A/N: Please take a moment to read the note at the end of the chapter. Thanks.
A crink in my neck, an ache in my back—surely I remembered having better nights.
Sweat drenched sheets stuck to my body the way it was only proper for Edward to do so. Burying my face into the pillow, I refused to open my eyes and confront the harshness of the sunlit room; even through the dark curtains, I knew it would be too bright for my comfort. My drunken debauchery last night caught up with me faster than I could run away from it, resulting in a disgusting headache. For someone who never drinks hard liquor, I felt I took it with enough dignity. The after-effects, however, I did not take so well to.
Edward and I had a lovely evening, involving a lot of hugs, many kisses, and other explorations which were interrupted by his mother earlier. We lay down on the couch and drank the night away as we talked about my plans after graduation, my projections for college and even what I would dedicate my time to doing after that. I was vague, as I have no idea what I want to do with my life and there's no certainty that it will go according to plan. As much as I adored Aiden, she was a prime example of the fact. We laughed every so often at my sputtering words and slurring sentences I should have been able to pronounce without issue if I was sober. I tried to steer the conversation away from me by speculating on what he would do when his service was complete.
It's understandable that he would try to change the subject after shrugging it off, since he had too many things to think of with his injury and all. He admitted the Corps had changed his life in a way that made him forever a Marine, even when he would be far away from the duties he now lived for. He was drunk enough to make a hint at a possible future together—somehow—and drifted into a nonsensical speech that was muttered into his refilled glass. I tried to make sense of what he was saying, but I was busy dancing on cloud eight of alcohol lucidity, so my attempts proved to be useless.
I tried to ignore it, anyway, since in the depths of my critical realistic conscience, I knew he wouldn't want to be burdened by a clueless kid raising another kid. He would obviously want to start a life with someone more mature, comprehensive of his life, and on his intellectual level. I would be glad to spend the time I could with him now, and live this wonderful illusion of perfection for the time being, but I wasn't stupid; I was conscious that there would be a moment it had to end. He needed someone with fewer complications, someone that could fill his soul with the joy of loving and being loved, fulfilling the promise of companionship I just couldn't. But, as my favorite movie, The Dead Poets Society, taught me: carpe diem.
After stumbling up the stairs with Edward in hand and tripping on the final step, I took him to the guest room he could now take over as his own, and tucked him in. I fumbled with the covers and gave him a kiss on the forehead to which he protested, asking for a goodnight kiss on the lips, or he wouldn't let me go to bed. I submitted to the request gladly, and dragged myself to Aiden's room to check on her. I didn't get too close, fearing that I would do something stupid, like throw up on her or trip on her and crush her. She was sleeping soundly, so I tried to back out into my room as quietly as possible.
And so I woke, with temples throbbing to the likes of a thumb that has just been struck by a hammer, to complete silence.
Hopping out of bed a moment too soon, I felt the tilt-a-whirl that was my brain remind me why it was that I never drank in the first place. Sluggishly making my way to the shower without tripping on anything or setting off an explosion from the landmine that was my floor, I thought of all the possible remedies for this monumental hangover I didn't want to deal with. I debated whether I wanted to shiver under the freezing chill of a sobering-up shower, or rather take a scalding hot bath that evaporated the alcohol away. The former was surely the best option, so I turned on the cold water and jumped into the shower, unceremoniously shedding my clothing.
Quickly drying off after an Arctic shower and hoping I wouldn't develop pneumonia, I brushed my teeth and hair, and then dressed quickly. I wandered into Aiden's room and saw she wasn't in her crib. For a second I nearly panicked, but then remembered Edward was still with me. Making my way to his room, I took a moment to appreciate his rear as he bent over to pick something up from the floor. As he came up again, a medium-sized suitcase that was strikingly familiar drew my attention away from the too-chipper obviously not hung-over young Marine stuffing clothes and shoes into a backpack.
"What's this?" I chuckled nervously. Would he be leaving me again so soon?
The second I noticed his picaresque smile, I recognized there was nothing for me to worry about, but trouble was lurking nearby. Hesitating for a second but proceeding anyway with controlled excitement, he stopped packing and looked at me, anticipating my response.
"I want you to meet my parents. Well, not just my parents but my entire family."
Petrified, I worked through the archive of pre-elaborated excuses in my mind. Grasping for the first one that I could in a panic, I tried to reply coolly, "Oh, don't you think it would be better to wait a little bit? Your mother didn't look too happy when she stalked off yesterday. And it was just yesterday. What about the next time you're back… like when you come back for training… in July?"
