Second Stage up! Please read and enjoy!

2. PAIN & GUILT
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase. – recovery-from-grief

"Oh honey, I'm so sorry."

Bree managed to say in a tear-ravaged voice, "It's okay." It wasn't okay of course, nothing was okay. She was hurting everywhere and her eyes had been leaking for days. The worst part was that the pain showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. As far as she could tell, there was no light at the end of this tunnel.

Her mother, like all mothers, knew when she was lying. "Do you want me to come over? Or I can pick you up and you can come stay here. Your brother is at football camp this week so it would just be your father and me."

"No, it's okay. Really Mom, I just want to stay here by myself for awhile." That was the most truthful thing she'd said yet. Bree did not want her mother here, trying to pull her out of bed and fussing over how bad Bree looked when she cried. She just wanted to be alone so she could hurt in peace.

"Alright, baby. I'll call you tomorrow morning."

"'k. Thank you for calling." Even when her heart felt like it had been ripped out of her chest, ground flat by a steamroller, and then used by a bunch of frat boys for a rousing game of extreme Frisbee, Bree still knew to use her manners. Her thoroughbred mother had raised her to be a proper Texas lady, after all. A lot of good that's done me, she thought bitterly. She was still alone and heartbroken.

"Love you, honey."

"Bye. Love you too," Bree's voice cracked a little. How many times had Gabe said that to her, even after he'd stopped actually loving her? Hell, had he ever loved her? She hadn't the slightest clue anymore.

She hung up the phone before her mother could hear her take another gasping sob. Oh, it hurt so much. Her face was puffy, her eyes stung, her throat was sore, and her lungs burned. But all of that was like nothing compared to the pain in her heart. The hurt and confusion and pain all convalesced into that one small spot, building and building until it felt like she would burst. The crying did nothing for the pressure in her chest but she couldn't stop that if her life depended on it. It was as if the unconscious part of her brain that controlled the beating of her heart and blinking had also taken over her tear ducts. They were always turned to 'on' these days.

So all she could do now was bury herself under the covers and give into her body's demands. Cry, hurt, and then cry some more. Time didn't really play a factor in her life right now. She didn't have classes to go to yet, not that she was in any condition to go to them anyway. The shades were drawn, muting the passing of the sun. The only thing that marked the passage of time was the phone calls. From her mother, her friends, even a couple from her brother and dad.

And of course, the phone calls and texts that started at seven o'clock and didn't stop until after midnight every evening. She couldn't bring herself to pick those up yet. The only thing that could possibly make the hurt go away was not something that she wanted to hear over the phone. If Gabriel had something to say, then he could damn well come and say it to her face. He didn't get to hide over the phone this time. She wanted him to see how bad she looked, make him feel at least a fraction of the pain that she was feeling. Maybe then he would see what he had done to her.

She needed something to ease this pressure in her chest. Anything. It hurt too much for her to continue like that. Even the smallest release would help.

Bree sat up suddenly. She hated to do it but these were extenuating circumstances and she had yet to find anything that provided such comfort so quickly. Her cigarettes had to be here somewhere. Bree started searching in her room. She knew she'd unpacked them but she couldn't remember where she'd ended up putting them. She rarely, if ever, smoked, but she like to have a pack on her just in case the urge came upon her. She kept them hidden though, so Gabe wouldn't…

Bree choked back the tears that threatened as soon as she thought his name. Jeez, she had it bad. Even the memory of him chastising her for smoking had her tearing up. She was thoroughly tired of herself. Too bad she couldn't figure out how to make herself stop or she would have done so ages ago.

Thankfully, she found her cigarettes and lighter in her vanity. The pack was three-quarters full and still relatively fresh. She thought about lighting up right here in the bedroom but stopped herself. Bree loved that first puff of smoke but she hated how the smell stuck to all of her clothes and anything else that happened to be in the vicinity. Best to go out on the fire escape to smoke so that it wouldn't stick to her curtains. Plus, she could do with some fresh air. She wasn't quite sure how long it had been since she'd gone outside but she was figuring it had been a few days at least.

Bree stepped through her window and got her first taste of time in awhile. The sun had just set, the horizon bursting with color while the top of the sky was getting darker by the minute. Not that she noticed. Or cared really.

She lit up and inhaled. The first rush filled her lungs, calmed her down. The pain didn't go away, but then she knew it wouldn't. As far as she could tell, the only thing that would make that go away was Gabe crying in front of her, begging on his knees for her to take him back. Still, the nicotine and other assorted deadly chemicals soothed her frayed nerves. Pushed the pain back a little. That was more than anything else she had tried to ease the pain with had done, so she inhaled hard again.

"Hey—whoa. Are you…uh…are you okay?"

Bree shrieked at the sudden intrusion. Josh was half out of his window and staring at her in shocked horror. Her first thought was that she had never worked worse in her entire life and her football idol/next door neighbor was right there. She immediately turned so her back was to him, at least then he only saw how horrible her hair was as opposed to how her face must look. She had been crying for days, hadn't done more than put her hair up in a messy ponytail, she hadn't even been moisturizing! Oh, could this get any worse?

