Chapter Thirty-Seven—The Family
Edward didn't attempt to go to his mother. It was harder than he realized it could ever be to face her. Memories tried to surface, but he pushed them all back. It wasn't the time to deal with them, and he wouldn't dare let the neutral mask he wore fall where she could bear witness to it.
He shifted a little to show he wasn't dismissing her, but that he needed a moment. "How was the ride in?" he asked his sister, sparing minute glances at his parents.
"Horrible, it was awful," Alice said rather awkwardly. Her eyes darted from their mother to him, but she kept her smile in place. It was what she did, always trying to make visits bearable, to keep the peace. For once, Edward realized it wasn't an easy place for his sister. "But I looked up pictures of this place online. It's amazing!"
Edward couldn't help but smile at her. "It's a ways to the nearest mall." She pouted as she nodded, her eyes finding interest on the floor. Concerned, he squeezed her against his side. "What's up, Squirt?"
"Nothing important, I swear." She rubbed the back of her hair, a nervous tick she always had. "Are you really okay?"
Honesty; they said was for the best.
"I have good moments and bad ones, Ali. Sometimes that changes like the flick of a switch." He didn't want to divulge more. A part of him didn't trust her, especially after the stunt she pulled with her visit to Bella. He felt she was holding back something important, and whatever it was, it would come out soon.
It was why they were all there.
He pulled away from his sister and stood beside Banner as he finished introducing himself with his parents. "I'll see you all tomorrow." He took a deep breath, sharing a look with the doctor. His gaze returned to his father. "I thought we'd have breakfast or lunch if you'd like to sleep in."
"Breakfast would be wonderful," his mother replied, her hand clasped tightly in his father's larger one. Unbidden, memories of the last time he'd seen such an act of affection between his parents intruded his thoughts. It was a lifetime ago.
His father offered a small smile, concern touching his eyes. "We'll see you tomorrow then." Alice yawned, reminding them all it was late, and after traveling for hours, it had taken a toll. His sister gave him one last hug as Banner showed them out to the SUV assigned to his family.
They exchanged whispered goodbyes at the door, and the second it closed behind his family, Edward rushed toward the gym. He intended to exercise through the thoughts in his head until he was ready to face them. He was afraid that he never would be. With his hands taped up against the barrage of hits he gave, he uttered a chant to himself.
"My future is what I make it."
Edward didn't show up for breakfast as he said he would. He woke up in the same panic from the nightmares he'd had before. The same kind that he used to drown away with alcohol the minute memories started to run rampant.
Seeing his family again after months of separation set him back a few steps. Banner said it could happen, and spent the last hour reassuring him that he didn't need to see his family until he was ready.
It didn't mean failure, either.
"We can try another approach," Banner stated. "Sharing a meal with your whole family can be considered rather intimate. You're not ready for that. How about you join them on the tour with Emmett and James?"
"That makes me weak, doesn't it?" Edward didn't wait for a reply. Sort of figured he wouldn't get one either. "I need a fucking chaperone to see my family."
John ignored the curse word since it had been a while since Edward used one in their sessions. Before the swear words were hissed through tight lips two or three times a sentence. Considering the level of anxiety in him, he was entitled to one every so often. He watched from a chair the second Edward walked into his office. Since the arrival of the young man's family, he noticed something.
Edward had nicknames for his father, Pop or Dad, and for his sister, Squirt or Ali, in their sessions. Esme Cullen was a very formal Mother. There was no affection when he said the word. Not like the way his voice changed slightly for his father and sibling, a softer and warmer tone. Other than the night before when he addressed her as mom he never heard him call her anything else.
"We knew this would be difficult. This isn't something that is fixable with what…three sessions, some horseback riding and some singing around a campfire pit. Is that what you thought would happen?"
Edward stopped long enough in his pacing to take a few deep breaths. He had hoped it would be that simple, or at the very least, only a few sessions. He was desperate to move on, forward instead of always falling back. Banner warned him to take it one day at a time. There was no accusation or anger in Banner's words, however, the normally flat tone his voice usually held was gone.
Edward wasn't positive when it changed, only that it had taken time. As it had for him to not get angry to the point of walking out of a session.
Trust, admiration, and respect; Banner earned all that and Edward had learned to open up and listen. It allowed him to see things in a different light and perspective. The chaos of his mind wasn't all clear since he was still learning, but it was getting better.
The panic attack and nightmare was a step back, but one he'd learn from, adapt to, and that would help propel him forward. To do that, he had to face his family and the painful past, if he wanted to persevere and grow.
He wanted a future, one he could look forward to and not fear it, as he always had before.
"I know it won't be an instant fix," Edward said gruffly. He wrapped his fingers behind his head as he started to pace again. "There is no such thing as a Band-Aid for me. I've been through this process too many times already for it to work that easily with my family. Facing them while they're one unit won't work for me. I know that for sure. For years, it has felt like it's been them and me, not us."
He didn't want to feel ganged up on, especially when it concerned his family.
"All right, knowing that, what do you feel you can handle?"
"I can handle a tour with my dad first." Edward realized he didn't sound too sure. He cleared his throat and said it again, feeling a bit more confident.
"Why don't you invite him?" Banner held out a cordless phone. "Feel him out first before you do."
Edward nodded and took the phone from Banner. He followed his instructions on how to dial out, a system that changed constantly to keep clients from making calls anytime. As he dialed, he wondered what he'd do if his mother answered. She'd been the most prominent in his nightmares, not his sister's death. He struggled with the reasons why.
Had his dad been expecting his call? Damn, Edward felt guilty for bailing on him, though his father was probably used to it. How many times had he disappointed him in the last few years? At least a dozen or so times, and Edward probably didn't remember every instance.
"Hi, Dad." Edward felt an unfamiliar heat on his face as he looked at his scuffed up work boots. He felt like he was seven again, and just got caught sticking frogs in Nessie's bed.
"Are you all right?" The concern was real in his voice.
"Yeah, I am now. Sorry about missing breakfast, I couldn't make it." He didn't elaborate and hoped his dad would leave it at that.
"Sorry to hear that." The awkward silence that followed made Edward's shoulders tense, something he had to shake off with a technique he learned over the last few months. He tapped a tempo against his thigh.
"Tour!" Edward cringed and rolled his eyes at his outburst. A deep breath helped ease the tension from his body, and another, his mind. "I wanted to offer you a tour."
