I own nothing.
This was my entry for the Secrets and Lies contest. I always enjoy writing for contests because they challenge me and help me think outside my usual box. I will add another chapter or two to this one eventually. I have another story I'm trying to finish first. Thanks for taking the time to read this (now or during the contest), and if you were kind enough to leave a review on the contest page – Thank you!
Thank you to my fabulous pre-readers, 2Browneyes and Driving Edward. You ladies are amazing!
Fran, you've beta'd a lot of words for me and you always make me look good! Thank you for cleaning up my messes.
I picked up the tip and began to stack the dishes when I heard the chime telling me that someone had just come in. I didn't look up as I turned toward the kitchen.
"Have a seat anywhere, and I'll be right with you."
I could do this job without thinking, and most days that worked in my favor. I never thought this would be my life. Up before five a.m., early shift at the diner, grocery shopping once a week, and dinner alone at home every night in a small town where almost everyone hated me. It hadn't always been that way, and most days I could live with what my life had become, but some days it proved to be more than I could take. It was on those days that the mindless repetition was something I welcomed.
The early mornings didn't bother me. By the time most people were getting drowsy after lunch, I was clocking out and heading home. It was that mid-morning slump that always got to me. Sometime around nine a.m., the yawning would begin, and I'd wish I had a couple more hours of sleep. I'd take a break, drink a cup of coffee, and be good to go until after the lunch rush. It was rare that anything happened to shake up my routine.
Routine was good. Routine meant I didn't have to think … or remember.
Unfortunately, today would prove to be rare rather than routine.
I dropped the dirty dishes at the back of the kitchen and washed my hands before heading back out to the dining area. Reaching for a stack of menus, I glanced up to see how many I would need. All the air left my lungs when I saw them.
Carlisle and Esme Cullen.
I hadn't set eyes on them in almost four years, but I knew they were coming back to Forks for the weekend. The high school was breaking ground on a new gymnasium and had invited former athletes to participate in the festivities, most of them to be honored with some sort of tribute in the new facility. Of course, this would include Emmett Cullen. He'd been captain of the football team and the State wrestling champion in his weight class in both his junior and senior years. He'd gone on to play football at UDub and was gearing up for what promised to be a spectacular career in the NFL … until he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs as well as some recreational ones, sending his future into a tailspin.
Unfortunately, my future went spinning right along with his.
I'd heard that he was able to recover and go on to be successful. I couldn't say the same. My life had come to a standstill that night, and I doubted I would ever see my dreams fulfilled.
"Bella? You plannin' on working the rest of your shift, or you just gonna stand there starin' at the customers?"
"Sorry, Alec," I mumbled, grabbing a handful of menus, and taking a deep breath. Alec had owned the diner for years and was kind enough to give me a job when I dropped out of college and came back here. The last thing I wanted to do was piss him off and get fired.
I filled a couple of glasses with water and made my way across the diner to their table. Someone had joined them, and I studied her as I drew closer. She was stunningly beautiful. Shiny, blonde hair framed her delicate features. She had that old Hollywood look about her, that classic beauty that women only seemed able to achieve on magazine covers.
I placed the water glasses on the table and kept my eyes lowered, unable to look up as I acknowledged his greeting. "Good morning, Dr. Cullen. Mrs. Cullen."
"Bella? The Bella?" The pretty blonde grasped my hand and leaned forward to meet my eyes. "I'm so glad to meet you. I've heard so much about you, and I was hoping we'd have the chance to meet." Before I had the oportunity to respond, she stood and pulled me into a tight hug while the Cullens laughed softly behind her. But it wasn't their laughter that held my attention, or even this woman's surprising display of affection – it was the full, rounded belly her hand rested on as she lowered herself back into her seat. She was pregnant; easily at least six months along by the size of her.
"Sorry," she said, with a timid laugh. "I'm a bit excitable these days. I'm Rosalie." She held her hand out, and I shook it gently as I continued to stare at her midsection. It was Carlisle's warm hand on mine that broke through my spiraling thoughts. His gaze was kind and full of understanding as he squeezed my fingers.
"We'll have coffee and orange juice for Rose, please." I nodded and turned back toward the kitchen, suddenly needing something to occupy myself before I fell apart. I'd seen pregnant women since … since then … but seeing her with them. It felt as if my world was shifting and I hoped it didn't crumble.
I pulled out two cups and put them on the tray with my left hand while pouring juice into a glass with my right. I heard the door chime again and knew I needed to get moving and keep myself together until my break. Placing the glass on the tray, I grabbed some creamer and then the sugar packets and lifted the coffee carafe as I turned back toward their table.
In four years, nothing about Edward Cullen had faded from my memory. Not his smile, his expressive, green eyes, his thick, unruly hair, or the way he seemed so at ease and comfortable in his own skin.
And the pain was just as sharp as it was four years ago when he walked out of my life, choosing to believe I was lying to him. Choosing to believe I had betrayed him and his family. Choosing to believe that his brother's secret meant more to me than he did.
Now I stood on the outside of that family, watching as Edward greeted his parents, and then took a seat in the booth beside Rosalie. His arm draped casually across the back of the padded seat as he leaned toward her, kissing her cheek and grinning as he spread his open palm across the side of her round belly. It was a sweet, affectionate display accompanied by the sound of their laughter.
