Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight, Stephenie Meyer does.
A/N: As usual the picture can be found over on the blog at http:/picprompt (dot) blogspot (dot) com Thank you as always to Nostalgicmiss for running the blog and keeping us all in order.
I'm taking a few weeks off from the blog. Sadly real life is getting in the way and I'm finding it difficult to cope. Once I get back of my holidays in August I shall return :)
And over to Bella...
Light in the Darkness
The heavy, oak door slammed home, leaving me alone in the stark, white room which was completely devoid of anything even remotely resembling character. The old quilt on the bed probably once danced with a lively, vibrant pattern, but was now faded beyond recognition and contained stains I didn't even want to question.
Forsaking the bed in favor of an old looking armchair I slumped into it, hugging my backpack tightly to my chest, terrified that they would search through it and find my precious cargo. I stiffened as I heard the familiar clicking of heels on the linoleum in the corridor outside my door, and then the handle moved and the door was pushed open. Apparently people didn't knock around here.
"Here's your towels. Lights out is in ten minutes so I suggest you unpack in the morning, Isabella."
"It's Bella," I whispered softly to nobody, as the door had already clicked shut loudly behind the form of a woman who very clearly saw me as an inconvenience. She had made that much perfectly clear from the moment she had pulled open the big, thick front door to the "establishment", as the thin lipped social worker had described it.
The building was huge. It looked like one of those old institutions you always saw in horror movies, the places that were always haunted. Somebody had made a feeble attempt at making it look homely by hanging a basket of flowers by the door. But since the flowers had clearly been neglected right from the offset, they now hung limp and brown, making the place look even more menacing and unwelcoming than before.
The social worker had said very little to me on the ride over. She had merely spouted off a load of meaningless information about where I would be staying, and hadn't answered when I asked her when I could return home again. Apparently 'teenage girls do not run away from home unless there's something at home worth running from.' Those were the words they had slapped both me and my brother around the face with before they dragged me away from his heartbroken face, citing that I could come home once they could be certain I wasn't in any danger from being allowed back. Like I hadn't caused him enough pain and worry already, now they were accusing him of hurting me.
A soft mewling from my bag pulled me from my thoughts and reminded me of my precious and secret cargo. Pulling the zip aside I reached into my almost empty bag, and pulled out the tiny bundle of fur, which curled into my hand.
Pulling him to my face I nestled my nose into his soft fur as he purred in my hand. If anybody found out that when I had been sent to pack 'a few essentials' to take with me, I had instead spent almost the entire time I was shut in my bedroom upstairs trying to coax my kitten out from under the bed and stowing him in my bag, I would probably get into all kinds of trouble. But so far he had managed to keep quiet, probably curling up on the soft clothes I had stuffed in there with him, and falling asleep.
"I want to go home, Monty," I whispered into his fur, feeling the sting of tears at my eyelids and losing my battle to hold them there as they began to stream down my cheeks in thick, heaving sobs, which I couldn't contain. His wise, green eyes stared back at me, looking for all the world as though he understood what I was saying and could make it all better somehow.
There was a loud clicking sound in the hallway which coincided with the room cutting out into complete and overwhelming darkness.
I hated the dark.
Ever since that night - the night when everything changed - I had found darkness frightening and couldn't stop the panic that coursed through me when I couldn't see what was around me.
Stumbling out of the comfort of the chair, still clutching Monty tightly to my chest, I made my way across the room to where I had seen a light switch on the wall earlier on. Stubbing my toes painfully against the grubby old night-stand, I cried out, and went to lean down, banging my head against the wall in the darkness.
The tears were now pouring relentlessly down my face as I curled into myself on the floor. Everything was wrong. Everything hurt. My body ached from both the evidence of my clumsiness, and from the tension it had been held in ever since Child Services had come knocking at the door. And my chest tugged painfully for the hurt in my brother's eyes when they accused him of being the reason I ran away. I had howled out to them that they were wrong, clung onto his hands desperately as they pried me away from him. I was screaming to them that he would never hurt me, that he was the only person I had in the world and they were taking me from him. I screamed and shouted, but it was like one of those dreams where you shout so loudly that your lungs burst, but nobody can hear you.
