Chapter 30: Sweet Victory
A/N: I own nothing - not even a snappy disclaimer. Characters are all Stephenie Meyers' creations really. I just enjoy torturing them occasionally. Thanks must go to my lovely beta (CorrinaTFF) & my ever-supportive (especially in a crisis) fic-wifeys (Gabbysway2 & CorrinaTFF).
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I ran my finger over the photo on the wall across from Phoebe's room-a picture of me on the podium, champagne flowing freely. It was my permanent reminder of the sweetest victory I'd ever experienced, and she had insisted I hang it where she'd see it every day. I could never have guessed my placing third would mean so much to her.
Even at nine, she won't let me move it. Honestly, I couldn't think of a win or placing which meant more to me than that one either.
The days, weeks and months following that meeting were some of the most interesting I'd ever lived through.
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When I returned to Cullen Racing after placing third at Bathurst, I didn't think I'd ever seen happier faces. Everyone had congratulated me and slapped my back. I didn't think a single person was upset that James had crashed or that I had beaten him in our little bet.
Surprisingly—or maybe, not so surprisingly given his personality—James arrived at work shortly after me. He laughed off our bet and refused to acknowledge the fact that he had lost or that he was effectively welching on the deal.
It had taken a little over an hour for him to confront me. I think he wanted to approach me sooner, but didn't want to do it around anyone else. I realised he was up to his old tricks again, but somehow they didn't seem to bother me anymore. It was like I was impervious to his insults and threats. In fact, I had a plan to deal with him.
When he appeared around the corner, I slipped my hand into my pocket. I had downloaded a program on my phone that would allow me to record everything that he said to me. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it sooner. The inspiration struck me while I had been sitting, listening to the highlight reel of my crash while the media were interviewing me on the start-line at Bathurst.
"You think you're so fucking clever, don't you?" James hissed.
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"Ducking and weaving like that on the track." He was seething.
I shrugged. "I was just driving to the conditions."
"Like fuck, you little shit! You knew exactly what you were doing. You made me crash." He was trying to stay quiet, but I knew that he could lose it at any time.
I laughed. "Oh no, Jamie-boy, you did that all on your own."
"The marshals investigated me because of your stunts."
"The marshals investigated you because you were driving like a lunatic. It was nothing less than you deserved." In fact, he'd received much less than he'd deserved. The officials couldn't do more than issue a warning. He hadn't caused any damage to any other vehicle and there was no evidence that his erratic driving was malicious.
"Why didn't you just stay the fuck off the track?"
I smirked. "I thought you wanted me there. What? Are you afraid of a little competition?"
"I'm going to fuck you up the first chance I get," he threatened.
I looked around and held my arms out. "We're alone now."
He laughed. "I'm going to fuck you up good and proper." He didn't move toward me though. He obviously realised I wasn't going to bite, so he changed tack and began to talk about Bella. "Or maybe I should just fuck your wife instead?"
I tilted my head to one side and regarded him. He had a certain menace about him, there was no denying that, but he was like a Chihuahua, barking at the world to draw attention away from how small and harmless he was. How had I let him under my skin before? He was all bluster and bullshit, and I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it.
My laughter seemed to be the catalyst for James, who drew his arm back and swung at me. It connected with my cheek, just below my eye. I was shocked by it, but it didn't really hurt. The room was suddenly flooded with people, the scuffle had been heard by people close by. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, James was being escorted from the premises by security.
I wish I could say that James got everything he deserved, but I honestly didn't know. As far as the media were concerned, there was a whirl of controversy over his sudden departure from the Cullen Racing camp. An AVO* was issued against him, ensuring he would keep his distance from Bella and myself. That Carlisle had requested Pembletons take out on our behalf.
The last we heard of him, he was in the United States, racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or something.
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After James' departure, Carlisle was in need of a new driver. Jasper's doctors were still unwilling to sign-off on his injuries, which meant he was unable to drive for a little while longer. Suddenly driverless, Carlisle did the only logical thing he could. He recruited a driver who had come back from hiatus to race, and place, at Bathurst. Garrett was very quick to accept the offer; I think the time away from the track had rekindled his love of racing.
I wasn't upset that Garrett had been offered James' place, I had actually suggested it to Carlisle. I was more than happy to finish my apprenticeship and complete the Mini Challenge.
I had my own ideas for what the new racing year would bring. I'd heard rumours that Volturi were struggling because Aro had been unable to secure a decent driver, and after consulting with Bella we came up with a plan. I approached Carlisle with my idea and to my surprise, he was more than supportive. Between the two of us we were able to knock out a deal with Aro that would see a new race-team on the track. Emmanuel Racing; a subsidiary of Cullen based out of Brisbane—out of the former Volturi premises in fact.
I rode the high of those few weeks for a long time, right up until Christmas.
