January 28, 2013

Chapter Twenty One

Your eyes do not deceive you. I am totally updating. Those who wish to throttle me, please form a line to the left. Those who wish to love me anyway, please form a line to the right. Those who fit both categories, please report to my pants because you have the right idea. 

I love you all for your patience and understanding during the wait. I hope Roughie & Isabella make it worth it for you guys. But first, a reminder of where we left off..............

“Did... did you get to see Josie?”

“Not exactly.”

I'm confused by his answer. He scratches the back of his neck and tucks his hands into the front pocket of his jacket. 

“I did go to see her, but not the way you probably think.”

He's talking in circles, nervous and reticent.

“She lives in Sacramento. With... with her biological father.”

Oh God. Edward...


Songs I rocked to write:

”Ghost Towns” by Radical Face

”Outside” by Staind

”Me Over You” by Lucia (YouTube only)


The pang of sympathy I feel is unexpected. Everything I know about Edward and Josie collides with this revelation about a pain I'd already known to be great, and without meaning to, I speak my realization aloud.

“She isn't yours.”

His reaction is swift and severe, a familiar darkness morphing his features. It's a flicker of foretime that startles me, and the heat of his glare scolds me before he utters a word.

“Don't say it like that, like she wasn't my daughter. She was. I raised her. Me.

Sternly, he shakes his head back and forth at me, emphasizing his claim by repeatedly jabbing his index finger into his chest. The outburst is reflexive, like they're words he's had to say before; an attack he's had to guard himself against more than once. Considering what he's just told me, it makes sense. Though I meant no harm, I'm overcome by a sense of remorse.

“No, I- I didn't mean it like that. Of course she's yours. I-”

Fuck.” His shoulders lose their stiffness and he slumps back against the bench, roughly scrubbing his hands over his face. “Look, I'm sorry, okay?” But it's forced. Flat. Obligatory. I don't want it.

He turns his head in my direction but keeps his eyes on the ground. “I know you didn't mean it like that. I shouldn't have said anything about it at all. I just...”

He shakes his head and huffs out a low laugh. It's humorless and makes me fidget uncomfortably.

“I don't know what the hell I was thinking, actually.”

And he doesn't have to elaborate. I did this. He's fed up with me. His eyes fall closed before he speaks to me in a tired voice. “I can't do this today, Isabella. I have to go.”

He's on his feet and walking away from me before I can respond. I feel a biting impulse to stop him from leaving, yet I can't bring myself to move. Just a few weeks ago, the sight of him storming away would have felt like a victory. It would've brought relief, not panic. And though he's done this before, only to return again, something about this morning feels different.


The thought causes me to shoot up from the bench and go after him. I can think about the whys later. The closer I get, the harder my teeth clench in nervous desperation. As much as I yearn to feel the pressure of adequate words on the back of my lips, I taste nothing but failure on the end of my tongue. My hands shake with an urgency to get something right somewhere with someone. Just one fucking thing right. Because there's a finality in the space between us. It's as tangible as the trees and the grass and the water.

This is it. I know - I just know - that he's stretched too thin. I've bobbed and weaved and ducked and dodged as long as possible. He's headed back to his corner.

I should want it. I should let it happen, let him go. But I don't. I can't. He's the only thing I have. My lips part before I'm ready, and I clumsily present him with my debility... yet again.                

“Wh- What do you want me to say to you, Edward? Just... tell me what it is you want to hear! What do I do?!”

When he stops and turns to face me, I can see that the fight in him is dead. The flame that licked and lashed mere moments ago has been smothered out, its wisps of ash resting at my feet.

“Nothing.” He hesitates a beat. “Anything.” He shrugs.

He wraps his voice around the last word tighter than the first. It's a plea he seems resigned to the futility of but extends to me anyway. When met with my silence, he blows out a frustrated puff of air through his lips before angling himself away from me. He steps forward, as if to leave, only to whip around again. When he strides back to me, it's with purpose. There's a flicker of a flame in those eyes that brings me relief.

