TAM Chapter 4.5
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize from another source belongs to them. This twisted little plot is mine. Capice?
A/N: So—this is for the lovely ladies on the forum. You ask, you receive. Just, don't throw tomatoes, okay? Thank you to swimom7 for pre-reading and to Jenny Cullen for her awesome beta skills. It really is a lot better because they attacked it first. Trust me.
Time has a strange way of speeding up and slowing down. And usually, it is going the exact opposite of the way you wish it would. My eyes drifted to the clock every few minutes, as they had been since Bella said that she would come home to talk to me. I had no idea when she was going to be here, but it didn't slow the anticipation.
I had no idea how my life had become such a clusterfuck. My decisions were usually based on sound logic and reason. Looking back, though, it seemed like all of my decisions where Bella was concerned were the epitome of idiotic. No matter what my reasons and thoughts—or lack thereof—were, they all backfired on me in one fell swoop. There was no way out of the mess I had created for myself but through the fire, and I was certain that I was going to get burned. It was fitting, I supposed, considering how it all must feel to Bella. Just the thought of it made my stomach churn.
I knew that she would understand my reasons for waiting with her. What wasn't ever going to be acceptable was my infidelity. No matter how I explained it, no matter when, it would always loom between us, but I'd always hoped that she would have time to get to know me, to know how much I really did care about her, before we had to deal with it. A foundation laid that we could rely on when things got bad. Now, there was just the bad and no foundation, because I had kept us apart for too damn long.
What was I going to do if, when she got here, she told me that she hated me and never wanted to see me again? It wasn't like my life had ever been worth much. My mom hadn't wanted me. I didn't have a lot of friends, and my family was all perfectly paired off. All I had was work and hopes for my future with Bella. Unfortunately, I had ruined that. Perhaps I could make it easier on both of us and just remove myself from the picture.
A door slamming and Alice's squeal brought me back from the dark places my thoughts were straying to. I didn't even stop to think about it; I ran down the stairs and out the front door.
I was so relieved to see that she really was here and walking closer to me. Demetri had her things, so maybe that meant her departure wasn't yet permanent. Hope blossomed in my chest, and her name escaped my lips with a sigh. She just stopped and stared at me critically, as if she wasn't sure what she was seeing. I'll admit that I should have gotten cleaned up for her arrival—I wanted her impression to at least start positive—but since I hadn't known when she would be here, I had just wallowed in depression.
Emmett made some comment, but I couldn't hear him. All of my senses were focused on Bella. I took a step toward her, and noted, with some satisfaction, that she was coming to me also. I couldn't wait anymore, though, and rushed forward. She looked worn, but well, and I was grateful that my epic fuck-ups hadn't torn her down as far as they had me. I grasped her hand, needing to touch her to know that she was real, and the contact sent jolts through my arm. My eyes searched hers, looking for a reason for the hope in my chest, and committing each feature to memory in case I didn't find it. A small section of hair had escaped her pony tail on the drive, and I tucked it behind her ear. It was shorter than I remembered, but it suited her. Her skin was so soft and perfect under my fingers, and I wished again that I hadn't squandered all the opportunities over the years.
"You're here. You came home," I breathed with sigh. She would never know how much it meant to me that she had returned.
"I did," she answered shortly, looking away from me. The collectedness of her voice was almost cold.
I tried to remind myself that I had hurt her deeply and that she had travelled a long way to be here again. So I suggested that she go clean up before we talked. God knew that I needed to as well. I wouldn't subject her to my slovenliness any more than I had to.
"Actually, I'm heading to the rec room after I change to watch the game with Emmett," she told me, and any bit of hope that had taken root died. She hadn't come home to figure things out with me—why should she want to do that?—she was here to watch football with my brother-in-law. She tried to explain that she did this every week, but I already knew that. I had just hoped that the shreds of our marriage would be more important than games.
There wasn't anything left for me to do, and I turned to leave. If this was how I was destined to live, I didn't really want to. I would give her the time she wanted and needed, and when she left, I wouldn't be far behind. I couldn't live here with the reminders, though I deserved to just to make myself suffer for the rest of my life.
"Edward, wait," she called, and I stopped. I didn't dare to turn around and see her face again, or I would lose any bit of dignity that I ever possessed. "Why don't you come watch the game with us? You know, spend some time together, and then maybe we can find some time to talk later."
I allowed myself to look at her, to see if her offer was genuine or out of sheer pity, but there was an openness there I didn't dare to analyze. So, I just gave her a small smile and told her that I would like that. We walked in silence up to our rooms, because there was nothing we needed to say to each other that would qualify for small talk. Once outside her door, I tried to tell her that I was sorry, but I couldn't force the words from my throat. Starting this now would ruin her afternoon, and I had already ruined enough.
