I took Bella back to the hotel after the cemetery. I knew she wasn’t up to going anywhere else. It tore my heart to hear her say she thought she had done something wrong to end up with me. I didn’t want her to think of me as a punishment or death sentence. I loved her, and simply wanted her to love me in return. She said she would give me a chance, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to earn her love after the things I’d done wrong in our relationship so far; if you could even call it a relationship. I had a mountain of mistakes and regret to overcome for her.
She was emotionally wiped out and I knew she had a migraine. She kept pressing the palm of her hand absently to her forehead between her eyes as we drove back to the hotel. It was a similar gesture to me pinching the bridge of my nose. I guess this was one of those little things Jasper talked about; our similarities. I had never noticed before, and I thought I saw everything that pertained to Bella. What else had I missed?
I unlocked the door to our suite and held the door for Bella to go through first, shutting it behind us. I tossed the key card on the table along with my keys and wallet, watching Bella drop her purse absently on the sofa as she walked to stand in front of the window, looking out. I gazed at her, taking in her appearance - my eyes not seeing the image I created, but the lost teenager that was the real Bella. She was still in her old clothes from her home, having refused to change back into what she referred to as ‘my clothes’ before going to the cemetery. She said she wanted to see her mom and Phil - not Bella Barbie.
I felt even more guilt over what I’d done to her when we came through the lobby of the hotel. I stopped at the front desk to order food and Tylenol to be sent up to our room. The same manager who checked us in the first day was on duty and looked at Bella standing beside me with bloodshot eyes from crying in her old clothes. Whereas the first day he had eyed her appreciatively, now he looked at me with censor seeing how young Bella really was. I really didn’t need him adding to my guilt. I knew what I’d done. Well, now I did.
I walked to stand behind her, wrapping my arms around her to pull her into my chest to offer comfort. I felt her stiffen in my embrace and pull away.
“No,” she said, still staring out the window.
I let my arms drop to my sides. “Bella, I only wanted to offer comfort. I know you’re sad and you miss your mother.”
I heard her sniffle. “I miss Phil too, Edward,” she said softly. “He was the best dad and I don’t know if he ever realized how much he meant to me. He taught me so much. He even taught me how to drive.” She laughed softly. “I made mom too nervous and we would spend the whole time yelling at each other. Phil was the patient one.” She sighed and finally turned to face me. She searched my eyes. “What now?”
I looked at her in confusion. “I don’t understand what you’re asking, Bella.” I reached to tuck her hair behind her ear and brushed her cheek. She gave me a weak smile and stepped toward me, resting her cheek on my chest as I slipped my arms around her holding her gently.
She was silent a moment and I felt her take a deep breath against me. “What happens now? Where do we go from here? Are you going to keep your word not to hurt me again even when we get back? Do I still get to be me? That what now.”
I thought about what she was asking. I needed to gain her trust and show her she was safe; that meant no more pretending to be someone she wasn’t. I promised her I didn’t want Bella Barbie, that I only wanted her. But, I hadn’t given much thought to what that would mean when we left the bubble Phoenix was becoming and returned home. Unfortunately, staying here wasn’t an option at this time. She needed to finish school and I needed to finish my residency. There were only a couple of months left and the house should be finished soon after; we could make our home a bubble just like my brothers had.
I tilted her face up to look at me. I saw the mixture of fear, sorrow and hope in her eyes staring back at me. I didn’t care what my father thought of my choices where Bella was concerned. It was my decision what kind of marriage I wanted and what kind of wife made me happy. And Bella made me happy. I leaned down to gently brush her lips with mine in reassurance.
“I never want you to be anyone other than yourself with me from this moment forward. I want only you. I’ll take the good with the bad. I only ask that you take my good with my bad in return, and I promise to have more good than bad if you’ll teach me what you need from me.”
I saw relief in her eyes as she finally wrapped her arms around my waist hugging me in return. “Thank you, Edward. That means so much to me.”
I heard someone knock on the door. “That’ll be room service with our food. Go change and freshen up a little,” I suggested. I saw her brow raise at me and quickly added, “but only if you want to.”
She stepped back from me. “That’s better,” she smiled.
I watched her head into the bedroom and close the door before opening the door to the bellboy. I tipped him and set the food on the table while I waited for Bella to come back in. I turned when the door to the bedroom opened and was careful to keep my expression neutral as I took in her appearance. She was still in her t-shirt but had changed into a pair of shorts she had packed. She stood there unsure of my reaction, watching me closely.
