WARNINGS! So pay freaking attention.
(This is a rewrite of the first chapter. I made a name change and corrected a few small inconsistencies.)
First warning, this story is a slooow burn.
Second. This story contains a big age gap.
Third.. nothing remotely sexual or romantic will happen between the main pairing until Bella is over the legal age of 18.
"I told you to shut that fucking kid up," Phil snapped from the driver seat, his voice harsh and loud as he jerked the Tahoe back onto the road.
The rain was coming down hard and fast; the sky was pitch black, occasionally a flash of lightning would brighten the night's sky, as the thunder would roll through the vehicle, sending Grant into another wave of screams. Bella jerked, her eyes darting to the driver's seat, "I'm trying to," she murmured, resuming her soft patting. Phil shot her a dark glare via the rearview mirror. "If you'd just stop for a few minutes, I'm sure he's wet and hungry. If we change him and get his belly full, he'll sleep the rest of the night," she tried to reason, knowing it probably wouldn't sway his mind.
"I ain't stopping, just take him out of his damn seat and tend to him," he snarled, his fingers curling around the steering wheel.
She let out a defeated sigh and cast a glance at her mother in the passenger seat. Her mother slept peacefully unaware; with her noise-canceling headphones and the sleeping pills in her system, she was able to block out the ugliness of the world around her.
Bella chewed on her lower lip, hesitant to lift the baby from his car seat, the very seat that was designed to keep him safe and protected as the Tahoe sped down the highway.
She openly flinched at the next crash of thunder that rattled her; Grant let out another high-pitched wail, "Can't you fuckin' listen for once in your goddamn life. I said to shut him up, or I swear I'm going to dump him at the next damn fire station I come across."
"Okay, okay," she fumbled with the diaper bag; she quickly wrapped the baby carrier around her and shook up his bottle. She lifted Grant from his car seat, changing him on her lap before tucking him into the wrap-around on her chest and feeding him.
Looking over to her little brother, Gavin, as he began to wake with the sounds around them, she cringed at the look Phil shot her from the rearview mirror. "Shh, it's okay, Gavin. Go back to sleep," she shushed him as he let out a whimper of fear and squirmed in his booster seat. She curled him into her side as best she could.
"Close your beautiful blue eyes," she whispered as she pulled Gavin's dinosaur blanket back over him.
"Son of a…" Phil snarled, slowing the Tahoe down a bit.
Bella turned her eyes from the side window back to the road; the water was inky black and stretched over the highway. "We should turn around," she found herself murmuring, her stomach twisting sourly as fear coiled in her belly. "Please, Phil, don't. You are not supposed to drive through water. Especially during a thunderstorm," she warned, the panic in her voice clear. "Turn around, please." She begged, her voice growing desperate.
Her hand reached for the window controls as Phil drove on, ignoring her.
"Trust me," The tall sheriff coaxed her, his arms reaching out towards the toddler in her arms. They were trapped on top of the car as the winds howled. His bum leg throbbed as he tried to keep his balance as a wave rocked his rescue boat. "Pass him here, sweetheart," he kept his voice firm. He prayed the girl broke out of her fear.
Bella blinked at him terrified, her large doe-like brown eyes shined with tears and exhaustion. It was clear she understood that one wrong move could cost her and her brothers' lives. "I…" she cut herself off and gave him a brave nod, unable to let go.
"C'mon, Darling. Trust me," Edward begged as he stared into the beautiful eyes of the frightened girl. She couldn't be more than nineteen, twenty, "I've got you; I won't let you down, pass him here." He instructed, he held out his hands.
With a shaky nod, she could only watch as his large hands lifted Gavin out of her sore tired arms. A startled cry spilled from her lips as she fought to steady her balance as a large log knocked into the submerged SUV, making the sheriff's boat back up.
"I've got you," he promised with another shout as he handed her brother off to his partner. She nodded and watched as the other man bundled her little brother up into a thick dry blanket.
Edward cursed under his breath in a panic as he watched her fall to her knees, yelping in fright. He breathed a little easier as she regained her balance on top of the vehicle. The water kept rising as the storm clouds opened once more. It took him what seemed like the longest fucking minute of his life to realign the boat back up to the flooded vehicle.
"It's your turn, sweetheart," his fingers wrapped around her thin wrist firmly as he tugged her to his chest and onto the safety of his boat. "Everything's going to be all right; I've got you." He reassured her, wrapping a thick warm blanket around her shoulders. Unable to help himself, he brushed her tears away. "You're safe now." He promised.
He pulled back; eyes flared wide with surprise at the sound of an infant's wail as his eyes swept over the scene. "Shh," she shushed automaticallyautomatically shushed as she unzipped her jacket, revealing a tiny baby, who had been protected in the carrier wrapped around her chest. "YourYou're okay little bear, I've got you," she whispered, her voice soft and broken from shock.
"Did everyone get out?" His partner asked with Gavin in his arms. He gently pushed her back into a seat. She read his name tag on his jacket. Joe. She stared up into his kind face.
Edward turned the boat around and steered it back toward the riverbank, where the ambulance and rescue teams were waiting for them to reach land. Edward repeated Joe's soft question, his voice breaking through her shock.