"I thought James and Emmett were taking us."
"I'd like it if you came with me." Edward rubbed a hand over his face and winced at the beard that covered his jaw. "But only you."
"I would love that." They continued to talk and arranged for Edward to pick him up at the cabin after his sister and mother left. He blew a breath of relief after he hung up and had to roll his shoulders to ease the last of the tension away.
"How do I avoid questions I'm sure he'll ask?" Edward had to sit, weary from the long night spent tossing and turning.
"Your father is a smart man. I think he knows that some things will be better left unsaid until you're ready."
Edward nodded and leaned forward, elbows on his knees as he combed his hands through his hair. "How I do I avoid asking why?" His eyes rose to meet Banner's, hoping he'd have all the answers.
"Take time to get comfortable with him. I cleared my day, and if you feel you're ready to talk to him, really talk to him, then come on over. I'll be available."
Edward's mouth quirked a bit. "You have much more confidence in me than I do."
"You've come a long way since you arrived and your confidence will return." Banner snorted and shook his head. "Then again, your confidence in your looks hasn't diminished in the least."
Edward shrugged, feeling heat rise up to his neck. Some of the women old enough to be his grandmother that helped run the ranch and kitchen always gave into his charms when he wanted a little more biscuits or cobbler.
"Nancy's cobbler is too good to pass up a second serving," Edward said, laughing. He sobered after a bit and sighed. "All right, I should go."
"Know where you're headed?"
"The silver mine and pond nearby," Edward stated as he rose to this feet. "He'll get a kick out of it and it should keep us busy enough to avoid the stables until my sister and mother have a chance to check it out."
"I can have the James radio you his locations."
Edward stood for a moment and debated. Yeah, he wasn't ready to see his mother so soon after a nightmare. Even if he didn't remember the details of it, the fear and self-loathing was prominent in his thoughts and she'd been the center of it. "That would be great, thanks."
Edward took one of the trucks, happy for the crisp mountain air that blew on his face as he rode toward the family cabins. It was a healthy distraction from his overwrought mind. It was freaking cold in the middle of January, but he was dressed for the weather and the truck was equipped for the snow.
Ten cabins housed the larger families of the clients/patients of the ranch rehabilitation center. When Edward first arrived, he couldn't believe the immense size of the property. Even months later, he always found something new about the place. He enjoyed a hidden fishing spot he had to crack ice to get to, if he had a day off from mucking stalls. One he found thanks to an older ranch hand that came in to train a couple of their horses for only a few days.
The rutted dirt road was no problem for the monstrous four-by-four. He slowed when he saw a few people riding on the horse path nearby, offering the few recognizable faces a wave. It almost seemed like steam billowed out from the nostrils of the beasts, their gaits slow for the still learning riders.
He drove up the cabin his family was staying in, watching for a moment as smoke unfurled from the chimney. It would be easy to back away and just return to the main facility. A horse ride would help, but with a storm coming in, he knew it wouldn't be a good idea.
He took a few moments to gather some control, and exited the warmth of the truck. His father seemed slightly impatient, the door flinging open with the same finesse Alice usually had. He watched as his father tried to rein in his emotions that were so clear on his face. Bit by bit the fear and anxiety gave way to warmth and affection.
How many times had his dad done this? He recognized it, as the mask he wore for years. What did he have to fear other than a trouble-making son?
Losing you, the voice of reason whispered. Edward took another moment, trying without success to remember his father's grief after his sister died. It hadn't been tangible like Edward's, he was sure of that. Yet, it hadn't been like his mother's non-existent veneer. Had he held it all in to be the rock he'd always been? Had he masked his pain to care for his family the only way he knew how?
Edward thought it was stupid of him to think that they'd go off touring the beautiful, tranquil land when everything was turbulent in his mind. Too many questions and concerns surfaced as he pasted a somewhat smile on his face, trudging up the path to where his father stood.
Awkwardly, Edward offered his hand.
Carlisle eyed the gloved hand and tried to keep his chest from opening up and allowing his heart to bleed out for his son to see. When Edward hadn't showed up, he had to put his foot down when Alice and Esme tried to go to him instead. He knew they couldn't push; if Edward decided he wasn't ready for more yet, they had to respect it.
They already had him kidnapped and forced into rehabilitation, the least they could do was do what was right by him. Respect his wishes no matter how much it hurt to stay away. Edward needed that from him and he was determined to ensure his family complied. Still, it was harder than he thought it would be.
Despite his training and the psychology courses under his belt, his first thought was to go after his son. The arm and hand before him was a lifeline, one that Carlisle would never take for granted again.
His gloved hand clapped against his son's, before he pulled him into a bear hug. Having him near made his thoughts scatter, focusing on the day he found him lying in the driveway, covered in his sister's blood, barely breathing. Blood across a grey hood and windshield a constant image, serving as a reminder on how close he'd been to losing another child.
"Dad?" Edward said hoarsely, cursing himself. His father was nearly sobbing. "Come on, let's head out for a bit, then we'll go see the doc."
His father nodded, coughing as he pulled away. He tried his best to cover his eyes and locked up behind him. Dressed in a heavy jacket and gloves for the weather, Edward watched him make his way to the passenger seat in silence.
He picked up the walkie and radioed Banner. "Give me an hour," he said. "I'm ready to sit with my dad. Over."
"I'll be waiting. Over."
"Best put some coffee on," Edward replied. He climbed into the truck and offered his dad a smile. "Want to see an abandoned mine?"
His father's brow furrowed, but he also looked grateful. A little reprieve before they dug deep. Edward hoped as he backed away from the cabin that he was ready for the shovel, because he had no doubt it would cut and make him bleed.
"This place is fantastic," Carlisle said, taking a deep breath of cold mountain air. He rubbed his hands together in the blast of warm air from the truck's vents.
"It really is," Edward replied, though Carlisle detected that he wasn't fully there with him. The moment he'd seen his son the night before, he knew he'd done the right thing by insisting that Alice make the call to Ms. Swan. It had taken quite a bit of convincing from his brother, Garrett, who knew the facility's owner and vouched for her and the intense program. Even his wife seemed willing. The only reason she was reluctant was that the no contact rule for longer than usual. It wasn't until he made it clear that traditional methods had failed him too many times that she finally agreed.
