Author: writingbabe PM
Ten years after Edward and Alice abandoned her, Bella returns to Forks. What brings Alice to her door? Why has Edward moved into the Cullens' old house? And who helps Bella escape her painful past-in his playroom? AHRated: Fiction M - English - Hurt/Comfort/Drama - Bella & Edward - Chapters: 13 - Words: 79,491 - Reviews: 1,131 - Favs: 898 - Follows: 1,251 - Updated: 07-16-12 - Published: 09-10-10 - id: 6313679
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Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. I own a mortgage, a golden retriever, a laptop and the scenario to this story. Though there is nothing graphic here, some of the themes in this story may be disturbing to some readers. If a character craving punishment and withholding of privileges upsets you, don't read this story.
Author's Note: I started reading fanfic nearly a year ago when a stress fracture had me off my feet and in front of the computer much more than usual. It's been an eye-opening and deeply satisfying experience.
Sebastien Robichaud, Snowqueens Icedragon, WriteOnTime, tarasueme, WndrngY, hunterhunting and so many others: I've enjoyed your stories more than I can say. I don't consider myself in your league, but wanted to contribute something to this remarkable community of readers and writers, so here's my entry into the FF world.
Many thanks to my beta Serendipitous, also known here as Meilleur Café, for her assistance. Without her, this story would be much less clear. And far more prone to sentence fragments.
Bella saved her old bedroom for last. In the months since she began clearing out Charlie's house, she hadn't so much as opened the door. There was no point: she couldn't use the bed anyway. On weekends, Bella only slept in one bed, and then only by invitation. Otherwise she took her rest on a blanket on the carpeted floor of His bedroom. Since Charlie's floors were all hardwood, He had directed her to use an air mattress when she spent her weekend a month in Forks. It was an uncomfortably kind command given that any weekend away from Him was technically a breach of their agreement. He was usually more about denying her privileges and pleasures. She hoped he could limit his sympathy for her to the loss of her father—she needed him to be strict, unbending. It was the only reason she had agreed to be His every weekend, from 6 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday.
At the top of the stairs, Bella broke open a new pack of banker's boxes and began assembling them. Late afternoon light, gloomy from the overcast, filtered through the open door of Charlie's newly empty bedroom and seemed to rise up the stairs from the floor below. It was Sunday, and she still had a nearly four-hour drive ahead of her. He had assigned a 10 p.m. lights-out curfew on school nights. Bella considered ducking out as she stacked the last empty box beside the door. What was another month in the scheme of things? There was no rush to get a "for sale" sign in front of the house: Charlie had owned it free and clear, and it wasn't as if the market was hot. If she left now, she'd have time to pick up groceries and grade some papers before bed. If not, she'd have to hope for good weather and light traffic to make it home in time.
But she'd been dreading this, and having it hang over her head for another month was too awful to contemplate. Her heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest as she set her hand on the doorknob. She'd just have to be quick. She took a deep breath, trying to convince herself that the time pressure would keep her from dwelling.
When the doorbell rang, she was, for once, relieved. People still stopped by sometimes. It was part of having a beloved public servant for a father. The entire town seemed to miss him, and need to pat her hand or give her an awkward hug. Today, she welcomed the distraction.
Until she made it to the bottom of the stairs and saw the silhouette in the narrow window next to the front door.
For an instant, Bella considered not answering, but her car was in the driveway so she was obviously there. Besides, her visitor would have known anyway. Alice always knew.
As Alice reached for the bell again, Bella unlocked the deadbolt, opened the inside door and waited. She didn't normally answer the door with a staredown, but it had been ten years. And Alice, once her best friend, had cut her loose without so much as a goodbye.
Alice's hair was still short and pixie-like, though she now wore it in a sleek, sophisticated style that suited her new life. She was an up-and-coming fashion designer, and looked every inch the part. But then, she always had.
Alice stared back, seemingly at a loss. Bella tried to picture herself from Alice's perspective: still short, though taller than her, still slim. Long brown hair, though she'd learned how to tame it into a smooth sheen, and it only brushed her shoulder blades now. Same jeans, same Chuck Taylors, same band T-shirt. Bella's casual clothes were still comfort first. She suspected Alice would approve of the things she wore to class. As a young, petite woman, Bella made a point to don edgy, yet somewhat formal clothes to keep the line between student and teacher clear. Bella wasn't their friend or a potential date. She also insisted they call her Dr. Swan. Professor for short.
Bella let Alice search her face for what seemed like both a moment and an age.
