A/N Twilight is not mine. But some day, I'm going to be a famous author too, You'll see.
All the love and warm smooches to Sherry. Thanks to Bob, although she should (and probably will) be spanked for the stunt she pulled :( Shoutout to Fra ITA because she needs a hug. And thank you, Southern, for giving me the best possible nickname for Bella ever.
Sorry it took me so long to update! I finished the chapter, hated it, so deleted it and started again. This one is the result and extra long to make up for it. I like it. A lot :)
Music: Maria Mena - All this time; Robert Pattinson - Never think; Beck and bat for lashes - let's get lost; David Usher - Black black heart.
Back from the beach, Rosalie and Emmett take James and Victoria to the diner for drinks. After that, they will go to Port Angeles for dinner and a movie.
I help Esme with dinner, chopping up the vegetables and browning the meat while she clears out the dishwasher. The movements of the cooking calm me, but Esme's presence is providing the true sense of comfort I'm feeling.
To my surprise, and pleasure, my words come easily. We chat a little about random things, like the ad for some fancy kitchen machine she saw, and if I miss the Phoenix heat.
"I moved state twice," I muse while I stir the contents of the big frying pan with a spatula. "That's quite rare, isn't it?"
"It's not unheard of, but not usually done. In your case though, I don't think it was a very bad thing. You wouldn't have been at ease if you were close to your old house."
I nod in acquiescence, but my mind goes to Renée. I would have been closer to her had I not moved state. Then again, if I had stayed in Phoenix, I doubt I would have been taken in by a family as nice as the Cullens. If any family would have taken me in at all. I'm going on eighteen; as a foster kid I'm not very interesting merchandise.
"You always drift off in your thoughts," Esme says kindly. "I sometimes wonder if you even realize you do that."
I have to smile. "Not really. When I didn't speak, nobody noticed."
"Are you happy to have your voice back?" Esme asks suddenly, genuinely interested.
"Yeah, I think so. Although talking is still weird at times."
Dinner preparations are finished quickly, and without Emmett and Rosalie or their friends, the table is nice and quiet. I can appreciate the calm, and it helps me to be able to actually eat as much as my body needs. No matter how hard I try, gaining weight is still difficult.
Or maybe I'm not trying hard enough. Deep down, I know that I should simply eat more, have more candy maybe and definitely more protein. I guess that being thin is some last remnant of control my brain isn't ready to give up. A body without hipbones and ribs protruding is more attractive to others' eyes. And being attractive is not an item on my wish list.
I think I am doing well, in terms of coming to terms with things, but some aspects will take more time. It's just that I'm not sure if I should be more forgiving towards myself, or more demanding. Is it okay to stay thin for a while longer, or should I gain weight? I wish I could talk to Siobhan about that. Or Esme, maybe. But it's not a matter of getting a chance to talk. It's having the courage.
I guess communication will forever be difficult for me.
After dinner, Alice takes me right up to Edward's room for another movie night. I am better prepared this time, and have put on one of the old long sleeved shirts I brought with me from Phoenix underneath a vest. That way, I won't have to sleep in my tank top again.
We debate a little about what movie we should watch. In the end we agree on some action movie with Bruce Willis, and we settle in to watch with drinks and popcorn.
It's not like last night.
The evening lasts longer since we started hours earlier, and the atmosphere is not as relaxed as the night before. I know I am likely the only one feeling the stress, but somehow, knowing I won't be sleeping in my own bed tonight is making me tense. Edward seems to sense it too, and he gently massages the nape of my neck.
He doesn't say anything, but I can see him looking at me from the corner of his eye from time to time.
When Alice hops up for a bathroom break, Edward tilts his head so his mouth is closer to my ear while he still focuses on the TV.
"It'll be the same like last night, you know."
"I know," I reply, but my fingers are fidgeting in my lap, numb.
He places his warm hand over mine to still them. "Nobody says you have to sleep here. You can just go to your own bed tonight. Or Alice can come stay there with you."
"She doesn't have to stay. I don't have anything she can sleep on in my room."
"We'd figure something out." He thinks for a moment, and changes tack. "I would have thought you'd be less stressed on the second night."
I shrug in an effort to ease some of the stiffness in my shoulders. "I don't want to think about it," I say after a minute. "It's always about my past. I want to be in the now for once."
Edward holds up his free hand as if in surrender. "I shouldn't have brought it up. But, shit, I just want you to relax. What's there to be afraid of?"
A short laugh escapes me, and it sounds so bitter that shame colors my cheeks. I look at my covered hands in my lap, suddenly feeling like I am a thousand years old.
