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.”
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.