Story Title: Not the Boy I Married
Summary: Southwestern PA, Steel Country. In February 1959, I married a boy. Life, and its path, made him into a man, a man I didn't recognize, with secrets I didn't want to know. Loosely based on actual events.
Word count: 9,992
Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong solely to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
Not the Boy I Married
The little church so is quiet, you could probably hear a pin drop. In fact, I can hear Edward's little brothers, Garrett and Riley, spattin' back and forth. I hear Mrs. Cullen smack 'em both on the back of their heads, too.
"I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cullen. You may kiss the bride." The preacher's voice echoes around the mostly empty sanctuary. It's just Edward's family, including his six younger siblings, along with his uncle Tony, my foster parents, brother, two sisters, and their husbands here.
Edward lifts my veil, a silly grin on his face, and I can't help but grin back at him. The kiss is quick, just a smooch, but considering our audience, it's probably better that way.
Our family does their best to sound enthusiastic when they clap. Well, Emmett does more than his best. His whoops and whistles can probably be heard across town.
We pose for pictures, some more difficult to get than others. Edward's parents want a picture of all the Cullen kids together, but six-year-old Garrett and three-year-old Riley are making it difficult. After all of the pictures are taken, I can't wait to move things along. Making our way back up the aisle, I see the guarded happiness on Mr. and Mrs. Cullen's faces. I know they're happy for us, in their own way at least.
I mean, no one wants their son to 'have' to get married at nineteen because he knocked up his girl, who happens to be seventeen. It's not like my family could help me raise the baby, being torn up and spread all over like they are. They couldn't afford to send me away either. Daddy's a drunk, and momma left us right after I was born.
I'm lucky my sisters and my brother could be here today, though. Jessica and Angela, along with Mrs. Cullen and Edward's sister, Alice, helped me get ready this morning, dressed in my hand-me-down gown that had been worn by both my sisters. My brother Eric walked me down the aisle and gave me away. Daddy was too drunk this morning to even show up. He must'a been out too late with my oldest brother, Tyler, probably drinking and gambling away what little money he had last night.
Daddy's been a drunk for years, and he couldn't take care of us. So us girls got sent off to an orphanage when the state stepped in. That is, until my sister Angela and I went to live with a foster family. Charlotte and her husband Peter were so good to us. I even had my own room there. Now I'm moving in with the Cullens.
All nine of them.
With me, my baby, and the one Mrs. Cullen is carrying, there'll be a dozen of us in one house. I don't know how we're gonna do it. I'm just happy that Emmett was willing to move out of the room he's shared with Edward so that we can have some space of our own. Well, at least until the baby comes. Emmett's gonna bunk with their younger brother, Alistair. He's twelve, and about the most annoying thing I've ever met.
Alice, who's sixteen, and just a few months younger than me, shares a room with Katie, who's nine. Garrett and Riley share a room as well. I figure Mrs. Cullen's newest little one'll share their room, just like ours will have his crib in our room.
Edward's arms wrap around me when we get to the back of the church, pulling me outta my thoughts.
"So, how does it feel to be Mrs. Cullen, Bella?" His smile is blinding. At least he's happy about being stuck with me.
"It feels pretty great, Edward. I love you." That comment gets me a more suitable kiss, being our wedding day. Someone must not think it's suitable, because the clearing of a throat causes us to pull away from each other.
"Congratulations, Edward, Isabella. I must say, you make a beautiful bride." Uncle Tony has always been an enigma to me. He seems friendly, but there's something about him, something that sets off alarm bells in my head. He seems… dangerous.
Reaching out, he takes my hand, placing a kiss to my knuckles.
"Thank you, Mr. Mancini."
"Welcome to the family, dear. And please, call me uncle Tony." I only nod, just his presence making me nervous. Looking between us, he continues. "If you two ever need anything, don't hesitate to come to me. Capisce?"
"Of course," Edward politely agrees.
"Wonderful! Now, here's a little something to help you two set up house." He hands Edward a plump envelope. "Now, wait till you get home to open that." He leans in close to Edward's ear. "That's just for the two of you."
It's no secret that Mr. Cullen has tried to distance himself from his wife's brother. He went so far as to move his family out of the city, away from Tony, to this small town. The rumors floating around are enough to scare anyone, family or not.
"I got it, Uncle Tony. Thanks for coming today. Will you be joining us for the dinner?"
"No, I've got... work tonight. You two have a great night." His wink causes the blush to rise in my cheeks.
"Eddie, Bella? It's time to go on over to Peter and Charlotte's for the meal. Are ya' ready to go?" Mrs. Cullen's voice breaks up our conversation.
"Yeah Ma." He turns back to his uncle. "Thanks again for coming." After exchanging handshakes and a final kiss to my cheek, and one to his sister's, Uncle Tony excuses himself. Edward turns back to me. "Come on, Mrs. Cullen." He gently pulls me along by the hand, toward the door, silly grin still in place. I just giggle at his silliness, Mrs. Cullen trying to hide her own grin.
She's been just great about this whole thing. Without a Ma of my own to go to when I thought I was expecting, Mrs. Cullen was the one I turned to. Of course, she cried when I told her, but she helped me get to a doctor, and was there to soften the blow when we told Mr. Cullen. He didn't jump off the sofa and congratulate us, but he was understanding and offered for us to live with them. I really do love my in-laws.
Just as we turn to leave, Alice comes bounding toward me.
"Can you believe it? We're finally sisters!" She's squeezing me in a hug before I can say a single word.
"Alice, stop! You could hurt the baby." Edward's last word is said under his breath, as if Jesus himself is gonna hear that I was pregnant out of wedlock and strike us down for brazenly walking into his church as sinners.
"Oh, it's fine. She's fine. Come on, I wanna ride with you in the car, Bella." She's pulling me along now.
