A/N: Special thanks to Saguenay for recommending this story and making me snort apple juice out of my nose. I'm petrified by the attention this story has gotten recently, so thank you for offering feedback that's so bloody thoughtful, for having theories, for telling me what makes you sniff and what makes you giggle, for pointing out my mistakes and telling me how much you need me to update. How wonderful are you? Thank you. :)
"But I think the first real change in women's body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
"Ah ha ha. No. I'm totally messing with you. All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes."
― Tina Fey, Bossypants, page 22
I'm sitting under my table, leaning against the wall with a pillow behind my back, holding Carlisle's Macintosh in my lap. I enter the DVD that has black scribble on it into the DVD drive and wait. I'm not the slightest bit hot yet my palms are sweating. My heartbeat picks up as a dim night appears on VLC Player. A few blades of grass move in the wind at the bottom of the screen, but the figures are close. Good. It works.
Five figures stand at the corner of a warehouse, drinking and roaring, smoking and talking. I'm surprised by the quality of audio. Vulgar language is used, and not like mine. Stories are being told, boasting stories of teenage acts of stupidity, of nights getting wasted and having sex. Stories of tight situations and close calls. There's a general sense of admiration of Newton's masterful ability to go under the radar doing the things he does. His posture is cocky, expression smug, and he acts like a leader of sorts. Cryptic sentences are being said, messages I can't decipher but body language that I can. Whatever the others tell him, his response is proud, smug, somewhat blasé. Almost faking nonchalance while pleased by their praise.
At one point, two figures leave.
I appear, with my awkward gait, shoulders slightly hunched as I watch my feet and kick pebbles. I don't notice them, but when I do, I go rigid. Like a frozen panic. Words are shared. My bag is thrown out of the way and I'm shoved against the wall.
I pause, shut the window and take out the DVD. Panting, I feel my hands shake as I clutch the DVD and bend it. It breaks. I keep breaking it until my fingers are bleeding and I've got pieces so tiny I could fit them in a matchbox.
Eric, if you can hear me—thank you. I'll never be able to repay you for the opportunity to keep this for myself.
I find a tissue for my little wounds and watch the four DVDs that are numbered in order. The first one starts off with piano music I can't recognize, it's beautiful and haunting. It surprises me. Blank screen fades into distance, and I'm looking at—myself.
I'm sitting on a bench, holding the very same back bag in my lap as I giggle and roll my eyes at Eric's attempts to use the camera. Joggers bypass as we banter. Finally, the focus clears, and you can almost count the hairs on my perpetual braid. I'm smiling. The camera zooms in on me as Eric sits beside me.
"Who do you want to be when you grow up?"
I see myself watching into the distance. "If you laugh, I will turn you into a centaur."
"I won't. Promise."
"I'd like to act, I think," I reply, with a sort of shy smile.
"Because I want to be someone else."
There's so much vulnerability in my posture but I look straight at the camera. A second later, I huff. "Eric, how are you going to be a director? You can't even hold the camera."
"Directors don't hold cameras."
"I know that," I reply. "Give me that. Let me show you."
In my know-it-all way, I start to teach him how to hold it so that the camera wouldn't waver so much. He laughs at me, and we end up bantering before it cuts away from the scene.
I can't believe he'd put an excerpt of how we made our sixth grade social studies homework into this. I only vaguely remember the assignment itself.
It flows like a movie, like a candid camera with shots taken from his locker, from his back bag, from under the table, from a distance. It's careful and inconspicuous. Each scene has the exact date and time underneath. It stars Michael Newton's group, of course, as he gets praised for being such a good student and how he acts without the teachers around. It cuts to scenes of actual rape with the victim's face always hidden. Not even pixelated, just black. I cringe and facepalm through the scenes. More often than not (depending on the alcohol that's been consumed, I assume), Newton's and his companions' faces are covered by masks, but—to me—his voice is almost always recognizable.
Then, it cuts to the school, a scene where someone (sometimes me) is bullied followed by an excerpt of an interview with Eric that his dad took. His eyes burn when he talks about directing movies one day.
As the DVDs go along, it gets darker. I skip scenes. I can't watch Michael Newton next to the warehouse. Because he's got a style and a preference and a pattern, and often his friends join. It's like a sick game for them, boasting about how much they've gotten away with. As I start to understand their little cryptic sentences, I get nauseated. There's a scene where a gangly, short girl is forced to—do what I did. But she vomits, and he takes her from the back. I skip the scene.
There's a scene of me acting on stage as I play Catherine in The Memory of Water and earn a bundle of tulips for my performance. I'm beaming as I curtsy and glance at Mrs. Cope. She's standing up as she applauds. It cuts to a corridor where bunch of girls laugh at my gait and pour Fanta on my bag. Then, Michael Newton, pressing me and Eric against the wall in an empty corridor as he and his friends take away our lunch money.
At the end of the fourth DVD, after a gruesome and sadistic DVD that I almost entirely skipped, it cuts to me, twenty sixth of April three years ago, as I lie on my jacket, swinging my legs and revising for a test. Birds are signing and the sun is unrelenting. It creates flares. A silent piano plays in the background.
Eric zooms in on me.
"Bella," he says, and I look up at him, squinting.
"We've got a test in Math, Eric, aren't you worried?"
Ignoring my question, he asks, "Would you star in a film I directed?"
I hear my laugh, slightly awkward and neigh-like. For the first time, hearing my laugh doesn't bother me. It's kind of unique and funny.
Eric sits next to me, patient.
"Eric, in order for us to turn into any kind of human beings, we need to study to get out of this hellhole. And you need to actually learn how to use a camera and pick it up more often than once a year. Maybe talk, too, sometimes. Like twice a year."
"Would you?" he repeats as if he hadn't heard me.
"Sure." I hear myself scoff, but I'm clearly amused. "If you make a screen adaption of The Power of the Dog and let me play Mr. Keller."
"But he's a—he?"
"Eric, you did not just hint I'd suck at playing a man. I will play such a man I'll grow myself a penis!" I watch myself blush furiously at my words, lower my gaze and sit to be eye-level with Eric. "Okay. Let's make a deal. Once we get out of college when I'm a skilled, famous actress and you're au fait at directing, we'll do a movie together. Promise me."
"Au fait? I thought you didn't like languages."
"Shut up. It's the only French phrase I know," I reply in my know-it-all way. "Now promise."
"Promise." He pauses. "What will it be about, though?"
"Something truthful and quirky that actually matters." I shrug, and look at him with my bossy smile. I lift my textbook and resume to reading. He turns the camera towards the sun and flares dance on the screen.
The screen goes black.
I stifle a sob and shut the screen, cradle the blood-stained tissue in my hands as I weep and take deep, shaky breaths to calm myself. Like I did with others, I copy this DVD in a folder before taking it out. I open YouTube and expect uploading to be incredibly confusing, but it's not. It will just take a while.
