AN: The Halloween Outtake posted yesterday! Head over and check it out! It's a short little thing. =)
This early update is brought to you by the Fandom for Preemies fundraiser. For those of you who questioned Jack's mood in the last chapter and parts of this one, the Outtake should clear a few things up. There are *over* 100 authors taking part, including the Jack POV Outtake from Parachute. It ties into Chapters 23 & 24. If you can spare the donation, please do so! The March of Dimes is a very worthy charity! (Link to their site is on my profile and the blog!)
Oh, and a nod to the super-freaking-awesome Stratan, who Betas for us! *mwah*
Even though she and Esme had previously visited the Crystal Ballroom at the Blackstone Hotel a few weeks ago, while scouting locations for the gala, entering the room once again took Bella's breath away. This time, instead of a gorgeous empty room with a Warholesque rug featuring a red and orangish chrysanthemum taking up the entire floor space, the room was filled with people surrounding a few tables and chairs. A portion of the area had been reworked to include a small dance floor and a small stage. Bella swallowed nervously and tightened her grip on Edward's arm as quite a few people turned their inquisitive gazes on the the family that had just entered the room.
She felt Jack standing just behind her, hiding himself from the spotlight for now. She reached behind her slightly and her son automatically clutched her hand. He took a deep breath and stepped slowly beside her. The murmurs that were going on around them grew a bit louder as he did so. His frightened gaze flicked towards his mother, who gave him a warm, comforting smile. Edward caught his gaze and shot him a playful wink, which helped calm his butterflies. Jack straightened his shoulders and smiled at his parents. Carlisle and Esme lead the small procession into the room and up to the large table in front of the stage.
As the group settled at the table, Marcus and Diane walked over with a man around their age with salt and pepper colored hair, introducing him to Carlisle and Edward as Diane squeezed Esme's hand before hugging Bella gently.
"My dear, don't you look stunning!" she exclaimed, stepping back to admire Bella's dress. It was a form fitting empire waist, white and black Alice Whitlock original with an oval opening in the valley of her breasts and straps that crisscrossed her chest.
"Thank you, Diane. You look lovely as well," she responded shyly.
"And who is this beautiful lady?" the new addition asked, turning his attention to Bella.
Marcus smiled proudly and reached out for Bella's hand.
"Dick, this is Miss Isabella Swan. She's the author who started The Lost Treasures Foundation and the amazing woman who adopted my grandson."
"Bella," Marcus continued, "this is Richard Daley, the mayor of Chicago."
"Miss Swan, it is an honor to meet you." Bella blushed slightly as the man took her hand and kissed it lightly.
When Mayor Daley's attention was distracted somewhere else, Tanya sidled up to Bella's side.
"His name is Dick Daley? His parents must have been a little twisted. That's my kind of people." She waggled her eyebrows, which caused Bella to bite her lip to stifle the giggles that were bubbling up.
"Hey Bells?" Tanya asked.
"I don't think I want to hear it, but, what?"
"What would his wife say when asked if she loved her husband? 'Oh, yes! I love Dick Daley!' I'd respond and say, 'Yeah, me too honey!'"
Bella made a choking sound as she held back laughter. She gave the mayor a sheepish smile and elbowed Tanya in the side when he turned around to make sure that she was okay.
"Are you alright, baby?" Edward asked quietly in her ear.
She couldn't help but smile at sight of him in his tux.
"I'm fine, Edward. Tanya's being a whore though."
Tanya snorted and shook her head. "You love me for it."
"That I do, Tahn. That I do," Bella sighed, before winking at her friend.
Tanya wrapped her arm around Bella's shoulders. "Girl, you couldn't find a better friend."
Bella laughed. "Of course, I know you'll always be there with the bail money."
Tanya barked out a laugh. "Bail money? Hell, I'd probably be in the cell next to you."
Edward laughed and shook his head. "It's never a dull moment with you around, is it, Tanya?"
She grinned cheekily. "No, Mr. Cullen. It never is."
Bella glanced around the room, her gaze falling on Demetri, and smirked. "Hey, Tahn, there's someone I want you to meet..."
Leaving Jack at the table with Esme and Alice, Edward led Bella around the room to make rounds and introductions, his hand resting on the small of her back the entire time. They came to a stop in front of tall man with dirty blond hair that was in desperate need of a haircut. His hazel eyes were cold and predatory as he watched their approach. Bella felt a shiver run down her spine and she swallowed nervously. Something about this man set off every warning bell that resided in her head.
"Bella, I'd like you to meet my friend and lawyer, James Brooks."
