Under the Apple Tree
Chapter 21: Gossip & Truth
I leave an envelope at the club for Emmett. It has the money he loaned me inside of it. All of it. He's not here. It's a holiday weekend and he is doing normal family shit.
I am still finding goddamn peanuts everywhere. I have swept and vacuumed and fucking got down on my hands and knees and searched for each little fucking one and still I am finding them everywhere.
They are fucking up my life.
Edward is working at the hospital, today. Something about accidents and drunk drivers and saturated fat intakes due to over eating. Whatever. I am on a mission to rid this house of fucking peanuts. I start in the living room and once again get on my hands and knees. I am crawling and shaking shit and lifting rugs and collecting them in my hand as I go. I stop when I get in front of the Christmas tree. There are presents placed under it. I sit on my ass and look at one of the tags.
To Edward, Love Mom
I flip the other tags and they are mostly from his mother. One from his sister. He also has a few for Bree and then some other people I don't know. Jesus, I'm fucking nosy. I start picking up the silver strands of tinsel that has fallen from the tree and my eyes catch something on one of the tags.
And my heart dies a little. Someone bought me something. I glance over the gifts again. It's the same paper used to wrap the gifts Edward bought for other people. He bought me something. Shit. Why did he do that? There is a noise by the front door and I hear voices. I scramble to my feet and make my way to the kitchen. As I dump the peanuts in the trash can, Alice comes walking in. There are bags in her hands and she rests them on the counter.
"Hi." I try to be nice. She starts unpacking things. They look like more gifts.
"Hi, Bella." She greets me back, but it's not cheery, it's just cordial. Like how you would say hello to a clerk or co-worker or some shit. I don't know why I hate the fact that Alice doesn't like me. She shouldn't like me. If I were her, I wouldn't like me. Hell, I am me and I don't like me.
"Do you need help?" I ask and she looks up.
She shakes her head. "Rose is bringing in the rest."
"Oh." I just stand there like tool. She notices.
"Were you in the middle of doing something here?" She waves at the counter. "I can move to another room if I'm in your way."
"No. It's fine. Um…actually, I wanted to ask you something." Not really, but fuck. I might as well. "What would um…what would be a good gift for Edward?" She is staring at me like I am speaking fucking French. "You know…like for Christmas?"
Her lips twitch. She speaks slowly. "You want to buy Edward a Christmas present?"
"It's just that….well I was looking for these fucking peanuts that some idiot managed to spill in every facet of this house and when I was looking for them, I then started to clean up that hideous tinsel you guys put on the tree – it falls off every fucking day, thank you – and then I saw my name and he bought something for me, so…fuck…I don't know…I just assume I am supposed to buy him something too and not look like a fucking twat."
Alice's lips give way and a laugh comes bubbling from her chest. Her small hand covers her mouth and she holds up the other. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just…." She laughs and then sighs. "Man, you are weird."
"Forget I said anything." I start to leave, but she steps in front of me.
"I didn't mean it like that. I just…have no idea what to make of you." She smiles and her hand goes to her head. She shakes it. "One day I see you and Edward in my bakery fighting and him chasing after you. Then another day he is hiring you and you are living here. Then I see you two all cozied-up on Thanksgiving and holding hands and I'm just at a loss, Bella. Edward hasn't expressed any interest in anyone since Tanya died and all of a sudden, you have my brother wrapped around your finger."
She isn't accusing me of anything. She is just laying it out. I get it, but she is wrong.
"He's not wrapped around anything."
She laughs. "Well he certainly is more wrapped around you than he's been of anyone in the past year. And from what I heard Thursday night, you two were pretty wrapped around each other."
I shake my head. "We weren't doing anything. It was a joke. That girl Kate was trying to get in your brother's pants and we just pretended to go upstairs so she'd back off. We just talked. I swear."
Her hand goes to her chest. "Kate? Holy crap. I knew it. I knew, I knew it, I knew it."
"Knew what?" Rosalie asks, entering the kitchen. She slings more bags on the counter and looks between Alice and I.
Alice's hands go to her hips. "Kate wants to hook up with Edward."
Rosalie's face scrunches. "Tanya's little cousin?"
Alice nods quickly. "Uh-huh!"
"Oh, hey Bella." Rosalie smiles at me. I just wave and nod.
Alice looks at me. "Okay, whatever Edward wanted you do for the day, you are not doing. You are helping us wrap gifts and completely telling us anything and everything you know about Kate and her sick dead-cousin's-husband-fantasy." She pulls on my hand and makes me take a seat.
They sit too and she is not fucking joking. It's like we're in a damn meeting.
"Um…well, she just said she's been trying to hook up with him for a while and I guess she cooks and brings him shit so he'll like her."
Rosalie hops up. "Wait! We need snacks. Where's the good shit?"
