The story deals with adult subject matter and occasional description of explicit sexual abuse. Not meant for underage readers. Read at your own peril. And oh, Twilight belongs to SM. This is just a fanfiction.
End of chapter 32
"Bella..." Alice tried in a timid voice to placate her friend.
"No, you listen, Alice. I'm sorry you can't see past some ridiculous notion that you have drawn up in your head about a man you haven't even met. You don't have to like Mr. Cullen, and you don't have to agree with me. But you do have to respect my decisions and those who matter to me. I think I've earned it.
"If you want us to be friends, that is."
With those ominous words, Bella stood up and strode away to her room, slamming the door shut for good measure.
Bella, age 18
Alice sat frozen on the couch for several minutes, unable to gather her wits enough to settle upon her immediate course of action.
Bella had occupied a constant place in her life since they had met in kindergarten. The sense of propriety they felt over one another was well earned and firmly grounded in time. They had survived through disagreements and banters, arguments and debates, but not once did the durability of their friendship ever come into question.
Alice had a gut feeling that Carlisle Cullen would mean ruin for Bella. She wasn't quite sure how she knew this or why she was so certain about her presumptions, but she felt compelled to steer Bella away from the path of this formidable man. She knew how predisposed Bella already was to his considerable charm and influence. Once embroiled, she wouldn't stand a chance to extricate herself from his intricate, shiny web.
Alice wanted Bella to be safe, but was the effort worth putting their friendship on the line? After all, how could she be so certain that Carlisle Cullen was a bad man? What evidence did she have other than her hunch? Bella had placed him on a very high pedestal. As Bella's best friend, shouldn't she at least try to give the man the benefit of the doubt? Maybe she had gone about expressing her reservation in a very wrong way. She had never seen Bella this angry before. She felt scared and unsettled. She needed to make things right.
Setting aside the unfinished beer bottle, she walked over to Bella's room. She rapped her knuckles on the door.
"Bella, can I come in?"
No one answered from inside.
"I'm coming in, okay?"
Alice tentatively opened the door to find Bella sitting on her bed, hugging her knees tightly to her chest, looking livid as ever.
Cautiously, Alice approached the bed and sat down facing Bella.
"Hey, I'm sorry, okay? I wasn't really gonna call Renee. I... I did it all wrong. Please don't be mad, Bells," she said softly.
Bella didn't respond as she maintained her rigid posture, refusing to look Alice in the eyes.
"Come on, Bella. Don't be like this," Alice pleaded.
Bella took a deep breath as she slowly raised her gaze. "You don't have to like everything I do, but you can't go about rattling me out to my parents, Al. They don't need to worry about me. Okay?"
"I know. I was never going to. I just... I wasn't thinking straight. You know me. Like you said, I always speak before I think. I'll do better. I was just worried about you," Alice said apologetically.
Bella nodded slowly, acknowledging Alice's apology.
"I know. I appreciate that, but you really have no reason to be. I don't know why you are so dead-set on hating the man, but Mr. Cullen really is very nice. I just don't like the way you trash him for no good reason."
Alice swallowed back the defiant words that threatened to spill out in protest of Bella's claim. It would serve no purpose other than igniting another fight between them.
"You really believe that, don't you?" Alice asked instead.
"Yes, I do. And if you ever meet him, then you'd know it too," Bella said with conviction.
"And you trust him?" Alice questioned.
"Yes, I do."
Alice closed her eyes and took a deep breath, making up her mind that she would at least try to see the man as her friend did.
"That's good enough for me then," Alice said with a smile. "After all, I happen to know how great your taste is in picking friends." She winked.
"That I do." Bella smiled widely as the storm clouds began to clear away from her face.
The girls sat quietly in amicable silence, both glad that they were friends again.
"So, you'll still go to Forks with him?" Alice asked hesitantly, making sure her voice didn't give away her reservations.
"Yah." Bella nodded as she considered her answer. "I mean, if someone really calls to set it up like he said. Maybe he was just being nice, you know. Maybe he'll forget all about it by Monday. But if he remembers and still wants me to ride with him, I'll go."
Alice didn't bother to convince her to change her mind this time.
"Just promise me that you'll be careful."
"Always am, Al, always am," Bella assured her; she was nothing if not sensible.
"How about more beer?" Alice asked after a while, and they both jumped off of the bed to pick up their evening where it was left off before the argument erupted.
For Bella, the next few days progressed much like the ones before, with classes, course work, and manning the perfume counter at Blossoms. No one had tried to contact her about her impending trip home the coming weekend. She had checked the voicemail machine to make sure it ran without a hitch, and tried not to feel disappointed that Mr. Cullen would make an offer only to forget all about it so soon.
