Under the Apple Tree
Chapter 55: Needles & Splinters
Ever get that needle in your throat?
You haven't had anything to eat, or drink, but still, it feels like there is a splinter stuck? You choke a little. Your eyes water. You try to take in another breath. You cough, but nothing helps.
I am having that moment, standing in the middle of Bella's new apartment.
"I got you something. Um, for emergencies. Or whatever you need. I mean, use it if you need to. Or want to. Whichever. It's yours." I hand over the plastic card and I am given the look I knew I would receive.
"I'm not taking a credit card, Edward."
"It's just a pre-paid thing. It's no big deal."
She holds her ground. "I have money. I'm fine."
The needle. I swallow. "You haven't found a job, yet. It will make me feel better. Please."
Her eyes search mine for a moment and then she takes it. I swallow again and know the next item won't be so easy to sell. "I also ordered a laptop for you. It should arrive this week sometime, so watch for it."
"You'll need it for school work. You said I could help with school costs. This is a school cost."
"They don't require you to have a laptop, Edward."
"But it helps. Trust me."
She is quiet and I assume I've won this round - so why I don't feel like it? Oh, because it is time to leave. Right.
The needle and splinters find their way into the back of my throat as I reach for her hand. As her eyes lift and stay on mine. And it seems like not to long ago I was just a man who was waiting to pay for gas in line and got a chuckle at her outburst. A man who was not content, but had accepted the way my life had become. And there was just a feeling I couldn't shake whenever I looked into these eyes and didn't understand what it was.
Today, I know it. I understand it. I accept it. And mostly, I am scared out of my mind to let it go - to let her go - and just walk away. It won't be for forever, but it will be long enough. No matter how busy my schedule could be. No matter how much taking care of Grace might consume what was once my down-time, or Bella time…I'll feel it.
I'll miss it. Her.
Those eyes, with their depths and secrets and strength and scared little girl - look at me - and it scratches the back of my throat. And I swear, there must be a splinter or needle in her throat too, because when she speaks, I can barely hear the words.
"I love you."
And I could say it right back, with all the fullness that is about to burst within my chest, but it would never do my feelings justice. Her justice. Us justice. I pull her towards me. My hand is under her hair, on the back of her head and my fingers just roam and circle while my eyes close and my face presses into a fragrance that will never be duplicated or forgotten.
I hold on tighter. I feel small fingers gripping to my shirt and I was right about her eyes and the strength they hold. She doesn't sniffle or cry. She just holds on and accepts. If I only knew such bravery and strength. Such selflessness.
You are the ground for Bella. You hold it and you allow her to fly. An unselfish love.
And I can see it under my eyelids. In the darkness. Bella being afraid, but walking towards her class. Bella being unsure, but finding a seat. Bella being alone and finding friends. Bella not knowing how to do something and figuring it out for herself.
Her hand reaches up and mimics my own, rubbing along the hair on the back of my neck. And I feel the cold metal of her bracelet against my skin.
And when she flies, she still stays connected to you.
And myself….I see myself with Grace. I see her being healthy and happy and surrounded by a family that would guard her with everything they have. And Bella is part of that. I have seen it. Her hands wanting to feed her. Her eyes watching her. Her sneaky attempt to crawl out of bed an hour earlier than I this week and her not seeing me watch her at the doorway. For all the ways she is observant, the world fades away in the presence of her daughter. And secret notes I see her placing in the closet.
She never will fly too far away and you will always be her lifeline. You will always be connected.
And I pray Sue's words are right.
"You better come back to me, Bella." My fingers curl around a thick section of her hair. "You better come back."
She pulls away and smoothes her hand over the front of my shirt. "I will."
My fingertips lift her chin. "You better."
A small smile. "I will…Freak."
And I try my best to be gentle when I frame her face in my hands and kiss her lips. I try to leave her with only the love in my heart, but I am sure there is a small measure of hurt and anguish lingering on the surface. There must be, because she has to remind me to let her go.
I pull back. I take a moment to swallow down the splinter and needles. One last look into the truth and I agree.
My feet take a step back. My fingers let go and as I make the long walk back to my car, passing her truck parked beside it, I imagine Bella climbing in tomorrow and driving to school. I imagine her smiling the first time she gets an A on a test. I hear the excitement she won't be able to mask when she calls and tells me about it. I imagine her eyes bright like the sun and full of happiness.
So, I shove my hand into my pocket. I pull out the secret letter I wrote for her and place it inside of her truck, on the seat. I close her door and unlock my own. I climb in and with a deep breath, I turn the key. I leave Bella behind and I watch her in my mind. Her future and her growth. Her dreams and her limits she has none of. And she can fly. She soars and she can fly.
Just like a kite.
