It had been a long night. I couldn't stop thinking about all the things Bella told me - some of the more gruesome ones played over and over in my mind. At times, I wanted to find James and rip his throat out, but then I would think about Emmet's schizophrenic cousin, a guy we used to play with when we were little, and I would wonder what James's real story was. I've lived with a psychiatrist my entire life, so I know that untreated mental illness can lead to some awful things.
We were both exhausted this morning. It felt like every time I dozed off last night, a nurse would come in to check on Bella. But if I thought I felt sleepy, I could only imagine how Bella was feeling. Right now, she is asleep beside me in my truck as I drive her home. I insisted Bella wait for me in front of the hospital, and I was a little embarrassed pulling up in my old truck, but her big smile put me at ease.
"This really is a great truck," she said after I had helped her into the cab.
"Thanks." I don't know why, but the fact that she liked my truck made me feel ridiculous - like I'm living in a romantic country song.
"You look like you need a cowboy hat or something to drive this thing." Bella laughed. That country song feeling just got stronger.
Even though I knew she was exhausted and eager to get back to her girls, she was still smiling at me.
"You know, I don't really know anything about you. Maybe you actually area cowboy. Do you live in the country?" She was rambling again, which I now know means she was getting sleepy.
"Uh, no. I'm a city boy, I guess." I didn't want to tell her that I still lived with my parents. Until this moment, it never bothered me, but knowing how independent Bella is I can't imagine it would look good.
"You guess?" Bella said as she let out a big yawn.
"Well, I think I would prefer living in the country, to be honest. It's quieter. But I've always lived here. I don't have your worldly experience."
I looked over when I finished talking and saw Bella nodding slowly. Moments later, she was asleep.
I'm driving so I can't keep looking at her, but I like this.
I like her in my truck.
The moment we walk through the front door of Bella's house chaos erupts. I never knew three small girls could make so much noise. Maggie and Red attacked their mom and Bella is pulled to the ground. Red won't stop talking, and Maggie is sobbing hysterically. My mom is standing there holding Luna, and even she is making a noise that sounds like mum-mum-mum-mum-mum. Her chubby little arms are trying to reach Bella, while she simultaneously keeps hitting herself in the chin with her thumb while the rest of her fingers stick straight up. She's cute, but that kid is a little weird. Mom eventually drops Luna right into the middle of the hug pile.
The noise is something I'm not used to, and normally it would bother me, but it doesn't. There is so much love in this room right now, and even Mom is all misty-eyed and smiling.
Fucking country songs.
Eventually, the girls let Bella stand. Red dragged Luna (almost literally) into the living room to play a game, and Maggie is glued to Bella's side. Mom is in the kitchen making tea.
"Hi, Mrs. Cullen. I can't thank you enough for looking after my girls."
"Oh now," Mom waves away Bella's thanks while also trying to dry her eyes. "I'm happy to help, and your girls are precious."
Mom grabs Bella for a hug. "And you call me Esme. We're going to be seeing a lot of each other."
Bella looks a little shocked at that, but Mom gives her the eye and Bella nods before looking over at me. I guess I should have warned her.
"Now," Mom starts up again, taking charge. "There is dinner in the oven. The girls and I walked to the store and got some groceries this morning."
"Oh." Bella looks embarrassed. "I should pay you back for all of this."
"No, you really shouldn't." Mom shakes her head. "That big stroller was a real workout, let me tell you. It is no wonder you are exhausted if you are pushing that thing all over the city.
"Now, have a cup of tea and try to rest a bit. Edward and I are going to leave you and the girls alone for a couple hours."
Bella starts to say something, but Mom cuts her off.
"But only for a couple hours so you can spend some time with your girls. Then we are coming back because there's a lot we need to discuss, understand sweet girl?" She is holding Bella again, this time at arm's length while looking in her eyes. "You're not alone anymore."
"Edward, I'll need a ride home. Your father came by and took the car." I shake my head. Dad's a bit of an hippy and refuses to own more than one car.
With hugs and kisses for "Nana Esme," my mom swoops out of the house laden down with all her bags.
"Do you feel okay?" I ask Bella, nervous to leave her.
"Yeah. I think so. I mean, what is the likelihood of me passing out again?" She tries to make light of it, but I can see she is nervous too.
"I know my mom can be overwhelming, but she can help. We both can. You'll need to tell her your story."
"I know." Bella whispers, all of a sudden acting like something fascinating is happening on the floor.
"Hey, look at me." She looks up, and I hope the smile I am giving her is a reassuring one. "My mom is the last person to judge you. Nana Esme, remember? She is already in love with all your girls."
"I'm, just," she trails off.
"You're just used to being alone. I know."
"Thanks, Rusty. For everything."
