Under the Apple Tree
Chapter 53: Choices
I roll over. My arms search for where they usually hold. Who. My eyes blink, opening to the morning light and see only a white sheet beside me. I rub the sleep from my face and roll to the other side. My feet touch the floor and I throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt before I go downstairs.
Angela is in the kitchen. She is sitting in Bella's place and eating stuff Bella would never enjoy eating. She swallows and then wipes her mouth.
"Good morning, Dr. Cullen."
"Morning. Uh…has Bella come down?"
She shakes her head. "No, Sir. I did hear a car early this morning, though. Perhaps she went on an errand?"
I nod, but my heart knows better.
"I'm going to the hospital this morning. We need groceries and I don't have time. I need to make a list for you."
Her face falls. "Oh…um, Bella said we didn't work on Sundays. I um…never mind. I can do that, Sir."
Sunday. Right. I shake my head. "No, she was right. I'm sorry, I forgot. This past week sort of…through me off. Enjoy your day."
And my feet are moving as I ramble on to myself and grab my keys from the counter. I am driving and when I pull in, I can finally breathe. I almost feel stupid. Guilty. I get out and walk along the path, until I reach the place her father lays. She doesn't look up and I simply sit down next to her, on the ground.
I am quiet for a moment. I don't know if I am bothering her. I don't know if I was supposed to let her be and give her space and I have no idea what to do with a Bella who won't get pissed off at me if she indeed wants to be left alone. I move her hair so it lays behind her shoulder. And nothing. A little statue and I run the backs of my fingers down her cheek.
"Talk to me, Bella."
And only clear streams down her face. My thumb removes it and I gently move her into my lap. I tuck her face under my chin and try to comfort her, but I don't know what exactly it is that I am comforting. I can guess. I am a smart person, but her quietness is throwing me a curveball.
I make a guess. "It wasn't your fault, Sweetheart. And she's fine."
She pushes away. "So much for not being a liar."
"I'm not lying. Grace being born earlier isn't your fault. Happens to a lot of women."
Now the real Bella comes out. "A lot of women? Really, Cullen? And how many of them drank and fucked themselves up and smoked and let a man fuck them senseless for money for an entire night? Tell me, Doctor Cullen…what are the chances in your professional opinion, that shit fucked her up?"
Her words create a bitterness and harshness I normally wouldn't use, not with her, but it just does something to me. Fucked her up. That part. Fucked her up. She's not fucked up. Only Bella's words are.
I am not being nice. "You're right, Bella. You're a terrible person. A horrible mother. You disgust me. Truly. Better? Does that feel better?"
"At least it's the truth."
I move so she isn't my lap. She wants truth. Fine. Here comes truth.
"Why didn't you take the papers that day in Alice's bakery? You asked me to give you the numbers. I had three. Three of the best doctors who could end all of it for you. They would have done it for free, so don't even say it was a money issue.
"That's what you came there for that day. I gave it to you. The only papers you took with you were the ones about cleaning my house. And you came. And you didn't do a shit job. I let everyone before you get away with doing a shitty job and would have probably let you get away with it too, but you didn't.
"You didn't steal my shit like Alice thought you would. And you did everything I asked of you. So, Truth-seeker, tell me why."
And she is silent as the dead all around us.
I am not. "The only thing that pisses me off about you Bella, is that you should feel grateful right now. Not having a fucking pity party for yourself."
The Bella I know. "I am grateful to you. So go fuck yourself."
I shake my head. "I'm not talking about me. I am talking about the fact that despite all the stuff you did to yourself, to her, that she is alive and well. You should just be thankful for that."
"You have a shitty way of showing it." I wait for her to retort, but nothing comes. "If you won't answer my question, then let me answer it for you. The reason you came to my house, instead of having an abortion, was because as much as you would love to think and get others to think you don't care, you do.
"You want the whole world to believe nothing matters, but it does. You're not that girl, Bella. Maybe, once. Maybe, because you had to, to survive. But at the core, that's not you."
