I know; I suck at updating. Thanks and stuff at the end.
Disclaimer: SM still owns all things Twi and anything else recognizable is not mine either, the ramblings however are, as are the mistakes, let's keep it that way.
"Remind me again."
He took my hands in his and gave them a gentle squeeze before he looked straight into my eyes and said, "It'll get easier, Bella. I promise."
Edward's words rang true. It did get easier. Sure, not at first. I had been staying with Edward for six weeks, and there were still nights where I woke up in a cold sweat with tears streaming down my face. But each time it happened, he was there, tissue in hand, to help me through it. Soon the nightmares of losing everything—Paul, my daughter, a chance at happily ever after—were being replaced with imagery that did not incite fear and sadness but hunger and excitement. I felt like a teenager again, trying to stifle my moans for fear that the coppered-haired boy—scratch that—man, for he was certainly no longer a boy, would overhear me.
Countless nights, I'd had visions of our limbs tangled in the sheets, covered in sweat as our chests heaved from the exertion. I saw his dazzling green eyes staring up at me as he nestled himself between my legs. There were the nights when all I would get were flashes of Edward calling out my name in a breathy whisper. Those were the nights that haunted me most because it almost felt real, reminding me of that night all those years ago when I allowed myself to hope for something more.
I chalked these fantasies up to just that—wild dreams brought about by late second trimester hormones run amok. I was, however, having difficulty rationalizing my waking dreams: Edward holding a little girl in his lap, singing a sweet lullaby; Edward kissing her tiny nose as she lay asleep in her crib; Edward with tears of joy in his eyes as she said her first word – "Dada." The longing I felt in my chest each time I realized that this was a reality that would never come to fruition cut me to the core. Why couldn't it have been him? It should have been him.
The sound of the kitchen cabinets opening and closing startled me out of my thoughts. I heard a loud "Fuck," followed by the cabinet door slamming. I walked as swiftly as my protruding belly would allow and found Edward leaning his hands on the kitchen counter, with flour covering the front of his shirt. His eyes shot up to look at me, as the floor creaked.
"Bella, what are you doing out of bed? I was just about to bring you breakfast." He spoke tenderly as he approached me.
"Edward, how many times do I have to tell you? I'm not an invalid. Dr. Laurent said it's a good idea for me to get up and walk around a few minutes every day. Besides, I was getting bored, and this little one…" I pointed to my belly "…was kicking up a storm."
His eyes darted down to my belly, and I could have sworn I saw the briefest flicker of sadness cross his face.
"No buts. Now what are you making? It looks like a tornado made its way through here." I surveyed the room and noted in addition to the flour, that there were egg shells and grated cheese littered across the counter.
"Well…I was planning on making some pancakes and a cheese omelet with some bacon, but I couldn't find any baking powder. And then, I had a little mishap with the hand mixer. I was just—" As I watched him talking animatedly about his ordeal, I burst into a fit of giggles.
His face grew serious and he started to pout, giving me a pointed look. "It's not funny."
"I'm sorry, but it kind of is. Why don't you go and get cleaned up and I'll sort this out? You're on call today, right?"
He sighed, before responding, "I'm supposed to be taking care of you, you know? You've got a point though; I've got to be to the hospital in an hour."
"In that case, you better get a move on." I shooed him out of the kitchen and set about cleaning up the war zone. Half an hour later, I was setting down some plates of chocolate chip pancakes, spinach and feta omelets, and enough bacon to feed at least ten people. Edward sauntered into the dining room just as I was pouring myself a cup of orange juice.
"Bella, this looks amazing. Thank you." He took the seat opposite me and quickly loaded his plate with some of everything. We ate in companionable silence. In the days directly following my release from the hospital, something as simple as eating breakfast with him had been excruciatingly awkward. I wasn't used to being waited on. Renee hadn't been much of a caregiver; she was always too wrapped up in one harebrained hobby or another to put forth the effort for things like family meals. I'd become self-reliant fairly quickly, so having Edward constantly hovering was jarring and made things rather tense for a while.
My sadness and anger over the Paul situation came out at the most inopportune times, and I found myself apologizing more times than not. He was always gracious about it, telling me that he understood. It only served to make me feel worse. Soon, we found a happy medium. I'd just have to give him a look and he'd know to back off. Once we'd stopped walking on eggshells around one another, it was great. Day by day, I could feel the weight on my chest lifting a little bit more.
