A/N: Not much to say, other than my fabulous beta is Hadley Hemingway!
Remember when you hit the brakes too soon
Twenty stitches in a hospital room
When you started crying
Baby, I did too
But when the sun came up
I was looking at you
Remember when we couldn't take the heat
I walked out, I said, I'm setting you free
But the monsters turned out to be just trees
When the sun came up
You were looking at me
...Are we out of the woods yet?
There's a famous theory about how our bodies react to stress. Evidently, it goes all the way back to natural selection and predicting how cavemen may have evolved. In the midst of a highly stressful event, we are naturally inclined to fight or flee. If this theory is correct, then I am an anomaly. I could only guess that Charlie's fight and Renee's flight somehow created a genetic mutation which caused me to freeze. My brain seemed unable to process any information, so it couldn't tell my body how to react. Natural selection at its finest… I would have been the first one eaten.
That's exactly how I felt now - like I was being chewed up and spit out.
My eyes darted between Rosalie and Carlisle as I tried to make sense of what they were implying. Was this some sort of sick joke?
"That's impossible," I stuttered. "I've never done drugs in my entire life. The only time I've ever been high was when I was looped up on pain meds after the accident."
"Are you still taking prescription medication?" Carlisle asked.
"No!" I practically shouted. "And I haven't for months."
Edward stood behind me, and I could feel the anger rolling off him before he even said anything.
"James," he growled.
I turned towards him; his hands were balled up in fists, and every muscle was rigid. He was ready to fight - why was I still frozen?
"We think so too," Rosalie said. "Carlisle said James showed up at the testing center, furious, and demanded to get the lawyers involved. He left shortly after he realized the urine samples were already being processed."
"You think he tampered with the samples?"
"We don't know if he paid off a nurse or what, but it seems like the only probable explanation. Tanya's came back clean, so he may have been able to switch them."
"I'm going to kill that fucking bastard," Edward snarled.
While my sentiments were the same, I was still trying to process how this all affected me. Panic bubbled up inside as I thought about the worst possible scenario.
"So, what now? Am I getting kicked off the tour?"
"No!" Edward barked, then looked at Rosalie for confirmation. "Right?"
"No, but we need to act fast before James has the upper hand. If the lawyers get involved, they'll make sure to withhold the contract you signed. Right now, Carlisle and I are the only ones who know the test results. Isabella, we need you to come with Carlisle and me to an undisclosed testing center immediately. We can do a hair sample to exonerate you. The results can take up to 48 hours, but it's the most reliable test to prove you're clean."
"But we leave for Prague tomorrow."
"We'll have these results and everyone else's results sent to the lawyers. You'll also provide another urine test to prove your first one was tampered with. It's a few extra loopholes to go through, but this shouldn't have any negative effects for you with the tour."
"Meanwhile, Tanya gets to stay on tour, and James continues to mess with Bella's life?" Edward sneered.
"I'm having security go back to the testing center and look through their video footage for any possible evidence."
I was in awe of Rosalie's quick thinking. She already had a plan in place while I was still trying to figure out how James was able to maneuver such a diabolical feat. I had no other choice but to go along with Rosalie's plans. I couldn't come up with anything better, but I was still apprehensive. Without a doubt, Rosalie was good at playing the game, but I feared James was better. He always seemed to be one step ahead, while Rose dragged me along to catch up.
"Isabella, it's getting late. We need to get to the testing center before it closes," Rosalie pressed.
Before I could respond, Edward pushed past me and Carlisle and stormed out the door. "Go deal with the test, Bella. I'm gonna take care of this motherfucker once and for all."
"Edward, wait!" We all seemed to call out at once. But Edward was already on the warpath, headed straight for James.
"Goddamnit!" Rosalie cursed and punched at her phone, holding it up to her ear. "Go find your brother before he ends up in jail… I'll explain later, but the best place to start would be James's room."
"I want to call Demetri," I told Rosalie as we sat with Carlisle in the lobby of an empty testing center.
"Why not? He and Aro need to know what James is trying to pull!"
"Because we don't have proof yet," Rosalie sighed. "The only fact you can give him at this time is that you failed your drug test. Let's approach them when we actually have a solution."
"Rose, I don't want to come off sounding ungrateful because that's the farthest thing from the truth… But don't you think you're in a little over your head?"
"Yes, I am," she snapped. "My job, as a publicist, is to spin stories in a positive light, but I've never had to deal with the outright sabotage you've been receiving. That being said, I'm not only your best bet right now, I'm pretty much your only option. At the end of the day, Aro and Demetri are businessmen - they take care of their company. I take care of family."
"Ms. Swan?" A nurse called from behind the desk, preventing my response to Rosalie. "We have tests that can detect up to seventeen panels. How many would you like us to test?"
"All seventeen," I spoke up before Rosalie could. "I have nothing to hide."
Carlisle cleared his throat beside me. "If I may? Is Zolpidem on the panel?"
The nurse looked down at a paper and nodded.
"Better make it a sixteen panel test."
Rosalie and I stared at Carlisle, not understanding the medical name he just referred to, and how it related to me.
"Zolpidem is Ambien," Carlisle explained.
"But I only took it one time."
"Yes, two weeks ago. This test can detect up to ninety days. Better play it safe than end up with another false positive."
"Thank God you're here, Carlisle," Rosalie muttered.
A few minutes later, a nurse escorted me to the back, handed me a cup, and directed me to the restroom. Carlisle waited beside the nurse, as Rosalie had instructed him, to ensure that all proper protocol was being followed. Afterwards, I was told to sit in a chair while the nurse titled my head forward and brushed the back of my hair.