I didn't want to leave her with nothing, though. "Oh, and Bella?" I called back to her as I moved toward my room. "I really like your haircut." Just before I slipped through my door, I caught a glimpse of her baffled expression. I mean, really, did she think I wouldn't notice?
Bella was already enjoying the game when I made it downstairs. I had spent so long watching her from afar that staying in the back of the room felt natural to me. After Bella hit Emmett in celebration, she caught my eye and held it. Her cheeks flushed, and I smiled at her. She really was too cute when she got flustered or embarrassed. Eventually, I joined in the fun, and we all goofed off until halftime. It was nice to feel like I belonged here, as if I wasn't responsible for the potential destruction of my family.
When the girls left to get something to drink and more snacks, though, the atmosphere changed palpably. Emmett turned on me and glared menacingly.
"What the fuck, Edward?" He shoved me as hard as he could.
I held up my hands in peace and took a step back. "I know, Em."
"No, you motherfucker. 'I know' isn't good enough!" He grabbed me and wrapped me in a headlock, before knocking me to the ground. He continued to insult and pummel me; I only put up enough fight so he didn't do permanent damage. Rosalie finally yelled at him to stop, and he laid off immediately. He even helped me up. I supposed that now that he'd said his piece, he was done. Bella was laughing at our little display, so I smiled back at her. Even though I knew it would be short-lived, it felt good to pretend—just for a little while—that things were as they should have been all along.
Bella stopped participating after a while, and she was biting her lip almost constantly. She always did that when she was nervous, and I wished there was some way that I could make this easier for her. She hadn't left the room in hours, and I was sure she was trying to delay. If she wanted, I could give her more time, but I didn't think it would help anything. The anticipation and assumption was worse than just facing things head on. And selfishly, I wanted to know when my world was going to end, because I didn't see how it wouldn't.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, Jasper and I started teasing Emmett about the Packers' performance. In turn, he spun it around on me and ended my time with my family.
"You would know all about laying down and letting someone move all over you, wouldn't you?" Emmett whipped out snidely.
Pain lanced through me, and I closed my eyes against the onslaught. It hit a little too close to reality for me and confirmed that even my family wouldn't stand behind me. I didn't deserve it, and I wouldn't get it. Rosalie started yelling at Emmett as I turned to leave. I didn't want my presence to ruin their fun.
Suddenly, Bella's voice rose above the din, and I stopped my retreat. "It's not for you to talk about, Emmett," she said softly. "Thank you for loving me and caring about me, but that doesn't mean you have to hurt others."
Emmett tried to protest, but she cut him off again. Then, she shocked me by catching up to me and walking away from everyone else. I tried to stop her in the foyer, but she made it clear that she was ready to continue the conversation in private, and I was long past questioning her. She didn't want to go into her room, either, which I thought was strange, since that was her comfort zone.
When we finally got into my room, she stopped and looked around with interest. She hadn't been in here, at least not with me, and was taking stock of my personal space. It felt . . . scrutinizing, like she was passing her judgment based upon my possessions.
"Please, have a seat anywhere," I told her. I wanted her to feel more comfortable than she seemed.
"Um, thanks, but I'm good," she replied nervously.
I sighed and sank onto the end of the bed.
"What happened this week?" she asked hesistantly.
"Meaning?" I had no idea what she was referring to.
"Emmett! That little display down there. I feel like I've missed something." She gestured wildly, and the shock was evident in her voice.
"He's pissed at me, Bella! What more do you want to know? Emmett blames me for you leaving, something that is entirely my fault," I responded with sincerity.
She bit her lip again. "Alice and Rosalie don't."
I snorted. "Yes, they do. To an extent, anyway. They really don't know what to blame me for, since I really haven't said anything."
"So you haven't talked to them about it?" she asked incredulously.
"No," I said firmly. "I didn't figure they should know the sordid details of our private life before you did."
"Why don't you tell me then?" she said with fire, then her face got a little green, and I saw the indecision behind her eyes.
I moved my gaze to the floor, because I couldn't focus when I was looking at her. Over the last week, I had gone over this in my head a million times, but nothing I came up with really worked. I didn't want to just start giving her information she didn't want, so I settled for trying to figure out where she wanted to start. "Okay. What do you want to know?" I asked.
"Did you have an affair?" she asked firmly, now pacing in front of me.
Of all the questions she could have asked me, she chose this one? How the fuck was I supposed to answer that? Did I have inappropriate relations with a woman that wasn't my wife? Yes. But was there anything behind it? No. I wouldn't have called it an affair.