I enter a DVD that has 'Evidence' scribbled on top, and wait for it to open. When it does, I cringe, watch the DVD through my fingers and skip most of it. This one is clearly for the police. It's raw, not artistic like the amateur movie he made, and it features Newton's group and their acts of horror. No face is hidden. Each scene (or—as I later realize—person) is numbered, and the numbers aren't in order. Instead, scenes are in chronological order. Each number refers to a victim—seven in total (excluding me and Eric.) Number two and seven appear repeatedly, others don't.
What strikes me is that they come to search for him. By what is said, the victims have a preconceived idea of who he is, some have romantic notions, but all are equally horrified when friendly, smiley Michael Newton changes his acts and his company appears. Other times, when the kids in search of him, they face the victims in masks from the start. It's sickening.
I don't watch the DVD with Eric on it. I don't need to see that.
All in all, I have two DVDs for the police, four for the journalists.
I copy four files—the ones that make a movie—on one memory stick, two on another, and leave the laptop open for it to upload the videos. I wash my hands and put a few Band-Aids on them. I put DVDs in an envelope under my mattress. Maybe I'm paranoid, maybe not. I don't want to risk anything.
Taking out my phone, I wipe my face and take a deep, painful breath.
"Hi, Isabella. How're you?"
"Hi, Al. Are you busy?"
"Just stepped into my apartment. Is everything alright?"
"I—I have something."
"Yes," I say. "And it's—Eric—he—left me DVDs. Solid evidence. I checked."
"Where are you?"
"No, Carlisle is upstairs."
"Good. Have you told this about anyone? Anyone at all? Edward? Carlisle?"
He lets out a breath. "Good. Have you called the Police?"
"Just about to," I reply.
"Give me half an hour. I'll take you to Kirkland PD."
"Thank you, Al." I rub my face. "Uh, maybe it's too much to ask, but could you take me downtown later in the evening? I'm sure Edward would take me, too, but I'm not sure if he's home by then."
"I probably will. What's this about?"
"You want the media to cover this? Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"It's Eric's last wish. It's the least I can do for him." Ping Pong has come to snuggle and beg for some play time and I scratch his neck. "But I won't show anyone anything before Newton is arrested to make sure he wouldn't escape when he's seen this."
He pauses for so long I start to think he hung up on me.
"Al? Are you there?"
"Yes," he says, pausing. "I'll see you soon."
Half an hour later, when I enter the living room, Carlisle is leaning over some paperwork, frowning and biting the end of his pen. I clear my throat. He looks at my semi-polite attire and blinks.
"Do you need your laptop?"
"No. I'd rather rest my eyes tonight."
"Is it okay if it stays in my room for now? You can use it if you'd like, just please leave the windows that are open, well, open."
He smiles. "I won't need it."
I shift. "I just wanted to make sure you knew I'll be with Marshal Al Stephens this evening. I might arrive home late."
"I have my phone. I'll let you know."
He nods. "Has anything happened? You seem upset."
"No, just nervous. I might have what it takes to put Newton in jail. It's a bit nerve-wracking."
"Oh, wow. That is incredible."
"It is. I wish I could take credit," I reply. "If I'm not home before eleven, can you tell Edward to watch the evening news?"
Confused, he puts down the papers in his hands, opening his mouth, but the doorbell rings and Ping Pong starts barking. "See you later."
I don't know if it's the fact that I'm with a Marshal in a uniform, that I know most of these officers by their face and many by name and that my dad was the previous Chief, or that they really believed me when I told them I'd have something, but I get immediate attention. We're guided into a room where Officers Kell and Parker are waiting for us, but we're also joined by Officer Faith Side, and the new Chief of Police, Arnold Lang-Wells. He offers a smile and asks about dad. Everyone sits.
I fish a memory card out of my pocket and slide it across the table.
Curious, Officer Thomas Kell slides the memory stick in and turns the laptop towards all of us.
He opens the file. While looking at it on my own was terrifying, imagine sitting in a roomful of Police Officers, watching Newton & Co. get sexual pleasure out of raping gangly minors. Eyes boggle, chairs shift, faces pale. I'm not looking at the screen, but I can hear it. What feels like a second later, everyone's up. Orders are being shouted. Officers picking up guns, rushing to the door, preparing cars and shouting for others to hurry. Two cars pull away as the Officer heading for the third one, a short man with wide shoulders, stops to look at us. I hold on to Al's arm as we stand in the middle of chaos.
"We'll follow you," Al says. He nods, and they take off. I'm a bit baffled. It's not that I thought they'd just sit around when I showed them this, but I've lived with the knowledge that he's capable of it for so long it's like an out of body experience to see these officers act so quickly. I've lived with nobody noticing for so long.
"Are you alright?" Al asks as we take off. It's getting dark. "You look unusually pale."
"Just a bit dizzy," I reply, taking a deep breath. "Overwhelmed."
"We don't have to see this. I can take you—downtown, you said? I just thought you'd want to make sure he gets arrested. To find peace."
"No, you're right," I answer, taking off my hat as I sigh. "Is he a juvenile defendant?"
"How old is he?"
"No," he replies. "Then he isn't."
"But what if—what if the only crimes he can be proven guilty of were committed when he was a minor?"
"I—" He hesitates. "Honestly? I'm not sure."
"How many years can you get for a felony as serious as this one? A lifetime? Can they give him a death penalty?"
"No, no death penalty. That only applies to murders."
"Gee, so it's okay to ruin people's lives when all you cause is permanent damage. That's a lovely system to have. Can they make exceptions?"
He hesitates, and while I'm sure he's annoyed by my questioning, he shows no signs of it. "I doubt."
"What if he pleads insanity?"
"A plea of insanity requires proof, Isabella. He needs evidence of being in a state when he was unaware of the nature of his actions. It's more difficult to get than films would have you believe."
"What happens if he manages to do it?"
"He'd go to an institution until he's judged to be of sound mind. After that, he'd have to return to have his criminal action in court. It's highly unlikely."
I breathe in through my nose, and let it out in a whoosh, very, very slowly, trying to calm down. I close my eyes, taking another breath.
"For being a curious little bugger."
"You have every right to be. Ask away."
As soon as he assures me it's okay for me to do so (but doesn't really look like it), I have no further questions. Soon, we pull up behind two police cruisers, with another one pulling up on the other side of the road. It seems Officers Kell and Parker have just knocked on his door, because they're waiting, hands on their handgun holsters in a way that's inherently police-y and very intimidating. My dad does it, too.
Al scrolls his window down.
The door flies open, with Michael Newton grinning on the other side, talking to a phone; clearly waiting for someone or he wouldn't have been so careless. His grin disappears with comic speed. With ashen-hued face, he looks at the Officers and the cruisers behind them. His disconnects his call, gulps, and makes an attempt to smile.
"Is there a problem, Officers?"
"You are under arrest, Mr. Newton."
He blinks. I don't know what I expect. Explosions, shooting, helicopters and car chases. Reality is a lot simpler. Officer Kell steps up, cuffs his hands, and starts dragging the baffled-looking fucker into his car. Newton looks around, desperate, like he's waiting to wake up.