I wondered if the shattering of my heart made a sound.
My hands shook as I turned to Jessica, who had just arrived to prep for the lunch rush.
"Can you take that table for me?" It came out as a strangled whisper, catching on the knot in my throat.
Jessica glanced at the table and then back at me, smirking. "Nope."
"Please, Jess. You can have all of my tips for the day."
"Hmm. Tempting, but no. I would pay money to see this show." She popped her gum and grinned as she walked behind the counter and began filling salt shakers, clearly looking to be entertained.
Squaring my shoulders, I took a deep breath and faced my past with what little dignity I had left. Knowing my hands would shake uncontrollably, I set the tray on the table beside theirs and lifted the glass of juice.
I was relieved when I set it down in front of Rose with only minimal spillage. The cups were empty when I placed them in front of Carlisle and Esme, and I wondered if I would be able to pour the hot coffee without causing third-degree burns. Carlisle quickly reached for the carafe and began pouring the coffee, which unfortunately drew Edward's attention from the lovely Rosalie.
It was barely more than a whisper, but hearing him say my name with something other than anger brought tears to my eyes. I swallowed hard and stared at my hands as I asked if they were ready to order. I never looked up as they placed their orders, but I could feel his eyes on me the entire time. I wanted so desperately to look at him; to see what emotion those eyes held. Was it still anger? Would he now look upon me with disgust, or worse, pity? Perhaps it would be pride in seeing how I had failed at life, reveling in my disappointment.
I was sure Carlisle never told him what happened. At least that one secret was safe. If I could just survive the weekend, it would be over. I didn't work tomorrow, so if I could get to the grocery store, I could lock myself in the house until Monday and break down in private. There would be lots of talk about the weekend's events in the diner next week but hearing about them was much less painful than seeing him.
I couldn't do this! I all but ran to the kitchen to turn in their order, flinging the paper at Alec as I ran toward the bathroom, my hand over my mouth in hopes I could make it in time.
"Aww, you better clean that up, Bella!"
Tears ran unchecked down my cheeks as I heaved. A few minutes and the worst of it passed as I sat on the cold tile floor, too tired to consider how disgusting it might be. The door opened and shut but I kept my eyes closed, too brokenhearted to care about who might have come in to witness my humiliation.
"I'm so sorry, Sweetheart. If I'd known you were here, we wouldn't have come in."
I looked up into Carlisle's worried face. He was kneeling beside me, a damp paper towel in his hand. He began to gently wipe my face, the kindness in the gesture reminding me of that night so long ago when he had done the same thing and then held me as I wept over all I had lost.
I needed to be stronger than this. I might never be truly happy again, but I was stronger than this. I pushed his hand away and then stood, pushing the loose strands of hair out of my face.
"Thank you, Carlisle. None of this was your fault so please don't feel guilty for stopping in for breakfast at the diner. I'll ask Jessica to take care of your needs while you're here."
"Bella, please come and sit with us for a few minutes. I know Esme would –"
"I think that's a bad idea."
He was quiet for a moment, then nodded, "I understand." He turned without another word and opened the door to go back to his family. To Edward, Rosalie, and his … grandchild.
"Carlisle?" He glanced back at me, his expression open as he waited. I took a deep breath and asked the one question I needed answered, even though it might break me. "Is he happy?"
He stared at the wall behind me for a moment, then sighed and met my eyes. "I don't know, Bella. I don't know."
It was no surprise that Alec sent me home. Too much of a risk that I might vomit in the dining area, and if I were being honest, I wasn't sure I wouldn't if I had to watch Edward doting on her. Together they had everything I ever wanted – love, a family, and a future that held possibility rather than pain.
After a quick trip to the grocery store, I walked home with two bags in each hand, wondering how close I was to having enough money to fix my beat up old truck. The transmission locked up about three months ago, and the income of a waitress wouldn't stretch far enough to cover emergency repairs. Hopefully, I could save enough before the winter months set in. The sidewalks would be slick with freezing rain and snow, making the walk from the diner or grocery store miserable.
I was so focused on the cracks in the sidewalk and lost in my thoughts that I hadn't noticed the man sitting on my porch steps. As soon as he stood and took a step toward me, I stopped.
Edward reached out, taking the bags from my hands as he asked, "Where's your truck?"
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I could do this. I was strong enough. "It's parked behind Embry's shop. He or Jake will repair it when I have the money."
Edward nodded and followed as I walked toward the house. He stayed on the bottom step while I unlocked the door and then trailed behind me into the kitchen. Setting the bags on the table, he turned and looked toward the living room. "You finally convinced Charlie to get rid of the old recliner."
It was surreal having him here in my house. So much had changed in the last four years even though, for me, it was as though time had ceased. Edward had moved on, his family, even my parents had moved on. It seemed I was the only one standing still.
"He took it with him. My mom and dad started talking again, talking led to texting, which led to weekend visits. They got remarried, and he moved to Florida two years ago. He offered me the house, and it was paid for so …"
Edward's eyes were wide, and his brow shot up, but he said nothing as he watched me unpack the groceries and begin putting things away. Once the milk and eggs were in the fridge, I turned to face him, keeping my eyes on his chest knowing I couldn't look him in the eye.
"What are you doing here, Edward?"
