Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns everything Twilight related. No copyright infringement is intended and there is no financial gain by myself in this story. The original characters, plot, and setting are the property of the author, NTJB. Please do not reproduce this story without the express permission of the author.
A/N: Hi :)
Thank you so much for the reviews last chapter. Gosh, some were so funny, I almost thought to change the first scene in this chapter lol.
Chapter 29- Malignant
August 11, 2010
"You a-and Ben?" I thought I swallowed my tongue.
There was some choking. Edward bent me over, prompting me to breathe between his chuckles. After a couple minutes, I got air back in my windpipe. But the images were stuck in my brain forever like rubber cement.
For heaven's sake! Ben? The dude? The dude with the cock?
He got a glass of water for me, which I swallowed too quickly. This resulted in a minute-long coughing fit on my knees on the floor.
"Bella, calm down. Breathe."
"You..." I began as the fit simmered down.
"Yes. Yeah, I slept with Ben. But it was only once 'cause it was one of the worst experiences of my life."
I sucked in a lungful of air and wiped my eyes. "Oh."
"Power plays and all that? I'm not a bottom."
"That you even know what that means!" I tossed the empty glass onto the couch, standing up. "So, you're bi?"
"Fuck no! I told you, I hated it. Never again."
"Are you sure?"
With his arms akimbo, he looked me up and down. "I didn't peg you as such a prim and proper girl. Where's 'The Liberated Woman'?"
"I'm not that girl anymore. That part of my life was a regrettable mistake I wish I could erase."
"Believe me, I'd erase that night with Ben, too."
Edward took my hands again, kissing my knuckles three times. It was becoming my favorite charming move of his. "I'd erase half of my life if I could, but I can't. I'm here looking into your beautiful brown eyes because of all the shit I did. I don't regret anything."
"Not even sex with Ben? Really?"
"Okay, a little bit. But it happened way before I knew you, and it won't happen again."
"You look like you don't believe me."
"I do. I do. I trust you." I let go of his hands to rub my forehead with the back of my hand.
"Is Ben the first homo you met or what?"
"No." I looked away, which made Edward tilt his head to catch my eyes.
"Bella, come on."
"I'm totally comfortable with his sexuality." I looked him straight in the eye because I was telling the truth. Edward wasn't convinced.
"You're not homophobic, are you?"
"No, I swear. I love the gays. I love them. I just..."
He tapped his foot.
"Give me a break, will you? If you found out I slept with a girl, you'd freak out, too!"
His whistle made me roll my eyes, and I backhanded him across his chest.
"Make that my Christmas gift, will you?"
I remembered that lesbian sex scene in Requiem for a Dream that he liked so much and backhanded his chest again.
"I'll loosen you up. One of these days, you're gonna have some real fun in this town."
I furrowed my eyebrows, squeezing his hands for a second then releasing them.
"What?" He asked.
"You just asked me to loosen up. I thought you never wanted me to change, mister?" I poked him in the chest. "I was perfect if I recall."
"You are." He squeezed my ass then slapped it. "Believe me."
"Edward! What's gotten into you?" Something was going on and, unlike what Ben thought, I couldn't take sole credit for it.
"Nothing. I'm the one who's in you every night." He kissed my neck. "Except the last few."
"You're being so crude."
He stopped kissing my neck to stand back. After a pause, he frowned. "I'll stop if..."
"No, it doesn't irk me or anything... I just don't get why you're like this now."
"I'm just in a good mood. Life's fucking beautiful."
"Are you sure that's all? Nothing happened that I should know about?"
"Yeah. You. You happened. Look, life's gonna throw a lot of lemons at me. I'm gonna get rejected by douchey directors, and I might have to act the part of Big Momma myself in this play, but it's all good. I got you. And this play is happening. Come January, it'll premiere at the Public Theater. But even if it doesn't, I still got you. You're all I need. I swear to God I've never felt this way about anyone before, and I never will, and you never will. I know it because I see it in you everyday. I see my future right here."
He pressed his fist over my heart. We stared down at it when I covered it with my hands. Then, we looked into each other's eyes. His eyes were glorious. Beatific. It was like he was possessed. I had never seen them like this alone. The last time he was this spirited was on stage as Hamlet. The glow of wonder in his eyes was all the happiness from the last month concentrated into an intense form of what I could only define as bliss.
He kissed me slowly before dropping his face into my neck. In that moment, all the guilt and uncertainty I felt from lying to him over the last month dissipated. Every lie I would ever tell him would be worth it for moments like this when he was so happy.
In a couple days time, I'd make his life sublime.
"So, we're breaking promises tonight?" I asked, stroking the back of his neck. "I can wake up tomorrow and be Elizabeth Taylor if I want?"
"Don't try it. You know she was flat as a pancake back there."
I laughed, and he joined in, our bodies vibrating at the same tempo. "No, the promise remains, with a few amendments."
"Like what? That I'll become a girl obsessed with anal?" I sniffled, enjoying the raucous sound of his deep laugh. God, may I hear that today, tomorrow, forever. I trembled from his potent joy. It fused in me, in my bones and blood. I soaked him in to never forget this moment. It was the first time we shared an emotion so completely before. I felt his heart beating. I could almost hear it as if it were my own.
