17 no!

Finger pointing eyebrows low

Mouth in the shape of the letter o

Pardon me—no—excuse me—no—

May I stay can I go—no no no

Excerpt from “No!” by TMBG

BPOV

Ohhhh, Kitten-Fucker.

I closed my eyes, wanting to imagine myself anywhere but in this store, hell, even Higgin’s Moon would be better, but the Alice-shit was about to hit the fan. So, of course I had to focus on that.

“When exactly did you and Edward share this special moment?” Alice asked, squinting at Edward, while Rosalie deftly ran her credit card.

After dinner,” I answered defensively. “…somewhere else!”

Edward gripped my hand tightly, and was watching me as though he expected me to be swept away by the rising shit-storm any second.

“Really,” Alice said. She turned to look at Rosalie with her kick-ass lawyer-face.

Rose was pushing the credit card receipt across the counter for her to sign.

“I’m sorry, but do we know each other from somewhere? You look awfully familiar,”Alice said.

“I don’t think so,” Rosalie replied, cocking her head to the side and staring at Alice impassively.

“Where did you go to college?” she asked not taking her eyes away.

“NYU,” Rose said, not breaking the gaze, either.

“Hm. High school?”

“Oh, I’m from the South. You’ve never heard of it, I’m sure,” Rose said smiling sweetly, staring a hole through Alice’s head.

Abort! Abort!

I tried to give Rose the universal sign for “murder ahead” by subtly sliding my index finger across my neck.

It was useless; she was caught in Alice’s lawyer-gaze.

“Neat!” Alice said, feigning giddy interest, “What state?”

Rose said, “Maryland.”

Whew!

I didn’t care if it was a lie or what, but I was just relieved that she didn’t say “Texas.”

“Oh,” Alice said, disappointed, finally focusing on signing the receipt after rolling her eyes. “Well, maybe it will come to me.”

“Yeah, this is a small town. I’m sure we’ve seen each other around,” Rose joked lamely.

“Right,” Alice said finally handing the signed receipt back to Rose.

We moved away from the counter, toward the door, and Alice turned back to face me and Edward.

“So, Edward,” Alice said, using that stare on Edward. “What is it that you do for a living?”

Of course he was totally insusceptible to Alice’s brand of manipulation, so he gazed at her briefly and nonchalantly before returning his gaze to me.

“I develop computer systems for the legal industry,” he answered, studying my hair.

I think.

I couldn’t make eye contact. I was too busy desperately reading Alice’s expression.

“What do you mean?” she asked, arms crossed over her chest. Was she trying to determine his net worth, or what?

He glanced at her briefly again before returning his attention back to me.

“I help integrate various functions within a business to increase productivity between departments. Generally, the system pays for itself in the consolidation of jobs.”

“Interesting. Who do you work for?” Alice asked narrowing her eyes.

“Green Hills Integrated Systems,” Edward said.

“Are they listed?” She asked raising her eyebrow.

Edward needed no explanation for that, apparently, “Their parent company has made Forbes Five Hundred five years running,” Edward said.

“Bottom?” she asked.

“Top Ten,” he said.

Satisfied that Edward worked for a viable company, and wouldn’t be a burden on my trust fund, she moved on to the next item on her Edward Interrogation List.

“So what else do you do when you aren’t stalking my sister?” she asked.

“OK! That’s enough!” I said, not wanting to expose Edward to any more of her venom.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” she said, sounding bored. “Listen, I’m going to head home. You are welcome to come with me, Bella, but I won’t be offended if you want to hang out here with Edward. Honest.”

She smiled, but her eyes had the lazy lids of boredom, so I figured she really wouldn’t mind the absence of my company.

“I’m staying with Edward,” I said.

“I will make sure she takes a taxi home,” Edward said.

“Fine,” Alice said and turned on her heel with her shoes and left.

“So,” Edward said, turning back to me “How about that walk?”

~~§•§~~

Edward was viciously opposed allowing street food vendors in his neighborhood, but he was overruled by progress. So, we had kept away from the busy thoroughfares on our walk. That suited me just fine. I told him I wasn’t a fan of street food either, but that had more to do with not wanting to give my order in front of any stranger who might be passing by.

Edward and I rambled around his and Alice’s neighborhood for several hours. He showed me where Dr. Cullen’s office was, the library he occasionally visited and the building where he and Esme used to live.

