A/N Twilight is not mine.
Dear readers, thank you for your patience! Thanks to Therese for helping me clean up this chapter. Thank you, folks on Facebook, for encouraging me.
This chapter deals with some heavy issues, amongst others Bella's suicide ideation. If this is something you struggle with, find someone to talk to. Read with care.
There's probably both British and American English in this chapter. I gave up fighting against my autocorrect at some point. Enjoy reading :)
The news of Laurent released from jail brings a sense of urgency and no place to put it. There's nothing we can do with this knowledge. Rationally, I know he won't show up at our doorstep just because we know now he's out - he's been out for several months it turns out. He won't know where I am. And even if he did, he wouldn't come for me after all these years. I just need to keep telling myself this and then maybe I will start to believe it.
Carlisle and Esme tell me they are working to get a restraining order in place just in case, whatever good that may do. It'll be difficult though, considering that officially, there's no proof that Laurent ever mistreated me. I went into the system after he got arrested for fraud.
There's nothing we can do. For now, it just means I have become scared to leave the house on my own and I won't even go running down the driveway anymore. It's a situation we won't be able to maintain for long, as school is starting back up in a week and a half, but it's the only way I can cope with my anxiety. Thankfully my first new session with Siobhan is next week, finally. Maybe she can help with this.
I keep using the Internet to look for Laurent's name. Every time, I'm confronted with his picture. The first few times, I get physically ill and more than once I end up puking my guts out over the toilet. Then I manage to steel myself and the nausea doesn't consume me anymore. I keep scanning news websites, I try to look up the model of his car, but of course nothing turns up.
I lie awake at night and worry all throughout the day about what I could, and should, do to make sure he never hurts me or others again. I even google how it would work to press charges and to figure out whether I still can.
Turns out I could, but I'd have to hurry to get it all started, as the statute of limitations in Illinois is 10 years. I look up lawyers and get flooded by ads and websites claiming they will absolutely win this case for me and make me rich. I click the windows shut and wonder how the hell anybody is supposed to make sense of this all and how to get the right information to move forward.
I tell this to Esme, who just squeezes my hand, for once also lost for words. "From what I understand, and what we've been through with Rosalie, pressing charges is a challenging journey. While I would love your previous caretakers to be punished for what they did to you, I don't want it to hurt you. Does that make sense?"
I wander around the house, thinking and worrying, my lips bitten bloody and my nails torn down to the quick. Edward looks on, equally helpless, and tries to distract me with music, movies and games. And hugs. A lot of hugs. I take them greedily.
Even with the knowledge of Laurent out and about, life goes on. And so the day comes that Emmett and Rosalie leave for college, and we wave them goodbye, a little more teary-eyed than any of us want to admit, when Carlisle and Esme drive off with them to get them settled at campus.
We stay behind, watch them until they've turned away from the driveway, and if I'm feeling lost already with them gone, I can't imagine what it must be like for Jasper, Edward and Alice, who've spent nearly or literally all their lives with Emmett and Rosalie around.
But, with Carlisle and Esme gone, this means that the remaining four of us have the house to ourselves until tomorrow. Edward and I don't have any special plans - we're not there yet in our relationship and we both agreed it'll be a night like any other, especially with everything that's going on and the toll it's taking on my ability to get through the day - but Alice and Jasper are planning to go out for dinner in Port Angeles, where it's more likely they won't be recognized by any gossiping onlookers.
Carlisle and Esme might be very progressive in their thinking, but the general population in Forks isn't all that fond of foster siblings dating. With their parents away, Jasper and Alice's act of rebellion is to go on a date they'd never get permission for.
I guess there's worse things teenagers could be doing in terms of acting out. Besides, I don't believe for a second that Carlisle and Esme don't know what will happen when they're away. But they're relaxed like that, wanting their kids to make their own mistakes and learn from them. I never imagined that the lack of an overabundance of rules could help teens to figure out for themselves what works and what not. I remember when I got here I was so lost as to what I was and was not allowed to do. It took me almost a year to realize that Carlisle and Esme trust their kids - and me - to be reasonable. It's that trust that has helped me grow, I think.
Before Jasper and Alice leave for Port Angeles, we decide to build a fire in the backyard and have s'mores. Wisp stays inside - I can't keep an eye on her yet when she's outside the house and I'd hate for her to get into trouble or lost. It's clammy and humid, but warm enough to be outside without a sweater. I'm ill at ease in my t-shirt, the scars on my arms standing out against my skin that somehow did manage to get tanned over the past weeks.