I'm so tired of everything, sometimes.
Edward sighs, even though I can tell he's trying to suppress it.
At that moment, Alice comes back into the room. She takes two steps inside the door, looks at us, halts, and turns around again, throwing over her shoulder that she's going to get more snacks.
Which is a shit excuse, but a welcome one all the same.
Edward and I are silent for a while, each lost in our own thoughts. The question whether I will ever lose my fear and be able to be in a healthy, functioning relationship is still an issue, dangling above our heads like Damocles's sword.
I'm torn between the desire to give in to what I am parched for - some love, some intimacy and affection, but on the other hand, the fear is an old companion I am coming to realize I am hiding behind. Moving forward is scarier than keeping up my guard now.
Even if it's not ideal, it's what I know.
But then I think of Edward and the way his hand touched the skin on my belly and while one part of my brain wants so much more of that, the other part of me wants to hide away from it all.
How I can want it and not want it at the same time, I don't understand. But then, like a predator creeping in on its prey, realization creeps into my mind.
I want Edward to touch me like he did.
But only if I can be sure it will be nothing more than that.
Affection, to give it a name, might be okay. Intimacy freaks me out. Big time.
A deep sigh escapes me, and if I felt tired before, I'm exhausted now.
Edward leans his head against mine, and we're quiet until Alice comes back with two bottles of soda and a fresh bag of potato chips.
I don't speak anymore, and I don't process much of what is happening in the next movie we watch. When the hour grows late, I crawl under the covers because Edward guides me to do so. He doesn't spoon me, as if he knows that I can't stand such close contact right now.
But throughout the movies we watch, as time ticks by and my frantic mind turns my thoughts into a tangle of worries, he holds my hand, squeezing it now and then in a silent show of everlasting support.
I wish I could fade to sleep. I wish I could let go of the tension my body seems determined to hold. I wish I could turn into Edward's embrace like I am desiring and close my eyes, feeling as safe as I would in my fantasy. But I am wide awake, watching the television screen without seeing, being vividly aware of the mattress against my back and the blankets over my front without feeling.
It's not just fear anymore that is keeping me hyperaware of everything. It's the realization I just had, and the questions that are racing through my mind because of it.
Long after midnight, a soft knock sounds on the bedroom door and Jasper pops his head in.
My body stiffens up completely and immediately, an involuntary reaction caused by years of conditioning. I'm lying flat and therefore by default in a vulnerable position. Jasper, even though not a threat to me, my instinct classifies as dangerous all the same.
Oblivious to my fear, Jasper looks around the room and greets us. "Here you are," he tells Alice when he sees her. "Are you coming to bed?"
"I'm staying here, I think," she says.
Jasper pouts theatrically. "Again?"
Alice looks over to us, indecision showing in her eyes. I'm pretty sure she senses the tension between Edward and me, but she won't say anything about that, I know.
"I'll think about it. But the movie isn't finished yet."
Jasper looks over at the TV and shrugs. "Seen it already. I'll wait for you in my room, 'kay?"
Alice nods and Jasper disappears again. My body is still on high alert, stiff as a board in Edward's bed.
I want to smash something. Really.
A surprised, quiet gasp leaves me when I feel Edward's hand on my waist, under the blankets. His thumb is rubbing soothing circles.
At first I wait, wondering if his hand is going to travel higher, touch me where I'm not ready for it. But his hand stays where it is, its warmth seeping through my clothes and touching my skin.
It's… pleasant. And when it finally clicks that he's not going to do anything else, I can at last start to relax again.
When the movie is over, Alice sighs. "I guess I better go to Jasper then. Will you two be all right in here?"
"Yeah," Edward says. "Of course."
"Okay," Alice says, but she doesn't sound convinced. Still, she picks up her blanket and empty glass and disappears from the room, which is lit in a ghostly glow from the television screen.
Edward's hand leaves my waist and lazily reaches to the nightstand to pick up the remote. He turns to some music channel, and the soft sounds drift into the room.
I recognize parts of Lakme, but it's used in pop music.
Behind me, Edward chuckles, low and drawn-out. "That is so not the song for this moment," he murmurs, amused.
He looks up at me when I stay quiet, seeing the question in my eyes. "Listen to the lyrics," he says.
My cheeks feel warm, then hot, then scalding as I listen to what the woman actually sings. The music is sultry, the rhythm perfect for the song. There is… something in it that seems to tug at me, although it's not the actual words used.