Her patience with me ran out quickly. "It's a yes or no question, Edward," she reminded me sharply.
"I don't know, Bella," I practically shouted. I knew that I should know this, but fuck! It wasn't like that!
"How can you not know?" she shouted back.
"Because calling it an affair implies that it was more than it was," I mumbled.
"I—what does that even mean?" she asked with a sob.
It means that I had sex with another woman without wanting to? How does that even happen? It sounded stupid to me, and even though it was close to what had happened, she would never believe that. How could I phrase this so it came out right?
"Edward," she whispered, "did you have sex with her?"
I knew the answer to this question, and I knew it would kill her to hear it. I shut my eyes tightly and confessed to the worst thing I had ever done. "Yes."
The tears and sobs burst out violently, and her small body heaved with the effort of standing upright. I reached out to her, but she flinched away from my hand and stared at me in disgust.
"It's not what you think, Bella," I pled. I wanted to tell her everything, every detail so she would understand.
"Really?" she screamed hysterically. "You didn't stick your dick in that whore? You didn't push me away and reject me so you could have her?"
Her words bounced around in my brain, and it was like I had been struck. Was that really how she felt? That I didn't want her?
Bella raced past me, trying desperately to get away, and I tried to catch her. She had to listen to the rest of it before she decided to end me. She had to know everything. She didn't want to know, though, and slammed the door in my face.
Her body hit the floor right on the other side, and she cried so loudly, I didn't even have to strain to hear her.
"Bella, please," I cried through the door. "Please . . ." But it only made her cry harder. Instead, I just whispered that I was sorry, and that I never meant to hurt her like this. Anything I could offer to comfort her. Sometime later, her sobs quieted, and she sniffled in her sleep.
"Bella, I'm sorry," I whispered through the door, before getting up and walking down the stairs to my office.
I sat there for hours, mulling over what I had just done. By not telling her the full story right up front, I left her to her imagination. And I knew, based on what Tanya had insinuated in front of her, that her immediate thoughts were going to be as horrible as possible. Could I be any worse of a husband? A human being? Hell, I even fuck up apologies! Why she would even consider trying to forgive me, I had no clue, and I sure as Hell didn't deserve it.
Dawn broke and lit my office window, and I knew that Bella would be up soon. I wanted nothing more than to go to her, apologize again and tell her the whole story, but I knew that wasn't wise. Most likely, I was the last person she wanted to see, save maybe Tanya, and I didn't want to upset her more than she already was.
I strode quietly to Alice's door, where I could hear the hushed voices of early morning. I knew from experience that Jasper left early, and he always woke Alice to tell her goodbye. Most of the time, she went back to bed for a couple of hours, but today, I was going to have to ask for a favor. While I contemplated knocking, Jasper opened the door and did a double take.
"Whoa, dude, you look like hell again. Is everything okay?" he asked with concern.
"No, everything isn't okay. Is Alice still up?" I answered tiredly.
Her head peeked around Jasper's body. She still had her glasses on, and her hair stood out in all different directions. I would have laughed if I hadn't needed her so badly.
"What is it, Edward?" she asked.
Jasper held up a hand, bent down to kiss her, and murmured that he would be home later. I envied the ease of their relationship. He clapped me on the shoulder and gave me a sad smile as he walked past, and I turned back to Alice.
"I need your help. Actually, Bella does, but . . ." I said uncertainly.
"I take it that your conversation didn't go well?" she asked kindly.
I shook my head. "She fell asleep crying against the study door. I'd go to her, but I don't think I'm welcome."
She gave me a sad smile. "I'll take care of her. Go get some rest." She disappeared behind the door before I could respond, and I went upstairs to change my clothes.
Resting wasn't going to be an option. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Bella's tear-streaked, horror-stricken face, and my stomach rolled with the knowledge that her pain was all my fault, and I would probably never get the chance to fix it.
I spent the day trying to make sense of the reports on my desk, but the numbers swam in and out of my vision. From what I could tell, there was trouble in Italy again, but I just couldn't focus enough to deal with it. At some point, my mother brought me a sandwich and asked me if I was okay. I told her no, and recognizing my need to be alone, she left. Dad came in several times to encourage me to get some sleep, but I waved him off. Sleep would not be coming to me anytime soon.
I was still sitting there the next morning when Bella showed up.
"Dad, I promise I'll get some rest later. I just need to finish . . ." I trailed off as I realized Bella was standing in my doorway. "Bella?"
"Edward, when is the last time you ate? Showered? Slept?" she asked with evident worry.
After completely breaking her faith in me, Bella was standing here inquiring about my health? I had to have fallen asleep or succumbed to hallucinations.
"Edward? Focus. Have you eaten in the last two days?"
