(Post-Volterra, first day back at school) "Through the jumble of the hundreds of overexcited thoughts that rang cacophonously through his head, a hundred variations of one basic theme was repeated more than any other: Edward had been a bastard to leave her and was now a lucky bastard for being accepted back into Bella's good graces."
1. Chapter 1
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If the first day that Bella and Edward had gotten out of his Volvo and entered the school together as a couple had been sensational, then today was positively scandalous. Every single person -- from students to staff -- was watching them, holding their collective breaths, waiting for some sign that this was something more (or, rather, less) than two lovers reuniting after a long separation.
If seeing Bella's deterioration in Charlie's mind had been painful, then seeing the flashes of memory in every single person's mind was utter torture. Their thoughts ran from gently sympathetic to voyeuristically excited as they contrasted their recollection of Bella's face during the last seven months (pale, wan and pained) to her clearly contented face today.
Though most people were glad to see Bella finally looking happy again, the petty taint of small town scandal was present in nearly every mind. Through the jumble of the hundreds of overexcited thoughts that rang cacophonously through his head, a hundred variations of one basic theme was repeated more than any other: Edward had been a bastard to leave her and was now a lucky bastard for being accepted back into Bella's good graces.
By lunchtime, Edward was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to throw Bella onto his back and run away somewhere free from any sounds other than those of Bella's heartbeat and breathing. As he set their tray on the usual table, he noticed Ben cast a furtive look at Angela as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Ben rested his hand on Angela's knee and she gave a small nod before continuing to eat her lunch. The scene was so reminiscent of Alice helping Jasper refocus on something other than bloodlust that Edward couldn't help but concentrate on what Ben was thinking.
Normal morning... telling Angela about the next great ninja movie and the cool new special effects... he could tell she was impressed... but then her attention had suddenly shifted from him to something outside of the car. Something that was making her look really, really angry. Then, quiet, reserved Angela had exploded.
"Son of a bitch," she had yelled, making him recoil in shock. He'd never seen her so angry or heard her use those kinds of words. And it hadn't stopped at that. Angela had gone on to describe Edward in detail... "arrogant... cold hearted... unfaithful... used her and left her when he got bored... nearly killed her... didn't he know what he had done... what the hell was Bella doing even talking to him... next time it will probably actually kill her... why is she with him... how can she forgive him so quickly?"
It had taken Ben a good five minutes to get Angela to stop shaking and yelling and crying. At first, he had been unable to reconcile this angry, vehemently hateful Angela with the girl he'd been dating, but as they walked into class and he continued to rub her back softly to keep her calm, he realized that this certainly was the same Angela. She was a fiercely loyal friend to Bella, and couldn't bear to think about her getting hurt again. She seemed certain that it would happen again, sooner or later. She had accepted the Cullens for Bella's sake, and in her opinion, the Cullens were no longer worthy of Bella's regard.
Edward couldn't help but feel that Angela was completely and utterly correct, and he felt ashamed as he realized that all morning he had pushed away the humans' pictures of Bella's last few months and not let himself be too affected because no one's thoughts were purely concerned about Bella – they were enjoying thinking about it.
He'd been able to talk himself into thinking that it couldn't have been quite that bad for her, that they were exaggerating because it was pleasurable to imagine her so upset. He understood that out of everyone in the school, the only person that had made him truly feel the weight of what he done to Bella was Angela, and her reaction to seeing him back with Bella left him with no way to mentally minimize the way she had suffered. Angela had been the one consistent person to support and defend Bella against the masses of students and their unwanted and completely insincere sympathy and she was still very, very angry at Edward.
Bella hadn't seemed to notice anything was amiss and so he played along with whatever she appeared to perceive and kept pushing food her way while gently playing with her hair or fingers. He played the part of the dutiful and properly repentant boyfriend and hoped that it would eventually satisfy the masses and take the spotlight off of Bella. He knew, though, that Angela would be the one person at school not to be placated by simple gestures.
As they filed out of the cafeteria as a group, Bella left him for a "human moment" and Ben crossed the hall to make some sort of comic book or ninja related plans with a friend leaving Edward and Angela standing awkwardly near each other. He hesitated nervously before clearing his throat to get her attention.
An unmistakable flash of rage passed across her face but was quickly smothered and replaced with her normal calm.
"A-Angela," he stuttered, shocked at his own inarticulateness, actually beginning to be a bit afraid of this frail human girl in front of him.
She blinked slowly, reminding herself in her head to stay calm, though he could hear her heart speed up and her teeth grind and a quiet chorus of son of a bitch in her head.
"Thank you for being there for Bella. For taking care of her when I didn't," he said, trying to put as much sincerity as possible into the inflection of his voice.
Angela stared steadily back at him, but failed to take on that slightly glazed and hypnotized look most people got when they looked him in the eye. The longer he stared back, the more he felt like he was being called to task by Esme for having done something incredibly stupid and irresponsible.
Then, he realized, this was exactly what was happening. He was trying not to listen to Angela's thoughts, preferring to wait to see what she would actually say, but a slight current of I'm waiting... you can't possibly think that's going to be enough, Cullen... still came across clearly.
Edward couldn't help but drop his gaze from hers and he realized, ruefully, that if he were still human, he'd be blushing and shuffling his feet at this point. The silence stretched on, growing more uncomfortable by the second, until Angela finally broke it with an exasperated sigh. "Edward, I don't really know what to say to you," she said with simple honesty.
Edward waited to see if Angela would be following this up with anything else. Desperate at this point to redeem himself a little and get as far away as possible from her brutal frankness, Edward looked her in the eye again. "Angela, I promise you that I will never knowingly hurt her again. She is my life. Without Bella I'm... I can't.,," and at that, his voice actually cracked like the seventeen-year-old boy he appeared to be.
Angela's eyes narrowed slightly as if she was assessing the sincerity of his words. "Never hurt her again," she said in a tone of voice that he was sure would keep both her future husband and children in line. He nodded in reply before looking down at the ground again.
After a moment, he heard her walk away to join Ben.
Edward leant against the wall and closed his eyes to steady himself before Bella came out of the bathroom. Every minute she was away from him, when he couldn't touch her skin or breathe in her scent, brought back a little of the darkness he'd plunged into during their separation. There was still so much darkness, too. Victoria was prowling, the Volturi were waiting, the pack was watching... the odds were against them.
He took another deep, steadying breath and then, finally, Bella was in front of him shyly tucking a bit of hair behind her ear.
He pulled her towards him, breathing in the smell of her skin and silently promised himself and her, just as he'd promised Angela, "never again."