When I glance over at Edward, he laughs softly. "For all you've been through, you can be so deliciously innocent at times."
"Hey," I say, mock frowning at his condescension and trying to get rid of the undercurrent of my emotions.
He smiles, his eyes glittering in the dark room. "I can see your blush from here," he says teasingly.
I press my cool hands against my cheeks, and am relieved when the song has ended and another one is beginning.
"Still so tense?" he asks after a while. "What's going on in that head of yours?"
I look over at him. I can only see the half of his face that catches the light from the TV, but his expression is clear. Concern, worry. Concentration as he lifts his hand and strokes a few errant hairs away from my face.
I flinch when his hand comes close, and the involuntary wince is more telling than any words could explain.
"I won't do anything, Bella. Can't you trust me that far?"
I take a deep breath. Knowing he can't see much of my face, since the television is behind me, helps.
"But you'll want more. In time. No," I say when he opens his mouth to contradict me. "It's natural, Edward. I know you'll want to move forward."
He checks, and I can see the frown he tries to hide. "You don't?" he finally asks, his voice rough.
Another deep breath. "It's hard to explain."
"I think I like… being touched," I say haltingly, afraid as ever to admit something like that.
Edward doesn't speak, but nudges me silently to continue. His hand catches mine and squeezes, grounding me.
I turn to my side so I can face him better, clutching his hand to my chest like an anchor.
"But I'm not sure if I want more than that," I continue quietly. "I don't know how to put it."
Edward thinks for a moment. "You mean like non-sexual or something?"
My face grows hot instantly at his words, but Edward doesn't tease me this time.
"We can do that," he says. "Actually, I think it's a good idea. Maybe you need to get more used to touch before it becomes anything more. And if we agree that, like, the erogenous zones are off limits, you might be able to actually relax."
"Right," I say, stunned at his insight and the fact that he actually has the courage to put things in words so candidly.
"Right," he repeats. "So… Boundaries. We need to set boundaries. And then we need to get it into that head of yours that you can actually, you know, trust me."
"It's not a trust thing," I counter. The look Edward gives me makes me laugh in spite of the subject matter we're discussing.
He changes the positions of our hands, so that I am holding his hand instead of the other way around. Then he places our intertwined hands against my belly.
"Show me," he says, his voice quiet. "Show me where I can go."
My breath halts for a second and I squeeze his hand, and he squeezes back, before I start moving our hands over my abdomen. It feels weird to do this, and then at the same time it doesn't.
I move our intertwined hands over my belly, keeping below my midriff and above my hipbones. Edward never looks away from my eyes, and he is truly letting me lead. His arm is relaxed, and in his gaze and body I can feel that I am the one in control right now.
"What about your back?" he asks quietly, not interrupting the atmosphere in the room.
My back… I don't like to be touched there in general, yet the two times Edward touched me there were completely overwhelming. And not necessarily in a bad way. Just a lot to take in.
"I don't know," I finally whisper, but that's a lie. I just don't know how to tell him what I want, since I'm not sure what I want at all.
"Want to figure it out with me?" he asks.
My heart picks up speed as if on cue.
"Turn to your stomach," he says before I can start lining up all the reasons why I should push my guard up a little further. "Do it," he adds in a voice that implies 'it's all right.'
I roll over so I'm almost flat on my belly, my face still in Edward's direction. He leans up on an elbow and his free hand carefully pulls the hem of my vest and longsleeve up. Again his steady gaze never wavers, never looks away from my eyes as his hand drifts up the skin of my back.
Was it only yesterday that I showed him my scars? Was it really only yesterday that I was so intent on never allowing him to touch the parts of me that are marked?
But as his fingertips caress up my back, my skin awakens, making my brain almost short circuit with the sensory overload of everything that feels good and nice and wonderful.
My eyes pop as gooseflesh races over my entire body, and I can see the smile in Edward's eyes when he feels my skin's reaction to his touch.
His hand moves in lazy circles over my back, never moving unexpectedly and never venturing out of my comfort zone. I know I should worry about him feeling my scars, know I should be frantic, but all the panicking seems to be taking place in a distant corner of my mind. No matter how much I hate being touched, his hand on my back feels good and for some reason it's all I can process right now.
Gradually, my heart and breathing calm down, and I can feel my lungs expand with every intake of breath. I tuck in my chin as if that would give him more space to move, and after a while, my eyes start to drift closed.
They open again when Edward moves, shifting to lie down flat again. He keeps touching me, and I keep enjoying it. It is only when he pulls back and pulls my shirt back down that I realize I'm very close to falling asleep.
