Em shrugs.

“You know her better than anyone else. Just tell her what she wants to know, what she needs to hear. Sometimes it's as easy as telling her that you love her, and it'll all be good. It's not like you fucked up for real again, right?”

I don't like the cautious note in his voice, as if he's somehow afraid that it's not a rhetorical question. I try to come up with a witty reply, but I'm simply too exhausted to care. In the meanwhile he's slowing down at the curb and puts the car into park in front of our house. Before I can get my foot into my mouth again, Em continues.

“I know you probably don't think I know a thing about your problems, but I've seen my share of shit go down around me in the last few years. Just tell Bella how you feel about things. And I don't mean some flowery girl talk shit. The truth, plain and simple. Don't blame her, the jackass, or even yourself. I'm sure she's heard all about it already. She can make up her mind on her own when she has all the facts. But she can't really understand you if all she ever hears is how you want her to see things, no?”

He's right, and it's embarrassing how true his words are. I mean what he's telling me should be obvious, but the more I think of it, the more I see how Bella's reaction to what I've said makes sense. Now I'm frustrated with myself, and I hide my face in my hands for a moment.

“I'm just so freaking tired of everyone expecting me to fuck up.” Em's laughter rings loud inside the car, and he's reaching for another cancer stick.

“Tell her that, too. You know that Bella's the only one that counts, so why care about anyone else's expectations?”

I nod, and with a heavy sigh reach for the door handle.

“Thanks, man. And not just for the ride.”

“You're welcome! Just don't fuck up again, eh?”

Chuckling under my breath I get out, and Em swerves right back into traffic.

I stare up at the house for a moment, trying to decide what to do now, but really, there's just one option. I can only hope that whatever went down after I took off hasn't riled her up even more. Resigning myself to my fate, I walk inside, and hopefully not into war.

Chapter 10

The condo is dark and empty when I tiptoe upstairs, but the distinct shape of Bella under the covers makes me let out a breath I hadn't realized I've been holding. Not that I've believed her hilarious threat about a threesome with Alice and Jazz for a moment, but just seeing her back in our bed is a relief.

I see her stiffen as I enter the bedroom but her eyes are tightly shut, and I can read the signs alright. She's avoiding me, pretending to be asleep, and the way she subtly shifts until her back is turned to me is rather telling. I sigh and pad on into the bathroom to dump my wet clothes in the washer and take a quick, hot shower to stop myself from shivering.

While the hot spray is beating down onto my shoulders I let my head sink down until my forehead is pressed against the tiles. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Once I'm moderately warmed up I step out of the shower and towel myself dry a little too roughly. I know I'll be sore tomorrow all over if I don't stretch now, but I don't think Bella will appreciate it if I need another twenty minutes here. So I do the quick routine while I brush my teeth, then return to the bedroom and slip under the covers next to her.

I don't know what to do now. Any other night I would shimmy closer to her and then wrap myself around her, pressing her into my body until we're as close as we can get. But she's still tense and clearly doesn't want me that close tonight, so I remain lying on my back and stare at the shadows spanning across the ceiling above me.

“Now you don't even want to touch me anymore?”

I close my eyes at the accusation in her tone, and because I'm a moron, of course I heave a loud sigh. I know it's the wrong thing to do, and I can see her pissed off frown before me as if I were looking at her, but I can't take it back.

“You know that I always want to touch you. In fact, you're the one who doesn't appreciate being touched.”

I have no idea why I say that but my filters are still down and I can't seem to get anything right. At least now she's facing me, but her glare is murderous.

“There's a difference between touching and attacking someone in public!”

“Yeah like you did so much protesting in the first case!” Her eyes narrow and I can see the muscles in her jaw stand out as she gnashes her teeth.

“I probably didn't. So what. Doesn't change the fact that you're still acting like a total jerk! Do you have any idea how worried I was when I came home and you weren't here? And then I called your cell and it was ringing in the bedroom?”