He told me about how he and Emmett met and became friends and brothers; how Esme had rescued them from the boys home when they were teenagers. He told me about his mother; that she was an artist and a writer, but that she had rarely left the house. I finally understood where his OCD originated.

I showed him Alice’s building and the little coffee shop we used to go to after she moved in, which we still visit on Sundays at least once a month. I told him that when our parents were alive, she would come down to TriBeCa and we would pop over to Chinatown for dim sum on Sundays.

Then, Edward asked me about my parents.

Well, sort of. What he said was, “Forgive me, Bella, but could you tell me how your parents died? Did they get sick?”

“No…um, car crash…They, um, were driving to Belleayre. There had been an ice storm.”

I didn’t add that they were only on that icy road because Mother had insisted they go.

“Dad took a turn too fast and…”

I made a sliding motion with my hand, although, from what I remembered of the wreckage, it was more likely end-over-end.

“No seatbelts on,” I added.

Edward listened to my speech standing in front of me, holding my hands watching my face carefully. His brow was furrowed.

“Do you miss them?” he asked.

“I miss my dad sometimes,” I said. “But Mother…I was,” I blew out some air and re-filled my lungs. “I don’t know exactly how to say this…”

I looked up at Edward’s face. He was so curious for information, to want to understand. He wasn’t asking me because he was making conversation or just curious for every salacious detail. No, he just wanted to understand me. He knew that losing a parent (or two) was a life-changing experience, and he wanted to know how I coped.

Well, I couldn’t say for certain, but it seemed like the kind of thing he’d want to know.

Hell, he’d probably let me know exactly what he wanted to know.

He still hadn’t spoken, so I started walking again to give me some time before I finished my thought aloud.

Finally, a few silent blocks later, I said, “I’m glad she’s dead, Edward…I didn’t even pretend to cry for her,” I snorted. “But then Alice cried enough for the both of us.”

I didn’t remember much from that week. I hid in my old room until the funeral, then hid behind Alice and Angela for a few hours, then hid in my apartment, while Alice held court at our parents’ place. After it was all over, she had me move back in. She said it was the least I could do, since I was useless during the funeral.

I looked at Edward. His brow was still furrowed with concern.

He sighed, and finally decided to speak. “I don’t think I understand why you didn’t grieve for her,” Edward said. “I know that you are a thoughtful and caring person, so it is only logical that your mother must have done something for you to deny her that.”

“Hm. Maybe?…I guess. I mean, I know she didn’t love me in the way I needed…You know, by supporting me and my choices.” I sighed, “She only supported the ones that she made for me.

“Listen, I don’t want to talk about my mother, Edward. She was a manipulative bitch…I know it’s a terrible thing for a child to say, but the only thing I felt when she was gone was relief.”

My mouth was dry with all the heaving and talking. It was always exhausting.

“Did she support Alice’s choices?” Edward asked, seeming to ignore my speech about how much I hated my mother.

“Yes…But Alice did everything she was told to do. She was the perfect child.”

“So, Alice never made any of her own choices, then? Or…”

“No.”

Mother groomed her to become an attorney and take over her practice. And that’s exactly what Alice did. I suppose the only thing Alice ever dared to do without Mother’s approval was to refuse to marry. I’m still surprised she married Jasper.

“But you did,” Edward said.

“What?” I asked, having gotten lost in my thoughts.

“You made you’re own choices,” he observed.

“Yeah, well..it didn’t matter,” I said with an eye roll.

“I don’t understand,” Edward said.

I had a thousand stories that I could tell him about how my choices were moot; when Mother would walk all over me: how she changed my class schedule in college, how she read my journal in middle school, how she rolled her eyes and spoke over me when I didn’t respond fast enough, or in the way she expected me to respond.

But what I told him was, “When we were kids, we had to go to camp every summer.”

I looked up at him to see his reaction. He was impassive.

“Did you ever go to camp?” I asked.

“No, it’s not sanitary,” he replied.

“Hm. Well, Mother called it her ‘vacation’ from child-rearing.” I used air quotes so he would know I was speaking metaphorically. He nodded and I continued. “I, um,…I hated it. The socializing, games—ugh…boys chasing me with frogs—and waking up with toothpaste in my hair. It was a torturous experience for me.”

Edward nodded with understanding. Of course he would understand that.