I shook my head to clear it. "Um, yeah, I think I had a sandwich yesterday." It was yesterday that Mom had made me the sandwich. Having roast beef on rye wouldn't make sense for breakfast, right?
Bella just stared at me, and I wondered if I had drooled on myself at some point. "Okay, why don't you go upstairs and shower? I'll bring up something for us to eat," she offered.
I knew I had to be dreaming. There was no way she was going to be in the same room as me, much less bringing me food.
"You'll come?" I confirmed.
"Yes. Now go. You look terrible," she said with a smile. I wondered why she was smiling at me. God knows I hadn't done anything to deserve one.
As soon as she left, I ran upstairs and stepped under the warm spray of my shower. Not only was I tired, but I felt grimy. If only the shower could wash the filth from my insides.
I had just buttoned my jeans when Bella knocked on my door. She just stood there, staring at me. I felt the heat I usually did when I was near her spike, so I put on my shirt and asked her about breakfast. I didn't want to complicate things even more.
"Oh, just some eggs and stuff," she said nonchalantly as she handed me a plate. The food smelled great, but I was nervous with her in the room again. There weren't a lot of places for two people to sit, so we would have to make do with my bed. I climbed up and patted the bed.
"Sit with me?"
She nodded after a second and sank down into the down comforter. For a moment, her face was peaceful, dreamy even, then she sneered and sat up taller.
She was fiddling with something in her lap, and I realized that she hadn't brought a plate for herself. "Where is your breakfast?" I asked.
She held up a bagel. "I didn't think I'd be able to eat more than this."
As if that didn't make me feel more like a shit than I already did. Here she brought me breakfast and came to talk to me, and she wouldn't even eat because I disgusted her so. I started pushing my food around on my plate.
"You'd better eat that," she teased. "I didn't slave over the stove for you to make it into mush."
"You made this?" I asked, my eyebrows shooting up.
"Uh, yeah," she assented, somewhat sarcastically.
Not wanting to offend her, I took as many bites as I could at once. It was so good, and my stomach cheered for the intrusion. There must have been something on the corner of my mouth, because her hand came up and gently wiped it away. As soon as she touched my face, we both realized what she had done and froze. I locked eyes with her and poured every emotion I felt into that one glance. Fear, love, excitement, sadness, regret, and disappointment all had a place.
Her own expression conveyed her shock at her own actions, and she dropped her hand like she had been burned. "I'm sorry," she muttered, while her cheeks colored again.
"Don't be," I murmured as I stilled her hands in her lap. Touching her felt so right, and even though I hadn't earned it, I still yearned to feel her skin against mine. Even if it was only her hand.
I didn't know where else to go from here. Part of me thought I should just blurt out the whole story, but given her reaction the other night, I was afraid to say more than she was ready for. I pondered how to bring up the conversation we needed to have, but Bella broke the silence before I had the chance.
"Why did you send Alice up to my room yesterday?"
"I knew you needed someone to talk to and that it couldn't be me. She loves you, and I thought it might help," I told her honestly. She would never know how much I wished that it could have been me.
"Oh. Well, it did, so, thanks," she said awkwardly.
I chuckled lightly. "You're welcome." I knew I needed to say more, and it was time for me to man up. I had made the mistakes, not her. "Bella, for what it's worth, I am sorry."
Her eyes narrowed, and she shrugged. "That doesn't really mean much to me, Edward. First, you could be sorry for a lot of things, and some are worth more than others. I know that you are sorry you got caught, but are you sorry you did it in the first place? And more than that, I don't know how much I really trust that, trust you, right now."
My heart sank. While it was the reaction I had been expecting, it was clear that she had no idea what she was worth to me and how much I regretted everything. "That's perfectly fair. I am sorry that I did it, and that I betrayed your trust. But from now on, can we just accept that we are each being honest with each other? I don't think we can fix it if we don't."
"Do you want to fix it?" she asked timidly. Her head was down, and her hair had fallen over her face, so I could just see the light reflecting off her eye.
How could she not know this? I reached over to join our hands again, but I stopped short. If she didn't want this, I wasn't going to force my touch upon her. But she didn't pull away, and I took it as tacit agreement, cradling her small hands in mine and relishing the way they fit. I thought carefully about how to word my response.
"Yes, Bella, I do. All I have really wanted for the past two years was to be a good husband to you, and that hasn't changed."
She stopped me instantly. "If that was 'all you wanted,' why did you treat me so badly? Why not actually be a good husband, instead of just wanting to be?"
I could hear the anger simmering below the surface, and I fought to keep my own temper in check. I wasn't mad at her, only myself, but letting her well-deserved anger set off my defensiveness would be counter-productive.