"I didn't do it," he says, wide-eyed. "I didn't do it. Whatever it is, it's a misunderstanding. I haven't done anything."
John Newton shows his pale face on the door, hands crossed in front of him and mouth agape.
"What is going on, Officers?"
Neighbors open doors, look around, sit on their porches.
"You didn't read me my Miranda—!"
Officer Parker shuts the door. Both Officers leave and another cruiser follows to accompany them. Officer Faith Side walks up to the porch, and a silent argument ensues. In the end, John Newton scoffs, shaking his head, dials a number and shuts the door in her face. She drives off. Neighbors wander but eventually go home, and the sounds and smells of a spring night reach us. Al scrolls up the window. I watch John Newton holding a phone as he paces back and forth in his living room with a female figure standing on his right, but we turn the corner and I lose sight of them.
"Well, that was uneventful."
"What do you mean?"
"I thought he'd attempt to escape. Not be home. Pretend not to be home. Punch the Officer. Scream or cry or curl up in a ball."
"It's for the better."
"He was right, though. The Officer didn't read him the Miranda rights."
"It's for custodial interrogations. He'll hear them later when being interrogated. If no interrogation is necessary, no Miranda rights are necessary."
"Damn. Films suck."
I feel lighter, like I could breathe, like I could paint butterflies with donkey's ears and fly over Australia with a cupid on my shoulder. Is it really possible that this is the end? That he's gone? Can they identify his companions? Will he turn them in for a more lenient sentence? Will he deny everything?
"I think you're right."
"I think you're right about me being right."
"This needs to be seen. What you showed us, I understand why you'd want to give it to the press. Did you try to count how many different—minors—he raped?"
"Seven documented. Eight if you include Eric."
"How do you think it's possible it hasn't come out by now?"
"Eric asked me the same thing, just before he—did what he did. Honestly, I think Newton is good at picking his victims. In a twisted sort of way, Newton chose his own murderer. Except Newton survived. I'm only guessing, but he seemed to have a recurrent pattern of choosing victims who he assumed to be fragile physically—and mentally. Always ganglier and younger, always kids who are probably used to being put down. Someone too inward to talk, someone exactly like Eric. He chose him because of the way he was, and that's exactly the same reason Eric turned against him. He had a breaking point Newton didn't foresee."
"And the other victims?"
"My middle school was in another district. You'll have to talk to Redmond PD."
"You went to middle school in Redmond?"
"Why do you think Newton is some sort of a semi-God in North Cedar High? Sure, nobody did anything to him in middle school but there were rumors. Of course there were. I think someone even reported him, but there was no evidence, and the victim had been known to lie and nobody believed her. This high school gave him the chance to start over without rumors, so to speak. Same reason I got to start over. Different people. Nobody knew."
We spend an hour at King Broadcasting Company, a semi-glass building on Dexter Avenue, trying to find the right people and explaining the nature of the material I had. When they finally understand who I am and what I have, hell breaks loose. I get offered a live interview on K5 News and an insane amount of money. Al has some urgent matters at home, so I take a cab, send Edward a text message and talk to Dereck Norman on the phone. I spend two hours talking to Officers Kell and Parker at Kirkland PD. How long I've had this material, who I got it from, if I knew about this before, if I could help them identify other victims, if he'd done this to me, if I'd written a report. A long, daunting conversation. No doubt necessary.
The Police Department is buzzing with terrified surprise. Redmond PD and Bellevue PD are contacted. Every rape and sexual assault report in the area made in the last five years will be re-investigated.
It turns out Newton has been reported twice by the same person but no charges were filed for lack of evidence. (Victim in question had done community service for commit robbery at the age of fifteen.)
When I get home and close the front door behind me, I am starving. I put my coat away and sit in the dark foyer to support my back. Sighing, I rest my palms on my forehead and run fingers through my hair. I'm exhausted. Relieved beyond belief, but drained. Making decisions, figuring out the right thing to do, talking. I've worn myself out.
Muffled voices reach me. Angry voices. Steps come upstairs, and without noticing my presence in the dark, Edward, Esme and Carlisle walk into the lit kitchen. They're in the middle of an argument.
"—this shit like we're a saintly little family living in perfect harmony. You don't give a fucking cookie for doing what's right. Code of morality, what a joke. You do what's right because it's right, not because you expect a cookie for it. Don't raise her otherwise."
"We only want what's best for—"
"But you don't know! You don't know this is best for her! You continue with this fucking façade like we're a real life Potemkin village. Acting all saintly when she's around while you have so much shit to work through. Can you just—stop. Stop this shit."
"Don't talk to your mother like that!"
"Do you know how much she looks up to you? She does. She thinks you've got an impeccable marriage and little Stepford habits because that's what you show her. Do you know what her brother told me last week? She keeps her mom in such high regard that Bella still doesn't know she cheated on Charlie. Got pregnant with another man. Seven fucking years of pink glasses. Because that's how she sees things. That's how she copes. And now you hide your shit like she couldn't handle seeing you imperfect. Do you even realize? Do you know how much breathing room you've given me since she's around? Do you know how much you suffocate me when she isn't? Jesus."
"We've only done what's best for you."
"You don't! How do you know what's best for me? How can you? Have you ever asked me what I want to do after high school? What if I never go to college, hm? What if I don't want to? What if want to work as a cashier for the rest of my life? Will you disown me?"
"Be reasonable. You've always—"
"Stop. Just—stop. Did you know I can tell if Bella is home or not by the way you treat me? By what you say and how you act? And I don't even have to see her shoes or ask. It's like living with two bipolar people. I'm so done with your shit."
I stop at the kitchen doorway. Edward is leaning against the fridge, head lowered, tearing at his hair and clenching his jaw. Esme is holding her head in her hands, crying. Carlisle is panting, red-faced, as he tightens his grip around the backrest and presses his lips together.
"You aren't so saintly yourself."
"I never pretended to be! I never did. Not with you, not with Bella. But you are, and it's infuriating. You suffocated me when she was at the hospital. Give me some fucking room to breathe. Jesus Christ."
He raises his eyes, passionate and resentful, ready to continue, but his lips part and face pales as his eyes land on me.
"Bella," he whispers.
"I, just—There's a special report on Channel 5 in a few minutes. If you're interested." Edward keeps staring at me, mouth parted. Carlisle and Esme refuse to make eye contact. "I'll ask Emmett to stay with me tonight if that's okay."
I give Edward a meaningless, tight little smile and back out of the kitchen. Seconds later, he wraps his arms around me, holds my back against his chest and breathes down my neck.
"How much did you hear?" Like his breathing, his heartbeat is fast, chest heaving as he pants. His touch is gentle but desperate. I disentangle his arms from around me, turn around, and offer a sad smile.
"I'm a naïve little girl living in her naïve little world, huh."
He runs a hand thought his hair, biting his lower lip as he lets out a slow, ragged breath. "Fuck." He raises his hand to cup my neck, but I step out of his reach. Hurt, he lowers his arms.