"Carlisle, thank you for being here… Ow! Shit!" I yelped as the nurse yanked a few strands of hair out of my scalp.
"Sorry, dear, I just need to pull from two more locations, then we're done."
Carlisle chuckled beside me. "Isabella, you may not know this, but Charlie made me promise I'd look out for you on this tour."
"He did?" I felt tears well up as the nurse yanked more hair from my head.
"I told him Esme and I already had every intention of doing so. You know, we consider you a part of the family - just as much as Rosalie and Jasper."
I didn't know how to respond to Carlisle's heartfelt statement, so I kept my head down and winced at the final tug of my hair. I tentatively patted my scalp, half expecting to find three bald patches. The nurse placed my strands of hair into a test tube, while Carlisle carefully monitored everything she wrote down. When they finished, the nurse escorted us back out to the lobby. Before we even rounded the corner, I could hear Rosalie yelling on the phone.
"I don't care if it's anonymous! You find out who the fuck the source was and get back to me!"
Rose made eye contact with us, and I could see a moment of panic flash across her face before she tried to mask it. I raised my eyebrows questioningly to her, but she turned her back and stepped outside to continue berating whoever was on the other end of the call. Before I could follow her, my cell phone started ringing. I looked down to see Jake on the caller ID.
"Isabella, Jesus Christ, where are you?"
"I'm…" I looked around at my surroundings, not sure how to explain everything that transpired within the past hour. "It's a long story. I'll tell you when I get back."
"Why did Nessie and I just get a blast on our phones about a Blind Item that sounds exactly like you?"
My stomach flipped all the way up to my throat; this was what had Rose in an uproar. "What did it say?"
"What famous pop star, who's currently on tour in Europe, just failed the drug test her ex-boyfriend made her take? Looks like she's no longer rising like a skyscraper."
I couldn't breathe; the weight of his words crushed my chest. James did this. The only way he'd know I'd failed the drug test was if he was involved. And now he was taking me down publicly. It didn't matter if I was able to prove my innocence in the next few days. The rumor was already out there - and once it spread, there was no way to take it back.
"Isabella? Are you there?" Jacob asked.
Rosalie stepped back into the room, her face grim. She cast her head down, unable to look me in the eye.
"I'll call you back," I barely whispered.
"Just so you know, it's already a shit…" I hung up the phone in a daze, unable to hear anything else he had to say.
"Isabella…" Rosalie started.
She let out an exasperated sigh and ran her hand through her hair. "We'll get this all sorted out, don't worry."
My nails dug into the palms of my hands and anger coursed through my entire body. "I want him to pay, Rose."
She nodded. "He will, I promise."
We made our way back to the hotel in silence. Rosalie had filled Carlisle in on James's latest attack. Unfortunately, we had no way of proving it was him. Security called Rosalie shortly into our ride, letting her know the surveillance footage was missing. I looked out the window and bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. I never hated anyone as much as James.
"Okay, thanks, baby. We'll be back soon." Rosalie hung up her phone. "Emmett was able to catch Edward and calm him down before he did any damage to James."
"That's a relief. The last thing Edward needs is to be hauled off to jail for assault," Carlisle said.
Rosalie gave me a wry smile. "I'm sure part of you wishes he could have at least got one good shot at him though, huh?"
"No. I don't want Edward stuck in the crossfire. Besides… I want to be the one to take James down."
Rosalie's phone beeped with another alert. It had been blasting non-stop since we got in the car, and I was sure it all involved my scandal. I refused to look at my phone to read any of the gossip; nothing good could come from it. I was fortunate enough the news was breaking later in the evening, on a day I didn't have to perform. I had already done a private concert for my fans earlier in the day. I couldn't imagine having to face their disappointed faces while I tried desperately to convince them none of the accusations were true. I wanted to believe my fans had enough faith in me to disregard the gossip. But any fan of mine was also a fan of The Volturi, and I knew they were viciously protective of Edward.
"Shit," Rosalie muttered.
I turned to the direction she was looking, and my heart dropped. There were at least 20 reporters standing outside the entrance to the hotel. Once they spotted our car round the corner, they began pushing towards the vehicle. They were like wolves, and James had just made me the sacrificial lamb.
"Don't say anything to them, and keep your head down. We have no comment until we can prove your innocence."
Carlisle gave my hand a gentle squeeze in an effort to reassure me; it didn't work.
Rosalie was the first to open the limo door and was nearly thrown back by the bombardment of cameras pushing into her face.
"Back up!" she shouted.
Despite Rosalie's advice, I had planned to hold my head high. I had nothing to be ashamed of and refused to act like it. But the minute I stepped out of the car the flashing lights blinded me, and I had to look down.
"Isabella, is it true you failed your drug test?"
"Are you getting kicked off the tour?"
"Can you confirm reports you weren't able to attend your party last night because you were on a bender?"
"Are you getting high with Edward?"
I pushed through the crowd with Rosalie leading the way. We had just made it to the door, but the last reporter's question made Carlisle spin around.
"My son is clean and sober… And so is Isabella!"
The doors closed behind us, muting the pandemonium outside. I had been able to remain calm and composed through the entire walk of shame from the car to the hotel, but I began to shake the minute I was out of the view of the cameras. While I had just gone to great lengths to prove I wasn't taking drugs, I was fairly positive I would need another Ambien to calm myself down tonight. I didn't have the energy or resolve to deal with the fickle media.
"Seriously? Put the fucking camera down!" Rosalie yelled.
I looked up to see Jake and Vanessa standing in the lobby with her crew's camera pointed straight at me. I still hadn't escaped the spotlight.
