ginginlee beta'ed this – twice! She's sweet and wise.


Falling

Part III

When she walks into Riley's apartment to find him in bed with a beautiful blonde, she shies away in pain at first. But the burning sensation she feels in her heart, as she stares at endless, smooth legs, perfect breasts and him between her thighs, is quickly cooled by a wave of relief. It will be easy to end it now when the truth is so visibly on display, and no one will blame her. Ending it is no longer just what she wants to do; it's what she has to do to do to be able to walk away with her head held high.

The tides of fate have turned for her—or so she thinks. What has happened has nothing to do with fate in fact; Edward, always a man of action, has intervened. And the plan he has hatched—the arranged seduction of the other man by a hired hand—has run its slick course without disruption.

Bella, never quite as docile as Riley pegged her to be, swiftly tells him the next morning, while his coffee is still steaming hot, to keep his ring and to never call her again. Unprepared for her resolve, he fails to plead his case.

Stepping out of Riley's apartment after the quick and painless break up, she feels replenished and alive. A fresh breeze of fall sweeps the first dry leaves across the Upper East Side Street, as she walks away. A change of season is well under way. She has gotten what she's wanted without any guilt and now hopes that the one she wants will still want her.

Yes, she has missed her friend and when she first called him, it was all she was seeking—his company and conversations and maybe his compliments. But now her pride is wounded more than she lets on. The unsettling suspicion that what she has witnessed that night is nothing new, has happened before, doesn't leave her.

It's a particular scary discovery for her, the child of a philandering father. Since she caught Charles Swan at the tender age of ten in a suggestive embrace with her last nanny, a woman she loved and adored, she has cast the blame for his unfaithfulness squarely on her mother, a woman she has always viewed as cold and uncaring. Indeed, the memories of her early childhood are divided into periods based on the caretakers who raised her: Jill, a stout gal, who dressed her in plaid and green wellies; then Annika, a slender blonde, who baked gooey cinnamon rolls and took her apple picking; and finally Claudine, the petite brunette, who taught her how to apply makeup before she had breasts. Her mother she only remembers as the beauty dressed in tasteful designs from a French collection standing a distance away. Even to outsiders, Mrs. Swan lacked a motherly touch; she hired help before the birth of her only daughter and was seldom seen holding her. Her father, on the other hand, showered his daughter with affection—at least when he was around.

It stuns her, scares her to think, that despite all her efforts to be nothing like the woman who gave birth to her, she is in fact just like her and, hence, squarely to blame for Riley's adventures.

So she seeks Edward out that night after her break-up looking for more than just conversation. Like any female who has just found her man in the clutches of another beautiful woman, she wants to feel desired, needs validation that she's still got what it takes to attract attention.

And his touch, his caresses, his kisses easily soothe away the worry. And though some self doubts still plague her, she starts feeling happy and sated for the first time. While in his arms, it's easy to pretend the outside world does not exist, that her problems are not really problems, but merely minor inconveniences, and so she stays.

As time goes by, with her still in his arms, she falls in love. It's all consuming and glorious and so brand-new. She walks through her days in a daze; he's all she cares about. Her job's just annoying, her friends' perfectly nice and her life quite charmed. Even her mother is no longer much of a drag.

It takes a while for reality to burst her bubble, for her daze to dissolve. The first holes are punctured at work when she watches her father, a man she has held in high esteem, who has taught her to be polite and smart in her choices (though he left her with little to make on her own), act rudely and condescending toward his subordinates.

"I will need this work to be completed now. Not in twenty minutes and most certainly not on Monday. I don't give a shit if your mother died or you're to be a best man at your buddy's wedding. I expect you to stay here and finish this. Now. Are we clear?" he demands on a Friday night around ten in the evening. His voice has the same sophisticated, exact tone it always has, but she notices an undertone that's new to her—domineering and superior.

