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"Are you sure Riley is just a friend?" My mother asked, the smile on her face letting me know that, as far as she was concerned, the truth was pretty much self-evident.
"Yeah, I'm sure," I grumbled. I should have known. Asking your best friend to accompany you to a highbrow event like this was bound to bring up questions like these. Not that I'd expected my mom to be the one to ask.
Et tu, mother?
"He looks at you…." She mused. "A lot."
"He has to look at something."
"Believe me, honey," she chuckled. "There's looking at a pretty centerpiece and there's looking at the person who's the center of your existence. "
I frowned, looking at Riley who, at that moment, seemed to see something very interesting in the boring arrangement of flowers and Christmas ornaments at the center of our table. God, I hoped he hadn't heard us talking. There'd be no living with him if he thought I fancied him. "He's just a friend, mom!" I hissed. "Leave it alone."
"O-kay." Her voice was dripping with irony as she studied my face, the tell-tale blush telling her everything she needed to know. Of all the things I could have inherited from her, why did it have to be the blushing? I would have been happy to trade in my pretty stable equilibrium if it meant that just once I could tell a lie without it being so damn apparent. Damned puberty! I'd been fine before the age of twelve, only blushing when I wanted to, but it was like the minute my boobs had started to grow I had completely lost control over my face. I loved y boobs, I really did, but sometimes the trade hardly seemed fair.
"Just be careful around your father," my mom added, after she had watched my face shift from mortified to annoyed with barely concealed amusement on her part. "You know how he gets when he thinks his little girl's virtue is in danger of being compromised."
"It might be a bit too late for that," I chuckled.
"Don't rub my face into it," mom sighed, shaking her head. "I might not be as protective of you as your father is, but that doesn't mean I like the fact that my little girl is all grown up and venturing into the realm of physical encounters."
"I love how you dodged the words 'sex' mom," I snickered, watching as my mom's face broke out in red. "And relax, I'll take it easy on you." My mom and I had always had a very open and close relationship, which had made it very hard for me to leave the nest when I traded the comfort of the Manhattan brownstone I'd grown up in for the communal digs at Dartmouth, though I still shared every important moment in my life with her and she with me. It must have had something to do with the fact that we'd spend the first five years of my life together, just the two of us. The bond that had been forged back then had never been broken, nor did either of us want it to be.
"Speaking of your father…." Her voice trailed off and I followed her eyes as they narrowing in on the tall, distinguished figure of my dad who, by the looks of it, was all but sexually harassed by some two-bit whore on the dance floor.
"I thought he was getting us drinks?" I snorted.
"You know your father," mom sighed. "He can't even cross a room without some desperate tart throwing herself at him, especially not when he's wearing a tux."
"Yeah, but it would be nice for you to attend a party without having to beat them off him, would it not?"
"True," she giggled, getting up from her chair, "But, as you know, I always like to make myself useful….Please excuse me."
"Go get 'em!" I snickered, waving her off.
She looked so beautiful, almost regal, as her slender frame mixed in with the rest of the high and mighty of New York's medical society, and all of that without the help of plastic surgery or whatever other crap most of the women in this room used.
I knew it had taken my mom a lot of time and a shitload of effort to grow into her role as a surgeon's wife and that deep down she still hated functions like these with a burning passion, but the people in this room would never be able to tell. The way she almost floated across the room, making just about every male head turn as if they were sunflowers and she the sun, the smooth silk of her dress flowing after her as if it were yet another admirer, made it seem as if she'd never done anything else in her life.
But then again, she'd had years of practice. With my dad being the top heart surgeon at one of the country's top hospitals for heart surgery (which I was rather proud of, actually, even if it meant that I always had to share my dad with the sick and ailing) she'd had to sit through more of these kind of functions and boring dinner parties than there were days in a year.
I stifled a yawn, thinking about how boring this shit must be for her. I mean, it was okay if you had to do this once a year, like I had to, but I could imagine that the entertainment value would soon go away if you had to spend an evening forcing fake smiles at people with too much money at least once a month.
