A/N I don't own Twilight
Thank you, my reader, for your patience. I've been struggling with life, therefore struggling with writing. This isn't my best chapter. I hope you will like it all the same.
Thank you, Sherryola, for being my beta. Thank you Kym, for being there for me. Sri, for finding me and keeping me. Momduckie, for the lube. Again, I'm hiding the IcyHot.
Time seems to lose meaning and I spend almost a week during summer not knowing what day or date it is. I revel in the feeling of being stuck in limbo, for once not fearing that other shoe to drop. I'm just lost in time and space, floating in a bubble.
I love it.
"What are you thinking?" Edward asks me, turning on his side to face me.
We are in our meadow. It's been forever since we spent some time here or so it feels, and it's so peaceful here. I wish I could find a way to stay for longer periods of time.
"Just how far I've come," I murmur, looking down at him from where I'm leaning back against a tree trunk. "I hugged your dad."
His eyes grow wide as excitement fills his face. "You did what? When?"
"And you didn't think to tell me?"
I want to say it's not a big deal, but it really is. And that's why I didn't tell him, or anybody else. I've kept it close to my chest, like a gift, the memory of his safe arms around me enough to keep me warm when nightmares woke me up shivering.
"I'm telling you now," I say instead.
Edward smiles and kisses me. "I think it's awesome. Do you think you'll ever be able to say his name or address him directly?"
"That obvious, huh."
He shrugs. "I've noticed. I doubt anybody else has. Well, maybe dad himself has, but he understands. He should at least."
"He has a lot on his mind," I say before I can really stop myself.
"What do you mean?"
"Just things at work. He told me a little bit about that," I say, evasive. Carlisle asked me not to tell the others about it and here I go, almost messing up right away.
But Edward seems very understanding. "I'm glad he was able to talk to you about it then," he says thoughtfully. He cuddles closer to me. "It also tells me he thinks you've become stronger otherwise he wouldn't bother you with those things."
Edward has a great point and an even greater way of looking at things, and I settle in against him, listening to the rushing of the wind and the birds singing.
"I have this sense of dread today that I can't seem to shake," I say eventually, when I'm not even sure if Edward is awake anymore. I'm not sure if it's about Carlisle and what's going on at the hospital or anything else.
Edward knows about the car I saw. He's with his parents in this - we don't know for sure. The family lawyer is doing research, but it's a slow going process apparently. Renée has been notified, as well as Charlie Swan, Forks' police officer. It's all we can do for now.
I won't admit out loud that I haven't gone on a run since I saw that car. I don't dare to be out on the streets by myself.
"Maybe it's because we are past the halftime point of the school holiday?" he asks teasingly, and I smile back at him.
"It would be funny if it was that," I reply, closing my eyes again. "But I don't think it is."
"Old habits die hard," he says quietly. "Maybe your body isn't used yet to the fact that there's no need to fear anything anymore."
"Maybe." I let him take my hand, enjoying the feel of his skin against mine.
"We should go back soon," he says after a moment of silence. "I promised dad I'd help him with the barbecue for tonight."
"Because you're good with food?" I ask, opening one eye to look at him again. It's common knowledge that Edward shouldn't even try to come near the stove or he'll set the kitchen on fire.
"Because I can keep Emmett out of the way," he says, but his eyes are sparkling at my reference to his cooking skills. "And don't you say anything. You love my milk."
Hot milk is about the only thing he can make, and only when he uses the microwave. But he is referring to our encounters when I just came to this house, when he would heat up milk for me. I smile at the memory.
When it comes to sandwiches however, nobody makes them better than he does.
"And your sandwiches," I add.
"True. Speaking of which..." he trails off, reaching out to his backpack and producing two of the treats. "Want?"
I nod eagerly and we eat in an easy silence. Being quiet with Edward never has been awkward or strained. Where some people feel the need to chat endlessly, Edward is like me: silence never makes us uncomfortable. Trying to keep up some conversation is more difficult to us than not speaking, and we both appreciate that a lot in the other.