"I've got other ways to get around that cycle of yours," he said, tilting his head to the right.
"Really..." I cocked an eyebrow, watching him head to the kitchen. Stopping in the middle of the hallway, he turned to me.
"I think..." He pondered for a second. Then, his mischievous eyes glimmered beneath a couple of wriggling eyebrows. "Yup, I know you made extra frosting for my cake."
I stood with my arms akimbo, looking at him up and down. "Just what do you think you're gonna do with that frosting, Mr. Cullen?"
He turned around, walking on without a word with his hands crossed behind his head. But I already knew what he was gonna do with it. Everything that was in him was in me and vice versa. We were never shaken before. We were fixed and connected, but it had never been close enough. Now, it was. We were the same.
My heart was his. His soul was mine. But not to own, to share. We shared one life. Forever.
I was about to follow him when my cell phone vibrated on the coffee table.
There was a message from Ben. Turns out, all my worrying about the paranoid New Yorker had been for nothing.
Ben C.:$10,000. If u have it I swear Id go str8 for u!
August 14, 2010
"So, that's your plan?" Ben grunted, introspective for a moment. Then, he pulled his aviators down from his head. He perched them on the tip of his nose to look over them and into my eyes.
It was an unbearably hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. The crowd exacerbated it to the point where I was about to go off on the next person who bumped into me.
"Yes. What do you think?" I spent all morning going back and forth with it but was one hundred percent confident it would work. Once Ben agreed to it, the money would be in Edward's pocket by tomorrow. Alice had no problem with the dollar amount when I told her yesterday morning. She loved my idea, in fact. Edward would never know this way.
Ben prodded a dark red tomato with his index and middle finger before dropping it into my beige canvas bag from Trader Joes. Ever the gentleman, he carried it for me.
"I think you already know what I think."
"I need you to do this for me, Ben. Please."
He picked up another tomato and walked to the line at the register. "What makes you think I would want to do this? You need to give it to him yourself."
"I told you. If I tell Edward where the money's from..."
"You won't even tell me where it's from," he said over his shoulder.
"Your mom?" he snorted and turned again for the register. The cashier was a short Mexican boy with a thick head of black hair, like a porcupine. Ben gave his bag to him to weigh on the scale. "You expect me to believe that?"
"Yes. It's the truth." I pulled out a twenty from my back pocket to pay the cashier but Ben's hand transferred his own crisp twenty to the young boy's grubby hand.
"Thanks," Ben said to the kid. Then, he took the change and handed me the canvas bag. When we rejoined the traffic of human bodies, he slowed his quick step to match mine. He walked as if he were late to a Broadway show when he'd arrived.
"Look, I know you mean well. And I know you have strong feelings..."
"I love him, Ben."
He patted my shoulder. "That's nice." I shrugged it off as he went on.
"I've known Edward for nearly four years now. The things he resents above anything are lies and liars. That's why he told you all about his past. He doesn't like keeping secrets from people he cares about."
"Oh please. He didn't tell me he was building the set. He never talks to me about the play. He keeps so much to himself."
"There's a difference between keeping things private and out and out deceiving someone."
"No, there isn't. It's lying by omission. I'd be doing exactly the same if you help me."
"He didn't omit what happened with Jasper did he?"
I scrubbed my cheeks with the palms of my hands until they felt raw, no comeback to that in sight.
"You think he wanted to tell you about that? But he did it anyway. He did it to prove how much the truth means to him. He's seen how the alternative tears people down."
"I'm not 'people'," I muttered.
Something flitted across his face, but it was gone before I could name it.
"I'm just trying to help you. He takes the truth seriously. One lie, and he'll never forgive you. Might as well be a malignant tumor to him."
"No buts about it. You gotta tell him where this money's from, and you gotta let him decide if he wants to use it."
"You don't have any options. You either tell him the truth or I will. And if I do it, he'll leave you."
"He wouldn't," I said when we reached the curb on 14th and Broadway. Ben raised his hand to hail a cab.
"Wouldn't what? Leave you? Like he didn't leave his fiancée of three years without a blink when she deceived him? Last time I checked, I didn't see a ring on your finger." He grabbed my right hand, checking for one. I wriggled it out.
"She was trying to control him. That's not what I'm doing. I wanna help."
"Maybe. I guess you're right." A cab stopped in front of us but someone else, a tall redhead in a sharp black suit, got in before we could take a step. "Bitch," Ben muttered.
"Look, what if..." I remembered how he said how he'd sacrificed kittens for the play, and thought of another course of action. "I can give you the money, then. I want you to have it."
"You told me how important this was to you. You said you've wanted to be Big Daddy since high school."
"Why not? Jesus Christ!" I exclaimed.
Licking his bottom lip, he dropped his hand to peer at me over his shoulder. "You sound like him, now."
"I swear, he says that in exactly the same way: Jesus Christ."
"Don't change the subject. Accept this. I need this play to happen for Edward."