"I'm sorry!" she blurted out, her eyes tearing up from sheer mortification. "I am so sorry that you saw me like this! I swear I don't usually…I would never—"

"Hey, no, don't be sorry. It's fine. But are you okay? What happened?"

Bree gulped in air, trying to loosen the knot in her throat that always signaled a torrential crying spree. She would not cry like a baby in front of Joshua Reynolds of all people!

"Really, Bree. It's fine, trust me. I have been around a lot of crying women before."

Bree couldn't help shooting a desperate look over her shoulder. What the heck did that mean?

"Okay, I didn't mean that the way it sounded," Josh backtracked. He sounded a little desperate. No kidding. Bree felt like jumping over the railing and just ending this horribly awkward scene for good. What a mess. She couldn't even talk to her next door neighbor without scaring him, was it any wonder that she couldn't keep Gabriel's interest and love?

The tears started burning her eyes so she pulled herself away from that line of thought immediately. There was to be no crying in front of Josh. None whatsoever. She'd already scared him enough just by looking at him.

Gabe continued in a rush. "I have six older sisters so I've been present during every type of female crisis that you can think of. You can tell me what happened. Can I do something to help?"

Bree actually managed a laugh. It was a little bitter, but it was a laugh. "Indulging your fetish for the white knight fantasy again?" she asked then winced when she heard how harsh that had come out. He had offered his help and she'd bitten his head off. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that."

"S'okay. Really."

Bree took another drag of her cigarette. She at least owed him some sort of explanation for her recent ugliness, both physically and verbally. "Do you remember how you thought you saw Gabe and me at that party?" she asked.

"Yeah," Josh said warily.

"Well, you got it half right," she couldn't help the sardonic lilt in her voice.

It took a minute for it to register with Josh but she could tell the moment that he got it because he cursed once. "Sorry," he said. "I'm sorry…well, I'm not sorry I told you because no girl should ever be treated that way, but I'm sorry that he did that to you and that you had to hear it from a third party. I can't believe that guy."

Bree shrugged and took another drag. "Yeah, I didn't either at first, but I should have known. She's a cheerleader," Bree snorted in an unladylike manner and turned around so she could pin a glare on Josh. "What is it with men and cheerleaders! I had to watch Gabe get his heart broken time and again by every dumb bimbo slut in a cheerleading uniform before he finally noticed me as more than just his best friend! And now he's gone back to the cheer squad again! What is it that makes them so damn irresistible? The pom poms? The shouting? What?"

Josh had paled visibly during her tirade. He held up his hands in surrender. "Hey, I wouldn't know. I'm a math geek. I'm invisible to cheerleaders."

Another bitter laugh escaped Bree. She turned around again so that Josh couldn't see her face anymore. That didn't stop her from talking to him though. It seemed that now that she had begun, she couldn't stop. He didn't know her or Gabriel, didn't have preconceived notions of them. She could say the things that she had kept from her friends and family and he would never know how important they were to her because he had no idea how deep her feelings went. Strangers really were great therapists.

"You know what the worst part is?" she said in a soft voice, all traces of her previous anger replaced by her now familiar empty pain. "He completely broadsided me with it. I thought we were happy. I was happy and he seemed happy too. I can't even look back over our relationship and see any sort of signs or a clue or something that he felt differently. I thought…I thought we were in love."

Bree stopped when her voice cracked. Her throat was knotting again and this time she knew she wasn't going to be able to stop it. She wouldn't cry in front of Josh though. She couldn't make it even more awkward for him. She put out the last of her cigarette while she said quickly, "I'm sorry again for…well, everything. I've got to go now."

"Oh, okay. Bree, if you need anything…"

"No, I'm fine. Really. Thank you though. Bye," Bree managed to say as she went through the window with her back to him so she wouldn't see how her eyes were filling with liquid. She managed to shut the window before the first tear fell, barely. Both the cigarette and Josh had helped push back the pain a little but now it was blazing in her chest full force again and her body had decided it was time to cry some more. All Bree could do was get back into bed and let it happen.

-o0o-End Stage Two-o0o-

Sorry this is up so late in the night, I ended up being away from a computer for much longer than I thought I would. Still, bwahaha, it is up on the day that I said it would be so I don't feel like a total jerk!

Stage Two was by far the hardest for me to write because it involved two things that I have made a point to keep out of my life as much as possible: crying and smoking. However, I felt that both were necessary for this story because I've yet to meet a person that had their heart broken and didn't cry over it, and I've heard that nothing is better for a smoker than that first inhale so I thought it entirely appropriate that Bree would need that. However I did enjoy this chapter because I got to delve more into Bree's vanity. She's not overly vain and she is a good person, but aside from her liking football, she's a total girly girl and takes her appearance very seriously. I hope I got that across alright without making her sound like some stuck up bitch.

Thank you much to all of my readers and reviewers! To those anonymous reviews:

Salt and vinegar Pringles: lol, Gabriel is pretty much an epic fail in my mind. He's too busy looking at cheerleaders to notice how great he's go it with Bree. Thank you for reading!

LeenaAmara: Thank you for the advice! I did look at steps in relationships and such but I couldn't find anything as striking as the seven steps of grief over the death of a loved one. I just interpreted this as her grieving over the death of a relationship. Dramatic, yes, but why write fiction if you can't be overly dramatic? Thanks for reading.