According to Google Maps, it takes approximately two hours and thirty minutes to drive from downtown Seattle to downtown Port Angeles.
According to Edward Cullen, the trip could be made in one hour and thirty minutes – and he proved himself correct. Although there were times I feared my life.
I burst through the door at the Port Angeles police station and from the lack of shock on everyone's faces and the way they simply opened doors without a word, I assumed they were waiting for me.
Weaving quickly through the desks littering the open space, I worked my way to my dad's office, Edward trailing right behind me. I heard Brandon's voice before I saw him. As soon as I hurried through the door, he turned around in his seat. His face lit up when he saw me and he scrambled down from the chair. I met him halfway and scooped him up as he cried out, "La-La!"
"Hi, baby," I said softly as I held him and kissed his hair over and over again. He was in my arms again and I finally felt like I could take a deep breath. I leaned back to look at him and take in his precious face that I had missed so much. It was smudged and dirty, but otherwise he seemed just fine.
"Where were you? I've been waiting here forever," he exaggerated.
"I'm sorry, buddy," I replied with a grin. "Edward and I were in Seattle."
"La-La, my daddy gots in lots of troubles," Brandon said seriously.
"I know, buddy."
"Is he gonna get sent to time-out?" His face was a mixture of curiosity and confusion. I wasn't quite sure how to handle this but I felt like a version of the truth was required.
"Probably so, buddy. It's a different time-out than what you're used to but it's along the same lines."
"Do I get to go home with you now?" His question was more of a plea. I was so glad I could give him the answer he wanted to hear.
"You sure can, buddy."
"REALLY?" He shouted, tiny body jumping in the chair.
"Yep. You ready to go?"
"Yep! Bye Grandpa!" My dad grinned from the spot he occupied in the corner of the room as he watched our interaction.
"See you soon, squirt," he replied before he looked over at me. "We'll talk tomorrow. Go home and get some rest tonight."
I nodded and led Brandon out to the hall where Edward was leaned against the opposite wall. As soon as Brandon spotted him, his face lit up.
"Ehwurd!" The sight of Edward kneeling down and Brandon running into his arms is a memory I'll never forget.
"Hey there, big guy. Your La-La and I missed you!"
"I missed you, too! Can we go home now?" He looked back and forth from Edward to me eagerly.
"Absolutely," I broke in as I glanced at Edward. "Let's all go home."
~ D ~
Getting Brandon settled back in his old room took no time at all. He was happy to be back in a familiar place and when he asked about his other things, I promised to find something out about them first thing in the morning.
I was happy that I chose to keep just a few things in his dresser, like a couple pairs of underwear and some pajamas. It was almost four in the morning before we were all calm and ready to sleep. I tucked Brandon into bed, where he was already almost asleep, and tiptoed down the hall to my room where Edward waited. He had made a run back to his house to pick up a few of our things while Brandon was getting settled. He needed to be with us just as much as we needed him.
"Is he okay?" He asked from where he was propped up against my headboard.
"Yeah, he's okay." I changed clothes quickly and crawled exhausted into the bed and snuggled on his chest. We were silent for a few moments and both close to sleep.
"This is surreal," I mumbled. "I can't believe he's back here."
"I know." Edward's voice rumbled in his chest underneath my cheek. "I hope, for everyone's sake, that this will be the final straw for the judge."
"You and me both," I sighed. "What matters right now is that he's here and he's safe. I can't believe that idiot would put him in so much danger like that."
"But you're right. He's safe. He's perfectly fine. You'll get to see him first thing in the morning and it'll be like he never left."
Suddenly, I heard the floor creak in the hall and I knew we were about to have company. A little head peaked in the doorway.
"La-La, can I come sleep wif you," Brandon pleaded in a sleepy voice.
"Absolutely," I replied. He stumbled toward the bed and climbed up between me and Edward. He nestled into my side and tucked his hands under his head.
"Love you, La-La," he muttered.
"I love you, too, buddy," I replied with a quivering chin. The tears that had pooled in my eyes finally fell down my cheeks with his next declaration and the subsequent reply.
"Love you, Ehwurd." A heartbeat passed before the deep, emotional voice responded.