She was pleasantly proven wrong on Wednesday when the phone rang a few minutes before four, mere seconds after she had returned home from the campus.
"Could I speak to Miss Swan please? Miss Isabella Swan," said a perfectly polished female voice.
"That's me..." Bella said.
"I'm Amanda calling from the Cullen Corps to coordinate your pick up this weekend. Are you still planning on going to Forks on Saturday, Miss Swan?"
"Uh... yes, yes I am, if it's no trouble..."
"You'll be picked up at seven in the morning. Is that acceptable to you?" the woman called Amanda asked.
"That's fine, I'll be ready at seven. Do you need my address or directions?"
"No thank you, Miss Swan, that wouldn't be necessary. The return trip will be at seven PM on Sunday. If your plans change, please inform the driver," the no-nonsense voice continued.
"Of course, I will. Though I don't think anything will change..." Bella was finally catching up to the reality that Mr. Cullen had followed through on his promise. She was elated and nervous, wondering if Mr. Cullen was nearby and if it would be appropriate for her to ask if she could speak with him.
However, before she could gather up the courage to ask, Amanda brought their conversation to an end.
"Splendid. Have a pleasant trip, Miss Swan. And have a nice day."
Bella floated around the rest of the evening, unable to concentrate on anything - including dinner which she burned - in anticipation of her upcoming car ride with Carlisle Cullen.
She pledged not to fall asleep this time, or speak in half sentences.
Of course, Mr. Cullen might prefer to be left alone or read, in which case she wouldn't want to disturb him.
Would he even talk to her?
She was scared and excited, and couldn't wait for the week to be over. She wished she had the presence of mind to ask for the phone number when Amanda called. That way she could call up and hear his voice, perhaps in the guise of reconfirming their trip.
Bella feared that Alice might launch another diatribe to dissuade her from going on this trip, or worse, offer to come along. The thought of Alice opening her mouth and saying something disrespectful to the man was a fearsome concept that she was determined to prevent at all cost. Thankfully, Alice took the news surprisingly well and kept her opinions to herself, hidden behind lukewarm smiles.
By Friday, Bella conceded defeat to her nerves and simply gave up on all efforts to appear calm and collected. She could hardly stand still in one spot while at work, raising eyebrows and coughs of disapproval from her supervisors. At home she had packed and repacked her small overnight bag to make sure it didn't look too ungainly for the trunk of Mr. Cullen's car.
Alice brought her some chamomile tea to tame her anxiety and sat her down on the bed next to the packed duffel bag Bella was to take with her the next morning.
Alice waited for Bella to take a few sips before she opened her mouth.
"Bella, you know, if you are this anxious about the whole deal you can just cancel it. It's not worth having a panic attack over."
"No! I am not canceling on Mr. Cullen. Plus, I'm not anxious at all. I... I just want to make a good impression... besides, I don't have his number. How am I suppose to cancel?" Bella vehemently rejected the proposition.
Alice nodded in acceptance. She didn't expect to be able to make Bella change her mind this late in the game, but it was worth a shot.
"In that case, just promise me one thing..." she said meaningfully as she reached behind her to produce a small plastic bag with a tube shaped object inside. She held it up for Bella to take. "Promise me you'll be careful, and that you'll carry this with you in your purse at all times."
"What is it?" Bella asked, curious to receive an unexpected present from Alice.
Bella carefully pulled out the content of the bag and was shocked to see that it was a pink can of pepper spray.
"Wh... what? Alice, what's wrong with-" Bella began to protest as the meaning behind Alice's present became clear.
"Just keep it with you, okay? I won't say anything bad or disrespectful about him, just promise me you'll keep it on you the entire time. Please," Alice stated forcefully as she beseeched Bella.
Bella wanted to refuse to take the can with her, but the look of sincere concern on Alice's convinced her to acquiesce.
"Fine, I will, but just so you know, I think you are being absolutely ridiculous," Bella said with disdain.
"I don't care what you think, as long as you promise me you'll be careful. Another thing, call me as soon as you get home. And I mean right away, okay?" Alice pressed the point home, wagging her finger.
"I will," Bella promised, feeling disgruntled yet blessed that she had a friend who cared this much about her safety.
She had very little sleep that night and was up long before the alarm could wake her. She hurriedly went through her morning ritual and tiptoed around the kitchen to forage for breakfast without disturbing Alice.
She gathered all of her things and went downstairs to wait on the curb well before seven to make sure that no time was wasted on her account when Mr. Cullen came to pick her up. She sat down on the edge of the pavement and forced her legs from being restless and jumpy.
