A/N Twilight isn't mine. The authentic plot lines within Torn, are.
You. Rock. That is all.
Thanks to Sherry, PFKMan23 and Dana.
Music: Linkin Park - Somewhere I Belong; Natasha Bedingfield - Say Goodbye; Anna Nalick - Breathe
The oven beeps, signaling that the cookies are done. Edward starts moving away from me, but I hold him close, not wanting to break the contact just yet.
""I'm sorry," I whisper.
He holds me close, as if he understands. "There's no need to be."
"I've been having such moodswings," I press on. "It can't be nice to be around me."
"Stop being so hard on yourself," he says quietly, but fervently. "Don't forget what you've been through. It takes time to bounce back from that."
"Bella? I thought I heard the- Oh! Sorry," Alice says. "Shall I leave?"
"No, it's okay," Edward says, stepping back. I feel the loss of him acutely, and I marvel at the realization.
"You okay?" Alice asks as she steps up to me. "I mean, today must have been hard on you, too."
I shrug her concern away. Today wasn't about me, so how I feel isn't important. "How is Rosalie?" I ask instead.
"Falling asleep on the couch as we speak," Alice says. "But you didn't answer my question."
I look up in surprise, stunned by the knowing gaze in her eyes. "I'm okay," I say. "Truly."
She clearly doesn't buy my lie, and I don't really care. I just hope she won't press. To provide distraction, I open the oven and pull out the delicious smelling cookies.
"So, are you going to press charges?" Alice asks so suddenly I nearly drop the blazing hot tray.
The plate falls onto the counter with a loud clatter, the sound sharp in the sudden silence.
"Drop it, Alice," Edward mutters.
"What? I'm just asking," she says. "Bella?"
Even though I know she doesn't mean to, her question makes panic gather in my chest and throat, squeezing them together. As my body starts to feel curiously heavy, I also notice how everything seems to be more distant. I'm pulling back from reality, it seems, an automatic reaction of my body and brain to protect me from trauma.
"Bella?" Alice asks again, but it's like her voice comes from a mile away. Through a haze, I see Edward's concerned face, but it doesn't register.
With a barely audible "sorry," I make my way to the door, running out of the house and into the garden.
"Bella!" Edward calls, but from a distance, I hear Alice cut him off with something like a 'ssh.'
I keep on walking, forcing my legs to move even though I could drop to my knees where I am right now. When I reach the trees that surround the garden, I sink down against a thick trunk, pushing my head between my knees in an effort to get get my senses to focus again. I push back against the tree trunk, feeling like I would disappear in it if I could. Hide from the reality that was laid bare so suddenly.
I guess this is what happens to me when I am confronted with the possibility of seeing Laurent and Stefan again. Guilt sits in my stomach like a stone when I think of what they could be doing right now, since I am not taking steps to actually stop them.
What if Laurent isn't in jail anymore, what if he has a new girl in his paws? What if Stefan is still a foster parent and has new kids under his care? Those children wouldn't stand a chance, and it would all be my fault.
My gut clenches and I dry-heave, leaning to the side in case my stomach actually decides it's a good idea to empty itself. But nothing comes out and I'm left with a paralyzing nausea. I couldn't face them, I wouldn't know how. If just thinking about seeing them again makes me react like this, how am I supposed to testify?
But, how am I supposed to sleep at all, knowing they might be still out there, preying on the innocent?
I clench my eyes shut and try an old trick that Renée taught me once. Instead of counting myself to calmness again, like she and Esme used to do, I force myself to drown out all inner turmoil and just listen to all the sounds I can hear around me. The rustle of the leaves, the birds whistling, a twig snapping in the distance.
The slap-slap of the door falling shut as somebody comes out of the house, and footsteps approaching me over the grass.
When my heart finally starts to slow down a little, I suck in a breath and hold it in, forcing my body to calm down as well.
"Bella, are you all right?" Alice asks as she comes walking up to me. She squats in front of me, her big eyes filled with worry.
"Yeah," I breathe.
"Sorry," she says. "I shouldn't have asked you about that."
"I guess the answer is clear," I say with a faint smile.
She chuckles without humor. "Yeah. You okay now though?"
I nod, with more conviction now. "I just need a minute."
"Sure," she says. "I'll go back inside. We'll see you when you're ready."
I smile at her and listen to her soft footfalls receding as she walks back to the house.
I close my eyes and again focus on the sounds around me; the birds that whistle, and the soft breeze that rustles through the trees. When I breathe in deeply I smell the earth around me, and it makes me smile.