He disappears briefly from the room to get ready for the night, and I am left in his warm bed, thinking about what just happened. My skin still tingles from the caresses. I always hated it when people touched my back. I never knew it was so sensitive to touch.
I try to keep hold of the relaxation I feel, of the lazy heaviness that grounds me. I'm so rarely without any tension that the muscles in my lower back are protesting from the sudden lack of strain.
When Edward comes back, smelling of mint toothpaste, he asks me quietly if I need to use the bathroom before bed. I'm tempted to say no, but I get up and take care of business as well.
Stepping back into the room feels awkward to me, but Edward opens his arms, inviting me in his bed easily. When we're settled, with my back against his chest and his arm around my waist, I stare into the darkness with wide open eyes.
"Do you think your parents are okay with this?" I ask finally, knowing Edward is still awake, too.
Edward chuckles behind me. "Technically you're sleeping in your own home, so there's no problem, right?"
He nuzzles my nape. "I am. If they weren't okay with it, we'd have known already. Or do you think mom doesn't know where you were last night?"
"And C- And your dad?"
"You do realize mom has the last word when it comes to raising us, right?"
"Edward," I say, not sure how to put my concern into words.
"Still so scared to break non-existing rules," he murmurs. "Do you really think I would risk putting you in such trouble?"
I close my eyes briefly in concession to his words.
"Now, sleep. I'm taking you out tomorrow."
"Where to?" I ask. This is new information.
He hugs me tighter. "I don't know yet. But I'm taking you out. I want to go out with you. Okay?"
I smile. "Okay."
He falls asleep before I do, and for a good hour or more I simply listen to the sound of his breathing. When I finally drift off, my mind concocts a dream that is so wonderful and warm and perfect, I clearly feel the traces of it when I wake up from the hoot of an owl somewhere in the forest around the house.
Drunk with sleep, and rosy from the remnants of my dream, I turn around in Edward's arms. As if practiced a hundred times before, his body folds around mine and our legs intertwine. My head rests against the hollow under his collarbone perfectly. He sighs in his sleep, settling immediately. A few seconds later, I close my eyes as well.
Waking up the next morning is glorious. I'm wrapped up in Edward, and though I can clearly feel his, you know, press against my pelvis, I know he's asleep still and I'm not very threatened by it.
I don't move just yet, instead enjoy being in his arms like I am now. My face is pressed against his chest, and it's a small miracle we both haven't moved at all during the night. Then again, we've been talking for so long, and it's still early now. Likely, I've only slept for a few hours.
Sleeping in is not a concept my brain is familiar with. My internal alarm clock will always be telling me to get up before the others do, I think.
When I move my head a little, my neck cracks in protest from having been in the same position for so long. Hmm. Maybe I've been sleeping longer than I initially thought.
Edward stirs, then opens his eyes. He looks adorable when I look up at him and he smiles down at me, his eyes still fuzzy from sleep.
"Hey," I say.
"Hey yourself," he replies, lifting his hand to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. "Slept well?"
I nod, the corners of my mouth lifting up in a smile.
"How did we end up like this?" he asks then, indicating our positions.
My face flames and I avert my eyes. He laughs softly, leaning in to press a kiss to my forehead.
"I'm in favor, just saying," he says. "You can do that anytime."
We stay in bed a little while longer, talking about random things. When Edward tells me he would like it if we were to go to the same university after graduating high school, I'm in favor of that plan.
"I'm glad Victoria and James are leaving again today," he muses after a stretch of silence. "I can't get a read on either of them."
"Victoria and I talked when we were on the beach," I tell him. "She's actually nice. Just has her guard up."
I nod, wanting to elaborate, but I feel that hers is not my story to tell. "She was nice to me," I repeat, still a bit stunned.
"That's good. And James actually asked you out, huh."
"I said no," I reply. The surprise that I was actually able to, lingers.
"Good. I'd be upset if you'd gone out on a date with him."
"Be reasonable," I say. Like I ever would?
Edward shrugs. "It's possible. I know I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Just because I'm your first doesn't mean I have to be your last, you know?"
His insecurity comes rolling out with his words, and I have no idea how to reassure him when I'm struggling with my own feelings so much still.
"Don't worry," I finally say. "I just want to be with you."
He takes a deep breath and smiles. "Good. I'm glad. And the same goes for me, you know."
When I meet his eyes, he presses the softest kiss against my lips. I relax in his embrace, happy to be where I'm at right now.
When we get downstairs, James and Victoria have already left for Seattle. It's a long trip; I remember it from when I got here from the airport last year.