Don't stop fighting.

Stopping right in front of me, he pulls something from his back pocket and I look down to see him flipping through his wallet. When he finds what he's looking for, a folded piece of paper, he replaces his wallet and fixes his eyes on mine intently.

“I trapped you five years ago, Isabella, and I will not do that again.” The conviction in his voice is so potent that I flinch. “There's no consequence this time. No catch. I shouldn't have pushed you the way I did when I first came here. I know that now. I just... I'm trying, okay? I want... I want to know who you are. But you have to want to give that to me.” His head dips down a fraction, silently beckoning my eyes back to his. With great effort, I manage to hold his stare. “You're in there. I know you are.”

So unexpectedly that I don't have a chance to resist, he lifts my hand, turns it palm up, and places the slip of paper on it. I barely register the chill of his fingers before they're gone, my hand left opened between us.

“I'm not perfect, Isabella, but I'm not the same man I was then.”

He turns and leaves me to stare down at the paper, curiosity and fear circling one another for supremacy. The former wins, and the three words I find folded up in white cause my fingers to jerk. The thin, worn square flutters to the ground. I close my eyes and ball my fists as I feel, yet again, my perspective of Edward Cullen shift without my permission. My hands drop limply to my sides, and I open my eyes to find the words laying there at my feet. A reunion I never asked for. A memory I can't ignore.

The scribble of faded blue ink made by my own hand.

The towel I'd thrown in.

The end.

I'm sorry.



Distractedly, I step out of the elevator, never looking up as I approach the large, round desk between mine and Kate's offices. I pause, barely hearing Leah's greeting as I scroll through my phone.

No missed calls. No new messages. No new voicemail.

It's the longest that Renee's ever ignored my calls. Sighing, I slip my phone into my pocket and slide my arms out of my coat.

“Anything while I was at lunch?”

With a nod, she passes a few small, pink message slips to me. I don't find anything in the pile significant enough to distract my mind for long, just call backs from clients and a few requests for consultations. Ten minutes on the phone at the most. Damn it.

“There was also a delivery for you. I left it on your desk.”

I assume it's just couriered documents or samples as usual but am surprised to see a large bouquet of flowers sitting on the corner of my desk. My stomach tightens.


There's a small card tied to the vase by a bow. I hold my breath and flip it open.

Dear Ms. Swan,

Please accept these as a token of our sincerest thanks. You did a wonderful job with Julie's
party, and we could never have given her the celebration she deserved without your help.

Happy holidays to you and yours,
Donald & Annette Graham

I lean against the edge of my desk, knowing how ludicrous it is to feel this humiliated by words that are meant to praise.

I observe the colorful arrangement. Clients tend to like the idea of the meaning that a flower, or combination of them, can be symbolic. It's for this reason that I've grudgingly learned the message behind several of the more popular choices for occasions. Out of habit, I analyze the language of the bouquet.

Tiger lilies can stand for wealth and pride. Yellow roses, signify joy and friendship. Blush chrysanthemums communicate cheerfulness and optimism.

But it's the last flower that makes me yank the card free from the bow. The small purple flower is used sparsely; a mild accent to the larger, grander petals of the those around it.

The anemone. A symbol for fading hope. Meant to convey the feeling of having been forsaken.

Happy holidays to you and yours.

You and yours.


Just you.

You're no one's Julie.

I crumple the card in my hand and squeeze until I can feel my pulse in my fingertips, throwing it into the trash can with more force than necessary.

Without looking, I slide my fingers beneath the desktop calendar behind me, pulling the small white square free. This thin, weak paper that should hold little significance has me anchored in place. It's flimsy between my fingers, and I wonder how many times he's unfolded it. I remember his touches...  the heedless way he manipulated by body to suit himself. How could those same hands have possibly handled this withered scrap delicately enough to keep it in one piece?

”I'm not the same man I was then.”

