Chapter 10: A Many Splendored Thing
"Bella. Pull over. Let me have a go." Through his brutal hangover, Edward is attempting to soothe me with his gentle tone.
"Have a go?" I ask, eyes fixed on the highway curving out before me. I briefly consider stopping for more coffee but just push down on the accelerator faster. It's already been so long since I got the phone call, hours spent attempting to sober up.
Hours filled with Edward saying over and over that we had to wait; that the last thing anyone needs is both Swans hospitalized due to drinking and driving.
So, now that I'm behind the wheel – queasy, shaken, so hung over – I am unwilling to stop even for more coffee.
"Let me have a go at driving," Edward says.
"No. You are still drunk."
"I'm not. Your hands are shaking, Bella."
"That's because my fucking father got drunk, found himself in need of a ride to the liquor store for more booze and without a working vehicle, walked to the police station, stole his old patrol car, and then proceeded to wreck it!"
I'm getting hysterical. I know it and the car swerves slightly.
"It makes no fucking sense. I mean, the liquor store is like two blocks from the station. If he was going to walk all that way, he should have just continued on to the store. I bet it wasn't even fucking open that late at night. I could kill him."
And I could.
It's the reason for my shaking hands. There is too much guilt swirling in me as well, the little voice in my head whispering that this never would have happened if I hadn't needed a lie-free weekend, but I am done blaming myself for my father's alcoholism so I focus on the rage instead.
"At least he's going to be okay," Edward murmurs, having no idea what to say.
Probably because there is nothing to say.
"Cracked ribs. Punctured lung. Broken arm. Multiple felonies. Yeah, he's going to be fucking okay. We're all going to be fucking great."
Wisely, Edward stays silent as I attempt to stop shaking. He rests his hand on my knee and the warm, undemanding contact helps as much as anything could help in such a fucked situation.
I leave Edward in Port Angeles and let him hug me before insisting he get out. He looks so defeated and miserable in my rearview so I drive fast, making him disappear.
If I could I would take him with me to the hospital. I'd squeeze his hand as doctors tell me of Charlie's condition and some officer I've known my whole life tells me what comes next.
This is a police department. They can't just make it all go away because Charlie is one of their own.
Or was, anyway.
There will be more hospital bills. And legal bills, too. This ostentatious sports car that is quickly transporting me to the hospital is going to have to go.
Good fucking riddance.
Charlie is asleep in his narrow hospital bed.
It's a blessing, really, because simply looking at him has me shaking with fury. If he opened his mouth to either defend himself or even apologize, I might really lose it.
"Hey." Jake slips into the room, whispering and reaching out for me. I go willingly into his arms, letting the familiarity comfort me, only it's a bit too comfortable and the tears I've been fighting since two am finally arrive, soaking the front of my ex-boyfriend's t-shirt.
I let Jake pull me from Charlie's room, into some dark corner where I can fall apart in private. He strokes my hair and keeps quiet and lets me weep against his chest.
"Crowley's in the cafeteria with my dad," he says when my sobs turn to hiccups.
"Oh. Okay." I take a step back and wipe at my cheeks.
"You look horrible."
"Like hangover horrible." He frowns and tilts his head to the side like a giant dog as he studies me. "What were you even doing in Seattle?"
"Saw a friend."
"No one you know."
"I have friends in Seattle that you don't know, Jacob!"
I huff and run my hands through my hair in a futile effort to look somewhat decent in preparation for meeting Chief Crowley. Not only is he Charlie's replacement, but also he's my student's father.
Three separate teeth-brushings and I can't get the taste of tequila out of my mouth.
"How do I smell?" I ask Jake.
"Fuck!" I mutter, running my hands through my hair and fisting my roots between my fingers. "Fuck. Fuck!"
"Okay, calm down. Here" He holds out a tin of mints.
I take four.
"And drink this." He hands over a water bottle.
I guzzle the whole thing in a series of long, steady gulps.
"Okay," I say, pushing the now empty Nalgene into his chest. "I'm ready."
It all happens very quickly.
Chief Crowley lays out the charges they absolutely have to file against Charlie. I grimace through it, imagining what a pain in the ass my father will be without his license and hoping that if he has to go to jail he'll at least get sober.
But it turns out my worry is for not. Crowley's already talked to a judge who worked with my dad for most of his career. Charlie is going to get a choice.
Jail or rehab.
Apparently, my father's alcoholism really wasn't much of a secret.
"What do you think he'll decide?" asks the chief.
