Under the Apple Tree
Chapter 57: Boundaries & Tanks
"Got room for one more?"
Emmett turns his head my direction. His face smirks, but there is slight confusion in his eyes. He keeps winding the white tape around his fingers.
"Didn't know you were a fighting man, Edward."
I duck under the ropes and enter the boxing ring. "Yeah…me either." He has no idea what I mean, though my reply makes perfect sense.
"Well, I have a few that you could probably take on," he nods to the group of kids - middle school age - waiting for their lesson.
He laughs a little. "Classes are 'hundred fifty bucks for adults, dude. The lady over there will be happy to take your money." He looks over his shoulder. Rosalie is sitting at his booth.
"Seriously? You're going to charge me?" I ask Rosalie. I am being playful. She knows it.
"You, Doctor E? Double."
I laugh a little and duck back under the ropes. I pay her the fee and see little Jacob sitting in one of the seats. There is a empty one to his left. I sit down and he looks up at me.
"Hi," he replies. There is a certain fear in this kid's face that I hate. I know that he doesn't fear me, just my gender, but still. It's unsettling.
"So, having fun with Emmett? Teaching you anything good?"
Jacob looks towards the ring and watches as Emmett takes down a man who is being used as an example of what to do. Or…what not to do…depending on your view point.
He smiles. "Yeah. He's pretty cool."
Jacob looks back to me. "Is Bella back yet?"
And his fear is overshadowed by hope. A hope I don't want to crush, but Bella has made that a little bit impossible.
"She had a lot of homework, so she might not be back for a while. Sorry." And now I have to lie on top it.
Jacob is deflated by my words and I am slowly having my Resentment Tank filled. I watch as all of the children take their lesson with Emmett. He is actually quite good with these kids. I am impressed. My Hope Tank is a little fuller. Although, Emmett's road isn't quite as rocky as Bella's. His climb wasn't nearly as hard. I think. I have no idea.
"Alright, Edward. You're up." Emmett calls me up as the kids exit the gym. I crawl under the ropes and he takes a long drink of water before he faces me.
He wipes his mouth with his arm. "Alright, dude. First…"
I put my hand up. "No offense, Emmett, but I just really want to kick the shit out of something. Can we get right to that part?"
He smiles at first, but then his eyes squint. "What's up?"
"Nothing. Just want to beat something."
A humorless laugh leaves his mouth. "Yeah…like I said. What's up?"
"Can I hit something while I tell you?"
He eyes me for a moment, then looks to Rosalie. He walks to the ropes and leans over.
"Hey Babe…you think you could get us some more water from the store?"
She nods and scoots from her chair. After she has grabbed her bag and left the gym, Emmett faces me again. A moment of though and he walks in front of me. He holds out his hands that are padded and nods for me to begin.
"So, what did Bella do?"
I hit his first hand, but pause at his question. His brow raises. I hit his other hand.
"Grace is deaf." I hit harder.
He lowers his hands. "What? Bella's kid? Shit."
He puts his hands back up. "So…let me guess, she is drinking again?"
Harder. Harder. Harder.
I stop. I take a breath and he lowers his hands.
"No. I don't think so. I have no fucking idea." I fall back against the ropes. "She said she might have slept with this guy, but like…I think she was trying to piss me off."
He nods. "Looks like it worked."
"It's just her defense mechanism. I know this. But she was drinking and that's what pisses me off. If she can fall back into that habit, then…" And I have to shut up before I vomit.
"Then you think she could do that other shit too." Thanks Emmett.
I nod. "I'm not stupid. I knew that everything wouldn't be all sunshine and butterflies, but I didn't think she would fall so fast. I thought that maybe…"
"You could change her."
He sees the annoyed look on my face. He holds up his hands. "Sorry."
I shake my head. "It's alright."
I lean off the ropes and we continue on with our kick-boxing lesson. At the end, when we are changing into less sweaty clothing, our earlier conversation resumes.
Emmett closes the locker door. "Listen, Edward. I'm definitely not the one to be giving advice on what people do wrong and do right, but shit, dude. You want Bella to knock this stuff off?"
