A/N: I don't own Twilight.
The table was set with Renee's finest china and crystal glasses. Lit tapered candles were sitting on either side of the god awful cornucopia centerpiece she'd brought out of the attic every year. The thing was just ugly. There was no other word for it: wax fruit and plastic berries shoved in a wicker horn – horrendous.
I made a mental note to ask Phil if I could have it.
Was it morbid for me to already start making lists? Part of me thought so, but another part felt justified not wanting to forget anything, not wanting to allow these little insignificant things to vanish when – if - I lost my mom. I was still hopeful.
When I woke up this morning, I was wrapped in Edward's arms and didn't move for a few minutes. He stirred, squeezed me to his chest and kissed me behind my ear.
I told him it was going to be a really good day.
After we got up, showered, and dressed we drove to the store and bought apples so I could bake another pie.
Hours later we kicked Emmett's and Rose's asses in the Turkey Bowl. That might have had something to do with James being on our team and Edward carrying him over the invisible goal line for five consecutive touchdowns. James held onto the Nerf football in his mini-death grip, spiking it and dancing obnoxiously each time – no doubt something Emmett had taught him. The trophy Charlie and Sue picked up was proudly set in front of James' plate at the table.
Edward rested his arm along the back of my chair, idly twisting my hair in his fingers after we finished eating. James fell asleep in his chair; his head was lolled back, his mouth wide open, until Emmett scooped him up to lay him down on the couch in the other room. Sue and Renee were in a deep discussion about something – I wasn't really paying attention – and Charlie and Phil were on their second helpings of turkey. Rose handed Lily to me so she could bring out dessert but only after giving me a hard time about it.
Almost instinctively, I nuzzled my nose against Lily's pudgy cheek, inhaling her smell; only babies possessed that distinct scent that could make anyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside. She finally had a smattering of blonde peach fuzz on her head, and she'd grown… a lot. Her chubby legs and arms were covered in rolls of fat. And she was probably the most gorgeous baby I'd ever seen. Of course, I may have been a little biased.
I peeked up at Edward who was smiling at me contently. "Do you want to go to the lake this weekend?" he asked and then licked his thumb and wiped a small part of the side of my neck. "You didn't get all the dirt off from the game."
Out of my periphery, I could see Renee watching us. She had this very coy look on her face, and the two of us just started giggling. I knew by the way she was looking at me she was thinking about the conversation we'd had the night before about Edward and his, um, needs.
"What?" Edward asked, his forehead crinkling up.
My god he was adorable when he was confused.
"I'll tell you later," I said, still chuckling. "Can we leave tomorrow?"
"Sure." He nodded, looking back and forth between Renee and me.
As Edward took a sip of his wine I leaned toward him and whispered, "I was bragging about your skills last night."
Edward nearly choked, gulping and coughing at the same time, his face turning bright red.
"You okay there, Edward?" Charlie asked, clearly not having a clue what we were talking about.
Edward raised his hand, signaling he was fine while still coughing, and glared at me. He wasn't angry; he just gave me one of those 'You're in such deep shit when we get home tonight, I might have to spank you' looks. Okay, maybe that's not exactly what his expression said, but for some very strange reason that's where my mind went. I couldn't stop laughing as Emmett and Rose came back into the room.
"What'd I miss?" Em asked, helping Rose with the desserts and plates.
"Nothing," I replied and handed Lily back to Rose, feeling a little squicky about having random sex thoughts of Edward while holding my niece.
Emmett narrowed his eyes, looking between Edward and me. "Doesn't look like it was nothing, Belly."
"Em, seriously, you didn't miss anything." I insisted, still chuckling – he always hated not knowing exactly what was going on.
It wasn't that funny, but Edward's face was still red as he looked at me shaking his head.
I guess Emmett felt the need to make Edward feel comfortable... at my expense. Em was just odd like that or maybe it was because he still had a guy crush on Edward, or my brother was being the obnoxious, big lug he always was.
"I hope my sister hasn't fooled you into thinking she's all sweet and innocent, Edward, because she's far from it."
I rolled my eyes, Edward's enlarged. "Really, Em?"
"I just think he needs to know what he's getting himself into." Emmett winked at me.
"Are we doing this?" I asked. If we are, it's so on.
"What, um… what's going on?" Edward asked.
"Get comfortable, Edward," Charlie laughed as Rose and everyone else at the table nodded in agreement. "This could take a while."
"Has Belly ever told you why I call her that?" Emmett addressed Edward, sitting back in his chair, folding his massive arms across his equally massive chest.