"It already is, Bella. Nothing's stopping us. We just need to skimp on some things and do more of the work, but it's okay. We can handle it. We've both done crew work before."
"He can't be bogged down by all this extra work. Not now." I bit into my lip over and over until it hurt.
"It's not that much, I swear. And you've seen him. He's happier than a fat kid at the M&M's store these days."
"He is... but there can't be anything stopping you from putting this on. The money could be a buffer."
"Wait." He grabbed both of my shoulders. "Why do you wanna do this for him so badly? You want something in return?"
"No! I already told you. I don't wanna be involved with this production at all. It's yours and Edward's, not mine."
"So?" His blue eyes bore into mine.
"So what? I just need to help him."
"You keep saying that. You don't need to help him. He's fine."
"What the fuck's wrong?"
"Nothing." I rubbed the back of my neck. The heat was unbearable. "Everything's fine."
"That's what I think. You, apparently, have to do this or the goddamn world will blow up. You make it sound like it's life or death with you."
At that phrase, I cringed. This prompted Ben to let go of my shoulders. He stood back, taking off his aviators and stared at me. He folded his glasses over the collar of his faded black t-shirt.
"Bella." His brow was furrowed as he looked me over. I felt like a lab rat again under his suspicious gaze and turned away. A long accordion M14 bus pulled away from the bus stop and rejoined traffic. I wish I could be on that bus. I wish I could take back everything I had said. This was not going as I had planned at all.
"Ben, it's not... life or death."
He scratched his right temple. "If you're in trouble, I can help, okay?"
But he couldn't. No one could help Carlisle right now, least of all him.
"What if I told you I did it to keep him happy? I need Edward to be happy."
"Do I have to remind you of the spring in the dude's step the other day? He's on a fucking high right now."
I bit my tongue. How could he know everything Edward's experienced and not need to protect him? He was so unlike Alice and Emmett, and even Ms. Evanson who had trepidations about Edward's reaction to Carlisle's illness. They knew Edward long before he got bit by the acting bug. They knew about Jasper's situation intimately.
If he had seen Edward break down at the memory of his childhood friend, he would understand why he needed this money. Ben didn't see him the day Liam died. If he had witnessed his friend in that kind of grief, he wouldn't hesitate to help me with this.
So I did know Edward better. He might have known Edward liked fresh parsley in his tomato sauce, but that was just a preference. He didn't let Ben in. He didn't even tell him that I spied on them. He let me in, and I wouldn't do a damn thing to fuck him up while on the inside, least of all let Ben fuck this up.
"Hey." He rubbed my shoulder. "Hey, where'd you go?"
"I just know what I'm doing here. I know this is right."
"Okay." He shook his t-shirt at the collar, trying to cool off. "Okay, now what if I said yes to this plan of yours?" Ben pulled me closer to him, dodging a bike messenger by a hair. I was getting sick of Union Square's hustle and bustle. I missed the serenity of Lenox Hill. And all these questions Ben asked didn't help. "I take your ten grand and tell Edward I got it from a dead uncle. How long do you think I could keep lying to him? Months? Years?"
"I don't know all the answers. I don't."
"You're asking me to lie to my best friend, but you don't have all the answers?"
"It's not that serious." I bit back a curse. "What? You never lied before? This is important!"
"So, it is." The something I couldn't name before hit me smack dab in the face. It was recognition. He looked at me like he'd been in this exact situation before looking at the last girl he didn't trust: Jane.
Ben put his aviators back on. "You're keeping something from Edward and me. I had my suspicions Wednesday, but I know it now."
"I'm- It's not what you think."
"You're compensating for something," he said to himself. Slowly, he walked ahead of me. "Shit!" He twisted his neck around. "You're overcompensating."
"Moving in with him after only a few months. Being so friendly with me, a guy who's slept with him. Jane couldn't stand the sight of me. But you're so... tolerant. Too tolerant, in fact. You do nothing all day but cook him meals and bake cakes. Now all this money. For what? The lying! To do what?"
"To help Edward. I'm not overcompensating. I'm telling you everything."
"Right." He worked his jaw, raising his hand again to hail a cab. "It's a stupid plan, Bella." A mustard-colored SUV with a cab roof ad from Gentleman's Club stopped at his feet.
"Let me explain it again. I just need you to understand-"
With one foot inside, he stopped and turned halfway to face me.
"I would start looking for another place to live if I were you."
He slammed the door shut and the cab drove away, beating the light before it turned red.
"No." I rubbed the back of my neck again. He wouldn't.
Then, I stopped rubbing, realizing that Ben was right. I did begin to share Edward's mannerisms. I kind of liked it. It made me feel that much more in tune with him.
Twisting the canvas bag in my hands, I watched the cab slow behind the row of cars on the next block. The back of Ben's head appeared in the backseat. They were in the middle of the block, traffic and a red light keeping them close. So, I did the only sensible thing and ran after him.
When I caught up, out of breath, I saw that he was on the phone. I wanted to run from the sidewalk to his car door, but the light changed again. Too quickly, they sped off. My stomach heaved, and my arms became numb.
He wouldn't. Edward couldn't find out today, not like this.
What have I done?