I wonder how many times his eyes have read these two words that I left behind so long ago. Has he ever run the pads of his fingers across the wrinkled surface this way, too? Did he look to the indented swirls of ink, searching for answers the way I am now? How long has it made its home in his wallet? How long has he carried it and why? Why? It goes against everything I remember about the man he is. Was?



The man he was before...

”I'm not the same man I was then.”

I'm not blind. I know he's changed. But why does the thought paralyze me? The noise in my head comes to a halt as an answer slithers its way inside.

You found solace in him. You knew what he expected of you. He forbade emotion. Affection was off limits. He had no idea that those things were already dead and gone, that you weren't capable of defying him. There was sweet, sweet relief in the knowledge that you couldn't possibly have failed at that.

Except you did, didn't you? You failed. You let it in.

I close my eyes against the onslaught of images from that night.

A wet marble floor littered with limp flowers and shattered glass. The anguish on Esme's face as she fought against Carlisle and screamed her son's name over and over. The flash of red and blue lights across the face of a man I never thought I'd see again. The bewildered expression on his face when he saw me standing on the lawn. The way everything blurred through my tears before I ran.

Before you ran like the coward you are, like the failure you've always managed to remain.

I slide the paper down into my open palm and stare at it. It would take so little to destroy it. I could rip it to shreds and burn the pieces. My fingers twitch at the thought, but I instead fold it up and slide it into my pocket on the way out the door. Once the decision is made, it's heavy and unmoving. I grab my coat, purse, and a few files to work on from home before turning the lights off and rounding Leah's desk.

“I'll be leaving early, Leah. Can you please reschedule my last two appointments for Monday?”

She stares blankly at me for a few seconds, surely taken off guard. I never take time off. I never leave early or even take vacation time.  “Um... Okay. Sure, Ms. Swan.”

I'm relieved when I pass Kate's office door, and her office is dark. I'm supposed to be staying late and meeting with some clients about the Hurley account. I know I'll have some explaining to do, but I can't be bothered with it right now.


“Good evening, Ms. Swan. How are you?”

“Fine, thank you.”

Lies, lies, lies. Tell the lies that hide you, Bella.

“I'm glad to hear it. You can go on up, ma'am.”

Confused, I motion to the phone Marcus has just picked up and placed against his ear.

“You don't need to...?”

“No, ma'am. I'll let him know you're here, but Mr. Cullen has instructed that you be let up without question.”

“I, uh... I see. And... how long ago was this?”

“I'd say somewhere around, oh, a month or so…?”

The gesture, however simple, strikes a chord. It settles over me like a mist, present enough to sense yet too weightless to be burdensome. I feel suspicion tugging but ignore it. The possibility that I may be  unwelcome here after what happened this morning begins to fold in on itself, losing its power over me and becoming less intimidating than it was just minutes ago.

I've lost myself in thought but emerge when Marcus' voice reminds me that I'm not alone.

“Is everything alright, Ms. Swan?”

“Yes... Yes, everything is fine. Thank you.”

He nods politely at me as I walk toward the elevator doors. Once inside, I press the button for the top floor and take a deep breath, readying myself for whatever I find on the other side of his door. I have to stop myself from reliving the memory of the last time I was here, choosing to focus instead on his insistence.

”I want to know who you are.”

I recall his words again, letting them guide my feet to his door, and quell the fear that flares inside my chest as I raise my hand and knock. I fidget and wait. I hear a faint barking sound from inside, and realize that I'd nearly forgotten about his dog, Paul.

When a minute passes with no answer, I knock once more. Paul's barking is coming from just the other side of the door now but still no answer. A phone begins to ring from inside as I eye the doorbell but decide against it. Surely if he was home, he'd have answered by now. I begin to step away when I hear Edward's voice, muffled but stern, growing closer to the door.

Quiet, Paul. That's enough. Go lay down!”

Even though his commands are being directed at the dog, I can't help the small part of me that stands at attention in response to the authority in his voice. I find myself straightening my posture and swallowing thickly in preparation for seeing him again. When I finally do, I register three things that slow my thought process to a near crawl.

Shirtless. Barefoot. Wet.

