June 26, 2010
Bella and Edward sat across from Esme, who was seated behind the desk in the Cullen's study. The older woman's lips were flattened into a frown. Her gaze lingered on Bella for a long moment before turning towards her son.
"And you think this is a good idea?" she asked him, raising an eyebrow.
His gaze flickered to Bella before swallowing and shaking his head slightly.
"Then why are you sitting next to her looking like you're about to jump in front of a bullet if need be?"
He took a deep breath and sighed.
"I may not like the idea, but it does hold merit. He wants your friendship back, so he's using Bella's publisher as a means to an end. He's a big name among the Chicago elite, so the Gala he's suggesting will be a huge benefit towards Lost Treasures. If Bella declines to show up at huge event for the charity that she helped start, knowing she's in Chicago, it will look bad for her. If you decline to show or take part in an event in honor of your grandson, it will look bad on our family. It's pretty clever, if you ask me."
Esme glared at him and he shrugged.
"You asked, Mom, and I'm only being honest. He's put both of you between a rock and a hard place. It's hardly Bella's fault."
Bella looked over at Edward and smiled in thanks for his defense of her.
Esme closed her eyes and sat back in her chair. She sighed and looked directly at Bella.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I know it's not your fault. I should expect this manipulation from him by now." She smiled sadly.
Bella's brow furrowed in thought.
"It's going to come out sooner or later that Jack is alive, and I'm his adoptive mother. I think we should get it over with sooner and let him know."
Esme looked at her incredulously.
"Are you joking? Please tell me you're joking."
Bella quickly glanced at Edward, who was staring at the floor, before looking back at Esme in surprise.
"What? He's going to find out. We should be proactive about this. I mean, he's Jack's grandfather, right?"
Esme's nostrils flared. "No, he's nothing to my grandson," she practically snarled. "Victoria gave up her parental rights during the divorce proceedings. Trust me; we paid a pretty penny for her signature. How's that for love? Signing away any rights to your child for a hundred grand?"
Esme scoffed and ran one of her hands through her caramel brown hair.
"Esme," Bella sighed. "I understand that there's bad blood between your families, but is it truly irreparable? He really sounded heartfelt. Victoria signed away her rights, but are you certain that Marcus and his wife had anything to do with that? I need to keep Jack's best interests at heart. I think telling Marcus before he finds out on his own and blows a gasket is a good idea."
"Are you implying that I do not? That jackass enabled Victoria and spoiled her rotten. He certainly didn't care about our friendship or his grandchild while he was hiring the best lawyers for his daughter to bleed Edward dry. He knew that Victoria was up to no good and in the wrong, but he still chose her side when the shit hit the fan."
"Wouldn't you have done the same thing?" Bella asked. "Even if you knew that your son was wrong, wouldn't you have stood by him? Could you just abandon him? I can't even imagine walking away from Jack if he needed me, right or wrong."
Esme glared at her. "Bella, you're young and naive. You haven't seen the worst that life has to offer. Sometimes, as a parent, you need to cut the strings."
Bella felt righteous indignation well up in her chest. "I haven't seen the worst that life has to offer? Are you kidding me? I found a toddler in a dirty alley. He was filthy and half-starved. I was beaten and almost raped by someone who was supposed to have loved me," she seethed in anger. She noticed Edward's head pop up at last declaration, but she chose to ignore him for now.
"My mother left us when I was a kid so she could whore around the country and "find herself." I can count the number of times that I've spoken to her over the past five years on one hand. My dad has been a cop for twenty years. Don't tell me that I'm naive."
Esme pursed her lips. "Poor choice of words on my part. My stance will not change. The Prestons don't deserve any contact with Jackson at all."
"I'm sorry to say it like this, but it's not your choice, Esme. It's mine and Edward's. Marcus deserves to know that his grandson is alive and well, at the very least," Bella implored.
Esme's eyes turned hard and her lips formed a frown.
"Well, then, I guess there's nothing left to say, is there?" she said in a cold voice.
