AUTHOR'S NOTE: You all continue to amaze me, every chapter. The responses I've gotten are overwhelming, and I just can't thank you all enough. To Joan, who keeps checking on me and reminding me I have people out there in Fandom waiting for me. To DreamOfTheEndless, your reviews were wonderful. And to TwilightMom505, thank you so much for the message of support. This chapter is for you lovely ladies.

Timeframe of this chapter: Excerpt from Chapter 9

"She said you're annoying and that you need to quit listening in on my conversations,"Alice called and I heard the distinct sound of Jasper's laugh. "Anyway,"Alice continued. "We were wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner? We were supposed to go over to Mom and Dad's but the Great Doctor came down with something and Mom doesn't want him to give it to Makenna. So since we're already dressed and I made boysenberry rhubarb pie, we figured we would invite some company. You down?"

The Great Doctor didn't come down with anything, he's in Seattle meeting Edward. They just don't want anyone to know. Makes sense?

I haven't been to SeaTac, or Seattle for that matter, in a long while so I'm not sure about accuracy here. Creative license, people.

Here we go!


CHAPTER TWELVE- AFTER THE STORM

And after the storm, I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up, on my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day, you must know life to see decay
But I won't rot, I won't rot, Not this mind and not this heart,
I won't rot.

And I took you by the hand, and we stood tall,
And remembered our own land, what we lived for.

And there will come a time,
you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart,
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see
what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew, I saw exactly what was true,
But oh no more.
That's why I hold, that's why I hold with all I have.
That's why I hold.

And I will die alone, and be left there.
Well I guess I'll just go home, Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full, and man so small.
Well I'm scared of what's behind, and what's before.

And there will come a time,
you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart,
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see
what you find there,
With grace in your heart
and flowers in your hair.

-After the Stormby Mumford & Sons

EPOV

To be quite frank, arriving back in Washington sucked.

Gathering bags from the baggage claim at SeaTac sucked. Touching down on the tarmac sucked. Hell, flying into Washington sucked. I had chosen to sit in the aisle seat so that I wouldn't have to look out the window, but with Charlotte's commentary it wouldn't have mattered if I'd sat in the window seat, taped my face to the window and stuck toothpicks between my eyelids. The torture was just the same.

"Mr. Cullen! Look at that mountain!" Mount Raineer. Bella had always wanted to climb it; when we were first married, I dreamt up at least a hundred scenarios of going hiking on that mountain with her, each of which consisted of an anniversary and a cozy night in a tent.

"Mr. Cullen, what's that really tall, pointy looking building thing?" The space needle. I kissed Bella there for the first time and fuck, it was brilliant.

"Oh, Mr. Cullen! Will you take me on one of those boats?" The ferry boats. Bella loved those. God, her smile seemed to be ten times as bright when I took her on one. And despite the fact that I was still terrified shitless, I would take her on one again if she asked.

"Mr. Cullen—"

"Charlotte," Peter cut her off. "Enough with the questions."

"It's alright, Peter," I allowed. "She has a right to be curious."

"She isn't annoying you?"

Slicing my heart open, and torturing me with her completely innocent observations, yes. Annoying me, no.

I smiled reassuringly. "Not at all. Charlotte, how would you like a tour?"

She beamed. "I'd love one!"

"Well, as soon as my dad takes a look at you and fixes you up, I'll give you a tour."

Mentioning my father brought a scowl to her face, one that reflected the scowl I felt inside. I wasn't looking forward to seeing him either, though it was for a reason much more different than hers.

My chest clenched as we stepped off the plane. Before, there had always been someone waiting for me when I got off the plane. I had grown used to the notion that no matter where I went, there was always someone waiting for me when I came back. Today the airport was uncommonly empty, of travelers and of Cullens, reminding me of just how alone I was. I paused as we exited the terminal, tightening my grip on my messenger bag and taking a deep breath. I tried not to let my emotion show, even though I was breaking

I didn't want to trouble Peter or Charlotte.

We stopped at a Starbucks, Peter and I quickly sipping down coffee as we watched Charlotte munch on a slice of pound cake. He had objected at first, of course, but I convinced him with a simple "It's this or that," the that referring to a high-end restaurant down the way. His eyes widened and he shook his head profusely, settling into a chair without much further argument.

Checking into the hotel was difficult as well. He tried to refuse, claiming that he and Charlotte would walk down to a shelter and meet me here in the morning. As if I would actually allow that. I was a little more than appalled at the idea and stared at him, my revulsion showing plainly on my face while the clerk waited to hear how many rooms I wanted. Peter swallowed, uncomfortable, as Charlotte shifted on her feet.

