Whew, this story has been a long time in the works, and it wouldn't have even made it this far without a few people.
First, our AMAZING betas Maylin and AzureEyed1. You ladies rock the red-pen, give thoughtful and thorough concrit, and also make us laugh. We love you. Hard.
Second- Big love and HUGE THANKS needs to be sent out to Aruni, who read the outline for us, and gave the thumbs up on some big issues later in the story. We can't thank you enough Aruni- this story wouldn't have worked without your help.
Much love to the Ravitches in UUtopia- the best ladies we know in all of the fandom. You're all hilarious, and supportive- always. Additional thanks goes out to lambcullen for the whole talking-TwirlGrrl-down-from-the-ledge-thing occasionally. MWAH.
Playlist? "Shadows and Regrets" by Yellowcard sets the tone for this story.
We hope you enjoy our story
Slutch32 and TwirlGrrl
Rated M for language and future, well, you know. If you're not old enough to buy mature rated materials, you shouldn't be reading this (and your parent's should install Net Nanny.) Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight, obviously.
Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight, obviously.
I pulled the truck into the reserved parking spot and shut it off. I stared at the short staircase leading to the front of our townhouse.
1, 2, 3, .... 8 steps. That's all? Fuck. It might as well be Mt. Rainier I'm so damned tired.
I gripped the steering wheel and leaned my forehead onto the back of my hands.
Maybe I'm anemic, or maybe it's Mono again. But my throat doesn't hurt, just my damn head. All I have to do is get out of the truck, walk up the stairs, take some Motrin and then I can sleep...
My head snapped up. "Whoa."
I shook my head a few times and scrubbed my face with my hands; I'd almost fallen asleep in the truck. In the middle of the day. In front of my house with only eight steps to the front door. I blinked hard a few more times before finally climbing out of the truck.
I dragged my tired body up the eight steps to the door of the townhouse that I shared with Rosalie and Alice. Alice and I were best friends, in fact, we were more like sisters. We'd grown up together in our hometown of Forks. Forks was the hometown of my parents Renee and Charlie, but we'd moved away after my parents were married. Mom died of breast cancer when I was five, and so my Dad, Charlie, moved us back to Forks where my Nana could help raise me. When Nana died, I was thirteen so Alice's mom took over the role of looking after me when Charlie was working or fishing. Which is one of the reasons that Alice is like a sister to me. In fact, almost all of the Cullens are like family to me. Almost.
Rosalie is an ex-model who decided she preferred the other side of the camera. She is probably the best photographer in the state of Washington and well-known throughout the industry; she's also tough as nails and takes absolutely no bullshit. Which is how Alice met Rosalie. Alice studied fashion design and took a job straight out of college working as an assistant for a Seattle based designer. With Alice's help he'd had a few successes and it had gone to his head. At this one shoot in particular, he was being a prima-donna to the extreme, trying to prove that his shit didn't stink.
Alice had the models dressed and accessorized for the layouts but he kept changing things and demanding re-shoots. Rosalie finally asked him how long Alice had been working for him; it had been nearly two years at the time. Rosalie bluntly pointed out that it had only been during those two years that any of his work had been recognized and while he was fairly good at designing a pair of leggings or a pencil skirt it was Alice who really knew how to make his shit work. So he should sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, and let Alice do the fucking job that she should be doing with her own line.
He sat the fuck down, shut the fuck up, they finished the shoot and the fall line rocked. Rosalie and Alice went for drinks and Alice quit the following week; he hasn't shown on a major runway since. Alice, on the other hand, is a very successful personal shopper and is getting closer every day to launching her own line. She had lots of samples, designs, concepts and has even sold some original pieces, but according to Alice, she hasn't found her signature yet.
Three months after that photo shoot the three of us were fast friends and the lease was up on Rose's townhouse which she had previously shared with her ex-drug-addict boyfriend. He'd moved on to rehab, and then on from rehab to the same old lifestyle. Fortunately for Rose, his family was wealthy, and when he'd first gone into rehab they'd paid off the rest of the year-long lease on their three-bedroom townhouse. When time was up and she couldn't cover it on her own, Alice and I moved in... It had been a significant step up from our shoddy two-bedroom apartment.
