Under the Apple Tree
Chapter 54: Red
When you can see something clearly, you expect everything to slow down. You think the details will become finer. But they don't. Time passes quickly. Faster than my eyes can keep up with. It is all a blur and when I blink and open them, there is so much newness and unfamiliarity, that I am blind.
There is a calendar date, written in red ink, that Edward has marked. It is clear. It is bright and leaves my eyes blurry. I wipe them and wonder how it all happened so quickly, while moving so slow. How I curled my fists and tried to hang on, but somehow the rope slid from my grasp and now…that date is here.
It arrives the same time other new things do, too. She still looks small. Cullen says she's fine and I have to trust him. In order for the date to be okay, I have to trust him.
I trust him.
Yesterday, was day one. His whole family was here and it was constant reminders and questions and worries. Mostly, from Esme. Cullen looked as relieved as me by the time they left. Then, it was Angela's turn. Edward's turn to annoy her, that is. Reminders, lessons and worries. It made me smile. It wasn't annoying at all. I trust him.
Today, she is on his shoulder. Grace. Not Angela. Obviously.
Nothing has ever looked so tiny. Nothing has ever made Cullen's shoulders look more appealing and nothing - fucking nothing - has ever looked more perfect. It makes me want to strangle God and thank him all at once. Strangle for taking this away from Edward when he wanted it and thank him because if he had, he wouldn't be here right now. We. We wouldn't be here right now. And I would have no one to trust.
I sit next to him on the sofa and let my hands fall into my lap. I can see her eyes looking at me. Her cheek squished to his shoulder. Her lips are pink and bright and drooly. I wonder if I should tell him. I remain quite and just observe. His hand is comfort on her back. He creates a circle pattern.
The house is quiet and Angela is out buying groceries. Normally, this would piss me off, but there is a red mark on a calendar and time is almost over. This is all I have and there will be no need for me to shop for this house soon. So, I sit and watch and trust.
There is amusement in his tone. "Is she drooling on my shoulder?"
I smile. "Mmm hmm."
"Thought so." He doesn't move and I don't need to see his face to know he is happy. I know him. He is happy.
"Um…should I get something or…something?" Mother of the Year.
"It's alright. Is she sleeping?"
He shifts her in his arms and cradles her. His face smiles when he looks at her and that fucking red mark on the calendar is like a neon sign in my brain. His finger touches her cheek and rubs softly as he looks over to me.
"Esme is going to watch Grace for us tomorrow, so we can get all the stuff with your school done."
I nod. "I still need to find a place. I haven't found a place."
He looks back to her and wipes away the fresh drool with his thumb. "I know. We'll find something though. Don't worry. You still have over a week."
"And a job. I need to find a job. For rent and stuff."
He is quiet for a minute and I know what's coming. "Don't even say it, Cullen."
He smirks and keeps his eyes on the baby. "It would be a lot easier if you would just accept my help. Moving, starting school, keeping up with school, making new friends and working is a pretty heavy load, Bella."
"I am letting you help me. You're taking care of Grace and against every fiber in my being, I am allowing you to help out with school costs. Can you just let me have a shred of dignity and shut up about me working?"
He looks at me. "Must you always be so heard-headed?"
And he smiles. "Of course." Looking at Grace. "Of all the ways I'd love for you to be like your Mommy, don't let that be one of them, please."
I roll my eyes and get off the couch. I have some serious shit to do before that date written in red rolls around.
There is crying and Cullen is not here. He is in the shower. Angela is here, but she is not tending to it for some reason. I walk to the steps and look down. She is vacuuming. She must not hear it. I go back to our room. I open the bathroom door and see Edward through the steam.
"Huh?" He is rinsing his hair.
I am louder. "She's crying."
He pokes his head out of the shower. "Why?"
"I don't know. She's just crying."
"Well, did you check her?"
He stares at me for a moment and I huff. "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, Cullen. I am pretty sure we established this already."
"Then ask Angela to help. That's what she's here for."
He groans a little. "Just sit with her for a second then, Bella. I'm almost done."
He goes back to washing himself and I curse. I leave the room and walk towards the noise. Angela has actually found her. She has Grace in her arms and is rocking her and shushing her, but it isn't helping. It is driving me insane. Not the noise.
"She's not hungry and her diaper is clean. I'm not sure what's upsetting her this morning." She is talking more to the baby then to me. She puts her mouth close to her ear as she rocks her and sings something, but it doesn't work either.
Her little face is aggravated and angry and red and it is just too much. Her noise is too much and it reaches the tips of my toes and stings. I put my arms out.
"Jesus Christ, just give her to me." I take her from Angela and I have no idea what the hell I am doing. I don't know how to hold her or comfort her or do any of that shit Cullen does, but I just put her head on my chest and hold on tight. I don't rock her because I fear dropping her. I don't say anything, because I don't know what to say.