A pair of dark gray sweatpants hang from his hips, a black towel over one shoulder... and nothing else. Surprise is evident on his face, but my attention is snagged by the slow and steady path that a drop of water from his still wet hair is making. It drips from his sideburn, over the edge of his jaw, and down the slope of his neck. Just as it comes to rest in the dip of his collarbone, my own name from his mouth startles me and I bring my eyes back to his face. Trying to clear my head of whatever fog I've wandered into, I blurt out the first thing I think of.

“You were in the shower.”

I immediately feel foolish. My palms begin to sweat as I search my thoughts for a way to compensate. Looking down at himself, he lifts the end of the towel and wipes it down his neck and across his chest.

“I was. I didn't hear the door.”

He seems uncomfortable all of a sudden, as if he's just remembered something. Raking a hand through his wet hair, he backs up and widens the door in silent invitation. I walk past him as he closes it behind me. From the top of the two steps that lead down into the living room, I turn back to him as he comes to stand next to me. His scent wafts in my direction. Discreetly, I take in my next breath deeper, inhaling his humid, clean smell.

The sound of Paul whining comes from somewhere in the back just before the phone begins to ring again. Edward lifts his chin in the direction of the hall.

“That's probably Marcus-”

“I'll just wait in here.”

We speak at the same time, cutting one another off. He smiles somewhat awkwardly before nodding and starting down the hall. I step down into the living room, noting that our interaction just now was almost identical to the last time I was here. Before my mind has a chance to dwell on how that visit ended, the absence of something catches my eye and I stop short.

I stare down at the four circular impressions left behind in the carpet. They serve as the only evidence that it once sat here, aside from my memory. It was here before. Weeks ago. I'd been unprepared for the surge of remembrance that seeing it again brought on. How Edward followed my gaze to the chaise lounge. The exact moment that our thoughts aligned, recalling that Saturday evening so long ago. The first one of many.

“On your knees. Bend over it.”

My recollection of his heated command is interrupted when I hear the soft padding of his bare feet behind me. I look up from the vacant space in front of me to see his reflection in the window, a black t-shirt now covering his torso.


As usual, he stains the sound of my name with caution. I let my confidence feed on his unease and ask before I can overthink it.

“Where is it?”

He's quiet for a beat and then...

“I got rid of it.”


“You know why.”

I do. I'm grateful that he doesn't explain himself.

The note.

The access at the front desk.

The chair.

They're testaments to who he is now, to who he isn't anymore, and their impact is staggering. They're subtle messages. Meant to comfort? Aimed to convince?

They don't miss their mark.

With my back still turned to him, I walk closer to the window. My eyes follow the patterned dots of light that the traffic below us creates, trying to avoid Edward's reflection in the glass as he waits – patient and still, so unlike the last time we stood in this spot together. My eyes close on their own as a blur of bare flesh traipses behind them, and a stream of foul words spewed through vicious whispers echoes in my ears. I open them to find him closer than a moment ago. 

He can see my face in the glass just as clearly as I can see his, and his eyes squint as he watches me carefully. Suddenly, I feel like I'm suffocating in my silence. Like every unasked question, every restrained curiosity, every word that's been extinguished before it could be spoken is strangling me. It all bears down on me with a weight that forces the breath in my lungs out through my clenched teeth.

Out of nowhere, I'm being smothered by my own hand. I've convinced myself that investing in this – in him – is nothing more than admitting defeat. Is it really that black and white? Could my indulgence mean abdicating control?

There's only one way to find out.

Closing my mind off to the risk, I begin to speak... and it feels like breathing again.

“I put what happened so far from my mind. I erased it from myself, Edward. I erased you. For years, you didn't exist and then there you were, on my porch telling me you were sorry.” He stares at my reflection silently as frustration bleeds into my tone of voice. “And you kept coming back. Over and over. Why did you keep coming back?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Isabella.”

His unhesitant reply stuns me, and my breath catches. The way he maintains eye contact with my reflection is a challenge. 

I bite.

