A/N Twilight or any recognizable parts of it aren't mine. The rest of the story is.
You keep me going with your love and support. I can't thank you enough! Thanks for all the lovely nicknames you suggested! I will do something with that, promise.
Little bit of creative freedom in this chapter. Bear with me. I know in 'real' Bella's case, Stefan would have been behind bars already. Over two years ago when I started this story, I didn't know that. So, just go along with it, okay?
As ever thanks to my beta Sherryola and to Bob and Aleea for prereading.
In general, I rarely sleep through the night. I am used to waking up multiple times, either from bad dreams or because my inner alarm system wants to make sure nobody is going to bother me while I sleep.
This night, in Edward's bed, I open my eyes for the first time when the dull, grey light of dawn is seeping through the dark curtains. My body is on high alert, because I can hear something moving behind me. Edward is still asleep, I can tell from the way his body is relaxed and his breathing is deep and even.
I don't move as I listen to the soft rustle of sound, and a moment later, I see Alice step into my line of sight. Her hair is tousled and her eyes are tiny with sleep still. She has her blanket wrapped around her like a cape, and she keeps it closely around her body as she carefully makes her way to the bedroom door, opening it quietly.
When she steps out and turns to close it behind her, she catches my gaze. She smiles and blows me a silent kiss before she shuts the door with the softest click.
I am now alone in the room with Edward, and also no longer able to fall back asleep.
Alice won't come back, I know. She has gone to her own bed, or Jasper's - that, I don't know. I breathe in deeply, expanding my lungs, and then exhale. There's a sense of peace in having Edward sleep against me. His arm is no longer around my waist, but his chest is still pressed against me. My tanktop must have ridden up during my sleep, because when I shift, I can clearly feel the fabric of Edward's shirt against the naked skin of my back.
As carefully as possible, I pull my top back down, covering up my body. I must find a way to put my sweater back on before Edward wakes up. I don't want him to see my scars in full daylight. They're ugly, and I don't want to scare him. I don't like looking at my scars myself, so I can't imagine he would even want to see them. I'd best do him a favor and cover myself up before he wakes. It will save us awkward moments, for sure.
Edward shifts slightly in his sleep, turning half to his back. A moment later, the softest of snores reach my ears. And God help me, but I think it's cute.
But if he's snoring, that means he is still deeply asleep, so I may have a chance to sneak out of bed without him waking. It'll give me a chance to put something on, and to use the restroom, because my bladder feels like it's about to burst.
Slowly, moving the mattress as little as possible, I shift away from him. Just when I'm about to sit up, Edward's hand touches my back. I freeze up in an instinctual reaction.
"Don't go," he murmurs. "Don't go just yet."
I turn around and see that his eyes are still closed. He's still half asleep, his fingers barely moving against my tank top.
"I'll be back," I whisper. "I have to use the bathroom."
He nods, still very sleepy, and settles down again. I think he's back asleep before I've even put on my hoodie and left the room. And holy hell, everything hurts. Maybe Emmett was right about taking days off running, because my legs are sore. Damn.
Everybody else is still asleep, so I move down to my own room quickly. I lock myself in the bathroom and take care of business. And while I'm here, I might as well wash my face, brush my teeth and comb my hair too.
Before I can start to worry if it's a good idea to go back to Edward, I take the stairs two at a time and slip back into his room, grateful I haven't seen any other members of the house as yet.
I approach the bed cautiously, as always afraid that I've overstayed my welcome and have misread his earlier invitation. But when he opens his eyes and smiles, I crawl back under the covers with him. He hums in appreciation, burrowing his head in the crook of my neck as I settle on my back on the mattress.
And then a giggle bursts free when I realize he has brushed his teeth, too. He chuckles along and wraps his arm around me, sliding his hand underneath the hoodie.
I stiffen, unsure.
He doesn't do anything else. He doesn't even move his hand. It's just there, with his arm a comforting weight on my stomach.
"This okay?" he asks.
Nodding, I rest my own hand on his forearm, feeling the soft hair on his skin against my fingertips.
"Slept well?" he murmurs.
"Yeah," I reply. "You?"
Silence settles between us again. Outside of Edward's room, the house is still quiet. It must be around seven in the morning. Since Edward doesn't speak, and I don't have anything to say, we both drift off into slumber again.