"I guess she just wanted her Mama." Angela smiles and Grace is quiet.
I feel awkward and look away.
"Um, I have laundry to finish….I'll be downstairs." And she is careful not say 'if you need help' at the end of that sentence.
It's just this baby and me. I walk slowly towards the rocking chair and sit down. I lean back and sigh. Her body feels warm against mine and there is a scent on top of her head that is like nothing I know. Like Cullen. She doesn't smell like him, it's just…I don't know. It's just hers, I guess.
"Hey, what was wrong?" He says softly, entering the room.
I shake my head. "Here," I go to sit forward but he stops me.
"Just hold her. She looks happy." He kneels down beside me and looks at her face. His hand smoothes over the small amount of dark hair on her head and I have to look away so my eyes aren't stupid, staring at the expression on his face. The way he looks at her.
"Esme should be here soon. I'm just going to quickly finish getting dressed. You'll be alright?"
I nod and he kisses her head, then mine. And we are once again alone. The quiet is deafening, but better than her noises. She makes small ones, but those are okay. And now, my eyes are stupid.
"I'm not excited about this, you know. I'd change it if I could. But I can't. I can't, alright? It's better this way. I don't want you to be the baby of….you know. And Cullen…he doesn't need that shit either. He's good. He'll be good for you. Yeah…he'll be good for you."
When we reach our first apartment building, Edward just stares out the windshield. I know why. I have lived in worse, much worse, but I understand why.
"Maybe we should look at some others?" He suggests. His eyes look genuinely scared when they land on mine.
I laugh and shake my head. "You do realize I have been homeless before, right, Cullen?"
"And you realize that I love you and the thought of you being over an hour away, in a building that looks like something you'd see on the ten O'clock news for a drug raid, would leave me sleepless and crazy, right?"
I sigh and can't help the smile. "Fine. Let's try another one."
He puts the car in reverse and after two more stops, he actually allows me to get out of the car. We walk to the office and speak with a woman. She is nice. She shows us one of the one-bedroom apartments. Edward asks a million questions. Things that I would never even consider asking. I look around and all seems fine.
"We will need first and last and of course, a credit check. The fee is thirty dollars. I can have an answer to you within the hour if you'd like to go forward?" She smiles and looks at him. His tie. His nice shirt. His watch. His shoes.
"Can we have a moment?" He asks politely.
She nods and takes a step outside. He looks at me.
"So, what do you think, Sweetheart?"
I shrug. "It's fine."
He looks around. "Kitchen is kind of small. You're close to campus at least. And there is a washer and dryer, so you won't have to go some place. That's good." His face doesn't look like it's good.
He toys with his keys. "I don't like this, Bella."
We are in the lady's office and Edward waits as I fill out the paper work. He has to sign his name to some things also, as I have no credit, or references or anything. I have some money, from working for him. I can pay what she asks for. It doesn't make Edward happy, but that seems to be the theme of the day.
I have a key and address and a mailbox. . I am number 224. He makes me make sure all of the keys work before we climb back in the car. Thankfully, utilities are included in rent, so I don't have to figure out that situation.
"We should probably get furniture and stuff. Um, linens. Dishes. Shit, pots and pans and…"
I put my hand up. "Cullen. Please."
"I'm just trying to think of what you need."
"I know, but just…can we just go eat or something?"
And before my eyes can be stupid again, he drops it and drives to a place where choosing pizza toppings is the only decision we have to make. The waitress drops off his salad. I watch as he stabs a forkful.
"We need to discuss something. It's not about moving, but it is serious." He gives me a moment and then continues. "It's about Grace. I've been thinking that instead of adopting her, maybe you should just allow me guardianship or something?"
My heart picks up and the panic settles. He is backing out. He sees.
"I'll adopt her if that's what you truly want, Bella. But just like with everything else, I want you to be sure of what you are doing. This didn't exactly go according to schedule, so you didn't have the full amount of time to consider everything."
"I have considered everything, Edward."
His fork rakes through the lettuce. "What if something happens between you and I…and you decide that you want Grace back?"
"Happen? What are you talking about?"
He looks tired. "I'm talking about the fact that you are moving and starting a new life here, in a way. You're going to meet…" And I am already shaking my head at his words. He puts his hand over mine. "I'm trying to be real, Bella. You always say that I am too naïve. This is me not being naïve."
I am still shaking my head. "I'm not going to change my mind." About anything.
"It's almost the same. The guardianship. I'd be responsible for her in the same ways. But you would have more rights. I think you should at least consider it."
"Edward, if I decided that I didn't want to be with you, but still wanted to see my kid, would you really say no?"