Vanessa looked at me apologetically. "I'm sorry, Isabella, I'm just doing my job. We're documenting the media frenzy outside to give the viewers your perspective."
"Isabella, what the hell is going on?" Jacob asked.
I paused and glanced hesitantly between the camera and Rosalie. She silently shook her head, letting me know not to speak.
Vanessa noticed the exchange and patted Paul on the shoulder. "I think we have enough footage for now. You guys can take off."
"Well, I'm calling it a night," Rose said, satisfied, now that the cameras were gone. She glanced back at me. "Are you good here?"
I nodded, turning to Carlisle and her. "Thank you for being there for me today."
"I promise you - we'll get this all sorted out. Just let me sleep on it, and we can come up with a plan tomorrow."
Rosalie and Carlisle walked off and left me standing in the lobby with Jacob and Vanessa. Looking at their expressions of shock, I sighed.
"Come on, let's go upstairs and I'll tell you everything."
As we walked back to my room, I filled them in on everything that had transpired since Carlisle informed me I failed the drug test. Their faces morphed from shock, to disbelief, to anger - every emotion I'd gone through in the past two hours.
"This has James's disgusting fingerprints all over it," Jacob exclaimed. "You're telling me there's no way to prove it was him?"
"Rosalie's trying, but he covered his tracks well. He won't be stupid enough to admit anything."
"Maybe he won't… But someone else might," Vanessa spoke up. I could see the wheels turning in her head.
"Tanya?" Jake asked, following her train of thought.
"She's been on me non-stop, asking when I'm going to interview her. I bet I could get her to spill the truth on camera."
"Tanya may be a stupid bitch, but she's incredibly manipulative," I warned.
Vanessa scoffed. "Trust me, it's my job to see through people's bullshit."
"It's worth a shot," I conceded. "But you're going to need to get her away from James first."
"I'm sure Jacob and I can come up with a plan," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
He nodded. "You know I've always got your back."
I did know. After today, it seemed everyone had my back. I remembered Alice's words to me a few weeks back, telling me to stop being so stubborn and use my friends for support. Now I finally knew what she meant. When I was frozen, without a clue what to do, it was my support system that had jumped into action. On a day I would have surely drowned, they were my life jacket.
"How are you handling the media?" Jacob asked.
"Rose said to stay silent until we have the test results as proof."
"As a publicist, I get why she's saying that, but from a journalist's perspective, I don't think it's a good idea."
"Keeping silent makes you look guilty. If you're innocent, then tell everyone, and let them know the truth will come out in the next drug test. The longer you remain quiet, the more crazy speculations the media will make about you. The only way to shut them up is for you to speak up."
Jacob's point was valid. When I remained silent after my breakup with Edward, the media dragged my name in the mud, and nearly killed my career. But after everything Rosalie had done for me, I couldn't ignore her advice. She may have admitted she was in over her head, but so was I, and she was the only person taking the reins of my career.
"I need to call Demetri. This isn't fair to Rose; somebody needs to do their fucking job."
Jacob nodded. "Don't let them brush you off. You're worth too much money for them to treat you like this."
I hugged them both, embracing Jacob a little longer. I wished it was possible to go back to the days when we'd curl up on the couch together, and I could escape all my problems with an episode of Bridezillas. While our relationship was strictly platonic, I knew that would be crossing a line with Vanessa. Jacob had taken the place of my confidante when I lost Edward, and while he would continue to be my best friend, he was now somebody else's partner.
"Oh, hey, what happened with your plan for breakup sex last night?" Jacob asked, pulling away from me.
I averted my eyes, ashamed to meet his curious gaze. "It didn't happen… You were right; it was a really bad idea."
"Well, at least you figured it out before you did something you regretted."
I cast my head down and bit my lip, unwilling to admit my mistake - but Jacob caught on.
"Shit, Swan, what did you do?"
"It's my fault!" Vanessa interrupted. "Jacob was so mad at me for meddling, but I didn't mean to. It's just I listen to your interviews and know how you feel about each other, and I thought if you were given a push towards each other…"
"It's not your fault. I went about it the wrong way, but you were probably right to push me. We're… figuring things out," I stumbled over my words, trying to describe where Edward and I stood.
Jacob narrowed his eyes. "So, what, you're back together now?"
"No, Jake," I sighed. I now realized why Jacob was no longer the confidante I longed for. I couldn't have an honest conversation regarding Edward without feeling judged. "We're going to talk to someone who, hopefully, will help us work through all the issues between us. We deserve the truth from each other. I don't know what the end result will be, but I owe it to myself to try."
"I don't want to see him hurt you again."
"Neither do I! But I'm at the point where I need to either throw myself fully into this and see if it can work, or give up completely. I'm not ready to give up on Edward yet."
"I don't understand how last night you were ready to say goodbye, and now…"
"I don't need your blessing, Jake!" I huffed.
Jacob flinched at my outburst. We stood silently staring at each other, both of us angry and hurt. Vanessa gently laid her hand on his shoulder.
"Baby, you of all people should understand some people deserve second chances. I have a lot of girlfriends in England whose heads would be spinning right now if they knew we were back together. They never even met you, but they saw the effects from you right after we broke up. They don't know us, and I don't need to explain myself to them. Isabella doesn't need to explain herself to you. I know you're being a good friend and looking out for her. But being a good friend means supporting her and being there for her - whether it works out or not."
Jacob sighed and looked at me apologetically. "I want you to be happy, Isabella. I think I've always figured you and Edward would try to work it out… There's too much between you not to. But I'm worried you're rushing things. What happens when the tour is over, you guys go home, and reality sets back in?"