"Ah, no, but I think I'm about to find out."
"She used to have a tattoo of the Backstreet Boys on her stomach. It was like a little Mount Rushmore boy band tribute right across her belly button." Emmett smiled, taunting me.
"Yeah, I did." I shrugged and looked at Edward. "But I had to have it lasered off because Emmett contracted Hepatitis C from a dirty needle. I donated part of my liver so he could survive. The scar was so unsightly – the incision went right across Howie's face."
"Oh, Bella!" Renee chided.
"Come on, Mom. You know that needle was left on her bedroom floor, and I stepped on it while vacuuming that one day." Emmett turned to Edward. "I always had to cover for her and do her chores because she was typically passed out. I didn't want Mom and Dad busting her," he explained, forcing a concerned expression.
"Em, such lies. You know that needle came from the crack lab you started in the basement," I retorted, looking at Edward who now had his elbow resting on the back of his chair. I think he was enjoying this. "He dealt at school. Dad, you know the Jeep he purchased was not bought with money from his part-time job at Dominos, right?" I stated, making air quotes.
Emmett leaned further back into his chair, rubbing his hands over his thighs and smirked. Shit. He had something good.
His face dropped as he looked at our parents, conjuring up the saddest expression possible. Double shit.
"Mom… Dad, it's true. I had to deal drugs in high school in order to pay for Belly's transgender surgery, remember? Edward, dude, she was once a guy."
I glared at Emmett as he waggled his eyebrows. Edward just started to laugh as did the rest of the table. My dad's feeble attempt to scold Emmett for his remark held no consequence since he was laughing too.
Crap, crap, crap. Think Bella.
"Ten seconds, Belly." Emmett announced, glancing at his watch. If one of us took longer than twenty seconds to answer the other was declared the winner.
"Five, four, three…"
Edward leaned over, whispered something in my ear, and then I shouted, "Emmett is selling his construction company and moving to Los Angeles so he can star in adult films made just for men!"
Emmett's shoulders dropped, and he stared at Edward. "Dude."
Everyone at the table was quiet after that, and Edward and I peeked at each other out of our periphery. Had we gone over the line? Crap, again.
Charlie cleared his throat, narrowing his eyes at Edward before turning toward Emmett. "Make me proud, son."
"Yes!" I cheered and high-fived Edward, throwing in a fist-pump or two for good measure. Not so surreptitiously, I slid James' trophy from across the table to sit in front of me.
"Cheat," Emmett said flatly, and I stuck out my tongue at him.
Not long after I crowned myself victor over the insult battle between Emmett and me – something we initially started when we were teenagers in order to deflect the blame for something we'd done to the other – Edward and I decided it was time to go home.
I squeezed my mom goodbye, and she thanked me for a memorable Thanksgiving. It wasn't just me, I knew this, and I also knew she'd say the same thing to my brother.
Emmett and I hadn't talked about our mom yet. We only acknowledged her situation by saying, "Later," to each other.
Edward went ahead to the car as Charlie wrapped his arm around my shoulder as he walked us out.
"You could have told me, Dad," I said quietly, looking toward the ground.
Charlie kissed the top of my head. "Your mom asked me not to, sweetheart. I hope you understand her reasons why. She didn't want to put anymore stress on you and Emmett. I'd probably do the same thing."
I shrugged and didn't say anything, not wanting to end on a sad note after such a wonderful day.
"I'm glad you found Edward; he's a good guy." I nodded in agreement. "Especially since he'll still date you even after knowing about your surgery."
"Dad!" I shoved Charlie and he chuckled. Charlie kissed my cheek and said goodbye then waved to Edward. "Take care of my little girl."
"I intend to." Edward opened the door for me, and I slid into the leather seat of his Porsche. I grinned, my stomach a little fluttery from their exchange.
We swung by my house and picked up a few things to pack for the lake and then went to his condo. After we went to bed, Edward mentioned he was curious about my 'former tattoo' and wanted to inspect the area. An hour later, he said he couldn't believe he'd just had sex with someone who used to be a guy.
I used his razor to shave my legs the next morning.
But then I told him.
We made the trip to Smith Mountain Lake in three and a half hours. Traffic wasn't bad, but we took our time and stopped off to pick up groceries. The house was spotless, but had a bit of a stale smell to it after not being occupied for a few weeks, so Edward opened the sliding glass door to the deck to let in some fresh air.
I loved coming down here. It was so quiet and serene. The backdrop was mostly deep green spotted with the orange, red, and yellow leaves that still clung to their branches.