"Go mom!" I whispered to myself as I watched her, the 'I did not get where I am today by taking crap from anyone so get your filthy paws off my husband before I break them'-glare firmly in place as she neared the two-faced hussy who was still trying to put the moves on my dad.
"Good God, not another one!" I heard a voice beside me groan. "You'd think that by now those skanks would have realized that dad is off the market!"
My baby brother.
"You're just jealous," I snickered, ruffling my brother's hair. "And you have a right to be…I mean, having to bow down to the superior looks and moves of your own dad must be quite a killer on your ego!"
"Fuck you!" he grunted, straightening his tie. At seventeen my baby brother was about as annoying as they came but the worst of it was that his good looks and success with the ladies had gotten to his head, no matter what my mom and dad tried to tell him about respecting girls and waiting for the right one. I swear, the thing was as big as a fucking Skippy ball these days. The little git deserved a good crushing rejection to put him in his place, though unfortunately with his taste of brainless bimbo's who's mental abilities flew out of the window the minute he flashed his stupid little smirk, that wasn't going to happen too soon.
"No thanks, incest just isn't my thing."
"As if you'd ever get a man crazy enough to stick his dick inside you," he snorted. "There's no amount of liquor that could get a guy drunk enough to do that!"
"Talk all you can, copper top," I growled back, "but out of the two, I think I prefer a reputation for modesty to one of having…how do it put it neatly…less than discriminate ways when it comes to the other sex."
"And there she goes with the manwhore stuff again," he groaned, rolling his eyes at me.
"Says the guy who, just fifteen minutes ago, tried to sneak off with some easy piece of ass," I snickered. "How did you find the broom closet?"
"Dingy and cobwebbed, just like yo……."
"Children," a deep voice boomed behind us in a fatherly soothing tone. "We are here tonight to celebrate Christmas…you know? The birth of our savior and all the stuff like piece on earth and so forth that comes with it? And even if ya don't….Remember that your sister has got excellent blackmailing material on you. She changed your fucking diapers after all!"
"Whatever," Masen huffed, shoving his hands in the pockets of his black tuxedo pants. God! How could something so annoying be related to me? "And before you go all Jimmy Swaggart on our asses you might want to check on the old folks over there." He pointed at the dance floor where it looked like my mom was gearing up to go into battle, the face of the loving mother who'd read me stories every night before I went to sleep traded in for that of the hard-ass university professor who didn't take crap from anyone.
"This might get interesting," Garrett chuckled. As my dad's longtime friend and colleague he must have witnessed similar scenes to the one about to unfold more times than he'd care to remember.
It didn't make the fascination any less as all three of us watched my mom march up to the unsuspecting hussy, plant one hell of a kiss on my stunned dad's cheeks and stare whoreface down until the bitch backed down and scurried off to safety, my mom's glare immediately shifting to my dad who looked equal parts apologetic and smug. It almost made me think he did this shit on purpose just so that he could reap the benefits of post-anger makeup sex.
I made a mental note to wear my i-pod to bed that night because, as cute as it was that my parents still got it on, it didn't mean that I want to listen in on their nighttime activities. Ugh no! As far as I was concerned my mom and dad lived a perfectly platonic life and I was immaculately conceived.
"And another one bites the dust," Garrett grinned, patting Masen on the shoulder before he went off, no doubt in search of his wife who, along with my grandmother, was currently trying to charm the rich and famous into donations for their various charities.
Grandma and granddad had ditched Chicago for New York in the year after aunt Alice had gotten married. With another grandchild on the way, and my granddad up for early retirement, there had been nothing to keep them from joining us, and – as grandma always told us – it had been the best decision they'd ever made.
My grandmother was still a very active woman, even considering she was getting on a bit in age. She and grandpa had devoted their time and money to various charities and, assisted by aunt Kate, ran the Cullen Foundation; a charity dedicated to helping women and children escape the horrors of domestic abuse.
