Monday, March 30, 2009

Chapter 31

Chapter 31

E POV

I spent the rest of the night watching the home movies I’d brought back to the hotel with me. One video was at a lake and dated just a month before the accident. I watched my Bella running around in a bikini and cut-off shorts while she played football with several other teens and Phil. One recurring girl kept showing up, her and Bella laughing, whispering to each other. There was a close up shot of them, they had their arms wrapped around one another, yelling incoherent things, smiling all the while. Maybe they were best friends. There also was one boy that seemed to focus only on catching Bella. It didn’t matter if she had the ball or not, and the worst part was she was laughing about it. He never hurt her. He wouldn’t tackle her to the ground. He would catch her and swing her around over his shoulders tickling her sides to make her laugh and scream.

I knew my jaw was tense watching it. I had to remind myself that she wasn’t mine then. She is now and she was sleeping just in the next room. No one would touch her again but me. She’d never see this boy again. Ever.

The other video was Bella’s championship softball game and after party. She was on the varsity softball team last year before moving to Forks. Let me tell you, that girl could swing a bat like no other. She made two homeruns and a triple. I was in awe of her ability. I couldn’t help but notice how hot she looked in the uniform. I wondered if she still used the visual of James when up to bat. The after party was at a park. Her best friend was there, but in this video, snuggling up to some boy. He had his arm around her; they were sitting on a bench. They were getting into some serious kissing. Phil, evidently the one videotaping, yelled at the kid, “Scott! You too, Janey, enough with the PDA. Break it up already.” So her name was Janey.

Bella appeared to be telling some story to a bunch of kids. She had them all in hysterics. The boy from the lake was with her, his arm around her shoulder. She was so animated; she was laughing and talking with her hands. The boy with her was laughing trying to hold her hands down. “Damn Bella, I swear you wouldn’t be able to talk if you didn’t have hands,” he laughed. I heard Phil laugh and agree with him. “Yep, she’s exactly like her mom. They never sit still.”

The Bella I was accustomed to was demure; I’ve never seen her this animated. What was so depressing is that I helped instill this new side of her. It was like software, Carlisle and Charlie’s methods; you installed it into women as if they were computers. It was rather sickening when I really thought about it. It made me envious to watch her laugh and cut up with other teenagers. She was so free.

I looked at my watch and realized it was 6 am. The time difference meant that it was only 5 am at home. I knew it was still early, but I had to talk to Jasper. I called him on my cell while staring at the paused picture on my laptop; Bella with her head thrown back laughing wearing a baseball cap.

I heard him answer; his voice was groggy at the other end. “What’s wrong Edward? What did you do?”

“I can’t just want to talk to my brother? Does something have to be wrong?” I sighed.

Who was I kidding, no one.

“Right, you call at 5 in the morning because you just wanted to know if it’s raining here or not,” he said sarcastically. “It is by the way. Hang on a minute.”

I heard him talking softly to Alice. “Go back to sleep baby. Edward’s being a prick, as per usual. You don’t need to wake up yet.”

I heard a mumbled, “Hurry back. I’m cold without you.”

I heard Jasper chuckle at her. “I love you Pixie.”

“Love you too, Jazzy,” she mumbled.

I felt a pang in my chest. I want what they have so badly I can taste it. I heard a door close and realized he must have left the room so he didn’t disturb her.

“Alright Edward. Now, what did you do?” he asked again.

“I didn’t do anything Jasper,” I said defensively.

He didn’t say anything, just waited. I realized he must have picked up this technique from our father. The typical waiting game, but I didn’t do anything wrong. I have nothing to confess. It was an unfair accusation.

Um, excuse me? Who pinned the woman they profess love against a wall and used sex to dominate her? It may not have been punishment, but it was pretty damn close, asshole.

Shit! The voice was back.

“Look. I haven’t slept all night. I’m tired and I didn’t call to have you throw accusations at me,” I huffed. “I wanted your help. You said you’d help me if I needed it,” I reminded him.

“So what happened then?” he asked.

I pinched the bridge of my nose as I laid my head back on the sofa. “We ran into one of Bella’s former neighbors. God, I’ve never been so irritated in all my life by a woman; a tiny, frail, elderly woman at that,” I admitted.

Jasper chuckled at the other end. “I like her already. So what did she do to piss you off so bad?”

“Very funny. She offered Bella a way to leave me. I won’t let anyone take Bella away from me, Jasper.” I could feel my earlier anger coming back and knew he could hear it in my voice.

“Edward, calm down,” he ordered. “You didn’t take it out on Bella did you?”

“No, I didn’t take it out on her,” I sneered.

Right, why don’t we ask the jury? Everyone who believes that raise your hand. Don’t see any hands in the air, Assward.

What? Now the voice was going to start calling me names? I sighed. His ramblings are becoming more difficult to tune out.

“So just what exactly, did you do?” he stressed.

“I made her give me her word that she’d never leave me,” I admitted.

“God, Edward! Can’t you go two days without being an ass?” he growled. “You can’t force Bella to give you that kind of promise. It’s just not a valid request! Think rationally. Granted, Bella’s situation is different thanks to our father’s screwed up family beliefs, but a person can chose who to be with, who to surround themselves with. People decide who their friends are, not by forced promises of loyalty. You’re trying to win her love. You don’t do that by acting like a Neanderthal. Stop trying to be Carlisle’s golden boy. Have you not heard anything we’ve been trying to tell you? Well, you’ve definitely heard it, but are you processing it? There’s a difference, you know.”

I had two responses.

“I’m not an ass, and she gave me her word so what’s your problem?” I demanded.

Now I’m being called an ass by the voice and my brother. Was I an ass? I didn’t think so. I rubbed my hand over my chest trying to figure out what this pain in my chest was.

Do you know what a guilty conscience feels like? Just like that. You should read up on human emotions, Retard-ward.

I heard silence on the other end and could imagine him tugging at his hair. I heard him sigh. “Edward,” he started, “I’m going to say something to you. You’re not going to want to hear it, but I want you to listen to me and don’t interrupt. Alright?”

“Fine,” I said, exasperated.

Better get a pen and paper, there may be a pop quiz on this later. You were always a straight-A student, but you’re failing Bella 101 miserably.

I leaned back and closed my eyes.

“Edward, you have to know that vow doesn’t mean anything. You forced it from her. She didn’t promise to stay with you because she wants to. She promised because I’m sure, in her mind, if she didn’t comply you’d abuse her. That’s all she knows. Bella doesn’t have any choices, she’s trapped in this life. What other answer could she give you?” he stressed.

“She’s mine-,“ I started.

“Listen to you, Edward!” he yelled. “I wish I could record you. That’s your only response ever, ‘She’s mine! She belongs to me!’ She isn’t your stuffed lion you had as a kid. She’s a person. Every time you say that you strip away at her identity. It’s wrong, unjust, and cruel. I don’t care how much money Carlisle paid Charlie. You DON’T own her. It’s all in your head, man. Do you honestly think if Bella had the choice right now, today, she would choose to stay? No. She’d take that neighbor up on her offer so fast it’d make your head spin.”

I felt that pain in my chest stab harder, it was like a knife twisting in my heart. Didn’t I show Bella how much I love her? I told her often enough. What else did I need to do to show her? I listened with pain and dread as he continued.

“She’d run as far and fast as she could to get away from everything she’s been subjected to. She wouldn’t choose marriage to you over a normal life. She’s known the difference and you can’t erase that, I don’t care how long she’s with you. She will always know that what she was raised to believe about love and marriage isn’t what you give her. If she wasn’t so damned scared of you, she’d probably try to run away on her eighteenth birthday, when she legally is able to. You do know that, don’t you? You’re fortunate though. You have a chance, a small window of opportunity to show her real love. I think she already cares for you in some way… it’s just, you know… man you have no idea how fucked up you sound. God, and to think that is just how I sounded in the beginning. Thank God I learned before it was too late for me and Alice.”

I heard him sigh, “She’s not a damn toy, Edward. For god’s sake stop saying that to her. It’s toxic to your relationship. The more you say it, the more she’ll resent you. You’ll dig your own grave…”

I pinched the bridge of my nose again. I am not as bad as he keeps trying to make me out to be. I needed to defend my actions, they were perfectly logical.

I took a deep breath. “Jasper,” I started slowly, keeping my emotions in check, “I know she’s not a toy. She’s going to be my wife. Therefore, she is mine.” I decided to take a different approach with him. “Could you let Alice leave you?”

Ha! I knew I had him there. There was silence on the phone. See you, damn voice. He’s no saint either. Great, now I’m talking to the voice in my head. I guess that’s still okay. It’s when I lose the argument that someone needs to put me in a padded room.

My jaw dropped at his answer.

“If it made her happier, and I knew our father wouldn’t hurt her, then yes. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t break my heart to pieces… but Edward, you have to realize my situation is different. We’re in two different ballparks. I already have Alice’s love so I don’t worry about her leaving me. Our relationship has grown into the partnership a marriage is supposed to be, it’s built on love, trust and respect. We know we belong together, but I don’t pound it into her head like you’re doing with Bella. We don’t have to continuously promise each other that we won’t leave, because leaving, not being with her, man it would mean my world would end, as hers. Or so she says…” he chuckled, a little lost in the moment of talking about his love with Alice.

He continued, “I hope you know it only makes you weaker. If you always force Bella to promise she won’t walk out, it just feeds your insecurities. If you’re trying so hard to dominate, be strong, then why do you feel so afraid, Edward? You probably get cold sweats just thinking she might not be there someday, I know I did with Alice in the beginning. But aren’t you sick of the guessing, of the fear? Don’t you want to find that level of happiness? I’m telling you, happiness isn’t overrated. The path you’re taking isn’t leading you leading you there. It’s leading you straight into despair. And you’ll just be dragging Bella down with you. And come on, if you love her, you wouldn’t wish that for her, would you? So can I offer a suggestion coming from experience?”

I sighed. “What, Jasper?” I asked wearily. How did he know all my insecurities? Has he ever felt like this over the last two years? Could I really get Bella to feel I was her ‘happy ever after’? I knew she was mine.

“When I brought Alice home, do you know why I sequestered us in our home for those first few months?”

“No,” I answered. I often wondered his reasoning since finding out more about their real relationship.

“Alice was so traumatized by the time I married her that she was never going to love me, let alone trust me. She was terrified of me. She cowered from me any time I came near her. I couldn’t even hold her hand without her fearing I was going to hurt her. Then she would fear that I was going to punish her for that fear, which in turn scared her even more. I had never felt like such a monster, a true demon. It was a vicious cycle that seemed unbreakable. I didn’t know how to reach her. I was very lucky that mom overheard me pleading with Alice a few days after we got home. She really helped me Edward. I still wouldn’t have Alice’s love and trust if mom hadn’t taken a huge risk and intervened. I owe my relationship to our mother. It was her idea to shut us away from everyone for those first months. That’s why I only allowed mom to come to our home.”

“Jasper?” I interrupted. “Do you…call her ‘mom’…to her face?” I felt a tightening in my chest. I think I knew this answer.

“Yeah Edward, I do, when Carlisle isn’t around,” he answered. His voice was full of regret. “We were wrong to ever let Carlisle stop us from calling her ‘mom’. She never deserved the way we treated her after that day. God, all this talk just brings it all back what we did…I’ve spent these past two years and for the rest of my life, I just know…you know?”

I couldn’t say I did know. I haven’t earned her forgiveness…yet.

“When you get back you really should take the time to talk to mom. She loves you and misses you. You were always closer to her than Emmett or I was. Take advantage of the fact that she’s here now.”

When he spoke, I knew he was remembering all the horrible things we said and did to her after Carlisle told us she didn’t deserve our love and respect any longer. We were scolded if we showed her any kindness or affection. That night after he let her out of the basement and we’d had dinner, we made our list of demeaning jobs for future wives. He made our mother do every single one of them for us. I was even rewarded for coming up with the most humiliating job of all. I couldn’t remember what it was now, I didn’t want to.

“I will Jasper. It’s something I’ve actually been thinking about for a while now,” I assured him.

“Edward, my point is, I would have never known the real Alice, and she wouldn’t have fallen in love with me if we didn’t have that time alone to drop all our defenses. I became her rock, as she is mine. You know? We support each other. She was free to tell me what she felt and I was free to let her. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder all the time for fear that Carlisle would catch me letting her tell me ‘no’. She acts and does what she wants in our home, and I love her, so everything she does is beautiful. Carlisle, Charlie, and everyone else who lives this adaptation of love is twisted, and I’m just trying to straighten it out in you. I don’t want you to miss out on the greatest feeling in the world; the love of your wife.”

“So take advantage of this time away from everyone. You gave her this trip as a gift, so let it be a real gift. Remember this trip is going to be hard on her. It was her home where she was loved for herself. You’ve taken that from her with your behavior. Use this time to get to know the real Bella.” He paused and then chuckled, “I’ve met her, Edward, and I think you’d like her. If you would let your guard down I think she’d like you too. You two are actually quite compatible-”

That comment stopped me in my tracks. “What do you mean you’ve met her?” I demanded.

