A/N: So, I'm sorry I took entirely too long to update. I have no good excuse other than that I sometimes fail at life. I'm not sure if anyone is still reading this... *taps microphone* is this thing on? ... I want to thank Kim for her continued patience with me, and the EBs for all the support and inspiration IFLY.
Again, apologies for the delay.
The rain beat down, drenching my body as I hurried from my truck to the apartment door. Each stomp of my foot splashed water onto me from the puddle filled pavement. I was soaked, and ordinarily, I would have been annoyed, but this time I didn't even care.
I reached the door, and looked back for the first time. After I gave a quick reassuring nod, I watched the lights of Edward's Volvo fade into the distance. As I unlocked the door, and prepared to enter my home, I should have been thinking about Charlie – what I would say to him, how I would explain my bruises. I should have been wondering where we stood after our argument, that although only this morning, now seemed so long ago. But I found myself unable to focus, all thoughts and impulses pulling me back to the alley, back to Edward.
After being interrupted in typical Forks style with this downpour, I insisted I needed to get home. The rain had held off for too many days, and when it finally arrived, it was like the floodgates had opened. He wanted to drive me, but I had enough awareness to know that Edward Cullen walking me to my door would be enough to send Charlie completely over the edge. I refused the offer, but he was undeterred, and drove behind me instead to ensure my safe arrival. I protested, and was embarrassed by the gesture, but I sort of liked that he did it.
I quietly pushed open the door, and as I took the first step into the apartment, I heard Charlie. He was in the kitchen, and had no doubt been pacing the floor, peering out the window for my arrival. That meant he must have seen Edward. Great. As if things weren't complicated enough. I drew in a deep breath and took the next step, wondering if I had any chance of making it to my room before he made his move.
We needed to talk. I knew that. But right now I needed to be alone and to sort through my thoughts and wash away the debris of the day. My clothes were stained with dried blood, and I smelled of Edward. That was not the best way for me to face Charlie. The last thing I needed was for him to find out about my '7 Minutes in Heaven' with Edward.
I took my next step, sighing in defeat as the floorboard creaked. I instantly felt Charlie's eyes on me, hovering from the kitchen doorway. I turned and my eyes met his and he opened his mouth to speak, but as my disheveled appearance registered, his face instantly changed to one of concern. Crossing the distance between us quickly, one hand braced my shoulder as the other tilted my head up.
"Bella, my God, what happened?" His words breathed out in a rush. "Are you okay? Come on in here. Sit down. Who did this to you? What happened?" His words continued in rapid-fire succession, his voice panicked and worry filled, his eyes darting back and forth over me.
"Ch-Dad, calm down. I'm okay," I said in the most reassuring voice I could manage. The truth was, my head was spinning and I felt like I could pass out at any moment. But in all honesty, that was more likely a result of making out with Edward in the alley than from anything Leah or James had done to me.
"Let's get some ice on that," he said motioning towards my lip as he led me to sit down on the sofa. "Where else are you hurt? Are you still bleeding?"
"No – I – yes, ice sounds good," I stammered. "But it's – it's not my blood – mostly not, anyway."
His eyes narrowed as he examined me. He'd still remained calmer than I had expected. He seemed to be hesitating, choosing his words perhaps, contemplative. He went to the kitchen to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer and when he returned, gently pressed it to the side of my face, still saying nothing. I winced at the cold, but knew it would help. He went to the linen closet and brought a towel to wrap around me.
A moment passed as he stared at me. He finally spoke, and when he did, his voice was infused with anger.
"Did that Cullen bastard do this to you?" he spat out.
"No!" I answered quickly. "Why would you even –" And then I remembered he would have been watching out the window and seen Edward's car.
"What's going on with you two?" he asked. "I don't like it."
"Actually, it would have been a lot worse if Edward hadn't been there," I admitted.
His skeptical eyes appraised me, but evidently he believed me, and his face softened. He sat down in the chair across from me and leaned forward, taking my free hand in his.