“I didn't think... It was never supposed to go as far as it did. It was just a - a means to an end.” I abhor the way my voice shakes as I explain myself. The words feel wrong. Inadequate. Weak. I compensate the only way I know how. “You were just supposed to be the cruel asshole that paid me to fuck him.” I ignore the rapid blink of his eyes in the glass as he looks away, feeling satisfied as my blow lands just where I'd intended it to. The feeling doesn't last, a quick wave of shame following close behind it. A spontaneous momentum nudges me forward. “I didn't know they were your family. I was stuck and scared of failing out of school when I was so close. I couldn't let that happen. I wouldn't. So I kept my head down and did my job. There and here." He's looking at me again. "I minded my own business. I tried so fucking hard to mind my own business.”  I say everything as it comes to me; random fragments of memories I'm unaccustomed to embracing. It hurts and heals all at once to breathe life into them. I don't know if it makes sense to him, but I don't let that stop me. “I couldn't quit the program. I just had to ride it out. And it worked, too. But Alice... She knew. She caught me with your picture, told me to keep my mouth shut. And I was so close to graduating. I was so close. But then I saw the video...”


“Esme was watching it. Josie was a baby, and you were rocking her. And singing...” His eyes fall closed, shoulders sagging, and I know that he's remembering it, too. That the images in our heads match right now. “And you were this... whole other person, Edward.” His jaw flexes again. “This... normal, happy man. It just all fell apart after that. I couldn't stop wondering what could possibly have happened to turn you into... what you were. I tried to, but I couldn't turn it off. And I just... I didn't have any other choice than to stop coming here.” My thoughts turn back to the slip of paper in my pocket, and I feel a surge of anger toward him for its existence. “You kept it. All this time, you kept it. Why? We were... nothing. Why would you do that, Edward? You shouldn't have done that-”

“I didn't even know you'd left it. I never saw it. When you didn't show up again, I just figured that was it.”

With his hands in his pockets, he shifts and looks away from me.

“I found it later.” He takes a deep breath, and I sense that a piece of the puzzle I didn't have before is coming. Something akin to excitement fans out through my chest. I hate how good it feels. “I was arrested and spent that night in a cell. It wasn't until I was out the next day that I found your note. I don't know why I kept it, Isabella. I couldn't just throw it away. I would just sit and read it over and over and had no idea what the hell you were apologizing for. What did you have to be sorry about? What could you possibly be apologizing to me for?”

I jump right in, knowing that hesitating will kill my nerve.

“Alice asked me. She wanted to know if you were okay. And I lied. I lied to her and said you were fine. I could have told her you needed help.”

His nostrils flare with his deep breaths, and he pins my attention with his stare. He hadn't expected me to answer him, and my words catch him off guard. They catch me off guard.

“It wouldn't have mattered.”

“You don't know that. Your mother? She seemed so miserable and sad, and I could have-”

“I do know, Isabella. I was too far gone by then. Trust me.”

The air thickens with silence. I cross my arms over my chest and Edward raises his hands to scratch through his hair roughly. He looks as if he's about to speak when the phone rings. He walks into the kitchen to answer it, and I take the opportunity to turn around and face him.


He's got the phone tucked between his ear and shoulder as he picks his wallet up from the counter and pulls cash from it.

“Yeah, send him up.”

He ends the call and replaces the cordless phone back in its cradle before walking around the bar and down into the living room. Gesturing to the front door, he looks at me.

“I ordered some takeout. Are you hungry? I mean, you're welcome to...” He scratches the back of his head and waves a hand in the direction of the coffee table.

Too much, the familiar voice of fear whispers in my ear. Walk away.

Edward is watching me closely but not expectantly, no doubt prepared for me to run. His hesitance to ask me a simple question irritates me, but I can't blame him either. In the wake of my rambling bravado, I'm left feeling defective. Abnormal. And I'm overcome with the desire to prove him wrong. We've had meals together before. This really is no different. I manage a small smile and nod.

“I could eat. Sure.”