Since she worked on the project he's complaining about, she's all too aware of the unreasonableness of his request. The perfect veneer she usually sees when she looks at him is scratched. It doesn't help that she hates her job and more and more views it as a trap of sorts; one she has been lured into by circumstance and her father's insistence, not one she has freely wandered into. She starts wondering whether her father really is the man she thought him to be. Or if his long speeches about what's just and good, their discussions about how the world ought to be, were just another scheme?

She pushes any thoughts about her father and her crumbling view of her family away for a while, as it's quite easy for someone who's newly in love.

While Edward's not perfect—too handsome, too arrogant and sometimes moody—she feels good about herself when he's around. He never makes demands of her, never expects anything in return. He's not a daydreamer, doesn't care to fool her with wisdom and ideals he cares little about. She doesn't have to smile for him, attend dinners or play dress up. She can just be. He is who he has always been. He's real.

When they face the outside world together, feelings of inadequacy and doubts surface. At dinner at her parents' house, she can't help but notice Bree's lingering gaze when Edward passes her. The expression on her face is something she's sworn she has witnessed before; a mixture of lust and desire in the eyes of the beholders as they feast on him. She tries to ignore it on any other occasion, but that day she can't. She hates it when he greets her parents' housekeeper politely and smiles at her, but more so she hates the feeling of anger it ignites in her.

Bree's gaze though isn't one of admiration of his good looks or because she's coveting something that isn't hers, but rather she's envious of what the couple shares.

"They seem to have it all," she tells her friend later on the phone. "They are so in love. It's beautiful to watch. The way his eyes never leave her. Both so young."

"You could have that if you just get away from him," her friend reminds her like she has a million times before.

"I can't. Despite all his faults, I love him," Bree defends herself again.

"He'll never leave her," she accuses.

"I know. I'm fine with it, so long as I can have some time."

That night, the night Isabella endures her mother's critiques and her father's questions in Edward's presence, he tells her he loves her and her anger melts.

"Why me?" she asks him a couple of nights later alone with him in bed. They've just returned from dinner where a particularly attractive waitress was fawning over him, even daring to slip him her number when he paid the check.

"Because I made the decision some time ago that you were worth the risk."

"Excuse me?"

"I love you. You make me do things I thought only happened in bad romantic comedies, and I damn you for that. It's true. I've no trouble admitted that," he tells her without hesitation. "But it's not the only thing that matters, is it? In the long run, it might be inconsequential what I feel right now. The way I see it, disappointment, disasters and the boringly mundane that come with living are bound to put a damper on that high. And the concept of the soul or a soul mate has never made sense to me."

"I see," she says, slightly amused.

"Here's what's important and why it will always be you; you're good, a much better person than me, and beautiful with perfect tits," he continued with a wink. "Most importantly, you make me think of someone other than myself. I'd go so far as to say that I'd do anything for you even if it kills me in the process, because without you I'd be a self-important fool again. It's a risk, you see?"

"No, I don't think I quite see the precariousness of the situation," she says jokingly, placing a kiss on his jaw.

"Well, let me break it down for you. I'd be screwed without you, and I've come to realize as much. I wouldn't have known the difference just a couple of months ago and the longer we continue this, the harder it will be to recover. You have to see the risk in that."

"There's no risk involved." She smiles and covers his mouth with hers quickly. "I'd never leave you," she promises him.

~o0o~

"You know he's not really who you think he is," Alice informs her in a bitter tone the night she's discovered she's unlucky in love; Jasper, her boyfriend of five months, has just ended their affair.

"And what do you think you know about Edward that I can't see?" Isabelle requests, humoring her best friend, who rolls her eyes condescendingly and lights a cigarette instead of responding.

"Alice, there's no need to treat me like I'm completely naive. Trust me, I'm not," she calls her out, as she detects the resentment. Alice squirms. She had no intention of telling Bella what she knows about Edward's involvement in Riley's demise, but right then, her mind clouded with tequila and her heart broken yet again, she feels the need for revenge, feels the need to spread the hurt.

