Chapter 27: Sheets of Paper


"Why so smiley, Edward?" Alice sits the cup on the counter. I hand her money. The cash register chimes as the drawer opens.

I shrug. "Can't I just be happy?" I take a sip and she's not buying it. She leans forward.

"Hmm. Let's see. The words Edward and Happy…" She is thinking and I am trying not to laugh. "Nope. Don't go together. Sorry."

"Well, maybe it was my New Years resolution, Alice." I tap my papers to her forehead and pick up my tray. She follows me to my table. I set all of my things down – minus the laptop – as it stopped working two days ago. Note to self: no more breakdowns in the snow. Double note to self: no more drinking in the snow.

"Spill it," she demands.

I play dumb; unwrapping my sandwich. "Spill what?"

She huffs. "Edward."

I chew and thankfully Esme saves me. "Sorry, I'm late." She takes a seat beside Alice. "Had an errand to run this morning." She smiles at me and I try not to acknowledge it. It's none of Alice's business. Unfortunately, she misses nothing.

"You two are conspiring against me. Me, the person who feeds you," she whines.

"Dear, we aren't doing any such thing. But some things are private and not to be gossiped over."

"Ugh! And it's something good! Gossip-worthy, even!"

I laugh at her temper tantrum. "Actually, I'm up for some gossip," I begin. "How about we discuss why Jasper was at Christmas, this year? More importantly, why don't we discuss the new diamond-studs in your ears?" I take another bite and Alice glares at me.

"You and Jasper are dating?" Esme asks surprised. Ah, my mother. So blind sometimes. God love her.

Alice shrinks down in her seat. "We're…friends."

I continue teasing. "Never bought diamond-earrings for my female friends before."

Her little finger points at me. "Shut it."

I smile as the cup presses to my lips. Esme pipes in. "Well, I think it's lovely. Jasper is a good man."

Alice looks out the window. I don't miss the smile she's trying to hide, but I let it go. Good for her. Good for Jasper. They deserve happiness.

One Week Later

"Beau-ti-ful, Bel-la?" I close the door behind me and pop a few fruit snacks in my mouth. There was no time for lunch, today. I shouldn't be eating these, but they were in my candy drawer and I needed something if traffic was bad. It was, of course. I don't see Bella. The house is rather quiet for it only being noon.

"Kitchen," she calls out.

I walk towards the sound of her voice. She is lost, reading something on my newly acquired lap-top. I give a scratch to the back of her head. I have discussed Christmas with Jasper and he gave me additional advice. One of which, seems simple, but the idea was lost on me. I was refraining from her touching her because I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable, but Jasper seems to think the opposite.

Not that I should touch her whenever I feel like it – the idea isn't to invade her space or privacy – but just to get her used to random acts of affection. Nothing huge. Nothing I wouldn't do to Alice or my mother. It's just a scratch. She doesn't flinch away. Her eyes are still glued to the screen and she misses my smile as I go snooping for something better to eat. The fridge is empty, however.

"We need to go shopping." I kick the door closed.

"Alright." Her face is scrunched as she reads. I peek over her shoulder. It's about adoptions. Shit. I'm bothering her with ridiculous things while she's trying to do something important.

"Whenever you're ready," I amend.

"I'm ready." She pushes the laptop aside. Her face looks frustrated.

"Find anything yet?"

She shakes her head. "I don't even know what I'm looking for."

I want to help her, but this is a very private thing and I am already pushing her too far. She hasn't asked for help, not even in her 'Bella' way of doing so. I'm not sure what to do, but I leave an open door, just so she knows it's there if she would like to walk through it.

"We can talk about it when we get back if you want."

She shrugs and the matter is done. We drive to the store and I can't help but to notice or feel something is wrong. I don't know if it's the adoption. I don't know if it's me. Maybe Jasper's advice is wrong. Maybe I should just leave her alone. She isn't fidgeting like usual.

She isn't commenting on the snow like usual. She's just staring out the window and ignoring me. I should have left her alone and let her do what she needed to on the computer. My stomach could have waited. Hell, I could have just gone by myself.

More silence as we walk to the entrance. She pulls a cart and starts off in our usual direction. She rolls her eyes when we pass the Valentine's Day display. I should keep going, but I want to send something to Bree. I do every year. Bella is antsy. I hear her foot tapping to the metal bar of the cart as she leans and I kneel down to find a stuffed animal. I pick out a bear that is appropriate and some things for the girls in the office. Chocolates and other stuff for the jar on their desk. I want to get something for Bella – not to be romantic – but just so she isn't excluded, but she said she didn't eat candy. Course, she is pregnant, now. Maybe I should double check.

