She Gives Me Religion
This story is the result of an entry for The Cherry Exchange, 2010 Competition. The first chapter served as the entry for the contest (with some very minor changes). While developing the characters' histories, I believed there was much more of their story to tell. Hence, I expanded the one-shot to the full work in progress you see it here.
I had difficulty classifying this story. It is a romance about hurt/comfort, but there is also humor, drama, and at times, angst. Some new readers worry about the extent and use of religious themes in this narrative. I can tell you that I do not intent to advocate for or denigrate any specific religion. At times, however, the characters do reflect on their struggles with faith.
She Gives Me Religion is rated M for foul language (yes, even from the devout) and explicit lemons.
If you need to know if a story will be HEA before you begin, I understand. You can PM me and I'll be happy to whisper in your ear.
Even if you are starting the story when we are far in, please still consider leaving a review; I'd love to meet you. You can find me on twitter LizLemonBennett.
Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns Twilight and a good part of my inspiration. A certain dashing/wonky British boy owns the rest of it.
My sincerest gratitude to my Beta, PaintedTeacherLady, without whom, I would still be hiding under the covers. Your work is invaluable.
I hope you enjoy...
The Cherry Exchange
I pass on the left… step on the gas… make the yellow light… cut through the alley…
I am weaving my Volvo through the wet city streets towards Seattle Harbor View Medical Center. The Doors', Gloria, pulsates through my car, through my blood, urging me to drive faster. Just moments ago I received a text from Carlisle:
Call me at the hospital. This is big, need help.
Our conversation plays back in my head, "A limousine carrying a wedding party crashed on the way to the reception. One casualty, the groom—DOA. I'll wait for you outside the Family Room."
'The Family Room,' I shake my head. Only Carlisle would say, "Family Room." Everyone refers to it as the "G.R." or Grief Room. The small room adjacent to the E.R. houses families who wait for, and often hear, tragic news. But Revered Carlisle Cullen, my mentor and friend, has too much class to call it the G.R. We've spent many days there in the past few months; he's taught me much, and today I can show him what I've learned.
Running through the parking lot, I focus through prayer, "Lord, help me to be your instrument on this important day. Guide me to assist Carlisle as we do your work in your name. Help me to tame my temper—SHIT!" A car passes too closely and splashes water over my jeans. "Watch it asshole!" I yell at the distancing car. Fortunately my white Oxford shirt stays dry. I need to look half-decent for today. "Sorry, God—where was I? Oh yeah, help me to tame my temper…"
Carlisle waits for me in the hallway, "You got here fast, a little too fast." He narrows his eyes at me knowing my tendency to speed.
"I was really close—at the library," I try to convince him.
"No time for a lecture..." I'm glad he drops it. "Today is not a practicum day, I need you to participate, not observe."
"Got it." I clap my hands together. Carlisle's confidence and the challenge before me shoots another jolt of adrenaline through my body.
"I'm working with the parents right now, the Newtons. Their son's name was Mike."
"Got it," I repeat. I'm bouncing on the balls of my feet, the college athlete in me sees this as the big game and I'm ready to win one for the team... for Carlisle... um... for God... for Team God.
Carlisle must sense my zeal, he places a steadying hand on my shoulder, "This is not going to be easy, Edward." With a deep breath, I try to calm myself, "I'm ready. I won't disappoint you."
"I know you won't." He gives me one of his fatherly smiles that both warms and breaks my heart.
We enter the room and Carlisle immediately joins a couple that I assume to be the Newtons. The game is in play. Groups of threes and fours are huddled around each other. Not needed there, it appears. I need a strategy.
I scan the room and my eyes land on a lone soul sitting in the corner. It is a woman, wrapped in a man's black overcoat, gazing out the window. She's my target. I take a step towards her, but hesitate-in a room full of sobbing, hugging, and audible praying, she sits alone in a bubble of fading sunlight. Why does she sit alone? "Fill a need where you see one," Carlisle's voice repeats in my head, so I approach again—and get a sense of déjà vu—this is uncomfortably familiar, but I don't want to dwell on that. As I stand behind her contemplating an interruption it occurs to me that she hasn't moved, not a twitch or fidget—she is a statue.
I softly shuffle my feet so that I don't startle her. "Excuse me."
She turns to look up at me, immediately the adrenaline vanishes. Fuck, this is no game. Her eyes are large, black and cold-so distant. She is ashen, not even appearing human, just a shell that once housed a soul. A large bruise on the right side of her face leads to a cut through her full, bottom lip. I avoid breaking her gaze, but I can see through the coat that she wears a white dress. She is the bride.
Confidence gone, I feel my legs weaken as I search for the right words, "Um… Mrs. Newton…?"
Her brows knit together before her eyes shift to the groom's mother. There is a flash of understanding, and then her eyes fix on an imaginary spot on the floor. I am likely the first person to address her as 'Mrs. Newton.' Terrific. Lord, please grant me wisdom… because, really, I'm an idiot.
"Bella," she says, barely audibly.
I kneel next to her. "Bella, my name is Edward Masen. I'm a seminary student. I'm here to lend a hand."
She doesn't move, her eyes still on the floor. Surely her family and friends must be here, or at least close by. She's the bride for Christ's sake, where the fuck is everybody? Maybe she asked to be left alone. Should I leave her alone? A million questions I yearn to ask, but I don't want to upset her. She shouldn't have to explain herself to me.
"Bella, can I get you anything? Can I get you some water?"
She shakes her head, eyes still on the floor.
Not sure what to say next, I scan the room to look for inspiration. Only minutes in, and this day is already infinitely more difficult than any other day I've spent here. Usually I sit quietly next to Carlisle as he consoles, counsels, cajoles.
I think about leaving Bella alone and joining Carlisle-hiding behind Carlisle really-but I can't. I feel drawn to her for some reason—protective. What would Carlisle do? Well, I know what he would do, but can I? I figure I joined the seminary for a reason, so here it goes.
"Um… Bella… would you like to… um… pray with me?" Christ, that sounds ridiculous. When Carlisle says that, it sounds so smooth, seductive even. He could get the Anti-Christ to kneel in prayer. I brace myself for her response.
Her wide eyes meet mine. "Not right now."
Oh. My offer doesn't repel her. Maybe the idea isn't so foreign to her, just not right now. Another tactic.
"Bella, would you like me to sit with you?"
"Yes… no... not if you don't want to."
But I do want to.
I pull up a chair and sit with her. She continues her gaze out the window. In vain, I try to peer at her, but she has pulled down her locks of dark hair patterned with fresh, small white lilies. It is a curtain between us—shutting me out. I wish I could read her mind. She is probably mourning her husband, the love of her life. The man that won her heart in some epic battle against her many admires. To look at her, even the little I've seen, I'm sure she proved quite the conquest. Not because of her classic beauty per se, but something else, something I can't yet distinguish.
Bella begins to strip the flowers from her hair, absently destroying them, twisting them between her fingers as she goes. The crushed flowers intensify her fragrance-though, it is not just floral. Her scent brings me back to early spring with my parents. Planting annuals with my mother next to the perennials—lily of the valley, hyacinths. My mother's herb garden, rosemary and mint, mixed with the smell of fresh cut grass, courtesy of my father. The blend of perfume and clean earth emanates from this woman.
She hasn't said much, likely still in shock. I assume she's been examined, hasn't she? Driven by my need for Carlisle's approval, I decide in this moment to make Bella my personal project.
"Bella?" I ask, just hoping to get a better glimpse. But she doesn't respond; rather, she continues to pull and destroy.
"Bella?" I say more forcefully and she looks up with a dazed, unfixed stare. She's paler than before. Is that even possible?
"Bella, is this your family here?" I wave my hand to the room.
Without looking, she shakes her head. She doesn't consider the Newtons her family yet. Since they've paid no attention to her, she's probably correct in that decision.
"Is your family in the hospital? Can I help you find them?"
Her head falls to her hands for a moment, when it lifts, Bella looks as if she's awoken from a dream.
"Alice, my friend."
"Alice? You want me to find Alice?"
Finally, a task.
"And Charlie," she says.
"Charlie? Is that a friend? Your brother?"
"My father." Her eyes have changed, no longer vacant. She is trying to communicate in the only way she is capable.
"Your father? Bella, do you remember if he came in with you? Is he in the hospital?"
She shakes her head. "He stayed behind, at the accident… he's a police… Chief Swan."
Almost a full sentence, we might be making progress after all.
"I'll see what I can find out."
As I stand to leave, Bella's hand shoots out clutching my wrist, hard, almost painfully. Her contact sends an electrical current up my arm. "Bella, what is it?" She releases the grip, her mouth open in surprise. Did she feel it too?
"Sorry," she murmurs. Sorry for grabbing me? Trying to show her there's no need to be sorry, I reciprocate by taking her hand, "It's okay, tell me what you need."