"You know he set Riley up?" Alice's brows rise challengingly. Bella's smile tightens but doesn't disappear. "He's really quite the schemer. He somehow figured out what Riley's weakness was, hired a prostitute, a common hooker, and set him up. I helped him, too. Invited you for dinner that night, so that you wouldn't go with Riley to the bar. You gotta admit, it's quite cold." She pauses and then adds, "Not that I really cared for Riley, and I'm glad you found out."

To Alice's surprise, her friend doesn't question the veracity of her claims, but simply states with a chuckle, "Well, that's hardly a surprise, is it? It kind of fits, don't you think? It sounds like something he would do." Isabella shakes her head and laughs. "Definitely not out of character."

"The fact that he completely manipulated the situation doesn't that give you cause of pause?"

"Don't be petty, Alice. When he told you about his plan, you were more than happy to help," she points out and departs shortly after. Alice has accomplished the opposite of what she set out to do; instead of finding a companion to commiserate with, she has disgruntled her best friend.

In the cab ride to Edward's place, Bella ponders the truthfulness of her response. Yes, the fact that he'd set his opponent up this way doesn't surprise her in the slightest. What does surprise her is that she isn't in the least bit bothered by this revelation, but rather slightly amused.

~o0o~

Over Thanksgiving, when she's confronted with her father's latest affair—with Bree, who's hardly older than her and stares at Edward all the time—and receives a request from him to attend a campaign dinner with Riley, she makes a new discovery: she can say "no" and walk away.

"Remember what I told you about lubricating the right wheels, for a lack of a better term, remaining polite?" her father lectures her in a stern voice after she has told him with a shrug of her shoulders that she doesn't want to attend. She furrows her brows listening to her father. The word "lubricating" immediately bothers her. Couldn't he have just said "greasing"? Edward would have said greasing, she thinks, envisioning dirty brown motor oil. "I'd really prefer that you go. I can't that day, but someone should go. You're mother doesn't care for politics."

"I'd prefer you didn't sleep with an employee, but yet I can hardly stop you," she calmly responds. "I'm not going." She turns and flees the room before he can reply with no small amount of satisfaction.

The next morning, they leave early. End of discussion. A month later, she quits her job, no longer feeling beholden to the trap so carefully spun for her.

"I know you think you have it all figured out now, but exactly how do you think you'll be paying for the maintenance and all the other stuff you consume? No job that you get will pay enough to even cover your basics," he harangues her yet again on her last day of work.

"I have enough in my savings account. I didn't spend a dime of what I got paid during the last couple of months. I don't pay rent and mom buys me more clothes than I'll ever wear. I'll work for free for the campaign until I figure out what to do," she retorts with a smile.

A skeptical "We'll see" are his parting words for her.

She could have added that Edward has been suggesting she should move in with him, which would allow her to sell the apartment her father bought for her, giving her complete financial independence. But she doesn't like mentioning Edward to her father, avoids it at all cost, afraid that he'll get tainted by the power her father exudes by merely being in his presence, and so she keeps quiet.

When her mother invites her for lunch the next day, she's tempted to politely decline, but then she says something that makes her change her mind, "We really need to celebrate your departure from your father's firm."

A smile spreads across her lips as she answers, "Okay. Fine."

"Wonderful. Twelve o'clock at Cipriani's," her mother chirps and hangs up.

An hour later, she sits with her mother in the restaurant drinking Bellinis.

"I'm so glad you quit, darling. I don't know how you could stand working for him so long. You must be a saint," her mother confesses, and Isabella can't help the knowing smile that spreads across her face. "I didn't like the idea when he suggested it, and I told him as much. He got terribly offended. I told him that I'd pay your rent or buy you an apartment myself."

"Why didn't you tell me that?" Last summer she wished there was a way out of her conundrum, a way of not working for her father.