The feeling of dread lingers, circling around me all the way home from the meadow. When I see both Carlisle and Esme waiting for us in the living room when we come back, it crashes down on me and I halt in my tracks, unable to move forward.
"It's okay," Edward tries to soothe me.
I can only clench my fists at my sides and swallow as I look at the foster parents that have become the most real parents I've ever had to me.
"Bella," Carlisle starts. He looks pained. "We have some news and I'm not sure how we can break it to you. Maybe you should sit down."
The only thing my scrambling mind can come up with, is that something has gone wrong and I have to go back to Stefan or Laurent until I am eighteen. Or that it was Laurent's car that they've found and that he's near. That a restraining order isn't going to happen.
That I fucked up somehow and Carlisle and Esme don't want me anymore.
The thoughts alone make me shiver as a cold sweat breaks out on my back.
"Do you want me to stay?" Edward asks me quietly. I can only nod, and he leads me to the couch where I sit down stiffly. I wish they would just tell me what's wrong already.
"Bella," Carlisle says again, "we received a letter today. It was forwarded from Chicago."
My heart skips a beat. This is it. Laurent is free from prison and he wants me back. Oh God. Oh no.
"Your grandfather passed away," Esme continues. "He was buried last week. You are the only heir."
My mind works quickly. If I am the heir then this must mean at least that my grandmother has passed away as well. I didn't know about that. Not that I really care. But there is something missing here.
"My mother?" I croak, the pent up emotion coming out with my voice as usual.
"She's nowhere to be found. But there's another thing," Carlisle says, his voice gentle. I know, I just know that what he is about to say is going to hurt. I hold my breath. "At this point we are not even sure that she is alive."
I thought it would be bad news.
My mother means nothing to me. I've long since stopped feeling any emotion when it comes to her. I don't feel any desire to meet her, either, nor do I care about what happens to her. She left me behind to rot, so I feel no obligation to worry about her well being in return.
I can only nod, sensing that this conversation isn't over yet.
"There is a trailer in Chicago, and it's likely the trailer you grew up in. It's yours now. It's up to you to decide if you want to go there and see if there's anything you'd like to keep, or if you want us to have it dealt with. We just wanted to give you the option yourself. Discuss it with your therapist, and let us know what you want, all right? You have about a week to decide."
I nod again, my mind racing. Do I want to go back there? I never thought I would, but now I suddenly have the possibility, I don't want to say 'no' immediately.
Carlisle hands me the notice informing us that Otis Swan has passed away at the first of June of 2007, at the age of 52.
"He didn't get very old," Edward observes, and when he looks up I know he has done the mental math, too.
He died only a few years older than Carlisle is now. And he was my grandfather.
But my mind is working. The words are spoken before I even have processed what I am going to say. Still, I turn to Esme when I speak. It's still nearly impossible for me to speak to Carlisle, although recently I've started using my voice in his presence.
"I'd like to go there, if that's all right."
Esme smiles reassuringly. "Of course it is. We can go this weekend, if you want."
I nod jerkily, already pulled back into my thoughts.
"Shall I come with you?" Edward whispers near my ear.
"What?" I ask, distracted.
"To Chicago. Do you want me to come with?"
I shrug, a gesture that for me doesn't mean I don't care either way, but that I am conflicted over what I want. I don't want to burden him with my past, but selfishly, I do want him close when I face it.
He squeezes my hand. "I'm joining you," he tells his parents.
Finally, my mind catches up with what is going on in the room. "But-"
Edward interrupts me gently. "Let me be there for you."
Details seep through my consciousness over the next couple days. Carlisle has had his lawyer find out certain things, and as such learned that my grandmother, Gretna Swan, died aged 45 in a car accident. My grandfather likely died from the effects of years-long alcohol abuse.
I'm oddly numb about it all.
I wish I remembered my mother's name, and I am pretty sure that Carlisle knows what it is. Yet, I am afraid to ask. She's so far away from me right now, I am afraid that when I know her name, I will lose the numbness I feel when it comes to her. So, I keep quiet. After all, that's something I'm good at.