Panic bubbled up in my throat as I realised what I had done. It mingled with my heaving sobs leaving me lying on the floor gasping for air as the darkness enveloped me in it's cruel embrace, making me feel more alone and more frightened than ever.
Monty started to wriggle and protest in my arms, which I realised were holding him painfully tight.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, loosening my grip, but not letting him go entirely. My voice sounded unnaturally loud in the still, dead quiet and I needed his warmth and his gentle purring to remind me that I was still me, that I was still here.
I started to cough and splutter, feeling the knife-like pain in my chest, as though the smoke was choking me again. The feeling was so strong that I could almost hear the flames licking at the door, trying to force their way inside. Screaming out I buried my face into my arms, curling up and trying to make myself as small as possible, so that the flames would take longer to reach me.
I was vaguely aware of a commotion happening around me, but I was lost, lost inside my head and the memories which threatened to consume me whole.
"NO!" I screamed out when I felt something touch me on the shoulder. The light pressure retracted immediately, and I heard words being thrown around, though they were disjointed and not part of any coherent sentences in my mind.
"Obvious side effects of abuse..." and "Needs the doctor..." were just two of the short gasps of phrases I heard before light started to permeate my tightly squeezed eyelids.
Up until now the voices I had heard were all female, but a new voice joined now. This voice was definitely male, and yet it was softer, calmer and it soothed me before he even began to speak to me.
"Isabella, I'm a doctor, can you open your eyes for me?" There was no demand in his voice; this wasn't an order, it was a request. His voice was gentle and held no hint of the annoyance that every single other person I had been handled by since leaving Emmett's side had spoken to me with. He didn't speak to me as though I was an inconvenience to him, as though I was an unnecessary drain on his time. In the few words he had spoken he had made me feel as though I was worth his time and his patience.
Pulling my face out catiously from where it was buried in my arms, I opened my eyes slowly, squinting against the harsh strip light which blazed on the ceiling.
"There she is." I looked up into sparkling blue eyes which smiled back at me with compassion and care.
I blinked several times before I could properly focus on his face, my vision was blurred from all the tears I'd cried. But when they finally focused I could see the man kneeling on the floor beside me smiling at me softly and offering me a tissue which I took, gratefully.
He watched me blow my nose in a non too lady-like fashion, then offered me a hand to pull me up to standing. I hung my head, knowing that my freak out had caused a drama during the night, and that this was probably the last thing they needed.
"How do you feel, Isabella?" he soft voice crooned, as I felt a finger under my chin, nudging my face up gently.
"I'm fine, I'm sorry. I... I just don't..." I trailed off, not really wanting to explain why a fifteen year old girl was afraid of the dark. He looked at me speculatively for a long, intense moment, before he turned to the two women standing in the doorway looking angry.
"Ladies, thank you for calling me. Do you think I could possibly have a moment alone with Isabella?" They both acquiesced quickly, looking like there were a million and one places they would rather be.
The golden haired doctor walked across the room and shut the door before turning to face me once more.
"Do you want to take a seat?" I eyed the chair I had been sat in, my heart jumping in my chest when I saw that Monty was curled up there.
"N-no," I stammered, terrified that he would see the kitten and then the very last thing that was holding me together would be ripped away.
"Not even if we move the cat first?" I stared fearfully at him, knowing that now he would be taken away, and that would be everything. Everything that mattered would be gone, and I only had myself to blame. I had torn Emmett apart by running away. I could still see his face the day I came home. He looked so much older than when I left, the lines of worry which had once just disappeared when he stopped frowning, were now permanently etched onto his face. Lines I caused, sitting there on his face, a constant reminder of how badly I hurt him.
