AN: A huge nod and thank you to Stratan, who is an angel for putting up with my last-minute tendencies. =)
August 4th, 2010
Over the next few days, Jack, Charlie and Edward had been almost inseparable. Bella found herself on the verge of being jealous a few times, but the overall cuteness of their bonding moments made her quickly dispel the notion. The nightly make out sessions with Edward didn't hurt either.
Wednesday afternoon was bright and sunny; perfect weather for a baseball game. Bella sat on the end of the second row aisle, on the third base side. The seats were completely amazing and she briefly wondered how Edward had gotten a hold of them.
She turned and smiled at Edward, who was talking animatedly with her father about the last play that had taken place on the field. Jack sat on his father's left side, paying rapt attention to everything that the two men were saying.
Charlie turned and nudged Edward in the side. "I would have figured you for a Sox fan, Ed."
Edward rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly before responding. "Uh, the Sox are in Milwaukee this week."
Charlie laughed loudly and slapped his knee.
Bella shook her head at the two men and smiled, before reaching into her jeans pocket to pull out her vibrating phone. She frowned as she noticed that a text from an unknown number was on her screen. Opening it, she gasped and covered her mouth.
Staring back at her was a picture of their group walking into the stadium, with Jack between Edward and herself. A caption beneath the picture read:
"I can get to you anywhere."
She swallowed and tried to quell the nauseous feeling in her stomach, closing the message quickly. Edward turned, giving her a concerned look.
"Is everything okay, baby? You look sick," he asked in a worried voice.
She gave him a watery smile and nodded briefly. "I'm going to go find the ladies room. I'm not feeling well, but I'll be fine."
He kissed her on the cheek and smiled kindly. She returned the gesture before getting up and making her way to the restrooms. The long line for the women's room gave her a chance to settle her emotions and to think rationally. As soon as she found an empty stall, she placed the lid down and sat on the commode. She opened the photo again and noticed that it was probably taken from about ten feet away, with Jack as the main focus. She weighed her options for a few minutes before coming to a decision. There was no point in ruining the rest of the game for the guys, so she would hold off on telling them until afterwards. Until then, she'd watch Jack like a hawk and stick close to Edward and Charlie.
An idea jumped into her mind and she pulled up her iPhone's App Store to find a call recording application. Once it was installed and ready to go, she placed her phone back in her pocket and left the stall, stopping only to wash her hands. She walked a feet from the restroom, towards a quiet corner and opened the recording software to re-dial the unfamiliar number. The line picked up and Bella grimaced as she heard a recording say "Your call is now being recorded." She wished like hell that the person on the other line didn't catch that.
"He-hello?" Bella asked tentatively.
"I must say that I'm surprised you called back," a husky female voice replied. "Don't you have any sense of self-preservation?"
Bella's brow furrowed, trying to recognize the semi-familiar voice. "Who is this?"
"You really have to ask, Ms. Swan?" The woman laughed lightly.
Recognition hit Bella like a punch to the gut.
"What do you want, Victoria?" she asked angrily.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Don't growl at me, Isabella. I have a proposition for you."
"What could you possibly have to offer me?" Bella asked incredulously.
"Jackson. I never wanted to be a mother. Edward knew that. Hell, both of our families knew that. I only wanted Edward and the power I got from being with him. He got off on being seen with me on his arm. Plus, he's always had a soft spot for me and my mouth, if you know what I mean."
Bella's stomach turned, the image of Victoria going down on Edward burning behind her eyes.
"What does this have to do with me?" she asked in a shaky voice.
Victoria snickered. "It's quite simple. I want you to take the boy and disappear. I want to swoop in and pick up the pieces of Edward's broken heart."
Bella's eye widened comically and she held back a hysterical laugh.
"Are you insane? What kind of a deal is that?" she asked incredulously.
"Oh, but I'm not crazy. This is the easy way out for you. The guarantee that Jack will be yours, and yours alone. The hard way will be me sending you packing back to your podunk town. Without Edward or Jack."
"Oh really? And how do you propose that will happen?" Bella asked, her annoyance growing by leaps and bounds.
"I have a connection with Edward, and I know that I can easily find my way back into his bed. We've always had a... special bond, he and I. It can happen now, and I take both him and your son from you. Or, you can leave now and keep the boy. I only want Edward."
Bella scoffed at the arrogance of this woman.
"I was right before. You are insane. I love them both and there's no way I'm walking away from either of them. In case you're unaware, I have legal rights to Jack, unlike you."
"Oh, I know all about your rights. I also know that if Edward and I show a united front, you'll be squashed like a bug in court. But, if you disappear now, I can work my way in and sabotage every move that he makes to take Jack from you. We all know that's inevitable. Do you honestly think that just because Mama Esme adopted him that he'll let you just leave again with his son?" Victoria laughed gaily. "You are so wrong. I guarantee that by the time you're ready to go, he'll have filed an injunction to keep you there."