Looking around the tree trunk, I see that nobody else is going to come check on me. And actually, I'm very much okay with that. It's good to be alone from time to time.
Some fifteen minutes later, I am ready to go back inside the house again. Everybody is still in the living room, eating the cookies I made.
Jasper is the first to notice me. "You okay?" he asks, concern clear in his gaze.
"Yeah," I whisper. "Um… I'm just going to go check on Wisp."
"Bring her downstairs," Esme says kindly.
I nod and run up the stairs, overwhelmed by the way it seemed somehow accepted that I needed a moment to myself. Nobody followed me, even though it was clear they were concerned. Although I'm still rattled, a smile tugs at my lips as I open my bedroom door and search out my kitten.
She's on her pillow, a tiny ball of fur with her eyes closed but her ears pricking up. By the way they move, I know she's probably awake, listening to the sounds in the room.
I kneel next to her, stretching out my hand to pet her softly. She starts purring almost immediately, a sound so soft I can barely hear it from this distance. Gently, I slide my hand under her belly and I lift her up, cradling her against my chest as I go back down the stairs. Wisp clearly is very tired still, as she refuses to open her eyes and burrows closer to me, obviously wanting to go back to sleep.
When I step back into the living room, I search out Rosalie. She looks dreadfully tired, but at least she's smiling a little. I walk over to her and drop the sleepy kitten in her lap carefully, and Rosalie whispers a 'thanks' to me.
While Rosalie focuses on Wisp, I look around at the others. The atmosphere is subdued, as if everybody is tired.
"I could really use some good news right now," Carlisle says to nobody in particular.
"The weather is going to be fabulous," Jasper says. "I saw the forecast this morning."
"Oh, can we set up the hammock?" Alice says, suddenly excited. "Can we?"
"Sure," Esme says.
Alice squeaks a 'yay!' and claps her hands. "Let's do that tomorrow. Will you help me, Jasper?"
"Of course," he says easily.
"We can nap in there," Emmett says quietly. His mouth is close to Rosalie's ear, and I'm sure his words weren't meant for anybody else but her. Still, I heard it, and I suppress a smile. They are so happy together, and I am happy for them. Rosalie deserves some good after all she's been through.
"I hear Billy Black is dating," Esme offers. "That could count as good news."
"Renée is getting married," I blurt out so suddenly I take myself by surprise.
All eyes are on me immediately, and I want to disappear in a hole in the ground.
"Is she? That's wonderful news!" Esme says happily. "Do you know when?"
"At the end of the summer," I say, already needing more force of will to get the words out. I don't like talking when Carlisle is looking at me.
"Gosh, I'm so happy for her," Esme says. "I wonder if we will be invited."
"I am," I say, but my voice has dropped to a whisper.
"Then you need a dress," Alice says immediately. "We need to go shopping!"
Esme's reply to that is cut off as the phone rings, interrupting our conversation. Carlisle picks up and goes quiet, listening to what is being said at the other end of the line.
"I'll be right over," he says after a moment. His face has become even more drawn, and Esme gets up in concern.
"Is everything all right?"
"Something's come up at the hospital," he says. "I have to go and check it out."
"Aw dad, on your day off?" Edward complains. "When will you be back?"
"I don't know," he says. The exhaustion in his voice alarms me. He kisses Esme on the cheek and then disappears down the hallway. Moments later, we hear his car leave the garage.
"Well, shit," Jasper says. "He's like, never home anymore."
"He tries to be here as much as he can," Esme replies. "He should be back tonight. For now, what were we talking about?"
"Dress shopping," Alice says seriously, and I hide my face in my hands, wondering if there's any possible way to get out of this. Alice snickers. "I guess I'll look some up online. Will you try them on when I have them delivered?"
When I peek through my fingers, her eyes go wide in mock pleading. "Come on, Bella. You have to give me something."
Just as I'm about to say that I don't have to wear a dress to the wedding, Edward speaks up. "Can't she wear the dress she wore for prom? It was beautiful."
Alice opens her mouth and closes it, and if I know her, I know she's silently debating the merits of being able to go shopping versus the honor of me wearing her self-made dress. Finally, she crosses her arms. "I guess that's up to Bella."
Well, Bella is in no hurry to decide, as the wedding is still weeks and weeks away, so Bella is more than happy when the conversation moves on to the next topic; Emmett and Rosalie getting ready for college.
I'm only half tracking what is being said, as my mind is pulled back from time to time to the ordeal at the police station this morning, and my near panic attack from earlier.