Her eyes look at me in challenge. "Then who am I, Edward? You know so much, who the fuck am I?"
And I could list a million different things. A million different ways that she is good and why I love her and why she isn't that girl, but they all lead back to one place.
"You're Charlie's daughter. The daughter he would be proud of, if he could see her."
And I am telling the truth, but Bella is the only liar and she didn't want the truth. Her feet get up and walk away. I follow and grab her arm. She pulls it away and shoves me.
"You don't know shit, Freak. You didn't know my father and you don't know shit."
I grab her arm when she tries to shove me again. "Don't I?" I am nodding towards the bracelet on her wrist.
She pulls away. She swats the hair in her face, that is stuck to her wet cheek. "And a hundred others could all be the same. You think you're the first to give me jewelry? Or a stupid goddamn pin showing you're a fucking doctor 'with honor'. I have a hundred of those too, Edward."
She can try, but it is a fruitless attempt at hurting my feelings. I know this game. I will not give her what she wants. Not this time.
"And how many of them did you say you loved, Bella?"
She stands her ground. "Whichever ones wanted me to."
I step closer. "I didn't want you to. I am pretty sure I stated that."
And she knows she won't win, but this is Bella and Bella is extremely hard-headed. And ridiculous.
"I tried to kill myself."
I say nothing and she keeps on going. "That day…when you saw me in the hospital. I tried to kill myself. Her. I tried to kill us both. I was too chicken shit to get a regular abortion and so I drank until I was fucking brave and then stood at the top of the steps and let myself fall. Three fucking flights of stairs.
"My father? I don't think he'd be proud of that. I don't think he'd be proud that I don't even know who knocked me up. I don't think he'd be fucking proud that I can't even stay in the same place as my daughter because my sheer existence taints her name. No, I don't think…I know he wouldn't be proud of that girl." She takes a step back. "Of this girl."
And she waits for me to say something brilliant or something that will only hurt her more. And she is so blind to the truth that nothing I say will ever change her mind. At least, that's how it feels. I look at my shoes. I see the plaques around our feet. And that. It would be the equivalent of speaking to concrete. I dig my keys out of my pocket and shake my head.
"Then fix it." I walk past her and offer no ride.
She has her truck. And there is no room in my car for such bullshit.
I need to stop home and change. Angela's car is gone and I am all alone. Good. I'd be shitty company, right now. I go upstairs and shower and change my clothes. As I am tying my shoes, there is an odd wave of déjàvu. A deep breath and I get off the bed, grab my phone and my keys and exit the room.
I am about to head down the steps, but my eyes catch the door next to mine. It is cracked. I never left it that way. Angela doesn't go in there. Bella doesn't go in there. I step with curiosity towards it. My fingers give a push and open the door wider. All is in order.
Walking further inside, I look around just to double check. One of the books from the shelf in on the rocking chair. I pick it up. The Velveteen Rabbit. It was Alice's favorite. That's why Esme put it here, but she didn't leave it on the chair. My mother is meticulous.
I reach to place it back on the shelf and my eyes catch something else. Bella's bear. It is sitting inside of the crib. My mother didn't do that. Bella was here. She came in here. I look back to the shelf. She was reading this book.
And everything clicks.
And everything hurts.
And today, is just getting worse.
Carlisle doesn't work in the NICU, but he is the first person I see when I arrive. He isn't dressed in his uniform. He is just my father. There is no name tag on his coat, for there is no coat. Just a dress shirt and some slacks. Oh, and the yellow you have to wear to be in here. Over your clothes.
"Hey, Dad." I close the door quietly and find my own yellows. "How is she doing?"
He looks back to Grace. "She's perfect."
There is an expression on my father's face I haven't seen since I was a child. I look at grace. I smile at her new items. A pink hat on her tiny head with matching socks and a pillow that surrounds her, shaped like hands.
"I see Alice was here."
My dad laughs quietly. "Just be glad I was too. She would have had this girl in a tu-tu with more fillies than you can shake a stick at."