“Lunch is served,” I said, indicating the table.
She walked quietly over and sat as I held her chair for her before sitting down. She opened her bottled water I’d put on the table and took a drink along with the Tylenol I’d put beside her plate. I watched her carefully as she started eating her salad in silence. We ate for a while before I got frustrated. I put my fork down and sighed.
“Bella, talk to me please,” I asked.
She looked up at me. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, just talk to me,” I coaxed.
“What do you want me to talk about?”
I sighed again. There was so much brainwashing I was going to have to overcome. “Are you finished eating?” I asked, indicating her half eaten lunch. She was just pushing the food around on her plate, not really eating.
She quickly put her fork down and sat back. I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration, trying to figure out how to break through to her again. Obviously getting Bella to drop the Barbie persona wasn’t going to be as easy as I first thought. She kept slipping back into it. I realized I was going to need to constantly reassure her until being herself again came naturally.
I picked her fork up, propping my elbow on the table and waving it in the air at her face. “If you’re not done, just say so. I’m not going to bite. You’ve told me off more than once today, so don’t stop now,” I said sarcastically.
I saw anger flash in her eyes and smiled. “There, I knew you were still in there. Now, tell me you’re not done,” I grinned.
She stared at me a moment as recognition of what I was doing dawned on her. She slowly started to smile. “Okay, Emmett Jr. I’m not done,” she said, laughing, and snatched her fork from me. “Oh, and I want cheesecake and strawberries for dessert while we’re at it.”
I laughed with her as she started to eat again. “Emmett Jr.? Where did that come from?”
She swallowed her bite before answering, staring at me. “The truth?”
“Yes, the truth. This is just between us, I promise,” I assured.
She took another minute before continuing. “It’s what Emmett does with Rose. When she’s feeling frustrated or down, he picks on her until he makes her angry enough that she lashes out at him. She knows she can let him have it and he won’t hurt her. It’s Emmett’s way of reassuring her that he’ll never hurt her again. He loves her and she’s safe with him.” She took a drink of her water before continuing. “You just did the same thing. You made me so mad, I forgot to be afraid of you.”
“I’m glad it worked. You were slipping away from me again and I didn’t know how else to pull you back.”
She looked down at her plate thoughtfully. “Do you realize at home, I don’t get to sit down until I’ve served you and yet this time you held my chair and allowed me to sit first? You only do that when we’re in public, never when we’re alone or with your family.” She paused. “Thank you.”
I thought about what she said. She was right; I treated her differently in public. In public I treated her like a lady, the same as any woman I’ve ever dated. In private I treated her like a possession or servant, not deserving of common courtesy. That would also change. I leaned over to kiss her gently. “You’re welcome. I’ll order your cheesecake so it’s here when you finish.”
We spent the afternoon and evening in our room ordering room service again and talking; really talking. She opened up to me about her life and the accident in a way she never had before. I finally understood her fear of being alone; lying injured in a car in the dark, not knowing if the people you love were dead or dying, and she was helpless to do anything for them. She tried to tell me this before, but I had put it off as an irrational fear and didn’t listen. Never encouraging her to speak freely was another mistake to make up for. If I’d only listened before, I would have understood why locking her in our room that time had seemed like such a horrific punishment to Jasper and Alice. They knew Bella’s fear and I wasn’t willing to listen. I had thought I was being easy on her. I hurt her worse than any spanking could have done. I had wanted conformity, not explanations.
I was finally starting to understand my brothers’ behaviors with their wives. They loved Alice and Rosalie completely and they were loved in return. Letting Bella talk and tell me whatever she wanted without fear of reprisal showed me who she really was. Jasper was right; Bella was an amazing woman and I was going to be blessed in ways I never knew possible to really know her. I was in awe of her strength, her intelligence, her capacity to forgive and hopefully, in time, her capacity to love me.
I was surprised when she started asking me questions. She told me getting to know each other was a two-way street. I had to talk also, not just listen. She wanted to get to know her Edward better also.