It saddens me though that I won't be able to thank Victoria for what she said to me the other day.
But pressing charges… From what I know, it's horrific, and that is without having googled it. It's telling your story to total strangers, not once, but multiple times. It's answering all those questions about your past, in detail, with a judge and jury present. It's Carlisle, Esme, Edward and the others having to hear exactly what happened to me.
It's having an attorney ask you questions about it, trying to relay your story, to catch inconsistencies and untruths. It's confronting my violator with the facts and taking a stand.
Oh, and I would have to do that twice, too, now wouldn't I? No matter how afraid I am that Stefan might have new foster children in his care, pressing charges is a huge deal.
And even then, there's no guarantee that they will be locked up for any amount of time. After all, that small annoying voice in the back of my head keeps insisting that I have always been the one in the wrong, not them. What good will it do to press those charges? Will it give me closure? Not likely. Will it bring my mother back? Very unlikely.
"Yes, let's go," Edward suddenly says, pulling me from my thoughts. He's done eating his breakfast at lunchtime and getting up from the table, his gaze fixed on me.
I eat the last bite of my food and take my plate to the dishwasher.
"Where are you off to?" Esme asks us.
"He didn't say," I say, returning her smile. "I don't know."
"Will you be back for dinner?" Esme asks Edward then.
Edward looks at me, thinking, before he looks at his mother again. "Not likely. Are you ready?" he asks me next.
I nod and within moments we're in his car. It doesn't take long before I know we are going to Port Angeles. I don't ask him anything, instead sit back and try to be at ease. Considering the secret smile on Edward's face, I'm quite confident that I will like what he has planned.
It's only after he has parked in the underground garage and has opened the car door for me when he tells me what he has planned.
"I thought we could act like boyfriend and girlfriend today," he says, a sparkle in his eyes. "We can do anything you want. There are some museums I'm sure you haven't seen yet, or we can go shopping, or go to the bookstore. Anything."
"Anything?" I ask him, unsure.
"Anything," he repeats, and then he starts singing the song from Oliver Twist.
I look away, mortified, and he laughs. Then he takes my hand and intertwines our fingers. "Let's go. Where to first?"
He takes me to an exposition of contemporary art, and we're both pleasantly surprised at the things we see. The guide at the museum is a middle aged woman who is clearly pleased to see younger people take an interest in the collection. Edward asks a dozen questions and the woman answers them all, until her eyes are glittering with enthusiasm.
On our way out, we visit the museum shop. My gaze falls to a book filled with pretty full color pictures of the art. Before I have blinked, Edward has purchased it for me. He hands me the bag once he has paid.
He laughs when he sees my puzzled expression. "You're my girl. You deserve some gifts."
And he's slick about it, too, because he knows I won't speak up to protest in a public place like this.
Edward smiles smugly and holds out his arm. "Where to next?"
Since it's hard for me to decide where to go, and not just because I have no idea where we can go here, Edward takes the lead without giving me the feeling I am not in control of this day. And throughout the day, it seems he has made it his personal goal to make me laugh.
When we pass by an optician, Edward asks me if I would be okay going in there, because he's looking for shades. I agree and follow him in.
He tries on several models, asking me for my opinion pointedly every single time. The sales lady is trying to make suggestions, too, but she doesn't have a good eye for what suits Edward's face, or so I think.
"What do you think of this one?" Edward asks when he has placed a Ray-Ban on his nose.
*Perfect,* I sign. *The best so far.* The most expensive one, too.
Edward turns back to the mirror. He lifts his chin, then pops up his collar in mock arrogance. I grin silently at his antics.
"All right, this one then," he tells the sales lady. She beams and quickly checks if the frame needs any adjusting to fit his head better. When she scurries off to the back of the store to get it done, Edward turns back to me. "You want one, too?"
I shake my head, my eyes flitting over the prices on the frames in the racks around me.
"Yeah, you want them," he decides for me, a soft smile tugging at his lips. "Let's find you some."
The sales lady comes back with Edward's new sunglasses just when Edward has found something he wants me to try. He wisely hands me the frame so I can put it on myself. I look in the mirror, as always disliking seeing my own face reflected back at me.
"What do you think?" he asks me as he comes to stand behind me, meeting my eyes through the mirror.
I cock my head a little, trying to determine whether I like it or not.
"The frame might be a bit too big for her," the sales lady says. "Here, this is a smaller version."
And then she actually tries to give the sunglasses to Edward. I close my eyes briefly, not sure if I should be annoyed or not. I'd rather leave right away, but then again, I'm used to being treated like I'm not completely right just because I don't speak.
