I laughed and ran across the parking lot toward the rental car as Edward growled and started chasing me like I was his prey. I got to the car ahead of him because he was weighed down with all our bags. I was leaning against the car, holding out the last bite of cookie as an olive branch and laughing when he came around to me. He dropped the bags on the top of the trunk and grabbed me around my waist in a tight squeeze, picking me up off the ground.
“Gotcha!” he announced. He spun me around in the empty parking space next to the car, making me screech. My breath hitched in fear for just a split second until I saw the laughter dancing in my Edward’s eyes as he laughed at me. “Now what? Are you going to share?”
I was suddenly overwhelmed at seeing my Edward laughing and being playful. I realized I had laughed and smiled more today than I had in the past few months combined, promptly bursting into tears at the thought. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and buried my face in his neck, sobbing.
He stopped spinning suddenly and tried to set my feet on the ground but I just held tighter, refusing to have him let go of me. “Bella? Baby, what’s wrong? I’m sorry I scared you. I was just playing,” he said, panicking.
He gently pushed at my hips, trying to pry me away from him so he could see me, but I squeezed tighter and shook my head.
“Don’t let go,” I sobbed and buried my face further into him.
“I won’t,” he answered softly. I felt him hold me tighter and lean against the car. He was quiet and just let me cry. I could feel his hand gently rubbing my back as he waited for my sobs to subside.
I couldn’t explain what I was feeling to him. I just knew I needed to hold him and have him hold me right now. I felt bad that he thought he had scared or upset me, because he hadn’t, but I didn’t know how to tell him why I was crying. I was just… happy. For the first time in forever, I was actually happy, not afraid. I’d lived in fear for so long that I forgot what happy felt like. Even when it was just us girls at the house I wasn’t this happy. Those times were a different kind of happy; they were happy wrapped in acceptance and survival, always tinged with a feeling of hopelessness at my situation. Today was the most free I’d been since the accident. This was pure joy in the moment and the feeling was overwhelming. I heard the sound of a vehicle stop and felt Edward tense up.
“Is everything alright here? Ma’am, are you all right? Do you need any help?” a masculine voice asked. I heard footsteps approaching us.
“We’re fine, officer,” Edward answered tightly. “My fiancé is just a little upset.” I could hear the tension in his voice.
“Ma’am? I need to hear from you that everything is alright,” he said, ignoring Edward.
I sniffed and reluctantly let go of Edward, wiping my eyes. I looked up at Edward and saw the lines of tension around his mouth belying his calm façade. I looked into his eyes for a moment and ran my index finger along one of the creases to his jaw. I saw the slight flicker of fear in his eyes that he quickly hid as I turned to face the man waiting patiently for my answer. It was a police officer. I saw his car stopped with the engine still running and the door open. I saw the rifle propped against the seat just like it had been in Charlie’s car and shivered at the memory.
“Ma’am? Are you alright?” he asked again.
I looked back at the officer and gave him my best smile. “Yes sir. I’m fine, just a little emotional. That’s all.”
I saw him looking me over, I assumed, for marks or bruises to see if Edward had hurt me and maybe I was lying. I wondered briefly what his reaction would be if I just blurted out the truth. But what was the truth anymore? I could see the changes in Edward since arriving in Phoenix. I could feel them deep inside myself. I was coming out of hibernation and becoming myself again. Yes, my life wasn’t my own any longer. Yes, my choices had been stripped from me. Yes, I was still terrified of my future father-in-law. Yes, I was basically being held prisoner in my home.
But… today… today I was happy. I was happy with Edward. My Edward. My Edward, who took me for French toast. My Edward, who played checkers with me. My Edward, who apologized to me more than once on this trip. My Edward, who swore never to raise a hand to me again. My Edward, who held me when I cried at the cemetery and was gentle and kind to me. My Edward, who took me to the mall and let me buy whatever clothing I wanted, even if it was completely repulsive to him. I know. I tested him with a couple of outfits. They were really, really ugly. My Edward, who laughed and ate cookies with me and chased me in the parking lot, letting me feel normal again. To anyone on the outside these things would be so insignificant as to not even warrant notice. But to me, they were everything. They meant so much for what our future would hold.