We all gather our coats from the coat room on our way out of the church, and head out to Edward's '56 Chevy Bel Air coupe parked out front. It was a birthday gift from his uncle Tony when he turned sixteen. When I turned sixteen, my foster parents gave me a new pair of shoes.
Emmett zips past us and makes a show of opening the passenger door.
"Your chariot awaits." He bows in exaggerated fashion. "Pop said it might be nice if you had a driver tonight. So, I guess you're stuck with me." His grin is contagious.
"Be careful Em, you're driving precious cargo." Edward gives him a friendly pat on the cheek as I climb into the back seat. He follows behind me, his hand tryin' to go up my skirt as he does.
"Edward! Stop it!" I whisper yell. "Somebody's gonna see."
"What? You're my wife now. I'm allowed." That goofy smile is still on his face, and I can't help but laugh.
Emmett and Alice climb into the front seat, and we're off to Peter and Charlotte's.
Edward's got his lips on my neck, not too subtly trying to start something. Then he whispers in my ear. "This is where this all started, huh?"
Knowing that the backseat we're in is the very spot where we fumbled our way through our one and only time together, giving us the reason for the occasion today, is a little weird with our present company.
I'm so focused on his lips, I completely miss Alice asking me a question. Emmett's laugh, though, does get my attention.
"Forget it Allie, they're neckin' back there." Edward slaps the back of his head for that.
"Watch it, Em. That's my wife you're talking about." Everyone settles back down, and we manage to keep our hands to ourselves.
Thankfully the ride through town to Peter and Charlotte's is short, only about fifteen minutes of driving through hills and around the twists and turns that make up our small part of town. Edward waits for Emmett to flip the seat forward so we can climb out; Edward first, then he offers his hand to help me out of the car.
Walking up the path to the house, my husband has a firm grip on my hand, guiding me over the snow dusted steps. He's been really protective of me since he found out I was expecting. He won't even let Emmett pick me up for hugs anymore like he used to. But, I let it go. There are more important things to worry about.
Like how we're going to pay for a baby. Edward works at the bowling alley in town, but his pay isn't that great. I offered to work, maybe take in some laundry or mending from the neighbors, but he told me, 'no wife of mine is going to work.' So, it's going to be difficult. We decided together that he would hold out for something better, not taking one of the available positions at one of the steel mills. He's talked about maybe enlisting in the military, but I'm against it... for now. Though, I think that may be a safer option than the mill.
His uncle owns the bowling alley, and he promised Edward more hours, so we're going to see how it goes. I'll probably be spending a lot of evenings alone, but at least I'll have help with the baby. That's one advantage to living with family. Between Edward's mom and sister, I'm sure things will be ok. Alice is over the moon excited about being an aunt.
When we walk through the door, we're greeted with hugs and cheers. Edward helps me out of my coat, and I'm quickly whisked away into the kitchen by Charlotte, my sisters hot on our heels.
"Oh Isabella, you looked so beautiful in your dress. You made such a beautiful bride." Charlotte is practically gushing. My sisters are quick to jump in and agree.
"You certainly did, Bella. Eddie is a lucky guy." Angela has an arm around me, while Jessica is busy working on the food.
"Thank you, Charlotte. I felt beautiful. And things look great here." I try to divert the attention away from me to the spread she has laid out for us all.
"Aw, thanks." She looks over the platters and dishes of food spread out on the counters. "It was the least we could do for you, sweetie. You and Angela were such a treat to have stay with us. Three years just wasn't enough." She reaches up, smoothing her hand over my hair, tears in her eyes.
I wrap her in a hug before she starts really crying, I'm not sure I can handle seeing that. "Thank you, Charlotte. You and Peter made me feel so welcome, so loved. This was a great place to call home." I haven't let her go yet; I'm worried that if I do I'll start sobbing.
"Excuse me, ladies. Mind if I steal my wife away for a moment?" Edward's voice breaks up our hug, that goofy look still on his face.
"Of course. You go on and see what that man of yours needs." She shoo's us out of the kitchen.
Eddie steers us away from the crowd gathered in the dining and front rooms, and around to the stairs at the back of the house; the stairs that lead up to the room that was mine until this morning.
I whip my head around to see if we were spotted or if we were being followed. My voice comes out as more of a hiss. "Edward! What do you think you're doing?" He's pulling me up the stairs now.
"I want a few minutes alone with my wife, that's what!" We've made it to the top of the steps now, and he pulls me close, whispering in my ear. "The way I see it, when we get home, there's gonna be a house full of people, and I for one know exactly how thin those walls are." He's kissing my neck now.
"Wait! You wanna...? Here? Eddie, this isn't my house anymore. We can't do that here!" I know I'm whisper-shouting, but I can't help it. He's being ridiculous!
"Give me one good reason Bella and I'll stop." His kisses down my neck are distracting me. "We'll go right back down those stairs and have lasagna and cannoli." He's reached the spot behind my ear that he knows drives me crazy, and all reasonable thought escapes me. Before I can stop myself, I'm dragging him into my old room.
He's got his hands up the skirt of my wedding dress and his fingers tracing my garters before I've switched the lock on the door, grabbing and pulling at whatever gets in his way.
"I love you so much baby. Please let me have you right now. I need to make love to my wife." He's got my panties pulled down just enough that he can get his fingers where I want them.
"Oh Eddie." I'm breathless, sounding more like one of those floozies that hang around the bowling alley where Edward works, than a respectable married woman. My hands are wrapped around his suspenders, pulling him to me.
"I know. Hang on Bella, I'll take care 'a ya." And I know he will. He's gotten very good with those fingers of his.
