An eerie calm settled over me in the days following my failed attempt at seeing Brandon. I threw myself back into work, something I had neglected for almost a month. With my permission, Angela had taken over my listings and briefed my clients on the situation with me, telling them as much as she could without overstepping her boundaries. Needless to say, a few of them had already heard through the grapevine that weaved throughout the streets of Port Angeles and were full of sympathy when I called to touch base with them.
Christmas week soon arrived, much quicker than I had hoped. I had been looking forward to watching Brandon open gifts this year. He was older and more excited about the prospect of waking up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
Instead, my bank account was a good bit more in the black than in previous years.
Hoping for the best, I had bought a few things for Brandon. A few action figures, some coloring books and clothes were the extent of my purchases. I hoped that if I didn't go overboard, Jasper would be more likely to accept the gifts for Brandon.
Everything was dropped off to Shelley the day before Christmas Eve. She had contacted Jasper on my behalf and he agreed to allow the gifts as long as Shelley delivered them instead of me and as long as they could be considered "Santa" gifts. Brandon couldn't know they were from me for fear that he would be upset and "pitch another fit like the one following the supermarket incident". I grudgingly agreed because I wanted Brandon to have the gifts but was annoyed that Jasper insisted like acting as though I had fallen off the face of the earth.
After leaving Shelley's office, I stopped by my house to pick up some things I needed to make Christmas dinner. I was digging out a casserole dish from the bottom of a cabinet when my doorbell rang. I secured the teetering tower of glass sitting outside the cabinet and jogged to the door, wondering who would be stopping by since everyone knew I was staying at Edward's.
I immediately regretted not checking to see who it was before flinging the door open.
"Alice," I said, trying to remain calm. Just her presence on my doorstep set my blood to boiling.
"Hi," she replied timidly, very unlike her normal self. Or, at least, what had become normal for her.
She looked…different. There were dark circles under her eyes, barely masked by the thin layer of makeup she wore. Her hair was flat against her head instead of sticking up in all directions like the last time I saw her. The most noticeable thing was her calm demeanor. Her pupils weren't enlarged indicating to me that she was actually sober.
Which meant she was probably looking for money.
"What do you want, Alice?" I asked with a sigh as I propped against the door frame.
"I just wanted to come by. I know I'm in trouble here so before word gets around that I'm back in town, I wanted to see Brandon…if that's okay."
At the mention of his name, an irrational rage stirred within me and was ready to be unleashed…on Alice.
"Well, that's too bad. You have no right to see him, Alice. You gave that up when you skipped out on rehab. Besides, he's not here." I moved to shut the door in her face but she caught it, refusing to let the door latch. I jerked it back open, glaring at her. She put up a hand in surrender before I could open my mouth to go on a tirade.
"Bella, I know I've screwed up. I've fucked up everything in my life, especially my family. I'm trying here. Believe it or not, I've been sober for about a little over a month now. I know I will never be able to make up the things I have neglected to give him but I just want to see him, to make sure he's okay and know that even in this fucked up world I've been living in, at one time I did just one thing right…I brought him into the world."
"Alice, I'd love nothing more than to be able to let you see Brandon. But I can't," I said as my voice broke.
"You're scaring me, Bella. What do you mean you can't?"
"I can't because he no longer lives with me. Jasper filed for custody and the judge awarded it to him."
A few heartbeats passed before…
"WHAT?" Alice screeched. "How- Why- Are you serious?!"
I couldn't answer because my chin was quivering too much. She took my silence as an opportunity to go off on a rampage, pacing back and forth on the porch.
"He's still dealing, Bella! He's not using but I know he sells. I just bought from him when I was in town last time. He had a ton of shit so I know he's dealing. Oh my God." She whirled around to face me.
"How could this happen, Bella?"
The anger clicked back on inside me. The anger I needed to take out on someone. Now I had the perfect, most deserving target.
"I don't know, Alice. How do you think it happened?" I asked sarcastically. "Maybe it was because the judge thought Brandon needed to be with one of his biological parents. And seeing how his mother doesn't care about him enough to stay sober or accept the help she's been offered numerous times, his father was the next best option. Now I'm not even allowed to see him." The words squeaked at the end as I tried to maintain composure. She mumbled incoherently before she looked up at me.
"Bella, I'm sorry," she said quietly. I laughed and threw up my hands, outraged and on the verge of punching her in the mouth.
"You're sorry? You're SORRY?! Do you know how many tears I have cried over you? Do you realize how much money I've given you? Do you realize how you've torn apart this family? Yeah, you're sorry as hell all right." I looked her square in the eye. "Get the hell off my porch and out of my life."
I turned and stepped back inside. The door was almost shut when I heard her voice.