The trip is arranged easily. My therapist Siobhan even replies to the email I send her about it, telling me that it might be good for me to go back there, if I feel strong enough to do so.
I don't know if I am, but I know I can't deal with the possibility that the trailer will be dealt with without me having seen it. So, on Friday afternoon, we say goodbye to Emmett, Rosalie, Alice and Jasper, leaving Wisp in their care, and drive to Seattle airport.
Edward holds my hand the whole time on the plane, and I don't speak for the entire duration of the journey, pulled back into elective muteness - the only weapon I have to keep myself shielded from the onslaught of the world around me. We arrive at our hotel late that night, and I am glad when I can finally go to bed. Tomorrow we'll go to the trailer where I spent the first five years of my life.
I really have no idea what to expect.
I'm up early that morning. Since the others are still asleep in the various bedrooms this suite provides, I slip into the shower, to wash away the nightmares that seem to cling to my skin.
Some things will never really change, I guess.
I'm already a nervous wreck by the time we are ready to leave around ten in the morning. Edward kisses my temple in an effort to help me relax.
"If it gets too much for you, just let us know. We can leave at any moment," Esme tells me quietly.
I nod, unable to speak. It's usually when I am stressed or tense, that my voice escapes me again. The family seems to understand this, and easily moves back to other means of communication.
It's about an hour's drive from the hotel to the trailer park. As we drive through the neighborhoods, the houses become steadily smaller, the streets steadily worse, the people steadily poorer. It feels odd to come back here, knowing what a rich life I am living now, both emotionally and physically.
My heart stutters and skips a beat when I recognize the driveway that leads to the park. My breath halts, and Carlisle slows the car, finding my gaze through the rearview mirror.
"Are you okay?"
I force myself to nod. Edward squeezes my hand where it is resting on my leg, and I want to look at him, meet his eyes, but I can't. I'm frozen in place, unable to turn away from what I am seeing outside.
My throat feels tight when we drive over the terrain. The poverty is shocking, but it's knowing that I lived here, and left here as well that shocks me more. What would my life have been like if I had stayed? It's a question that is hard to think about. I don't care about having to live with little money, but I don't think I would have found happiness here. Then again, I'm not even sure that the people here are much worried about that. Or maybe I should just stop thinking about it, because what do I know?
"There," Esme suddenly says, pointing to a decrepit trailer on the left. "That should be the one."
Carlisle parks the car near it, attracting a lot of curious gazes immediately. He's not saying out loud that he hopes we will be safe here, but I can see the tension in his shoulders.
I feel guilty. Not just for dragging them here, but also because I know how much Carlisle has on his mind already. It's a miracle he was even able to take time off work for this.
He has the key to the trailer, and he goes up the steps to open the door. He doesn't go in immediately, instead turning around to look at me.
"Do it your way," he says gently. "Take your time."
I nod once, looking at the trailer that has been my home. I recognize it. It's older now, of course, but I know it's the same trailer I left when I was five. Taking a deep breath, I steel myself and go up the steps, preparing myself to step through that door.
The scent hits me like a freight train and suddenly it's no longer 2007 but 1994, and I am a little girl, sitting in the corner of that trailer, watching as my grandfather is railing against my grandmother about something I don't understand.
I can see myself huddling up, making myself as small as possible. Even at that young age I knew the value of being quiet as a mouse.
Grandpa is angry. He's going on and on about something he calls 'whore,' but I have no idea what it means. He has been drinking that stuff from a can again, and I don't like the smell of it. But if I have to choose between holding my nose or covering my ears, I will choose my ears. He really is shouting loudly.
Grandma is quiet, and she just shrugs sometimes. But then when he shouts a question at her and she doesn't answer, he lashes out and hits her head.
"What you do that for?" she shrieks, getting up so quickly that the chair falls back. "It's not like I can help it!"
"It's your kid," he shouts, "You should've raised her better!"
"My kid?" she says. "It was your seed that created it."