His arms folded across his chest as he leaned on the doorframe. "I was about to ask you the same question."
"I live here."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it." He stood up straight and dropped his arms, taking a step toward me. "Why are you here? You never came back to school, so clearly, you finished somewhere else. Why are you here, working in the diner instead of teaching?"
I shrugged, looking past him. "This is home. I'm content here."
He was shaking his head before I finished speaking. "I'm not buying that. You always wanted to teach, and you wanted to be in the city, not stuck here in tiny Forks. Not the Bella I knew, so I'll ask again. What are you doing here?"
His words caused anger to flare in me, overpowering the hurt and defeat that had been my constant default. How dare he come in here and presume to know anything about me anymore! The look of surprise on his face was worth it when I met his eyes and took two steps toward him.
"That's an interesting statement coming from you, Edward, because the last time we were together, you said I wasn't the person you thought you knew. You said, and I quote, "I don't know you at all, Bella. I'm not sure I ever did." I had advanced as I spoke and when I finished, I was just inches from him. I blew out a breath and took a few steps back, but kept my eyes on him, daring him to goad me again.
Tilting his head in thought, a slight curve played at the corner of his mouth. "You're right, I have no idea who you are now. I was just surprised to see you working at the diner this morning. I assumed you'd be long gone from Forks, maybe even from Washington." He took a step toward me, his eyes gentle. "I know it isn't my business anymore, and I'm sorry if I've angered you, but what I saw this morning worried me. I'm glad to see there's still a fire in you."
I had no idea what to say to that. It was probably more emotion than I'd displayed in years. It was easier to just exist, hiding away anything that might make me feel, and yet, within a few hours, Edward had set it loose with only a few words. I watched silently as he took a couple of steps backward, tucking his hands into his pockets.
"I should probably get going."
"She's beautiful," I said, the words just tumbling out before I had time to think it through. Did I really want to discuss this with him? He was looking at me as though I'd spoken another language, so I clarified. "Rosalie. She's beautiful. And kind."
"Oh. Yeah, Rose is great."
I nodded, knowing I needed to acknowledge the rest of it, but finding it difficult. I sucked in a breath and swallowed back the bile, but I couldn't meet his eyes this time.
"For?" My eyes snapped up to meet his expectant gaze.
Oh, God, he was going to make me say it.
"The … uh … Rosalie is …" I was going to be sick again.
"Oh! No, Bella, Rose is Emmett's wife. They're having a boy in about ten or twelve weeks."
I had no idea how long I stood gaping at him, trying to keep my relief at knowing she … they … weren't his, while battling the knowledge that he might still have a family. The truth was that I knew nothing about his life now except that it didn't include me.
"Bella?" Edward's voice pulled me from my thoughts, and I glanced down at his hand as it lifted as though he was going to reach for me. Just as quickly, it curled into a fist and dropped to his side. "I really should get going."
I nodded, unable to find a coherent thought, much less string together a sentence. Within seconds, the door closed, and it was as though I imagined the whole thing. He wanted to know why I stayed in Forks? What did it matter? He hadn't been concerned enough to seek me out before now, so why was today any different?
It was different because it was the first time we laid eyes on each other in four years. Maybe he wanted to see that I was alone and stuck in a life I never wanted. Maybe he was over it all and just wanted some closure from the high school/college sweetheart who he thought betrayed him. Maybe his heart was, like mine, missing its other half.
Maybe, but unlikely.
I spent the rest of the afternoon putting away groceries, prepping meals for the weekend, and mindlessly channel surfing until the stars came out and my wrung-out emotions allowed me to find sleep.
Morning brought gray, cloudy skies, which was not uncommon for Forks. It also brought Rosalie, bearing muffins and juice, which was extremely unusual. Her smile was wide as she stepped inside my home, and I was struck with the realization that it had been more than six months since anyone had been in my house besides me, and within twenty-four hours I had been visited by two Cullens. If my nerves weren't so on edge, I might have laughed at the absurdity of it all.
"I hope you don't mind me barging in like this, but once Emmett gets here this afternoon, I'm afraid things are going to get a little crazy. I couldn't help myself, Bella, I had to come see you."
I nodded, gesturing for her to have a seat at the table while I grabbed a couple of glasses from the cabinet and began pouring juice. Rosalie opened the box of muffins, talking all the while.
"I'm not one to mince words, and I know there's a history with Edward. I promise I'm not here to address that in any way." She waited for me to sit across from her at the table, looking me in the eye and leaning toward me as much as her enlarged midsection would allow. "I'm here to thank you for saving Emmett."
I was stunned speechless for a minute, my mind trying to discern her meaning. Once the fog cleared, I couldn't help but shake my head in disbelief as I laughed humorlessly at the irony. "Saving him? Rosalie, the entire Cullen family, half the University of Washington campus, and most of this town hates me for what they think I did to him."
"See, that's just it. I've heard everyone's side of this story but yours, Bella. And to be honest, whether you made that call or not, it probably saved his life. If it was you, I want you to know I'll always be grateful," she laid her hand against her swollen abdomen. "We both will."
Now that she had drawn my attention to it, I couldn't look away. Hearing her talk about all she had gained while she had no idea what I lost was almost enough to destroy me all over again. I was on the verge of asking her to go when her hand covered mine and squeezed.
"Will you tell me your story?"
