There was laughter.
Despite the steady pounding in my head and the state of only barely awake I was in, I heard it clearly. Soft giggles and high-pitched belly-laughs; sounds that had always had the ability to pull the corners of my mouth upwards, no matter what. There is just something about the sound of your child's glee and laughter, to see and feel their happiness, that makes you forget about your pain and sorrows. It's there; warming your heart, drying your tears. Even if it only lasts for the duration of a moment.
It's a phenomenon; it's own kind of magic.
But this time, there was more.
Another belly-laugh, but stronger and louder. Just as infectious and well-known as the smaller one I heard first, but deeper and most noticeably male. Edward.
Edward, who had stayed the night.
The moment that realization hit me, I gasped. My eyes sprang open and I rolled over on my other side so that I lay facing the door. More laughter, and in between spoken words I couldn't quite make out. Though I felt nowhere near rested, one look at the alarm clock in my bedside-table told me I had slept longer than I should have. Moving the blanket from my body, I crawled out of bed, leaving the luring and comforting warmth of it behind.
Pulling on yesterday's socks that I had dismissively thrown on the ground last night before sleep had taken over, I then snatched a hair tie from the small table next to me and pulled my hair up in a messy bun. Slowly, as to not make too much noise, I left my bedroom and walked down the hallway and to the living room. Once I had them in my line of sight, I halted my movements, leaned against the wall with my head turned to the right, and just observed them.
There they were, sitting on the couch with the blanket I had given Edward last night thrown over their legs, watching Spongebob. Josie was cuddled into his side, absentmindedly playing with the fingers of the hand attached to the arm that was wrapped around her. For minutes, I observed as the two of them continued to watch the cartoon, biting down on the inside of my cheek as to not alert them to my presence when their laughter became too much.
It was only when Edward turned his head to the side, without a doubt initially to say something to Josie, that my presence was discovered. For a moment or two there we just stared at each other, and then, as I lifted my left hand to awkwardly and unnecessarily waved at him, he offered me the tiniest smile.
It was nothing really, it didn't even fully reach his eyes, and yet, it made me uncomfortable to the point where I had to break the silence and that shared moment along with it.
"Is this an invitation-only party or can everybody join?"
Messy, brown curls whipped around as Josie turned her head to look at me. "Mommy!"
Taking bigger steps than usual, I closed the distance between us and picked her up. With her arms wrapped around my neck and her little legs curled around my torso, I cuddled her to me. We remained like that for a while; me apologizing for everything that went wrong last night and assuring her that her Papa was the sweet, old man he always was into her ear, as she played with the neckline of my tee. Deep down I knew it probably wouldn't be enough to make her forget about what she had seen and heard last night, but I just felt like I had to explain at least parts of it. There was only so much I could do though, the rest was up to Charlie. I just hoped that the hallway brawl hadn't scarred her for life.
Afterward, I listened to her telling me all about how she slept snuggled into Edward on the couch, and how they had breakfast together earlier, before sending her off to her room to pick out her "super pretty birthday outfit" as she liked to call it.
Which left Edward and me alone in the room. Great.
Looking back up, I found him staring at me. Hair even more disheveled as usual and wearing the clothes from the day before, he simply sat still in the same spot I had found him in.
"Hey. Good morning. I hope you don't mind me raiding your fridge and cupboards without asking, but I thought it was best to let you sleep and Josie was hungry, so..." he waved his hand toward the carton of milk, box of cereals and the used bowls standing on my coffee table.
"No problem, really. Feel free to help yourself to whatever you want." Stepping closer to the table, I noticed an almost empty mug placed on it. "I need one of those and badly. Up for a re-fill?"
I waited for his nod before collecting the milk and bowls, and made my way over to the kitchen area.
"I would have done that in a minute," Edward said as he followed behind me.
I gave him a look over my shoulder, signaling him to can it, before preparing the coffee maker for another round of vitally important elixir.