Alice comes out after me, carrying a thin cotton shawl that she drapes over my shoulders wordlessly. I smile at her in thanks as the cover allows me to unwrap my arms from their tight coil around my waist. Jasper follows next, holding marshmallows and sticks, and Edward is carrying drinks.
We should've eaten lunch, but this is much more fun, and we set to work, getting the marshmallows to swell and melt over the fire.
"This was one of those things I always imagined normal people do," I say, a bit shy. "When I was young. I figured that if you did this, you had a good life."
"You're not wrong," Jasper says, a gentle smile gracing his lips. "I'd say we have a good life."
Alice squeezes his leg in agreement, and I look over at Edward to meet his gaze. His eyes are sparkling.
"It'll be so weird without Emmett and Rosie here," Alice sighs then. "So quiet."
"No more wedgies," Edward says, like he's sad about it.
"No more ice cubes under the blankets in the middle of the night," Jasper adds solemnly.
Alice grins. "He tried that with Rosie once, remember?"
Edward booms a sudden laugh. "He was walking around like a lost puppy for at least a week until she forgave him."
"Served him right," Alice says. "And then she got him back by putting his hand in lukewarm water while he slept."
At this, they all laugh, but I don't get the joke.
"He wet the bed," Edward explains. "It was hilarious."
I push away a memory of wetting my bed and the terrible beating that followed. I can't imagine being tricked into peeing while you're asleep and vulnerable. I try to smile at their obvious pleasure at the memory, but I'm sure it comes out as a grimace. I hide my face behind my drink to hide my discomfort.
"I hope they'll be happy at college," Jasper says when their laughter has died down. "Now all we need to do is what they did; get into the school we want."
"And figure out what to do when we don't get accepted somewhere close to each other," Alice says. "I really worry about that."
"We're not there yet," Jasper says soothingly. "There're so many options. We'll find a way." Then he turns to me. "Have you figured out yet what you want to do?"
"Your dad asked me the same thing not too long ago," I say. "And no, I don't know."
"She wants to write," Edward tells Jasper.
I flush. "I don't think I'd be good enough. It's not very sensible," I say, repeating the exact same argument I used against Edward when we spoke about it a while back.
"Have you ever written anything?" Jasper asks, curious.
I snort derisively. "No. That's why I know it's a terrible idea."
"So you'd have to practice. School doesn't take you all that much time," Edward says, like it's no big deal. "You can write an hour every day. Dartmouth has a creative writing program."
I open my mouth and then shut it, finding no arguments to go against him. "Wouldn't it be smarter to find something that has a little more job security?" I try then.
Edward shrugs. "These days I feel like it's the degree that counts more than the actual contents of it. So why not spend years studying something you actually like?"
"You could become a peer counselor, when the time is right," Alice offers when I stay silent. "I think you could be a tremendous help to others."
I wince. "I don't think I'm ever getting over this," I say, my voice coming out harsher than I want it to. "I have exactly zero expectations of that ever happening."
"But you've come so far already," Alice says gently, not put out by my venom. "Look at you, you're practically sitting on Edward's lap. When you first came here, you freaked when someone just looked at you unexpectedly."
"That's true," I agree. As if sensing my sudden discomfort, Edward rubs my shoulders. I marvel at how it helps relax me. Not too long ago, I would've tensed with him at my back, touching me without telegraphing his actions. "I'm talking myself down again, aren't I," I say on a sigh.
"You'd be a fantastic therapist, I just know it," Alice says, confidence radiating off of her. "You're resilient, trustworthy, and you understand things most people will never learn, especially not from books."
She means well, I know, but with the tension of Laurent being somewhere outside jail still thrumming in my veins, I can't deal with her good intentions. I take a deep breath and let it out in a huff. "Let's just say I don't think I'll be ready next year to start on a career path that puts a deadline to my healing."
"Very well said," Edward murmurs next to me, only for me to hear, and just like that I realise I asserted a boundary without running or lashing out. I glance at Alice to see how she took it, and she doesn't seem hurt at all by my words.
"So, something else then," she says. "I think it's pretty normal that you're only starting this process now. We've not had your back story to deal with. You're feeling better now so you have headspace for new things."
Jasper chuckles. "And you want Bella to be a therapist?"
"Hey, so I read about it. I just want to help," Alice says. "I only mean well."
"I know," I say quickly. "It's very kind of you to brainstorm along."
"So," she continues, "we need to find you something that you'll enjoy but that won't give you the stress of needing to heal more before you can go out in the field. Oh! Have you considered working with kids? You're so good with little Simon. I bet children would just gravitate to you."