Unfortunately, I should have known things were getting to be too good to be true. As Edward got up to take the dirty breakfast plates into the kitchen, he called over his shoulder. "Oh, I forgot to mention, you got a letter this morning. I placed it on the table by the front door."
A letter? Who would be writing me? Alice and Esme had just been by the day before. I'd spoken to Jake a few days ago. Renee was more of an email person than a snail mail one. I walked over to the front door hesitantly. When I picked up the letter, I knew I was right to be wary. My fingers shook as they traced the lettering on the envelope. Even though it only had my name on it, I knew deep down that whatever was in it could not be good.
"Did you find it?" I felt his breath on my neck, and my body shuddered involuntarily. His proximity always startled me, but I couldn't deny that I craved it. At times it felt as if I was gravitating toward him. "Who's it from?"
"Don't know. I'll look at it later." I placed it back onto the pile and turned to face him. My breathing hitched as I took in the sight of him. His scrub pants hung low on his hips; his hair was perfectly tousled, giving off the impression that he had just rolled out of bed; his eyes sparkled and his tongue darted out briefly to moisten his lips.
He reached around me and grabbed his keys off the table. "I'd better get going before I'm late. I should be back around three. I'll call you later to see what you'd like me to pick up for dinner. Try to get some rest, and don't worry about the dishes; I'll do them later."
Before I could protest, he placed a kiss on my temple and headed out the door. The skin where his lips had been began to tingle. Gradually, he had started to show more affection: holding my hand as we watched a movie, brushing the hair out of my eyes, giving me a goodbye kiss when he left—but never on the lips. No, he was careful to avoid coming anywhere near my lips. These gestures combined with my dreams had me experiencing whiplash.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed all thoughts of a future with Edward from my mind. I was going back to Seattle in a week; it was not the time to think about something that wasn't in the realm of possibilities. Edward was doing his duty as a good friend, and soon I'd be back home and out of his hair.
In the spirit of moving on, I picked up the envelope and made my way to the living room. Taking a seat on the couch, I steeled myself for whatever I would find contained within.
"We need to talk."
I stared at the cursive lettering for over an hour. When I'd opened the envelope and had immediately recognized the familiar scribble, I wanted to rip the paper into a million tiny pieces just as the author had done to my heart. However, with time comes wisdom and also the ability to look at a painful situation more logically—with my emotions no longer running on high. No, I had not forgiven them, nor did I think I could, but a small part of me remembered the good times—the happy memories before life decided to give me a two fingered salute. But by the time I had finished, one thing became abundantly clear. While I wasn't sure about a lot of things, I knew with absolute certainty that the one woman pity party had to end.
I took a deep breath and after the fifth try, I had succeeded in willing myself to dial the number at the bottom of the note. The connection finally picked up, and before so much as a hello could be uttered, I blurted, "One hour. That's all I can give you."
After I'd hung up the phone, I began to freak out. Was this really a good idea? Could I sit here and listen to one lame excuse after another? A series of kicks coming from my belly reminded me why I was doing this. In just a few months' time, I'd be holding my little girl. She deserved a mother who wasn't filled with hatred; I needed to make an effort to get past my betrayal sooner rather than later.
Forty-five minutes later, there was a timid knock on the door. I pushed myself up off the couch and made my way to answer it. Swinging the door open wide, I was confronted with a worried looking Leah. Her eyes shifted from left to right, and her hands had a slight shake to them.
"Bella, thank you—" I raised my hand to cut off her off.
"Why don't you step inside? I'd rather not do this on the porch." I gestured for her to go into the living room.
Once she was seated, her edginess only seemed to escalate. Her leg bounced up and down, and she ran her fingers through her long dark hair. I was conflicted. Part of me was extremely pleased that she was uncomfortable. I mean, she was just as much to blame as Paul was. However, there was part of me that didn't like to see her so…afraid.
"Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Tea?" I broke the silence, trying to put her at ease slightly.
"Coffee would be good. Thank you." Her voice came out soft, and she seemed very unlike her usual confident self.
"It'll just be a second."
I went into the kitchen and leaned against the counter, taking several calming breaths. I knew when I walked back into that room there'd be no going back. Who knows what it was that was on Leah's mind? What I did know was that at least part of it was probably something that would make me want to yell or cry or both.
"We can do this," I whispered as I placed both hands onto my belly. "Mommy would do anything for you. No tears, right? Just listen, that's all I have to do. No guarantees."