I turned to her. "Charlotte, how'd you like to sleep in your own bed."

She chewed on her lip, looking up at her father hesitantly.

"Charlotte," I reminded her. "I asked you. Not your father."

She hesitated yet again, her top teeth sawing through her bottom lip. Bella used to do the same thing when she had to make a difficult decision. It was so damn...

"Um," she said quietly, her voice shy and uncertain for the first time since I'd met her. "I'd like that a lot, Mr. Cullen."

I nodded, firmly. "Okay, then it's settled. Two rooms, please."

"Will that be all, Mr. Cullen?" the clerk asked entirely too flirtatiously. I ignored her fluttering eyelashes and over-bright smile, grabbing the room keys from the desk and nodding tightly to her.

"Will anyone else be joining you tonight sir?"

The question was entirely too inappropriate, not matter what kind of justification she could have given. I turned away without a response, my body tense and tight with rigid control. I said nothing to Peter and Charlotte as we entered the elevators, clutching my suitcase close to my body. They could sense my sudden mood change but said nothing as we rode up to the ninth floor in silence.

I quickly said good night to them, handing them their room key and allowing them anything they wanted from room service. I knew they wouldn't take it, but I was suddenly not in the mood for arguing and insisting anymore. I turned and entered my room without another word, closing it swiftly behind me. It was rude, and Esme had raised me better, but at the moment I just didn't care.

I dropped my suitcases at the door and moved toward the center of the room, my hands in my hair, yanking at it by the roots. My breath came heavy and fast, panting turning quickly into hyperventilating. I tried to sit on the bed, but I had to get up again. My heart pounded.

I wanted to throw something. To get rid of all the energy that was building up within my chest. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins, an abundance of it that made it hard to sit still. Stripping my clothes, I strode into the bathroom and stepped into a shower that I cranked cold. Bracing my hands against the tile wall, I stood under the spray and let it punish me. It pricked against my skin like needles, made my muscles stiff and my body go numb.

It was enough of a distraction for the time being, because when I emerged from the shower I was somewhat calmer than I had been before. Wrapping a towel around my waist, I walked back into the hotel room and sat on the bed, debating whether I should call Carlisle or not. He told me to call when we arrived so that he could make sure to clear his schedule for Charlotte, but it was going to be the first time I spoke to him while in the same state in three years. He'd know I was here. He would tell Esme. Who would tell Rose at whatever charity function they were at together, who would tell Emmett who would share with Jasper while they were out golfing, who would tell Alice, who would eventually tell Bella.

God, I hope I'm back in New York by the time she hears.

Part of me wanted to see her, to confirm my hopes that she was suffering as much as I was—I was masochistic that way. But the other part of me, the part that was sick of beating myself up and shouldering all of the blame, wanted to never see her again and hoped that she rotted in hell with the decision she made. The decision not to stick around and fight, to give me a chance, to try and heal with me. Because we were Edward and Bella. We could have conquered anything. We could have worked through it.

Without further thought, I grabbed the phone and punched in my father's cell phone number, holding bated breath as I waited for him to answer.

"Hello?"

Fuck, that wasn't Carlisle.

"Hello?"

I exhaled. "Um… Esme. Hi."

Her end of the line was eerily silent. I couldn't even hear her breathe. And then, so soft I barely heard it, "Edward?"

"Yes," I breathed. "Is… is Carlisle there?"

"He's in the shower," she responded. "I saw the 425 area code and figured it was the call he'd been waiting for all day…" I could almost hear the cogs in her brain turning and slowly click into place as she settled on a conclusion. "Edward, what are you doing in Seattle?"

"I'll explain it all to you later, I promise. I… can you just tell Carlisle I'm at the Four Seasons and to call me when he gets a chance?"

"Yes," she responded quietly. I gripped the receiver, neither of us speaking but neither one of us willing to break the connection. I swallowed thickly as emotion swelled in my throat. She was my mother in nearly every sense of the word; the only mother I had ever known. Despite the fact that I had majorly fucked up, she was still my mother and I needed her.

I blinked back tears in my eyes and cleared my throat.

"Why haven't you called me, Edward?"

Her question stunned me. "I… I didn't think you wanted me to."

She sighed heavily. "Edward Cullen, you are my son. Why in the worldwould you think that I didn't want you to call me for three years?"

"I thought that everything that had happened between…" Oh Christ, this was gonna hurt, "Isabella and I, you didn't want to talk to me. I thought you all hated me."