James reached for her hand and Bella fought the urge to recoil from his touch.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Isabella," he spoke in a smug voice. "Edward has told me all about you."
Bella had learned long ago to trust her instincts and now every single one of them was telling her to get away from this man.
"I'm afraid, then, you have me at a disadvantage, Mr. Brooks. I don't know much about you at all." She tried to keep her voice strong and steady, but she noticed his eyes widen and he smiled widely, showing off his teeth. In her mind, she compared that look to a shark tasting blood in the water.
"My, you are a firecracker, aren't you?" James turned to Edward and shook his hand. "Ed, good to see you. If you'll excuse me, I have some business to attend to."
Right as he passed out of Edward's line of sight, he shot Bella a smirk that made her heart hammer in fear.
"Hey, are you okay, sweetheart? Your face is flushed," Edward said in a concerned tone.
Her wide eyes looked into his and she felt her paranoia simmer down. She took a deep breath in through her nose and nodded.
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just a lot to take in," she responded as she gestured around the room.
He smiled kindly and took her arm. "Let's head back to the table then. I could use a break myself."
When they reached the table, Emmett pulled Edward off to the side to speak to an old friend so Bella took an empty seat in between Alice and Jack.
Jack was engrossed in a game on her iPhone, so she sat back and sighed. Alice rested her chin on Bella's shoulder and nudged her friend.
"Hey, Bell, who was that guy?"
Bella shot her a confused look. "Which one? There's a room full of them."
Alice's lips puckered and her face was etched in concern. "The last one."
Bella's nostrils flared and she grimaced. "James Brooks. He is Edward's friend and lawyer."
Alice's eyes clouded over and a far away look crossed her face. Suddenly, she blinked and looked straight into Bella's eyes.
"Stay away from him, he's bad news."
"Allie?" Bella asked, confused. "Do you know him or something?"
Alice shook her head. "No, I just have a bad feeling about him. He looked at you like you were something to eat. It was creepy."
"Huh," Bella pondered while examining her nails. "I had the same kind of reaction. Like, I felt like my skin was crawling. I don't understand how Edward is friends with someone like him."
Alice straightened up and shook her head. "Sometimes you can't see what's right in front of you."
Bella nodded thoughtfully before letting her gaze fall back onto her son, who was staring intently at the phone. She leaned to look over his shoulder and watched him typing on a dark screen.
"Whatcha doing, Little Bit?"
Bella raised and eyebrow. "You're Tweeting?"
"Yeah, this place is kinda boring. I've been Tweeting back and forth with some friends."
"Riley, Garrett, Bree, Dania, Ayden, Pika, Nic, Mal and a few others."
"Wait, are they kids in your class? Who names their kid Pika?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "Yes, and Pika is her nickname, Mom."
After a few minutes of Bella looking over his shoulder, Jack closed the app and set the phone down on the table. He look up at her and smiled.
"Are you bored, too, Mom?"
Bella huffed and sat back. "Yeah, so sue me."
Jack looked around the room and then back at his Mom. "How about we make a quick escape."
She cocked her head to the side. "Go on, you've intrigued Mother."
Jack stood up and reached for her hand. They stealthily made their way though the crowd and found themselves at a set of doors that led to a balcony. He motioned forward with his arm. "After you, my lady."
Bella curtsied and smiled. "Thank you, kind sir."
The two of them stood on the balcony for a few minutes, letting the warm, humid Chicago air lay upon their skin like a blanket.
Jack sighed. "I miss the air back home. It always smelled fresh. And the sound of the rain, I miss that too."
Bella smiled. "I know what you mean. When I was younger, I used to hate Forks. It was always so rainy and dreary, but over the years, it's grown on me. I've missed it, too."
"Mom, what are we going to do?"
She turned and looked down at Jack questioningly. "What do you mean?"
"When the summer is over. What are we going to do?
Bella sighed sadly and looked out over the view of the city.
"What do you want to do, Jack?"
He turned to her with wide eyes. "You can't ask me something like that!" he exclaimed.
She almost laughed at his comical reaction. "Why not?"
"I'm a kid! You can't put that kind of decision on my fragile shoulders."
She snorted and shook her head slightly. "Really, Jack? It's amusing to hear you talk like you're 40 and call yourself a kid in the same breath."
He shrugged. "Eh, I'm mature for my age, plus I have a superior intellect."
Bella laughed and nudged him with her shoulder. "Knock it off, brat."
A few moments of silence passed before she spoke again.
