A/N: Hi, all. Sorry there was no update for ACAP this week. On top of everything else, I actually slipped in the kitchen and gouged my thumb with a serrated carving knife. I had to get stitches and everything, and it kind of messes with my typing. So until I heal, unfortunately we're looking at shorter chapters and more time in between. But it shouldn't take too long; the doctor said thumbs heal up quite quickly, just a couple of weeks usually.
All standard disclaimers apply. On with the drama!
Esme fidgeted nervously with the mug in her hands, hearing the faint sounds of both Edward and Bella as they exited the truck. The rest of the Cullen "kids" had already been sent elsewhere - upstairs or away from the house - so Bella would not have to share this meeting with everyone in her new foster family.
"Are you sure we're doing the right thing, springing this on her?" she asked Peter again, for what must have been the fifth or sixth time that afternoon.
Dr. Concord smiled reassuringly, as he had every other time she'd asked. "Mrs. Cullen, what would she have done, do you think, if instead you had asked her to come with you to Port Angeles to meet me?"
"She would have refused."
Peter nodded in satisfaction. "Very likely. Since she will not go to mecca, mecca must come to her."
Esme lifted one corner of her mouth. "You're quoting something."
"Only the best film Kirk Douglas ever made." ***
The door opened, and Esme rose reflexively. She took a deep, steadying breath, though she did not need the oxygen, and called for her children. "Edward? Bella? Would you come in here, please?" Edward wasn't needed for this confrontation, but she suspected that if she had just called Bella, the girl might not have responded.
Two wary teenage faces appeared in the entrance to the living room, and Esme beckoned them further inside. Edward moved first, as Esme had suspected he might, walking in front of Bella as if shielding her from something.
"We didn't have the greatest day at school," he said, his eyes never leaving her face. He was begging her firmly with his expression and his voice not to do this. But it had to be done. Bella needed someone she could talk to, and Peter was beyond qualified.
Bella's small, pale form slid into the room behind Edward, keeping enough space between them that he could not touch her without taking a step. She moved to the side, her enormous brown eyes flicking back and forth between Esme and Peter, and planted herself firmly in place, as she had done the first night in the airport. The coffee table sat between her and the adults; her position seemed strategically motivated, but Esme didn't know the reason behind it. Why was this girl so wary?
Before Esme could move on with introductions, Bella's suspicious frown turned into a delicate, furious scowl. "You're a shrink," she accused, throwing the word at Peter almost like a curse.
Esme opened her mouth to reprimand Bella, but Peter beat her to it. "Yes, I am a psychiatrist," he said, sounding dryly amused rather than offended. "I'm Dr. Peter Concord. It's quite a pleasure to meet you, Miss Swan."
He paused, but Bella said nothing in return and did not move from her defensive stance.
"I hear you're new to the area," Peter pressed on. He settled himself back into the armchair he'd been using before Bella and Edward entered the room. "So am I. Have a seat, please. Maybe we can talk a little about how you're liking the Northwest?"
Bella didn't even glance at the couch. "I don't want a shrink," she said decisively.
"That," Peter replied, "is a world away from not needing one, I'm afraid. But we'll leave that for now. Please sit. I'm actually here to talk about my recent research. I'm writing a book right now that may be of interest to you."
"Shrinks aren't of interest to me."
"It's not about psychiatrists." Peter sipped his tea as if he were perfectly at ease. Esme watched Bella closely. She had not expected this to go particularly well, but she was still unhappy about Bella's attitude toward Peter. She understood it, to a point, but that didn't mean it made her happy. "It's about a subject I think will hit close to home." Peter glanced up at Isabella. "Child stars."
Bella's suspicious scowl turned downright deadly, and she froze in place. "What the fuck is it with this motherfucking place?" she demanded. Esme saw Edward's eyes widen slightly at the fury in Bella's voice, but he did not move. "Some idiot kid recognizes me not half an hour ago, and you've already got the shrinks breathing down my back!"
Edward's voice was soft, and Esme didn't expect Bella to even hear it, let alone listen. But there was a sudden stillness to her posture, a kind of waiting poise, like a deer brought up short in the forest. Edward's hand reached out slowly, his forefinger crooked, and he hooked it gently through her nearest belt loop. He tugged twice, just a soft flexing of his finger, before withdrawing.