She sighed again. "Sweetheart, she is like family to all of us, you know that. You did something that hurt her dearly and we needed to be able to comfort her. But you are family also, and you are still my son. I love you unconditionally. That means that whatever mistakes you make, I still love you. You messed up, yes. And I'm still angry with you about it. But that doesn't mean I don't love you or want you to disappear on me for three years."

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"And then you went and changed your phone number. Do you have anyidea how worried I was? I nearly came to New York myself to hunt you down and talk some sense into you."

"That wouldn't have been necessary."

Her voice softened. "How was I to know that? I understood that you needed time—we all did. But you didn't have to disappear."

"Esme, who is that on the phone?"

She sighed. "Would you like to speak to your father?"

No. Please don't make me.

"I suppose that would be best."

There was a shuffle and Esme's voice was replaced by Carlisle's. "Edward. How was the flight?"

"It was fine. I have Peter and Charlotte in the room next to me."

"Anything I should be aware of?"

"She said she was feeling lightheaded on the plane. I thought maybe it was just altitude sickness."

"Well that's why I'm the doctor and you're not," he snapped. "With what your friend told me about the vomiting, decreased appetite and increased thirst, she very well may be in renal failure. I need to run some tests to know for sure and to what extent, but we need to move as quickly as possible."

"When do you want me to bring her in?"

"Let her get some sleep. If there is any swelling or she is in any extreme pain or discomfort, take her to Harborview and call me."

He didn't ask me how I was doing, where I'd been or what I'd done in the past three years. Not like I'd expected him to. It would have been nice, but it would have been asking a little too much of Carlisle Cullen. Sure, he could take on pro bono cases left and right to make himself look better to the board of directors and fellow surgeons abroad, but to try and connect with his son was a little bit too much.

You're not really his son,a small voice in the back of my head whispered.

I hung up the phone shortly afterward, the cold and awkward goodbye a little bit more than I could handle, with my nerves being as screwy as they were. Standing from the bed, I paced through the room a few more times before just deciding to hell with it and grabbing a bottle of Diazepam from my carry on. I would stick with one pill, for now, but I placed them on my bedside table just in case I would need another later.

I sat on the bed and flipped through the channels on the television. I settled on the news, hoping it would be boring enough to put me to sleep and out of my misery. There was a string of murders in Seattle, not like I needed to be worried because I was going back to New York before the week was over. Some popular restaurant in downtown Seattle was being closed down due to a few too many health code violations, to the astonishment of the population. High school kids weren't passing the SATs. The weatherman predicted overcast, cloudy skies over the next week. Go figure.

Eventually, I was able to drift off, but it wasn't into the deep, quiet sleep I had been hoping for that would distract me from my thoughts.

I tossed and turned all night.

Charlotte's mood on the way to the hospital was the complete opposite of what it had been the day before. The day before she had been vibrant and jumpy, everything typical of a fourteen year old girl. Now, as we sat in the taxi on the way to the hospital, she sat huddled in the seat, her arms wrapped tightly around her as she looked out the window, refusing to talk to anyone.

Normally, any person would have the right to be nervous on the way to see a doctor they'd never met for a reason that was completely unknown to them. But I didn't think she was nervous. The ashen complexion on her face, the way her jaw was clenched and her hands clasped tightly around her arms did not give off the vibe that she was nervous, though it could have been interpreted that way.

What was different was the look in her eyes.

She was in pain.

"Charlotte…" her father tried for the third time.

"I'm fine, Dad," she mumbled. Her face was pale, her knuckles white, betraying her emotions. Whether it was straight pain or fear or a combination of both, she didn't look fine, and it made me hesitant to believe that she was okay.

"Charlotte, you have to tell us if you're in any sort of pain so I can tell my father when we get to the hospital.

She shook her head. "I'm fine!"

I glanced at Peter who looked about as nervous as I felt. However we couldn't push her and risk making her even more uncomfortable, so we drove on in silence to the hospital. When we arrived, she was placed in a wheelchair and wheeled into the emergency room where Carlisle was waiting for us. Turning on the charm he smiled at Peter and knelt down to shake Charlotte's hand.

"Hi Charlotte, I'm Dr. Cullen, I'm going to fix you up and make you better. Why don't you come on back with me while your father fills out the paperwork and we'll have a little chat, okay?"

She glanced over her shoulder at her father, who was taking a clipboard of information and paperwork from a nurse. Carlisle stood up and walked over to him as discretely as possible. "I understand you don't come from the best circumstances, so if you have troubles with the insurance parts of the paperwork just skip over them and I'll deal with the billing department."