I wake again when I heard Emmett call out something to someone. What he says doesn't register, but I hear him going down the stairs a moment later. Edward stirs as well, and then stretches, his muscles trembling faintly with the force of use.
"I swear I won't miss the volume of his voice when he's gone," Edward mutters. He ducks his head to rub his face with the slow movements of someone who is still more asleep than awake.
"But you'll miss him," I say tentatively.
"Yeah, and Rosalie, too. Maybe we could do some fun things together while they're still here."
I nod in agreement, but since I don't really know what you can do around here, I have nothing to offer. And how sad is that, really. I've been here for over half a year and I still wouldn't know how to walk from the town diner to the high school. For someone who likes to be as independent as possible, I've sure done a piss poor job at taking care of myself.
"You've pulled your sweater back on," Edward observes suddenly, pulling me from my thoughts.
I don't say anything, since it's kind of obvious I did.
"Why? Were you cold?"
The easiest answer would be to say 'yes,' and to lie to him. But I can't lie to save my life, and especially not to Edward. But telling him the truth isn't going to be easy, either.
He exhales, but it's not in frustration. He's thinking.
"You know you don't have to hide from me, right?"
"It's better that way," I reply after a while. I'm looking at the ceiling, but I know he is looking at me intently. I can't meet his gaze.
"Why?" he asks. "Are you scared I will do something you don't want?"
It's not just that, I think, but my tongue is tied. I guess some things will forever be hard to put in words, whether or not I can talk. The idea of showing skin is horrific to me. Even if it hadn't been scarred, I know I would have hated my body with the same depth.
"Sorry," I finally whisper.
"No," he says immediately. "This is nothing you have to apologize about. I'm just trying to figure out what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," I say quietly. "No words can fix it, anyway."
"But words can comfort, and soothe."
He leans up on an elbow, looking down at me, but I refuse to meet his gaze. How to tell him that I feel defiled, ugly, tainted? No matter if he wants to see me or not, I don't want to see myself. And I'm not even yet thinking about going further in our intimacy. For some reason, I know he's not thinking about that, either.
He tugs gently on the hem of my hoodie. "Take it off," he coaxes. "It's no different from last night."
"It's light now," I counter.
"You don't want me to see?" he asks, his eyes searching mine.
"I don't want you to look at me," I clarify, a lump in my throat constricting my voice. "I hate looking at myself. You don't have to."
What I see in his eyes makes me balk in every possible way. Pity. I don't want any fucking pity.
"Don't look at me like that," I say, my voice more clipped than I've ever dared.
"I'm not, and if I am, I can't help it," he says. "I hate that you dislike yourself so much."
His words don't come across as he probably means them, and I snap. In one movement, I am sitting up with my back to him, pulling up my sweater and top with such force I can feel the seams dig into my skin.
He stops breathing when he sees what I know is there. Even though they have faded to white, the scars are plentiful and ugly, following a random pattern over my skin and ribs.
I can't look at him, but if he feels like I have nothing to hate about my body, then he better think again. And he better have a good look while he has a chance, because I won't ever show him again, that's for sure.
I jump when I feel his warm fingertips against my back, and I'm reminded of prom night, when he touched my back and it was so intense I wanted to run and hide. It was too much then, and it's almost too much now. I sit completely still as he traces first one scar, and then another. And then his fingertips trace a path I can feel so perfectly I know he is touching the skin that isn't marred.
I take a shaky breath, and exhale when his hand comes to rest flat on my lower back. Then, with infinite care, he tucks the fabric of my clothes back down. He sits up behind me, positioning himself so that I am sitting in between his legs. His arms wrap around my waist and he leans his cheek on my shoulder, rubbing it against my hoodie.
"If I had scars, would you like me less?" he asks after a long while.
"It's not that," I reply, my voice rough. "I feel so dirty, all the time. Like my body isn't mine. I hate looking at it. Hate seeing my skin."
"I don't," is all he says in return. He doesn't deny that I think I'm dirty, but somehow I know it is because he understands it's a perception of mine that his approval of me, or his denial of said dirtiness, is not going to help me. He doesn't think I am tainted, but knows it won't help me if he says that.
