Hello dear readers. I know it has been quite some time since I have offered a bit of fiction for your perusal. I have had this particular piece written for several months now and have been toying with it ever since. I have been in desperate need of a break from grad school, so I took some time to do some final edits yesterday so that I could upload it tonight. I hope you enjoy it. I may continue on, or I may let this be the final chapter in this fic. We'll all just have to wait and see since I had yet to write about the hunting trip from Alice's perspective.
While this piece could have stood alone with minimal confusion, I like to think of this as the missing final chapter of this story. I think it really draws some of the last plot holes to a close. Many of you wondered why Bella's lingering issues with the Cullens were never addressed or resolved. Truthfully, FMP was intended to delve into the Cullens' problems, and never into Bella's. In hindsight, I realize that this bit of fiction really serves as the wrap-up needed in FMP.
For those of you who have been reading the edited version, rest assured, I am still working on reformatting this fic for publication on Twilighted. For those of you who haven't seen the edited version, the first several chapters are already up, and I hope to be able to return to my editing over the summer.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this brief foray back into the plot of of this fic, and that it settles any lingering tension I had left. Please take a moment to review at the end. I would love to know your reactions to this addition.
She had been on her way to run some errands when she decided to pay them an impromptu visit. The errands, she decided, could wait; she could not. She hadn't talked to any of them since the previous afternoon and she was anxious for their company. She had plans with both Alice and Edward the next day, but it felt so far away.
Nothing seemed amiss as Bella drove up to the house and parked her truck. She left everything, including her keys and phone, in the car, knowing she didn't have to worry about theft here. But, as she walked toward the front door, she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Something was wrong here. Very, very wrong.
She crept closer, her wariness growing with each step, until she stood before the door. Normally, Alice would have already vaulted over the threshold, grabbed Bella in a hug, and then forced her upstairs for some Bella Barbie time.
But today, there was no one to greet her. Bella knocked tentatively on the door, waiting a moment for Esme to come bustling up and kiss her on the cheek, but no one came.
Bella steeled her nerves and twisted the knob; she knew it would open––whom did the Cullens have to fear? The front door swung open without the least bit of protest, but Bella did not step over the threshold.
She collapsed on her knees on the porch and began to hyperventilate. As her eyes darted from each moving box to each sheet-covered piece of furniture, her heart rate continued to climb dangerously high. The hole Bella was so sure had been healed ripped wide open and burned with agonizing fury.
She gritted her teeth against the pain, oblivious to the huge tears rolling down her pale cheeks. She swayed as she clutched the doorframe, trying to stand up.
There is a perfectly rational explanation for this. They must have left me a note.
She allowed herself to think of nothing but this mantra as she stumbled toward the kitchen. Where better to leave a note for the human?
There were fewer boxes than Bella would have expected, but she was not concerned with the number of boxes. She was on a mission and nothing was going to deter her. She scoured the kitchen, but came up empty handed.
Bella fell to her knees again, trying to hold on to herself before she fell completely to pieces.
I've only checked one room. They've left the note somewhere else. Come on, Bella, you can do this.
It was no longer a question in her mind as to whether or not the note existed; it was only a matter of whether or not Bella could find the note before she lost her mind.
She crawled on her hands and knees throughout the rooms of the first floor, but found nothing that explained all the moving boxes. The thoughts she had been desperately trying to squash since she opened the front door finally broke free.
They left me. They're gone. They aren't coming back. They left me.
The hole flared again, making Bella hiss with pain and lean heavily against the sheet-draped couch. It took her several moments to force back the searing pain to the point that she could move. She struggled over to the corner of the living room, curling her body into the uncomfortable space as the sobs overtook her.
Why would they leave me? They just got back. Where did they go? Why couldn't I go too? Why don't they want me?
As these questioned rolled around in her head, Bella was taken back to her months of despair and agony. There wasn't even an attempt at a goodbye this time. Edward was wrong; a break as clean as this one was so much worse than only having him painfully dismiss her. It was too much to bear.
Bella finally decided to fall over into the abyss. Her breaths came in short, painful gasps and her heartbeat continued at a dangerous pace. She'd been in overdrive for more than twenty minutes and her body just couldn't keep up anymore.
The small black dots that had been swimming before her eyes began to merge until they took over her entire field of vision. She slumped against the wall as she lost consciousness, but her tears never stopped, and every so often an almost inaudible plea would escape her pale lips.
"Please, come back. Please, don't leave me here all alone. Please."
Muted though it was, Bella's pleading did not go unheard. When the vision finally left her, Alice immediately dialed Bella's cell phone. She cursed as she called Bella's phone again and again, never getting further than Bella's cheerful message asking her to leave a voicemail. The vision had come too late, and Alice was powerless as she watched her best friend crumple and sob. By the time she called the phone at the house, Bella was too far-gone to hear it, much less answer.
If Bella had only gone upstairs, she would have seen that none of those rooms were packed away in boxes or under sheets. They were just as the Cullens had left them that morning. Carlisle had books open on his desk; Rosalie had clothes strewn over her bed.
And most importantly, if Bella had walked into Esme's study, she would have seen the plans, fabric swatches and catalogues that explained the boxes and sheets on the first floor. Esme had been planning on redecorating the entire first floor since before Bella's birthday the previous year, but obviously, those plans were never followed through, and Esme had only just gotten around to completing her decorating vision. She had wanted a fresh look for the upcoming wedding.
It never occurred to any of the Cullens what Bella would think if she saw the boxes and sheet-draped rooms. They all assumed she would never see any of them. She wasn't supposed to be at the house today, and by tomorrow, the whole process would have been finished. Emmett and Jasper thought it would be great fun to see Bella's face when she opened the door and saw all the changes. Emmett had already planned to razz her about it for weeks. No one saw any harm in their small joke, so they all kept quiet, more than a little curious to see Bella's reaction as well.