"Every day, Bella. Every day I remember how I've torn this family apart."
Something in her voice told me she was referring to more than just Brandon. As much as I didn't want to fall into a trap of her poor-pitiful-me routine, I couldn't help but ask.
"What are you talking about, Alice?" I asked with narrowed eyes.
She took a pack of cigarettes out of her back pocket and lit one, shaking like a leaf during the entire routine. I gave her a moment before I pressed on.
"Alice?" She twisted and sat down on the steps of the porch.
"Did you know Mom had asked me to stay home that day? 'Stay home and help me,' she had asked. Almost pleaded. 'It'll be just you and me and we can catch up.' But did I? No. I was too busy worrying about myself and my friends and my social life to give Mom any time."
I had never heard any mention of this guilt before. Taken aback, I moved to sit beside her.
"Alice, I have no idea what you're talking about. What-"
"I should have been at home, Bella. If I had stayed home, I could have called an ambulance and Mom might still be alive." A dam of tears broke and poured down her face. For the first time in years, I found myself feeling sorry for her.
"Alice, there's no way you can seriously think Mom's death is your fault."
"I don't know what to think anymore, Bella. I'm trying. I'm truly trying to sober up. But then I remember how much I've fucked up in my life and I crash."
"You have fucked up, Alice. A lot. But I never, ever even thought to blame you for Mom's death, nor did Dad. It was a freak accident, a natural cause. You cannot blame yourself and you can't live your life asking 'what if?'. She shook her head but didn't say anything so I continued.
"And if you are serious about getting sober, that's great…but you have to get help. I can't do it for you anymore, Alice. You have to do it. Do it for you and then worry about everyone else."
"I'm trying, Bella. I haven't done anything in a week. Seven days. That's the longest I've gone since I was pregnant with Brandon."
"Good," I nodded. "Keep it that way."
"I miss my little sister," Alice said quietly. "I miss her strong will and kind heart. But that's no one's fault but my own." I glanced over to see a teardrop trickle down her cheek. It had been a long, long time since I had seen Alice cry. I hooked my arm through hers and leaned into her.
"I miss my big sister," I replied. "My big sister that taught me about boys and snotty girls and sex and how to properly stuff a bra," I said with a laugh. She smiled in return. "I need her back, Alice."
She sat up straight and sniffed. After stubbing out her cigarette, she stood up and stepped down on the path.
"I have some things I need to take care of in town so I better get going." She reached out, grabbed my hand and squeezed. "You'll have her back, Bella. I promise."
~ D ~
Christmas was a pretty somber occasion. We tried to make the most of it with food, stories and laughs. But one delightful laugh in particular was missing and as much as I tried to push the ache aside, my heart took a brutal hit that morning when I thought of Brandon.
Edward graciously hosted Christmas dinner at his house. His parents, along with my Dad and Sue, joined us around the table. We held hands and said grace, asking special blessings on those who needed it most. Two people in particular stuck out in my mind.
I had not told Charlie about Alice being back in town but honestly, I didn't know if she was still around or not. She hadn't contacted me since arriving at my house two days earlier. Edward knew, of course, because I told him everything. He listened calmly and I could tell he struggled to remain nonjudgmental. After all, he had witnessed the worst of it.
"I hope, for everyone's sake, she's serious about getting clean." The skeptical look on his face matched my feelings about it, but deep down inside I really, really thought she might follow through this time.
"Let's not talk about it tonight," I said, determined to have a stress-free Christmas evening with my boyfriend. Everyone had left a few minutes earlier with full bellies and happy faces, and my mood had improved dramatically compared to that morning.
"Okay," he replied with a grin. "I have something else I want to talk to you about anyway. Another gift, if you will."
"I'm all ears," I said while dramatically sweeping my hair behind my ears to reveal the sapphire earrings he had gifted me earlier in the day.
"Oh, you're so funny," he said sarcastically as he took me in his arms and bent to kiss my neck. "I want to take you away."
"Take me," I said dramatically. "I'm all yours." The wine was definitely talking.
"No, seriously," he said, pulling back to look at me. "I want us to get out of Port Angeles for a few days. Get your mind off things and spend some time together."
"Oh," I said, surprised. "Okay. Where do you want to go?"
"I thought we'd drive into Seattle. Stay in a hotel downtown, do a little shopping, relax…"
That sounded heavenly.
"I think that's the best idea I've heard all month. When do you want to go?"
"Would tomorrow be too soon? I'll call in the morning and make a reservation. I need to go back to Home Depot anyway." A mischievous grin spread across his face.
"Oh, I see why you want to go, Mr. I-don't-pay-shipping-fees!" He laughed loudly and wrapped me back in his arms.
