Disclaimer: Twilight characters and situations belong to Stephenie Meyer. I do not, in any way, profit from this story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator.
I watched the brake lights of the limousine fade into the distance before reality demanded that I shove the panties into my handbag and face my family. The doorman looked unsure of himself when I turned to study my building so I waved him away. It should have made me feel better to be here. This was my world, inside the bubble where nothing could get in, not even Edward Cullen. I looked up at the lighted glass windows that I usually found so warm and welcoming and instead felt exposed. I took a few deep breathes to calm myself before walking in. There wasn't enough air to fill the hollow space. I reminded myself that I couldn't have a break down, not now… not in the street with my son waiting to be tucked in upstairs.
I could not understand this power he had over me. I could say that I had no self control but the fact was, I hadn't even attempted to control myself where he was concerned. My body moving with his was new and familiar all at once. No man had ever captured my senses the way he had. I wanted him. I thought of all of the nice men who had tried to get my attention; the few like Jake who deserved my love even though I was unable to return it the way they wanted. I was the model of control where they were concerned. Instead, I let myself become Edward's plaything whenever the opportunity arose. It made me feel filthy and cheap.
I could claim that I wasn't that girl anymore. The shy, weak girl who was at the mercy of another person's whims. The one who followed a stranger into the dark and emerged months later with no memory and a baby on the way. I could claim that I wasn't that girl but it was all a lie if I continued to behave like her.
I held my head up and walked through the door. The new guy at the front desk nodded as I passed; I chanced a slight grin and waved as I hurried toward the elevator. It felt as if I was running from something, adrenaline rushed through my veins and my heart rate increased. The space felt too small as the elevator inched toward my floor.
My breath came faster and my eyes stung. As soon as the door opened, I found myself running down the hall. I fumbled with the key and opened the door to see Alice calmly flipping through a magazine and Rose trying to match CDs from the night's Karaoke session to their cases.
"You really should convert to digital Bella. It would make cleaning up a helluva lot easier." She continued flipping cases.
"Where's Tristan?" Do I sound the same?
"He went to bed about half an hour ago. Rose wore him out with all the dancing." Alice looked up with a smile but stopped short when she actually saw me.
They both stood at the same time and wore the same concerned looks. A part of me wanted to fall apart in their arms and confess what I knew… what I had done. They wouldn't judge me, they never had. The only issue was how far I would fall if I let myself. Would I go so far that I wouldn't resurface for months? I couldn't allow that, not now.
I raised my hands, "Just wait. I need to change and then we'll talk."
I didn't wait for their dismissal as I stumbled to my bathroom and locked the door. I turned the shower on and began to strip when my breathing started hitching. I stepped under the spray hoping the warm water would relax me. This didn't happen, it couldn't. The questions came and went through my mind so quickly that I couldn't catch any of them and I wondered if this was what it felt like to be crazy. When would I come back? My legs refused to hold me up and I slid down on the tiles. I hugged my knees as the water pelted my body. I squeezed my eyes shut as an anemic wail escaped my lips.
For the first time since my son had been born almost five years ago, I was crying. My tears finally subsided when I realized the water has become cold enough to hurt. I pulled the curtain back and reached for a towel. I tried to pretend that everything was normal as I squeezed the water out of my hair.
This episode was further proof that being around Edward was not good for me and could not be good for my son. I tried to shift back into my former state of ignorance. It would be easier that way. I could just tell my son that I didn't know his father or make up a beautiful story about young love that ended in tragedy; that his father died before he was born. Other children lived with similar stories, Tristan would be fine. But I knew. I knew who his father was and I knew that he would never want anything to do with him. He was a man who turned everything into a game in order to get what he wanted.
And Edward knew. He knew he had a son and even if that meant nothing to him now, that could change. What would Tristan think of me if Edward came to him years from now? If Edward changed, would they blame me for keeping them apart? Tristan could hate me for that.
He also knew everything about our time together, the things I had no memory of. I could finally find out the truth, he could help me piece together those missing months or he could use that information against me. The truth could set me free or wrap me in chains.
I was tying my robe when I heard a light tapping on my door, "Bella? We're coming in, okay?" Rose sounded as if she was speaking to a child. I would have been annoyed but tonight, I felt comforted.
I fell back on the bed and mumbled my consent. My eyes were dry and puffy, my nose swollen, and my head was being assaulted with a dull ache. Moments later I felt the bed shift twice as they joined me. Someone started stroking my hair. It was so calming, I just wanted to drift off and pretend that tonight had never happened.