"I'm fine. I just need to digest this. I'm not—I'm not angry with you. I just need to talk to my brother."
"I didn't mean to imply—"
"Stop it, okay? It's—let's talk about this later. I need time to process life. I'm slow like that."
He presses his lips together, takes a careful step closer, and eyes my mouth. I lower my head when he leans in, and he ends up kissing my forehead. He lingers, sniffs my hair, touches my chin with his thumb.
His voice is torn.
So maybe I am my own life's Esme. Completely in denial about the true nature of the people around me. I see everyone like they're happy pink unicorns with their happy pink unicorn thoughts and happy pink unicorn actions. I'm so desperate to see everyone's best that that's all I see. Some people have selective hearing—I have selective perception. That's kind of fucked up.
I turn on the TV as Edward sits on the other side of the couch. He's wary of my (lack of) reaction. I can tell he's itching to scoot over and wrap me in his arms or do something equally touchy-feely. He doesn't, of course.
I'm just about to dial Emmett when he calls me and promises to be here after the news.
I don't think I realized the magnitude of what I did before seeing it on TV, watching Ross McArthur explain why tonight's news were special and what a shock it's been to receive this exclusive footage. For at least half an hour, clips are shown, clips of Eric being bullied, of sexual assaults, of me. I don't watch, I listen. The Chief of Police, Arnold Lang-Wells is interviewed. He talks about Newton's arrest, re-investigating sexual assaults, mentions my involvement. He's shaken.
When the Chief leaves, the News Anchors are joined by a child psychologist, Maria Cortez. She discusses these events in the light of Eric's actions, how this connection could help us explain why these things happen, yada-yada. I have mixed feelings about it. I'm glad it's noticed, I just don't think it should take a fucker like Newton and a school shooting to come to the conclusion that things happen for a reason.
I get up just in time to hear the doorbell ring.
"Bella." Edward is gaping at the screen before tearing his eyes away and standing up. He's pale as he motions at the TV. "This is—this is what you were doing today?"
"You've got to be kidding. Why didn't you let me help you?"
I shrug, but it doesn't feel right; words are unsaid and problems ignored.
"Can we speak about this later?"
"Why would you do this on your own? Do you know how dangerous that is right now? I would've helped you."
"I wasn't alone. I took a cab. Marshal Stephens helped me. Later I took a cab again."
"You didn't even mention."
"I didn't think it was all that important."
"Jesus," he says, tearing at his hair. He takes a step closer. "You find a way to get Newton arrested and you don't think it's all that important. How can I trust you—and not worry if you do things like this alone?"
"I'm not asking you to worry."
"You matter to me. Of course I worry."
"Well, you shouldn't," I explain, not raising my voice even though it's clear we're having an argument. "I don't need you to babysit me."
"Fuck, I'm not asking to keep tabs on you every waking moment! I'm asking you to trust me."
"Well, trust me then! But I was fine before you and I'll be fine when you're gone, okay?!"
With a face ashen with hurt, Edward staggers backwards and slumps when he hits the couch. He rubs his face, takes a deep breath and lets it out through his nose. His voice is hollow.
"Fuck—Edward. I didn't mean—"
But Edward isn't listening. He gets up, nods at Emmett—who's watching us on the stairs, amused—and closes the door to his room.
"Just when I thought I'd learnt to fly, I have my wings chopped off," I tell Emmett as he moves to hug me. He's grinning, proud, and I hold on to soak in his emotions.
"He'll get used to your ways."
"Do you think it was irresponsible of me to do this on my own?"
"Maybe a bit. Not the doing-it-on-your-own part, but the part where you didn't tell us what you were up to. Not that I'm surprised. So why aren't we celebrating? Carlisle opened the door for me and looked at me like he'd seen the ghost. I don't get it. We should be popping champagne right now."
I offer a weak smile. "It's pretty great Newton got arrested, isn't it?"
"Pretty great?" he repeats, shoving my shoulder. "Fucking awesome."
I smile. My back aches, and I know I either have to walk or sit. "Can you stay the night? I want to talk to you."
"Already thought you might," he replies, throwing his sports bag in my room. "Let's go for a run, aye? For old times' sake."
"Emmett." I take a tiny step toward him, motioning at myself. "Rotten bananas. I'm flattered but I'm kind of incapacitated."
"Ah, shit. I forgot."
"We could walk, though, if you have the patience to walk next to a snail."
I knock and slip into Edward's room. He's lying diagonally on his bed, palms under his head, staring at the ceiling with a book open on his chest. He glances at me, tight-lipped, and sighs.
"I just, er—Emmett and I are going for a walk. So you'd know."
He nods, averting his eyes, but before I can back out of his room, he mutters, "Can we talk—tomorrow?"
"I'd like that," I reply, and a frail but hopeful smile is shared.
If it weren't for the argument I overheard, the chances of Edward's parents letting us out (voluntarily) would be slim to none. But when I interrupt their urgent-sounding, hushed conversation to let them know we're heading out like it's the most natural thing to stroll in the park at midnight, they awkwardly—without meeting my eyes—ask us to be safe. Emmett wraps Ping Pong's leash around his wrist, I lock the door and take hold of his forearm. It's a crisp, starry night.
"How've you been, Emmett?"
We've come a long way within the last half a year. Maybe we get along because we no longer live together, maybe we're less afraid to be touchy-feely because of the Cullens' influence, but maybe—just maybe—we're both getting older.
"Busy," my brother replies, sighing and glancing at me like he's been waiting for a chance to vent.
"And, you know." He shrugs. "Life. Got into all the schools I applied to."
"That's a sign you should've aimed higher."
"So whatcha gonna do?"
"Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do, watcha gonna do when they come for you."
I huff a laugh. "Yeah."
"Not really. Seattle is good 'cause I'd be home, you know? I could keep an eye out for you."
"Stop that shit. I don't need a guardian angel any more than you want to be one."
"Judging by the current events?"
"Oh, please. I just singlehandedly caused Newton's arrest. I'm fucking badass."
"So, okay. New York?"
"It's kind of out there, you know, and I like that. Seems to offer lots of freedom."
"So you could get wasted every weekend. I can see the appeal. And the one in England?"
"Warwick. Probably a bit more intense."
"And what offers you the opportunities you want to have?"
It's odd to see him so indecisive, but I don't push. We sit on a bench in nearby subdivision to rest my back, pick up Wally's droppings (I have a very warm pocket, oh yes) and as I'm starving, we head to a Burger King about five blocks away.
"So, I found out something rather interesting today."
"Well, the members of my family who are alive are fucking hypocrites, for one."
"Emmett, were you ever going to tell me why mom and dad divorced?"
He eyes me, hesitating.
"Edward told you."
"It doesn't matter. When were you going to tell me? When I'm fifty? When I'm telling my grandchildren beautiful fairy tales about how amazing my mom was? When?"
"I never thought I'd have to."
"I'm so fucking pissed at you! Do you have any idea how much courage I had to gather to tell you the shit Newton did? How guilty you made me feel for not telling you? How could you be all, oh, Bella, why didn't you tell us, why didn't you trust us, how could you keep this from us—meanwhile you're doing the same fucking thing for longer. I'm so fucking pissed!"