But there would be no teasing Bella about her reaction; in fact, there might not be a Bella to tease if someone didn't get there soon to explain. Bella was falling fast and hard toward oblivion. Her mind had barely survived unexpected separation the first time, and now it wasn't a matter of if she would loose all sense of self, but when.
Alice's shrill cry alerted Emmett that something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. He was several miles away from her, tracking a second bear, but the minute he heard her cry, he darted back through the Olympic National forest toward her, his meal completely forgotten.
"Bella, Bella, Bella! Pick up the damn phone. Please! Just pick up the phone!" Alice screamed into her cell phone.
Emmett skidded to a stop next to her, sending a shower of bracken and broken branches past Alice.
"Alice? What happened to Bella? Why can't she answer her phone?" Emmett demanded anxiously.
"I'll explain on the way. We have to go, now! We're the closest. By the time the others could make it, it'll be too late," Alice responded in haste.
She grabbed Emmett's hand and pulled him along as they sprinted back to Forks.
"Call everyone and tell them they have to get back to the house immediately. I need to watch," she directed him as she allowed herself to become half immersed in her sight while they ran.
Emmett, still bewildered as to what exactly was happening, chose not to question Alice's instructions. She looked more frenzied and panicked than he had ever seen her and he only hoped they would arrive in time to save Bella from whatever was threatening to hurt her.
He called Carlisle and Esme first, knowing they were the closest in Olympia. They were picking up some of the more delicate furnishings for the living room. Esme didn't trust human movers to deliver her 17th century curio and side tables in the condition in which she expected them.
Emmett hurriedly explained what he knew, and once Carlisle and Esme assured him they were speeding back to Forks at that very moment he called Rosalie and Jasper. Esme had sent them to Seattle on a similar mission as Carlisle and herself. Only this time, it was antique vases that Esme refused to trust to human hands.
Having gotten what he deemed the easy calls out of the way, Emmett prepared himself to call the one person he knew couldn't handle news such as this–Edward.
Just as he prepared to press the appropriate speed dial on his phone, Alice interrupted him.
"Don't bother, Emmett. I'll call Edward. He is going to want to know information I haven't had time to tell you yet."
Edward had driven down to Portland to pick up some blown-glass paperweights. He was a little exasperated with Esme for asking him run this errand, wondering why such things couldn't be shipped to their home instead. The fate of the world did not depend on whether or not Esme's glass trinkets arrived today or next week. What difference, he wondered, could one teal glass ball make on the over all aesthetic of a room?
Edward, however, knew better than to question Esme, and agreed to spend half the day running to another state, even though he had been hoping to surprise Bella by spending the day with her. He had just finished loading the last crate of baubles when he answered Alice's call.
It took everything he had in him not to smash Esme's precious treasures when he hung up, but Edward soon realized he wasn't really angry with Esme. He was angry with himself. If he hadn't left Bella in the first place, she wouldn't be passed out in the corner of the living room convinced she'd been abandoned again.
As he sped down Interstate 5 toward Forks, Edward's self-loathing reached new heights. His only consolation was that at the time his conversation with Alice had ended, she and Emmett were less than ten minutes from the house.
Alice didn't even bother taking off her mud-covered shoes as she sprinted into the house, Emmett right on her heels. They found Bella curled into a fetal position in the furthest corner of the living room, tears still coursing down her pallid cheeks even as she was unconscious.
"Please, don't leave me. Please, come back." They heard Bella whimper.
Alice was frozen in horror at what they had done to her best friend. She had shoved the visions she'd had of Bella the first few days after they left her last September in the furthest recesses of her mind, hoping she could forget about them. But seeing Bella like this brought them all back full force and Alice was powerless as she too dropped to the floor in agony.
Emmett, though concerned for Alice, grabbed the small human girl he deemed his baby sister and pulled her close. Though unconscious, Bella could sense the presence of someone she'd feared she'd lost. Her fingers locked around Emmett's shirt with such force Emmett was afraid she was going to cause herself harm, but he was more afraid of what he could do to her if he tried to loosen them.
"Em," Alice instructed weakly, still shaken, "We should put her on the couch. She's been like this for almost an hour now. She's already going to be sore when she wakes up, which should be in about ten minutes."
Emmett nodded in agreement, cradling Bella in his arms as he walked back toward the couch. Alice flicked off the white sheet so Emmett could lay Bella down. It took them a few minutes to pry Bella's fingers from Emmett's shirt and neither could help frowning as Bella's tears picked back up and her hands reached out as though she were looking for something.
"No," Bella mumbled obviously distressed. "Come back. Don't leave me all alone."
When her breathing started to increase again, Emmett made a move to pick her back up, but Alice held him back.
"She's about to wake up and she might be scared if she's restrained. Let's just sit on the floor and wait," Alice instructed.
Bella's violent intake of air and sudden movement shocked them both, but it was what she said when they started to move toward her that caused them the most distress.
Bella was thrilled to see them, but the minute she saw them reach for her hand she pulled back. She knew she was hallucinating; she'd been down this road before. The minute they "touched" her they would disappear, and Bella just couldn't take that.
She vaulted off the couch and huddled in the corner furthest from the two distraught vampires. They moved as if to comfort her again, but her words stopped them cold.
"Please don't come any closer." They watch her beg in anguish. "Please don't touch me. Then I'll know you aren't real. Just let me have this. Just stay, please? Just let me look at you. Let me have this one thing before you're gone for good."
Bella was hysterical by the time she finished, but she was determined that they would stay put so she could get her fill of them before they disappeared just like her hallucinations of Edward.
"Bella," Alice shifted her weight toward her best friend, aching to comfort her, "We really are here. Emmett and I were hunting and the others are coming back right now. Just come over here and see."
Alice's eyes tightened in pain as Bella shook her head frantically. Emmett made a move to go into the kitchen to get Bella a glass of water, but stopped when he heard Bella's distressed plea.