He turned back to Charlotte. "Ready?"

She shrugged and dipped her head down when a nurse came to wheel her back through the doors. Carlisle came over to me.

"Anything?"

I stuffed my hands in my pockets. "Well, she hasn't said anything, but her father and I suspect she's in a great deal of pain."

"How long?" he asked, eyes narrowed.

I shrugged. "She won't say anything. She won't talk to either of us."

Without responding Carlisle turned on his heel and hurried through the double doors. Quick to follow, I hurried behind him, stationing myself outside of the examination room.

"Charlotte," Carlisle said, his voice warm but cautious, betraying his calm façade.

He was nervous.

"Edward tells me you're feeling some pain?"

She didn't respond, though I assume she nodded.

"Where are you feeling it?"

"My back," she said quietly.

"Lower back?"

Again, no response.

"Charlotte, did anything unusual happen this morning?"

"Um…"

His voice was gentle and reassuring. "You can tell me, Charlotte. I won't say anything."

"It's just so… so embarrassing!"

"What is, Charlotte?"

"There was… there was blood."

I had to bite on my knuckles to keep from gasping,

"When was there blood?"

"This morning! I went to use the bathroom and… there was blood! I feel so stupid, Doctor Cullen, all this fuss you guys have made about me and I'm only sitting here because I got my period!"

I choked.

"Charlotte have you ever had a menstrual cycle before?"

"No, but we learned about them in school. I always thought I was a… a freak for not having got mine yet. But now I'm even more of a freak because I'm in a hospital because of it!"

"Well, let's not jump to conclusions just yet. I want to run a few tests first, to make sure that it isin fact your period, and if it is, we can be thankful that it isn't something more serious!"

I wasn't prepare for him to open the door just then, but when he did I jumped off the wall. "You don't think it's menstruation, do you?"

He scowled at me. "No, I don't. I think she's in advanced stages of renal failure and if she doesn't get herself a kidney soon, I'm afraid she's—"

"Mr. Cullen?" she asked. She'd wheeled up behind my father. "What are you doing here. Did you hear… oh my God, I'm so embarrassed!"

She covered her face with her hands while my father glared at me. "No, Charlotte, he didn't hear anything. Edward was just coming to inform me that he is leaving."

His words were pointed and direct and his eyes told me that if I didn't leave in the next few minutes he was going to have security escort me out. Leaning down, I placed a kiss on Charlotte's forehead. "I'm going to go have lunch with my mom, but you have my number. You'll call me if you need anything?"

She nodded, her face still flushed from embarrassment. Turning, I strode through the doors I'd just come through moments earlier. I explained to Peter that I was leaving to go see my mother, but that Charlotte was in good hands and that my father would be coming to debrief him any time soon. He thanked me again, profusely, but I hurried from the room, afraid I was going to vomit any moment.

His daughter was possibly dying, and I was going to have lunch with my mother.

The thought made me ill.

Regardless, I couldn't go back inside the hospital without causing a scene, so I pulled out my phone and called my mother. She answered on the third ring and agreed to meet me at a quaint bistro that was equidistant from the hospital and her hotel.

I sat at a table with a glass of ice water, waiting for her to come in. My fingers drummed nervously on the tabletop while my knee bounced underneath it. I checked my watch for the third time, knowing that I had been early, and when I glanced up I saw her striding toward me from across the restaurant.

Nervously I stood from the table, but I felt all my anxiety dissipate when she wrapped me in a hug. She smelled like cinnamon and vanilla and Mom.She hadn't changed much—her hair was a little shorter and she looked like she'd lost a few pounds, but other than that she was still my mother.

"If you ever disappear like that on me again," she murmured into my chest, "I will hit you."

I chuckled and pulled out of her embrace, gesturing toward a chair. "Let's sit down and… talk."

We didn't get into anything important until our food had arrived and we were about halfway through with it. Up until that point we had only talked about shallow things, like what I was doing now, where I was living, why I was in Seattle. However when the salad's finished and you've moved on to the main entrée, conversation always steers into more heavy topics and you find yourself much more wary of what is being asked of you.

"So what have you done with all that money you won from the lawsuit?" she asked, blowing on her pea soup.

I chewed my steak. "Well, most of it is still sitting in my bank account. I had to use some of it to settle some things, but other than that I haven't touched it."

"By settle some things you mean…"

I chugged my wine, buying myself some time. She wasn't going to like what I replied with.