Knowing I would stall even before he let me respond, he chuckled and shook his head as he continued to pack his scarce things with a determined look.
"No, I think it's the perfect time. Why not now?"
"Maybe," I started, trying to sound as reasonable and logical as an 18-year-old could, "they'll think it's too sudden." I mentally took note of the pathetic nature of my excuses and wrote myself a reminder to update the repertoire with something less pitiful.
"Do you think it's too sudden?"
"I don't think it's improper, but I worry that they'll think you're being thoughtless. I really can't imagine your mother hating me any more than she probably does now, but I see this being something that could make me unforgiveable under the eyes of God."
"Relax, Bella," he sneaked a look over to me and smirked. "I already told my sister we'll be on our way soon. My dad thinks it's a fantastic idea. He started getting the guest room ready for you."
"But your mom—"
"Hasn't gotten home and formed a scene yet. So don't worry about that yet," he walked across the room toward me and grabbed a pair of striped blue boxers on the rolling chair. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to the river, okay?" He paused before walking back to the suitcase and leaned down to give my lips, slightly parted with incredulity, a peck.
"Now, I need you to stop standing around and pick up the remainder of your things. I packed only necessary items and even with that I was conservative, so there's space for you to take anything else you might want to bring. Besides, girls have so much shit, I don't know what consider important," he looked genuinely confused and scratched the back of his head momentarily as he walked away. I was beginning to acquiesce to the idea when suddenly the panic resurfaced.
"Edward… Where's Aiden?"
Looking up from his systematic task of making the bed, he smiled again and said, "Alice and Jasper came to pick her up this morning before you woke up. I called them when I woke up and Alice practically jumped through the phone to take care of her. That girl is too excited all the time…" he murmured and trailed off, finishing placing the pillows upon the bed with finality.
"But I need to see her, I need to make sure she has everything she needs and that she's going to be set for whatever amount of time we're gone, I need to get her things over to Ali…"
"Hon, I have it taken care of. Trust me; I gave her everything she'll nee—"
"Are we planning on bailing out anytime soon, or is this going to be a day-long mission? Because I have a Skype date with Em later today, so…" I heard an irritated female voice drift upstairs from the living room.
"You're having Rose drive us? Wait, where are we going? I don't even know where you live."
"Of course not; she's dropping us off at the station. We're taking the train. As for where we're going, you'll know when we get there."
I huffed in mock anger and "You mysterious act isn't working; it's just making me more reluctant to go along with your nefarious plan." I rolled my eyes at him and spun on my heel out into the hallway.
"Calm yourself, woman. I'm coming!" I shouted at Rose from the top of the stairs.
"Well, come faster. I need to do my hair, my eyebrows, my nails, and choose an outfit!" she barked back.
"It's a Skype date, Rose, not dinner and the movies!" I yelled back from my room as I gathered the few beauty products I thought I would need. I took my toothbrush and other items of personal hygiene and walked back to Edward's room, depositing the items on the bed. If he was planning this trip, he would have to pack for it.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand, you don't know what it's like to be a woman!" Rose shot back easily.
I heard a scoff followed by laughter in the other room while I picked up my yoga pants, a pair of jeans, and a tank top.
"Frailty, thy name is woman!" I chimed and slung a comfy blazer along with a light jacket over my shoulder. I went through my vanity's drawers and grabbed some bras and all the pairs of underwear I could loop onto my fingers. It seemed Edward hadn't invaded my personal space here since the drawers were full; at least there's a shred of decency in him yet, I mused. Going into my closet, I could see a pair of heels, boots, and sandals were all missing; I instantly suspected this was Edward's doing so I grabbed a pair of flats and put them on.
I once again deposited the items onto the bed and shot him a side-glance. He was beaming, feeling victorious that I had agreed to his crazy journey. It was difficult to resist a smile when he was so happy and looked so excited. I had seen him smile before when we were together, but this different. He looked at me shyly and stopped grinning for a minute to blow me a kiss. I narrowed my eyes at him and promptly took all the panties in my hands, rolled them up into a ball, and threw it at his face. My awful aim was successful for once, hitting the center mark as he ducked and the puff of colorful hipsters, bikinis, thongs, boy shorts, and G-strings exploded on impact with his nose.
Edward looked at me skeptically and set down his cards.
"Why were you so opposed to meeting my family?"
I took a choked sip from my Dr. Pepper can and swallowed it as if it were vinegar. Surprised by the question and realizing I could never win the game with the hand I had, I set my cards down face-up on the booth's table. I went around and sat next to him. He rested his back on the seat and lifted up his arm, creating a niche for me to fill at his side.