And she was right. I hadn't been a good husband to her, and it was time for her to know why. Time to tell her everything I should have said more than two years ago. "It was hard for me, Bella. I was twenty-three when we got married, and I was instantly attracted to you. Then, I found out that you were only fifteen, and I felt like a complete ass. You were still a child, but it didn't stop me from wanting you. Every time I got close to you and every time I learned something new about you, I wanted you more, and I was afraid that I would just . . . take you. So I stayed away."
My confession sparked something inside her, and she startled slightly in shock, as if this had never occurred to her. Really, though, why would it? Legally, she was old enough to get married. It was only my seriously skewed moral compass that kept us apart.
"Why didn't you ever talk to me about it?" she asked curiously.
I scoffed. "I tried to find the words a thousand times, but how was I supposed to do that without hurting you?" The look on her face betrayed her inner thoughts, and I realized how stupid that sounded, considering we were here because I had hurt her in the worst of ways.
I owned up to that. Hiding from the truth wasn't going to get us anywhere. "And I managed to accomplish that anyway."
"How many were there?" she asked in a small but clear voice.
"How many what?" Times I tried to talk to her? I'd lost count somewhere in the first three months.
"Women, Edward. How many other women were there?" she snapped.
"Only Tanya," I whispered with regret. There was no way for her to know how heavy a burden it was to know that I was the worst man in the world. How I could have had such a wonderful woman right here all along and squandered it with my inability to say no.
"How long did it last?" she asked, cutting into my reverie.
"There was nothing to last, Bella," I reiterated. "It was isolated instances. When I said that affair was too strong a word the other night, I meant it. There were no hearts and flowers, no late night phone calls. It was just a few encounters over a little more than year." And I wasn't sure I should even count one of them, but if I had drawn the line there, maybe I wouldn't be here now.
"Then . . . why?" she asked, the pain barely simmering below the surface of her voice.
Why? Hell, if I knew the answer to that, this could have been solved a long time ago. Why does any man give in to constant pressure? "Loneliness, weakness, horniness, stupidity . . . I don't know."
She took a deep breath and looked me straight in the eye. "When was the last . . . encounter?"
I knew she wouldn't like this answer, and it would taint her entire memory of the holiday. Her birthday was getting closer, and I thought I would start stepping up my attention, so I got her a beautiful necklace that she loved. Then, after the incident, I hated myself too much for my weakness and pulled away again. She got up to leave, but I couldn't let her. I promised her honesty, and she would get it.
"Bella, wait, please," I begged. "Christmas. The last time was just before Christmas."
"Christmas," she whispered. I could see the tears building in her eyes and the color drain from her face. I tried to reach out to her, but her allowance had hit its limit, and she pulled away violently, shaking her head. Within seconds, she was running for my bathroom and retching into my toilet.
How could I have been so stupid? She was so repulsed that she was vomiting? I went after her and wet a washcloth like Mom had always done for me when I was sick. Something about the chill on my back of my neck made me feel better. I pulled her hair back, too, so she didn't spit in it. Her sobs and gags echoed in my ears, and I fought the urge to join her. I was completely out of my depth here and was struggling to do whatever I needed to do to help her.
"Go away," she spat with her head still in the bowl.
"Not hardly, Bella," I retorted. Like I was going to leave her like this.
The circles I was rubbing on her back seemed to calm her a little so I continued until she shifted. The washcloth slid, and not wanting it to go down her shirt and make her wet, I grabbed it and held it out to her. Bella's legs were so shaky that I held her up while she ran the cloth over her face and then gave it back to me. Instead of trying to help her back into the room, I lifted her into my arms and carried her to the oversized chair in the corner. I held her in my lap while she continued to cry, only interrupting her to apologize again. It was all I could do.
Eventually, she pulled away from me and started pacing. She wheeled around and faced me head on as she asked, "Have you talked to her?"
At that moment, I had never been so glad that I had trusted my gut. "No. You are my priority, and talking to you about this first was more important to me than confronting my childhood friend."
Bella sneered. "Your childhood friend. Were you intimate with her before we were married?"
I shrugged. I supposed that some people would have called it that, so I chose to be as honest as possible. "We were just kids that were often thrown together, so yeah. We experimented with each other, mostly for a lack of having anyone else to do so with." I certainly hadn't had a lot of other options.
"She wasn't at lack for companionship," she quipped testily.
"Just what are you saying?" Was she accusing me of lying?
"Edward, she's a whore. You weren't the only guy she fooled around with. Hell, I saw her coming out the cottage where Jacob lives one morning," she said incredulously.