Groaning I drag my arm over my eyes and count to ten slowly to try to get rid of the reply burning on my tongue.

“Look, I'm sorry you were worried, okay? But I had to burn off some energy, and going for a run was about the only thing I could think of doing.”

“You could have left a fucking note!”

Her anger is dwindling slowly, and now she's more petulant than hurt. I sigh again, not the best answer but better than the one that I want to hurl at her.

Silence falls until she sighs herself.

“You missed quite something. Jazz got pretty wasted, and Alice nearly bit his head off when he told her to ease up a little.”

“I doubt I missed anything worth listening to then.” Another sigh, now more exasperated, but she inches a little closer so that we're no longer separated by half of the empty bed between us. I expect her to be still pissed at me, but she rather looks worried.

“Seriously, this can't go on like this. You're just making us all miserable with the way you're acting.”

“So now it's my fault all over again?”

I have no idea why I've said that, but I'm not willing to take it back, either, not to ease the sting of my words. Bella narrows her eyes at me, but she remains calm.

“We're not talking about blame here, but you have to admit that you were hostile nearly the whole evening through, until you pretty much lost it. It's so unlike you to lose control like that, I mean, I still can't believe you said all those things.”

At a loss for words I remain silent, and wait for her to go on. Her eyes skit over my face, looking for something, but she clearly doesn't find it as she goes on after a few moments.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“About what?”

Bella sighs exasperatedly.

“About why you were behaving like a jerk? And why you ran off? I'm kinda used to my life turning into a soap opera at times, but usually you're the one I can depend on not to act like a lunatic. It grates that you did exactly that tonight.”

The sensible thing would be to apologize and tell her it won't happen again, but I'm too cranky to give in so easily.

“Melodramatic much? Yes, I admit, I haven't been the most sensible guy around, but I've been in very good company tonight.” Anger glints in her eyes.

“And just because everyone is jumping off the bridge, you're next?”

“If everyone is jumping, why do you blame me for joining in?” I can see that my line of reasoning doesn't sit well with her.

“I just don't get it, you know? For years you've never let anyone get to you like that, and suddenly you go off on the smallest of jibes. That's just not you.”

“Well maybe it was time I went off a little more then?” This is so going down, but I really don't know how to stop this conversation from escalating. It's incredibly frustrating, and I can see that Bella is struggling with the exact same problem.

“Look, I'll try to do better next time. Or just don't come with you, okay?

Happy now?”

“No, of course I'm not happy!” she sighs, then turns onto her back and rubs her eyes with the balls of her hands.

“Christ, this is so ridiculous! How could it ever come this far?”

“Do you really want an answer for that?”

She stills in mid-motion, then turns her head and looks at me.