His left hand has disappeared up my skirt, all while he's fumbling with his belt buckle with his right. He gets it all undone, and his boxer shorts pulled down enough to let that monster of his out, and before I know it, I'm being lifted up and carried over to the bed, his hardness pressing against me.
"Tell me this is okay." His voice is pleading, almost desperate. I can't seem to find mine, so I only nod.
I'm soon swimming in a sea of lace and tulle, my husband disappearing under my skirt, which seems to have been flipped over my head. He slides my panties down as far as they'll go with my garters and stockings in the way. I feel his fingers find their way to me, so gently coaxing pleasure from my body. When I feel his tongue, I'm surprised and shocked. He's never done that before. I gasp, then let out a moan, the feeling indescribable.
"Shh. Baby, we don't want anyone coming up here to see what's going on. You gotta be quiet." He disappears under my skirt again, and I'm soon falling over the edge of ecstasy. As I float back to earth, I feel him tugging on something and mumbling to himself. When I hear him ask a question, it takes a second for my mind and mouth to cooperate.
"Huh?" Apparently, they're only just barely cooperating.
"How do I get these damn things off?" That's when I realize he's tugging on my panties.
"Oh, I'll have to take off the stockings first." I reach down to undo them, but he swats my hand outta the way.
"Like hell you will." That's when I hear the quick rip of fabric, my panties falling away from me. The look on my face must be one of shock. "I'll buy you more." With a wink, he dives in for a kiss. I can taste myself on his lips, and I don't even care. He settles himself between my legs and gets into position.
As he pushes himself inside of me, I'm reminded of our first time together. There isn't pain this time, but it's still a strange sensation. Rosalie Hale, Emmett's girl, told me that it gets better with time. I'm still skeptical.
Edward's eyes are on me, a look of focused determination on his face. That's the moment we hear the knock on the door.
"Bella? Eddie?" It's Alice.
"Damnit!" He's dropped his forehead to my shoulder, mumbling into my neck. I can feel the tension in his body.
"You guys need to come on downstairs. They won't start eating without you. And the kids are getting restless. I'm pretty sure mom wants to go before it gets dark. Just... hurry up."
Edward pulls out of me, tucking, zipping and buckling until he's all put together. I don't miss the look of frustration he's giving me. Taking his face between my hands, I kiss his pouty lips.
"I'm sorry, baby. But we do have tonight. And maybe we can finally do this without any clothes on." My giggle at least earns me a smile. Yeah, that first romp in the back of his Chevy was over about as quick as it started, our clothes never coming off completely.
"Alright you, come on, let's get this over with." After fixing myself in the mirror, we head back downstairs. Everyone is avoiding making eye contact with us, well, all except Emmett. He's grinning from ear to ear, practically vibrating in his seat. I know he wants to say something, but I can see he's trying to hold back. Just to make sure, I give him a look that stops him dead in his tracks. I may only be a few months along, but he's seen first-hand how crazy my mood swings can get.
We make our way into the kitchen to make our plates, and head into the dining room. The table is ready to seat twelve of us. Peter and Charlotte, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen, Eddie and I, Angela and Jessica along with their husbands, and Emmett and my brother Eric, all crowd around it. The kids are seated around the coffee table, Alice not looking pleased that she's there and not at the table with the adults. And no one does the pout better than Alice Cullen.
Conversation is kept light, that is, until Jessica's husband Mike decides to ask Edward about his work.
"So, I hear you'd rather work for your uncle than work at the mill like the rest of us?" I can't tell if he's being rude or if he's just blunt. I don't really know him that well.
"Well, it just seemed like it was best for our family." He reaches over and grabs my hand. "Bella and I talked it over, and this is what we decided." I give him a supportive smile, because I know things are going to be difficult for us. I know he's doing this for me, choosing to stay out of the steel mill. I just couldn't bear the thought of the dangerous work they do there.
Thankfully, Mr. Cullen speaks up.
"Now, Mike, I think it's his decision how he chooses to support his family. The mills are a good, honest way to earn a living, but if it's not for Eddie, then it's not for Eddie."
It's the most he's said all day. I give him a smile and I hope he can see how much his support means to me.
The rest of the meal goes quickly, conversation staying friendly. When all of the dishes are cleared away, Jessica speaks up.
"Eddie, Bella, I made a wedding cake for you two. I'd like to take a few pictures before we serve it, if that's okay?"
Jessica has always been soft spoken, timid almost, but since marrying Mike, she seems even more unsure of herself.
"Sure, Jessica. Where do you want us?" Her face lights up, a hint of pride in her eyes.
"I'll just bring it out here to the table. Oh, I hope you like it." Her voice trails off as she heads to the kitchen. She proudly brings it to the table. It's a three-tiered cake, covered in ribbons of white icing.
"Oh, sis, it's beautiful!"
"You really think so?" Her voice is so unsure.
"Absolutely. I don't think even Mr. Esposito down at the bakery could've done a better job. Thank you so much." Our hug is interrupted by her husband's voice.
"It's all right. Now, cut the damn thing, so we can eat it. I need to get home." I feel her tense in my arms, so I squeeze her tighter.
"It's beautiful, and made with love. I couldn't have asked for anything better," I whisper into her ear.
Edward and I cut the cake, feed each other a bite, and then Jessica takes over cutting it for our guests. We share a dance as husband and wife, and soon, we're saying goodbye for the night.
Walking into the Cullen's house is a bit strange. I've been here for dinner before, as a guest, but this is now my home. So, I'm seeing this place with new eyes. The younger kids all buzz past us and run like a herd of wild animals up the stairs.
"Alistair, Katie, Garrett, Riley! What have I told you about running in the house?" Mrs. Cullen sounds exasperated, trudging up the front steps, her hand at her lower back. "I'm sorry, Bella. It must be the sugar from the cake. They're not usually like this."