“Just that, she only has to hide from you and Carlisle,” he said smugly. “She’s a different person when she’s with Alice, mom or Rosalie. Well, she’s not different, she’s just Bella. She’s different with you. You’ve seen glimpses of her, but not all. It’s like watching a remake of a classic movie. There are similarities, but the remake is never as good as the real thing. And since she knows she’s safe with me, I got the privilege of meeting her also. You’re missing out on a fantastic girl by acting the way you do.” I heard him start to chuckle over the phone. “She has the most fantastic sense of humor. Pissed myself…” he trailed off.

I growled in frustration. I could feel all the old rivalries trying to come up. He had everything I wanted. Why don’t we make a checklist?

He had a wife that loved him.

He had the relationship with our mother that I missed.

And now, he has closer relationship with Bella than I did.

Well then maybe you should try listening to his advice, Dumbass. All this too could be yours if-

Great, now the voice sounded like an infomercial.

He must have read my silence. “Edward, don’t you dare retaliate against Bella for what I’ve just told you,” he warned. “I’m not trying to pour salt in an open wound. I just want you to know there’s a whole other person inside of Bella that, because of how hard you’re holding on to the way Carlisle raised us, you’re missing out on. Underneath the plastic exterior is a bright young woman. She’s just been scared into hiding by everything she’s been through at the hands of her family and ours. She’s the one you want to love you. You will never get the love you crave from your ‘Barbie’. She isn’t real, she’s just pretend. Carlisle has convinced you to create a plastic version of the real thing. Trust me, if she gives you her love she will want to stay with you forever. You’re a decent guy when you want to be. Can you do that, Edward? Can you give both of you this chance?”

“I don’t know Jasper. I honestly don’t know how to let go. If I do this though, what happens when we come home?” I asked. “How do you and Alice keep everything a secret? Remember I’m still suffocating in Carlisle’s house until June, it will be much harder to put up a charade in such close proximity…”

“Look Edward. Why don’t you get some sleep? Decide first if you’re going to give yourself this chance, and then see what happens. Why don’t you have her show you around Phoenix today? It might be easier for her to loosen up around you as well. Remember, it’s going to be just as hard for her to trust you with her true self as it is for you to let her. Worry about home when you get back. If you spend the week stressing about later, you’ll never have the courage to do what you need to now.”

“Alright Jasper. Thanks again.” I was getting ready to hang up when I stopped. “Hey Jasper?” I asked.

“Yeah?”

I paused. “What’s she like?”

There was a moment of silence on the phone. I guess he was trying to decide how to best to answer.

“She’s a great girl Edward. You’re very fortunate to have her in your life. She has a lot to offer…given the chance. I won’t say more.”

“Thanks.” I hung up the phone and sat there a moment processing what he’d told me. The last videos I watched were taken within the past year. The glimpses I’d seen of Bella; they all had one thing in common. This was the Bella I wanted to know. This was the girl I was in love with, and I wanted more of her.

I shut down my laptop and got up from the sofa. I walked quietly back toward the bedroom. I opened the door partway so that the light spilled across the bed leaving the top part still in the shadows so it didn’t wake her. I walked over to the bed and stared down at her frame. She was curled up like a kitten, on her side with her hands tucked under her pillow. The blanket had slipped down to her waist exposing her upper body to me. Her lips were slightly parted and her hair spilled over her face and shoulders. I gently lifted her hair from her face. She was so beautiful, even in slumber. I noticed goose bumps on her arm and she shivered. I pulled the blankets back up to cover her and smiled as she shifted backward to my side of the bed. Her arm slid behind her. She frowned a little in her sleep before burrowing further into the blankets. I realized she was searching for me; for my warmth.

I quietly went back to my side of the bed, slipping off my boxers as I climbed in. I gently pulled Bella to me. She rolled over and put her head on my shoulder, throwing an arm and leg over me. She was actually quite the character in sleep, always sprawling around, throwing limbs everywhere. If I wasn’t so charmed I’d be annoyed.

I kissed the top of her head and thought about what Jasper said about giving us this time. I wouldn’t have this kind of opportunity to be completely alone with Bella for any length of time again until our honeymoon or our house was finished. I even offered a bonus to the builder if he could have it completed by the end of May. Living with Carlisle was becoming a nightmare. He was demanding more and more information about Bella’s training. His comments becoming downright crude, hellish even. If I didn’t know any better I would think he got off on it.

Thinking about it made me remember Bella’s nightmare. Maybe this was the cause of her nightmares about him. So far she hasn’t heard the worst of his comments but she heard enough about his ideas of punishments. I drifted off thinking about how I would approach the rest of this trip. I would adjust myself to Jasper’s guidelines. It was for Bella, all of it was. I love her and I want her love. I need her love.

B POV

I woke up with Edward spooned against me, his arm wrapped around my waist holding me to him. I could feel his warm breath on the back of my neck and shoulder. I couldn’t see the clock from my side of the bed to know what time it was, but judging from the sunlight coming in the window in the other room it had to be at least 8 am. I was surprised Edward wasn’t awake yet. He was always up by 5 am on weekdays and never slept past 7 am on the weekends. After all it takes time for me to prepare a full breakfast every morning I thought sarcastically. The man has never heard of cereal or a granola bar. If it wasn’t for my long walks in Esme’s garden or up and down the driveway to the gate that was always locked, I’d probably weigh a ton. But then again, it would be hard for me to be fat since Edward portions out my food also, I thought sarcastically.

I was changing. I could sense it. Everything just felt different, tasted different, and smelled different. I was going numb. My only sensory comfort was the aroma of my hair, my shampoo. It was the only thing about me that was still the same.

Maybe I’m going crazy. Maybe since I’m so accustomed to turning on an invisible switch to two different people, I’m officially diagnosing myself with Multiple Personality Disorder? I sometimes feel like I’m really losing it. What will happen in a year? I’ve been here months, almost six, that’s half a year. How the fuck am I going to do this for a lifetime? STOP, Bella, my rational internal voice was yelling. I needed to stop this now. Going down this path again was like falling in a black hole with no way out. There was no need for deep reflection. It didn’t change anything to think about it, I couldn’t control it. This was my life and I would survive.

I huffed laying there. I knew I was still mad from yesterday. My internal voice was very sarcastic and edgy when I was angry at Edward. It was my only form of retaliation. I couldn’t say what I felt to him so I would just say what I felt about him. His behavior at my home made me so angry I could spit nails, like mom used to say. I never understood that saying until recently. I was angry because I couldn’t stop him from what he did to me and he made me want him in spite of it. I sighed. Self pity wasn’t worth the ramblings; they just made me feel worst. I started running my list of all the good qualities in Edward and the little things he had changed so far. I smiled slightly at my list. It had started getting a little longer before this trip. If he could change, he would be happier, his life would be better, which in turn would make my life better.

I owned a cell phone now. Big fucking deal. It was humiliating. It was one of those phones for young children that could only dial preprogrammed phone numbers. It was only to call him or someone in the family if I needed them. Edward decided it was necessary for me to have one after an ice storm hit Forks causing school to close early. I didn’t have a way to let anyone know I needed to be picked up. I didn’t even know Edward’s cell phone number or the number to the house and how do you explain that to someone? I couldn’t get a ride with a friend because the gate is locked and the only way in is with the code or remote, which I don’t have. So, I told my friends that Edward was already on his way so they would leave. I stood outside for over an hour. Edward jumped out of his car, hollering my name, cursing his way over amidst the ice. He thought I was near death, it was mildly amusing to see him so distraught, apart from my shivering limbs. After some sleep and hot tea, he told me that he overheard some parents who worked at the hospital talking about how school closed early, and then put the pieces together; I was in a sticky situation, with no contact information. I spent 4 days in bed with the flu, which meant he had to move back to the sofa, served him right. But I do admit he was a good caretaker. He stayed home from the hospital to care for me, bringing my meals, and would sit next to the bed, watching movies or playing scrabble with me. I smirked, Carlisle was not amused.

I looked back at Edward and he was still asleep. I sighed. How much longer before he would wake up? I was awake, but I couldn’t leave the bed until he woke up; one of his many idiotic rules. I really needed to go to the bathroom. I decided to see if I could slip out of the bed without waking him and then I’d come right back. I gently lifted his arm from around my waist; at least I wasn’t in one of his death grips. Some mornings I woke up and was held so tight I could barely breathe and he would wake the minute I shifted in his arms. As more time passed, I was slowly coming to understand Edward more and more. He had problems. Anger, separation anxiety, abandonment issues...the list went on. I wanted to help him, but he was such a jerk. It’s not like he’d ever listen to my advice. I carefully slid out of bed still holding his arm above me and turned my pillow against him so he was now holding it instead. I sighed in relief and swiftly went to the bathroom closing the door gently behind me.

I took care of my human moment and quietly padded back to the bed. I stood looking down at Edward for a moment. I smiled. He certainly was going to have a case of bed head when he woke up. His hair looked like he’d been trying to rip it all out and was sticking up everywhere. I noticed he had circles under his eyes like he hadn’t slept, but I had to admit, his physique took my breath away.

If that’s what love was based on, looks, I would have been in love with him from the start. My parents taught me well. I knew it was more than that, because I wasn't in love with Edward, regardless of how gorgeous he might be. He made some changes, but how could I love him? Honestly, falling in love happens over the course of time, unless it's at first sight. But my first sight of Edward was when I was bound and gagged, so we may as well rule that out. I liked him now, though. My Edward; I liked a lot. I appreciated the little things he had changed for me, I loved when he let his guard down- his proper, controlled facade, and just relaxed. He seemed... more human. I liked when he laughed. I want to know the man the Esme told me about. If only he'd let go, it would be much easier. I’m not going to base trust on the fact that I could pick my own drink now. He needed to make some big gestures also, like stop being so damn possessive and give me a freaking break.

I decided to take the chance. Edward was asleep so this may be my only opportunity. I stiffened my spine; it was now or never. I went to the closet and pulled out clothes to wear and went back to the bathroom to get ready. I kept the door partially open so I could hear Edward’s breathing. If he woke up and saw me, there would be hell to pay. I stepped back into the bedroom. He was still asleep; good.

Now if I could just get out the door without him stirring. I closed the bedroom door as I went out and slipped on my shoes before walking quickly to the front door. As I put my hand on the knob I listened one last time for Edward. I still didn’t hear anything so I opened the door and left. I tried to close it quietly once I was in the hall, but didn’t realize how heavy the door was. I quickly ran to the elevator and punched the button. Why did we have to be on the 18th floor? He couldn’t have picked a room on the first or second floor that I could have just run downstairs. No, now I have to stand here, ready to jump out of my skin, and wait on a freaking elevator.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the numbers start to climb closer to our floor. 13...14...15... just a few more and it would be here. I was so focused on watching the doors that I was startled when I heard my name shouted. He’d found me. Damn! Damn! Damn!

FUCK!

E POV

I woke to the sound of a door closing and realized Bella wasn’t in bed. I got up, pulling on my boxers and jeans that were lying on the chair.

“Bella?” I called. I listened for her, but didn’t hear anything. I was reminded of my dream again and felt my heart rate pick up. I’ve had the same dream several times now of Bella being gone and not being able to find her. I always woke up in a cold sweat until I could reassure myself that she was curled against me or lying on my shoulder. I went in the living room hoping to find her there. She wasn’t. She wasn’t anywhere in our suite. I ran out the door and looked frantically up and down the hall. I saw her at the end of the hall waiting on the elevator.

“Bella!” I shouted, running down the hall toward her. She turned to me with wide eyes. I saw her shoulders slump. I didn’t want to think what that could mean. I reached her just as the elevator doors opened. “Where do you think you’re going?” I demanded. I was wheezing, not from running down the hall, from my anxiety.

I have never been so scared in my entire life.

She looked at the doors that were closing again before turning to me. She searched my eyes before answering. I kept my gaze blank; I was careful not to let her see my fear fighting for dominance over my anger at her betrayal. Yes, I was angry, but the fury didn't compare to the terror. I wanted to cry at the thought of her not being there. God, I don't know what I'd do if she was gone.

“I- I was just going down to pick up our breakfast. It was getting late and I didn’t know how much longer you would sleep. I’m sorry, I was hungry,” she said, keeping her eyes focused below mine.

I put my arm around her and started walking her back to our room. “Well, why don’t we go out to eat breakfast instead? I just need a minute to get ready.” I couldn’t very well interrogate her in the hallway where anyone could overhear.

I looked down at her. She was chewing her lip which I knew meant she was nervous and lying to me. I swiped our keycard and ushered her into the room. After the door shut I faced her. Now that she was here, I could see her, the rage was back. She had just sworn not to leave me. I know Jasper said it didn’t mean anything to her, but it did to me.

“Isabella, sit down,” I said icily. I took a deep breath so that I could reign in my temper and not scare her. I did at least remember I was trying to gain her trust and that would only set me back if I lashed out at her like I wanted.