"Well, I won't show you again," I say, frowning at how petulant I sound.
"That's okay," he says easily.
I still at his easy acquiescence. I had thought he would try harder to convince me, and now he doesn't. My mind shifts, wondering if he is finally accepting what I know to be true.
"I'm ugly," I whisper.
"You're not," he whispers back immediately. "You're actually stunningly beautiful, even though you don't believe it. And those scars are part of you. They won't go away so it's no use worrying over them."
"Easier said than done."
Edward shifts to my side and pulls the leg of his sweats up over his knee. I do a double take when underneath the hair on his leg, I can see a broad scar that starts above his knee and ends below it. Before I can stop myself I reach out to touch the ruined skin. It looks like some kind of burn, but not quite.
He reaches out and places his warm hand over mine, pressing it against his knee. "I had this stunt bike when I was a kid. I wanted to practice on the lawn, and dad said I needed to wear protection - a helmet, knee caps. I didn't, and I fell on the gravel. My head was bleeding, as was my knee. Nearly gave my mom a heart attack."
I look up at his hair, trying to discover a mark I haven't seen before. He shakes his head. "My head wasn't as bad as my knee, only head wounds bleed much heavier. My hair covers it all up."
His fingers caress the back of my hand, the feeling no longer alien. I meet his gaze when he looks at me. "So, do you like me less now?"
I shake my head. His point is clear but logic and emotion rarely work together in my head.
"I hate you've been in pain," I say, looking back at the scar on his leg.
"There you go," he says, catching my gaze again.
I open my mouth to say something, but I wouldn't know what words I could possibly use. In the end, I go for the obvious. "That doesn't change how I think about myself."
He chuckles and wraps his arms around me, rocking us slowly. "I know. You're way too stubborn for that."
If Esme and Carlisle have noticed that Edward, Alice and I had a sleepover last night, they don't mention anything when we join them at the table for lunch. Two chairs have been added so James and Victoria can join us, and Esme has truly made us a feast. My leftover marzipan creations are on a plate in the center of the table, and James admires them overtly.
"It's a pity to eat them," he says, then looks at Emmett. "How do you deal?"
Emmett grins his dimpled grin. "Beg her to make more," he says with a wink. "She usually does."
"She's a good cook, too," Jasper adds, adding to my blush. "And an excellent baker."
James looks at me again. "You're going to make a man very happy, someday."
It's like a gun has gone off. Everything stops, and everyone goes quiet for a long moment. Then Alice gasps, and from across the table I can feel Edward's piercing, worried gaze focused on me.
"She's a bit young to be worrying about that yet," Carlisle says, trying to break the sudden tension.
James laughs in a relaxed manner, aware that he has made some sort of blunder. "Was just saying. I know she's with Edward."
Another silence, and I duck my head. Then someone snorts - Rosalie. She tries to contain her giggles, but fails. Alice follows, then Jasper, then Emmett. Esme simply looks amused but surprised, and Edward smiles and shakes his head. Carlisle is looking from James, to Edward, to me.
"And here we're treating Bella like she's made of glass," Rosalie says when she has her laughter under control. "You asked her out, didn't you?"
"I did," James says, unabashed. "And I got let down gently."
Even though everyone is still smiling, I still wish I could disappear. When I peek up through my lashes to see if the attention has moved away from me yet, I see James signing to me.
*Forgive me, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. Are you okay?*
"You, what the... What?" Rosalie says, looking at James. "Dude, did you just use sign language?"
"Yeah?" he says, his answer forming a question. "My nephew doesn't hear much, and I used to babysit him a lot when he was younger."
"You just gained points in the admiration category there," Emmett says, jerking his head in Rosalie's direction.
Rosalie seems speechless, but recovers. "Damn, I thought you only spoke English and sarcasm."
"Sarcasm can be conveyed through sign language," James says. "You just need a brilliant brain for that." He pops his collar in mock arrogance, and Emmett grins.
"God," Victoria mutters in exaggerated exasperation.
The banter goes on for a while. Alice tries to distract me by asking me to go to the mall with her sometime next week. "You need summer clothes," she whispers. "The muggy heat here is horrible. You really can't wear hoodies then."