We went to bed late and I was surprised at how quickly she fell asleep now that she was comfortable. She always took so long to fall asleep before. For the first time, there were no tears before she succumbed to sleep. I smiled and hugged Bella a little closer to me, kissing the top of her head. I looked down at her resting on my chest; her arm was lying loosely across my waist and could feel one of her legs wedged between mine. I couldn’t see her body or feel her bare skin against me other than her leg and I missed it. She was in one of my shirts and panties. She told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted pajamas from now on and there would be no more ‘sex’ between us until she was ready. I could hold her and kiss her, but that was all. I didn’t know how I was going to handle less when I was already fighting everyday the need for more, but I would find a way for her. If I had to choose between fulfilling my physical needs and having Bella’s love, I’d choose Bella’s love everyday and twice on Sunday.
I felt Bella exhale against my skin and heard her start to murmur. Would today’s events bring her sleep talking or nightmares? I ran my fingers through her hair, gently massaging her scalp, and continued to kiss the top of her head to keep her relaxed. I only hoped it helped to keep her nightmares at bay; she’d already been through so much today, I just wanted her sleep to be peaceful.
Her breath hitch and she whimpered. “He’s watching.” She was starting another nightmare.
“Shh, baby,” I murmured against her hair softly. “I’m here.” I couldn’t put together who or what this nightmare was about. Who was watching and why did it scare her?
“Don’t leave me,” she mumbled.
“I’m not going anywhere. Hush love,” I reassured her. I felt her start to settle again, her nightmare kept at bay for the night.
She rubbed her face up and down my chest a couple of times and tried to move even closer to me. “Mmm, my Edward.” She smiled in her sleep before settling down again.
I smiled and held her closer to me as I closed my eyes, ready to sleep now that I knew she would sleep the rest of the night.
I woke to an empty bed again and growled in frustration. I wanted her in bed with me when I woke up. She knows this. I opened my mouth to yell for her to get her ass back in the bed and quickly snapped it shut again. I rolled onto my back and threw my arm over my eyes while I steadied my breathing. I fought down Carlisle’s Edward. I was deluding myself yesterday. I didn’t realize how much I was going to need to watch myself not to blow this. If I wanted her love, I couldn’t be upset because she got out of the damn bed.
I sighed in resignation. I almost screwed up and it hasn’t even been 24 hours. I laid there thinking about everything I was going to need to change to win Bella’s love. It wasn’t just the abuse; it was all the little things too. The little things were going to be so much harder because they came natural to me so I wasn’t consciously aware of doing them. I wasn’t going to be able to do this, I feared.
I felt the bed dip and Bella curl back up against me. I took my arm from over my eyes and wrapped it around her again.
“Where did you go?” I asked quietly.
She looked up at me, searching my eyes before answering.
I sighed. She was afraid again. God, we really did a number on her. I had my work cut out for me. I leaned down and kissed her head.
“Bella, love, you’re not in trouble. Remember this is a fresh start for us. I woke and you weren’t here. I just want to be sure nothing was wrong, that’s all.” No need to tell her my inner battles.
“I was thirsty and needed a drink. I got some water from the mini-fridge in the other room. I promise I didn’t leave the room,” she assured me.
“That’s fine, love. I know this isn’t going to be easy for us, especially me, but I want this more than anything. Alright?”
She took a deep breath before letting it out again, nodding her head in agreement. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
I frowned at her apology. I didn’t want her to apologize. It was wrong. I decided to change the subject. I wanted today to be more fun for her.
“Are you ready to get some breakfast?” I asked.
I saw the flicker of hope before she shrugged. I laughed and pulled her closer to me. I tilted her chin so that I could see her face.
“French toast it is then,” I smiled. “And I guess it’s safe to assume you would like French toast every morning before we go home?”
She bit her bottom lip before grinning back at me. “Yes, please.”
“Alright then, let’s get ready. I know you want to be there early. Besides, we’re still tied at checkers,” I reminded her smiling. “I have a game to win.”
“Oh, you’re so on. You’re going down, Cullen,” she smirked. She got up and went into the bathroom to start getting ready.
I went to the closet and pulled out a shirt and jeans for me and reached for the dress I wanted Bella to wear. I paused and curled my fingers into a fist away from the dress. I stepped back into the room and got dressed. I was slipping on my boots when Bella came out of the bathroom, her hair and makeup done. She was still in my shirt and she looked so damn sexy, I wanted to throw her on the bed and ravish her. But I couldn’t. I promised her, no more until she was ready.
She looked at the bed and then to me; I saw the confusion on her face. I knew the cause, but waited anyway.
“Edward, where are my clothes?” she asked. She expected her outfit to be lying out for her.