"Esme, please. I'm not trying to hurt you," Bella replied softly. She had expected this reaction, but it still stung.
"It's a little too late for that now, Bella."
Esme stood from her spot behind her desk and silently left the room.
Bella leaned forward in her chair and dropped her head in her hands. She heard Edward stand and felt his hand rub her back.
"That went well," he said softly. She looked up at him with wide eyes.
"Are you serious?"
He smiled sadly and shook his head.
"No, but I did tell you that this wasn't going to be easy. You and Esme are more alike than either of you realize. You're both fierce protectors of your family. Give her some time to cool down."
Bella nodded and sighed.
Edward smiled one last time before leaving Bella alone with her thoughts.
The next few days passed in tension and awkwardness. Esme ignored Bella when she could. In the times when she couldn't, she was polite to the brink of being cold. Even though Bella felt that she was in the right, she still felt sorry that she had brought about a rift in the Cullen home. She spent more time sightseeing with Alice, Jasper, Jack and Edward. Emmett and Rosalie even accompanied them one day.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jack was out with Emmett and Edward, so it was just Esme and Bella home alone. Bella found herself standing outside of the study giving herself a pep talk. Jack had commented this morning on the silence between Bella and his grandmother. She had only smiled and reassured him that everything was all right. It was the first time that she had ever really lied to Jack, even if it was a small white lie. Bella wasn't even sure herself about where she stood with Esme at the moment, but she was about to draw a line in the sand. She raised her hand and knocked, before walking into the room.
Esme looked up from a stack of invoices that she had been going over and frowned when she saw Bella.
"Is there something you need, Bella?" she asked frostily.
Bella swallowed and walked over to stand in front of the desk. She looked straight in Esme's eyes and nodded.
"Yes, I need to speak you," she answered softly.
"Well, speak then." Esme raised an eyebrow and leaned back in chair to listen.
"First off, I wanted to apologize for this air of discomfort that has settled between us," Bella motioned her hand in the air between them, "I don't feel that I'm wrong in my position, and I can't apologize for standing my ground," she sighed.
Esme gazed at the younger girl blankly. Bella bit her lip and steeled her resolve.
"I think it would probably be best if Jack and I went to stay at a hotel for the time being. Since Alice and Jasper are leaving on Friday, we should be able to take over their room."
Esme's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Tears formed in her eyes and she let out a small cry.
"No, Bella, please don't! I'm sorry if I've been acting childish, but I can't bring myself to accept that Marcus is being genuine. Please don't leave!"
Bella rushed over to Esme's side and took her hands.
"Esme, I wasn't suggesting that to hurt you or get back at you for anything. I didn't think it was fair for any of us to be dealing with this awkwardness, especially Jack. I just wanted to give you some space."
Esme stood and pulled Bella into a hug. "Please don't go," she whispered again. Bella nodded and held her tight. She had started to think of Esme as another mother-figure in her life, and as much as she felt Esme was wrong in this situation, she couldn't help but feel her heart ache at the thought of Esme hurting.
"Can we please just settle this then? I hate having you mad at me," Bella said softly.
"Oh, Bella," Esme sighed, "I was never angry at you, just with the situation. I took it out on you, and I'm so sorry. You didn't deserve it."
Esme took hold of Bella's hand once again and led her over to the chairs on the other side of the desk. She took the seat across from Bella and wiped away an errant tear before continuing.
"I was upset and wrong. I knew exactly what you were trying to say, but I deliberately ignored it in order to hold onto my anger. If Edward had been in a similar situation, there would have been no way I could've turned my back on him. I honestly do believe though, that there is a time where you need cut ties in order to let your child fail or fall on their own. I'm not suggesting you abandon them completely, just make them aware that you won't always be there to bail them out."
Bella gave Esme's hand an encouraging squeeze and gave her a small smile.