"I'm so sorry about this morning, Bella. I'm tired of these secrets and lies between us, and I – I shouldn't have reacted like I did. And I certainly shouldn't have left things like that." He shook his head, seeming disgusted with himself. "The way I've acted, I can't blame you. I've driven you right to that dreadful family-"
"It's not like that," I interjected.
"I am sorry Bella, about before. I really am," he said, shaking off my correction. "But right now I want you to tell me what the hell happened to you, and where you've been."
"It's a long story," I said.
"I've got time," he insisted, not dissuaded. "And I'm telling you right now, I don't care what you say – if that little Cullen shit had anything to do with what happened to you, so help me –"
"Got it," I chimed in quickly, before he had a chance to go further down that road. "But really, if Edward hadn't found me when he did…" My voice trailed off, my mind wandering back to the alley. My body reacted to the very thought of him, his arms, his lips… I struggled to regain my focus, pulling my mind back to the present.
There was nothing left to do but start talking. So I did. Like Charlie, I was tired of the lies. When I started telling him the truth, it too, was like opening the floodgates. There was so much to catch him up on, and it all started gushing out.
I began by telling him about James, but then I realized I had to go back before that. I tried to start at the beginning, but I wasn't ready to talk about Edward or running into him outside of the office, so I started with going to La Push to visit Jacob. I didn't get into the specifics of the discussion, still not eager to jump back into the Cullen conversation, but explained that afterwards I decided to go see Seth since I was so close. I was honest about everything, simply leaving the Cullens out of the conversation whenever I could. I knew this would not always be possible, but it was one topic I needed to better understand myself before trying to explain it to Charlie.
He listened intently as I described going through Harry's belongings, his brow furrowed when I got to the part about the phone records. When I explained that my busted lip was a gift from Leah, his eyes widened, but he didn't interrupt.
It was only after I explained how I ended up in the alley with James that Charlie finally interrupted.
"Bella, I have told you a thousand times not to go nosing around places like that," he said. He tried to sound scolding, but his voice was still laced with concern.
"You should have called me, Bells," he said. "Those people are dangerous. Didn't you remember any of the self-defense I taught you?"
"I was getting to that," I said. "But he had me pinned in - and I'm still not positive how, but Edward found me - and so fast…" My voice trailed off again as my mind flashed back over it. The absolute terror that had finally begun to fill me, the flood of relief at the sight of Edward's face, the sick exhilaration I felt at seeing him beat James.
It was easy to blame it on the adrenaline, and it was definitely a factor. But had the adrenaline clouded my judgment, or had it finally allowed me to see things clearly for the first time? I wanted to see him again, to see if it would be the same, if that same electric spark would continue to exist between us. How could it not? But what if it didn't? What if he was only responding to my actions and reacting in the heat of the moment? I had to see him. I had to know. But I was terrified of what the answer might be.
I was suddenly very emotional, and it must have shown on my face because in an uncharacteristic show of affection, Charlie moved next to me on the sofa and pulled me into an embrace. He locked his arms around me, and I tensed, waiting for him to release me.
"Bells, it's gonna be okay," he whispered. "I know it must have been scary." He was reassuring me, misinterpreting the reason behind my emotions. "I don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to you. I can't lose you. I won't. Not you too, Bella."
I looked up at him and saw his usual hardened and unreadable face was now overwrought with emotion. He had loosened his grasp, but I was still leaning against him. I didn't want to lose him either. I wasn't sure when we had crossed the threshold and become adversaries, but I missed the closeness we used to share. Somehow, amidst all the betrayal and deception, we'd turned on each other.
It was time to put all the cards on the table.
"I don't want things to be like they have been between us anymore," I said. "I'm still investigating Tanya's murder, you know that. And I know you are, too."
"I was," he admitted. "I got caught up in it again. I got wrapped up in trying to unravel it all. But I had to stop."
"Why?" I demanded, straightening up. "We're running out of time. Harry is scheduled to die, and whoever killed Tanya is still out there."