"It wasn't like that," he says, cringing. "We didn't keep it from you."
"But you did! Same fucking thing, man. That's like me having the counterargument of never keeping Newton or the bullying shit from you because it never came up. It doesn't matter it never came up! Because I did keep it from you. I did. At least I admit it. You knew of my ignorance and you still never cared to enlighten me. Why? Am I really so fucking fragile?"
"No," he replies. "It's wasn't on purpose."
"So tell me. I think I can take it."
He grimaces. If it weren't for my back, I'd cross my arms, growl and stand in front of him until I get answers. I can't. I clutch onto his sleeve as we walk with tiny little steps and watch a cab pass us.
"It was my fault."
"What was? That they divorced? Oh, come on. Don't give me that martyrdom shit."
He continues to grimace. "I think I was ten. I found mom's pregnancy test, didn't know what it was, took it to dad, thought I'd found the thermometer lying around. He was reading the paper. I put it on the table, proud and shit for doing the right thing for once. He blinked at it, went rigid, pale like fucking snow, clenched his jaw slowly and methodically like he's about to cry, so I ask if mom is sick, but he's frozen. He scares me, that fatal, heartbroken look in his eyes, and I scream bloody murder and run to mom, crying and asking if she's going to die. She can't understand why I'm crying, so she steps into the kitchen and stops at the doorway. Eyes focus on the pregnancy test, on dad, and that one single look they share turns me mute. Like someone turns the fucking volume down. Mom crouches, talks to me in that gentle, sweet way that immediately lets you know shit's about to go down and they don't want you in the middle of it. And it did. A lot of shit went down."
"Who was it? How long had it been going on?"
"I don't know. I was just a kid."
"Is that why dad got custody over us?"
"Probably made it easier."
"What happened to the baby?"
"She had an abortion, I think. Dad was so in love with her, he was ready to raise the kid, even when it wasn't his. He was fucking heartbroken when things ended the way they did. Had a conversation with me, kind of knew I wouldn't understand shit, all I knew was that I'd shown him that thermometer and dad and mom could never look at each other again. When he told me it wasn't my fault, I was convinced he'd never have to assure me if it wasn't—so it was. I thought it was. For years."
"Holy fucking shit, you're taking over my spot with Dr. Hunter."
Emmett laughs, but it's an unsure, broken kind of laugh.
"Where was I? I remember things being awry, but just generally."
"I think you were sort of—kept out. I didn't understand much, but that was the one thing I knew. Dad didn't want you to know, neither did mom, and so I never said anything. It helps that you—you're kind of selective about the things you notice. I don't know if I'd say naïve—just very, very selective. Even early on. You focus on sunshine and butterflies. Made us laugh a lot."
"How did things end up in court?"
"Ah, I don't know. All I remember is that dad was suddenly living and breathing lawyer jargon. Determined, focused, detailed. Always studying a stack of papers in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. He wanted us. Badly. He did everything to get us. I'm not sure, but I think it was the day before the final decision in court when I couldn't sleep and went to the kitchen to eat. Dad was there, reading. He lifted me in his lap, asked if I wanted to stay with him. I said yes."
"He never asked me."
"I know. I think he was afraid of your answer. But he talked to me for a long time, it felt like hours but I'm sure it wasn't. So, at one point, he points at a picture of us on the fridge, asks if I want you here, too, and I nod. He says he needs help, he needs help raising you because he's afraid he doesn't know how to raise a girl. I tell him something stupid, like putting you in a dress shouldn't be too difficult, he laughs. Gets all serious, and asks me to watch over you if he gets me. He sounds so serious it scares me, the way he's not sure if he gets us both, so I promise him to take care of you."
He falls silent. I find breathing to be a bit difficult because I'm so touched by Emmett's nightly adventures with dad.
"Neither of us did a very good job, did we?"
I squeeze his hand. Maybe I'm tired, or a bit cold, or my back aches, but I feel the sting of tears and wipe my nose with the back of my sleeve. Nasty habit.
He does the same, wiping his runny nose with the back of his sleeve. I don't comment.
We reach Burger King, take orders, sit in the corner and wait. Other than a lonely farmer gulping a cheese burger, we're the only customers. I send a text message to both Edward and his dad.
"You mentioned I'm selective about the things I notice."
"So, you've read my diary. What parts have I sugar-coated?"
"It's not that you sugar-coat. You're pretty precise."
"Nothing specific. It's just the way you see things, or choose to see them; the way you see people and their intentions. It's like you think everyone's inherently good."
"Maybe. I don't know."
"What's wrong with seeing the best in everyone?"
"Well, nothing, except shit might be thrown your way from unexpected directions."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Just—I don't want to piss you off, but it's a bit naïve."
"Examples. I want examples."
"Well, Laurent frequently got in trouble for not telling his grandpa he took his car."
"Hardly a crime, Emmett."
"No offense, but Tanya is a bitch."
"No, she isn't."
"She is. She just knows how to suck up to you."
"Now you're just making shit up. She has no reason to suck up to me."
"She so does. You're the glue that keeps your group of friends together, and she wants to be able to communicate with the jocks as casually as you do."
"You are so full of horseshit right now."
"Alright," he says, leaning against the backrest. "Name one guy in your group of friends who's not a jock."
"He has a knee injury. Doesn't count."
"Used to play football. Doesn't count."
"Well? You've infiltrated the fucking jock table and you haven't even noticed."
"I haven't infiltrated anything! I just happened to communicate with them in the ninth grade."
"Same fucking thing. Do you know why they took you in?"
"Fuck, Emmett, if it's something horrible, please shut up right now. I'm serious. I don't want to know."
"It's because you're like a wall when it comes to people's personal shit. You never know the gossip that's going around."
"Gee, so now I'm ignorant on top of wearing pink glasses. This just keeps getting better and better."
"You never write their shit in your diary, either. Like when Tyler knocked up Lauren a few months ago. Not a single mention."
"That's none of my fucking business, Emmett."
"Or when Jessica got wasted and posted a naked video of herself that she took down the next day."
"None of my fucking business, Emmett."
"See? Even when you know the shit, you choose not to pay attention."
"High school is hard enough as it is. Of course we're going to make mistakes and act shitty sometimes. Who am I to judge them?"
"If you tell me I've been popular all along and blah-de-fuckin'-duh, I'm cutting your balls off."
"So maybe not. But you're more talked about than you realize."
"No, thank you. You know, I prefer my own version with the giant pink glasses and giant pink ignorance."
"You asked for it."
"Wish I hadn't."
We finish our burgers in relative silence, untie Ping Pong's leash, and walk further away from Edward's home.
"So will I ever know who your lucky lady is?"
He shakes his head.
"Why? Is it too sacred and romantic? Aw!"
He huffs. "More like a giant fucking mess."
"You can vent if you want. You know you can trust me."
"I know," he repeats but doesn't continue.