"I'm not rushing anything. Deciding to try is just the first step. I can't tell you what will happen when the tour ends because I don't have any plans. Edward and I are not back together; we're simply working out our issues… Besides, you're the last one to talk about rushing things. You and Vanessa spent one weekend together 'taking it slow' before you were back to being a couple. And don't tell me you two are different - you fucked up pretty badly, and so did Vanessa for not telling you, but you were both able to forgive each other! Jake, you were the guy I could come to and talk about anything! Now, I feel like there's this huge part of my life I'm trying to sort out, and I can't even talk to you because you're being so judgemental!"
Jacob recoiled from my verbal attack. Out of my peripheral view, I could see Vanessa nervously glancing between us. I could tell she probably wanted to defend her boyfriend, but I was thankful she remained silent and let us sort this out by ourselves.
"I'm sorry," Jacob croaked. "I don't want you to think I'm judging you because that's the farthest from the truth. I just don't want to see you hurt again. I was with you at your lowest, when everyone was attacking you. You never deserved any of it. And, yeah, I'm apprehensive about Edward because of all that, but I've never questioned your judgment. In fact, you're usually spot-on when you go with your gut choice. I may never end up really liking the guy, and I know you don't need my approval, but I will support anything you do if it makes you happy."
"Thank you." I wrapped my arms around him, wordlessly letting him know all was forgiven. "I love ya, Jake."
He hooked his arm around my neck and kissed the top of my head. "Feeling's mutual, Swan."
"The guys and I are going to go around Prague tomorrow to shoot B-roll," Vanessa said. "Why don't you two take some time to hang out and talk?"
"How about you talk, and this time I promise to listen?" Jacob emphasized.
"Deal," I smirked.
"In the meantime, I'll try to get Tanya in for an interview."
"Thanks, Vanessa. I know you're technically supposed to be a third-party observer in all this, but you've become a really good friend."
"Like I said, I can spot bullshit," she smirked. "You and Edward are genuine. Of course I'm going to help you guys out."
After saying goodnight to them, I closed the door and felt all the problems of the day crashing down on me. I was alone in an empty room, yet I felt suffocated. Everyone seemed to have control of my life, and I was merely the puppet reacting to the circumstances thrown at me. James had me in a stronghold, and while Rosalie was doing her best to combat him, I was still at the mercy of her command.
I grabbed my cellphone and box of cigarettes and stepped outside onto the balcony. I lit up a cigarette and looked at it disdainfully before taking in a long inhale of the poison. I really had been making an effort to quit and had weaned myself down to one smoke a day. After the day I had though, I had a feeling I would be going through the entire pack. I took a few more puffs then angrily stubbed it out against the cement wall. Just like I was letting other people control my choices, I was now letting outside circumstances control my reaction. I was done being a victim.
I punched Demetri's number into my phone, not even sure what the time difference was in New York and not caring. It rang three times before he picked up.
"This is Demetri," he answered in a clipped voice.
"Oh, hi, Demetri, this is Isabella - you know, your client that's being slandered and sabotaged… whom you just left to fend for herself!"
"Isabella," he sighed on the other end. "This isn't a good time."
As if to punctuate what he was saying, a baby started wailing. For a split second, I felt badly that I had called when he was consumed with his newborns. But then anger rushed through me at the fact that I was being brushed aside once more.
"Not a good time for you? Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll call you back when the demise of my career and reputation is more convenient for you," I said snidely.
"I had planned to call you tomorrow when you arrived in Prague."
"A whole 24 hours after the shit hit the fan?"
The baby's cries got louder, and I heard him curse under his breath.
"The lawyers alerted Aro and I of a second drug test. I was waiting until we received the results from that."
"Oh, so you could discuss if you actually needed to kick me off the tour?"
"No, Isabella. I don't need a second drug test to tell me the first one was bogus. In the short time I've known you, I know you don't use drugs."
"You know this is all James, right? I know you're busy, but why hasn't Aro stepped up by now?"
"Aro and I are dealing with a lot of things over here… Things that don't concern you but affect you. Please just trust us."
"That's kind of hard to do when you're hanging me out to dry," I spat.
"Isabella, I will be back on the tour next week. I will call you tomorrow, and we can discuss a plan. I promise everything will work out."
"Yeah? I'll believe it when you finally get rid of James."
I hung up the phone more enraged than when I dialed his number. How the hell did Aro expect me to trust him when he wasn't letting me in on any of his plans? What game were they playing with James, and why couldn't they remove him from the equation? I originally thought Demetri would be the type of manager who had my best interest in mind, but now I merely felt like a chore he had to deal with.
There was a knock on the door, and I briefly debated ignoring it until I realized it may be Rosalie with a game plan. I opened up to find Edward leaning against the door frame; he wore a pair of grey drawstring sweats with a white v-neck tee, and his hair was sticking out at different angles. It appeared I was his last stop before bed.
"How are you managing?"
"I don't think I am, honestly. If it wasn't for Rose, I'd probably say to hell with this and be on a flight home by now."
He stood upright. "The Isabella Swan I know doesn't give up."
"Yeah, well, the Isabella Swan you knew was pretty naive and didn't realize the price of fame. I've seen it destroy you, and now it's trying to destroy me. It's not worth it."
"Fame ruined me because it's all I cared about. You've never given a shit about the fame. It's always been about the music - they can't take that away from you, Bells."
"No, they can just ruin my reputation."
"The people who know you, who love you, aren't going to believe all those lies. Trust your fans, Bella. They'll stand by you… We all will."
I reached out and ran my hand down his arm. "I know you will. Just do me a favor… Don't go after James. You'll be playing right into his hands if you do."