"Fine, I'll go," I said. "But you're buying me seafood and lots of it. And a massage." I tried to stay solemn but failed miserably and laughed.
"Deal." He punctuated with a kiss, but turned serious as he studied my smile. "I've missed your laugh."
Staring into his thoughtful eyes, I returned his kiss and said, "I've missed it, too."
~ D ~
A getaway with Edward turned out to be just the thing to bring me out of the funk I had settled into the past month. We walked along the streets of downtown, stopping at various little shops and drinking lots of coffee to keep us warm in the damp, blistering cold.
We shared sweet treats and curled into one another while watching out coffee shop windows to wait for bouts of rain to pass.
It was exactly what we needed to reconnect.
The previous months had been so hard on me that I neglected to see how it was affecting my relationship with Edward. He had been there for me every step of the way. From my days of prolonged silence to the nights of neverending tears, he never complained. He understood.
What I hadn't realized was that even though Edward had only known Brandon for a short while, a bond had been formed, and he was mourning the loss also.
While we lay in bed our last evening in town, sated and clothed only in the bed sheets, our light conversations of the past days turned quite serious.
"I think about him a lot, too, you know." Edward stared up at me from where his chin rested on my sheet-covered belly. I reached down and ran my hands through his wild hair, mentally noting that he needed a hair cut. Although, I did love having it around to grip.
"I know you do. I wish I had realized this before. You've been so thoughtful and caring. I don't know how I can ever thank you enough for what you've done for me these past months."
"You give me everything I need just by breathing, Bella." Being the emotional wreck I was and had been, those words made me teary. I tugged on his arm so he would scoot up the bed next to me. I took his face in my hands and kissed him deeply. With a few touches and a position change, the kiss quickly developed into more.
"You know how you can repay me?" He asked rhetorically. I completely expected a dirty answer. He's a man, after all. He stopped the path of kisses he was tracing down my body and hovered over me, looking me in the eyes with complete sincerity.
"One day, you can become mine forever and make me the happiest man alive." Not what I expected, so I was caught off guard. My wide-eyed silence must have made him nervous because he was quick to add on to the statement.
"I'm not saying tomorrow, but hopefully in the near future. I love you. You're it for me." His eyes almost pleaded with me to say something so I quickly broke out of my haze and reached up to touch his cheek.
"You're it for me, too. I would be honored to be yours forever and honestly, tomorrow's free for me," I joked.
"Don't tempt me," he laughed as he poked my side to tickle me. I giggled and fought him off. "We could head to Vegas now and start working on babies tomorrow."
"Babies, huh?" I teased. "How many are we talking here?"
"As many as you want," he replied seriously. "Whatever makes you happy…and doesn't make us file bankruptcy," he said with a laugh. Our laughter died down and the atmosphere changed, growing serious once more. So many emotions were flowing through me that I felt overwhelmed, so I said the only thing I thought I could.
"I love you." He smiled down at me and kissed me long and hard before replying.
"Ditto, pretty girl."
~ D ~
In my blissfully unaware state of slumber, I heard singing. It wouldn't go away.
It was annoying as hell.
It wasn't until I heard Edward's deep, rumbled voice that I realized it wasn't in my dreams.
"That's your phone," he grumbled.
I jumped up and dug it out of my purse, adrenaline shooting through my veins and making me quickly aware. Phone calls in the middle of the night were never good.
I didn't recognize the number so I answered with a questioned, "Hello?"
"Bella?" My dad's gruff voice floated through the speaker while my heart pounded inside my chest.
"Bella, before you panic I need you to know that everyone is okay, but I need you to get here as quickly as possible." His calm voice did nothing to stop the rapid pounding in my chest.
"Dad, you're scaring me. What's going on?" My voice shook and I could hear the sheets rustle behind me as Edward got out of bed.
"Nothing to be scared about but there's a little boy here insistently asking for his La-La."
"What do you mean, Dad? I don't understand." Edward looked as confused as I was so when I held the phone a bit away from my ear, he ducked his head down next to mine so he could hear the conversation.
"Bella, Jasper and Maria were arrested overnight," he said quickly. The next couple of sentences were a hazy blur. Drug bust. Brandon was with them and is now waiting at the station. Mrs. Cope and Judge Aro and temporary custody until hearing can be scheduled.
"So are you going to come get him or what?" Dad asked impatiently. "Because he's rather irate that you aren't here by now."
Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt as though a weight lifted from my soul. "But he's okay?" I asked, trying to control my quivering chin.
"He's absolutely fine," my dad assured. "Now come on before he drives Shelley nuts." Edward smiled brilliantly and immediately turned and started shoving stuff in our overnight bags.
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
Thank you guys for reading and to my betas for putting up with me. I hope this makes it a little better. See you soon. :)