A/N: Now I'm leaving. Going on a cruise to Bermuda. Wish me luck on that 'triangle'.

Posting this now since I have to pack later tonight and I won't have wifi on the trip (the tragedy). Sorry it's in the middle of the week, but then again, let's see how many go in bathrooms to read at work. I used to do that. hah.

To Team 'I hate these characters' and to Team 'Meh, I'll guess I'll continue reading', I love you... more than anyone. I get your wants and thoughts. I think I learned a lesson here, though: Listen to your heart and instincts, don't write to appease hardcoded fandom etiquettes and desires. Trying to guide this back to place again.

Thanks for reading and reviewing. Ending soon. I'll let you know.


Chapter 28 - Sisters

This isn't home. I don't know where the familiar feeling went. You're on a plane and watch Earth come to you under the wings, and you wheel toward familiarity. Your heart tells you everything will be just as it was. It should feel good. Calm. Piece of cake. But it doesn't. It isn't.

I wasn't ever the type to stray from Mom's wings. I envisioned staying by her side even if I did marry someday. I would've lived close and watched her as she got old. I would've kept her company since she doesn't have dad anymore.

But I have left, even if it was for just a month, and it was solely for love or lack thereof. I guess that's when you're brave. You'd sacrifice the knowing and comfort for a stranger, and all because it means something bigger than anything that's comforting and familiar. I gave it all up for… a man.

Now, home feels like failure. It didn't work out. All that effort for disappointment. I'll have to find that routine again. I'll stay by Mom's side for… the rest of my life. Fuck it. No more sacrifices. Maybe I'll buy a few cats, pick up knitting, eat bonbons in front of the TV and… die alone.

I sigh after smelling that old tinge of home in the air. Or dingy airport, probably. I'm being ridiculous. Who buys bonbons these days, anyway? It's all about the Cadbury chocolate. That's where it's at, right?

I see some in the Hudson News store by Arrivals. I get two of those, one for me and one for Mom. It's her favorite.

The moment I step into the hospital room, I remember what I'm supposed to be furious over, but there's no energy in me to fight or react.

All I see is Mom in a bed looking thinner than I left her, grays showing at her temples, the ones she'd never failed to hide under dye every few months. And then I see Rose and her baby bulge under a wide shirt. Her eyes are glassy and red. She leans on a few fingers that aren't rubbing the bump I see faintly making alien-like impressions under the light.

She straightens in her chair, eyes surprised when they see me. "Bella," she says, her voice tired but relieved.

I quietly find Mom's side. I hold her hand, drop my things by the bed, and reach with my other to cup her palm close. It's just as it always felt, the way it does when she'd pass a hand over my cheek.

I can't stop staring at her. My legs seem to lock. My eyes do the same.

The silence settles between us. So much so that Rose feels it, the tension, the awkwardness. Her shoulders visibly drop as she sits back. I sit by Mom and watch her breathing go in and out. Rose watches the sun setting outside the window.

"What happened?" I finally speak after a while.

"I tried calling you hundreds of times," she replies. "You've been ignoring her calls. Where the hell have you been?"

"You're really asking me that?" I say without looking back. She doesn't speak. But I do. "I have no energy, no tolerance or words I'd like to tell you right this second. All I did was ask a simple question."

"Her kidneys failed."

I nod.

God.

"Go home. I'll stay," I tell her. She looks ready to drop. I also want her to go away.

She's quiet for a moment. I can sense her watching, her hesitance. "You're not talking to me now?"

"I can't even look at you right now," I say right back.

Slowly and quietly, she moves. She grabs her purse, then her coat. She slips an arm in, then the other. The buttons clasp snugly over her bump. She looks very pretty, full, and glowing.

My sister.

Those arms that cared for me for years, guided and pushed things away that mattered to me, are now so hurtful, cunning. I don't know what to say. Then, I hear it—no mistake—that soft sniff she does when she's in silent tears.