"Love you, too, my little superhero."
~ D ~
I awoke the next morning before the boys and spent a few minutes lying in bed staring at the little body beside me sprawled out across the bed. It was hard to control my giggles when I noticed that Brandon's right hand was sprawled out on Edward's cheek.
As if Edward sensed me staring at them, his eyes opened. He looked at me before glancing at Brandon. A soft smile spread across his face which in turn made me smile back. He reached over and cupped my hip, pulling me toward him so that we were all snuggled together with Brandon cocooned in the middle. We stayed that way, dozing on and off, until a tiny voice spoke up.
"Yeah, buddy?" Edward asked as he shifted back.
"Oh, dat's better," Brandon said with a sigh. He sucked in a big gulp of air dramatically. "I needed air."
Edward and I laughed while Brandon gave a big sleepy grin.
"Ready to get up?" I asked him.
"Yep." He scrambled out from under the covers and darted out of the room. I made my way to the kitchen to make coffee with Edward following close behind. I heard Brandon playing with whatever he found left in his room and started to feel bad about the lack of toys I had kept. While I was pouring coffee into two cups, I felt little arms at my waist.
"I missed you, La-La," he said quietly.
I squatted down and wrapped my arms tightly around him.
"I missed you too, buddy," I whispered into his hair and punctuated with a kiss. "Did you find things to play with in your room?"
"Yeah! See?" He held up a car and scurried back to his room. I smiled as I watched him go.
Another set of arms wrapped around me from behind, this set much bigger and stronger.
"I'm glad he's home where he belongs," he said.
"You and me both. I just hope he's here to stay." Our conversation was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. I saw that it was my dad and answered quickly.
"You guys up?" He asked gruffly.
"Yeah, we're up. What's going on?"
"I need to come by and talk to you if you've got a minute."
"Yeah, I'm free all day. I need to know what all happened last night." Morbid curiosity.
"Sure. Be there in an hour or so. I've got some things to take care of at the station first."
He hung up quickly, a notorious trait of Charlie Swan's.
"I'm going to run to the store to pick up a few things," Edward announced after examining my bare refrigerator. "I'm hungry and I know you guys have to be hungry, but you have no food."
"That would be great. Just grab some things we can make quickly." We discussed a list of foods and he was gone within the next half hour.
Edward pulled back into the driveway only a few seconds before my dad drove up. I watched them from the window as Dad helped Edward unload bags from the trunk of my car. Brandon met them at the door and danced excitedly around their legs as they tried to walk in. I managed to hold him back enough for them to make it to the kitchen and set the bags on the counter. I pulled Edward aside as Brandon talked to his grandpa.
"Can you keep him occupied for just a few moments? Dad wants to talk to me about what happened last night."
"No problem. Is there anything here we can play with?" Edward looked around skeptically.
"No, I need to get some toys for him while we're still figuring out what's going to happen with his dad. He has a little car he found, but that's not going to keep him occupied all day. In the meantime, his movies are still here. He can watch one of those. I can tell he's still tired so he should stay still enough to do that."
"Gotcha." He turned away from me and called for Brandon. I watched them head into the living room as they discussed what movie to watch.
Turning back to my dad, I gave him a "spill it" look as I started to unload the groceries.
"Long story short, Jasper was caught at the old mill on the outskirts of town selling cocaine. Maria was with him, obviously, and so was Brandon." That was about all I was going to get out of my dad but it was enough.
"How could he have been so damn stupid," I wondered aloud. "It's one thing if he wants to put himself in danger by doing that, but to put his son in danger also? Why would he do that?"
"Because he's a damn idiot that only cares for himself, Bella." Leave it to my dad to put it bluntly. "He said Maria refused to stay home by herself with Brandon so he just took them both along."
"Ugh. What a piece of trash."
"Which one?" He asked with a laugh.
"Both," I replied.
"Also, I also have another piece of information I believe you'll want to know about."
I stopped what I was doing and turned toward him. "And what's that?"
"Alice is the one that tipped the police off."
I'm sure surprise was nearly written on my face.
"Yep," he nodded. "She did it in exchange for a shorter sentence. She's now in the county jail for six months and will have five years of probation when she gets out."