The moment stilled. Esme didn't breathe. She could barely hear Peter's breath, too, as they both waited to see Bella's reaction.
When it came, it shocked Esme into remaining still. The tense fight suddenly leaked from Bella's limbs, and she tipped her head slowly in Edward's direction. Her expression was unreadable, and there was no smile on her face, but at least she hadn't tried to attack him or run from the room.
"Bella, there's no reason not to sit and hear what he has to say," Edward said gently. "If he bothers you, I'll kick him out. I promise."
"I can kick my own assholes out," Bella muttered, but when Edward held out a hand she moved toward him. She didn't touch him, didn't take the outstretched hand, but together they moved to the couch and sat down. She kept space between them, but it wasn't as big as before. If he reached out his arm, he could just brush her shoulder.
Bella took a deep breath, then raised her eyes and glared at Esme, who had taken her own seat. "Rules go out the door when you spring shit like this on me," she said, "so I don't want to hear it."
"What rules?" Peter asked mildly, breaking the tense moment as Esme felt her heart quiver. She hadn't meant to hurt the child; truly she hadn't. Bella's glare wasn't as schooled or icy as Rosalie's, but it was a force of its own to contend with. There was a child's fury to it, and a passionate heat that Rose had long since abandoned. The distrust and suspicion in those eyes made guilt bubble in Esme's stomach, and she didn't like the feeling at all.
"No swearing is the pertinent one." Bella glanced at Peter before dropping her eyes to her knees and keeping them there.
"When you're with me, you may speak however you choose," Peter said, his voice as calm and even as ever. "I understand that you're upset, Bella, and I understand why. But that doesn't mean you can break rules with impunity. Esme has nothing but your best interests at heart; you owe her your compliance when I'm not here."
"I owe her and her doctor nothing!" Bella snapped, but there was a quiver in her voice, as if she were trying to will herself to believe it. "I didn't ask to be brought here! I didn't ask for any of this!"
That much was true, and Esme felt her heart constricting painfully as she saw how badly Bella was taking this. She was right. She hadn't asked to be brought here. Carlisle had told them to expect anger - well, here it was. Bella's human fury was bright and hot - Esme could practically feel it leaking off the girl in waves. For the first time, she began to wonder if she was out of her league here. Was the situation with Bella something she could not, as a parent, handle? She'd never had to parent real teenagers before-not human ones, anyway - and Bella's background was so far outside her realm of experience that Esme didn't know what to do. Had it been a mistake to contact Dr. Concord? She'd take it back in a minute, she thought, if it would make that wounded, betrayed look leave the girl's haunted eyes.
There was silence for a moment after Bella's outburst. Esme watched the doctor carefully, wondering whether he'd choose to stay. Bella wasn't technically his patient, after all. Not yet, anyway. Nothing was keeping him here.
But the doctor merely set his tea on the coffee table and leaned forward a little, placing his elbows on his knees. "I'm curious," he said, lacing his fingers together, "about what you want, Bella. You were removed from a crowded, underfunded group facility and brought here, to a lovely home among welcoming people. Your father is anxious to build a relationship with you. While I believe you when you say you didn't ask for any of this, I'm a little confused as to what you would rather have happen. Can you enlighten me, Bella?"
She scowled at her hands, clamped tightly together in her lap, and bit her lower lip. Three breaths passed before she steeled herself and looked up. The heat of anger in her brown eyes had cooled, and while she was still not polite, she did not yell at the doctor either. "My only wish," she said, her voice eerily calm, "is to be left alone. I don't care how pretty this house is; it isn't mine. Charlie never wanted to 'build a relationship' before, and I see no point in pretending now that I'm practically grown. If I had my way, the judge at my custody hearing would grant me emancipated minor status and I'd be free to live my own life."
"Thank you, Bella."
She blinked, showing the same surprise that Esme felt.
Dr. Concord's smile was warm. "For your honesty. They may not be pretty words, but that doesn't matter to me. I'd much rather hear the truth any day." He cocked his head to the side. "I suspect you feel much the same."
Bella said nothing, but her wary gaze stayed upon him and she did not drop her eyes back to her lap. Esme hoped that was a good sign.