"I bet it would be amazing during the spring." He kept his voice soft, not wanting to scare his son away. To send him into that prison inside his own mind that he helped create around him. For years, he sat back and did nothing more than hold his hand and enable him. He hated himself for it, and it cut him deeply to know that he'd done it. Would his son forgive him?
The secrets they kept close to their hearts would soon be out in the open and he had no idea what to expect. Would Edward realize the truth once it was out? Would it affect him adversely?
His son looked healthier than he'd seen him in the last five years. There were no longer any circles under his eyes, and the haggard appearance that accompanied him like a thick veil after a drunken night was gone. The weight he lost over the years was back on and toned to the natural physique he had before he lost his young patient.
"Yeah, I only caught the end of the summer."
Carlisle did his best to keep from asking a million and one questions. They had to wait until their therapy sessions. They forbade them from questioning about where he'd been while in Mexico. His curiosity was through the roof, but Garrett assured him that it was for the best. They had to keep the facility a secret due to a cartel in the area. Had he known that Edward would go to that location, he'd never have agreed to it, and from the look of his son, perhaps it was best that he hadn't known.
Edward tried not to squirm under his dad's stare. It almost felt like he was being observed and analyzed, and that wasn't exactly a good thing.
"We can grab some lunch and head over to see the doc." He heard his father sigh, and he had to look. Regret had him almost recoiling. How a simple phrase had aged a man twenty years, he had no idea, but he understood the feeling. His father had his temple resting against the cool glass of his window, his hand over his mouth as if to keep something from emerging. Despite his fear, Edward wanted his words. "We'll get through it, Dad."
He had to look away when his father choked on an incoherent word, his eyes glazed with a threat of tears. Edward held back his need to say more. The time will come soon enough.
"Good to see you again, doctor," Carlisle said, shaking the man's hand. Banner wasn't anything he expected and perhaps that was a good thing. He had this calming influence around him, as he was sure he intended. Dressed in mismatched pants and a Hawaiian shirt, he looked nothing like the family therapist back home. "I trust you had a good lunch?" Banner took a chair across from him and Edward. He appreciated that, since the desk was rather imposing and would seem too much like a wall between them.
"I don't know who was cooking today," Edward started, laughing and shaking his head. "But it was damn good."
"I think it was Willis today."
His son's mouth quirked on one side and nodded knowingly. "That explains it." He turned to look at him. "He used to cook in New Orleans, some five star place, but came here to get some help." That had his son's laughter and smile falling.
Banner seemed to catch it, too, and spoke up. "How was the tour?"
"Great," Carlisle tried to coax his son from wherever his son's mind detoured. "Haven't seen it all, I'm sure. He did take us up to the mine."
The doc offered them a small smile and turned to Edward. "Ah, yes, you did say your father would like that."
Edward tapped his long fingers on his knee. "We went gold panning a few times in California when I was a kid. I knew he'd like to see something like that."
It wasn't lost on Carlisle that his son spoke to the doctor instead of him. "I did, thank you." Edward startled a little, as he'd forgotten he was still there. He only nodded, the tapping quickening for a bit. A few seconds of silence had his hand clenching into a fist before he relaxed his white-knuckled fingers over his knee. The bounce of his foot started.
Edward was nervous, Carlisle realized. He didn't blame him one bit, since he was, too. In fact, he was utterly terrified. Things would come out during their session, but the biggest secret wasn't for Carlisle to tell. That would fall on his wife as the doctor back home had recommended. Yet, when Banner had seen them the night before, he had indicated that if it somehow came out before she had a chance to tell him herself, they'd discuss it instead of keeping it from him.
Edward's stomach churned with nerves and downright fear. It was a testament to his strength that he hadn't already lost his lunch already, but he could do it, talk to his dad. He wanted to simultaneously run and stay. He wanted to keep it all inside, yet let the words tumble through his pursed lips. He knew it would be that way the moment he'd seen his father earlier, before the semi-tour.
A few cleansing breaths and he managed to stop his foot from tapping to an unknown beat in his head. He stored away the notes, oddly grateful for them. It was another thing that he could enjoy again since he sobered up. He hadn't composed in a long time, but he wanted to and his fingers itched for ivory keys.
Yet, it was ivory and inked skin that tried to distract him instead. He shook the image away, recognizing his mind's need to find a distraction when it was too much.
"Edward?" His father called for his attention and he wanted to give it to him.
"Sorry," he replied and sat up a little straighter. It fortified him enough to start. He shared a look with Banner, who nodded with his "if you're ready" look etched on his face. "First, I want to thank you for getting me the help I needed." Edward's eye had a tick that annoyed the shit out of him, but it was a sign he was nervous. He had to get it all off his chest. "I know I failed before, but I'm hoping that you never have to make the call again."
Edward wasn't foolish enough to believe that he could guarantee he'd never fall off. The difference from similar promises he made before was that he didn't want to fall off. He wasn't craving his favorite drink or wishing for another round.
His father nodded, taking a moment to clear his throat. "I only wish I made the call sooner." At the confused look on his face, his father elaborated. "Your uncle had recommended the same facility two years ago."
"It would've been Billy and Charlie that year." Banner added thoughtfully, but shook his head and told them to continue.
Edward needed a few moments before he found his words again. "I know I haven't been the best son, and I'm truly sorry about that." His dad started to shake his head, but didn't say anything. "I think one of the things I need to know is, why? Why did you make us move away from the one home we had with Nessie?"
Carlisle breath shuttered out of him, but the next one seemed easier. "We had no choice."
"How can you say that?" Edward weaved his fingers in his hair, tugging once before dropping his hands to his thighs again. "You made me leave the one place where she was everywhere."
"That was part of the reason," Carlisle replied, rubbing a hand over his mouth. "You couldn't get past what happened. We tried everything to stop the sleepwalking and the nightmares…"
"Wait. What sleepwalking? What nightmares?" Edward watched as his dad looked over to Banner, who nodded.
"The day after the accident, after having gone to bed hours earlier, you came down the stairs and headed straight for the pool. Your mother and I were in the kitchen and I realized you were sleepwalking. We were able to talk you into going back to bed without waking you."
Edward sat back and exhaled sharply. "I don't remember that."
"It's rare when someone remembers what they do when they sleepwalk, and some that do, often interpret their memories as dreams."
Edward turned away from Banner and asked his father to continue.
"After the second night, I had to install special locks for the patio door." He sighed deeply. "The third night, the day of the funeral, you objected to being led away."
"That's when you started to send me to a psychologist."