His eyebrows lift a little in response, and I count it as a small victory that he seems surprised.

I can do this.

The doorbell rings, and Paul begins barking again from somewhere down the hall. Edward starts toward the front door, and I look around for the best place to sit. I eye the living room furniture, but the coffee table is covered with scattered papers and an open laptop. I look to the bar in the kitchen and the dining room table, both of which look immaculate and unused. Edward reappears with a brown paper bag in each hand, and before I can ask him where I should sit, he's juggling both bags with one arm while sliding everything on the coffee table all the way to one end. He sets the bags down on the cleared space and leans over to shift a few blueprint tubes that I'm just now noticing out of the way. He turns to head into the kitchen and asks me what I'd like to drink.

“Water is fine, thank you. Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”

He clears his throat and nods before pointing in the direction of the hall by the foyer, and I know he's thinking about before. About the intolerance he always had for my presence once he was through with me. About how using the restroom was a privilege I was never given.

“Yeah, go ahead. It's the second door on your left.”

Once in the hall, memories close in, accompanying me like a shadow.

Him taking me from behind, hard and fast, against the wall in the hallway.

Slowing my pace, I drag my fingertips across the wall beside me and then across my cheek. With perfect clarity, I recall the force of his thrusts and the tenderness in my jaw the next morning.

I eye his closed bedroom door a beat longer than necessary, waiting for it to appear as looming as I remember it being. It doesn't, but the memories push through anyway.

Being rushed into his room in the middle of the night and bent over the foot of his bed, face in the mattress. Over the dresser. Over the chair in the corner. On all fours on the carpeted floor, palms and knees burning from the friction. On my knees, gagging and breathless.

The bathroom is pristine; marble countertops and travertine tile floors and walls, spotless down to the neatly folded hand towels. The window at the end of the tub is a smaller version of the view from the living room. Leaning down over the sink, I close my eyes and press two handfuls of water against my face. The chill of the water on my heated cheeks causes my eyes to well up. Reaching blindly for a towel, I pat my face dry, turning my back on the mirror before I open my eyes. I don't want to see them right now. I'll lose the nerve that I need to do what I'm about to.

When I step out from around the corner of the hallway, I freeze, not wanting to alert Edward yet. He's hunched over the coffee table. Several open containers of food sit between two plates, one of which is directly in front of him. The other is at the head of the table in front of the armchair. He places spoons into each container before dropping a small stack of white napkins down next to them and disappearing into the kitchen. He returns with two glasses of ice water and sets one beside each plate before appearing to survey the setup. He leans down to adjust the distance between the plates, moving them farther apart before moving them back to their original positions. I can only see his profile, but his brow is furrowed and he seems torn. I decide to put him out of his misery, making sure my steps are heavy enough to announce my return. I feel his eyes on me as I round the coffee table, and he only sits once I've done so in the armchair to his left.

“Help yourself to whatever. There's a little bit of everything. Do you like Thai?”

I look down at the open containers and plastic bowls as he begins to fix his plate. At how much there is.

All of this food is just for you?”

He nods his head and swallows the bite he's chewing. “Leftovers. I don't really cook, so...”

I nod back and barely pay attention to what I spoon onto my plate while I try to think of something else to say to him.

“So... How is your family?”

He stiffens. It's subtle, but I see it.

“I wouldn't know, actually.”

My food is forgotten as my eyes fly to his face. He avoids my stare, picking up his empty glass and gesturing to mine.

“Did you want more water?”

“No. Thank you.”

He turns for the kitchen, and I watch his back as he fills his glass.

“What do you mean, you wouldn't know?”

He stills for a moment, and it's obvious that the subject is an uncomfortable one for him. I can relate, but I let the selfish part of me win this one. If we're talking about him, we're not talking about me. He comes back to the living room and sits down, pushing his plate away and looking out the large window in front of him.

“I haven't spoken to any of them since Alice's wedding.”


He shakes his head, and for a second, I don't think he's going to elaborate but he takes a deep breath and looks at me.