She sat down and I noticed for the first time what she was wearing. She had on a white denim skirt and one of my favorite blue woven tops with heels. It was one of my favorite outfits. I took her shopping before the trip to buy new spring clothing. The trip was successful, and it held many purposes; for one, she liked it. She had a genuine smile on her face when I had a personal shopper dress her in gauzy tops and pretty dresses. I looked at her now. Her hair and make up were done. She looked beautiful as always. Her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap. She still hadn’t spoken to me. She finally looked up at me, and I wasn't surprised to find fear laced in her expression.

Well wasn't this just great, I've made her scared. I felt like a monster. I couldn't help it though, she was gone! It's not my fault...wait, why am I trying to explain myself?

Because you're not completely brain dead like I thought. If you feel like a monster, there's something wrong, about time you realized that.

Ah, and he is back, ladies and gentleman!

I stood over her holding her gaze. “Would you like to explain yourself? Did you think I was joking when I said I’d never let you leave; that I would track you down and bring you back? I wasn't messing around!” My voice continued to climb until I was shouting at her. I sounded desperate.

She flinched from my accusations. Her eyes were filling with tears.

“I want an answer, Isabella,” I ordered.

She took a trembling breath and looked down again as her tears spilt down her cheeks. She angrily wiped at them. I heard her mumble, “I won’t cry, damn it.”

She took another couple of breaths before looking back up at me. She had her emotions under control. In fact she had a very detached look on her face, just staring off, “I wasn’t trying to leave you Edward,” she responded in a monotonous tone. If I really read into it, she almost looked...well, annoyed. That just pissed me off even more.

I raised my eyebrow at her in disbelief. “Then why did you leave our room? I don’t want to hear any excuse about breakfast either. I want the truth.”

“I was going to get our breakfast. I promise. You want me to trust you. Well I want you to trust me too. I thought if I left our room without your knowledge and came back on my own, you’d see you don’t have to guard me so much.” She gestured to her clothes. It was another of my favorite outfits and she knew it. “I also wanted you to see that I can dress myself; that I can make decisions. I’m not a child,” she finished softly.

I sat down beside her and pulled her onto my lap. I needed to hold her to reassure myself she was still here. I was so attached to her it was scaring me, I felt like such a tool. But who cares? I hadn’t lost her. She was here... she was here... I thought over what she said. If it wasn’t for my conversation with Jasper I would be looking at all of this as an act of defiance on her part. I swallowed hard as I realized I would have physically punished her if she had done this at any point before today. This is what Jasper was telling me to allow happen. It would have been...I was starting to see it as... it would have been abuse. I wasn't a monster.

“I believe you, Bella. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. You know, first time waking up without you there...” I sighed, she knew the rest. I tilted her face up to me and gently kissed her lips. I smiled as I realized I felt good telling Bella I was sorry. It almost felt liberating to admit I wasn’t perfect. I thought briefly of Maddie’s words at the hospital. She told me I wasn’t perfect and to quit trying. I was rewarded with one of her smiles as she relaxed in my arms. She pecked me on the nose, it was becoming her signature kiss when I did something she liked. They were adorable, and her eyes twinkled, she seemed...giddy.

“I want to try something while we’re here, since you’ve already made decisions this morning without my input. For this week, I will follow your lead. Today, instead of going back to the house, why don’t you show me around? Take me wherever you want to go. I don't know much about your past, and I want to know. We can pack tomorrow,” I suggested.

I could see the apprehension growing in her eyes as I told her my plans. Her eyes were darting back and forth looking into mine; searching for this to be a trick before reaching out to take the offer. I hated the comparison, but she was almost like ‘Pavlov’s dog’. The dog was brainwashed to respond to the bell even if nothing was there; Bella’s reactions to certain situations were automatic now as well, just like this. The giddiness of the situation died- I was making an effort to do something to make her happy and she expected to be punished if she accepted the gesture without a second thought.

She always thought any act of kindness was some sort of test, so she never trusted it at face value. Another result of Charlie’s training methods. It was one of the techniques he used to strip the girl’s expectations. I had to admit it was effective even though I was learning to regret it. There was never a true spontaneous reaction to anything I did for her. She always waited before responding.

All of my interrogations with Carlisle were teaching me more of the horrors Bella, Rosalie and Alice faced in that house. They endured hell at the hands of the devil, truly. I wasn't being melodramatic, it was fucking disgraceful. Carlisle helped to create the training regiment and wanted me to learn everything to train Bella. He even hinted that he would be proud of me if I took over all the training for the family. I don’t think so. This was one time I wouldn’t fight for his approval.

Jasper continually tried to get me to take Bella to Alice’s therapist. I knew I could help her. She didn’t need anyone outside of me to help her heal. She wasn’t traumatized like Alice. I was confident I could fix her myself.

“Do you mean it?” she asked cautiously, guarded.

I nodded and kissed her forehead. “Yes Bella, I do. This week you’re in control. I encourage you, this is your territory, show me. But, understand, this isn’t easy for me to do. It's only for this week and if at anytime I feel you’re taking advantage of the situation I will end it. Agreed?”

“Thank you, Edward!” she squealed throwing her arms around me. “I promise you won't regret this!”

I silently thanked Jasper. Her eyes were sparkling again and it was for me. I laughed. “Okay then, what are we doing first?”

“First we eat. I’m hungry. Oh! I want to take you to a place that makes the best French toast in the world. They make their own bread. It’s out of this world,” she gushed. She got off my lap, pulling me by the arm. “But we have to hurry or they’ll be completely out.”

“Alright, let me grab some clean clothes and we can go,” I told her laughing as I headed toward the bedroom. I was curious to try this famous French toast, she claimed it was her favorite.

Her next comment stopped me dead in my tracks. “Do I get to pick out your clothes?” she asked carefully. Hip jutted out, her eyebrow raised. I had to give recognition to Emmett, some feistiness, attitude... it was hot.

“Alright Bella, what shirt would you like me to wear today?”

She grinned at my response and walked over to me. I was surprised when she pulled me down to her and gave me a passionate kiss. Her fingers tangled in my hair as I slipped my arms around her waist. Her tongue swept out as I opened my mouth to her. She was dominating this kiss. She sucked my tongue into her mouth and stroked it repeatedly with hers while her lips moved over mine. I pulled her closer to me letting her feel the effects of her kiss. She broke the kiss to catch her breath.

She shook her head at me. “You can wear what you want. I don’t need to pick your clothes. I just wanted to see if you would really let me,” she admitted shyly. She smiled and kissed my nose. Score!

I realized she was testing me and I had just gained a little more of her trust. “Bella, I’ve told you and I'll tell you again, I’m a man of my word. I told you this week is for you and I mean it. I love you.” I cupped her face with my hand as my thumb grazed her cheek.

“I know,” she stated looking away from me.

I sighed and started to say something more when she pushed against my chest. “Go. I’m hungry and I want to eat. You’re wasting my week,” she laughed.

I knew it made her uncomfortable every time I told her that I loved her. I turned, and she caught my wrist, I swiveled back. I was momentarily caught off guard by her penetrating stare. It was intense, fueled by a fire I had never seen. It was staggering, and left me speechless.

"Your taking a chance," she said, her eyebrows knitted together, almost as if she was frustrated with something, like it was so impossible, "And I...I'm just, um, really glad you are," she finished off, shaking her head.

I smiled nodding my head in agreement. I think I understood. This was different for me as well. I walked away again, satisfied.

"Thank you," she said breathlessly, full of emotion.

***

B POV

I was in a state of shock. My mind was all over the place, a jumbled mess... of joy, of disbelief, of thanksgiving. I resisted the urge to jump up and down when Edward went into the bedroom. I would have to remember to thank Jasper when we got home. I honestly didn’t think it would work and I knew I was risking getting hurt by doing it. I felt my heart start to slow back down and I sighed in relief. I sat on the sofa to wait for Edward as I thought about where I wanted to go to show Edward who I was. I still couldn’t believe it worked. Jasper really was a genius.

It was the weekend before we left. Edward was at the hospital with Carlisle, and Esme was at the garden center so I was at Alice & Jasper’s home spending the afternoon. Emmett was at home taking care of Rosalie. We were all shocked at the changes that were happening in him. He was giving Rose even more reasons to love him now. She was finally getting the man she deserved and he was doing it all on his own. Well, almost all on his own. He did tend to drop in on Jasper for some pointers.

“Bella trust me,” Jasper stressed. “If Emmett can change then so can Edward. Use this trip as a way to break down his barriers. It will work. He won't see it coming.”

I shook my head. “I can’t do that. Do you know how much he'd hurt me if I did that? Jasper, with all due respect, you've never experienced Edward’s punishments. You have no idea-”

"Do you trust me?” Jasper interrupted.

I laughed. “Jasper you’re the only man I trust since moving here. The rest of them I trust about as far as I could throw them.”

“Really? The only one?” he laughed raising an eyebrow.

“Okay I admit, I’m also beginning to trust Emmett… just a smidge.” I laughed and held my hand up forming my thumb and index finger to make an inch space between.

The last couple of weeks if he was around without Edward or Carlisle, he would greet me by picking me up into big bear hugs until I couldn’t breathe. One day I was over at his and Rose's house for lunch on a Sunday, Edward was picking up an extra shift, and we spent a good two hours exchanging jokes and funny stories. All three of us had similar senses of humor, it was great to laugh, really laugh. I was glad I could joke around with him. He kept telling me to ‘keep the faith little sister. Confusedward (his secret nickname for Edward) would come around and probably not take nearly as long as he had.’

“Alright then,” Jasper stated, “I know I’m asking you to take a big risk. I know you’re scared,” he empathized. “I wouldn’t suggest it if I thought he would hurt you. You know that don’t you? You’re my little sister and it’s my job as your big brother to protect you,” he said.

I went over and hugged him. “I know Jazz. I wish you’d always been my brother,” I sniffed. Each time he said this to me it made me cry. Maybe if he had been my brother instead of James mom would have fought for her son. I could still be in Phoenix living a normal life if things were different. I stifled my depression. Thinking ‘should a, would a, could a’ wasn’t going to change my life now. I had a real big brother now, on the verge of another one, a wonderful second mom and the best sisters I could ever dream of. And who knows, maybe one day I’d even have a decent husband?

“I will be working on Edward for you at the same time. I’m sure he’s going to have a hard time seeing your past. He always calls me when he’s confused about you. His conscience must be raging inside by now. All I’m suggesting is that if you see the opportunity to do something to shake him up, do it. He may look and sound intimidating, but really, he's pretty damn vulnerable. He needs his eyes opened, even if just for a week. To be away from Carlisle’s influence. I only wish you had more time.”

“But Jasper what if it doesn’t work and he gets angry?” I asked. “You know he’ll hurt me.” I looked down in shame at what my mother must see in me now. I wasn’t the confident girl she’d raised any longer. I was too afraid of the hands of my fiancé or whatever he was to ever be strong again. “I’m not that brave anymore,” I whispered, ashamed.

Alice came over and hugged me. “Bella, I know this is going to be the hardest thing for you to do. Believe me, I know. Jasper wouldn’t make this suggestion unless he felt absolutely sure that Edward was ready to be exposed to this. Jasper has promised to be here for you. He won’t let Edward hurt you.

“Bella,” Jasper started, “Even if it doesn’t work and Edward gets angry, he won’t risk abusing you in a hotel room. He would wait until you’re back here. I’ll be here to stop him if it comes to that. You have your cell phone that Edward gave you, call me if you are having any trouble. Edward won’t know and then I’ll call him and talk to him before anything can happen. We will be in constant contact.”

I took a deep breath, “If you’re sure he won’t hurt me, I’ll try.” I shuddered, wondering if I would even have the nerve. If the opportunity presented itself, I chanted to myself.

I looked up as Edward came out of the bedroom. I stood and smiled at him, a real smile. I couldn’t wait to show him my past; I wanted to show him that I was a person. That I had a life and it was great. Maybe he'd realize that and want to... damn it with those 'maybes'.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chapter 32

Chapter 32

Esme’s POV

I leaned back on my knees, pushing my fists into my lower back to ease the tightness in my spine. I brushed my hair off my forehead with the back of my forearm as I looked over my projects for the day. I had already filled the pots on the back porch with fuchsia and white geraniums along with petunias. Now it was time for my babies. My irises and tulips needs some TLC after our long winter, they were just coming out of hibernation and beginning to grow again. I smiled wistfully, much like my precious baby boy.

I missed him so much. I knew he was still in there somewhere. I refused to give up hope. We were so close when he was young. I know Carlisle didn’t wipe out everything I taught him. Compassion was in his nature, and it was still there, in his dormant, frozen heart. He was a gentleman, but it got lost along the way. All of it- it was just waiting for the sunshine to thaw the ground so it could grow again. Bloom, even. Finally. I knew Bella was his sunshine. I could see how much he was beginning to love her. My boys were all going to be blessed with real love, not the imitated version their father taught them. Edward was desperately trying to find his way back from the prison Carlisle put his mind in.

Jasper was trying so hard to help him. It was like watching him learn to walk all over again. Edward was by far the most stubborn of my boys. He walked early, but only after earning repeated bruises because he refused help from anyone. Even at 9 months he was going to figure everything out for himself. He knows he needs help, but his natural abhorrence to guidance refuses to welcome the help offered to him. Jasper and I have had many talks about the best way for him to reach Edward. He tried to help him on his own at first, but it resulted in failure as Edward saw everything as an attack. He has never admitted he was wrong about anything in life. If he made a mistake growing up he would debate with you until he had you convinced that it was what he planned all along. Jasper was finally getting through to him now. He told me Edward has called him a couple of times from Phoenix for advice.