"Yes, and for a couple of weeks, everything seemed okay. Not perfect, but we were working through it together. Until one night, you fell out of your bedroom window in an attempt to save your sister."
"Oh hell," Edward hissed and rubbed away at his mouth. "How can I not remember this?"
His father shrugged. "You attributed your broken leg and arm to playing soccer. Your therapist continued to work with you, but you weren't opening up. Almost two months passed before another incident happened." He let out a choked groan, covering it up with a cough. "I came down early to get some work done and found you covered in glass and blood. You'd gone through the patio door."
"Jesus. The only reason the incidents would cease for a while was because of my injuries." Banner and his father nodded in agreement. "That's when you filled in the pool."
"Yes, I had a crew out that afternoon. Filled it with cement and created that small koi pond and sandbox."
"Then why did we still move?"
"Even though the pool was no longer there, you still went out there to save her." Carlisle had to take another deep breath to slow the painfully rapidly beating of his heart. "Between Alice's nightmares, your mother…" A clearing of his throat had him continuing. "And your sleepwalking, I had to make a choice. I didn't want to leave my home."
"What happened after the move?" Edward's memories were hazy, despite the fact that he'd been ten at the time.
"The nightmares stopped, the sleepwalking ended, and within a few months after the move, you started the charity to ensure every child, rich or poor, knew how to swim."
Edward closed his eyes and allowed his head to fall back against the cushion of the couch. Banner helped him to realize that he had purposely pushed them back and avoided them for years. When asked to recall some good memories of his sister, other than a few instances that stood out, he remembered little. It made sense that the bad ones he'd bury deep into his mind.
"You still had me seeing a therapist, then," Edward stated, cracking an eye open long enough to see his dad nod in response. "Why?"
"You were all for swimming alone, but no one could be in the water with you."
Banner hummed and spoke up. "That would be tough on promoting a charity based on swimming."
"That's why you had me introducing Alice more and more at the meet-n-greets and events." Edward's hand dug into the cushion as he cursed internally and sprung up from the couch. It wasn't long before his sister became the unofficial spokesperson for Swim Wings. "I thought you didn't believe in me."
"That's far from the truth," his dad said, his voice rising. "God, Edward. You were spreading yourself so thin. You were trying so hard to be the best brother to Alice, fundraising, sports, school, and friends. There may have not been any sleepwalking and nightmares, but that was because you were barely sleeping."
"You pulled me away from it for my good? Is that what you're trying to say?" Edward stepped toward his dad, hoping to see the truth in his eyes.
"Yes. Sometimes you have to step away from something if you want to flourish." His father's words struck some cord, resonated deep inside, but before he could try to understand the reason, the doc cleared his throat.
"Take a few moments to calm down," Banner insisted, gesturing toward the couch Edward vacated.
He hadn't even realized he was rubbing his chest and tugging on his hair as he paced. Ignoring the other people in the room, he sat down, elbows on his knees, he cradled his head. He hummed in attempt to breathe a little easier.
Memories, still unfocused, started to unfold in his head. There was a moment of panic when a news crew for a local station wanted film of him and his sister swimming together. He had jumped out of the water and told them all to go to hell at just under twelve years old.
"I understand why you did it," he said after a couple of minutes. "I understand why we had to move, the environment wasn't allowing me to move past Nessie's accident. I even understand why you slowly pulled me away from the organization. What I don't understand was why you let me self-destruct?"
"You answered your own question in a sense, by calling it self-destruction, but in my own way, I helped. I pushed and encouraged your path toward medicine. I knew what med-school was like but you were doing so well. When you had no inclination for partying, I assumed you were determined to finish at the top of your class. Yet, I thought it was highly unusual that you never partook in drinking or a party."
"I wanted to be the best."
"And you were and your professors couldn't stop praising you. Top of the class, we were so proud of you. But somehow I wondered how you'd take a patient dying while in your care."
"Not well." Edward shook his head and groaned. "The first time, it was this huge car wreck on the freeway. A father, hurt like hell when we couldn't save him, but I was ready to head back to work the next day."
"When did it start to get harder?"
"When I had a rotation in pediatrics," Edward said automatically, surprising himself. "Shit. Yeah, I met Katie that first day. She was this beautiful little girl, bright red curls, not shy one bit. It was her first day of chemo."
"You called me that night and told me you wanted to go into Oncology or Pediatrics." Carlisle offered a wary smile to his son. "You asked me to meet you for a drink nearby after work."
"Christ." Edward's heart ached as he remembered. "You're right. I didn't drink much in college, but I was so exhausted that night. I needed to see a familiar face that understood my passion and my pain. I thought it was her death that started it, but it wasn't."
"It was me," his dad croaked and started sob openly. "Forgive me. Dear God, forgive me."
Edward closed the distance between him and his father, reaching for him. His arms were solid around his father, shocked to find he'd lost weight, too. "I don't blame you at all, Dad. Hell, it was my decision that started it all. I should've known in my chosen field I would've always seen her face."
"But we started the tradition of meeting for drinks after a bad day at work."
"Yeah, and when you couldn't make it, I went with colleagues and eventually alone. It wasn't until Katie died when I fell asleep by her bedside that it spiraled out of control. I was looking for an excuse to have a drink and a warm body beside me. They kept the nightmares from haunting me every night."
"I enabled you from the beginning."
Edward saw that his dad truly believed that, and in a way, he was right. "It wasn't just you. I was too blind and broken to realize I was falling into that damn trap. I worked in a fucking emergency room and had seen the effects of alcohol, and still chose to drown away my troubles."
His father's eyes rose to meet his. "When I recognized the signs, I should've intervened sooner. I ignored them, hoping that you'd figure it out on your own. Then when you lost your young patient, I knew it wouldn't be that easy, and still, I held your hand. I made sure your bills were paid, your fridge was full, as well as your bank account."
"Why didn't you take Garrett's advice two years ago?"
"You asked me not to send you away," Carlisle muttered, averting his eyes for a second. "You had gotten home drunk, after losing your apartment because the neighbors were complaining about the noise and the company that you kept." He squeezed his son's shoulder. "I cleaned you up and knew I couldn't send you away for six months."
"Do you regret that you made the call now?"
His beautiful boy was still capable of looking lost and insecure as a man. He truly believed he wasn't worthy of love.
"I don't regret it at all."