"No! No, don't move. Don't leave. Then you'll disappear and I'll be all alone."
Emmett and Alice sank down on the couch, worried that any false move or statement would send Bella back over the edge again. They were saddened to watch some of her stress melt away when she was sure they weren't going anywhere.
"Alright, Bella. We'll just sit here, okay?" Alice soothed.
Bella nodded and then pulled her legs to her chest, resting her head on her knees. She resisted the urge even to blink, fearing that in that split second, they would disappear. She watched, soaking in everything about them. She wished both Alice and Emmett were wearing their usual smiles, but Bella was not about to be picky at a time like this. She would take the hallucinations as they came and be grateful they came at all.
All three of the occupants of the living room watched each other warily, one convinced the other two would disappear at any moment, and the other two convinced they were seeing the irreparable mental breakdown of the first.
For over an hour, they all just stared at each other. Bella tried to commit every bit of their presence to her memory. If she could only see Alice and Emmett, she was going to make sure she could remember everything about them.
But, she admitted to herself, she wished she could hallucinate them all. What she wouldn't give to see Esme's kind smile, or Carlisle's handsome face, Jasper's battle scars or even Rosalie's piercing glare. She didn't dare hope for Edward. She'd already been blessed with so many hallucinations of him in her dark months. She would just have to make due with the memory those.
Bella was so content memorizing how one of Emmett's short curls twisted around the shell of his left ear that she never noticed the hurried conversation Alice had on her phone, nor the sound of Carlisle's Mercedes M-class SUV spray gravel as it came to an abrupt stop in the driveway.
Carlisle and Esme sprinted in the house; the scene in the living room shocked them. Everything was deathly still and quiet except for the sound of Bella's ragged breaths. Esme started toward the young girl, seeking to comfort her, but she stilled and her unmoving heart clenched when Bella recoiled from her.
"Bella," Carlisle soothed. "Bella, dear. Alice has told me what happened. You must believe me. You aren't hallucinating. We are all here. We won't disappear if you touch us or we leave the room. I promise."
Bella wedged herself further in the corner as Carlisle moved closer. Fresh tears burst forth and her body shuddered as she sobbed.
"Please! Please! Just stay by the couch. I know you'll disappear and I just want to look before you do. Please just let me look before you leave me. I just want to be able to remember once you're gone. It was so hard last time. Please, I just want to remember."
Carlisle, now especially concerned for the state of Bella's mental health, knew that if he forced his presence on her, her fragile psyche would fall off the precipice upon which it rested, and perhaps into a state from which he could offer no aid. Their best hope was to play into Bella's delusions until she fell asleep and then coax her into believing the truth once she woke up.
He pulled Esme into his arms and sunk down next to Alice on the couch. Bella resumed her position and continued to drink in every aspect of their features. Esme fidgeted, wanting desperately to gather the confused young women in her arms and soothe her, but she remained on the couch, meeting Bella's desperate eyes with a forced smile.
No more than five minutes had passed when the tires on Rosalie's BMW squealed as she avoided crashing into the SUV. Rosalie and Jasper bolted from her cherry red convertible while gravel continued to fly.
As soon as Jasper picked up on Bella's emotions, his knees buckled and Rosalie was forced to catch him. She dragged him into the living room, half expecting Bella to be in the throes of her transformation. Rosalie couldn't understand why her family was just sitting there as an obviously distressed Bella cowered in the corner.
After helping Jasper lean against Alice's legs, Rosalie took one long stride toward Bella before all hell broke loose.
"Don't!" range out six voices, Bella's the most pained of all.
Emmett snatched Rosalie's hand and pulled her into his lap, locking her in place with his arms when she struggled.
"What?" she demanded exasperated.
"Bella is convinced we are all hallucinations," Alice explained. "She came to the house earlier and she thinks we've left without telling her again. She is afraid that we'll disappear if we try to touch her, like her hallucinations of Edward did."
Bella, it seemed, was completely oblivious to this explanation. She was content to stare at the absurdly lovely blonde vampire, committing her familiar glare to memory.
"Well, this is just ridiculous. We aren't going to disappear." Rosalie struggled against Emmett, determined to go and touch Bella to put this whole thing behind them, until she glanced up when Bella started to hyperventilate.
"No, please. You just got here. There isn't enough time to remember. Just let me look a little longer. Please, let me remember. Please, don't go."
Rosalie, shocked by Bella's hysterical outburst, sank back against Emmett heavily. Bella was a wreck; prolonged crying and the fading of the newest burst of adrenaline left her feeling utterly spent, but increased her fear that her time was running short. She was going to pass out again before she had time to commit Jasper and Rosalie to memory. How long would it take her to forget the exact shade of Rosalie's hair, or the way Jasper's mouth curled up on one side as he spoke?
Jasper, feeling her anguish and struggle, decided it was time for Bella to be put out of her misery. He sent wave after wave of lethargy and tranquility, hoping to lull Bella into a sense of peace, and then to sleep.
Bella struggled, fearing the minute she closed her eyes, she would never see them again. The Cullens watched horrified as Bella fought but eventually succumbed to sleep, tears continuing to pour down her cheeks and lamentations escaping her chapped lips.
When it was clear that she was finally asleep, it was Emmett who cried out first. With the exception of warding off Rosalie from touching Bella, he'd been silent since he entered the house.
"My God! What have we done to her?" He clutched Rosalie tighter to him.
Alice and Esme began to sob after his outburst, their feelings of anguish finally too strong to keep locked away.
"I had feared this would happen," Carlisle admitted. "We came back as suddenly as we left and Bella has never had a chance to work through her feelings of abandonment and anger. I should have been expecting this sort of breakdown. I should have prepared her for this possibility. We could have worked through it before she reached this state."