She stands and her eyes grow wide, her breath quickens. She opens her mouth to speak, shuts it, and opens it again. As she looks down, I follow her eyes and see though the open overcoat. Her wedding dress is splattered with blood, tattered. Dear God. She looks back up at me through her long lashes.
"I think I understand; I'll be right back." I hold her gaze for a long moment. Why does it bother me to leave her for even the briefest of time? I'm no longer sure that it's Carlisle's approval that draws me to her.
I approach a nurse in a bright pink uniform.
"Excuse me... I was wondering if you could help me? I'm assisting today in the Family Room…"
She turns to me, a wide smile spreading across her face, "Well, you must be Edward," she says with a faint Irish accent.
"Yes, I'm Edward Masen." I offer my hand and she shakes it, her hands are large and warm.
"I'm Siobhan. I know all about you from Carlisle. Thank you for helping out today." She is tall, almost as tall as I am, freckled across her nose with a quaff of black, curly hair. She is full, curvy, and stunning. I immediately have the desire to be in her embrace. She has an aura of love and God surrounding her.
"Now, what can I do for you, pet?"
A few minutes later, I return with information and my pilfering from the kitchen and the supply closet. The G.R. has nearly emptied. Carlisle sits on the couch with Mr. and Mrs. Newton and Bella remains seated in the far corner chair. Not wanting to interrupt their conversation, I place a pitcher of water and three cups on the end table next to Carlisle. He looks up and gives me a brief, knowing smile before returning his attention to the Newtons.
"Bella, Alice is doing fine. She just went into surgery. She broke some bones, but there didn't appear to be internal damage. When she is out of post-op, I'll take you to see her, if you want." Keep it light, Edward.
I pour some water into the white Styrofoam cup and drop in a straw. "I need you to drink some water for me." I hand her the cup, but the evidence of her nerves splash droplets of water onto the floor. I place my hand around hers to steady it. Her little pink tongue peaks out and touches the split on her lip. She looks bewildered.
"Do you remember cutting your lip?" I ask, hoping for some recognition. She nods unconvincingly, only increasing my concern. I position the straw away from the injured side of her mouth. She draws long sips, finishing the water all at once.
"Thirsty, aren't you?" I can't help but to smile. For a brief moment, she returns a shy smile before disappearing behind a guilty frown. So much for keeping it light.
"Hey, it's okay…" I don't know how to finish-It's okay for widows to smile? Instead, I fill the cup again and watch as she finishes the water within seconds. "I think I should get a bigger cup, don't you?" I ask gently, hoping for some response. What am I doing, flirting with her? No, no, I'm just trying to gain access—to help her.
"More news, Charlie called the hospital and he knows you're fine. It looks like some police officers are still at the accident scene. He knows where to find you." I hand her blue surgical scrubs, Siobhan's suggestion. "In the meantime, there is a private bathroom outside this room. You can change in there." Bella stands and takes a few steps, and then turns back to me.
"Come with me?" she asks in a small voice.
"Of course, I'll show you where it is." Where are my manners?
Bella glances to the Newtons, squeezes her eyes shut, leans in and whispers, "Help me…?" Help her? Help her how? Help her get dressed? Oh, Lord, please give me strength. "I have so many buttons," she continues, embarrassed. It clearly pains her to ask for help, I take note.
"Yes, I'll help you. Let's get this coat off first." I look over to Carlisle and he raises one eyebrow at me. He quickly assesses the situation, glancing between Mrs. Newton and me, and he then nods slightly in my direction. I don't know why, but for some reason, he has selected me for this task.
I release her from the garment and her shoulders curve inward, defensively. She's so frail. Why do I want to pick her up and carry her away from this place? Every muscle in my body sings with the need to shield her. I expected to 'participate' today, but not this way. Not emotionally. Carlisle had warned, "Keep your emotional boundaries in the Family Room. You are there as a spiritual guide. Their pain cannot be your pain." Until this moment, I never understood his words. The practicum days were intellectual exercises, not emotional ones: how to listen, how to advise, how to advocate for people in need. But this, this is different. This is visceral.
I lead her into the bathroom. Though I've never been in here before, this particular space must be reserved for the G.R. families. It isn't antiseptic like other hospital bathrooms. The walls and floor are tastefully tiled in beige marble. There is a dark wood vanity and mirror with a matching corner table decorated with a vase of fresh flowers.
Turning her back towards me, she simply says, "Thank you, Father."
Father? Oh, shit.
"Bella," I turn her by her shoulders so that I am looking down at her. I must be sure she understands me. "I'm not a Father… a priest, or minister, or pastor of any sort, yet. I'm just Edward Masen, seminary student. Do you understand?"
"Yes. Thank you, Edward," she says the words automatically in a dazed voice. She doesn't care. She just needs help from someone, anyone. She wouldn't care if I were a priest, or a nurse, or an orderly for that matter. She just needs a hand with the buttons. Let go of your ego, Edward.
She turns towards the wall and sweeps her lush chestnut hair away from her back. Her scent penetrates every pore on my body. I make work of the tiny smooth buttons. There must be a hundred of them—spanning from her shoulders to beyond her waist.
With each unclasped pearl, another fraction of skin is revealed. Perfect skin-smooth, almost velvet. She looks so petite, tiny even. But, her smallness is not real. It is the apparition that comes with tragedy. I fear that if I breathe too hard, she will disintegrate under me. I unclasp more buttons, her hunched shoulders revealing each vertebra as I go.
She shivers, my heart swells.
Like osmosis, her pain moves into me. I want more, I'll take whatever she can give—I'll absorb it all.
I watch her back expand and collapse with each breath—her ribs reappearing and disappearing in a slow, steady rhythm. My own breath matches hers. My mouth waters.
She crosses her arms in front of her, holding up the loose bodice. The material gaps open exposing the perfect triangle of flawless skin, smooth and pale as the silk of her gown. Unconsciously, I raise my index finger to the top of her neck, hovering right above the skin. I ache to run my finger down the length of her spine. Just one touch. Oh, to feel the softness of Bella under my fingertip. Damn, this isn't just sympathy I feel, this is carnal desire.
I take a step back to collect myself, to shake free of these thoughts. Dear Lord, forgive me for such lustful thoughts I have towards this injured being… this child of yours who I am here to help, in service to you. God forgive me for my aching desire to touch her, to taste her… sorry. I'll pull it together.
"Edward?" she sounds anxious. For the first time today, I hear emotion in her voice.
"Bella, I'm sorry. I just need to grab this top." I put the v-neck over her head, pulling the shirt to her hips to preserve her modesty. She struggles, but finds the armholes as her gown slips to her waist.
"Oh, God." She's panicked.
"Bella, what is it?"
"Edward. I need out of this dress, now."
"Okay, Bella. Just a few more buttons and you should be able to step out," I say as I return to the slippery motherfuckers trying to release her from the last of the dress's hold.
She leans forward and slaps her palms to the tile wall, taking in gulps of air. Her entire being trembles as my shaky fingers continue. With each released button, I am sure the gown will pool at her feet, but it still cages her.
She presses her forehead against the tile and pulls at the dress, yanking it down, but it won't budge, "Edward, please… I'm going…"
I drop to my knees, grab fists full of material and jerk with all my might. Buttons fly and the dress rips free and falls to her ankles.
She pushes me aside and lunges for the commode, reaching it in time to vomit. It's only water. She sinks to her knees. I move next to her and gather her hair away from her face.
Her breathing slows. I rub her back and she moans mournfully, and then vomits again-water. The second glass, I idly think. We sit momentarily as she catches her breath, Bella on her knees, me leaning above her. I pull the tangled dress from her feet and slide it away from her.
"Throw it away."
"Yesss," she hisses.
We sit on the floor for a moment. Still. Silent. Just breathing. She is only in her surgical shirt, underwear, stockings and a garter belt. I have a vision of Bella shopping with girlfriends, giggling as they pick out undergarments for her wedding—and this is what her day has become, sitting on the marble floor of a hospital bathroom, half dressed, with a complete stranger who just moments ago she thought was a priest.
I lean over to reach for the surgical bottoms. She unclips her garters and slides down her stockings tossing each one into the pile that was once her wedding gown.
"Ready?" I whisper as I gather the pant leg to help her access.
She shakes her head, groans, and pushes off me. Dry heaves, gut wrenching. Her body convulses, I keep my hands on her waist to steady her.
When she is done, she slouches back into my chest, and she stretches out her legs, sitting between mine. She is weak, emotionally and physically exhausted, and she clearly hasn't eaten today.
"Sorry. It won't happen again," she whispers. My heart sinks. I lean to the side, and place my fingers under her delicate chin and lift until her eyes meet mine.
I want to tell her to never apologize. That she's bewitched me and, for some inexplicable reason, I would move heaven and earth to meet her needs. Tell me what you're thinking. Cry in my arms and let me help you. My emotion is caught in my throat.