Alice laughs. "This is Edward's house. There is no good shit."
Rosalie looks at me. "Where's the candy stash?"
I point. She heads towards the drawer and pulls out a handful of things. She makes a pile in the middle of the counter and they unwrap and chew. I take nothing.
Rosalie waves me on. "Alright, go ahead."
"Uh…then at the party she was rambling on about how Tanya was such a limp noodle and would only let him give it to her missionary style or something, then proceeded to announce all the different ways she'd give it to him if he was her man."
Their mouths drop. Heads shake.
"That dirty slut." Rosalie takes a bite of Twix.
Alice reaches for a miniature Mr. Good Bar. "Her own fucking cousin, like seriously? Edward still wears his wedding band for Christ sake."
I can't help what leaves my mouth next. "Then she announced she'd like to buy you a dildo, because apparently she thinks Emmett leaves you lonely on the weekend."
Rosalie's eye bulge. She is chewing and I have no idea what the hell she is trying to say.
"Thatfrukinwittlyho." She swallows, thankfully. "My man fully satisfies me. She can go eff herself."
I smile. "My thoughts exactly."
Alice pipes in. "So, let me get this straight. You were like, trying to help Edward on Thursday? Wait, how does he even know Kate said that shit? Did he hear her?"
I shake my head. "I just told him. I thought he should know."
She eyes me skeptically. "Why?"
I shrug. "I don't know. If it was me, I guess I'd want to know. Besides, no offense, but your brother needs a good swift reality kick in his naïve ass. He shouldn't be so trusting."
Rosalie nods. "I tell him that shit all the time."
Alice looks at her. "The boy is hard-headed. I warned him about Tanya. I knew there was something wrong there, but did he listen to me? Noooo."
Rosalie shakes her head. "Don't talk bad about her. She loved him, she just had issues."
"Issues? Yeah, like she couldn't keep her pants on or her hands out of his bank account."
"Alice," Rosalie warns, "I'm telling you, it wasn't like that. You don't understand."
"Oh I think I understand just fine. I think I understand perfectly well when someone goes off with her creepy ex and I am stuck with my brother on my couch for days on end because he can't find her and he is having a nervous breakdown thinking she is dead in a damn ditch somewhere! All the while, she's popping pills and fucking some guy who is only using her!"
"Calm down. I'm not trying to upset you."
"Tanya was a damn thief and a user and I'm sorry, but she didn't deserve my brother. He treated her like gold, better than gold and she ruined him." Alice stands up and her stool is pushed into the counter before she storms out of the room.
Rosalie looks at me. She fakes a smile. I try to joke. "Happiest time of the year, right?"
She laughs humorlessly and shakes her head. "She's just bitter. And maybe she has a right to be," her shoulders bob. "I'd probably feel the same way, but I knew Tanya better than she did. We became close and Bella, she didn't use Edward, nor did she cheat on him. Her ex was just…" She pauses. "I shouldn't be telling you this, sorry."
I shrug. "He already told me. I know what happened."
Her eyes widen. "Edward told you about Tanya?"
I nod. "Her ex killed her, right?" I'm only saying it to show I'm being truthful.
"Holy shit. I can't believe he talked you about that. He never talks to anyone. Not about that."
I shrug. "Maybe he just wanted to get it off his chest."
Her eyes read my face. She tentatively begins. Her hands fumble with the candy on the counter.
"Her ex was crazy, Bella. He stalked her. He'd leave her notes on her car and at school. She was terrified of him. She never told Edward because she didn't want him to get hurt. He's very protective of the people of he loves and if he knew, he would have gone after him. He would have lost everything."
I shake my head. "But he did know."
"No, he knew about what happened in the last year, before she died. Tanya's ex never went away. He was terrorizing her the entire time they were together. He only stopped for six months when Emmett found out. He beat the shit out of him and when he disappeared we thought it was for good. But then when he found out Tanya was married to a rich doctor and that she started working at the hospital, he started coming around again.
"He stalked her and if she didn't do what he wanted he'd beat her. I told her to go to the police, but there is a shame and a…I don't know, she was so afraid of him. She couldn't hide the abuse from Edward, though. That's when he found out. And I know what it looks like, but I'm telling you, she loved Edward and she would never hurt him; even at the cost of her own life."
Rosalie sighs. "I'm glad he has you and feels like he can talk to you about things. You see how Alice reacts….so, you can gather why it's hard for him to talk to his family about it. He's closest to Alice. I think it hurts him, a lot."
I nod. Alice comes walking in and takes a seat. She reaches for a candy and rolls her eyes as she shoves a Jolly Rancher in her mouth.
"He likes golf and gay shit like classical music. Buy him something like that."
We laugh at her. She shakes her head, rolling her eyes again, but then joins in.