Grandpa huffs and stomps around. "You should have been more careful, woman," he snaps, taking another long drink from that can. It's one of those big cans. If you want to put what's in it in a glass, you need two glasses or it won't fit.
But that's not important right now, because grandma and grandpa are still shouting at each other.
"You should have kept your dick to yourself," grandma mutters softly, as if she doesn't want grandpa to hear it.
"What did you say?" he says, and his voice is so dark that I make myself even smaller. He is really angry now.
"You know what I said," grandma snaps.
"Do not make this my fault, woman," he says lowly. "The girl is yours, and your responsibility. I'm still not sure if she's mine."
"Of course she is," grandma says sharply. "Just because you don't like her don't mean she ain't yours. I know I can do nothing right in your eyes, but I've never strayed. Can't say the same about you."
Grandpa is moving from one side of the trailer to the other so quickly that I am not even sure I saw him move. He jumps on top of grandma, and she screams and cries. I hear loud thumps, but I can't see what is happening. My eyes are squeezed shut and I sit and wait until it's over.
I open my eyes in surprise, and see how the trailer door has been opened a crack. Our neighbor, miss Stacey, is looking at me.
"Come on, pretty thing. Come stay with me for a while."
I look over at where grandma and grandpa were fighting. They have gone into the bedroom now and I can hear their voices and a lot of other noise. Grandma is crying. I wish I could go in there to help, but when I tried that once, grandma sent me away.
Miss Stacey reaches out her hand and when I can make myself move, I stumble across the floor into her arms. Miss Stacey is really nice, and she smells really sweet. She carries me over to her own trailer. Everything is pink in there, and it smells as sweet as miss Stacey does. I like being here, and I like it when she comes to pick me up and stay with her for a while.
She sits me down on a kitchen chair and gives me a big glass of milk to drink. I hold the glass with both hands, because I don't want to spoil a drop. It feels cold in my tummy and it hurts a little. I haven't eaten anything after I went to sleep yesterday. I'm hungry.
Miss Stacey gives me bread with jam and I eat it all. Now my tummy hurts because I've eaten too much, but it's really nice and I say thank you, just like mommy has taught me to do. Then miss Stacey sits down with me on the white couch and she gives me a magazine to look at. She reads her book. There are two people on the cover, kissing, but the book has no other pictures. The magazine she gave me, does, and I look at all the famous people on the pages. I don't know them, but they must be important to have their picture in a magazine.
When I grow up, I want to be important like these people, and wear pretty dresses, too.
I stay with miss Stacey for so long I get tired and I fall asleep on her couch. When somebody picks me up, I open my eyes and see that it's mommy.
"Thanks Stace," she says quietly. "It's getting worse every day."
"I had to take her. You've got to do something about this. The child is going to be hurt one day and you know it."
"Don't I know it," mommy mutters. "D'you know if dad is still in?"
"Nah, he left earlier. My bet's he's gonna be drunk off his ass when he comes home. You better keep an eye on her."
"Will do, ta. See ya."
Mommy takes me back to our own trailer. It's cold outside now and I hide my face in her neck.
"You go to sleep like a big girl now," mommy says when she puts me in bed. She forgot to brush my teeth but I don't tell her. She looks so sad.
"Why are you sad, mommy?"
"It's all right, Bellarina. Be a good girl and go to sleep."
"Grandpa was really angry today," I whisper, needing to tell her. I was scared.
Mommy only nods, her mouth in a thin line. I don't like it when she does that. She's not pretty when she does that.
"Mommy, what's a whore?" I ask sleepily.
"What? Where did you get that word?"
She's angry, and now I'm sorry I asked.
"'s Just that grandpa said it all the time today."
Mommy's face goes hard and cold, and she looks at me angrily. "Don't eavesdrop on people, Bella. It's not a nice thing to do."
I nod. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay baby girl. Go to sleep, okay? Tomorrow will be a better day."
Footsteps behind me pull me from my memories, and I turn around to see Esme stepping into the trailer.