"Now, don't lie to her, Ma." Emmett walks up behind her, carrying one of my suitcases. "Those kids are always wild. Isn't it a sin to lie?" The twinkle in his eye tells me he's just giving his Ma a hard time.
"As much as I'd love to stand around and discuss my brothers and sisters, it's late, and I'd like to take, I mean get, yeah get my wife to bed." Edward's statement catches us all off guard. It isn't until I see Edward's grin and hear Emmett's laughter that I drop my head, trying to hide my scarlet face.
"Edward Anthony Cullen! I cannot believe you!" Emmett is still laughing, and I'm still trying to hide my face. I don't see, but hear her smack her son on the back of the head. "Go, get upstairs." She's practically pushing us up the stairs now.
"What? She's tired. I just meant she needs her rest."
"I know full well what you meant, young man. Now go." She gives him another nudge, but lightly grabs my hand. "Bella? Could I speak to you for just a minute?"
"Sure." She waits for Edward to head upstairs before turning to me.
"Do you have any questions?" she asks quietly. "I know you two have been... intimate." I can tell it's difficult for her to say. "But if you have any questions, please don't be afraid to ask me. You're my daughter now, so..."
I can't stop myself from flinging my arms around her, hugging her tight. "Thank you." I'm overcome with emotion. "That means a lot." After a moment I release her, suddenly aware of what I just did, embarrassed of my behavior. "I'm sorry Mrs. Cullen. I shouldn't have..."
"Nonsense," she waves me off. "It was fine. Now, questions?"
"Um..." My voice isn't much more than a whisper. "Is it safe to, you know..." Wringing my hands, I can feel my face heat up again. I just can't bring myself to say the words, but I need to know.
"Is it safe for the baby for you to be with your husband?" I blow out a breath, thankful that Mrs. Cullen isn't beating around the bush.
"It's perfectly safe. As long as you're comfortable, you can be together until the baby is born."
"Thank you Mrs. Cullen." I'm hugging her again.
"None of this Mrs. Cullen business. You can call me Ma like the rest of the kids."
Pulling away, I smile at her, so happy to have found such a loving family to marry into.
"All right. Goodnight... Ma." A smile graces both our faces, and she shoo's me off to bed.
I make my way up the stairs, in search of my husband. Opening the last door in the hallway, I find him in what's now our room, unpacking one of my suitcases. It just happens to be the case with all of my unmentionables. He's holding up one of my stockings, just staring at it.
"Whatcha got there?" My voice startles him, and he drops the very thing that had him so captivated just a moment ago.
"How long were you standing there?" He's been caught red handed, and I have to stifle my laugh.
"Long enough." Stepping toward him, I can see the guilt on his face. "Long enough to know that my husband was eyeing my underwear." His eyes quickly dart down to my skirt then back to my eyes, no doubt thinking of what he had an eyeful of earlier.
"I wouldn't go that far. I was just... helping you. Yeah, helping put your things away." His self satisfied nod makes me giggle, and shake my head as I walk over to him. He starts to laugh too. "No, you're right, I was checking out the goods. Now, come 'ere" I step into his open arms, and bury my face in his chest, feeling surrounded by him. For the first time in a very long time, I feel completely safe, loved, a sense of belonging.
"Have I told you how great your family is?" I look up into his emerald green eyes, seeing a smile on his face.
"Well, today made you part of it, so it's your family now, too."
He leans his head down to kiss me, which turns heated, quickly. His hands are roaming, and mine find their way to his buttons. His shirt follows his suspenders off his shoulders, both now hanging at his waist, only his undershirt clinging to his chest. His strong arms lift me, his hands trying to find their way under all the layers of my dress. I feel him brace himself, and before I can stop him, I'm flying out of his arms and onto the bed. He dives in the moment my bottom hits the mattress, but the sound of hundreds of bells brings us both up short. He ducks off the bed, and onto the floor, to see what the trouble is.
Hanging my head over the side, I see that someone has tied jingle bells to every spring under the bed. I pop my head up, making eye contact with my husband, and we both come to the same conclusion.
He's on his feet in a flash, running out of the room, screaming that he's going to 'tear him apart', which is funny, considering Edward doesn't have one aggressive bone in his body. I can hear Emmett's laughter through the walls, the stomping of their feet, as Edward chases his brother. I just giggle and shake my head at the ridiculousness of it all.
I manage to maneuver the mattress off the bedsprings and push it onto the floor, near the center of the room, away from the adjoining walls. Our room is right next to the one shared by Emmett and Alistair, and I know that if they hear anything tonight, we'll never hear the end of it.
When he finally makes his way back into the room, I've managed to divest myself of my dress, and I'm now wearing just my undergarments, standing in the middle of the dimly lit room. The look in his eyes makes me think he could devour me, if such a thing were possible. The sight of him stalking toward me in just that undershirt makes me think I could devour him as well.
When he finally reaches me, few words are spoken, and it doesn't take long for us to become tangled up in each other. And this time, I have to agree with Rosalie, it definitely gets better.
The weeks pass, and we've all settled into a new routine. I help Mrs. Cullen with housework, cooking, and caring for the small children. Edward has taken more shifts at the bowling alley, even doing some work for his uncle in the city, in Pittsburgh. He hasn't told me what kind of work it is, but he's brought home a little more money than he had been making, so it seems to be worth missing him a few evenings a week.
The trouble is, the more hours he puts in with his uncle, the less he smiles, laughs. His carefree personality doesn't make many appearances these days. Every time I bring it up, he just shrugs it off, saying he's tired. But I know it's more than that.
I've tried to visit him a few times at the bowling alley, but when a few nicely dressed men started showing up to talk to my husband on more than one occasion, Eddie told me it was probably best if I didn't come see him at work anymore.
