Chapter 43: No More Hiding
I shake my head at Alice.
I shake my head to that idea too.
"What about gift cards? You can never go wrong with gift cards?"
I sigh. We have been in this mall for the last three hours.
"Alice, if we get Esme a 'gift card', she will disown us. We might as well just say, 'I'm sorry I have no idea what to get you. Have fun fending for yourself, Mom.'"
She is not happy with me. "Well, what the heck are we going to get her? I have been throwing out suggestions left and right and all you've done is shoot them down."
I really have no idea. As much as I love my mother, there comes a point when you just run out of things to purchase. There are only so many birthdays you can be creative. It was much easier as a child. Scribble something down on a piece of construction paper and you were loved and praised. Those were the days. Now I am standing in the middle of a mall with every option available and nothing that seems fitting.
"Maybe I should just write something. Like on the piano. She likes that kind of stuff."
Alice's hand goes to her hip. "And what the hell is my talentless ass supposed to do? Hum at your side?"
I smile. "You can make the cake. Your talent is baking."
Really pissed off. "I bake seven days a week, Edward. It's a cop-out."
"No it isn't. Not if you make it special."
She doesn't believe me. "I'm getting her a necklace. You and your magical-musical-fingers can do what you like."
I laugh and follow her as she scopes out charms and chains and pins and all things Esme has a million of already. A million and one if I guess correctly as to what my father will be giving this year. Alice starts chatting up one of the clerks. I am given a warm smile by another woman working here. My clothing is quite casual today. She notices my non casual watch. She was trained well.
"May I help you find something, Sir?"
I shake my head. "I'm just waiting for my sister, but thank you."
She isn't done with me. "We have a wonderful selection of items. Perhaps you'd like to look while you wait?"
"She's just shopping for my mother. It's her birthday."
"I see." She glances at Alice and then back to me. "Well, she is in wonderful hands with our manager down there. Could I show you something special? Maybe something for a special someone?"
She smiles and I hate pushy sales people. I can either leave or just give in. Alice will gut me if I leave. I wave the woman on and she starts pulling out items. I nod and pretend to listen. I smile and make up lies about things she suggests. She asks me about sizes and I lie a little more. The woman has three months worth of my salary laid out and I am getting really annoyed at Alice's inability to pick out something at the other end of the counter. My mother will wear it once and toss it in her jewelry box with everything else. She knows this. Pick something. Damn.
"This one is really wonderful because you can continue adding charms. It makes for a really thoughtful gift. A lady would feel very special."
It's some silver bracelet that I see no significance in. It's a little ugly to be honest. Sort of…juvenile. Something I would expect to see Bree wearing. Hmmm.
"What kind of charms do you have?"
She smiles wide and I am once again a sucker.
A display of charms is presented before me. Alice is still yapping away. I glance over them and see a ballerina. She would like that. I pick it up from the display box.
"Oh, that is a wonderful choice!"
Kill me. Please.
"Can this be shipped?"
Of course it can. She is already grabbing a box and wrapping it up. I wait while she works. She leaves the bracelets and charms out. Smart. I look at them like the sucker I am. There are some pretty expensive ones. Diamonds and things that would be way too much for a girl Bree's age. Bella does cross my mind - because she is always there - but we aren't that type. She isn't that type. I am very much that type.
The clerk is taking her precious time. As is my sister. It's just me and the charms. There is one that is staring at me. It's nothing that special, other than what it makes me think of. It's just a small apple. It's not even round. It's flat and plain. Just the cut-out shape of one. I pinch it between my fingers and look at it. The price tag would want you to think it was special. The brown eyes and warm smile I see makes me believe it.
"Can you wrap this one too?"
And I've made her commission quota for the day.
I've been toying with this box since I bought it four days ago. I don't know why. I could have given it to her under the apple tree on Saturday. I could have simply left it on her dresser. I could have just said, "Good morning, Bella," and handed it to her. I could have pulled it from the nightstand table and placed it on her bare stomach last night. I could have just leaned in a little further to her ear as she lay in my arms and told her I loved her and put it on her wrist.
It is sitting on my desk in my office. She is at home.
It's busy in the clinic. I feel like my head is swimming by the time lunch rolls around. I go to the bakery and sit with Alice. She makes me a turkey Panini. She talks about Jasper and all things Jasper related. I am happy for her, but have nothing else to say other than snarky comments. She looks happy. I want to be happy for her, but I feel like I'm right back where I started. There is this person that I love and cherish and want to speak about, but it's all buried inside. Not by choice.