"We go home. That's what happens at the end of the summer. We go home and we keep in contact with everyone here. We come here for visits or they come to Washington."
Jack nodded thoughtfully. "I figured as much."
Bella looked down at him with tears stinging her eyes. She squatted down until she was eye level with him, being careful that she didn't harm her dress.
"What do you want, Jack? I know the decision is too much to put on you, but this is your life, too. I want to make sure that you're happy."
"I am happy. I'll miss everyone here, but I want to go home. To the rain and my friends and the rest of our family."
Jack looked up at her with his wide, innocent green eyes. He wrapped his arms around her neck and squeezed tightly.
"I'll go wherever you want me to, Mom. You're my home."
Bella silently thanked Alice and her waterproof makeup as she felt tears stream down her cheeks. She hugged him back and stood up, lifitng him off of his feet and keeping him in her arms.
"I love you so, so much, Jack. You're my world. I don't know what I would do without you."
After a moment, she placed him back on his feet and wiped her eyes. A throat cleared in the doorway to the ballroom and she looked over at Edward's concerned face.
"Is everything okay?"
Jack stepped up and nodded. "Yeah, everything is fine, Dad. You know how mushy girls get when you tell them you love them."
She smiled gratefully down at her son for his simple and sweet explanation. She knew that the three of them needed to talk about September as a family, but now was not the right time or place.
She smiled sheepishly at Edward and shrugged. He smiled sweetly and reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small white handkerchief. She took it from his outstretched hand and dabbed her face, trying to eliminate any traces of tears.
"Do I look okay?" she asked softly.
"Yes, you look wonderful," Edward responded without taking his eyes from hers.
"Ugh, okay. Can we go back inside before you two get all kissy again?" Jack complained half-heartedly.
Bella laughed and nodded, before leaving the quiet balcony for the steady din of the crowded room once again.
A little over an hour later, Marcus took the the stage.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. First off, I want to thank you for coming out this evening to support such a worthy cause. As some of you are well aware, my name is Marcus Preston, and I am president of Northern Trust Co. Just about five years ago, tragedy struck our family when my grandson, Jackson, went missing. It was a blow that struck all of us deeply. Through twists and turns that none of us could expect, our story has a happy ending. Jackson was found and adopted by the wonderful woman that you'll hear from tonight. Not many other children will receive that kind of ending, so we're here tonight to raise funds for The Lost Treasures Foundation, which aids missing and abandoned children and their families. Please open your hearts and your wallets tonight."
He smiled at his captive audience and looked around the room, before gesturing towards a large table off to his right.
"In addition to our fundraising tonight, we also have some items set up for a silent auction, so please feel free to come up and take a look at some of the things offered. Now, without further ado, I'd like to introduce world famous author and my new personal hero, Miss Isabella Swan."
Bella swallowed nervously before standing and making her way to the small stage. She still had minor cases of stage fright, but it was nowhere near as bad as it used to be. She had Tanya and her headfirst approach to book signings to thank for that. She smiled graciously at Marcus, who assisted her up the few stairs to reach the podium. She took a deep breath and smiled out into the crowd.
"Hello everyone. Thank you, Marcus, for your lovely words. I truly appreciate them. I'm here tonight to campaign for The Lost Treasures Foundation. I started it a few years back, shortly after I adopted my son, Jack, to help kids that were alone like he was. He was lost and alone when I came across him five years ago; a three year old who couldn't share who his family was or even where they were. The hows and whys of his appearance in Seattle that day are still somewhat of a mystery to all of us, but in the here and now, Jack is finding his happy ending. There are millions of children throughout this country, who are lost and alone, in need of love, comfort and shelter. LTF helps them find that. We also provide support to families who are bereft because their children are missing. Not everyone can have a happy ending, but we can strive to make those numbers go up. So it is with a heavy, yet joyous heart, that I thank each and every one of you for for attending and helping to make it possible for LTF to continue changing lives."
She smiled and nodded once before stepping back. Marcus stepped up swiftly beside her and leaned into the mic. "Once again, thank you very much and enjoy your evening."
There was a smattering of applause as Marcus held his hand out to help Bella down the stairs. When she was safely on the floor, he leaned down to whisper in her ear. "You were absolutely wonderful, Isabella."
She smiled up at him shyly as they made their way back to the table, where she took her seat once again between Jack and Edward. Both hugged her and whispered congratulations and that she did a great job. She smiled and kissed them both on the cheek. After a few minutes of chatting with their family, Bella eyed Jack's wineglass speculatively.
"What do you have there, kiddo?"