I sit with Grace in place of Bella. I hold her like she did and she is content in my arms. My mother is going to stay with her this week, maybe the next and the next…just, until I feel comfortable leaving her all alone with a stranger. I don't doubt Angela, but Grace is still very small and having her in my mother's care - in the care of another doctor - seems right. Today will be my first day back to work in several weeks. Esme has filled in for me. There is only bland toast and a to-go cup and already…the needles have found their way back.
"Welcome back, Dr. E." Rosalie smiles and greets me as I enter the office.
"Morning. How are things?" I reach for a handful of candy and fill my pockets.
"Good. Looks like an easy day ahead." She hands me the schedule and she is right, but she is wrong.
I nod. "Looks like it."
At lunch time, I am back at Alice's bakery. She is rambling on about Grace and then Jasper and then recipes and I am just filling my silence with nodding and turkey and ham on rye.
"So what do you think?"
"Sounds great," I smile.
Her eyes roll. "You think lighting myself on fire and running into the street naked is fine?"
My face scrunches. "What?"
"Exactly. I was just saying random things and you're agreeing with them. You're like a zombie today, Edward."
I shake my head. "Sorry. Just a lot going on."
"You're bummed about Bella leaving. Don't lie to me."
"I'm not lying…just…perhaps not admitting the entire truth."
She smirks. "There you are."
I let a small smile show itself and look down to my tea. "I just miss her."
"Aren't you guys going to visit or anything? I thought you told Mom she was doing better with Grace? Doesn't she want to see her? I couldn't imagine not wanting to see her."
I look up. "She is doing better. I'll see her in a few weeks. She'll come home for the weekend."
"Why not just come home every weekend. It's not that far," Alice shrugs.
"It's not about travel time, Alice. Bella is trying to going to school. She needs time to adjust, become familiar with her surroundings. Make friends. Study. Shit, hang out with some people her age, be normal." The list could go on and on.
Alice laughs. "I'm not so sure that is all a good idea. I mean, when I was in college, I didn't do much studying, but I did a whole lot of drinking and partying."
And my face must show my feelings on that statement. Alice backtracks. "I'm not saying she is going to…I am just saying…never mind. I should get back to work before I make things worse." She stands and hugs my shoulders. I pat her arm. "I'll leave a brownie on the counter for you."
But when I get home and see brown eyes I miss, eyes that are so similar, yet unique on their own, not even Alice's triple-fudge brownies can cure me. I pick up Grace and let the warmth she carries mend whatever it can. Angela has cooked dinner and is cleaning up. I have said my goodbyes to Esme. Grace makes noises and I know why. I ask just for the hell of it.
"Hungry?" I hold her on my shoulder and find a bottle in the fridge with my free hand.
"Oh, let me help, Sir." Angela gets a pot ready with some water and takes the bottle.
I take a seat and cradle Grace so I can see her face. She looks content, despite her need for food. She also looks like Bella.
"Here you are, Sir." Angela hands me the bottle.
"You don't have to be so formal. Edward is fine."
She smiles. "Yes Si…Edward."
I place the bottle in Grace's mouth.
"May I move these?" She is talking about my things on the counter.
I nod. "Of course. I'm sorry. I guess I'm just used to Bella being here. She usually puts them in our….my room."
She looks nervous. "Where should I put them?"
"The floor is fine. I'll take them later." I watch as she sits my things down. "Oh, there is a brownie in that box. You can have it if you want it. My sister Alice made it. They're usually pretty good."
I look back to Grace.
"Thank you, Edward."
I nod and keep my eyes on similar caramel. The night sort of continues this way. Grace filling a void. I lay her in bed next to me as I go through papers and try to eat away at the time, before it's late enough to sleep. My phone rings and without even looking, I know.
"It's your Mommy." I press the button. "Hi, Sweetheart."
She sounds anxious. "Hi."
There is a brief pause. "What are you doing?" I ask to end it.
"Um…not much. I found some dishes, today. They have a resale shop close by. So I have been pulling stickers off of them pretty much."
I smile and lay my head on the pillow next to Grace.
"What are you doing?"
"Just laying with Grace. Looking over papers."
Another pause. "How um….how is she?"
"She's fine. Esme said she was fine today."
"Yeah. How was school?"
She sounds nervous. "Um, it was alright. A little confusing, but it was alright. This kid showed me where my classes were. He didn't seem like a creeper. He was actually pretty nice."
A longer pause as the splinter weaves it way back into my throat.
"Uh, he has a girlfriend. I met her too. She's in one of my classes. That's how he knew where I needed to go. She's like…really hot. Huge tits."
I can't help but to smile at her way to back track and reassure my stupidity.
"That's good. I'm glad you made some friends."