Jasper and Alice had used the Staff Christmas party to announce a little surprise—they were expecting. Bella and I gave each other a secret smile, hoping that we might have our own announcement before too long. I realised not long after—when Bella had handed me a tiny stick wrapped in tissue paper; a plastic strip with two pink bars—that maybe Bella's smile had held more secrets than my own.
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"Sweetie, it's time," Bella murmured from behind me, startling me away from my memories.
"Yeah?" I asked, placing my hand over her swollen belly.
She nodded. "They're very close together now."
It would be easy to assume that having been through the whole baby thing before, it would get easier, but no. I was as nervous as I had been the other times, first with Ethan and then with Beth.
My palms were sweaty as I grabbed Bella's bag and the car keys.
"Remember, you're not racing now." She grinned to let me know she was joking, right before biting her lip and folding in half as the pain of another contraction hit.
I placed my hand on the small of her back and massaged tiny circles until she stood again and shuffled forward a little more.
"Mum, Dad, we're going now!" I called out, ensuring the babysitters knew they were up to the plate.
Charlie stepped out and helped me guide Bella into the car.
"You take care of my baby now," he warned after she was safely in, pointing his index finger at me and giving me a stern look.
"I always do."
He nodded and smiled. "I know."
It had been a hard road, getting Charlie on-side, but eventually we'd found common ground—Bella and his grandkids—and it was almost impossible to imagine how much I used to fear him and how much animosity had been between us.
"Stop daydreaming and let's go," Bella demanded, leaning across the car to shout through the driver's window.
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Bella's face was flushed and sweat made her hair cling to her face. She was exhausted and showed the obvious signs of being awake for almost twenty-four hours straight. I didn't care about any of that though, because in her arms she held yet another little miracle. Each time I had witnessed one of our perfect children come into the world, I longed to get right onto creating another. I couldn't believe I had ever not wanted kids. I didn't think I'd ever get sick of having more. Bella, however may have disagreed. I was certain she would declare that this time was her last.
I knew I had, at most, half an hour alone with my wife and new son before the hoard showed up. It was times like these that I was glad we'd made the shift back to Brisbane. I thought again about how lucky I was to be so close to family and friends.
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We had moved to Brisbane right after returning from our trip to London. I took control of Volturi, rebranding it as Emmanuel Racing, shortly after. As per our deal, Aro stayed on as team manager during the transitional year, but I was secure in the knowledge that I was his ultimate boss. Initially, we ran one car, but eventually I had bought an additional CAMS licence from another dying team and had added another car.
Carlisle was still a silent partner, I had offered to buy him out, but he wasn't silly. He liked the return on investment he received, without having to be hands on running two teams. Ultimately though, he caused me no stress, he even mentored me heavily during the first two years.
The only sad thing was that the current year was my final year racing. I needed to spend more time nurturing talent and ensuring we were competitive year after year. I was savvier with contracts than I had ever been before, and I had Bella to thank for that.
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"Is he daydreaming again?" Emmett's laughter filled the air.
"He does it a lot." Bella was smiling, the signs of fatigue washed away by the shower she'd had while I got acquainted with little Parker.
"Is this the little one that's caused you so much trouble?" Rosalie asked, reaching out to take Parker from my arms.
Bella grimaced at the memory of what was by far her worst pregnancy; one that had included morning sickness, fainting, fatigue, and two stays in hospital. "That's the one."
I sat on Bella's bed, pulling her into my side as she cuddled up against me. I watched as Henry gave me a shy smile and wave from behind Rosalie's legs. It was hard to believe that the boisterous and outspoken parents that were Rosalie and Emmett, could have produced such a quiet little man.
"When are Mum and Dad getting here?" Bella asked.
"As soon as they can get Beth into her car seat no doubt," Rosalie laughed.
"Yeah, they were struggling with that when they rang me earlier," Emmett said.
I laughed. Beth was certainly the one most like me. At two, she was a major handful. Surprisingly though, Charlie and Renee turned up minutes later with the rest of our family. I wondered vaguely when my own mother would come. As if on cue, she knocked on the door before entering the room.
Once, not so long ago in fact, I'd thought I had everything figured out. I'd thought I was better off without Bella, without kids, without anything or anyone that occupied the room with me. Looking around at all the faces, and feeling the warmth of love surrounding me, I couldn't help but think what a fucking dickhead I'd been.
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* AVO – One of the orders that can be taken out in Australia that is similar to a restraining order. From Wikipedia: A court may grant an apprehended violence order (AVO) to a person who fears violence, harassment, abuse, or stalking. A court may issue an AVO if it believes, on the balance of probabilities, that a person has reasonable grounds to fear personal violence, harassing conduct, molestation, intimidation, or stalking. A defendant's non-compliance with the order may result in the imposition of a fine, imprisonment, or both.
A/N:- Huge hugs to everyone who has supported me and this fic since its inception. It's meant the world to me.
Thank you to Gabbysway2 for being the inspiration, without her, RCE may never have seen the light of day. Thank you to CorrinaT for stepping in to beta it midway and helping to finesse my words.