There's one thing I promised myself, and that was to finish this story. I know many have given up. Taken me off alerts. Cursed me for taking years to finish an eleven-chapter story. This if for those who've stuck around, particularly from the beginning, like AnnaLund, mugglemom08, Erikajo, Maizeandbluevalpo, as well as my new followers. Thanks for having faith in me, even seeing the eternity between updates.
I've done this for you, but also for me, due to my Sagittarian pattern of getting really excited about a project, only to abandon it when things get rough.
If you're interested, I'm planning to post another story I started writing before this one. (It's complete, so I promise the chapters will come...a bit faster). I also have a series of one-shots based on clichés (those of you who know me, know how I love those.)
SPECIAL THANKS: To farkle, who betaed for me and encouraged me to post this fic. You've been my rock. To KiyaRaven, my Ozzie princess, who's always supported me in my writing and encouraged me to finish. To Belli486 for the comic relief. To Withany for our many skype sessions where she let me talk and talk and talk until I ran out of air. Also to TwiReaderAbi, my favorite gossip babe.
THANK YOU Silver Sniper of Night, who, even though she's been absent for a while, was willing to help me finish this. She was EPOV till the very end. I miss you, beautiful girl.
So without further ado, here it is, the last chapter of "Unforgivable Act."
I looked up to see Emmett offering me a cold bottle. I nodded and managed a half-smile as I took a swig. Emmett studied me for a moment then shook his head and took a seat opposite me.
"So, Edward, while I'm more than happy to have you here, you gonna let me know what's going on?"
I set the bottle down on the table, feeling guilty and stupid for being so transparent.
"Hey, don't get that look on your face. You know I'm here for you, man. Now spit it out."
There was no use trying to fool Emmett. "It's Bella."
"I figured as much. How's she doing?"
I shrugged and looked at the bottle in front of me. "Hard to tell. She says she's fine, that she understands. She smiles, laughs, spends time with me. But it's not the same. It's not how it was. I can't seem to make it right, no matter how many times I explain. We barely touch, let alone have sex any more. It's like she feels I'm tainted, like she doesn't want me after what happened with Tanya. I screwed up. I know I did. It's all on my head here. She came back to me, which is more than I deserved, but she's not really there. I just don't know how to make it right."
Emmett stared at me for a few moments with a look of total confusion. I shifted, really hating the way he was staring at me. Then he slowly lowered his beer to the table and straightened up.
"Okaaaay," he said and gestured toward me for emphasis. "So, you were high out of your mind, sick, and exhausted, when you let a crazy bitch into your apartment. You tell her to get out, but she doesn't leave and just decides to get down on her knees and blow you when you're too weak and out of it to stop her. Is that about right?"
I gaped, completely in shock with the way he'd managed in just a few crude sentences to summarize the events that had almost broken me.
He sat back and nodded severely. "Yes of course, I can see how this is all about you being a bastard. They write cautionary tales about guys like yo—"
"Okay! I get it. You've made your point. When you put it like that, it doesn't seem as bad, but it doesn't change anything."
Emmett shook his head. "Edward, those are the facts. Yeah, maybe you shouldn't have let her into your apartment, but your judgment wasn't at its best, which is exactly why Tanya went for you. If you'd been alert, she wouldn't have been able to get anywhere near you, right?"
"Hell, no!" I yelled. Emmett grinned as if this answered his question.
"Then stop it. You're going to sabotage your relationship if you keep blaming yourself."
I sighed. He was making sense, even if I didn't want to admit it. When he explained everything like that, it didn't feel like it was my fault, but I couldn't make myself shift the blame to Tanya. Every time I looked into my girl's eyes, every time she hesitated before we touched, it killed me.
"She hasn't said she blames me, but it's not like we've really talked about it. I explained, I apologized—hell, I begged for forgiveness. I mean, I knew how this would break her. She let me know when we first got together that cheating was a deal breaker. She trusted me to stop things like this from happening, but when it came down to it, I couldn't."
My voice shook, and I turned away, choosing to focus back on the beer bottle.