I shrugged, hiding my smile. “In the closet.”
She looked at the closet then back to me in confusion. I tugged down the leg of my jeans and stood, walking over to her. I kissed her forehead and smiled.
“Just wear what you want,” I assured her.
She looked in my eyes searching for the truth of my words again. A smile slowly worked its way across her lips. “Thank you.”
I shook my head at her. “Bella, you don’t have to thank me.” I gave her a playful swat on her ass. “Now get dressed,” I grinned.
I could have kicked myself. She immediately shut down and I saw the anger from yesterday flash in her eyes. “Don’t. Hit. Me.” she said slowly.
“I’m sorry, Bella. I didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t thinking.” I scrambled to explain.
I pulled her to sit by me on the bed. I cupped her face, stroking her cheek with my thumb. “Bella, I’m going to make mistakes. I can’t change overnight, but know that I want to change. Just help me, okay?”
She sighed. “You just can’t do that to me. Every time Charlie, James or you have hit me, it’s been a punishment. I can’t separate that this time was meant to be in fun.” She shook her head at me. “I can’t do that. Not now, maybe not ever.”
I had damaged this beautiful woman so much. I would spend my lifetime trying to make it up to her.
“I understand and I’m sorry,” I said changing the subject. “Now why don’t you get dressed and we’ll get your French toast. Then you can decide what you want to do today.”
I was so relieved that after the rocky start to our morning, the rest of our day turned out well. Different than I ever expected was probably a better term. The restaurant wasn’t as crowded this morning since it was a weekday and most people were at work. Miss Kathy was at the counter again this morning as I held the door for Bella. She smiled when she looked up and saw us. She came around the counter and pulled Bella into a hug.
“Good morning, Bella. I didn’t think we’d see you back here so soon, but I’m glad you are.”
She surprised me then by pulling me down into a hug as well. “I knew I saw something decent in you yesterday.”
She released me and put her hand on the stack of menus. “Do you want a menu this morning?” she asked.
I laughed and shook my head. “No, just two Bella Specials and coffee for me.”
She smiled at my comment, nodding her head. “Yes, there is definitely something decent in you. Keep it up, I promise she’s worth it.”
I was stunned into silence but she just patted my arm and ushered us to the booth we’d sat in the day before. I saw Howard through the opening to the kitchen and he grinned as he saw us walk by.
“Hey Bella, Edward. Glad to see you’re back,” he called.
“Good morning Howard,” I answered.
Bella grinned and waved to him. “Hi Howard.”
Miss Kathy glanced at me then turned to Howard. “Howard, Edward here wants to order two Bella Specials.”
Howard threw his head back in laughter. ”We may just have to change the name on the menu. I like that.” He turned back to start our breakfast. “Two Bella Specials coming right up.”
We sat and waited for Kathy to bring my coffee, Bella’s milk and two waters before talking. I reached for the cream and was surprised when Bella pulled my cup and saucer over to her. She put her hand out for the cream as well.
“Give me those; you don’t know how to make your coffee just right. There’s a secret,” she told me with a twinkle in her eye.
I handed her the bowl with the creams not knowing what she was up to. I was the one who taught her how I liked my coffee after all. I watched as she poured three creams in the cup. It was the same thing I did the day before, but then she surprised me by kissing the side of the cup before handing it back to me.
“There. Just a hint of sweetness for you,” she said with a smile.
I chuckled softly at her antics and took a drink of my coffee making a big show of it playing along. “Ah! Just the way I like it. Almost too sweet.”
She laughed with me and I was happy to see the sparkle in her eyes.
“You know we didn’t get a chance to finish our checkers game this morning. What would you say to going to a store and buying a game and we can play tonight in our suite?”
“Could we also get a chess set? You offered to teach me to play,” she reminded me.
“Sure. Where is a good game store?” I asked.
“Well, actually I wanted to go to the mall if you don’t mind,” she started hesitantly. I noticed her hands clasped tightly together on the table. “We could get one there.”
I reached for her hands and squeezed them reassuringly. “Bella, love, don’t be afraid. What’s at the mall that you want?”
She took a deep breath and searched my eyes again before answering. “Clothes.”
“Clothes?” I asked confused. “You have clo-.” I stopped, realizing what she was saying. “You want to buy pajamas, right?”
She nodded. “Please?” she whispered.
I tugged her hand to get her to stand and come around the table to sit by me, pulling her into my embrace.