"I can't promise that."
"Edward," I pleaded.
"I won't go looking for a fight," he conceded. "But if he touches or threatens you in any way, I will take him down."
I didn't bother to argue with him anymore. No matter if I agreed with him or not, I knew his mind was set.
"Anyway, I wanted to tell you I spoke to Dr. Uley," he said. "He's speaking at a convention but said he could do our first Skype session the day after tomorrow… That is, if you still want to?"
"I meant what I said, Edward."
He closed his eyes and nodded. "Thank you."
Edward shifted, and it appeared as if he was getting ready to leave. I reached out my hand to stop him.
"Do you want to stay?"
Edward hesitated, his eyes going directly to the bed behind me.
"Nothing sexual," I rushed out, now realizing his confusion. "It's just this whole day has been such a nightmare, and I'm not really looking forward to replaying it all in my sleep."
Edward nodded and stepped inside the room. "Of course."
I grabbed my clothes and changed in the bathroom. It wasn't until I looked in the mirror that I realized my pajamas consisted of boy shorts and a form-fitting tank top. I nervously yanked at my shorts, trying to pull them as far over my butt cheeks as they would go. I didn't want Edward thinking I was desperate and trying to make a pass at him. I stepped outside the bathroom and found Edward sitting on the bed, under the covers, with his shirt off. My eyes involuntarily raked over his chest, and I squeezed my legs together.
Edward caught my prolonged stare and glanced down. "Sorry, is this okay? I figured if I was going to sleep then…"
"It's fine," I rasped. I cleared my throat and spoke again. "We're just sleeping."
I embarrassingly glanced down again at my attire, and then slipped under the covers on the other side of the bed, turning my back towards Edward. His body shifted behind mine, and I could feel the heat radiating off his bare chest. His hands gently stroked up and down my back and lightly massaged my shoulders. In a matter of minutes, he had me completely relaxed, and I could feel myself starting to doze off. As much as I was beginning to welcome sleep, I didn't want to drift off quite yet.
"What are your plans after the tour?" I asked him sleepily.
"What do you mean?"
"You guys have a lot of new songs now. Are you going right back in the studio?"
"We're probably going to take a break… indefinitely.'
"What?" I turned around to face him, our faces now inches apart. "Why?"
"I'm going to take some time to focus on my recovery. I haven't really had any time to myself since getting out of rehab. Aro forced us to go back on tour, and I've been fortunate enough to have a strong support system with me, but when I go back home, I'm not going to have my parents babysitting me every day. I need to learn how to use the tools given to me. I've been talking to Dr. Uley about possibly entering a halfway house as a transition."
I propped my head on my hand, sitting up a bit. "I'm really proud of you for already putting a plan into place. What are Emmett and Jasper going to do?"
Edward mirrored my position. "Jasper's been working on his solo album this entire tour, and I think Emmett and Rose are going to focus on starting a family."
I couldn't stop the smile spreading across my face. "Uncle Edward?"
Edward smirked. "Yeah, I guess that'll be the first kid I can stand, huh?"
"Oh, I don't know, I think that little girl at the hospital had you enamored."
"Yeah, she was pretty cute." His eyes gleamed. "What did she say to you anyway?"
I pursed my lips, debating how much to divulge, then shrugged. "She said you believed in true love."
He stared at me with a look that pierced straight to my heart. "Don't you?"
I looked down at the white sheets between us. "I used to."
Edward lifted my chin. "I'll make you believe again, Bells, I promise."
He was coming too close for comfort. I wanted to tell him I believed him, and a part of me never gave up. But I couldn't risk opening up my heart until I knew where our relationship was headed. I turned back over, putting a buffer between us. Edward resumed stroking my back as if the intimate moment between us never happened.
"Do you think you'll do a solo album too?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. I kind of want to get out of the spotlight for awhile. Emmett and Rosalie have bounced around ideas about starting their own record company."
"Well, Rosalie would be an amazing manager."
"Exactly. You'd never guess it, but Emmett's actually pretty business-savvy. I was thinking if their plan comes to fruition, maybe working as a producer for them. I can still do what I love with music, but I can help inspire others, like I did with you."
"You're the best producer I've had," I said genuinely. "Although, I'm a bit jealous I won't have you all to myself anymore."
His hand stilled against my back.
"You still can," he said, barely above a whisper. I could feel the heat of his words against the back of my neck and shivered.
"So will Jasper switch management for his solo album?" I asked, desperately needing to change the subject.
"It's all up in the air right now, but that's the goal. Whether Aro realizes it yet or not, you are going to be his most profitable artist. Don't let them push you around, Bells; you have the upperhand."
"Ha! Tell that to James. I tried calling Demetri tonight. He basically blew me off and said we'd talk tomorrow. I'm clearly not a priority over at Sony."
"So make yourself a priority."
"You're not the same girl, trying to get your name out and music taken seriously anymore, Bella. Your name has worth. You have options, and you don't need to do everything you're told. You call the shots - remind them of that."
I closed my eyes and focused on Edward's touch. He was right about everything; he usually was when it came to my music. I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to trust Edward with my heart again, but I knew I still trusted him with my career.
"I missed these talks," I murmured into my pillow.
"Oh, Bella." Edward wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me back against his chest. "I've missed everything."
He kissed the top of my head and laced his fingers between mine. I closed my eyes, finally feeling content to go to sleep. His steady breathing behind me was like a lullaby, and his arms were my security blanket. All the turmoil from the day didn't seem to matter anymore. I was in Edward's arms, and for the first time in a while, I knew everything would be okay.
We would be okay.