Bella's heart started to beat faster, thoughts of losing Jack spurring on an anxiety attack.
"No," she whispered. "You're wrong."
Sensing weakness, Victoria dove in for the kill. "Are you sure about that? Are you willing to risk your son with that gamble?"
"How can you be like this? I- I don't understand how you could not love that little boy."
It was Victoria's turn to scoff. "Just because I carried that boy for nine months doesn't change the fact that I don't care about him. To be honest, he's better off with you anyway. I didn't need to look at him everyday and see my failures or the life that I lost when Edward knocked me up. He wanted to keep the child, so I was pressured to go through with it. I should have snuck off and gotten rid of it quietly, not telling anyone."
Bella stifled a sob at heartbreak she felt for Jack.
"I'm not giving in to you. You'll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands."
"That can be arranged, Isabella," Victoria responded icily. "But remember this, I'm your only hope of leaving Chicago with Jack."
Bella took a deep breath and leaned against the wall as Victoria ended the call with a 'click.'
She felt a touch on her shoulder and she jerked away instinctively. Her heart pounded as she whipped around to view the person.
"Baby, hey, what's wrong? Why are you scared?" Edward asked, starting to feel slightly frightened himself as he took in her wide, fear-filled eyes.
She let out a small sob and collapsed against his chest.
"Shh, it's okay, Bella. Did someone hurt you?"
When she didn't answer, he started to panic.
"Bella. Baby, please. You've got to tell me what's wrong. I'm going out of my mind here," he asked in a shaking voice.
"Vi-Vic-Victoria," she hiccuped out.
Edward's eyes narrowed and he looked around at the crowd, searching for a glimpse of red hair.
"Where? What happened? What did she did do to you?"
Bella shook her head and wiped the tears from her cheeks. She touched her phone's screen and it came to life, opening up the picture to show Edward. His eyes widened and his nostrils flared in fury.
"What the fuck is that?" he hissed, taking the phone from her hand to inspect the picture closely. He looked up at her, his eyes blazing angrily.
"Victoria sent this? How do you know?"
Bella swallowed and answered quietly. "I called the number back."
"I'm sorry, what was that?" he asked, not believing his ears.
Bella straightened her back and looked him directly in the eye. "I called back and it was her that I spoke with."
Edward groaned and handed her phone back. "Dammit, Bella. I wish you would have said something first. You don't know what she's capable of."
Bella partly understood where he was coming from, but a spark of annoyance flowed through her and out of her mouth.
"I beg to differ. I know exactly what that monster is capable of. I'm the one who found the child she abandoned, remember?"
Hurt flashed across his face, and he looked away. She sighed and reached for his hand, after a moment of awkward silence.
"I'm sorry. I'm upset and frightened. That's no excuse to take it out on you."
He looked back at her and it broke her heart to see his face closed off.
"Let's go back to our seats and stay together. We'll talk about this later," he said with no emotion in his voice.
Bella sighed wearily as he took her hand and led her through the crowd. This Victoria mess needed to be cleared up soon. It was wearing everyone's nerves too thin. When they got to the seats, Charlie looked up in concern. She smiled slightly, which came off as more of a grimace.
"What's going on?" he asked gruffly, looking between Edward and Bella.
"It's fine for now, Chief," Edward responded smoothly. "We'll talk about it when we get home, okay?"
Charlie looked at Bella who smiled slightly and pleaded at him with her eyes. Her father nodded and turned his gaze back on the game. Bella looked over at Jack and she sighed in relief. He was gazing intently at the field, captivated by the game and completely unaware of the tension surrounding his parents.
After a few minutes of silence, Jack turned to his parents.
"Do you think I could play baseball next year? Garrett is already on a team, and I think Riley is trying out, too."
She smiled and nodded. "We'll see when the time comes."
With their tense conversation earlier, there was no mistaking the way Edward stiffened next to her. Once they got the Victoria situation taken care of, they seriously needed to have a sit down conversation about how they were going to handle their separation. Neither one of them wanted to broach the subject yet, but time was closing in on them. Victoria's words started to eat at her. Bella remembered just how cold Edward had been to her when they first arrived in Chicago. If she was right about Victoria's connection with James, then she should would have first-hand knowledge on any legal matters pertaining to Jack and Edward.
What if she was telling the truth? Did she have it in her to place all of her trust in Edward when it came to Jack? She didn't have the answer to that question, and it made her sick to her stomach. She wanted desperately to believe that Victoria was just playing mind games, but the anxiety still gnawed at her. The possibility of everything crashing down around her was consuming her thoughts.