“Actually, if you have an answer that's more sufficient than 'Duh!' I'd really like to hear it.”Her tone is weirding me out a little, so serious that she sounds nearly solemn, but I'm too far gone to care whether this is a trap or not.“Okay. But trust me, you won't like it.”“Edward, I'm your girlfriend. Whatever is important enough for you to go all ape-shit crazy is something I need to hear.” As usual it rankles that she designates herself as my girlfriend, but I know the point is moot. And really, I'm already acting so much like a girl that I can't protest over this now unless I want her to kick me out and tell me to grow some.“Good.” One word in, and I have to stop. Fuck, this whole mess is so complicated that it's hard to find a point where I can start explaining.Months and months of bullshit to sort through don't just let themselves be explained in two sentences.“Spit it out. I'm too tired for diplomacy anyway. Just tell me what got to you like that.”I know she doesn't really want me to do that, but I appreciate her attempt. I still try to come up with something better, but after a moment decide to for once heed her words, verbatim.“I just hate how you all are able to just forget what Jazz has done, while you shove all the blame at me.”“No one does that.”I glare at her. “Yeah, right. Ever listened to yourself?” My words clearly hurt her, but I quickly go on before she can respond.“But it's not just you, have you listened to Alice of late? She's behaving as if we were mere acquaintances and not friends of over a decade. Whatever I do is wrong, whatever I say is frowned upon, while you both fall over yourselves to fawn over this jackass who doesn't deserve your forgiveness!I won't say I haven't earned my share of scorn, but seriously, do you even realize how much your behavior hurts me?”It feels oddly good to voice the words, even though I know that in so doing I'm hurting her in turn. The only indication that my guess was right is a slight tightening of her lips, but Bella's eyes remain trained on mine.“And that makes you so hateful?”“Not hateful,” I try to explain. “It's just unfair. It feels as if I took all the blame and ever since I try to redeem myself but no one even gives me a chance, while he doesn't have to worry about the consequences of his actions. And don't tell me that what he did compares in any way to what I did. You know that I will always be sorry for being so weak, but it was one moment of stupidity. I really don't want to sweet-talk what I did, but seriously, it's as tame as cheating goes, while he led me on, he seduced me, he planned this whole freaking thing to break us up and it took him fucking months to even apologize to you, that's in no relation to anything.” I kind of expect her to get angry with me now, but there's only sadness in her eyes when she reaches for me to cup my cheek in her hand. I turn my head a little and place a soft kiss onto her palm before I put my hand on hers, and for a moment just drink in the warmth of her closeness.“Edward, please believe me, I know. I really do. But I can't change things.Please don't make me choose between the two of you.” Her words make my heart stop for a moment, but even before I can open my eyes again she resumes talking.“You know that I will always choose you. Because I love you, and you're my everything. But he's my friend, and except you he's the only other guy I feel that comfortable with. I've said it before but if you need to hear it again, I will never forget what he did. There are times when I get so mad at him that I have to control myself not to hunt him down and slap him until the pain goes away. But I can hold on to this anger, I can't make myself miserable forever just because he acted like the idiot we both know he sometimes is. I haven't forgiven him for his sake, but solely for my own, because I want to be whole, for you, I want to stop regretting things. It's in the past, and it should stay there. And I think you should do the same. I know, it's a lot to ask, but you're only hurting yourself.”“That might make sense to you, but it certainly doesn't make sense to me.” Bella sighs and slowly extracts her hand from mine. I don't want to let go as the gesture seems oddly significant, but if she doesn't want to, I can't hold her.“And that's all?”“What do you mean?”She shrugs.“So you're just resentful because you think we're all treating you unfairly because we don't loath Jazz with a vengeance?”“Thanks for making me seem like a petulant child now on top of everything else.”I know I should have taken that peace offering, but I just can't. She wants the truth, she can have it.“And it's that's not 'all', as you so pointedly phrased it. I hate him, and I can't stand to see you so close to him. Physically and emotionally. Call me jealous, but tonight you picked him over me, like you always do. If he had earned to be the best friend I will always stay in competition with that would be fine, but he has done the complete opposite and still you take his side, bend over backwards not to egg on somewhere, while I have to deal with that.”“Could you please stop being so unreasonable?” I just glare at her, but her temper is rearing its head now, too, because she sits up and frowns at me.“What's next, you going to forbid me to see him just so that you can feel like you're the only man in my life?”Her words hit me hard, but at least they sober me up. I know it's only a matter of time until she gets unreasonable, and I really don't want to fight right now. I'm tired of this, and I'm tired of having to justify speaking my feelings when she asks for them. So I get up and grab my pillow and the folded up comforter and turn to leave.