Disclaimer: I don't own a damn thing. Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. I just like to play with the characters.
This chapter kicked my ass, be easy on me, my dears.
Seventh Inning Stretch
Chapter 11: Remembering All You Are
I could feel Rosalie's piercing eyes on me as I passed Edward's father the bowl of green beans. The heavenly aroma of homemade turkey filled the air as the Cullen family and I sat down for our usual Sunday afternoon meal. Rose had watched me like a hawk throughout the entire morning service and had been staring at me for the past five minutes at her spot across the table, her threatening stare practically burning a hole through my head. We had yet to discuss what happened the other day after her run-in with Angela, and I still wasn't entirely sure what excuse I was going to feed her, or if she was even going to believe me. I knew she wanted some answers, particularly as to why I had lied to her about my whereabouts, and perhaps she already knew all about my affair with Jacob.
"I just know you'll love it, Bella," Edward's mother said enthusiastically as she scooped out some mashed potatoes with a spoon and forced them onto her plate. "It has a short train, it's simple, just everything I think you would want in a wedding dress."
"Sounds beautiful, Esme," I forced myself to say, purposely looking everywhere but in Rose's direction. "Maybe I'll make an appointment to try it on next weekend."
"Are you sure that's such a good idea?"
My eyes flashed to the beautiful blonde sitting across from me. Movement around the table immediately ceased in response to the harsh tone of her voice as an awkward silence filled the air around us.
I sucked in a breath and could see Edward moving uncomfortably out of the corner of my eye. He placed down his fork with an audible clank just before taking a gulp of water to wash down his food.
"Why wouldn't it be, Rose?" he asked, leaning in closer to me in protection, his eyebrows raised with inquisition.
"Well, I'm just saying, " Rose started, politely wiping her mouth with her napkin before placing it neatly down in front of her again, "perhaps Bella needs to figure some things out before she shops for her wedding dress."
The room grew unbearably hot as I slumped further down in my seat while giving Rose a confused expression. The tension around the table was palpable, and I could sense the stares of the Cullen family flickering between us. Why was she doing this to me in front of everyone? She couldn't be that cruel, could she?
Edward, completely clueless to our exchange, draped his arm over the back of my chair and cleared his throat before asking, "What's to figure out? We love each other immensely. I asked her to marry me-she said yes. We're going to have the grandest wedding D.C. has ever seen, so don't you think that right there is a fantastic reason as to why my beautiful bride-to-be should be picking out her dress?"
Rose kept her eyes focused only on me, ignoring Edward's reasoning all together.
"Of course," she said through a tight smile, her gaze holding mine. "What's to figure out?"
Dinner carried on as usual from that point. Emmett obviously sensed something in the silent exchange between me and Rose, and he quickly jumped in to change the subject to politics – something he and Edward could argue about for hours.
I could feel Edward's tension still, even after dinner had ended and we all helped clear the table. Plate by plate, spoon by spoon, he was watching me, studying me, examining Rose and internally questioning himself as to why the two of us seemed to be acting this way. I knew him better than I knew myself. I knew when he wasn't going to let it go. For now, we'd go about our business. For now, we'd play our parts in the act...the loving couple preparing for wedded bliss. But I knew, and he knew...I was slipping away, Rose was acting strange, and suddenly my pulse, my heart, was throbbing steadily inside of my head as the walls of kitchen became a clouded mess of my life's mystery.
His hand was on my lower back, his mouth to my ear, as I held a plate under the steady stream of the faucet, watching the leftover turkey and beans combine together as a liquid running down the garbage disposal.
"What's up with Rose?" he whispered, his breath, his question-both making the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
"What do you mean?" I asked out loud, turning around so my eyes could cautiously look around for any audience, and realizing the only two left in the kitchen besides us were Esme and Rose, they were both chatting with ease about a new picture Esme had hung above the fireplace in the family room.