"Paying off Bella's tuition was the main one, um…"

"Edward Anthony Cullen… you paid off her tuition?"

"What was I supposed to do, Mom? She wouldn't accept any alimony that I sent to her and I didn't want her to be drowning in debt because I made her go to school with me."

"Edward it was her choice! She decided to go to school with you, you didn't force her. She's a grown woman, you have to let her take care of herself!"

"But think about it from my point of view. How much of a dou… asshole would I be if I just sent her the bill every month?"

"The asshole that is letting his ex-wife find her own footing and learn to take care of herself instead of keeping her under his thumb."

I was starting to get angry. She was twisting my intentions completely around and again trying to paint me as the bad guy. All I was trying to do was look out for Bella. I knew that starting her life over completely was going to be difficult and I didn't want anything looming over her head. I was being generous, goddammit, not trying to keep her under my control.

"The bank statements were sent to our address in New York, and since she never called to have them forwarded to a new address in Forks I just decided to pay it in one lump sum and get it out of the way."

"But did you ever consider the fact that now she's going to feel like she owes you now?"

I tried to keep my anger to a minimum. "That isn't the point," I bit out. "She doesn't owe me a damn thing."

She rested a hand on my own on the table. "You know how she is, Edward. She's going to insist on paying you back."

"She can try all she wants," I snapped. I took a swig of my wine. "I'm ready to talk about something else now."

Esme sighed. "Are you seeing anyone?"

I choked. "What?" I spluttered. "No!"

She looked down at her food. I felt a sickening twist in my stomach and suddenly my blood went cold. My heart kicked into overdrive. "Is… is Bella…?"

"She's been seeing someone for the past few months, yes."

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to focus on my breathing. She'd moved on. She was happy with someone else. It was an idea I couldn't fathom, one that my brain refused to wrap around solely because the pain of it was too much to bear.

"And she's… she's happy?"

Esme nodded. "Alice says she is. I haven't seen Bella very much myself recently, but Alice has seen her from time to time and she says she's doing… well."

It contrasted so harshly with how I remembered her, our last meeting being before the judge when we divorced. The look on her face, the tears in her eyes… they cut right through my heart and it was all I had not to jump over the table, pull her into my arms and tell her it wasn't too late, that we could still work it out. But my lawyer had advised me not to show any emotion, that the judge may take sympathy on me and delay the hearing for counseling.

Something I didn't want.

"That's… that's good. I'm happy for her."

My mother looked at me dubiously. "Edward, are you really?"

No. It hurts. A lot.

I nodded. "Yeah, she deserves to be happy. If… If I couldn't be that guy then I hope he can."

She smiled, an expression that didn't reach her eyes, and returned to her food.

"How are Alice and Jasper?" I asked, trying to ignore the heaviness in my heart.

"Why don't you ask them yourself?" she asked. Her eyes brightened. "We were going to have dinner tonight but we rescheduled it. Why don't you come and say hello to everyone?"

I shook my head. "I don't think that would be appropriate. I'm not everyone's favorite brother right now and I was planning on heading back to New York as soon as Charlotte recovered. It's just the best way, I think."

"Nonsense," she shook her head. "It's been three years, Edward, quit being melodramatic. Bella won't be there so it's just about us as a family."

She is family.

"Do you not remember Emmett punching me so hard in the face I needed stitches?"

Esme waved it off. "He's always been a hothead. He's calmed down by now. And anyway, he won't cause a scene with the children there."

Haley and Makenna… my nieces. Jesus Christ they were probably so grown up now.

I shook my head. "I still don't think it's a great idea."

She sighed. "Edward, from what your father told me about this poor girl, she's going to be in the hospital for quite some time. I really want you to come to dinner and try to become a part of the family again."

I snorted.

I had never actually been a part of the family.

I was adopted when I was five from a foster home in upstate New York. Carlisle and Esme had been there for some charity event and while Esme was out shopping she had seen an ad about adopting a child. She had not been able to conceive after Emmett and Alice were born and said that she had always wanted to have more children. Without talking to Carlisle first she had called the agency and set up a meeting that day to get the paperwork started.

She went in, by herself, and started the application process. I think Carlisle has always been angry about that. He didn't want me from the start, hadn't even been consulted about my adoption and I think that's part of the reason he's never gotten along with me. But that's not the point.

The papers went through after she had returned to Washington and she only told Carlisle about her plans for adopting when he asked why she had purchased a ticket back to New York. Naturally he was upset, but she flew over anyway to tour the foster homes.