Kids… "I don't really consider it an option," I say carefully, honestly. I don't want to reject yet another of their ideas but… "With my PTSD and dissociation and all those other fancy words for not being able to function normally I don't think I'll ever get approved to work with minors." It's hard to realize it, even though I know it's true.
"Oh crap, I never even thought of that," Alice says, contrite. "I'm so sorry. It's such a shame." She frowns, thinking.
"There'll bound to be all these fairs and other events that'll help you choose," Edward says. "We can go there together and see what they have to offer. And you can check out the programs at Dartmouth and other schools in the region. If you want us to stick close, that is."
"Pretty old-fashioned of you, to just assume Bella will follow you and arrange her life around yours," Jasper pipes up.
Edward shrugs. "I wanted this before I knew Bella. We'll figure something out."
There's something there, something that might be not as easily solved as Edward makes it seem right now. Then again, he knows his dream and I don't know mine - it sounds fair to follow him instead of having him change his long-time plans because I find something new. Right?
But I don't know what I want. So now I'm filled with anxiety over Laurent and over the fact that I don't know what I want after graduation. I sigh and frown at my s'more, which has blackened over the flames.
"That poor thing is resembling the mood that's written on your face," Jasper says, chuckling. He gives me a new stick with a fresh marshmallow on it. "C'mon. Lots of people don't know what they want. And you can always change your mind. It's not like your choice is for life anymore."
"That's true," Alice says. "You could always skip a year, you know? Take a year off to recharge, find out what you want. Heal more, if that's what you feel you need."
My eyes widen at the idea. "Would your parents agree?"
"You'll be an adult, so it'll be your choice. But honestly? I really think they'd cheer you on every step of the way if you decide that's what you want. They're your parents too, after all," she says knowingly. She bounces in sudden excitement as an idea comes to her. "You can rent a little place off Edward's campus and he can use the dorms during the week and come over for the weekends. You could be a little homemaker for a while, create your own space. Somehow I think you would really like that."
"I would," I say quietly, the visual unfolding in my head at once. "I think I really would like that."
A year off, basically. A year without school or other obligations to just rest and recharge. I could get a job stocking shelves or something else that would demand minimal interaction with others. I could carve out my own little space in the world, not surrounded by other people. Cook what I want, eat when I want. Have a little rocking chair and read, pay with Wisp. Not having other people around me. I ache with sudden longing at the idea alone.
"I can tell you're liking the idea," Edward says, nudging me and pulling me from my thoughts. "Talk to mom and dad about it when they get back."
"It's a year away," I reply. "No need to bring it up now."
"Yes, you do, because otherwise you really need to start applying."
I nod to placate him. "Sure."
"So have you been sleeping better?" Alice asks next, changing the subject.
I haven't, but I shrug to make the issue smaller than it is. Nightmares are terrorising my rest. My brain seems determined to regurgitate memories the moment I close my eyes. Snapshots of events that caused tremendous pain, be it mental or physical. Or I'll dream that Laurent or Stefan are in the room with me, standing at the foot of my bed. It makes sleep an incredibly unsafe experience. Edward's there to comfort me, but sometimes he can't even wake me up and it takes me long, chaotic moments before my brain realizes I'm safe. We don't talk about my nightmares. I know they mess up his sleep too but he refuses to sleep in his own bed because of it.
Many mornings I find myself rubbing the scar in the palm of my hand when I wake up.
It's harder every day to find joy in things, to just enjoy the present. Even now, after finally having been able to just enjoy the conversation and think about a possible future, the darkness is lurking. I have a constant headache from clenching my teeth. Bugs are crawling under my skin all day, every day, and more often than not the desire to just end it all, get it over with, creeps into my thoughts. I don't have any serious plans to take action, but I fantasize about it sometimes, when I lie awake at night, Edward sleeping next to me. How it would be to just be done with it all. No more worries. No more fears. No more battling the constant anxiety that drains me every day.
My mother's diary lies untouched in the box in my bedroom. I still am not sure if I want to read it. What if it's filled with words of hatred about me? Or what if it turns out that she did love me? How does that add up to her leaving me?
I sigh quietly. My mother's disappearance never bothered me much, but lately, especially since our visit to the trailer, I find that I am thinking about her.
I googled her, a few days back. Nothing came up. Even in this day and age there're people who are not existing online. Maybe that's better. It would've been more frustrating to get a snippet that would raise even more questions. Or, to find something I don't want to see. Her having a happy family, for instance.
Stop spiralling, I tell myself. It's not helping.
"Not really," I say at last. "I worry a lot."