The lake bore resemblance to a smoky blue circle of glass. Everything was just so… still.
Edward and I camped out on the deck under thick blankets and read most of the afternoon. He handed me The Pillars of the Earth and a Heineken when we first sat down while he had a copy of The Guns of August. At first I wasn't so sure if I was going to be at all interested in a novel set in the twelfth century let alone being intimidated by the size of it, but the next thing I knew I had become so engrossed in the story that I was holding up the book to the light emanating from inside the house because it had gotten too dark to read outside.
That night we went to Garrett's restaurant, Benjamin's, for dinner and because it was off season, the place was practically empty. Both Garrett and Ben sat with us while we ate. I really liked them.
Before Edward and I went to bed, I said, "I could get used to this."
"That offer is still on the table, Swan," Edward reminded me and leaned down to kiss me. He pulled back just a little, the tips of our noses barely touching, and whispered, "I told you… quit your job, and move in here with me."
For the first time, I actually thought about it.
I wasn't sure what woke me – I hadn't been dreaming. In fact, I couldn't remember when I'd last dreamed about anything. When I glanced at the clock, I saw that it was a little after three in the morning. I hated waking up in the middle of the night. It didn't matter if I could easily fall back asleep again or not, I still felt as if I'd been up all night anyway.
I rolled over to face Edward, bunching the comforter around my neck. He was sound asleep, lying on his back; one hand over his bare stomach and the other lying above his head. I watched him sleep, my eyes adjusting quickly to the dim light in the dark room thanks to the moon reflecting off the lake below.
It was as I looked at him - his lips barely parted, the small bump on the bridge of his nose, the few freckles scattered on his shoulder and feeling the warmth coming off him - that out of nowhere, I'd been thrown into one of those moments of complete and utter awareness. In that split second I realized he wasn't a dream or just my boyfriend or even the best part of my life.
He was all that, though.
It was that second when I realized he was more. He was part of me.
I'd never once doubted being in love with him, not once, but in that instant it became so much more real.
His fingers twitched then he flexed and constricted them, and I reached out to touch him. I lightly traced my fingers down his bicep, chills running down my spine even though his skin was so warm, and then he flattened his hand over his stomach.
Edward drew in a breath as I languidly moved my fingers down his forearm to his hand. I touched his chest, and it was… damp.
He was sweating.
With the back of my hand, I lightly touched his cheek, and then his forehead. He didn't feel so warm that he might have had a fever, yet his face felt clammy too. I thought about waking him, but if he was sick wouldn't it be best that I didn't? Or maybe I should so he could take a couple of acetaminophen just in case a fever was starting.
I didn't really know what to do, and when I moved my hand away from him, he sucked in a quick breath, and his eyes flew open.
Edward stared at the ceiling for a moment before raking his hands through his hair.
"Hey," I whispered, "are you okay?"
Lowering his arms, Edward turned his head toward me, frowning. "Did I wake you?"
"No, I thought I woke you. Are you feeling all right? You're sweating."
"Yeah, I just…" he turned away and scrubbed his hands over his face. "It's okay. Go back to sleep, baby."
Edward grimaced, squeezing his eyes shut, and I knew he was not okay.
Propping myself on my elbow, I asked, "You had a bad dream, didn't you?"
"No, no, I'm fine. Go back to sleep, babe." He smiled, which was the worst excuse for a genuine smile I'd ever seen, and then he reached up to kiss me.
"It's pretty obvious that it's not." I sat up and looked down at my hands, nervously picking at my nails. "This is why I asked you the other day if you'd ever lie to me."
Because I'm not going to let you avoid this – whatever it is that's going on inside your head.
Because you're so much more important to me than I thought possible.
I swallowed hard, my heart beating a little faster before looking back at him. He was just staring blankly at me, and maybe I shocked him with what I'd said, but Edward had to stop pretending everything was fine.
He could use that word as much as he wanted, but it wasn't going to change anything.
"Bella," he sighed and then sat up. "I… not now, okay?"
"Why not now?"
Edward peeked around me. "Because it's three-thirty in the morning. Look, if you want, we can talk about this tomorrow… or later today."
I shook my head. "I'm wide awake. This is the second nightmare you've had – that I've seen – and there was that other thing that happened a few days ago while we were having… in the kitchen. You've got to talk to me, Edward."
"You really don't need this right now."
"Why? Because of my mom? I'm worried about you, and if you're concerned that I can't handle what you've got going on too, well, you're wrong."