And I don't need to see her face to know she is sad. I feel it in my fingertips. I feel the sting in my chest. I hear the way her voice drops and how my Bella who always has a lot to say and poke fun at and have witty comebacks and comments, has none.
"I was going to read a story to Grace. Before bed. Would you like to hear it?"
A moment. A soft, "Sure."
I grab the book I placed on my bed earlier. Grace lays in the crook of my arm. My head rests on all the pillows Bella hated to fix every morning. I read until Grace's eyes fall heavy. I read until Bella's voice sounds sleepy when I tell her I miss her and she says the same.
"Thanks for the poem."
And I wasn't reading poetry, but I know what she means. The letter I left on her seat.
"It's all true, Bella."
"It was beautiful, just like the other ones."
"I'll read you one tomorrow night, if you'd like."
And her voice is still sleepy, but the sadness has faded away. "Every night."
Esme is making ridiculous faces and sounds. She has Grace in the sink and the water turned to a warm, but perfect, temperature. I want to make fun of her, but her smile is just too heart warming and I love my mother too greatly.
I sit and watch as she dips the washcloth into the sink and gently draws it against the baby's skin. Am I supposed to call her something else? Like, am I supposed to call her something other than Grace, or baby? Would it be odd? Would she want that? And Bella…how would she feel? I mean, I am supposed to raise her, so…surely, when I introduce her to people, they will want to know. Right?
Dad. Doesn't seem right. Will those words ever come from her mouth? Will she think of me that way? Bella calls her mother Renee, but Charlie is Dad. I wonder if I will be Edward. Maybe she will pick up Bella's knack for using my last name at times. Maybe…I'll just be Cullen?
"May I have a towel, Dear?" Esme snaps me out of my thoughts and questions. I stand and present her with the towel she left in front of me. She pulls Grace from the baby tub and lays her gently inside of the softness. Her hands work quickly and expertly to wrap her and make sure she is warm and comfortable. She makes more baby faces and rubs her nose to Grace's nose.
"Mom?" I call softly.
She doesn't take her eyes away. "Yes, Dear?"
"Did you ever worry that Alice wouldn't…you know…that she might not like being adopted?"
Now her eyes find mine. "Yes." She squints. "You're worried about this?"
I shrug. "I just wonder what her reaction will be. How she will think about having an adoptive…"
"Father?" Esme finishes for me, with a smile.
She picks up Grace and walks towards the counter. "Feels weird, doesn't it? All of a sudden being someone's daddy?" Her voice changes half way through and she is asking Grace, not me; her face nuzzling into the tiny crook of the baby's neck.
"Am I? I mean…you think she will want to call me that?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't she?" And her eyes stay on the baby and get lost somewhere in her own amazement of such a delicate, beautiful face.
Dad. It's still weird.
My phone beeps as I sit in my office.
That is all she leaves in her message. I stare at it blankly. My thumb debates before I type back and hit send.
I chew on that thumb And hope I wasn't supposed to understand the meaning. A beep.
Days left, Freak
My eyebrows lift in understand and my face feels flushed with embarrassment. I try to recover with something clever, but I am too thrown off by the obvious miss. I go with honesty.
Then, I will continue to miss you until we are at zero, My Bella.
Same. Found something for tonight's book club meeting?
And I smile, for I have.
Alice has dragged me out against my will. She has also made me bring Grace along. We are in the mall. I have tried to explain to Alice that bringing a newborn baby out into a germ infested public place isn't the greatest idea, but apparently, my opinion is overridden by a baby sale on the second floor.
I push the stroller as she looks through racks. I've been working all day and my feet hurt. I am a little hungry and I'd really rather be at home. I have to wonder if Alice is trying to keep me busy so I don't get think about Bella. She has been way too 'lets go do something' this week.
She shows me a hundred different outfits that all pretty much look the same. I nod and smile and pretend that I appreciate them, but the truth is that they are just clothes and as long as they keep her warm and covered, I don't really care what funny sayings they have or for the flowers printed on them.
"Oh, how sweet." A woman stops and peeks into the stroller. "What's her name?"
"Grace," I reply.
The woman smiles and I catch her eyes observing me and my attire before she looks at Alice.
"You and your wife must be so proud. Such a pretty girl."
I shake my head. "That's just my crazy sister." Alice rolls her eyes and keeps on looking for clothes.
I shrug. "It's alright."
"I'm on my own with mine too." She looks over her shoulder. She has a few children playing around the racks. "Tough being a single dad, huh?"
Dad. I swallow the needles. "I'm not. Her mother is…she just isn't here, today."
The woman looks back to Grace. "Well, then she's a lucky girl." She looks at me. "I better get back to mine." She smiles and finds her kids.