"I honestly don't know," I admit, so exhausted. "He is very defensive about this stuff, but he's got to recognize this is rock bottom. If he says no to rehab I'm moving out. I'll move into my own place or to Seattle or to freaking England. If he says no, I'm gone."
It's probably an over share given my current company, but at least Chief Crowley knows I'm serious. I'm too tired to mind my tongue.
The new chief excuses himself to make some phone calls, leaving me alone with Billy and Jacob.
"How the fuck am I going to pay for this?" I whisper, slumping back in my uncomfortable plastic chair and rubbing my hands over my eyes.
"Don't worry about it, kid," says Billy, patting my knee.
I splay my fingers and peek through them. "What?"
"I'll help. Don't worry about it."
"What!" I shriek sitting up straight and letting my hands fall to my lap. "No. I can't take your money, Billy. If that's what you mean."
"You can. You are basically my third daughter and Charlie is basically my brother. You can take the money and you will."
I shake my head some more, too stunned for words.
"Come on, Bella. Why are you making your life harder?" asks Jake.
"Do you have any idea what a place like this costs?" I ask, thinking back to all the research I did before Charlie seemed to have no problem giving up the booze. "And he's probably going to be there for months."
"We do alright," Billy says, shrugging. "Plus, I have all this money set aside to put Rachel through college but then she ran off with that surfer."
"Give it to Rachel then! She's pregnant," I squeak.
Jake snorts. "Yeah and the surfer has a million dollar advertising deal with Billabong. Take the money, Bella."
I don't have a lot of options and my brain isn't really functioning enough to come up with some alternative.
"I'll pay you back," I say. "I will. Someday."
Billy shrugs again. "If you insist, but I'd rather you not."
I don't wait at the hospital for Charlie to wake up.
His wrist is handcuffed to his bed and I just accepted thousands of dollars from Billy. I burn with equal parts fury and shame and guilt.
Charlie's managed to survive two separate hospital stays without me but this time it is my choice to leave him alone and vulnerable rather than his decree keeping me away.
Since returning from the other side of the equator, I've let him paint me as the ungrateful child who took all her father's money for college and then fucked off to another country, essentially abandoning him. In seeking redemption I let him get away with far too much but it ends now.
I will no longer be made to feel guilty for living my life.
The house is dark and silent when I kill the engine of Charlie's ridiculous sports car that has to go. Clouds blot out the sun and match my dreary mood, making it impossible to determine the time of day. Getting the front door unlocked and open is a huge feat and I can't even find the energy to drag my overnight bag up the stairs. It gets left in the entryway, along with my shoes and raincoat.
I don't bother flicking on the lights to my room and I strip out of my jeans as I approach my bed. There is something lumpy under my covers and when I see that mop off bronze hair on my pillow I nearly break with relief.
I crawl into bed beside him, spooning myself around his back.
"Bella?" It's a sleepy, confused mumble that has me grinning.
"Go back to sleep," I reply, pressing my cheek to the soft skin between his shoulder blades. "It's okay. Go back to sleep."
I'm out before I can even confirm that Edward's followed my instructions.
It is inarguably night when I wake up, still wrapped around Edward. For one terrifying moment I am convinced Charlie will barge in at any moment and we'll be caught before an image of my father handcuffed to his hospital bed comes back to me.
I hold Edward closer. I can tell by his answering sigh that he's awake.
"Where do the Stanley's think you are?" I murmur.
"Seattle. Never called them in Port Angeles. Just hitchhiked."
I roll my eyes and revel in his warmth. "God, Edward."
"How's Charlie?" he asks.
"Haven't talked to him. He slept the whole time I was there." I wait for Edward to ask why I didn't stay.
Instead he rolls over to face me, careful not to touch me. I want to tell him that he doesn't have to be careful, that I made this decision yesterday and have not changed my mind, but my mouth has gone dry.
"I'm so sorry," he says again. "What's to happen next?"
Somehow I find my words. "Jail or rehab, basically."
"Do you think he'll go to rehab?"
"If he doesn't, I'm done. He's on his own."
He turns to face me and I smile, wondering if he is aware of my continued adoration. I should tell him. I can't simply expect him to know, not after the distance – necessary as it might be – I've kept between us.
"Do you want me to go?" he whispers, staring at me intently.
Instead of telling him, I kiss him for the first time on this side of the equator. I feel his surprise against my lips and he startles for a moment before groaning and kissing me back.
With his hands in my hair and his taste on my tongue, I feel like myself again, the one I became living abroad, the one I liked.