Carlisle continued to berate himself, but all the Cullens shared guilt over the suffering they had caused this poor girl.
When both Jasper and Carlisle were satisfied that Bella was deeply asleep, they moved her prone from to Edward's room, hoping that she would be soothed by not only his scent as she slept, but by the room itself when she woke.
When they were sure she was situated comfortably, Esme, Carlisle, Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett returned to the living room to await Edward's return. Alice remained with Bella, holding her hand, hoping to give her best friend some sense of her presence. She would watch over Bella's sleeping form until Edward arrived. Heaven help them all if Bella woke up alone.
As Alice acted as sentry, Edward raced down Highway 101 toward Forks. Pushing the Volvo to its limits, he managed to arrive a little more than half an hour after Rosalie and Jasper. He bypassed his family and sprinted up the stairs where he knew Bella would be waiting.
Without even acknowledging Alice's presence, he crawled into bed beside Bella and gathered her close, tucking her head into the crook of his neck and breathing in her scent.
"Oh, Bella," he breathed in anguish. "I promised I would never leave you again, love. I'm so sorry. I'll make this up to you I swear."
Alice, leaving her brother to comfort her best friend, wandered into her bathroom and wet a washcloth to wipe off Bella's tear stained face. Edward was reluctant to move Bella, but he knew that Alice needed to do something to offer comfort.
Edward turned Bella so her back rested against his chest and her head was tucked just under his chin. He watched Alice tenderly wipe the salt trials from Bella's cheeks, her eyes crinkled in agony. Edward knew Alice wanted to stay with Bella, but he couldn't bring himself to invite her to remain. It was his mistake and he needed to fix it. Alice, though desperate to stay, didn't push Edward; she just trudged down the stairs and sank down next to Jasper who had yet to move from the floor. Esme had already called Charlie and made up an excuse for Bella to stay the night.
Bella slept restlessly for several hours, sometimes whispering pleas for them to stay, but never quite waking herself. Edward just held her close, playing with her tiny hands and stroking her chestnut curls. When Bella finally began to stir, Edward held her closer still so she would know he was there.
She was groggy and disoriented, but she was sure of one thing. Edward was holding her. When Bella shuddered, Edward turned her so he could see into her eyes.
"Bella, love. What's wrong?"
Bella just drank in his presence for a moment before answering.
"I just had the most horrible nightmare. I came to the house to visit and you were all gone and the whole house was packed up like you were moving. I cried and cried and eventually I had hallucinations of your whole family. I was so convinced they were all going to disappear. It all felt so real and so much worse than, well, you know…" Her explanation trailed off.
Edward frowned as Bella related what she thought was a nightmare. He had no idea what to tell her. Was it better for her to believe it was a nightmare or was Carlisle right? Did Bella need to work through the issues she had obviously repressed? Edward was so confused.
Bella snuggled against him for a moment before wriggling out of his grasp. She stood up and stretched, wondering why she felt so sore and worn out. She chalked it up to her nightmare; they always left her feeling a little out of sorts.
"I feel like I could eat a horse," she admitted as she waltzed out of Edward's room, oblivious to Edward's lingering pain, and trekked toward the first floor.
He followed her like a shadow as she made her way down the stairs. The remaining Cullens waited in a loose sort of semi-circle in the living room. They each wore matching expressions of grief and guilt. They as well as the boxed and sheet-covered living room were visible from the stairs and it was painfully apparent to all seven vampires the moment Bella realized her nightmare had come to life.
Bella sucked in one gulp of air as her face turned ashen. Her left foot remained poised just over the next step. The pupils of her eyes dilated to the point that just a rim of the chocolate of her irises could be seen and Bella's vision tunneled to the point that all she could see were the boxes, sheets, and anguished faces of the vampires she thought were going to be her family. She only had time to sob out one question before she fainted, her limbs as lifeless as a ragdoll's.
Edward, too stunned to move, had to watch as Alice darted forward to catch Bella before she slammed into the stairs. Alice cradled Bella's body while Edward regained control of himself. She was reluctant to relinquish Bella, but Edward was in no mood to argue with Alice; he snatched his beloved from her arms without a moment's hesitation. Alice's only comfort was to sit next to Edward as he held Bella on the couch.
Jasper tried to coax Bella from her stupor as gently as he could, but not even he could prevent the torrent of emotions that Bella let loose once she came to again. As quickly as she fainted, Bella woke and reacted to the perceived terror with indescribable alarm.
She instinctively turned in Edward's arms until she was straddling his lap, one arm rooted in his unruly hair while the other clutched his shoulder with more strength than she knew she possessed. He was going to have to break her hands and wrists to remove her from his body, and she hoped that his claim that he would never hurt her would prevent him from trying to break her hold.
The sobs tore threw her immediately as questions, pleas and promises spewed from her mouth.
"Why? Why are you leaving? Please don't go. Please don't leave me all alone. Can't I come too? Please let me come. I want to come too. I'll be good; I promise! Why do you have to go? Please don't leave. Stay with me. Don't you want me?"
As her pleas grew more desperate, Bella clutched herself tighter to Edward, shuddering under the weight of her sobs and terror. She held on so tightly her knuckles turned white and the tendons and bones in her hands began to strain under the pressure.
Alice started to lean away from the scene, about to collapse under the strain of her own tears into Jasper's waiting arms. Bella, misinterpreting the movement as Alice leaving, untangled her hand from Edward's hair and latched on to Alice's wrist before tugging the petite vampire so hard she collapsed against Edward's side.
Afraid of Alice leaving, Bella locked their fingers together and then clutched their joined hands by her heart. Alice, sensing Bella's distress, huddled closer to Edward, hoping her friend would understand that she wasn't going anywhere.
Bella's sobs eventually quieted and her shuddering all but ceased, but she did not lessen her hold on either Edward or Alice. She clung to them with every last bit of strength she possessed.