You know what they say? That there are two sides to every story. But I don't think that's true. There are as many sides to a story as there are people involved. So maybe I wear pink glasses. Can you imagine how I'd see the world if I were depressed? If I always had been? Maybe I'd see everyone's flaws before their traits. Maybe that's all I'd see. Maybe I would've seen Edward's parents' marriage and immediately thought they're playing a game of pretending to be perfect and brushing their own problems under the carpet without addressing them. Maybe I would've suspected all along my mother must've done something awry for my dad to get custody over us so quickly.
But I didn't. I didn't. Maybe I didn't want to, maybe I couldn't, maybe it's both. Because I do want to see people's best. I do want to give them a chance.
We keep walking through parks and subdivisions that are lit. Occasionally we stop to sit as I have to rest my back. I think we're at it for hours, talking, laughing, expressing our doubts and fears, discussing dad's return.
It's 03:47 when I unlock the front door. The foyer is lit. It's quiet.
Emmett helps me downstairs. Edward is sitting on the couch with his chin resting on his chest, holding a book in his lap. Because of his colorful screensaver, his face and T-shirt glow. He's asleep.
"Take my room," I whisper. Emmett looks at me, mock-aghast, like the sheer idea of letting me be in the same room with Edward at this hour is ludicrous, but he rolls his eyes, waves and leaves. I sit next to Edward, shut his laptop, take his book away and snuggle close.
"Tomatoes are having sex on your shoulder," I whisper in his ear. "Green and blue, doggy style." I kiss his jaw. He stirs and rubs his neck before blinking at me.
"What did you just say?" he asks, voice groggy and low. "I thought I heard—"
"Tomatoes having sex, yes," I confirm, getting up. "C'mon, let's get you to bed."
"What's the time?"
He motions at his room. "Are you gonna—"
"If you don't mind. Emmett's in mine."
When I enter Edward's room, he's wearing his grey pajama bottoms, no shirt, and an adorable, sleepy smile. Knowing I need help getting changed, he gently removes my sweatshirt and unties my elastic corset. He wraps his fingers around the edge of my T-shirt, lifts it over my shoulders and hesitates. I'm in a sports bra. With his large, warm hands, he strokes the sides of my waist, locks eyes with me in the dim light, and pulls me into a kiss. I stroke his collarbone as I respond, and he pulls me closer, running his hands up and down my back. Our kiss tastes like toothpaste. I gently bite his lower lip before pulling away.
Without looking away from my face, he helps me into my pajama T-shirt and elastic corset. I know that he'd want to look, that he'd help me out of my sports bra without looking, but I'm not comfortable with that degree of intimacy yet, and he knows it. He places a sweet little kiss on my neck, or more like sucks on it, and we find warmth under the covers. He lies on his side. I lie on mine, resting my head on his arm.
"I don't know how good this idea is," he says. I reach for a spare pillow and put it between my knees.
Edward, who followed my movements with his eyes, frowns. "What'd you do that for?"
"You know, pillow porn," I reply. "Lots of pillow porn in my room lately."
His eyes widen. "You—what?"
"It's for my back, Edward," I reply, chuckling. "Duh. Now why is this not a good idea? Because you snuggle?"
He nods. "I'll probably end up crushing you by the morning."
"I'm strong. I can handle it."
"You do know that's the only reason I didn't—come to you?"
"You haven't cum to me yet? Well, gee, guess I'm the only one interested in the masturbating business then."
Edward snorts a laugh and wraps his fingers around my wrist to kiss my knuckles. He's grinning. "You're adorable."
"And very offended you haven't cum to me yet."
"You have no idea." My hair moves as he lets out a sharp breath. "What I was trying to say is, I didn't want to crush and hurt you. That's why I've kept away."
"I figured as much. But don't worry. I'm ready to scream bloody murder if you so much as kiss my forehead." I place a kiss on his shoulder, let my tongue touch it, and give him a cheeky grin. He growls and leans in for a hungry kiss.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet. I'll make sure to rub myself all over your crotch in the morning."
"Bella," he warns. I laugh. We haven't slept next to each other for three weeks, so in the dim light of his room, we touch and kiss and stare at each other in silence. Nothing too intimate. He seems elated to have me in his arms, and in spite of the rather innocent nature of our touch, I am no less enthusiastic.
"Can you explain what I heard before?"
His sigh warms my face.
"Did I offend you?"
"You mean the pink glasses thing? No."
"But I hurt you."
"You told me to always tell you when you hurt me. It needs to work in reverse, too."
"I agree. But I'm not. I mean, I was at first, but I talked to Emmett, and he—I'm not happy with what he told me, but what he said explains a lot. I'm more hurt that your parents would feel the need to pretend to be something they're not in front of me. Why?"
"I don't know. I think they're desperate to fit into some twisted fantasy of how a perfect family works."
"You were right, though. I thought that what you had, your parents and the way they show affection, I thought that's perfect."
"I'm not accusing them of being bad parents. I just think they're misguided. They wanted to have so many kids but only ended up with one, so I'm their single opportunity to realize their fantasies. If I turn out right, they'll think they've done everything right, and if I don't, the opposite applies. It's impossible not to feel pressured."
"But you're already wonderful."
His lips tug into a shy but happy smile, and he nuzzles my hair. "I'm glad you think so."
"Do you really feel suffocated?"
"But—okay, I get it, I've only seen a side they've shown me, but it's so hard to believe. They care so much. That can't be an act."
"Oh, it's not. They do. You can suffocate by caring, too, or love, and that's what they do. Where I am, who I'm with, what my goals are, if what I'm doing supports what I want to be doing in the future, am I sure about my extra-curriculars, college, am I using my time as efficiently as possible. They want someone like this in college and not like that and someone with these credits and not those and the more I have the better—college, college, college. It's like the fucking Mount Doom looming in the distance."
"I don't feel that way at all. I feel like it's an adventure, like a land of opportunities waiting for me to step on the stage and leap through it. So many people to meet and places to see and experiences to have."
"Sounds just like you," he says. "Would you be disappointed if I never went to college?"
"Your life, Edward. None of my business to be disappointed."
"It is, though, 'cause I'm asking you. What if I became a firefighter?"
"The world would gain one hot firefighter."
He snuggles so close I can feel his breath on my nose, tucks hair behind my ear and locks eyes with me. I see the hesitation and earnestness of his worry. If I didn't already realize how suppressed he's feeling under his parents' watchful eye, I certainly would now.
"Do you really believe that?"
And I know, I'm not answering a question about him becoming a firefighter.
"What if I become a plumber?"
"If that's what makes you happy, go for it."
"Jesus, what did your dad do to raise you into this enormously tolerant girl?"
"We ate lots of cheese."
"I want to do something tangible. Help someone. See results. I would die as an academic."
"Nobody's asking you to become one."
"We should have this conversation in a year when my parents finally realize that I might seriously consider not attending college at all."
"Is it really that bad?"
"You don't know what my parents can be like, Bella."
"They won't disown you."