And I already know the answer. He doesn't need to say it. This is Cullen. I don't know much, but I know him and I know that trusting him, is the smartest thing I have ever done.
He changes the subject. "I guess finding a job is next on our list?"
I nod. "I grabbed a paper at the gas station." I dig it out of my bag and while our pizza is delivered, he helps me circle things and wipes sauce from my mouth.
I woke up earlier today. Edward is still sleeping. I slide out of bed. I walk to the door and find another one. She is laying quietly in her crib, but is awake. She makes small noises when she sees me. I pick her up carefully and sit in the chair. There is a relaxation and comfort that I can't explain. It reminds me of Christmas night, when I laid under Edward's arm for the first time. It was safe. It was uncomfortable, but there was no where else I ever felt more right. My eyes are so stupid. I think my brain…I know my brain is. Who would walk away from this feeling? Both of them.
It's only an hour away.
Yeah, yeah, keep telling yourself that.
You're not really leaving them.
Yeah, yeah, keep telling yourself that.
I'm coming back soon.
The lady from a few months back is here. So is Esme. And Carlisle. There are papers and terms and things I don't understand, but Cullen is explaining everything and holding my hand. He is giving me as many rights as they allow and I sign my name. I am giving her as many rights as I can and giving her his name. She deserves his name. Edward fights me on this. He reminds me of my father and what the name Swan means. What it should mean. But that is long gone. He has died. That good-meaning name along with him. I am trying to let her live. Giving her a life. She has his name. Not mine.
It sounds better that way.
"I hate you, Bella." Such a brat.
"Shut, up, Jacob. Just give me a damn hug and shut up."
He folds his arms. "No."
"Fine. I'm leaving then." I walk towards my truck, parked in Billy's driveway. He runs after me. His arms wrap tightly around me and I almost lose my footing.
"Please don't leave." He hugs tighter. I pry his hands away and kneel down.
"I'm coming back in a few weeks. You're going to be busy with Emmett and school and stuff anyhow. You won't even know I'm gone, Jacob."
He is a brat again. "Yes I will!" And he runs away.
Yeah, aren't we all.
I pull up to Edward's house and turn off my truck. I just sit for a minute and try to believe that this is really the last time I will probably be parking my truck in this driveway. Not that this will be my last time here, but it just won't be my regular home anymore. And yet, this is where all of my home is.
He has Grace on the counter in the kitchen. She is in one of these baby seat things. He has a bottle to her mouth with one hand and his phone in the other. There is a lot of 'yes. I know. I know.' going on and I assume it is his mother. Angela is carrying a basket of clothes and pauses when she sees him and the balancing act. She doesn't see me. She puts down the basket and takes the bottle. He mouths a 'thank you' and my heart is dead.
I drop my bag to floor on purpose. I want her to see me. I want him to see me. It is all pointless though. I am fighting only against myself. I push down the bitter shit that I shouldn't be carrying and put my hand out for the bottle. I try to be nice. I try to wipe the anger and regret from my face. I am sure it is there. Grace is twisting her head side to side and doesn't like Angela feeding her. She hands me over the bottle and when her eyes settle on mine, she wants to eat.
And if a heart can die twice, count mine.
Angela goes back to doing what she was and Cullen's voice is only a sound in the background as I look into eyes that are familiar. They are full of trust I don't deserve. They are sort of Charlie. They are sort of Cullen. He is in her, even if he isn't. There is good there. There is love there and I don't understand how or why but it's sort of like Jacob and I am grateful. Stupid fucking eyes.
Mine. Not hers.
I have a new time I get up. Today is the last day of it though. I sit and rock back and forth. I make believe I can carry this warmth with me and when it is time to put her back, I steal a blanket that is just like her. It smells just like her and it is all I have.
I shove it in the bag at her door. I don't want Edward to know, though he'll probably wonder where it has disappeared to. Maybe he'll blame Angela. Who knows. My hands fidget, fingers pressing into my palms, wrists wringing, as I walk back towards her crib. I pull out a piece of paper from my pocket. Edward was on the phone a lot last night. I want to just leave it, but I am afraid. I don't want him to see it. I don't want Angela to find it. My nails scratch along my throat. I move towards her closet doors and find a place up high, under a pile of things that haven't been opened to hide it. I close the doors and take one last look inside her crib.
"Just be nice to him, okay? He'll take care of you as long as you're nice to him. It's what he does. It's who he is. He won't ask for much, if anything, but you better be nice to him." I swallow and swear to myself this will be the last time today my eyes are stupid, but as I leave the front door and drop my shit in my truck, I break my own promise.
It's not the sight of Edward standing against it waiting for me.
It's not the long drive ahead.
It's not even the hole in my heart and the sounds in my ears that won't shut up. Small sounds.
It's the truck.
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