I wonder if the fact that nobody came running after me means that they're bored with my mood swings, or if it means that they now know that, apparently, I can come out of them myself. Because even I can't deny that although I did almost have a panic attack, I also was able to calm myself down. And regardless of any of the others' motivations, I was pretty content to be outside by myself.
I know I've wondered about it before; whereas with Stefan I would be on my own for long stretches of time, here with the Cullens, being by myself is a rarity.
Still, I'm finding it more and more easy to be in this full house, and I know now that if I want to be in my room by myself, I can.
Being alone right now sounds pretty awesome, actually, and I get up quite suddenly, drawing surprised gazes.
"Is it okay if I go for a run?" I ask Esme."I'll stay close."
"Even if you don't, you're free to go out anytime, dear," Esme says. "Just take your phone with you, okay?"
I nod and get up to take the kitten from Rosalie, explaining that Wisp's litter is upstairs and that she has to learn where it is and how to use it. Then I go to my room to change into my running clothes. I don't particularly like the pants as they don't come oversized, but my sweater is so long it comes halfway to my thighs, thus covering me properly.
Just as I'm about to leave, Wisp meows and I kneel on the floor, distracted by her cuteness. She's such a sweet little thing, although still small even for her age. At about five or six weeks old, she still should be nursed by her mother.
When I start to get up, she pounces after me, and I smile at her antics. Sinking down again, I plant my ass on the floor and allow her to climb first into my lap, then up my tummy into my arms. She half-somersaults so she's lying on her back in the crook of my elbow, her front paws reaching out at me as if she's trying to tell me something.
It's hard to believe she's actually a wild animal - she seems unusually at ease with people, or at least with me. I bring my hand to her belly to pet her, and her paws wrap around my fingers. When I move to scratch her chin, she opens her tiny mouth and tries to bite my fingertips. Then, stunning me, she starts sucking.
Of course. She still has a sucking reflex, and even though I haven't been feeding her from a bottle, she would be looking for food that way. I wish I had something to put on my finger so it would actually feed her, but that would mean I'd have to go downstairs since her special food has to be kept in the fridge.
Unwilling to move, I stay on the floor in my running clothes, and I watch Wisp as she slowly falls asleep in my arms. Lost in my thoughts, it doesn't occur to me that time is actually passing. I'm thinking back to the past few weeks, especially this first week and a half or so of this holiday. So much has happened, and I realize how much I've slipped back into my depression. Edward has tried so much to pull me out of it, and I remember feeling better, especially right after prom when we first kissed. But now, it feels like I'm in over my head in the swamp again.
I have to get a grip on myself. I am getting everything I could possibly want here. Heck, I'm even allowed to keep a kitten I found in the woods. Then how come that I just can't be happy? What is wrong with me that everything is still so grey?
It's only when Esme calls up for dinner that I move. I must have been sitting on the floor of my room for hours. Wisp is still asleep, and she grumbles when I move her to her pillow, but she curls up and closes her eyes again almost immediately.
Esme calls again, and there's no time to change into my other clothes anymore. I hope I'll be allowed at the table like this.
"Did you fall asleep?" Esme asks kindly when she sees my clothes. "I wondered what was keeping you."
"I was playing with Wisp," I try to explain. "Lost track of time. Do you want me to change?"
Esme shakes her head. "Just help me place the pans on the table."
The others are already sitting there, and Emmett proclaims he's hungry as a boar.
"Won't dad be coming?" Alice asks when Esme starts to fill the plates.
"He'll be home later," Esme says. She looks even more tired than earlier today. When she catches my worried gaze, she shakes her head to let me know not to worry, but I don't buy it. Something's up, and it's more than she is letting on.
"I hope so. I want to show him my new photos," Jasper says. "I found a contest I want to enter."
"Really? That's great," Esme says. "What kind of contest?"
As Jasper launches into his explanation, I try to eat some of the delicious dish that Esme has cooked, but my stomach churns in protest. All coping mechanisms apart, I guess sometimes I'm just really not that hungry.
"Pretty Woman is on tonight," Rosalie says when we're clearing up after dinner. "Anybody want to watch it with me?"
"Sure," Alice says. "Bella?"
"I'd like to go for that run first," I say.
"Oh, ace. Can I join you?" Emmett says.
Taken aback by his question, I forget to answer right away. Finally, I nod, and he grins. "I'll go change in a bit. I have to let my dinner settle first."
As I wait for Emmett to be ready to go, I join the others in the living room to watch the news. Nothing much is on, but for some the same old drama going on in everywhere in the world. Before the weather report comes on, Emmett claims he's ready to go.
