"How many is that, slut?", her voice was so close behind me I nearly jumped out of my skin.
I could feel my arms straining above me, dying to be free from the shackles that held my useless wrists high over my nose as I tried to look up. I had to be on my tiptoes to take the pressure off the bones there, and for a second it felt like my hands might just rip off if I were to dare to put my feet flat down on the rough cold floor beneath me. I almost cried out but I clenched my jaw shut, knowing what would happen if I broke the silence she always demanded.
Now I knew the reason I couldn't look up. I was blindfolded. And worse, I could not remember if I had been given permission to speak…to answer the question before me. How many is that? I had no idea! Oh God, I lost count ? I never lose count. I'm a dead man.
"Wake up, you little WHORE!", she bellowed, delivering a hard blow across my face, making me flinch against my will now.
"I asked you a QUESTION!", she shoved verbally, her hand grabbing at the back of my hair, so close to the scalp I knew I lost a good handful at least.
"I'm sorry, Mistress…I'm not sure…", I heard myself whimper and hated the way I sounded instantly. God, I'm weak.
"Are you not paying ATTENTION?", she released my hair and I let my head drop, awaiting her wrath.
I felt a long thin slice bite through my back, right near the spine. It slashed my flesh and cracked against the bone at the same time. I knew I should have taken it without sound, but I had no control of myself somehow.
"AAAAAAAAAA!", I roared out without restraint, feeling wetness in my blind eyes. My fists clenched above me, trying to will the pain away faster.
"You are so pathetic.", her voice added to my discomfort. Then she said, it seemed to someone else nearby, "He sucks !"
Then came the worst possible moment of my existence.
"LEAVE MY DADDY ALONE !", my little girl's voice screeched, in even more pain than I thought I was feeling.
"VICTORIA!", I snarled, suddenly filled with strength and fight, "LET HER GO! DON'T YOU TOUCH MY BABY YOU BITCH!"
"Paying attention NOW, sweetheart?", she put a fingernail on the cleft of my chin as I flinched away from her touch.
"WE HAD A DEAL!", I heard myself say before I could even think. I felt tears moving down my face now, escaping out from under my blindfold.
"That deal was broken the second you ran off !", she cut in immediately, her voice filled with venom, "I told you – you can never leave me Edward! Not in life, not in death even! You ARE MINE and you'll ALWAYS be MINE! Now you'll pay."
"No, Vic—MISTRESS, please DON'T!", I begged, yanking so hard on my wrists I wouldn't be surprised if they were both broken.
"Come make Daddy feel better, sweetie.", Victoria's poisonous voice was like a snake and I felt her hands around my waist, unsnapping what felt like tight leather, releasing the one clothed part of me.
I shouted out, my feet trying to fight their way out of this ballerina position they were in, but it was just hurting me more, not freeing me.
"Open up, little girl.", Victoria instructed and I felt little gasps of breath coming closer to my crotch.
"NNNNOOOOOOOOO!", I roared, leaping and hurling my arms out into nothingness.
"Edward!", I heard in the distance but it didn't register. I kept fighting in the blackness, hoping I could save Katie.
"It's okay, it's okay !", I heard a sweeter woman's voice far away but my brain was too wild to pay attention.
"KATIE!", I screamed, sobbing like a child.
Suddenly, there was light and a pair of arms tried to encircle me. I almost lashed out at them but I'm glad I was too exhausted to try. I knew it was Bella there with me, but my body had not figured it out yet.
"Is he alright?" a small sleepy voice sounded very concerned off to the left of me. I couldn't see anything right now between the sudden bright light and my tears.
"He's alright, honey, I promise.", Bella was saying closeby as I felt her arms tighten around me, "He just had a bad dream is all. He'll be okay."
"Bella…", I choked out and clung onto her, shaking despite my best efforts to appear I was just fine now.
"I have those sometimes.", I could hear Katie saying.
"Here Daddy.", she handed something soft and sweet smelling to me, "It's Jinx. He'll take good care of you."
I clung to it like it was my life and saw her blurred face there in front of me.
"Thank you baby.", I heard my voice shiver and still hated how weak I sounded.
"Okay, I'm going to bed then. I have school tomorrow you know.", she reminded for the three thousandth time today.
"We know.", I heard a chorus of voices all say at the same time. I looked around and saw Tanya's parents standing there in the doorway of my room, also worried but very tired looking.
They chuckled as they watched Katie hop away to her room right next to mine. Everything she did, they always watched with awe as if she were an angel who might fly away at any moment. I know I do the same thing. Only in my mind, she doesn't fly off on her own. Someone comes and grabs her away.
