, I found myself wrapped in skin, blankets, and just...Edward. All the while, our kisses never stopped.

"Oh, God, please...please tell me you're sure," Edward begged, "because baby, I really, really want you."

"We've waited long enough." I cupped his face, only to brush his damp hair from his forehead. "I was going to tell you earlier, but..." I stopped, kissing him once as he nodded.

"It's so not about me," he countered with a shake of his head as he touched my face with tentative fingers. "But I'd be lying if I said I haven't missed this."

He was only being honest, because his body had betrayed him more times than I could count. Kisses always led to touching, and touching ultimately led to grinding. It was torture sometimes, but we'd held back and he'd had to pull away when things got to be too much. I probably relied on his control more than I should have, more than was fair to him. But I didn't want to hold back anymore.

"Please?" I simply said, nipping light kisses on his lips. "I love you. Please, Edward."

"Fuck, I love you, too," he groaned, and I knew he'd just...given in.

He kissed me with a fire more intense than I'd ever felt from him, whispering about love and waiting and need against every inch of my skin. His hands touched me everywhere at the same time his lips worshiped my breasts, stomach, and neck, reminding me of just how beautiful he thought I was – even more so now. Details of what he wanted to do to me were murmured against my navel, my thighs, my sex, all while he carried them out to the letter. He encouraged me to move against him, smiling against my flesh when my whole body arched up against my will, hips rolling against his face.

Edward drank from me, all the while soothing my nerves, my self consciousness, and my sudden sharp, but blindingly euphoric orgasm.

Holding me close and dropping sweet kisses to my face as my body settled down, he murmured, "It's been so long, Bella. I may not... I mean... You'll feel too good. And I've been celibate for over a year," he finally ground out his admission, wincing in embarrassment, but to me, his waiting meant so much more than I could possibly find the words to explain.

"Don't care," I whispered against his lips. "I just want to be with you again. I need to feel you, Edward."

I knew once we started making love on a regular basis, his stamina would build back up. I didn't care about that at all. I wanted to feel the same connection with him on a physical level that we had on an emotional one.

Lifting himself up and settling into the cradle of my thighs, Edward pressed his forehead to mine, our eyes locking for support, for any sign of stopping, and just because I needed to see the beautiful green slowly disappear into black, heated want. But it was the love, the pounding heartbeat I could feel against my own, and the soft touches of his fingertips on my face that made a tear leak from my eye the very second he entered me. All of it was overwhelming, earth-shattering, and so very, very right.

Edward held himself still, muttering words of love, of not lasting, of how good I felt. He told me that I was so beautiful, that I was his and he was mine as he started to move. It was everything that our first time wasn't, which had been awkward and a touch silly, because we'd both been nervous and new. This time, we learned new erogenous zones, familiarized ourselves with old ones, and cemented our feelings with each thrust, kiss, and touch.

There was no going back. I could feel it in my heart, see it written all over his face as we both got close to the edge. Our love had survived the test of time, separation, and outside interference. We'd passed – with flying colors. And it was that thought that caused me to cling to him when we both climaxed, gasping softly of love, forever, and always.

~oOo~

Smiling at the memory, I slipped my hand up Edward's chest, holding his jaw as I kissed the other side.

He hummed softly, leaning into it. "I suppose we should get back in there," he murmured, pulling me back to look in my eyes, but he jerked his chin slightly toward Breckenridge. "Mom will be expecting us soon. And I'm sure she'll need you for Thanksgiving dinner."

"Ah, true," I sighed, standing up and offering him my hand. "She shouldn't have to do it all alone tomorrow. She's all but threatened me with the mashed potatoes," I told him, smiling at his laugh.

"Now that your house has sold, you're so staying in my room," he grumbled, giving me a wicked grin.

"If we must," I sighed dramatically, but I squeaked when his fingers dug into my sides.

"How was your talk with the doc?" he asked, swinging our hands only to bring the back of mine to his lips.

"Good," I said truthfully. "If anyone can help Jasper, it's him. We caught up a bit. He got married."

"Yeah?" Edward chuckled, but stopped when I did, because I wanted to look back at the gardens, the gazebo, despite the fact that fall had stripped it of its color.

I was quiet, drinking it all in and remembering every word I'd said. It had dispelled all the poison inside of me, given me the tools to sort shit out in a better way, and it had helped me realize that there was a difference between depending on someone and needing them. I needed Edward in my life because he made me smile, made me feel what real, true love was supposed to feel like, and made my life complete. I needed his strong shoulder to cry on every now and then, his hand to hold when I was scared, and his kisses to make me feel beautiful. But I didn't depend on him to make my decisions, to take away all the scary stuff, or to gloss over the things that I needed to face. No, I could do those things on my own now, but I didn't have to.

"Does it bother you to be here?" Edward asked, pressing a kiss to the side of my head.

"No. No, it doesn't," I said, shaking my head.

"Here with me? Does it feel strange?" he clarified, but I still shook my head.

"Nah, you were always with me," I murmured, my brow furrowed. "The first thing I told Dr. Franklin about you was that I wasn't good enough for you. I felt like I would hurt you, like I had my dad. That it was wrong to miss you, because I felt that you were just another addiction."

Warm, strong arms wrapped around me and more kisses were dropped to my head. Edward didn't argue, because he knew to let me just say some things to get them off my chest.

"And now?" he whispered, but I could feel his smile against my temple.

"And now," I sighed contentedly, turning in his arms in order to see his handsome face. "Now I get it. Bad things happen, and sometimes the human mind can't take it. And sometimes..." I leaned in to kiss his lips softly. "Sometimes, really good things come along that make up for all the bad, and those are the things we have to cling to."

He grinned, all crooked and sweet and embarrassed, but filled with love and understanding. "That's my girl," he praised proudly, dropping a heated kiss to my mouth, but we both broke apart when the door opened.

Alice stood there, smirking at us. "Let's go," she urged. "Carlisle and I don't want to hear it when Esme's pissed we're not helping her."

Edward and I laughed, following her inside, but I could see that a weight had been lifted from her heart and mind. Jasper was somewhere safe, no longer able to drown himself in his poor choices. There was a glimmer of hope shining in her eyes, and that alone told me that we would all be okay, that I would be okay, because I had an amazing support group.

With one last glimpse out the door before it closed, I realized that I'd learned so much. I wasn't bad luck; I never had been. It wasn't dangerous for me to love someone, to miss them. I wasn't a user or a drunk. In fact, I'd been clean and sober for almost a year and a half, with only the occasional bad day. And I was most certainly not alone anymore.

~oOo~

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