I laugh and know it is the truth. Truth.
"Something wrong, Son?"
I shake my head. "It's just Bella. We had a fight this morning."
"Is….is she changing her mind? About the adoption?"
I look at him. "No…we haven't even…we haven't even discussed that, yet. It's just the same old song. She doesn't feel worthy and I feel like shi…I just wish I knew how to make her understand. How to make her feel like she is worthy."
Carlisle stares at my face for a moment. His eyes are contemplative. He looks back to Grace.
"I don't think that's your place, Edward." He shakes his head. "You will never win that fight. Trust me, I know."
"Is this about my mother?"
He looks at me. "If you are referring to Esme, yes."
That's not what I expected him to say. It shows.
"It's not easy for me to understand what your mother feels. What she felt. When she knew she couldn't have children. But as a man, if I placed myself into her shoes and tried to imagine it, what I would feel like if….if perhaps I couldn't provide for my family, if I couldn't be the person that I am 'supposed' to be.
"I don't imagine I would feel much of a man. As I believe your mother, didn't feel much of woman. We are placed into 'roles' and categories sometimes that our lives, or in this case, nature, perhaps even God himself, didn't want us to be, or have, or do.
He shrugs. "Who knows why. But my point is, no matter how much I could ever reassure her that you are enough, that Alice is enough, she will never feel that. Not that she doesn't love the both of you, clearly, she does. Clearly, she is a great mother. The very best mother and wife a man could ask for.
"But in her heart, when she is surrounded by women who talk about birthing their babies, breast feeding their babies and feeling kicks and things she will never get the chance to; her heart is broken.
"And I can't fix that. I can't mend the void with my words, or love or presents. I can't give her something I can't give her, Edward. It is simple common sense. And you…you will never ever be able to fix Bella, or give her what she is missing on the inside.
"You can love her and guide her and be at her side. You can hold her hand when she is hurt and you can hold her in your arms when that isn't enough…but you will never fix it. And the sooner you realize this, the better, for the both of you."
I swallow what has swelled in my throat and chest. "This isn't physical, Dad. It's mental. It isn't hopeless. She isn't hopeless."
"Obviously, Edward. Or else we wouldn't even be having this discussion…in this room. But the fact remains. Son, If Bella wants a change, then it is up to her for that change, as it was up to your mother to accept having adopting children versus wallowing in her own grief and aguish about what she couldn't do, or couldn't have. Different symptoms. Same diagnosis. Same treatment."
He shrugs and looks back to Grace. "And if she can't, then it's her loss. Not ours. No, certainly not ours." And the expression returns to his face. It is awe. It is love. It is everything that I wish I could see on Bella's face. Everything that I pray will find its way into her heart.
If she chooses.
A nurse enters the room. "Hello, Dr. Cullen…s," she laughs.
I smile and nod to greet her. My father's hand touches my shoulder.
"Are we good here?"
I nod again. He pats my shoulder and takes off the yellow. The nurse takes it.
"I'm taking your mother out for lunch, then we'll stop by this evening. Call if you need something and make sure you eat as well. I got an earful this morning, Son." He smiles and so do I.
"I'll see you guys later, then."
He turns to leave and I call out his name. "Dad?" He faces me. "Thank you."
I look back to Grace when he leaves. The nurse is taking care of the other babies. I reach my hand inside of the incubator and touch her tiny cheek. Only the tip of my finger has enough room.
"Dr. Cullen?" I look up. "I need to run to the supply closet. Can you…"
I wave her on. "I'm not going anywhere."
She smiles. "Thank you."
My eyes drift back to where my finger is touching. "Your mother is a real pain. Just so you know." I smile and it is amazing even this small, how much she looks like her. "She's also just as beautiful as you. Now, anyhow. You look much better when you're not blue."
She makes a tiny noise and I shake my head at those silly, fake hands that Alice put in there. I understand them. It isn't the first time I have seen them. They keep the babies warm and are supposed to provide them comfort, since they spend so much time out of the hands of people around them, but still.