I help them wrap the gifts and mostly listen as they talk about shit. They leave a few hours before Edward gets home. The house is clean and I am eating some Top Ramen Noodles at the kitchen island. He comes in and looks tired as hell.
"Hello, Bella." He rests his things on the counter and tugs open the fridge.
My mouth is full of noodles and I just make a noise to greet him. He closes the fridge and sets a container of leftovers out. I keep twirling my noodles. He walks to other side of the island gets out a dish. He places the food on it and then heats the oven and sticks the plate in there. He sighs and then turns to me.
"What the hell are you eating?"
I slurp a noodle and swallow. "Ramen. Spicy Beef to be exact."
He makes a face. "It's in a foam cup."
"Have you never eaten Ramen noodles?"
"I try not to eat things from foam cups. No."
I lift a fork full of noodles. "Want to try it?"
He shakes his head. "Not especially, but thank you for offering."
I shrug and go back to eating. When I look up again, he is reading the empty wrapper I left on the counter. His face is scrunched and I try not to laugh. He looks at me.
"You know this has two days worth of your maximum daily intake of salt?" He holds the wrapper up.
I nod. "That's why it tastes good, Cullen."
"And also why your blood pressure will sky rocket and you'll feel severely dehydrated thirty minutes from now." He tosses the wrapper in the trash. I am going to ignore him and my fork goes to the cup, but it is yanked from me and I look up. He dumps it in the sink.
"What the fuck, Edward? I was eating that."
"Exactly." He turns the garbage disposal on and my dinner is gone.
"Well that's just fucking great. I'm so glad you'd rather have me starve than eat something with a little bit of goddamn salt in it."
"It wasn't a little bit," he walks to the oven and pulls out the plate. "And I'm not going to let you starve. Pipe down."
He pulls out another plate from the cabinet and scoots half of his food on to it. He places it down in front of me and then adds a fork. There is mashed potatoes and ham and green beans. A little piece of cornbread. He pulls something from his bag on the counter and reads while he eats. I pick up my fork.
"I really hate you sometimes." I stab my fork to a piece of ham and shove it in my mouth.
He keeps reading. His fork spears some green beans and he flips the page. "Mmm-hmm."
I swallow and roll my eyes as I go for a scoop of potatoes. "Thanks."
The corner of his mouth lifts, but he says nothing. There is no cornbread on his plate. He flips another page. I break mine in half and put in on his plate. I keep my mouth and eyes busy when he looks over.
"Thanks." He goes back to eating. I peek up and try to figure out what he is reading. The print is too small. I have no idea. He takes his last bite of food and wipes his mouth. He reads for a moment longer and his brow furrows, but then he stops and pushes it to the side. He catches me staring.
"Done?" He nods to my plate.
He goes to reach for it, but I grab it first.
"I'll get it." I grab for his plate, too and he doesn't argue. I walk to the sink and begin rinsing them off. I hear Edward behind me, putting his things away. I set the plates in the dishwasher and it completes the load. I add soap and vinegar and turn it on. When I turn around, he is watching me.
"Why do you do that?" He asks, curiously. "The vinegar?"
I shrug. "I don't know. I used to see my mom doing it."
He smiles a little. "Did she work?"
I shake my head. "She stayed at home."
"So that's where you get it from."
"Your skill for what you do around here," he clarifies.
I laugh. "Cleaning isn't a skill."
His eyebrows lift. "Sure could have fooled me. You have no idea how many people I have fired because they couldn't figure it out."
My shoulders shrug. "It's not that hard."
"It's not that easy, either." He grabs his things from counter and fills his arms. "Um, I'm leaving around eight tomorrow morning. It's supposed to snow pretty heavily tonight. If you're intending to go to the cemetery, it would be wise if you rode with me."
I give a small nod.
"There are extra blankets in the spare room beside mine. Take some if it gets too cold, tonight. I know the heat in this house isn't very good."
I watch as he leaves. There is a small smile on my face, because what he doesn't know, is that while Alice and Rosalie were here, I heard them discuss the weather tomorrow. Rosalie wanted to wear her designer boots to church, but didn't want to ruin them with the wet snow. Alice was afraid of hat-hair and chapped lips. The heat in this house does suck and so after they left, I found the extra blankets.
I washed them because they smelled like moth-balls. I dried them with double the amount of fabric softening sheets. They were soft and warm and pleasantly perfumed with lavender. And when Edward enters his room, and places his things down, and goes to crawl in bed, he'll see one sitting atop his pillows. And another one on the chair in his room, just incase.
He cleaned my face and made me forget about Charlie with pumpkin pie on the bathroom floor. He bought me a Christmas present and gives me half of what it is his. His food, his home, and his thoughts he shares with no one else.
It is the least I can I do.