"Well, as nice as this conversation has been, I'm going to go off in search of someone who's company doesn't make me want to insert sharp objects into my eyeballs." It was a good thing that Masen had already taken a few steps away from me because I so would have kicked his ass if he'd been within kicking range.
Aunt Alice would not have appreciated that, not after all the trouble she'd gone through to find me the perfect dress.
She and Uncle Jasper still lived their lives in the fast lane, contrary to my parents. My aunt still had a very successful job as a personal stylist to the rich and famous and not a week went by where some fashion magazine didn't mention her name or featured her picture taken at some fashionable event whereas my uncle divided his time between his job at the Met and Nicholas and Evie, their two children.
Emmett and Rose, my other uncle and aunt, lived a life much more similar to the one I had grown up to. Uncle Emmett still had his chain of gyms with his best buddy Felix for which Aunt Rose did most of the bookkeeping. According to her it was the only thing keeping her sane with six kids running around the house.
Not that that wasn't her own damn fault!
She was happy though. She'd always wanted a big family though I think that in hindsight she might not have volunteered for five boys and only one girl. I had to give Aunt Rose props for stubbornly trying to defeat mother nature in her quest for another baby girl though, even if she'd given up after the birth of Evan Andrew Swan, otherwise known as boy number five.
I looked back at my parents who were dancing together, my father's arms wrapped closely around my mom's slender frame. The hussy had been long forgotten, there was no doubt about that, as was the world around them.
They were so in love, even after years of marriage and God only knew how many challenges and hurdles they'd faced along the way, the amazing example they had thereby set for all four of their children being both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because witnessing a love like that and sharing, as it were, in it every day that I got to spend with them gave me such hope for the future…hope that one day I might find that same kind of love. A curse because I knew that I would never be happy with any kind of boyfriend until I had found the one true love that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Which might explain why I was still single.
I knew they hadn't had it easy though. They had had to fight for their love just like any other couple, maybe even more so. I had seen it firsthand, though I had only learned the finer details years later when the face of the woman who had driven my mother into the brink of insanity and almost destroyed my parent's marriage had graced the cover of just about every newspaper around when she had been found murdered in her LA apartment, the police suspecting involvement of the Russian mafia.
I couldn't say I was too sorry to hear about that. It was time that serpent found out that karma was a bitch.
The whole affair and everything that followed it had its effects on me, there was no denying it. I remembered being scared as hell for a while, seeing my mother reduced to only a shadow of the person she used to be and my dad's face looking worn and desperate. I didn't understand what was going on, only that it was bad. But in the end, it only served to strengthen the bond between my parents and triggered them to face their demons, both together and individually. It just went to show that what didn't kill you, made you stronger.
There had been setbacks though, most of them evolving around my dad and the hours he spend at the hospital. But the most memorable one had been when grandma Renee died a couple of years ago. For as long as I could remember the relationship between my mom and my grandmother had been shaky at best. There had been long periods where they didn't speak to each other, but inevitably my grandmother would always manage to weasel herself back into our lives one way or another and the whole cycle would start again.
I remembered the first time my mom had stood up to her like it were yesterday, though it was now almost sixteen years ago. Renee had made another one of her surprise appearances that day and, as she send me up to my room with some sort of half-asses excuse, I could see that my mom wasn't going to play nice this time. The moment they had disappeared behind the living room door, I had snuck back down and hid in mom's study, where I was able to hear everything my mom said.
I wish I could have seen the gob smacked expression that no doubt graced Renee's face when my mom, instead of giving in as usual, told Renee in no uncertain terms what she thought of her as a person and her capabilities – or better said: lack thereof – as a mother, before she all but chased Renee out of the house the minute that serpent of a woman started to jump to her usual mode of defense.
I wish she would have taken the hint and disappeared out of our lives for good, but apparently Renee got some sick sort of satisfaction out of making everyone feel miserable.
As my mom grew stronger and learned to stand her ground, their fights grew in intensity. Much of it happened outside of my happy little childhood world, but as I got older more and more of what went on between them started to seep through. I think that for my grandmother it was very hard to accept that the girl she had kneaded and managed to influence for twenty odd years had grown into an independent woman. Renee wasn't used to people standing up to her, especially not my mother, and the shock caused her to lash out.