"So, um, listen," he started as he stepped next to me and leaned against the fridge, "there's something I need to tell you." His eyes were trained on my hands as I continued to fill coffee powder into the filter.
There was something in his tone, this hint of hesitation and insecurity, that made me stop my movements. "Okay." Turning my head a little, his eyes visibly reflected these same emotions.
"Oh." I waited for him to continue, but he never did.
"You don't have to, you know? I mean, there is still a bit time left before Jo and I need to leave, so, if you want, you can stay a bit longer and maybe help us stuff the goodie bags with all kinds of candy."
There we were again: him announcing his departure and me asking him to stay. It felt awfully like the conversation we had last night. What was up with that?
The smile playing at his lips was lop-sided and very familiar. "I'd love to. That's not what I meant, though." He waited for a beat then before continuing. "I'm going back to Chicago." At that, he finally looked up.
It was a punch to the gut coming out of nowhere and knocking me off my feet.
"Well, that changes things." Even though I tried to come across as calm and collected, the words sounded meek as they left my mouth. I hated it.
But not nearly as much as I hated him.
Placing the container of coffee powder on the counter, I took a step backward as to distance myself a little more from the coffee maker, for I had half a mind to grab it and ram the damn thing repeatedly into Edward's face.
"When?" Mindful of the set of little ears nearby, I tried really hard not to raise my voice.
"Soon. Preferably before Christmas. I just want to get it over with and put everything behind me." Another low blow. And the fact that he stood there, saying these words like they were nothing—without even a trace of remorse or shame in his voice—it made my blood boil. Add to that the fact that I had spent hours defending his good intentions and relationship with Josie to my father not too long ago, and I was seething.
He continued to speak before I had a chance to voice my raging thoughts. "So I thought, since I'll probably be stuck over there for a while cutting my ties, maybe I could take Josie out before I leave? I could take her to the museum or the mall." He brought his left hand up to the back of his neck. "Just her and me, if that's okay with you."
"You must be out of your damned mind if you-" I halted, repeating his words in my head. Did he say what I think he said? It must have taken a good minute for the meaning of his words to really sunk in, and yet, they left me confused.
"Bella?" There was a hint of worry in his voice.
"You're coming back then?" I was still trying to grasp what he may, or may not had implied there.
"Yes, of course, you know that. What-" His eyes narrowed visibly as the wheels turned in his head and realization settled in. "You thought I was going to leave for real." It wasn't a question but a statement.
The flicker of concern he had shown a mere minute before was washed away and instantly replaced with anger. If the tight set of his jaw and the hard stare of his eyes weren't indicator of that enough, the way he spit his next words at me sure sealed the deal.
"You think that after everything, I would—could—just up and leave like that? Weren't you listening to anything I said before? Or did you listen but chose not to hear what I actually said?" The hand on his neck traveled upward, his long fingers brushing through the messy strands, tugging on the ends and then repeated the motion. Over and over again.
"Haven't I made it clear that I want to be in my daughter's life? Even despite my past screw-ups, do you really think so little of me now to believe I would abandon my own child?" Shaking his head from side to side in obvious disappointment, he made me feel like a chastised little girl.
Guilt. Another load to the ever-growing pile of emotional fuckery weighing down on me was exactly what I needed. And yet, seeing the honest hurt and frustration on his face, I couldn't help but feel guilty. I had messed up. "Shit...Edward. I'm so-"
His hand darted up impossibly fast. "Don't."
His gaze drifted away from my face, over my shoulder and settled somewhere behind me. For a few moments his perfectly green eyes flickered from side to side, as if they were searching for something of importance, imperative. And then, just as quickly, they halted only to glaze over, taking on that hue you get when your mind drifts away on its own accord.
I remained silent, chewing on the inside of my cheek, wishing I could go back in time a few minutes to just hold my tongue.