Despite the extra paparazzi swarming us, we were able to make it to the airport in just enough time before our plane departed. After passing through all the checkpoints, Jacob and Vanessa separated from us, saying they'd meet us in Prague. Sony provided a private jet for the band and its family members, while everyone else flew commercial. We had about twenty minutes until we began boarding, so Alice grabbed me and pulled us off to the bathroom.
"Jesus, the reporters were relentless trying to get out of the hotel this morning," Alice talked between the stalls.
"Yeah, I'm fortunate Rosalie was able to get my driver to pick me up in the back by the laundry facilities, but I still had to get past them at the airport."
"When do you get the results?"
"Tonight or tomorrow."
"Well, hopefully it'll all die down then."
I stepped out of the stall and washed my hands. Alice appeared next to me a few seconds later and looked at me through the mirror.
"Edward made a statement today."
Reaching for a paper towel, I paused mid-air, my hands dripping on the tile below. "He did?"
"He told the reporters you've never touched a drug in your life, and you've been one of his biggest supporters through his recovery process."
"He didn't need to do that." But my smile let Alice know how appreciative I was.
She threw her paper towel in the trash and turned back to me, crossing her arms across her chest. "So, are you finally going to tell me what's going on between you two?"
"What do you mean?" I was playing coy, and she knew it.
"Oh, come on, Isabella! The last time I saw you, you guys were half-naked with icing smeared all over your bodies. And you can't tell me it was a one-time deal because I saw Edward leaving your room this morning."
A clinking sound caught our attention, and I spotted another set of feet beneath the corner stall.
"I'll tell you everything on the plane."
Alice nodded, realizing we were still in public, and we quickly left the restroom. I rounded the corner and slammed into a broad chest. I started to stammer an apology, but it got caught in my throat when I looked up into James's cold eyes.
"Well, Isabella, I'm surprised you even made it through security with that nasty drug problem of yours."
I stepped back, trying to create as much space between us. Beside me, Alice pulled out her phone and was frantically typing.
"Get out of my face, James. I know you switched the samples, and pretty soon everyone else will too."
"Is that so?" he sneered. "Prove it… Oh wait, you can't. It's really a shame there was no security footage."
I balled up my fists, willing myself not to strike him like I so desperately wanted. He was taunting me.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Isabella, I'm not doing anything. You made it perfectly clear you could handle your career by yourself. I think you're doing an excellent job proving it," he said sarcastically. "Although, I'd be lying if I said I haven't sat back and fully enjoyed watching you try to claw your way back to the top. I already tried to teach you a long time ago, nobody cares about you - they only care about who you fuck."
"If that were true, I wouldn't be performing to a sold-out crowd every night, you dumb fuck."
"The only reason it's sold out is because of who you're performing with, my dear. Everyone's hoping you've jumped back on Edward's dick."
My hand jerked up, ready to slap his disgusting face, but James caught my wrist and pinned me back against the wall. His hand gripped me tightly, even as I tried to twist and yank my arm out of his grasp.
"Demetri is coming back next week. Whatever dirty work you're doing for Eleazar Denali will come crashing down," I spat.
James didn't let go of my wrist, but leaned back in surprise. I caught him off guard with my comment about Eleazar, and now I could see his brain trying to work overtime to figure out what I knew.
"Isabella, it's cute you think the world revolves around you. The conversations I have with Mr. Denali are strictly about his daughter's career. Mr. Denali couldn't give a flying fuck about you." He leaned in so close, his face was the only thing I could see. I could practically taste his pungent breath, and as much as I tried to hide it, I knew he could feel me shaking. "I, on the other hand, do think about you, Isabella. I wonder if you're as good in bed as your ex portrayed. You sure have proven you're quite the hellcat. I want to know what it's like to have you on your knees…"
"Get the fuck off her!" Edward roared.
James was immediately ripped away from me by Edward's strong grasp. I gasped for air, not even realizing I had been holding my breath. Jasper stood cautiously behind Edward, and while I couldn't make out what he was saying, it was clear he was trying to calm Edward down. James was thrown a few feet away from me, but Edward slowly closed the distance between them. I knew he was seconds away from attacking, and I had to think fast. I rushed in front of Edward, putting myself as a barrier between him and James, and laid my hands on his chest.
"Edward, you said you wouldn't fight," I begged.
Edward's eyes were crazy. "Did he touch you?"
"I'm fine, he's just trying to intimidate me!"
"Did he touch you?" he yelled louder.
"Not yet," James sneered.
Edward snapped and charged towards James. I threw my arms around his neck, trying to hold him back. Thankfully, Jasper had grabbed him from behind as well.
"Stop! Don't you see? He wants you to attack. Don't do this, Edward! You've worked too hard to throw it all away over James."
Edward was seeing red, and I knew no matter how much I begged, he couldn't even hear what I was saying. James was seconds away from getting pummeled - at which point, I knew Edward would promptly be thrown in jail, and James would try to take him for all he was worth. I refused to let him win.
I grabbed Edward's face and kissed him hard. He stopped in his tracks, confused and unresponding.
"Please, Edward…" I mumbled against his lips. "Please."
"Get out of here," I heard Jasper tell James. "Isabella's security is on their way. If you try to accuse Edward of anything, you have three witnesses who can testify you were harassing Isabella. Plus, there's always the security footage… I don't think you can destroy the airport's tapes, do you?"
Once I knew James was far enough away, I pulled away from Edward's lips. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing heavily. I rubbed my hands up and down his chest, trying to help him calm down.
"Thank God you got here so fast," Alice said.
"We were right around the corner. Are you okay, Isabella?"