"Aren't you craving candy yet? Chocolate, anything?" We start walking and she huffs at my question.

"I told you I don't eat that shit."

"Why? Not that I'm apposed, it's good, but I'm curious why you have aversions to candy and not other junk foods."

"I just don't eat fucking candy, Edward. Who cares." She shoves the cart away and takes a few steps, but stops.

Her arms are around her chest and her head bows. A few people are looking, staring. I push the cart to side of the aisle. My feet want to go to her, but I'm a little scared. I don't know what's wrong and I don't know what I did. Now the people are staring at me, assuming correctly. I am the one who has upset her. Shit. She starts sobbing and crumples down to the floor. I take a few steps towards her. A lady stops and asks her if she's okay, but she acts like she can't hear her. Bella's mumbling to herself. Nonsense. I can't decipher any of it. It's scaring the shit out of me. I wave the lady off and kneel down behind Bella. I'm afraid to touch her.

"Bella, are you alright?"

She keeps mumbling a strangled rambling of words. I lean closer. I move her hair away.

"Do you understand what I'm saying?"

She cries harder. "No. Shut up. Please shut up." She begging, not angry. I'm quiet and pull my hands away from her. We are creating quite a scene now. I ignore them, but they don't ignore us.

A clerk stops. "Sir, do I need to call an ambulance or something? Is your friend, alright?"

I half lie. "It's fine. I'm a doctor. She's just pregnant." His whole face smoothes out.

"I completely understand." He flashes me his wedding band and I assume his wife had her share of meltdowns. But this isn't what's wrong with Bella. Regardless, it gets the crowd to go away, slightly.

I move so I'm in front of her. I need to figure out how to help her. She is leaning on her palms, her head is down. She's crying, still.

"Bella," I call softly. Nothing.

I brush her hair away to see her face. "Bella?" She cries harder.

I'm a little louder. "Bella."

She looks up at me and her tears turn into anger. "And she just pushed me out. I needed her and she just pushed me away. I didn't mean to. I swear I didn't mean to. I didn't even want the fucking candy. It wasn't that good. I was just hungry. She was a shitty cook and I was hungry. He would have stopped anyway. He was out of beer and he would have fucking stopped anyway! She was a shit mother and a shit wife and she had nothing else to do during the goddamn day but she couldn't even keep the fucking fridge stocked or boil water and make goddamn pasta! She was a shit mother! A fucking shit mother!"

She's shaking and choking on her tears. This is about her mother? Focus.

"It's okay."

She shakes her head. Her fists go to her face; over her eyes. "No it's not. It'll never be okay. It'll never fucking be okay."

I can't watch this any longer. She is breaking into pieces, shattering before me and I can't just sit here and do nothing. I wrap my arms around her, like on Christmas. I just want her to feel the same comfort she felt then. I want her to know she is safe. I rock her and rub my hands over her arms and back as she trembles and sobs.

I kiss the top of her head. "Yes it will."

That could be a lie for all I know. After all, what do I know? I'm no better. I'm acting like I'm better; asking for advice on how to cure her problems, meanwhile, neglecting my own. A hand presses on my shoulder and I look up at the sound of my name. Emmett.

"Let me have her." I shake my head at him and he crouches down. "I'm not going to hurt her."

"You already hurt her, Emmett."

He huffs. "Can we have this little piss-fest somewhere else? I just want to help her. She's been like this before."

And he's right. A part of me hates it, but he's right. This isn't about us. I let go of her, and he scoops her into his arms. I've never seen him be so gentle with her. I didn't think there was a bone his body that cared for Bella. But he's shushing her and whispering things as he stands. He glares at the people watching.

"What? Got a fucking problem?" He shoves his way through the crowd and they part to let him by. I follow. "Where's your car?"

I point. "Third row." I click the button on my keys and the lights flash. He lays her down in the back seat. The door closes. He faces me.

"What did you do?" His tone is accusing.

"Nothing. We were just shopping for food and she started crying."

He shakes his head. "Nah. You did something. Bella doesn't cry and she doesn't have random breakdowns unless someone says something or does something that provokes them." He waits for my answer. I scan my thoughts, trying to rethink of what happened.

"I was picking out candy for Bree and asked her if she wanted something and she got angry and then she started crying and nothing she said made any sense. She said something about her mother and that 'it isn't her fault'….something about the candy?"

Emmett sighs and rubs his head. "Dude, this shit is about more than candy." He pulls a cigarette pack from his pocket and lights up. I didn't know Emmett smoked. He takes a puff and exhales. "I don't know what the fuck you did, but the last time I saw her like that was when some asshole wanted to dress her up in pigtails and role-play she was his daughter. He wanted her to call him 'daddy' and shit. Fucking sick, right?"