As we walk down the driveway, he asks me some little things, mostly about how I like the running so far.
"I can't run as far as you," I try to explain. There's no way I'll be able to keep up with him.
"That's okay," he says easily. "A nice long walk is good, too. I just need to clear my head a little after this day."
I nod in understanding and so we set off down the driveway, walking at a brisk pace. We chat from time to time, but it seems like Emmett is as content to be quiet as I am.
We walk until it's fully dark, until we actually reach Forks. And it's only then I realize that I've been alone with him all this time, and not once did it really enter the forefront of my mind.
"Ready to head back?" he asks when I can see the Police station not too far down the road.
For as long as I've been here, I've never really taken the opportunity to explore this tiny village. But, what with a population of three thousand, there really isn't that much to discover, anyway.
Emmett points at the black clouds that are gathering in the dark sky. "I don't think we're going to keep it dry."
I nod to let him know I'm ready to go back, and his mood seems to be considerately lighter, as he keeps cracking jokes that make me giggle, whether I want to or not.
Back at the driveway, the first wave of thunder rolls over us. Some fat drops start to fall, and then within a few seconds the rain is pouring down.
"Let's make a run for it!" Emmett calls over the roar of thunder and downpour, and we start sprinting down the driveway, our feet splashing in the puddles that are already forming.
It takes less than a minute for my clothes to get soaked, and only moments later I can feel the water hit my skin.
"This is crazy," Emmett says, laughing. He shakes his head to get the water out of his hair, but it's no use in this weather.
By the time the house comes in sight, we're both soaking wet. The rain somehow delights me though, and when Emmett meets my gaze, smiling, I grin back at him. Somehow, it's just fun to be outside, even though I'm getting cold rapidly and my lungs are cramping up from the effort of running too fast, too long.
We step up the porch, and Emmett is still laughing when Esme walks up to us, her eyes big.
"I was wondering if you were going to find some cover," she says. "You're both soaked through! Go get a shower before you catch a cold."
Emmett nods and runs up the stairs after kicking off his shoes. From the corner of my eye, I see Edward leaning against the wall, looking at me. He's smiling.
"What?" I ask as I try to get my shoes off. The laces are soaked, and it takes me some effort to get my sneakers off my feet.
"Nothing," he says, but I can tell he's lying even though his eyes are smiling.
"I'm going up for a shower," I say, looking at him searchingly. What's on his mind?
"Sure. Want to watch a movie after?"
I nod, thinking that I wanted to ask him the same thing after the conversation I had with Emmett this morning. Edward goes upstairs with me, but I'm surprised when he follows me to my room instead of going to his own.
"What are you doing?" I ask him.
He looks taken aback. "I thought I'd wait here while you shower?"
I look from him to the bathroom door, then back to him, and frown. "Why?"
His face falls. "I'll go wait upstairs then."
I shake my head in confusion. "Why would you want to wait here?"
Now it's his turn to frown. "Because I thought we'd watch the movie here."
My brain still can't process why he would want to stay so close, and that's even without the sense of alarm I feel having someone, anyone, so close to me when I shower. Normally, I have two locked doors between me and the rest of the house here. If Edward is in my room, that means there's only one door left between us.
"I'm not asking to actually join you in the shower, you know," he says, trying to light up the atmosphere. "What's wrong with me waiting here? You can lock the door, and you know I won't come in."
Again my gaze shifts to the bathroom door and then back to Edward. Right at that moment, Wisp meows and I look down to see her at my feet, looking up at me with that innocence so clear in her eyes.
Would I be naive to allow Edward to stay in my room while I shower, or would it be the leap forward I have been waiting for?
As I contemplate my decision, I see how Edward waits patiently to come to my conclusion. And it that moment I know that if I ask him to leave, he will. And that's why I find myself nodding before I fully realize it.
"I won't be long," I say. My voice is tight, betraying the sudden anxiety I feel. God, as if taking a shower in itself isn't bad enough yet, but now knowing that someone is actually right outside my door…
Shut up, my mind whispers. Just… shut up.
I duck into my closet for some comfy clothes and towels, and then lock myself in the bathroom just as Edward settles on my bed with Wisp on his chest and the remote in his hand.
Inside the bathroom, I lean against the counter with my eyes closed. I would try to block the door with something heavy, but I'm afraid that Edward would hear and for some reason I don't want him to know how nervous I really am about this.
Counting from ten to one in my head, I clench my fists to seal my resolve. Then I turn on the shower, click off the lights, and undress.