As I lay awake, unable to get comfortable because of my growing belly, I hear Eddie's Chevy pull into the driveway. We have the windows open, enjoying the fresh, late April air, so I can hear him cut the engine. The light of the moon shines on the bedside clock, showing it to be nearly three in the morning. It feels like an eternity before I hear the door of the car open and then close, but nothing else. The night is so quiet, I expect to hear, at the very least, the opening of the back door of the house. But I hear nothing.
Curious why he isn't coming inside, I slip out of bed, going to the window. Peeking through the curtains, I can see his silhouette in the moonlight. He's leaning against his car, his head hanging low. Even from this distance, I can see he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.
When he raises his head, I step back just a bit, not wanting him to know I was watching him, and sit back on our bed. When I hear the back door open and close, but not the sound of him coming upstairs, I pad to the door, listening closely. When I hear the squeaky door to the basement open and close, I quickly turn and grab my housecoat before leaving our room.
Stepping out into the hallway, I stop to make sure none of the others have are awake. When I count to twenty and don't hear anything, I quietly make my way down the stairs, through the kitchen, and to the basement door. Gingerly making my way down the steps, I see the lone bulb in the corner of the room lighting up my husband's form. He's standing with his back to me, in just his boxer shorts, stuffing his clothes into a paper bag. With my heightened senses, I can smell hints of booze and perfume wafting through the air as he shakes the bag down. Thoughts of how those smells came to saturate his clothes makes my stomach twist into a knot.
"Edward?" My whispered plea causes him to stand ramrod straight, tension radiating from him. "What are you doing?"
"Go back to bed, Bella." His easy dismissal brings tears to my eyes. I take a few steps closer, reaching out my hand, before dropping it to my side, thinking better of it.
"Where have you been?"
"Working." His one word answer is said with some hesitation.
"Eddie, the bowling alley closed almost four hours ago. Where have you been?" I try to keep the shaky nervousness out of my voice.
"Uncle Tony had some more... work for me in the city."
"What kind of work? And why do you smell like a distillery?" I step closer, reaching for him then, turning him toward me. When I get a good look at him, my hand covers my mouth, stifling a gasp, hoping I don't scream.
He's covered in blood. It's splattered and smeared on his face, his neck. His knuckles are bruised and bloodied as well.
"Oh my god! Are you hurt?" I step closer, my hands reaching out to check him for injuries, but before I can touch him, he grabs me gently by the wrists.
"I'm fine, Bella. It's not mine." Looking up at him, I can see tears in his eyes. His convulsive swallowing tells me he's trying to keep himself from letting them fall. "Can you, uh, just help me upstairs? I'd, uh, like to take a shower." He looks like a lost little boy, like he's counting on me to help him through whatever it is he's dealing with, what's going on inside him.
Looking into those eyes, I can see he's struggling to keep himself together, so I do the only thing I know to do; I take my husband's hand and lead him upstairs. Starting the shower and helping him remove his boxers, neither of us say a word. He steps in and just stands under the spray, unmoving. Seeing him like this brings a pain to my chest. My usually strong, happy boy looks like a shell of the man he was; like something has stolen that part of him.
I take off my housecoat and remove my nightgown, and step in behind him. My five month pregnant belly makes it a tight fit, but I manage to get my arms around his middle. I can feel him shaking in my arms, his silent sobs wracking his body.
"What happened, Eddie? Whose blood is this?"
He shakes his head. "I can't." The head shaking increases, along with his breathing. "Oh, God, what have I done?" He pulls away from me, stumbling over the side of the bathtub, out of the shower, and to his knees, emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet.
I'm struck dumb for a moment, all of it seeming to happen in slow motion. When I finally come to my senses, I step out, kneeling next to him, rubbing what I hope are soothing circles on his back.
"Edward, you're scaring me. What happened?"
He's shaking his head again. "I can't. Bella, I can't tell you." When he looks up at me, his eyes are pleading, begging me to understand.
"Why not?" I ask quietly.
He closes his eyes, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, baby, I just can't." My clueless teenaged brain can't process what all this could mean. My only real worry is for my husband, who's sitting naked on the bathroom floor, dripping wet, and looking broken.
"Okay, but we need to finish cleaning you up. Come on." I grasp his arm, helping him to stand, then nudge him back under the steaming water. He's listless, allowing me to wash him. It's breaking my heart, seeing him like this.
Stepping out, I help to dry him, then myself, before leading him back to our room. He falls unceremoniously into our bed, a vacant look on his face. Crawling in next to him, I curl into his side, wrapping an arm around him. Knowing I won't get a wink of sleep until at least one burning question is answered, I take a breath before asking.
"Can I ask you one question?"
"I know you said you can't tell me where you were tonight, but can you tell me if you were... Were you with another girl? I mean, I could smell the perfume, and..." He sits up, just enough to hover over me, his hand cupping my cheek before I can finish my questions.
"Bella, baby, no, I wasn't with nobody else. I promise." His eyes are frantically scanning mine, looking for my understanding.
"Then why did I smell perfume on your clothes?" My voice is timid, even to my own ears.
"I come home looking like... that, and you wanna know why you smelled perfume?"
"Yeah." My eyes drop, unable to meet his gaze.
"Bella?" He puts his bent finger beneath my chin, urging me to look at him. "Bella, look at me." Unable to deny him anything, I do. "Baby, I wasn't with any girl. Well, not with with one anyway. I was with Uncle Tony, and well, our meeting wasn't in an office, let's just say that. He had some... company, and she tried to cozy up to me." I tense at his statement. "No, Bella, it wasn't like that. I... I could never do that to you. You believe me, don't you?" His words come out in a rush, jumbled.