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do. It's harder not knowing. I can't stand the thought of you bottling up everything inside. Especially if you're doing it for my sake. Just tell me."
Edward anxiously chewed the inside of his cheek, his nostrils flaring a little, and it was quiet between us for a few minutes before he finally spoke.
"It's always there, you know? Over the past few months it's gotten better, easier, especially after meeting you. I can't explain why, but, I don't know. I feel human again." He smiled, pausing, and I offered a small smile in return. "But there are times when I can't get these images and sounds out of my head. I try to push them down. Like the other day in the kitchen. I was fine, but knowing Seth is going to figure it out one day was just… simmering. The harder I tried to think about something else or concentrate on you, the more prevalent that feeling became. And the nightmares? There have only been the two since we've been together. They came a little more frequently before I met you.
Edward looked down and casually clucked his tongue.
"So, um… that's basically it."
That's it? Did he really think he was going to get off that easily? I'd never claimed to be an expert on the human psyche, and I was the first to admit that I didn't always have my shit together. Would it really have been wise to just let him stop there?
It took me all of three seconds to weigh my options of letting it go and run the risk of allowing his guilt to fester and therefore, one day, undoubtedly, explode, or keep questioning him and chance him getting angry with me for possibly opening up that wound a little further.
"I think there's more," I said. "I think you're giving me a condensed version. And I don't think it's fair that you've been so good to me with the stuff about my mom and not allow me do the same for you."
"You have… you are, Bella. You don't understand."
Edward shook his head again, looking down at his lap. "You're not going to let this go, are you?" he mumbled.
"No," I answered, wringing my hands. "If you don't want to talk to me, I'd go with you to talk to-"
"I've done that. I tried talking to someone, and it didn't help." He laced his fingers behind his neck, still looking down.
"Maybe you can try again. I just think that-"
"You weren't there, okay." Edward's head shot up, his eyes squinting. "You weren't there when Claire was screaming… she was fucking screaming over the radio. I hear it, Bella. Sometimes I hear it as clearly as you talking to me. I was the one who had to get Seth to sleep at night because he wouldn't let anyone else do it, not Jane, not anyone else from the hangar… he wanted me. Ironic, isn't it, considering it was my fault?"
"How about the couple that was also killed because of my lack of judgment?" His voice began to crack. "I had to look at their parents, sitting across from me in an attorney's office because they filed a civil suit against me, and try to explain how sorry I was. Do you think anyone wants to hear a pathetic excuse as to why their twenty-six year old children died because of a so-called fluke? Yeah, that's what they blamed it on… a fluke." Edward huffed, shaking his head. "We settled ten months ago."
Jesus. I'd always assumed that anything legal he'd dealt with would have been over within a year after the accident. Then again, how would I know if he never told me?
His face tensed, and his eyes welled with tears. "Who… who do you think held Seth's hand during his mother's funeral?" Edward started crying as I moved closer to him. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, both of us crying now, and I climbed onto his lap, straddling his as I pried his hands away. "I'm a fucking fraud, Bella."
"No, you're not," I said, wiping his tears, holding his face in my hands.
"Yeah, I am," he rasped, tears streaming down his face. "I shouldn't have gone back. I should have just set up his trust and left him alone, but I couldn't. I had to make sure he was all right." Edward fisted the sides of my tank; his hands were shaking.
"Don't do this to yourself," I pleaded. It was killing me, seeing him like this. My heart was pounding inside my chest, and there was a lump that felt like it was the size of a golf ball in my throat. "You have to stop this, Edward. It wasn't your fault."
Edward pressed his forehead against my chest, wrapping his arms around my waist. "It won't go away, Bella. I just want it to stop."
"It's okay," I whispered, my lips touching his hair. "I love you." Edward lifted his head, his eyes wet and puffy, and I kissed him. He shook his head in doubt. I should have stopped right there, but I couldn't help myself. Drying my face with my hands, I said, "Everything's going to be fine. I promise."
Hypocrite. I mentally slapped myself for using that word: fine. I hated that word now. And I was angry for making a promise I wasn't sure I could keep, especially to Edward.
The worst part of it all? I didn't know if I could handle it.
A/N Thank you to me betas supreme; sncmom and askthemagic8ball. The little competition between Bella and Emmett actually stemmed from 'conversations' the three of us have had on Facebook. Emmett and Bella's battle was quite tame compared to our obnoxious mud slinging.
Thanks to you guys, too, for reading, adding, and reviewing. Your comments blow me away sometimes. You're all truly amazing.
Askthemagic8ball's poems will return when the chapters are a little lighter.