AN: Thank you all for reading.
Alice's White Rabbit is a wonderful Beta and friend.
Carlisle Cullen was not only a boss. He was also a bossy individual.
I could see why Edward had serious issues with his father. I honestly didn't think Mr. Cullen meant any harm, but he was used to being in charge of everything around him. He might look benign in his Grateful Dead tee-shirt and cargo shorts, but he was pushing everyone's buttons. According to Mr. Cullen, boxes of my things needed to be packed in a certain way. I think Tanya was two seconds away from throttling him.
He was the sun and the rest of us were the planets he felt should revolve around him.
"Are you hiding from my dad too?" Edward came and sat next to me on a log next to my pond.
I nodded and continued to stare at the water. The sun glistened on the gentle waves a slight breeze was creating. I thought about the past that was experienced here and the future that would never come.
"It's really a beautiful piece of land," he continued, ignoring my standoffish demeanor. "The city can be beautiful too."
"Uh huh." Short and simple. Perhaps he would move on.
He patted my hand. "It will be okay. I'll be there to help."
"This was my place with Ben," I admitted.
A blue heron swooped in to search for a frog for his lunch. There was a regal look to the bird that made me think of the possibility of healing.
"Oh." He stared at me. I felt the heat of his gaze on my cheek. "I can see why you both liked it. It's very peaceful."
"It is." A tear dripped from my eye. It just slipped out. Unwanted and embarrassing.
Edward took my hand. I let him. "He's here you know."
"Who?" The heron flapped his wings and took off into the air.
"Your husband." He stared where the bird traveled. "I bet he wants you to be happy."
My hand tightened on his. I had spent so much time just trying to heal myself and pushing others away. "I know. I feel Ben when I look out into the meadows and the fields, then I remember he's just decomposing into the cosmos."
I felt a teardrop and I wiped it away with the back of my hand. A bullfrog began croaking out his song.
There was a squeeze. His fingers linked with mine. Edward said solemnly, "I disagree. I can feel it. There has to be something more. It could be God or some sort of kismet that makes this world go round. This beauty around us, this beauty you possess, must have been created specifically for me to admire. I truly believe this."
I felt his eyes on me as I stared out into the nature that surrounded my home. He was calling me beautiful. The words I wanted to use to disagree froze in my throat.
Edward wrapped an arm around my shoulder and gave me a hug. "Let's get your things. It's time to find where you belong."
Esme Cullen was sitting in my vegetable garden, her fingers were stroking the soil. She seemed happy in the dirt, like this was the only place she wanted to be.
Her hair was pulled up into a haphazard ponytail that had wisps flying out of the confines of the elastic that was used to tie it back. Her Bates College sweatshirt had stains and the jeans she wore were ripped. Esme did not look like the wife of the owner of an organic foods conglomerate. Instead, with the sun hitting her hair making blonde highlights glow and surrounded by green plants, the woman reminded me of Greek goddess Demeter. She seemed lovely and wise at that moment. I was intimidated.
I approached her cautiously with my head facing the ground. There were weeds everywhere. I used to love working in the garden and getting the dirt stuck in my nails while the butterflies flew around my head. It was now a mass of clovers, random patches of grass, and the occasional clump of pretty, delicate purple flowers. They were an invasive species of weeds, but lovely all the same. I hated pulling them.
"It's a bit of a mess out here," I admitted, the toe of my shoe kicking clover out of the ground.
She gave me a huge smile and patted the ground next to her. "Sit with me. Your life is a bit messy right now. The plants know."
The rumors were true. Esme Cullen was a bit wacky. I didn't really know her before. She would wander the office occasionally wearing floral dresses that cost more than my stove and pearls that gleamed around her neck. Her face was often pinched as if she was sucking a lemon. The woman next to me was open and engaging. A complete contradiction to what I thought I knew. It seemed entirely possible her sullen expression was due to the role she was forced to play. This Esme, here and now, was real. This plot of land was her peace.
"I'm sorry about my son. I spoiled him too much. It was my way of dealing with this life that was forced upon him," she continued. Taking one of those purple flowers, Esme tucked it behind my ear.
"Emmett. Edward told me what my eldest was up to these days. Edward has always been my sensitive dreamer. Emmett is too ambitious and callous for his own good. We should have stayed on the farm." She sighed and softly touched the leaves of a nearby plant. "The problem with acquiring too much money too fast is you can lose a piece of yourself. Emmett lost the joy he had when he was little. His chubby little legs would run through the fields at dusk and he would try to catch fireflies. Edward would cry after him, and Emmett would be sure to catch him one. Those two used to be so close—"
Her words went to a melancholy whisper.
"I'm sorry." I didn't know why this made me so sad.
"Bella, if Emmett gives you any more trouble, come to me. I'll get my Mama Bear face on and take care of it." She squeezed my hand. "He needs to learn compassion."
I shrugged. "You don't have to."
"You make Edward smile. You make me smile. You deserve some peace and happiness, my dear," Esme explained. There were passively aggressive noises coming from near the porch. Carlisle was waving wind chimes at Tanya. She was sneering at him. "Oh, lord, Carl is being bossy again. I love that man, but he can be a pain in the ass."
I looked at the soft-spoken woman in shock.
"What? I know my husband too well. To love him is to except his faults and then make him do what I want anyway. I'm getting pretty good at it, Bella." She winked at me. "Let's team up with your mother-in-law. I like her and it will drive Carl nuts."