It's a dream, kissing Edward again, feeling his weight on my chest as he rolls me beneath him. It's a dream after convincing myself that this could never, ever happen for so many months. We live in this dreamy, dark bubble with the rain pattering on the window and no reason to rush.
Edward seems content to simply go on kissing indefinitely, even as we go from tender and languid too increasingly desperate. I'm the one who tugs off his t-shirt and sucks gently at that favorite spot on his neck.
The touch changes something in him and he frantically strips me of my clothes with so much fervor it has me giggling.
"What?" he asks, incredulous. "Now that I'm sure that this is really happening, I would really like it to happen. Immediately. Preferably."
He ducks his head and looks embarrassed so I take his face in my hands, kissing his cheeks.
"I love you," I tell him.
He grins so wide that forming words is not an option, so I kiss him again and get rid of the last vestiges of his clothing.
When I get him on his back, get him inside me, Edward somehow manages to regain speech.
"I love you, Bella," he says. "I truly love you."
It is difficult to get a good look at Lord Cullen on the dark beach, but when he steps onto the sand it is clear that he is perfectly put together, dapper in a suit despite the heat, every strand of blond hair in place despite the ride in on a motor boat. He surveys the crowd gaping at him with bored distaste and I immediately find him absolutely terrifying.
His presence is commanding and he has yet to open his mouth.
"Edward," he says, nodding to his son.
Obediently, Edward leaves my side, stepping forward to shake his father's hand. It's cold, maybe even cruel after not seeing each other for months and months.
"Happy birthday," says Carlisle Cullen.
"Thank you, sir."
"Eighteen. Where do the years go?"
Esme mutters something under her breath in Spanish.
"Big brother," says Kate, actually sounding rather pleased to see the man. I can't imagine that being true. She throws her arms around his neck and he pats her back, cracking an indulgent smile. "What are you doing here?" she demands, smacking his shoulder. "It's rude to show up unannounced."
"I could not miss my son's eighteenth birthday."
"You've missed plenty," says Esme, arms crossed over her chest. Her scowl is deadly.
Rose and Emmett look painfully uncomfortable. I'm not the only one, then.
"Well, perhaps I would be present for more family gatherings if you would come back to London."
"I am not moving to London! When we left you promised it would be the last time!"
"Situations change Esmeralda," he says. "This promotion was not something I could turn down."
"You could. You just chose not to."
Before my eyes Edward is caving in on himself, shoulders hunching. He is back at my side, and I lay a hand on his back, unable to resist providing any little bit of comfort I can.
Lord Cullen certainly notices.
"Can we not do this again," says Kate, sounding weary. "We have company."
Carlisle appraises those of us who do not know him, his eyes lingering a bit longer on me. Somehow I manage to meet his eye and keep my expression blank.
He looks singularly unimpressed and turns away, dismissive.
"This is enough for one night," says Esme. She claps her hands twice and scowls at Carlisle. "Everyone. Bedtime."
"It's complicated," Edward says before Rose can ask. She takes a seat on the other side of the table, Emmett joining us as well. We are all armed with coffee – maté for Edward – and fruit for breakfast.
The morning isn't too hot yet but we still have an umbrella up to protect us from the worst of the sun.
Somewhere in the house is Carlisle Cullen and Rosalie is about to demand the answers I didn't have the courage to ask, even when Edward crawled into my bed last night simply to hold me.
"Well that's obvious," says Rose.
Edward grimaces and under the table I hold his hand.
"They've been at it for years," Edward says, sighing. "I am so sorry you were forced to witness it. Although I must say that was relatively tame."
"Is that what they fight about? Where to live?" I ask, sounding timid.
"Mostly," Edward says, shrugging. "They are separated now. They've separated before and typically reconcile. Part of me wishes they would simply end it, put us all out of our misery."
Nobody knows what to say. I should say something as he is my…. well, certainly my something, but I don't have the words. When I lean over to kiss his cheek, he closes his eyes and sighs. It seems like the right thing.
"Hopefully you lot can avoid him as much as possible," says Edward. "He's a right snob and a git to boot."
"Who is a snob?"
At the sound of his father's voice Edward drops my hand and slowly gets to his feet.
"Father, sir, may I introduce my friends? Didn't get a chance to last night."
Carlisle nods but doesn't look overly interested. He's abandoned his formalwear for an all white getup that hurts the eyes to behold.
"This is my girlfriend, Bella Swan," Edward says as I get to my feet.
Girlfriend is a new term not yet uttered by either of us, but it makes me flush slightly. Girlfriend will work, I suppose.
I extend a hand and a hopefully not terrified smile. "Pleasure to meet you, sir."