Edward shifted as though to turn her to face the rest of the family, but Bella clutched his shoulder stubbornly and buried her face further into the crook of his neck. She'd learned from the last time. She wasn't going to let go; she wasn't going to watch him walk away again.
"Bella, love. Please,' Edward implored, trying again to loosen her hold.
"No," Bella denied him fiercely, but as her refusal continued, her voice lost its intensity, dissolving back into teary pleas.
Hating himself all the while, Edward had Carlisle help him extract Bella from his neck. They had to explain this to her before she made herself even more upset and to do that, she could not be focused on keeping herself attached to Edward. Bella sobbed and clutched at Edward's shirt, his hair, and his shoulders while tears gushed miserably from her eyes.
"Oh, sweetheart," Esme moaned at the scene, tortured by the aguish on the young girl's face, knowing that she was to blame. If only she hadn't wanted to renovate the first floor. If only they had explained it to Bella instead of leaving it as a surprise.
Once Carlisle had removed Bella's hold on Edward, he held her hands together in one of his own. He was worried she was going to go into shock.
"Bella, you need to breathe, dear. Deep breaths. In and out. Good. We'll explain everything in a moment, but I need you to calm down."
Tears continued to stream in torrents down her face, but Bella did as Carlisle asked. If this was going to be her last moments with him, she wanted to know that she had done all she could to show him she could be a good daughter, even if he didn't want her.
Edward was absolutely beside himself in agony. What had he done to his angel?
"Alice," Carlisle spoke again. "Perhaps you better explain. You saw what happened."
Alice swallowed unnecessarily before locking eyes with her emotionally tortured best friend.
"Bella," she began in a tone that was soothing, but belied her underlying worry. "I swear we aren't going anywhere. We aren't moving. No one is leaving you."
Bella listened, but no one missed her skeptical survey of the boxes and sheet-covered furniture. Her trust in Alice had been shaken again, and Bella couldn't bring herself to believe a word Alice said.
"Sweetheart," Esme crooned, hoping Bella would believe her. "Sweetheart, look at me."
Bella slowly drug her eyes over to Esme, not wanting to look away from Alice and Edward.
"I had a renovation planned for the this level of the house that I just got around to starting. I wanted a fresh look for the wedding. The boxes are going into storage along with some of the furniture. We were going to paint later; that is why everything is covered in sheets. While Emmett and Alice were hunting, we were all picking up various items for the renovation. I've got all the plans upstairs in my office. I'll bring them down so you can see."
Before Bella had a chance to protest, Esme had flown upstairs to retrieve the sketches, swatches and catalogues from her study. Still held captive by Carlisle's hands, Bella began shaking the minute she could no longer see Esme, the product of a lingering fear of her subconscious that Esme wasn't coming back. The Cullens knew the reason for her violent tremors, but did not comment.
In a flurry of movement, Esme returned from her office, some of her carefully organized plans fluttering behind her due to her haste. She unceremoniously dumped the contents of her arms across the coffee table before dashing over to where Carlisle stood, still restraining Bella.
Removing her husband's hands and replacing them with her own, Esme carefully led Bella to the mass of papers and catalogues. She pulled Bella down beside her, not releasing her hands until she was sure Bella would stay in place and not launch herself back at Edward and Alice.
As the other Cullens watched on, hopeful that Bella would finally see the truth, they all continued to berate themselves for ever causing this girl a moment of torment. They hadn't, until this day, realize just how attached Bella was to each of them, and in return, how attached they each were to Bella. They could not imagine their lives without her.
With each new explanation from Esme, the tortured, haunted look began to dissipate from Bella's eyes. When the truth of today's events finally caught up with her, Bella felt overwhelming humiliation for her actions, but also tremendous relief that she had been wrong.
As quickly as she had fainted, and despite her embarrassment, Bella turned to pull Esme into a hug and her sobbing began anew. Esme just gathered her closer and let the poor girl sob out her fear and relief.
Bella felt like she had sobbed for hour, but it was really less than a few minutes. When it was clear to all the occupants of the room that Bella truly believed they hadn't left her behind again, the lingering tension dispelled.
Alice was the first to move, shuffling over to join Bella and Esme on the floor. As soon as Bella felt her presence, she let go of Esme and launched herself at Alice. Alice returned the exuberant embrace, though she was careful not to crush her best friend. She was just so relieved that Bella didn't think she was a hallucination anymore.
When Bella had her fill of Alice, she shakily got to her feet and surveyed the room. Embarrassment hadn't overcome relief yet and she was determined to touch them all just to prove to her self that they were real.
Jasper was closest, so Bella hesitantly walked toward him, hoping that he could steel himself against the temptation of her blood if given enough warning. Such a thought hadn't crossed Jasper's mind for quite some time, and he was more than happy to give comfort to the obviously fragile human he had come to adore. Right as Bella lifted a shaky hand to touch Jasper's forearm, he reached out and pulled her into a tender hug, hoping to soothe her frazzled emotions. Bella clung to him for only a moment, not wanting to make him uncomfortable. He let her go with a kiss on the forehead before gently pushing her toward Rosalie and Emmett.
Bella stumbled a little, still shaky on her feet, but she made it to the statuesque couple without falling. Bella hugged Rosalie first, standing on her tiptoes to burrow her head in Rosalie's shoulder. Rosalie stroked her hair lovingly, still worried that Bella was going to collapse again.
When it appeared to Emmett that Bella and Rosalie had finished their embrace, he reached down and pulled Bella up into his arms. "Come 'ere, squirt," he whispered.
Bella wrapped her arms around his shoulder and her legs around his stomach before squeezing Emmett as hard as she could. She felt especially comforted by his big bear hug, knowing there was no way her imagination could make her feel like all the air was being squashed from her body. There was no mistaking a hug from Emmett.