"Don't," is all I can mutter. I press my lips to her forehead then cradle her into my chest. She doesn't protest. I can feel her melt into me, her tension evaporating.
We sit like this for a long while. I think she might even be drifting off. Although I could spend the night here with her, I know it is cold and uncomfortable on this marble floor and I want to get her dressed and to a better place.
I kiss her temple and it doesn't feel like a brazen or awkward move, rather the most natural gesture I've ever made. I speak into her ear, "Let's get these gorgeous scrubs on you."
She nods, and smiles—I think.
I gather the material of first pant leg and she bends her knee and lifts her foot, leaning back on my chest for support. I slide it over her calf, her knee, to her thigh, slowly. I repeat the same process with the other pant leg until the tops of the pants are resting on her upper thighs.
"Okay, lift your bum," I whisper. She does and I slide the pants over her hips. I move my hands to the front of her pants and pull at the drawstring, not wanting to cinch it tightly. Under my fingers, I feel the stretchy lace of her garter belt. I hook my thumbs around the belt and she gives a small nod. I pull the belt over her hips, her legs, and once free, I throw it onto the heap of clothes.
She remains silent. I want to see her face, to get a clue into what she is thinking. Maybe she'll talk if I talk. I take the pair of socks out of their sealed bag.
"You know, Bella. These are some pretty incredible socks. Have you ever had hospital socks?"
She shakes her head no.
"Foot please…" I offer my hand and she lifts her foot to me.
"Well, let me tell you about hospital socks…" I begin to put the first sock on her small, smooth foot. "I got a pair of hospital socks several years ago. I didn't realize it at the time, but they turned out to be my first, true love, hospital socks were." I slide on the second sock.
"You see, they are very sanitary—as evidenced by the hermetically sealed wrapper here. But that isn't why I fell in love. They are so soft…" I hold her foot in my hand, making small circles on the ball of her foot with my thumb. "They fit perfectly," I hold her cold foot in my hands, hoping it warms. "And they have these really cool rubber grips so that you don't fall." I run my thumb over her instep feeling the grips along the way. "I can't part with them. In fact, I would wear them every day if I could."
She's still silent.
"And I know what you are wondering…"
I wait, but nothing still.
"Yes, Bella, I've tried to find replacements. Stores have cheap imitations. But real hospital socks are something special. So, you might want to hang onto these, hide them if you must…because I am very tempted to steal them." I place her foot down and she peeks up at me with bright eyes and a small smile.
"Now, I'm going to get you some things. I'll be right back."
I stand and gather the pile of gossamer and silk and look back to Bella waiting on her approval.
She nods again, still mute.
I find Nurse Siobhan, with whom I'm becoming fast friends. She disposes of the soiled material. I explain that Bella has been sick and Siobhan hooks me up—a toiletry kit and some Pedialyte.
When I return to Bella, she is staring at herself in the mirror, pulling the remaining pins from her disheveled hair. I hand her a hair tie from over her shoulder and she begins to gather her locks in a ponytail. Our reflection disturbs me. She is a shattered angel surrounded by my pathetic cloud of confusion and desire. In this moment, I see a chasm in my life I only want to fill with Bella.
"I'll give you some privacy," I say as I slip outside and silently pray, Dear Father in Heaven, I know it is not my place to question your motives—the lessons you place before us. But, I am so tempted on this day, more so than at any moment in my life. Why, Lord? Help me to restrain my feelings and let this woman know your love through me.
Bella opens the door, and we begin to walk towards the G.R., she sways slightly. "Whoa Nellie," I say guiding her by the elbow to a chair in the hallway.
"I've got a little present for you." I unscrew the lid of Pedialyte and offer her the bottle.
"Pedialyte? I'm a little older than you think, Edward."
"Don't let the teddy bear on the bottle fool you. It's for big kids too," I say, still holding the bottle.
"No, you're not," I say seriously. "You're dehydrated, and quite frankly, probably in shock. You need the sugar." She looks at the bottle, crosses her arms and looks back at me. "I don't want to throw up again," she says with quiet determination. I soften at her fear, but still want her to drink.
"Small sips," I say, but she isn't budging; her arms are still crossed.
"Well, we could risk throwing up, or I can get an IV set up." Her brows shoot up in surprise before she narrows her eyes at me.
"I would." She looks as though she's trying to read me for a change.
Bella acquiesces, taking the bottle and her first small sip. To stifle my gloat, I bite the inside of my cheek and press my lips together, leaving me with a crooked smile. Enumeration of victories: 1-Bella is talking; 2-she showed me her cards and I can play her game, I can help her; 3-she is feisty, and I like feisty. When I look at the clock, my high evaporates and I try to gauge how much more time I will have with Bella. Oh, how I would love to see her again, but by what means:
"Bella, this has been a really fun day and I was wondering if I could get your number so that we could, I don't know, hang out sometime. I mean, after your husband's funeral, of course. Oh, and I'm celibate, so we'll have a really good time… what you think I'm a pig for hitting on you? So, is that a no?"
I slip the bottle cap in my pocket, needing some memento of this ephemeral day, fearing that my future self will recall these memories as mere delusions.
With the Pedialyte half gone, we head back to the G.R. where we meet Carlisle and the Newtons in the doorway. Mrs. Newton glowers at Bella.
"Where is your gown, Isabella?" Waves of choler roll off of her.
"I... I took it off."
Mrs. Newton snorts and Carlisle puts a hand on her shoulder, but shifts his eyes to me.
"Obviously. Where is the gown now, Isabella?"
"I… it was torn… I took it off…" Bella inhales a shaky breath, and I see her bottom lip quiver. She's about to lose it.
"Mrs. Newton," I interject positioning myself between Bella and her, "a nurse took the gown away. She disposed of it."
"Disposed of it?" she asks incredulously.
What did she want? To keep a wedding gown soaked in her dead son's blood? This wasn't about a gown. The gown is just her vehicle to punish Bella. Why, I don't know—but I'm certain of it.
"Yes. I am sorry. The gown couldn't be salvaged." I sound a little sterner than I probably should.
Mrs. Newton lets out a frustrated sigh and says, "We are meeting at eleven tomorrow to go over funeral arrangements. I assume you'd like to be there Isabella, unless I am mistaken."
"I will be there, of course Mrs. Newton," she says, ruefully.
"Until tomorrow, then," she says coldly. After a beat she continues, "Funny how things worked out for you, isn't it Isabella?" Bella's face drops in shock, I place a steadying hand on her arm; Mr. Newton pulls Mrs. Newton from the room. I mouth, "What the fuck?" to Carlisle out of Bella's line of vision.
"I'll be right back," he says and follows the Newtons down the hall.
I flop on the couch and gently pull Bella's hand so she slumps down next to me.
"What was that?" I ask sounding a little angry. Bella's only response is to curl up into a fetal position.
"Anything you want to talk about?" I ask more gently as I push a stray lock of hair from her face.
"Later," she utters.
"You'll know where to find me." I decide to push a bit more, "Are you normally this talkative?"
"If you only knew," she rolls her eyes. "You're not meeting me on my best day," she laughs once then sighs at the understatement.
"Not your best?" I experiment with sarcasm, my first language.
"Well, maybe in the top ten… no… no… no, I don't think it would even place there." She speaks it too, adding only one more reason for me to be drawn to her.
"I'm glad you're talking," no sarcasm, just the truth.
"Hmmm," her blinks slow. In just seconds, she's asleep.
Carlisle enters the room and cocks his head, gesturing me to meet him in the hallway. I follow him and my rage bursts out immediately, "Carlisle, if that woman says one more thing…"
"Edward, as infuriating as she may seem, that woman, Mrs. Newton, just watched her son die." His comment sobers me. I consider her loss, but the anger I feel quickly begins to rise again.
"But Bella just lost her husband. Where's her support? Why isn't anyone worried about her?" I walk away for a moment, frustrated, and begin to pace.
"There's a story here, Edward. I don't have all of it, but family discord started before this accident," he says wearily.
What kind of argument would allow for this kind of punishment? My anger isn't just towards Mrs. Newton. "Carlisle, this is what I don't get… and I know I'm struggling with faith here, but if I am to be honest…" I struggle to find the words.
"And I want you to be honest, Edward," he encourages me.
"Then why would God leave her without anyone to help her through today?"
"Did he, Edward?" he asks with great sincerity. "Has God not provided?" He smiles, and I know what he is saying. Exasperated, I run my fingers through my hair.
"Edward, your enthusiasm, your emotion, even your temper-these are some of your greatest gifts. But Edward," he continues more softly "you allow these gifts to be hurdles, to get in the way of what you know to be true, to be right. Don't drown out the voice of God with your own shouting. You know why you are here today, you don't need me to tell you."
If I meet his eyes, he will see through me, so I look down.
"What is it, son? There is more you aren't telling me." He knows me well.
"I don't know." It isn't a complete lie. The ability to explain my feelings eludes me. Keeping my eyes on the floor, I continue, "I am afraid that Bella is…being used."