"Jacob, the gardener?" I asked, puzzled. I thought that was his name, but I had never talked much to him, so I wasn't sure.
She chuckled humorlessly and nodded. "I don't think his prospects meet with her future plans, though." She narrowed her eyes. "Oh dear God, please tell me you were safe."
I was so confused at the track this conversation had taken. Did she think I was lying about our past, or was she accusing me of being completely dense and unobservant? "Safe?" I asked. I must have missed something, because I had no idea what she was talking about.
"Yeah, safe. You know, use a condom? Prevent disease, pregnancy?" she explained like I was an idiot.
"Oh, yeah," I mumbled, completely mortified. My memory involuntarily flicked back, and I had to suppress a shudder.
"That's reassuring," she groaned and resumed her pacing. I could tell that she was really angry, but at what specifically, I wasn't entirely sure.
"You know what?" she finally said. "I'm going to go. Let's just . . . talk about this later." Then, she just left without another word.
I continued to sit there and sort through the last few minutes. While she had every right to be angry with me for the situation in the first place, I was utterly confused by her sudden spark of anger where Tanya's sexual history was concerned. Was she worried that I would pass on some disease? If that was it, I would get tested and put her mind at ease.
Tanya hadn't been a one-man woman in years, not since Alec broke her heart. I knew that she liked the company of men, and that was why I was so surprised that she would even attempt to claim that there was anything to our . . . liaisons. None of it made sense to me, but there was no way in Hell I was calling her now.
The only thing I could do now was to show Bella, every day, that she was the only one I wanted in my future. She hadn't left yet, so I took that as a good sign that she hadn't decided. Each day, I made sure that I showed her what she meant to me. I didn't think that Bella was one for grand gestures, so I relied on the little things, flowers, touches, playing Trivial Pursuit, to show her how I felt. I even asked her on an official date after Saturday Family Day. Starting over sounded like a good plan to me.
On Monday, though, Fate intervened and proved that it wasn't through fucking with me yet. While going through the ledgers for the construction and asphalt company the Spencers ran for us, I found some glaring irregularities. We had been awarded all of the road contracts for the southern part of the state, and they were incredibly lucrative. Unfortunately, not all of the money seemed to be flowing into the right place. Early in the morning, I called Dad into my office for him to give them a second look, and he shared his concerns that there had been a lot of mismanagement for some time. He pulled Mom in, and she stated that we were going to have to go take care of it.
I didn't want to go to the Spencers, and I knew that it would be a bad idea, but Mom declared that we all had to be there. I was the one that found the problem, and I knew she was going to insist that I be there to point it out. I stuttered around, still trying to come up with some way out of it. Dad, however, had other ideas.
"Edward, I know that things have been a little strained between you and Bella lately, but this is a business-centric visit, and I am sure that you can make things look normal for a week," he lectured. Strained? Was he hiding under a rock? Everyone else in the house knew what an idiot I was; how did he miss it? Pointing out my shortcomings was usually his favorite sport.
"Normal? How exactly would you suggest we do that? We don't have a normal. And the Spencers? I hardly think that going to their house is going to make things any better," I retorted angrily. This wasn't going to go over well with Bella.
"So the rumors I have heard are true?" Carlisle asked in shock. Really? You're just now getting there, Dad?
I snorted. "It depends on which ones you've heard." This wasn't a conversation I wanted to have right now.
"Edward!" Mom cried, scandalized. Great. Fucking fantastic. It's not enough that I've injured my wife, but now Mom, too.
My temper flared. "What do you want from me, Mother? An accounting of all the ways I have fucked up my marriage? I'm fairly sure Bella would tell you the list is rather long. I wouldn't know, as she isn't exactly speaking to me about it at the moment!"
We hadn't talked since the day she got sick. I hadn't wanted to risk another episode, and she hadn't been eating well as it was. She needed all the nourishment she could get and not my dumbass telling her something else that made her want to vomit.
"But I thought things were better," Mom protested. "You all seemed to be getting on so well."
"Well, we were, until we actually tried talking about it again. You making me drag her to the Spencers' certainly won't help," I shot back quietly. I didn't like fighting with her, but I couldn't handle any more of this. I couldn't decide which would be worse; going on my own to keep from subjecting Bella to Tanya, or taking her with me so she would know where I was and who I was with.
She and Dad left, both with worried looks, and I heard them run into Bella in the hall. I was certain that she had been there for a few minutes and had heard the whole conversation.
"Edward?" She poked her head in, and damn, it was good to see her.
I smiled and motioned to the chair. "Come on in and shut the door."
"You rang?" she teased. The tension must have still been pretty thick if she was trying to lighten the mood.