Much like Jasper, Emmett sent Bella off with a kiss to the forehead and a little shove, this time in Carlisle's direction. Carlisle reached out for Bella and pulled her to rest against his stony chest. Bella nestled into his embrace, a few more tears finally escaping. Carlisle wanted her as a daughter after all. He leaned down and kissed the crown of her head, content to hold her until she was ready to let go.
When she finally released Carlisle, Bella needed no further motivation to go seek comfort in Edward's arms. She all but threw herself at him, and each of the Cullens relaxed further when they saw the final bit of tension leave Bella's body. Bella squirmed and wriggled until it was impossible for her to get any closer to Edward. He held on to her so tight it was uncomfortable, but Bella could not bring herself to care.
Little by little her relief was replaced with overwhelming embarrassment for her actions. She berated herself for acting like such a fool. Honestly, what was wrong with her, she wondered. Elizabeth Masen's ring was on her finger and she and Edward were to be married in less than a month. The Cullens had given her no reason not to trust them since their return and the moment that trust was tested Bella had fallen to pieces. She could have easily walked up to the second and third floors and seen the un-packed rooms or design plans.
Mortification burned through her and she buried her head further into Edward's neck, hoping to hide her blush from everyone. She would never live this down. Edward felt her cheeks heat up and didn't have to wonder for very long what it meant. Jasper, privy to all Bella's emotions, used Edward's gift to explain Bella's feelings, hoping to spare her any further embarrassment.
Sensing that Bella was going to need some time to compose herself before she was ready to face the rest of the family, Edward carried her up to his room. They laid quietly for a while before Bella finally worked up the nerve to look him in the eye.
He could see remorse and shame in her eyes, but he couldn't understand why. What did Bella have to be sorry for? His mouth dropped open in shock when she apologized for her behavior.
"Isabella Marie Swan." She cringed at the use of her full name even though there was no anger, only incredulity, in Edward's tone. "Why are you apologizing? If we had just told you Esme was redecorating none of this would have happened. I am so sorry you thought we had abandoned you again. Please, forgive me."
Now it was Bella's turn to be shocked.
"Of course I forgive you, but aren't you upset with me at all? I should have known you wouldn't leave me. I should have just called one of you. There were so many things I could have done. I brought it all on myself because I was too stupid to just think for a minute."
Edward refused to allow Bella to berate herself anymore, so he cut her off before she could continue her self-flagellation.
"If I hadn't been an idiot and convinced my family to leave you behind last September, you never would have needed to think. You would have just assumed that we needed to move and you were coming too."
"I still feel like such a fool," Bella reluctantly admitted. "They must think I am completely ridiculous and don't have a sensible bone in my body."
Having now admitted her embarrassment aloud, she could no longer look Edward in the eye, but he gently pulled her chin up and forced her gaze to meet his own once more.
"No one thinks you are a fool. And trust me, we are all more ashamed of ourselves than you are embarrassed."
Bella made no further comment, but she was skeptical that anyone could feel any emotion more than she felt mortified right now.
"Carlisle thinks it would be wise for us all to talk about last September and our return in March. He thinks you've never had a chance to work through your feelings, and that you won't ever really be able to move on from it until you do."
"I can't go down there now. Are you crazy?"
Edward almost chuckled at how appalled and incredulous she sounded, but he was still so sadden by the events of the day that he couldn't bring himself to laugh.
"Bella, love, I think it will help. We've never really talked about it with the rest of the family. And, I am not entirely sure that you had the chance to say everything you wanted to say to me. Please, just stop and consider this for a moment."
"Please, Bella," sounded Alice's tinkling voice, though it was far less jovial than usual. Alice was peering into Edward's room from the hallway, unwilling to enter without his permission.
Bella, it seemed, couldn't resist the pixie pout, especially when in combination with the grief and sadness that still read clearly from Alice's eyes. Oh how Bella didn't want to talk about last September, but if that was the only way they could all move on from today, then she would just have to suffer through it.
With a sigh, Bella extracted herself from Edward's arms.
"Can I at least have a human moment first," she sniffed, still monumentally embarrassed and wanting a moment to compose herself without other people present.
"Of course, love. Alice and I will wait by the stairs," Edward responded. He placed a tender kiss on the top of Bella's hair before ushering his sister toward the end of the hallway.
Bella trudged to Edward's bathroom, wary of what she would see in the mirror. She went through her crisis checklist and was unhappy, but not unsurprised with the results.
Paler than normal skin- check. Bloodshot eyes complete with huge purple bags, chapped lips and rat's nest of a hairdo- check, check, check. Obvious mortification oozing out of every pour- double check.
As she straightened her appearance, Bella began a mental pep talk.
Alright, Bella. You have officially made an ass of yourself. But regardless of your complete and utter humiliation you are going to walk down those stairs with your head held high and get this over with. You are not going to stand in here like a pansy and make Edward come get you. Don't lose the little scrap of dignity you have left.
Bella splashed cold water on her face and toweled off as she continued her mental motivational speech. It took a few more moments and several more breaths before she was ready or willing to face Edward and Alice.
Neither commented on her overly determined martyr-like expression and the three made a solemn procession down the stairs to the living room. Bella hoped no one noticed her slight hesitation when the living room came into view again. Of course, the seven vampires did all notice, but everyone wisely kept their observation to themselves.
Bella dear," Esme called. "Why don't you come sit next to me?"
Grateful to be reprieved from making any decisions for the moment, Bella did exactly as suggested, leaning into Esme a little for both comfort and strength.
Carlisle addressed her next. "Bella, as Edward has already explained, I feel it would be in your best interests, given the circumstances of this afternoon, to express your feelings about the events of the past year. I am sorry I did not think to address this with you sooner. We could have spared you the anguish and confusion."
Bella nodded at his apology, but made no move to speak. She hated that they were all staring at her, willing her to bare her soul and talk about things better forgotten or left in the past.