It went on like that until in the end my dad and my uncle had had enough of it and told my grandmother to stay away. It was why the shock of her death had affected my mother so. She thought she had failed her mom and that it had been her mistake that they had never mended their relationship.
It had taken everything my dad, my family and myself could give to bring back her self-confidence after that.
The journey they had made and the challenges they had successfully faced and gotten rid off had been what had inspired me to join my father in the medical field, though not as a surgeon, but as a psychiatrist. It was still early days though since I was nowhere near to completing medical school, but I was determined to make it through.
"You look very contemplative, miss Cullen," a smooth voice purred in my ear. "I wonder what makes you frown on an evening such as this."
"Cut it out, McCord," I warned, using the full force of my pout – a weapon that had helped generations of Cullens get what they wanted – on him. "I am not a patient, nor you a psychiatrist."
"Yet," he grinned, flashing his own secret weapon. "But I intend to remedy that soon enough and I have to say….I'd love to have you on my couch when I do. In fact…I'd love to have you on my couch regardless…"
"Have you been taking lessons from my baby brother?" I smirked, trying to hide my traitorous body's reaction to his words behind my glass of merlot.
"Nope, this one's all mine," he grinned before getting serious again. "So would you?"
"Would I what?"
"Would you go out with me when we get back to Hanover?"
"You mean on a proper date?"
"I'll even buy you flowers."
"Yes. I'd love to." I smiled at him, there was no hiding my blush anymore anyway, so I might as well let him know just how happy I was that finally, after three years of friendship on his part and love on mine, he had finally come to his senses and asked me out.
"Great!" His grin almost blinded me as he reached across the table to grab my hand and place a lithe kiss on top of it. "So, do you wanna dance?"
"Not really," I sighed, "but I'll make an exception for you." It wasn't like I couldn't dance or was crap at it, not that I disliked dancing in anyway. However, with my whole family looking on and my inability to hide my feelings, this was bound to get awkward.
"I'm flattered," he snickered, using the hand he was still holding to pull me to my feet and escort me to the dance floor.
"You should be," I teased, feeling the heat of my dad's eyes on my back. It was like he had a sixth sense for boys trying to hit on his daughters.
Dancing with Riley was surprisingly easy, especially considering his arms around me made my stomach flutter with butterflies. He was a good dancer, his strong arms steering me expertly across the dance floor while his deep blue eyes made me lose track of just about everything around us. That was, until we were disturbed by my mother….of all people.
"Mind if I cut in?" she grinned. "I think it's time for a little tête-à-tête with my future son in law."
"Mom!" I gasped in horror, quickly putting some distance between me and Riley.
"Smooth, Mrs Cullen," he grinned, not at all shocked or even fazed by my mom's comment. "Very smooth."
"Thank you, Mr. McCord," she chuckled. "Now, are you going to lead or will you just keep standing there and let me do all the hard work?"
I hung my head in mortification. It was at times like these when I cursed my mom's psychiatrist for ever helping her transform into the strong, confident woman she'd always been deep down inside.
"Libby?" I turned around to see my dad standing behind me.
"Yes, daddy?" I hoped that by playing the 'daddy's little girl'-card I might get him to back off from my love life a bit, though I had little hope of success.
"Do you know where your brother is? I think it's time we head on home before Carlie and Collin drive your uncle completely insane." As much as I loved my twin brother and sister, they could be quite a handful. My mom had joked that when they were toddlers the only way to keep them from running amuck was to lock them up in their playpen or in their rooms. Of course now that they were thirteen, there was no stopping them whatsoever. They were lovely though, Collin an almost perfect copy of my mom while Carlie took more after my dad.
"I don't know," I answered with a wry smile. "Why don't you try the broom closet? You'd have a bigger chance of finding him in there than anywhere else."