“I just... can't. I can't go back there. They hate me, and they should. Besides, it was a condition of my sentence-”

“Sentence?” Surprised, I blurt the word out a little louder than necessary. He nods, and I don't miss the look of shame on his face.

“Uh... yeah. Criminal trespassing and vandalism. I guess Carlisle had had enough by then.”

He stares down as he fists one hand at a time and cracks his knuckles into his palm. I find myself actually feeling... angry. It comes out of nowhere, but I think of Edward's face that night. The agony in his voice and the obvious pain he was in. I can't quell the hostility I feel for Carlisle Cullen right now.

“How... How could he do that?” The face of my own father flashes behind my eyes without my consent, and I hate that he's here. I hate that he can still monopolize my thoughts.

Edward's eyes narrow at me, probably trying to gauge the change in my mood.

“It wasn't his fault. I spent a long time being angry with him. But... He did what he had to do. I think it was the only way he thought he could reach me, the only way to help me.” He trails off, and I leave him to his memories. I don't belong there unless he invites me. “And he did. I got mandatory anger management and the rest is... history, I guess.”

Mandatory anger management. I'm not exactly well-versed in criminal law, but I suspect that Alice's reception wasn't the only mark on his record.

“Alice and Jasper? And Esme?”

I can't help it. I'm baffled. A part of me just automatically assumed that since Edward was trying to make amends with me, he'd have naturally done so with his family. I can't help wanting to understand it.

He's looking down and cracking his knuckles again, shaking his head. “I haven't heard from them since. And Esme. She, uh...” He scratches his cheek and wipes a hand over his mouth. He's stalling to find the words. In this simple, seemingly insignificant moment, I can see the hurt. It's in the way he avoids eye contact and clears his throat repeatedly...  swallowing it all down and waiting for that bloom of emotion to pass. “She tries. Everyday. She...” He clears his throat again. “She's never stopped trying, but I just... I can't.” He takes a deep breath and sits back on the sofa before looking over at me with a feigned, forced lightness. “So, yeah...”

I’m gripped so tightly by the fist of sympathy that I can only stare at him. Sympathy for Edward. Sympathy for his family. But Esme stands out from the rest of them right now because of the words reverberating inside my head.

She tries. Everyday. She's never stopped trying.

I think of Renee and the call list on my phone. Of the dozens of times I've dialed her number – just today – and the absence of even one returned call. 

Not even one.

“Isabella? Are you okay?”

I blink my way back to the moment. “No... Yeah. Yes. I'm fine.”

“Are you sure?” His concern is apparent but suffocating. I need to go.

“Yeah, I'm just tired, I think. I should go.”

I stand, and he follows my lead. I wonder if he isn't feeling as weakened by today as I am. Silently, we walk to the front door.

“Thank you for dinner.”

“You're welcome.”

I slide my arms into my coat and pick my purse up from the table in the foyer. When he opens the door, I step forward, only to stop at the sound of his voice.

“Thank you for coming, Isabella. I know that... Well... Just, thank you.” He tiptoes around the words, as if I'll somehow detonate. Or run screaming. And I guess I deserve that, really, because either way, he's not too far from the truth.

“You're welcome.”

I've never been anyone's Josie, and I'm nobody's Julie Graham. But I could try to be Edward Cullen's friend. It's got to be better than the nothing I am right now. And with the way he's looking at me, I can almost see it. I can almost believe him. So I reach out... and take what I can get.



“I hear The Haymount is open for breakfast on Saturday mornings now.” I watch as he works out what I'm asking without asking. Tomorrow is Saturday. “Just so you know. Since you don't cook much and all...”

He keeps his smile casual and small, but it's not without effort.

“Right. Yeah. Thanks for the tip. I'll have to try it out.”

He beats me to The Haymount by less than a minute, thereby cheating me out of the opportunity to open my own door. Again.


If you don't remember, The Haymount is the little diner where they've shared a couple of meals before.

So.......whaddya think? Theories? Questions? Boos? Gimme whatcha got.