"Girlfriend?" he says, briefly shaking my hand before raising an eyebrow at Edward. "American?"
"Yes," I say although he is obviously not addressing me. "Washington State. I know you have a niece in Seattle."
Carlisle does not acknowledge me at all. I share a glance with Edward and he grimaces.
"Right." Edward runs his hands through his hair. "This is Rose and Emmett. They all live in Chile. Viña Del Mar."
Rose and Emmett nod. Carlisle glances at them before turning his attention back to his son.
"Edward, I will speak to you. In private." He turns on his heel and walks back inside, leaving no room for argument.
"Well, that's my father. So very loveable, is he not?" says Edward, making Emmett snort into his coffee.
"Are you going to go talk to him?" asks Rose.
"Yes," Edward says, falling back into his seat. "But fuck him. I'm finishing my breakfast."
It becomes obvious very quickly that Edward and his father's little talk is actually a huge fight. Their voices ring out, angry and loud, and reach our ears even as we remain on the deck.
"Well this is awkward," murmurs Rosalie.
Inside Carlisle is demanding that Edward return to England to complete his schooling. Esme answers in rapid fire Spanish. Carlisle switches to Spanish too, but Edward's voice is absent.
"So awkward," I agree.
"I totally see why Edward doesn't talk much about his dad. That guy is scary," says Emmett.
"I wonder how long he's going to stay?" I say. "I mean, if it's awhile we should probably leave. And give them their time to sort through—" Something in the house crashes. We all wince. "Give them time to sort this out."
Carlisle is back to English, accusing Esme of doing a horrible job of raising their son in his absence. As evidence of Esme's failure, Lord Cullen presents me. She's allowed their son to take up with an older, working class, American.
The ultimate failure indeed.
I find him later at the edge of the dock as the sun goes down. My bags are packed, as it is obvious that Carlisle and Esme need some time alone to discuss... whatever the hell the problem is.
I anticipate a fight from Edward, but maybe he's been trying to ask me to leave since he's dad showed up yesterday.
Although it's pretty obvious that with his father around - or even mentioned - Edward becomes his own opposite. Where he is typically bright and happy and wickedly funny, under the gaze of Lord Cullen Edward dims into a serious, polite young man who calls his father sir and never laughs.
I don't say anything as I sit next to him, letting my feet dangle down towards the water. Immediately, his arm wraps around my waist and he pulls me a bit closer, letting his head, rest against mine.
"I'm really sorry, Bella," he murmurs. "I know your vacation is ruined."
"It's not. I'm with you. How could anything be ruined when I'm with you?"
I glance up at Edward, pleased that I've made him blush. It's such a rare thing, this blush, and I love it.
"I think it might have been better if he was mean to you," Edward murmurs, fingers digging into my hip "That's awful. Never mind."
"I get it." And I do. "It was like he judged me in ten seconds, found me woefully lacking, and then progressed to ignore my existence because I am so far beneath his notice, unless he was using me to insult your mother or get you to go away to London."
"Well put. Believe me, his own son is well beneath his notice, unless I'm doing something he does not approve of," Edward says, sighing heavily.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I could kill him, making you feel this way."
"Edward," I say, tugging on his chin until he's looking at me. "As far as I'm concerned, that's his bullshit. I'm not ashamed of my working class background or any of the perfectly typical things about me that he finds so repulsive. Your father is a dinosaur, Edward, and he didn't make me feel bad about myself. Although, I do feel bad for you. He must be such a disappointment."
Edward laughs. "That's usually his line. 'Edward, you share the name of my great, great grandfather. Do try not to be such a disappointment.'"
I call Carlisle Cullen some very rude words in my head, choosing to kiss Edward until he is bright and smiling against my lips.
"I think we're going to go," I say. "Cut the trip a little short. Your parent's obviously need some private time."
"They love each other," Edward says, shrugging. "Or so they claim. I don't know why she doesn't ditch him for good but this is how they are, maybe even how they like it. Fighting, making up, fighting again."
"That's awful. And really unfair for you," I murmur, rubbing his back.
"Never wanted to burden you with this family bollocks." Edward kisses my temple and I cuddle a bit closer.
"This is how it is supposed to work, my silly man," I say, rolling my eyes. "You were there for me when Charlie got sick." And when Charlie failed to visit but that is something I do not enjoy thinking about.
"I'm coming with you," he decides, abruptly standing and pulling me to my feet beside him. "I absolutely will not subject myself to their reunion. We can take the plane back to BA, maybe do a couple days there? Emmett's never been and then we can all take a bus back to Chile."