"Breathe, Edward.", Bella made me look into her eyes and I realized I had escaped the dream world again. Her dark eyes always soothed me, always brought me back to the real world again.
I felt and heard myself take a deep breath and let go of a horrid little strangled sound in the bottom of my throat, wetness trailing down my face.
God, what an ass I must look like to all of them, I suddenly thought, crying and clutching Katie's teddy bear, or whatever animal it is I'm strangling.
"I'm sorry…", I clawed at my eyes to erase the tears, "I don't want her to see me like this…"
"It's fine, baby, she's fine.", Bella had her hands in my hair, nose to nose with me, placing a small kiss on my salty wet lips, "She understands nightmares. They're not just for kids, you know."
"I know, but…", I breathed.
"Shhh…", Bella held me closer until her mouth was next to my ear, "It's alright. Don't apologize. We all love you. We know."
"Maybe Katie should stay home tomorrow.", I said aloud, knowing the reception I would get.
"Edward, that will kill her.", Tanya's mother, Angela, said from the doorway, coming in a step or two, "She's been going on and on about it for two weeks now. She's so happy to be going to school with the other kids finally."
And for a split second, I hated Tanya's mom. I know it's wrong. They've done more for Katie in her life than I have, they gave her a family life I never got to offer her. But she wanted Katie to go out there, into that sick world alone. How would I get through the day tomorrow, waiting for her to come home? What would I do as the seconds crawled by?
Oh yea, my new job. Or I should say, my cover job. I still had no idea what I'd be doing. I just knew to wear boots and something I didn't mind getting dirty. Swell.
"Edward, I know how hard it is, letting her go.", Bella tried, making my glare soften a bit as I stared down at my quivering hands.
"But this is a nice little town, far away from New York.", Bella continued, stroking my hair, staring at my face, "She will be fine. She's going to love school. You'll see. You can't keep her locked up all her life."
"Besides, you have two of the officers at the school, dressed up like teachers and janitors to make sure she's safe.", Tanya's father reminded.
Thank you, Ben. Everyone is against me.
"Yea.", I took another breath, then winced.
"But even policeman make mistakes and there's so many kids there…", I began.
"Um, can I talk to Edward alone for a minute?", Bella asked the folks at the door.
"Go on, I'm going back to bed.", Tanya's dad waved a hand at us, leaving quickly.
"I'll make some tea if you want, Edward.", Tanya's mother offered, such a nice gesture after I nearly gave her the evil eye.
"Oh, no thanks, Mom. You can go back to bed, I'm fine.", I said, and got her warm smile instantly. She loved it when I called her that. And I meant it. She was more like a mom to me than my own.
She nodded and quietly left the room, closing the door slowly behind her, giving us our privacy.
"I know, I'm in trouble now, aren't I?", I asked like a child who'd misbehaved.
"Loads.", Bella said without hesitation, "Katie is going to school tomorrow. You are going to work. If I find out you blew off your job and are hanging around that school tomorrow –"
God, she knows me too well.
"It's not an important job!", I suddenly yelled and looked up at her, expecting to see fear. But she surprised me again, as always, and faced me sternly as I ranted like a baby.
"I'm probably gonna be jerking off cows to get their sperm or something!", I went on insanely, "That's probably the only thing I'm qualified to DO around here!"
She waited and didn't say a word. God, I love Dr. Bella. She never lets me get away with anything.
I looked at her and saw a brick wall. I didn't know what to say now.
"Are you done?", she crossed her arms, waiting. Man, she's like Katherine, my beautiful irish nanny back home.
I let out a breath, defeated. "Yes." I gave in.
"Edward.", she gently took my hands into hers, kissing one of them, "When are you going to make an appointment to see someone baby?"
"I don't want them, I want YOU.", I said for the sixtieth time, "You know me, you know my whole story, why can't you be Dr. Bella for me? You did it before."
She rubbed her eyes and for a second I thought she was crying. I felt like such dog shit.
"I told you, I'm not good enough.", she said for the eightieth time, "I'm a student, still learning, I can't counsel you. I never could. I should've never even tried in New York…I could've done serious damage to you…"
"You SAVED me.", I corrected, "You're the best. I know you're a student, but you're so GOOD…I feel safe opening up to YOU…"
"I love you…", she kissed me softly on the cheek, "That's what you were feeling, not my brilliant techniques. I don't know half of what I should before counseling ANYONE. I just got lucky with you, that's all. I WANTED to know you…I fell in love the moment I saw you in that crappy club, in that horrible cage. I wanted to take you away from all that shit you were tangled in. That's why I think you opened up to me, because you wanted out of there too. If I met some stranger today who I had no connection with, I doubt I'd be able to help at all. You need to see a REAL doctor, Edward. You can't go on this way. You nearly belted me in the nose just now."