I grabbed two mugs and filled one with the coffee Leah had requested and made chamomile tea in the other. The mugs were placed on a tray along with some milk and sugar and a variety of crackers. I figured having something to chew on would limit my enraged outbursts.
When I returned to the living room, Leah was still in a state of agitation. I took my seat on the chair opposite her perch on the couch and took one last cleansing breath.
She stilled her motions and lifted her eyes to meet mine. She searched them momentarily before she began to speak.
"Bella, I'm so sorry—"
"The time for sorry has passed. Matter of fact, sorry should have never even been necessary. Leah, how could you? After everything with Emily…I would have thought…Never mind any of that. Was this why you wanted to meet? If so, you've wasted both of our times." So much for keeping control of my anger.
She seemed taken aback by my sudden reaction. "No, that's not all. I was…I was actually hoping to talk about the baby." Her eyes shifted from mine to gaze at my belly, which I was covering with both of my hands protectively.
I was floored.I was not expecting that one. What right…
"My baby is none of your concern," I seethed.
"You're right. But Paul is that baby's father. I just think that cutting him out of her life is not like you. You know his history with his father. I would think—"
"Let me stop you right there because you summed everything up pretty well. You didn't think. Instead you went behind my back and fucked the man who I was supposed to marry. So don't lecture me on what is and isn't like me. I'd much rather my daughter not know what it feels like to trust someone only to have them stomp on your heart. God, I mean…What the fuck, Leah?" I could feel angry tears pricking my eyes, but I pushed them back. I would not give her that power.
"I know it's going to seem like a load of bull but even though I knew what we were doing was wrong, I couldn't stop it. At first, it was all about the sex."
I cringed as she began to recall the details of their affair, and it didn't escape her notice.
"I'm sorry. After that first time, I tried to stay away from him, really, I did. I'd look in the mirror every morning and hate myself for what I'd done. You mentioned Emily and how things had gone down with Sam. Well, that was constantly on my mind. How could I do to you what had broken my world apart?
"When I asked Sam why he had cheated and he told me it was as if he and Emily were meant for one another, I screamed every dirty word in the book at him. I couldn't believe he was chalking his affair up to it being about 'destiny' and 'soul mates.' But I think part of the reason I was so angry was because I couldn't understand what he was talking about. I loved Sam without a doubt, but the way he described how his world revolved around Emily, and how it was as if there was an invisible string constantly connecting them—I'd never felt that. I never felt like I couldn't breathe without him around. At least, not until Paul.
"I hated myself, but even more than that, I hated him. I hated him for making me see what I was missing. The night of the accident, he called me to end things..."
Understanding clouded my face as the missing pieces started to fill in. I had always wondered why Paul was out on the road that night. Obviously, he had gone to meet Leah. I was biting my tongue as she talked and I could tell she was far from done, so I let her continue.
"I had never admitted to him how I felt. I couldn't take being in love with someone who didn't love me back—not again. And I know it was selfish of me, but when he met me, I didn't wait for him to tell me that we were over—I suddenly needed him to know the depth of my feelings—so I blurted out that I was falling in love with him, and that I wanted more. I pleaded with him to pick me. In that instant, I became everything I abhorred most in the world. I used every dirty trick in the book to get him to reconsider. He told me he had an obligation to you and the baby, but I could tell he was considering what I had requested. After he promised to think it over, he left and we both know what happened next.
"Seeing him there in that bed was devastating, but it was worse to watch you crying and fighting so vehemently for someone to save him, knowing what I'd done. Then he said my name, and you started to get suspicious. I never wanted to you to find out like that."
I found it difficult to remain silent.
"How would you have rather I learned that my step-sister was screwing my fiancé? Maybe a nice note taped to the fridge: 'Hey, hun. I'm off to work then I'm going to fuck Leah in the back office. Oh, we're out of milk by the way – Paul.' Yeah, that would have been so much better. If you couldn't believe Sam when he said Emily was his soul mate, how do you expect me to believe this?"
I was growing tired of this conversation, and I really wished she'd get it all out so she could be on her way.
"Just think about it. Haven't you ever felt so overcome with happiness for someone? Like everything you did was to get to see a smile on their face? Felt as if something was missing until they were around and you suddenly felt whole? Well, that's how I feel when I'm with Paul. And that's why I'm here. I see how he's suffering over the pain we've caused you. He's beside himself thinking about your promise to block him from your daughter's life. He loves that little girl, and he really did love you. All I'm asking is that you think about this some more. Give him a chance to prove he can be a good father. He and I both know you'll probably never forgive us, and we've accepted that. I'll also understand if a condition for him being able to spend time with her is that I need to stay away while he's with her. We'll do whatever we can to make this as easy on you as possible."