Her mother narrows her eyes in response to her daughter's question and then shrugs one shoulder. "We had a fight about it, which rarely happens these days. Usually, I prefer to ignore him and let him be. But this … it was different. He was furious when I told him that I didn't want you working for him. In the end, I caved to his demands but only because some tiny part of me thought it would be an eye-opening experience for you. I didn't deliberately seek to destroy the view you had of your father, and I apologize if I did just that. I just thought it was time to clear up some misconceptions."

Isabella nods, acquiescing silently. While she may never grow to love the woman across from her as a mother, she has gained a new perspective and some respect.

"So how are things with Edward?"

Her mood shifts swiftly at the mention of his name, and she shoots her mother an icy glare.

"He's fine," she answers in a clipped tone.

"Good," her mother tells her with a chuckle.

She sighs and then asks, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Calm down, Bella. I like him. A lot. So much better than the last one. He's charming, smart and so smitten with you. Who knows? You may have better luck than me in finding the right one after all." She picks up her glass and inspects the flushed cheeks of her daughter with motherly pride her daughter fails to see.

"I'm sorry," Bella murmurs, then dabs her mouth with a napkin and looks away. "I'm happy."

"That's wonderful. If he proposes, would you say yes?" She knows her daughter is too private a person to disclose her answer just yet, so she immediately adds, "Forget I asked. I was just curious."

Isabella ponders her mother's question for some time and when he asks without a ring and not on his knees, she knows the answer. "Yes," she tells him without hesitation though she knows she's too young, and it's too soon.

When he gives her the ring a day later, she feels disappointed. It's ostentatious, suspiciously so. Not what she has hoped for, but rather something her mother would want to see on her ring finger.

She wants to be mad at Edward for not picking the ring himself and consulting her mother instead, but can't quite bring herself to be. Her mother probably offered help, and he didn't want to be rude. Still, part of her is annoyed. He should know her and know that this is not her style. Briefly, she considers confronting him, but then she chucks it aside as a silly idea. It's only a ring, after all. And she's fine, happy and likes what she sees in the mirror.

~o0o~

In the spring months following their engagement, while she feels at ease with herself, she starts noticing a restlessness about Edward that makes her worry. She wants to help him, but he won't share whatever is bothering him.

"Nothing," he assures her when she asks him what's going on. "I love you."

He's always working, always on the run. On a lazy day toward the middle of March-one she spends feeling lonely in her apartment reading a book-someone unexpectedly knocks on her door.

A man dressed in an ill-fitting grey suit, carrying a police badge, introduces himself to her.

"How can I help you detective? What's this about?" She's nervous as she stares at the man and his partner sitting down on her couch.

"I'm sorry to trouble you, but we are investigating the death of Bree Tanner. Your parents-"

"My parents' housekeeper died?" she asked half in shock and disbelief. She has known about Bree's departure from her parents' house about a month ago. Her mother mentioned that she quit, and Isabella assumed it was because the affair with her father had ended.

"Yes. We are just trying to rule out any foul play. At first glance, it looks like suicide. Pills," he adds with a trained, solemn look.

"I see," she mumbles, sitting down, feeling a little confused about why they choose to question her. "I'm not sure how I can be of help, but..."

"Well, we checked and it looks like your father's company owns the apartment she was staying at. Where she was found actually. We've been trying get in contact with your mother about the exact period of employment of Ms. Tanner, but unfortunately we have not been able to. So we were wondering whether you might be able to help us with some of our questions. Do you know why she was still staying in that apartment? We know she'd stopped working for your family.."

Hesitantly, she answers all their questions her mother has obviously refused to discuss. And so she learns during the course of the next twenty minutes that her father bought Bree an apartment and the family doctor prescribed her a lot of drugs, possibly due to a recent hospital stay. Since her mother checked her into the emergency room, they were also wondering whether she might know something about Bree's health.