"You know," Edward interrupted the quiet, his voice even with resignation. "I'm trying so hard to see where yo are coming from, to understand. And I get it—maybe not everything-but for the most part I do, I get it. What my family did to you and put you through—what I did to hurt you and put you through...you're anger doubt and reservations, they are all justified. Really, I get it. You just want to protect that precious, little girl from hurt as much as you want to protect yourself. Her probably even more so than yourself."
He tilted head backward a bit, cradling it in the back by his intertwined fingers. I watched as his tongue moved along his bottom lip once and left a trail of moisture behind. "And I—no, actually that's bullshit, I really don't know how it feels like to be in the exact same situation as you were. I can't imagine how deeply hurt you must have been back then when you...found out. What I'm trying to say is... ahh, fuck!"
When his fingers dug into his hair to tug at the strands, it was as if a switch had been pulled: the hollowness in his eyes and voice gave way to frustration laced with a dose of anger.
"That boy you met back then—the good, untainted side of him—he never really left. Regardless of what I did that night or what I've become, deep down the boy is still me, I am still him. To hear you say and think that that boy would be able to so easily step back from his own words, to break the promises he had made...that hurts."
My mouth snapped open, the words on the brink of stumbling past my lips but before I had the chance to voice a single one of them, the glance he shot my way robbed me of any sound. Given the chance, I would have told him that already did break promises and stepped back from words and vows he had made. Promises and vows made to me; whispered in my ear, breathed against my skin, written on paper.
I was left standing stock still and speechless as he continued.
"I know that I've hurt you, okay? I have to life with the knowledge and guilt of having destroyed something beautiful due to foolishness and recklessness. You won't ever know how badly I wish to take it all back and make it good again, to never have got into that argument with you—hell, to never have intended that fucking party—but I can't. I've destroyed it and now I have to carry this load on my shoulders. Another thing I know is that I deserve every ounce of anger and every swear word sent my way for what I did to you—to us. You're justified to hate me, to be disgusted and find me pathetic. You have every right to curse me out, to yell and scream at me, to not play pretend everything is forgiven and forgotten. I deserve all of it."
His honestly only stunned me further. "I-"
"But all that aside—regardless of everything that transpired that night and after—don't go around and make me out to be worse than I am. Go on and judge me for having been an unfaithful bastard; judge me for every little thing I've ever done wrong, every mistake I've ever made right up until the point that I became my parents lapdog. It's you're right. Go on, have your say. Do it, curse me out – I'm sure half of what you think and have to say about me actually accurate. You and even your friends and family are entitled to it all, but don't you dare going down that road again. Don't go around and judge for something I never had the chance to prove myself in—it's not fair. That and the fact that you kept my baby from me for years are rights you don't have—or had. Just...don't. At least give me the chance to actually make all the mistakes you expect me to make before judging my parental skills—you owe me that much."
All of that crashed down on me, hit me one by one and yet all together like a shower of hailstones, released in one long string of words and their weight.
I could read in his eyes that he was far from being finished, that there was more he wanted to get off his chest—more low blows to get even, too, of that I was sure—and he would have put it all out there, hadn't it been for that little, loud voice interrupting us once again, demanding his presence in her room.
It was like a never ending pattern of us being on the brink of really laying everything on our minds and hearts out there, to say everything that needs to be said, only to get interrupted or sidetracked by something or someone. Though I was looking forward to the day this train wreck was going to happen as much as I was looking forward to get all my fingernails ripped out slowly, I was getting tired of it all. The longer we kept on procrastinating the inevitable, the larger the amount of pent up anger and hurt emotions. Considering the fact that the emotional powder keg between us was already giving off sparks, this could only end in nothing short of a massive explosion. Additionally, for every we seem to be making into the right direction, into the safe zone, we moved about five back again.
It was a tiresome dance neither of us really seemed to know the steps of.
Jabbing his hands into the pockets of his jeans, he moved to follow her call.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry." This time it was me that sounded like a chastised child.