"Now that we're all on the same page," Peter continued, "I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself and why I'm here. I'm hoping that we can come to an understanding, Bella." He smiled again and picked his tea back up. "My name is Peter Concord, and I am twenty-eight years old. I completed my undergrad in Pomona, then moved to Portland for a time to complete their MSW program, after which I returned to California. I got my doctorate at Berkeley and have been on faculty there ever since."
"And you're only twenty-eight?" Bella raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
Dr. Concord took no offense. He smiled broadly. "I've always been something of a workaholic."
"So you don't eat, sleep, or have a social life?"
Again the doctor did not seem ruffled by Bella's terse manner. "In fact, I do have something of a social life. My partner and I met in college. But that's beside the point. I've written a number of books and articles on adolescent psychology. My specialty is late adolescence and early adulthood, particularly the difficult and often confusing transition between child and adult. I've written books about other arduous transitions as well, including divorce. At the moment I'm living in Port Angeles, working on my next book. As I said before, it's about child stars, and particularly about how they transition back into the normal world. If they transition back," he amended, his eyes on Bella.
Bella did not comment, but she was watching him still. Esme flicked her eyes back and forth between the two humans in her living room, wondering which would win in the end. They were both very strong-willed people, though they showed it in different ways. Peter was strong and confident in his profession, just as Carlisle was. His force was quiet and understated, where Bella's was young and brash and still very angry.
Edward was watching the girl with an expression Esme found difficult to interpret. He didn't look happy, but then, there was little cause for that. He hadn't left, though, which surprised Esme somewhat. When things displeased Edward, his usual modus operandi was to cut and run. He never cared enough to fight. But he was still here, still watching the delicate girl sitting just within reach of his arm.
The fact that he had been able to calm her earlier still floored Esme. She knew as well as anyone that Bella did not like to be touched, but for some reason the moment Edward slipped his finger through the belt loop on the side of her jeans and tugged gently, she had stilled. Esme ached to know why. It had not been a close-contact kind of touch - he hadn't even come near her skin at all. But the implication was the same. So why had Bella permitted it?
"I'm not very good at beating around the bush," Dr. Concord said, breaking into Esme's thoughts. "I hope you don't mind if I'm blunt." One side of his mouth flickered up for a moment. "I think we can help each other. I need some good inside source material for my book, and there's only so much I can get from interviews where I meet someone once or twice and then never see them again. You need help, too, Bella. I don't know everything that's happened to you, but I know enough. I can help you through this difficult transition period, if you'll let me. Transitions are my specialty." He smiled again, watching Bella carefully. "What do you say, Bella?"
"I don't need any help," Bella snapped, scowling darkly. "You don't know anything about me."
"I don't know anything about you?" Dr. Concord's smile turned sad. "Ah, my dear, that's where you're very, very wrong. I know a great deal about you. Now, if you'd said I didn't know you, you'd be quite right. Knowing you and knowing about you are two different things. I don't know you, Isabella Marie Swan, but I do know quite a bit about you."
Bella bristled at her full name and Esme watched in fascination as Edward tensed, his muscles tightening and his body moving slightly toward the man in the chair as if to protect her. But Dr. Concord spoke again, and everyone's attention was caught.
"Little is known about your first years here in Forks, but after your parents' divorce, you moved to Phoenix with your mother Renee. She has been your primary caregiver ever since."
"You told!" Bella snapped, turning to Esme, her eyes blazing again. "What right did you have to share that information with him? You're not my mother!"
Before Esme could open her mouth, Peter held out an arm. He was not close enough to touch Bella, but the movement caught her eye and she snapped her head toward him again, suspicion and anger mixing in the darkness of her eyes.
"Bella, she didn't need to tell me any of that," he said. "It's common knowledge. You know as well as anyone that an actor's life isn't private. You're probably too young to know about the trainwreck that is the Culkin family, but there are countless other examples from which to choose if you want proof of that." He paused. "I know more, too. I know that your grandmother took you on a weekend trip to Los Angeles when you were four years old, and that was where you had a chance encounter with a producer who liked your voice. You started doing voiceover work for cartoons that same year."