She helped pull me up and we walked toward the loud voices. I had made a magical new friend. It was lovely.
There was a picture of Ben and I from our wedding reception which sat on the mantle. We had the reception at a nearby restaurant that was next to a beach. The sun was setting on the horizon as we sat in the sand with me wearing the white dress and Ben in his tux. Our smiles were bright and the future was ours.
"That is one of my favorites, sweetie," Tanya stated as she wrapped her arms around me. "What do you want from the living room? The couch?"
"Let's leave most of it to Ang and Eric. They need so much. Ben would want that." I thought about the way his eyes would crinkle when he smiled. Helping our friends would be what Ben would do. "The Cullens have everything else in that place. I just need my knick-knacks and photos."
Sometimes having two best friends that were boys was hard. That was where Angela fit in. While the two of them went through their Transformers phase, I had her to play with Barbies. When I had my first period, Angela was the one who commiserated with me. The moment I realized I craved Ben's lips on mine, my best girlfriend was who I confided in.
I was her maid of honor when she married the sweet, yet geeky, Eric. She was my matron of honor when my dreams of being wed to Ben became a reality.
The only people I wished to live in the house I adored, other than Ben and I, were our treasured friends.
"Those Cullens are odd ducks, sweetie. Don't let them take over your whole world." Tanya squeezed me. She looked at the old oak bookshelf that Ben ferreted away from his parents' house. He did it for me because he knew I collected novels like some people collected stamps. "You need your books."
"If Angela doesn't want them, I suggest donating them to the library." I looked over to my once beloved books that sat prominently on the shelves. They now mocked me. We used to sit in front of the blazing fire, Ben and I, debating the words authors wrote. He would examine the text philosophers wrote and tried to reconcile them with his belief in God. I would revel in the chills and thrills I would get from devouring the frightful tales of King and Barker.
Ben used to say I wasn't critical enough when it came to literature. My counter-argument was he was a snob who wouldn't allow himself the simple pleasures of reading for enjoyment. Neither one of us was perfect, but in our imperfection, there was a balance.
Edward had wandered in during our talk and stood in front of the bookcase. His eyes were taking in all the titles with a smile that lit up his whole face. Before Tanya could disagree with me about the books, he spoke up, "Sorry to interrupt, but you like Ibsen, Bella?"
He held up a dog-eared copy of Hedda Gabler that I owned. The tragedy of the flawed female lead of that play always made me melancholy but I used to love it anyway.
"I have his other plays too. There are a bunch of Tennessee Williams and August Wilson scripts over there. You can have them if you want. I won't be taking any books with me," I explained.
Edward's face looked concerned. "You should take them with you. Every home needs the smell of the written word. There is something about feeling the pages in your fingers. Those Kindles and iPads have nothing on actual books."
Those were my feelings exactly. Who was this attractive and confusing man?
Tanya beamed at him. "You, young man, are a keeper! Listen to him, Isabella. He's smart. Could you get us some boxes for these books?"
"Listen, I don't want—" I began to protest.
They ignored me. Edward nodded at Tanya with a wink and headed out to get more boxes. She turned to me and giddily announced, "He's handsome! Don't tell Garrett, but I do think you should ask him to dinner."
"Are you talking about a date? Tanya, what about Ben? Are you going batty?"
She must have been sipping some of the cooking sherry she hid on the top shelf of her kitchen cabinet.
"Sweetheart, I love my son always, and every morning I wake up wishing I could hug him tight. I also love you. You deserve to have love in your life again. I want little children running around my feet. Even though they won't be Ben's babies, I'll still love your children like they were my own grandchildren." She took my hands. "You like that boy. I can see the way your eyes light up when he's around. It's okay."
"Garrett still seems tentative around Edward," I pointed out.
From the view through the bay window, I observed Edward and Garrett bickering. It wasn't very heated, but the way they were holding their bodies was ridged. The possibility of a friendship between the two was still up in the air.
Tanya stared at the same scene I did. She flatly informed me, "He's in love with you."
"I barely know Edward Cullen."
"Bella, I'm talking about Garrett." Tanya watched as I sat down on the ottoman in shock. "The fights he used to have with Ben were over you. Those boys were both smitten, but their friendship was important. They let you pick, and Ben won."
"He's my friend," I stated, trying to get Tanya to take back what she said. "We've always been friends."
She sat behind me and rubbed my back. "I know, Bella. Garrett will always be that to you. A part of me wishes you could find him to be someone to love after Ben. You and Garrett have gotten me though so much. I know my wishes aren't reality. You need to find that person to love again, and I can't pick him."
"I love Ben," I whispered as Tanya took my hand.
"And he loved you," she answered and hugged me tight. "He would want you happy again, and I want it too."
We both started crying in each other's arms. It wasn't the first time and I was certain it wouldn't be the last.
"I'll miss you!" I wept into her shirt.
Tanya wailed. "I'll visit! You can take me to Broadway shows!"
"Ladies, this is supposed to be a happy time," Garrett pointed out as he walked in with Edward. "Why are you both crying like that?"
"These are happy tears!" Tanya gave him an annoyed look. "You take care of my girl!"
"Women." Garrett looked at Edward and rolled his eyes.
Edward started chuckling.
Through blurry eyes, I saw them joking. Maybe they would be friends after all.
It would be a blessing indeed.