I continued to watch, frozen to the spot as the Doctor moved to the chair and scooped the sleeping kitten up in one of his large hands and started to stroke him tenderly, a large smile on his face.
"Well you're a handsome fellow aren't you?" he chuckled as he pulled Monty into his chest and held him there before turning his attention back to me. "How does that chair look to you now?"
I didn't answer; I didn't even give any indication that I heard him. My eyes were glued to where Monty was nestled into his chest, presumably ready for him to take with him when he left me here in the dark again.
Seeing my hesitance, he looked down at Monty, who was snuggled into the crook of his arm, completely unconcerned about the authority of the person holding him to take him away from me.
Gently the doctor wrapped his fingers around the kitten's tiny body and lifted him up, then stretched his arm out in offering. Gingerly I took the floppy, sleeping cat from him and held him to my chest, still eyeing the doctor with distrust.
"Your secret is safe with me, Isabella," he started, smiling and perching on the edge of the window sill next to the chair. "As long as you manage to take good care of him, I see no reason to take away what is probably one of the few things you have to cling onto right now."
His bright, blue eyes sparkled with compassion and I had to look away. I didn't want to see that right now. I wanted to be left alone, to hate everyone and everything associated with this place, and he was ruining that with his kindness.
"Listen, Isabella, I don't know what happened to you that you were brought here in such a hurry, but I assure you I only want to help. Please, there's no need for you to be afraid, I won't hurt you."
"Bella," I whispered, sure that he wouldn't hear, or that if he did, he would ignore me, just like everybody else so far that day.
"Bella. My name is Bella. I mean... My name is Isabella, but..."
"But you prefer to be called Bella?" I nodded. "Well, my apologies, Bella. Nobody told me that." His tone held a hint of bitterness and resignation to it and I thought I saw him rolling his eyes before I looked back down at the floor once more.
"So, iBella/i, do you think you can sit down so that I can take a look at you? All the kids they bring in here have to have a medical. Yours is scheduled for the morning but I'd like to check you over after your little... episode, so I may as well kill two birds with one stone."
I looked between him and the chair several times before giving in and edging my way into the chair, never moving my eyes off him or releasing my death grip on Monty. He stepped forward, cautiously at first then more confidently when I didn't back away, and proceeded to carry out a whole bunch of medical checks I had little or no understanding of. He tried to explain them as he went along, his soft voice and gentle touch soothing me as I fought off my desire to just run.
Once he was done he put all his weird instruments with complicated sounding names back in his big, black doctor's bag and perched back on the window sill, his legs crossed and his eyes fixed intently on me.
"Everything seems to be fine, Bella," he started, before running his fingers through his hair in a gesture that reminded me sharply of my father. I winced as I felt the pain squeeze at my chest as images of my father crashed through my mind in waves. Before I could stop them I could feel fat tears running their way down my cheeks as each image of my father, and then my mother hit me like a freight train.
A light pressure on my wringing hands pulled me back into the room, where the doctor was now crouched before me once more, his face a mask of concern as his hand rested lightly on top of mine.
"Is everything alright, Bella?" he asked, his voice imploring me to trust him.
"I want to go home," I answered simply. I needed my big brother. I needed him to hold me in his big, thick arms and sing stupid songs to me in his ridiculous baritone voice until I felt better.
He nodded sadly, the understanding on his face nearly brought me to my knees with despair. He didn't tell me that everything was going to be okay, because he didn't know that it would. He didn't tell me that I could go home soon, because he didn't know that I could. He didn't bombard me with false promises of a happily ever after because he had no idea where I was coming from or why I was here. All he knew was that he probably heard those very words from most of the children he saw in this place. All he did was touch my hand tenderly and try to make me feel better in the here and now with smiles and friendly words.
After a few minutes of silence in which I managed to get my tears under control, he shifted back and stood, making his way back to the window sill where he seemed to like sitting.