"You don't know what they can be like," he repeats, presses his lips in a thin line and touches my lips with his thumb. I smile so that his thumb lands against my teeth, and bite it. Edward's chest shakes as he chuckles.
"Do you really think that I only choose to notice certain things because that's the way I cope?"
"I'm not sure how to answer without hurting you."
"Honesty always works."
"How do you think I could take off my pink glasses?"
"I'm not sure you can."
"I didn't mean that. You just—your initial assumption that everyone's good, I don't think you can change that without changing the way you cope. I don't think you should."
"What if I try? I could try. I can assume everyone's rotten on the inside and the world's a giant dumping ground for our selfish intentions."
Edward's snort is followed by muffled laughter when he shakes by my side.
"Don't laugh! I can!"
"What's the use?"
"I'll cease being a naïve little girl and see the world as rotten as it probably is."
"Please don't," he says. "The world's filled with cynics. We need people like you in it, too."
"Blind and naïve and gullible? At your service."
He presses a chaste kiss on my lips. "Don't."
"Alright," I answer, stifling a yawn. "But what I said earlier, that I'll be fine when you're gone, that hurt you."
I draw a pattern on his palm. "Why?"
"Because—you already think this isn't going to work out."
"No, I just don't want to assume too much."
"It's like you're waiting for me to make a wrong move so you could move on to the next guy."
I snort with my neigh-like laughter. "That's right. You're just another notch in my bedpost, you know that."
He waits until I finish laughing and asks, "Do you really think that? That we're temporary?"
"Gee, this conversation got awfully serious."
"Do you really?"
"I don't think anything. I guess I just, I'm so desperate not to be that clingy, needy girl who prepares weddings before the first date that I do the opposite. Because I'm not that girl, Edward. As pink as my glasses are, I know that shit happens, and I want to live in the real world. I want to be able to patch myself up after us."
"So basically, you're afraid of giving me all of you because of what I could do with the power I'd have over you."
I rub his collar bone like I'm spreading paint with my fingers. "You'd destroy me," I admit, quietly, all signs of sarcasm gone. He pushes me on my back, leans on his elbows so that our chests are pressed together, and starts rubbing my cheek with his, tenderly, like it's an itch he can't scratch any other way than by rubbing his face against mine. His breath is warm and jaw scruffy.
"You smell like toothpaste," I say. Edward hides his face in my neck, chuckling quietly. Pressing his lips against my neck turns into kissing, warm and desperate and looking for assurance, from both of us. I smile against his cheek as he pants against my ear.
"Self-preservation is what I do," I mutter. "It will take a while for me to turn it off but I'm—I'm trying."
I feel his nod.
"Do couples always argue and hurt each other as much as we do?"
Pulling back a bit, he locks eyes with me, and a pleased, teasing smile spreads across his face. He's trying to stifle it, but it doesn't work, so he ends up grinning against my nose when he rests his forehead against mine.
"I will cut off your balls if you cause anguish for something as silly and simple as my word choice."
"No anguish necessary, I assure you," he replies, laughing silently. Strands of hair fall against his forehead when he pulls back and hovers, silently observing my face with confidence I only see when he's with other people. He's lean, long limbs and eyelashes that should belong to a calf, and just as suddenly as I see him as a sexy, grown man, I wonder if it's just my pink glasses. Maybe he's an ordinary guy, maybe nobody at school thinks of him as special as I'm sure he is, maybe it's because I love him so much that I see him the way I do. But I don't care. Because, freakishly tall or not, misunderstandings or not, he is kind of perfect. For me.
Maybe I shouldn't use so many maybes all the time. Maybe.
His grin widens as he watches me observe his face, and I wonder how I never see him so filled with so much confidence and awe when he leans in to kiss me.
"Go out with me," he whispers.
"You just ruined next Thursday. Don't blame me if you only get a compost container and a plastic rabbit for your birthday."
I only hear his sharp breath and his chest quiver as he holds himself against me and laughs.
"Is that a yes?"
He lowers himself to kiss me but continues to laugh. I take another pillow, adjust it behind my lower back and settle against his chest. My stomach growls. I'm exhausted. I feel Edward's hands in my hair, and I think he's falling asleep, too, but instead, his chest starts to vibrate with laughter.
"Tomatoes having sex," he says, kissing the top of my hair. "Where do you come up with this stuff?"
It couldn't be more than a couple of hours later when I wake up, groggy, with a more painful back than I recall ever having. Edward is asleep by my side. I blink and notice Emmett swaying like a sleepwalker as he walks further into Edward's room, annoyed.
"It's dad," he huffs, throws my phone on the blanket and disappears. It's dark outside. I attempt to get out from Edward's arms, but he's holding on too tight and my back is too painful. I quit trying and lower my voice.
"Dad?" I can hear his sharp breaths on the other end of the line, but when he doesn't say anything, I try again. "Dad?"
For at least half a minute, nothing changes, but then dad clears his throat and mutters, "Bella."
"Did anything happen?"
"No—I just—I saw the footage," he says, taking another sharp breath. I might be wrong, but it sounds like he's (trying to suppress) crying, and I don't know how to console him.
"Are you alright?"
"That's my line," he says, letting out a breath against the mike, almost like he's blowing air in my ear.
"I'm excellent, though I've been better, you?"
"Fucking proud of you, Bella," he says, loud and clear and with so much satisfaction it makes me smile.
"Are you alright, though? This is going to gain momentum today."
"I'll be fine."
"Good," he says, sighing. "Good. I just wanted to hear your voice and make sure you're okay. I'll speak to you later on Skype. Love you."
"Love you too, dad."
Emmett and Edward are still asleep when I publish the four DVDs on YouTube at noon. I post a link on Facebook, bring Carlisle's Mac upstairs (he's in the garage, where I've never seen him, and I might be wrong, but it feels like he's avoiding me), and eat breakfast. My back and legs are sore and tender, a sort of dull, spreading ache probably caused by lactic acid. It's strange, a familiar burn in an unfamiliar place. As if I exercised too much yesterday. I probably did, though, considering how much I walked and how unused to it I am.
When Emmett and Edward wake up, they watch the news with me. It's all over the place. Not just local channels, but national, too. I see interviews with Chief Lang-Wells, Officers Parker and Kell, and some with Officers from Redmond PD whom I've never seen before. Two other guys were identified and arrested closer to midnight, and I think I recognize them from my middle school. It's surreal. How much it's covered, how seriously it's taken, the shock and surprise and terror, the way something as colossal and provable as this could've been hidden for such a long time because of the nature of the kids Newton chose as victims. I was right. He did choose them with care.
I do not know who is responsible, but the video with Eric comes out—edited, of course—and that receives massive coverage. Morning paper, talk shows, news, blogs. I'm content to see the viewpoint change as they reconsider what Eric did. Some even go so far as to defend him, but mostly, his story finds compassion. It's a tragedy.
I managed to help identify four victims yesterday, one of whom has since committed suicide and one who has moved to Wisconsin. No victims have so far agreed to comment publicly, and no wonder. I hope they're relieved to see this happen, wherever they might be in their lives right now. Maybe they find peace. I hope they do.