I nod like it's obvious.
"Where is she?"
I shake my head. "You'll get in trouble with Rose again."
"I'mma tell my wife, first. I've learned my lesson."
I shake my head again. "I still don't think that's good idea. This is between Bella and I."
"No offense, Edward, but Bella isn't going to listen to you. You enable her too much for that to happen."
Now I'm a little pissy. "I do not enable her."
"Oh yeah? What'd you say after she said that shit about possibly sleeping with another dude?"
I shrug. "Nothing. I told you, she was just trying to get a rise out of me. I didn't fall into her trap."
He nods. "And that's it. You just said nothing?"
"I told her she wouldn't hurt Grace and if she couldn't get her act together that she couldn't be around her. Or us."
He laughs a little. "And…when was the last time you spoke with her?"
"I don't know…a week or so ago."
"Rose says you're paying for her school."
"That you signed for her apartment."
"What's you're damn point Emmett?"
He points at me. "You're enabling her."
I sigh and grab my gym bag. Emmett steps forward. He puts his hand on my chest. "You want to handle this on your own, that's cool, but I am telling you, you keep giving Bella a line, she's gonna keep fishing. Got me?"
"I'm all she has, Emmett."
"Nah, she's got that bottle and a free place to live. You're just the chump funding it. I warned you about this that day in the parking lot. You wanna love Bella, that's fine. But right now, she needs a kick in the ass and boundaries. Not a fucking free ride and punching bag to use at will. You wanna help Bella?" His hand hits my chest. "Pull the fucking plug on her life line."
He lowers his hand. "We're taking Joshua to a baseball game this weekend. You should join us."
He picks up his bag and I follow him out. Rosalie stands when she sees him. She smiles and her hands cup the back of his head. He squeezes her hips and kisses her. They look happy.
I want happy.
"She has really big eyes," Brianna notes. "But nice. They match her hair color." Bree leans her face to Grace's and gives light kisses. They are on my bed as I look through my desk, trying to find my checkbook.
"When is Bella coming back?"
I know it is here somewhere. I always put it in the same place. Right under the…
"Is she coming back soon?"
"Brianna, please." I keep looking and my irritation grows further as it is nowhere to be found. I shut the drawer forcefully and start looking in the closet, even though, I know it is not there.
"I bet Grace misses her. I would miss my mom if she was gone. Like when her and dad go on trips. I always miss them. Even though it's fun when Sasha babysits, or I get to come here, I still miss them and stuff. I wonder if Grace knows that…"
"Brianna," I snap.
Her face kills me when her eyes go wide. I close my own and rub my face.
Her voice is small. "Are you and Bella fighting?"
I open my eyes. "No." And now I am lying to her, too.
"You…you look like when you and Aunt Tanya used to…used to fight."
Her innocence and maturity is astounding. Her eyes darting all around, looking nervous and unsure and scared is heartbreaking. And damn Bella. Damn her.
I take a seat on the bed. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, Sweetheart."
She scoots to my side. Her head leans on my arm. "She promised."
And I am not the only one who has a Resentment Tank.
"I would suggest writing a letter. Putting all of your feelings down on paper. Not how you feel per say, just what your boundaries are. She needs limits and repercussions for her actions and inactions."
I nod as Jasper sits behind his desk.
"She is not going to like this, Edward."
"I know," I say, quietly.
"But you have to understand, this is what is needed. And it will get worse, before it gets better. If it does get better," he adds.
"Ever the optimist, Jasper."
He leans forward, clasping his hands over the papers on his desk. "I am just being honest. I'm not here to give false hope and pats on the back. I'm here to advise and guide. I'm here to help. And by the way, you are a payment behind." His mouth smirks.
"I know. I can't find my checkbook."
He laughs a little. "We accept debit cards and cash."
"So much for 'who you know'."
He laughs harder. "Nothing is free, Edward. And now that you know this, good luck passing it along to Bella."
"Right." I stand and pay what I owe at the desk in the hallway.