Nobody will ever have to know that I kept my underwear on under the shower this time. I just can't bear being fully naked right now. I wash my hair and body quickly, the water hot against my chilled skin. I'm done within minutes and I reach for my towel blindly, wrapping it around my hair.
It takes a bit of coordination, but I manage to put on dry underwear with the second towel wrapped around me. Then I quickly put on clothes and open the bathroom door to find Edward immersed in a sitcom.
He smiles up at me when I appear, and then scoots over to make room on the bed.
Mortified, I realize the towel is still around my hair and I whip it off, trying to rub my hair a little drier.
He chuckles. "Don't worry. I don't care about the towel."
Opting to wear the towel around my shoulders instead, to prevent my hair from dripping all over my back, I look at the TV. "What movie did you want to watch?"
He shrugs noncommittally as I walk over to the bed so I can sit down next to him. He hands me the remote, and I flip through the channels to see if there's anything we'd like. Edward touches my arm when we come across a movie that's just starting; A Beautiful Mind.
"I've always wanted to see that one," he says.
Well, that's easily settled then, isn't it?
We settle in to watch, and I want to smile when Edward wraps his arm around me, pulling me close. Even though it's definitely not cold, he pulls the quilt that's at the foot of my bed over us, creating a cocoon.
As amazing as the movie is, I find my eyes falling closed a few times. At one point I just keep them shut, thinking I can just listen to the movie and still follow it to some extent.
Snuggling closer to Edward, I wrap my arm around his waist, my head leaning on his shoulder.
I could get used to this.
"Hey," he whispers.
His voice comes from far away, and my body protests, wanting to stay asleep.
"Bella," he says quietly. "Can I have my arm back? I'll be back soon, I promise."
With effort, I lift my head so Edward can get up, and my body sinks down against the mattress. I feel the warmth he left behind as he disappears from my room, and I curl up under my quilt, not wanting to interrupt the moment.
Wisp is still up on the bed apparently, because I can feel her sniffing my face, her velvet nose touching my skin with the faintest bumps.
Hey sweetie, I think. Glancing at the TV, I see that Edward has turned it off. Did the movie end? It must have. Oops.
Wisp crawls into the nook my curled up body has created and she seeks out my hand to suck on a patch of skin. I'm already drifting again when Edward comes back into the room. The bed shifts when he lies down on the mattress, pulling the quilt over his legs.
"Bella, you should get ready for bed," he whispers.
"'S okay," I mumble. I'm good. I'm in comfy clothes already, and brushing my teeth can wait until morning. It's not like I ate much today anyway.
"You sure?" he asks.
I nod, but I doubt he can see it. Then I hear Wisp complain as Edward lifts her up and places her on the ground next to the bed. He shifts closer to me, guiding me to lift my head so I can place it on his arm and we can lie closer together.
"Why did you lie?" I murmur as his body lines up with mine.
He pulls back. "What?"
"When I came home," I say sleepily. "You said there was nothing."
He's quiet, thinking. "Oh," he says after a moment. "It's just that it had been a while since I saw you so happy, so light. I was enjoying the view."
I'm rosy from sleep, and warming up rapidly with Edward so close. My hand goes to his chest of its own volition, and I feel his breastbone through the thin shirt he's wearing. My fingertips caress the cotton. It's soft.
"I like seeing you so happy," he says. "I wish… I wish that for you."
"I want it," I say quietly. "I do."
He pulls me closer, and I move my hand from his chest to his back. "I know."
His body is warm against mine, and I can feel the muscles of his back, his shoulder blades move as he breathes.
"He would hurt me," I whisper. "If I would smile. He'd hurt me."
Silence. Then: "Who?"
"Laurent. Said I had nothing to smile about."
Edward curses under his breath. "You know that's not true, right?"
"It's all I knew." I sigh, wanting to sleep. "Pourqoui souries-tu? Il n'y a vraiment pas de quoi être contente. Tu sais que tout est de ta faute."*
It's only when Edward speaks it registers that he's been quiet for a while. "Bella…"
I burrow closer to him, barely awake anymore. "What?"
"You just spoke fluent French." I can hear the wonder in his voice.
"So?" Sleep is pulling at me invitingly, luring me into the safety of the not knowing.
"I thought you didn't know any French," he says, still baffled.
"I said I hated it. Is different."
"You did," he concedes. "Still. I never could have guessed."
Doesn't matter, I think. I'm too tired to form the words anymore, and I hope Edward will understand. For now, I just really, really want to sleep.
I feel Edward stroke my hair and I drift off, happy to feel so safe in his arms.
Translation: "Why are you smiling? There's nothing to be happy about. You know everything is your fault."