SORRY ABOUT MY EPIC ABSENCE!!!! Well it's not the longest chapter ever…but it's ok. I needed to deal/not deal with the aftermath of Bella's attack, but I felt I needed to treat it as realistically as possible, while still retaining those characteristics of my Bella and Edward. This was a damn hard chapter to write. There were like fifteen different versions of it, and I finally decided to go with this one. I'm so sorry it took so long, but now that it's summer, hopefully I can start cranking these bad boys out. In fact I'm almost finished with the next chapter. Just want to give this one a few days to sink in. My absence has many excuses and complaints… all I can say is that RL is a bitch. Anyways, your reviews overwhelm and stun me. They were the only reason I have not given up yet. Which I don't plan on doing. But they really inspire me. Keep them up! Thank you all for being soooo wonderful! I feel very vindicated by your reviews, but my confidence on this chapter started to slip. One of the reasons why it took so long. If anyone is interested in beta-ing my story, or just available for me to bounce around thoughts, PM me and we'll talk! Love you ladies!
Last time in Staged Beauty: Bella and Edward have a "non-date" ice skating event, during which they learn a lot about one another. For instance, Bella's an optimist, even though she doesn't quite see herself that way. Edward's a pessimist to the max, and is carrying on an affair with his married co-worker Victoria. Details of the affair are few and far between, but Bella is finally starting to unravel the puzzle that is Edward Cullen. In the end, Bella's lying about her apartment catches up with her when Edward follows her home and saves her from an attacker. He then goes "caveward" and gets her out of there. Enjoy the next installment.
The silence in the cab was deafening.
Years…centuries…passed with nothing more than the hum of the engine, the clicking of the meter, and my stifled sniffs.
I begged the tears to stop falling, to no avail.
Feeling Edward seethe next to me just made it worse.
He knew I had lied to him. After all the time I spent chipping away at his walls, they were sure to be firmly back in place. After all my self-righteous talk about how the truth is the most important thing, I had just been uncovered as a hypocrite. He would never understand why I lied, or why I moved out in the first place.
But I was also angry at him. What was with his macho display of masculinity? And I still had no idea where he was taking me.
I chanced a glance in his direction, but his expression was not the one I was anticipating. I thought he would still be livid, maybe still on an adrenaline rush from battering my attacker. Even regret for beating the man, because I know he had to have sustained a few injuries.
But he was staring at me, not even trying to look away, with a look of pure concern. He was inspecting me, seemingly making sure that I was not harmed.
The cab jerked to stop in practically the same spot it had picked me up about an hour ago. I made no attempt to move, still in the dark about where I was going.
Edward threw a bill at the cabbie, and exited the cab. I just sat there dumbstruck until the door next to me opened. Edward extended his hand, his features growing softer as he took in the tears still streaming down my face.
I grasped it tightly and he pulled me out of the cab. He swung my belongings over his left shoulder, but still kept a death grip on my hand. We began walking down the quiet street, and Edward wrapped an arm protectively around my waist. Like he thought I would be afraid of the shadows surrounding us.
As if I could be afraid of anything when he was holding me.
I finally managed to form words when I realized we were walking into the lobby of a brownstone apartment building.
"Where are we going?"
"My place," he said in a voice that was meant to soothe. It did more than that. I felt my knees start to give out, and Edward tightened his hold around my waist to keep me upright.
"I'm sorry I lost control," he breathed, pressing the button to summon the elevator. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"I…I…I…" I struggled to speak because strangled sobs were escaping my mouth every time I opened it.
"Shhh, Bella. Do you need a doctor?" He was being so gentle with me. I had no idea why I couldn't stop crying. It was probably a mixture of shock from being nearly raped and appreciation for this wonderful man who saved me. Forcing the tears back, I stepped on the elevator when it opened. He pressed floor 12 and I leaned back on the wall breathing deeply.
"No, I don't need a doctor."
"Bella…I'm so sorry," he choked, running his hands over his face and moving to the opposite side of the small car.
"For what?" I asked, not believing my ears. What in the world did he have to be sorry about?
"I was almost too late," he rasped, his voice pained.