She blinked, turning her eyes away from the flashing emergency lights. She looked back then to the overweight sheriff before her eyes found his, "no, my mom and Phil," she whispered numbly as she wrapped her arms around Gavin.
The cold feeling in her stomach swirled, numbing her.
"Shit," she turned to her tall rescuer as he swore, his mouth twisted into a grim line as his green eyes turned remorseful. She nodded; she knew. She pulled her eyes away from the handsome man.
She patted Grant's back and kept her little brother tucked against her side as they were loaded onto the ambulance.
Bella stared absentmindedly at the soft yellow of the hospital walls; they were a cheery comforting color, she thought as she hummed to Grant, "... And if that horse and cart turn round, you'll still be the sweetest babe in town."
She trailed off as a deep southern voice reached her ears, "hey, Emmett," she smiled a little as his comforting voice washed over her, her stomach warmed. She nuzzled Grant's forehead and placed him in his cradle.
"Edward," the large social worker smiled and replied.
She moved over to the edge of Gavin's hospital bed and tucked the blanket up around him. She didn't move as she strained her ears to listen. His name was Edward.
"How are they?" Edward asked his longtime friend and foster brother, the only full-time social worker in Forks County. He glanced around him into the room. The girl's eyes met his briefly before fluttering away to the baby wrapped up like a burrito in the bassinet.
Bella's pale face pinked, having been caught eavesdropping. She stood and moved further away from the door to the rocker next to Grant's cradle. The morning had dragged on, and exhaustion tugged at her. She had spent hours talking to the police and sheriff departments and the big kind social worker.
Further away from the door, Bella discreetly watched the pair through the window. The window made her uncomfortable, like a bug under a microscope. Her grief and trauma for all to see as they strolled by their room.
"Holding up," Emmett assured him, squeezing his shoulder. He accepted the cup of coffee Edward offered with a smile. "Thanks, man."
Edward took a sip of his own after letting out a deep sigh; the liquid warmed his blood but did nothing for the ache in his leg, "have you gotten hold of their family, arranged temporary placement?"
"No," he shook his head with a grimace, "they don't have anyone that can take them in, no living relatives, and none of our local foster families have room to take in three, and no one is eager to take in a teenager with a record. Fuck, I'm probably going to have to move her to Billings to the girl's home. At least until I can find her a proper placement. The Pratt family would be thrilled to take in the younger two.
Bella forced herself to look away from the group, brushing away tears as her heart hammered in her chest, making her feel ill. "Record?" Edward asked, lifting an eyebrow. She closed her eyes and hung her head as shame flooded her grief-stricken heart.
Emmett nodded, "truancy, petty theft. Nothing worrisome, typical rebellious teenager behavior."
Edward grunted, he didn't like the thought of that, but he didn't want to see her go to a group home either, "Don't make the placement just yet … I think we're overlooking a possibility. There may be a chance; I just need to talk to them first."
"You think?" Emmett looked hopeful as he took a long pull from his cup.
Edward nodded thoughtfully, "I'll go talk to them. Bring them to town to talk if they're willing. I'll text you if we need to meet up at Cattleman's."
Bella closed her eyes and prayed as she lifted Grant out of his cradle to soothe his soft hungry cries.
Edward parked his truck in front of the large white farmhouse. The very farmhouse that had turned him from a troubled young boy into a respectful, successful man.
"Ma," Edward called out as he shut the front door with a quiet click.
He moved down the entry hall, "Ma?" He called again as he glanced in the dining room. The creak of a door had him looking up the stairs.
"Meet us in the kitchen," his father's smooth voice directed him, "we'll be down in a few. Start a pot."
Edward scooped the gourmet coffee grounds into the pot, filled it full of water, and started the machine. He helped himself to one of his mother's cinnamon rolls, made his cup, and settled at the table. With no one around to watch, he grunted and propped his leg up onto a chair to let it rest and soothe the deep ache the jostling rescue boat had caused.
"Edward, had you told me you were coming, I would've made you breakfast," Esme kissed his cheek and chuckled when he smiled and lifted the roll. "Something more filling and healthier."
Edward snorted and took another bite of the sugary goodness, "I'm good, Ma," he promised. He then cleared his throat, "but I came out this morning on a more professional visit."
Carlisle raised an eyebrow as Esme grabbed her purse, "well, let's get a move on, let's go meet 'em."
"Now hold on, Mama bear," Carlisle chuckled and wrapped his arms around her, "let the boy explain the situation first before you rush into town. We've got to consider that we've had our plates full with Jasper and Rosalie."
Esme scoffed and swatted at her husband gently, "they're seniors, off to college next year. our home is always open, especially if Edward and Em are asking."
Edward tossed a look between his adopted parents, and at Carlisle's nod, he spoke, "in the storms early this morning, a car was swept off the road and submerged in Dry Creek, killing the driver and front passenger. A young girl of sixteen survived; her quick action saved the lives of her two young brothers— a baby about a month old and a four-year-old."
"Oh, those poor souls," Esme's devastation for the children was written across her face as Carlisle soothed his hands down her arms in comfort.