Looking into his eyes, though, I see what I hope is sincerity. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I want to believe him, so I nod. The relief on his face is instant. He exhales a large breath as his head falls to my chest, his arms once again wrapping around me.
"Thank God, baby. I don't know what I'd do if you didn't believe me. I need you so much right now. I don't know how I'd make it through this without you." His mumbled words into my chest and neck soon turn to heated kisses, and his hands begin to roam. Before I know it, we're joined together, my husband finding comfort in my body, in us.
Just before I drift off to sleep, I hear his whispered words; words I'm sure I'm not meant to hear.
"I'm so sorry, baby. I didn't want this life, but it found me anyway."
The next morning, before the sun has even made an appearance, the smell of something burning rouses me from my sleep. Reaching over, I find my husband missing. All of these confusing thoughts cause me to stumble out of bed and go to the window, searching, at least, for the source of the smell.
My husband is outside in just his slacks and undershirt, standing before one of the metal garbage cans, flames dancing out of it in the pre-dawn light, devouring the paper bag full of last night's bloody memories.
It's that moment that I realize that my husband has secrets; secrets I may never want to know.
Watching him dress for the day is a lesson in patience. He's frustrated, struggling with shaking hands, first with his shirt buttons, then his tie. He must have had enough, because the tie is suddenly ripped from his neck, and thrown across the room.
I rise from my perch on the bed, and bend to pick up the discarded tie.
"Can I help?" I carefully approach him, mindful of the mood he's been in all morning. He only nods in response.
"Why the fancy duds today, anyway? I know the bowling alley doesn't have this kind of dress code."
"I, uh, I've got a meeting in the city. Uncle Tony is taking me to meet his boss."
The tie slips from my fingers, my hands now gripping his suspenders.
"His boss? You mean..."
"Yeah, Mr. LaRocca. We, uh, we have a lunch meeting with him, so I need to get outta here soon. I just wish I could get my damn tie to cooperate," he says, with a weary laugh, trying to lighten the mood, I'm sure.
"But Eddie, Mr. LaRocca is a..."
"A respected businessman." He gives me a pointed look. "And if this works out, I'll be making more money, and we'll hopefully be able to get our own place soon. Isn't that what you want? A home of our own?"
"Well, yeah, but not if it means you'll be working for..." He cuts me off with a kiss, leaving me breathless. Pulling away from me, his expression leaves no room for argument.
"Enough. Look, I'm sorry, but It's my job to take care of you, and this is the best way I see how I can do that."
"Is it gonna be your job to come home every night like you did last night, covered in bl..."
"Enough!" His outburst silences me. He's never raised his voice to me before, not once, and it brings tears to my eyes. "This isn't up for discussion." I nod and sit back on the bed, sufficiently chastised, unable to look at him.
"I should be back for dinner tonight," he says over his shoulder as he leaves. The silence that takes over after he walks out is deafening. He's never left me without a kiss, an I love you, or even a simple goodbye... ever. The tears come quickly, and I crawl back into bed, unsure of what I did wrong.
And bed is where I stay, until Mrs. Cullen comes to check on me. Eventually I leave the solace of our room, and join her downstairs in the kitchen. The longer I'm with her today, the more tension I feel surround me. Mrs. Cullen must know something about what her son is up to, because she hasn't been able to look me in the eye all day.
When Emmett, Alice, and the younger children return home from school, their moods are quickly subdued as well, taking cues from us. The house is fairly quiet as they do their homework, and Riley takes his afternoon nap.
Working together to get dinner on the table, I keep glancing at the clock. It's after six, and Edward should've been home by now. His empty chair is the focus of the room, his absence glaring.
The conversation at the table is minimal, at best. Even the younger ones are being quiet, so when Alice pipes up, it's a surprise to us all.
"So, Ma, I heard at school that the cops raided Uncle Tony's place, the bowling alley, a couple days back. Something about illegal booze. How come Eddie didn't mention anything?"
I cough, nearly choking on my meatloaf. Looking around at the stunned faces, I see two that aren't, but should be. Mr. and Mrs. Cullen exchange a look that says they already knew all about this. It's Mr. Cullen that answers Alice.
"Now, I'm sure there's an explanation, Alice. Maybe it was just a mix up over paperwork. I know Uncle Tony runs a tight ship over there. I'm sure Eddie just... forgot to mention it to us."
Mrs. Cullen's smile and nod of agreement ends the inquisition, even though I still have questions. But I know better than to voice them here, in front of the children. I exchange a look with both Alice and Emmett, and they look like they have more questions of their own.
As we clear the dishes away and begin to clean the kitchen, Mrs. Cullen takes my hand.
"Bella, go on upstairs and put your feet up. I can have Alice help me tonight." I know she's trying to give me a reason to excuse myself, as I'm sure she can see the worry on my face. I decide not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"If you're sure."
"Of course. Thank you for all your help today, Bella." I just nod, and head upstairs.
It's almost eight in the evening now, and the events of the last twenty-four hours, all the different emotions I've dealt with are catching up to me, and I'm suddenly exhausted. Deciding to dress for bed, I go through my routine, and just as I'm turning down the covers to slide in, there's a knock at my door.
"Hey." Alice pops her head into the room, a guarded smile on her face. "Got a minute?"
"Yeah, what's up?" She slips through the door, and sits down on the bed, next to me. She looks like she wants to say something, but can't find the words. She takes several breaths, as if she's going to start talking, but instead decides not to. When she finally gathers her courage, her question is blunt.
"Is Eddie working for Uncle Tony? Like, in the city, not at the bowling alley?" I can't say I'm surprised at her question. It's something, I'm sure, we're all thinking.
"I don't know, Alice. He won't..." I take a breath, trying to keep the ever present tears at bay. "He won't talk to me." My attempt to keep from crying is futile, and I'm soon sobbing on Alice's shoulder. She has no idea how to comfort me, just simply holding me while I get it all out.