She pauses at the door and looks back. I turn my head to look at Mom. Her eyes flicker, ready to wake.

I squeeze her hand. "Hey," I whisper. She blinks once, twice. She grins.

"My baby. So sorry," she says, her brows furrowing. And that's all it takes. I press my face to her neck and let the tears pour out endlessly.

The door is vacant when mom whispers, "Tell me everything." I tell her the terrible love story. Her eyes are far away, imagining everything.

"Mom. My God! Could you wait up for me?" I stand and grab her elbow.

Every time she has to relieve her bladder, the one task that's hugely important to her progression, she takes it upon herself to stand from the bed without assistance. Her ankles and feet are swollen, making it difficult. The dizziness is her enemy.

"Stubborn woman. I swear I'll put you in a home," I threaten.

Of course I would never. She's nowhere near the age to live in one. She's young and still gorgeous, capturing a few doctors' eyes. They visit often. She ignorantly oversees the gestures.

"I gave you life. I could end it," she snaps.

I roll my eyes but keep my mouth shut. It's her last straw. I can hear it in her voice. Yes, ma'am.

I wait by the door as she does her thing. After that, we settle back in place to continue that movie we found on my laptop from one of those illegal websites. She's into this now and watches bootleg versions all day. Her Cadbury is half-eaten and hidden in her night table.

I'm a bad influence.

Besides making the laptop run smoothly, my main duty is to steal mini cans of ginger ale and tapioca from the fridge down the hall.

It's been a week. I eat and sleep by her side. Some nights I spend at home, but then I rush here the next morning with breakfast. I know the hospital staff. I know the doctors and the records, including what tests will come next. Still, I haven't seen Rose.

Still, my heart is sore.

Mom talks to her on the phone every day. "She's on bed rest. Doctor's orders," Mom says. She goes on about her needing to rest and how, when the baby comes, she won't get enough sleep. Etcetera.

She talks about her to me like there are no issues. I get angry every time. This time, I can't take it any longer.

"Why do you keep doing that?"

"What?" She doesn't look up from the screen.

"Disregarding everything she's done, like it's completely acceptable."

"I never said it was acceptable," she says calmly. "I'm talking about my daughter, who is also your sister. I regard you both. End of story."

I roll my eyes. Of course a mother would catch that motion even if her focus is elsewhere.

"Bella…" she says in warning. I straighten my face and zip it. I've always been just a little bit afraid of her, even at this age.

We're quiet. We watch as Katherine Heigl learns to become a prairie housewife in Love Comes Softly. I'm struggling through the dramatic scenes. I sigh in frustration more than I find it tolerant. I waited for the previous movie to end. Oh, but no. There were more. A series, all titled similarly with "Love" enlaced in each. I roll my eyes again.

Then I can't help holding back that one tear that's been threatening to escape all morning. I woke up at dawn as it broke through the crease of the curtains. You can barely sleep in this place. Loud nurses walk about, waking up Mom to check vitals at all hours of the night.

How is anyone supposed to get better in here?

Frustrated, I walked to the cafeteria last night and sat for an hour, staring at the scones on the shelves, wondering where my life went wrong.

I'd give anything for him to steal my favorite bites right now. To be normal. In love. Honest. But he's not.

I cry silently watching Katherine struggling. Just like her, I feel angry, desperate, and anxious. I can't do a thing to clear my head.

This has been the pattern all week. This has been torture, though today is special. Today he leaves for his adventurous lifetime opportunity.

Goodbye, Edward. It was terrible knowing you.

Mothers do know everything. I feel her hand slip into mine, like she knows. She doesn't look up. She just lends a hand. It's enough. I take a deep breath so I can start this cycle over.

Her doctor walks in. He's looking down at his clipboard, standing by the door. And suddenly, I go from tears to giggles. I hold myself back from laughing loudly.

Mom straightens in her bed and checks her robe. She flicks her hair over her shoulder before he looks up.