Come on Carlisle-piece this together, don't make me say it. "By Mrs. Newton?" he asks, still lost.
I shake my head, "I'm afraid today is a test, a big test… and I'm failing. And it isn't fair to Bella."
"Oh, Edward," Carlisle smiles, sounding relieved, "you are doing exceedingly well. Every time I look over to you, you're listening… caring for her… helping her… attending to…" his voice trails off. I meet his gaze as his expression changes.
"Edward, are you attracted to Bella?" he asks slowly. I close my eyes and nod once.
"And you think God is using Bella to test you?" I shrug knowing how ridiculous it sounds paraphrased back to me.
He sits down in a nearby chair and rubs his jaw in contemplation. "It's really not that surprising. I should have prepared you better."
"What? Carlisle, don't put this on yourself." Can't he just let me feel like crap?
"We've discussed at length… the connection a patient or parishioner can feel towards a caregiver. It's common to develop feelings…"
"I'm not the patient here, Carlisle…" I run my fingers through my hair, pissed off.
"No you're not the patient, nor are you patient-at all." Now he's pissed. "I'm trying to say it can work both ways. You're providing Bella with care and support the way a spouse would when his partner feels weak. So, yes, it works both ways."
Carlisle composes himself and continues, "Edward, I entered the ministry as a married man. I sometimes forget that your situation has… particular difficulties. I turn to God for comfort, yes. But I also have Esme." He looks at me sympathetically. "We should, no, we will talk about this more, but right now, I think you should probably go home."
"What? No. I'm staying here." I cross my arms like a child. Carlisle's eyes widen in surprise. In the decade or so since I met him, I have never defied him. He's right though, I should leave Bella here in his capable hands. My judgment is clouded and I'm likely to take advantage of her vulnerability, read her the way I want. Though I see the various disastrous outcomes to this day, I cannot move from my post. I have turned some imaginary corner and it now would take God himself to pull me away from her.
He regards me for a moment, and then his hands go up in surrender as he stands, "Alright, it was only a suggestion. I trust you will make the right decisions. Just remember Edward, 'For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.'"
I return to my spot on the couch next to Bella, still curled up, asleep. She shimmies closer and lifts her head onto my lap. Needing to provide a few inches of distance, I place a pillow under her head. I stoke her arm and leave goose flesh in the wake, feeling how cold she is in her short sleeves. The overcoat she was wearing is now gone. Mr. Newton was wearing it, come to think if it, maybe he isn't that bad. Hunting for a blanket will disturb her, so I unbutton my shirt, wiggle out of it and lay it across her, leaving me in my white t-shirt and jeans, but giving Bella a bit more warmth.
Thank you, Lord, for reminding me to do laundry last night so I that I am wearing a stain-free t-shirt. Also, thanks for stopping me before I put on my vintage Rolling Stones concert shirt this morning. Exile on Main Street would not be a good look for today. And thank you for Carlisle, always.
"Mmmm," Bella hums as I rub her arm through my shirt.
"Please don't leave me," she murmurs. Before I can respond, I realize she's talking in her sleep. Is she is dreaming about her husband?
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned…" She must be Catholic. I wait, but she says nothing more. The soft purr of her sleep returns.
I pray this dream grants her absolution.
"Bella? Bella?" I wake with a start, surprised I had fallen asleep. A large man is hovering over us. By the time I focus my eyes, Bella is out of my lap and into his arms.
"Oh, Bella, I'm sorry I took so long. I tried calling. Do you have your cell phone?" his words are urgent. His hands are clasped on her shoulders as he scans her up and down, then examines the bruise and cut on her face.
"I don't know… I think Alice had it. Oh, no Alice?" she turns towards me, alarmed.
"She's out of surgery. She's fine. She should be ready for visitors." I say as I stand.
"Who are you?" Charlie asks suspiciously.
"Edward Masen, I'm a seminary student. Chief Swan, I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances, sir." I offer my hand and though he shakes it, he narrows his eyes at me. Thank you, Lord for my kick-ass memory when it comes to names.
"Char-dad, Edward has stayed with me all day. He has been a Godsend." She what? Beams?
"Yes, well… I'm glad you weren't alone." He says squaring his shoulders before he turns his attention back to Bella, "I should have come back here, Bells, but they were short handed and you'd think these big city cops would know how to take a decent witness statement…"
"It's okay, Dad. I'm fine. Really."
Really? I'm stunned to watch her, an almost convincing smile on her face, so stoic. No need for people to worry, Bella?
"Have you eaten? Let me get you something." She's worried about him? This exchange confirms most of my assumptions.
"No, Bells. I'm fine. How about you? You've eaten?"
"Of course," she lies.
"Edward?" He's asking me to concur with her story.
Bella turns to look at me, eyes pleading. She wants, no, needs me to play along.
"Yes, Chief Swan?" I don't actually lie. Fortunately, he doesn't pursue the matter. I'm glad because, for Bella, I might lie. But I will be getting some food in her, soon.
"Bella, I think we should go see Alice, don't you?" Charlie asks.
"Yes, please." Charlie takes her hand in his, but stops. "Is that Edward's shirt," he asks, skeptically. Sometime during her sleep, she must have slipped it on.
"Oh, yes… I must have…" She begins to take off the shirt.
"You were cold…"
"No, keep it. It's still really chilly in here," I protest.
"Well, if you're cold Bella, put my coat on too." Charlie takes off his enormous down-filled, police-issued winter coat and puts it around her shoulders. She looks like she's drowning in this ridiculous coat. But I get it. Charlie would rather it was he, not I, who stayed with her today. He needs to be her father now, and I step back.
"I'll be here when you get back. That is, if you want me to stay." I will her response.
She turns towards me with a hopeful expression, "Please stay," she says then gives an apologetic wince.
"Of course." I mutter and stop myself from stroking her cheek. That would be bad. Very bad. And very wrong. I'm thrilled she wants me to stay.
While Bella and Charlie are visiting Alice, I head to the hospital cafeteria. I gather some sandwiches, fruit, and those strange individual slices of bread in cellophane wrappers—anything that will give me a chance of getting Bella to eat.
After dropping off some brownies at the nurses' station, I return to the G.R. to write out my game plan:
1-When she leaves, give phone number for 'counsel and friendship.'
2-If call, go to funeral
3-If no call, give 2 weeks before calling (coffee date?)
4-Build friendship for 1yr
5-after yr1, graduate seminary, start to woo, marry her
6-Don't compete with Mike
7-NEVER EVER call when drunk
8-If she dates others—don't blow up- 'normal' people need sex, she'll be yours in the end
I fold the paper and consider throwing it away, knowing that once I've written something out, it's committed to memory. But needing a second souvenir, I decide to slip it into my back pocket. Just then, there is a presence at the door.
"Edward." Charlie is holding a suitcase and looking displeased.
"Chief Swan." He rubs his stubble and I can tell he's deep in thought, suffering.
"I'm not one to talk about… stuff… but I could use your advice."
"Those two girls up there are trying to get me to head back to Forks tonight. Now, I'm no fool. Bella worries about me and might need some time alone. But she's still my little girl and I don't want to leave her in Seattle tonight." Charlie sighs deeply, he's clearly torn, "but, if I go back tonight, I can finish the police reports and get this whole thing behind us sooner."
"Won't Bella go back with you?"
"And leave Alice? No way. She's got to be back here in the morning, anyway."
Do the right thing, Edward.
"Chief Swan, what would you need to get those police reports finished here in Seattle?"
He shrugs, "Computer, internet connection, a place to work for a few hours."
"I think I can help."
We make a few phone calls and I draw Charlie a map to the nearby public library. I hand him a sandwich and he gladly takes it. He will be able to get his work done, crash at nearby hotel for a few hours, and be within minutes of Bella if she needs him, or he needs her.
"So, am I to trust you to take Bella to her hotel tonight?" What? Me? Our bond quickly dissipates, he's warning me.
"Do you want me to take her?"
"No. But she does," She does? "and I don't want to argue. Remember, they'd prefer me to be back in Forks." He's annoyed, tired, and trying to do his best. I can see Bella in Charlie.
"Yes, Charlie. You can trust me." I have a two-year plan if you want to see it?
With trepidation, I stand at the doorway watching Bella and Alice talk. Should I listen? Shit—that's wrong. I clear my throat and both women turn toward me.
"Hi," Bella says and waves me in.
"Hi," I say cautiously as I approach, noticing Alice's mouth open in what—surprise?
"Edward, I'd like you to meet my dearest friend, Alice."
"Pleased to meet you Alice. How are you feeling?" She is braced from her rib cage to her feet.
"Other than having a broken pelvis, I feel fine," she retorts, eyes scanning me from head to toe. What is she doing, inspecting me?
I fight my defensive urge and respond sincerely, "It must be quite painful. I'm very sorry."