“What do you think you're doing?”“I'm going to sleep downstairs on the couch. See you in the morning.”“No, you're not! Edward, come back, we're having this conversation now and -”The rest of her sentence is cut off when I close the door behind me, maybe a little too forcefully, and drag my sorry ass down into the living room. I'm not yet done sweeping the throw pillows off the sofa so that I can lie down when the door is wrenched open and Bella comes stomping down the stairs, a grumpy vision in a flimsy nighty.“You can't run out on me just because what I'm saying is uncomfortable for you to hear!”She's livid, and her accusation makes my own temper flare.“Last time I looked I could still do whatever I wanted!”“Maybe that's the problem, you can't! Because now it's no longer you, but us! Although right now I have the strong feeling that all this shit is hitting the fan because you're an egotistical asshole!”I can't really tell her to fuck off, although I'm tempted.“Bite me. You're the one dishing out weird accusations, trying to make me seem worse than I am – while you claim to be any different!” She steps up to the couch and towers over me, and I'm so angry that I only notice in passing that the lace of the nighty is rather see through.“Weird accusations? You want weird accusations, here you have one! I strongly believe that the only reason you're acting like a crazy idiot is that you've still got feelings for him! And I don't mean of the friendly, platonic kind!”“Are you fucking insane? Do you even listen to a thing I say? I hate that freaking idiot, and if I never see him again it's still too soon!” My answer shuts her up, and I wonder if her anger isn't somewhat exaggerated so she can weasel some kind of confession out of me. It's not like Bella to do that, but she's had months to come up with her own crazy ideas, and neither of us is exactly rational right now.“But he's been your friend ever since we moved here for college! You can't really hate him that much just because -”I don't let her finish her sentence, although the desperation in her voice actually frightens me a little.“Don't you see? I despise him exactly because he's been my friend for so long!”“But his plan didn't really work, we're still together, and happy, and I think that we've grown so much closer because of all that shit. Doesn't that kind of, you know, take the sting away a little?”I stare up at her while I try to hold on to my rage, but her voice is almost broken now, and the need to hold and comfort her is slowly wearing down my defenses.“No, it doesn't. It was your love that made that possible, and until the very end he was trying to turn you against me. Do you even have the slightest clue how bad that weekend and the first few days afterwards were for me?” Her mouth opens but she doesn't say anything, and after a few moments she shakes her head.“You never told me. You never tell me anything personal.” The accusation hurts, but for once I can't really say anything to prove her wrong.“You actually told me you were happy I stopped moping after that Saturday at Beth's. That you were glad I was done with being so emo. And now you complain that I took your words to heart?”“I didn't mean it like that! Yes, I admit it, having you lurk around and sulk for two weeks was hell! But that doesn't mean that I don't want you to tell me when something is bothering you!”Silence falls, and it's nearly awkward. We both are at a loss for words, and I'd rather roll over and sleep now than continue this. But of course, Bella being Bella, she has other plans.“Then tell me now? Maybe I understand why you don't even try to mend your friendship with Jazz again when I see the whole picture.” Her voice is calm but her eyes are pleading with me, and one thing I can never do, and that is refuse her anything she asks for. I sigh heavily, then pat the couch next to me and she quickly climbs over the back rest and sinks into the plush cushions.Again I don't know where to start, and it doesn't get better as the more I think about it, the more memories and emotions threaten to come up from the dark place I've shut them all away in. Bella nudges my leg as if to tell me to just spit it out, and I decide that's probably the best idea. Again. After all, she knows enough that I don't have to chronologically order things.“You know, I've always trusted him. Blindly. Too blindly, I know now, but until that day I never had any reason to doubt his loyalty. His friendship.And it's not just that we always got along great, but there was a connection between us that's so hard to define, but it was there. I told you I had a crush on him – and before you start on that again, I really mean had, past tense – but I don't really know if that's a good description. There was something there, but it never felt even remotely like what I feel for you, so it was probably more like a ...” I cast around for words. “Yearning, for lack of a better expression. We were so close, we could talk about virtually everything, and I think it was probably just a need to take that to a more physical level.”I can see that my words hurt her, but not the part about me wanting to fuck him, but the fact that I'm still reluctant to talk as freely with her as I used to with Jazz. But with him I never had to second guess or filter my words, because I knew I couldn't hurt him with anything I said.