"Do you worry about Laurent?" Alice asks carefully. She gets an elbow in the side from Jasper, reprimanding her for bringing this up, but Alice tuts her tongue at him. "What?" she whispers. "It's clear it's on her mind."
"A lot," I admit.
"But how come he was let out?"
I shrug. "I don't know. He was arrested for fraud I think. I never pressed charges so he was never prosecuted for what happened when I was there." It's too difficult to talk about the abuse in more direct terms.
"What?" Alice asks, appalled. "You have to remedy that!"
I wring my hands until Edward stills them, comforting me. "When she's ready," he replies for me.
Not sure I'll ever be ready, to be honest. Especially knowing there is a deadline.
"Let's talk about fun things," I say instead. Edward slides even closer to me, adjusting us so that I'm sitting on the ground between his legs. He caresses my nape, the feeling comforting and familiar.
"When do you want to start driving?" Jasper says. "It's been a few days since we talked about that. I'm okay with it if you changed your mind."
"Oh," I say, taken aback. With the news about Laurent and then the chaos of Emmett and Rosalie leaving, it slipped my mind to pursue it. "I didn't think about it yet."
"We can go now," Jasper says, "if you want to? Before we go to PA."
Sudden nervousness takes over and I shake my head quickly. "I'd like you to be able to get to Port Angeles in one piece," I say, wishing my voice sounded less shaky. "And to have an actual car left you can drive there."
Jasper laughs, a carefree sound that tells me he wasn't worried about us crashing into a tree for one second. "I see you need some time to get used to the idea. Tomorrow then?"
I nod, grateful that he seems to understand. "Tomorrow," I say. It's a promise.
The fire crackles, the flames warming my skin. We eat our s'mores until our fingers and faces are sticky with them.
"Hey, when was Reneée's wedding again?" Alice asks suddenly. "Weren't you supposed to go there?"
"Last week," I say wryly. "Esme and I decided it was better to not push myself through the stress of traveling and being among so many strangers. I sent a card though."
"Oh, so you missed it," Alice sighs. "Are you sad about it?"
"Renée has done a lot for me. But it was the right decision to stay home. I'm sad I couldn't wear your dress," I say, trying to placate her.
Alice narrows her eyes, but doesn't pry when I evade her question. "Would've loved to see you in the dress again," she agrees. "We'll just have to hope some other occasion comes up."
"Our little social butterfly," Edward snorts, but his joke makes me smile.
"Any new gossip?" Jasper pipes up. "I haven't been in town in ages."
"Okay, so did I tell you that Mike's mom and Mr. Banner were spotted in Port Angeles the other day?" Alice starts, her eyes sparkling.
I wrap the scarf more snugly around me and let her words trail over me, the heat of the fire on my face, the heat of Edward's body behind me against my back.
My depression is hard to shake, but I go through the motions to the best of my ability. After what Carlisle told me, I spent some time googling antidepressants and there really isn't a lot of medicine they can give minors. Which is good I think, but I also can't help but wish that there was something I could take to get my mind off things. I add this to the long list of things I'd like to ask Siobhan. Only a few more days to go until I see her again. I'm actually looking forward to it, if only to offload all the crap that's in my head.
That night, when Jasper and Alice have gone to Port Angeles for their official date, Edward and I find ourselves alone in the house. Even though we agreed nothing would happen, the atmosphere is charged. Every touch feels like electricity, and I'm not sure if I like it. We make a pizza for dinner, working alongside together to cut up the vegetables and roll out the dough. He keeps bumping into me, something he usually does, but now it feels like the lead up to something more.
In an attempt to calm myself down I retreat for a shower, even though I had one in the morning. If Edward sees through me, he doesn't let on.
He's waiting in my bed when I get out and pulls back the covers invitingly.
I hesitate in the doorway, and when Wisp bounces over to me to attack my feet, I pick her up, grateful for the distraction.
Edward smiles when I finally dare to look at him. "Nothing happens," he says. "We promised."
I nod, and sigh quietly to get rid of the tension I feel. Edward holds his arms out to me and I go to him, crawling into his embrace. I inhale his familiar scent and when he just holds me for a long moment, I manage to relax.
"Did you want to look up programs at Dartmouth?"
I want to say no, but Edward looks so hopeful that I agree, and we get my laptop to browse together. Dartmouth has a lot to offer, we learn. I could get a degree in English literature. While I don't see myself as a teacher, it might be slightly better than just doing a creative writing program. After all, most of the well-known authors I've read didn't follow such a program. They just knew how to write a decent story. I think I could do it, but I haven't written much at all. It's just this thing I somehow know for sure in my mind. I used to make up stories all the time when I was younger.