She softens, "Well, I really can't feel anything with my happy pump of joy-joy." She shows me her morphine pump and pushes the button before resting it by her side.
"Bella, love, would you get me some ginger ale? The nurse said I could have some when I'm ready."
"I'd be happy to get it," I jump in hoping to win her over, but it backfires. She throws Ninja stars through her eyes.
"Bella, will you do it for me. If they don't have ginger ale, you know what I like," she says sweetly.
"Sure, Alice." Bella suspiciously shifts her eyes between us.
As soon as Bella exits, Alice snaps her head back to me, "She said you were handsome, but I had no idea…"
She said I was handsome? This is amazing. I didn't know it was even possible that she would… Alice prattles on-I hear "rock star," and "model" ridiculous hyperbole I've heard throughout my life. But, Bella thinks I'm handsome? And she shares this with her best friend the day of her wedding? I'm mystified.
Alice snaps her fingers in front of my face, my daydream apparent.
"Listen, we only have a few minutes, and I have a lot to say, so pay attention." And I do.
Alice dives in, "First, if I wasn't bound by this medieval device, I would throw on some clothes and take care of her. But since I can't, I have to rely on you to do it. Understand?"
"Next, I take it we got rid of Charlie?"
"Yes," she doesn't need to know the details.
"Good. I love that man, but she doesn't need the burden of worrying about him. The less Charlie knows, the better. When you leave here, you will take her to the hotel…"
"Yes, I know."
"Don't interrupt. And don't leave her alone… the vision of my Bella… in the hotel… alone…" her eyes fill with tears, but I can see she's fighting them. "Edward, you can't imagine what she's gone through. I'm sure you can't see it from today, but she is the strongest, kindest, smartest woman I've ever known…" I disobey and interrupt.
"I do see it. You don't know me Alice, and I'm sure you're worried. But you have to trust me. You really don't have a choice." I hope I mustered up enough sincerity in my voice to convince her.
"Oh, Edward, you've dazzled her, and that scares the shit out of me." Her expression turns from threatening to beseeching.
"You're not going into the priesthood, are you?" she cringes.
"No, I'm Methodist."
"Thank you, Lord," she breathes as she looks at the ceiling. I have to smile. I would want Alice as my best friend—Bella deserves as much. And, I've dazzled Bella. She's a small planet that sucks me in with her gravitational pull—and she thinks I've dazzled her—unfathomable.
Bella practically runs back in the room with a bottle of ginger ale, looking wary.
I start the engine and look over to Bella in the passenger seat. I should have warmed the car first. My iPod continues The Doors', Gloria, and I reach for the power switch, certain she'd prefer something more soothing.
"Don't be. I like it."
"You like The Doors?" I say, surprised.
"Charlie always played classic rock when I was growing up. He likes the Jimi Hendrix version of Gloria, but I prefer this one. That reminds me, do you mind if I check my voice mail?"
"Of course not." I turn the volume all the way down and Bella turns it back up a bit.
"We can't miss the best part," she says.
She listens to her messages and I'm glad she gives me a few details. "Mailbox full—no surprise. Oh, poor Charlie, most of these are from him." Every few seconds, she presses a button then stops to listen. Bella must be listening to a long message. She looks up at me and laughs softly, "That was Alice, she says hello again." She continues, "Last one… Charlie…Wow."
"You fed Charlie? That's usually my job," Her gaze is penetrating.
"No big deal, I gave him a sandwich. Some people like to eat now and again." She refused any food at the hospital. I will force-feed you by the end of the night if I have to.
"He wanted me to thank you. Charlie never thanked…" She stops, thinking about Mike? "You're quite good at winning friends and influencing people." She mutters wistfully while looking out the window. I want to see her face, to read her.
"Is it later yet?"
"No, not yet."
I slip the key card into the Executive Suite of The Four Seasons. I open the door wide to allow Bella's entrance. Even from the doorway, we can see the floor to ceiling view of the Sound, a fire already burning in the fireplace, Champagne and roses on the vestibule credenza—this would be a lovely place to spend a wedding night.
I turn to Bella, who must have the same thought. She sways, her eyelids flutter, and-Oh, Fuck—I catch her before she goes down. I carry her over the threshold and make my way with her through the apartment-sized suite to the bedroom.
I lay her down on the bed.
"Bella? Bella—can you hear me?"
She blinks rapidly before staring back up at me, looking dazed. She tries to sit up, but I press her shoulders back down. "Not yet, give it a few minutes." I stroke her cheek, she feels cold. Please Lord, help me care for her.
An idea springs to mind, "Don't move, I'll be right back." I bring in the luggage from the hallway and take a bottle of Pedialyte from my bag.
I return to her, "Here, a little more of the magic elixir." I open the bottle and help her take some small sips, eventually, the color returns to her cheeks.
"Edward, I need to take a shower."
"I don't think that's a good idea, you need to rest. You can take one in the morning."
"Smell this." She holds her shirt to me and I bend down to smell, trying not to see down the gapping v-neck. The smell of Bella is obscured by chemical and disinfectant. It must be helping to keep my desires at bay.
"I smell like hospital."
"You smell fine, Bella. You're faint-you could fall. I don't want you in the shower."
"Edward, I smell like death." Her eyes drop to her lap and I understand her need to wash away this day.
"I think a bath would be a safer choice. Let's keep the bathroom door open. I need to hear if you're having trouble."
When the deep marble tub finally fills with water, I call for Bella. She shuffles in. "If you need anything..."
"I'll call," she teases.
"Are you mocking me?"
"No…," she sounds apologetic, "I'm just not used to… this," she gestures to the space between us. Not understanding, I stay silent. "You know… being taken care of." Her husband must have tried. Didn't he? But she's resistant to help.
"Ask and you shall receive, Bella," I say, then exit, leaving the door half open.
There's a knock at the door—room service is here. As soon as the food is set up, Bella calls, "Edward, I forgot my clothes." How could I forget—Freudian, I'm sure.
"I'm on it." I lift the suitcase to the luggage cart, unzip and open it to find lace and satin—nothing but lingerie in the first few layers. I hunt to the bottom and locate some cotton shorts and camisole. These look too flimsy to wear out, so I assume they are pajamas.
I knock on the door, "Come in." I enter with my back to the tub.
"Are these okay?" I hold them up for her to see. "Yes, those are my favorites." I place them on the chair next to the doorway.
"And I found this." I hold up what I gathered to be a toiletry kit.
"Oh, thank you, thank you," she sounds so relieved. I place it on the chair next to the pajamas.
"Can you bring the bag to me?" I begin to slowly walk backwards and stop when I hear her laugh.
"You're going to fall. You can turn around, I'm covered." I hope she is in bubbles up to her ears. I can't bear to see her naked. I turn around—no bubbles, shit. I walk forward keeping my eyes on the window behind her, but I can still see. She is sunk deep in the water, her arms crossed over her chest, shielding her breasts in her hands. Why must I have such good peripheral vision?
"I'll just put it right here," I say glancing at the ceiling.
"That's good. I'll be out in a minute."
Bella emerges from the bathroom in her pajamas and a towel wrapped around her head. She scans the room, her eyes landing on the table I set.
"You… brought me... cereal?" I watch as her wide eyes fill with tears.
"I thought you might like…I can get you something else." Please eat something, Bella.
"You like cereal?" she asks hopeful, her lower lip shaking, tears spilling over.
"I… I love cereal. But… if you don't…"
Bella shakes her head.
"You brought me cereal." She isn't asking anymore.
"I brought you cereal," I breathe.
For a brief moment, we lock eyes, completely frozen. No schooling or life experience can prepare me for what happens next. I watch as Bella's blood drains from her face, she clutches her middle and folds over, her towel falls to the floor.
"Bella!" In the second it takes for me to reach her, she takes a belly full of air and lets out a soul-shattering sob. This sound should make the Earth stop rotation. Angels should swoop down and lift her immediately to heaven for the pain that escapes her lips. It is singularly that saddest sound I could never imagine.
With my arms around her, I guide her to the edge of the bed and kneel in front of her, trying to see her face. Another breath of air, and another long, soulful keen. I thought I was ready for this—but I'm not. Shit, what would Carlisle do? He should be here. I know this needs to happen, but the sight of her devastation floors me. This is bullshit. I have no right being in this hotel room right now. I want to run. Call Carlisle. Kiss her. Fuck! That's it—it's my dick got me in this situation. Lord, help me. She's struggling, her breathing harsh and quick.
I grab her upper arms, and try to pull her up to see her face.
"Breathe, Bella." I command.
"It's... my... fault," she speaks between breaths.
"Bella, what's your fault?" I'm still trying to get a look at her from below, but she twists away. I change positions, but with each shift or move I make, she counters.
"No. Don't look at me." The tears surge down her cheeks, her lips, her chin, her neck. I try to wipe them, but she slaps my hand away. Fuck, I panic. Lord, what should I do? Be still, Edward. And I am-not saying or moving. When I do, Bella stops struggling. The tears continue to flow, she is trembling under my hands, but she is breathing.