"I thought…", I swallowed, "…you were HER."
"I know baby, I know.", she cradled my face and moved damp tears away from my right eye, "But I can't see you suffer like this anymore. It's been almost a month since we've been here and almost every night you have these dreams, and every night worse than the last. Aren't you tired of it?"
"No, actually, it's kinda fun…", I drawled out sarcastically, rolling my eyes a little.
Being a wimp, showing my daughter what a weakling I am…being a pussy in front of my girlfriend and Tanya's parents…God, what they must think of me…
"Please…do it for Katie…do it for me…and most of all, do it for yourself.", she kinda shoved me as she said the last word. I grinned at that and saw she was grinning back at me.
"Jerk.", she added teasingly.
"I AM a jerk.", I looked down at myself with a smirk, "Look at me, clinging to this thing."
I looked at Jinx and saw it wasn't a bear at all. It was a purple elephant that looked older than ME. But it also looked very loved and happy. It should, it's been with Katie for longer than I've been.
"You're very cute, holding onto your little elephant.", Bella smiled more, trying to hold the giggling inside.
She kissed my lips this time, very briefly but tenderly. I wanted more but I knew it was the dead of night and she also had school starting tomorrow.
There was a small college about ten miles from here and she was all registered to attend. We got a rental car paid for the local police department, a little Ford Fiesta that could probably be blown away by a huge breeze. But it was red so Bella loved it. She never had her own car before, living in New York one didn't really NEED a car. Thank God she had a license and knew how to drive though.
God, I miss my Volvo. Poor little innocent car of mine. Poor little innocent DECEASED car of mine.
I was in luck, though. MY job was close by and a truck would come by at 6 am to pick me up. I pictured a heap covered with hillbillies that had straw clenched in their teeth. Ever since we got here, every voice outside this place was like something I only heard in old Andy Griffith episodes. I didn't mind southern accents, but around here, it was very…yee hah ! Bella liked it, she said I'd get used to it. But I doubted it.
I keep telling myself all I care about is being with Katie and Bella, of course. Katie could live here and be safe and happy, although I couldn't imagine her marrying one of these people. She would be a small town girl here, not the cultured, elegant presence that Tanya was. I knew it would be a good thing. Bella was a small town girl and I couldn't think of a better woman.
"Will you stay with me for the rest of the night?", I used my saddest face to convince her.
"Oh you bastard!", she laughed out loud, knowing exactly what I was doing, "You just think you're irresistible, don't you?"
"Yes.", I smiled wide, unashamed.
"So bad.", she muttered as she clawed at the quilt and got under it with me.
"YAY!", I enthusiastically laid down and kicked my feet to create some much needed heat inside the sheets.
"Shh.", she checked the alarm clock on the nightstand and flicked off the lamp, "I don't wanna get busted by Katie so behave."
"I will.", I smiled as she turned to face me on her side. The moonlight was giving me a slight view of my Bella's face and I was glad to see her smiling back at me.
"I don't believe you.", she saw right through me.
"I promise…", I smiled fiendishly, hidden in the dark, "For instance, I promise not to do THIS…"
And in seconds, I was stroking my hands up and down, and then in nice circles over her ass that was nicely wrapped in a pair of fleece pajama pants.
"Uhhh…", she instantly tried to resist me, knowing how close Katie was.
"Edward…", she hissed, trying to move my hands from her derriere.
"And I promise not to do this, either.", I vowed, moving my right hand between her fleece legs, firmly stroking up and down….real slow.
"You –", she tried to stop me but her heavy breathing told me otherwise.
It was sad but lately, since we moved here, our nights together had become very G rated. Bella understood and was wonderful about it, even to the point that she offered to sleep in her own bedroom here in the house…but I missed her. And I hated it that she was sleeping alone after leaving her father, her friends – EVERTHING behind for me. I never wanted her to regret choosing me.
"Whhhaatttt?", I asked as if I couldn't COMPREHEND what was bothering her.
"Please stop doing….that.", she was trying to grab my hands but I wouldn't have it.
"Wait, I have more promises to make to you…", I said, slipping my quick little hand into her bottoms.
She gasped out loud, not seeing that coming.
I let out a satisfied hiss when I felt the wetness waiting there for me already. I never saw a female so ready so fast. She misses me too.
"Shhh…", I covered her protesting mouth with my kisses, and in between I whispered, "Just for a few minutes…let me make you come and we'll go to sleep, I swear."