"I used to think that solving the case was the key to our happiness," he said. "Solve the case and my reputation is restored. Solve the case and your mom comes home. Solve the case and your life can go back to normal."
"So let's do it," I said. "Let's solve the case-"
"Wait, Bella," he said. "What I believe now is that we have to make the most out of what we have. All of that is in the past. It's time to focus on the here and now."
"What about the truth?" I asked. "What about the Clearwaters? And Tanya?"
"You can't just drop this," I said, my voice sounding more like a plea than I intended.
"It's over," he said. "It's time to let it go."
"You don't believe that," I said.
"I hate to break it to you, honey, but nobody in Forks cares what I believe. They didn't care when I was Sheriff, and they sure as hell don't care now. This town's gonna have to find another conspiracy nut."
He was really giving up. I'd stood by him through all of this, and he was ready to throw in the towel.
"It's not over," I said quietly. He might be finished, but I'm not.
"There's no guarantee we'll ever find out what really happened," he said.
"We can try," I said.
"It'll just make things harder on you, around town," he said.
"We have to try," I said.
We locked eyes for a moment before he spoke again.
"You're more like me than I realized," he said with a sigh, running his hand over his chin. "You're not going to let this go, are you?" he asked rhetorically.
He looked down, and his eyes stopped on my left forearm. I looked down to see that a bruise had formed on my wrist, courtesy of James. He stared at it for a few seconds before continuing.
"You're not gonna stop putting yourself in harm's way until you get the answers you're after. I see that now." He swallowed hard, having difficulty with his words. "The things I've kept from you, I've done it to try to protect you. But I'll be damned if it's not had the opposite effect," he said. "I'm through keeping secrets for other people and having them come between me and the people I love."
What did he mean, 'keeping secrets for other people'?
"I know where your mother's at," he said, his voice too casual for my taste.
I pulled away from him, sitting straight up.
Had he known all this time and not told me? I was incensed.
"Where is she? How did you –"
"She left because she thought she was protecting you," he continued, undistracted by my questions.
"Protecting me? From what?" I asked.
He went quiet again and chewed at his lip. Spit it out already, Charlie.
"There's some history between our family and the Cullens that you don't know about," he said, shaking his head. "It's ugly, and it doesn't have any relevance to our lives now."
"If it's the reason mom left, then it most definitely does have relevance now," I said. "Did they do something to run her off?"
"No one made her leave, Bella," he said. "It was more of a preemptive measure-"
"What was she preempting?" I demanded. "What's the history with the Cullens?"
Saying the name brought Edward back to the forefront of my mind, and I wondered if he knew about this 'history' between our families.
"There's no easy way to say this," he started. "It has to do with the reason Esme Cullen came to see me."
So it wasn't just about some case.
He stopped talking and seemed to be choosing his words. The momentary pause was excruciating, I wanted to shake the answers out of him.
"Your mother's lived in this town a lot longer than I have. I moved here after high school. But your mother, she grew up here," he said.
I swear to God, if he starts this story at childhood, I'm going to cry. Just get to the point already, Charlie. I'm dying here.
"Carlisle's always had a way with the ladies. You know that, I'm sure," he said with a humorless laugh. "Even back when he was a washed up has-been, he could charm even the most beautiful girl in town."
Charlie was right; Carlisle was a notorious charmer. I never understood it. If you ask me, the guy reeked of eau de douche, but apparently some ladies must go for that sort of thing.
"Well, your mother always was the most beautiful girl in town," he said.
"Even a twit like Carlisle could see that," he said. "He wanted her, and of course, whatever Carlisle wants, Carlisle gets."
"Mom and Carlisle?" I asked in disbelief.
"Gross," I added, suddenly feeling nauseous.
"Yeah, well, it was a long time ago," he said.
"So, what, Esme's jealous of Carlisle's high school sweetheart?" I asked, confused.
Charlie's face looked conflicted. He shifted in his seat before he continued.