"No, you were…perfect. It's me who should be apologizing."
"Go on," he said, shutting his eyes and leaning his head back on the wall.
"I lied to you."
"And you got hurt because of me."
"That's inconsequential. Go on."
"And, what else?" I questioned, confused as to what he meant.
"Bella." He growled, snapping his head up to meet mine. The frustration suddenly was back on his face. "Of all the ridiculous things for a person to do! It is inconceivable to me how you could put yourself in that situation."
I felt like I was receiving a lecture from my dad. One I deserved, but a lecture nonetheless.
"I'm not finished. It is inconceivable to me how you could put me in that situation. If you had been harmed tonight, do you realize that I would be held responsible? Do you realize what kind of man I would look like? I'm in the public eye, Bella! Furthermore, can you fathom the guilt that would plague me? If I hadn't had a feeling that you were lying to me, you could be dead right now!"
I felt the anger and frustration that I had been holding in boil inside me, until it came time for it to overflow.
"Wait, let me get this straight. This is all about you? Your conscience, your social standing that might've been harmed otherwise? If that wasn't an issue you would've just stood off to the side and watched?" I fumed, practically screaming. The elevator shuddered to a stop, and without I backward look I stormed off, desperately searching for the stairs.
"Bella, wait!" Edward called behind me, but I wasn't listening. It felt like I was broken into a thousand pieces, and I did not want him to watch me fall apart.
"Stop," he commanded. But I didn't look back; I just kept walking, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other.
"Bella, please," his voice cracked and I stopped dead in my tracks and whirled around to face him.
"What?" I spat.
"You misunderstood. Or I said it wrong. That is not at all what I meant." His face looked crumpled and broken. The expression on his face took me by surprise, but all at once I thought he might be telling the truth. People tend to say things they don't mean when they're furious. Right? He purposefully met my gaze and all at once I was worried about him. He had shared so much, gotten so completely out of his comfort zone, he wasn't sure what to do anymore. He didn't know which mask to put on. I thought at that moment I finally was seeing the real Edward.
It was then I realized that his arm was bleeding.
"Edward, your arm!" I cried, reaching out to look at it. What were we fighting about again?
"It's nothing, Bella. Will you please come inside? I'm sorry I sounded like an ass. I tend to not have a filter when I'm angry."
I nodded hesitantly, hoping he was being sincere.
"Thank you," Edward sighed, leading me the other direction down the hallway.
We stopped at apartment 257 and he fished inside his coat for his keys. Once he found them he attempted to unlock the door, but I noticed his shaking hands were making it a rather difficult task.
I stilled his hands with my own and took over, unlocking the door and pushing it open. Edward gave me a tight smile and led me into the darkened room.
Flipping on the lights, Edward brushed past me and went straight towards the kitchen. I glanced around the apartment in shock. There was literally nothing. It was completely bare accept for a black couch in the middle of a sitting room, and a tv/stereo system across from it. No art on the walls, no color, no life in this room. It was almost as if he had just moved in.
I turned the corner in time to see Edward, standing over the kitchen sink, wincing as he poured peroxide on the cut on his arm.
"Here, Edward. Let me take care of it." I walked over and took the rag out of his hand. His features contorted as I pressed the peroxide coated rag on his arm. I gently blew on the area to stop the burning. I pressed on the cut again, then blew. When I looked up into Edward's face a small smile tugged on his lips. Without speaking he handed me a band-aid.
"Oh, so you want me to take care of you now?" I asked in a seeming joke, but in all actuality praying that it was true.
"Well, no-one has done that in a long time." I'm not sure if I imagined it but I thought I saw his eyes glaze over a bit as he spoke a devastating truth, as if he were remembering the last time that happened.
"You took care of me tonight," I started lightly, as I applied the band-aid to his cut. "So why did you follow me anyway?"
He blinked rapidly and pulled away from me fast, picking up my bag that he discarded in the floor from a few moments earlier. Just like when his hands shook as he opened the door, he fled when he started to lose control of his emotions. Before I knew it he was standing at the edge of the kitchen, staring at me. When I met his eyes he beckoned me to follow him.