It was a very comfortable townhouse with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an average kitchen, dining, living room, and walk-out patio on the main floor. The lower level we'd broken into three studios; Rosalie had a dark room, Alice a design studio, and I took the remaining unfinished space to use as an art studio of sorts. I painted and played with some pottery but only recreationally and I hadn't touched it in months.
Alice has two brothers, Emmett and Edward. Emmett lives here in Seattle, and first met Rosalie when he was helping Alice and I move in three years ago. Where Alice was like my sister, Emmett was like my brother, and I couldn't have been happier when he and Rosalie announced that they were getting married. The wedding is now less than a month away, and I should be focused on the joy of the occasion, right? And I am, for the most part anyway.
Unfortunately there is this other matter that has always been a bit of an enigma in my life, and that is the fifth member of the Cullen family- Edward Cullen. It should really be an expected and incidental detail that the brother of the groom would be coming home from Chicago for the wedding. But Edward Cullen has always held a larger place in my world than he really should. He's Alice's older brother, and I've known him almost my whole life too, and the rest of his family is like family to me, but Edward is, well, different.
I haven't spent any substantial amount of time with him in almost ten years; not since the summer before my senior year in high school, to be precise. After that year he went to College, where he pretty much stayed, so our interaction was limited to holidays, vacations, and one weekend when Alice and I went to Chicago to visit and celebrate her twenty-first birthday. So the fact that this man, who should have been like a brother to me, is coming home to attend the wedding of one of my best friends and almost-brother should be incidental, but it's not. In fact, it damn near eclipses the whole wedding extravaganza entirely. Because Edward Cullen has never been like a brother to me; in fact, he has been anything but brotherly.
Edward has been my nemesis, hero, enemy, first crush, rival, protector, first heartbreak, fantasy and even, occasionally, my friend. But brotherly? Never. Enigma? Absolutely. For most of our years growing up we fought like cats and dogs. If I said red, he said blue, literally. Red was my favorite color and blue his, so when it came time to paint the tree house, it was World War III. Alice wanted pink, and Emmett said orange; ultimately Esme said it was a tree house so it should be green. Green it was.
As we got older, it just got worse. He grew into this tall, confidant, lean, strong, and beautiful man; he was athletic and charming, intelligent and charismatic. I just became more awkward, clumsy, shy, average and hormonal. He teased, I yelled; then usually, once alone, I cried, because unfortunately I usually cry when I get mad, and he could make me madder than anyone. I haven't actually counted but I'm pretty sure that I've cried more tears over Edward Cullen than any other person in my life, other than my mom and Nana. In fact, you could probably add up all the other boys or men that I've cried over and it still wouldn't come close to the tears I've shed over Edward. So, yes, Edward Cullen is a bit of a factor in my life, especially when you consider the fact that we've never dated or even kissed, well except for that one time, but that didn't really count because he was just so out of line.
What makes things so much worse is that we're both standing up in the wedding along with Alice and Garrett, both of whom will be attending with their significant others, unlike Edward and me, so of course, we've been seated together. The bachelor and bachelorette party has turned into a group retreat; a gift from Carlisle and Esme to all of us. So, I'm about to be spending a hell of a lot of time with Edward and I'm more than a little nervous about it.
Now that the wedding was less than a month away, and Alice and I were bridesmaids, or as Rosalie put it, both of us were her Maids of Honor. We were supposed to share the role, however that worked. I guess Rose didn't want to hurt either of our feelings, but I really wish she hadn't been so afraid. Carrying the title, or half of it anyway, meant a shit-load of work. Alice thrived on the planning and the details; hell she was better at it than the bride. Whereas I was just really fucking tired of it all. Don't get me wrong, I was really excited for them. But what I really wanted was a long ass nap and to not wake up until it was all over and preferably after Edward went back to Chicago, because I really didn't have the energy to deal with his visit.