“Anyway, when I was ten,” I coughed, feeling an odd lump of something dry and painful in my throat, “I begged not to go…I promised they wouldn’t even know I was there, if I could just stay home.”

Edward’s brow furrowed. He squeezed my hand.

“Mother said OK. Alice still wanted to go…um…then…see…OK, my dad had to travel out of state for a deposition, so Mother said I had to ride with her to take Alice to camp.

“We arrive, and she pulls out Alice’s suitcase…” I knew my face was red. Edward stopped and stood in front of me again. He touched my cheeks with his fingertips, as if he could melt the blush away.

Somehow he did. I felt better, just with him touching me, knowing that he was with me, trying to understand.

“Then,” I coughed again, “then she pulled out mine.”

Edward looked at me incredulously. If I had been telling anyone else this story, they would have already known where we were headed, but Edward lived in a world of honesty. Lies would always hit him this way.

I immediately felt compelled to protect him from that shit, but that was impossible, now. He needed to understand more than he needed to be protected.

He spoke: “But you just said she told you that you could stay at home!”

“Well, apparently she had already paid for camp, and they wouldn’t give her a refund, so I had to stay…at least that’s what she told me,” I said.

“That is inconsistent with what she said earlier! Why didn’t she tell you before?”

Edward was getting quite upset. He had let go of my hand and had taken a fist full of hair, pulling at it as if he were playing tug-of-war with his own head.

I was suddenly worried that I’d chosen the wrong story to demonstrate why I hated my mother. On the other hand, I wanted to give him an opportunity to understand her logic, so I pushed ahead.

“Alice told me later that Mother said I was being whiny, and she just wanted some peace and quiet before camp started. That’s why she lied.”

Edward’s face fell at that. He could understand on some level, just as I had, that though she was evil, she was always practical. It was always difficult to argue with her logic. That’s why I never tried.

“I understand why you didn’t love her,” Edward said finally.

“You do?”

“Yes. I think so. We love people with whom we share a bond of understanding and friendship, people who we trust and care for. It is best when it is reciprocated, when we know the other person feels the same way.”

I wondered if Edward was quoting a textbook, or one of the usual suspects. I smiled at him. Knowing Edward, he was probably paraphrasing Dr. Cullen again.

“You didn’t have that with your mother. She was selfish and dishonest. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I can’t imagine anyone loving someone who behaves that way,” he said.

“I don’t know if you are right, or not, Edward, but that makes sense to me,” I said with a laugh.

“Bella?” he said. “I want you to know that I would never abuse your trust in that way.”

“I know Edward,” I said.

“I would also never ask to drive to the mountains after an ice storm, and I would always wear my seat belt and require that you do the same.”

I grinned at him. “Edward?” I asked.

“Yes, Bella?”

“I can promise you that I will never ask you to drive me to the mountains.”

“Good,” he said and blowing out a large gulp of air. “I glimpsed mountain mortality rates once; they are comparable to other those for dangerous activities like boxing and hang-gliding. So, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable in the mountains.”

He took my hand and we continued our walk.

Edward suggested we go to the library. It was only five blocks from our current location, and would lead us back to his apartment. He looked wistful when he said he wanted to head toward his home.

Then, Edward’s phone buzzed in his pocket.

“Excuse me, Bella. Is it OK if I check this message?” He asked politely.

I nodded.

He read the message and pulled at his hair. “Hm. Do you have a friend named Angela?”

“Yes,” I said.

He showed me the text:

From Unknown to Edward A Masen: Hi, this is Bella’s BFF Angela. Got # from Alice, from ur ltr. Tonite is last night Eclipse. Please come! Both of U! 7-11 Eclipse on Wooster. HTSYT! Ang

Angela was reminding me that tonight was the last night Ben’s work would be showing. I had promised I would go before it closed.

I had meant to go in the middle of the week.

Now, it was likely that there would be a crowd.

I turned to Edward: “My friend Angela invited us…I need to go to see her husband Ben’s show. He’s a photographer. It’s in SoHo. Would you like to go with me?”

“I don’t think it would be practical to walk that far, Bella,” Edward said.

“Um, well, we’d have to take the subway,” I said. “Or we could take a taxi.”

“I don’t ride the subway and a taxi is even worse,” he said with a shudder. “How about you come home with me, instead?”

