“I’ll have the Chicken Marsala and Caesar Salad,” I ordered.
“And to drink?” the waiter asked.
I opened my mouth to answer when Edward interrupted.
“We’ll have a bottle of your best wine,” he answered. He turned to me and smiled. “You don’t mind just for tonight, do you?”
I shook my head at him and smiled. He was always so thoughtful. So much has changed over the last month. My nightmares were becoming less frequent. When he first came back from the conference they were worse, due to the constant glares I received from Carlisle. After all this time though, I didn’t worry about Carlisle as much. Maybe he’d lost interest and wasn’t such a threat to me any longer. He didn’t stare at me with lust any longer, only anger.
I shuddered at the memory of that first family dinner on the day after their return from the conference. I never thought a person could really turn purple until then. I wish he just had a coronary on the spot and died. We could have all danced on his grave. He was so angry. We'd just put the meal on the table and were standing, waiting for the men to sit so we could serve them as per usual. I wasn't expecting Edward to cause a scene.
“Bella, be careful not to slip,” Esme warned quietly as the men came into the dining room.
I nodded my head in response. I reminded myself that this was a small thing in front of his father. I was, at least, still wearing my clothes. Edward's only comment when I got dressed this morning was he missed the access to my shoulders to kiss he had before. He was used to me showing more skin. Maybe we could find a middle ground on my clothing, things we both liked.
I gave Edward a weak smile as he came into the room. I hated pretending. I watched Carlisle sit, and then Emmett and Jasper gave Rose and Alice a kiss before sitting. I now understood the meaning behind their kiss. It was their silent reminder that they loved Alice and Rosalie. Edward came up to me and gave me a gentle kiss. When he stepped back he winked making me smile for real. He then shocked his entire family as he led me to the table and pulled my chair out for me to sit. I couldn't resist; I threw my arms around his neck and hugged him tight.
I laughed with joy that I would never pretend again. I knew he promised, but I honestly never thought he'd seat me at his father's table. I sat and beamed as Emmett and Jasper jumped up and seated Rose and Alice as well.
Carlisle glared at us. “I don't know what the hell has gotten into you boys, but it stops now. You women know your place. Now serve your men,” he demanded throwing his hand up in the air to indicate we should rise.
We each began to rise from our seats before Edward, Emmett and Jasper each put a hand on us to stop us.
“Rose, sit. You don't need to be on your feet and you've served me enough,” Emmett said.
“Same here,” Jasper told Alice as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.
Edward leaned over and kissed me. “You're a lady and I'm going to treat you like one.”
I opened my mouth to respond to him when Carlisle slammed his fist on the table. I realized
Esme was still standing looking at her family with pride shining in her eyes.
“Don't even think that's going to happen for you. You will serve me. Do you understand?” he demanded.
I saw the smile she had been wearing disappear.
“Of course, dear. I wouldn't have it any other way,” she whispered. She turned to get the pitcher of tea as she discreetly brushed away the tears that quickly gathered.
Edward stood and walked to her.
“Mother, sit down please,” he asked. “You're a lady too and deserve to be treated as such.”
He took the pitcher from her and set it on the table as he led her to her chair.
“I think you're quite capable of pouring your own damn glass of tea. Don't you?” he asked Carlisle.
Esme sat as Edward pushed in her chair for her. He turned back to Carlisle and shocked everyone further.
“That's how you treat a lady,” he said.
Carlisle threw his napkin on the table and stood. “I've lost my appetite. I'll be in my study.” He turned to Esme and pointed a finger at her. “I won't forget this.”
After he left there was a moment of awkward silence.
“Well, that just leaves more for me then.” Emmett announced. “Ow!”
Emmett was rubbing his side, pouting at Rose. We all laughed relieving the tension as we realized Rose had pinched Emmett’s side.
“You’re such a man sometimes, I swear it’s a wonder I love you so much,” Rose laughed.
We had a wonderful family dinner that night. Everyone laughed and joked around. It was a true family dinner without Carlisle there to dampen things. Now I received glares and calculated stares anytime I was in the room with him. Carlisle blamed me for the changes taking place in his family.
The men still ordered our food when we were out, but it was only after we told them what we wanted to eat. We no longer served them at family dinners. I never expected to be a catalyst for the entire family; I was only out to change Edward.
The only downside was Carlisle. Poor Esme was taking the brunt of his anger. Several mornings she didn’t look well and moved stiffly. She always smiled and assured us she was fine, but we knew better. He was punishing her for our behavior. We tried to go back to the way we acted before to save her. It’s the only time I’ve seen fire in Esme’s eyes.
“Esme, we’ve decided to go back to serving our husbands like before,” Alice was saying.
Rose was sitting on a barstool tossing the salad while I stacked the dishes to carry to the table.
“No, you won’t girls,” Esme shook her head. “I’m fine.”
Rose slammed the tongs down on the island. “You’re not fine! Look at you,” she insisted. “You can barely move in the mornings. You can’t tell us he’s not taking this out you.”
“Esme, I’m so sorry,” I murmured. “This is all my fault.”
“Don’t you dare apologize, Bella,” she admonished.
She put her arms around me and I felt her wince as I hugged her back. I quickly pulled back and looked at her. She tried to hide the pain in her eyes, but I caught it.