I prayed this trip to Phoenix would be a turning point for Edward. If he could just get away from his father for a while I knew it would be easier for Bella to get him to drop his guard. She was already reaching him even if she wasn’t aware. I’m his mother, and I could see the subtle differences in him soon after she came here. He didn’t carry himself as stiff any longer. He wasn’t so formal and detached when he spoke. He smiled more. I noticed that he likes to lie on the sofa on Sunday afternoons with his head in Bella’s lap. I’ve even seen him dose off; she eases him so much. He’s learned to relax.

Not only does my youngest have a kind heart, he’s a natural caretaker. He will be a fantastic doctor, better than his father because of his compassion. I first saw a glimpse of the Edward I love when Bella was attacked. It was as if he was another person, just being there for a loved one. His loved one. Bella was in need, and he met them. He refused to leave her alone those first few days even though it angered Carlisle. I still don’t understand how Edward can’t see that she needs professional help after everything she’s been through. Between the accident, losing her parents and being uprooted across the country… to being brutally molested and raped by her father, brother, and his friend…knowing her life is altered from everything she’s been raised to expect. She’s had her entire life ripped from her. I guess Renee accomplished what she always hoped; Bella was by far the strongest young woman I have ever met. I’m just afraid what will happen if she gets pushed beyond her endurance. I was constantly afraid for her wellbeing. I just don’t understand why Renee didn’t plan for the possibility of something happening to them. She was so thorough in her efforts to protect Bella, that’s why she left, even knowing how hard it would be to start over. Why didn’t she have a will or at least some life insurance so that Bella could stay in her home in Phoenix? Why didn’t she keep the evidence against Charlie and tell Bella about it so that she could prevent him from ever trying to enter her life again. None of that made sense to me...

Well, she was here now and I would help her and love her like my own daughter. I owed it to Renee to protect her daughter with my life. I wouldn’t fail her. I stopped Charlie from going after her that day by letting him find me in their house. I heard him mumbling to himself after she drove away, his anger building, he was seething. I saw him load his gun and grab his keys. I knew he was going to kill her and most likely Bella also. I gave him a new direction to focus his fury so that they would live. The physical scars have faded, but they were worth it and I would do it again for them. I only wish Carlisle hadn’t used my one true weakness against me. That was an emotional scar that I carry to this day and is just as painful today as it was 10 years ago. He destroyed my relationship with my sons. He took them away from me. He seperated them from my love, from their hearts. I got to see them everyday same as always, but they weren’t allowed to hug me or say they loved me ever again. They were to treat me as a stranger. A mere live-in housekeeper.

My relationship with Jasper has been restored for two years now. It’s been wonderful to see his love for Alice grow into a sweeping story, an epic romance. I was delighted that they really found each other. Just to be able to hold him in my arms again even though he was a grown man. My empty arms have ached over the years. I got the biggest surprise just three weeks ago.

I was sitting with Rosalie, keeping her company. She hated being on bed rest. I picked her up a couple of car magazines that she liked to read at the store to help keep her mind occupied. I was in her kitchen, cutting up a pineapple for her to snack on when Emmett came in. He went to check on Rosalie before entering. He stood at the counter drinking a bottle of water watching me.

“Hello Emmett,” I said. “Did you have a good day at the gym?”

“Yeah it was good. We were really busy,” he replied. He seemed distracted.

I put all the pineapple in a container and put it in the refrigerator. I pulled out two containers of strawberries to cut up next. I began to cut them up skillfully, slicing them horizontally instead of vertically so they looked like rings. I looked up at Emmett. He was still standing there just watching me. He had a distant look on his face.

He stared at the strawberries for a minute before looking up at me. “You used to buy Half & Half. Do you remember? To pour over the strawberries so we could eat them like cereal. We didn’t even have to share. You always bought a container for each of us. We could never agree on how we wanted them shaped. Jasper wanted them cut like apple slices and Edward wanted them so there were eight pieces for each strawberry. He said it made more strawberries that way”. He shook his head with a smirk on his face, “ Which is really stupid now that I think about it. It’s the same damn strawberry. How can it be more? I always wanted rings because they looked pretty.”

“Emmett?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My giant, bear of a son had tears in his eyes.

He talked like he never heard me. “You came to every one of my football games. I could even hear you from the field yelling for me. You always made sure I knew you loved me even when Edward was little and sick all the time and needed so much of your attention. You made sure I felt wanted and safe. I never felt insecure of my place in your heart. Even after we were so horrible to you I knew you still loved me even though I didn’t let you show me. I love Rosie so much and she already loves this baby with all her heart. She’s being a real trooper, doing everything the doctor tells her to protect it. I could never take that love away from her. I could never hurt her like that. It’d kill me to cause her that kind of pain.”

He walked over to me and wrapped his arms around me. He buried his head in my shoulder and started sobbing as my arms went around him hugging him, rubbing soothing circles around his back.

“I’m so sorry, Momma. Please forgive me. I love you. You’re the best momma in the world. You gave us everything and we gave nothing in return,” he sobbed.

The dam broke in me. I wept for all the years lost from my son. I sobbed with joy that he was coming back to me now. He was becoming the man I raised him to be. I was so proud of him.

“Emmett, my precious child. I love you so very much. It’s all right. There is nothing to forgive. You were only a teenager and following your father’s rules. You couldn’t have done anything any differently. Please, put it behind you now. Don’t think on it ever again. You have a blessed life with Rose, your child… oh, my dear boy you’ll be such a wonderful father, I know it! Remember this when you raise your children. Boy or girl they need both parents to love and care for them. Protect them from the evils in the world. All the evils,” I stressed.

He nodded his head as I kissed each cheek and wrapped him back in my arms. He tightened his hold on me squeezing until I could barely breathe, but I knew he needed this as much as I did. I just held my breath until he felt secure again; I would hold it forever if that’s what he needed.


I was brought back to the present by the sound of Emmett’s jeep winding up the drive to pass the house on the way home. I heard him tap his horn twice to say ‘hello’ to me as he passed the backside of the garden. I glanced at my watch and smiled. It was only 2:00 and he was home already. He knew Alice was sitting with Rose today, but Rose hated being cooped up in the house. He had promised to take her for a drive to get her out of the house for a while. Alice and I had food prepared for them. He was taking her to the beach for a picnic as a surprise. I stood and walked to the bench nearby to grab my tea. As I took a sip I heard his jeep and his double honk to me again as they left.

I smiled looking over at my dogwoods that were in bloom again. Yes, they’re trees, but they were big and strong just like my Emmett. I laughed out loud. How else would you represent an 11 lb 4 oz baby than with a tree?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter 33

Chapter 33

Bella POV

I gave Edward directions to the diner. I prayed we weren’t too late for French toast. He better order it. God if I couldn’t… my mouth was watering for it now. I would cry if he ordered yogurt and fruit for me when my French toast was so close to me... tempting me. But, there’s always that but… but I’m not that stupid to try and push my limits with him. We’ll see. I’d go slow and watch him carefully for any sign that I’d gone too far.

We pulled into the parking spot and Edward turned off the engine. He sat there a minute staring skeptically at the diner before turning to me. “You don’t really expect to eat here do you?” he asked, his eyebrow furrowing. The thing was, he didn’t look so uptight and mad, just more casually confused. It seemed more human.

“Yeah” I answered carefully. “Edward, please…for me?”

I looked at the diner where I ate with mom and Phil every week for 10 years. It was an old passenger train car that had been refurnished into a restaurant. I guess it was a different atmosphere from the restaurants where Edward always took us to eat; nothing on the menu cost more than $12.00. On the weekends you had to get here early, or you sat in the rocking chairs on the porch and made yourself busy until they called your name. There was always an hour or more wait. It was worth every minute. There was a line already since it was so late in the morning. That should be proof the food was good.

Edward stared at me a moment then looked back at the diner. He sighed and opened his door to get out. He looked like he was mumbling to himself, it was kind of cute. I smiled while I waited for him to open my door; score one point to Edward. We walked to the front and Edward held the door for me. I turned my back to Edward while he waited to put his name on the list to look at the pictures on the walls. There were pictures of Howard, the owner with his buddies when he was in the military. He was such a sweet man. He was built similar to Emmett, only about twenty years older. He had been a Major in the Marines and lost a leg in the Gulf War. He was discharged and opened this diner. I smiled wistfully at the years of Little League team pictures. Phil and I were in every one. When I got too old to play on the team I still helped out. The diner always sponsored our teams. I heard Edward talk to the hostess.

“Cullen, table for two,” he stated. “Can you tell me how long the wait is?”

“It’ll be an hour,” I said automatically without even looking at him. I knew the wait time by the number of people outside.

“Is that Bella I hear?” a voice asked.

I turned around and smiled. “Hi Miss Kathy, is your french toast any good?” It was a private joke between Miss Kathy, Howard and I.

Edward looked at me confused. “Bella, you told me this place was supposed to be good.”

Miss Kathy laughed at Edward’s confusion and turned to me. “Good, huh? I would have expected better praise than that from you Bella.”

“The very best,” I assured her.

She nodded, “That’s better.” Her smile faded and she came around to hug me. “I’m so sorry about your mom and Phil. Howard was really torn this year about sponsoring a team. The Little League officers voted unanimously to dedicate this season in Phil’s memory. They tried to get in touch with you to see if you could come down and throw the first pitch, but they heard your father died. No one knew where to look for you after that. It was like you disappeared. Oh, honey, you’ve been missed. This place just isn’t the same without you.”

I hated to do this, but I looked at Edward for direction at what I was supposed to say. He put his arm around me and turned to her. “My parents took Bella in. She’s my fiancé. Now, about the wait time?” he asked.

He really shouldn’t keep saying I was his fiancé to people who know me here. No one was going to believe him. They all knew my aspirations before. None of them included marriage this early.

“Fiancé?” Her brow furrowed in confusion turning to me. “Bella? What happened to A & M? The writing dreams… that’s all you’ve talked about for the last two years.”

“Yes, well Bella’s plans have changed since she left Phoenix,” Edward answered brusquely. “Now, the wait?” he stressed again.

Miss Kathy glanced down at my waist before looking at Edward. “An hour, like Bella said,” she answered. She sounded sad. “You can wait on the porch until we call your table.” She gave me a halfhearted smile with a hint of disappointment.

I looked at her in confusion before it registered what she was thinking. Oh God! Oh God! I felt my cheeks heat up in a furious blush. I shook my head furiously at her. “I’m not pregnant. I promise!”

She looked at me closely while I continued to shake my head. “I’m not.”

I saw relief flood her face as she put her hand to her chest. “Oh Bella, I was so worried about you for a minute there. I thought you’d thrown your life away with a teen pregnancy. I understand now. You’re in love so you’re going to go to college in Washington now.” She nodded at her interpretations, liking the sound of them. “That’s understandable then. Just don’t rush things; college is going to be hard enough. There are some great schools out there if I remember correctly…”

I opened my mouth to correct her and then closed it. At least she would have a good fantasy about my life after we leave.

Edward guided me out onto the porch. I heard Miss Kathy over the speaker above the door. “Scott, your table is ready.” Miss Kathy knew all the regulars and called them by name like family. Only newcomers were called by their last name.

A young family got up from the chairs nearby and Edward steered me over to sit down. Their son was putting the red and black discs back in place on the table between the chairs. The little boy looked up at Edward. “Here you go sir. It’s ready to play,” he said before running up to his father who was waiting for him at the door. I smiled as the father tousled his hair before disappearing inside.

I turned to Edward. He was being awfully quiet; I was afraid he was angry again. He had a distant look on his face as he stared at the checkerboard. “Do you want to play?” I coaxed. “We have time.”

He looked at me smiling and held his hand out to me. I put my hand in his as he raised it to his lips. He let go and gestured at the board. “Ladies first.”

I smiled and pushed my disc out.

We managed to finish two games and start a third before I heard our table called. This game would have been the tiebreaker. We were pretty evenly matched for strategy and it was nice to hear Edward laugh.

“Bella, your table is ready.” I heard over the speaker.

Edward looked at me and sighed, his expression distant again, “I guess your name carries more weight with her than mine.”

“Edward, I’m-“ I started.

He held up a hand stopping me. He smiled. “I’m not mad, Bella.”

He guided me inside and Miss Kathy was waiting for us. She led us to the booth at the end. We sat and she gave us our silverware rolled up in paper napkins. She asked him, “Would you care for coffee?”

“Yes, please and orange juice for Bella and two waters,” he ordered.

She shook her head and walked away to get our drinks.

Edward frowned. “The service leaves something to be desired. She didn’t leave a menu.” This was going to be interesting. It could go either way- good or bad, depending on how much of my life he really wanted to know. I knew why she didn’t leave a menu. Miss Kathy knew what I ordered breakfast, lunch or dinner when we came; French toast with extra powdered sugar, crisp bacon, orange slices and a large milk. I haven’t deviated from this in 10 years. It wouldn’t matter what Edward ordered for me, she was going to bring my usual. Since Edward was with me and new to the restaurant, she was bringing him the same.