"Local art auction...only five hundred dollars..." I picked up bits and pieces of their conversation.
"Bella." My name was spoken in an authoritative nature. Edward was making it clear to me that he was tired of my games.
"Edward," I mocked, pushing past him to place the rinsed plate into the bottom rack of Carlisle and Esme's ridiculously expensive dishwasher.
"Did you have a fight?" he asked, his expression difficult to read as he placed his hand on my shoulder to stop me from continuing with the clean up.
"I don't know," I said through a sigh, crossing my arms protectively across my midsection as my eyes focused on Esme and Rose's retreating forms as they left the kitchen, still lost in their conversation, leaving me alone to deal with the disaster I'd made. After they were gone, I could still feel his eyes on me, waiting for me to look in his direction. But I didn't. I couldn't. I stared at a spot to the right of his face, biting my lip and struggling to hold myself together. I could feel it coming, could feel it bubbling up and threatening to explode, my emotions on display in front of everyone. My breakdown. How much longer could I keep up this charade? How much longer could I continue to lie to the man that I love?
His hand was touching, lightly feathering a path beneath my chin as he tilted my head, waiting for me to look at him.
My eyes met his, and I crumbled. His face blurred behind a sea of salt water as I gasped for air, my lungs fighting in desperation for the oxygen needed for survival.
Both of his hands were on my face as I shook my head back and forth against the touch I would never deserve.
This wasn't happening. None of it. Not in Esme's kitchen...
"Hey now..." I could hear Edward speaking. "I'm sure it will all work out. Rose will get over it."
My God. He still thought this was about her. How could he be so clueless? How could he not smell another man's scent on my skin? Day after day-night after night. How? I just wanted him to figure it out for himself. I was angry with him for not figuring it out for himself, even though I knew that was ludicrous. I had no right.
"No, Edward," I managed to say, sobering up from my intoxication with my guilt-ridden grief. "It will not work out."
I pulled out of his embrace, collecting my broken pieces as I wiped the moisture away from around my eyes, and streaking my cheeks.
"Oh my God," a voice called from the kitchen entryway. Rose. Always the best timing, of course.
I turned my back to her as I tried to cover up my breakdown, clearing my throat and smoothing my hair.
"Bella?" she asked. The silence that followed was unbearable.
"You told him," she finally said.
No. I don't have that kind of courage.
I turned to face her, preparing myself for what I knew she was about to say next, straightening up my posture and taking a deep breath in. My life was about to fall apart. Edward would never look at me the same again, would never touch me with the tenderness only a lover could provide.
"Oh God," she said again, surely in response to what I could only imagine I looked like in that moment. "Oh, Edward," she said in sincere sympathy, taking a few steps toward him, reaching out at first and then thinking better of it, letting her hands drop back to her sides. "I'm so sorry. I know you weren't ready to be a father, but this has to be unbearable."
"What?" My voice meshed with Edward's as the question escaped both of our lips at the exact same time.
Almost instantly, Edward's face shot in my direction. I could see him out of the corner of my eye as I continued to stare at Rose, my mouth open in shock.
"What is she talking about?" he asked me, but I couldn't respond, couldn't answer because my mind was trying to wrap itself around the solution. My head spun as I realized that my soon-to-be marriage may not be over yet after all.
"I...I don't...Rose, I don't understand," I mumbled, trying to make sense of the situation.
"Please keep your voices down," she whispered fiercely, stepping closer to us as she glanced over her back in wariness. "If Esme found out you had an abortion, she'd have a heart attack right here, right now."
"An abortion?" Edward nearly yelled, crossing the distance between us as he grabbed my wrist, forcing me to look at him. "Bella, what did you do? What is she saying? You were pregnant?"
"Oh boy, " I heard Rose say before I could respond. "She didn't tell you..."
"Jesus, Rose," I said, taking Edward's hands in mine. "No, Edward," I said, sternly, reassuringly. "I wasn't...God, of course I wasn't. You know I would never lie to you about something like that."