I am careful and gentle as can be when I reach in and lift her out. There are a lot of wires and things to be mindful of, but I know what I'm doing. She'll be fine. She feels almost weightless. She feels like a million pounds. She looks at me and yeah, she is Bella's. Caramel eyes and the same curiosity. The same questions and I hope I will have the answers.
"Sorry your Aunt Alice tortured you. I'll buy you a real hat. Promise."
When dinner time rolls around, I sit in the hospital cafeteria and eat something. It is boring and reminds me of why I love eating at Alice's bakery, rather than here. But it's Sunday and she closes early. I didn't heed my father's warning and eat at lunch time. I am only eating something now because I don't want to lie to my mother when she asks and I know she will indeed ask.
I wait for them to arrive in the cafeteria and they show up as I sip the last of my coffee. Alice, Esme, my father. I spot more gifts in Alice's hands and give her the eye. She smirks and wraps her arms around my neck before I can get up.
"She is the cutest thing ever! Edward!" And I have to laugh at her excitement. "I have these beautiful bows and dresses and Mom and I found these…"
She rambles on as we make our way towards the elevator.
Esme looks amused and gives my arm a squeeze before the doors open. They all stare and make comments about how adorable and precious she is. I stop Alice from turning her into a human doll and say a million apologies in my head to Grace.
As they continue with their hushed adoration, I hear my father call my name as he stands beside me. I look over to him.
"Looks like someone made up their mind."
His eyes glance up for a moment and then back down to grace. He was looking at the window and that is where I put my attention. Bella. She isn't looking at me. Or us. Just at where Grace is. I slip away and close the door quietly as I exit. She looks over to me. Her face is shy.
"Hi," she says quietly.
She looks down to her hands. There is a newspaper. She extends it out to me. I take it and unfold it, so I can read what it says. There is a headline in bold.
LOCAL DOCTOR SAVES BABY
The story underneath is about Bella giving birth in the restaurant parking lot. I look up at her. She is still looking at the glass.
"I found it on the counter. Angela kept it from last week. The person who wrote that headline should win some type of award or something."
Her fingers press against the glass. I roll the newspaper in my hands and step closer to her. I see the tears back in her eyes and she looks at me.
"I'm sorry. I do love you. I shouldn't have said that earlier. I shouldn't have said that."
The tears run down her face and my family is exiting the room. Bella looks forward and wipes her face. I turn towards my mother.
"We're going to go downstairs for a bit. Get a coffee." Esme smiles and I know what she's doing. She's giving me time alone with Bella, or rather, trying to allow Bella time alone with Grace. Without an audience.
I nod and they take off down the hall, back to the elevator.
"What are all of those tubes? I thought you said she was fine?"
"She is. It's just to monitor her. Heartbeat and stuff. And there is a small tube that helps her breathe. One that feeds her."
I watch as her chin trembles and her face contorts. She bites her bottom lip and tries to hold it in. My hand extends and touches her fingers. I am silent as I pull her gently towards the door. I feel the resistance in her arm as we get closer, but she keeps her feet moving. We stop once we are standing in front of Grace. I give her a moment to observe and absorb everything.
"Alice feels the need to slather every and any part of her in pink. I've already apologized."
And I want her to laugh, but it's like she hasn't even heard me. I see her fingers curl into tight little fists, digging into her palms.
Her voice cracks. "What are those things?" She is talking about the silly hand pillows.
"Alice put them in there, too. A lot of people use them in here because it's supposed to simulate the baby being held or touched."
Her head shakes a little. "Why don't you just touch them?"
"Sometimes it's hard to, especially when it comes to holding them. I think it offers some comfort to the parents though, especially the mothers, when they can't be here. Personally, I think it's a little silly, but to each their own."
Her eyes watch mine curiously. "Have you?"
"Have I what, Sweetheart?"
I nod. "Everyday."