Alice spoke to Rose first, "She's been crying."
"If Jake acted like a bitch, I'll have Emmett kick his ass for you."
I took a deep breath, "It wasn't Jake. Some guys started following me when I left X..."
"Holy shit!" Alice jumped off the bed.
"Jesus, Bella! Are you okay?" Rose took my hand.
I opened my eyes and grabbed my pillow, hugging it to me as I made my way to sit against the headboard. They looked horrified. I knew I should be correcting their assumptions, assuring them that I was fine. That nothing happened to me tonight that was not consensual. Instead, I studied their faces and wondered if I could live with them knowing what I had done. Would they always look at me like this?
"No. No, I'm fine. No one hurt me. Edward showed up." I began tugging the ends of the pillow that I was holding tight against my chest. It felt like more tears were coming and I was trying desperately trying to hold them back. It was too much. The past, the present, our future; all the questions I had pushed aside were scratching at the wall I had built to protect myself.
"Well that explains it!" Rose crossed her arms.
I told them about the ride home. I explained that I had invited Edward to Tristan's birthday party and how I thought it would be nice for him to come. I told them that he believed he wasn't capable of having children. Rose was in shock; Alice looked somber when I divulged that we had sex and that it hadn't been the first time since seeing him in the Hamptons. My eyes were drawn to the closet where my journal was hidden. Part of me wanted to show them but I still had no way to answer all of the questions they would have to ask. I looked at my shaking hands instead.
"Oh, sweetie." Rose scooted forward to embrace me while Alice came around the other side to do the same. The comfort their arms provided incited more tears.
I pulled myself together while they moved to the kitchen to open some wine. I knew they had more questions to ask and opinions to share. Though I wasn't looking forward to the conversation, I was relieved that they were with me and willing to help me wade through my muddled feelings. Still, I felt uneasy when they stopped whispering as I walked into the room.
"Bella," Rose looked uncomfortable as she traced the top of her wine glass with her finger, "Alice told me about last time, you know, when you and Edward...and Kate almost caught you."
"Really Alice?" I tried to appear shocked but in truth I was relieved I wouldn't have to tell her myself.
"Look, we can't help if we all aren't up to speed." Alice put her hands on her hips, sure of herself.
I took the glass they left sitting for me and downed half of it in before sitting it back down. I gazed at them both, a unique and awkward silence hung in the air.
"Rose, I..." I had no excuse for what I had done but like most people,I wanted to defend my actions, even the indefensible ones.
"I know you're not Irina," Rose began quietly. "You would never intentionally hurt someone that way. Hell, I don't even know for sure that she knew about me when she and Royce were together. Some guys are just assholes. You and Alice were there for me then, we'll be here for you now. God knows this is the first time you've needed help since, well..." She trailed off and I could tell that she hadn't meant to bring up my past when I was already hurting.
"That's what scares me. I'm not myself when he's around and obviously we were involved before in some way. I'm so confused right now."
Alice finally weighed in, "I know I joked about it before and God knows you need a little action, but not with him. Not if he's going to make you feel this way. You deserve better."
"Tristan deserves better," Rose added.
"I know. The ball's in his court, again. I need to quit trying to push this and wait to see what happens. If he wants to be involved he'll show it and if not, we'll all just keep going like we always have." I tried to sound sure of myself as the small voice in my head whispered waiting is wasting.
"What about this thing between you and him?" Rose asked. "He knows what happened to you back then Bella. He may be the only one who knows. As much as I hate him for putting you through all of this, then and now, he can give you answers. Can you walk away from that?"
"For now. This has to be about Tristan first." If being around Edward had such a profound effect on me, I had to be sure it was worth it. If finding out about those few months was going to break down the wall I had built to keep my sanity I would avoid the truth at all costs. The only problem was, I couldn't be sure when I had gone too far until it was too late.
They agreed to continue following my lead and to keep my indiscretions between us. The conversation shifted from my problems to lamenting about Rose's inability to move forward with Emmett and Alice's difficulty with finding a man at all. When the bottle was empty, they began ambling towards the door with Rose promising to help a slightly tipsy Alice to her door.
The condo was quiet, but instead of inspiring the feeling of calm that usually accompanied me to sleep, I tossed and turned while the journal in my closet seemed to pull at me. The dull ache in my head was back, thanks to the wine, and the emptiness that consumed me in the car with Edward began to creep over me once more. I began to wonder if it was already too late and my sanity was already slipping from my grasp. Something was missing. I forgot it somewhere and if I only knew what it was I would look for it.