"Edward … "
"Come on, baby, tell me you'll stay."
"Alice is in the next room."
"She's asleep. We'll be quiet."
I couldn't think when he held me like this – my back to his front with one arm around my waist and the other exploring while his mouth did incredible things to the curve of my neck.
The truth was, I didn't want to think. I wanted to feel … and I wanted to stay. "Okay, but I have to go early in the morning. I have an exam."
"I'll set my alarm." He already had my jeans unbuttoned and my bra unclasped before I even answered, so it was only a matter of seconds before my clothes were all lying on the floor. Edward was nothing if not efficient.
Turning me so that I faced him, Edward sat on the side of the bed and pulled me against him, his hands sliding up my legs until he found the back of my knees and tugged me onto his lap, straddling him. The momentum was too much, causing him to fall back and taking me with him.
"I want you just like this," he whispered. His hands settled on my hips, rocking me over him as he thrust gently against me. My mind wandered, wondering when he had taken his jeans and boxer briefs off, but I quickly regained focus on the man beneath me when his fingers pressed into me as his mouth explored my breast. His other hand was still firmly holding my hip, keeping a steady push and pull against his thrusts.
"Shhh." He pressed his lips to my ear. "Quiet, baby." He turned my face toward him, his mouth possessing mine as I lifted my hips and lowered myself onto him. I smiled against his lips when he groaned, his hands grasping my ass and pulling me hard against him.
"Shhhh." I nipped at his ear. "We're being quiet, remember?"
His arms wrapped around me, one at my waist and the other at my shoulders as he rolled and suddenly I was beneath him on the edge of the bed while he stood between my legs. Both hands wrapped under and around my shoulders, pulling me onto him as he thrust into me. My arms flailed as I searched for something to ground me.
"Hold onto me, Bella. Wrap those arms and legs around me."
I did as he commanded while his mouth claimed mine, his tongue sliding languidly against mine while his hips circled against me with every press. I tried not to make a sound when I came, his grin telling me I failed miserably. He followed me, pushing his face into my neck with a soft grunt.
Edward collapsed onto me, and we both giggled as he rolled to the side, wrapping me in his arms and holding me close.
"You just can't help yourself, can you? Or is it that I'm just so good you have to let the world know?"
I slapped him on the chest. "Arrogant ass."
"You love my ass."
I shook my head, grinning as I sat up and pulled Edward's t-shirt off the floor and over my head.
"Where are you going?"
"I need to get some water. I'll be right back." I had taken two steps when I felt something hit me in the back. I turned and looked down at my feet where my panties were lying on the floor. I glanced up at Edward, and he was grinning as he picked up his phone.
"Put those on. I'm sure Emmett is home by now, and I don't share my toys. What time do you need to get up?"
"Seven thirty should be fine," I answered as I reached down, picking up Edward's boxer briefs and sliding them on rather than my own underwear. His groan had me giggling as I walked down the hall toward the kitchen.
I could hear Emmett half a second before I saw him. He was sitting on the couch opposite of Tyler Crowley, and he was filling a syringe from a small glass bottle. I watched as they prepared two syringes each and then pulled out alcohol swabs and gauze squares. Neither of them noticed me, and I backtracked down the hall as quietly as I could. Edward was settled in the bed but still awake when I walked into his room.
"Edward, Emmett brought Tyler home with him. I think – I think you should go out there."
He sat up and flipped the comforter back as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "What is it? What's wrong?"
I told him what I saw, and he nodded, kissing my forehead and telling me to get in bed. He'd pulled on another pair of boxer briefs and didn't bother putting anything else on when he left the room. After a couple of minutes, I could hear them talking, someone leaving through the front door and then more talking. It was about ten minutes later that Edward came back to the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He scrubbed his hands over his face and then dropped them between his knees, staring at the floor.
"He's taking PEDs. Anabolic steroids and peptide hormones."
He didn't look up but held his hand out to me. I took it, and he pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around my waist and leaning his forehead against my chest.
"What do we do? I'm scared for him."
Edward nodded and then stood, taking my hands in his. "I'm scared for him, too. I need to talk to my dad." He tilted his head up, staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours. His jaw tensed as he finally took a deep breath and met my eyes. "I need you to keep this just between us for now, Bella. I'm going to call my dad first thing in the morning and let him know what's happening. He can get Emmett whatever help he needs to wean off that shit. He'll know what to do about the athletic department and Em's scholarship, too. Can you do that for me? Please? He could lose everything if this gets out."
I shook my head, "I won't say anything to anyone. You're right, your dad will know best."
"We got up the next morning, and I went to class. I had to work at the campus bookstore until five, and then I went back to Edward and Emmett's apartment to see if they wanted to grab some dinner before Alice left."
"Alice was still there?"
Rosalie and I had moved to the couch to be more comfortable. She had her shoes off and her feet propped up on the coffee table while my knees were drawn up to my chest, my arms wrapped tightly around them as I leaned into the back cushions. Reliving those memories was draining, and I felt as though it was bedtime rather than mid-morning.
"Yes," I nodded. "She had been touring the campus. She would graduate from Forks High that spring and was trying to decide whether to apply to UDub." Rosalie sat back, taking another sip of her juice as I continued. "He wasn't there, so I went home. It was almost midnight when he showed up at my house. My roommates were already in bed, but it didn't take long for the shouting to wake them."