She laughs again. "Nothing, nothing." She flips through the clothes and can't stop the small laughs that escape.
I am tired and irritated. "What?"
She sighs. "The way that lady looked at you when you said Bella was not here. Like, her whole face just deflated." Another laugh. "Maybe adding 'daddy' to your already 'doctor' and overall good genetics wasn't such a good idea, Edward."
I playfully toss a shirt at her. "Shut it."
"I'm serious. You better get used to it. Last week, Jasper was out with Rose and I. He held Joshua while we went to the lady's room. I came back to a casting call for Desperate Housewives."
And it's my turn to laugh. "It's weird, Alice."
"Being…being a 'dad'. Having people call me that, or make that reference to me."
"I thought you wanted to be a dad? That you wanted to adopt Gracie?"
My eye squints. "Gracie?"
She smiles shy. "I like it. And she needs a nickname."
I smile back at her. "I did want to adopt her. I'm glad I did."
She shrugs. "Then what's the issue?"
"There's no issue. It's just weird. New, I guess." I debate for a minute, but then ask. "Did you want to call Carlisle and Esme your mom and dad? Like, did it feel weird to you?"
She shakes her head. "No….did you feel weird? With Esme, anyhow?"
I shake my head. "No."
"But…you think she will?"
I look at Grace. "I don't know. I suppose I just don't want to assume that's what she'll want to call me."
"What would she call you, Edward? 'Edward'?"
"Maybe." I chew my lip a little. "Bella calls her mom by her first name."
Alice's face softens. "Well, what does she call her dad?"
"And the reason behind this?"
I shrug. "I think it's because her mother wasn't really much of a mother, but her father…he was…everything."
Alice smile and looks at Grace, then me. "Then I think she'll want to call you Dad."
"That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept in the Boy's bed. At first he found it rather uncomfortable, for the Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks with the Skin Horse. But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the bedclothes that he said were like the burrows the real rabbits lived in. ." I flip the page and pause.
"Bella?" I say, softly.
I smile. "Want me to stop?"
"No." Yeah, she's half-asleep.
"Grace is already sleeping. Maybe we should just move on to your story-time?" I tease.
She laughs weakly. "Ready."
I pull out the book we purchased from Virginia and flip to the page I found this morning. My eyes glance over and make sure Grace is alright. Her eyes are closed and she is sleeping soundly at my side, in my bed. I touch her cheek and then go back to the book.
"I'm sticking with Pablo, since he's been good to us so far."
She laughs again and my heart feels better. "Alright."
I read the words.
"Maybe nothingness is to be without your presence,without you moving, slicing the noonlike a blue flower, without you walking...later through the fog and the cobbles,without the light you carry in your hand,golden, which maybe others will not see,which maybe no one knew was growing like the red beginnings of a rose."
I pause and swallow. "In short, without your presence: without your coming suddenly, incitingly, to know my life, gust of a rosebush, wheat of wind:since then I am because you are,since then you are, I am, we are,and through love I will be, you will be, we'll be."
There is nothing on the other end and I am glad. There isn't anything else to say and the last thing I want tonight, is to simply hear her breathing and imagine her eyes as they close and rest peacefully with the words of my heart in her head. They are not mine. I did not write them, but they are a reflection of all that lives here.
I sit on the other side of our tree. I lay Grace in my lap and watch as her eyes look up to the sky. Wonder-filled and curious. Bright. I touch her cheek and it is so familiar. There is a tingle under my breast bone that matches. A warmth. I lean my face down and kiss the place between her brows and I am so screwed.
"Yeah, definitely your mother." I smile and pull my face away.
I came here today because it just felt right. Bella would have wanted me to, I think. And leaving Charlie alone on a day where Bella would have sat here and kept him company, it just seems….wrong. So, I sit and read a book that is for a much younger audience and enjoy the sun and the warm breeze and the time with Grace.
There is a mother walking by with her kids. A little girl comes over and smiles.
She points. "What's her name?"
"Grace," I reply.
I smile and nod. "Thank you."
Her mother kneels down. "She sure is." She tickles her finger to Grace's belly. She glances at me, then the baby. "Older Brother?"
"Uncle?" She guesses with a smile.
"No. I'm…um…I'm her Dad." And it tickles and pokes at the back of my throat, but it doesn't hurt, it just shows itself. I swallow and try to cover the feeling with a polite smile.
"Oh. You just…looked so young." She is lying, but she is being polite in return, so I simply thank her. She finds the hand of her child and they go on about their business.
I look down at Grace and touch her cheek. "That was okay, right?" She just stares at me and I laugh. I kiss her head and keep my finger moving on her cheek. I think I'm talking to myself when I admit it aloud. "Yeah, it was alright."
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