Jack rolled his eyes playfully and chuckled. "It's grape juice, Mom, don't worry."
She giggled and ruffled his hair slightly. A moment later, she felt Edward tug on her elbow. She turned to face him and couldn't help but return his breathtaking smile.
"Will you dance with me, please, Bella?"
She nodded and placed her hand in his, letting him lead her to the dance floor. A new song started softly as she placed her arms around his neck.
The stars lean down to kiss you
And I lie awake and miss you
Pour me a heavy dose of atmosphere
'Cause I'll doze off safe and soundly
But I'll miss your arms around me
I'd send a postcard to you, dear
'Cause I wish you were here
She sighed. "I love this song, it's so pretty."
"Mmmhmm," Edward agreed in a hum.
"Bella, what were you guys talking about on the balcony? It looked like a tense moment."
"Can we talk about this later? I don't think this is a good place for that conversation."
He placed a hand on her cheek and she leaned into it. "I just want to know if everything's okay, baby."
She melted at the sound of his voice calling her baby and looked up into his sincere eyes.
"It will be. The three of us just need to sit down and sort through some things in regards to how this all plays out at the end of the summer."
She watched his eyes sadden as he nodded and looked away.
I'll watch the night turn light-blue
But it's not the same without you
Because it takes two to whisper quietly
The silence isn't so bad
'Til I look at my hands and feel sad
'Cause the spaces between my fingers
Are right where yours fit perfectly
The awkward silence was killing her , so she tried to lighten the mood.
"So, what do you think about Tahn and Tre?"
Edward raised an eyebrow and glanced over at where those two were sitting and talking animatedly.
"I think they have the potential to either be perfect together or murder each other. Either way, it should definitely set off fireworks."
Bella threw her head back and laughed.
"I think they'd make quite an interesting pair."
"That they would," Edward agreed.
I'll find repose in new ways
Though I haven't slept in two days
'Cause cold nostalgia chills me to the bone
But drenched in vanilla twilight
I'll sit on the front porch all night
Waist-deep in thought because
When I think of you I don't feel so alone
"Look, I'm sorry for the awkwardness a few moments ago," he breathed into her ear, sending shivers down her spine.
"No, it's understandable. You just got your son back, it's difficult to imagine him leaving again."
He pulled back slightly and gazed into her eyes passionately.
"It's not just him, Bella. It's you, too. I love you. More than I've ever loved anyone else besides Jack. I can't lose you two."
Her throat closed and she felt tears welling up in her eyes.
"I don't how we're going to make this work, Edward, but I love you too, so very much. You won't ever lose either one of us, even if we're halfway across the country. We're right here," she said earnestly, placing her hand over his heart.
He leaned down and kissed her passionately, but quickly.
When violet eyes get brighter
And heavy wings grow lighter
I'll taste the sky and feel alive again
And I'll forget the world that I knew
But I swear I won't forget you
Oh, if my voice could reach
Back through the past
I'd whisper in your ear
Oh darling, I wish you were here
She opened her eyes and smiled into his lovingly. "We'll talk about all of this later, I promise."
He nodded and placed his lips against her forehead. She glanced over at their table and felt her heart start to hammer and paranoia flow through her. Jack was was shaking and breathing erratically. She jerked herself away from Edward and rushed off to her son's side. Edward stood frozen for a minute, not understanding what the hell had just happened, but was quickly jarred into motion once he noticed Bella's destination.
She was at her son's side in an instant, running her hands over his face and arms, checking to see if anything was wrong physically. His breathing became increasingly labored and his eyes were wide as saucers. She grabbed his hands and rubbed them.
"Jack! Jack, sweetie, you need to calm down. Deep breaths, Little Bit. That's it, come back to mama," she soothed cooingly in his ear, while running her free hand through his hair. He turned his wide eyes to meet hers and opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. He blinked and swallowed.
"What is it, baby? What's got you so upset?"
His eyes cast back towards the woman in a blue dress who was standing a few feet away, in front of their table, smirking at a livid Edward and Esme.
"Victoria," he whispered.
AN: The song used in this chapter was Vanilla Twilight by Owl City. Music and dresses are up on the Parachute Blog! (link on my profile)
The names of the people (other than Riley, Garrett and Bree) that Jack was Tweeting with are a nod towards towards to some completely aweseom ladies that I chat and Tweet with often and who also dispense awesome advice that helps this become a better story!
So, thank you to DaniaMCullen, AydenMorgen, Pkmarita (Pika), NicWise and MostlyALurker (Mal). You guys make my day! *mwah*