I was just about to tell her to get lost when I heard the front door open. Edward entered the living room, calling out, "Bella, things were slow, so they let me go early. You weren't answering your phone, so I figured we—" He stopped mid-sentence when he caught sight of Leah and I seated there. He shuffled on his feet, his eyes darting between us. He raised his eyebrows questionably. I shook my head ever so slightly, signaling that he didn't need to worry. He smiled and excused himself.
My gaze followed him as he ascended the stairs. My breathing caught in my throat, and my heart raced. I felt a tugging deep inside me. That's when it hit me. Everything Leah had been describing was how I felt for Edward. It was never like that with Paul—that feeling of being incomplete if he wasn't around, I only began noticing it when Edward had come back into my life.
"I get it." By no means did I forgive how things went down, but I could see why they might have happened. If Edward had appeared sooner, would I have been the one who lied and cheated? I'd like to think I would have had more sense than to do that, but there was no way for me to deny that there was something between us, no matter how one-sided it might be.
"You do?" she asked in disbelief, but with an optimistic tone to her voice.
"Yes. But I can't forgive you—either of you. What you did was possibly one of the most hurtful things I've ever experienced. We were going to get married! I'm having a baby for Christ's sake. I know this is not all your fault. Trust me, Paul should have known better. He was the one who made those promises to me, not you. But, Leah, we're family now. Sure, not by blood, but my dad and your mom have chosen to be together so that connects us. If I let Paul into this baby's life, knowing what he's capable of, and he hurts her…I could never forgive myself. But I also shouldn't have let my anger over what you've done cause me to make those threats.
"You mentioned what Paul went through, not growing up with his dad around, well…I can relate. My mother taking and keeping me away from Charlie was one of the most selfish things she's ever done. A part of me has always resented her for that—even more so when she dumped me to start a new life that had no room for a teenage daughter.
"The thing is, comparing Charlie to Paul is like saying apples and oranges are the same just because they're fruits. It takes a whole lot more than DNA to make you a dad."
She nodded along as I spoke, not daring to interrupt as I tried to work this all out in my head. I wanted to be able to agree to what she was asking—to let Paul try—but I couldn't bring myself to give in.
"Why does this have to be so complicated?" I spoke more to myself than to her. "When did I become the bad guy in all of this?"
"Bella, no one thinks you're the bad guy. What we did was reprehensible without a doubt. All I'm asking is that you consider it," she said, trying to capture my gaze again.
Sincerity was clearly displayed in her eyes. Sighing, I responded, "I need some time. This is all too much to take in. You have my number; tell Paul to call me in a week. I'm not ready to see him face to face, nor can I make any promises, but I'm willing to hear him out."
"Thank you!" Leah leaped off the couch and looked as if she were about to hug me, but stepped back after she thought better of it. "I'd better go; I've taken up enough of your time already."
I nodded and stood to walk her to the door. She waved as she made her way over to her car, a smile spread across her face. I watched her drive off before stepping into the house. What I had said to Leah was true—I hadn't forgiven them, and I didn't know how I would ever be able to, but I somehow hated them just a little bit less.
I heard footsteps on the stairs and turned to see Edward coming down them, running a towel through his damp hair. He had obviously just taken a shower, and he had changed his clothing. He was now wearing a pair of button fly jeans and a black v-neck t-shirt. When he caught sight of me standing by the door, he dropped the towel on the banister and made his way over to me.
"Is everything all right?" His voice was tender as he held my gaze. He cupped my face in his hands, the tips of his fingers stroking gently along my cheeks. I searched his green eyes for my answer. My breathing stuttered and the electricity I had felt the second I saw him on the stairs grew exponentially. At that moment, I knew—he was the one, and nothing else mattered.
I spoke in just above a whisper, keeping my eyes trained on his. "No. But it will be."
Major thanks as always to my beta, Katie, for ensuring that what I write makes sense, and for pushing me to explain myself further when I come up short.
Thanks to everyone who still bothers to read this, even when it takes me half a year to update. It was certainly not my intention for there to be such a huge gap, but life has a way of setting its own schedule.
I'm halfway through with midterms, and I've already started the next chapter, so hopefully it will only be a couple of weeks before we see where this is going.
Feel free to hit the review button and share your thoughts. Or if you want, tell me I suck.