Her eyes tell me she wants to say something else, but she simply looks away, back to the baby. The room is quiet, minus the constant beeping sounds, but I can barely hear her.
"It hurts, " she sniffles. "I didn't think it would feel like anything. The whole time it felt like nothing. But it hurts."
"Not to sounds stupid, but what, exactly?"
She sniffles again. "Can you imagine if you had this baby with Tanya?"
No. "What does that have to do with this?"
"Just try to imagine if she looked liked her, not me. And after everything you regret, about what happened with Tanya, you had to look at this kid everyday. I know it's not her fault, Cullen. I'm not stupid. I know that. But she is still a reflection of all the things I hate about myself. Everything I did wrong. And it feels like shit. It feels like Renee and it feels like shit."
"What you did right."
She wipes her face and shakes her head. "What?"
"What you did right." Her face scrunches. "You said Grace is everything you did wrong. She's everything you did right. You're backwards, Bella." I take a step forward and touch her face. "Do you have any good things in your life?"
She nods a little. "One."
"And that is?
She rolls her eyes. "You."
"And how did that happen?"
She is silent and for once, I am glad.
"Think about it. If you never got pregnant with her, you would still be doing all of the stuff you used to. You'd still be in trouble. Emmett would still be lying to Rosalie. We wouldn't know each other from your little trip down the stairs. You would have never moved into my home and we wouldn't have each other.
"And although I am not grateful for 'how' she got here, I am eternally grateful that she just is." I pause for a moment and intertwine our fingers. "You're also wrong about the headline on that paper. I didn't save Grace anymore than I saved you, Bella. Again, you're backwards."
I kiss her fingers and then her face. "She saved me. She saved you. Personally, I think you owe her a bit of gratitude." I kiss her face again and let go of her fingers.
I take a seat in the only chair allowed in this room. I listen to my father's words and I let go. I can't force her to do anything. So I will sit here. I will sit here and I will wait. I will let her decide. The room is full of beeps and nothing. But Bella stays. She doesn't run. She doesn't get angry. She doesn't turn away. A nurse enters and tends to some of the babies. She smiles when she sees Bella.
"My favorite little patient." The nurse glances to me and I smile in return. She looks back to Bella. "She is the most ticklish little thing." She reaches her hand in and lightly tickles the bottom of Grace's foot. Her leg goes in the air, just like all of the other times. "See?"
Bella's head nods.
"I bet she will have the best laugh. And smile." The nurse looks at her adoringly and then goes back to her work.
I watch Bella's fingers flex. Curl. She fidgets. I settle my chin into my palm and just wait for it. It's coming. I know it. I count off the seconds in my head until they turn into minutes. I am at three minutes and forty five seconds when she looks over her shoulder.
I just nod nonchalantly, like it's nothing. She turns back around and fidgets for another minute. And I know how she feels. The level of sheer terror and anxiety. I felt the same way when I made myself finally go to Tanya's grave. I tried so hard to be brave. I tried so hard to overcome what I felt. It took me several tries. Each time I thought I was able, I was not.
When I crouched down, I was still not prepared. I made myself stand and wanted more than anything to run, but remained. When my knees bent on my last attempt, I was not able to offer anything other than the flowers and simple kiss to my hand, that was then placed upon her name.
And to others, it would have seemed like such an insignificant thing to do. Such an easy task. To simply reach out and touch something you love. To know and recognize that you are silly and ridiculous in your thoughts and fears. But it isn't. And so I sit and I wait.
I watch as she tries again. I watch as her hand reaches forward and mimics what the nurse did. I watch Grace's small foot raise in the air and I wish I could see Bella's face. I wish I could feel her heart under my palm and count off how quickly it is surely beating, right now. But this is her moment. I won't ruin it. So I count off how long her fingers linger instead.
I am losing track as the numbers climb too high and my eyes catch movement from behind. I turn my head and see my family standing outside the window. My father glances in my direction and a small smile creeps over his lips.
And mine as well.
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