"Bella, what is your fault?"
"The accident… Mike's death… all if it…"
"Bella, no one is responsible. There was a car that hydroplaned…"I try to explain gently, but she is shaking her head, violently.
"Nooooo. You don't understand…" she grabs fistful of my shirt and meets my gaze, "It was me, it was all me," her eyes are so fierce, her pleas so passionate, it frightens me.
"Bella…" I begin to protest.
Don't talk, Edward, listen.
"…tell me. Tell me why it's your fault." I exhale, not fully convinced of this tactic.
Her head crashes into my chest, hard, and she resumes sobbing. I slide my hands up her arms, around her shoulders, holding one hand to the nape of her neck and splaying the other across her back. Her weeping seems endless. After a few minutes, she turns her head into the crook of my neck allowing me to press my body against hers and to rock her gently.
"Let it go, Bella. I'm here," are the only words I have to offer in comfort. Eventually, her body goes limp in my arms. I easily slide her off the bed and onto the floor against the wall with me. She curls in my lap, and I continue to rock her. I don't know how long it has been since she started crying. An hour?
She peers at me with swollen, crimson eyes. I can't read her complex expression—forlorn? Grateful? Maybe doing nothing is the best thing I can do for her. I take the dry shirttail of my damp shirt and wipe away the tears from her face, but they continue to silently flow. I place a kiss on her forehead, and she curls back into me. She is a ball of soft flesh, expanding and deflating in my arms with each breath.
After a few more minutes, I hear the purr of her sleep. I scoop her up and lift her into bed, pull back the covers, tuck her in, and turn off the light. Quickly, I take the cereal to the kitchenette, put the milk in the fridge, and then head to the couch. I consider my list, as I drift off to sleep.
I sense someone walking past me; I must be dreaming. I turn over—an unfamiliar couch. I hear crunching, slurping, then wake to look around, remembering where I am. Crunching? Bella must be awake.
I enter the bedroom to find Bella sitting cross-legged on the bed drinking milk from her cereal bowl. She doesn't notice me at first. I'm glad, silently watching her tilt back her head, her neck moving with each swallow of milk. She finishes and sees me watching her.
"Oh, my goodness. My crunching woke you, I'm sorry."
"No, no. Don't be. This is… this is a good sound." We exchange shy smiles, "Can I join you?"
"What, I haven't scared you off yet?"
"Nope. Not yet." I pour myself a bowl of corn flakes, "Ready for dessert?" I ask holding out my hand. She gives me her empty bowl and I fill it with Captain Crunch.
"Who knew Captain Crunch would be on the room service menu?" she asks.
"I know. This is some great hotel."
Okay. This is a little awkward. I was just getting used to not talking. Now that we're talking, what do I say?
She pats a space in front of her on the bed, and I join her sitting crossed legged, using a pillow as a tabletop.
"So," she says after a moment, "I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror a few minutes ago…and…I…well, I think you should know, I don't always look like this. And I'd like to fix myself up, but I don't really know where to begin." She's embarrassed? With all we've been through today? I take in the vision of Bella: The bruise on her cheek is spreading over half her face, a mix of green and purple. Her eyes are swollen to mere slits, half of her bottom lip—puffy around the cut. And her hair is a nest of dry tangles, still damp curls and frizz. She is perfect.
"I wasn't fishing for a compliment. You don't have to say anything," she says. I've been silent too long. Don't fuck this up. Do I tell her she's beautiful? No that's weird, true, but weird.
"Well, for the day you've had, I think you look fine." She drops her head. Wrong Answer.
"You're right. It could be worse. Not much worse, but, you know," she mutters.
"How does your belly feel?" Change the subject, the only way out.
"Much, much better. Thank you." She snorts, and rolls her eyes, "'Thank you.' Now, if that's not the understatement of the year, I don't know what is. I'm not sure how to thank you for everything you've done for me today, well… and tonight. I would not have gotten through this mess without you." She's saying this matter-of-factly, like she's wrapping this up. I don't like this. I'm not done. She's not done.
"Bella, aren't there some things you want to talk about?"
"No, not really," she says coolly and digs back into her cereal.
"Isn't it 'later' yet?"
"No. I think I've worked it all out. I'm good." God, how could we take so many steps back in such a short amount of time? I'm going to end this. She's shutting me out, like she's done with everyone else. Well, I'm not everyone else. I take our bowls and put them on the bedside table. Bella gives me a confused, anxious look.
"Give me your hands," I order. She puts them in mine and meets my gaze.
"Isabella, yes I know your full name. Isabella, we have been through too much today to start playing games, and this ends now. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she says quietly and looks down.
"Look at me." I say as I squeeze her hands—her head snaps up.
"Without filtering, tell me everything that is running through your mind."
"Where to start…there's so much…"
"I threw up on you."
"Not on, in front of."
"I cried on you, a lot."
"And, there was mucus and stuff."
"And I ruined your shirt."
"It's The Gap. They're cheap and wash well. Next."
"I fell asleep on you like eight times."
"I was a complete freak at the hospital around the Newtons."
"I'm not ready for that."
"Charlie was weird to you."
"Lord knows what Alice said to you."
"Nothing I didn't already know, or wanted to know."
She pauses, blinking up to me.
"I almost fainted in the hallway."
"You did faint. Next."
"You've seen me half naked."
"I closed my eyes."
"I've been so weak in front of you."
"I despise weakness, in myself."
"I don't know…It's who I am…it's easier for me to be strong."
"I look a fright right now."
"You're gorgeous, stunning. I wasn't being truthful before, I'm sorry."
"I didn't want to scare you."
"Because you just lost your husband and I shouldn't be feeling the way I… I shouldn't be looking at you like that."
"Oh." Her brows knit together, then she relaxes. "Edward, I'm ready to talk about the accident."
Bella takes a deep breath. Her words flow as if she had been preparing this speech all day:
"Last week, Mike told me that he had been having an affair for a long time. I should have known—he had been distant for months. He told me he was planning on ending the affair, and he 'really wanted to make our wedding…our marriage work.' But I was having none of it. I tried calling off the wedding. His parents, who were paying for most of it, were furious—who knows what he told them, certainly not the truth. They threatened to give me the bill…like I ever wanted some big Seattle wedding, a Forks wedding wasn't good enough for Mike. Everything started to crumble. I told him to marry her instead. 'But you're the marrying type.'" Bella snorts, shaking her head. At least he got one thing right.
"I told Alice what had happened, and she tried to help… I couldn't tell Charlie. Each day that passed made it more complicated. I gritted my teeth and decided to go through with it. I'm a coward, Edward. Maybe we could make it work, if not, a divorce after a year or two. Sacrilege." The word is acrimonious on her tongue.
"I sat my ass in church and prayed every day for something, anything to happen, to make this go away. Damn it. I will not cry." She blinks to the ceiling for a moment, gathering herself. "I prayed to make the wedding go away, Mike go away, me go away… all this anguish to go away."
"But it didn't. Yesterday, I stood in that church in front friends and family and asked God to bless this unholy union. It was the worst form of blasphemy. And ultimately, my prayers were answered."
I swallow, hard, stifling my growing rage at her gross mistreatment. This isn't about anger, Edward. It's not about you, or Mike Newton, this is about Bella—about compassion.
"Bella, do you believe God is punishing you?"
"Yes… No… I did yesterday. I don't know anymore, Edward."
"Do you want to know what I believe?"
"First, there are too many good people suffering in this world, too many bad things happening to good people, to believe God is laying down punishments. And second," I cup her face in my hand, "you don't have to figure this all out in one night." She leans into my hand before taking it in hers and kissing my fingertips.
She gives a subtle nod and looks down at our hands, my thumbs brushing over her knuckles. "Maybe it's Karma."
"Changing your religion?" I smile.
"I don't know… adding to it?" she shrugs.
I tilt her chin up, "So, Bella, what did you do in a past life to bring you to this moment?"
"This moment…? Either something very, very bad or very, very good." She whispers in a husky voice, looking toothsome. I feel myself swell against my jeans. Fuck, my carnal desire is back. I run my thumb over her bottom lip. She wets her lip, and the tip of my thumb, in the process. I stifle a moan, release her chin, and close my eyes. Strength, please give me strength. Stick to the list Masen, tomorrow, stage one—the phone number.
When I open my eyes, she's biting her bottom lip, her eyes wide.
With amazing fortitude I tell her, "It's late, if we go to sleep now, we should still have five or six hours of sleep."
"Right… good plan." There is a mix of gratitude and disappointment in her voice.
I begin to climb off the bed, keeping my pillow to hide my erection.
"What? Where are you going?"
"Nowhere, just back to the couch."
I plop on the couch and watch through the doorway as Bella scoots herself deeper into her covers. I sit for a few moments waiting to hear the tell tale purr of her sleep, but it doesn't come.