When she breathed, "Bella" and reached for the screen door handle, Bella turned and walked to the kitchen, daring her to follow and avoiding the bone-crushing hug that had always been Alice's signature greeting. Or the awkwardness, if no hug was forthcoming. The click of Alice's heels echoed off the bare walls and floors, letting Bella know exactly where she was. She stopped two steps into the kitchen.
Bella kept her back to Alice as she measured the coffee and started the pot. Once the coffee maker began hissing, she took mugs and the sugar bowl from the one cupboard that still held a handful of mismatched dishes she used on weekends. As she pulled the half-and-half from the fridge, Bella finally broke the silence. "I'd ask you to sit, but the table and chairs sold at the garage sale." So had everything else. Except for a few lamps and her old bedroom, the house was essentially bare.
"Bella." Alice's begging voice had worked its magic on Charlie many times during their high school years. On everyone, really. But it didn't seem magical anymore. It seemed laced with regret. Or maybe that was just what Bella hoped to hear, because Alice's rejection had hurt just as much as Edward's. She'd never been so blindsided, not even when Edward walked her into the woods behind Charlie's house to "talk."
"How do you take your coffee these days?" Bella turned her head slightly to speak over her shoulder, but didn't look at her.
Alice took a ragged breath; she was either crying or trying not to. "Same as always."
Bella scooped two teaspoons of sugar into one of the mugs, poured coffee into both and added cream, stirring slowly and silently before crossing the room with both mugs. She held out Alice's and finally met her eyes.
They were gray and lovely, just as Bella remembered. Her makeup was exquisite, intact despite her tears. If this had been a different kind of moment, Bella might have asked what brand she used. Alice reached as if she was going to take the mug, but gripped Bella's wrist instead. She studied her until Bella pulled away, then took her mug, still staring. "You haven't changed."
Alice seemed to intend it as a compliment, but Bella bristled. She was irrevocably changed. "Save the sweet talk, Charlie's not here." Her voice wavered so she averted her eyes and blew on her coffee, trying to collect herself. She could usually talk about her father without letting the loss creep into her voice, but not with Alice. She never could hide things from Alice.
"I didn't know, Bella. I just heard and I had to see you. I—" She seemed at a loss, but Bella didn't need an explanation. She'd seen enough media coverage of Alice's career to know she now lived in London.
"What really brings you back to Forks, Alice?" She couldn't keep the chill from her tone. "You didn't fly halfway across the globe on my account."
Though her eyes flashed a reproach, Alice quickly gathered herself. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have come. It was selfish. But I was in Portland on business and when Edw—" Her face paled in a way Bella had only seen it do once before. On her eighteenth birthday.
The bare room suddenly felt far too close. She had to get air. As Bella pushed past her, Alice choked out, "I never wanted to."
Bella turned and fixed Alice with a cold stare. "But you did."
Nausea rose fast and hard. Bella bolted toward the stairs and the house's only bathroom but Alice grabbed her elbow and spun her around.
"He's going to kill me for this, but you have a right to know."
Bella jerked her arm away, but was caught by the fear in Alice's eyes. Though adrenaline pounded through her system, urging flight, she couldn't move. "Edward is here." Bella shot a panicked glance past Alice, half expecting to see him standing on the porch. "In Forks. He's opened up the house."
Bella didn't venture into town much, just to the grocery and the diner, and had assumed the pitying looks were still sympathy for her loss. For Charlie. She was the last to know. Again.
Alice's eyes seemed to read her every thought and Bella wanted to slap her. Damn Alice for still having the power to hurt her. And damn her more for witnessing the pain.
"Get. Out." Bella's voice strained with her effort to remain in control.
Tears coursed down Alice's face as she backed toward the front door. "I'm so very sorry, Bella. For everything. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am." Alice let out a sob then, something Bella had never heard before. The Alice she knew only cried pretty, useful tears.
Bella was truly ill by then, and ran up the stairs.
When the dry heaves subsided, Bella flew into her old bedroom to look out the window at the front yard. Her car was alone in the driveway; Alice was gone. And she'd crossed a threshold she'd been dreading without a second thought. She turned and took in the room.
Not much had changed, except it appeared Charlie had stowed a few things in here over the years. A pair of hip waders next to the door. A quilted flannel shirt Charlie wore when fishing in cool weather on the bed. Bella picked it up and held it to her nose, hoping for a whiff of Charlie, but it just smelled musty.