So what was the truth? My life sucked, but maybe not as much? I felt happiness and hope now. I refused to give up this feeling. I’d fought long and hard to get to this feeling back and damn it, I earned it.
I stepped away from Edward toward the police officer that was still waiting for my answer. I heard Edward’s swift intake of breath. I felt his hands tighten instinctively at my hips before releasing me; letting his hands drop to his sides, helpless to stop me from moving away from him.
I stood in front of the officer close enough that he could see me clearly. “I promise I’m fine, Officer. I’m just feeling emotional because my - my fiancé,” I hoped he didn’t hear the hesitation in my voice as I called Edward my fiancé for the first time ever, “has been so sweet to me today. I was just overcome. I promise that’s all there is to it.” This was not how I wanted Edward to hear what today had meant to me, but there was nothing I could do about it now.
The officer looked me over one more time and stared at Edward a moment before deciding to believe me. “Alright then. I’m glad it’s nothing more serious.” He reached in his breast pocket and pulled out a business card handing it to me. “This is my card with my badge number and station phone number. You hang onto this and call if you ever need anything,” he said, looking at Edward again as he spoke.
I put his card in my purse and smiled. “Thank you. I promise I will.”
He nodded to me and smiled. “Alright young lady. Well, you folks have a good afternoon,” he said as he got back in his car and drove away.
I stood there a moment, watching the patrol car turn at the end of the isle, before turning back to Edward. I was unsure what or who I would be facing. I had no idea how Edward would react. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
Edward had slid down the side of the car until he was squatting with his elbows propped on his knees, looking down with his fists tugging his hair. I could hear him breathing heavily as I walked to stand in front of him. I gently tugged his fists out of his hair and ran my fingers through it, soothing him the way I often did when we were quiet together at home. I felt him wrap his arms around my legs and pull me closer. I knew his fear. He feared I would take the opportunity and leave him. There would have been absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent it if I’d wanted to leave in that moment. A month ago, hell even a week ago, I would have dove through the open car door without a backwards glance.
“Edward,” I said softly. I felt him tighten his arms around my legs. “Edward, look at me please.”
I felt him shudder before he stood and wrapped me in his embrace again. “Bella, please don’t leave me,” he whispered brokenly into my hair. “I know it was wrong to make you promise, but please. Just please don’t leave me. I can’t live without you.”
“Edward, please look at me,” I asked again.
He raised his head and stared intently into my eyes. For the first time I saw Esme’s lost son, the frightened little boy that was inside my Edward; the little boy who had his mother taken from him even though she was with him every day. Carlisle had destroyed Edward’s heart by denying him his mother’s love. With her love Edward would have never become the monster he created. I saw that now. Edward was just as broken and tortured as I was, only in a way, I was the lucky one. I was prisoner of my monsters for only a short time. Edward had been held prisoner by Carlisle for years. I brushed my fingers down the side of his face and leaned up to give him a gentle kiss.
“Edward, I’m still here,” I said softly. “This is what today, this trip, has meant to me. You’ve given me myself back and I feel normal for the first time in a long time. For the first time I’m hopeful for my future, our future. That’s why I was crying. Not because I was afraid of you, but because I wasn’t.” I smiled at him expressing all the joy and happiness I felt for him to see. “I’m happy Edward. I’m happy with you. I didn’t leave and I’m not going to. I’m willing to give us time.” I leaned in and hugged him tightly. “Does that make any sense?”
Edward wrapped me tightly in his arms as he struggled against his fears. “God, Bella I love you so much”, he shuddered. “It scares me, the thought of ever losing you. I can’t lose you. I’ll do anything to keep you with me.” He hated feeling weak or a lack of control of everything around him. Trust was a foreign concept to him.
I knew we had a lot to talk about and a mall parking lot was not the place to do this. “Edward, let’s go back to the hotel ok?” I suggested. “We can talk there.”
He took a deep breath before releasing me to cup my face in his hands. He leaned down to give me a sweet gentle kiss. “Thank you for not leaving me,” he whispered against my lips.
I smiled up to him in response. “Thank you for giving me the reasons to stay.”