“Could I have a menu?” he asked when she brought our waters and Edward’s coffee to the table.

I hid a laugh as she patted his shoulder before walking away. Edward looked at me narrowing his eyes. “I heard that, Bella. Now would you like to tell me what you find so amusing?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure what kind of mood he was in. His expression looked annoyed but his voice was normal. “Well you see,” I started. “There’s a reason she didn’t leave you a menu.” I looked at him, chewing on my bottom lip.

He pulled my hand across the table into his. “You don’t need to be nervous. We’re just talking. And I can’t do cryptic love, just tell me what you want to say,” he said gently.

I noticed Miss Kathy and Howard coming toward our table with our plates. “You’re about to find out. Edward, don’t be angry. I’ve known Miss Kathy and Howard for as long as I’ve lived here. Everyone here means well, please don’t hurt their feelings,” I mumbled quickly. I lowered my voice as they came near. “Just try it and if you don’t like it she’ll bring you a menu.” I smiled, pleading with him to be nice.

“Is that my star slugger hiding in the corner?” Howard’s voice boomed as he walked up to the table. He set my plate down and held out his arms for me.

I forgot to look at Edward, and before I knew it I had already halfway scooted out of my seat to stand. “Please Edward,” I whispered. As I said it, I just realized there wasn’t anything for me to be pleading for. This was ridiculous. But I couldn’t help it. These people were too important to me, and they would never know of my new lifestyle. So it was hard to find the balance between both lives. Just being home, on my territory- woke some of my old courage up, and things like standing up when I wanted… it was natural. Howard picked me up in a bear hug making me squeal. “Hi, Howard, how’s the French toast today?”

He laughed setting me back on my feet. “Well I think it’s been slipping since you haven’t been here to keep me on my toes. Why don’t you take a bite and you tell me?”

I sat down and glanced at Edward finally. I could see the slight tic in his jaw, but he was keeping his expression neutral. I didn’t understand this. What the hell is his problem?! Howard was a member of the male specimen, so automatically he’s a threat? For God’s sake, he’s a married old man! Edward needed to take a fucking break and relax.

Miss Kathy set Edward’s plate down in front of him.

I grabbed the syrup and poured it over my plate before picking up my fork and cutting a bite off. I stabbed the bite and brought it to my mouth. I took the bite and closed my eyes as I slid my fork back out between my lips. “Mmm!” I opened my eyes as I chewed and swallowed. “The best I’ve ever had.” I grinned to Howard. “I honestly don’t know how I’ve lived without it for so long.”

Howard threw his head back and laughed. “That’s my girl! I was worried for a minute you’d found someone else to make your favorite.”

I shook my head at him. “No one can ever replace you Howard. You know I love you.” I laughed, “Well I love your French toast anyway.” I was scared to look at Edward now, who knows what he’d make of our exchange. Had it been Edward’s choice, he’d lock me up in a tower away from the world, and only allow his mother and sisters to see me. He was more than over-protective, it went farther than that, he was a possessive Ogre sometimes. I glanced at him from under lowered lashes, unwilling to look him in the eye as Howard turned to him.

“Alright that’s one positive review. What do you think young man? I know you didn’t order it but everyone has to try the French toast at least once when they come with Bella. If it’s not to your liking Kathy will get you a menu to order something else on the house,” Howard assured him.

Edward cleared his throat picking up his fork to take a bite. “Thank you. I appreciate that.” He took the bite and chewed for a minute. His brow wrinkled a moment and then he swallowed. He turned to Howard, “I don’t think that will be necessary after all. Like Bella said, it’s the best I’ve had.”

Howard stuck out his hand to Edward. “Howard Meyer, I’m glad you like it. Although there wasn’t really any doubt. No one turns down my French toast,” he laughed.

Edward shook his hand. “Edward Cullen. I’m Bella’s fiancé. It’s nice to meet you.”

Shit.

Howard looked over at me. “Fiancé?”

I closed my eyes. Here we go again. Fortunately, Miss Kathy saved me. She patted his arm. “I’ll explain later. Let’s let these kids eat while it’s hot.” She turned to us. “I’ll bring your milk and get some more coffee. Do you need anything else?”

“No I think we’re fine here,” Edward answered.

I smiled and shook my head. They left and I kept my head down eating my breakfast. She brought my glass and refilled Edward’s coffee and left again. I kept glancing up at Edward trying to judge his mood. Was my week over already? Was he angry with me? I really couldn’t tell. The only thing I knew for certain is that he did like the food. When we were finished he paid the bill and we left after he assured them we would be back again before we went home. When we got in the car he sat there a minute before turning to me. I was chewing a hole through my bottom lip I was so scared. He cupped my chin, smiling and used his thumb to gently tug my bottom lip out of my mouth.

“Bella if you don’t stop chewing your lip it’s going to fall off,” he said softly.

I searched his eyes. “I know you’re angry,” I told him. “Is it over now?”

He drew me to him and gave me a gentle kiss. “You didn’t do anything, it’s… hmm… well, me. This isn't easy but I want you to have this time so where would you like to go next?”

“Well…would you mind going to the ball park? We can go to the batting cages for a little while,” I asked nervously. What exactly did these new guidelines entail? It’s been too long since I was free to make a decision that I almost didn’t know how anymore.

“The ball park sounds fine,” he said.

I smiled, relieved before looking down at my clothes. I was in heels. I can’t bat in heels. I glanced at Edward’s feet. He was in loafers.

“Um, Edward-“ I started. I didn’t know how to do this.

He was still pulling out of the parking lot. “Yes?”

“Um, I need to change to go to the batting cages. I can’t bat in high heels. We need to stop by my house. I need my bat, and my old sneakers should still be in the house. You can borrow a pair of Phil’s if you want. He and I both had several pairs for games and practices.”

“It’s alright. I can take you to a store to get shoes and a bat,” he said.

“I don’t want you to buy me a new bat or shoes,” I sort of snapped. But then I couldn’t stop it, “I want to use mine. Phil gave me my bat and it’s the only one I’ve ever used. I want to wear my shoes.” Crap, the real Bella is somewhat back, and it’s hard to control her. Barbie’s gotta speak up before I get in trouble. “Please, if it’s ok?” I hated this. I almost wish he’d just take it back and go back to telling me what to do. This was too hard and I was so scared of making a mistake.

He made a u-turn. “Alright, we’ll go by your house first,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. Oh my god! He just rolled his eyes at me, how dare he…

But then I was smiling. He was acting somewhat normal! Responding to my feistiness with a roll of the eyes was a classic Rose move. Carlisle’s Edward would have probably stopped the car and yanked me over his lap to punish me. My Edward was growing.

I reached over to squeeze his hand. “Thanks,” I said softly.

We pulled up to my house and went inside. I went upstairs to my bedroom and dug in my closet. I pulled out my old ratty sneakers. I looked to Edward standing in the doorway waiting for me. He was wearing a smirk, looking at the sneakers, back to my outfit. He knew what was coming.

“Is it okay if I change clothes? It’s just more comfortable for what we’re going to do,” I asked chewing my lip.

“Yeah, whatever…” He shook the comment off; something else was on his mind.

Edward walked up to me and took my hand pulling me to sit on my bed. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me brushing my lips with his tongue. I kissed him back. I didn’t understand what he was thinking, but at least he was still being my Edward. He finally pulled back and reached to hold my face in his hands. His stare was penetrating, his eyes were sparkling and a hint of a smile tugged at his lips. Probably caught me ogling, but I couldn’t help it, I always got so lost in his eyes….

“Bella, this is your time. It’s not easy but I promise I want to do this. Please don’t worry about everything you want to do. Just tell me and we’ll do it. Seriously. You do not need to ask permission today for anything. The rule still applies about taking advantage but I’ll tell you if you start to cross the line. Until then just be yourself. Please? I want to know you. I love you Bella.”

If only he knew that what he just said was an oxymoron. Be yourself in moderation? Act how you always do, human, but if you’re being too human… what then?

Screw it, I’d have to take what’s been offered. I was even myself more with Emmett and he scared the crap out of me in the beginning. Okay then, from this moment Bella Barbie is officially off the clock and just Bella was back. In moderation. Ha! Well, he asked for me, so I’d be sure to let him know who I am. I gave him my best smile and kissed his nose.

Bud you’re in for a rude awakening for what’s to come.

“Okay. I promise I will not ask your permission and tell you whatever I want to do.” My cockiness didn’t last long. It deflated like a balloon being popped with the sharpest of needles. “And you’ll really do it?” I asked again just to be sure.

“Yes, Bella, for the last time whatever you want to do. Now are you going to change so we can go, or would you rather sit here and ask me repeatedly all afternoon?”

I laughed at his comment. Well, frustration serves him well. He just didn’t understand how hard it was for me to take his word.

“What is it Bella? Talk to me. I can tell something is going on inside that beautiful head of yours. Tell me, please. Whatever it is.”

“I- I’m just scared,” I admitted.

“Scared of what?” he asked.

I swallowed and looked down at my hands. He tilted my face back up to look at him.

“Of you,” I whispered. “I’m scared this is going to be a trick. I’m scared you’ll get mad at me. I’m scared you’re going to punish me or hurt me. I’m scared to be myself with you. What if you don’t like me? What then? Are you going to sell me to someone else or get rid of me?” I couldn’t believe I told him my fears. It actually felt good to tell him. Now if he could only reassure me that everything was going to be ok.

He gently lifted me and slid me onto his lap. Edward always held me close when I was hurting or when he was fighting his own demons; his separation anxiety. I know I always felt comforted and reassured when I was in his arms. I didn’t understand why, but it didn’t make it any less true. When Edward held me close I was warm and safe.

“Bella, I will never let you go. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I want to know you. I promise I won’t hurt you. I don’t want you to ever fear me again. I have all this love for you, and I’ll be the happiest man in the world if some of it is returned. Will you please just trust me this week? Can you try at least?” he asked gently.

I buried my face in his neck; inhaling his scent and let him hold me close. I nodded, kissing his neck. “Okay, I’ll do my best.”

“Now,” he said helping me to stand. “Go on and change your clothes and get your bat. We can stop at a store to get shoes for me.”

I smiled and went to rummage in my dresser for a decent pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I had taken my best clothes when I moved so my selection wasn’t the greatest of what I left behind. I finally settled on an old ‘Keith Urban’ t-shirt from a concert a couple of years back and a pair of ripped faded out jeans that had seen better days. I changed quickly and slipped on my socks and sneakers.

“My bat will be in the garage. We can grab that and I’m ready.”

“Then lets go if you’re ready,” he said.

We went downstairs and I led him through the kitchen to the garage. I haven’t been in the garage since the morning of the accident when mom took me to school. She had picked me up from Janey’s after school so we could meet Phil for dinner. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I opened the door.

I slid down the wall and started crying.

I stared at the maroon SUV with a big bow on the hood. It was covered in dust now from sitting all these months. I remembered my birthday; it had started out so well.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Bella. Happy birthday to you,” mom and Phil sang.

Phil pulled my covers from over my head where I had buried it when they started singing. “Rise and shine sleepy head,” he laughed.

“Gah! Do I have to; can’t I just play sick for my birthday?” I asked fighting him for my blankets.

Mom was laughing at our antics. “I told you not to stay up so late. Maybe next time you’ll listen.”

I spared a glance to her while still fighting Phil. “But Mom, it’s such a great book. I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. Really, I know you’d like it also. Phil! Quit, stop! That tickles!” I shrieked. He had changed tactics to squeezing right above my knees succeeding in getting my blankets from me.

“You know what to say,” he reminded me laughing.

“Uncle! Uncle! Please stop,” I laughed.

He released me so I could catch my breath from laughing. I wiped the tears from my eyes as he and mom both gave me a hug and kiss on each cheek. Mom, naturally got all sentimental on me.

“Oh, my baby is growing up,” she said wistfully. She was hugging me close and kissing my temple repeatedly like she always did. “I can’t believe I only have you for one more year and then you’re off to college. Where did the years go? It seems like only yesterday you were a baby. You were my miracle baby, you know that?” she asked leaning back to brush my hair from my face.

“Miracle? Why?” I asked. At least this year was going to be a new story. Every year I heard stories about how much she loved me.

“I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant again, but I did. The doctors didn’t think I’d ever carry you to term or even survive the pregnancy. But I loved you from the moment I found out I was having a little girl. I swore to take every precaution necessary to keep you safe while you grew inside of me.” A tear fell from her eyes while she looked at me. “Now look at you; my beautiful angel. A senior in high school. Almost a grown woman.”

Phil put his arm around her and kissed her head. He laughed softly at her. “You do this every birthday, Honey. You always cry. Now, no more tears. Bella needs to get ready for school so she isn’t late and you and I have errands to run today. Remember?”