"Would you like to talk about what happened before?" he asked quietly, his eyes intense as they bore into mine.
I held his gaze for a while, trying to see some hint of something in his eyes which I could distrust. But all I could see there was the compassionate and caring eyes of a good doctor who genuinely cared about his patients.
"It went dark," I offered, as though that explained everything.
"You don't like the dark?"
"I don't like not being able to see, it's too much like..." I stuttered off. I said too much. What was with this man? How did he somehow manage to break down walls that had been standing solid for nearly five years now.
"Too much like what, Bella?" I slammed my lips shut, determined not to say any more. He was surely here just to get information out of me and then pass it on to the people who wanted to take me away from Emmett, and I wasn't willing to give him any excuses to do that. What happened was an accident and Emmett had paid for it a million times over. He didn't need this as well. This wasn't fair.
"Bella, I know this is hard, but I want you to know that you can talk to me. Nothing you tell me will go back to them. I'm a doctor, therefore unless I believe that you or others are at serious risk from what you tell me, I have no obligations to anybody to pass the information on."
I wanted to distrust him. I wanted to run away screaming from this man who saw too much. But instead I found that I was crying again, and this time I let the tears fall freely.
"How did you end up here, Bella?" he asked carefully, seeming unsure about whether he was crossing a line or not.
"They think that my brother hits me," I stated simply, letting my utter disbelief that anybody would think that of Emmett seep into my tone.
"And does he?" he asked with interest, his eyes literally shining with concern now.
"Of course not. He's my brother, he would never hurt me. NEVER!" I didn't even realise that I had shot up out of my seat and was now standing almost nose to nose with this man, my anger at his question overtaking my desperation to trust him.
"I'm sorry, I had to ask," he came back with. "Well if he doesn't hurt you, and everything is alright at home then how did you end up in here?" His voice was genuinely interested, his head cocked to one side and his eyebrow quirked in question.
I sighed in resignation, knowing that this was the part where he would see that all this was my fault. All that was happening now was because I was stupid.
"I ran away," I whispered, almost hoping that he wouldn't hear me. No such luck.
"What were you running from?" There was no accusation or disgust in his words, only concern.
"Just... memories. The house, everything. There were so many memories everywhere and they were overwhelming. One day I just couldn't cope any more. I was lying on my bed, trying to forget and I just... couldn't." I looked up into his eyes, waiting for him to frown at me or walk away in anger, something to show that he thought that what I did was cowardly, and cruel to my brother. But he said nothing; he merely nodded ever so slightly for me to continue.
"I tried shutting my eyes, I tried drowning out the sounds with loud music, I even tried screaming at them to stop, but nothing helped. I didn't mean to hurt anybody, really I didn't. But I just couldn't take it. I just ran out of the door and kept running. The weird thing was though, that the further I ran, the louder they got. And Emmett's voice joined them. I couldn't bear it; it was like I had my whole family crying out to me inside my head and nothing I did made it go away."
"Bella, sweetheart, where are your parents?"
"They died," was all the answer I offered. He nodded, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking at me sadly.
"It wasn't your fault," I stated, watching him carefully.
"There was a fire." I didn't offer any details and he didn't ask for any. I didn't tell him how the fire started. I didn't tell him that Emmett had been smoking in his bedroom with his best friend and apparently left a cigarette smouldering, which eventually burnt through and set fire to his bedroom. I didn't tell him how my father died going back into the house after I begged him to rescue my dog. I didn't tell him that none of us even knew that my mom was in there. That she had crept in late and fallen asleep on the couch after a night out with her friends and we didn't even know she had died until the fire chief told us. I didn't tell him how my knees had given out under me when they told me that both my parents were gone in a single night.
"That's..." He hesitatated. "I'm so sorry, Bella. To lose both your parents in one night... I can't even imagine."
"Emmett takes care of me now," I said sadly, realisation hitting me that I had no real idea of if or when they would allow me to see him again, let alone return home.