We talk about options in depth, my brain reluctantly engaging at first and then fully latching on, and then the conversation turns to what Edward wants to do. He wants to be a doctor, like his dad. He's always been sure about that. He's lucky to have the grades that allow him to pursue it, he knows. He's lucky to come from old money so he won't want for anything, giving him all the space he needs to focus on his studies.
"Your residency will be brutal," I muse. I'm in his arms. We've put away the laptop. Soft music is playing, and we're on our backs, painting our imagined future on the ceiling. "I might even miss you. After a while, of course."
He pokes my stomach, making me giggle. "I'll miss you too. When I have time to think about you on my shifts," he bites right back, a smile tugging at his voice.
"Of course," I say. "Don't think I'll be waiting up for you, though. You can put your food in the microwave when you get home."
"As long as I get to come home to you," he says. He leans up so he can kiss me. The chaste peck of lips deepens almost immediately, and I hitch up my leg around his hips to pull him closer. His groin tightens, pushing up against my pelvis. It's not alarming. It feels good, knowing that I make him feel like that.
Our breathing picks up as the temperature in the room rises. Edward sucks kisses down my jaw and I hitch out a soft moan at the delicate sensation. My heart hammers, my stomach is in knots and I just want to get closer to Edward. I clutch at him and it wouldn't surprise me if my grip left bruises in its wake. Edward's all on board too, breathing hard into the little crawlspace between my jaw and shoulder, his hips moving like he wants to burrow inside me.
He's halfway through unbuttoning my pyjama top when we hear a door slam downstairs. "We're home!" Jasper shouts. "Hands above the blankets, children!"
It breaks the moment and Edward stills, groaning into my neck. "Fuck."
We hear footsteps on the stairs next, and in an obvious attempt at taking over Emmett's obnoxious sense of humor, Jasper calls out from the hallway. "Don't pretend you're sleeping now."
"Jasper," Alice hisses. "What if they are?"
"I can hear the music they're playing," Jasper says. But he turns away and moments later we hear Jasper's bedroom door open and close.
"Well," Edward sighs.
The mood is gone, and I know that he can sense it too. I button my top back up and we lay in silence for a while. The CD has finished and the room is filled with the sounds of our breathing and with a scurrying Wisp, who is chasing invisible monsters under the bed.
The silence is heavy, but not tense. "Good to know it can happen," I say at last. "I didn't freak or anything."
Edward props himself up on an elbow so that he can look into my eyes. "We'll keep going until you don't even worry about freaking out anymore," he says solemnly. "Whatever it takes. I don't want you to think about anything that can go wrong when we're like this."
"It's a bit of a minefield," I admit. My eyes go half closed as he strokes my hair off my forehead.
"We've been over this," he says. "I don't care. I just care that you're happy."
He kisses me then, soft and sweet and sure. I let him and wish I could believe his words.
This feels stupid. But I wanna write stuff down. It's so much. I wish everything would stop. I wish I could run far away. I wish… I dunno what I wish for. I see all them movies on tv and I see happy people and I just… I wish that was my life, ya know?
Something is wrong with me. I stopped bleeding and I get real sick in the mornings. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's cos I lost a lotta weight when we didn't have enough to eat. I dunno. Maybe I should ask my teacher, but it's not like I'm going to school that much these days. It's hard to hide the bruises when they're on ur face, ya know? Or I could ask Stacey. But it's weird talking about women stuff like that. I feel pretty old most days but I'm 12, I'm no woman.
Save me a lot of crap not having to find pads, tho!
I'm still not bleeding. I got off all the candy but still I've been getting fatter. My pants don't fit me anymore. I saw a movie with a women being sick and getting fat and she was pregnant so I guess I got a baby growin inside a me now.
I know whose it is, cos I haven't done any of the things that momma yells at me I did. I can't get rid of it, I dunno about a doctor who could help and in any case, I think I want this baby. I'm gonna love it and give it everything that I never got. Just you wait.
Just you wait.
Gosh, I'm never giving birth again. So painful, holy shit. Her name is Bella. She's so beautiful. Stacey says Bella means beautiful, so there. I call her Bellarina when we're alone. Imma get her out of this place and give her a good life. I will.
There are only a few chapters left in this story, and I am so sad to let it go but it has been going on for long enough. I plan to write the last few chapters before my next update, so that the final stretch won't have months of waiting in between. Feel free to come yell at me on Twitter (if you're 18+) and Facebook; links are in my bio.