Edward, already halfway down the hallway, stopped his movements. His back facing me, he went for straight for the throat. "I won't ever abandon my child, my own flesh and blood. Not by choice and not ever. I'm not Renee."
And then he was gone and I was left standing alone in a room that somehow seemed way too big all of a sudden, with a lump in my throat and gravel in the pit of my stomach.
I couldn't say how much longer I remained forlornly rooted into place, but eventually I dragged myself along the hallway and into my bedroom to grab some clothes. As I made my way to the bathroom, I couldn't fight the lure of giggling and hushed words spoken by soft voices from pulling me in.
Hidden from their sight, I leaned my back against the solid wall and listen to what must have been the first semi-serious crisis Josie and Edward had.
"Stop it with the huffing, princess, I happen to like my crown green. I think it's very pretty."
"Ugh...but that's not wight! Cwowns ahw s'posed to be pink or golden, Edwahd." I had to bite down hard on my lips to keep me chuckling, hearing the earnestness in her voice.
"Ugh...Josie, I'm a boy, I can't go around wearing pink crowns. What would all the other princes think of me?" Edward replied with a high-pitched voice and mock-horror.
"But Liam woahw my pink bwacelets the othaw day, and he is a boy, too!"
"Liam? Who is that?"
"My best boy fwiend."
"You mean he is your friend and a boy, not that he is your boyfriend, right?"
Edward mumbled something unintelligible in return and I had to work my lip even harder as to not snort out.
The were silent for a while then, exchanging crayons. It was right after Edward agreed to at least color the the diamonds and gemstones on hid drawn crown pink and purple, when Josie asked him if he'd make it to her party later on.
"There's nothing I'd like more, but I'm afraid I really can't today, baby girl. I have to...um, I really can't today. Hey, put that pout away, okay? You're going to have so much fun with you friends and your grandpa and Jacob, you won't even notice I'm not there. And may, if your mom allows it, I can take out to the zoo or mall someday soon. Just the two of us, would you like that? Yeah? Alright, now come here and give me a big hug."
I turned and left them alone then. Stepping into the bathroom, I locked the door behind me and started the shower. As I got rid of clothes, I prayed that the steaming water would soothe my muscles and wash some of the tension in them away.
Groaning loudly in exasperation, I tipped my forehead against the cool glass of the window pane over and over again.
You would think that, after not answering the first seventy billion calls and leaving each one of the many texts received unanswered, people would get the message. But no, as my iPhone continued to vibrate and ring, the name announced on its screen was still the same. Esme.
She was persistent, I gave her that.
For over a month now she had been relentless and merciless in her pursuit on going on my last nerve by trying to get a hold of me. She even went as far as leaving me tons of voice messages on both my answering machines—the one that comes with my phone and the one connected to the landline. Well, I assumed that the voice mails I had received were all from her - I wouldn't know, for I'd stopped listening to them after the first one I had received. At that point, she must have already called half a dozen times and was definitely in a sour mood, hence her screeching and spitting accusations. I'm sure she went on and on about how my absence at the "family" get-together was one big disappointment and how I'd dare to neglect my obligations and our traditions. But seeing as I deleted said massage after five seconds in, it was mere speculation on my part. Not really.
I would have unplugged the house phone and turned off my cell all together to finally get some peace of mind, if it weren't for that one call I've been waiting for all day...
It was another good minute before the ringing finally ceased. Slipping my phone back into the front pocket of my jeans, I went back to staring out of the panorama window in my living room, taking in what the Chicago skyline had to offer. It wasn't much, if I dare say so—at least not for me. Obviously, seeing as the sun had long settled, leaving all the skyscrapers and other building and streets outlined by the many streetlights and office lights at random in front of a darkened sky, was a beautiful sight, I'm not going to lie. It just didn't hold as much appeal to me anymore as it used to not too long ago.