"This town is full of secrets. Everyone around here seems to want to sweep things under the rug and pretend they never happened. I've kept secrets for a long time because I thought it was the right thing to do. I kept quiet because it was what your mother wanted. After awhile I just did it because I'd been keeping quiet for so long and I convinced myself that the truth didn't matter anymore."
"What truth?" I asked skeptically.
"Eventually you become a prisoner to it, like keeping other people's secrets makes you just as guilty as them."
"What truth?" I repeated, louder this time.
"Things were over between your mother and Carlisle before I met her," he said. "At least they should have been."
He stopped again and exhaled loudly.
"Carlisle's always had a nasty temper," he mumbled distantly.
"Did he hurt her?" I whispered, my eyes wandering up to meet his. He nodded once silently, but he didn't have to say anything, his face told me enough.
Carlisle was abusive, dangerous, and Charlie knew that. So many things started to make sense – why there'd always been the tension between our family and the Cullens, why mom never wanted me to have anything to do with them, why Charlie was so adamant I not get close to Alice and Edward.
"She told me how he'd fly off the handle over little things," he mumbled. "He had these rules, everything had to be done just so and – " he stopped himself. "She was five minutes late for dinner one night, so when she arrived, he slammed her through the glass coffee table. She was cut up something awful, needed stitches."
"Oh my God," I whispered.
"You know, she still had the scars from that when I met her," he said. He was staring down at the carpet and seemed to be a million miles away in thought.
So Charlie had an idea what Carlisle was capable of, but because Renee wanted him to keep quiet, he never said anything about Carlisle's history of violence.
"When I didn't drop the investigation, Esme started dropping by to see Renee at work," Charlie said.
"She threatened her?" I asked, furious.
"Not exactly," he said. "She had pictures of you, to show she knew your schedule, like they could get to you. There was never a threat made, but the implication was clear. They wanted me to drop the case, and they knew what mattered to us."
"So that's what you meant when you said she left to protect me," I said.
All this time, I've been thinking Mom bolted because she couldn't handle losing everything. Maybe she just couldn't handle losing me.
"But how does her being gone change anything?" I asked. "She should come back."
Charlie shook his head.
"Carlisle's always had pull over her, and I guess she thought that if she took herself out of the scenario by leaving town, that maybe it'd be one less way he could manipulate our family," he said. "So, she went to Jacksonville."
"What's in Jacksonville?" I asked.
"She's staying with Phil, an old college friend," he replied.
"For how long?"
"I don't know," he answered with a shrug.
"But why now? I mean, why were you meeting with Esme so recently?" I asked.
He looked down, shaking his head.
"She really is a desperate woman," he said. "She knew I'd been working the case again, so she came at me from a different angle this time. She'll lie and say anything. She tried to feed me some story about your mother taking up with Carlisle again. But it's nothing but lies. Don't ever believe a word that woman says. Now listen, I don't want you to worry. I'm going to keep you safe."
I was less concerned with my own safety though, as I suddenly thought of Edward and Alice. I remembered how adamant they'd been about not letting Carlisle find out what happened at Emmett's party. What at first seemed like a typical teenage cover-up now took on a much darker meaning.
Even though I doubted they knew about his history with Renee, they must know about his temper at the very least.
Charlie pulled me into another hug as he repeated his promise to keep me safe. It was a sweet gesture, but my own safety was the least of my concerns.
My mind had moved on to thoughts of retribution. Carlisle Cullen really was the evil bastard I thought he was, and he was going to pay.
We spent the rest of the night talking. I don't even remember falling asleep, but I woke up tucked into my bed. It reminded me of when I was a kid and would fall asleep on the couch watching television and Charlie would carry me to bed, never waking me.
I sat up in bed and immediately noticed the distinct smell of something burning. My feet had no sooner hit the ground when the smoke detector went off. I rushed to the kitchen and found Charlie opening a window and futilely attempting to fan out smoke.
There was a large, round, blackened lump lying on the counter that must have been a waffle at one time.
"What are you doing?" I asked, opening another window.