Edward nodded with a deep frown, "Emmett can't find any living relatives or anyone willing to take them all in together. I promised that girl it would be okay; she just lost her parents. I don't want to send her to a group home down in Billings."
"A baby and a small child," Carlisle drawled, looking more than a bit hesitant. "We're not younglings anymore, Esme," he reminded her gently, placing a soothing hand on her shoulder as he gave it a gentle squeeze.
She scoffed at him, "and we ain't old chickens either. Get your coat, Carlisle; we've got a cradle to go buy."
Edward's lip twitched upward as he admired his mother's spirit. But he knew he had to respect his father's concerns, too. "Now, Ma', you can't bully Pops into this. If he ain't comfortable bringing in little ones, you oughta respect that."
She waved a hand and shooed him out of the room. Edward stood with a wince as he gathered up his cup of coffee and what remained of his cinnamon roll. He headed for the living room, leaving his parents to have a quiet discussion.
Esme turned to Carlisle, "we can't let them be separated; they need a home, we have the space, and I'm not so old that I can't handle a baby. We're sixty and sixty-five. Neither of us has a foot in the grave yet."
Carlisle gave a small sigh, "little ones, they're a lot of work, Esme. We haven't taken in young-ins in for nearly twelve years."
She sighed and gave a nod, "I guess we'll just pray on it."
Bella blinked back tears, unable to speak, as panic swirled in her stomach. Emmett, their new social worker, introduced her to the Pratt family. Gavin pressed his face into her leg, clinging to her. Her own arms curled around Grant as he slept against her wildly beating heart. "After the funeral, they'll go with the Pratt's," Bella repeated faintly.
"Yes, unless someone offers to take all three of you together, they'll go with them, and you'll go to a group home we've talked about until I can find you proper placement."
She nodded, eyes dim with defeat and exhaustion.
Maggie Pratt smiled sympathetically, "we brought you some clothes for the funeral; we'll see you later. I'm sorry for your loss, honey."
Bella nodded; she swallowed back the lump in her throat as everyone left. She dressed Gavin with numb fingers, forcing a smile for him. "You look very handsome, Bubs," She whispered thickly with tears in her eyes.
He nodded, going back to his Hot Wheel car, running it across the bed. She changed Grant and fed him, slowly rocking him in the chair until his belly was full. She put him in his outfit before placing him in the car seat Emmett had brought in earlier. She pulled on the black dress and fixed her hair as much as she was able.
She stepped out of the room with the car seat looped around one arm as Gavin's hand clasped the other.
When Emmett pulled into the Forks' County Cemetery, she was surprised to see people waiting for them. "They're here to support you," Emmett told her quietly. She frowned as she spotted the Pratt family at the back of the small crowd.
Bella nodded as she climbed out of the gray car. Joe Johnson gave her shoulder a gentle yet sympathetic squeeze. She tried to give him a small grateful smile, but it was more like a sad grimace.
She ducked her head as she made it to her spot at the graveside. She kept her focus on Gavin and Grant as the preacher spoke words of grief and loss around her parents' grave. Occasionally, she'd glance around, taking in the strangers around them; most were law enforcement members who had rescued them or people who had cared for them at the hospital. An older couple stood quietly by the tall sheriff.
"Just a few more minutes," she pleaded to Emmett as most of the crowd disappeared after giving them their condolences.
Emmett nodded respectfully, stepping away from the group of siblings.
"I don't want to go with them!" Gavin yelled, throwing his arms around Bella's leg. "Sissy," he sobbed; Bella crumbled down next to him, scooping him into her arms, hugging both boys close to her chest as her own tears fell silently.
Esme looked at Carlisle; the older man letting out a heavy sigh but nodded to his wife. "Edward," he said, turning to his son. He opened his wallet and handed his son a few large bills. "Tell Emmett; we'll take them. Give us a few hours; we'll all run over to Walmart and get the basics. Have Emmett take them shopping for clothes."
Edward nodded; he flashed his father a relieved smile. He went over and spoke with Emmett. Emmett gave his older brother a quick hug, and he turned and blew Esme a grateful kiss. Carlisle smiled and nodded their way.
Bella looked up as Edward's shadow covered them. "Yes?" She asked quietly.
Emmett cleared his throat. "We've found a home for all three of you," he said softly, nodding to the Cullens, who waved before getting into their older tan Suburban. "We're going to go get some lunch, go by the clothing store, and hit the park before we go on out and meet them. They've got a few things to sort out first."
"Okay," she nodded, stunned but smiling softly. She chewed on her lip. "I promise we won't be any trouble; tell them that," she said quietly. She just had to keep her past to herself. They didn't need to know all the secrets she carried.
"Sounds good," Edward nodded. "You got any favorite foods, kid," he asked the girl. He didn't let his gaze linger; she was a child. Not the young woman he had believed her to be when he pulled her from the cold creek.
She shook her head, "no, Sir, but Gavin is really fond of milk, fresh fruits, and especially berries."
He lifted a brow and nodded, "I'll keep that in mind. We'll see you in a few hours."
Beta'ed by Fran S-Flower.
Ps... leave a review, this was freaking terrifying. Have a nice day/night.