Hypocrite. I was lying to him about something far worse.
Turning my attention to Rose again, I dropped Edward's hands and ran my own frustratingly through my hair, completely baffled by her outrageous accusation. Is this what she thought I was up to? Did she not know about Jacob after all?
"I have no idea what you think is going on here," I said to her, unsuccessfully trying to put the pieces together. "I'm not pregnant...was never...and what the hell? Why on Earth would you even think that I was? That I wouldn't tell Edward?"
I knew that I shouldn't be, that I had no right to be, but I was offended. I was hurt that she would ever assume I was capable of such an act.
"Angela said..." she started to say but trailed off, her eyes zoning out as she appeared to be lost in thought, confused. "I was wrong?" she eventually asked.
"Angela said? What did she say?" I questioned, frantically.
"I am such an idiot," she said instead of responding, glancing at Edward again. "I'm so sorry...I didn't mean to scare you."
"Rose, what did she say?" I pressured again.
"I don't remember exactly, " she said in defeat. "Something about your hormones most likely being out of whack, that she saw you at an abortion clinic the other day. And then it just clicked and she didn't have to say anything more. It just seemed to make perfect sense...why you were never home, why you've been so spacey lately, why Edward was asking me if I knew why you've been so distant..."
My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach. Edward went to Rosalie. I wasn't convincing anyone.
"Edward?" I asked, quietly, my voice coming out all throaty and wrong.
He ducked his head, looking almost ashamed as he ran his hand through his hair. "You haven't been yourself, and I was concerned. I thought you might have confided in her. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gone to my sister for something that was clearly between us, but I just...I asked you many times, and you always just pushed me aside like I was crazy."
"Um...I'll leave you two alone," Rose said awkwardly, clearing her throat and quickly leaving us to sort through our issues.
I didn't know what to say. I was tired and drained, completely incapable of coming up with anymore excuses for my bizarre and inexcusable behavior.
"Please don't apologize to me," I eventually managed, closing the distance between us, wrapping my arms around his waist, pulling him into me, shutting my eyes and breathing him in. "You have nothing to be sorry for," I said, my voice muffled against his chest.
His arms found their way around me, wrapping me up in the only place I should belong. But I ruined that, ruined us and the future that seemed more and more unlikely with each passing day.
I might have told him then...I was ready to let it all be over and out in the open, but I knew it wasn't the time or the place. We weren't alone. We were both fragile, neither of us ready to face the truth.
Monday morning I found myself migrating the aisles of the local grocery store, crossing off items on my list and getting frustrated with the store's spontaneous remodeling job, which made it difficult for me to find anything. After walking up and down various aisles multiple times, I reached the unfortunate decision that Edward would have to go the next week without his favorite fruit snacks.
After standing in line for ten minutes and writing a two hundred and fifty dollar check, I was comfortably seated in my Range Rover, heading back home to unload and spend the rest of the day cleaning up the house to prepare for my and Edward's annual anniversary dinner.
On this day, four years ago, Edward officially asked me to be with him over a romantic dinner of meatless lasagna, Caesar salads, and several glasses of champagne. On this day, every year following, I would recreate the same meal we shared that night, and we would spend the evening reminiscing together, no work calls or lap-tops allowed.
However, this year things were different-they had been ever since the little fiasco at his parent's house one day prior. I was feeling uneasy and unprepared, as if this day, this night, was somehow going to make or break us. Lie after lie I had told, and I was exhausted and finished, completely ready to just be free of this burden I held-this guilt that consumed me. Rosalie still hadn't gotten the excuse she craved, and I had been avoiding her calls, trying to come up with a reason for my bizarre behavior. I knew that I still needed to call Angela, ask her about the whole abortion fiasco. Of course, Angela rarely needed an excuse for the way that she acted. My mind was whirling, my driveway appearing without me ever realizing I had gone anywhere at all. I put the car in park and leaned my head back against the headrest, taking in a deep breath while attempting to clear my mind.