I could never sit here and tell Alice about why I find Bella fascinating. Why I love her smile and all of the things I adore and have grown to admire about her. I know Alice is trying, but after everything with Emmett and Rosalie, the waters have been muddied again. She just sees Tanya. She will only ever see me as the sucker and the girl – whoever it is – as the Tanya.
So I am silent. And the food is good.
Halfway through my sandwich, my phone beeps. Alice is back at the counter. There is a rush. I press the button to view the sender.
Bella. I click the button to open her message.
Holy fuck. There is a spider the size of goddamn Texas in your bathroom. I am shutting your bedroom door and pretending that room doesn't exist until you get home and kill it.
I laugh into my hand. When I have the ability to see clearly again, I type back.
Please do not speak badly about Fred. Not only did he keep me company before you came along, but he also videotapes all of our late night rendezvous. Fred is good people.
I laugh to myself as I hit send and wait for her reply. A minute passes and I hope she doesn't think I'm serious about video taping when we have sex. The phone beeps.
In that case, you should be more adventurous when doing me. People don't want to watch two people have boring sex, Cullen. They want ropes and chains and spanking. For the record, so do I. I'm informing Fred of this.
I am once again laughing…and slightly aroused…and of course…Alice sits down.
"What's so funny?"
I shake my head. "Bella is afraid of spiders."
Her nose crinkles. "She calls to report a spider in your house?"
"Not everyone has such deep, meaningful conversations like you and Jasper," I quip.
She rolls her eyes and my fingers go back to typing.
Number one, thank you for saying our sex boring. Number two, I own no ropes or chains. Number three, Fred would never betray me, but nice try, Sweetheart.
I take a bite of my sandwich while I wait for her reply. Alice is making fun of someone's outfit as she gazes at the people from the window. Phone beeps.
I noticed you were mum on the spanking. Freak.
And I love her in ways that shouldn't be allowed. Or deemed healthy.
"Still spider-chatting, Edward?"
I look up at Alice. I smooth out my expression and tuck the phone back into my pocket, where Bella is safe from being critiqued. Judged. Falsely accused.
I finish up my second half of the day. It never ceases to amaze me how many upset stomachs you come across. Really, is good nutrition and common sense that difficult? I am signing off on papers as Rosalie knocks on the door.
"One more for you, Dr. E."
She hands over the clipboard and I scribble out my name on the line.
She sits. "What a day, huh?"
I nod and lean back in my seat, rubbing the tired from my face. "You said it."
There is a nervous look on her face. "I need tomorrow off. If that's alright?"
My face crinkles. "That's a little short notice, Rose."
She nods. "I know. I'm sorry. It's just…I wasn't sure if I was going to go or not and I just sort of…decided."
Still confused. "On?"
"Emmett is seeing a shrink. He said he wants me to go with him." She looks at her fingers. "The appointment isn't until later on in the day, but I need to take Josh to my parents and I haven't spent time with Em since all of this began and I just…I'll be useless to you tomorrow if I'm here. So I might as well not be. You know?"
"I do. That's good. I'm glad you're seeing someone. He's been hanging around my house a lot. I was going to start charging him rent." I am teasing. She smiles a little.
I smile back at her. "He has to put up with Bella. I figured that was punishment enough."
Her face dims and again, I should just shut up when it comes to talking about her.
She notices. "Sorry. It's just a little weird to know that my husband was helping your Bella do guys for money."
I raise a brow. "And you think it's not weird for me, Rose? You think I like knowing this?"
She shrugs. "I'm just saying."
I lean my elbows on the desk. "You know…I'm sure neither one of them woke up one day and just decided they wanted to….to do that with their lives. I'm not saying it's right, Rosalie and I sure as hell don't make excuses for anyone, but I'm really tired of everyone judging shit they don't understand and taking everything at face value when they haven't even put in five minutes of their time to hear what one of them has to say about it."
"I did listen to what she said, Edward. Why do think I am even talking to Emmett?"
My hand runs through my hair. "Just don't act like you know her. You and Alice have spent more time with your manicurist then you have with Bella. So don't act like you know her."
I go back to signing papers.
"I told Alice not to start trouble with Bella. I'm sorry if she did."
I wave her off. "I'm not blaming you for Alice. I'm just asking you not to judge someone you don't even know based off the five things you or she can only count on one hand that you do."
"And you think you know her, Edward? You really think you know her? Christ, I am married to Emmett and didn't know the half. You seriously trust what she tells you?"
She's not being rude. She's just being honest in her curiosity.
"I believe what I see."