"I did. I had something to give you, and now it seems, I have news as well." I had gone to the doctor, and I wanted to give her something, if that reassurance was what she needed.
"What is this?" she asked, squinting at the facsimile.
I shifted uncomfortably. "My test results. When we were, well, I always used protection, but last Christmas . . ."
"You had sex without protection, and this is your way of reassuring me?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
I breathed out heavily. "I didn't have sex with her last Christmas, Bella. She gave me a blow job. You want to know the details?" I didn't want to relive this, and I certainly didn't want to have to tell Bella about it. This day was just getting better and better. "It was the night we had that dinner party, and you were wearing this infuriatingly small, red dress. I spent all night trying to distract myself and to stare at anything else, but it was rather impossible. Finally, I escaped to the bathroom, and Tanya followed me in. I was preparing to . . . alleviate the problem myself, but she took it upon herself to do so."
She looked disgusted. "And you just let her?"
How was I supposed to explain this? It's not like both of men's brains could function at the same time. Brutal honesty won out, and it came out sounded harsher than I'd intended. "Honestly, I kind of lost rational thought when her lips closed around me, Bella. It had been a long time since I felt something other than my hand." Dear God, had it been a long time. "I just closed my eyes and imagined it was you instead." The last part was so embarrassing to admit, but she had to know that it wasn't Tanya in my fantasies. I took a deep breath and continued, "Anyway, since she is apparently so free with herself and I would never want to put you in any harm's way, I went to the doctor last week." She had been worried about this, so I didn't understand why she was so surprised. I would do anything to reassure her.
"So, you are assuming that one day, we . . ." she started.
"A man can dream, Bella, a man can dream," I told her honestly, because God knew I had been for a long time. "There is one other thing I need to talk to you about."
"Your business trip?" she asked.
I nodded. "You heard, then? The whole family will be going, I think, to soften the blow."
"Wait, what? I must have missed that part." She looked confused, and I realized that she might not have been standing there as long as I thought.
"The Spencers manage a lot of our interests in their area. Lately, things haven't been as sound as they once were, and I've had to do a thorough examination of their bookkeeping," I said. "It seems that someone has been a little freer with our money than they should have been, although it is difficult to say who."
"Do you suspect Carmen and Eleazer?" she asked, shocked.
"Not really. Neither of them is very involved with the day to day operations, but some of their family members are, and they are ultimately responsible for whoever they put in charge," I explained. I didn't want to delve into where my thoughts were going.
"I see. Is there anything else I need to know? Other than we have to act like a happily married couple in front of the one person that knows it isn't true?" she asked wryly.
I flinched. It was comments like these that reminded me how shaky the ground we stood on was. For the past few days, it had almost been good. "Are you that unhappy with me, Bella? Do you just want to call Jenks back now and have him draw up the papers?" I asked sadly. I didn't want to see that happen, but I wanted her to be happy.
She slumped in her chair. "I don't know." Then, her tone turned cold. "What do you mean, call Jenks back?"
"He was on the phone with my mother one day while you were gone and asked if there was anything he needed to be aware of. He said that you had called for a friend of yours, and he was concerned," I informed her. I wondered what their conversation had consisted of, since she seemed so angry.
"And you heard about this how?" she seethed.
"Mom called Rose, Alice, and me into her office and demanded an explanation. The other two denied it, of course, but I think Mom knew all along. I just said that I had screwed up and that I didn't know if I could fix it," I said sadly. "I suppose I knew that all along."
We just stared at each other for a few minutes, and she started biting her lip again. "Do you want her, Edward? If I wasn't in the way, I mean," she suddenly blurted out.
"Bella, if I had wanted her, I would have married her. I didn't want her then, and I don't want her now. Why don't you believe that?" I pleaded.
"Because you had sex with her, Edward! More than once. You gave her a part of yourself that your wife doesn't even know. How am I supposed to feel?" she cried.
Stabs of pain lanced through me again, and I considered that it was only a fraction of what she felt.
I dropped his face into my hands and tried to hold back the tears. "I'm sorry, Bella," I mumbled. "I don't even know if I can, but if you will let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you."
I expected her to tell me that it wasn't worth it and that I should just give up. She didn't seem overly disposed to forgive me, and I didn't blame her. So it shocked me when she said, "Okay," and left like I had just suggested grilled cheese for lunch.
The next few days were a whirlwind. I spent most of my free time preparing for the trip, because I wanted to have everything we needed. Mom was right—this wasn't going to be an easy discussion to have.
Early Thursday morning, Demetri knocked on my door, with a strange look on his face.
"Hey, man. What's up?" I greeted him.
"Some guy just dropped this off for you at the front gate. I'm sorry I opened it, but I thought it might be something harmful, because he was really shifty," Demetri explained.
