The Greatest of These…
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the authors. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: Thanks to my betas – sillybella, be my escape, and Cocoa – for all your help and patience as I tried to 'get it right'. Special thanks to sillybella, my biggest advocate on this story. Without your encouragement this may have never seen anything more than the bottom of the wastebasket.
Chapter 1: Patient and Kind
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8;13
As far as Charlie was concerned, I was at the Cullen's house because Edward and I were working on our American History presentation. Our 'decade project' was on life in America during the 1950s. Charlie had grudgingly allowed me to come. I had calmly stated my case – my ancient computer with its sub-standard dial-up internet service was not up to the task of downloading the audio and video files we needed for our PowerPoint presentation. Carlisle had also been very persuasive when he assured Charlie that he would supervise us himself. What Charlie didn't know was we had already finished the project. Having a partner with first hand knowledge of the last ten decades has its benefits.
The real reason I was here was because Edward was worried about me. His whole family was, I think. It was becoming more and more obvious how much they cared for me. I loved them all, too. I never knew having a large family could be so nice. And I do think of them as my family now. Edward and I were still butting heads over the issue of me becoming a vampire and marrying him. But that hadn't stopped any of them from welcoming me into the family as if I was already one of them. As we sat in their living room together, they were all worried about the extent of my recent emotional turmoil.
"Bella," Alice looked at me with deep concern in her eyes, "we're worried about how this has affected you." I wondered what visions she'd had about me, if any, the last few days.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Emmett asked. Emmett, whom I once found terrifying, had surprisingly become the person to whom I could confide my deepest secrets.
"I'll be fine. It's just awful what happened to that little girl."
Two days ago Carlisle had a toddler come in to the hospital. She had been savagely abused. When it was reported on the local news that night Charlie had left the room, his usual professional detachment gone for the moment, his face a mask of anger. I had never seen him react like that to a case before. I knew it must have been very bad. When I asked him about it later he answered my questions. In his own way I think he was trying to protect me. By giving me the details, he was letting me know just how bad people can be so I could be careful. Now I wished I hadn't asked. The details of what had happened were too awful. It bothered me. A lot. My sadness and anger were overwhelming and I couldn't hide it.
I looked over at Esme. I knew it had bothered her, too. The fact that it was a small child seemed to disturb her. I assumed because she had lost a child of her own. But there seemed to be something about the abuse itself that affected her, I just wasn't sure what. I watched her as she stared out the window, lost in her thoughts. I could tell she was worried about me just like the rest of them, but she was also battling her own demons. I continued to let my gaze wander around the room, looking at each of them, noting the worry and concern I saw in every face. My eyes locked with Rosalie's. I saw sadness and regret in her expression, but there was something more hidden under the surface of what she was allowing to be seen. Something that was reminiscent of Esme's desire.
I looked down at my hands, fighting back the tears as a tidal wave of emotion threatened to break free. "How can someone do that to a child? That poor innocent little girl?" I whispered.
Thank goodness Jasper was here. Otherwise, I'm sure there would have been more than just the few tears that ran down my cheeks. Edward tightened his arm around me, pulling me closer. I looked up at him, searching his rigid face. "Some of the worst monsters are the human ones. People like that are a million times worse than whatever you think you are. They are the real monsters."
Edward grimaced and gave a slight nod of his head. He couldn't argue my point. I was right, and he knew it.
"It was horrible, but she's getting help now. She's safe." Carlisle tried to reassure me. I could only nod.
I glanced over at Jasper knowing he could feel my emotions. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Worry. Anxiety.I'm sure he understood the anger and sadness. But did he understand the rest? My confusion over my dream and what it meant? My worry and anxiety over whether to tell Edward about it?
I had fallen asleep that first night thinking about how terrible it was and what a shame it was that there were couples who would have loved that child with their whole being. I had expected my thoughts to result in nightmares. Instead, I had a seemingly happy dream. But it had left me confused about my own feelings. The only part I could remember was really just a snapshot moment in the dream. Edward stood behind me, looking over my shoulder, smiling proudly. I sat in a rocking chair with the same smile of pride and joy as I looked down at the baby I held in my arms. I didn't know what it meant. I had never wanted kids before and I didn't think my feelings had changed. I also knew that the happy family from my dream was impossible.
I looked up to find Emmett watching me very closely. "Let's go for a walk, Bella," he said as he stood up. I caught the look between him and Edward, and the nod before Edward looked at me. "Go on," he said, leaning in to kiss me gently. "I'll be here when you get back."