"You can give them to her," Edward says, clearly a bit ticked off.
The lady nods. "Of course. Forgive me." She hands me the frame and I try them. They fit perfectly, and I look up to meet Edward's eyes in the mirror.
"You like them?" he asks.
When I nod, he smiles. "Good. Let's buy them, then."
He pays for them both, even though I pull at his sleeve to try and stop him from doing it. He grins and leans in so he can whisper in my ear. "I've dubbed this the first official 'pamper Bella day.' Get used to it. I think they are going to occur on a regular basis."
I try to come up with a reply, but the look in his eyes tells me it's useless. With a barely suppressed sigh, I let it go and accept the second gift of the day.
Edward's smile is even more smug and he walks me through the mall for some window shopping. He shows me what kind of clothes he likes, and what kind of things he'd like to see on me.
At one point he points out a lovely shaped, elegant top in the shop window.
"Would you ever consider wearing something like that?" he asks me when I've indicated I like the top, too.
I shake my head.
"And for me? Would you show it to me?"
I frown. What's the use of that? What's the use of buying clothes if I will only ever wear them to show Edward?
He looks at me intently, then visibly makes a decision. "Maybe not yet. But I'd love to see you in something else than a hoodie, someday."
Since few people are around, I am able to speak. "Why?"
"Because you're a lovely girl who deserves pretty clothes."
When I open my mouth to contradict him, he silences - and shocks the hell out of me - by kissing me, right in the middle of the mall.
He lets go of the subject and after walking along the shops for a while longer, we go to a nice little diner with a view on the harbor.
It's a bit too cold to sit outside comfortably, but Edward finds us a booth near the window and orders hot chocolate for us both, ignoring the surprised look of the waiter, considering we're ordering midwinter drinks in late spring.
We sit in comfortable silence, and I can't help but get out the book Edward got me from the museum, so I can look at the pictures.
I'm relaxed, and know Edward succeeded perfectly at the goal I'm sure he set himself for today: make me feel like any other girl on a day out with her boyfriend.
Boyfriend… The thought alone makes me blush.
"I still need a nickname for you," Edward muses after the waiter has brought us our drinks.
I make a face at him before I can stop myself, and Edward laughs. At first I think he's going to let it go, but after taking another sip of his drink, his gaze shifts back to me.
"I could call you Bells, or Bell?"
I cock a brow at him, and a small part of my mind has a moment to revel over how much I've become at ease with him, even in a public situation like this.
Edward chuckles. "No?"
I wrinkle my nose at him, more playing with my newfound freedom of behavior around him than anything else. Edward doesn't seem to disapprove of the liberties I take. In fact, his smile widens.
"Okay, so not Bell. Boo, then? Or Beau?"
He's teasing me, I know, but I'm having fun and so is he.
"Bella Boo. Not bad."
I shake my head, suppressing my smile. If he starts calling me Boo, I'll start calling him Eddie. See how long he will last.
"Hmm" he says, stroking his chin in contemplation. "Honeypie? Honeybun? Laneypoo?"
Laneypoo? I mouth at him, and he laughs at my aghast expression.
"I could call you butterfly," he continues after a moment of thinking. "Because you're transforming. Or I could use Papillon, that's French for butt-"
"No French," I interrupt him, breaking my own no-speaking-in-public rule before I realize it.
He studies my face. "Why not? It's a beautiful language."
I look down. Laurent's lilting voice is in my mind, telling me everything I did wrong in French. I quickly learned to understand the gist of the things he was saying in order to say my hide.
Edward pulls me back to the present by placing his hands over mine in my lap.
"Laurent is French," I whisper at the table top. "He…" I trail off, unable to tell him. "I hate the language."
"All right, no French," Edward concedes in a serious voice. The light atmosphere has plummeted, and I can feel the tension creeping back into my shoulders.
"So how about something else then," he continues, trying to lighten the mood. "Warrior? No, Worrier," he says with a wink, and a humorless smile flits over my face.
"Would you like anything else to drink?" the waiter asks as he comes up to our table.
I let Edward know I'd like a tea and he orders a sparkling water for himself. When the waiter has left again, Edward looks back at me.
"You're such a fighter," he says. "I'm trying to find something to go with that."
He comes up with various other ideas, and they get increasingly funny. I forget about my earlier tension and relax again. When Edward looks at me, I blush under his scrutinizing gaze.
"I think I found it," he says finally. "I think we should call you Bruiser."