"Oh, Bella, you just don't understand," Esme sighed. "I'm sorry I called you naive the other day. I know you've dealt with your own demons, but they couldn't possibly compare to Victoria. That woman is pure evil. She's petty and spiteful and mean. I still can't believe that my sweet Jack shares part of her DNA. It's incomprehensible to me sometimes. She cut wounds into our family that are so deep, I'm not sure if they'll ever heal."
"I understand, Esme, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. I was the one who found Jack in that alley. I dealt with the nightmares and panic attacks and overall sadness. I helped him through that. I would give anything to be able to have felt all of that for him. I'm honestly afraid of what will happen if I ever cross paths with Victoria."
Esme looked at Bella in surprise.
"Oh, dear, don't worry about her. None of us will let her anywhere near you or Jack. That'll be a cold day in hell," she swore.
Bella shook her head.
"No, Esme, you misunderstand. I'm afraid for her. When I think about what she's done to Jack, and now knowing what she put Edward through, I just-" Bella broke off her sentence to rein in her fury. "My fingers itch to be wrapped around her throat. I want to simultaneously choke the life from her and make her know what it feels like to be lost, alone, and hungry for days like Jack was. I've never in my entire life been a violent person, but I dream of causing her pain in the worst way."
She averted her gaze from Esme's, feeling embarrassed for her emotional outburst. She felt a touch to her chin and looked up into Esme's grinning face.
"It's nice to know that we are definitely on the same page in regards to what matters most."
Bella felt tears prick her eyes and nodded. Hell would be too good of a place for Victoria to end up in.
"What about the benefit, Esme? Will you take part in it?" Bella asked.
Esme nodded determinedly. "I don't know if Marcus is sincere or not, but I'm not going to let you deal with him alone, just in case he isn't on the up and up. Plus, he was totally right. I can't say no because of Jack. Lost Treasures benefits so many children and families that need help. We have our happy ending, too many others don't."
This time Bella let a tear slip down her cheek.
"I love you, Esme. Honestly and truly, I do." Bella sniffed and reached for a tissue from on top of the desk.
Esme reached out and enfolded Bella in her arms. "Oh, Bella, dear. I love you, too. I'm so sorry we've been at odds these past few days. I promise not to close off like that again. If we butt heads, we'll talk it out, okay?"
Bella nodded and felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of her shoulders.
"On a completely different note," Esme said, "would it be all right with you if Carlisle and I took Jack on an overnight trip to visit my parents? They're eager to see him. They live just outside of Milwaukee, which isn't very far from here."
"Of course, Esme. When were you thinking of going?"
"Well, I was thinking maybe Saturday, if that's okay with you? Carlisle is off this weekend, so we could drive up in the morning and drive back on Sunday. Is that okay?"
"I'm fine with it, but we should include Edward in the discussion as well."
Esme smirked and shook her head.
"What?" Bella asked in confusion.
"I spoke with him earlier today and he told me the exact same thing. I don't know if you fully grasp what it means to me when I see how you two are developing with being co-parents. Victoria was never a mother to Jack, even when she was around. Edward was like a single parent. Sharing Jack with another parent, meaning you, is just as new to him as it is to you. But you guys are handling it with grace, and it leaves me in awe. Your relationship is complicated, yes, but so simple at the same time. It's like it was just meant to be."
Esme smiled serenely at Bella and squeezed one of her hands.
"What do you say about making some treats for when the guys get back?"
Bella smiled and nodded, glad that the tension between her and Esme was over.
When the boys returned a few hours later, Edward was pleasantly surprised to see Bella and his mom laughing and baking together in the kitchen. He smiled and kissed his mother on the cheek, before turning and doing the same to Bella. She felt her cheeks warm up and turned her face slightly to hide her blush. Esme gave her a knowing smirk and turned to face her son.
"Hello to you, my son. May I ask why I received a call earlier from my nephew asking when he was invited to dinner?"
Edward's eyes widened slightly and his eyes shot to Bella's confused face for a moment before shrugging at his mother.
"I may have mentioned that he should come over for dinner to catch up sometime. I wasn't specific."
Esme narrowed her eyes and saw right through his attempt at nonchalance.