Edward opened his eyes, waiting for my answer. Even though Jasper asked the question, I never looked away from Edward, as I nodded.
"Did he hurt you?" Edward rasped out. He was still trying to restrain himself.
"No. He's just trying to rattle me. I caught him by surprise by telling him I knew he was working with Eleazar Denali."
"Jesus, Bella, don't provoke him."
"I'm not the one who had to be restrained!"
"I can hold my own against him! I'm worried what he'll do to you."
"He's not going to hurt me. James is too conniving to use violence. He'd rather you punch him, then he'll destroy you in court and the media."
"Promise me the next time he comes near you, you'll walk away," he begged.
"As long as you promise not to go after him."
His eyes clouded over, and he pulled away from me, walking down the corridor. "Come on, we have a plane to catch."
I sighed and trailed behind him, completely aware he had refused to stay away from James. Jasper jogged ahead next to him, and I could only hope he was talking some sense into him.
Alice leaned in next to me, "I hope this is a long plane ride, because you have a lot to share about what's going on between you two!"
Edward and I didn't talk anymore after the incident with James. When we boarded the flight, he stormed to the back of the plane. Every once in awhile I would glance back to see him animatedly talking to Rosalie and Emmett. Alice helped distracted me by making me divulge the entire Edward/Isabella saga to her. I had her enthralled for almost the whole first hour of the flight.
"Oh, Isabella," she gushed. "Don't get me wrong, I'll support whatever you decide, but I've been secretly rooting for the two of you ever since you told me he kissed you back in London."
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Alice," I warned.
"Oh, I know - nothing's certain! But I've never seen anyone try to prove himself as much as Edward has with you." She glanced towards the back of the plane. "If he can't earn a second chance with you, then nobody deserves it."
I swallowed hard and remained silent, already starting to feel the pressure for Edward and I to work things out. I knew Edward deserved a second chance… I still didn't know if I'd be able to give it to him, though.
For the remainder of the flight, Alice slept beside me, while I contemplated my next move against James. He was getting more threatening - to the point where I actually contemplated if he could be dangerous. I was thankful Edward had come to my defense the moment he did, not wanting to know the rest of what was about to come out of James's disgusting mouth. But if Edward was looking out for me, then I needed to protect him as well. I refused to let James take Edward down.
I closed my eyes and thought back to what everybody had said to me in the past day:
"At the end of the day, Aro and Demetri are businessmen - they take care of their company."
Rosalie was exactly right. I had hopes that Demetri would be different and make my career a priority, but my phone call to him only left me feeling more uneasy. I could understand if he was making his home life a priority, but he and Aro and him were up to something. There was no way I could blindly trust them, since they left me to fend for myself with James. Whatever their scheme was, I refused to be collateral damage.
"Keeping silent makes you look guilty... The only way to shut them up is for you to speak up."
I had been following Rosalie's advice because she made it clear she was looking out for my best interest; I still believed that with my whole heart. However, the more I thought about Jacob's perspective, I tended to agree with him. I hadn't made a statement, yet Carlisle and Edward had both spoken up for me. This whole tour was supposed to be about me speaking my truth and telling my story to my fans. Yet, when my fans were waiting for an explanation at the most important time, I remained silent. I knew the second drug test would prove all my critics wrong the minute it was announced. But while I waited for the results, how many people were beginning to doubt me?
"Your name has worth. You have options, and you don't need to do everything you're told. You call the shots - remind them of that."
Edward's advice was probably the most helpful. For a long time, I did what Sony dictated me to do because I thought they had the best plan for my music. Really, I had no other choice - I was a novice, trying desperately to be taken seriously. After I had finally made a name for myself, I was still trapped in James's bogus contract. I unwillingly let him call the shots, and my music suffered greatly from it. Now, Aro let me know the contract was null and void. He promised me a lucrative career with him as my manager when I returned from Europe, but I honestly didn't even know if I wanted it anymore.
By the time we stepped off the jet and onto the runway in Prague, I already knew what I was going to do. I only hoped Rosalie would understand.
Airport security helped guide our way through the terminal and out to the cars. As expected, the paparazzi was hungrily waiting on the curb and practically blocking our path.
"Move! Out of the way!" Our security team yelled.
"Isabella! Are you getting kicked off the tour?"
"Have you betrayed Edward?"
"Are you going to rehab?"
"What do you have to say to your trusting fans?"
Up ahead, Rosalie had just opened the car door. I was now surrounded by cameras. A security guard reached out his hand to pull me through the horde, but I didn't take it. I looked up to a reporter, who had her microphone shoved in my face, and cleared my throat.
"I am not on drugs, nor have I ever tried drugs in my entire life," I said confidently to the cameras.
Everyone seemed to hush around me, trying to record my statement. I saw Rosalie spin around and nearly fall backwards in the car, shocked by my statement. With the mass of press surrounding me, I couldn't find anyone else in the crowd, but I was confident they were there and listening as well.
"The positive drug test was a lie. I'm not going to call it a fluke because that would mean there was an error somewhere. I am confident my drug test was tampered with by someone on this tour in an effort sabotage me. I have no proof, so I cannot accuse anyone outright, but you're all journalists, and I'm sure you'll make your own assumptions about who it may be."
What are you doing? Rosalie mouthed to me. I shook my head and turned back to a camera, ignoring her incensed stare.
"I have voluntarily given two more tests to prove I am clean. Those results should be available for you by tomorrow at the latest. When they become public, I hope you will stop these ridiculous accusations about me, and worst of all, dragging Edward's name into all this. He has worked too hard on his recovery to be doubted about his sobriety."