"It's alright to be angry, Bella," Jasper soothed after sampling the tenor of Bella's emotions.
His statement brought Bella up short. "I'm not angry."
Now it was Jasper's turn to be confused. "Yes you are, darlin'."
"Well," Bella hedged. "I don't really want to talk about this."
"Yes, I sense reluctance too, but you are angry. You have been ever since we returned."
"No, I haven't." Bella argued, feeling more than a little combative now. Who was Jasper to tell her what she was or was not? Her temper faded quickly when she remembered that Jasper was exactly the person to tell her such things. Chagrin washed through her.
"Bella, why are you angry?" Alice tried to coax out Bella's answer.
Bella didn't feel angry. Right now it was difficult to feel anything but mortification. She had felt hurt of course; she remembered feeling abandoned and lonely, but she could not remember consciously being angry with any of the Cullens over to the events of September since their return. She was just so happy they were back. Maybe she was angry when they left, but not any more.
"I was angry when you left," Bella finally conceded.
"I don't doubt that you were, Bella, but trust me when I tell you that you are also angry now," Jasper stated matter-of-factly.
Disgruntled that Jasper was putting her on the spot, and more than a little self-conscious that everyone was waiting on tender hooks to see what she had to say, Bella sassed back. "Well fine, Jasper. What am I so angry about?"
"That's for you to tell us, darlin'"
"I don't know what I'm angry about."
"Are you angry that we abandoned you?" Carlisle prompted.
"I was, but I'm not mad about that any more. I understand why you left."
"You can still be angry, Bella, even if you do understand," offered Rosalie.
"I just don't know, alright. I don't know why I am angry. Why does it matter? You're here now and everything is fine," Bella evaded. Why couldn't the earth just open up and swallow her now?
"It matters, sweetheart, because that hurt and anger will fester inside of you until you can't stand it anymore. It will eat away at you and make you bitter and resentful. I don't want you to have to experience that. It matters because everything is obviously not fine," Esme explained gently.
Bella remained silent. She wasn't trying to be difficult. She honestly didn't feel angry, but she did still feel mortified and would have rather suffered in silence.
"Bella, please." Emmett finally attempted to convince her to talk.
Bella looked into his earnest butterscotch eyes for a moment. Emmett never really asked her for anything, not even before…but oh, how she missed him when he was gone. She caught sight of the errant curl by his left ear and then remembered her desperation to memorize everything about him earlier. Without even realizing it, she'd begun to worry the bear charm on her bracelet between her fingers as soon as she'd looked at Emmett.
A moment later she finally noticed her unconscious actions and suddenly, Bella knew exactly why she was furious.
"This," she seethed, holding out her wrist so the bracelet was easily seen by everyone in the room. "This is why I am angry."
All seven vampires stared at her in confusion. How did a charm bracelet explain Bella's underlying anger?
"If you left again today," she continued, "at least I would have this. At least I could have something to remember you by. Would it have been so bad to leave me something, anything that would let me remember you were real and that for at least a few fleeting months you cared about me? Why was it so important that I forgot? Was it so you wouldn't feel guilty when you forgot about me?"
Her violent outburst took everyone by surprise, including Bella herself.
"There were moments–" her voice trembled, not just because of her fury, but also because of the lingering hurt and feeling of betrayal, " –moments when I was so sure I had made everything up. Do you know what I had left of you? A bite mark on my hand from a sadistic vampire out to kill me. A faint scar on my arm where Carlisle stitched me up and a stereo that I ripped out of my truck as soon as I was aware enough to even notice it, which by the way, was months after you left. That was it: two scars and a mangled piece of sound equipment. Surely I was worth more than that. Even if I was just a pet to you like Laurent said, surely I was worth enough for you to leave me with a few trinkets to remember you by."
The Cullens watched her tirade with agonized expressions, seeing now just how many mistakes they had made that September evening and how the girl they had been trying to protect suffered because of them.
"And you would have known all this," Bella continued, now cognizant of her fury and more than willing to be free of it, "if any of you had bothered to come back and check on me. No one would have known you were here; you wouldn't have even had to talk to me to know I wasn't moving on, that your clean break wasn't so clean after all. Was I so insignificant that you couldn't spare a day to make sure I was alive?
"How would you have felt if I had died in the woods after chasing Edward, or when Laurent found me, or when I jumped off the cliff, or when Victoria finally caught up to me, or when some other tragedy finally ended my life? When you came back in a century or two, would you even have thought to look for my grave, and if you even bothered to look for it, would you have cared that I died so soon after you left me?
"And even if I had survived, if I had grown old, gotten married and had children, who were you to decide my life for me? Charlie and Renee have done enough of that over the years. Then I met you and I finally thought that I was going to decide my own future; someone was finally going to take into consideration what I wanted. And then you just up and decided after one night, without even bothering to ask me what I wanted or how I felt, that it was in my best interests for you to abandon me with no warning and only one sorry attempt at a goodbye.
"When I was finally coherent enough to feel something other than crushing pain from the hole in my chest, all I could feel was hurt, and anger, and betrayal, and worthlessness. But more than any of those feelings, no matter how hurt or betrayed I felt, I felt isolated. Isolated from anyone who could help me, isolated from anyone who could understand, isolated from the only people I really wanted to be with. You had each other, but one by one the few people I had left gave up or abandoned me too. Then I had no one.
"And then you came back, and suddenly it was like nothing ever happened. Like you never left me. Like I had just imagined those months of agonizing nothingness. And I just forgave you…immediately and without question. Now I wonder if that wasn't a mistake. You ripped my heart to shreds, you tore my life to pieces, you left me mangled and barely breathing, and as soon as you came back I forgave you because I was afraid of you leaving again. But if I have realized anything over the past few weeks, it is that I never deserved to be treated like I was an insignificant toy you could cast aside whenever you felt tired of playing with me. I never deserved being treated like a trivial blip in your immortal lives, just because I was human and I might forget. I never deserved for my feelings to be treated as though they were inconsequential just because I wasn't a vampire and you thought they couldn't possibly be as fierce and intense as your own."