I tore the covers off and dashed towards Tristan's room. He had never needed a nightlight but thankfully the moonlight coming from the window highlighted his face and brought me a measure of peace. I pulled the Spongebob comforter back slowly and crawled in next to him. Despite my best effort not to wake him, he rolled over and looked at me as soon as I wrapped my arms around him.
"I'm sorry Mommy, it's gone." He must have been dreaming still.
"Shhhh, it okay, baby. You have nothing to be sorry for. Go back to sleep."
"It was too heavy." His brow was furrowed.
"What was too heavy?" Maybe it was a nightmare.
I held him as he drifted back into his dreams and tried to pretend he had said something else; anything else. I held him as if I were protecting him when in reality it was Tristan who was making me feel safe. Dim light filtered through the windows before I finally gave myself over to sleep.
It was after noon before I felt like I was awake enough to go to the market to buy the ingredients for Sunday's meal. Tristan was too big for the cart and had been for a while. He usually helped me pick the best produce while peppering me with questions about what I was going to make and what movie Emmett was going to bring. Today he was too quiet.
"What's wrong hon?" I wasn't going to mention what he had said last night. Complete denial.
His green eyes were intense but innocent. "Is my dad a bastard?"
"What? Who said that to you?" I panicked. Was this why he had the scuffle at school?
"Well, Seth said his dad is a bastard, his mom called him that. He doesn't see his dad much. Is that why I don't know my dad? Is he a bastard?" My heart ached that it had come to this.
"Tristan, that's not a nice word. I think Seth's mom is angry with his dad right now. Sometimes we say things we don't mean when we're angry. His dad probably wished he could spend more time with him."
"So?" He was determined and I had yet to answer the most important part of his question. "Seth knows who his dad is. Even if my dad isa bas...is bad, I want to know." He pushed his hands into his little pockets and waited for my acknowledgment.
"I have to be sure of some things first. You're the most important thing in the world to me. I'm sorry but I wouldn't let anyone I know is bad near you. You know you can always talk to Emmett or Carlisle for guy stuff right?"
"I'll let you know as soon as I can, okay?"
"Promise?" The hope in his eyes broke my heart.
"I promise." I couldn't help but return the smile that broke across his face. The word promise, however, hung like iron chain around my neck.
Tristan ran off to play with his Legos, while I started dinner. When I was a teenager cooking often felt like a burden. Being in the city helped; I didn't feel like it was something I was forced to do and there were thousands of superb restaurants I could frequent if I didn't feel like cooking. The restaurants were also helpful when Emmett's colorful suggestions ended up tasting less than palatable. The freedom of having other options and the encouragement of friends who never learned themselves made cooking more of a hobby than chore.
I had high hopes for the tonight's sausage and mushroom pie when I placed it in the oven. Tristan was still busy and the others wouldn't arrive for at least half an hour. I had been avoiding thinking of the conversation Tristan and I had at the market; trying to slip it back into a repository that no longer existed. He was so brave when he asked me to know his father. I could not ignore his request solely due to my inability to control myself around his father. I could say the ball was in his court but truly I had done nothing so far to discourage his advances towards me. I had been clay in his skilled hands. It was clear that I needed take control of the situation and find out what Edward's intentions were where Tristan was involved. I had promised which meant I couldn't just avoid Edward. Instead I used my phone to send him yet another email.
Sender: bswan- swandesigns
Recipient: E. Cullen
We have to talk about Tristan. He wants to know who his father is and I need to tell him soon. We need to come to an agreement now!
I had barely put my phone back on the table before it buzzed with a new message.
-Sunday 4:42pm- Reply Email-
sender: E. Cullen
recipient: bswan - swan designs
Call me, 212-227-9019. Immediately.
I wasn't expecting a reply so soon and I certainly didn't feel ready to talk to him. I had no idea what to expect. If he had just sent a message I could have spent the evening mulling over whatever he said. I could prepare myself. Even though my hands started to shake, I decided to call him. Adrenaline coursed through me as I went to the bedroom and closed the door. I had to dial the number twice due to my shaking fingers.
"Ms. Swan?" He answered before the first ring was complete.
"Yes, it's me. I think we're familiar enough that you can call me Bella."