"Liar.", she said back in a deeper kiss.
I answered that remark by wiggling all my fingers and she nearly screamed.
I smiled bigger as I watched her squirming beneath me, trying to keep her mouth shut. This is fun.
It didn't even take five minutes before Bella was very happy and relaxed. We laid on our backs, side by side, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to claim us. I hoped she would get some rest. I knew I was up for awhile.
"Do you want to talk about it?", she finally asked, breaking the silence.
"I thought you didn't want to.", I could hear the hurt in my own voice, even though I didn't intend to sound that way.
"I never said that.", she corrected, "I said I couldn't be your doctor, I didn't say I didn't want to hear about it, or talk to you about it. I love you. You can tell me anything. You know that."
I knew she was right. I let out a deep breath I'd been holding for a long time and just said, "It's too awful, Bella. I don't even want to say it out loud."
"That's okay.", she laced her finger through mine, holding my hand, "You don't have to."
"I'm afraid.", I admitted, using my strongest voice available, "Not for me. For Katie. I know that's what the dreams are telling me. It's alright if I'm hurt…I'm used to it. But then Katie comes into the dream…and there's nothing I can do to stop it…"
"She's safe, Edward.", Bella said again. She'd been saying that since we got here. I never believed that.
"No one is safe, Bella.", I said without hesitation, "There is no safe place anywhere. This whole fucking world is a playground for psychos. And in a few hours, Katie will be out there all alone…I don't think I can let that happen. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it…"
"You can't be with her all the time.", Bella said calmly, moving her fingers over my cheekbone, "She's seven years old and never been to school with other kids. She went through all those surgeries, all those years in and out of hospitals…it must have been very lonely for her. She is a beautiful little girl and she finally has a chance to go make friends. She told me last week, that's her dream. To go to school and make REAL friends. It's such a small request but it means everything to her. Promise me you'll try to smile and not scare her tomorrow. I know it's hard for you. You've seen such a dark side of life and I do understand that you'd see the world the way you do. But you can't let Katie think the world is filled with evil around every corner. How will she live that way?"
"She's all I have…", I heard myself say before I could take the words back.
"I mean, I know I have you too…", I stammered, knowing I was screwing up.
"I know what you mean.", she didn't sound angry at all. See? The best Dr. Bella ever!
"She's your baby, I see it everyday how you adore her.", Bella smiled, "It actually makes me love you even more than I did before, watching you with her. You're a beautiful father, Edward. Really."
"It's been easy this last month, having her with me all the time, summertime in a new place…", I said, sobering up as I spoke, "But it's about to get really hard. Letting her go…again…I'm going to need your help Bella. You have to shove me out the door tomorrow. No matter what I say or do."
"I'd love to.", she put a finger on my lips.
"This is nothing you know…", Bella said with a wicked smirk on her lips, "First day of school is cake! Wait until Katie's first dance when a date comes to pick her up!"
"Ugh.", I grimaced just imagining it.
"Try and go to sleep overprotective eagle…", Bella teased, closing her eyes.
"That's FREED eagle, thank you.", I muttered, still very proud of my Sioux name.
"Yes, you're a free eagle…and you're squawking too much.", Bella grinned, eyes still closed, "Close your eyes…think happy thoughts…"
"Like what?", I scoffed.
"Practice your southern accent.", she suggested and giggled to herself.
"I hate you.", I pretended.
"Hate you more, TONY!", she said with a really bad southern accent.
Ugh, Tony! I forgot my new name assigned to me was Anthony. God, no one would call me Anthony and I knew it. It would be Tony this and Tony that. I'd feel like I was trapped in a Goobertown version of West Side Story.
"Howdee!", I tried to do it without laughing, "My name is er, Tonee! How y'all doin?"
Bella was laughing and I loved that I could make her do it at 3 am.
"Wow, that sounds so natural.", she commented, "It sounds like you've talked that way your whole life."
Oh you wicked little bitch !
"Listen here, little fillie, I don't hold with that kind of lip!", I kept doing my nasally Barney Fife voice while she laughed and tried to quiet it under her pillow.
"Don't make me put you over my knee, darlin!", I kept going.
Then I said in my own voice, "Hey, this is getting fun!"
"Oh god, he's liking it now…", she giggled, "If you don't stop it, I'm gonna make Katie call you PA !"
"Oh NO!", I laughed, "And I could call her young'un !"
I tried to keep my mind laughing…even though I knew tomorrow would be pure hell for me.