"What happened that made him so angry?"
"I have no idea," I shook my head, still confused about what had set him off. "He was raging, accusing me of calling the athletic director's office and reporting Emmett for using performance-enhancing drugs. They tested him, and of course, it was positive."
"How could you do it, Bella? One day! One damn day is all I asked of you. My dad would have done the right thing and reported it, you know he would've!" Edward paced like a caged lion, his hands in his hair, the set of his shoulders tense. "He lost everything. The scholarship, his place on the team, EVERYTHING! How could you do it?"
"I didn't! I swear it, Edward! Why would I do that to him? To you? I gave you my word, and I haven't said anything to anyone. Please, you have to believe me!"
"Who else could it have been? It sure as hell wasn't me and you were the only other person that knew about it."
Fear spiked through me as I realized he actually believed I had reported his brother – a man I had loved like a brother since childhood. "Edward, you know me. You know I wouldn't do this. Please."
"I don't know you at all, Bella. I'm not sure I ever did." With those words, he walked out the door and was gone.
I hadn't realized I was crying until Rosalie got up and went to the bathroom, bringing a roll of toilet paper with her. She handed it to me with a shrug.
"I didn't see any tissues." She sat back down, taking my hand in hers. "I said it before, I don't care whether the whole world hates you for it. If you reported him, then you saved his life. The peptide hormones cause serious cardiac issues. In the medical workup, they found an abnormality in one of Emmett's aortic valves. If he had continued taking those drugs, well, heart failure was inevitable."
"I'm glad he's okay, but it wasn't me."
Rosalie nodded and smiled sadly. "Then I'm sorry for the pain it's caused you." She was silent then, watching me closely as I blew my nose and wiped the last of the tears from my eyes. When she spoke again, her voice was kind.
"Tell me about the baby, Bella."
"Wh – What?" She couldn't know. Carlisle wouldn't have said anything, and no one else knew.
Rosalie sighed, her expression full of compassion, and, surprisingly, devoid of pity. "Emmett and I lost a baby last year. I was almost three months along. We hadn't planned to start a family so soon, but we were thrilled. When I miscarried, we were devastated." She reached across the couch and grasped my hand. "It isn't hard to recognize that sorrow in you. Your eyes are drawn to my belly, but you look away so quickly like you can't bear to see it. Only a woman who has experienced that kind of loss can truly understand the pain. I can't imagine what it must have been like to go through that without Edward. He never knew, did he?"
I stared at the wall behind her, feeling the tears drip freely from my chin, knowing there was no stopping them now. I shook my head slowly, mouthing the word "no," unable to make a sound for the knot in my throat. To her credit, Rosalie sat silently, waiting for me to pull myself together. She never let go of my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze from time to time. It was the first time someone had comforted me in my grief since that night.
I took a shaky breath and closed my eyes, willing the words from my mouth. "I never told anyone, not even my parents. Carlisle was the only one who knew, and he found out only by accident. I drove to the hospital in Port Angeles so that no one here would know. They were shorthanded, so he was helping out in their ER." I swallowed against the lump in my throat and opened my eyes, focusing again on the blank wall. "He promised me he would keep my secret. With the baby gone, there was no sense in causing that kind of pain to anyone else."
"You were entirely alone. My God, you're so much stronger than I realized." Rosalie shook her head and then turned to face me with a determined gleam in her eye. "You're not alone anymore, Bella. Whatever happens with Edward is … whatever, but Emmett and I want you in our lives. However it happened, whoever reported him doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that we move forward from this point."
Pushing herself to stand in her awkward state, Rosalie walked into the kitchen and retrieved her purse from where she'd left it on the table. She pulled out a cream-colored envelope and set it on the coffee table in front of me.
"I need to go but wanted you to have this. It's an invitation to a reception tomorrow night for the athletes. We'd like you to come as our guest. I'll understand if you don't think you can, but I wanted to extend the offer and let you know that we'd be proud to have you there. You should know that the rest of the family will be in attendance, including Edward."
My mouth was dry as a bone, and I had to clear my throat before I could answer her. "I appreciate the invitation, but I don't think I can. If for no other reason, in this town it would become a circus of gossip and assumption. I'd hate for Emmett's night to be ruined by that."
She smiled widely. "I understand. Actually, I'm glad because those events can be stuffy and boring. I'd much rather spend time getting to know you in a more private setting, so Emmett and I would like you to come to lunch on Sunday. Just the three of us. Carlisle and Esme have plans with friends and Edward and Alice will be heading back to Seattle that morning. Please say you'll consider it."
I barked out a humorless laugh, shaking my head at the irony. "Rosalie, in the last couple of hours you've gotten to know me better than anyone has in the last four years." I shook my head sadly, "It's a bad idea for you to be around me in public, and besides, this really is all there is to Bella Swan – nothing more."
She picked her purse up again, slinging it over her shoulder, "First, I don't believe that for a minute. Second, even if it is true, I like Bella Swan and want to spend time with my new friend. And lastly, we won't be in public, we'll be at the Cullen's house."
"The house? They still own their house?"
She sighed and met my eyes, "I thought you'd heard. Carlisle and Esme are moving back. He's taking over as Chief of Staff at the hospital next month."