"Did they not ask you?" he asked, leaning forward where he sat, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped together as he gazed at me intently. "Did they not ask you whether your brother was hurting you, before they took you away?"
"They asked. Of course they asked. But just because they took the time to ask, doesn't mean that they bothered to listen to the response. In their eyes he was convicted and sentenced within moments of them stepping through the door."
"Well, when I report back from your medical, I can offer the information that there was no evidence of abuse anywhere on your body, and that your body language strongly suggested to me that you are not being hurt at home." I attempted a smile at his kindness. He was the first person to show me anything even resembling tolerance today, let alone actual kindness. It made me ache for my brother and his goofy grin and rubbish jokes.
"Th-thank you, doctor," I stammered out as the easy tears started to flow again. If I hadn't been so utterly hopeless at this point, I would have been ashamed of the amount I had cried in front of this man. But I just couldn't find it in myself to care when everything had fallen down around me in such spectacular fashion.
"You're more than welcome, sweetheart," he replied, patting my softly on the head and smiling. I don't know what came over me, but his kindness and compassion had overwhelmed me after so much nothing from so many others that his simple pat of my head sparked something inside of me and I threw my arms around him, clinging to the back of his shirt desperately. At first he stiffened at the contact, and I knew that what I was doing was inappropriate. But I so desperately needed human contact that wasn't just strong arms dragging me away from my brother in hysterical tears, or a hand clasped too tightly around my arm and leading me to a bare room where I was expected to sleep.
He relaxed after a moment when I started to sob into his chest, and I felt his arms close around me. He whispered reassuring words to me and stroked my hair down my back the way I remembered my father doing when I was upset. I clung onto him desperately for a few more minutes, not wanting him to go and take his kindness, and the light with him. But I knew that he had to leave, and I knew that what I was doing wasn't appropriate.
Finally I managed to force myself to pull away, refusing to look into his eyes before he walked away and left me here alone in the dark. I turned to the cold, sterile bed, my eyes smarting with yet more tears at the thought of sleeping in there in the pitch black darkness with only my terrified thoughts for company.
I felt a hand land softly on my shoulder and jumped around to face where he was once again staring at me with concern.
"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I shouldn't have done that, I just... I needed..."
"It's ok, Bella. I understand. Sometimes you just need somebody. Can you give me two minutes? I'll be right back, I promise." I nodded so he left me, shooting me a kind smile before he walked away, his smart shoes slapping against the cold, sterile floor.
While he was gone I perched myself on the edge of the bed, putting Monty down beside me, who immediately curled into a ball by my side and fell asleep. I tried to count the drops of rain as they pattered against my window as I waited for him to return and wondered why he would.
He did, of course, and in his hands he held my salvation. A small desk lamp, which he proceeded to plug in beside the bed and place on the night stand before turning to me and beaming happily.
"I almost had to draw blood to get it, but it's yours for the night. Tomorrow let's see what we can do about getting you home, eh?"
I stared at him open mouthed when he spoke those words. I had thought I was all alone in this. Sure, this man, this doctor had been kind to me, but I had assumed that once his work here was done that would be the last time I saw him. Yet, here he was talking about coming back tomorrow. I had to admit that there was a large part of me that wanted to see him again, wanted to feel his fatherly compassion one more time.
"Home?" I asked him, unable to keep the hope out of my voice.
"No promises, but I'll see what I can do to help." I couldn't help it. I gazed up at him as though he was the Messiah, the answer to all my troubles. He chuckled and mussed my hair playfully.
"Sleep well, Bella. I'll see you tomorrow."
If I was being honest with myself, I was a little sceptical about him returning the following day. Although he had given no reason to do anything but trust him, I couldn't see why he could possibly want to return to a lost cause like me.
But return he did, and this time he brought his wife with him. She was beautiful, with long, wavy, honey coloured hair and a smile that could light up a continent and she made me feel like a daughter again when she pulled me into her arms in a tender hug. The now so familiar tears stung at my eyes once again as the scent of my mother's favourite perfume overwhelmed my senses.