Bella had told me over and over again, usually in the middle of the night, after I awoke from another Victoria induced nightmare, that it was alright and Victoria was gone forever, and could never come back to reach Katie or me. My mind knew that but as soon as I closed my eyes, she was there, and I was in her clutches again. I tried to dream of Bella and Katie, doing fun things together, enjoying our lives in peace. But it would never come. Victoria was always there, just waiting for me to fall so she could have one more lesson to teach me. She was enraged that I'd left her, and even more pissed off that Bella had killed her. It felt so real. My dreams became memories, as if they really happened. I wasn't given the luxury of forgetting those images and feelings once my eyes were open.
I know it, even if Bella doesn't. Victoria is still here. Victoria still owns me. I'm still not free. I don't feel safe. And I know Katie is not safe either. Bella is not safe. None of us are. I need Dr. Bella and she's not here either. I can't talk to a stranger about any of this, we're in the witness protection program. I don't trust anyone around here even if we weren't. I would love to hear her saying, "Edward – session ten. Hi Edward!"
I feel so lost already, one month into this. And now Katie is going to school in one direction and I'm going off in another direction. I hate this. If anything ever happened to Katie, I couldn't go on living.
Bella did get up with the alarm clock before Katie woke up. I think I may have gotten ten minutes of uninterrupted sleep so I was fresh as a daisy.
Katie was dancing around the second she woke up, so giddy about going to school today.
I did enjoy seeing her so excited but when I went into her room to help her get her outfit on, I was properly chastised and escorted out. She was too old for me to help her get dressed. Grab knife, yank it out of my heart. We used to have so much fun getting ready for the day together, I can still remember it. She used to spike my hair up with her little hands and we would brush our teeth together. It was magical. And it's already gone.
"I'll help her out.", Angela offered, not noticing the giant hole in my chest as we passed each other in the hallway.
"Just because I'm not a woman…", I grumbled, "I miss out on helping her with her new outfit…"
I don't remember my sex coming into any other area of our lives before.
Then I figured out why Angela was in Katie's room with her. Bella is in the kitchen making breakfast. There have been quite a few fun episodes in this kitchen, now that two women lived here and were used to doing all the cooking. Nights were divided up so it was clear who made dinner on what night of the week. I hardly got to cook ever anymore and I did miss making Bella and Katie something good to eat. Maybe I can pencil my name in here and there when no one's looking. I wonder what Angela would do if she caught me in the kitchen with no shirt on, cooking my special omelets for my girls. I chuckled at the thought of her expression. Yes, will definitely HAVE to do that soon.
Then right away I thought better of it. No, I couldn't rub it in Angela's face that I was half naked around Bella. After all, I was Tanya's husband. And Ben and Angela have been so great accepting Bella into the family.
At first, Bella was going to live separately from us. She almost insisted on it so I could have quality time with Katie. But when they saw my face and heard the whole story of what Bella had gone through for me, to get me back to them, they told Bella she was going nowhere. They took me back in also, never once bringing up my time with Victoria, or what I had done. I don't deserve them.
Katie would never hear those stories, but we did sit her down and all talk to her about Bella. I was amazed at how easy it was, asking her to understand at such a young age. She loved the idea of new people living in the house with us and she grew attached to Bella very quickly. I never knew Bella was so great with kids, but I should have guessed it. Bella told me privately that maybe later Katie and her would have problems. She was prepared for that, she said in time Katie might grow to resent her cutting in on her Daddy time or moving in on her mother's territory.
She didn't understand, though. Katie never really had a full time mother who was always around. Tanya meant well but she was always out trying to make things up to me, trying to earn back what Carlisle had taken away from me when I married her. I would give anything to go back and tell her that I understood now and how sorry I was for not understanding then. I wished I could tell her how sorry I was. I can't even visit her grave now because Victoria's or James' family or goons might be watching.
That was another fun thing on my horizon: testifying in court about all that happened to me – and what I'd seen Victoria do, including the murder of that boy, Jasper's brother. I wondered if I'd seen him again in court. I did miss him and Emmett. They had been my only friends a month ago. And now I'd probably never see them again.
This really is forever. Living here in Wyoming, no neighbors around for a mile. I always dreamed of showing Katie the world and finally having a chance to go wherever I wanted once I was free, if it ever happened. I guess I could forget about all that. God, what if after living here long enough, I really DID start talking like the rest of them?
I shuddered and came up behind Bella as she scrambled eggs. I let my arms curl around her, smelling her hair and then all my gripes about what is or isn't all melted away. Bella is here. Katie is here. My world is here. And I'm going to love it, even if it kills me.
"Who are you and why are you cooking eggs in my kitchen?", I teased her with my sexy voice.