Edward led the way down a long, and unsurprisingly bare, hallway. Pointing to different rooms he mumbled quick explanations, such as "bathroom" and "laundry room." At the end of the hall he opened a door to the left.
"This will be your room. Mine is right beside you if you need me." He began to walk out, but I had to stop him. I wanted some explanations. I wanted to know what his statement in the kitchen meant. I wanted to hear his voice again.
"Edward, wait. Why did you follow me tonight?"
He just stared at me like I wasn't speaking English.
"I'm very tired. If you'll excuse me…" He started to close the door, but I threw my hand out so it wouldn't close.
"What are you avoiding? Just answer my question," I half-shouted, my agitation showing clearly through my voice.
In the blink of an eye Edward flung the door open and leaned into me until our noses were almost touching.
"Don't you ever know when to let something go?" He growled, in that low, dangerous tone again.
I seemed to be struck dumb at his words. My mouth opened and closed of its own volition a few times, but I could not force words.
"Just go to sleep, Bella," he snapped and slammed the door in my face.
Tears fell down my face again as I stood staring at the door. I didn't understand what I had done wrong. Wearily, I pulled out some pajamas from my bag and put them on. All the while the waterworks were still going.
I didn't notice the décor of this room. It seemed cold, like he could be so often. Pulling the covers up over my head I wondered what it was that caused the switch in him. Why was he afraid to get in real relationships? Afraid to invest himself in something lasting? Why didn't he have people in his life to take care of him? Where was his family? Why does he run away when he starts to reveal his true character instead of the unaffected mask he so often wears?
And the biggest question: why did it hurt me so much to see him like that?
I grappled with these questions and more as I lay under the covers in distress. I wasn't aware of how much time had passed; only that I had been crying and couldn't stop, when I heard the door slowly creak open.
A figure was moving through the dark toward my bed. I stifled my cries and held my breath, hoping that I hadn't been so loud that I kept him from sleep.
"Bella," Edward's whisper caressed my name and I could feel the blood coursing through my veins, "I am so sorry. Again."
I didn't speak, but instead just looked at his disheveled hair and furrowed brow.
He sat on the edge of the bed as far away from me as possible. This only brought on an irrational sob as the psycho part of my brain translated this as a form of rejection.
"God," he sighed, sucking in a ragged breath at my sob. I realized this might be annoying to him so I tried to hold my breath to stop myself from being ridiculous.
He got up and walked to the left side of the bed, stopping right at my head, and knelt down beside me.
"Bella, sweetheart, I am an idiot," he said in a soothing tone. "You must be so scared right now, and here I am yelling at you. You've been through a terrible ordeal today. I'm not angry at you. I'm angry at myself."
I wasn't thinking about my incident with the homeless man before, but I sure as hell was thinking about it now. I shuddered as I recalled his rough kisses and could still smell him all over me. Edward noticed my shudder and started to crawl onto the bed with me. When he was sitting right beside me he searched my face.
"Is this okay?"
I just pulled him down close to me and laid my head on his chest, not caring about personal space or the humiliation that I might feel about this later. All that mattered now was that he was here. He had saved me, he had made me love him, and he was here. Comforting me. Apologizing for not being ready to be close to me in the best way he knew how.
The tears stopped, my breathing evened out, and I went completely limp in his arms. I had never felt so safe in my entire life. An irrational part of my brain sought to make this moment last forever, because in this moment, it felt like he was part of me. Like my fear was his, his pain was mine. I couldn't see his face, and it was so easy to pretend that he cared about me like I cared about him.
He let out a contented sounding sigh, and his arms snaked around me, gripping me tightly. His face dropped down and I felt him press a kiss on the top of my head. It was the single most electrifying feeling I had ever experienced.
Edward pushed some strands of hair out of my face, wet from my blubbering earlier, and continued to run his fingers through my hair. It felt surreal, being with him like this. Even though we didn't dare speak, in fear of ruining the peace surrounding us in that moment, I feel like his actions communicated more than his words ever could.
His hand stroking my hair said that he was sorry, his arms grasping me tightly said he wanted to protect me, and his even breathing said that he was finally comfortable being close to me.
I'm sure Edward thought I had drifted off by now because his hold on me tightened further.