I just nod. Emmett takes another puff. "She didn't talk to me for like two days after that shit. Fuck, I don't think she talked to anyone."

"What am I supposed to do, Emmett? Every time I think I'm helping her, or that she's getting better, it's like fives paces back."

He holds his cigarette in his hand as he talks. He licks his lips. "Why the hell are you so interested in Bella, anyhow? What's it to you how she is?"

So here comes the pissing match. I try to stay neutral. "Doesn't someone have to, Emmett? I mean, maybe if someone would have given a shit when she was a kid, none of this shit would be happening right now."

"And you think you're going to fix Bella? You honestly think that letting her live in your house and clean up your shit is going to make all the fucked up shit she's experienced just magically fade away?" He takes a puff and chucks his cigarette to the ground.

"Listen, I'm not trying to sound like a dick, Edward, but let's be real here. You're not talking about donating to a homeless shelter or some shit. You're taking a girl who is seriously fucked up with some deep rooted shit and trying to change everything she knows. Everything. She's not a goddamn Barbie Doll.

"You can't just slap some new clothes on her or give her new surroundings and expect everything to be perfect again. It would be the equivalent of taking a wild animal and saying because you're gonna potty-train it, it would cool for it to sleep on your couch. Shit doesn't work like you see on TV, dude. Not everything gets a happy feel good ending."

Being neutral is not easy. He's testing my good temperament. "What would you like me to do? Tell her to leave? Let her go back to working for you? Let her live on the street with her baby? What's the right fucking answer here, Emmett, since you seem to know so much?"

His shoulders bob. "I didn't say I knew that shit. I'm just saying; let a wild animal live in your house, expect to fucking get bitten every once and while. You have to be able to deal with the bad shit, as much you are willing to put up with the good shit." His finger taps the glass of my car. "That shit right there is just part of it."

When we get home, I watch her as she rests on the couch. Her eyes are vacant. There's nothing there. She looks like how I feel. I drape the blanket over her and crouch down. My palm smoothes over her hair. She closes her eyes. I'm about to pull away as she whispers.

"Will you play something?"

I settle back down. "A movie?"

Her lips barely move. "The piano."

My eyes roam over her face as I try to think of something to play. "Al…alright."

I sit at the piano and gently lift the lid over the keys. She isn't watching. I'm glad. This is amazingly uncomfortable. I glance at the book on the piano. No. None of those. My fingers tinker a few keys and then roll into the first thing that comes to mind. I'm not even sure if I can play it still, or if I am playing it correctly, but I keep going. I glance up every now and then and her eyes are still closed.

The song ends. I sit for a moment and stare at her. A moment turns into an evening and evening turns into early morning and in that morning, there is a new book atop the piano, though, it is old and withered. How fitting and I understand why she bought it for me.

I can't seem to think clearly today. I'm working, but my mind is at the house, wondering how Bella is. I asked Alice if she would stop by after the bakery's lunch rush to check on her. I simply told her she wasn't feeling well. No need to give details to things she wouldn't understand. Esme is taking the day off and I have to work until three. Thankfully, no shift at the hospital. I text Alice before I see my next patient.

How is Bella?

She replies:

Still sleeping. Fine, so far. Do you know there's no food in your house?

I roll my eyes. I don't answer her back.

I'm happy when I arrive home. I stopped and picked up a few bags of groceries. At a different store. I doubt I'll ever go back to the other one. The extra five miles is nothing. I'm quiet as I enter. If Bella is sleeping I don't want to wake her up. I hear chatter in the kitchen. At first I assume it is Bella and Alice, but as I step closer, I am wrong. It's…Kate and Alice? Why is Kate here? I pause when I hear my name and listen for a moment.

"Are you sure it was Edward?" Alice asks.

"Oh, I'm sure. And I'm telling you, Alice, this shit was crazy. That girl has serious issues. She was like, in hysterics on the floor, in the middle of the freakin grocery store! It was creepy."

Alice sounds concerned. "What happened to her?"

"I don't know. I just saw a group of people and went over to see what the big deal was. Then I see Edward holding his housekeeper on the floor and she is losing her mind. Oh! And Emmett was there too. It was so damn weird. There is something going…."

I round the corner and angrily set the bags down on the counter. I make no effort to hide it, nor to be quiet. I glare at Kate. She smiles and tries to act like she's the girl I used to think she was.

"Oh, Hi, Edward. I just stopped by to see how you were doing. Alice let…"

I hold up my hand. "Why would you need to know how I am, Kate?"