"I'm Ben's girlfriend, so don't touch me.", she retorted quickly, making me laugh.
"Kinky.", I wrinkled my nose, imagining -no, I can't imagine that.
"Stop doing that, old man coming in.", Ben announced as he sauntered slowly into the kitchen, taking his seat at the table with his paper.
"We weren't doing anything.", I defended us, still a little unsure when it came to Tanya's parents. I almost felt like I was cheating with Bella right in their faces.
Bella shot me an annoyed look as she put a cup of coffee in front of Ben, whose face was hidden by the newspaper.
What? I mouthed to her, shrugging my shoulders.
But she went back to making the eggs, waving a hand at me as if to say shut up.
Damn. No one likes me today.
"There's a newspaper in this town?", I tried to read the headline, "What's the big story, cow tippers running amok ?"
I was the only one who laughed at my joke.
"No, Edward, but you know what?", Ben asked, "There's no murders, no rapes, no kidnapping…no terrorist activity…this is the best paper I've ever read."
"You GO BEN!", Bella spun around towards him and gave him a high five.
"Am I in the twilight zone?", I flopped down at the table, looking around, "No one ever asked that in one single episode…but they knew…they were in the twilight zone…"
I never heard Bella say YOU GO to anyone. Now her and Ben are BFF's. High fiving each other. Are there any bars in this town?
"Here you guys go.", Bella was serving plates of eggs with toast and bacon on them to Ben and myself.
"Hurry up, Edward, you've got to get dressed and be out there in 20 minutes.", Bella reminded.
"Well, aren't you the little timekeeper?", I cracked, slamming my fork into my scrambled eggs and getting a bite.
"Can't wait to hear what this job is all about.", Ben put his paper down and looked at me as if trying to read me.
"Ever hear of cow jerking Ben?", I asked sarcastically but Bella cut me off.
""Uh, Ben, what do you guys have planned out for today?", she asked over my question.
"Oh, I thought we'd go into town and look around some more.", Ben was still looking at me as if trying to read my mind.
"Look around town?", I asked, "There are two stores. A shoe store and a store with everything else in it."
The Sierra Trading Post I think it was called. Trading Post. God !
"Oh, look at that, Edward's all done!", Bella yanked me up and spun me around, back towards my room, "Go get dressed – you know what to wear."
"Bella…", I started to complain.
"Anthony Masen", she shot me with that look, "Go put your town clothes on, you want to look like the other little boys today so they don't tie you to a bull or something!"
"Town clothes…", I muttered, going reluctantly to my room where my cowboy clothes waited for me. I am NOT wearing the hat. I don't care what she says.
Our first trip into town we all got some new clothes. Bella had also found me a nice black cowboy hat. Katie forced us all to get dressed in our new clothes when we got home and Bella took pictures of us all standing in front of our new home. Yes, there was a picture of me wearing the hat, only because Katie made me put it on.
In short, we looked like the cast of Little House on the Prairie.
I haven't worn those clothes since. But now I'd have to put them back on. And wear them in front of REAL cowboys. Someone kill me.
I went with the least horrible shirt, a white and black flannel shirt, black jeans, my black cowboy boots, and I put the black hat on the made bed, hoping if I stared at it long enough it would vanish.
I could hear Victoria laughing in the back corners of my mind, she loved to mock me.
God, you look fucking stupid, she'd most likely say to me.
Fuck her – I don't give a damn what you think, Victoria. You're fucking dead so leave me alone !
I looked at myself in the full length mirror on the back of my bedroom door and right away I FELT stupid. My hair is too bright, my face is too…I don't LOOK like a cowboy. I should've let some stubble grow on my face. But it was baby smooth. I look like I haven't done a lick of work in my lifetime. Those guys were going to eat me alive.
Bella tapped on the door and peeked her head in.
"You decent?", she asked with a smile, looking disappointed to see me all dressed.
"Katie's all dressed, you have to see her!", Bella enthused, leading the way as I automatically followed her out.
As dumb as I felt dressed this way, I knew Katie would look adorable no matter what she was wearing.
When I got to the kitchen, she was standing there, beaming, so exhilarated to be going to school today. I wondered how long that feeling would last.
She was wearing a little denim skirt, light tan cowgirl boots, a white blouse and a cute little hot pink vest, suede, with fringes hanging down from the edges…and to complete the whole ensemble, there was a little white cowgirl hat on her head, hiding a bit of that fire red hair. It was in two ponytails that were tightly braided on both sides.
"Wow.", I said as she looked up at me, "You look INCREDIBLE!"