"Indeed we are. Bella, I have come to the realization that I've been going about this all wrong and I would like to remedy the situation." This was unexpected.
"How do you intend to do that?" I was curious, but resolute.
"Well first, I suppose I should refrain from fucking you to distraction." He stated bluntly.
I felt my face flush with anger, "This has to be about Tristan now."
"I see. If this is what you want, I will try to be what you ask." He sounded sincere.
"How do you want to do this?"
"We'll have dinner, the three of us. I understand the boy enjoys Mario's calamari, have him ready at 6."
"You want to have dinner, in public? The press will have a field day, what about Kate?" I hadn't expected this.
"Do I strike you as a man who considers the opinions of others? Kate is no longer an issue, she has been well compensated." His voice was bored.
"You can't be as...suggestive as you usually are with Tristan around. It wouldn't be right."
"I believe I am a fine student of etiquette Ms...," he hesitated, "Bella. I will promise you this; I will not even hint at the number of things I have yet to do to you. You have my word that I will not touch you again until you initiate it."
"That sounds acceptable. My only concern is Tristan. We won't be doing anymore of...that." I was shocked, it was all too easy.
"Think what you will Bella, I won't be waiting long." He was smug now.
"I don't think I'm ready to tell him you're his father just yet. Maybe we should see how it goes?" I tried to change the subject.
"Do you truly believe that he doesn't already know?"
I was stunned by the idea. I hadn't considered that their earlier meeting could have factored in to Tristan's sudden eagerness to know his dad.
"Tomorrow at 7." His phone clicked abruptly.
I didn't have long to process the conversation; the others arrived soon after the call ended. Alice brought dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookies from Levain's. Rose was trying to impress Emmett with soda bread she claimed to have made herself. I was hopeful that she bought it; it would go great with the sausage and mushroom pie. Emmett brought The Spiderwick Chronicles and Never Back Down which meant we would have to listen to Alice "oh" and "ah" over Cam Gigandet during the entire film. Carlisle, keeping at least with the dinner's theme if not the dessert's, brought a case of Guinness.
Everyone was still picking at their food when Tristan excused himself to watch Big Time Rush before the movies. This was as good a time as any to let them know about our plans tomorrow. Carlisle and Emmett would be surprised; Alice and Rose would most likely be livid.
"So, I spoke with Edward today." I eased into the news.
Rose and Alice looked bewildered.
Carlisle was genuinely interested, while the others were on edge. "How did it go?"
"Well, he wants to have dinner with Tristan and me." Silverware clattered.
"Do you really think that's a good idea?" Rose sputtered.
I told them about the discussion Tristan had initiated at the market and, after Emmett got over his laughter at the fact that he had used the word bastard, they all looked sullen.
"It does sound as if he's willing to make an effort." Carlisle continued, after I relayed most of my earlier conversation with Edward.
"I'm hoping so."
"If he so much as makes the little man's eyes water, Jake and I will break his legs." Emmett wasn't joking.
Rose and Alice didn't have much to say. They would be waiting for me when I returned from the restaurant. Considering the fact that I had decided to do just the opposite, to avoid Edward completely the night before, they were hesitant to encourage my change of heart. I knew they would support me though. They always did.
Everyone was unusually quiet during the movies. Alice kept her thoughts about Cam's abs to herself. I knew I was the one responsible for drawing a cloud over the evening. We were all considering the ramifications of tomorrow and how it would affect us all. I would catch each of them looking at Tristan as if he were marching off to war the next day.
I had decided to wait until he got home from school to let him know so he wouldn't be anxious all day; his first impression of Edward wasn't the greatest. Regardless of what Edward had said, I was not going to tell him that Edward was his father right away.
I was lost in my own thoughts when the credits began to roll and Emmett hopped up to retrieve the Blu-Rays. Hugs were had all around and they trickled out just as they had trickled in. Only Alice stayed behind for a moment.
"Bella, I hope you know what you're doing here. You have the tendency to just go along, not that it's a bad thing, you just like to make other people happy. But this guy, he seems to feed off of that. You have to be careful, especially for Tristan." I wasn't used to Alice being so serious.
There was a lump in my throat, "I know. This will change everything."
A/N: I would like to thank my amazing betas: nise7465 and GracieHartford ; and my wonderful pre-reader: fit2bme . They have been a great source of encouragement. This chapter has been greatly improved due to their input; any mistakes are my own. Thank you for reading,
I would love to hear your comments.