"Is that something I really have to answer?"
He pulled me closer and shifted sideways to make more room for me to make myself comfortable and took possession of my hand. "I would like you to," he simply answered.
"I've never met anyone's family before. It's one of the most terrifying experiences on the planet, and I've been grateful for not experiencing it. In simplest terms, it's your everyday man's fear of wrestling with a Burmese python, or waking up to a body crawling with tarantulas."
"Are you comparing my parents to venomous critters?" he tried to sound hurt, but the laughter threatened to erupt.
"I'm just saying, I've been to the Gaza strip and I was less anxious." That did it. He started to shake with laughter and I couldn't help but fall into it along with him. When I recovered, I hugged him closer and rested my head against his muscular chest.
"I'm just scared." I finally admitted.
"Of…? Do you think they're going to tie you down to a church pew and perform an exorcism? Because I assure you, it won't happen again. I made them promise never to do it to another girlfriend of mine." He humored me and laughed along with me again.
I sighed to regain my composure and continued, "I've always been scared of meeting the parents since it's such a formal step. It frightens me because there are so many variables that I can't control. Everything is entirely out of my hands," I let out with a bit of exasperation. Edward remained quiet and let me continue.
"When I'm doing relief work and projects with SOTW or the UN, or whoever I can, I'm in a place where I am never passive. Being an activist is all about being active and moving forward without asking for permission or being held back by anything. If I want to start a safehouse in Congo, all I need to do is phone one or two people, start fundraising, and within a couple of months—bam! Everything is ready. I don't have to hang suspended in the air, awaiting judgment at any moment.
"But, see, meeting parents is so entirely different. Relationships are so different, and I'm so bad at all of this—"
"Wait, Bella's not good at something? Hold on… Let me call Scotland Yard so they can get in on this mystery and solve it!" Edward mused and chuckled again.
"You're biased because you're supposed to love me, but no one else has to. Your family can choose whether or not to like me, whether or not to approve of your relationship, if they want to accept or reject me into their circle. It's very serious. Especially for me, since I had never even dreamed of getting this serious, well, ever."
Edward shook his head and gripped me tighter.
"You're a fool to think there would be a single person on the face of this planet, or any of the other ones we have in our galaxy, that wouldn't love you. And this is serious. But that's not a reason to scare you away. Bella, baby, I love you. That's a fact and it's unchangeable. So don't bother yourself with so much nonsense. You will meet my family and they will love you. Now let's get our luggage together because we're about to stop at the station."
He was speaking over the female voice announcing that we would soon arrive to our destination—a place of which I still had no idea. I scooted over and gave him space to move around and retrieve my suitcase. His backpack was set on the table for quick access so he picked it up and flung it onto his back.
"I think you're going to enjoy our pit stop," he grinned as he stood and took my bag in one hand, offering me the other hand to hold. I took it and stood, trying to gauge my surroundings like every good Girl Scout should. The only problem was that I was never a Girl Scout, nor was I even mediocre with directions. For all I knew, we could be half-way to Montana and stopping for a cheeseburger in Ohio. It didn't help that he wasn't letting me see the tickets, either. I looked out of the window of the cart we sat in, but saw only the darkness of the indoors greet me. Curious, I followed Edward out of the sliding doors, up two flights of stairs, into an elevator, and finally through a revolving door.
"With all this walking, you'd think we were going into the CIA's lair or something!" I joked.
Edward looked down at me with a small smile and shrugged as we walked into the crisp night sprinkled with lights and sounds. "No, it's not the CIA headquarters," he said. It took me a second to take in the familiar scent of greasy food stands mingling with cigarette smoke. Neon signs and large advertisements for shows commanded my attention, taking all of my senses as prisoners to the excitement of the atmosphere. I had been here before, almost every spring. But, every time I returned it was far more enthralling than the last. I felt my heart swell and I squeezed Edward's hand in excited anticipation.
"It's not—it's New York City."
A/N: After an eternity apart from you, I return—apologetic and victorious at once. These past 2 years have been complete insanity, but I am proud to report that I am cancer-free (for real this time) and on my way to earning a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature! Happy days!
I can't tell you how many angry PM's I've received telling me to hurry up and get back to the story, and I am truly sorry for the prolonged hiatus I was not planning. Now healthy (well, on my way back to it, anyway) and enthusiastic to continue, I open my arms to all my faithful readers and all those just discovering Learning to Spell Love. There's a special place in my heart for all of you.
Always yours, and now even more so,