My laugh escapes me, quick and sharp, and I'm pretty sure the entire diner heard it.
We stay at the cozy diner for dinner, and Edward works hard to distract me enough so I am actually able to eat something. The warm fuzzy feeling I already had whenever I was close to him, now has grown to a full-blown body glow, or so it feels.
Falling. I'm falling so hard for him, and I love every second of it.
"Look at you," Esme says to me the moment we get home and step into the living room. "Did you have a good day?"
I meet Edward's gaze for a second, and we both grin. "Yes," I tell her.
"What did you buy?" she asks, nodding at the bags both Edward and I are holding.
"I got her some gifts," Edward says like it's the most normal thing to have done.
"You did? Oh that's so nice of you. What did you get?" Esme asks me, her expression eager.
Even though she's clearly pleased, I'm still hesitant to show her the things I got - the shades, the book from the museum, and a pretty scarf that I noticed in a shop which Edward bought right away, even though I don't need it.
I've never had many things to call my own, and the few things I cherished I had to protect carefully. Especially Laurent made it a sport to take away the things I showed a liking to.
Esme is enthusiastic though. She wants me to show the shades and the scarf, and looks through the book from the museum.
"How is it that my own son takes you out on educational trips, and Carlisle and I don't?" she wonders.
I'm not sure what to reply to that, but her face is still showing nothing but kindness so I let it go.
What a day. What a glorious dose of normality I've been wanting for such a long time. Feeling content, and confident, I ask Esme if it's okay to go out for a short run.
"I'll stay on the driveway," I tell her, hoping she will let me go.
Esme checks her clock. "All right, but take your phone with you. Nobody comes out here, but it's already dark out."
I nod, happy she is letting me go. She doesn't look particularly worried, so I'm hoping she thinks it's safe enough for me to go out.
Changing into my running clothes quickly, I hop down the stairs before anybody can stop me. After having spent a day outside, and among other people, I am looking forward to both the running and the being alone for a while.
I don't push myself too hard this time, but I'm very pleased to notice that running the distance on my schedule seems to be a tiny bit easier already. So that's how quickly you can build up some endurance. Good to know. I had worried it would be harder to get started.
At the end of the driveway I turn around. On my way back, I slow down to a walk for a minute, and as I listen to the sound of my footsteps on the fine gravel of the driveway, I wonder if I would be able to arrange some type of music player. If I'm going to run for longer distances, some music might be a good idea.
I almost miss the tiniest of sounds to my right, drowned out by my crunching footfalls, but when I stop, I hear it again.
It's a pitiful sound, so soft I can barely hear it, and it's coming from just behind the trees.
I hesitate - I have no idea what is making that sound. It could be a hedgehog in a mating ritual for all I know. But then I hear it again, and the sound is so sad I have to check it out.
Activating the flash of my phone camera, I direct the beam of light into the trees. At first I see nothing, and I'm starting to wonder if I only imagined the sound. But then I see movement on the ground, just the smallest shift in the shadows, and I lean in.
A kitten. There is a kitten, half hidden underneath the undergrowth. Its meows are heart-wrenching, and it's so small and weak it can't even do much to shy away from me.
I creep a little closer, carefully, and look around with my tiny light, wondering where the kitten's mother is at. A shocked gasp escapes me, making the kitten hiss, when I see the dead body of a grown cat not far away from where the kitten is hiding. Another, smaller kitten is with the mother cat, but it is clear both animals are dead.
The kitten meows again, the sound hoarse, probably from all the calling it has done.
I sink to my knees, unsure what to do. I can't leave that tiny little beast here, in the forest. It will surely die, whether from malnourishment or by a predator. But I can't take it home with me, either. I'm pretty sure Carlisle and Esme don't approve of pets, or they would have had them, right?
I chew on my lip, wondering what to do. And as I sit there, thinking, the kitten slowly crawls over to me, placing a tiny paw on my knee and crying.
Oh, damn it all to hell. I can't leave it here. I'll just have to beg Esme to let me keep it for the night so I can take it to a shelter tomorrow. That at least she will have to agree to, right?
God, all the confidence I gained during the day is seeping away from me as I pick up the tiny ball of fur. It's nothing more but skin and bones and minuscule nails which find their way into my clothes immediately, holding on for dear life.
My heart thundering, I start my way back to the main house. The kitten, curled up against me, doesn't even struggle. I wonder how old it is. It can't be much over four weeks, and that means it will need the right nourishment, fast. If it will even survive at all.