By this time, everyone else had made it to the car, but they all stood on the side and listened to my speech. I dared another glance at Rosalie, whose face now showed less irritation and more admiration. Edward nodded and smiled at me, giving me the courage I needed to make my final statement.
"Unfortunately, through this whole scandal, I have been poorly managed - my reputation and career were completed disregarded. Rosalie Hale, The Volturi's publicist and my friend, has been working tirelessly to help guide me through this ordeal. My managers are getting paid to sit on their asses, while Rosalie does their job for nothing. I am convinced there is a record company out there that will make me and my music a priority. For this reason, I am announcing at the end of this tour, I will be leaving Sony and looking for new representation."
I woke up to the sun shining on my face and felt complete bliss. After making my announcement to the press yesterday, I finally felt like I was taking back control over my career. I strode confidently to the waiting limo while reporters continued calling out follow-up questions. The rest of the group stared at me in awe and followed behind. It wasn't until the car drove away that everyone started talking at once.
"Holy shit, Iz! That was fucking awesome!" Emmett was the first to exclaim.
"Did you have that planned? Why didn't you tell me you were going to do that?" Alice asked.
Rosalie narrowed her eyes, and I inwardly prepared myself for her wrath. "So you completely disregarded my advice?"
"Rose, you've helped me so much…"
"It was a risky move," she cut off my attempt at an apology, now smiling. "But I think it paid off."
"I meant what I said. I think I can find better management… Specifically a manager by the name of Rosalie Hale? Edward told me about your plans with Emmett. I'd love to join your team."
"What? Yes!" Emmett yelled in disbelief.
"Your manager will not be Rosalie Hale," she smirked. "It'll be Rosalie Cullen."
"Damn, baby, say that again - that was hot," Emmett teased.
The rest of the car broke out in their own conversations. I glanced over at Edward, who was smiling at me.
"I'm proud of you."
"Thanks for the pep talk last night."
Later in the day, I went to lunch with Jacob and gave him proper credit for helping me speak up. It was a much more relaxed environment, now that the tension between us from the day before had fizzled out. Halfway through the meal, I got a phone call from Demetri. It seemed he had finally started listening to me.
"Isabella, what is going on?"
"I'm exploring my options."
"It seems like you're reacting rather impulsively, instead of talking it through."
"Demetri, if you remember correctly, I wanted to talk last night."
He was frazzled, trying to convince me he had my best interest in mind, and we could work this all out when he returned in a few days. But the truth was, he was doing damage control, and I couldn't help but feel a little smug about it. Edward was right: I had a hell of a lot of worth and the upper-hand.
While my confidence had been bolstered, I was still aware not all of my problems were solved. James was still lurking on the tour, and while my goal was to avoid him at all costs, I knew he wasn't finished with me yet. With only two weeks left in the tour, I feared he had more tricks up his sleeve. There was no way he would let me leave undamaged. It only made me more worried that a brawl between Edward and James was inevitable.
My thoughts lingered on Edward. It was crazy to think I had become completely comfortable around him in only a matter of days. Once I was finally willing to try, my guard seemed to drop rapidly. While it seemed as if we were on our way to reconciliation, I wasn't naive. It was easy to fall back into old patterns when we ignored the pain of the past. But today we were going to start opening up those old wounds in our first session with Dr. Uley. I hoped we were strong enough to fight through the hurt, but I was apprehensive.
An arm snaked up behind me and gently stroked my back. I smiled and buried my head into Edward's chest. He had stayed with me for a second night in a row. It seemed to be an unspoken agreement between us. He showed up to check on me, and we continued our talks in bed while he helped me get to sleep. If I was being honest with myself, the past two nights had been the most peaceful sleeps I'd had in a long time.
"I can feel your heart racing," he mumbled. "What are you thinking about?"
"Our session with Dr. Uley today."
He shifted me off his chest and turned to his side so we were facing each other. "You're nervous?"
"Even when we're like this?"
"Especially when we're like this, Edward. What if it's still not enough? What if we're just giving each other false hope…"
Edward grabbed the back of my neck and silenced me with a kiss; I responded immediately. As much as I tried to deny it, I needed him.
"We're enough, Bella, you hear me? You. Me. We're enough."
Our lips came together again - but this time it was softer and slower. He slid his arm around my waist and pulled me closer. I hitched my right leg up to rest on his hip. We continued our lazy kisses for what felt like half the morning. His hands roamed up my back and laced through my hair; I stroked his cheek, feeling his rough stubble against my palm. There was no sexual tension brewing between us to take it any further. We simply took the time to savor each other.
It was perfection.
The hotel phone rang, pulling me out of our reverie. I groaned and rolled over to pick up the receiver from the nightstand. Edward moved his kisses to the side of my face.
I tried to stifle a giggle. "Hello?"
"Isabella?" A woman's voice asked.
Edward's stubble tickled my neck, and I squealed.
"Isabella, it's your mother."
I sat upright in bed, trying to make sense of what was going on. I hadn't spoken to her in six months, why was she calling me now?
I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. "Renee, what do you want? Why are you calling me at the hotel?"
Edward pulled back, hearing her name, and watched me curiously.
Before she could even respond, the wheels began to click in my head. I grabbed my cellphone to see if I had any missed calls from her. How would she know what hotel I was staying in or be able to get my room number? My stomach jumped to my throat when I realized where she was calling from. Out of all the pressing issues I had to deal with, Renee was last on my list. I promised Charlie I would talk to Renee and work out our differences, but I wanted it to be on my own terms - not her showing up out of the blue, on a whim.
I couldn't hide the irritation in my voice. "Mom, why are you in Prague?"