When I finally settle down into bed, the exhaustion I felt earlier disappears, and my mind is spinning. Thoughts, questions for my husband about what he's been doing swirl around in my mind. Maybe he's ashamed that his meager wages couldn't support us, and that's why he went to his uncle. Honestly, I'm content for now, to stay here. Having his mom, the rest of his family, to help us with the baby is something I think we're gonna need. I just wish he'd talk to me.
The loud voice of my husband coming from downstairs gets my attention.
"That's what I'm trying to do!"
"Not this way, Edward. There are lots of other options for you to take care of your family."
"Like you? Slaving away in some damn steel mill my entire life? No, that's not what I want for my family. I want something better!"
"But at what cost, Edward? You're selling your soul."
"You just weren't man enough to step up when Uncle Tony offered you more!"
The tense silence that follows is long. It's Mr. Cullen that breaks it.
"No, Edward, I was man enough to walk away from it. But, if you're set on this, just promise me that you'll make sure Bella is taken care of if anything happens to you?"
"This is all for her, Pop."
No more is said and it's a little while before Edward comes quietly into our room. In the darkness, I watch him undress down to his boxer shorts. He pulls back the covers, slipping into bed, all the while I'm feigning sleep. I feel his arm wrap around my middle, his hand going to the squirming going on in my belly.
His face nuzzles into my neck, the feel of his warm breaths tickling me. Whispered words I'm sure I'm not supposed to hear make their way to my ear.
"It's all for you. Both of you."
The coming weeks are hard. He's withdrawn, and his smiles are fewer and further in between. He's gone later and later, coming home sometimes just as the sun is rising. He tells me that he got the job in the city, and that his paychecks are going toward a surprise. He brings me gifts, his mother too; new clothes, jewelry, things for the baby we talked about wanting, not needing. But the day he hands me a small box is the day so many things begin to change.
"What is it?"
"Just open it." His smile is so big, I can't refuse him. Opening it, I find a key.
"What is this to?"
"Come on, let's go for a drive. I wanna show you something."
The drive into the city is longer than I'm used to, the busy streets too crowded for my liking. Winding our way through a neighborhood, he pulls to a stop in front of a two-story brick home, complete with a covered front porch.
"Whose place is this?" I ask him, confused. "Are we visiting someone?"
"Not quite." He hops out, coming around to my side, opening my door for me. Carefully stepping out into the early summer heat, he helps me to my feet.
"Welcome home, Mrs. Cullen." His face is lit up with a face-splitting grin.
"What? Home?" I gasp. "This place is ours?"
"Ours. Well, junior's too, when he gets here."
I'm speechless. So much so, that I don't say a word as he leads me to the front door. Walking inside, everywhere I look there's new things to see. New furniture fills the space, even a television set in the living room. He drags me from room to room, showing me all of our new things. I'm overwhelmed. Even the baby's room is decked out.
The thought repeatedly going through my mind, is wondering what my husband had to do to earn the money for this place. I'm so distracted by my thoughts that I almost miss his question.
"Do you like it, baby?"
"Of course, it's perfect. But Edward, anywhere with you is perfect. You're my home. All of this is just... stuff," I say, as I walk into his arms.
"I just want the best for you, baby," he says, his lips kissing the top of my head.
The following days and weeks are stressful. I was just finding my feet, living with the Cullens, learning how to be a wife, watching how Mrs. Cullen took care of her children. Now, I'm home alone most days, most nights too. I watch a few programs on the television, play records on the fancy stereo we have. I spend a lot of time going through the baby's things, making sure we have what we need. I almost never see Alice, even though it's summer. She says she can't get a ride into the city. I think it's because Mr. Cullen doesn't want her around here.
Doing the weekly shopping at the market, even at the neighborhood deli, I notice people treat me differently. I don't need to carry cash with me, I already have accounts that apparently are being paid. I get what feels like special treatment. But, all the special treatment in the world doesn't make up for missing my husband. I eat most of my evening meals alone in front of the television.
When he does come home, he's... distant. Sure, he brings me pretty baubles to make up for missing him, but I'd rather have him.
His uncle joins us occasionally, with the constant presence of his... associates, and it makes me uneasy. And Edward is different around him, too. His carefree smile and laugh are nonexistent. It's all business. And occasionally, I'm... dismissed.
The late summer day I go into labor, Edward is nowhere to be found. I call Mrs. Cullen, who thankfully makes it into the city to get me to the hospital in time. The hours I spend alone, waiting, I also spend thinking, wondering if this is how I want to spend the rest of my life. Thoughts of packing up and moving back in with the Cullens cross my mind many times.
When I wake from the fog of the anesthesia, sore and groggy, my room is empty. I had hoped that I would wake to the sight of Edward holding our little one, a smile on his face, making the introductions. But it wasn't meant to be. A nurse wheels the baby in, placing the blue bundle in my arms.
"Thank you," I whisper to her, tears in my eyes. They are a mixture of tears—tears of joy, and tears of heartache. Looking down into the face of my angel, I am amazed that I helped make something so perfect.
"Hello, little one. I'm your mama." His little eyes peek open, dark blue staring back at me. "I'm so happy to meet you. I wish..." I take a deep breath before blowing it out, trying to keep the tears at bay. "I wish your papa was here to meet you." Silent tears stream down my face, sobs wracking my body. I hold my son close, breathing him in, trying to calm myself.
It is several hours later that Edward makes his appearance. He rushes in, disheveled, looking frantic, carrying flowers and a ridiculously huge teddy bear. When he bursts through the door, his eyes scan the room, finally landing on the little bundle in my arms.