I had started searching for the right key on my key ring, once again cursing myself for carrying too many unnecessary keys on the one ring when I heard Alice chattering away to someone on the other side of the door.
Alice being home right now meant my plan for Motrin, peace and quiet, and a nap was completely shot to hell. I sighed heavily, gave up searching for the key, knocked, and propped my tired body against the door frame while I waited for her to open the door. It was strange for Alice to be home like this in the middle of the day; she was juggling so many clients at any given time that she was usually gone during business hours running from store to store sifting through the newest arrivals for her many ridiculously coddled clients.
I heard Alice approach the door and knew she was peeking out the peephole. I shoved myself off the door frame and forced a smile and quick wave at my best friend. Alice threw the lock open and opened the door, mouthing "Esme" as she pointed at the phone.
We still had the habit of referring to adults by their first names behind their backs. It was something Alice and I started when we were teenagers and trying to rebel against authority in ways that wouldn't actually cause trouble. At the time Edward and Emmett teased us and called us immature, but now as adults we all did it, unless, of course we were actually speaking to them; then they all got the respectful title they deserved.
I offered a quick nod and waved at the phone before I dropped my messenger bag by the door, shrugged out of my jacket, tossed it on a dining room chair and stomped off in the direction of the cabinet where the Motrin was kept. I got a glass of water, tossed back the three pills, and while I was wetting a washcloth I considered the other flight of stairs currently standing between me and my bedroom.
A piece of Alice's conversation grabbed my attention. "No, I just stopped home to change. I'm heading right back out."
Decision made. If she was leaving; I would get the quiet I desperately needed. As Alice finished telling her mom about the asshole that ran her over by the salad bar I shuffled over to the couch to lay down with the washcloth over my eyes.
Alice continued the conversation as she flitted about the apartment. I felt a passing moment of guilt as I heard her pick up my keys and jingle them at me before hanging them on the hook by the door. Then I heard her lift my messenger back and deposit it on the bench near the stairs. She sighed irritably as she recapped the Motrin and shut the cabinet door with a bit too much force. Finally I heard the gentle squeak of the closet door and fabric rustling as I was now sure she was hanging up my jacket. Yep, I suck.
Alice was talented. She was able to communicate her irritation with me and send non-verbal waves of guilt even though I had my eyes covered with a washcloth and couldn't even see her body language, all the while never missing a beat in her conversation with Esme.
"…oh my God, Mom that's horrible. No, I don't blame you at all, that's just shoddy workmanship…Well, have you found another contractor?...oh…oh no…he was already so far behind, it probably wasn't going to be finished before the wedding anyway, don't you think?…Well at least it's just the rehearsal dinner and not the wedding that has to be moved. …Mom, you know they won't mind. The hotel will be fine…yeah, you and Dad should stay there too during the wedding, it would be so much less stressful…uh huh…pretty much…yeah, all of her furniture is still here, but she's been staying at Emmett's for a couple of months now. Uh huh… Um…I don't know mom, isn't there any - What?!...Mom! Well gee, thanks for asking first…alright, I guess…okay…Yeah, I know. Oh! Oh, of course… Umm…well, Bella just got in actually, so let me talk to her about it; she says hi by the way. Mom says hi Bella, and to remind you about the fitting for the dresses on Friday at 2:00…uh huh. No, I haven't. I know, I will…soon…I'll let you know…yes Mom, I know. Okay, love you too. Bye."
I held up a hand to indicate that I'd heard her. Alice clicked off the phone and I heard her flop down in the armchair. She sat quietly before breaking the silence with an exaggerated sigh. "You look like shit."
I nodded slowly and groaned out a sarcastic "Thanks".
"Another headache?" I practically heard her roll her eyes.
I nodded again but didn't say anything as I was too tired to speak.
"Well, when you're feeling better, I need to talk to you about a couple of things."
Here it comes. I knew that Alice was frustrated with me lately. It was just equally hard to care when I'd been feeling so shitty. "Is it important?"
"No, it can wait a bit, but we should talk soon, okay?"
"Sure, just not right now. My head is fucking killing me."
"Okay. How did the interview go?"