"Are you still awake?" She asks in a loud stage whisper.
"Yes," I suppress a laugh.
"Yes?" I mirror her loud whisper. She's utterly adorable.
"Um… could you, would you… sleep next to me tonight?" And I'm hard again. This could be very dangerous. Lord, help me to find… Oh, fuck it. I climb into the bed behind her and place a pillow between us.
She wiggles her ass a little, "What's that?"
"The rock of Gibraltar, Bella." She giggles, a glorious sound. "Go to sleep, it's late."
"Can't. Your turn, tell me a story."
A story? I scan my mind for the appropriate bible story, one that will shed light, understanding… give comfort. Abraham and Isaac? No, no, that even freaks me out sometimes…
"Tell me the story of Edward Masen."
Where do I start? I'll keep it light but honest, some funny story about my baseball days.
"Who is Edward Masen?" She asks sincerely, and the candor she's shared propels me to do the same.
"Let's see, Edward Masen, son of Elizabeth and Edward, Sr. tries to be a good person."
"He is a good person."
"Well, he fails sometimes…. a lot of times. He's had his share of sadness, but no more so than the beautiful creature lying beside him." Bella reaches back and finds my hand, knitting her fingers through mine.
"What did he do with his sadness?"
"He had good friends, like Carlisle, and his faith in God to help him. He made it through the roughest part."
"Then what happened?"
"He wanted to help others the way he was helped, so he earned his degree in Psychology, then entered the seminary."
"How's that working out for him? Seminary, I mean."
"Some good days, some bad."
"Tell me about the best day."
"On the best day, he met a real life angel, walking around the mortals. And she let him in." I kiss her temple.
"Mmmm," she murmurs, understanding my intent, then continues, "And the worst?"
I say nothing.
She brings my hand to her mouth; she kisses my palm then places it on her stomach. One hand tugs at her other hand and I hear a clink. I glance over her shoulder and notice she's left her wedding band on the bedside table. Bella strokes my forearm—my hair stands on end, the current of her touch.
"Has Edward Masen ever been in love?" her voice is hesitant.
"What's her name?"
Isabella Swan. I nuzzle my nose in her hair trying to closer to her scent—peppermint, rosemary, and purity.
"Edward, what's her name?"
"I told you already… Hospital Socks."
She giggles and playfully pushes back, I shift away unsure if my jeans and this pillow can hide what is going on in my pants.
"Enough story time for now, Bella. Go to sleep."
She turns her head, looking up at me. "Kiss me good-night, Edward." She isn't asking, she's quietly commanding. I oblige. I bend down and kiss her, chastely, on the corner of her mouth.
She turns on her side, now completely facing me, only the pillow between us. My mouth is dry. My heart is beating through the pillow. This shouldn't happen until after year one.
"Kiss me again, Edward," she whispers.
"It doesn't hurt." She's so calm, so confident, and I'm so… so unworthy. She reaches her hand to the nape of my neck and gently massages the back of my head. Saliva pools in my mouth. I lean in and kiss her. She's so soft and warm. I take her upper lip in mine, flavors of milk and Captain Crunch, and Bella. My brain shuts down and my libido takes over. Her mouth opens wider and I enter her. Her tongue, soft, meets mine and follows into my mouth. She sucks on my bottom lip, I hum in appreciation.
I move my hand to her neck and rub my thumb over her jaw. I let my hand fall to her shoulder, and then caress her collarbone. She moans in my mouth. Bella pulls the pillow out from between us and throws it behind her without breaking out kiss, but I pull back.
"Bella, this is dangerous." I'm out of breath and fully turned on.
"Yes, I know." She continues to kiss me, pressing her body against me. What is she doing? Fuck, what am I doing? What did Carlisle say? She's been cared for…that's all. She's emotionally distraught…this isn't about me. Maybe this is about Mike, getting back at him. Maybe she needs another catharsis, a physical release. This is wrong. With the might of God behind me, I draw back.
"Bella," I pull her hands from my neck and hold them in mine, like in prayer, between us. "Listen to me. You have been through so much, you're confused, probably still in shock, and your emotions…" I am trying to convince myself as much as her.
"Stop," she puts her fingertips over my mouth, and speaks with conviction, "It's not what you think. I have never been clearer about anything than I am right now. We have a special connection, Edward. Don't pretend for one second you don't feel it too."
And this is it. I could pretend it isn't here, allow her to go to sleep with a wounded ego, but save her virtue. She might even thank me in the morning. I could be her friend, keep my plan. Be the man I so desperately want to be. Or I could…
"Stop over thinking this, Edward."
"Bella… I've never had… I've never been with… I don't know if I can…"
"Oh, Edward. We can make love without having sex," she says not knowing I've thought about that very scenario a thousand times today.
"I know… I just, sort of want both," I smile, a little embarrassed.
She kisses me softly, "I know, me too." She kisses me again, then pulls back.
"But we really shouldn't, right?" she asks, amused.
"Right," I say rather sternly and plant small kisses along her jaw. She pushes me away.
"Just so you know, I've never either."
"You mean, he…?"
She nods, "We waited—college sweethearts for three years, and in the meanwhile, he was fucking Lauren Mallory," she rolls her eyes, as if it is something she is trying to downplay, then her mask slips and, for just a moment, I can see her pain.
The anger builds again. This isn't about Mike. "Bella, I know I can't… but if I could… I would do anything to take your pain away."
She pulls me down on top of her and we continue to kiss, heated, without hesitation.
I shift my left leg between hers, keeping most of my weight from her. Her hips undulate and I begin to pump my knee giving her the friction she wants.
I continue to pump as she grinds along my thigh. She shifts and moves her thigh against my cock, but it's too much, I'm tingling, I'm afraid I'll come. I move away and slide my hand between her legs.
"Is this okay?"
"Yes, please, keep going."
Her thighs are damp. I want this to go slowly, but I can't. I slide my fingers under the cotton of her shorts. She isn't wearing underwear; of course, I didn't give her any-Freud. I caress the apex of her thighs; she's soaked-FUCK.
Silky, soft, hot…I find her hard clitoris surrounded by swollen flesh. I stroke her once-she quivers and moans. I gently ghost over it again-not sure how soft is too soft.
"Please, more." She pulls off her camisoles. Her small perfect breasts, I want to touch them. There's so much more I want to do to her-but I can't—I need to concentrate, concentrate on not coming. The pain caused by the pressure of my jeans is just enough to hold me back. Damn it- I'm no good at multitasking right now. I skim my thumb over once more and slide my finger inside of her.
She grunts, and her walls clasp around me. She's so tight with just one finger-I panic.
"I'm sorry… did I hurt you?"
"No, no, no... I just... just surprised... Don't stop."
I feel her relax. I make small circles and feel her stretch with my movement. She reaches between my legs and palms my painfully hard cock.
"Bella, don't... I'm going to come."
"Take off your pants," she pants. I look at her, motionless.
She reaches for my fly, "Unless you have another pair of jeans for tomorrow, you better get these off," she says, her voice urgent and raspy. My girl is smart, even in the heat of things.
She unzips my pants, reaches in and pulls me free, wrapping her hand around me.
I pump once in her hand, the feeling is staggering, but I try not to do it again. I search to find that little ridge inside of her, curling my fingers just as Maxim explained. I can't find it, but I must be doing something right, she stiffens.
Pressing my thumb to her clitoris, I curl my finger once more, and "Aaagh" she cries and comes on my hand. Her wetness pours down my fingers into my palm as her body pulses and clenches around me. Oh, what she could do to my aching cock. That thought, the sight… the feel… I pump just once more into her small, tentative hand and I come, long and hard across her exposed stomach and chest. I fall back as we catch our breath.
I can't believe I just came on her, desecrated her. My eyes can't yet focus, and I don't have my sea legs, but I begin to slink out of bed, she jolts up, "Edward, what are you… where are you…"
"I just wanted to get a towel… I'm so sorry," I say as I try to shove myself back in my pants. Fuck, this is shameful.
She holds out her hand, I consider it, and then give her my hand. "Don't ruin the moment," she says yanking me back into bed with her.
"Don't worry about this," she says and she rubs my come over her belly. Fuck, yeah. It is the most erotic thing I have ever witnessed. Too bad she doesn't realize how bad this would be if I let it go without proper clean up-or does she? Has she done that before? Has he let her? I won't let anger ruin this moment. And I'm not about to invalidate her gesture, so I crash my body against hers, kissing her deeply, as she deserves. "Bella, you are magnificent," I say into her herb-scented hair, running small kisses behind her ear and down her neck.
"Mmmm…. I never knew I could… it could…" She looks bashful, in spite of what she just did. Because of what she did? Is she at a loss for words? Even with my inexperience? She must not know better, or maybe I've done something right. I'll pick the latter.
"Hold that thought," I kiss her on the side of her mouth, on her sternum, and on her knee as I make my way off the bed. "I promise to be right back."