"And what is that, Dr. E?"
I put my pen down. I look at her. "Someone who does what they say they are going to. Someone who doesn't pretend to be something they are not. Someone who writes down words they don't understand because they didn't even get to graduate high school, but are still smart and eager and sits and learns in my living room when she thinks I'm paying attention to the television.
"Someone who is so afraid that she will fail at something so much that she down plays everything she does right and is capable of and pisses me off that my own sister would be one of the people that I hold contempt for when I see that look on Bella's face."
I grab the box from my desk and toss it Rosalie.
"And I can't even give her something so stupid and insignificant because someone will surely ask her where it came from – if she even accepts it – and then when she has to say it was from me, they'll look at her like that's why she is here. So don't fucking talk to me about your hardship with Emmett. He'll always look like the good guy no matter what and Bella will always just be the girl who is trying to screw me for money. So don't even…"
I hold my fist to my mouth and stop before I lose it completely. She says nothing. I'm not looking at her, but I see the box from my peripherals. She opens it and looks at what's inside.
Her voice is soft. "An apple?"
I just nod.
"Why an apple?"
Now I look at her. "There used to be an apple orchard in the park where you take Joshua. You used to be able to pick apples there. Where the soccer field is now. Bella used to go there with her father when she was a little girl. Her father who was a Police Chief and a respectable person and the only person who ever took care of her and died trying to bring her home a stupid goddamn candy bar one night because these guys were robbing the store he was in and he didn't have his gun because he was off-duty and trying to retire so he could spend more time with his daughter and wife who hated the fact that he was a cop.
"He stopped to help some people who had an accident and he was late for a shitty dinner that Bella's mom cooked. So he stopped and bought her candy to make up for it and he never got to give it to her. And when you ask Bella what her favorite thing to do for fun is, all she can think of is that stupid apple orchard where she last remembered being happy with the last person who ever made her happy."
I take a breath, but I'm still bitter.
"Amazing what you find out when you actually put forth an effort in getting to know someone, isn't it, Rosalie?"
She looks back to the bracelet and replaces the lid on the box. She hands it over to me.
"You shouldn't make Bella pay for what other people might think or do. It's nice. You should give it to her."
When I arrive home, she is taking laundry from the washing machine and shoving it in the dryer. I set my things down and wrap my arms around her shoulders.
She looks over her shoulder. "Um, working here. Do you mind?"
"Actually." I kiss her face and she shakes her head. I tighten my arms and she gives in, leaning into me. Her head rests on my chest. She looks up to me. "I want to go out for dinner tonight if you'd like."
She shakes her head. "I can make something."
"I am aware of this, but would you like to go out?"
Her smile is small. "Sure."
I kiss her face again. "Good." I let her go. "I'm going to change and I'll meet you at the bottom of the stairs."
I find my room and pull out something more comfortable to wear. Something like the other day. Bella made a point to say she liked it…in her own way. I make sure I have all of my things and start down the stairs. She is already at the bottom. She is sitting. She looks over her shoulder when she hears me. Her eyes look me over quickly. I do the same as she stands. I put my hand out for hers. She takes it and the way she has come to accept my simple gestures isn't lost on me.
I say my thank you and pride for her growth on her skin. In another simple gesture that is anything but. I see her glancing at me as we walk through the house towards the garage. She is still staring as I move all my stuff from the passenger seat, to clear it off.
"Alright. Your chariot is ready."
I duck out of the car and as I turn to permit her entry, I have warm hands on my face, pulling me into hers. I'm a little taken aback, but I don't protest. I certainly don't pull away. Her mouth is eager and a little desperate. Her fingers feel nervous on my skin. On my chin. It's not usually how Bella kisses me. It's more like how I kiss her. It's a nice change in scenery. I hold my hands over hers so she knows I like it. That I want her to keep them here.
Her lips whisper against mine. "I'm sorry." She keeps kissing me. It's an…apology?
I mumble against her mouth. "Please, feel free, anytime. Really."
She pulls her mouth away, but keeps her face to mine. "For what I said. Before. For what I called you. I was just kidding."
"What are you talking about, Bella?"
She won't look at me. "In my text message."
My brain quickly tries to run through our conversation. I don't remember anything being…oh. Oh.
"I'm not mad. Why would you think I was mad?"
Her eyes shift to mine. "You didn't text me back."
I stare into her eyes. Into the nervous. Into the child. Into the scared. Into the silliness.
"Alice interrupted. I was eating lunch with her. She was being rude and sort of…took the fun out of me."