Has it really only been a few weeks since I last walked along these same pavements, drove down the same streets and reveled in everything this concrete jungle had to offer? It certainly felt like a whole lifetime had past since I last stood at this exact same spot and looked at the same scenery, but feeling so much more. The demanding and stressful college part aside, living here by myself and relatively far away from my parents, it gave me a sense of freedom. And more so, amidst the hectic people and plethora of tall towers made of steel and glass that made the concrete jungle that was Chicago, I had found the distance and peace I had been looking for. It was the closest thing to feel like being home I thought I would get for a long while to come to be honest. I had felt at home.
Really, I used to love this city with all its flaws and lights, but somehow, now, having been back for a mere five weeks, everything had changed. It wasn't only the city, though. My apartment which I used to consider home with its spacious rooms and ultra chic, modern interior suddenly felt all wrong. The floor-to-ceiling windows, the all glass, chrome and mahogany furniture in front of the white walls I had spent way too much on... they just seemed pretentious instead of homey or comfortable to me now.
I guess my just heart wasn't in it anymore. I left it with an angel-faced, dark-haired beauty residing in a small town in the state of Oregon. It hadn't taken more than two nights back here in my apartment to miss her so much, I had felt downright homesick.
I couldn't help but chuckle through my nose as the realization that I had come full circle hit me. When I first came here, it wasn't only because of school, it was also my attempt to escape the hunting thoughts of an other beautiful, dark-haired girl. Had I known back then that I would land right back at the start a few years later, I would have saved myself the troubles of relocating and the effort of moving on and just stayed in Washington myself. It's not that I forgot all about Isabella Swan or my aching heart the moment I had set foot into this city—far from it—but the physical distance from Forks and the entire Pacific Peninsula with all the little reminders of what I had lost due to my biggest fuck-up to date made it a little easier for me to cope. Sometimes.
I was counting the days, minutes, to the day I'd finally be able to pack up everything I intended to take with me, and board the plane headed westward. Unfortunately, there were still a few things I head to deal with before I could do so.
Getting a hold of Jane Volturi and calling our "engagement" off being top of that list. I had been almost as persistent in setting a date for a meet up with her as my mother was in tearing me a new one. Actually, she was using the same tactic I did – avoidance. Calls and mails either went unanswered or it took her days to return them. We had made plans to meet up for dinner five times now, and every damn time she had called last-minute to cancel, claiming some emergency or other had occurred. As far as I was informed, she would only stay in Chicago for another week before heading back to New York, which made meeting up soon all the more urgent.
Her strange behavior had me thinking someone must have tipped her off, and I had a good suspicion who that someone was.
Among the trillion massages from Esme, there had also been a few from my beloved cousin. It wasn't hard to guess that she was after my head as well. Yet another confrontation I wasn't looking forward to have, but out of all the shit I would have to deal with at one point, and angry Alice Cullen was the least of my concerns. I would cross that bridge when everything else and far more important had been dealt with.
What was is it with people feeling like they had to play games with me?
Sighing, I fished my cell back out of my pocket. My fingertips flipped over the screen as I typed out yet another message to Jane. Only this time, I forwent being vague, and told her in no uncertain terms that—since I assumed she already knew what I was up to anyway—should she cancel on me yet again, I' be forced to say what I had to say via text. Even though I really didn't want to end thing that way, enough was enough. I included two possible dates to meet up for her to choose from and hit "send".
It was on a late evening in the first week of February, that I stumbled slightly buzzed into my apartment which seemed to look colder and less and less appealing every time I set foot into it.
I had met up with a few guys I had first been introduced to during an internship of one of my father's business buddies. I wouldn't consider any of them close friends, but just some guys I used to hang out with from time to time. When I told them about my plan of moving to Portland and some of the reasons why, they all thought I was moronic dipshit for uprooting my life just like that.
They didn't get it.