Mom hugged Phil back and smiled brightly at me. “I’m sorry Bella. I’m just being mom. My heart just hurts today for some reason. I feel like it’s trying to jump out of my chest. I just want you to know how very much you are loved. Now, do you want French toast? I know mine isn’t as good as Howard’s.”

I laughed. “No offense mom, but nobody makes French toast as good as Howard. But yeah, I guess I can suffer and eat yours today,” I said playfully to her, trying to sound depressed.

That cheered her up. “Watch it young lady,” she laughed. “You’re not too old to put in time-out.” She swatted my thigh on the bed next to her. “Now get dressed and come down to breakfast.”

She and Phil gave me one last kiss before heading down to start breakfast together.


**

I went to Janey’s house after school. Mom picked me up before picking up Phil at the ballpark to go to dinner. We went to Carraba’s; it was one of my favorite places to eat. We laughed and told jokes over dinner and dessert. We kept our waiter entertained also. Mom kept telling Aggie jokes to harass Phil and I. She knew I had my heart set on going to Texas A & M. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea of me going so far away, but she accepted it because she knew it was what I wanted. I may not have been Phil’s biological child, but I was like him in so many ways that I could have been.

We left the restaurant laughing not knowing our time as a family was coming to an end. Maybe if I’d known, I would have hugged them more, called Phil ‘Dad’ since he deserved the title more than anyone. I would have said ‘I love you’ more, cleaned my room when mom told me to, not roll my eyes, been less of a pain.

We were only ten minutes from home when the accident happened. If we’d left the restaurant one minute earlier or one minute later they’d still be alive. One minute changed my whole life. Mom and Phil told me my birthday present was waiting at the house for me. I laughed and told them they didn’t need to get me anything. They had finally given me permission to start dating. I couldn’t wait to get home and call Matt. I’ve had a crush on him since last year and I knew he liked me too. Now I was finally going to get to go to a movie with him without a group.

That was the moment the big SUV swerved into our lane. Our car lay upside down in a ditch for almost half an hour before anyone came by to help. I’ve been terrified of being alone and silence ever since. Phil was killed on impact, mom died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I was banged up and had a concussion. I spent a couple of nights in the hospital. My Uncle JJ and Aunt Teri stayed with me. He was Phil’s only brother. They made all the arrangements for their funerals and took me to their home from the hospital.

They were shocked when Phil and mom’s attorney showed up stating that my father had custody and was making arrangements for me to move to Washington. I didn’t want to go. We argued with the attorney that mom and Phil always said that if anything happened I would live with them. They were the only other family that I had. I loved them and my cousins as much as they loved me. We were a close family. Uncle JJ hired an attorney to fight for custody, but according to the judge blood was all that mattered to him. I had a father and he wanted me, on top of the fact that the will Phil’s attorney produced clearly stated that was their wish as well.

I didn’t understand any of it. If mom wanted my father to take care of me then why didn’t I have any contact with him over the years? Why didn’t my brother ever visit? Why did she always allude that he wasn’t a nice man? Nothing made sense even now knowing first hand just how truly evil he was.

I cried for everything I’d lost; my mom, Phil, my home, my friends, my innocence, my life while I stared at the SUV. I felt arms pick me up from the ground and carry me back in the house while I continued to sob. Edward sat on the sofa with me in his arms. He stroked my head and was making shushing noises against my temple trying to comfort me.

“I’m sorry Bella,” he whispered. “I know it hurts. It’ll be okay.”

Hearing Edward’s words made something inside of me snap. I sat up straight and looked at him. I was seething. I felt like the Tasmanian Devil, out of control- wild. I felt six months of suppressed anger and resentment bubble up inside of me. It was emotional damage coming out in the form of word vomit. And I wouldn’t stop it. I couldn’t.

I tried to stand up but he only tightened his arms around me. I needed him to let me go or I was going to explode. “Hush, Bella. It’s okay love. I’m here for you. Lean on me.”

I started laughing at that. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I was laughing so hard that if I hadn’t been crying already I would be now. The look of confusion and concern on Edward’s face just made me laugh harder. I was cackling, clutching my stomach.

“Bella, baby you need to calm down. You’re getting hysterical,” he told me worriedly. He was looking at me with real concern now.

I opened my mouth and everything came out. “No shit Sherlock. Did you just figure that out?” I asked incredulously. I pushed against his shoulders to get him to release me so I could stand. I think the shock distracted him enough to loosen his grip on me. I took a huge deep breath, and my hysteria was now muted. I looked down on him, and then it erupted.

“WHAT THE FUCK did you think I would feel?! Numb, calm, controlled? You want Bella Barbie to come out and play?” I sneered at him. I fanned myself with my hand. “You want her to bat her eyelashes and simper and fawn all over you? A flowerpot for a brain? Well fuck you Edward Anthony Cullen! I hate Bella Barbie! I hate everything about her! I hate her more than anything- I hate her demeanor, I hate her submissiveness, and I hate her fear. I’ve never hated like I do now. And at first, I didn’t know where it was coming from. But it didn’t take long to connect the dots of my terror and all this hate. I was never afraid until I moved to Forks. Now that’s all I am- is afraid! I haven’t been happy since the accident. I hate life now! And it’s YOUR fault. You’re destroying me. I have nightmares all the time! In the beginning they were reliving the accident. Now they’re about Charlie and James and what they did to me. They’re about James and Paul raping me. They’re about you and your sick father! I hate you! I hate what you’ve turned me into!”

“This is my home! Not yours! Mine! My home; where I was loved by the best parents in the world, only to have them snatched from me when I still needed them. Instead of getting to live with my aunt and uncle who loved me as much as mom and Phil, I get shipped to the pits of hell to live with Satan himself and his devil spawn. You’re not any better than they were. You want to know the only thing separating you from them in my eyes? Do you?!” I yelled.

Edward just sat there staring at me.

“You’re not family! It isn’t incest what you make me do. That’s all! You dress it up and try and make it look pretty by calling it love, but it isn’t. You force me to do things I hadn’t thought about doing for years! Every fucking night of my life…. Who the fuck is supposed to fear going to bed? Well I do! I don’t care if we haven’t had actual sex yet. That won’t be any different. All those tears afterwards? You wanna know why I’m crying asshole?! I’m disgusted by it. I’m grossed out. That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done in my life. I hate that you make me want you, that you make me enjoy it. I don’t want to want you! I don’t want to care about you! You claim you love me? Bullshit! You don’t know the first thing about love.”

“I actually feel sorry for you,” I said softly. The steam had run its course. I was tired and weary. I was done.

I sighed and left the room. I went to mom and Phil’s room to get what I needed. What he needed. I came back to the living room surprised that Edward hadn’t moved or said a word. I stood in front of him and reached out to give him what was in my hand.

“Here, I guess you’ll be wanting this now,” I said calmly. I was surprised at myself how calm I felt; it was like a giant weight had been lifted from my chest and I could breathe again for the first time in months. I would never regret it no matter what.

Edward looked up at me, and his eyes were unfocused. Then he looked down to what lay in my hand. It was one of Phil’s belts. He looked up again, and his eyes were so sad. He looked away, and continued to stare at the belt, but didn’t reach to take it from me.

I sighed. “Can we just get this over with? Do you want to beat me here, or upstairs, or wait until we’re back at the hotel? I’m sorry but Phil didn’t like to dress up so he was buried with his only tie. I don’t have anything for you to tie my hands with so you’ll just have to deal with it,” I informed him.

I was getting frustrated standing there waiting for Edward so I shook the belt at him. He still appeared to be zoning.

“Hello, Earth to Edward. Come back into orbit, please. Would you just take the damn belt and hit me already. I’m drained and I need something to drink. Just get on with it and beat the crap out of me already,” I said wearily.

That seemed to snap him out of whatever trance he was in. He stood in front of me and took the belt from my hand. He stared at it a moment before making a fist around it. He turned and threw the belt against the far wall with a growl. Then he turned back to me, his sad eyes back. Then he scratched his head, closed his eyes, and swiveled around, away from me. He let a cry of outrage or whatever he was feeling out. He was breathing heavily. He turned back to me searching my eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” was all he whispered. He tried to reach for me and I stepped back away from him.

His eyes started to water, and he closed them tightly, clenching them. When he reopened them, any trace of the tears had disappeared.

“Bella, I don’t ever want to abuse you again. I’m sorry for the times that I have. I was wrong, so very wrong. You’re right. I’m no better than Charlie or James. I feel like a monster. I know I’ve been no better than one. I can’t tell you how much regret I feel. I’ve hurt you so much. I wasn’t there for you when you lost them. That first night, oh god. I should be killed for that. I should’ve been there, all that time I just left you there…”

He was speaking mostly to himself now, and I was glad. He should know the magnitude of terror Charlie and James instilled in me. He was shaking his head, closing and reopening his eyes over and over. A minute went by.

“I just…I want you to know that, ah Shit! Bella, I…”

“What?” I snapped. Another minute.

“Bella I didn’t know what love was when I first go- met you.”

I nodded, smiled that he corrected himself. It’s the first time he didn’t refer to me like a possession. He carefully reached for me again and tried to pull me down, I snapped my wrist back.

“I can sit down by myself, thank you very much.”

He sighed. “I guess I deserved that. Will you sit with me?”

“Not on your lap.” I didn’t want to feel that warmth. I didn’t want him to feel that security either. Not this time.

“Fine,” he said sadly.

I sat down. I let him hold my hands. He rubbed them, kissed them, and lrubbed his cheek with them. It was reassuring him.

“I want to learn how to love. As I'm getting to know you I'm learning what a truly wonderful fantastic human being you really are, and I love what I know. But I know there’s so much more. I am falling in love with you, Bella, and not in the way I’ve been taught to. I’m falling for everything I’ve been told is wrong. I’m not used to this feeling and it scares the hell out of me.” He tucked my hair behind my ear. “I know you said you hate me, but do you think there’s even a remote possibility that that could change?” he asked. “That you could ever love me?”

I stopped myself from just blurting out a ‘no’.

“Edward, honestly? Maybe, but I’m not sure. The Edward I met at first?” I shook my head. “No way in hell. He’s hateful, cruel, and has hurt me too many times. I could never not hate that monster. Now…” I trailed off. I wasn’t sure if what I was going to say made any sense.

“Now?” he asked gently. His thumb was stroking my cheek gently. I could see the hope in his eyes.

“Now?” I began again. “Now, you’ve shown a different side. It’s not black and white anymore. There are some things I really do like about you, but the there’s still too much of the bad stuff. I know no one is perfect. I know everyone has their good and bad sides. It’s a balance, you can’t love everything about someone, but there has to be more good than bad and so far there just isn’t enough good to outweigh everything wrong. You’re still a dictator, just not as mean of one.”

He frowned at my analogy of him. “Well, at least you recognize the differences. You’re changing me Bella. And I like it. If I keep going- keep trying,” he asked gently. “Do you think you could love me then?”

I looked at him carefully and weighed my answer. “Edward, I’m no romance expert, but let’s take one thing at a time? First off, some people, regular people, try at the love thing, and it doesn’t work out. They’re just not meant for one another.”

He started shaking his head at that frantically, about to cut in, but I jumped in before he had the opportunity, “I’m not saying I won’t love you, but how can I know? The only Edward I know is the old one, and who knows what I’ll think of the new one? I can say that the new one would stand a better chance. But I can’t promise to feel something for someone I haven’t gotten to know and Edward, I don’t know you for other than what you’ve shown me. Secondly, I don’t think you even know how not to be a dictator? Marriage is a partnership. We each have strengths and weaknesses. I’ll admit I’m not perfect, but neither are you. Marriage is the union of two people. Both partners have a say in decisions, not just one barking orders at the other all the time. I want the kind of marriage I’ve been raised to expect, not the kind that you try to force upon me. I won’t be happy and I will never love you if you make me live like that. I may care, but I won’t love you. Ever.”

Edward looked at me thoughtfully before responding. He paused and blew out a breath. He closed his eyes and swallowed. When his eyes opened, his gaze was haunted and full of fear. “Bella I don’t know how to be any other way, but I am trying. You said yourself; I’ve started changing for the better. Will you help me become the kind of man you can love? I want your love and will walk through fire for you if that’s what it takes. Will you teach me how to love you the right way; the way you say Phil loved your mom? Please say you’ll teach me to be a better man for you. I’ll beg if you want me to.”

I wasn’t prepared for that. I couldn’t believe he wanted to learn how to love; the right way. If he truly changed and became man he said he wanted to be for me, I knew I would be happy. I knew how to love. If I truly loved him and he loved me it would be as strong as Alice and Jasper’s love. I could have the life I wanted. I could have it all; a good strong marriage and a family again. It was worth the risk. I couldn’t believe I was going to say this even now. I moved to sit on Edward’s lap and he wrapped his arms around me. I tilted his face to mine and leaned in to kiss him.

Just before our lips touched I whispered, “Yes, I’ll teach you how to love.”