I waved my hand indifferently to tell her I didn't want to talk about it. I'd spent the morning interviewing an up and coming band from Seattle that had just signed a major deal with a label. I'm a freelance journalist and author, currently struggling with serious writer's block and a publisher who's pushing really hard for some advance chapters on a second book that's on contract. The interview I'd had that morning was the type of work that I usually got pretty worked up about, but lately I'd been struggling to feel any kind of enthusiasm at all about my writing or life in general.
"Did you remember to pay the cable bill?"
I groaned, "Fuck, what the hell is wrong with me?"
"Bella, you need to get a planner or something, you'd forget your head if it wasn't attached. Seriously, I only asked you to take care of that one little bill. If we don't pay it today they are going to shut off the cable. Then what would you do with yourself?"
I didn't answer; I didn't have the energy for another argument about my choice of entertainment or lack of motivation, or lack of a life of any sort for that matter. Of course, she wasn't done. Once Alice's ball-of-things-you-were-supposed-to-get-done-today gets rolling, it doesn't stop. She says I need a planner, and maybe I do, but she doesn't. She always knows everything she needs to get done, and everything everyone else is supposed to get done too. So I knew what was coming next and was already regretting my decision not to tackle the flight of stairs to my bedroom, even if there were more than eight steps.
Next on Alice's list of things for Bella to get done today: The retreat.
"Did you call everyone on the guestlist for the retreat?"
"No, but I will."
"Damnit Bella, how is Esme supposed to book something without knowing how many people are coming? How am I supposed to plan activities without knowing where we're going?
And just like that a sob burst through. I don't know if it was from the pain in my head or frustration. But all of a sudden I was so overwhelmed and felt awful for dropping the ball on everything. My head hurt, my nose was running, and I was crying like a little baby. I sat up and swung my feet to the floor. I dropped my face to my hands and held the washcloth over my forehead.
"Fuck Alice, I'm sorry, I know I promised. I just can't keep track of everything. I had the interview - and the book - and I'm so tired. I'm sorry. I'll figure it out. I promise I will. I just really need to go to sleep right now. Please. I'll figure something out." I was sobbing and sniffling like I'd just run over my favorite puppy.
I felt the sofa shift next to me as Alice sat down and started rubbing my shoulder. "I'm sorry Bella. I think I've had too much caffeine today, I shouldn't have jumped all over you. I know you aren't feeling well."
Alice sighed and looked at her watch. "Well I've gotta drop off a couple of things to a client. If I hurry, I might be able to pay the cable bill on my way home."
I groaned, then sniffled, feeling like shit that Alice had to pick up my slack, again. "No Alice, I'll take care of it."
Alice shook her head. "Don't worry about it; it's no problem. You look like you really need to crash."
I nodded while I wiped my face. "Yeah, you're right. If you think you can make it then thanks."
She hopped up from the couch, motivated to go solve at least one of our mini-crises. "Listen Bella, when I was talking to Esme just now, um something's come up..."
I had dropped my hands holding the washcloth and took a deep breath, exhaling it with a gust of air. I felt like I was about to start bawling again, so I must have looked like it too. Whatever it was she saw when she looked at me she suddenly stopped talking with a look of surprised concern on her face.
Whatever caused her to pause, I jumped on the opportunity. "Alice, I'm begging you, please let's finish this later. My head is seriously about to fucking explode."
She nodded with a frown on her face. She reached out and put her palm against my forehead in the motherly way that one checks for a fever. She actually whispered. "Okay, get some rest, and we'll talk tonight."
"Thanks Alice, you're a saint. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here to save my ass all the time." With those words I lay back on the couch and replaced the washcloth over my eyes, effectively ending the conversation.
I heard Alice close the blinds on the window and then quietly slipped out of the apartment. I'm sure I was asleep before Alice reached the parking lot.
I frowned to myself as I made my way down to the car. About three minutes ago I was about to blow my lid. I came home after lunch to change and found her wet towel on the bathroom floor, her dishes in the kitchen sink, and she even left the TV on when she'd left this morning. It was like living with a damned thirteen year old.