I shook my head slowly, considering what this revelation meant. If they lived here, it was inevitable that all three of the Cullen siblings would be here on occasion. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I liked Rosalie. She was the first person I'd felt drawn to in years, and a long-distance friendship might be okay, but if her family was here … if Edward was here, even occasionally, it would be impossible.
Rosalie opened the front door, pulling me from my turmoil. "Don't overthink this. Come to lunch on Sunday. Oh, and call me Rose. All my friends do."
With those words, she walked out the door and left me to wonder what the hell just happened.
Saturday was uneventful, and I passed the day cleaning the house and weeding the flower beds. The quiet activity afforded me time to process all that had happened the day before. I was surprised to realize that I really liked Rose and grudgingly admitted to myself that I would enjoy spending more time with her. She seemed to be the kind of person I would have been friends with if the circumstances were different.
But they weren't.
She was still Edward's sister by marriage, which meant we would never be able to have a close friendship. There was no possibility I could sustain a relationship that was so closely tied to him and not be miserable.
That thought made me laugh. As if I weren't already miserable!
That train of thought always led me right back to Edward.
Why had he really come to my home? There was no possibility he was still concerned, not after four years without any contact. Was he just trying to satisfy his curiosity? Was he worried that I might cause a scene at the groundbreaking?
The questions circled in my mind until my head ached. I forced myself to stop obsessing over it, cleaned myself up and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before going to bed. I was exhausted and knew that morning would come soon enough, bringing lunch with Rose and Emmett and a whole new set of questions.
Rose and I hadn't discussed my lack of transportation, and I had already decided I could use the excuse of my broken-down truck to keep from attending. She didn't seem to be the type of person who would easily accept excuses, so I wasn't surprised when she pulled into my driveway at eleven o'clock the next morning.
I'd worried that I would be underdressed in my khaki shorts and blue knit blouse. I opted for a pair of sandals rather than my chucks, but I had no desire to make any more of an effort. I had no one to impress. Rose was wearing shorts and sandals as well, so I assumed I was dressed appropriately. She grinned when I opened the door and met her on the porch.
"I was afraid I would have to pull you kicking and screaming to the car. I'm glad you've decided not to fight me on this."
I shrugged and gave her a small smile in return. "I figured I'd save us both the fight. You don't seem the type to back down when you want something."
"Smart girl," Rose laughed. She slid into the driver's seat, shifting her rounded middle before buckling her seatbelt. If she noticed me staring, she didn't say anything. Instead, she filled the ride to the Cullen's home with bubbly chatter about nothing important, asking me questions about various features of the town as we drove past them. It wasn't until we turned onto the street where the Cullen house was that she grew quiet. A quick glance revealed her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and the tight set of her jaw.
Panic began to build in my chest as she turned into the driveway and shifted the car into park. I took a deep breath and glanced up, hoping that whatever had Rose so tense would be anything other than something to do with me.
The house looked the same. White with black shutters, two stories, wrap around porch with a couple of rocking chairs, roses, and a huge hydrangea on the right front corner. It was exactly as I remembered it, but the man sitting in one of the rockers was new. I'd never seen him before, and I wondered why his presence bothered Rose.
He stood and walked down the steps as we got out of the car.
"I thought you'd be headed back to the city by now, Jasper. What's going on?"
The man, Jasper, apparently, didn't answer her. Instead, he held his hand out toward me. "You must be Bella. I'm Jasper, Alice's fiancé. It's good to meet you." His voice had a soft, southern lilt and his eyes were kind. I shook his hand, unable to find my own voice to answer him. What did this mean? If Alice was still here, would Edward still be here, as well? His next words answered my questions, but the accompanying apologetic look sent my heart into a tailspin.
"There's been something of a … a revelation this morning. They're all still inside."
"All?" Rose asked.
"'Fraid so, darlin'. You got fruit back here?" He opened the trunk, and Rose said something about the crates, but I couldn't get my mind to focus on their words. The pounding of my heart and the sound of the blood rushing in my ears was too much.
"Bella," Rose called, grasping my hand. "I'm so sorry. I went to one of the local farmer's markets before picking you up. They were all supposed to be gone before we got here. Once Jasper gets the fruit unloaded I'll take you home."
"I don't think that's the best choice, Rose." Jasper sighed as he hefted a crate from the trunk and set it on the ground. "They're waitin' for you both. I came outside to give you a heads up, so you weren't walkin' in blind. Bella, if you go home, I think they'll just follow you."
"It's been four years, why would they want to see me?"
I knew why. I could feel myself shaking with the truth of it. The look on Jasper's face told me he knew, and he knew I did too. Somehow, this secret, this devastating loss that I held close for four years had come to light, and I would have to face the wrath of the family I'd kept in the dark.
"They'll never forgive me." I turned to Rose, my throat already closing with grief. "I never betrayed them, but they'll never forgive me for this."
Rose shook her head, "You weren't the only one who kept this secret, Bella." She sighed and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. "This is my fault. I spoke to Carlisle late last night after everyone was in bed. I should have kept quiet."
I stepped out of her embrace and turned toward the house. I'd had so many happy memories here, and I knew nothing would ever be the same after today. Edward was inside, and he would hear the truth. He would know I had carried his baby, even if it was only a short while. He would believe I had betrayed him twice – once as his brother's whistle-blower, and once as the woman who was too emotionally distraught to sustain his child.