"Edward," he said, his voice calm and steady, "for the vast majority of people, cheating is a deal breaker. That she had to warn you before you started dating speaks more about Bella and less about you. But leaving that aside, you didn't cheat on her. Cheating involves someone actually being conscious of their actions."
I nodded, only just starting to believe what he was saying. I'd never wanted Tanya near me, and if I'd been able to make a decision, I would have never let her into the apartment. I knew in my heart I was faithful to Bella. That it had taken me to a point where I was barely capable of moving for something like this to happen, and even then I'd tried to resist. There wasn't a single part of me that wanted anyone but Bella. I knew that, and it was what I clung to.
"But you have to look at it through her eyes. Yeah, it seems to me like she's got her own issues, but it doesn't change what happened. Again, I'm not blaming you at all, Ed, but I know if this were me we were talking about, Rose wouldn't welcome me back with open arms. No way. Hell, she'd have probably taken a chunk out of both me and the girl for ..." He stopped when he caught the look on my face. "But moving on..."
"You just said I didn't cheat," I said, feeling a little defensive.
"I'm not saying you did, but think about it. If you'd walked in on some guy going down on Bella, how would you feel? Even if she was as drugged as you were, do you think you'd be able to just return to normal?"
A flash of Jake and Bella together went through my mind, and I pushed my nails into my palms before taking a deep breath. Emmett stared back at me grimly.
"See what I mean?"
I sighed and let my head fly back as I dove my hands into my hair.
"Look, it's a messed-up situation. It's hard and it's complicated, but that's what relationships are like. You think I ended up married without falling into deep shit on the way? Hell, no. Of course there was never anything like this, but I did my own dumb-ass things and screwed up in my own way. You work through it, together. That's what you do if you want things to work out."
I sighed and nodded. "I need to talk to Bella," I said, knowing that it was the only way forward. Things couldn't stay as they were. It was unfair to both of us. If I wanted this to work, we needed to talk, and I wanted it to work more than anything.
I was sitting on the couch, staring at my "essay" with shaking hands, when I heard his key in the door. That just made my hands shake more. He entered and seemed surprised to see me.
"Hey," he said. "What's going on?"
Then he looked at the papers in my hand and up to my face. Now his expression was like a man headed for his execution. Great. Just what I wanted. To set him on edge. I could tell he'd already been tiptoeing around me.
"Hey back," I said and smiled. It didn't seem to reassure him.
He just stood there, seemingly afraid to move.
"Please come here and hug me," I said.
The look of relief on his face...I felt like the biggest ass of all time. What I'd been putting this man through. That was an unforgivable act.
He sat down beside me and gave me the best hug I'd ever gotten. It felt good to receive it and give one back in return with everything I had.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I know you've been put through hell lately, but I'm hoping to make that right."
"It's okay, babe. I get it."
He looked confused.
"What I mean is, I went and talked to Jasper..."
"Oh, great. Did he tell you to dump me?"
"No! I went to see him, because I needed to get past this. He gave me a...an assignment, I guess. A way for me to sort through my feelings and get them out. I've been holding things in for too long and not dealing with them. I think I was afraid if I did, we'd have to end. I didn't want that."
"Well, that's good. I don't want that, either."
"I'm very glad to hear that." I cleared my throat. "To that end...he gave me the option of either sharing this with you or not. I'm choosing to, because you need to hear it. Is that okay?"
He looked scared but nodded. "Yeah, okay. If it will help you."
"It'll help both of us," I said. "And please, I know it will be difficult, but try not to say anything until I'm through, okay?"
"Okay," he said.
The pain in his eyes nearly made me lose it. I had to keep focused on the paper for this, because I knew if I looked at him, I'd never be able to get through it.
"The assignment was to write at least one page on what my experience has meant to me and the effect it's had on my beliefs about myself, others, and the world. The words I was supposed to keep in mind were: safety, trust, power, competence, esteem, and intimacy."
Despite myself, I looked at him. He seemed frightened again, so I figured I should hurry and put him out of his misery. And to be honest, me as well.