The fight had leaked out of Bella again, and she stared at the floor. Esme didn't expect her to say anything, but she did. "The minute Renee got a look at that producer's business card, we were on the road back to L.A." Bella's voice was stony and cold, and she refused to look up. "It's a long drive, especially when you're little. I always hated it, but Renee didn't want to move."
"You were given your own show when you were seven," Dr. Concord said gently. His words didn't sound like a continuation of Bella's admission, but the tone did. "It started out as a cartoon, just like the ones you did voiceovers for."
Bella nodded slowly. "But the ratings were so good that they decided to try a live-action version."
Dr. Concord also nodded. "And so Lady Claire and the Hair Care Posse was born."
Bella snorted. "It sounds so stupid now, but for four years that was my life. Between voicing the animated show and doing the live-action, there was never time for anything else. Renee and I lived in cheap hotel rooms during the week and went home to Phoenix on weekends. After the first few months, she got so unbearable that the directors all refused to let her on set. The network hired a babysitter for me instead, and Renee started spending more and more time in Phoenix instead of L.A. By the time I was eight, I was more or less living in my trailer on the studio lot. I couldn't ride the bus or train - people knew my face, and it wasn't safe - so Renee arranged a driver to take me back and forth from work to Phoenix every week." She scowled. "Once 'we' could afford to hire someone else, she refused to do it herself."
"I'm sorry about that, Bella," Dr. Concord said quietly. "I really am. It sounds like we might have a lot to talk about together, you and me."
Bella looked up again, and Esme hated how tired she looked. The fight had completely gone out of her, and she looked merely exhausted and resigned. "Do I really have a choice?"
"There's always a choice," Peter said quietly. "I will continue to come talk to you. It's your choice, though, about talking back. No one can make you, when it comes down to it. No one can force you to open your mouth and say a word if you don't want to."
Bella scowled, but it lacked her previous fury. "I didn't want to sit down and listen to you, either."
Dr. Concord's smile was gentle. "I'm well aware that a part of you didn't. But there must also be a part of you that did, or else you would not have done so. No foster-brother's advice, no matter how reasonable, could have done that."
The girl's scowl deepened. "He's not my brother."
Dr. Concord did not argue the point. "Friend, then, shall we say? Whatever he is to you, you listened to him and you let him stay."
Bella's head whipped around, and it seemed as if she was only now aware that Edward had remained at her side through the entire interview. She looked him up and down before frowning again and jumping up, abandoning her seat on the couch and abruptly leaving the room.
Esme sighed and dropped her head, feeling suddenly as weary as Bella looked. "I'm so sorry, Peter," she said quietly. "I'm afraid that could have gone a lot better.
"All in all," he replied, smiling gently, "I think it could have gone a lot worse, actually. She's so frightened, Esme. Give her some time. I have a feeling that she and I won't have a very typical doctor/patient relationship. She's too raw right now to be polite, and I can understand that. I don't mind being her dumping ground, if that's what she needs."
"What she said about her father..." Esme shook her head. "It kills me, Peter. That man adores his little girl, and she doesn't even know it."
"We'll get there," he assured her. "I don't think her father's the place to start, though. With him back in her life so suddenly, it's a sensitive issue right now. We'll start with Renee and her work in L.A., then go from there."
"Speaking of which, 'Lady Claire and the Hair Care Posse'?" Esme wrinkled her nose.
Dr. Concord chuckled. "Come on, if you think about it, is it any more ridiculous than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Kids will watch just about anything you put in front of them." He sighed and rose. "I think we'll call it a day. She really did much better than I expected. Don't lose hope, Esme. She'll come around. She's not a bad kid, she just needs some help finding her way."
A/N: Yes, the name of Bella's show is stupid, but as Peter said, it's not any worse than some of the other ridiculous names people have come up with for kids' shows. Lady Claire is loosely based on a short-lived '80's cartoon called "Lady Lovely Locks" who bestowed magic on the world through strategically-tossed hair. I kid you not. There are episodes on YouTube, but don't say you weren't warned!
***If you can tell me what movie this is from, I'll write you a oneshot of your very own, or a new chapter to one of the story starts in Fits and Starts, or post the alternate ending to Midnight Carnival, whatever you choose! (and yes, I checked this time, and the answer is NOT google-able!) First correct guess only!