The room was emptier than she expected, but it made sense: most of her clothes and books went with her to college and she never brought them back here. What remained was a twin bed, dresser, desk and chair, the rocker in the corner, the posters on the walls. And all the things she left this town to forget.
Edward. The only important things Bella had left behind were related to Edward, and now he was back.
Sudden clarity dawned: she needed to finish this today. She never wanted to set foot in Forks again.
She stripped the bed and hauled everything to the laundry area next to the kitchen. After starting the first load, she brewed a new pot of coffee and examined the contents of the fridge. There were leftovers from her dinner the previous night, so she heated them up and ate standing at the counter. She scraped her plate into the garbage can, then dragged it to the fridge and threw away all the condiments, a couple of stray packages of fish from the freezer and the last few cans of Charlie's beer. She unplugged it and left the doors open so it could defrost. Then she switched wash loads and went upstairs, grabbing the box of trashcan liners on the way.
Bella emptied the dresser and closet of the few clothes she'd left behind, folding them neatly and stacking them in a trash bag so she could drop them off at the Salvation Army store on her way through Port Angeles. Even if it poured, the clothes would be dry when someone found them in the morning. She filled another bag with old shoes, CDs of bands that had rightfully faded from memory, a few belts and purses.
She was tempted to start another trash bag when she sat at her desk, but didn't. She knew that in theory there might come a day when she could once again smile on the bits of ephemera she'd tacked to the bulletin board above it so many years ago. Bella tried to think with kindness on the girl she had once been as she took things down and packed them into a box, but one scrap in particular caught her eye:
"When he was present she had no eyes for anyone else.
Every thing he did was right. Every thing he said was clever. …
This was the season of happiness…
from Sense and Sensibility"
At eighteen, Bella had considered herself like Elinor Dashwood: cautious, level-headed, able to master her emotions. Edward frequently complained that he could never tell what she was thinking. But she had allowed him to pick every locked corner of her heart and ended up, like Marianne, betrayed.
When the room was essentially bare, Bella hauled everything down the stairs, staging it by the front door. She switched the second load from washer to dryer, folded up the dry things and stacked them at the door. Then she loaded the car.
She came back inside and considered going back upstairs to face the very last of it, the Edward mementos, but first she washed out the now defrosted fridge. Last was last, and she wanted to be able to make her escape the moment it was done. She washed her dinner plate and coffee mug, intending to add them to the Salvation Army donation, but realized everything was in bags and they would likely get broken. In the end, she threw them out then emptied the trash one last time, dragging the cans to the curb.
Then she climbed the stairs and knelt beside her old bed. Charlie wasn't much of a handyman, but if he'd discovered the floorboard that teetered if you stepped on it just right, he would have nailed it down. She almost hoped he had.
But it was still loose. She pried it up and set it aside.
The most recent of the journals lay on top. Bella knew the last entry in that journal—she wrote it during the Cullens' extravagant graduation party. That was when she finally understood it was over. It had been over for Edward and Alice for most of the school year, but she had somehow let herself hope despite all evidence.
That hope died under the moonlight in their meadow.
Edward and Tanya's meadow.
Bella stacked the journals in one corner of a box and blocked them in with Edward's T-shirt. He'd left it in her truck after a trip to First Beach one of the halcyon days of the summer before it all fell apart, and she'd slipped it on over her bikini when they got home to Charlie's. Edward's eyes had gleamed when he asked her to keep it. And sleep in it.
The day after graduation, Bella asked Charlie to hire someone to trim the huge tree in the front yard, the one with branches that made it easy to climb into her bedroom window. The branches scraped the siding and roof when it was windy, so she told him it gave her nightmares. The truth was, she had no more energy for false hope. Edward had snuck in her window more than a few times that perfect summer, including the night after the beach trip, the first time Bella had slept in nothing but his shirt. But he would never sneak in again.
When the tree service came, she had listened, heartsick, as the arborist explained to Charlie that the whole tree needed to come down. Something about the roots being girdled and the danger of it falling on the house in a storm. She took pictures of the tree before she left for her shift at Newton's Outdoor Outfitters, and when she returned home that evening, the smell of fresh-cut wood still hung in the air. The tree was down, the stump ground into sawdust. Bella collected some of it in a jar and let it dry on her windowsill.
She tucked the tree photos and jar in the banker's box, then lifted out the shoebox that held dried flowers, notes, trinkets like the mood ring Edward bought her from a gumball machine, and the few photos of Edward and Bella together that he and Alice hadn't been able to take away from her. She didn't open it, just settled it in with the rest. Bella wondered if Edward still had the cap from her lemonade bottle, forgotten at the back of some drawer.