The story goes that she knew she wanted me from the moment she saw me. I wasn't entirely sure why, whether it was because I was cute or because she had that insanely maternal instinct even from a young age. But she said she was watching me as I played with a puzzle on the floor, separate from all the other kids, that she knew she wanted to be my mother. So Carlisle flew over, signed the papers with her, and I went home with them.

It had been hard to adjust with this huge older kid and this baby girl that seemed to take all of the attention no matter where we went. I just wanted to stay in my room and read and play with my teddy bear—the one my mother had given to me before she died—but I was constantly being forced to play with this older kid Emmett, who was really cool and nice, just loud and boisterous. Esme was kind and gentle, giving me all the time I needed to adjust and get used to my new settings, but even as a four year old Carlisle was harsh and demanding. When Esme bought me a piano after noticing how much I liked the one in the store we passed, Carlisle immediately put me in lessons, forcing me to practice and perfect throughout my teenage years.

School was much more intense. If I brought home anything less than a ninety-five percent, he went apeshit. Even if it was a stupid spelling test. In a fight with Esme once, he had claimed that "he wasn't going to let some child he didn't even want ruin his name by being a no-good screw-up." That it wasn't his fucking idea to bring a cast-off child home, that he was only doing it because she had threatened to divorce him if he didn't but that didn't mean he was going to sit by and watch me fuck up everything he'd worked so hard to build up.

This was when I was six.

I wanted to prove that I was worth it. That bringing me home with them wasn't a bad decision and I wasn't going to fuck things up for him. Through elementary school I worked hard at everything teachers gave me, always having my projects displayed or my artwork entered into some showcase or my essays being stapled on the board. Some kids picked on me for being a teacher's pet, but it was better dealing with that than having to face Carlisle's wrath when I came home.

Middle school wasn't any better. Girls didn't pay a whole lot of attention to me, but it didn't matter because I didn't have the time for them. The material was still fairly easy but teachers gave less of a shit so I had to work twice as hard to get recognized. I answered nearly every question correctly on science tests and always was the first one to volunteer to go to the board and solve equations in math. Carlisle didn't seem to notice when I did anything well, though. The focus was almost always on Emmett or Alice.

High school was a little different. When Emmett got injured and couldn't play football, the spotlight was on me and the pressure to excel was high. Baseball training was brutal. Homework took some kids an hour while it took me four or five—detailing every single little thing, making sure I understood and took note of every small detail. Girls were completely out of the picture, even though they were starting to pay more attention to me at that point.

Carlisle expected the same performance when I went away to college—even with the relationship I had developed with Bella. I worked hard, sometimes even doing Bella's work so as not to risk her failure and degradation from Carlisle. Though he didn't seem to pay much attention anymore—Emmett had already been drafted for the Chicago Bears at that point and Alice was making a name for herself in both ballet and fashion design—I still felt the pressure to excel and succeed.

That's why I moved to New York. To prove to him that I could do it. That I was worthy.

That it would not disgrace him to call me his son.

Despite the fact that it was something Esme had desperately wanted, I didn't think I would ever be accepted as a part of the family. It was easier to just go back to New York and disappear.

Back in my hotel room, I lay on the bed, aimlessly flipping through the television channels. I'd already been to the gym, showered and ordered myself a small salad from the room service menu. I was mindlessly wasting time, I knew that, but it was easier being cooped up in my room than walking around downtown Seattle and being constantly reminded of Bella and the time we'd spent there.

"Edward, stop it. You're being retarded," she chastised as I paced along the deck of the ferry.

"You don't understand, Bella. Boats terrify me."

"What the fuck for?" she asked around a bite of her corndog.

"Have you seen Titanic?"

She snorted. "Edward, they were out in the middle of the Atlantic. We are between two huge masses of land. If for some godforsaken reason this boat was to explode, someone would see and come out here to help us."

I'm pretty sure my face had turned green with the mention of the boat exploding. She looked over at me and giggled.

"Don't worry babe, I'm here to protect you."

"Bella, you're five pounds soaking wet. I'm pretty sure you would drown."

She quirked an eyebrow at me. "I lived in Florida and Arizona, where it's so hot the only thing you cn do it swim. I'd save you."

I rolled my eyes and went to go sit down on the bench.

"It helps if you put your head between your knees!" she called.

I flipped her the bird.

I hadn't realized she had come up next to me because I was started when she whispered in my ear, "Or would you rather I did that for you?"

I coughed. "We're in a public place, Isabella. I don't want to get arrested for lewd behavior."

Again with the giggle. "Come on, it doesn't turn you on? Not even a little?"