I took her little hands in mine and twirled her around so I could see every inch of the outfit.
"You look good too, Daddy.", she surveyed me now, "But where's your hat?"
"It's around.", I shrugged.
"Here it is.", Bella plunked it on top of my head from behind me, half covering my eyes with it.
Katie laughed at that so I smiled too, adjusting the damn hat so I could at least see.
"Pull it down Daddy, like this.", she reached up as I bent down to her. She tipped the hat down a bit, and added, "It looks better this way."
"Yea?", I asked, trusting her judgement, "Okay."
She moved the sides of my hair a little to tuck into the hat and when I straightened up, looking in the mirror near the front door, I had to admit it wasn't as bad as I thought. At least the hat hid my hair for the most part.
"Now, Katie, don't forget, your name is Katie MASEN now, not Cullen.", I heard Angela reminding my daughter and my heart sank a little. I did this to them. I should stop whining about this whole situation and try to embrace it. No one else is complaining, just me…and it's all my fault we're here in this.
My daughter can't even use her last name.
"Hey Tony!", Bella came up behind me again, right on cue to wake me out of my morose state.
"Here's your lunchbox.", she handed a black metal box with a handle on it to me and I smiled when I saw ANTHONY MASEN written in white across the top of it.
"Everytime you call me Tony," I smirked at her, "There's one more whack added to your next spanking."
I said it low so only she could hear me and she actually looked delighted at that statement. Katie was sitting down to eat breakfast; Ben and Angela were fussing over her, getting her things ready for school. Angela was writing Katie Masen on her little lavender backpack.
"Tease.", Bella commented, stepping back to assess me.
"I feel so stupid in this getup…", I put myself down before she could, "I don't feel like myself."
"You look hot.", she put her arms around me and nuzzled my nose with hers.
"Great, hot.", I looked up, "The guys will love that."
"You know where to go?", she changed the subject.
"Yes.", I said slowly, "Right outside the door, down the walkway, by the road?"
"Very good.", she placed a small kiss on my lips, "So smart. You'll be fine baby. Relax. Just be yourself. The other boys will LOVE you."
"Why do I feel like I'm five?" I asked loudly enough for everyone to hear.
"Be nice to everyone Dad…and they'll be nice to you!", Katie gave me some advice for my first day.
"Yea and if you see a bull, don't show fear!", Ben pointed his fork at me, his thick glasses making his eyes look large, "Stand your ground and don't run!"
"Thank you Ben.", I deadpanned in response.
"It's good advice.", Bella tilted her head a bit as she gazed up at me, "Stand your ground…and don't run."
"If I could do THAT we'd still be in New York.", I said back, erasing her smile.
"And how would you feel if Katie were going to school today in New York?" she asked, raising a brow.
"Got it.", I put a hand on my stomach, feeling it tighten up.
"Come kiss your daughter goodbye.", she pulled me by my hands towards the table and now I felt even sicker.
"Bella, I can't do this…", I whispered to her under my breath.
"The first day is always the hardest.", she said, not lowering her voice at all, "But like you said, I am to shove you out the door if necessary."
"Kiss Daddy.", Bella announced as she delivered me to Katie's side. Katie put her fork down and reached up to put her arms around my neck. Our hats blocked us from getting too close at first and I grumbled about that.
"Damn hats, I can't even kiss my little girl!", I muttered, turning my head so my hat was out of the way so I could kiss her little syrup lips.
"Mmm, pancakes huh?", I smiled at her.
"Waffles!", Katie, Ben, and Angela all said at once.
"Pardon, Ma'am.", I used my bad accent again. I made Katie laugh and I was pleased about that at least.
"DADDY WAIT!", Katie turned, "Come here!"
Then Katie took a toothpick from a little glass holder in the center of the table and placed it at the corner of my mouth.
"There, hold it with your teeth!", she instructed, "That looks good!"
"Thanks.", I took it out for a second and squatted down to face her at eye level, "Katie, listen…be very careful out there…and…if you see anyone who looks strange or…not right…then go straight to your teacher and tell him right away…DON'T EVER go anywhere with ANYONE no matter what they say…"
"Anthony…", Bella rubbed her hand on my back, "You're gonna be late, babe."
I feel like I'm going to throw up. What if they get her? What if she disappears and I never see her again?
Katie nodded while I was warning her but she didn't look afraid at all. Was I trying to scare her?
"Do you want me to go with you today?", I asked her, hardly able to breathe, "Cause I will."
"No Daddy, you have work!", Katie looked appalled by my idea of going with her, "And I'm not a baby, I can go alone!"
God, she's so much tougher than I am.