"Is that..." He clears his throat. "Is that my son?" His voice is raspy, and he's a little out of breath.
"It is. Come meet him."
He steps slowly toward us, peeking over my arm to get a good look, finally settling on the bed next to us.
"My God. He's beautiful, baby. Looks just like you." He leans down, kissing my forehead. "You did good."
"You wanna hold him?"
"What? No, I don't think I should." He's shaking his head. But before he can get too far away, I place the baby in his arms. "Oh my God." His whisper is quiet; the following silence, reverent.
He looks down into my eyes then. "I can't tell you how sorry I am, Bella. I'm so sorry I wasn't here. I promise, I promise to be home more. Things are finally settling down at... work, and my schedule is opening up some. I shouldn't have to be gone so much. I'll do my best to be there for you, both of you. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for being gone so much. I was doing what I had to do to get things in order, to prove myself, but that part is done. I'll be home more now."
"Eddie, please don't make promises you can't keep. I don't... I don't think I can take it."
He leans back over, kissing me on my lips this time.
"I promise, Bella. If there's anything I've learned working for Uncle Tony, it's that my word is the only thing I have. Without it, I'm nothing."
He keeps his word. He's home most evenings, even getting up at night with the baby when I need him to. I understand that sometimes he needs to leave for 'meetings', or to have muffled telephone conversations in his office on occasion. We even have dinner together most nights.
"So, my daddy called here this morning." I glance up from my plate as I say this, looking for his reaction.
"Really? What did he want?" Edward tries, unsuccessfully, to look uninterested.
"He wanted to borrow money, can you believe that?"
"I can't say I'm surprised, Bella. I'm sure he's drunk and gambled his way through his paycheck every Friday before the ink is even dry on it."
"Yeah, you're probably right."
"So, what did you tell him?"
"That we didn't have anything to loan him. I don't have access to anything more than a little pocket change compared to what he wanted."
"What was he asking for?"
"He wanted a thousand dollars! Can you believe that? Like we would have that kind of money lying around." I just shake my head.
Meanwhile, Edward's expression is unreadable. He's distracted the rest of the meal. When the baby starts to cry, I get up to get him, before settling down to feed him. Edward walks past us on his way to his study, leaning down for a kiss as he goes.
"I've got a call to make, then maybe we can have some of that cobbler you made, yeah?"
After getting the baby settled, I straighten the kitchen, glancing at the clock every once in a while. Edward has been in his study for a long time. Thinking maybe he nodded off, I decide to check on him.
Not wasting the opportunity to surprise him, I plate up some cobbler, and quietly stride down the hallway. As I approach his office door, I see it cracked just slightly. I know we need to replace this knob; it's always sticking. Just before I push it open, I hear Edward's irritated voice.
"Is that really necessary? I mean, I know he's behind on his payments, but..." His words are cut off by whoever is on the other end. "No Sir, I understand." More silence. "Yes, yes, I know. I will. Mmmhmm. I know, Sir. She won't. All right. Yes, goodnight."
Before I can get caught for eavesdropping, I knock.
"Come in." Walking in, I can see his hands woven into his hair; something he only does these days when he's incredibly stressed. "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes. Come over here." He pats his lap, and I take the invitation. As I sit, he takes the plate from me, but sets it on his desk instead.
"Don't you want any?"
He wraps his arms around me, squeezing.
"I do, I just wanna hold you more. Is that okay?"
"Of course." He's tucked me under his chin, his arms around me, like he's trying to protect me from something, but what? "Everything okay, Edward?"
"It will be. I just... I just love you so much Bella. Don't ever forget that." His words, in a way, frighten me. It's like he's trying to tell me something. I reach up and hold his face in my hands.
"I love you too."
That night, after we've put the baby down for bed, we find our way to each other in the darkness, making love until we're both spent. Around one a.m., the baby's whimpers wake me. It takes me a moment to realize I'm alone in bed. My tired eyes scan the room, and I watch as Edward dresses in his slacks and dress shirt. Before I can say anything, I watch him reach into his dresser drawer, pulling out a handgun. I cover my mouth, stifling a gasp. Thankfully the baby has begun to cry in earnest now, and he doesn't hear me. The cries are louder now, though, and I can't pretend any longer. My feet hit the floor, and I go to our son, his sobbing causing me a physical ache.
"It's all right, baby boy. Mama's here."
"Everything okay?" Edward says popping his head into the room.
"Yeah, things are fine." I get the baby settled at my breast, then turn back to my husband. "Where are you off to?"
"I've got somewhere I need to be. I shouldn't be gone too long."
"Edward, it's one in the morning! Where are you going?"
"It's work. I'll be back soon." Stepping into the room, he leans down to kiss me, then the baby. "I love you both so much. Never forget that." He looks into my eyes, his words seeming to have more weight than usual. "I should be back by sun up, then I'll take you to breakfast, all right?"
"Yeah. Just... be careful, yeah?"
"Of course. Love you."
"Love you." And then, he's gone. The quiet of the house makes me sleepy, and after settling the baby back down, I crawl back into bed. Waking to sunlight streaming through the windows, I reach over, hoping to find my husband, but he's not there. Not hearing the baby just yet, I take advantage of it, and hop out of bed, making it. I dress for the day, wanting to be ready when Edward gets home, so we can go get that breakfast he promised. Tidying the room only takes a few minutes.
An out of place piece of paper on the floor draws my attention. It looks like a folded sheet from one of the notepads from Edward's office. Reaching down, a sense of foreboding comes over me, as if my soul knows I shouldn't look at it. Unfolding it, taking in what I see, all the air in my body leaves me in a whoosh.
77 K St
At that moment, my husband's secrets are staring me in the face.
A/N: Please leave the writer encouragement in the form of a review and a thank you for entering our contest.