"Oh, my precious thing, don't worry, we'll sort all this mess out," she crooned as she held me to her tightly. I clung onto her red cotton shirt with all I had, desperately wanting her to stay with me, to not leave me alone here again.
Her arms wound tightly around me and held me to her chest where I could hear her gentle heart beating. I snuggled into her embrace, allowing myself to fall into the feeling of having a parent to take care of me, even though I knew it was just an illusion and would probably be whipped away from me at any moment.
"May I meet your kitten, Bella?" she asked in a low whisper, almost conspiratorial as she grinned at me with a hush-hush face.
"Um, sure," I responded, reaching up to where Monty was curled up and snoozing beside my pillow, where he spent the night. His soft purring had comforted me as I lay awake all night, fretting over everything that was happening, and wondering what Emmett was thinking at each moment. I wanted so desperately for him to know how sorry I was for all I caused, and how much I missed him.
I cautiously handed him over into her waiting hands, where she cradled him and cooed sweet words to him as he stared blearily at her. His pink nose stood out adorably against his bright white and ginger fur as he gawped at her briefly, before deciding she wasn't a threat and curling up to sleep again.
"He's wonderful," she crooned as she placed him back in my hands and covered him with her own. "You take good care of him, sweetheart." Her words said one thing, but her tone and her expression said quite another as she made it clear that what she meant was that I should keep him well hidden.
I buried my nose into his fur, breathing in the scent of him - the scent of home, and feeling another wave of sadness overtake me at the thought of home and how long it might be before I saw it again. And that was only if these people ever let me go back.
I quickly put Monty back down on my pillow, not wanting to succumb to the tears which were once again fighting for release at my eyelids. A soft, warm hand cupped my cheek before I was pulled into another comforting embrace which made my tear resistance almost none existent.
"I want to go home," I whispered, as the doctor's wife held me to her, rocking me and shushing me like a small child.
"I know, sweetheart, I know," she spoke while softly running her fingers through my hair. "And we're going to do everything we can to make sure that you get there, ok?" She pulled back from me, lifting my chin with her finger and waiting for a response.
"Yes, ma'am," I responded, unsure what I ought to call her.
"Oh please, dear, don't call me ma'am, it makes me feel so old. I'm Esme, just Esme."
"Esme," I spoke softly, trying the name on my lips. "That's pretty." She simply beamed at me, before releasing my chin and turning to her husband.
"Carlisle, what happens now?" He sighed, running his fingers through his hair and frowning in confusion when I whimpered at the gesture.
"They have to have a meeting to discuss her case. They had it scheduled for next week, but I managed to convince them to bring it forward on medical grounds. After Bella's meltdown, or whatever you want to call it, last night, it was easy to convince them. It seems they think you're more trouble than you're worth, Bella." He winked at me and smiled before turning back to his wife. "I've asked to attend, I can offer them my medical findings from last night, which will hopefully go some way to convincing them that her brother isn't abusing her. I thought maybe you two would enjoy each other's company while I'm in the meeting."
His eyes searched mine for any sign that I was uncomfortable with the idea, but he would find none. His wife was sweet and kind and made me feel safer and more comforted than anybody had, aside from my brother, since my parents died.
"I'd like that," I whispered, enjoying the feeling as her arms enveloped me once again.
"What would you like to do, sweetheart?"
I looked hopelessly around the bare room, my face falling at the lack of potential activities available to us. All I had was a few spare articles of clothing I had shoved into my bag followed by Monty when they sent me to pack. Guilt shot through me when I realised I hadn't even packed any toys or food bowls for him. I had stashed some scraps of my own untouched breakfast in a pocket and fed them to him out of my hand this morning, but I would need to find more food for him and soon or the doctor would have to take him away from me.
