Under the Apple Tree
Chapter 58: Meetings
"Doll! Hey, Doll!"
My feet try to walk faster, but I am too damn tired and hung over. I feel his hand on my shoulder when he catches up to me.
"Hey, I was calling you." He walks beside me, across the campus lawn.
"Yeah, so I heard. Make it your damn life's mission to make sure the rest of school did too, Garrett?"
Faster. Must walk faster.
"Sorry. Um…so, that was an awesome party the other night. People are still talking about it and how Bella swan took down half the football team."
I pause. I stare at him. "What do you mean?"
"Ya' know. Drank them under the table. I've never seen a girl drink so much."
I start walking again. "Yeah, well, I'm amazing, Garrett. What can I say."
He laughs like it's funny, but it's not fucking funny. Nothing is fucking funny. I push my way through the library doors. He is still following me.
"There's another one tonight. I thought we could go. But like….some people are gonna hang out before. Over at the café. Maybe see a movie. I was thinking that…"
I slam my books on the table. "Did you not hear me say I had a goddamn boyfriend who was a doctor? Did your stupid eyes not see him pick me up a few weeks ago? Did you not see how fucking hot he is and how I practically dry-humped him on the campus lawn? Are you stupid or something, Garret?"
I am yelling in a very quiet place. My motherfucking head throbs. Garrett looks embarrassed. I just don't give a shit.
"Uhhh…..but you came to the party and like…"
"And like WHAT?"
"Well….you were being all, ya' know, shmoozy."
"Shmoozy? Is that what you call drunk around here? 'Cause that's what I was Garret. I was fucking drunk and you don't mean shit to me. You're short and you smell horrible after lunch. You'd let me walk all over you and there's only one man I want to fuck and it isn't you. It's a goddamn doctor an hour away." And I am digging through my bag until I find the small bottle of lotion. "Here ya' go. Have fun fucking yourself."
I take a seat and he is still standing there. My head whips his way. "Did you not here me? I said, gooooooo. Fuck. Off."
And with one last scrunching of his brows, he leaves. I face forward and I know they are all staring at me. But like I said- I just don't give a shit.
So, it kind of went like this.
"What brings you here today, Miss Swan?"
"I blacked-out this weekend and didn't know where I was."
He scribbles on a piece of paper. "Were you sick? Drugged?"
"Yeah. Cross both off, Doc."
He lifts his face. "Care to expand on that?"
"No, go fuck yourself."
I take my shoes off his designer couch and leave a muddy trail of footprints before I slam the door.
"Glad to see you back."
"Yeah, well….I just missed your pretty face so much." Doctor…whatever his name is…has a scar on the side of his face. Almost looks like he was burned or something. It's gross.
"So, what brings you here today, Miss Swan? Besides the need to see my pretty face?" And alright, hahahahaha, Doctor. Ha-ha-fucking ha.
"My "boyfriend" said I had to."
"Said you had to what?"
Isn't he smart? "Come. Here."
"Because I am a cruel evil bitch and he has my kid."
More scribbles. "You share a child together?"
"No. Didn't you hear me? He has her."
"And why is that?"
The questions. Oh my fucking God. The questions.
"Because obviously I would be so well-suited to have a small child in my care."
More scribbles. "How old is your child?"
"She is a few months. I think."
"What is her name?"
My throat is on fire. "Grace."
His voice goes all soft. "When was the last time you saw Grace?" And I want to rip his tongue out when he says her name. How dare he say her name. Like he knows us. Her. Like he knows her.
"Well, let's see Doc. I just said she was a few months, so I guess that means a few fucking months, now doesn't it?"
"And, her father, asks that you seek therapy. What is he fearful of?"
"He isn't even her real dad. I mean, he like adopted her and he thinks he can just take her and like he is such a prick. I mean he is such a prick. Fuck, I love him so much and I am just fucking things up, you know. I am just fucking things up. He is so nice and I am just fucking things up."
"Grace is adopted, but am I correct in assuming that you and he are together in a relationship?"
And this is where I stand up. "For a shrink, you sure as shit don't listen. If he has her and I haven't seen her in months, then what makes you assume that I am with him? That he wants me? Do you just not listen?"
Somewhere in the fucking week.
"Hey Swan, pick it up. Those tables should have been bussed thirty minutes ago."
Die. Die. Die.
"Yeah, I'm trying. Sorry, Sir." And 'Sir' is all of twenty two and still pimple-faced. I bet he whacks off to Britney Spears or that Disney broad with the tile-teeth.
"Move your ass." He says it like he owns me and yeah, whatever, I guess he does.
I want to laugh at that. A 'man' telling me to move my ass and only getting paid less that five bucks an hour and tips that don't make up the difference as they are supposed to. Move my ass. Move my ass. Oh, if I moved my ass, I could make rent in an hour. I could pay my stupid fucking debt to school in two. I could be…
I walk out and do my job. I take the dirty shit and bring it to the kitchen to wash. I am disgusting and yeah, I am disgusting.
"So, I think I want to call him."
Doc is silent and lets me go on. "I just…It's been a long time. I…I miss him."