Probably not. The Cullens eventually moved away and Esme was always thorough. Surely it was thrown out with the rest of the trash.
Buried the deepest was the small, worn velvet box that held a Cullen family heirloom. One Bella was asked to return.
She opened the box and tilted the contents up to the overhead light. The gold shone rich in the way only antique jewelry can. A delicate chain was tucked behind the velvet pillow that cushioned the heart-shaped locket. Edward hadn't been able to find a photograph of them that would fit, so he had written a note in his strangely elegant handwriting. He'd folded the tiny piece of stationery like origami and tucked it into the locket.
Bella opened it, and the paper fell into her hand. It was darker now, from the many times she'd unfolded and refolded it. She smoothed out the small paper and read, "only the beginning…"
The words stuck in her chest.
They should have been true. Ten years on, she could still see that what they had, though colored by youth, had been good. Real. It could have stood the test of time.
But when Edward gave Bella the locket, telling her it was, like his heart, hers forever, it hadn't been the beginning. At the end of that day, all Bella had was the locket, and a slip of paper with the prettiest lie anyone had ever told her.
To her credit, Bella didn't cry about it anymore, even now, sitting on the floor of her girlhood bedroom in Forks. She'd made a life for herself. She had friends, a career, even a house. She laughed and drank wine and saw films. She had even dated a few times, though it never amounted to anything.
Because Bella didn't want to love again. That desire had died a slow death, beginning when Edward and Alice cut her out of their lives and ending with Charlie's last breath.
What Bella wanted was to withhold, hence the arrangement with Him. It suited them both perfectly. His pleasure came from pushing her body to the brink, hers from refusing to fall. She could resist for long stretches, dancing along a cliff's edge, concentrating so fully that the world fell away. And when her resistance had all but crystallized, He would force her over the edge, plummeting into orgasm after orgasm until nothing else existed. No Edward. No Alice. No sorrow or loss. Just sweet, painful release.
So it was time. Bella tucked the velvet box in the pocket of her jeans, covered the banker's box and locked the house. She took the spare key from the light by the front door, slipping it into the box. Edward had used that key sometimes, too.
She drove past the closed stores and darkened diner, her tires humming quietly down the highway. The entrance to the long private drive was overgrown, but she found it easily. As tree branches brushed against her windows, she was grateful for her car—ironically, a Volvo. She could never have managed this in the loud old truck she drove in high school.
After two miles, she watched for the fork that would lead her toward the meadow. When the path became impossible to drive, she got out and walked, notebook in hand, the jewelry box still in her pocket.
The moon was high overhead and bright enough to write by when Bella entered the clearing. She paced the perimeter, memorizing the meadow one last time, then settled in the damp grass where she and Edward had made love for the first and only time. The sun had shone on their bare skin as they finally gave themselves to each other completely. Bella had been utterly dazzled—by Edward, by how their bodies fitted together. And as he held her afterward, he'd clasped the locket around her neck, the words enclosed a promise between them.
They arrived back at the Cullen house to find a car parked in front and strangers on the porch, but they were only strangers to Bella. Everyone else seemed to know the tall strawberry blonde who ran down the steps and threw her arms around Edward's neck, planting a deep kiss on his mouth. It was only as his arms wrapped around the blonde that Bella realized he'd dropped her hand.
Then Alice raced through the front door, a beribboned gift in hand. But she came to a dead halt at the sight of Edward and Tanya. When she met Bella's gaze, instead of shrieking birthday greetings and tackling her with the present she'd been dropping hints about all week, Alice paled and swallowed hard.
Charged silence descended on the porch, where Carlisle, Esme and what Bella later learned were Tanya's parents and sister were sitting. It broke when Edward, without a glance in Bella's direction, asked Alice to drive her home.
She had found her voice then, though it was a watery one. "I have my truck, I can drive myself." She patted her pocket, but Edward had driven it earlier.
Instead of dropping the keys into her outstretched hand, Edward wound up to toss them to his sister. "Alice should take you."
"No." Bella grabbed Edward's arm and tried to pry the keys away. He gripped her hand tightly before relinquishing them, his eyes pleading. But he didn't speak to her again until days later, and then only to walk her into the woods to explain that he didn't want her anymore. She had been a distraction. He would always love her in a way, but she'd get over him soon enough. Not a word or a even a glance in her direction after that. It had been as if she didn't exist.