"What am I doing?" he whispered aloud to himself.
I had to will myself not to stiffen at his words. My brain flooded with possible answers to his simple question, but my body protested any more confusion for the day. Before I knew it, I was out like a light.
Blinding light filtered in through the un-curtained window as I sleepily rubbed my eyes and sat up. The bed felt softer than the cinder-block contraption from the cheap motel.
That should have been "ah-ha" moment number one.
I leaned over to the bedside table that should've been there to reset my alarm clock for fifteen more minutes, but all I felt was my hand weaving through empty air.
That should have been "ah-ha" moment number two.
Fumbling with the sheet that I could've sworn I never used, I rose out of bed and looked around.
There's the "ah-ha".
This isn't my motel room.
This isn't my apartment.
This is Edward's apartment.
And if this is Edward's apartment that means that Edward…….
I nearly gave myself whiplash as I spun around to look at the bed that I had just risen from. But there was no reason for said neck injury, because it was as empty as this bare room. A sinking feeling settled in the pit of my stomach as the evening's events all came rushing back to me.
Me, clinging on to Edward for dear life, practically an admission of love by the way I held onto him as if he were my raft in the midst of a hurricane.
Edward's whispered confession. What am I doing?
And now. Alone.
Of course. Why would he have stayed?
I grabbed my toothbrush and paste from the depths of my hastily packed bag and, with what I imagined to be a look of bravery, headed toward the door.
Fearfully, I poked my head out the cracked door to see if there were any signs of Edward. The apartment seemed to be void of all noise. I did not notice any movement, so I cautiously ventured out to the bathroom.
I didn't meet Edward on the way, and as I locked myself in the bathroom and began to brush my teeth, I contemplated what I was going to say to him.
Hey, sorry I lied to you yesterday. Oh, and sorry I felt the need to cuddle with you since touching people seems to be waaaaay out of your comfort zone.
Hmmmm….that approach would be a bit harsh.
About last night….April Fools!!!
I laughed to myself at that one. Wouldn't work in January now would it?
Look, I love you. Is that so bad?
"Ugh!" I groaned aloud as I realized there was nothing I could say that would explain my behavior. I needed him last night. But how could I say that without sounding like a complete head-case?
Taking in my appearance in the mirror I noticed that my eyes were bloodshot and puffy. In all honesty, I looked like hell. Make-up wouldn't even cover this up.
To make matters worse, the whole she-bang started today. I had a production meeting at 1:00, and it went right into rehearsal from 3:00-8:30. Usually I dreaded rehearsals. For this one in particular what I felt was beyond dread. A sense of terror washed over me as I envisioned the day ahead.
Meeting with writers, set designers, and understudies who were all better and more experienced than me. All these people watching my every move, knowing that they could've done a better job. I know that, because I've been in their shoes, backstage practically hurling a curse at a lead that underperforms, thirsting for my shot at the role. No, I did not look forward to meeting my understudy.
Then there was Jacob to worry about. Although it was clear to me now, in light of my discovery of loving Edward, that I had no romantic feelings toward him, the past remains the past. How can I look at him and not feel something? How can I be around him, joke with him, have chemistry with him, be successful with him, and not tap into that part of me that once cared about him deeply?
And to top it all off, my biggest fear: Edward. How would he act today? Before, when he was working he became a different person. His words were harsh and cruel. It took a long time to penetrate his hard exterior and discover the person that he really was. Would that all be over today? And he expected so much from me. He told me that I was the only person for this role. What would he do if I screwed up? If I made a wrong choice with a line? If I tripped and broke half the set? Would that be it for us? Would our unstable friendship be over before it even began?
My head was swirling as I left the bathroom in a dream-like state and wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. Edward wasn't there, as expected, so I searched around the pantry until I found a glass. I spent a good five minutes trying work his water machine on the refrigerator, and finally gave up and settled on tap. As I was filling my glass I noticed a piece of paper folded over on the counter. My name was etched across the front in graceful writing that could not have belonged to anyone else but Edward. His hand-writing was just as unique as he was.