I don't hesitate when I reach the main house. Sometimes, like a band-aid, it's better to do things fast before you can start worrying.
The kitten, I can see in the light of the house, has a charcoal grey coat. The eyes, though very infected, seem to be yellow and huge and stand wide apart on its broad head.
Clutching the trembling animal against my chest, I open the door and step into the house.
Esme is in the living room, reading, and it takes her a moment to notice I am standing in front of her. She starts smiling when she looks up at me, but her smile disappears when she sees what I am holding.
Her eyes go back up to meet mine. "Explain."
Her voice is not unkind, and at this moment, that is more than I could ever have hoped for.
"Found him along the driveway," I whisper. "Its mother and sibling are dead." I hesitate. "Please, will you help me bring it to a shelter tomorrow? It will die if it stays in the woods."
Esme sits back, exhaling slowly as she thinks. "A shelter," she says, more a statement than a question.
And, oh irony, this must be about the first time I am asking something, anything, of her.
Esme crosses her arms in front of her chest, and she seems to be undecided. Right at that moment, Alice and Jasper come down the stairs. Alice sees what I am holding immediately and bounces over, squealing.
"Did you find him? Oh my god look how cute he is!"
The kitten, fully woken up from the sound of Alice's voice, claws at my chest to get closer and meows pitifully, its tiny hiss more adorable than threatening.
Alice doesn't hesitate to pet the little kitten, crawling it behind its ears. Then she turns to Esme. "You're going to let us keep him, right? Right?"
Keep it… Oh hell, I hadn't even really considered that.
"What is all this loudness going on about?" Carlisle asks as he appears from the library with a book in his hands.
"Bella found a kitten," Alice says, her enthusiasm taking over. "Can she keep it? Please?"
Carlisle looks nonplussed, his gaze shifting from his daughter to me, to the cat I am holding in my arms.
"Found it, did you? Where?"
I swallow, and swallow again, but no words come out.
"On the driveway," Esme finally answers for me. Her voice is calm.
"Just until tomorrow," I tell her. "If someone can help me bring it to a shelter then?"
From the corner of my eye, I can see Carlisle frown. He steps up so he's standing behind the couch where Esme is sitting, placing his hand on her shoulder.
"You don't want to keep it?" Carlisle asks.
I look down at the grey kitten, which has now gathered some courage and is looking around the room, ears up, its balance shaky as with all young animals.
"I was expecting pleading cries and a tantrum for good measure," Esme muses with amusement when I stay silent.
I don't dare asking to keep it. Of course, I'd like to - who doesn't? - But it's better if I don't. After all, it's something they can take away again easily.
"I can do that," Alice says in response to Esme's observation. "Absolutely. If that's what it takes."
For a moment I wonder if Carlisle and Esme will consider giving the kitten to Alice, since she is not hiding the fact that she wants it.
I stroke the little thing's head, thinking of how nice it would be to have something to cherish, something I could really call my own. When I look back up at Carlisle and Esme, their expressions have changed, and I can't read them.
I steel myself. "Just until tomorrow." I tell Esme. "I will find addresses for shelters tonight."
"Are you really so willing to let it go? Esme asks.
"No," I reply honestly. "But if you're not okay with it, I accept that."
The silence that follows is loaded, and I look at the kitten again to distract myself. I know it will be hard to let it go, but at the same time, I've already made peace with that fact. I'm not expecting I get to keep something like this.
"I suppose it will need a name," Carlisle suddenly says, and I look up so quickly I nearly lose my balance.
Alice's squeal makes both the kitten and I wince, but I don't miss Carlisle's infinitely kind face.
"Lady, call it Lady," Alice says eagerly. "Or when it's a male, James."
"Not James," Jasper says. "Count Tails might do, though."
I don't hear more of their discussion since I'm too busy looking at Carlisle and Esme, trying to find out if they are serious about this and the kitten gets to stay.
"You will take care of it though," Esme says. "We can go to the vet and the pet shop tomorrow and get what you need. I'm not emptying any litter box."
"Of course not," I whisper, my voice raw from emotion.
She looks around. "My poor furniture," she sighs, but it's not very serious.
"Are you sure?" I whisper, and she smiles.
"Yes, sweetheart, we are sure."
"So what will you call it?" Carlisle asks.
I look at the tiny, tiny kitten, with its ears popped up and its infected eyes alert. A thin rope of a tail points straight up in the air, and every time it lets out a hoarse meow, the tiniest teeth show.
"Wisp," I whisper. "I will call him Wisp."
Yep, I did that. Until next time, my lovely, lovely readers!