This would happen, and there was no way I could stop it. I took a deep breath and wiped the tears from my eyes. Taking the first step toward the house, I found the remnant of my strength. I could hear Rose and Jasper behind me, and it was only a couple of seconds before Rose was at my side, her hand clutching mine.
When we stepped through the door into the entry, the house was silent. I had expected loud, angry voices and red faces filled with rage. The sight that met us was one of sorrow and heartbreak. Esme sat in an overstuffed chair, her eyes red, one fist clenched and pressed to her lips while the other lay limply cradling a tissue in her lap. Carlisle stood beside the chair with his hand on her shoulder.
But it was Edward, seated alone on the couch, who had my immediate attention. His elbows rested on his knees, and both hands were fisted in his hair. I couldn't see his face, and for that I was grateful. I didn't think there was any emotion he might display that wouldn't destroy me. Anger, sadness, disbelief, hurt, relief – he would be justified in feeling any of these and more, but I was terrified of them all.
I turned to my left in just enough time to brace myself as Emmett all but tackled me where I stood. "God, Bella, it's so good to see you!" His arms were wrapped so tightly around me I was struggling to draw breath. Rose's soft voice and hand on his arm caused him to pull back and hold me at arm's length, his face as honest and open as ever as he smiled widely. "I've missed you, little B. There are things to say, but," he glanced into the room behind me, "we'll have time."
He gave my arms a soft squeeze and released me, pulling Rose into his side and kissing the top of her head. I swallowed back the tears that desperately wanted to surface and turned back to the other three people in the room. Carlisle and Esme hadn't moved, but Edward was standing now and had a piece of paper in his hands. His eyes were bloodshot, but they never left my face as he held out what I quickly realized was an ultrasound photo.
"Were you ever going to tell me?"
"It doesn't matter now," I whispered, unable to tear my gaze from that black and white glossy image. I knew it by heart – every line, every curve, every shadow of the tiny life that would never be. I had the same print tucked into the bottom of my nightstand drawer, but I had no idea that Carlisle kept one as well.
"Doesn't matter?" He looked stricken. "How could you keep this from me, Bella?"
"How could you have no faith in me, in us, Edward?" I countered, hoping that wherever the courage was coming from, there would be enough supply to get me through this confrontation.
"So, you decide to punish me by keeping my child from me? If the baby had been born, would you be standing here lying to me now?" His arms were flailing, the photo fluttering in the air.
"I never lied to you!"
"You lied by omission, Bella. I should have known about this."
The hurt in his voice destroyed the tenuous hold I had on my emotions, and the tears rolled unchecked down my cheeks as I took a step toward Edward. "I called you," I gasped, struggling not to sob. "I called you every day. You never answered, so I went to your apartment, but you were gone. I was pregnant, facing an angry student body because they believed I'd cost them their star player, and the one person I needed had left me entirely alone."
I covered my face, surrendering to the tears, needing the release, and hoping that I could recover. The room around me was silent as I tried to compose myself. I felt, more than heard, Edward move toward me, but his touch never came. Truthfully, I didn't know if I would be able to regain control of my emotions if he did. When I was finally able to meet his eyes, he looked as shattered as I was. His cheeks were tearstained, and his chin quivered with his struggle.
"That's why you didn't come back after winter break." It wasn't a question, he was confirming aloud what we both knew.
I nodded, and though I knew his pain would gut me, I had to finish it.
"It was my fault. I don't even remember the end of the semester. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat, and when I did, I couldn't manage to hold it down. I was heartbroken and could barely function." I stopped, unable to continue to speak past the lump in my throat. I swallowed hard, took a couple of deep breaths, and held Edward's gaze. "I couldn't take care of myself, even for the sake of my baby. I'm so sorry you never knew, but I love you too much to cause you that pain."
At that moment, three things happened at once. Edward grasped my hands in his own, initiating touch for the first time in four years. Carlisle was protesting my blame, saying the same thing he said when I lost the baby, that it wasn't my fault and these things just happen. But it was the hysterical voice coming from the staircase that stopped us all cold.
It was Alice.
Her voice shaking as she cried, "I didn't know! I would have said something! I was scared and angry, and I didn't know!"
Edward released my hands and stepped toward her. "What are you saying, Alice? You didn't know what?"
"That she was pregnant. I wouldn't have let it …" Her words trailed off, and her eyes grew wide as she looked around the room, taking in the stunned silence of everyone present.
She looked exactly as I remembered. Her hair was shorter, cut in a sleek bob, but she still had that same youthful beauty. However, watching her at that moment was like watching a balloon deflate as she turned and looked at her father.
"I was there. I saw it, and I heard Edward and Bella talking about what to do." She shot a glance back at me, "I heard everything."
I knew what she meant, but oddly, I wasn't embarrassed. Obviously, everyone in the room knew I had been pregnant so it couldn't be a shock to know that Edward and I had sex.
"I was scared for Emmett and angry that my brothers were leaving me behind. I made the call to the athletic director."
The room erupted with voices that were shocked, outraged, hurt, and above all, loud. I watched as everyone shifted toward where Alice and Carlisle stood, all fighting to be heard over the others.