How could they—neither of the four guys either managed to keep a girl for longer than a month, or didn't want to. They lived off of daddy's money and had their whole lives figured out. Or rather, someone else – meaning their parents - had their entire lives figured out for them. The professions they would pursuit, the people they had to surround themselves with a and navigate around, often times the wife or husband they would take one day... it was figured out and planned to a "t". There was just no room for something unexpected, something to twist and turn and mess with even only the most insignificant of points on the schedule that were their lives. Their futures were as secure as they were risk free. Bulletproof. Perfect.
A bit of an argument ensued with them defending the safety cushion way of life, whereas I countered that that life just wasn't for me anymore—maybe never really had been—because my priorities had changed. We soon realized that we've reached an impasse as either side was unwilling to give in and—seeing as it was unsure if we'd ever cross paths again—agreed to disagree and left it at that. We had a few drinks, shared some memories of other nights out together and eventually, I said my goodbye's.
It was unspectacular but appropriate.
Sitting down on my black leather sofa laptop in hand, I remembered to have accidentally forgotten my cell at home when I headed out. Thinking it'd be best to check it, I went hunting for it. Turned out I had left in on top of my dresser.
One look at the illuminated screen was enough for my heart to instantly drop into the pit of my stomach.
Seven missed calls and four new texts in a little over three hours and all from Bella.
The fear that something might have had happened to my baby girl spread like a wildfire through my body that cut me off any oxygen supply.
Not wasting another second, I dialed her number right away, dying little deaths as the signal rang four-five-six times before she finally, breathlessly, answered her cell. "Hello?"
"Bella! What happened? Is Josie okay? Are you okay? What the hell happened?" I was frantic.
There was a "fuck", followed by a brief pause. "Calm down. It's fine – everybody is fine." A long exhale. "I'm sorry for giving you a scare, that wasn't my intention."
I sighed in relief, but felt nowhere near calmed down. "Just tell me."
"Look, thinking about it, I may have gone a bit overboard the with excessive amount of calling and texting. It was just an overall bad day... Josie woke up with a stomach bug and threw up shortly after. She was cranky and moody all day and it got increasingly worse with every passing hour. I'm talking full-blown temper tantrums here. Then, a few hours ago, just when I thought things would get better, she started asking about you and why you haven't returned yet. She misses you so badly. So, when we called your phone and it went unanswered... I guess it all boiled over. She got so upset that she started crying and, as we continued and failed to reach you, the tears were accompanied by screams. She got so worked up, so out of control, I almost didn't recognize her. I mean, I know my kid can throw a tantrum with the best of them, but never have I seen her like that." She spoke so quickly, I had a hard keeping up as the words flew from her mouth.
"Shit, Bella, I'm so sorry. I went out earlier and forgot my cell at home. You know I would have never purposely ignored a call from you guys."
"I know this, Edward. Really, don't worry, it was just one of those days. It wasn't all just you, it all mixed together and the result was this day making the top ten list of Josie's worst crying fits."
"Yeah, well..." A glance at my watch told me it was a little after 9 pm here. "Can I talk to her?"
"She would love that, but I just tugged her in. The fatigue finally won over. Maybe, tomorrow morning? I'll let her call you right after she had breakfast."
"Oh." Why, out all the days to forget my phone at home – which usually never happens – did it have to be today?
"Yea. It just really... I feel like an asshole." An idea popped to my mind then. "What's her usual time to wake up? I mean, do you think the exhaustion of the day will make her sleep longer or will she awake earlier tomorrow?" Planting my butt on the sofa, I booted up my laptop with one hand while keeping my cell pressed against my ear with the other.
Admittedly, I was only half-listening as she continued. My mind was too occupied finding the next best direct flight back to Portland; back home.
I know I fail at updating. I also know that I keep on apologing for the same thing and that it's getting old. I'm trying, though and I apologize (again) if I upset you.
I'm really grateful for all the reviews and alerst my story has gotten. I appreciate it all, and I want to thank you for your patience and understanding.
The comment Bella makes about powder kegs is in reference to Bonnie Tyler's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" - "We're living in a powder keg and giving up sparks"
I hope you all had a great start into the new year.
Thank you and until next time.