It took days for Edward to recover from that first session with his father, but spent them touring with his family. It wasn't easy, far from it. Stilted conversations often led to long, awkward silences. Not even Alice, the family mediator, could find a safe enough topic.
They finally spent a meal together but it ended in shouting match between his parents. His mother kept pushing to ask questions, while his dad would tell her stop. The exchange only lasted a minute, but it was enough to send Edward seeking solace elsewhere.
He woke up the following morning with the need to talk to his sister. Really talk, not the conversations that led nowhere in the presence of their parents. Taking his time in the shower, he tried to put his thoughts in order. Admittedly, he thought that Alice had never been an enabler. Yet, as he spoke with Banner and his dad, he found that she had, too. She often covered for him when he was forced to move back to their parents' house.
That wasn't what concerned him the most. It was survivor's guilt. If he had suffered from it for years, it made sense that so did she. Even if she'd been young when their sister died, she had to deal with the aftermath for years. There were subdued holidays, the absent seat at the table at meals, and their mother's attempt to mold her into her late daughter. She hadn't been aware of it until that one time his dad told her to stop when Alice refused to take violin lessons like Nessie did.
Edward wanted to know that she was okay. He needed to hear that she was happy, but from the stilted conversations and her blatant disregard for his wishes, there was little chance of that. There were also blank spots in his memories, even days after the session with his father more and more reached the surface of his dreams. He wanted to separate dream from reality and he needed someone to help make sense of the emerging images.
What he also needed was a chaperone again and sat in his office. Normally, he'd scoff at the thought of needing someone to listen in on a conversation with his sister. He never had a problem with talking to her, except for the last few years of their lives. Listening and being the big brother was never a problem, but sharing his increasingly morbid thoughts and memories were not up for discussion. She was aware of it, but ignored it.
She was an enabler, too. Where his father overlooked the troubling signs, she confronted them, but she'd soon give up. Facing conflict was not her forte, and with him, she was even worse. She'd pound on a motel door of a former hooker's room to get him to glove it or drag him away. His sister, despite her five-two height was fiercely protective of him, but only against others. She never tried to protect him from himself. She'd slap a Band-Aid on him and call it a day.
He didn't blame her for that one bit. When people talked about him, they referred to him as the asshole, and back then, he'd been one. Even to his sister, though he tried so fucking hard not to let her see him at his worst; yet, she was the one that had seen the most.
For over twenty minutes, they calmly talked to each, asking the questions that had always been on their minds. Banner didn't push, but there were times where he'd lead the discussion in a certain direction. She blamed herself much as their dad had, called herself an enabler. Told him she should've made their parents open their eyes and see that something was clearly wrong. Tears tumbled out of big hazel eyes as she spoke, her hands in his. It didn't take long for her to curl up against his side, reminiscing.
"I'm sorry." Her voice barely heard over her rapid breathing. "Some people think that just because you're a child, you don't understand what's going on." Her eyes wide and glazed with tears stared up at him. "It's not true, Edward. I understood a lot more than most. Felt everyone's pain, and because I didn't remember, I felt it was my job just to make everything better."
"It never should've been your responsibility. You barely got to know her, but it didn't mean you loved her any less."
"I did. It's true, and I don't remember much. She used to sing me to sleep after Dad read me a story." Her brow tightened and her eyes closed. "When I had a nightmare, she'd come pull me out of bed and let me sleep next to her."
Edward nodded, remembering how they shared a room. "I'm sorry, too. For being an asshole and only thinking about myself after…after what happened with Katie."
Alice's head moved slightly on his shoulder, and she shifted to wipe her tears away with a wadded up mess of tissues.
"I have a problem," she whispered, unable to meet his eyes. "I'm a damn spoiled brat."
"Hey, I don't believe that for a second." Edward pulled her tighter against his side and rubbed her arm. "Why would you say that?"
She did a half shrug but then shifted away to face him. "Every time I didn't get my way, I gave Mom a guilt trip. Like what if while I'm at a music lesson, the place burns down and she'll lose her only daughter."
She winced, but choked up as she continued. "That wasn't the worst of it. While you drowned yourself with alcohol and acidic bitches, I was spending money, left and right. I racked up about two hundred thousand in debt, between school and clothes."
"How do I not know this?" Edward had to get up and took a trip around the room to calm down. "Was I that blind?"
"Every one of us has issues, deep seated ones. We all just chose different ways to expel or push them back."
"A wise way to look at it," Banner stated and rose to his feet. "I think we're getting somewhere. Do you think you can handle talking, really talking without me?" He directed his question at Edward.
"No, because there's still something I have to know." He circled the couch and sat on the coffee table in front of her. "Why did you go see her?"
Alice bit her lip, sniffling once, a stalling tactic Edward recognized. "Spoiled, remember? I wasn't getting answers, and I needed to see Jasper and you." At the mention of his name Edward's fists clenched over his thighs, his jaw doing the same. The mere thought of him, reminded him of the last time he spoke with Bella. He pushed it all way to concentrate on himself, and his family.
Alice pulled a tissue out from a box that Banner held out to her. "I thought I could talk her into giving me information. Instead, she made me open my eyes a bit. I'm a grown woman and had a damn tantrum. I have a problem with shopping and I'm willing to blackmail or guilt people into giving me what I want."
Edward wanted desperately to ask how Bella looked. He couldn't. Right now, his sister, broken with issues of her own, needed him as much as he needed her.
"Did you ever blame yourself?"
Alice shook her head. "I had the 'what if' thoughts, you know?" Edward hummed since he was familiar with that quite well. "They'd creep up occasionally for years, and even now sometimes. What if I hadn't found Mom's scissors and cut my finger? What if I hadn't been born?"
"Christ, Ali," Edward groaned and pulled her back into his arms. "I'm sorry that you thought like that, I never wanted you to have doubts and regrets. Guess I didn't do a good job being a big brother, did I?"
"You recently punched a guy thinking he would never be good enough for me," she grumbled, giving him a glare under a wealth of dark lashes. She looked slightly evil and she knew he hated when she did that. Again, the subject of Jasper rose again and Edward knew he'd face it soon. "Not that I agree with you, but it does mean you're still looking out for me."
"Always, Alice," he agreed and looked over to the doc. "I think we're going to be okay, but yeah, I don't think I'm ready to talk about the difficult topics alone with you."
"Neither am I," Alice whispered, wiping her nose again.