A conversation I had with Angela months ago was playing in my brain on repeat.
"Don't tell Edward anything," she had said in response to my first night with Jacob. "This is your cross to bear, not his. Telling him will only crush him. You need to suck it up and live with the guilt."
Sure, that was good advice at the time, but little did she know that I would continue seeing Jacob...particularly without clothes on, over and over...and over again. So did that mean that her words still rang true? Was it unfair of me to tell Edward the truth just so I didn't have to feel guilty anymore?
I knew deep down I had other motives for my deceit. I knew that if I told Edward about Jacob then I'd have to be prepared to live without one of them. Maybe Edward would leave me...more than likely he would, and then I'd be free to be with Jacob. My chest ached at the thought. But then...if for some reason Edward found it in his heart to forgive me, to put this behind us and continue on with our future as planned, surely I'd have to end it with Jacob entirely. Quit him cold turkey and never see or talk to him again. My heart broke at the thought.
I cared too much about both of them, was in too deep, and there was no going back. Whatever the result, I was going to lose. Cheaters never win.
Pushing my thoughts and dilemmas aside, I eventually found my way out of the car and onto the pavement, collecting some of the grocery bags and carrying them to the front door. I fumbled with my keys, hearing them hit the porch with a clank of mockery. Cursing under my breath, I was just about to clear my arms of my bags and bend down to retrieve the keys when the front door flung open-revealing a very amused Edward.
"Need some help?" Edward asked, a comical expression on his face.
I stared at him in confusion for a second.
"What are you doing home?" I questioned, one of the bags slipping from it's spot between my bent elbow and ribcage. "Shit!" I cursed, trying to bend down and retrieve it while balancing the rest of the groceries.
"Here, let me take those," he said through a short laugh, relieving me of the weight I carried and walking into the house.
I followed him into the kitchen, resisting the urge to reach up and scratch the back of my head the same way one might do in a state of perplexity.
"Aren't you happy to see me?" he asked, turning around and greeting me once more with a huge smile splitting his face.
"Of course I am," I started to say in my defense, "but I just...you never come home for lunch."
"Happy Anniversary!" he said enthusiastically, taking a few steps in my direction and picking me up in a giant bear hug. "I'm not just home for lunch," he added, his lips brushing against my ear.
"What?" I asked, his uncharacteristic enthusiasm contagious.
"I have a few surprises for you," he explained, releasing me from his embrace. I watched him, unable to move as I tried to wrap my mind around his presence here. He was acting far too casual about all of this-digging through the grocery bags and putting away the items that needed refrigeration.
"You're really not going back to work?" I questioned in disbelief. In all the years that we'd been together, Edward had never, ever missed a day of work. It just wasn't possible. At least, that's what he always countered with when I asked him why.
"Nope," he said with a slight pop to the "p."
"I don't understand," I replied, still slightly dazed.
"Why don't you just go get freshened up? I'll take care of the rest of this," he assured me, nodding me in the direction of the staircase.
"Oh, all right," I said, finally able to give him a slight grin. "What do you have up your sleeve, Mr. Cullen?
"Just go," he urged, playfully pushing me out of the kitchen.
"Okay, okay," I said, holding my hands up in surrender. "I'm going."
The bandanna was securely wrapped around my eyes, but I knew where he had taken me the moment he helped me out of the car. The feel of the ground beneath my feet, the idle chatter of people passing us by, and the slight breeze gently blowing my tangled hair in my face...this was home. Or at least the second best thing.
"The museum," I said, a grin surely lighting up my face because nothing made me happier than being here.
"Okay, Houdini," he said through his typical laugh as he untied the knot behind my head, slowly pulling the red cloth from my eyes to reveal my old place of employment, the place where we met, the place where he asked me to be his wife. "How did you know?"