A chunk of gray hair decorates one side of his jet-black locks that are combed back neatly. When he smiles, wrinkles form at the edges of his dark eyes, like they were strategically drawn to soften his sharp edges. Perfect teeth and strong hands (no ring on that left one). Even I got a bit frazzled when we first met him.

Mom wouldn't stop smiling. When I look at her, I realize she still can't.

I hop out of my recliner. "Do you need anything from downstairs?" I ask her. She shakes her head but doesn't look at me.

"But get something to eat. You look… terrible," she says, waving a hand. I push a laugh through my nose and leave her alone with him.

But before I do, I make an obscene gesture behind him. Her eyes go big from over his shoulder. She blushes as he listens to her back with his sexy stethoscope.

He reminds her to breathe calmly as her pressure has suddenly gone up.

She grinds her teeth.

I run away.

I do my regular nods and smiles for every nurse passing by and hop into the elevator. The lobby is busy at this time of day, but when it's family, you pluck that one familiar person amongst the crowd like a magnet.

I watch as Rose makes her way from the entrance to the right wing of the hospital.

She sees me from afar. Her steps seem to falter, but she moves on.

I step in front of her when she tries to go around me. She's not fast enough these days.

"Liar," I say.

She rolls her eyes. "I have an appointment."

I cross my arms over my chest and block her from getting away.

"Why did you lie to Mom?"

Embarrassed, she shuffles her feet. "To give you space, all right? I'm tired, anyway. I've been with her every day while you were away. My fucking feet are hams. I pee every ten minutes, sometimes on myself. And I have heartburn crawling up my esophagus like lava. I needed a break," she finishes.

She stands there, disheveled for once, belly protruding. She's sweating, and her breathing is a bit labored. Pregnancy really does ground her.

I watch her as she avoids eye contact. "You alone?" I ask.

She sighs. "Emmett is finding parking," she says, adjusting her heavy purse that already looks like a diaper bag.

Of course he is. I get jittery as I also haven't spoken to him. I try figuring out how to hide if he appears as I watch her adjust her purse three more times. I reach over and grab it.

She sighs in a different way. Then she begins to cry.

"You hurt me," I say. It's the first thing I utter. "You played with my life, manipulated my happiness." I stop when I can't speak anymore.

Her breath hitches. She wipes her eyes with her knuckles. Her ring glimmers in the light. That makes me angrier. It's the one object I'll never wear freely with pride and love. Not anymore.

"I just want to know at what point did you think what you did… to us… was acceptable?" My voice fades.

Two crying sisters stand in a hospital lobby. Mine are angry tears, while hers are devastated. But I'm the one who should be devastated. My life is in ruins.

"I'm sorry. I… I tried to fix it." She flails her arms. "I figured if you'd go, you'd both talk and figure it out."

"What did you try to fix?" I want her to say it, admit it.

She lets her arms fall at her sides, and her head dips. A new round of tears slips down her cheeks. Her breathing is off. She's a mess.

I push her toward a sofa before she faints. She sits without argument. I roll a table in front of her and sit, blocking any escape.

After a moment, she looks at me sharp and determined. "I was angry. He was hurting you. He was in trouble, and I didn't want you involved in any part of it. I didn't want you to be hurt like I was so many times before by him.

"You're my sister. I would've done anything to protect you from people I've known for years," she says. "It wasn't supposed to go that way with you two. I didn't want that for you. You deserve more than a selfish moron who makes bad choices."

"So you threaten him to stay away and keep information from me? That was your solution?"

She sighs. Her shoulders visibly drop. "I just wanted him to leave you alone."

I nod. "And it almost tore me apart. You saw me every day with my guts out, and you didn't say a thing."

"Because I hoped you'd forget him!" she snaps. She closes her eyes.

I can't speak. I watch her squirm with every tense passing moment.

"I don't even know you," I tell her. The words get caught in my throat.

She sucks in a staggered breath and cries. I make to leave, but she grabs my arm and pulls me down desperately.