"So, why not call him?"
"He might not want to talk to me. It's been a long time, like I just fucking said."
"What if he does?"
"Then I don't even know what I would say. I mean, what do you say? 'Hi, sorry I dropped out of your life, but I'm trying to fix that shit?'"
"It's a place to start."
I laugh, but it's not funny. "You really give horrible goddamn advice."
In my apartment
My fingers stroke the back of the phone. They feel the plastic and they wish it were real. They wish it were soft and strong and warm. They wished it smelled of lavender and trust and comfort. They wish it could hold and just be here.
But it can't and picking it up seems like it would weigh too much. What did he say about his mother? If she wanted to know him she'd find him. He hasn't found me. He hasn't called. He hasn't shown up to check my floor. Or couch. It is clean. I cleaned it. I passed my test this week. I wasn't late for class. But there's no ringing and no check-ups or check-ins or letters with sweet words and there is just me.
There is just me.
Meeting forty five
I lay with my back to him. It is easier to talk to the pillow on his couch. To the thread my fingers are pulling. I am sure I am going to mess up his designer couch cushion, but whatever. He charges enough to fix it and I had to scrub the aftermath of 'all-you-can-eat-ribs' off the toilets to pay for it.
"You think she fucked me up, right?"
"I'd like to know what you think, Bella. What do you think Renee did to you?"
I pull harder to the thread. "I think she taught me how to drink and I think she punished me for what she couldn't accept."
And I hate myself.
I hear his pencil on his paper. "Is that the truth, or just what you think I would like to hear?"
I pull the thread until I see the underside of his stupid damn pillow. "It's the truth. She fucked me up."
"And you fear you will impact your daughter this way?"
I ask the pillow. "Aren't I?"
"You're seeking help."
"Lot of help it's doing, Doc."
"Have you tried reaching out to Edward?"
We established the importance of names five meetings ago. I still can't say it though. And it burns like a son of a bitch to hear.
"Cullen won't talk to me."
"Have you tried?"
Goddamn it. "Tried? Yes. I put my fucking hand on the phone and it shook so bad I couldn't lift the receiver. I wrote a letter and my writing was too messy. I have a motherfucking box sitting on my countertop he gave me almost a year ago and I can't even open it. Tried? Yeah, I have tried, Doctor."
So calm. So irritating. "What is in the box?"
"A stupid laptop he bought."
"Why won't you open it?"
I grip the fabric of the pillow. "Because it doesn't belong to me."
"You don't think you deserve things he gave you?" More scribbles.
"Ahoy, Captain Obvious."
"Do you think Edward would feel this way?"
I sit up and face him. My face feels a hundred. "No."
He looks surprised. I feel like fist-pumping the air, catching him off guard with my answer. I sit still.
I raise my wrist and shake it about. "He gave me this so I wouldn't forget."
I lower my face and don't feel so victorious any more. I curl back into my friend, the pillow. "That I was."
"Was what, Bella?"
I talk to the thread. "Worthy."
"You've been a good tenant, Miss Swan. All of your rent was paid on time. No complaints from neighbors. We would love to have you sign another lease with us."
She smiles and there is a new paper. His name is not on it. He is not at my side.
I shake my head no. "I think I am going to find somewhere a little cheaper. Maybe, with a roommate or something."
Her smile fades a little. "Well, that's too bad. But good luck to you."
I nod and stand up from my seat. I turn and go for the door handle.
"I hear Hunnington Grove is nice."
I look over my shoulder. She smiles and then resumes her work on the computer.
"Thanks." And I am out the door, but I am not headed there.
"It's not much, but…at least I know you'll never be late." Sir's father's wife is joking, but it's not really funny.
"It's fine. And yeah, you're right."
"Here's the key. We'll take rent out of your checks and obviously if you need something, you know where to find us." She hands over the key.
I nod and she takes a step back. "Well, I'll let you unpack. See you, later."
I nod again and she is gone. It smells like grease and annoying fucking customers. It is dark and small and in need of some serious cleaning. The floor boards creek as I walk across them. But it is cheap and convenient and didn't require a deposit or Cullen's signature.
"Come on, pretty girl. Just one drink. Come on, just one with your favorrrrrite customerrrrr." He is grabbing at my hip and trying to be charming, but he reeks and I reek and I just want to grab his line of empty glasses and find the kitchen.
"Can't drink while I'm working." Or ever. "You know the rules." I try to be nice. I try.
His hand tugs at my hip again. I stumble a little. "Just one. You'd make me so happy if you would just…have one." He pulls me harder and my bin of dirty dishes falls hard against the table. He puts his mouth and his smoke and his beer breath against my cheek. "I got a good one for you, pretty girl. A real good one."
"Hey! Lay off, Jimmy." Sir's father helps me out.
"Aww, Ray, I was just helping her with 'er dishes." He laughs stupidly and drinks until he is done. He puts the glass down and winks at me, licking his lips. I want to punch him in the goddamn face and tell him to go fuck himself. I want to run to my father. I want to tell him he is a piece of shit drunk. I want to find Cullen and hide under his arm.
"Get back to work, Swan."