"You okay?" she asks me, but I can tell from her gaze that she knows I'm not. It saves me an answer, and so I turn back again, letting my eyes wander over the beat down trailer. It's incredibly filthy here, and most of the furniture is threadbare. The kitchen is so dirty there must be mice or at least cockroaches crawling around.
"Wow," Edward breathes when he steps in as well.
Yeah, something like that.
I step around the small living room, carefully avoiding the clutter that litters the ground. There are clothes everywhere, but also empty beer cans, trash, and a lot of other things I don't even want to name.
It looks like my grandfather didn't really take care of himself in the last few years of his life.
At the far end of the trailer is the bedroom I used to share with my mother, and I walk over. The door doesn't open; it's locked. Strange. The lock looks oddly new on the worn door. I turn back to the others again, and cringe at their obvious discomfort. Before I can stop myself I make the sign for 'sorry' against my chest.
Esme catches it and hastens to reassure me. "No need to apologize. This is not your fault."
*But I brought you here,* I sign, conflicted.
Esme doesn't understand me and looks over to Edward for help.
"She says that she's the one that brought you here," Edward says easily.
"No, we offered to take you here," Carlisle counters. "This is not your responsibility."
"Focus on being here," Esme adds. "It's more important that you get something out of being here, instead of worrying about us. We're adults. If we don't like it, we can step outside."
There is reason to her argument, and so I look around the trailer again. There must be a key to the bedroom somewhere.
We spend a little time looking around the mess that was my grandfather's home. It takes me some effort to actually go into the master bedroom. The stench in there is overwhelming, and I have to wonder when was the last time he cleaned the sheets on his bed.
After rooting around in the nightstand for a bit however, I find a key. It fits the door to the second bedroom, and the door squeaks when I open it. What I see in front of me makes me gasp.
Esme, alarmed by my reaction, walks up to me and looks over my shoulder.
"Oh," she says quietly.
The room is still intact, a shrine to a time long lost. I recognize it from my childhood. The air is stale, and there's a thick layer of dust everywhere. They must have left it untouched from the moment my mother left with me. Two drawers in the dresser are still open, and the closet door is still ajar.
The bed is unmade, and clothes are littered all over it. I see a red dress that belonged to my mother, and a sweater that was too small on me before we left. I walk over to the bed, reaching out but not touching anything, afraid to disturb the years of quiet that this room has known.
I don't remember all of the clothes on the bed, yet I'm sure they were my mother's. Looking closer, I finally realize why everything strikes me as odd. My mother's clothes, discarded on the floor and the bed, are for a girl slightly younger than I am now.
I think I have to sit down.
For some reason, Edward notices my distress, because he is behind me suddenly, catching me as my knees give way under the weight of my realization.
"Ssh," he whispers in my ear, a quiet reassurance.
Esme rushes towards me, helping Edward to get me back on my feet again. She pushes some of the clothes on the bed out of the way, making some space for me to sit, and guides me over.
Carlisle comes into action then, opening the small window for some fresh air, and then telling me to place my head between my knees. I don't like doing that, since it makes me vulnerable, but Edward kneels on the dirty floor in front of me, staying close. I take deep breaths, willing my hammering heart to calm down.
"Better?" he asks after a moment.
I nod faintly, hiding my face in my hands for a moment as I try to come to terms with things.
Esme answers the question that is ringing in my mind. "She was so young."
"She was," Carlisle says quietly. "Possibly younger than Bella is now. Smaller, at least."
"Jesus," Edward mutters. "And how old was Bella?"
"I don't know," Carlisle says. "Bella, do you remember how old you were when you left here?"
I hold up one hand; I was five.
Now it's Esme's turn to go ashen, and she sinks down on the bed beside me. There seems to go a ripple of tension through the room when we all seem to realize the same thing at the same moment.
I guess I know now who in all likelihood my father is.
Or was, since he was buried last week.
I swallow down bile and take a deep breath to compose myself. I have to stay strong if I want to see this through. I can collapse when I am back in Forks again, and something deep inside me is pretty sure that I will.