I had an unexpected visit from Alice today. She stopped in at Charlie's to give me her condolences. A day later and she would have missed me. I finished clearing out the house this evening.
She said she'd heard of Charlie's death from you, and that you're here. That you've opened your parents' house. She said I deserved to know.
I realize she betrayed a confidence, but don't worry: after tonight, I won't intrude on your life. Now that Charlie's house is ready for the market, I have no reason to come back to Forks. So there won't be any of those awkward "bumping into the ex" moments.
The night of our graduation, Tanya explained to me that your parents wished me to return your grandmother's locket. At the time, I was too hurt to do that. In fact, I told Tanya I'd pawned it.
As you can see, I kept it. That was wrong of me. It belongs in your family. Perhaps someday you will wish to give it to the woman you spend your life with. (Tanya?) Or maybe a daughter. I always pictured you with a daughter.
I won't be back, but Forks will always have a place in my heart.
I hope you find happiness here. One of us should.
The letter had come slowly. By the time she finished, the moon was beginning to set. It was hours past her curfew; no doubt He would impose consequences. How many privileges would he deny her? What stress positions would she be required to hold? As she stretched then twisted her hair into a bun, securing it with her pen, Bella ached for the quiet mind that came with punishment.
It was a rare cloudless night as she descended from the meadow. The trees cast stark shadows in the bright moonlight, just as they had the night of the graduation party.
Half the school had been invited. Some of the girls even brought their invitations to school to prove they'd been asked to the Cullens' party.
Bella's heart had surged when she opened her locker one morning and found an envelope taped inside the door. Alice and Edward both had her combination. That's how they'd gotten in to steal the many photos of her and Edward that she'd hung there. Somehow, the nightmare of the past eight months was over. But scrawled across the envelope was a note from Alice's boyfriend Jasper: "They don't know I've given you this, but if it were me, I'd want the choice."
When the party was in full flow, Bella drove up the private drive and took the path that led away from the house. By the time she'd hiked up to the meadow, she could feel more than hear the thumping bass of the club music blasting from the Cullens' yard. She sat in the spot where they'd made love and composed a letter to Edward and another to Alice. She had nearly finished and was drying her eyes when she heard people approaching. She scrambled into the trees, hiding in their shadows just as Tanya and Edward emerged from the trees on the opposite side of the meadow. Edward was staggering, clearly drunk, but Tanya spotted her.
She tugged Edward around and put her hands on his chest. "I forgot the blanket. Go get it? Please?" She rubbed one of her long legs against Edward's and flicked back her hair, which looked silver in the moonlight.
Edward grumbled something Bella couldn't hear; Tanya murmured a reply and Edward disappeared into the trees again.
As soon as he was gone, Tanya turned on her. "You weren't invited."
Bella stepped out of the trees into the moonlight. This place felt like territory she had the right to defend. She pulled the invitation from her journal and held it up so that the printing and her middle finger faced Tanya. "Yes I was."
"That little bitch!" Tanya crossed the distance until they were just a few feet apart. "If she thinks—"
Bella smiled at Tanya for the first time ever. "It wasn't from Alice."
Tanya froze, then stalked forward, towering over her. "He doesn't want you. He wants me. It's always been me. You know that, right? We were together when he lived in Alaska."
It was Bella's turn to freeze.
"He didn't tell you?" Tanya ran her eyes from Bella's head to her shoes; it made her feel dirty. She couldn't help cowering away. "I assumed you knew. You seem like the type."
"The type?" Bella knew what she was implying. Tanya was clearly as wealthy as the Cullens. Bella wasn't.
"Guys do that, you know. Go slumming. Sow their wild oats."
Bella could hardly breathe.
"They want it back."
"The locket. I heard Carlisle and Esme talking about it. They're pretty sure they know how you wangled it out of him, but it's a family heirloom and they want it back. They were going to give it to me for graduation until they found out you had it."
She grabbed Bella's shirt and wrenched it off her shoulder, but found no telltale chain. Bella only wore the locket when she slept; now, it was safely tucked into the pocket of her jeans.
She stood perfectly still as Tanya's words sank in. In the beginning, she'd never been able to justify in her own mind why someone like Edward would want her. But she'd allowed him to persuade her she was the only one for him. And despite what he'd said to her in the woods and how he'd behaved afterward, it hadn't occurred to Bella that it all might have been a game to him. But now she understood. She'd been a joke. She could see his wicked smile, hear his laugh as he told Tanya he'd been slumming. And the locket? It wasn't love. It was proof of conquest.