I felt my heart flutter as I ran my fingers over the way he wrote my name, having no idea why it pleased me so much. Opening the letter, I leaned against the counter to read.
I apologize for my absence this morning. As you can imagine, I have many tasks that need to be completed before today's rehearsal. Do forgive me for not waking you. I assumed you might need the sleep after yesterday. And about yesterday, apart from the horrific events of the late evening, I want you to know that I have not had that much fun in a long time. A brief respite from work was wonderful, but it was what it was. Brief. I am a very busy man, and I am sorry to tell you that I do not foresee much leisure time, for either of us, in the coming months. I trust that you will not take this personally, for I do enjoy spending time with you. As it is, since I crave your company so much, I would like to officially extend my offer for you to live with me as long as you need to. It would be my pleasure to have you occupy the additional room in the apartment. Seeing as I have few guests, your presence here, I assure you, will not be bothersome. I do not expect rent, and please do not offend me by offering me money. I would like to think of this as a friend being charitable to another friend, not a business transaction. I do, however, expect you to be searching for a new place. Not that apartments are easy to come by in New York, but once the run of the show is over, I should like to think that you will have a place of your own. I do not wish to place any rules upon you. You are an intelligent girl and I trust that you know proper etiquette for living with someone else. All that being said, if you would like to remain at my home until you find suitable living arrangements, simply let me know sometime today. I left some breakfast for you in the microwave. I will see you at rehearsal. Come ready to work.
My hands were shaking as I placed the letter back down on the counter. Phrases from his ultra-proper note swirled through my mind. "I would like to think of this as a friend being charitable to another friend, not a business transaction."
Didn't he realize that's exactly what he was doing? Every word he wrote sounded as if he were speaking to a co-worker! Anger inside of me swelled as I picked up the letter again, crumbling it in my hand.
I felt like I had been slapped in the face. We had gone from intimate talks, flirting, and holding each other, to distant empty words written on a discarded piece of paper in a matter of hours! Edward could not help it; he just had to distance himself from me. From everyone it seemed. It was like a compulsion for him.
He' trying. A voice in my head spoke reason. This is his way of trying. Trying to be a friend. Trying to give a tiny piece of himself.
He wanted me to live with him. For now. He wanted that. Or did he? What if this whole letter business is just him trying to assuage his conscience? He wouldn't kick me out on the street.
Throwing the wadded up paper back on the counter I stomped to my room and slammed the door. I was as confused as I had ever been about what I was doing. What the hell was I doing even considering staying in his home? I had already overstepped my boundaries a thousand times! His mere presence brought out ridiculous reactions in me, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to give any of that up.
However, I felt inside that living with him could have disastrous consequences.
I was going to hurt.
But I was already hurting.
"Ugh," I groaned again, gritting my teeth.
With a surge of inspiration I grabbed my phone and dialed.
"Bells," Alice's sugary voice called out on the other line after half a ring. "How did it go?! When you didn't call me yesterday I couldn't decide if it was good or bad news. I figured bad because you have a really hard time keeping good news from me and-"
"Alice," I growled, effectively stopping her rambling.
"What?" she asked innocently.
"I have to tell you some things. I need you not to react until I'm completely finished. And I need you to promise me that you won't kill me."
"Uh….ok?" she answered cautiously.
I sucked in a deep breath knowing that the whole nasty truth was about to be spilled.
"Ok, here goes. I haven't been staying with Ellen. I moved into the cheapest motel that I could afford in Queens. Don't ask me why. I have many, many reasons for doing this, but as I look back none of them really make any sense. Anyway, after my day with Edward I didn't want to tell him where I lived because I just got this feeling that he would be angry about me living somewhere so dangerous…and that doesn't make any sense either. So I lied to him and he just so happened to live on the same street that my fictitious apartment was on, so I had to sneak into an apartment building. Then I hid for a while and got a cab to Queens. But as I was headed into my room, this man….he….well he sort of attacked me….but Edward was there…I don't know how. He fought the guy off, and then threw my stuff in my bag and took me to his apartment. He was so angry, it was kind of scary. We fought about why he had followed me and then I cried like a crazy and we fell asleep in my bed. And this morning he was gone and left me a note."