For my part, I was numb. My hands felt so cold after just seconds of warmth from Edward. I felt grief at the rehashing of my loss, relief that it was no longer something I had to hide, exhaustion from the emotional upheaval, and anger that Alice had selfishly allowed me to take the blame for a decision she made.
But mostly, I just felt numb.
I don't remember making a conscious decision to leave, but by the time I reached the end of the Cullen's street, I felt as though I could finally take a breath large enough to fill my lungs. Nothing about my circumstances had changed, but I knew I was a different person than I was this morning. If nothing else, I now knew I could survive being in the same room with Edward. Although, after leaving the way I did, unnoticed and without a word, I wondered if he would ever have a reason to see me again. He had his answers about why I was here and there being nothing to tie him to me.
I'd walked another two blocks before I had my answer.
His car came to a stop in the middle of the street. I didn't realize it was Edward until he got out of the car and came to stand in front of me. He immediately took my hand in his and cleared his throat.
"Let me take you home."
The right side of his mouth lifted in a small smile. "I never said you weren't." His brow furrowed and he reached out to grasp my other hand, holding both of them tightly as he met my eyes. "I've done a terrible job of taking care of you when you needed me. Please, let me take you home."
"Okay," I mouthed more than whispered. He sprung into action, leading me to the car and opening my door. It was still running so we were moving quickly once he took the driver's seat.
If I expected the ride home to be the end of it, I was sorely mistaken. Edward followed me to the door but hesitated once it was open.
"Could I … can we talk, Bella?"
I studied him for a moment. His eyes were wide and pleading. I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn't help myself. I took a step back and waved my hand toward the living room. He smiled shyly and followed me to the couch.
"Shouldn't you get back to Alice and your family?" I had no idea what happened after I left or how he felt about it. Hell, I didn't know how I felt about her revelation.
Edward shook his head, "As far as I'm concerned, that's between Alice, my parents, and Emmett. I only care about what's happening here, with you."
I stayed quiet, waiting for him to continue. He took a few deep breaths and scrubbed his hands over his face a few times before finding his voice.
"I don't even know where to start. I know I was wrong. I've known I was wrong from the beginning, Bella. My heart knew you wouldn't betray me, but the evidence was all there. I was so wrong not to trust you, to trust what we had." His voice caught, and a tear escaped his left eye as he swallowed. "I know the words don't mean a thing, but I am sorrier than you could ever know, Bella. I'm sorry I never gave you a chance to be heard. I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions and didn't believe you. I'm sorry I betrayed your trust in me. I'm sorry I ever asked you to keep the secret in the first place. And I'm so, so sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me. I left you alone to face all of it. I left you to grieve our baby without any support."
His shoulders shook as his hands covered his face and he wept for the loss that was so fresh for him. I couldn't help but attempt to comfort him somehow, so I laid my hand on his shoulder, knowing it probably did nothing to ease his pain.
Edward moved so quickly I didn't have time to react. He grasped my hand in both of his, pressing it to his lips before holding it against his chest and reaching out for the other one as well. Leaning forward, he brought his face to within just inches of mine, his eyes a vivid, bright green through his tears.
"You said love," he whispered.
"At the house, you said you love me too much to cause me pain. Love, not loved."
I was sure he could hear my heart pounding. I could feel it from my scalp to my toes, so surely, he could feel it in my hands. He squeezed them tighter against him, and I realized his heart was pounding with the same force. I didn't have to think about my response. It would be the same as it was four years ago.
"I love you, Edward. I never stopped loving you."
"But you can't trust me."
He was right. I couldn't trust him. Not right now. How could I know he wouldn't break my heart again tomorrow or the day after? I couldn't look him in the eye, so I looked away and tried to find a way to answer that would be honest but wouldn't damage us any further.
"I don't blame you," he murmured. He was silent for a moment, and I glanced back at his face and found him watching me, his eyes earnest. "I love you, Bella. I'm not worthy of you, but I still love you."
I released a shaky breath at his words. I never expected to hear him say them again, and at that moment, I couldn't think of anything I needed more.
"Do you think … is there any possibility that I could ever earn your trust again? I'll let you go if you can't forgive me, but I haven't been whole without you. I've thought about you every day, Bella, and I won't waste the chance to beg for your forgiveness. Can you? Forgive me?"
As scared as I was to consider trusting him again one day, I knew I couldn't continue to live this half-life without him anymore. I didn't know how to move on, but then, if what he was offering were true, I wouldn't have to. I needed to think and process everything that had happened, and I found it difficult to think about anything but Edward when he was sitting so close.
"When are you going back to Seattle?"
He stared at me blankly and blinked twice before answering. "I'm here indefinitely. I'm here until you tell me to go."
I nodded and pulled my hands from his. "You should go home. You need to talk to Alice."
"I work tomorrow morning, but maybe you could come by in the afternoon? We could talk more then."
His smile was small and probably a reflection of the way I was feeling as well. It was a feeling that had been a foreign one for a long time.
I felt hopeful.
It had been a day of surprises, disclosures, and revelations.
A day of hearts being broken and maybe some being mended.
A day of reflection and truth.
A day where deceit and lies were exposed.
In the middle of all of those emotions, there was only one thing I knew for sure. The sun would rise tomorrow and a new day would begin. And for the first time in years, it was something I looked forward to.
Life now had possibilities.