"And you should know better than to think I'd ignore you if I was upset with you, Bella. Don't we always talk when something is wrong?"
She nods slowly.
"Although…if you believed I was mad at you and that's why I was being treated to a kissing assault, then yes…yes I am extremely upset with you and as a matter of fact I don't even think I'd like to take you to dinner and I think that maybe…."
And my mouth is shut up with hers. And I feel her happiness this time. And I let go of her hands and they stay on my face without any help. I wrap my arms around her waist and let my fingers graze the top of her lower half. Her fingertips press firmer into my chin.
I let my hands fall a little lower. I rub my palms over the fabric of her jeans. Her tongue passes over mine. She rests into me. She is so small. I let my finger slide along the crease in between her cheeks. I love the noises she makes and maybe dinner can wait.
A car door closes. Bella's body freezes. I glance over my shoulder and Hell. Of all the times. Esme. Bella takes a step back. I find her hand and I don't want her to feel ashamed, even though, I'm not really in the mood to discuss this with my mother right now. There is no need to wonder if she saw what was happening because it is written all over her flushed face.
She tries to be casual. "Hi, guys."
"Hey, Mom. I didn't know you were coming by?"
I don't mean to sound annoyed, but shit, I was more than halfway towards taking Bella back into the house and now I am standing in my garage with her feeling embarrassed and my pants full of much the same.
"Yes, well, I wasn't planning on it, but I was out and found some things I thought Bella might like. They had a sale." She holds out a bag.
I take it because I know Bella won't. It's awkward.
"So…what are you kids doing tonight?"
I'm trying to take Bella out to dinner like normal people. "Bella and I are going to get something to eat."
"Oh. That sounds...nice. I should let you get going then. Um…have a nice time."
I nod and she takes a few steps towards her car. She is looking at me as she gets in an that same look is there that everyone else has and I am so sick of it. I am in my house, minding my own business and now I feel like I have to be explaining myself? Esme is gone, but her presence is right here. The awkward feeling has washed away all of the magic and the happiness and the light feeling that we had. It's like Alice and the stupid text messages.
And Bella senses it and it only pisses me off more.
I'm driving but I have no idea where to. Bella isn't asking. I'm trying to listen to the stupid radio and drown out all of the crap in my head, but it isn't working. I am trying to think of a place to take her, but I'd have to drive for another hour to get somewhere that I wouldn't fear an old 'customer', one of my patient's parents, or her cunt mother showing up. It's like living in a cage. I pull the steering wheel hard to the left and make an illegal turn. Bella holds on to her seat and I am pulling into my parent's driveway before I talk myself out of it.
I slam my car door and she follows me.
"Cullen, what are you doing?"
I am knocking on the door and not answering her.
She is pulling on my shirt's sleeve. "Jesus Christ, what are you doing?"
Esme opens the door before I can reply. She eyes us warily.
I am being so disrespectful. "Do you have a problem with me and Bella?"
My mother's eyes are huge. She thinks and shakes her head. "Of course not, Dear. Why would you…"
"Then what the hell is with the look?"
She opens the door wider. "Come in."
I hold up my hand. "Just answer the damn question."
"Edward, you are standing here asking me questions about how I feel about you and Bella. I am trying to show you that I think more of the both of you by offering to have this conversation inside of my home and not on my doorstep, like you are some magazine salesmen."
She waves me in and fine, I'll play along. I pull Bella in with me. We sit across from Esme in the living room.
"Darling, I'm sorry if I upset you – both of you – but I was sort of caught off guard. I just didn't think….I'm not stupid or blind. I figured something was happening, I just didn't realize the extent. I didn't know. I'm sorry. You can't blame me for that."
"I'm not pissed off at you not knowing. I'm pissed off because I can't even tell you…any of you."
Her head tilts to the side. "Why not?"
My voice rises. "Because of that look you and Alice have. It's goddamn amazing to me that you two aren't blood related because I swear, it is exactly the same."
"Please don't curse in my home. And Edward, I have always been supportive of you. Just because I worry, it doesn't mean I am a bad person. I'm just your mother. It's my job to worry."
"I'm an adult. I can take care of myself." Even though I am acting like a child.
"Tell me something then. What exactly is happening between you and Bella?" She looks at both of us. "And what will happen in the future if this is truly as serious as I think it is…seeing as how you are in my home yelling at me and being rude?"
And I am so stupid. I am angry and I am pissed off, but I am so stupid because I can't even answer those questions to myself. Esme looks at Bella.