"Is this a joke?"
I shake my head. "No, it's not a joke, Bella."
Her eyes stay on mine as she crumples the paper in her hands. She forms a tight ball and tosses it at me. It bounces off my chest and hits the floor.
I nod and find my keys in my pocket.
"This place looks like shit. You might want to clean it up, Bella."
She plops down on the couch that is riddled with empty bottles and empty food containers and other papers. "Your not my boss, Freak. Want something cleaned, why don't you go find Angela. You have that sad-puppy-face on…maybe she'll even feel bad enough to fuck you. I always did."
Her foot comes out to touch my crotch and I swat it away. She sinks lower into the couch and spreads her legs. She has on underwear and a tank top.
"Awww…don't be like that, Dr. Cullen. Come on, for old time's sake. Fuck me." She hangs her leg over the back of the couch and moves her hand suggestively.
I lean over her and she smiles. She pulls on my shirt trying to pull me closer. I shake my head at her.
"You disgust me when you act like this, Bella. I know it's all an act, but it still disgusts me. I think you're one of the most beautiful people I have ever met and I love you, I love you so much, but right now, I hate you. I hate your selfishness and I hate your weakness. I hate your mask and I hate the look in your eyes." I grab her leg with my hand and pull it from the back of the couch, closing what she is trying to show.
"If you fuck up this apartment, they are going to charge me damage fees that will not be covered by your deposit. If that happens, or if you leave this place and leave me your tab, I'll sue you in court. I'll win and you'll lose.
"If you go back to working as a prostitute or a stripper, I will never speak to you again. I will never let you see Grace and I will see to it that a judge changes our adoption agreement to ensure that. And before you are allowed to see her again, I want you enrolled in therapy, or a program. You need to show me that you are trying. You need to prove to me that my time is worth something to you."
She rolls her eyes. "Are you done?"
I lean off the couch. "I suppose that's up to you, Bella."
"So, we want the guys in red to win. The guys in blue are not our friends." Grace looks at me like I am insane. I laugh a little. "Red. We want red." I adjust her on my lap and face her towards the field.
"Here, Dude." Emmett sits a cold beer into the cup holder of my chair.
He sits down and pulls Joshua into his lap. "Yeah, I probably should have gotten you one of those long sippy straws, though." He nods towards Grace. "Hard to drink with a rug-rat on your lap."
I make a face. "Don't call her that."
He snorts. "The new car smell hasn't worn off yet. Wait. You'll have all kinds of nicknames, Dude." He takes a sip of his beer and Joshua reaches his hands for it. Emmett pulls it away.
"Back off Daddy's beer, Josh. This is the only thing keeping me sane."
He reaches for it again. "It's gross. No." He reaches and whines for it. Emmett shrugs and puts the bottle to his little mouth. "Don't say I didn't warn you." He lets the golden touch his lips just ever so slightly. My whole body tenses and my brain wants to smack the crap out of him. Josh pulls back and cringes, gagging a little. "Told ya, dude."
Emmett goes to take a sip and he's stopped by Rose smacking him on his head. "I did not just see you give my child beer."
He looks over to her. "Relax. I was just teaching him it's gross."
Bree slides her way over. Rose was taking her to the restroom. She takes her seat next to me and puts her hat on Grace's head, but it is too big. She laughs and pulls it away, placing it back on her own head.
"You know how you teach him that, Em?" His face is blank. "You TELL him it is gross."
He laughs. "Yeah, tried that."
"Apparently not every hard."
Bree giggles at their argument. I pay attention.
He sighs and puts the bottle by Josh's face. His expression sours and he looks away. "See. He has no desire to drink at all. Say it, your man is a genius."
Rosalie makes a disgusted sound and looks back to the game as they ask us to rise for the National Anthem. Emmett puts his son on his shoulders. I hold Grace so she can see what is happening. Bree sings as dramatically as possible when the song begins. I laugh at her.
She faces Grace and keeps doing her song and even though I know she can't hear what is coming from Bree's mouth, there is a look of amusement and soft cooing coming from her. I take my seat as the song ends and the game starts.