"But then I realized… how wrong I was and how in love you are."

"When?" I give her a look. "After you figured how convenient it turned out in Target that day? He was worthy then? That was your realization? Not all the months I cried my eyes out and wondered what I did wrong?

"He sure as fuck is at fault, but it also wasn't up to you! And to think my sister knew about a baby and wouldn't tell me about it. I don't fucking know you!"

"I know. I was an idiot," she says, jumping in. "I couldn't even stand myself. I had to fix it," she says with a shake of her head. "I didn't know how else."

"Honesty would've been nice. Launching me into the unknown all the way in New York was not an idea!"

She scoffs. "I never said it was a great idea. How the hell was I supposed to know he put up an entire gallery of your naked pictures, for fuck's sake? What is wrong with you two, anyway? I've never met a more perverted couple in my entire life!"

"Again, not your business." I point at her.

She rolls her eyes and lets the silence settle again.

I grow red regardless. "Mom knows?"

She gives me a face. My stomach drops. "She, on the other hand, thought it was just the most romantic…" She waves a hand, not wanting to finish that thought. "We seriously need to cut her Amazon book membership."

Maybe I'll never tell her about all the newspaper articles and the magazine modeling offer. I'll definitely tell Mom.

I begin to laugh. It comes slow, then my shoulders get going. She's hesitant as she watches me crumble.

"Wish granted. I couldn't even get him to tell me he loves me back. So, there. Mission accomplished. Congratulations," I tell her.

She blinks, no doubt in her eyes. "Oh, he does. He's been committed for years now. I know him well. He's just secretly afraid he'll screw it up. What he does is turn those words over in his thick head and takes his time, like every decision he makes in his life. But once he does…" She shakes her head. "Headlong."

I don't respond.

Right then, I see Emmett walk in. He sees us and lingers at the entrance to give us space.

"Do you still love him? Is that why?" I ask. I put it out there. She knows whom I refer to.

She swallows heavy, looks far away in thought. My stomach knots.

She chuckles. She wipes at her wet eyes. "No. I definitely never did. Maybe I thought I did once, but it was around the time I met Emmett." She looks back at him. "And once I did, I knew it was just me holding my breath for someone, anyone. I was in a bad place. I was in school and drowning. Dad died, and Masen was the only one who kept me afloat. I thought that was how love worked." She shrugs. "It was platonic. No intimacy. No spark. Just plain old friendship. And he would date and tell me about them so we could draw that line and make it clear."

They had their own purple couch moments. The difference is that mine were a little… more. I don't say anything to all she's said. I look at her as she rubs her bump and watches Emmett from far away. She glows.

"I need time," I tell her, to forgive and forget. She knows. She nods and frowns. She wipes at new tears.

"I'm truly sorry. I'm…" She pauses. "I love you. Maybe too much."

I stand and pull her up by an elbow when she struggles. I essentially hand her off to Emmett,

who smiles sheepishly.

"As an apology, I'm voiding your lack of attendance and extending that to… however many days you need," he says.

"Apology not accepted," I respond curtly. "I want dual directorial authority between here and New York, including a desk and a raise.

He looks surprised. "You liked it there?"

"I'd like to direct the team there, yes, as well as here." I shrug. "They… grew on me."

He extends a hand. "Deal." I narrow my eyes at the lightning speed acceptance, his intentions behind this. I decide it doesn't matter.

"Apology accepted." I shake on that.

I look over at Rose. "He smokes cigars on weekends." She looks at him. He looks at me, shocked, but knows exactly why I blurted. The last time he got in my business, I warned him, "I'll tell your dirty little secrets."

I walk away.

Payback's a bitch.

I'm home. Mom insisted I leave to sleep. I didn't argue. Yesterday was too much to bear. I told her about Rose and Emmett and confessed about the magazine and the modeling job. Now she won't stop asking me when I'll go back to book the job.

I regret it.

I wake and rush around to get my daily bag ready to go see her. This time, I'll bring her breakfast from the good deli that's farther away.