It's a bit funny watching News Anchors discuss my involvement. Suddenly everyone has an opinion, some guess that sexual abuse had to have happened to me, too, others think Eric and I had to have been romantically involved, but even those who don't still discuss the bejesus out of my friendship with him. I feel like it happened to another person.
I explain what I was up to yesterday and show Emmett and Edward the four DVDs on YouTube (which has been shared and commented on Facebook so much I can't follow the discussion) and while neither covers their eyes like I did, they grimace frequently. Emmett still seems to feel guilty that I managed to keep the magnitude of bullying from him. When it's over (I don't look, I just listen), Edward hugs me like he wants to crawl underneath my skin, and Emmett ruffles my hair with a sad sort of anger on his face. I've never seen him wear the expression.
My phone is ringing so often I don't disconnect it from the charger. Angela, Laurent, Peter; nearly everyone I know is making sure I'm aware of what's happening (hard not to be aware when you've intentionally caused something like this.) Ralph Yorkie gives me a breathless-sounding call and Dereck Norman pays me a visit to do a brief interview.
What a day, honestly. When it's six PM and Edward is packing his bag to head off to the football match against Campbell High School, I'm lying on his bed, with one pillow tucked under my head, one behind my lower back and one under my knees. I'm like a giant pillow holder with more Tylenol than blood in my bloodstream.
When Edward is done packing, he falls against the pillows beside me and groans. It's a soft sound, a bit whiny and very uncharacteristic of his I-can-do-everything-without-getting-tired attitude.
"I don't like leaving you here alone."
"Newton's been caught, Edward. I'll be fine. I'll dance ballet with Ping Pong and force him to watch The Intouchables."
"Make sure to have him downstairs."
"My parents are idiots. To avoid you in order to avoid dealing with shit? Idiots."
"They're working. They'll come around."
He sighs, rolls himself next to me, leans closer so that our noses are touching and looks at me. We both laugh.
"I had the best night's sleep tonight."
"So did my T-shirt."
He grins. "And you?"
"I don't know, there was this giant squeezing me like I'm his personal stress ball."
"You can sleep in my bed if you want. I should be home around midnight."
"Ah, you're out of luck. I hear your girlfriend is not as easy as she seems."
His eyes are alight with affection and humor.
"Don't. I know you want to comment but just—don't."
His smile is so wide his mouth opens, so I lift my hand and press his lips between my thumb and forefinger. Unfortunately, while I've made him look like a duck, his smile doesn't get any smaller. Instead of removing my fingers with his hands, he leans so close that I have to let go and presses a kiss on my lips.
"I have to go or I'll be late," he says, grinning. He blows air on my forehead so that strands of hair tickle my skin, and pulls back slightly. "I'll make sure to buy some Greek yoghurt for my girlfriend."
He throws the black strap of his bag over his shoulder and runs for the door.
His laughter echoes in the parlor.
It's more painful than any of the previous times, but I spend an hour and a half doing physical therapy, Ping Pong style. Whenever he waggles his tail, I do (the slowest) sit-ups (known to mankind), when he licks me, I do exercises for my back, when he starts jumping, I ride my invisible bicycle on my back, and when he finally looks at me with his puppy dog eyes like I'm a giant idiot, I lie on my stomach and show him my tongue.
I'm almost too slow to reach my phone before it stops ringing, but I'm not, so I breathlessly discover Rosalie calling me.
"Oh, God. Is that really you?"
"Do you know how many times I've tried to catch you on Skype for the past few weeks?"
"I can imagine."
"How are you? What have you been up to? Tell me."
"Not nearly as much as you, clearly," she replies, and I can almost hear the shy smile I'm sure she's wearing. "I don't have much time tonight, but I saw the news and wanted to—thank you. For what you did. I don't know how you did it, but you—" She takes a breath, and mutters, "I had… no idea, Bella. I didn't know you've—seen this. And you—I'm so grateful."
"Thank you," I mutter, taking a breath of my own. I don't know the magic of people so sincere you can't expect them to be real, but Rosalie is one of them, and they somehow—get to you. My mirror neurons or whatever the hell they are are through the roof with her.
"I might have the chance to visit you, too, on Edward's birthday, but don't tell him that, okay?"
"That's incredible! I'll be silent as the grave."
She sniffs, but it doesn't sound like crying, more like sighing or shaky breaths. "I have—so much I want to talk to you about."
"Can we Skype tomorrow?"
"In the evening. But I'd prefer tête-à-tête."
"You and Edward and your love for French, honestly. I'll Google that."
"I mean, in person. Eye to eye." She chuckles. "I'll contact you soon with details, okay?"
"Of course. It's amazing to finally hear from you. Can't wait to catch up."
I finally watch Intouchables (2011), which I love but should've forced Edward to watch because it's in French. For the rest of the evening, I blast Emmett's soundtrack music through Edward's speakers, rest my back because it really does sting a lot today, and finish my slide-show for Edward's birthday. Because I survived Edward's snuggling, I dare to fall asleep with Ping Pong by my side.
I don't know how long I've slept when I hear a scratch, or perhaps the sound of my drapes rustling. The house is dim and quiet so the faint noise makes me stir. I feel a breeze, cold and humid, and draw the blanket closer to me. I snuggle back against the pillow just before I realize I have no curtains. Ping Pong is growling in a voice so low I can barely hear it. But I do. I hear him. His growl loudens to a point where he's nearly barking but not quite. It's threatening and angry. He's ready to jump.
Above him stands a figure of a man, towering over my feet. His arm is raised, as if he intends to strike or stab me, but he's frozen. I cannot see his eyes but I feel them fixed on me. He's holding a gun. I swallow, trying desperately to buy time. Ping Pong is growling and ready to jump as I lock eyes with this man in the dim light.
"Are you going to kill me, Mr. Newton? It won't undo what your son did."
He steps closer, and the moment he stops next to my knees, Ping Pong jumps and hooks himself onto his thigh, growling and biting. Mr. Newton groans before he halts and lowers the gun. The deafening shot echoes as Ping Pong whimpers, twitches, and lies still on my feet. Warm liquid seeps through the blanket and a sob is caught in my throat.
He points his gun at me, and I have no means to stop him. Nothing. I could try to kick it, but I can't bend and he'd just pick it up again. I stare at him, listening to my heartbeat.
"I don't regret letting the media know," I say. Daring, reckless words that I wouldn't voice if it mattered. But it doesn't. I am no match against an armed, healthy man. He tilts his head on one side, shifting his gun, and I feel goose bumps, perhaps from shock or adrenaline. Then, I see the faintest of nods, and shut my eyes, hoping it wouldn't hurt too much. Gunshot.
Drops of liquid land on my face and arm, weight lands on my legs. Mr. Newton lies half on top of me, gun still pointing at his mouth and blood pouring on my chest. It's hard to breathe. I shift and push his body away. His nose breaks with a crack as he hits the floor.