“Oh Bella,” he groaned. Our lips crashed together and I could feel all of Edward’s fear melting away in our kiss. My fear disintegrated also. It became a kiss of hope for our future. I was opening my heart to the possibility of love. I was opening my heart to Edward. My only fear now would be him breaking it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chapter 34

Chapter 34

I followed Bella downstairs to the garage after she changed clothes. I felt a little uncomfortable seeing her dressed as she was now. Watching her ahead of me on the stairs in a t-shirt that looked like it may have been black at one time with a picture of some country singer on the front, in jeans that had the darker impression with a missing back pocket and torn out knees, and sneakers that should have been thrown out years ago by the looks of them... As long as she was dressed the way I wanted her, she looked older, which I never realized helped me avoid feeling guilty about her age; I didn’t even think about it. She didn’t look like my Bella now; she looked like the teenage Bella in all the pictures in the house.

‘Duh, who did you think she was?’ the voice asked sarcastically.

I should have known the voice in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. At least he wasn’t calling me names today.

‘Yet. I’m not calling you names yet. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before you’re going to screw up.’

I chose to ignore him and go back to my own thoughts as I continued to follow Bella. I was very good at avoidance. The old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ worked at burying a lot of things over the years. Things I didn’t want to remember from my childhood; things we’d been forced to observe; things I’d forgotten were buried deep inside me. I’d always felt confident that I stood on solid ground with my morals and belief system. Nothing swayed me from how Carlisle raised us. I respected my father; he would accept nothing less from me.

Now Bella was destroying my foundation. I hadn’t even realized she was doing it in the beginning. She had snuck into my heart and mind deeper than I ever intended her to be. Carlisle warned us never to let a woman in this deep; that it would destroy us. They were to be decorations - trophies to show off to colleagues - just another sign of our successes. Alice had destroyed Jasper’s walls from the very beginning until there was nothing left of our father in him. I could see what Rosalie’s pregnancy was doing to Emmett’s walls. She obviously weakened the mortar over the last four years so that now it only took one push to knock most of them down. My walls were thickest and reinforced, but Bella had somehow made it inside the fortress of my heart. She was tearing my walls down from the inside out, brick by brick, and it really terrified me. Who would I find buried inside once she took down the last brick?

I was grateful that I had Jasper to talk to about Bella. He frustrated me to no end when he gave advice; I felt like he was attacking me from the front while Bella made a sneak attack to my unguarded rear. But if I stepped out of myself long enough to actually analyze what he said, I realized it all made sense. Once I took the actual steps to follow his advice and do what he suggested, I realized that I like the man I was becoming around Bella. I felt a peace I hadn't felt in years - not since I was a little boy. The checkerboard at the restaurant this morning reminded me of all the games Es - no, ‘Mom’ used to play with me. She taught me how to play checkers, and then chess. I would make a stop later today at a store to buy a chess set for Bella and I to play. She mentioned this morning that she wanted to learn how to play.

I hadn’t realized we were at the garage, so lost in my own thoughts, until I heard a sound of pain coming from Bella. She’d just stepped into the garage, still standing in the doorway. She had her arms wrapped tight around her waist and was staring with wide eyes across the garage at the Kia Sportage parked there. Backing away to the wall, she slid down to the floor and began to sob. Her eyes stared fixated on the vehicle while her tears fell unchecked. I didn’t understand why a car would cause such a reaction from her until I realized there was a bow on the front hood. It, along with the SUV, was covered in dust.

It took me a moment to put everything together. This must have been her birthday gift from her mom and step-father. Evidently, she didn’t know the vehicle was even here. From my arguments with Carlisle about bringing Bella on this trip, he had told me that Bella went straight from the hospital to her uncle’s home after the accident, and from there to Charlie’s. He said she never set foot back in the house after Renee took her to school that morning. I remembered briefly wondering how he always seemed to know so much more about Bella than I did. I’d have to worry about that another time though.

Right now, my Bella needed me.

I picked her up, cradling her in my arms as she continued to sob. I pressed my lips into her hair, making shushing noises to calm her as I took her back in the house. I sat on the sofa and gently rocked her comforting her.

“I’m sorry, Bella,” I whispered. “I know it hurts. It’ll be okay.”

I felt Bella stiffen in my arms. She tried to get up but I knew she wasn’t ready. She still needed me. I needed to show her how much I loved her and could take care of her. I instinctively tightened my arms around her to pull her into a tighter cuddle, to help her feel secure. She wouldn’t relax and continued to squirm.

“Hush, Bella. It’s okay, Love. I’m here for you. Lean on me,” I told her.

She looked at me with those deep chocolate eyes. They were red rimmed and shimmering from crying. All of a sudden she started laughing; not a happy laugh, but something that bordered on hysteria.

“Bella, baby, you need to calm down. You’re getting hysterical,” I cautioned her.

I was beginning to worry that I may need to take her to the hospital and have her sedated if she didn’t calm down soon. Her hysteria was increasing and becoming more out of control.

“No shit, Sherlock. Did you just figure that out?” she blurted out.

I was stunned; Bella knew better than to talk to me like this. Even with the freedoms I allowed her now, she still had to speak to me with respect. I had just reinforced this to her not long ago. I didn’t even realize that my arms had loosened enough for her to move out of my hold. Just as I was about to remind her of her place, she shocked me back into silence. Bella stood in front of me with fire in her eyes, the likes of which I had never seen in her. Not even that first night when she crossed the line in her behavior. Her eyes were now shooting daggers at me as she stood with her hands on her hips, screaming at me. She was out of control, I knew, but I was frozen in my place hearing what she said. I listened to her talk about herself in the third person - she actually gave herself a name: Bella Barbie. Was this what I had made her into?

“What the fuck did you think I would feel?! Numb, calm, controlled? You want Bella Barbie to come out and play? A flowerpot for a brain? Well, fuck you, Edward Anthony Cullen! I hate Bella Barbie! I hate everything about her! I hate her more than anything - I hate her demeanor, I hate her submissiveness, and I hate her fear. I’ve never hated like I do now!” she screamed.

I felt my chest tighten with each accusation she made. She told me that we were the reasons for her nightmares. I knew about her nightmares; I’d listened to them and held her through them. I vaguely registered that she mentioned Carlisle again. I guess she would think he was sick since he bought her for me. I know all his comments upset her. I had made her hate herself. I had turned her into someone she didn’t want to be; my Bella. If there was any doubt her next words if they’d been a physical blow, would have killed me.

“I hate you! I hate what you’ve turned me into!” She took a breath and continued driving the nails in my coffin. “This is my home! Not yours! Mine! My home - where I was loved by the best parents in the world, only to have them snatched from me when I still needed them. Instead of getting to live with my aunt and uncle who loved me as much as mom and Phil, I get shipped to the pits of hell to live with Satan himself and his devil spawn. You’re not any better than they were. You want to know the only thing separating you from them in my eyes? Do you?!”

I didn’t have an answer to her question and was terrified what answer Bella would give. I was right to be afraid. I was being crushed by the weight of guilt she was burying me under.

“You’re not family! It isn’t incest what you make me do. That’s all! You dress it up and try and make it look pretty by calling it love, but it isn’t. You force me to do things I hadn’t thought about doing for years! Every fucking night of my life... Who the fuck is supposed to fear going to bed? Well, I do! I don’t care if we haven’t had actual sex yet. That won’t be any different. All those tears afterwards? You wanna know why I’m crying, asshole?! I’m disgusted by it. I’m grossed out. That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done in my life. I hate that you make me want you, that you make me enjoy it. I don’t want to want you! I don’t want to care about you! You claim you love me? Bullshit! You don’t know the first thing about love.”

“I actually feel sorry for you,” she finished softly.

I thought back to every night that I’d spent with her in our bed. I always took care of Bella, making sure she had her orgasm before I found my release. Then I remembered Emmett’s comments about sex with Rosalie, and how much she hated him in the beginning. I remembered Jasper saying it took six months before he could even make love to Alice. I realized that while I thought I was bringing Bella pleasure, I was in reality destroying her every time she cried out during her orgasm. I was killing the woman I loved.

‘Yeah, you are... so, what are you going to do about it?’

I vaguely registered that Bella had walked away, but I was too stunned by her words and the questions being asked in my mind to stop her. This time the voice didn’t sound so cocky - he sounded just as depressed as I felt. What was I going to do about it? Could I make it right?

‘Of course you can make it right, Assward!’ Now the voice was angry at me again. ‘Didn’t you take notes when you talked to Jasper? He said you have a small window of time to still gain her love. He said to let her be herself. You did well this morning. You kept your fucking mouth shut for once and didn’t ruin it for her at the diner. You let her have her moment with those people.’

‘So, does that mean you have faith in me now?’ I asked. Hell, now I was actually having a conversation with this damn voice. I wish he’d just go away. Things were so much simpler before he showed up. I didn’t have any doubts before.

Too bad, jackass, I’m not going anywhere. And no, I don’t have faith in you. I have faith in Bella. If you don’t get a clue soon, I lose and I loved Bella first. I don’t want you to screw this up for me. I need her. I’ve been locked away for too long.’

‘So just who the hell are you anyway? You talk like you think you’re a real person; you’re just a figment of my imagination. You’re not real. You can’t love Bella. And besides, Bella is mine, not yours.’

I heard a soft chuckle from deep in my mind. ‘You really don’t remember me, do you? Well, everyday that you’re with Bella, as your love grows for her, I get stronger. Before long, I’ll be strong enough to rid you from Bella’s life. She just needs to knock down a few more bricks around that dead thing in your chest you call a heart to set me free. Who am I? I’m the Edward you used to be. I’m the Edward that Mom raised us to be. I’m Bella’s Edward.’

I thought about what he said. Bella constantly talked about Carlisle’s Edward versus her Edward in her sleep. The night she was drunk, she had looked deep in my eyes while she called me her Edward and begged him not to go away again. Did she really see him in my eyes? Is he who she was fighting to reach inside of me?

“Here, I guess you’ll be wanting this now,” I heard Bella’s soft voice. I hadn’t realized she came back in the room or was even standing in front of me.

I looked at Bella, not really seeing her. I was so lost in my guilt and the realization that all the times she held my face and looked deep in my eyes, she was searching for him. Somehow she knew he was buried deep inside of me long before I did. I finally looked down at what she had in her hand: a belt. I looked at Bella again and realized the magnitude of what I’d done by punishing -

‘Abusing Fuckward, just admit it! You abuse Bella,’ the voice accused.

I saw every time Bella made a mistake - every time I corrected her flash in my mind - but this time I saw her eyes. I saw the fear and depression each time I corrected her. I worked hard not to physically punish Bella unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then, I went easy on her. I only gave her ten swats now and used my hand instead of a paddle. Well, except for a few weeks ago.

It was a Saturday. Carlisle and I had a meeting at the hospital we needed to attend. The hospital was considering partnering with a couple of hospitals in South America to share medical services for cases they weren’t equipped to handle. The meeting wrapped up earlier than expected so Carlisle left to play golf and I headed home to surprise Bella.

Carlisle had given Esme permission to spend the day in Seattle with Emmett and Rosalie to shop for the nursery. Bella had homework to finish so she was staying with Jasper and Alice. I decided to stop at the house first to change so I could surprise Bella with an afternoon in Port Angeles before picking her up from their house.

When I got to our room, the door stood partially open. I could hear the stereo playing a country music station and someone humming along. It wasn’t music I listened to so I quietly pushed open the door further to see Bella alone in our sitting room. She was lying on her stomach on the floor with her ankles crossed, her bare feet swinging in the air. She was engrossed in her book and didn’t notice me come into the room. She was absently twisting a lock of her hair, occasionally stroking the end across her cheek. I couldn’t get over how relaxed and peaceful she looked; I didn’t want to break the spell.

I was torn between scooping her up and take her into our bedroom for some afternoon loving or scolding her for disobeying. I told her she was to stay with Jasper and Alice until I picked her up. It was a simple rule to follow. I didn’t like her being by herself with no one to watch over her. As long as she was with someone, I felt secure. Bella must have sensed me because she suddenly looked up at me. I saw guilt and fear flash in her eyes. She knew she broke a rule. She jumped up turning off the stereo on her way toward me. She stood on tiptoes to kiss me, trying to distract me.

“E- Edward,” she stuttered, rushing through her excuse. “I didn’t expect you home so soon. I know you told me to stay with Jasper and Alice but,” she gestured to her book on the floor, “I got this great book from the library at school and thought I’d just read in our room. I did stay with them through lunch and I finished my homework. Please don’t be mad at me.”

She begged me with her eyes not to be mad. The fact that she admitted she knew she broke a rule and did it anyway made me disappointed in her. She knew the consequences of her actions. I really didn’t want to punish her; maybe I could avoid it.

“Bella,” I took her face in my hands and tilted it so I could read her eyes. “If I came home as planned in two hours, would I even know that you came home alone or would you be at Jasper’s, where I left you this morning?” She didn’t even need to answer. I saw it in her eyes. She would have lied to me. She tried to look down but I held her steady to look me in the eye.

“I would have been at Jasper’s,” she admitted softly. “I wouldn’t have told you I came home. But Edward, you don’t understand,” she started. “I just wanted to be by myself for a while. I wanted to see if I could handle it. It was hard, but the stereo helped break up the silence. It’s just that there is always someone with me and sometimes I feel claustrophobic. I need some space to breathe. I only came home and I’ve been in our room the whole time,” she explained.