"Have the two of you been fighting again?" he groaned. "Why can't you just get along? You used to adore him…"
"That was before his brains shifted down south, dad," I chuckled. "You know I don't suffer fools gladly." He rolled his eyes at me, but I could see the amusement he was trying to hide. "Will you be safe going off on your own, dad? I'm surprised mom left your side with all of those gold diggers on the prowl around here."
"I'll be fine," he chuckled. "And don't you get smart with me, missy! I know you've been making eyes at that boy all evening."
"He's just a friend dad!" I sighed, though I had to admit that there wasn't that much conviction behind my voice. "That is…if he still wants to be after mom is finished with him."
For a moment dad's glare turned into a satisfied grin as his eyes trailed across the dance floor, only to turn back into their former position when he found my mom who was laughing at some joke Riley must have made. "Yeah, well," he grumbled. "I'm going to sleep with one eye open tonight anyway. Friend or no friend."
"I'm so not afraid of you," I challenged. "Try as you might, you'll never be the bad guy."
"I'll be an absolute monster if someone tries to seduce my little girl," he muttered under his breath.
"I'm not some medieval maiden you need to protect dad," I groaned. "Between Aunt Rose's self-defense training and my own trusty pepper spray no guy is coming within a mile radius if I don't want him to."
"It's that last thing I'm more concerned about, actually," he replied drily.
"Save your speech for Masen when you find him," I chuckled, kissing his cheek. "I think he's more in need of it than I am."
"You might be right," he sighed, looking out for my little brother among the masses.
"When am I not?" I grinned.
Fortunately for him Masen had decided that one grope-session in the broom closet was enough for one night. I mean, he was my brother and I loved him and all, plus I hadn't gone through all that trouble of feeding him his bottles and changing his smelly diapers only to see him slain by the hands of his own dad at the tender age of seventeen. If he managed to get his hormones under control and shake off his manwhoring ways in the next couple of years, he might still turn out to be a decent human being.
There was hope for him yet.
I looked around me as we all piled into the limo for the drive back home, the smiling faces of my family members a testament to my happy childhood and the love they all had for each other. Isaac Newton had once said that if he had seen further than all those who came before him, it was only because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. As I looked at the familiar faces of my friends and family, slumped out and tired after a night of forced smiles and pleasantries, I knew just how true his words had been. They were my giants, the people who had guided and taught me everything I needed to know to function as an individual in this world, along with giving me a sense of comfort and security and love that would forever be the foundation of my strength.
A foundation that could weather any storm.
So. Here we are, at the end of the line, which means that it's time for the ridiculously long AN at the end of the story.
You can imagine that it is with a very heavy heart that I say goodbye to this story and these characters but I think that for now it has run its course. I know that a lot of you are probably a bit disappointed that the epic showdown between Bella and her mother wasn't a part of the main story (as am I) but it just didn't work. It is my belief that at the end of chapter 40 Bella still wasn't ready to stand up to her mother in a way that would have gotten the message across to Renee and I would have had to force things to fit it into the main story, which was something I wasn't prepared to do. That's not to say that there won't be a closer look into what happened though. I am planning a few outtakes for this story and you can imagine that the showdown, as well as Bella's reaction to the death of her mother (which also happens to be around about the same time the twins were conceived) are amongst them.
Now that we've come to the end of the line, I want to give thanks to a few people who have been very important to me during the process of writing My Mistakes and Foundations. First of all I wish to thank my beta xparawhorextwerdx for taking time out of her busy schedule to fix my grammar and spelling. Secondly I want to thank my girls from the twilighted thread: Jadsmama, Maplestyle and Ange de l'Aube for their constant support and words of encouragement, even when I was torturing them with all the angst.
Finally to you, for reading and reviewing this story. I know it's a huge cliché but all of your words of love and even those of critique have helped me and inspired me more than you could ever know.
It has been an pleasure and a privilege to have you accompany me on this journey and I hope you will embark with me on my new projects. One of those, Into the Wild, has already started posting and the prologue can be found on my profile. The other, Past Imperfect, will probably start posting in a couple of weeks.
For now, please let me know what you thought of this epi.