Part Three: The Retreat
When Saturday came and went and Steve never showed up for lunch, Bella knew she’d well and truly scared him off.
She supposed it had only been a matter of time before someone like him realized what a waste of his time she was… So stupid of her, she berated herself, asking him out like that. Why in the world would someone like him be interested in a mousy little nobody like her? She should’ve known better, but had thought just maybe…
Everyone at The Diner assumed Steve was sweet on her. She’d always denied that there was anything more than friendship between them, though had never outright said she was opposed to something more, either. After all, who wouldn’t want something more with the man? He was so damned perfect it made her eyes water to look at him sometimes – like when looking at the brilliance of the sun for too long. Each time she came out of the kitchen and saw him sitting there, his always polite smile widening into a grin when he spotted her (one a tad too big and actually made him look a bit goofy), her heart skipped a beat.
But he must’ve just been being polite. If Steve was anything, it was unfailingly polite.
It was one of the many things she liked about him.
A traitorous tear escaped her burning eyes, and Bella’s hand darted up to slap it away in annoyance before she then reached out and snatched up the TV remote to turn something on. It was Monday now and she knew she was wallowing, had been all weekend, but with the prospect of returning to work tomorrow and knowing Steve wouldn’t be there – probably wouldn’t be there ever again – made her chest ache.
She’d ruined everything. She shouldn’t have asked him out – should’ve just been satisfied with his friendship instead of wanting for more. Now she’d scared him away and she didn’t even have her friend anymore.
Perhaps she was being a bit dramatic, but she couldn’t help it. Her feelings for Steve had snuck up on her with all the subtlety of a frying pan to the face and she just wasn’t good at handling emotions. Not since Edward.
It was part of the reason she’d fled from Forks. That, and Victoria, naturally.
When the Cullens had left her, Bella had been beyond devastated. Edward had been her first love and had burned her hollow inside and out. She couldn’t eat, sleep, or think without him around. For months, she felt like a puppet unable to support herself without his presence to guide her and it took her longer than she was proud to admit before the unhealthiness of that analogy really resonated within her.
Bit by bit, though, she’d pulled the frayed strands of her life back and braided them together. Not for Charlie, as Edward had bid her to do – but for herself. Because she deserved better than how she was treating herself. Deserved better than how he’d treated her.
It took some time, but eventually a peculiar gratefulness that they’d abandoned her began to grow. Sure, they could’ve been better about how they’d gone about it, but with their absence, Bella was able to see much more clearly. She had loved Edward dearly, but he hadn’t been good for her.
Maybe she hadn’t been good for him, either.
It wasn’t long after that realization began creeping up that she’d stumbled over a loose floorboard in her room, discovering all her missing things beneath. The keepsakes – the photos, the CD, that stupid diamond he’d foisted upon her that she’d never wanted… As she sifted through them, she’d had an epiphany of sorts. As she held the items in shaking hands, she knew with a surety that bordered on clairvoyance, that he’d left them there because he had lied. He did love her. He loved her and had left anyway. He’d said all those horrible things to make it easier for him, instead of respecting her enough to tell her the truth: that he was scared. He’d gotten scared and had decided to run away, just like he had after their first meeting; just like they had with James and his coven. Just like he’d probably always do when faced with an obstacle that required any amount of effort to overcome.
What little affection that lingered for him had turned to dust. He had loved her – maybe even still did – but he hadn’t loved her enough and he certainly didn’t respect her at all. And Bella knew now what she should’ve known all along. She couldn’t be with a man who didn’t respect her.
It was a lesson hard learned, but one she would never forget. She wanted someone who could stand tall at her side; someone who would meet the obstacles life threw at them head on and never back down. Never back down because it was the right thing to do, even if it wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
She began to flourish again after those realizations. She visited Jake down on the Res, but only occasionally as he grew distant after getting sucked into a new circle of friends. She hardly took it personally since life was like that sometimes, pulling everyone in different directions, and they hadn’t ever been that close to begin with.
Instead, Bella spent her time with Angela, who helped her get caught up on her studies. Eventually they’d graduated and everyone started moving away, going off to college or jumping straight into full-time jobs. Bella had hovered over her future, entirely uncertain of what she wanted to do now that she was free to pick her own path.
The world had been full of possibilities and she was excited for them… Until Victoria arrived.
It was the only thing she still harbored any anger or resentment at Edward for… She’d forgiven him his cowardice – for leaving her the way he had and for lying. She’d even forgiven his family for abandoning her – someone they’d called friend, sister, and a daughter, respectively – without so much as a wave goodbye.