"Really?" I ask, stunned and thrilled. This shouldn't be a surprise either, but the prospect of cutting my last week with Edward short had me depressed all day.
"If you think you can tolerate my company a bit longer," he says, doing nothing to hide his grin.
Squeaking like some sort of frazzled bird, I throw my arms around Edward's neck and hug him with everything I've got.
"Whoa," he says, taking a big step back to steady himself and keep us both from tipping right over the edge of the dock into the water. "You cannot truly be surprised? Is it not clear that I'd follow you all over the world like a pathetically devoted puppy?"
I laugh as he lifts me off my feet. "I'm the puppy," I say.
"Agree to disagree."
"I don't even know what I'm eating," Emmett says though a mouthful of what is in fact intestines. "But I love it." He groans at his approval of this restaurant – which is essentially a buffet of meat – and his eyes flutter shut in pleasure.
Rose and I give him identical looks of disgust.
"Most of it is decent," Edward agrees, refilling my wine glass and then his own.
"Decent?" shrieks Emmett. "Decent? You're just spoiled. To us unlucky chumps who did not grow up on a cattle ranch with a brilliant chef for a mother, this place is the bomb."
"The bomb?" asks Edward, apparently confused. It is not often Edward hears a phrase – be it an idiom or slang – with which he is unfamiliar. He looks to me for clarification.
"Outdated American phrase meaning really great," I reply, doing my best impression of a dictionary.
"Ah. Yes," Edward says, lifting his glass for a toast. We all fallow his lead although it takes Emmett longer than it should to wipe the grease from his huge hands. "To Buenos Aries. The bomb city!"
"Huzzah!" says Rose. She's had more wine than meat. I, myself, am thankful for the size of the salad bar.
One can eat only so many intestines.
Siga La Vaca is a pricey affair, but it is an Argentine meat buffet so I suppose it's worth it. They've cooked every part of the cow and most parts of the pig. Emmett is determined to try everything while I stick to what I know, supplementing steak with salad and the bottle of wine that is included in the price of every adult meal.
"How much time do I have before we need to leave for the bus depot?" Emmett asks, a scary gleam in his eye.
Rose actually leans away from him as if meat fanaticism is contagious.
"Damn!" And he runs off to the buffet.
"I think I have to break up with him," says Rosalie. She is so serious Edward looks genuinely concerned but I know better. "He loves cow more than me. How will it ever work?"
We've been in Buenos Aries for three days, staying at Edward's family's penthouse apartment. Although it isn't quite as opulent as a private island off the coast of Brazil, the apartment is far fancier than anything I'm used to so it still felt like a vacation. I'm also glad that Emmett and Rose are so flexible, and after nearly three weeks together, my friends are Edward's friends.
"Siga la Vaca," Rosalie says, leaning back in her chair and swirling her wine. "Siga la Vaca. That's a name for a restaurant, right there. Bella, do you know what it translates to?"
Edward groans, ever irritated to my lacking language skills.
"Really?" says Rose, arching a perfect blond brow. "Not one word?"
I think hard. "Vaca means cow?"
"Excellent, Bella!" He's so delighted I get my cheek kissed. Rosalie rolls her eyes.
"So Something the Cow?" I say. "Not eat. That's comer. So maybe, Devour the Cow?"
"That's catchy," says Edward. "It should be Devour the Cow."
"Follow the Cow," says Rose.
"Follow the cow where? To the slaughterhouse?" I ask.
"Hey!" says Emmett, plopping down in his seat with an absurd mountain of meat on his plate. I doubt he even knows where the salad bar is. "Don't be talking about slaughterhouses. I won't let you ruin this with your hippy bullshit, Bella Swan."
"Emmett," I reply. "This place is called Devour the Cow. You are doing a really good job following that suggestion."
Moonlight over the Andes is a rather wondrous sight and it makes the bus ride back to Chile seem magical. I look at the view and doze against Edward. Beneath my ear his heart beats steady.
It is something of a miracle that I've managed to find him at all.
"Bella?" he murmurs, stroking my hair. Before he spoke, I was pretty convinced that he was asleep.
"I love you."
And I thought those words would scare me, given all that is working against us – age, distance, his father – but they don't. Instead it feels like he's just confirming something I already knew.
"I love you, too."
So this is the last one for a while. I'm off to Spain and Morocco for two and a half weeks and have absolutely nothing for the next chapter written. But I just could leave you with that terrible double cliffie for any longer!
You guys are the best ones. Along with my star beta, Donna!