"Sorry, Bells," he said, embarrassed, "I thought I'd surprise you by making breakfast."
"Oh, I'm surprised alright," I said. The smoke detector finally stopped beeping, and only then did I notice the barking.
Charlie looked disappointed.
"Well, I was hoping for this to be a surprise, too," he said.
He walked to the living room as I watched curiously. When he emerged, he was holding what was quite honestly the most adorable puppy I'd ever seen.
"Who is this?" I asked, reaching for the little guy.
He licked my face, making me giggle like a little girl.
"Well, I figured since you're going to keep working cases, you ought to at least have some back up," he said.
"This little guy?" I asked skeptically.
"He's little now, but he's a pitbull. He's going to get a lot bigger," he said. "So…you like him? You gonna give him a name?"
"Are you kidding? You already did," I said, holding him up to my face. "Hi Back Up."
I stumbled down the steps Sunday afternoon feeling like I had a hangover. My head throbbed with each drop of my foot on the stairs.
I had hoped a solid night's sleep and a shower would clear my head. No such luck.
She was still on my mind, and in a way that I couldn't wash away. I'm not that guy – the one that gets all hung up on a girl and starts sweating her. That's not me. Except, this time, it kinda is like that.
I don't know what the fuck happened, and I sure as hell don't know what any of it means. But what I do know is that she kissed me, and then it was like she was embarrassed or something, and that was the cutest shit I'd seen in a while. Despite her best efforts to show no vulnerabilities, Bella Swan actually blushed. Things finally got really good between us, and I curse this damn weather for ruining the moment. It gave her the perfect excuse to run away.
After I watched her go in the apartment, I drove around some more on my own. I'm not one to over think things, but I needed to figure out what I was doing. I liked her. That much was obvious. But it was more complicated than that. Normally, I pride myself on being a schmuck, but she was the kind of girl that deserved better than that. I had some decisions to make, but first, I had to get some aspirin.
Rounding the corner at the base of the stairs, I spotted Jasper's car in our driveway. He's a great guy and all, probably the closest friend I've got in this sad little town, but I was really not in the mood to socialize. I headed to the kitchen to grab some coffee and my coveted aspirin before seeking out Jasper and getting rid of him. Then I heard Alice's giggle and Jasper's low chuckle.
I stopped and leaned in the doorway for a moment as I saw them sitting at the kitchen table. They were at what looked to be the end of a game of Jenga. There weren't many pieces left, and the ones that remained were precariously balanced. Alice hesitantly reached in and then jerked her hand back, giggling again. She shook her hands out, as though trying to wave off some of her bouncy energy.
Yeah, good luck with that, sis.
"I just, I can't. I'm too jumpy," she giggled out.
"Sure you can. Here," Jasper reassured her. He reached out, taking her hand in his. Carefully guiding her fingers, he helped her extract the game piece. She let out a pleased gasp and looked up at him excitedly.
He smiled back at her and his eyes changed.
That's when I finally got it. I recognized the look on his face. Jasper had a thing for my little sister. Well fuck me dead, how long had that been going on?
"Well isn't that fucking cute?" I finally said.
They both jumped, startled, and the remaining game pieces scattered across the tabletop.
"Hello, Edward," Jasper said formally as he stood up.
"Hey Edward," Alice said, trying to sound casual. "I didn't hear you come downstairs."
They were acting as embarrassed as if I'd walked in on them making out or something. It was actually pretty funny, but I was annoyed. My first reaction was to be pissed. He was the guy I trusted to keep an eye on Alice, and here he was moving in on her.
But, I couldn't stay mad. One look at the poor bastard's face and I knew exactly how he felt. He looked at her the way I looked at Bella. How could I hold that against him?
"Didn't realize I needed to knock before entering the kitchen these days," I said as I walked towards the coffee pot. I laughed as they fumbled around awkwardly packing up the game.
Alice looked up at me when I laughed, surprised, but when I got a few paces closer, her expression changed. I realized I probably still looked like shit.