It wasn't lost on me that this was the most selfless thing Alice had done in years. She turned herself in so I could get Brandon back. If this was her way of paying me back for all the heartache she put me through, I considered her debt paid.
"Have you seen her?" I asked quietly. Only the sounds of The Lion King could be heard for moments before he finally answered.
"Yes," he replied. "We had a good talk. She said some things she needed to say and I said some things I needed to say. I believe that we're back on the same page. It's been a while."
"That's great, Dad. I'm really happy to hear that." I truly was. I couldn't stand hearing some of the things those two would say to each other in the past. Their words cut deep and they weren't the only ones wounded.
"Yeah. I'm still not happy with everything she's done, but it's a start. I just hope she can stay sober."
"For what's it worth, I think she can." I recalled the way she looked the last time I saw her. "She seemed…different when I saw her a few days ago. A lot more like her old self."
There was a lull in the conversation as both of us were lost in our own thoughts.
"So what happens now?" I asked, breaking the silence.
"I think you need to get in touch with Rose. From what I understand, Mrs. Cope was requesting an emergency hearing. You'll need to see if Rose has received anything."
"I'll call her in a little while." Our quiet was interrupted a boyish giggle and deep laugh. The sound made me smile involuntarily.
"That's a good man you've got in there, Bella."
"I know. He's the best." I turned to look at my dad, who was grinning slightly behind his mustache.
"Besides you, of course," I teased.
"Yeah, right. No need to butter me up. I guess it's about time for another man in your life. I'm just glad it's someone like him. I know he'll take care of you two."
I leaned over and kissed my dad on the cheek. "Love you, Dad."
He blushed and mumbled, "Love you, too." He was so easily embarrassed when it came to emotions.
He got up and muttered something about getting back to the station. After he told Brandon and Edward goodbye, I walked him out and stood on the porch as the made his way toward his cruiser.
"Make sure you call Rose," he called out as he climbed in. With a wave, he drove off and I turned to head back inside.
I smiled at Edward as I walked back toward the kitchen and tilted my head, silently summoning him to follow me.
"Everything okay?" he asked when he walked in.
"I think so." I proceeded to tell him the same information my dad had told me. He seemed shocked by Alice's involvement and listened intently as I told him the rest.
"I think you need to go call Rose right now," he suggested.
"I am. I just wanted you to know what's going on."
"Thank you. The anticipation was killing me," he said with a grin.
"I'm sure. I'm going to make a quick phone call. You okay with him?" I asked gesturing toward the living room.
"Absolutely. We're having bonding time with Simba, Timone and Pumba. Do what you need to do."
I leaned up and kissed him soundly on the lips. "You have no idea how much I love you." My voice came across more emotional than I intended.
He bent down and kissed my forehead.
"If it's half as much as I love you, then I may have a bit of an idea."
~ D ~
Three days later, Rose and I sat on one side of the courtroom while Jasper, Maria and their sleazy lawyer sat on the other, all of us silently facing Judge Aro. After shuffling papers, flipping through a file and taking forever to probably figure out how he could indirectly admit he was wrong, he looked up at us.
"It's not easy to determine who is best able to take care of a child in a custody case, especially not personally knowing the parties involved. All I have to go by is what is presented to the court. In your case, Mr. Whitlock, that was a thick file with all the signs pointing to a reformed man, one who wanted to care for and nurture his biological son. I am, admittedly, a judge who believes in second chances. I also pride myself in being a great judge of character." The Judge took off his glasses and laid them on the file in front of him.
"Therefore," he began while pointedly staring at Jasper, "I do not like admitting when I am wrong about a ruling."
I chanced a glance at Jasper. His shoulders sagged and his head hung down, the orange scrub-like top hanging loosely across his shoulders. The pants were bunched up around his ankles and were so baggy that I could barely see his handcuffed wrists sitting in his lap.
Maria looked terrible. Her hair was limp and there was not a bit of makeup on her face. She was dressed in normal clothing. Since it was her first offense, Maria's family had bailed her out immediately.
No bail had been set for Jasper.
"Miss Swan," Judge Aro started, demanding my attention. I obediently sat up and faced him.