"All right, how about we set up a session in a different setting?" They agreed to meet for breakfast in two days. "You two have a great dynamic, but I am concerned that you're both still keeping things toned down. That's not always a good thing."
Edward and Alice looked at each other and thought that the doc was right. They talked about difficult things, but never reached a boiling point, only let it slide or push it aside for the next subject. It wasn't a good thing and they'd have to learn to really talk to each other and not let it all go so easily. Nothing worth doing should be easy.
"No instant fix between me and my sister, huh?"
Banner shook his head. "I think you know the answer to that."
Edward was nervous and it showed. He fidgeted as he usually did, and he'd fallen back to the old habit of lashing out. For a week after the session with his sister, he avoided his mother like the plague, not ready to talk to her, much less be in the same room with her. Bad memories were a nightly visitor, and often Edward was in the gym working out after one.
Since then, Banner had brought up the issues with Jasper, which if he allowed the subject to linger would turn to Bella. He didn't let it. He wasn't ready to talk to his own mother. There was no way in hell he was ready to talk about her. It seemed fucked up that he set up the session with his whole family in the hopes that it would deter Banner from that subject.
They were running out of time. His father had to return soon, and even though he and the doc said it would be okay for them to postpone for another time, Edward knew it couldn't wait any longer. The sleepless nights were taking a toll on him, and he wasn't about to let his lingering fears undo how far he'd come.
He was strong enough. He could get through it. Now he had the support of his dad and sister, something he had no idea he needed until he had it. The moment he walked into Banner's office, he felt cornered, caged. A quick look around the room and he knew he was the first to arrive.
Banner rearranged the room and Edward felt like it was a test. He knew the doc wasn't necessarily the type to do such a thing. However, he felt he needed to choose wisely. Two chairs sat across from the couch, while a solitary chair sat between them on the side and a coffee table was the centerpiece. His first reaction was to take the lone chair, but the itch not to feel so alone reared its ugly head.
He chose the couch, right in the middle.
Banner offered him a half smile as he emerged from behind his desk in the corner of the room and took the lone chair. The nerves he felt earlier started to grow. His mother had been adamant about seeing him since her arrival, and he feared she would sit beside him.
Too close—he wasn't ready for hugs and kisses from the woman. As his knee bounced, he eyed the chairs across the room and thought that those looked safer to him. Before he had a chance to change his mind and take one, his sister popped in her head and smiled at him. Closely following her inside the office was his dad.
When the door closed behind him, he watched it as his sister sat beside him, his dad taking the seat on his other side. Was his mother not coming? Wouldn't that confirm all his beliefs?
It wasn't even ten seconds of panic before the door opened and his mother joined them. In all her perfect glory, she glanced toward him, not meeting his eyes. She huffed as if insulted that she had no other choice but to take one of the chairs across from them.
"Good afternoon, son," she said as she sat, crossing her ankles and placed her hands on her lap. Her body angled toward the doctor and not her family.
Having only seen glimpses of her since his family's arrival in Montana, Edward thought she looked the same. Not a hair was out of place, her makeup tasteful and understated. Her attire was pair of dark slim pants and a crisp white shirt, a pale pink cardigan softening the look. There were no circles under her eyes, no worry lines along her brow like his dad.
Edward wasn't sure what he expected to see. It wasn't that, though, and he had to look away. She had yet to make eye contact with him.
"It was nice to be included in today's activities with my son," she said, with an air of frustration. Her voice hadn't risen or hitched; it was just in the way she said it. As if she was insulted, but it mattered little.
"Esme," his dad said beside him.
She barely glanced at him, cocking a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "We've been here for almost a month and I have yet to talk to him in a session, while my husband and daughter have seen him much more than I have. What kind of establishment is this? Why haven't I talked with my son on our own, as he has with his father and sister? Why am I only seeing him now with everyone?"
Her voice had started to rise as each question passed through thinly pursed lips. Once she realized that, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened them again and whatever anger she felt, she managed to contain it.
Edward didn't wait for the doc to answer. "Ask me, Mother. Not the doctor, or dad, or Alice. Ask me." It was a typical Sunday dinner all over again, where his mother led all conversations at him and how she hadn't seen him in weeks.
She turned her gaze, looking at him with his sister's eyes. The effect caused pain to stab him in the heart. Of all people, why did his mother have to have her eyes?
"All right, why have you been ignoring me? Why haven't sat in a session together like you had with your father and Alice?"
"I wasn't ignoring you," Edward said, leaning forward so she could see he meant it. "Avoiding you, yeah, I'll admit that. I wasn't ready to see you, hell, I'm still not right now."
"Then why am I here?"
His defenses went up. "Don't you want to be? I have no problem if you head on home right now. I'm good." Alice whispered his name and captured his hand in hers. He sighed and worked to calm down. "We didn't meet with the doc alone because this was what I wanted." He spread his hands to his sides, gesturing to his sister and dad.
"You mean team up against me. I'm sure they told you everything, while I was under the impression that I would be allowed to disclose my secrets."
"It's no secret you wished it was me!" His throat ached, his voice having reach a level that no amount of coaxing from Alice would help stop him. He was on his feet, his hands in his hair. "You think I could forget what you said to me! How dare you make this about you? I'm your son and you wished I was dead."
"Edward." Banner's tone said it all. Edward growled and walked away from the sitting area of the large office. He walked the length of it to calm down. "Mrs. Cullen, no one had disclosed anything concerning you."
"Didn't you fucking hear me? I know her secret! The day we buried my sister, she looked me in the eyes in that damn mirror and said that it should've been me!" His chest hurt where his fist hit as he explained. "I know she wanted it to be me instead of Nessie that drowned in that pool." He faced his mother, her tear-filled eyes lost on him, as he screamed. "Guess that's one thing we have in common, because there's hardly a day that passes where I don't wish that very same thing!"
"She was a drunk!" Alice screamed from across the room, bursting into tears. She stood near her father's side, hands clenched to her sides and she faced her mother. "If she said anything to you that day, it wasn't our mother talking."
It took a moment for the words to sink in, and when they did, they rattled around in his head. "What did you say?"
Banner cleared his throat. "Why don't you return to your seat, Edward? That way you all have a chance to be heard."
Edward watched as his dad walked around the coffee table and wrapped his arm around his mother. She quietly cried against his chest as he handed her a handkerchief. What had Edward said that upset her?