Bella straightened, squaring her shoulders. "Tell Edward I sold it." Charlie, at his wit's end, had sent her to Jacksonville over Christmas break that year. It was visit Renee or check into the hospital. The whole town knew this, she was sure—it was the kind of gossip that made the rounds, even among the adults. "It's in an antiques shop in Jacksonville if he wants to buy it back." She hoped Tanya told him. She wanted to hurt him somehow, if only just a little.
Tanya eyed her warily, but then Edward stumbled through the trees again, and Bella scurried for cover. When she was safely hidden, Bella looked back.
Edward was kissing Tanya while pulling up her skirt. Then he pushed on her shoulder and she fell to her knees, a hand at his zipper. And Edward looked past her, straight into Bella's eyes.
Bella held his gaze for an everlasting moment as Tanya slid the zipper down and ducked her head. Then Bella ran and ran, not caring that she was going in the wrong direction. When she reached the river, she was still holding the letters for Edward and Alice, but not her journal. Given what she'd learned from Tanya, the letters were ridiculous. Bella was too ashamed of them to even throw them in the river—they could wash up on the bank. She used a stick to shove them deep into the crevice of a rock, where time and rain would break them down and no one would ever see them.
After what could have been minutes or hours of watching the light play off the water as the river sped past, Bella eventually retraced her steps. She found her journal in the trees where she'd been hiding when Edward returned. She leaned back against one of them, wrote a short entry and closed that journal for the last time.
Dawn was breaking by the time Bella made it back to her car. She drove down to the fork in the road and walked the distance to the house, letter and jewelry box in hand. She had planned to set them on the porch, hoping he'd see them, but uncharacteristically, his car was parked in front of the house.
Or maybe it wasn't uncharacteristic. She didn't know him anymore; perhaps she never had. A lump rose in her throat, but she swallowed it back. It was something He had taught her: how tears weakened her resistance. Besides, she had a four-hour drive ahead of her, followed by two classes and a department meeting. Bella would call Him after the meeting; she would kneel and confess. Then she only had to wait. The relief of punishment would come.
She approached the car quietly, hoping it wasn't locked. She pictured triggering the car alarm and having to make a run for it. For no good reason, the thought made her laugh, hard but silent, until she felt weak in the limbs. Then she pictured Edward, hair in wild disarray as it always was after sleep, staggering onto the porch, a wedding ring glinting in the moonlight.
That sobered her up.
She opened the door without triggering any horns or flashing lights, and Edward's scent wafted from the car. Bella closed her eyes and breathed it in. For just a moment, she could feel his arms around her waist, his breath at her ear.
She set the letter on the driver's seat and straightened to fish the box from her pocket. Lifting the lid one last time, she opened the locket and took out the piece of paper. It was hers. She wouldn't give it back.
But it gave her an idea. She tore a corner off the letter and took the pen from her hair. It spilled around her shoulders as she bent over the roof of Edward's car to write two small words. Then she folded the scrap of paper and closed it in the locket. She shut the box, kissed its velvet lid, placed it on the letter, then quietly clicked the door shut and walked away.
Her car's engine purred to life as she sighed deeply. She had done it, severed the last tie. And left her heart the only place she could.
In less than six hours, she'd once again be standing before a class full of students with varying levels of enthusiasm for the works of Jane Austen. To anyone watching, she'd look like a woman absorbed in teaching and research for her next scholarly work, a woman who took pleasure in cooking well and keeping a comfortable home. But at 6 p.m. Friday, she would surrender herself to Jacob's ropes and blindfolds, to impossible positions and the promise of punishment. It was the only relief she'd ever found.
Bella made it to the end of the long driveway before she whispered the words she'd written. "The end." Then, with the tears finally streaming down her cheeks, she hit the gas the way Edward used to do and sped her way toward Seattle.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Reviews are a gift, and I'm a greedy girl. Please consider sharing your thoughts about the story. Constructive criticism is as welcome as praise.
This story was inspired by photo prompt #5 for the Beyond the Pale Contest. Thanks, ladies, for providing the prompt that inspired this story, and the deadline that made me write instead of just thinking about it.
Thanks to the judges, especially dihenydd, for awarding Release the Cherry Popper Award and the Best Use of Photo Prompt Award. Your vote of confidence means the world to me.
Readers, your kind reviews have reinforced my decision to continue this story. Chapter 2 is with my lovely beta, and will be posted soon.