"Well, good. I took the liberty of inviting him over tomorrow night."
Esme smiled innocently at Edward's startled reaction and turned towards Bella.
"I believe you've already met my nephew, Demetri, right?" Esme asked. Bella nodded.
"He's your nephew?" Bella asked, surprised. Esme smiled.
"Yes, my sister, Carmen, who was also adopted, is his mother. Her husband, Eleazar, is originally from London, so the three of them have dual citizenships. They're living in London at the moment, actually. Tre and his older brother, Alistair, are partners in Edward's firm."
Bella looked over at Edward, who was uncomfortably staring at his feet.
"Oh really? Edward didn't mention that they were cousins. He seemed very nice," Bella spoke softly. Edward looked over at her and smiled sheepishly.
"Sorry," he responded, sounding very unapologetic. "I was excited to be spending the day with you and Jack."
He shot her his charming, crooked smile, and it felt like something poked her in the chest. She smiled slightly and looked away, trying to decipher these new and exciting feelings that Edward brought out of her.
"So, we ended up stuffing Ed into the dryer to hide him from Emmett. We completely forgot about him until Aunt Esme asked about him. Our mum tanned our hides that night, but it was worth it."
Bella sat back and let out a few giggles. She had to admit that Demetri was absolutely charming and funny. Jack took to "Uncle" Tre almost immediately, captivated by the stories about his father and uncle when they were his age. Bella tried to stay quiet and observant for the most part, but Tre would find a way to pull her back into the conversation. She noticed Edward's face turn sour a few times, but she chalked it up to embarrassment, but she secretly hoped it was because of the way that Tre would lightly touch her hand from time to time.
She also noticed coy little looks that were passed between Esme and Carlisle. She chose to ignore those completely.
"So, Isabella," Demetri said, "what do you think about joining me for dinner on Friday night?"
Bella blinked and was frozen by the tingle that shivered down her spine when Tre spoke her name in his slight accent. It sounded way too nice. She toyed with her napkin for a moment and hesitated. She really didn't want to go out on a date with Tre while her heart was slowly, but surely becoming Edward's. She opened her mouth to let him down gently when Carlisle spoke up.
"I think that is a wonderful idea, Bella! Tre can show you some of Chicago's nightlife. I'm sure you'd have a great time," he said enthusiastically. Bella was surprised by Carlisle's eagerness.
"Um, I would, but I have some writing that I really should be getting-"
"Oh, Bella!" Esme interjected. "It'll be fine! Since Jack is coming with Carlisle and I on Saturday, you'll have the whole day and night free to get some writing done." Esme grinned and winked at Bella. Still somewhat confused, she turned to Tre and nodded.
"Sure?" she responded to him, but it came out more like a question than an answer. She heard a thump from across the table and saw that Edward's jaw was clenched and his fist was wrapped tightly around his fork, staring at his plate.
Demetri ignored his cousin's small tantrum and smiled brilliantly at Bella.
"Wonderful. May I pick you up at seven, then?"
"Sure." Bella nodded. She smiled genuinely at him. He really was a sweet guy and she figured it wouldn't hurt her to have a little fun for once.
She couldn't help but notice the smirks shared between Esme and Carlisle when Edward stood and excused himself from the table.
Once Demetri had left, a short while later, Bella tucked Jack into bed and sat with him to read a little before he fell asleep. As she closed his door, she heard a familiar melody coming from the stairs leading to the third floor. Without thinking, she quickly found herself at the top of the stair and walking towards the open door where the music was coming from.
Oh, got no reason, got not shame
Got no family I can blame
Just don't let me disappear
I'm 'a tell you everything
So tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I'm gonna give all my secrets away
This time, don't need another perfect lie
Don't care if critics ever jump in line
I'm gonna give all my secrets away
She stood in the doorway and gave the room a cursory glance. The walls were a dark wood and the carpet was a deep blue that matched the drapes. There was a black leather couch facing the fall wall, which held an enormous flat screen television. Her gaze fell on the man lying in the middle of the immense bed, staring at the ceiling. Edward laid spread eagle in the middle of his dark brown and blue bedding, singing softly along with the song.