"I don't... There is nothing. I'm sorry," I said, casting my eyes down to the old faded quilt where my finger traced the threads of cotton absent-mindedly.
Nobody spoke for a long moment and I looked up to see what looked like a silent conversation going on between Esme and the doctor. It reminded me of how my parents used to talk to each other with their eyes, in fact my mum always used to say that all their most important decisions were made silently. My dad always said that she could silence him with one look, and it was true, she could bend anybody to her will just by shooting them a look. Emmett always said it was a skill I inherited from her, that I could just pout or throw my puppy dog eyes at him and he was putty in my hands.
I smiled lightly at the thought of my goofy brother and how much he spoiled me. The very idea of him ever lifting a finger to me, in anger or anything else was just laughable and surely it was only a matter of time until these people saw that too.
"Would you like to go out, for a walk or to the pet shop maybe?" I couldn't help it; my eyes lit up at the idea of being able to get some supplies in for Monty. Until I realised that I left home with no money whatsoever and even if we went to the best stocked pet shop in Washington, I still couldn't get what I needed for him. My face dropped instantly at my realisation and I looked down at the floor, my heart hurting at the thought of Monty having to go without because I was too selfish to leave him at home with Emmett.
"No, thank you," I responded eventually, chewing on my lip as I felt both their eyes scrutinising me intensely.
"You'd rather stay here?" The doctor considered me carefully as I chewed on my lip and stared at the floor, willing the tears to stay put this time, and just for once they obeyed me.
"Yes, sir," I whispered, almost inaudibly, my fingers twisting and wringing together under his watchful eyes. I could feel his eyes almost boring into me as I steadfastly kept them trained on the ground, watching his feet as they moved towards me. And then his face was in my vision; he was crouched down in front of me with a curious look on his face.
"What is it, Bella?" he asked, his expression so full of concern that I had to avert my eyes, before I was dragged into their deep blue depths. This couple were so very much like the parents I had lost, that it almost hurt to see him look at me that way.
I didn't say anything; I simply closed my eyes and shook my head, squeezing them tightly shut and hoping that the tears would stay away just a little bit longer.
"Doctor Cullen," a harsh voice barked from the doorway, causing my eyes to spring open in surprise. "The meeting about Isabella is due to start. They're in the board room." The woman who had spoken my name with such distaste that I couldn't help wondering what I had managed to do to upset her, turned on her heel and strutted away, her heels clicking loudly on the floor.
I heard the doctor sigh heavily and saw him shoot his wife an apologetic look before he stood and walked from the room, tipping me a wink and a smile as he did.
His exit left an uncomfortable silence hanging in the air between us as I sat beside Esme on the bed, my fingers dancing and tangling together awkwardly under her scrutiny. My eyes remained focused intently on my weaving fingers in an attempt to avoid the questions that were bound to be sitting in her gaze.
She stayed silent and practically motionless beside me, but her gaze never wavered. It was as though she was starving me out; she knew I would cave eventually.
Finally, once the tension became unbearable, I glanced up and saw that she was smiling down at me with a heartbreakingly tender expression on her face.
"I'm sorry," I spoke so softly that I wasn't sure she would hear. "You don't have to stay here with me."
"I'm not here because I have to be, Bella. I'm here because my husband said there was a sweet young lady in a bad situation who he thought I would get along with. I'm not going to force my company on you, sweetheart, and if you want me to go, of course I'll leave. But don't for a moment think that I'm here because I feel that I have to be."
Her voice was full of so much sincerity that I couldn't help but believe what she was saying, and in a rare moment of selfishness I responded with an almost inaudible whisper.
"Don't leave me. Please."
She didn't leave me. She stayed by my side the whole day, even managing to coax me out and into the local pet store where she bought some food, a couple of bowls and a toy for Monty after I reluctantly agreed to let her.
We walked in the park and talked about everything. She talked about her family, her teenage children and their home in the forest. I talked a little about my brother and explained a little of the situation to her, keeping it brief and editing slightly so as not to upset her any more than I already had.