I was just finishing cleaning up her morning mess when my mom called and Bella walked in minutes later. She literally dropped everything where she was standing. She left a trail of her shit through the house and didn't even bother to put the cap on the bottle of Motrin. So, of course, I cleaned up after her because I couldn't stand to look at it all.
I was ready to lose it. Bella just didn't seem to care about anything anymore. We were all doing our part to make this party happen and she hadn't done anything. Nothing! I knew she wasn't writing much lately, so I couldn't begin to understand what she was doing with herself. When she told me she hadn't paid the cable bill I was ready to blow.
But then she fell apart. I mean, she didn't yell and shout and get defensive. She was crying and sobbing like I was scolding a child; I felt bad for her. That still didn't prepare me for what she looked like when she dropped the washcloth.
When I saw her eyes it scared me. She looked really sick. Her eyes were sunken with deep dark circles around them. And they were really bloodshot. Plus she was perspiring, but when I felt her forehead she didn't seem warm at all, she felt clammy.
Instantly all of my anger and frustration was replaced with concern. Maybe there really was something wrong with her. Maybe I should call my Dad. But tell him what exactly?
That I thought something was wrong with Bella because she was so lazy? That she looked sick when she told me she had a migraine? Duh.
But it wasn't just what was going on with her today. It was getting nearly impossible to live with Bella. I love Bella like a sister, truly I do, and I'd always enjoyed living with Bella, but it was beyond difficult lately. I'm a total neat-freak and Bella was...less so, but she'd never been a complete slob like she'd turned into lately. Lately she dropped her belongings wherever she felt like, and was irritable whenever I tried to talk to her about it. In fact, lately Bella had become downright bitchy.
Was it just me? No definitely not. Something was definitely going on with Bella. She's never had migraines before that I remember. I thought back to the last couple of months. She'd been moody, irritable, slept all the time, had a lot of headaches. Maybe she was depressed, or... I suddenly remembered the couple of mornings that Bella had woken up and complained about being nauseous. She'd even skipped her morning coffee in favor of some crackers and water.
Holy fucking shit!
Wait. She couldn't be. But that would explain everything.
I groaned. "Alec; fucking Alec." Obviously he's the father. Damnit! Now she'll be stuck with him forever.
I was drumming my fingers on the steering wheel and my non-driving knee started bouncing rapidly. Oh man. This was really bad timing. Such shitty awful timing.
Well, I'd just pretend that I hadn't figured it out. If she wanted me to know, then she'd tell me. Okay, so maybe she was just really embarrassed. Maybe she wasn't going to keep it. Maybe she hasn't even realized it. I'd give her the chance to talk about it, and if she didn't want me to know...well I couldn't force her.
So I'd tell her that I'd decided to move in with Jasper. If she was pregnant, well she'd obviously tell me then, right? If she wasn't, or if she wasn't going to keep it, well, my plans wouldn't change anything. I'll just make sure to be there for her. But whatever happens I definitely couldn't put off telling her anymore. Jasper and I had been talking about it for nearly a year now and with Rosalie and Emmett getting married, it just made more sense to do it now, especially since the lease was up for renewal in mid-July. But, shit, this was a major curveball. I couldn't up and leave her right now if she actually was...
I wish I'd realized what was going on with her before I talked to Esme. Thanks to my earlier conversation with Esme, in less than a week, a house guest would be arriving and would be staying in Rosalie's room until at least after the wedding, and probably longer; she is going to kill me. He can't stay here. Not now. Not with this. But what do I say. No he can't stay here because I think Bella's pregnant even though she won't tell me. No. Bella tells me everything
Well, back to plan A. I give her a chance to tell me. If she does, then we'll figure it all out together. If not, well then, I guess he stays. I snorted when I thought about it. I mean, I couldn't help but laugh. Of all the people to shove in Bella's face right now. This was the worst.
"Fucking Edward. Oh My God."
Things are about to get very interesting.
Did you like the opening? Tell us if you did- we'd love you to review. We promise to reply.
First EPOV comes up next, and that will post tomorrow on October 30th.