But not following up on Victoria? That was unforgivable. Not because it placed her life in danger, but because it endangered everyone else around her. After all, what could one little human do to stop a vampire hellbent on destroying her life in some sort of elaborate misplaced revenge plot?
Run. It was all she could do and Victoria was happy to let her do it.
“I do so love a good chase,” she’d taunted, her claw-like fingers stroking down Bella’s neck. “I’ll even give you a headstart… One Mississippi… Two Mississippi…”
Bella had gotten the hell out of Forks faster than a cat on a hot tin roof and had been running ever since.
Maybe it was for the best, then, that Steve had shot her down. What had she been thinking anyway, inviting him out like that? It was only a matter of time before Victoria got bored with her little game and the last thing Bella wanted was some innocent bystander paying the price for her past mistakes.
She’d have to be more careful, she resolved. Maybe it was even time to move again. She thought New York was a good place to settle down – it was so populated and people rarely paid attention to anyone outside their own social bubble – but she’d stayed there far longer than she should have.
Damn, she was tired of running, though, and meeting Steve had made her want to finally stop and stand still. He made her feel like time could stand still and for a moment, she’d seen him as her finish line. For a moment, she’d felt like she’d been running towards something, and not from. Shame it wasn’t meant to be, but it was for the best. His best, at least.
Even so, he seemed a bit lonely to her at times, a bit sad even, and she’d felt a connection to him that had resonated within her far more than anything else ever had before him. But it looked like he was was going to be nothing more than a shoulda, coulda, woulda on an already mile long list of things that just wasn’t meant to be for her.
In the background, the TV droned on – something about Iron Man and a confrontation in Germany, before turning to talks of Captain America who apparently was still a thing somehow. When had she missed that? Bella only half listened, lost in her own thoughts, but when she caught a snippet of how he’d been frozen for decades and only recently reappeared, she couldn’t help but give the screen a curious glance.
The shot they had of him was terrible, clearly taken in the middle of a fight as the only thing you could really make out was a blurry but impressive build garbed in red, white, and blue. Her heart gave a pang of sympathy for the man. It couldn’t have been easy falling asleep in one decade and waking up in another entirely – losing everything in what essentially amounted to a blink of an eye. They had a small clip of the fight in Germany and she had to admit he was rather impressive. He moved with the confidence and strength of any vampire she’d ever met.
He certainly looked like he could live up to the few old war stories her Pop Pop had told her. Pop Pop had always been tight lipped about his military history, but he had admitted to seeing America’s first superhero in action with his own eyes a time or two. Just as soon as he’d admit that, though, he’d change the subject and Pop Pop had so many good stories to tell that it was easy to forget what they’d been talking about before.
The news served only as a small distraction now, though, and eventually Bella lost interest and went back to thoughts of Steve, what might’ve been, and running once more.
When Tuesday came and he didn’t show again, Bella decided it was time. There was no use waiting or pushing it off any longer. She resolved to give her notice to Frank on Thursday, pack up her meager belongings, and hit the road. There was nothing left for her in Brooklyn.
“Now, now dear,” Mrs. Nowak told her when she’d caught Bella staring at Steve’s empty booth during her shift on Tuesday. “Give the boy a bit of time. Men need things spelled out for them more often than not, you know.”
Mr. Nowak had grumbled under his breath, but when he looked at Bella, he softened. “We want the strawberry today,” he ordered, eyes squinting in a smile.
She smiled back even while blinking away tears. She was going to miss the old couple. Other than Steve, they’d been her only friends, really.
Though she knew leaving was the right choice, it still stung as Bella hopped on a bus to NYC the following morning. She couldn’t help feeling Steve’s absence even more profoundly on what could’ve been their first date. Even if she wished he had felt something more for her, she certainly never blamed him that he didn’t. It never changed the fact that he was still her friend and she missed her friend something fierce. She hoped he’d find happiness in his future, even if it couldn’t be with her. Something to chase away that glitter of sadness sometimes lingering around the corner of his eye.
Sitting on the bus, she wanted nothing more than to go back home and finish up her packing, maybe eat some cookie dough and cry a little. But she’d made a commitment when she’d started volunteering at the library. She had to let them know today would be her last day so they could make preparations for the weeks following.
Passing Stark Tower, she caught a glint of red and gold flying through the air, but pushed it from her mind as soon as she arrived at her stop the next block over.
She had enough to worry about without adding superheroes to the list.
(A/N): Thanks again for coming by… I appreciate all your comments. Last part will be loaded in a day or two, and Alight will be updated either just before that, or just after.