"Excuse me for a moment while I talk about you like you're not here, Dear, but my son needs a good lesson in life."
She looks back to me.
"What will happen when Bella's child is born, Edward? Even if she goes through with adoption? What will happen after that? Will she remain your housekeeper? Will you stay here? I don't imagine…"
She looks back to Bella. "I'm sorry, truly, for saying this because I don't mean to hurt you Bella…"
Esme looks back to me.
"I don't imagine you being able to live a normal life in our town if you are choosing to have Bella as your girlfriend, given the past she has. Again, I am sorry. My purpose isn't to be cruel, but you are asking me why everyone gives you these looks and I am just trying to figure out what it is you have figured out that makes it alright in your mind. You don't want me to worry, son? Give me a reason not to. I'm all ears."
I am saved by my father. Carlisle enters the room. "Everyone needs to settle down."
He sits next to Esme. "I've heard about all I can take. From everyone." He takes my mother's hand. "Now, I understand what you are saying. And I understand you and Alice being upset or worried. But this is about more than Edward and Bella and I think we all know it.
"So how about we stop kicking the ghost of the past around and deal with the present. I have watched my son do nothing but shut us out for the last few years because of this behavior and I refuse to repeat those mistakes. You and Alice worry about Edward getting hurt, but look at what you all are doing. Look at him. Tell me he isn't hurt right now."
He waves his hand towards me. Esme looks remorseful. He sighs.
"Stop trying to prevent what is not preventable. If this is what he chooses, then this is what he chooses. Sometimes we choose right and sometimes we choose wrong and sometimes what is right at a certain time is not right at another time. But he is intelligent enough to learn from it, yes?"
He looks at me. I nod. He turns to Esme.
"Sometimes the best things come from mistakes. It makes us who we are. It makes us stronger. We've all done it. I certainly have. And I'd never undo any of them, because if I did, Edward wouldn't exist. I didn't belong with his mother and it took making that mistake to be able to appreciate what a blessing her leaving us was.
"It brought us you, Esme. You made Edward a fine a young man. You raised him to be the man he is today and you need to understand that he might fall, but it is us who will pick him back up if he does."
He looks to me. "Are you happy with Bella, Son?"
I grip her fingers tighter. I nod.
He looks at her. "Are you happy Edward, Bella?"
She gives a small nod.
He glances back to me. "We don't know anymore than you do about what the future holds for the both of you…so be happy. I pray only good things for you, Edward. And maybe this will end badly like everyone thinks. Maybe it will. Who knows. But then again…maybe Tanya was your Elizabeth. And maybe Bella is your Esme. I suppose there's only one way to find out."
We are sitting in a dimly lit restaurant. It's not fancy. It's just some place Alice and I used to go to because she loved the garlic knots. Bella has only nibbled a little of her pizza. We haven't said much beyond our orders since leaving my parents house. I don't think she is mad at me. I think she is just caught off guard and not sure what to do or say. She is sensitive to anger.
I slide closer to her in the booth. I reach for her hand under the table and bring her fingers to my lips. Her eyes watch me. I kiss her palm. I rock to my side and dig the bracelet from my pocket. I left the stupid box at home. I don't say anything and just clasp it around her wrist. I kiss her hand again.
"I've been trying to figure out a way to give that to you since Saturday."
She pulls her hand away. Her fingers pinch the charm and she looks at it. She doesn't look back up. And there's no wrong or right or fight left in me. And if she's scared then she's scared. And if she walks away then she walks away. And if she runs away then runs away. And if I want her to stay I have to be honest. It's the only thing that is right.
I tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I love you, Bella." I keep my fingers moving through her hair. "I'm sorry this is all fucked up and we can't always be like Alice and Jasper and do things that normal people do, but it doesn't change how I feel and it can't.
"I told Rosalie I bought that for you because of the story you told me about the apple orchards, but the truth is that I bought it for you because I think in my heart of hearts I know you might go away someday. For whatever reason….and I wanted you to remember our day in the orchard, too. I want you to remember that I love you."
I rest my head to the side of hers. "I don't care what happens in the future….just don't forget that day, please."
And she is quiet and I feel like no matter what she says or does, I am fine. It's out and there's nothing held inside except for what I said and it feels like a hundred years has lifted from my shoulders and I can breathe, finally. And when I do, it's strawberries and sweet and warm. Bella's head turns towards me. There are streaks on her on face. She presses her forehead to mine. Her fingers touch my chin.
"I won't forget. I promise."
And it's not an I love you, but it's Bella and her fingers on my face say everything her lips or heart won't.