"All right. Well, thanks. What is it?" I asked, nonplussed. It couldn't be too bad, or he wouldn't have brought it to me.
"Pictures," he said with a grimace.
Judging by the look on his face, it wasn't pleasant. "Can you do some digging and find out where they came from?"
He nodded, and left without another word.
Pictures? I ripped open the envelope and was greeted by a series of eight by ten photos. I didn't recognize the location, and it took me several minutes to decipher any of the people. It was Bella. I had never seen the skimpy, leaves-little-to-the-imagination dress she was wearing. She was dancing seductively with some blond guy, and then another short guy with brown hair. The final picture was of her with her mouth pressed against the blond guy's lips, and his arms holding her tightly.
I threw up in my trash can. Momentarily, I considered that this was how I made Bella feel with my admission, but a red haze clouded over shortly thereafter. Day after day, I consumed myself with the guilt of betraying my vows and my wife. And she had done the same thing! For hours, I stared at them, trying to come up with another explanation and failing miserably. Sure, these were only pictures of a passionate kiss, but who's to say she didn't fuck him?
Finally, I heard Bella in the hallway with Mom, and I composed myself long enough to ask her to come upstairs to talk to me. She gave me a funny look but agreed, and I took off for my bedroom instantly. I wanted to be rational, get an explanation, and talk this out. As soon as she walked in, though, looking all innocent, all of that flew out the window.
"What the fuck is this, Bella?"
"I don't know. What is that?" she asked, looking at the stack of pictures cluelessly. Her indifference enraged me even more.
"They're pictures. Of you and another man. You stand here and cry and give me shit for my mistakes, but you aren't so innocent, either!" I yelled.
"What? Let me see those," she demanded.
I thrust the pictures into her hand and watched as her face drained of color.
"How did you get these? Did you have me followed?" she accused.
What the fuck? Have her followed? Was that really all the defense she was going to offer?
"No, I didn't have you followed!" I yelled back. "Maybe I should have!"
"And maybe you shouldn't be jumping to conclusions!" she screamed. "This," she slammed down a picture, "is a photo of Angela, one of my best friends, and her boyfriend, trying to make me have a good time and to forget about my cheating husband."
Those words lanced through the anger I felt and caught me hard in the chest.
She pulled more from the pile. "This is a random guy named Mike that thought I was pretty enough to want to dance with. And I did—for one dance! This one is me waiting in line for the bathroom, reading a text from Emmett and deciding that it was time for me to come home to you."
She was thinking about coming home to me while out with another guy? That made no sense whatsoever!
Lastly, she pulled out the one of her and him and said as viciously as she could, "And this one. Ah, it really looks like more fun than it was. Mike decided he didn't want me to leave, so he tried to make me stay forcibly. When that wasn't working, he tried with his mouth. I bit his lip so he would let me go. That's my experience with men. Any men! I might be the only woman on Earth that has been married for more than two years and is still a VIRGIN!"
I stumbled backward from the force of her words and the missing explanation that had just congealed in front of me. I had no idea that what I was seeing was someone trying to assault her!
"Bella, God, are you okay? I had no idea. I'm sorry," I apologized. My anger had melted into more shame and fear that something could have taken her permanently away from me that night.
"Fuck you. I'm tired of hearing you say you're sorry. You ask for trust, you ask me to try, but what do you do? Ignore me and accuse me of cheating on you. You would have known what happened if you hadn't had your head so far up your ass to see that I needed you. I fucking needed you these last two years. I needed you that night, but you couldn't be bothered."
Couldn't be bothered? I was doing what she told me to do! "You asked me not to. You asked me to leave you alone. What was I supposed to do?" I cried in exasperation.
"You were supposed to ignore me. You were supposed to come after me and make me listen. Hell, you were supposed to do that two years ago so I never would have had to venture into a club on my own!" she yelled, anger infusing every word.
"Jesus Christ! I can't do anything right! I do what you ask me to, and that isn't good enough. What do you want from me, Bella?" I roared. How was I supposed to know what to do when she told me to do the opposite? I wasn't a damned mind reader!
"I don't want to be shut out any more. I don't want to be made to feel like I am a silly little girl. I want what Alice and Jasper have. I just want you to love me, Edward!" she cried, and my heart broke a little more. I went to reach for her, but realizing what she had just said, she clapped her hands over her mouth and bolted from the room.
For one second, I considered chasing her, but I had no clue if that was the right thing to do here. She told me to do one thing, but really meant another. She went out for a night of fun and got assaulted by some frat boy. Then, I had to misread the situation and accuse her of the same guilty sins I carried. I was a fuck up, plain and simple.