A soft smile touched her face. Even though she felt like she was intruding, it was nice to be able to see him when he was off guard. He was honestly the most handsome man she had ever encountered and she had never had a reaction to anyone else like she did with him. It absolutely baffled her at times. She reached up and lightly knocked on the door frame. His eyes quickly flew towards the door and he immediately sat up, silencing the music.
He ran his hands through his hair and gave her a small smile.
"Hey, Bella. Is everything okay? Do you need something?"
'Yes, you,' her subconscious sighed.
She shook her head. "No, I just followed the music. It's one of my favorites songs lately."
He scooted over to the side and patted the bed next to him. Bella walked over and sat in the offered spot. They both leaned up against the headboard and stretched their legs out in front of them. He picked up the small stereo remote and started the song again from the beginning.
Bella closed her eyes and let the music wash over her, in addition to feeling the warmth from Edward's body just inches away from hers. After a few minutes, the song ended and shifted into a Ray LaMontagne song and Bella smiled widely, not bothering to open her eyes.
"What's put that smile on your face?" She heard his velvet voice ask. She shivered from the sound.
"Are you cold?" he asked. She shook her head slowly.
"No, I'm fine. This is an awesome song," she said softly.
"That it is," he chuckled.
When you kissed my lips with my mouth so full of questions
It's my worried mind that you quiet
Place your hands on my face, close my eyes and say
Love is a poor man's food, don't prophesize
I could hold you in my arms
I could hold you forever
And I could hold you in my arms
I could hold you forever
She opened her eyes and turned her head slightly to the right. She smiled into the deep green staring back at her. After a few moments, something more upbeat started to play and broke the spell that they were under. Bella cleared her throat and stood up.
"I should be heading to bed. Thanks for sharing," she said quietly.
He smiled at her. "Anytime, Bella. Good night."
She smiled and waved from the doorway. "Good night, Edward."
She continued to hum 'Hold You In My Arms' on her way back to her room and as she settled in for the night.
The next day turned out to be one of the most hectic that Bella had experienced since arriving in Chicago. Even though Alice and Jasper were scheduled to leave early that afternoon, Alice still managed to drag Bella shopping for a new dress that morning. No matter how much arguing Bella tried, Alice refused to listen, insisting that she needed to look hot for Edward. When Bella corrected her that she was going out with Demetri, Alice only smirked and studiously ignored the comment. After finding a stunning sleeveless black dress that came to mid-thigh, Alice was content. They met back up with Jack and Jasper for lunch before heading to the O'Hare to say their goodbyes. The Volvo was returned to the rental company and promises were made from the Whitlocks to come back in early August for another visit.
As soon as Bella and Jack walked into the front door of the Cullen home around five o'clock, Esme was ushering Bella and her dress bag upstairs. She was definitely more excited about this date than Bella herself was. She shooed Bella into the shower and then applied a light amount of make up to her face and styled her hair while Bella sat in a bathrobe. She curled and primed and prodded for the better part of an hour. Bella worried slightly that she'd come out looking over done, but the end result was beautiful. Very minimal make up was applied and her hair was curled and cascaded down her back.
She smiled at Esme and hugged her in thanks.
"Okay, now carefully get into that dress, missy, and then come down to show it off," Esme teased her before leaving the room.
Bella walked over and took a deep breath, taking the dress out of the bag. She carefully maneuvered herself into it and then slipped on a pair of black heels. She tossed her wallet and cell phone into a small black clutch that Esme loaned her. She gazed into the mirror, almost not recognizing herself, before slowly making her way down the stairs. When she reached the bottom, she looked up and noticed multiple sets of eyes on her. Esme sat between Edward and Jack on the larger couch. All three of them held different expressions on their faces. Esme looked proud, while Jack looked astonished. As hard as she tried, she couldn't quite make out Edward's expression.