Sharp at seven, she saw a sleek, silver car turn the corner and pull up next to her.
Yet another car, she mused.
She jumped up to greet Carlisle Cullen as the well dressed driver came around the car to hold the door to the back seat open for her.
"Good morning, Miss Swan. My name is Ronald and I work for Mr. Cullen. I'm here to drive you to Forks and back. Please let me know if you need us to stop along the way, or make any detours," he said with professional politeness.
"Uh... thank you," she greeted back, unsure of what exactly the protocol demanded in such situations.
"Let me take that, Miss Swan," Ronald said as he took the small duffel bag from her hand and tucked it away in the car's trunk.
Bella couldn't see the interior of the car, but she didn't hesitate to give him her luggage and climb into the backseat. As Ronald shut the door behind her and began to maneuver the car to merge into traffic, she realized that she was the only passenger in the vehicle. Mr. Cullen wasn't there.
She was confused. Could it be that he wanted to be picked up last so he didn't have to wake up as early?
As their car began to speed away from the city, her conjecture seemed less and less likely.
"Mr. Ronald..." Bella attempted to gain his attention. But the man didn't react to her voice.
"Uh... Mr. Ronald..." Bella tried again fruitlessly.
There was a transparent divider that separated the back cab of the car from the driver's side. Bella wondered if it was soundproof. She frantically looked for a button or a switch to remove it so she could speak to the driver. After several minutes of searching, she located a button on the far right. The divider lowered soundlessly when she pressed down on it.
"Uh... Mr. Ronald, I was just wondering, I thought Mr. Cullen was going to Forks today as well. Are you picking him up from somewhere else?" Bella asked.
"I only have orders to drive you to Forks and back, Miss Swan. I haven't received any instructions regarding Mr. Cullen's itinerary," was all Ronald had to contribute.
Bella sank back into the soft, plush seat and surrendered to disappointment. She wanted to laugh at all the speculations Alice had made about Mr. Cullen hitting on her. What a ridiculous notion.
Of course, he never saw her that way. What was she thinking? She was nothing but a poor, small-town girl, with no sophistication or beauty. Why would a man like Carlisle Cullen even spare a single thought about her? He was only being charitable when he treated her to a scrumptious dinner at a fancy restaurant, or offered to allow his car to drive her home to Forks. None of it held any hidden meaning. She was a fool to have assumed otherwise.
A few errant tears slipped past her eyelids and she hastily pressed the switch to reinstate the partition between her and Ronald. She didn't want him to see or hear her cry. There was only so much humiliation her little heart could take.
The hours dragged on. Ronald asked her once about rest-stop needs through an intercom system Bella didn't know existed. She grumpily said she didn't need one, unless of course Ronald needed a break. He didn't say a word in return but he didn't stop the car anywhere either.
As the car approached the outskirts of Forks, a new thought began to plague Bella. How would she explain the strange car to her parents? Like Alice had pointed out, hearing about Mr. Cullen's kind offer would only cause Renee to question his motive. Was there any need for that? Clearly Mr. Cullen had no designs on her. It was better not to give her parents a reason to fret needlessly.
She looked for the intercom button to re-establish communication with Ronald, and once she found it, she called through the system. "Mr. Ronald, I need to visit someone before I go home. I'd like you to drop me off at the corner of Pine Street, if that's okay."
"Sure, Miss Swan."
"And maybe you could pick me up from the same spot tomorrow?" Bella stated, though it came out sounding more like a question as if she was seeking permission.
"Anything you say, Miss Swan."
They had soon reached their destination, and Ronald pulled over the car by the side of the street. He jumped out in lightening speed and rounded the car before she could open the door herself.
He handed her the duffel bag and offered to carry it for her to the place she needed to visit, which she politely declined.
"Thank you, Mr. Ronald. I really appreciate you driving me home today. Have a wonderful day," Bella said in goodbye.
"It's my job, Miss Swan. Should I pick you up from the same spot tomorrow at seven?" he asked.
"Yes, that would be perfect, thanks. I'll see you tomorrow then," Bella said as she began to turn away when Ronald interrupted her.
"Miss Swan, before you go, I've been asked to give you this once you arrived safely," he said as he retrieved a small, rectangular box from the front seat.
"What is it?" Bella asked curiously, as she took the box from Ronald's outstretched hand.
"It's a cell phone. It has my number programmed already under 'Car Service'. If you change your plans, or need to leave earlier or later, just text or call me."