"Miss Swan," he repeated. "There was never a question of whether or not you could properly care for the child in question. It was never a question of whether or not you loved the child. My decision was solely based upon the fact his father seemed eager to regain his position in the child's life. I hope you understand why I felt the way I did."
I silently nodded and ducked my head, but in my own thoughts I was screaming at the man. He turned his attention back to Jasper.
"Mr. Whitlock, I'm quite appalled that you would use your son as a pawn in a game you thought you could win. It proved to be dangerous to him and I hope they tack on 'child endangerment' to your charges. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that you cannot raise the child in question. I gave you every opportunity and you still chose your past lifestyle over one that would be much, much more rewarding in the end."
"Therefore, it is the opinion of this court that, in the best interest of the child, Brandon Charles Swan, full custody of the minor be permanently awarded to Isabella Marie Swan. All parental rights of Jasper Hale Whitlock are hereby terminated. And now, Ms. Swan, since all parental rights to the child have been terminated, you are free to proceed with the adoption process if you desire to do so." I immediately drew my hands up to cover my mouth in astonishment as the tears spilled over. I had hoped and prayed the Judge would give Brandon back to me, but I never thought I would be able to obtain permanent custody this easily or quickly. I expected a fight for that. I barely registered Rose's enthusiastic hug and beaming smile.
"Your honor," Sleazy lawyer spoke up.
"The court's decision is final, counselor," Judge Aro said gruffly. "There is nothing you can say to change my mind. Your client has toyed with my patience long enough."
"Yes, your honor," he replied, defeated.
"Glad you see things my way." Judge Aro turned to me. "Enjoy that little boy, Ms. Swan. I trust you will not disappoint me."
I cleared my throat and with a quivering chin and shaky voice I replied, "I will not. Thank you, your honor."
He simply nodded his head, banged his gavel and said, "This court is now adjourned."
~ D ~
Shelley made arrangements with Jasper and Maria for us to pick up Brandon's things that afternoon. Charlotte greeted us at their house to let us in. Thank goodness Maria wasn't the one to do so because I'm not sure I could've been civil to her in front of Brandon.
Edward came along with us and helped pack up everything that belonged to Brandon into boxes and bags. As I was walking to the car with a load, Charlotte called me to the side.
"Bella, I just want you to know that I had no idea Jasper was still dealing. If I had even suspected, I would've notified someone." Her voice warbled slightly and judging by her glassy eyes, she was on the verge of tears. I had shed enough tears of my own lately. I couldn't deal with hers.
"Charlotte, I know. I never suspected that you would put Brandon in danger. But I knew all along that this was not the best place for him because I did suspect something was going on."
"I understand," she replied quietly. "I see now that you were right. I guess I was blinded by a mother's eyes. I had hoped he really was clean and was trying to make an effort. Once again, I was wrong." She paused and fidgeted briefly before speaking again. "Do you think….do you think maybe I can see Brandon every once in a while? I adore him, Bella, and will miss him so much."
I had to refrain from immediately spitting out, "No, absolutely not." As much as Jasper had messed up, I couldn't punish Charlotte for it, and I certainly couldn't punish Brandon for it. He needed some connection to his father's family.
"Charlotte, I don't want to deprive Brandon from visiting his grandparents. It's not fair to him. However, there will be a rule. For now, you will only visit him at my house while someone else is around. I'm sorry if you think that's unfair but that's how it will be."
"That's fine, Bella," she said quickly. "I completely understand."
"Okay. I have your number. Let me get him settled back into his old life and routine and then we'll talk about visits. "
"Thank you, Bella." She held a hand over her heart and looked genuinely moved by my agreement. We watched as Edward loaded the last of Brandon's things into the car. Brandon followed his every move. They walked back to us and I watched as Charlotte bent down to talk to Brandon and hug him. He was quick to return her affection which proved to me I was making the right choice regarding her. He needed a grandmother in his life and she was his only one.
After their goodbyes, we climbed into my car. As we exited the driveway and started down the street I thanked my lucky stars to be headed home, once and for all.
A/N: Thank you guys for sticking with me. Only a few more chapters left.