“Esme, what did he do to you?" I asked in shock.
Alice and Rosalie came around to stand with us.
“Esme?” they asked in unison.
She stepped away from us and turned back to the stove.
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it,” she replied.
Rose walked up behind her and touched her back. Esme winced again and turned back to us.
Her eyes were like fire as she glared at us.
“Yes, alright. Carlisle whips me in retaliation for the changes he’s seeing in his family. It’s not the
worst I’ve ever gotten from him. This is nothing by comparison. And you know what? It’s all worth it. Every single bruise is worth it to see my sons become men I can be proud of. I’ve waited years for this day.” She stopped to angrily wipe at her eyes. She took a deep breath and reached out to hold our hands. She gave us a watery smile before continuing. “Don’t you see? If you revert back to the way you were before then Carlisle wins again. He is doing this knowing you’ll break. Emmett, Jasper and Edward can’t protect me. They can only protect each of you. If you break because of me, then they will revert back as well.”
She put Rose’s hand over her baby along with hers. She felt the baby shift and smiled.
“Rose, you’re going to have a son. You can’t afford for Emmett to go back to the way he was before. You’re carrying the next generation of Cullens. This lifestyle has to stop with us. I want my grandchildren to be decent, caring individuals. So please, save my sons, save my grandchildren. That’s all I want.”
We continued to help her sons change, become more open. We were excited when Carlisle finally gave up hurting Esme to get to us. We thought we won. Little did we know we were living in the eye of the storm. We should have known Carlisle wouldn’t give up so easily. I should have known, but I’d grown complacent.
Our wine arrived and I waited while the waiter had Edward taste that the wine was to his liking. Edward assured him that the wine was acceptable. The waiter poured our glasses and left. I took a sip and smiled at Edward as I set my glass back down.
“The wine is very good,” I said.
Edward reached across the table for my hand which I placed in his.
“Thank you,” he said smiling. “I wanted tonight to be special and a coke just wouldn’t cut it. I have something for you.”
“You don’t have to give me anything. You’ve given me so much these past weeks,” I answered quietly. Edward treated me so sweet all the time now. He even started a new habit of bringing me a drink for the ride home from school in the afternoons. We laughed and talked more. We were learning more about each other everyday. Some subjects were still off limits for now, like college and our marriage, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I could broach those topics with him.
“I think you’ll disagree when you see what I have in my pocket.” He reached in and pulled out a key chain with two keys dangling from it. He held it up for me to see. “Do you know what this is?”
I stared at the keys for a moment before shrugging my shoulders. I didn’t understand what it was for.
“A key?” I asked.
He chuckled softly at me, “Yes, well actually, it’s two keys. Would you like to know what they go to?”
“Our house?” I asked, unsure where this was heading.
“Close, but not quite,” he answered. He held up the first one and I realized it went to a car as it had the lock buttons built into the base. “This goes to a certain maroon SUV parked in Jasper’s garage.”
My breath hitched and my hand flew to my mouth. I felt the tears immediately start welling in my eyes. He kept my car; it was here and he was giving it to me!
“Oh Edward, “ I began. He stopped me by holding up the other key.
“And this one,” he continued, “does go to a house. It goes to your house in Phoenix. I didn’t sell it.”
I sat there in stunned silence. I felt a drop of water on my hand and realized I was crying.. I swiftly wiped at my eyes as I reached to take the keys from him and stared down at them in wonder. I gently brushed my fingers over the house key as my mind flashed to a hundred happy memories of coming home from school or a friend’s house, to hearing my mom calling to me as I walked in. My mind then thought up new pictures of coming home to visit with Edward by my side or with Edward and our children by my side.
I was so lost in my dreams that I didn’t realize Edward was kneeling at my side. He was brushing my hair back gently from my face and smiling at my response to his gift. I looked at him through my tears. I clutched the keys to my chest, loving the feel of them digging into my palm.
“Edward,” I croaked, “You can’t know what this means to me. This is everything I could ever want. You’ve given me back a part of my parents to keep with me forever.” I cupped his cheek with my hand and leaned down to kiss him gently on the lips. “Thank you so much. I have something I want to tell you, too.”
I swallowed and beamed at him, “I’ve been waiting for the right moment to tell you this. I wanted it to be special and what you’ve given me tonight couldn’t be any more perfect if I tried. I want you to know-“ I paused to take a breath. Edward seemed to be holding his as well.
“Edward, I love you,” I whispered, staring into his eyes. I let every ounce of love I felt for him shine through my eyes as I gazed at him.
He laughed and stood, pulling me up and into his arms. He kissed me deeply in front of everyone in the restaurant before letting go of me. He knelt back down in front of me and took my left hand in his.
“Well that makes this so much easier,” he laughed. He pulled a ring out of his pocket and slid it on my finger. He kissed the ring and then the back of my hand before gazing back up to me expectantly. “I love you, Bella. Will you marry me Bella and make me the happiest man alive?”
I smiled brightly at him and nodded my head. “Yes, I’ll marry you. I love you.” I knew we still had things to work on, but I was confident we’d fix them together.
He stood and turned to everyone who was watching us. All the patrons were smiling at us. “She said ‘Yes’! he announced proudly.