"Uh... thank you," was all Bella could say as Ronald got back inside the car and drove away.
Bella was left dumbfounded, staring at the box in hand. Another token of generosity. She recalled Mr. Cullen's displeasure at her not owning one. That must be why he was giving it to her, because she was poor. What else could she be for him other than the recipient of one charitable gesture after another?
She tucked the box in her bag and began the two block trek toward her parents' home. Like the Friday night a week ago, her heart was heavy. But unlike that night, now her mind was mired in pain of being rejected and for being insignificant.
The warm welcoming hugs she received from her mother eased her anguish to some extent as it pulled her down to her reality. Being back with her family reminded her of who she was and her place in life. As she helped Renee prepare dinner, she managed to shake away the rose-tinted glasses she had donned the night she dined at Euphorique. Her mother's chatter and her father's quiet presence grounded her the way Alice's strongly voiced objections couldn't.
She remembered to call Alice, as promised, to let her know that she had safely arrived, then busied herself with house chores and keeping Charlie company.
At dinner time, Renee asked about her car and if they had driven Alice's car to Forks instead. Bella fidgeted a little and then managed to mutter something about a car-pool program she was participating in. She didn't know how convincing she was, so she hastily moved the conversation along to safer waters by prattling on about school and her new job.
It wasn't until bed time when she went to retrieve her toothbrush from the duffel bag that she pulled out the box containing the cell phone. She sat down on the floor of her childhood room and toyed with the package, disappointment stinging her eyes. She told herself that it wasn't befitting for her to feel indignant over being treated as charity; after all, she had survived on the man's kindness without much compunction thus far. She needed to suck it up and be grateful instead of sulking. Her gaze fell on the pink can of pepper spray Alice had given her the night before, and the ludicrousness of the situation actually managed to put a smile on her face.
She finally opened the box to check out its content. It was probably a used set Mr. Cullen was handing down to her instead of throwing away, she guessed. She didn't take offense; it was a good reminder of where she stood. However, the silver-blue device that lay within looked brand new and even came with a user manual. The small booklet had "RIM Blackberry" written on it.
She wished she knew what kind of subscription came with the phone and which service provider was covering it. She turned the phone around and felt its cool weight in her palm. She liked it. She wondered how soon she would be able to use it. She recalled Alice had to charge her phone for eight full hours before it was ready for use. Maybe she ought to put it on the charger right away.
Out of curiosity however, she pressed down on the power button of the phone, and much to her surprise, it came to life. The battery bar showed it was fully charged.
Of course, Ronald said his number was already saved in its memory.
Bella found it curious that Mr. Cullen not only got her a phone but had someone make it user-ready for her too. Another gesture of kindness.
She smiled. The thoughtfulness of Mr. Cullen's actions took away much of the sting of rejection she had felt throughout that day.
Forgetting to brush her teeth, she went to bed with the phone and the user manual, meaning to familiarize herself with her new toy.
She clicked around the tiny, colorful icons to figure out their purpose, until she came upon the contact list. Just as Ronald had said, she found a number under "Car Service". She was about to click away to explore the next icon when she noticed something else.
Her breath hitched in her chest.
"Car Service" wasn't the only number listed in her contacts list.
Bella's mouth went dry as she kept looking at the dimly-lit screen of her phone with utter disbelief. There, listed under C, were three other entries.
An avalanche of confusion slammed into her brain, causing her heart to beat out of her chest. She was back to being just as confused and unsure as she was last Friday night. Only this time she didn't have Alice to rudely shake her back to the concrete reality.
AN1: I suck at multi-tasking. You have my deepest apologies. If Sami69 and writtenbyabdex didn't kick my butt, I probably wouldn't think about updating even today. I honestly can't wait to finish WtSHNN so I can return to my baby and devote my complete attention to it.
AN2: I've learned that my OS Forgive Me Not got nominated at the Eclipse Award in the Best Angst category. A ton of great stuff are nominated there. Voting will be open until the 19h. I hope you'll check out the stories and vote for the one that you love the most.
twilighteclipseawards (dot) blogspot (dot) ca / p / vote (dot) html
I'm curious to know what you think of Forgive Me Not even if you don't vote for me. So, hope you'll take a look. It's pretty short and won't take too long to skim.
AN3: I need to thank Lulabelle98 for being all-round awesome. Check out her stories.
AN4: Story rec - A Broken Hallelujah by VirginiaMay
It's a beautiful tale of Edward and Bella slowly finding their way back to each other after their relationship ended on quite a traumatic note. I absolutely adore the story. You will too! Just give it a shot.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for reviewing. Where will I be without you?