I wipe the last of myself off of her and kiss sacredly along the warm, wet trail left by the towel. Bella smiles the kind of smile that could stop my heart. I make my way back to her lips, pressing the full length of my body onto hers.
"Now, where were we?" I roll onto my back, bringing her on top of me. She kisses me down my neck and slows as she reaches my chest. She stays there and nuzzles me. Her cloud of hair, brushing against my chin.
"Oh, yes, I think you were trying to tell me something." Bella giggles and I feel the vibrations throughout my chest.
"You're… um… magnificent?" she says, and giggles even harder.
"You stole my answer. I'll have to turn you in for cheating, Miss Swan." Her breath hitches, and I don't know if I've made the right choice. I wait, and then finally hear a soft sigh. Her body relaxes—she is still a Swan.
"Thank you for that."
I stroke her hair and kiss the top of her head. We lie together like this, silent for a long time. I wait for her purr, but it doesn't come.
"Sweetheart?" she peaks up with me, her brows raised in surprised.
"Is that okay, do you like sweetheart?"
She cocks her head to the side, likes she's trying it out in her head. "It's okay."
"Darling? Honey?" I notice that I'm using the words my father reserved for my mom. "Baby?"
"Mmmm. I like baby." She nuzzles my chest again planting small kisses through my t-shirt, around my nipple. My cock twitches.
"You were going to ask me something?" I say massaging my fingers in her hair, since I can't actually run my fingers through her wild tresses I've come to adore.
"Do you want to do that again… but… with the sex part?" I do, I really do. But I don't say so.
"Because I want to." She looks up at me again, and there is such a sweet innocence in her eyes.
Speak the truth in your heart, Edward. "Well, since I am going to marry you someday, it might be alright." I brace myself for her response.
Bella's smile widens across her face and she says, "Yeah, I know. I just didn't know if you knew it yet." She scoots up and gives me a small kiss before finding a home in the crook of my neck.
"The cereal. You brought me cereal."
"I brought you cereal." I say, almost to myself, trying to figure out her code. "Bella, what is it about you and cereal?"
She shrugs, "I love cereal. I don't know… cereal is… cereal is home."
I lift her chin and kiss her, hoping she can feel my passion, my reverence for her. It would take a supernatural being to resist Bella at this moment, and I am a mere human.
"Edward, I don't want to make you do anything…"
"I know, and I don't want you to anything you… we can call this a loophole…"
"You mean we're going to pretend that this is okay?"
"That's the plan."
"Good plan, I'm in."
We quickly undress each other fumbling around before she takes her position on top of me again. We press our sticky chests against each other, kissing hungrily. God, I want to be inside of her. My cock is hard and I'm so glad I've already come once. I hope it means I have a chance of lasting more than twelve seconds.
"Edward… I don't know… I don't think I can be on top." Fuck, she's scared.
"It's okay, you don't have to… I just read that it will hurt less for you… for your first time." She's wildly shaking her head no. "Hey, it's okay. You want me on top?" I roll her onto her back. She's so small-I don't want to crush her. Fuck, now I'm scared.
"Is this better?" I ask, hoping I sound reassuring.
"Yes, I want to feel you. I want to feel your weight on top of me."
I reach between her legs to find her wetness, cooling and sticky from before mixed with warm and thin. Someday soon, I will lick her dry. I can't help myself; I put my fingers in my mouth-salty, tangy honey. Liquid Bella.
"Damn, that's hot-just when I thought I couldn't get any wetter…" She pulls me down and kisses me, moaning into my mouth. I'm on fire from my navel to my knees. I rub the head of my cock over her clitoris, because I read it's supposed to feel good for both of us-which it does-and, well, just because I want to.
"Yes, Edward, I'm ready, please…" her voice is thick with lust.
I position myself at her entrance, taking the brunt of my weight on my forearms. I look down at her wide, dark eyes, and I…I…freeze. WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING? I can't do this. But I can't stop this. I am about to ruin the best shot of love, real romantic love I have ever had. Tomorrow she will wake and resent me. She will come to her senses and realize that I have taken advantage of her, stripped her of her Catholicism-guided, pre-marital abstinence—that's a life choice, damn it. And what about me? I aim to live a life guided by the clear rules laid before me, and help others to do the same, yet I am willfully ignoring a basic tenant, because of what? Lustful desires? How many times have I have I turned down this… but this isn't lust. I've felt lust and turned my to back it…this is something different. This is sacred. I quiet my mind, searching for the voice to stop me, to confirm that this is wrong—but it doesn't come. I've either ejected the voice of God, or he approves. I chose the latter. Fuck, I'm in denial...
"Edward, Edward, come back to me," she says, her hands on my face, looking up at me. I momentarily clear my head and look back into her eyes. "Don't be afraid. We belong together."
With this, I push myself into her. My God, she's so tight. It's only my head, but I feel her clamp around me. Dear Lord, I know I shouldn't be praying to you right now, but please tell me that I am in the right place.
Her eyes squeeze shut.
"Okay, I'm good, you're good… I'm having a little trouble." Her whole body is tense below me.
"Are you freaking out?" I ask.
"Yep, a little." Her breath is frenzied. "Are you in?"
"A little." I don't sound too calm myself, "Baby, let's breathe for a minute." I shift my weight to one forearm and use the other to stoke her side, over her ribcage, and up to her breast. How could I have waited so long before touching this breast? I cup the small mound in my hand, marveling at the suppleness. I kiss the swell and work my way down to her small nipple, taking it in my mouth, sucking and licking, feeling it harden.
"Beautiful," I murmur against her breast and I feel her turn to jelly beneath me. I look at her, and wait for approval. She gives me a small nod. I shift and slowly sink into her.
"Ohhh," we say in unison. Mine from pleasure, her from pain—I think. I want, no need to move in her, to plunge into, but I struggle to hold still.
"Are you okay, Bella?" I feel her stretch around me.
"Yes… keep going," she breathes. I pull back and slowly rock forward again, eliciting more moans from each of us. I do it again, beginning a slow rhythm.
"Edward, tell me what it feels like. What I feel like." Don't mess this up, Masen- think of something romantic.
"Like…ugh…rain in April…ugh… like…puppies…"
"Like puppies and rain?" Shit, she's able to talk and I'm not, not a good sign.
"No, no… hot, wet, so fucking tight… like my cock is getting it's first hug… ugh…and it's been, really, neglected…augh."
"I'm really tight?" her brows shoot up. She sounds excited, but not as breathy as I want.
"You're a freakin' vice, Bella." She grips my cock from the inside. "Ugh."
"Did you feel that?"
"Yessss" I can barely talk. I'm at home plate for the University of Washington's bid for the playoffs…
"Thank you, Edward. A girl who waits… ooh… as long as I've had needs… oh… augh… ungh…" FINALLY.
I pull nearly all the way out of her, "How do I feel?" and thrust, hard.
"Augh," she shouts
"Oh, shit. Did that hurt?"
"Yeah… no… you're hitting something… do it again…" she gasps.
I thrust again, feeling my head hit—what, the top of her? Her hymen?
"How do I feel, Bella?" my voice raspy, now I need to know.
"Augh…You're huge, you know that, right?" The bases are loaded and I have one strike. I hear the announcer…
"So it seems… mmm," I rock in her, shallow again.
"It feels like, augh… you know when you put a tampon in and you forgot you still have one in… oh, shit that's good… and you hit your cervix…. you know…"
"No, I have no idea…"
"Like that…" And thoughts of baseball are no longer needed.
"Is it your hymen…?" Shift small Masen; hold out.
"No… I've read most virgins my age don't have it anymore… Ah…"
"Here's what I've read…" I lift to my hands, pull up, and grind my pelvis bone into her."
"Jeez… Cheese and Crackers," she yells. "Ah, fuck me. It's hard not… Lord's name… in vain… augh… sex."
"New loophole." I say, and I'm done talking. I grind into her again and again. She moans, I grunt. I combine thrusts and grinds—every cell, alive with sensation. My pelvis tightens, tunnel vision, I can't hold on….
"Please come," I try to say, and she does, loudly-twitching and clamping around me. My hips take over and thrust wildly into her. I feel my come rise though me and release into her as she spasms around me, "My God." I grunt, before falling into her and pulling her to our sides.
I hold her in my arms, still inside her. Bella continues to sporadically twitch and shudder for several more minutes. I'll have to look this up.
I hear a quiet sigh, and she peeks up at me.
"Is it always like that?"
"I hope so."
"Me too." She rests her head back down.
"Now what right now, or now what big picture?"
"Now, sleep. Tomorrow, we have…an interesting meeting to attend. Now what, big picture? Don't know. I have faith we will figure that out."
"Mmmm. You said we." She's almost asleep.
"I said we… Bella?"
"You feel like cereal?"
Bella plants a small kiss on my chest—then I hear her sleeping purr.
A/N: Thank you for reading!
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