Whenever there is a good play and the crowd erupts into cheers and clapping and excitement, Grace's feet wiggle. Bree looks at her each time and makes her give 'high-fives', by holding her small hand and tapping her palm to it. She makes faces and says things are funny to her. And even in silence, Grace looks like she understands. She looks happy and she looks like she understands.
And my Happiness Tank…gets a little fuller.
"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
Esme looks over and smiles. She also wipes drool from Grace's mouth. Bree taps my arms. I look down to her.
"I have to pee," she whispers.
"Service is almost over."
Her face looks desperate. "I really have to pee."
I lean over to my mother. "Can you hold Grace?" She puts out her arms and I pass her over. I take Bree's hand and slip past the other church members, saying soft apologies as I do. I lead her towards the adjacent building, where everyone gathers afterwards for coffee and Alice's baked goods.
"I'll wait here." I let go of her hand and lean against the wall, outside of the restroom.
She hurries in and I do as a I say, waiting patiently. I pull out my phone and regret that I have. No messages. No missed calls. No Bella. Damn it. I shove it back in my pocket. The squeak of the restroom door is loud in the quiet hall. I turn towards it and see Bree poking her head out. She says nothing and she doesn't come out.
"Plan on missing the rest of service?" I tease.
Her face looks nervous. "I think…something…can you ask your mom to come here?"
I lean off the wall. "What's wrong?"
She closes her eyes. "Uncle Edward. Please."
"I'm your doctor, Brianna. Just tell me what's wrong."
"You're a boy."
"I'm a boy doctor. Spill it."
She huffs and hates me when she looks at me. "It's a girl thing." And her tone says I am supposed to understand this. My face tells her I don't. "Jeeze…you are so embarrassing." She huffs again. "It's what happens when girls become flowers and boys want to pollinate them."
Pollinate them? Flowers? Why would a boy want to…oh. Ohhhh. Shit.
"I'll go get Esme."
My office door closes. I look up. I hide my reaction.
"Hello, Bella," I say nonchalantly and then look back to my paperwork.
She says nothing and walks over. My hands keep writing, but my eyes are secretly paying attention to her movements. She stops at my side. I feel goose-bumps on my skin, under my clothes.
"Sorry," is all she offers.
I place my pen down, but don't look at her. It feels like, even if I wanted to, I just can't.
My voice is even and emotionless. "Is that all?"
Hers - bitter. "What else would you like?"
Mine - honest. "To not ever have this fight again."
She breathes in and out. "I said I'm sorry. I don't know what else…"
And her bitterness and brattiness breaks me. "Saying that you are sorry does not make the other things you said alright, Bella. It is not a get out of jail free card. What you said to me…I would never, ever say those things to you. No matter what. I would never take your words and use them to hurt you. Never."
There is nothing but silence and tension. The space on the wall in my office that needs painting. It is all I see. It is all I stare at. The piano keys in my head I try to rehearse and keep the weakness from my eyes through its distraction. The day at the ballpark and Grace's feet…but then they only lead me back to Bella. I shake my head and push back from my desk in irritation. I lean my elbow on the arm rest and then my face to my hand.
I feel her weight on me and her lips trying to find mine, but they would only taste a lie. I roll my face to the side and curl my fingers to cover what she wants. She goes for my cheek and my neck. Her hips move. Fingers grip to my hair.
My insides coil. My stomach plummets and I feel nauseated that she thinks I am this easily fooled and distracted. This forgiving and this worthless. This cheap. I push her back and feel her resistance.
"I'll make it up to you," She leans in again, but I stop her. I sit forward and push her slowly, until she lets her feet find the floor. I get up from my chair and my arms want to hold her. They want to shake the shit out of her. They want to touch her chin and make her look at me and understand why I can't I look at her. I step around her and reach for the picture on my desk.
I shove it into her hands and put my coat back on, so I can deal with those who actually want and need my help.
Bella is smart.
She can figure this part out on her own.
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