“Bella, you know the rules. What book was so important that you felt the need to break them?” I asked.

She went and picked up the book to show me. “My government teacher was talking about it in class this week so I checked it out. It’s really interesting. It’s about the crisis in America today: the politics, the economy, and the war in Iraq.”

She didn’t need to be reading something like this. Politics weren’t for her. She should be reading her poetry or classics that I purchased for her.

“Was this a class assignment to read this?” I asked, reading the jacket cover. I wasn’t going to jump to conclusions.

She shook her head. “No, I just wanted to read it. I never realized how bad things were in our economy. It’s really scary when you think about it.”

I closed her book with a snap and set it on top of the armoire. She followed my actions, a look of confusion came over her face.

“Why did you do that? I need to mark my place, and you know I can’t reach that,” she stated, pointing where I’d placed her book.

“I know you can’t reach it, Bella; you don’t need to. I don’t want you reading this book or any like it. It isn’t necessary for you to worry about the economy or politics. I want you to return the book Monday when I take you to school.”

She stared at me a moment. “What do you mean it isn’t necessary? Just because I’m not running for office or anything doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be aware. I want to be informed. I’m going to be eighteen in September which means I’ll be old enough to vote.”

“Bella, you don’t need to worry about that. I’ll tell you how to vote. There’s nothing for you to know. If you want to read, then read the books I bought you. If you need something new to read, then we’ll stop at the bookstore before dinner tonight and you can pick out something. But first we need to deal with your disregard of the rules in coming home alone.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?” she gasped. “I don’t even get a say in who I vote for? I can’t read a book to be informed about the world around me? And why can’t I come home and read if I want? Why do I have to have someone with me all the time? It’s not like I could get away to leave on my own. I don’t even know the freaking code to the damn gate!”

She was building up to one of her little tantrums. “Bella,” I said sternly, “the rules are in place for a reason. They are for your protection. I am going to be your husband and as head of our household, I make the decisions. It’s your place as my wife to follow them without argument.”

She stomped away from me before turning back around to me. “Oh my gosh! Do you even hear yourself? You have your head so far up your own ass, you’ll need a crowbar just to pull it out again. That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“Bella, that’s enough,” I ordered harshly. She was really starting to piss me off now.

She turned her back on me crossing her arms over her chest in a huff. I heard her mumble something.

“What did you say?” I demanded.

She turned back and swallowed hard. “I said you were a tyrannical jackass,” she admitted.

After I calmed down enough to punish her, I still stuck to ten swats, but used a belt this time and locked her in our room for a week. She wanted to be alone, well, now she was. She went to school and then I brought her to our room each afternoon and locked her in. She refused to speak to me until I let her out of our room.

Naturally Jasper and Alice both came down on me. Alice was so angry, she refused to tell me anything Bella said to her after I let her out of our room. Jasper just shook his head at me and told me he was disappointed in me.


I was brought back to the present as I realized Bella was still standing in front of me, waiting for me to do something.

“Can we just get this over with? Do you want to beat me here, or upstairs, or wait until we’re back at the hotel? I’m sorry but Phil didn’t like to dress up so he was buried with his only tie. I don’t have anything for you to tie my hands with so you’ll just have to deal with it.”

I felt another truckload of guilt dump on my shoulders that she actually was discussing her punishment with calm acceptance. She expected to be punished by me. She knew I was going to pun -

‘Hit her. Just fucking say it! You are going to hit her repeatedly until you make her scream and cry. You’re going to take one more step at closing our window of time. You’re going to destroy her even more now. Now, just admit it for once in your sorry, screwed up, fucking excuse for a brain. Repeat after me: “I abuse the woman I love. I’m violent and I hurt her. She is smaller and weaker than me and I still hit her. I’m an abuser.” Say it now!’


“Hello, Earth to Edward. Come back into orbit, please. Would you just take the damn belt and hit me already. I’m drained and I need something to drink. Just get on with it and beat the crap out of me already,” she muttered.

I stood and took the belt from staring at it in my hand. I remembered again Bella crying the last time I used the belt on her.

‘I abuse the woman I love. I’m violent and I hurt her. She is smaller and weaker than me and I still hit her. I’m an abuser,’ I said it mentally. I admitted it. Never again would I hurt - abuse her. I curled my hand into a fist around the belt in my hand and turned away from Bella, throwing it against the far wall with an angry roar; away from my Bella. I looked back at Bella and saw the abused 17 year old girl that I loved. I didn’t see my dressed up Bella Barbie. I saw who she really was. She was so strong and yet so vulnerable. She was stronger than I was. She survived everything life had thrown at her; her parents deaths, Charlie and James and their abuse, my abuse. I had given up to the demands of my father. I had forgotten the man I was; I became the man Carlisle demanded me to become. I cried out in anguish as I realized I was not the man Bella needed. She needed and wanted her Edward, but I couldn’t give her up either.

‘Please, don’t take her away from me. I need her as much as you do. Help me?’ I asked the voice; her Edward.

‘Alright, but we do things my way. Let your walls down to let her in. We can find a way to live together and be the best kind of man to love and cherish her, but it won’t be easy for you. Start with an apology and we’ll go from there.’


“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I reached for her, needing to hold her in my arms. I needed her to soothe me. I wanted to die when, instead of letting me hold her, she stepped back away from my arms. She wouldn’t even let me hold her now. I was losing her. I felt the anguish rising up to take over and fought for control again. I wouldn’t be a baby - I wouldn’t cry - but I would start over. From this day forward, things would be different… if she would let me.

“Bella, I don’t ever want to abuse you again. I’m sorry for the times that I have. I was wrong, so very wrong. You’re right. I’m no better than Charlie or James. I feel like a monster. I know I’ve been no better than one. I can’t tell you how much regret I feel. I’ve hurt you so much. I wasn’t there for you when you lost them. That first night, oh god. I should be killed for that. I should’ve been there, all that time I just left you there…”

‘You can do this, Edward, you’re doing fine. Don’t stop now.’

“I just… I want you to know that, ah Shit! Bella, I…”

“What?” she snapped.

I tried again. “Bella, I didn’t know what love was when I first go - met you.”

I reached for her again, needing to touch her, but again she pulled away.

“I can sit down by myself, thank you very much.”

“I guess I deserved that. Will you sit with me?”

“Not on your lap,” she warned me.

“Fine,” I accepted. I reached for her and she at least let me hold her hands. It was a start. I needed to feel her so I continued to brush my cheeks across the backs of her hands. It was the most she would give me now, so I would take it. When I was calm enough, I continued.

“I want to learn how to love. As I'm getting to know you, I'm learning what a truly wonderful, fantastic human being you really are, and I love what I know. But I know there’s so much more. I am falling in love with you, Bella, and not in the way I’ve been taught to. I’m falling for everything I’ve been told is wrong. I’m not used to this feeling and it scares the hell out of me.” I reached and she let me tuck a strand of hair behind her ear without pulling away again. I was about to take the biggest step ever and everything would hang on her answer. “I know you said you hate me, but do you think there’s even a remote possibility that that could change? That you could ever love me?”

I held my breath and waited. At least she didn’t immediately say ‘no.’ That could mean she was at least thinking about giving me a chance.

“Edward, honestly? Maybe, but I’m not sure. The Edward I met at first? No way in hell. He’s hateful, cruel, and has hurt me too many times. I could never not hate that monster. Now…”

“Now?” I encouraged gently. I could feel the hope growing. I stroked her cheek and she still wasn’t pulling back.

“Now?” she began again. “Now, you’ve shown a different side. It’s not black and white anymore. There are some things I really do like about you, but there’s still too much of the bad stuff. I know no one is perfect. I know everyone has their good and bad sides. It’s a balance, you can’t love everything about someone, but there has to be more good than bad, and so far there just isn’t enough good to outweigh everything wrong. You’re still a dictator, just not as mean of one.”

‘You know you are, so just accept what she tells you. Don’t argue with her.’

“Well, at least you recognize the differences. You’re changing me, Bella. And I like it. If I keep going - keep trying - do you think you could love me then?”

“Edward, I’m no romance expert, but let’s take one thing at a time? First off, some people - regular people - try at the love thing, and it doesn’t work out. They’re just not meant for one another.”

I refused to believe we weren’t meant for each other. She couldn’t believe this; I needed her. She stopped me from speaking as she continued.

“I’m not saying I won’t love you, but how can I know? The only Edward I know is the old one, and who knows what I’ll think of the new one? I can say that the new one would stand a better chance. But I can’t promise to feel something for someone I haven’t gotten to know, and Edward, I don’t know you for other than what you’ve shown me.

“Secondly, I don’t think you even know how not to be a dictator. Marriage is a partnership. We each have strengths and weaknesses. I’ll admit I’m not perfect, but neither are you. Marriage is the union of two people. Both partners have a say in decisions, not just one barking orders at the other all the time. I want the kind of marriage I’ve been raised to expect, not the kind that you try to force upon me. I won’t be happy and I will never love you if you make me live like that. I may care, but I won’t love you. Ever.”

I thought over what she said. She didn’t say she couldn’t love me; she said she wouldn’t love me unless I changed. I didn’t know how to change. I’d been this way for too many years.

“Bella, I don’t know how to be any other way, but I am trying. You said yourself, I’ve started changing for the better. Will you help me become the kind of man you can love? I want your love and will walk through fire for you if that’s what it takes. Will you teach me how to love you the right way; the way you say Phil loved your mom? Please say you’ll teach me to be a better man for you. I’ll beg if you want me to.”

I held my breath again as I waited for her answer. To my surprise, she moved to sit in my lap and wrapped her arms around me. She held my face in her hands and stared deeply into my eyes, searching for her Edward I assumed. She finally leaned in to kiss me and whispered the words I’d longed to hear.

“Yes, I’ll teach you how to love.”

“Oh Bella,” I moaned and our lips fused together in a kiss of promise and hope for our future. I felt more bricks falling from around my heart. Not all of them but she was getting there. I could even see her Edward who had been buried within these walls. He was alive and he was gaining strength, and for Bella, I would let him win.

I finally broke the kiss so that we could both catch our breath. Our foreheads rested against each other as our labored breaths mingled. I held her tightly, not wanting this moment to end because after this came the hard part; change. Change on my part, not hers. Bella would never need to change who she was for me again. She would be herself and teach me to become who she needed me to be.

“Edward?” she asked softly.

I kept my eyes closed a moment longer to gather strength for whatever came next. I felt her hands on my face and I opened my eyes to her. Of course, she started searching again; this time I knew what she was looking for.

“Yes, Bella, he’s still here. I promise he won’t go away again,” I assured her.

Her expression changed so much in just that brief moment, that if I hadn’t been staring back into her eyes, I would have missed it. Confusion. Hope. Fear. Fear won out as it always did for her. I’d made her too afraid of me to ever let another emotion win if fear was involved. She cleared her throat and swallowed, her eyes darting back and forth searching mine.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean?” she replied carefully. I sighed and brushed her hair back from her face, placing a gentle kiss on her lips before answering.

“Your Edward. I know you’re looking for your Edward,” I told her softly. “He’s still here and he isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to be Carlisle’s Edward any longer. I understand that you separate me in your mind, just as you described Bella Barbie not being the real you but someone I created. I love you, Bella, and I want to be whatever you need to win your love. I want to be your Edward, just as you’re my Bella.”

I could see her shutting down again and smiled to her. “No Bella. Not Bella Barbie, my Bella. The real person inside of you. I don’t want you to be Bella Barbie any longer. She’s not who I want to love. I want to know and love you, and you alone.”

She blew out a soft breath and ran her fingers through my hair before looking me in the eye again. “You may be sorry. I tend to get a little cocky and I have a smart mouth.”

I smiled at that. “I think that part I figured out.”

“Well, I have a question for you then. If I get cocky are you going to pun -”

I put my finger over her lips.

“Abuse. Am I going to abuse you, and the answer is ‘no.’ I won’t ever hit you again, Bella. I’m sorry for every time I have. Please, let’s just start fresh from this moment. Do you think we can do that?”

She stared at me for a few minutes, thinking I didn’t know what, as she went back to running her fingers through my hair. I closed my eyes briefly; it always felt so good. When I opened them, I saw a small spark in her eyes and her lips turned up into a mischievous smirk. I held my breath waiting on pins and needles for what this might mean. She patted both my shoulders to indicate she wanted up and I let her go even though that wasn’t what I wanted.

She stood in front of me with that smirk still firmly in place and beckoned me to stand with a crook of her finger. She still hadn’t spoken as I stood up in front of her. Her next action surprised me. She stuck her hand out at me.

“Hi, I’m Isabella Marie Swan, but my friends call me Bella.”

I could feel the grin on my face widen at Bella’s now-sparkling eyes. I put my hand in hers and shook it; not letting go as I raised it to my lips and gently kissed the back of her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, Bella. I’m Edward Anthony Cullen and I hate being called Eddie.”

Bella laughed at me and I joined in drawing her forward into my embrace. We stood together enjoying the moment. I felt Bella’s sigh as she looked up at me.

“Edward, there’s something I really need to do. Will you take me somewhere?”