After the game, Edward took them to a diner-like restaurant called Ed Debevic's. Jack had a ball, choosing to sit in a red vinyl booth and wearing his paper hat proudly. Edward grinned at his son's enthusiasm and motioned for Bella to slide into the booth first so that she was seated across from the boy. Edward sat down and shook his head at Jack's excitement.
"When your Uncle Em and I were kids, Grandpop Carlisle used to bring us here after every ball game we went to. I used to get a kick out of the fact that I shared a name with the restaurant."
Jack smiled at his father and laughed. "That's cool, Dad. I feel the same way whenever me and Mom go to this place called Jack In The Box back home!"
A waitress sauntered over their way and placed some menus on the table.
"Hiya guys, welcome to Ed Debevic's. I'm your waitress, Kelly. Can I start you off with anything to drink?"
Charlie ordered coffee while Jack and I chose milkshakes. She flipped her auburn hair and smiled seductively at Edward. "How about you, handsome? Is there anything that I can get for you?"
Bella felt her temper flare and she clutched her napkin tightly. Edward chuckled and shook his head.
"Yes, thank you. I'll follow my family's lead and go with a Chocolate Shake."
Bella felt a surge of joy when he placed an emphasis on the word 'family.'
"Oh, and can we get an order of Outrageous Cheesy Fries, too?" Edward flashed the girl his panty-dropping smile and Bella rolled her eyes as the girl's eyes grew large and she nodded, before disappearing with their orders.
Charlie snickered and picked up his menu and Jack followed suit. As Bella opened hers, she felt Edward's light touch on her thigh. His hand was resting there, palm up and her heart warmed. She slipped one of her hands into his and he squeezed it affectionately. A few minutes later, Kelly returned with their drinks, her overall attitude was more friendly and less directed at Edward, to Bella's pleasure. Dinner passed with easy conversation and she felt her earlier anxiety loosen its grip on her heart.
After Jack was asleep, the adults convened in the living room. Carlisle and Esme were out on a date night, so it was just Bella, Charlie and Edward.
"So, what happened earlier, Bella?" Charlie asked, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the his knees.
Edward looked at her intently and Bella sighed.
"I received a disturbing message on my phone and went to the ladies room to compose myself."
Edward raised an eyebrow. "I think there's a little more to it than that, isn't there, Bella?"
Charlie looked between his daughter and her suitor, who he had come to like and admire over the past few days.
"Here, it's easier if you just see it, Dad."
Bella handed Charlie the phone with the picture open. The older man's brow furrowed and his mustache twitched. He looked up at his daughter, anger clearly evident on his face.
"Who the hell sent this to you, Bella? Why didn't you tell me as soon as it happened?"
Edward threw his hands in the air before slapping them on his thighs. "That's exactly what I said!" he exclaimed.
Bella took a deep breath and ran her hands through her hair.
"You guys were having a good time, and I didn't want to ruin it. I was going to stick close to Jack and be aware of my surroundings. I wasn't going to do something stupid."
"Really?" Edward asked sarcastically. "What do you call replying to the psycho caller?"
Bella groaned internally and felt resentment build for the way he just kept blurting things out.
"You're getting on my nerves, Edward." She glared at him. "Let me tell it my way, please."
He rolled his eyes before looking down at his shoes. Bella turned to face Charlie, who was torn between looking amused at her interaction with Edward and ire for the person who sent Bella the picture.
"Yes, I called the number back. I wanted to know who they were and what they wanted."
Charlie ran his hands over the stubble on his face and sighed, shaking his head. "Bell, you know better. You should have waited until we could trace the call or tapped your phone. Who was it? What did they want?"
Bella bit her lips, debating on whether or not to share the info about recording the call. She hadn't had a chance to check and make sure it even worked, so she opted against sharing that piece of info.
"It was Victoria, Jack's biological mother. She wanted me to take Jack and disappear from Chicago."
Edward's head jerked up quickly, astonishment written across his face.
"What?" he asked in panic. "Why?"
Bella gave him a rueful smile. "She seems to think it would be easier to get back into your life if Jack wasn't around."
Edward made a disgusted face and shook his head. "That makes no sense. Why would you just up and leave?"
Bella's heart felt heavy and she knew she should bring up her fears, but they hit too close to home and she couldn't voice them yet.
"I don't know. I did call her insane though," Bella chuckled darkly.
Edward snorted. "That she is."
Charlie eyed Bella speculatively, knowing his daughter well enough to know that she was holding something back. He made a humming sound before voicing another question.
"How did she get your phone number?"
Edward growled and flexed his hand. "My money is on Marcus. I knew his giving up on her was too good to be true."
Bella narrowed her eyes and cocked her head slightly to the side while gazing at the man she loved.
Can he really be that dense? she thought.
"I don't think so," Bella replied aloud. "He sounded completely sincere when Esme and I spoke with him the other day about the Gala outcome."