He’d pulled me close and kissed me. I got lost in the urgency of his lips and hands. When I was with Edward, it was somehow easy to forget there were other people around, staring, judging.

However, rationality came back with a vengeance, requiring my full attention.

I pulled away, but his lips followed me. I put my hands on his chest, and he got the message.

“Edward, I can’t. I mean, I’d kind of rather go with you, but I promised Angela, and…I missed her wedding because I avoid shit like this all the time. I want to be a better friend, and I would really like for you to go with me.”

Edward looked conflicted.

“You can wear your gloves, and you don’t have to touch anything,” I said. Hell, knowing some of the people Ben hung out with, they’d probably think it was some kind of kinky fashion statement or performance art.

I noticed sweat trickling down from his hairline.

“Are you Okay, Edward?”

“Yes. I’m just worried that I won’t be able to handle it.”

“I think you can do it, Edward,” I said, thinking all he probably needed was a little encouragement. He’d improved so much already. “I’ll change at Alice’s and meet you back at your place. You just grab that hot as fuck tweed blazer and a fresh pair of gloves and you’ll be good-to-go.”

“I don’t own a—”

“—yes you do. It’s that one you were wearing the night I met you,” I said.

His eyes brows shot up. “Hot as fuck? Does that mean that it makes you think of fucking me?”

I laughed and started walking away from him to hide my blush. He caught to me, and I answered his question.

“Yes. You wear that and I guarantee; you won’t have a chance to think about the subway.”

He seemed to warm up to the idea, “Will you allow me to rub my penis against your thigh? Let me clarify, I will still be clothed. I wouldn’t risk getting put in jail for indecent exposure.”

“Hm. I’ll tell you what, I’ll even allow you to run your latex-covered hands up my skirt to find out what kind of underwear I have on today,” I said eying him sideways.

Edward didn’t speak, but stopped mid-stride and turned me to face him. He cupped my chin and kissed me roughly, his tongue crashing against my own. We stood there for several moments, arms around each other, just making out in the street…again.

It was all I could do to keep my pants on. At this rate, I’d be better off dropping my wet panties in the trash can and going commando…Oooh, that’s a great idea, I thought.

We were interrupted by our designated cock-block, Edward’s phone; no doubt it was another text from Angela demanding an answer.

Between persistent kisses, he said we should ignore it and go back to his place together.

I told him I was very tempted, but this was important to me.

Finally, I pulled away, and he pulled out his phone.

Edward saved Angela as a new contact and sent her a text back:

From Edward A Masen to Angela Cheney: Bella and I would be happy to attend. Thank you for the invitation.

We reluctantly, and with several more kisses and entreaties from Edward that we go back to his place, parted ways at the subway entrance where I first spied him. I promised him I would see him soon.

But I didn’t see him again that night.

~~§•§~~

Getting a skirt and top from Alice to wear was easy. There was very little of Alice’s that I would even consider putting on my body in the first place, so once she realized that some designer is better than no designer, I was dressed and on my way.

Edward said he would eat with Rosalie and I was welcome to join him, but I figured it would be more efficient to eat at Alice’s while she was going through her wardrobe, finding for something for me to wear.

Plus, it was a good excuse to avoid her.

She had been staring insistent questions at me since I stepped in the door. I knew she wanted to ask about my “date” with Edward last night, and was probably well on her way to working out how all this was connected. But part of our truce from earlier today was that she would butt-out of my personal life unless invited, and she seemed to be honestly trying to keep her word.

Plus, I’d already revoked the POA. It’s not like she could do much other than ask questions and piss me off.

Jasper was back at the office this evening. My guess was that he wanted to avoid Alice’s questions as much as I did.

I was a little worried about him, though, because he had more to lose than me. And he’d risked it all when he stayed at that dinner.

I made a mental not as I walked the last block, that I would do something to thank him for all he’d done.

Smiling, I stepped up to Edward’s building and pressed the call button.

Bella?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s me,” I said.

I’m sorry, but I can’t go with you tonight.”

What. The. Fuck? “Um, can I come up?” I asked, my voice a bit shrill, but trying desprately to hide the hurt and embarrassment from having to have this conversation on the sidewalk.

“Okay,” he buzzed me in.