"Oh, Edward," I remarked, genuinely excited as I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him into me. "I know this place better than I know myself. How did you know I missed it?"
"Because I know my girl," he said, lightly touching his lips with mine before adding, "and I wanted to take you back to the place where it all started for us. I remember you...remember the first day I saw you working here as if it were just yesterday. You took my breath away. I still get that same feeling every time I look at you."
My heart dropped for a second, but before I could reflect on my guilty conscience too long, Edward was wrapping his hand around mine, pulling me into the museum and buying us tickets.
The day spent with Edward was nothing short of perfect. It was the best time, in a long time, that I could remember spending with him. Sometime over the course of the day, whether it was while he was sneaking kisses in the dark corridors of the Holocaust Museum or singing me my favorite songs while we had a light picnic under a few cherry blossom trees, something inside of me changed. I forgot all about Jacob, all about the constant want and desire I felt for him. My only reminders of our depraved relationship were presented to me by a familiar ringtone and number that often lit up the screen of my Blackberry. Pushing ignore, and any thoughts of him aside, I would quickly turn my attention back to Edward, assuring him it was nothing...or no one of importance.
I finally felt that connection between us again, the spark, that something special that made me fall for him in the first place. Today was just the day that I needed to clear my head, to make a decision to finally put everything behind me and focus on Edward and the bond that we shared. I had been acting foolish and ridiculous, thinking that I could handle seeing two men at the same time. I knew it wasn't possible, that eventually one of them would have to go. Today had made me realize which of the two it had to be.
That night, as I laid my head down on my pillow, hearing the water for Edward's shower running steadily from down the hallway, I reflected over the events of the day and the laughs Edward and I shared. I let myself cry for everything that I had done to him, to us and our relationship. I let myself cry for Jacob and everything that we could have been had we met under different circumstances. Finally, I let myself cry for the secret I knew I would forever keep, the guilt I'd have to learn to live with to protect the man that I love. I fell asleep before Edward returned, dreaming of museums and cherry trees, of a wedding dress and a groom...a groom that looked nothing like the man I was supposed to be marrying, but rather, a different dark haired, dark skinned Native American waited for me at the end of the rose petal covered aisle.
The next morning, I woke with a start, sitting straight up from my pillow and glancing around the sun-painted room as though Jacob would still be there waiting for me. Realizing it was all a dream, I let out a slow breath before stretching my arms above my head and examining the jeans I still wore from yesterday. A silver bracelet now garnishing my once bare wrist caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. Lifting my hand up to examine the beautiful Pandora beads, a slow smile spread across my face as the person responsible for it came to my mind.
Shaking my head at my idiocy for falling asleep during our first romantic night in a long time, I was just about to climb out of bed when I noticed a large packet lying on Edward's pillow.
A note attached read: "To my future bride, you fell asleep before I had the chance to give you your gifts. Yesterday was the best day I've had in a long time. Thanks for making me smile. Love, E."
I reached for the large envelope labeled George Washington University, ripping it open and reading pamphlet after pamphlet of information. Finally, at the very back of the papers, hidden behind all of the information and majors that the university had to offer, sat an application. Edward had already started it for me, filling in some of the blanks, letting me know that he supported me and my decision.
It was the best present ever given...and a lot more than I deserved.
End Note: Hey, guess what? I'm an Occupational Therapist now! Yep, that's right, I help out little kiddos in local school districts.
God help them, right?
Anyway, it keeps me busy so I apologize for delays in updates.
Special thanks to my ficwife, my hubby is no edward, who has been sickly for like months now.
Seriously, she needs to get rid of that shit so she can spend more time with me. I'm not selfish, I swear.
Also, thanks to Jkane180 for her beta skillz with a "z."
Finally, if you haven't heard already, I'm part of a new wolf pack fic rec site.
Come pay us a visit: www[DOT]phasefics[DOT]com.