I know she's right. And back in Phoenix, I didn't even really have the thick hoodies I got here. But I've gotten used to the big, concealing pieces of clothing, and it will be hard to let go of them until the fall.
"Hey, let's go to La Push today," Jasper proposes when lunch is almost done. "The sun is supposed to be out later."
"Yes," Rosalie says excitedly. "We have a few hours before you have to go back to Seattle, right?" she asks Victoria and James.
"No rush," Victoria says.
"Why don't you stay a bit longer?" Esme asks pleasantly. "You're very welcome to."
Emmett and Rosalie are all for it, of course, and immediately plans are made to go to the movies that night. First though, they will go to La Push, and Edward and Alice insist I come along with them.
"We can just have another movie night tonight," Alice says quietly when we are on our way to the garage. She smiles up at me with an understanding that brings an unexpected lump to my throat.
"Thank you," I whisper.
She just beams and hops in the back of Rosalie's convertible the moment the top is down. She pats the seat next to her so I will join her, and within moments, we are on our way to the beach, following the boys in Emmett's Jeep.
"Your mom and dad must be relieved to have the house to themselves for a bit?" Victoria asks Rosalie when she parks at the reservation.
Rosalie shrugs. "They're parents. They gave up their own life when they decided to have children."
Her voice is not as harsh as her words, and in her eyes I can see she is joking. Victoria seems to miss that, however.
"They gave up even more of their lives by adopting you and Jasper, and then taking in Bella," she says.
Rosalie halts mid-move and looks up at her friend. Then she nods almost imperceptibly in acceptance of Victoria's point. "Let's go."
We meet up with the guys at the path to the beach. Edward looks over his shoulder to see if I'm all right, and then turns to his brothers again. They're bantering, pushing each other and running ahead to the water line.
It's nice to see Edward being in such a light mood. After this morning, he needs a laugh.
We walk after them, and Alice companionably hooks her arm through mine as we trudge through the sand to where the others are. The sun is out, and when I see the ocean, I have to stop for a moment to take in the sight.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Rosalie asks me. "I'll miss it here."
"It is beautiful here," Victoria agrees. "Do you come here often?"
"Not really," Rosalie says. "I don't know why."
"Because the boys from the rez are annoying is why," Alice mutters. "They kind of feel like this is their beach."
"But they're not here now," Rosalie says. "So it's not a problem."
She looks up ahead when Emmett calls out her name, and she walks up to him. He lifts her easily and swings her around. "Congratulations baby," he says, kissing her. "I'm so damn proud of you."
"Hey!" we hear suddenly from a distance, and when I look into the direction of the voice, I can see Eric and Ben wave at us. They start walking to us, and Jasper and Edward go up to greet them. They start talking right away, and for a moment I wonder why if Edward gets along with them like that, why he wouldn't want to meet with them after school more often.
Jasper seems to be bored by the conversation quickly, and he turns back to Alice.
"Think the water is still cold?" Jasper muses as he looks at her.
She narrows her eyes at him. "Oh no you don't," she warns. A high pitched squeal escapes her when Jasper swings her up and over his shoulder in one fluid move and he walks to the water line.
I'm pretty sure Jasper won't throw her in the water - it is far from warm and the water itself must be freezing still. But he sure keeps up the suspense as he balances Alice closer and closer to the water line.
I watch them play and wish, for the thousandth time, that I could be carefree like that.
Beside me, I hear Victoria huff a bitter laugh, and I look at her, wondering what she means. She's quiet for a long time, and the silence is awkward.
Finally, she speaks.
"You're lucky, you know."
I blink at her, lost as to what she means.
"Did Rose ever tell you I grew up in the system?"
I shake my head, and Victoria smiles bitterly again. She starts to walk, and I follow her, sensing she wants to talk.
"I moved from foster home to foster home. I was a difficult child, and every time the family couldn't handle me anymore, they sent me away."
God, that's just horrible. I'm sure my compassion shows in my gaze, but she's not looking at me. She's looking at the horizon with unseeing eyes. Still, she walks on, and I follow. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I feel she needs to talk to someone, and if I can be that person, then I will be.
"Sometimes I think that some foster families are just in it for the money they get. They don't care for shit about the children."
I feel like I should talk, but it's still so hard to use my voice with someone I basically don't trust.