I was so upset that I forgot to be careful as I ran up the stairs, tripping repeatedly in Alice’s massive shoes. She’d insisted they didn’t look too big for my feet, while cinching up the straps so they would stay on, but there was still a good half-inch of shoe in front of my toe, and it seemed like I caught the edge of every fucking stair to the third floor.

When I arrived at his door, both knees were cut and bleeding, my left elbow was scrapped and I was sure I had bruises all over my right arm from hooking it around the railing as I tried—often unsuccessfully—to save my knees each time I fell.

I knocked on Edward’s door.

There was a moment of silence and then I heard something make contact with the door.

It didn’t open, but a tentative voice came through: “Bella?”

“Yeah,” I said impatiently.

“I can’t let you in,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I have some tasks I absolutely must finish right away.”

He sounded frantic.

“What?” I asked, voice echoing in the empty hallway. I looked around to see if there was anyone else within earshot. I noticed the garbage chute, and wondered if I would fit in it. I didn’t think I could get any more banged up than I already was, so it might be worth a shot.

“I am very sorry, Bella,” he said from the other side of the door. I heard a banging noise and then Edward swore.

“Is this about the subway, Edward?” I asked.

“Yes, but it’s not your fault,” he shouted from farther away.

I banged my head against the door. “Please let me in so we can talk about it, Edward,” I tried again.

There was no more noise.

An old lady came out of her apartment with a small, rat-like dog.

She smiled at me and headed to the stairs. I refused to make eye contact and instead hid in my hair.

Then, inspiration struck.

“Edward, I’m going to get Rosalie. I’ll be right back.”

I crossed the hall and knocked.

Oh, newborn kittens, what the fuck was I supposed to say to her?

Rose! Remember me? I masturbated with your brother-in-law last night and this morning, then made out with him in your store. Now, he won’t even talk to me, and I’d like your help to get him on the subway so we can dry hump in public.

“Bella!” she said, answering the door. She immediately noticed my knees. “Oh, my god! What happened to you?”

“Uh,” I said. I picked up a foot and held it out for her perusal.

“Fuck, those are some tragic shoes,” she said. “Come in.”

She closed the door behind us and said, “Where’s Edward?”

I thumbed back to the door.

She turned and looked.

“He won’t let you in? Because of the blood on your legs?”

“No…I don’t think he could see it,” I said.

“Then what’s his problem?” she asked. “Hang on, let me get some shit to take care of you. Have a seat.”

She gestured to a bench near the door.

I sat down and wondered why Edward wouldn’t even see me. Was he thinking of breaking up with me?

Wait, was that what we were doing?

I wasn’t sure. We hadn’t had a single interaction that I would normally define as a “date.”

Our walk this afternoon felt more like open-plan therapy than any kind of date I’d ever been on, and the dinner…well, that was more like trial by fire.

Actually, that was exactly like a date…I even had to dress and do the walk of shame after.

I laughed inwardly at the irony when realized it was the best “Date B” I’d ever had.

Rosalie came back with a first aid kit. She didn’t say anything or ask any questions as she started cleaning my knees.

“I asked Edward to ride the subway with me to SoHo,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “That would do it.”

“Do what?”

“Cause him to hole up in his apartment. When he gets like that we just have to hope he has enough food in his kitchen to survive for a couple weeks. Of course, it hasn’t happened in a while.”

I felt the unspoken Congratulations for fucking up his equanimity!

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Not your fault,” Rosalie said.

“That’s what he said.”

“Well, that’s because we’ve been telling him that for years,” she said looking me square in the eye in that unsettling way that Jasper has.

Impossible to break, it was terrifying and calming at the same time.

“He knows it’s his problem, not ours. You asked him, and he could have just said, ‘No thanks.’

“Let me guess, he tried to talk you out of it, and you went back and forth, and then he said, ‘Okay!'”

“Yeah.”

“Sometimes he pushes himself, which is good. But sometimes he pushes himself too far…and then we’re standing outside his door threatening to call the cops or the landlord, depending on whether or not he has his gun,” she said.

“Why does he have a gun?” I asked…with raging fear.

“Don’t worry. It’s never loaded,” she said. “He just freaks out and…okay, see, he saw someone with a gun on TV once. I don’t remember when it was. Emmett said he asked if people really ran away from people with guns and Emmett said, ‘hell yeah!’ and next thing we knew, Eddy was packing heat.”

“Does he have it now?” I asked.