She was a drunk! Alice's words rung in his head, pounding and forming the headache. He hadn't heard her right. Why would she say something like that? Did she think all of this was a joke?
Edward sat down, allowing his head to fall back against the cushion. His hands roughly scrubbed over his face, the exhaustion he felt was bone deep. If he could, he would've waited until he had some sleep. That was impossible, since he had only managed fitful rest in the last few weeks.
"Let's take a few moments," Banner said from his perch on the single chair. Carlisle settled his wife in her seat and seemed unsure of where to sit, much as Edward had. It was either he remained with his wife to comfort her or sit beside his son as support.
"It's all right, Dad."
Still confused on what to do, it was his mother's pat on his hand that had him moving across the room to sit by Edward's side.
"Before we continue, I'd like to let everyone know that you'll have a chance to talk." Banner gestured toward Edward, giving him the chance to start again. It took another three deep, cleansing breaths for that to happen.
"The night of the funeral, I went to look for you," he said, dropping his hands from his hair to his thighs. The slight sting served as an anchor, something to hold onto, though it didn't last anywhere near enough. It wasn't until Alice's pinky wrapped around his that he felt more like himself.
It was something Nessie always did when they were in trouble. How Alice knew it would soothe him, he had no idea, but he was grateful. Giving her pinky a squeeze, he continued.
He looked at his mother. "You left the guests downstairs to get something for grandfather, but you never came back down."
"I lost track of time," she whispered, her eyes leaving his to look at his dad. Her gaze fell to her lap as a flush overcame her face. Something he never seen his mother do, ever.
"You were sitting at Nessie's vanity table, touching her things. When I came to the door, you looked at me and said—"
"It should've been you," his mother finished, suddenly horrified.
"Esme!" Carlisle gasped and covered his mouth, tears filling his eyes. Alice whimpered beside Edward. His mother shook her head, a look of pleading on her face.
"I swear, Edward, you misunderstood!"
"How could I? I remember it clear as day, and apparently, so do you." Edward had to look away, the tears that fell down her cheeks was a first in a long time he'd seen on her.
"I hadn't seen you in the mirror. I was looking at my own reflection. I said those words to myself." She looked at the doc, who nodded. "I was also drunk that night."
"Edward, try to remember the little things of that day." Banner's voice was distant, his mother's voice still echoing in his ears, but Edward did his best to comply.
"You smelled like Christmas for days after she was gone." Edward hadn't remembered that until now. As a child, he described the scent to a happy memory. As an adult, he recognized the smell for what it had really been—gin. "You had water in your glass," he reasoned.
"No, Edward." She sniffled again, wiping at her eyes. "I didn't." He shook his head, not believing what he was hearing.
His conjured up other memories, though every instinct wanted him to push them back into the dark corner of his mind. There were fights behind closed doors between his parents. How once she stumbled inside the house, returning from a dinner party with his dad. Another time, Alice was thirteen, and she was upset after leaving their mother's room, saying she was sick. There was a Thanksgiving dinner one year where she insulted his grandfather as she drank deeply from a glass of water in her hand.
Only it wasn't water, it was alcohol.
"I used to look in the mirror and thought, she had my eyes, and she had my hair. It was so hard. I should've just put my foot down and insisted you two come that day. I'm the reason she's gone, and that day, I looked in the mirror and told myself that it should've been you, but I meant me. I never saw you there." She cried softly, her breathing coming out in pants. "What you must think of me? It explains so much. You couldn't even look at me after the funeral. I thought it was because I remind you of her."
When he said nothing, she met his wide-eyed gaze. "It's true. I'm an alcoholic, Edward. I've been sober for almost five years."
Edward wasn't sure when he stopped listening. He wasn't aware of anything as he rose to his feet, but the next time he was able to breathe again, he was outside, running.
It was almost two hours later when Alice found him in the stables, grooming a beautiful horse after his ride. She hadn't been around a horse in years before coming there, but knew her mother owned one, housed outside of Seattle. The fact that Edward had taken to horse riding was astounding.
He didn't look up from his task, his movements efficient the coat almost gleaming under the low lighting.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"When was I supposed to? When you were fighting your own addiction," she said, approaching him and the horse the way her mother taught her. Soon, Captain Red accepted her touch, having met her before, and nudged her hand before it slid along his neck. She stood beside her brother, watching him still.
"How could I not fucking know?"
"She was a functioning drunk most of the time." Alice shrugged, still stroking the horse as Edward continued to groom. "It wasn't often that I saw her drunk to the point that Dad or I had to put her in bed, but behind closed doors, I'm sure she was."
"That time we came back from the movies, remember? She was asleep on the coach, but she looked horrible. You put her in bed, but you came out crying."
"Yeah, she was drunk."
"How could you keep it from me? How could Dad?"
"I asked them to," his mother said from a few stalls down. She smiled at Alice as she neared, smoothing a hand down her back. Bending only slightly, she pressed a kiss to her daughter's cheek before squeezing her arm. "Let me talk to him."
Alice searched Edward's eyes, looking for any indication that it wasn't what he wanted. He only gave her a tiny smile and locked his pinky around hers. "I'll be okay." She nodded, hopeful but still so afraid. She'd stop by to see the doctor and her dad, to tell them where he was and that he was talking to their mother.
As she walked away from them, she saw how he tensed as their mother laid a hand on his back. His shoulders curled forward, and made a small step forward, further guarding his heart. It broke hers as she wiped tears away, praying as she left.
Edward did his best to keep his emotions to himself, but he felt as if he was ten years old again. "I thought you hated me."
"Never," she whispered, her small hand settling on his upper back. "I thought you blamed me for what happened and that it was too much to be around me because we look alike. I think between my own addiction and my self-loathing I believed it would be easier if I—"
"Stayed away? After that day, I thought the same thing."
"I'm sorry," she whispered, the hitch of her voice served as a warning. Emotions were running too high. "I'm sorry I got so lost in my own grief that I neglected you. I'm sorry for not telling you that I've been fighting my own demons. Mostly, I'm sorry for taking so long to tell you how much I love you."
He didn't look at her, just turned and pulled her into his arms and held her. "Mom."
His family left around mid-February, with the promise to set up sessions when he returned to Washington. A few weeks of intense therapy didn't fix everything. They argued, they cried since that day in the stables. There was still so much left unsaid, or avoided, but they were learning to talk it out as a family. Edward learned that every single member of his family blamed themselves for Nessie's accident.