When the two men leave, she can't help but wonder how many apartments have been bought for her father's former mistresses, and what has become of them since their dismissal. Is Claudine still living in the city? She feels sticky and dirty, besmirched by her father's affairs, and her own admiration of a man so sick in his habits.

When she informs her father about the visit by the cops, he only says, "I'll call my lawyer. Who do they think they are questioning you!"

His reaction tells her that she shouldn't have bothered. Nothing he could say or do would make her feel differently. She despises him now. "Dad, they are the police. I'm sure they can question whomever they want. There's no need to call anyone."

"We'll see about that. Don't worry yourself about it." He gets up from his chair behind his desk, signaling that he's all out of time. "I have another meeting scheduled," he explains.

"Okay," she starts in anger, "you don't want to talk about it. I get it. Don't worry. I won't bother you again." His expression softens and he halts next to the chair she is rising from.

"I'm sorry, honey. She was depressed. I'm sure Edward can confirm that."

"Why? What does he have to do with it?" she snaps just as he has suspected.

"From what I know, though you should ask him about it, he was the one who called the ambulance when she fell ill. I'm sure he's aware that she had some issues." He pauses, watching the confused expression on his daughter's face with satisfaction. His distraction has worked. "He didn't tell you about it, did he?"

"Yes. He did." She gives him a saccharine smile. "I've to go, so don't let me keep you," she adds and flees his office.

Feeling betrayed and anxious upon returning to her place, she plans on confronting Edward that night. Why was he at her parents' house? Had the two met when she wasn't around? Was her mother present as well? Did Edward share a friendship with Bree? Insecurity spreads through her as quickly as a wildfire in a field of dry bushes. She's itching for a fight and when Edward calls to tell her that he'll be working late and then leave to London the next day, he hears resentment vibrating in her voice.

In tune with her mood, he detects immediately he's in trouble; for what, he doesn't know, though he's fast to acknowledge that he gives her ample reasons. "I'm sorry, babe," he tries to appease. "I'll try to catch an early flight back from London, okay?"

"Sure," she says coolly. "I'll see you then."

"Wait. Please don't be mad." When she doesn't respond, he tries to lighten the mood. "I'm sure you've better things to do anyway. I promise, I'll be home soon. I miss you."

"Mmh." She wants to get off the phone before she spills her guts. This is not a talk she wants to have over the phone. Seeing his face while she asks him about Bree is important she feels.

"I love you," he tells her. He hates to disappoint her and lately it feels like it's all he does.

"... you too," she mutters.

"What's wrong?" he asks her.

"Nothing. I have to go. I'll talk to you when you come back, okay?"

"Fine. Have fun, okay? I miss you," he tells her again, and she hangs up.

The second the call ends, he wants to grab his coat and run out to the office. He can't stand the distance between them. His mind's not focusing; he can barely look at the numbers on the screen. His heart feels so heavy that he's almost heading out the door …

But then his secretary walks in and one of the senior directors calls him next, loading more work on him. He stays tied up there until the limo arrives and drives him to JFK the next morning.

Another knock on her front door disturbs Isabella's agitated mind shortly after Edward's call, and she stomps to the door in anger. She'd have to have a word with the doorman about letting anyone pass his desk without so much of a call to her. Her anger doesn't dissipate when she sees her mother standing in her door.

"Good afternoon, darling," she trills and walks past her with a dress bag in hand.

"The cops were here."

Her mother stops in her tracks and turns to her. "I'm sorry. If I had known they'd come knocking at your door next, I would have returned their calls. I'm sorry about Bree. I didn't know she was sick. And I'm sorry you had to find out this way."

"You checked her into the hospital. How could you not know?" Isabella screams, her voice reaching a high pitch it seldom does and tears start streaming down her face.

"She was hemorrhaging after an abortion. I had no idea she was on antidepressants. Otherwise I would have insisted that your father check her into a proper facility. Obviously, she needed help. Believe me, I would have done anything to avoid this," she calmly states, her eyes weary. "I feel terrible that you were dragged into this."