When we were back at the "establishment" we played with Monty in the bedroom, and she braided my hair. For one day, one blissful set of hours I felt like I had a mother again. When I felt a small tear slip out unbidden at the thought of my mother she pulled me into her side and held me close, whispering words of comfort.
When the doctor returned he was smiling as he knelt on the floor at my feet and cuffed my face with his hand teasingly.
"There's somebody here who needs to see you, Bella. Is that ok?" There was something dancing in his eyes as he spoke, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was he was so happy about. I wanted to ask him. I wanted to know how the meeting had gone, but there was someone here to see me, and who knew? Maybe this person could help me to get home again.
"Yes, sir," I replied, pushing up off the bed to standing at the same time as he stood up beside me.
"Please, Bella. Call me Carlisle." I nodded and smiled minutely, then jumped in surprise when he took my hand in his and led me to the door, still beaming all over his face.
I saw him the moment I stepped into the corridor and felt my hand slip from Carlisle's grasp as my body unconsciously flung itself into the waiting arms of my big brother.
"Emmett," I sobbed as I felt his thick, strong arms encase me in a circle of safety and love that in just one night I had begun to miss so badly that it physically hurt.
"Hey, Baby-Bell," he responded, holding me so tightly to him that I thought I would burst, and planting a soft kiss on my forehead.
"I'm so sorry." I was weeping almost hysterically now, my hands clutching tightly at his shirt in case anybody tried to make me leave him again. This time I was determined that even the most powerful of pliers couldn't force my fingers apart and force me to leave the safety of him again.
"Sssh, it's okay, little one. Everything's going to be ok. Doctor Cullen has straightened everything out for us." I felt his finger curl under my chin and pull my face up to look at his beaming smile, which very nearly covered up the otherwise obvious signs of a sleepless night that littered his face. "Are you ready to go home?"
"Home," I repeated with awe. "You mean it?"
"Of course," he laughed, before swinging me up into his arms and spinning around, making me squeal and giggle with happiness. Eventually he planted me back on my feet and held me up when I stumbled dizzily.
"Bella, dear," the soft voice of my angel doctor spoke behind me and I spun in Emmett's arms to face him. He was holding Monty, stroking him lovingly behind his ears and drawing loud purrs from the content kitten. "Don't forget this little fellow." He placed him gently into my arms where I kissed his soft fur and allowed him to snuggle into my sleeve before dropping off again.
Feeling a sudden rush of gratitude I rushed forward, pulling Doctor Carlisle into a tentative hug, careful not to squash the sleeping kitten in between us.
"Thank you," I gasped out, as I felt him return the embrace. He chuckled lightly before responding.
"You're welcome, sweetheart. I'm glad I was able to help." We stepped back from one another and I smiled brightly at him. I would never be able to express to him in words how much it meant to me that he had listened to me when nobody else did. That he had been kind to me when I was frightened, and stood up for me when I was unable to stand up for myself.
I felt Esme's arm rest over my shoulder as Carlisle turned to Emmett and offered him help any time he felt like he needed it.
"Any time, day or night, if you need us, please don't hesitate to call. I'd like to think that this isn't goodbye."
They exchanged numbers, and promised to keep in touch, the way people often do when they're parting ways and have no genuine intentions of actually using the information they're being given.
It turned out though, that the Cullens had every intention of using our telephone number. They called only five days after I returned home with Emmett, inviting us to a family BBQ. We gladly accepted, and never looked back. They easily became like a second family to us, Carlisle and Esme like surrogate parents. Although Emmett didn't strictly need parents, being already twenty-four, I was only fifteen and found Esme's motherly presence in my life invaluable.
Although I would always be sorry for what I did to spark the events of that night, I could never bring myself to truly regret it. Is was upsetting and traumatic at the time, but it brought this amazing family into our lives and for that, I could never be sorry.