It wasn't until March, after weeks of therapy and of coming to terms with his feelings for Bella that he figured out why she did it. He realized her reason for walking away from him as his therapist. It wasn't anything someone said or did. It didn't come to him in a dream. He was simply talking to Banner in a session.
"Why did you call her and break all contact with her?"
"I knew that I would've been doing all of this for the wrong reasons. I would want to make her proud, knowing she was getting daily updates. I wouldn't have been doing it for me."
"Why would what she thought, matter to you?"
Edward shrugged. "I love her." His hand rubbed as his mouth, his arm propped up on the arm of the couch. "Sometimes, you have to walk away from those you love to get through it, to know you're strong enough to do it on your own. Does that even make sense," he said, laughing, finally fucking understanding her. "I knew I had to do it for me. I know I'll never be good for her, but I want to be."
"I'm not going to give you some plant and tell you if it survives a year then you'll be ready to have a relationship." Banner chuckled. "Hell, I know very capable adults that can kill a cactus. I believe you'll know when you're ready."
That was the crux of the situation. "James came to see me."
"I know, I told him he should talk to you." They talked a little about what James had said, about his idea, even made some calls about it. Banner sat back after they finished. "I think you have something to say, spit it out."
Edward smirked and shook his head. There was no use hiding anything from the doc; he saw it all.
"I'm ready to go home."
Bella dropped her pen on her desk, sitting back and stretching her arms overhead. She was up earlier than usual, to make arrangements for an out of control actress currently in Beverly Hills. Catching her asleep in her home early was the only way to guarantee her people wouldn't catch her. She would then head out for nice long drive and a few plane switches would arrive at the new facility in Alaska.
She worked hard for the last couple of months setting that up. There, Billy and his new wife, Elizabeth, would manage the facility for the high profile and long-term targets. The therapist they managed to find willing to work in the area, who happened to be a nature lover and often vacationed in Alaska, was already there. Garrett had luckily found him for her.
She had a few hours to kill before the scheduled call with Marcus from Mexico, they'd been working diligently to build a case against Carlos, who they found out to be an American, born in border city of Texas, forty-two years earlier. DEA wanted him badly. They were trying not to have to use her testimony, since that would mean WITSEC and that wasn't going to happen. She couldn't leave everyone behind, besides there was little chance that Carlos could find her, he only knew her first name, and he never knew what exactly she did in her Mexico facility.
Jasper and his cousin, Maggie, were up in Alaska to help set up the new establishment, but would return to Washington in a few weeks. He was doing considerably better with the support of surviving family, his sponsor, and therapist. The last time she talked to him, he still hadn't called Alice.
Rosalie and Emmett were sitting out this round with the new client, and Bella knew she'd soon get a visit. She was positive that Rosalie was pregnant, but they hadn't told her yet. It was their second pregnancy, having miscarried almost four months into the last one. She didn't blame them for waiting until they were sure they were okay.
She checked her calendar, smiling when she saw the date, the first day of April, and Edward's 295th day of sobriety. She missed him so damn much. He was never far from her thoughts and always in her dreams. That one night in that little hotel room replayed in her head for only a few moments, before she shook herself from those memories.
A few hours later, after ending the call with Marcus, her cell phone rang, surprising her when she saw an unrecognizable number on the display. Her people in California would be checking in by now.
"I swear to god, Seth, if you can't get that red headed, spoiled brat in the van, I'm going to dock your pay."
One word and her heart stopped for a millisecond, only to restart at twice the speed. "Edward?"
Her breath caught at the familiar name and the accompanying annoyance of it. "Hey."
"God," he said, his voice somewhat muffled. "I had no idea how much I needed to hear your voice until now." She knew exactly what he meant. How could it hurt and feel so good to hear his voice? "Say something, Bella."
"I don't even know where to start." For a few scared moments, she thought he hung up on her. She checked, but saw that wasn't the case. He was simply silent. "Edward?"
"Let's start at the end."
"That last night I saw you," he said softly.
"Honey, that wasn't the end."
He chuckled a little, though it sounded slightly harsher. "You have no idea how good it is to hear that." He cleared his throat. "I know why you did it."
"Figured it out, did you?"
"Yeah." Neither of said anything for another minute. "I understand that sometimes a person needs to stand on his own two feet, and I wasn't about to do that with you holding me up."
"Good. I never meant to hurt you."
"I know that." Silence and a little doubt kept the words tied to their tongues, each of them had so much to say, but it wasn't the time. Not really. "I need to see you."
God, she wanted to, as well, but she remembered the date. She wouldn't put it past him. "Edward Anthony Cullen, I swear if this is a joke, there will be hell to pay."
He cleared his throat and groaned. Didn't take a genius where his mind went. "Damn, you know how to get me worked up. It's not some April Fool's Day joke, I swear. I left Montana."
"You did?" She couldn't hide the excitement in her voice, the pride. Did that mean he was ready to come home?
"I'm in Chicago." That surprised her and he continued. "I needed to come home, and I've been here a few days. I want you to meet my sister."
"Have you been to see her?"
"Yeah, eventually." He laughed, strained, but it was genuine. "Took a few tries, but I went to see her and my family just left, too. Only, I need for you to meet her."
"I can fly out tomorrow." She opened up a tab on her computer to a travel site she used often. The earliest flight would arrive in O'Hare at 9:17 the following morning. She booked it.
She heard him sigh in relief. "Thanks. It means a lot to me, you know. And I'm not expecting anything, you know, to happen between us."
"Yeah, that wouldn't be a good idea."
She smiled. "Yet."
"This is my number, text me your flight information and I'll pick you up. I got a suite here."
"All right, Edward. As long as there's no funny business, I can agree to that. How long should I expect to stay?"
"Can you do a couple of days, three if you can work it in your schedule? I want to show you where I grew up, too."
It didn't matter what was on her calendar, she could delegate. "That's doable."
"And 3B, there's nothing funny about my business."
She groaned. "This is going to be an innuendo filled visit, isn't it?"
"You know me so well."
She did. "I missed hearing your voice, too."
Again, he said nothing, but made a sound of pure relief at her words. "There's another reason why you did it," he finally said another minute later.
Her eyes closed and though there was some doubt in his voice, there was the hint of hopefulness to it, too.
"Yes, there was."
"It's because you love me?"
She couldn't lie to him. She didn't want to, so she answered him honestly.
"Yes, I do."