"Wait. What? An abortion..." She shakes her head. "Why didn't you let her stay at the house after?" She tries to find fault with someone.

"I wouldn't have objected. It was her decision to leave. You have to forgive me. I don't usually get involved in your father's affairs."

She knows her mother is telling the truth. "What about Edward?" she asks when she has calmed down.

"What about him?" Her mother looks at her with raised brows.

"Why was he the one calling the ambulance?"

Her mother blanches, then sighs. "He came over to our house. I was going to take him shopping for your ring. I was running late, and Bree let him in. She collapsed while he was there. He called 911. I'm sorry. I tried to keep him out of this. Who told you he was there?"

"Dad did," she tell her.

"I guess Bree must have told him. I checked her in and never mentioned his presence to Charles."

"Why?"

"You know your father. He'd find a way to use it against him, which seems ridiculous because he did the right thing. But then again, he sort of did." A bitter smile spreads on the mouth of the elder Mrs. Swan. "You were sure to pick a fight with him over it, weren't you?"

Bella nods ruefully.

When Edward returns two days later, purple blue patches mar the skin under his eyes, and the suit he's wearing is crumpled and stained. He orders his driver to go straight to Isabella's apartment. A shower and sleep can wait. He needs her more than anything else. His heart starts beating faster when he sees her standing in the door with a smile on her face. Hugging her tightly to his chest, he inhales deeply and hopes he's forgiven for his sins.

The state he's in is scaring her, and she decides not to ask about Bree. It can wait and he's burdened enough already. Something is slowly killing him.

~o0o~

The coloring under his eyes doesn't change for weeks. "I'm late" and "I have to run" she hears nearly every day. Forgiving him is easy when he presses sweet kisses all over her, and she decides not to prod. She worries about him and tries to be easy on him, tries not to add to his stress. Morning, noon and night his phone is ringing, and so she keeps quiet.

One sunny summer morning, he goes outside for a run and leaves the dreaded device behind. When it keeps ringing for more than 30 minutes, Isabella picks it up, about to give whoever is calling to bother him, a piece of her mind. She changes her mind as the caller starts talking.

An intercepted phone call and a quick search through his e-mail accounts later, she finds out Edward's plans about leaving the firm and his new business.

Instead of asking him questions, she decides to wait. The plans he has about leaving the world of finance altogether appeal to her very much, but his reluctance to share them with her irk her. When the firm finally collapses, and she knows he's out of a job, she makes quick preparations to free him of some obligations. Much to her dismay, her plan goes awry when she rushes across a busy intersection on her way home to surprise him. Any savings are quickly wiped away when she demolishes the expensive, sleek car.

Tired and exhausted she doesn't return to his place until late at night where she finds him nearly unconscious, drunk like a skunk on the kitchen floor. She drags him to bed and cleans up his mess.

The next morning, she leaves him asleep while she gets up to clean the kitchen floor and to make breakfast. As she empties the bucket of dirty water into the toilet, she half regrets cancelling the cleaning service for the apartment.

The things you do for love, she mumbles to herself and goes to fry some eggs.

They clear the air that morning; he confesses all his sins, and she lets her temper flare for just a bit. She'd never dare break his heart by leaving him.

Fairy tales end with happily ever after when the evil stepmother dies or the wicked witch is killed for a reason. Because after that life happens—hurdles, breakdowns and collisions included—and it's not always happy. Soon or later, you're bound to encounter the feeling, the urge, to walk away. Staying and continuing is often much harder. Between the ups and downs and the final crash, Isabella Marie Swan has come to the conclusion that it's not the short elation, the profession of true love, that counts, but what comes afterward, the sacrifices made along the way when battles are lost and misfortune strikes, that truly matters, that are the expression of true love.


Thank you for reading and special thanks to those who reviewed and/or recommended this tale.