"That's right Daddy.", Bella yanked me up by my shirt and re handed me the damn lunchbox, "Play nice with the other boys and don't tip the cows."
"Bella, please don't make me do this…", I almost begged and I felt my eyes clouding with unshed tears. God, I'm such a big baby.
"I love you Edward, but you'll thank me for this later.", Bella was ushering me to the door and I felt like the air was leaving my lungs.
Then she whispered to me, "Just this once, tonight, if you want, Dr. Bella will talk to you."
"Really?", I felt a little hope returning to my soul.
"Yes.", she looked down, "I can't say that I can counsel you, but I'm always here to listen…and do what I can to make this easier for you. I hate that you look so scared. Don't be afraid. Everything is fine. You're going to work today, outside in the clean air…in the sun. I love that!"
I wanted to feel the same way. But I still felt ill.
"I love you.", she whispered to me, hugging me tight, "And I'm shoving you out the door now. Have a good day sweetie."
And she pushed me out, closing and locking the door behind me.
I took a deep breath and told myself that I had to play my part now. I've played a cowboy before, although not a real one, a half naked, dancing one. I thought my days of putting on masks was over. Maybe life is just wearing one mask after another.
I'm Anthony Masen. Former New Yorker who moved out here for a simpler life, a better life for my daughter. No one here knew I was a whore. Would it show? Would they sense something off about me, even if I didn't tell anyone? Could I really do a man's work like them, or would I be the weakling of the herd?
I swallowed thickly and made my feet move me to the road. I even walked away from the house a bit, hoping it would calm me down a little.
Before I wanted to, I heard an engine coming from behind me. I turned, squinting as a beat up truck ambled up and slowed to a stop.
"You Masen?", the driver asked. I could only see his giant cowboy hat and nodded mutely.
"Climb aboard.", he thumbed back behind him.
I went around to the back of the white truck and saw a huge black cage like thing with no roof on it - on the back of the truck, like a metal pen that held about ten other guys inside. One of the men opened a piece of the cage to let me in. I had to climb up a bit to get there and I made it without too much effort.
"Hi.", I greeted the guy who'd let me in as I closed the cage door behind me.
"Hey, howyoudoin?", the man asked, shaking my hand, "I'm Bob."
"Ed-Anthony Masen.", I corrected, hoping he didn't hear the Ed part.
Bob looked like a nice guy, brown hair down to his shoulders and a mustache, a white cowboy hat perched on the back of his head. He also wore a shirt like mine, only it was red and gray plaid. He wore jeans that looked very worn at the knees I noticed when we sat down side by side, the truck chugging off abruptly.
"Nice to know you Anthony.", Bob said, thankfully not calling me Tony.
I tried to smile back at him…but all I could see was the house, getting smaller and smaller as we drove away…I couldn't fake my feelings for once. I was terrified for Katie.
Be safe, Katie. I prayed in my mind, willing her to hear me somehow. Come back to me. Have a great day, angel.
"Hey!", Bob nudged me and held a thermos in front of me, "Want some Ant?"
Ant? Maybe I was wrong. Tony wasn't the worst thing I could be called.
"What is it?", I tried to see inside it.
"Cow piss.", he said and I looked at him in shock while he laughed.
"Coffee, what else?", he nudged me again and gave it to me, "City boys…you guys crack me up!"
"How do you know I'm a city boy?", I wondered aloud, taking a little sip of the coffee, hoping we didn't hit a pothole and it would cover me completely.
"You have that look.", Bob shared, "The clothes are right but you have that scared look in your eyes. Don't worry, it'll pass. Before you know it, you'll be one of us."
I looked at all of them, tired looking, some asleep, all wearing cowboy hats and plaid shirts. Is this really what I was destined to become after all I've been through? One of the herd? I knew it was wrong but the thought stabbed at me like a blade – I used to stand out, I used to be one of a kind.
Shut up, EDWARD! I told myself before I could even complete the thought. You were a nasty whore and there was nothing special about you! This is a good life, an honest life, stop BITCHING like a girl! This is what you wanted, to be free! To be with Katie and Bella. Just because it wasn't wrapped in a perfect package doesn't make it any less a miracle. If you shovel cow shit today, you'd better do it with a big smile on your face and welcome the day you won't have to strip naked before starting your workday!
"By the way, what job is this anyway?", I asked Bob, hoping to finally end the mystery.
"You don't know?", he looked surprised as I shook my head.
"Rodeo.", was all he said, smiling with pride.
End of Chapter 1
Poor Edward is having a rough start of it, huh? Maybe Dr. Bella can help. What do you think?
See next chapter soon!