"No," I snapped. "Not when I'm afraid of dying."

Her giggle turned to full-on laughter as she wrapped her arms around me. The boat jolted and I jumped in her arms but that only caused her to laugh harder. "Relax, babe. We just pulled up to the dock."

I grabbed her hand and hauled ass off that boat. She laughed at me the whole way, which I let her do considered I laughed at her frequently. I pretended to act pissed, but I really enjoyed the sound of her laughter. It was cute and high-pitched without being obnoxious or too loud. It was perfect.

Just like she was.

We weren't too far from downtown Seattle so we just walked up and down the streets, looking inside little art shops, stopping to pay homage to the musicians trying to make a buck on the street and buying little trinkets from street vendors. I had planned to take her to a nice quiet restaurant, but she preferred eating from the stands on the sides of the street and she literally ate something from every single one. Sometimes she only got a soda, while other times she would buy nachos or a hot dog or turkey legs.

"I don't know how you're not four hundred pounds," I muttered as I handed a guy a five dollar bill for a cherry Italian ice.

"It's the birth control," she whined. "It makes me so hungry."

"You're just a pig," I teased, to which she responded by sticking her tongue out.

I wrapped an arm around her waist and continued to guide her around downtown Seattle. She'd been there a few times since arriving from Arizona—I'd taken her once because she said she wanted to see the Space Needle—but there were some parts that she still hadn't seen that I wanted to show her. We stopped by a book store that housed Native American literature that I thought she'd enjoy and I bought her a book about vampire and werewolf legends in the Quileute culture.

Don't know why she found that fascinating, but I bought it to make her happy.

It had gotten dark by the time we stepped back onto the ferry to head back. I wrapped my arms around her waist and nuzzled her neck, placing a light kiss there. Part of it was because I was feeling cuddly and affectionate, the other part because if I was going to drown, at least she could swim and save me. That and it was easier when I didn't have to look at the water.

"Thanks for bringing me, today. I had fun."

I chuckled against her neck. My sweet girl. "You're welcome."

"Do you think one day we can come back? Do this same thing in like, ten years?"

"Of course we can. We live three hours away, not across the world. I'll bring you any time you want."

"I just meant that… it would be fun in the future." Her voice softened. "If maybe we brought our children here one day. Showed them all the places we went when we were young."

I turned her head toward me with my finer and placed a kiss on her lips. "Of course we can, love."

She turned around and pressed her face into my chest and I buried my nose in her hair, placing soft kisses on the top of her head every so often. I cradled her against me, enjoying the intimate moment before the ferry rocked violently to one side.

"Bella what the fuck was that?" I whimpered into her hair.

She laughed. "Just a wave, probably."

"What do you mean, probably? What if it's the Lochness Monster?"

"Now you're just being stupid. You know there is no such thing."

"Yes there is," I protested weakly.

She responded by merely tightening her hold around my waist, squeezing in reassurance.

My thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Thinking it was Peter calling me with an update, I reached over and snatched the receiver off the cradle.

"Hello?"

The voice on the other end of the line made my breath catch.

"Edward? It's Alice."

I didn't respond.

"Edward?"

"Hi, Alice, sorry," I responded, clearing my throat.

"Mom said you're in Seattle?"

"Yeah, a friend of mine is having surgery."

She hummed. "I hope nothing's wrong."

"Dad's trying to figure it out now."

There was an awkward silence on the other end of the line, and not knowing how to respond I remained silent as well. I played with a loose string on my shirt.

"Mom said she invited you to dinner."

"Yeah," I responded.

"And you said no?"

"Um, that's correct."

"Why?"

I didn't know how to answer. "I just… I don't think it's a good idea."

"Why not?"

"Well, we didn't really part on good terms. And I'm sure you're all angry with me right now, and I just think it's best if—"

"I've missed you."

I squeezed my eyes shut.

"A lot."

"I've missed you too, Alice, but—"

"You're my brother. And I want you to come home." She sniffed. "I want you to meet my daughter."

She was making it so hard to refuse.

"I know things didn't work out with you and Bella, but that doesn't mean things don't have to work out with your family too."

"Alice, you were all so angry with me. I don't want to stir anything up again."

"I'm not angry. Jasper isn't either."

"But Emmett and Rosalie…"

"Emmett misses you. He's protective of Bella, but he still misses you. You're our brother, Edward."

"Not technically," I mumbled.

"What does that mean?"

"I just… I think it's better for everyone. Carlisle doesn't have to worry about dealing with me, I won't hurt Bella by coming back—"

"Edward, is that about you being adopted?"