My usual "Hello. How are you?" is like a mantra as I lock the door to the apartment and see the landlord walking by. He's a cute old Greek man with mean eyes from downstairs. He leaves the empty apartment from across mine and stands there with a long face. It's awkward, and I'm never really sure if he hates me or wants to kill me.

I smile anyway. Just when I do, he quirks an odd grin when he tries to smile back. That's the only sign I know he likes me. I go ahead of him. No time for weirdness.

Dr. Hot Pants makes another trip to Mom's hospital room to set her up for another dialysis. I watch as he pampers her with extra pillows and stands around to watch the machine click and purr as blood is pumped in and out. She falls asleep. He watches her.

I busy myself with a book and try not to giggle.

It's not like he has to personally oversee the procedure. The nurses are missing in action as he insisted on making it just right.

He finally leaves because there's only so much you can do to find an excuse to stay when the person is not awake.

I ask the nurse who comes in after a little bit about him. "Where he's from? How long has he worked here? Is he single?" She laughs and looks at me oddly.

"No, no. Not for me. Just… asking for a friend."

She glances at Mom who's asleep and leans toward me like she'll tell me a juicy gossip. "He's usually off on Thursdays. And he's a widower. Years now. The hospital women have all tried but failed to, err, interest him."

Perfect. I'll be sure to stay away this Thursday in case he comes to visit. I have a feeling he will.

When she does wake up, I don't realize it because I've dozed off myself.

I hear shuffling and quiet grunts close by. My eyes pop open, and she's already out of bed and attempting to walk across towards the bathroom.

"Ma!" I shout. I scramble to her side and grab an elbow. Then another set of hands grabs her other side. I don't have the strength to keep her completely stable. I manage, but this time, her feet practically leave the floor.

We look up.

My heart seems to drop to my stomach. My legs feel like they'll give, too. I look into the clearest gray eyes as they stare back at me. Masen stands but a foot from me, arms wrapped around my mother, holding her, keeping her from falling.

He looks a bit pink. Mom and I look a bit pale, me in a whole different way. Blood seems to slowly drain from my face. I feel everything but nothing.

We stand here, frozen for a moment, not entirely present.

"You were asleep," he speaks. His brows furrow, revealing those lines I've kissed before. "I... waited here. I was going to wake you, but…" He shakes his head slightly. He blinks. Those lashes fan his cheeks just so, and his gaze finds mine again. "I love you. I'm in love with you," he says desperately. "I have been since…. we met, that first kiss. I had you close, and I never said how much. I'm a fool for not saying it every day. I've always been in love with you… and I'll say it a hundred times a day, if that's what it takes. I'm sorry it took so long to say…" His voice fades.

I stare and stare. My hollowed heart is filling up. It blossoms. Those wings of butterflies in my stomach get going. I can't find my breath. I watch lips that have said words that bind, and I feel it instantly. Pieces mend back up again.

"Oh," Mom says. She sounds just as breathless as I feel. Her hand finds her heart. "I'm sorry. Me or my daughter? I mean, I'm older, but I could handle you. With those words…"

"Mom," I say sharply.

Masen goes beet red as she slyly passes a hand over his chest. He smiles, embarrassed.

I carry her weight and rush her to the bathroom. She smiles over her shoulder. "Don't you go away now. I want to hear all about how much you love her." I practically close the door on her nose.

He's behind me. I stare at the door and lean on it. That weight of his eyes burning through is so significant. This feeling between us has always been consuming. My knees threaten to cave.

I turn to him. I watch as his chest moves under his sweater. The shawl collar is open at his neck where his throat bobs over and over. He looks...

I take a breath.

"Talk to me. Please," he says. He means it in more ways than one. Now and about everything.

Yes, I'm ready. But I stare and stare, and I've forgotten where I am. I'm reminded when Mom barges through the door, a wide smile on her face, ready and set to make the rest of this day… interesting.

...