"So yeah, you're lucky. You're seventeen, right? It's amazing a family wanted to take you in at that age. And I think it's a lot better for you than when you'd been sent to a home until you were eighteen."
Lucky… She's right, of course.
"Can I ask how it was for you before you got here? Did you live in many homes?"
She stops walking so she can see me shake my head. I hold up two fingers.
"Why did you have to leave your last home?"
Oof, I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to talk, period. Yet, she's given me her story, so why shouldn't I give her mine in return? Her violent demeanor has disappeared, and in its place a vulnerability has taken over I've rarely seen in anyone before.
The ability to use my voice comes with the realization that we know too much about the kind of life we've led before we were able to break free of it.
"I ran away," I whisper, my words nearly drowned out over the waves.
"And then they didn't want you back?" she presses. "I did that once, you know. I ran away because the perv tried to touch me. They sent me to yet a new home then."
"I didn't have to go back," I say, my voice still hoarse.
"Lucky you," she murmurs. "Is that when you got here?"
She suddenly smiles. "Don't you ever act up? Get angry? I wasn't a nice kid when I was younger. James says I still have a mean streak."
I shake my head. "I'm angry, sometimes. But it's better to stay calm."
She does a double take at me, and her piercing gaze seems to look right into my soul. "Oh my God, you were abused, weren't you."
It's not even a question, and in my alarm and confusion my mind still has a moment to realize that neither Emmett nor Rosalie must have disclosed anything about my past. Bless them, to show that discretion.
I look away from Victoria and pull my sleeves over my hands, even though I am already too warm in my hoodie.
"Holy shit. In your foster home?"
It's the first time I've ever admitted to someone outside the family what happened in my past. And her reaction is so genuine, it soothes me more than I ever thought it would. She doesn't ridicule me. No. She believes me, and sees me as the victim.
Her hand goes up to her mouth. "Goddamn. I'm so sorry. You must be so happy to be here right now, away from all that misery. Is the fucker in jail?"
I shake my head, feeling miserable suddenly.
"Why not? Isn't the state building a case against him? Haven't you pressed charges?"
I wring my hands. "Testifying is… hard. And he has a lot of friends in the right places."
"That's just wrong, Bella," she says.
"I'm just glad to be out," I say quietly.
"And what if he gets a new foster kid? Then what?"
The question is like a blow to my stomach and blind panic overtakes me when I realize I've never even thought of that before. I sink to my knees as I lose all my strength for a moment, the sand feeling moist even through my jeans.
Oh, God. Oh God oh God, what if he has some other girl in his house right now? But they wouldn't do that, would they? He lives alone, and they always try to place kids with couples, not single men. Right?
A hand on my shoulder startles me and I jerk away.
"It's okay, Bella. I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sure no such thing has happened yet." Victoria kneels in front of me so she's at eye level. "You never even considered it, did you."
I shake my head.
"You have to consider pressing charges," she says.
"I know," I croak. "But if he wins the case, it will all have been for nothing."
"No," she says. "Even if he wins that case, you will have done everything in your power to bring him down. It will give you closure."
I move from my knees to my butt and look out over the water dejectedly. I'm not sure why I am telling her all this. Maybe it's our shared experience and her frank demeanor once her guard is down. I can see why Rose likes her so much.
"I only just got my voice back," I confess. "I need time."
She doesn't deny it. "You do. But when the time is right, you will use that voice of yours and tell the world what happened. Promise me. I never got to do anything to make them pay for what they did, because all I ever lacked was love and support and I can't prove even that. That's not against the law. What happened to you though, is."
I swallow thickly. "I know."
She reaches for my hand and squeezes it. "I know I'm not the typical girly girl, and I tend to keep people at an arm's length. I've been let down so often, I don't know anymore how to let others in."
"Sounds familiar," I say wryly, and she smiles.
"But I can be a friend if you ever need one. So if you ever want to talk to someone who knows what it's like, call me, okay?"
I nod, still reeling by the absurd turns this conversation has taken. She gives me her phone number and I call her so she has mine, as well. Then she rakes her hair back with her hand and I can see how her guard goes back up; her shoulders straighten and her eyes go cold. But now I understand why she comes across like she does.
She's just been let down one too many times.
Just like me.