"I…"

"You know that hasn't ever mattered to any of us. Dad, maybe, but he's fucked up in the head, we've always known that. Emmett and I, we still love you and you know that. You've always been my brother."

I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers.

"Please, Edward. Just dinner. You can go back to New York if you want to afterward, if that's what will make you happy. Just come home."

I took a deep breath, mustering my courage. I knew better—I knew what was waiting for me when I went back to Forks. If it was hard being in Seattle, it was going to be infinitely harder going back to my hometown. But she wanted to see me… my sister wanted to see me. I realized in that moment how much I had missed her, how much being away from everyone had affected me, and so with a weak voice and heavy heart, I responded with the one word that would surely come back to ruin me.

"Okay."


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Alright, so now to get the ball rolling. We all know how Alice likes to meddle…

Yes, Bella was on birth control. She stopped taking it when they moved to NY. Simple as dat.

So I wanted to provide a little summation and explanation since this chapter was so long (and so late) so you can understand the Edward I'm trying to portray a little better.

In summary, this chapter was intended to show how Edward has been constantly portrayed as the bad guy by everyone… every move he has made has been construed by Bella and her family in the wrong way (paying for her tuition being the prime example). While he is merely trying to take care of her because he still loves her, everyone else thinks that he is trying to control her and keep her under his thumb. I want to strongly emphasize that this is NOT his intention. At all.

In the beginning of the story, Edward is portrayed as a super controlling person (which if you thought that, that's what I intended. Edward was supposed to look like the bad guy in the beginning). I'm not saying that some of the decisions he made weren't bad… of course cheating is bad, it's a terrible, horrible betrayal of trust. But I don't want to focus on that right now. Right now I want to focus on some of the long-term causes of the unhappiness in their marriage—the emotional conflicts, the distance, the separation and the gradual decay of their marriage. The cheating, as far as I'm concerned, was a short-term cause because as you remember, it was when Bella confirmed his infidelity that she finally filed for divorce. I want to focus on the things that built up to that: one being the lack of communication, which some of you guessed correctly was the main problem. The lack of communication filters over into how wrong they were about each other's characters, and how wrong some of you were as well.

What Edward did was horrible and I want to make it clear that I do not, in any way shape or form, support infidelity. But I want to make it clear that it takes two to tango. This was not a one-way avenue for the two of them. Edward did not cheat on Bella when they were first married and living together. He did not cheat on her because he was bored of her or because he found someone else more attractive, as is common nowadays. It was only after she had distanced herself that he acted the way he did and sought comfort elsewhere. Remember when Bella slept with James? Some of you say that this is not comparable… well, it is. Bella gave in to James because she needed the comfort. She needed reassurance. Edward was doing the same thing. And if you read closely, you'll remember how he stayed away from the bar after the first time it happened because he realized it was wrong. I just never spelled that out in a flashback (which if some readers feel is necessary, I can include). Here are a few excerpts to prove my point:

"I had fucked up. I should have come home and slept in bed with my wife instead of seeking comfort in another woman's arms" – Chapter Three

"Alice, I've really, really fucked up." – Chapter Four

Bella had some wrong ideas too… she thought that Edward was being controlling and domineering, when it was only his way of trying to take care of her and protect her (okay, and maybe he was wrong in going about it the way that he did, but the whole point of THIS story is to show their growth as characters and human beings by realizing the mistakes they had made). Some of you are going to argue with me on this, I know it, but Edward and Bella are portrayed differently through each other's eyes because that's how it is in real life… we always see someone differently than how they see themselves, and when you don't communicate your intentions or what is making you unhappy then there is conflict, and unfortunately for Edward and Bella this conflict ruined their love for each other.

For those of you who were promised an HEA (and for those of you that didn't pick up on it), THAT IS STILL COMING. I myself believe in forgiveness and if you don't agree then I apologize and this story isn't for you. The road to it is going to be long and painful, but I fully intend for Bella and Edward to be happy again. You just have to be willing to stick with me.

Okay, now that that rant is over… hopefully it makes a little bit more sense now why Edward had to try so hard to prove himself? A little bit? There is still a lot more explanation to come when there is an actual confrontation.

I tried to get this out as quickly as possible, so forgive any errors. I know how late I am in updating and I am so, so very sorry. I'll try and get another chapter out soon.

One last thing, I'm working on a new story, Non Innocentem. Check that one out, if you will. I'm desperate for feedback as I'm nervous about some of the content.

Kisses.