"Then who else, Bella?" Edward asked in annoyance.
She shook her head sadly. "You don't want to hear it, Edward."
He groaned and leaned back into the chair. "Not this James nonsense again, Bella. Please."
Charlie looked confused. "Who is James?"
"My friend, who's also my lawyer," Edward responded.
Charlie turned to his daughter. "Bells? Why do you think this James would have given your number to Victoria?"
"I think he's involved with her."
Edward made a disbelieving noise and Charlie shot him a glare. "Don't be disrespectful, boy. Let her speak."
Edward looked back down at his feet, feeling properly chastised. Bella cocked an eyebrow at her father and mouthed the word thanks to him. He nodded and motioned for her to continue.
"Ok, first off, I have no real proof other than a gut feeling. Mr. Jenks is working on finding anything out. Secondly, other facts fit into the puzzle too easily. He matches the physical description of the man who was with Victoria in Seattle. He was supposedly on vacation out of the state when she up and split with Jack. He made eye contact with her at the Gala and gave her a gesture that made it feel like he was warning her about something. Lastly, he made Jack uncomfortable that night. He froze and then cowered when he caught a glimpse of James."
Edward looked up at hearing that. "He's just a boy, Bella. He was in a tense situation."
Bella shook her head. "It was more than that, I'm sure of it. I trust Jack's reaction. He was uncomfortable with James, more than I was ,and that's saying something."
Charlie looked thoughtful and stroked his mustache. "I know it's hard hearing something bad about your friend, Edward, but I wouldn't discount Bella's feelings. She has good instincts, not only as a cop's daughter, but as a mother as well."
He looked at his daughter and smiled tightly. "It'll be okay, Bells. Do you want to leave Chicago early?"
She felt Edward's gaze on her like a laser as she shook her head. "No, I'm not letting her scare me off. We'll just need to be more careful. I'm going to call Jasper tomorrow and see how the legal work is going."
Charlie nodded. "If something like this happens again, you come straight to one of us, understood? I know you're a grown woman, but you're still my baby girl and Jack is my grandson. You two mean everything to me."
Bella felt tears prick her eyes and she gave him a swift hug, feeling a weight lift off of her chest.
"Yes, Daddy," she whispered into his shirt. "I promise."
After their conversation, everyone decided to retire for the night. Charlie made his way to the second guest room, where he had been staying. Edward lingered with Bella outside of her door, unsure of what to do. They were both still annoyed at each other, but neither made a move to leave.
Edward sighed and ran a hand through his hair, which made Bella smile sadly. She stood up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek.
"Good night, Edward," she murmured quietly before walking into her and room and shutting the door.
He stood there, stunned for a moment, before going up to his own room and preparing for bed.
At three in the morning, Edward woke up in a cold sweat from a nightmare. He quickly jumped out of bed and quickly found himself outside of Bella's door. He debated for a moment, before the need to see her overcame him. He opened the door and quietly made his way over to the bed. The covers were strewn about, as if she had had trouble sleeping herself. He gently eased himself into the bed beside her and pulled the quilt over them. She turned her body and molded against him, her head resting on his shoulder and her leg atop of his. She let out a contented sigh and threw her arm across his chest.
"I love you, Edward," she said quietly, yet clearly enough that he knew she was awake.
He kissed the top of her head. "I love you, too, Bella. So very much."
August 8th, 2010
The rest of the week passed too quickly, and soon Sunday appeared. The sky was overcast and gloomy, as if it were in tune with Bella's heart. She hated to see her father go, even if she was just going to see him again in less than a month. O'Hare was bustling with people and Bella held onto Jack tighter, feeling slightly paranoid. They reached Charlie's gate, but couldn't go any further without boarding passes.
Charlie squeezed Bella and she melted against her father's side in comfort. When his flight to Seattle was called, Charlie leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
"I'll see you in a few weeks, baby girl. Everything will work out fine, you'll see," he told her quietly.
"Thanks, Daddy," she whispered in his ear. Charlie grinned and reached out to shake Edward's hand.
"Edward, it was good to meet you, son. Take care of my family, you hear?"
Edward smiled sincerely. "With my life, Chief."
The two men exchanged a look and Charlie nodded, before looking at Jack and holding open his arms. The boy hugged his grandfather tightly.
"I'll see you soon, Pops! Tell Seth and Nana and Leah that I miss them!"
"I will, kiddo. I promise," Charlie responded, blinking away tears.
After a few more parting words, Charlie finally boarded his flight. Edward wrapped his arm around Bella's shoulder as Jack ran across to watch the planes take off through the glass.
"Bella, can I ask you a serious question?" Edward asked quietly.
She looked up at him and smiled. "Always, Edward. What is it?"
He looked down at her, eyes full of love and adoration.
"What would you say if I said that I was considering moving to Seattle?"