Meeting…I don't even know the number.
"How does this making you feel?"
I grip harder to the item in my hands. I say nothing. He waits. I throw it on the table before me.
"I don't want to do this shit."
"It is only a candy bar, Bella."
I rub at my eyes and dig my free fingers into my palm until it hurts. "You know that if it was just a stupid fucking candy bar I wouldn't be here. Why must you always make me point out the obvious?"
"It is the truth." He reaches forward and picks it up. He slowly rips the wrapper and takes a small bite. "Tastes like chocolate and nougat, to me. It is quite good. Would you like a try?"
"Fuck off. Just go fuck off. You are such an insensitive prick."
He takes another bite. "Still just candy."
I kick his table. I knock the magazines off it and the vase of flowers. He sits back and continues to eat the chocolate bar. When he has the last bite swallowed, he crinkles the wrapper in his hands and tosses it to the trash can. His hands clasp in his lap.
"I will be charging you for those."
Of course. Of fucking course.
A bear. A card. I park my truck and my hands shake. When I get out and close the door, I only see fresh and revived. The truck. It is bright and no longer rusty. It looks like someone cares for it. It looks like I give a shit. My feet walking towards the grey, mimics that sentiment.
I lower myself down and have no leaves to brush away. I note the footprints in the ground and I know who they belong to. I know who has been here and I know why my father's grave is clean and well cared for. I see another teddy bear and a note. A 'grandpa' in perfect script and a picture. A balloon and I don't even time to stop myself before the pain rips from my chest, tearing a hole big enough to fit the universe in. And my tears aren't tears because I feel sorry for myself. My pain isn't my own and my pain isn't really even pain. It is gratefulness and stupidity and regret. It is time I allowed to pass and calls I should have made to just simply say that I was sorry and that I love you and that I am trying.
I am trying.
I let my own bear and card sit on the grey. I fall against where I want to be and just say all my sorries to the only person who can't hear them. The only person who would still accept me after all I have done. And what would he say Bella? That it's alright. Charlie would say it's alright. And? And that I should fix it. How? I don't know. Yes you do. No. yes you do.
And my knees hurt. They burn and they hurt. I feel cold pressed to them. I feel the stinging from the medicine and I feel more cold on my chin. I feel rough fingers pressing into my cheeks and a sucking of teeth.
"I'm sorry Daddy."
"It's alright, Baby. It's just blood."
"No, I ruined the trip. My trip ruined the trip."
And he is not angry, just laughing. I hate it.
"It's not funny, Dad Not at all."
"I'm not laughing at you, girl. I'm just…you're just adorable when you're angry." And I look at him and his tired eyes. I look at him and his smile that he puts on even when it is just a put-on. But it wasn't. He was honest and truthful and he really thought those things. And he finishes cleaning up my knees and my elbows and my scratched up chin.
"Falling is just a part of life." And he is giving me his hand and helping me up into his arms and I am carried and pressing my face into the leather of his jacket. Against the patches and name and Chief Swan and honor.
"Yep. Just a part of life. But we get back up, don't we, Baby?" And I am nodding and playing with the thread that my mother hasn't fixed on one of his patches.
When my eyes run of out strength, I simply sit and just feel. When my legs cramp and tell me to stretch out, I just stay in place. I hug myself against the gray and I don't want to let to go. I don't want to leave, but I have to. I have to make my legs move. I have to get up. I have to walk away and I have to let go.
He would want me to.
In the truck, my hands find the only proof I have that I did something right in my life. I pull out the photo and run my fingers over the crinkled lines. I hold it up to the one I took from Charlie's grave and they are the same, but so different. There is so much of him and Cullen in her.
There is so much light and no Renee. There is so much life in those eyes and I need to just…I need to tell him. I need to make it right and I need to tell him at the very least, that I am grateful.
I arrive and I see his car. It's parked. He is inside. If I go inside, I'll have to see Alice. I'll have to face her too. I get out and close the truck door like I am about to sneak up on someone. I walk in the shadows and just linger by the window. I scan the tables. My eyes settle on a booth in the back. There is a man who looks the same. Same shirt. Same pants. Same tie. Same gentle hands. Same stare. Same well-pressed lines in his clothing and none.
But he sits in a booth. Not at a table with a wobbly leg. There is a girl who would need a sturdy table. He is bringing a spoon to her mouth and smiling. He is wiping her face and she is swatting his hands away and he is laughing and happy. He is touching her face and my eyes have found strength again.
They blur and I don't want to miss it. I blink to clear them and then my cheeks. I see Alice walk towards them and she picks Grace up. There is an exchange of words and smiles between her and him and then she carries her towards the back. He takes a few napkins and cleans up what is messy.
I have to make my legs move or I will miss my chance. I open the door and walk quickly towards where he is, but once I am there, I can't breathe as his eyes lift and meet mine. His hand stops moving on the table and the mess is forgotten. His eyes roam down, over my clothing and then slowly back up. I have to breathe.
"Can I sit?"
There is a pause that feels like years.
He nods. His eyes watch me as I slide into the seat across from his.
Meeting number one.
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