“I promised you last night. It’s fine. We’ll go to the mall after breakfast. If there’s any other clothes you want that make you more comfortable, you can buy those too.”
She smiled brightly and hugged me tight. “Thank you, Edward.” She leaned up and kissed my cheek as Kathy came to the table with our food.
“Ah, now that’s what I like to see,” she smiled as Bella went back to her side of the booth. “Bella, you’ve got your spark back today.”
Howard came by to visit Bella again and I was surprised when she asked him for the recipe so she could continue to make it for us when we got home. He said it was a secret so she’d have to come into the kitchen with him to find out. It took every ounce of self-control I possessed to let her walk away from me with him. I was sure the table would have the imprint of my fingers; I gripped it so hard to keep myself seated.
Bella looked at me with so much fear when she came back, not knowing what my reaction would be to her. I had to admit I did well keeping my emotions in check and was rewarded with a gentle kiss and whispered ‘thanks’ from her. She knew how hard it was for me to let her out of my sight unless she was being guarded, but she came back to me on her own. Maybe one day I’d feel comfortable enough to call off the dogs, but not yet. I wasn’t that comfortable yet.
After breakfast we went to the mall. She was never enthusiastic about shopping unless we were going to the bookstore. This time was different since she was shopping where she wanted. She was enjoying this trip. She pulled me into stores like Abercrombie, American Eagle, Hollister’s, and Rue 21. I learned quickly just exactly what kind of clothes she liked. None of it resembled the clothes hanging in our closet at home.
We stood outside Victoria’s Secret while she chewed her lip in thought. I wasn’t sure what was going on in her head; what dilemma she needed to work out just to buy her pajamas.
“Bella?” I asked. “Are we going in?”
She stared at the storefront another minute before shaking her head.
“No. I can’t do it. We can go to Macy’s instead.”
She turned to walk away and I reached for her hand to stop her. “Bella, it’s just a store, the same as any other. I don’t want you to be afraid of a store. Let’s just go in and pick out what you want.” I pointed to the display just past the window. “Look, there are long pants right there. Don’t you want to look at them?”
I put my arm around her and gently pulled her into the store. I felt her hesitation and prayed I was doing the right thing. I wish I Jasper or Alice was here to reassure me I wasn’t screwing up. I led her to the pajama sets that were just inside the doorway. I knew it would be a mistake to try and lead her any further into the store. I could feel her trembling.
“Do you like these? You like raspberries,” I suggested, pointing out the pajamas with fruit all over them. They looked innocent enough.
She took a breath and pulled a set off the rack in her size. She leaned back into me and rested her head on my chest. “Thank you for understanding.”
I kissed the top of her head and said a silent prayer of thanks that I’d done the right thing. After that it got easier for her to wander the store picking out what she liked.
We stopped at the food court for lunch. We were loaded down with bags. We picked up a nice chess/checkers set and a couple of other games Bella wanted for quiet evenings. We had bags of clothes that she picked out along with tennis shoes and several pairs of flip flops. I never told her ‘no’ and I was rewarded time and again with her laughter and the twinkle in her eyes. She even made me buy a few t-shirts and tennis shoes for myself that she liked.
After we had loaded baked potatoes and cokes, she wanted smoothies and chocolate chip cookies. I shook my head at what our eating habits had become since arriving in Phoenix. Jasper would be proud, I was sure. I smirked at the thought.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
She was feeding me bites of cookie as we walked back to the car. I leaned down to take another bite from her fingers and nipped the tip of her finger playfully.
“Nothing, just thinking is all,” I told her after I swallowed.
She turned to stand in front of me forcing me to stop, raising her eyebrow at me. “Nuh uh, Edward. You have to answer if I ask a question. No avoiding, so spill,” she reminded me. It was a rule she set last night while we were talking.
“It wasn’t anything important,” I assured her. “I was just thinking of our change of diet since we’ve been here.” I gestured to the smoothie in my hand as she gave me another bite of cookie.
She stood quietly looking at me for a moment. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking and I couldn’t tell from her expression. She just looked thoughtful.
“Well, there is a great steak house we could go to for dinner if you want. Phil always liked it,” she offered. Then she grinned mischievously. “You can have a salad. I’ll have the steak and baked potato with lots of butter, and triple chocolate cake for dessert.”
I growled playfully at her. “Screw the salad and you better be planning on sharing that cake.”