Her face falls a little. She knows I'm pissed but she still tries to win me over with her smile. "I was just in the neighborhood. Wanted to say hello."

"That's funny, because it sounded like you wanted to know why I was consoling a sick girl in the middle of the grocery store yesterday. Matter of fact, it seemed like you were trying to implicate that Emmett and I have something going on that is…what was the word? Oh, yes – creepy."

Alice is silent. Kate fumbles to say something, but I don't want to hear it. I've heard enough.

"Save it for someone who believes you, Kate. Get out of my house."

"But Edward I was only…"

"I asked you to leave."

She takes a step forward. She reaches for me. "We're family. Don't do this, Edward."

I shake my head and push her hands away. "Pfft. Family. Family, Kate? You don't know the first thing about family. And if you want to get real about this…we're not family. Tanya is gone and we're not family. Not anymore." I take a step back. "I'm going to check on Bella and when I come back down, I don't want to see you here."

She huffs. "No need to make a dramatic exit, Edward. I'm leaving." She grabs her purse and shoves past me, knocking into my arm. The front door slams. The windows in the kitchen rattle. It pisses me off even more. Alice is looking at me.

"What the hell is going on, Edward?"

"Kate's a fucking trouble maker."

She shakes her head. "I'm not talking about her. I'm talking about what she said. I'm talking about why you feel the need to hide things from me. Why you're lying to me. It was never like this between us."

I'm defensive. I'm pissed off. I'm tired. "What would you like to know, Alice?"

"I want to know what's going on with my brother. I want to know why people in a grocery store know more about what's happening then I do."

"So you can hate Bella, too?"

"I told you I don't care about Kate. She can think whatever she wants."

I shake my head. "No, not Kate, Alice."

She thinks for a minute. She sighs. "I didn't hate Tanya, Edward." I lift my brows in challenge. "I hate what she did to you, but I didn't hate her."

She is lying and it pisses me off further. "I can't even mention her name without an eye-roll or a snide comment being made. You want me to talk to you about shit with Bella? Really, Alice? You already have her pegged as someone who is going to steal my shit and ruin my life somehow. I'm supposed to run and cry on your shoulder? I can't even talk to you about my wife, someone I vowed to spend my life with. Why the fuck would I talk to you about Bella?"

She's hurt. I'm not trying to hurt her, but it's the truth and she asked me why. I'm tired of lies. I'm tired of bullshit. Alice walks towards me. I look away. I'm tired if seeing hurt in the eyes of everyone I love. I'm tired of causing it and I'm tired of not knowing what to do to fix it.

"I'm sorry. I just love you and I don't like it when anyone hurts you. I didn't realize I was doing that. I thought I was protecting you."

"Protecting me from what, Alice? Am I not a grown fucking adult? Am I not a smart person? Can I not take care of myself?"

"From being hurt again. From trusting someone and having them hurt you again."

I look at her. "You know, you and Mom and everyone says that shit, but do you ever think about what you're actually saying? Do you even hear yourselves?" I slam my fist against the counter. She jumps.

"How much worse could it possibly hurt, Alice? If Bella turns out to be the villain you've pegged her as, how much fucking worse could it hurt than it already does?"

Night falls and I have yet to check on Bella. She hasn't come down. I haven't heard one footstep overhead. I go back to the piano and take a seat. I'm not playing anything, just pressing keys. It's a strangled mess, but what isn't? I flip open my book, my old one and play something I haven't touched since the last time I sat here, agony filling up my insides, begging to be released somehow. I don't remember the chords, but I remember the feeling.

I remember telling her that she was a liar. I remember telling her I didn't believe she loved me. I remember yelling at her. I remember telling her that she was ruining our marriage. Ruining my family. Ruining my career. I remember her tears. I remember her hands gripping my shirt. I remember her begging me to believe her. I remember pushing her away and the last time I heard her leave the house. The click of the door.

I remember not sleeping that night. I remember when she didn't come back home and I remember the way the phone sounded when it rang in the morning. I remember the way the room smelled. I remember the cold and goose-bumps on my skin. I remember the rubber gloves the examiner wore. I remember tasting acid burn my throat as I looked at hers slit open and I remember that it was all my fault.

These sheets of paper know my secrets. It's written in code and to unknowing ears it is beautiful and magical and amazing, as my mother would say. But all I hear is her.

All I hear is her.

I draw the song to a close, holding my finger to the last key, letting the deepness and bass of the chord vibrate through me. The house falls quiet. There is movement my eye catches. The house is dark, but I see it. A silhouette sitting in the shadows on the steps. It's not a ghost.