Expecting the silence that followed, I waited it out. Three minutes passed without a word transpiring. I had to check to make sure she didn't hang up on me several times. Finally, after what seemed like years, she spoke.
"You know what Bella, I am so pissed off right now I don't even know why I am still talking to you!" Mayday! Mayday! I'm going down. "Honestly, what in the hell would possess you to lie to me like that? And to do something so stupid! Emmett's going to freak out, and I won't be surprised if he doesn't tell Charlie."
"Alice I KNOW! I know, I know, I know!" I cried helplessly, hating that she was so disappointed in me. "I wasn't thinking clearly! All I knew is that being in the middle of everyone's love fests was making me miserable, and I didn't want to be a burden to you like I have for the past year. Or Emmett. You guys deserve happiness and my constant depression or my reliance on you guys wasn't making your lives any easier."
"But we love you Bella," Alice sniffed into the phone. "You truly think that you were a burden to me? I know you. I know that your greatest fear is getting hurt, and you were hurt beyond belief. It made you pretty bitter, but I want to be there for you. And I can completely understand how you might feel alienated from us. I mean I wasn't exactly sensitive with the subject of Jasper to you. I was going on and on about soul-mates and it bothered you. I'm so sorry for that. He came in to our lives fast and I spent every waking hour with him. Somehow I didn't realize that could have affected you so much to make you leave, but I should've known." She slowed down to catch her breath. "But you have to know that this all could've been resolved if you would've just talked to me instead of keeping things from me."
"You're right," I said in a small voice.
"Now, are you alright? A man attacked you? Have you filed a police report? Do I need to come home, because I can be on a plane in an hour? " Her concern for me was evident, and hearing it made me love her even more.
"No, I'm okay. Edward took care of me. But if he didn't follow me home….." Flashes of what could have happened seized my thoughts and made my stomach heave.
"Yes, and about that… he just showed up and beat this random guy?"
"Pretty much," I answered, still as in the dark about the details of last night as Alice was. "All I know is that one minute this man was kissing me, and the next he was on the ground be pummeled."
"Wow…", Alice breathed, "that's kind of hot."
"Sorry. So you fell asleep together? That's intense," she stated, and I could hear the smirk in her voice.
"The most intense. And then I read his stupid letter…."
I then proceeded to read the letter to Alice, adding in my voice the inflections that I thought Edward would choose. Reading the letter again, aloud, triggered a thought in my brain. Could it be that Edward, having obviously experienced something in his past that hurt him, wanted to push me away to protect himself, but at the same time, wanted me just as much as I wanted him? Reading the letter aloud made it almost sound….tortured. Was that all in my head? Was that just because I wanted it to be true?
But I knew all about pushing people away. I had done it most of my life. Divorced parents will do that to a person. The few real friends I have had to scratch and claw their way inside. Was I now doing that to Edward? If so, when would he finally concede?
We wrapped up the "conversation of truth" as Alice was calling it, and I lay down on Edward's guest bed, my mind in overdrive. I felt immensely guilty for all the lies that I had told lately. And once I took a step back I realized what a hypocrite I had been. My mantra had always been "tell yourself truth", and I knew that I could always handle the truth. Yet I shied away from it all the time. Sometimes when I didn't even think about it. Lying is like a natural instinct. To protect, to ensure your sanity at times. I remembered an Emerson quote that I used to have up on my wall when I was in college: "Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies."
I checked my watch and realized I had about two hours to get ready and get to rehearsal. Emmett and Rose wanted to go out tonight to celebrate our first day at work, so a long day stretched in front of me. A day full of fear and the unknown.
My mind was made up before my consciousness even knew about it. I would stay here. And I would know Edward. He had already conceded so much, it was only a matter of time before his walls crumbled completely.
I knew I had to perform damage control on my character. Lying was truly not the norm for me, but I did use it more than I believed. The essential core of my values was the same, that would never change. But I made a mistake with Edward. And it would take a little time to repair.
As for Jacob and the rehearsal, what will be will be. I just needed to be professional and kind. Have faith in my talent, and be confident.
With those positive thoughts, I pulled on my clothes and set my sights on the day ahead.
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