“No, Emmett got it from him. I’m pretty sure he won’t be getting it back,” she snorted. “This is a big deal. Well, it is if he won’t let Emmett in when he gets home.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You know, you and Ed are a lot alike,” she laughed. “Curious to a fault. You need to talk to Edward about that, or Emmett, but not me.

“Hey, you want my advice?” she asked.

“Okay,” I said.

“Go home. I’ll give you some house shoes of mine. They have excellent tread and won’t flop around and cause you to trip. When you get there, give him a call. If he answers, talk to him. Tell him exactly why his behavior was unacceptable. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to stand in the hall and have a conversation with him through his door. It’s fucking embarrassing.”

I reached out and hugged Rosalie.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I was a little choked up, which was odd for me, but Rosalie just gave me advice that empowered me instead of making me feel stupid and useless. I wish I had known her when I was younger. Why couldn’t Alice be like this?

“It’s not you,” Rosalie said, a little choked up herself. “You are lovely. He is a sick man, Bella. He’s getting better, but he’s got some weird shit in his head sometimes.”

“Okay,” I managed to choke out.

“Here,” she said, handing me a tissue. “Hey, would you like for me to call you a cab?”

“Yes, that would be great.”

She left and was back in a flash, “Edward’s on the phone, he buzzed in while I was dialing. Here, take this and I’ll call the taxi on my cell.”

“Edward!”

Bella?

I waited.

I’m sorry I couldn’t go tonight.

“Why didn’t you tell me before we split up?” I said, embarrassed, even though I’d already admitted everything to Rose.

Well, when I’m with you, I feel like I can do anything,” he said. “But when you left me, I started thinking. You remember me saying that I needed to see Dr. Cullen again?

“Yeah.”

Well, I just called him. I’m going to see him on Wednesday. I think I’m going to stay home until then. I don’t feel comfortable leaving my apartment. I mean, I know it’s probably OK, but…I just don’t feel comfortable leaving right now.”

“Edward, I’m really sorry to hear that. Especially after you told Angela that we would be there. Now she’s going to worry.”

Oh no!” Edward said, “I’m so sorry, Bella, I forgot about that. I’ll text her right away. I’ll explain everything—”

“—um, I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I mean, text her, sure, but don’t, uh, don’t tell her everything, Edward.”

What should I type?” He asked.

“Just put that we’re sorry, but we had a change of plans…and don’t respond to whatever she texts back,” thinking that she would probably assume that our absence was sex-related and give him a hard time. I wasn’t sure how Edward would respond to that, or if he would even be able to decode her text-speak.

Okay, hang on.” He sent the text and came back on with, “Please forgive me, Bella.”

I took a breath. “I do, but I’m not finished, Edward.

“I was very embarrassed to have to stand in the street and then outside your door to talk to you. Do you understand?”

No. Why would you be embarrassed?” he asked.

I sighed and wondered not for the first time if he really didn’t get this stuff, “Because, Edward, I thought people might stare at me, and it looks like…like there’s something wrong with me and that’s why you won’t let me in!”

But it’s because I can’t handle seeing you right now. It has nothing to do with you personally!”

“It doesn’t?” I asked.

No. I don’t want you to see me like this, and I don’t know what I’ll do. Sometimes I think it will be OK, and sometimes…I just…please don’t ask me to let you in tonight.”

“Okay, I won’t,” I said. I thought about Rose’s advice and added, “Listen, you know…after all I told you about my mother…and then you told me you’d go, and then you bail…it…I’m not saying it’s the same, ’cause I know it’s not, but…um, it kind of felt like that. Like…you knew you weren’t going to go, and you just didn’t want to tell me.”

“Edward?”

That statement makes me angry, Bella,” he said. “I believe you have misunderstood me. I honestly thought I could go with you, but…the subway…it’s just…” he made a retching noise, “the more I think about it, the sicker I get. Actually, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to ride the subway, Bella.”

“Are you serious?”

Of course. I rarely joke. It’s difficult, and people don’t normally find me funny.”

I wanted to laugh at that, but I was too floored by his admission that he thought he’d never get better.

I remembered what Rosalie said about him being sick. She looked weary when she said it.

Could that be me one day? Would it be worse if I were with him, like a girlfriend?

I gulped.

“I don’t know if I can do this, Edward.”

Do what?

“Us,” I said.

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