Bella turned, showing off the black dress that showed slightly more cleavage than she was comfortable with.
"I knew it would fit perfect, Bella! You're going to knock his socks off!" Esme exclaimed.
Out of the corner of her eye, Bella noticed Edward's uncomfortable look at his mother's comment and wasn't sure what to make of it.
"Do you really have to go? Why can't you just stay home with me and Dad?" Jack frowned.
"Sorry, kiddo. I'm just going on a date. I'll be back," she laughed. Jack narrowed his eyes.
"Fine, but you better be back by ten, okay?"
Bella shook her head and laughed. She looked over at Edward when she heard his chuckle and gave him a questioning look. He smiled and shrugged.
A moment later, the doorbell rang and Esme excitedly pounced to answer the door.
Bella ran her hand over the front of her dress nervously. She looked up and noticed that Edward was staring at her.
"What? Do I look okay?"
He smiled somewhat sadly and stood up. He walked over and touched a strand of her hair.
"You look better than okay, Bella. You look beautiful," he whispered.
'Ask me not to go,' she begged him silently with her eyes. No such words came from his mouth, so she turned and followed Esme to the foyer where Demetri stood waiting, looking very handsome in a black trousers and a dark blue dress shirt. He reached out for her hands and kissed them lightly.
"You look absolutely stunning, Bella. Thank you for accompanying me tonight."
Bella blushed and thanked him quietly before allowing him to lead her to his car.
Little over three hours later, Demetri was dropping Bella off back at the Cullen house. He had taken her to a lovely French restaurant and then they made their way to a small jazz club. They sat and chatted over drinks for a good hour. She decided that she liked Tre very much and that he was a great guy, but he wasn't Edward. So when he asked her if they could go out again, while they were standing on the doorstep, Bella had no choice but to decline, letting him down as easily as she could. Imagine her surprise when he leaned down and kissed her cheek before smirking at her.
"What's so amusing?" she asked, slightly indignant.
"I really hope my cousin opens his eyes soon. You obviously care very much about him, and I can see the same in him. I've known Edward for a long time, so I'd like to think that I understand him very well. If things go as I suspect they will, I'll be expecting a thank you call sometime this weekend, my dear."
She continued to gaze at him in confusion as he walked away, back to his car. Demetri gave her a quick wave before driving off. She shook herself out of her daze and opened the door. Inside, Jack and Edward were sitting side by side on the couch, both in their pajamas, waiting for her. She raised an eyebrow and put one of her hands on her hip.
"What's with the welcoming party?" she asked.
Jack stood up and folded his arms. He looked at the clock and then back at her.
"You're late, Ma."
She rolled her eyes and made a face at him.
"I'm also an adult, Little Bit."
"No, no, no," he argued, trying to keep the smile off of his face and failing miserably. "We made an agreement before you left. Ten o'clock. It's now ten-fifteen. I think you need a time out."
She moved quickly and grabbed him by the waist to tickle him.
"I'll show you a time out, mister!"
Edward watched with a smile on his face, although he looked slightly nervous when Bella and Jack calmed down and she met his gaze.
"Okay, Jack," he said, "I let you wait up for your mom, but now it's to bed with you."
Jack sighed. "Fine, I get the picture," he laughed. He went over to hug his father and whispered something in his ear. Edward responded by laughing lightly and ruffling Jack's hair. Jack wrapped his arms around Bella's waist and kissed her cheek.
"Good night, Mom. Night, Dad!" He called out as he ran up the stairs.
Bella smiled and shook her head. She heard Edward clear his throat and looked over at him. The nervous look was back on his face.
"What's wrong, Edward?" she asked, concerned.
"I'm actually not feeling too well, Bella."
"What happened?" she asked, her concern growing. "When did you start not feeling well?"
"Last night at dinner, actually."
She took a few steps closer to him.
"Is there anything that I can do to help you feel better?"
He looked determinedly into her eyes and nodded, before smiling shyly.
"Yes, you can. Go out on a date with me?"
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