"Here goes." I ran my hand through my hair. I could get through this. "Safety. My whole life, I've never felt safe but like the rug could be pulled out from under me. I never felt safe in my parents' home, because everything was so rocky there. I've always felt like I had to fend for myself with everything. Until Edward came along. His arms made me feel safe. I feel safe in his love."
I'd purposely used the present tense "feel" because it was still true. I sneak another look. He seems stunned. I continue.
"Trust. Again, because of my parental situation, with my dad cheating on my mom, I never trusted any man. Until Edward. It's cliché, but I gave him my heart, and he's never given me a reason to think I did the wrong thing. And I know he's put all his trust in me. Which leads me to my next word…"
I'd had one hand on my lap. I felt his hand go on top of it. That's when I realized I'd been shaking again. I gulped over the lump in my throat.
"Power. After this incident, it came to me the power I'd had in the relationship without even knowing it. He'd shown me all his weaknesses. Trusted me with them. I now appreciate that power and will never take it for granted again."
A kiss on the cheek. That did it. Here comes the water works. Still, I plow on.
"Competence. I've never felt competent, especially to be in a relationship. I didn't think I was mature enough to handle it. I've always felt weak and like a little kid. Even when I was a 'parent' to my own parents, I never really felt competent. More like a kid playing at being grown up."
He inches closer and lightly rubs his knuckles down my cheek.
"Esteem. I've always had false bravado. Because I didn't have faith in myself, I couldn't give it to another person. The phrase 'love yourself' always made me laugh. But now I know it's essential before getting into a relationship. Otherwise, you put your insecurities onto the other person and let them carry them around."
Snot runs down my face. Then there's a tissue in my hand. I blow loudly.
"Intimacy." I stop for a moment. Take a deep breath. "Intimacy has always been a problem for me. I don't mean just having sex, even though that's harder for me than a lot of women. I mean, really looking the other person in the eyes and being a hundred percent in the moment." Regulate breathing. "I'd mistaken what happened with Edward and Tanya as 'intimacy.' As if she'd shared with him what I had. Since they'd been together before, I thought he wanted her over me. That she could give him the real intimacy he needed, because she was uninhibited where I was so inhibited."
"Bella, I never—"
I look up from my paper. Edward had tears streaming down his face, too. Now it was my turn to put my hand on his.
"I know, Edward. Just hold on a couple of minutes, okay?"
"Sure. Sorry. Go on."
I sigh. This is even tougher than I thought it would be.
"But then I consider that after 'the incident' as I call it, Edward didn't go running to her. Even through my doubt. Even through my not letting him have sex with me…Edward maintained our intimacy. He didn't waiver.
"My biggest regret is that he blames himself for what happened. He did nothing wrong. The other thing I have to remember is that I didn't intentionally do anything wrong, either. I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.
"But watching our relationship slip away was enough for me to take a closer look at myself and see the lies I've been telling myself. I can't guarantee I won't backslide, but being more aware of how my mind works, might help me get to this point faster."
I put down the paper.
"I love you, Edward"
He kissed me with all the passion that's been missing since Tanya entered our apartment.
When we broke apart, he said, "I love you too, Bella. And just to let you know, I talked with Emmett today, and he got an image in my head of you and Jake, and well…let's just say it would have taken some time for me to get over that, too."
I laughed. "I'm so sorry for that speech I gave you at the beginning of our relationship. It was like I was setting us up to fail. That was so stupid of me."
"I'll make a deal with you. We both have to stop blaming ourselves for what happened. The one good thing it brought us was that we got out our issues. Let's just move forward from here. Deal?"
"Good. Now what should we do to christen this moment?"
"Oh, we could go to that pizza place you took me to on our first date!" I said. "It's a good way to start over."
He gave me his naughtiest smile. "We could do that. Later. I've got something more immediate in mind. Something that will put only one image in our heads."
With a squeal from me, he hoisted me off the couch and threw me over his shoulder before heading off to the bedroom.