"You call me if you need us to come back earlier. Mom thought you would want some time to be with your girls, but if you need us we'll come running."
I want to hug her, but I don't know how she would take that. Maggie has stood right beside her mom all this time, eyes bouncing between us as we talked.
"Bye, Maggie. I'll see you later, okay?"
All I get is a little wave. Once I am out the door and heading down the steps, I hear my name being called quietly.
Maggie is standing on the stoop holding a piece of paper. I walk back and stoop down to her level. She flinches a bit so I back up.
"I made this for you."
Holding the paper, I can see four figures. Round heads, long stick arms, longer stick legs, smiling faces, crazy hair. The figures are standing in descending order. Three have dark hair, and one has a mess of red scribbles. I'm never going to be able to look at this drawing without smiling.
"Thank you, Maggie. This means a lot to me."
"Yeah?" She is looking me in the eye, checking for sincerity.
"Definitely. I'll be back soon." I catch myself before saying something like, look after your mom. I suspect she has been doing that for a long time and doesn't need any more pressure.
Maybe I should have said, try to be a kid for a while.
Mom and I drive home in almost total silence. When we get near to home she says, "she told you her story?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure she will tell you later. She needs you, Mom."
"Oh, my boy. That girl needs us both."
After a couple more moments of silence Mom says, "Alice would have loved her."
She's right. I've thought about that many times over the last twenty-four hours.
When I pull the truck into the garage, Mom turns to me.
"You going to your workshop?"
"How did you know?"
"You have that look in your eye. The look you get when you have something that needs to get out."
She isn't wrong.
She rarely is.
I need a shower first, after spending the night in a hospital chair. After that, I'm tempted to have a nap, but I don't. I walk next door and let myself into our neighbour's garage.
I've always been jumpy. First, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Then ADHD. I was always getting into trouble in school, but I was popular and into sports, which the teachers seemed to like, so it was only minor trouble. After the accident, I was angry. So angry. Mom said it was a result of the brain injury. I was fourteen, and while I didn't like school much, I had at least learned to deal with my shortcomings over the years. Having a brain injury changed everything. Where I was jumpy before, after I wanted to crawl right out of my skin. I turned wild. When I think about those days, I was almost feral, and I am ashamed of what I put my parents through so soon after they had lost their daughter.
Mom eventually pulled me out of school and started homeschooling me. Without that change, and if I hadn't seen a therapist, they probably would have lost me too.
However, I need to give Mr. Banner just as much credit for saving my life. I used to hang out with him when I was little. He had a wood shop in his garage, and I was always fascinated by the things he used to make. It was there we learned that if I could keep my hands busy I could focus better. Except, the school wouldn't look fondly on my whittling away in class. That's when my sister, Alice, had the idea that I should learn to knit. Alice was brilliant, just like my parents. She was seven years older than me and always came up with ideas that would help me focus better in school. She decided that she would learn to knit so she could teach me. I think it was the only thing I was ever better at than her.
When Mom started homeschooling me, she made an agreement with our neighbour. I spent the morning at school with her and the afternoon learning all about woodworking and cabinetry from Mr. Banner.
Mr. Banner is riddled with arthritis now, and his eyes aren't what they used to be. His little workshop is mine, and I can come and go whenever I want. I try to spend a couple hours every day here, but lately, with work, I haven't been in as much as I'd have liked. I only have a bit of time before I get to see Bella again but that's enough to get started.
Breathing in the heady scent of wood and sawdust I hang up Maggie's picture and start sketching out what I want to make for her. Maggie is a special girl so she deserves something extra special.
Last night I spent a long time thinking about how we could help Bella. Since, once upon a time, I used to be charming and persuasive; I'm going to insist she takes it even if she doesn't want our help. Maybe. I don't know. I feel like that is kind of taking away her choice but she isn't afraid of me so that has to count for something.
I don't always believe everything happens for a reason – I mean, what was the point of the accident that took away my big sister? But maybe, sometimes things do. I truly believe we are meant to help this family. Bella said she hadn't been able to get much sleep because of Maggie's nightmares. She had been trying to save up for a therapist. Well, that can't be a coincidence.
Life threw my mom and me in their path for a reason. I doubt Bella would want to date someone like me, but I can be a worthy friend to all of them. At least, I think I can. It's been a while since I've thought about anyone else but myself, but this seems like a good time to try.
A/N: A big thanks and an extra big hug to my Beta SunflowerFran who lost her mom this weekend. She still took the time to edit this chapter and make my words sound better. I admit it, I fiddled afterward so all mistakes are mine.
Thank you all for reading and your wonderful comments. I'm hoping I can have another chapter out by the end of the week to make up for the last couple weeks of illness. Fingers crossed.
More answers in this chapter. How are you all doing?