"What the hell happened to you?" she asked.
I turned away from her and pulled a mug from the cabinet.
"Eh, you know, just a typical Saturday night," I said with forced nonchalance, as I poured my coffee.
"You know, for someone that gets in a lot of fights, you don't seem to be very good at it," Jasper observed.
I shrugged it off, taking a sip as I rummaged through the drawers for the aspirin. They stared at me silently as I threw back the pills and swallowed them down.
"What time is it?" I asked. I ran a hand through my hair and shook my head, still trying to wake up.
"3:30," Jasper answered. Neither of them had taken their eyes off of me, and just stared expectantly.
"Shit," I said, not realizing it was so late.
I paused for a moment, contemplating the situation. Seems I wasn't the only one getting comfortable in Forks.
"This is cute," I said, motioning back and forth between them. "Really, it's fucking sweet."
Alice's mouth actually dropped open a little bit, and even Jasper looked tense.
"What is with you?" Alice asked.
"What do you mean?" I laughed.
"You're like, in an uncharacteristically good mood…" she said slowly, still eyeing me skeptically.
"Am I?" I asked. I guess she was expecting me to be more of my usual asshole self, and normally, I would have been, but I had other things on my mind.
"Seriously, Edward, what happened?" she asked, changing the subject. "It looks like you might need stitches over your eye there."
"It's a long story, and I'm not sure I could explain it all even if I wanted to," I said.
"At least tell me the other guy looks worse than you," she said. "Who was the other guy?"
"Uh, I don't even remember, actually," I admitted. "Bella told me his name, but-"
"Bella?" Jasper interrupted.
"Yeah," I said coldly. I didn't like his sudden interest at the mention of her name. "You know Bella. Never a dull moment, huh?"
Jasper and I stared at each other for a moment, neither speaking. Alice's eyes darted back and forth between us.
"Well, there's the brother I know. Stop being a dick, Edward," she finally snapped. "Is Bella okay?"
"She's fine," I replied. "It's just…complicated." And that was the understatement of the year.
I turned and started walking out of the room.
"Edward, wait," Jasper said.
"I – we – didn't want it to be like this," he said. "We wanted to talk to you, so it wouldn't be weird –"
"It's not. But this," I said motioning between us to refer to the current exchange, "is weird. You don't have to ask my permission."
"We know that, but we want you to be okay with it," Alice explained.
I turned from her to Jasper.
"Tell you what, I'm fine with it. Just know this - you break her heart, and you'll be the one looking like this," I said, motioning to my busted face and bruised hands.
He let out a low laugh and smiled.
"I'm not joking," I said, completely serious.
The smile left his face and he nodded, matching my seriousness. Alice looked humiliated, but stayed quiet.
"Got it," he agreed.
I walked away, and this time I made it to the steps before Jasper stopped me. Alice was still in the kitchen.
"Edward," he said, placing his hand on my arm to stop me. His usual confidence had returned to his voice. His grasp remained firm as I looked up at his face. Our eyes met, and for a mellow guy, he looked really fucking intense all of a sudden. "Bella's been through a lot - and I do mean a lot of shit."
"Yeah," I said. "I know."
"I like you Edward," he said flatly. "I know you're not really the asshole you let most people believe you are."
I shrugged indifferently.
"Bella's a good person," he continued.
I realized where he was heading with this and pulled my arm back, but he had a tight grip and didn't let go.
"Don't mess with her just to –" he started.
"I won't," I assured him. "I'm not – It's not like that."
So Jasper Hale really was a standup guy.
I had no intention of screwing her over, using her or whatever else he was implying. I knew I'd have to go against my natural asshole instincts to not mess it up, and I wanted to try it, for Bella. He released my arm, and there was nothing more to say about it.
I continued up the stairs to get started on my homework for the next day. I'm not sure when it first happened, but somewhere along the way, things had started to change. With the way these new developments kept coming in rapid-fire succession, I wanted to be ready for whatever was next. Monday would be a big day, and I had a lot to do to prepare.