Bella took a deep breath, shutting her eyes against the sight of the family who had wounded her to her core. She had never realized how utterly enraged she was at their behavior until now.
Just when the Cullens though she had reached the end of her impassioned monologue, Bella began to speak again, her voice quiet, but laced with unmistakable fury.
"I'm angry because you made me feel worthless and no one is ever justified in making someone else feel that way–not even vampires. I am not worthless."
With that final remark, Bella allowed the fury to flash across her eyes, plain for all to see, before she crossed her arms over her chest and proceeded to stare at the floor, refusing to meet any of their eyes. She was content to wait and see what they would say in return. Though, she wasn't entirely sure that she'd left them room to say anything.
It was Edward who proved her wrong. "I value you more than my own life," he whispered quietly, but with such conviction she had to look up at him.
He looked agonized of course; Bella had expected nothing less of her masochistic lion, but now he also looked angry.
"You are most certainly not worthless and I swear to you now, I will never allow you to feel that way again. I will spend every day of eternity making sure you know how precious you are." Edward stared unwaveringly into her eyes, as though through that action he could will her into feeling his sincerity and conviction.
As Bella returned his penetrating stare, Esme took her hand and squeezed it gently, forcing Bella to look back at her.
"I know what it's like to feel as though you've been cast aside and left to fend for yourself. I know…" Esme paused, her eyes un-focusing as some painful memory of the past took over. "I know how it feels when it seems like there isn't any one in the world who can save you from the loneliness or cares that you are drowning in it. But, I want you to know I never stopped loving you. I was wrong to leave you, wrong to let you think I didn't care, and I am sorry, but I never stopped loving you and I never will. No matter what any one made us believe, or what we allowed ourselves to believe, we were never worthless."
Bella remembered bits and pieces of a conversation she and Esme had the first time she'd seen vampires play baseball. She remembered the details of Esme's past and knew Esme, perhaps, more than anyone, knew was it was like to feel worthless and isolated. Esme knew and in that moment Bella felt closer to the caramel-haired vampire than ever before.
"We were never worthless," Bella solemnly agreed.
There was more to that statement than mere agreement. It was a moment of solidarity, of shared pain and triumph that no one but Bella and Esme could understand. It was an affirmation that neither woman would tolerate the feeling of worthlessness in her self or in others. It was the beginning of Bella's journey toward true forgiveness and healing.
Bella squeezed Esme's hand again, and then finally made eye contact with the remaining Cullens. She could see that they were ashamed, remorseful, and ready to do whatever she deemed necessary to regain her trust and affection. They were distressed by her anger, but they had allowed her to delve into the crux of her vitriol without interrupting her or making her feel like she was somehow beneath them or unjustified in her feelings. They had treated her with every bit of courtesy and respect that they had recently remembered to show each other. And to Bella, that made all the difference.
She'd only ever wanted to be treated as their equal, treated as though she mattered every bit as much as the rest of them, even if she was only a human who had lived for less that two decades. She wanted to feel like she was really part of their family, and at this moment she finally knew she was. For the first time in her life, Bella knew where she belonged and oh what a heady feeling it was.
Her brilliant smile caught them all off guard. She laughed at their stunned expressions, finally feeling free after having let go of her anger and hurt. The Cullens had a long way to go before they made it up to her, but Bella knew she hadn't made a mistake in forgiving them after all. They deserved her forgiveness, her love, and her devotion as much as she deserved theirs.
"Hey Jasper," Bella called, an unexpected teasing tone in her voice. "What can you pick up now?"
Jasper gaped at Bella for a moment before concentrating on her emotions. Soon enough he was beaming right back at her.
"I don't think I've ever used this particular word to describe anyone but Alice. You are positively effervescent, Bella," he drawled with a chuckle.
"Effervescent, hmm?" she smiled at his assessment. "I don't know about that. I don't think anyone but Alice can be effervescent. I think I'll just settle for blissfully content."
Bella barely had time to breathe after the last syllable left her lips before Edward picked her up in a bone-crushing hug and spun them both around in circles as he kissed her senseless.
The others finally allowed themselves to smile. Once again Bella had made them reconsider themselves, and while they might have felt that they were wanting, she showed them that she loved and accepted them just as they were. She had graciously forgiven them for mistakes that lesser beings would have found inexcusable. She had finally mended the last lingering hole in her heart, and in all of theirs as well. She had rescued them all from ruin and they took comfort knowing that she always would.
"Well people, let's get moving. We have a wedding to plan!" announced Alice, bouncing on her toes at the thought of the multiple shopping excursions that would occur within the next several days.
The Cullens dispersed. Rosalie, Emmett and Jasper stowed the haphazardly parked cars back in the garage and then emptied them of Esme's treasures. Alice ran upstairs to snatch her laptop, wedding binder and a plethora magazines and catalogs from her room. Carlisle and Esme quickly sorted through the cluttered plans on the coffee table before retrieving the necessary cans of paint from the garage.
No one minded that Edward and Bella continued to sway contentedly in the living room, even once it was time to paint and move furniture. For now, it was perfectly acceptable to all of them that the happy couple remained oblivious to anything but their complete and total bliss.
For the first time since she accepted Edward's proposal, Bella felt as giddy and excited as Alice. She was more than ready to proclaim to the world that she was and would always be Bella Cullen. She was ready to be spouse, daughter or sister to the members of this motley crew of vampires. She was ready to stand at Edward's side as his equal, his mate, his wife, for eternity. Bella was ready for it all.
I hope you all enjoyed this return to FMP. Please take a moment to leave a review. I would really appreciate it. Thank you again for all your support over the last few years. It has been such a pleasure to write for all of you.