A/N Kudos to Mid Night-Cougar for being the bestest!
Also, this is the last official chapter. Next, there will be an epilogue in Bella's POV, and that's about it...
I can't believe it's almost over!
~ February 1st, 2013 ~
~~ 0 ~~
~~ 0 ~~
~~ 0 ~~
I sat in my office chair, facing the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking an atypically uncongested downtown Chicago. With my fingers tented in front of me, I waited.
My mind wandered to my earlier phone conversation with Mr. Hall. After James' death, I had expected to hear from him at any given point. He'd given me all sorts of dirty, loaded looks at the hospital on the day of the shooting, but he had yet to address me, so I knew something was coming. What I really hadn't expected, was the reason for his call. Surprisingly enough, it turned out he hadn't contacted me in order to accuse me of his son's death, but rather throw in my face my mother's latest antics. I swore to God, the woman was relentless.
I had to admit to having a strange feeling, almost like a premonition, that morning my father came to show me her farewell note. I knew her unscrupulous ways all too well by now, and her hasty departure mixed with her lack of reaction towards her lover's sudden death, rang alarm bells. I knew she was up to no good. But fuck me running, I had never, in a million years, expected her to be so insanely sloppy in her chaotic train of actions. I mean, she had to know what was going to happen to her once James' father found out about her running away with his son's money. Why take the risk? She was still well-off even after her divorce from my father.
Maybe, a little voice at the back of my mind whispered, she's waiting for me to step in and rescue her, like a good, obedient son. Little did she know how unlikely that was to happen. If this was some sort of desperate, last minute appeal to my faithfulness, she was about to be highly disappointed. I'd be lying if I denied not being tempted to do it. That initial, stupid temptation was the reason I'd accepted this urgent meeting in the first place. I'd acted on impulse, under the stress of the moment, and now I found myself regretting it. Honestly, it was infuriating how much control a person like my mother still had on me. But today, I was going to put an end to it. I was determined; and nothing or no one would stop me. My mother was about to learn the hard way how little she meant to me anymore.
By his tone of voice when we'd had our short conversation, I gathered Mr. Hall had some sort of deal coming my way. Too bad for him, I didn't feel like closing deals on this particular day.
"I'm here to see Mr. Cullen." I heard the familiar voice floating over from the outer office.
"You're Mr. Hall?" Victoria asked in her usual, bored voice.
"Yes." His tone was clipped.
"Step right in. He's waiting for you."
Moments later, the light sound of approaching footsteps reached my ears. I turned around in my chair just as he stepped into my office.
"Edward," he greeted with a short nod of his head. He was dressed casually, in dark slacks and a gray trench coat, and I couldn't help notice how unaffected he looked. You wouldn't have guessed he'd lost his only son a few days prior.
"Mr. Hall," I replied coolly, gesturing towards a plush chair across from me. "Have a seat."
"I'm fine standing," he refused, pushing his hands into his pants pockets.
"Would you like something to drink?" I continued with the unnecessary politeness, fully aware it wasn't going to do anything to sweeten the blow he was about to get. There was an almost sadistic part of me that enjoyed this scene. Mr. Hall, arrogant, stuck-up, old bastard, was here to ask for my cooperation in this delicate matter. There was no doubt about it. I could sense the desperation rolling off him in waves. Unfortunately for him, I now had a clear mind, despite being seized by panic that same morning.
"No." He huffed impatiently. "You already know why I'm here, so let's skip this meaningless small talk and go straight to the subject."
"Alright," I said, leaning back into my seat and motioning for him to go on.
"The issue at hand is very personal for the both of us. I lost my son at the hand of your bodyguard, and your mother ran away with our family money," he accentuated the last possessive pronouns to make his point.
"Mr. Hall," I cut in, my tolerance for this man already reaching a dangerous limit. Just being in the same room as him made me want to punch something. "If the purpose of this meeting is to point fingers, I should be the one doing all the pointing. Let's not forget who started all this. Your son got into a relationship with an older, married woman. You know why he did it? Not because he had feelings for her, but because he wanted to get back at me. He threatened to harm my wife and newborn child, and he probably would've succeeded if it weren't for the bodyguard. So, yeah, this is very personal for the both of us."
He looked taken aback by my sudden accusation, but regained his posture immediately. "Look, Edward, I'm not here to discuss James' lack of judgment. Unlike my late son, I actually think before acting. Life is not black and white; there are a lot of grays thrown in there, and you should know that better than anyone. Sometimes you need to take a step back and carefully consider your options, and that's what I'm doing."
"Your point, Mr. Hall?" I pressed, looking forward to having him out of my office and my life.
"My point is," he said slowly; clearly. "I'll forget everything about your mother's little stunt with my money, if you drop your accusations against me."
I nearly laughed at his audacity. Son of a bitch was here to save his own skin. It was ludicrous, and it literally made me sick. It was no wonder his son had been so messed up in the head and ended up the way he had.
"You mean the accusation that you bribed two lab technicians in order to get your son out of trouble?"
His jaw set. "Yes, that's exactly what I mean. You must realize this is going to end my career in the medical field. Believe it or not, I actually love what I do."
I remained silent for a few critical seconds, deliberately prolonging his distress. Then, I leaned with my elbows on my desk, looking him in the eye sharply. "You're out of your goddamned mind if you think I'm going to lift a single finger to help you, sir. Legally or financially."
"It's called reciprocity, son," he gritted.
"First of all, I'm not your son, and secondly, I have no interest in having any kind of reciprocal relationship with you."
His body posture screamed hostility as he contemplated his next words. "I see. Then I'll have to solve my conflict with your mother at the police station."
"Of course." I offered him my finest insincere smile, leaning back into my seat to keep myself in place. I wanted nothing more than to seriously maim him.
"Make no mistake, I will ruin her life." Mr. Hall jabbed a shaky finger in my direction. He was livid. "She'll spend years in prison once they find her."
I nodded, doing my best to look serene, when in fact I was burning with rage inside. "I'm well aware of that."
He'd now exhausted his persuasive phrases, switching to more rudimentary terms. "You're a fucking asshole, you know that?" he spat, starting to quake with anger and frustration.
"I think it's time for you to leave, Mr. Hall," I said calmly, showing him the door. It was incredible the restraint I had, given that I was so close to kicking him out the fucking door myself. "I was pretty clear that you'll get no help from me on this matter. If there's anything else you'd like to discuss, I'm willing to listen; if not, feel free to show yourself out or I can have security do it. I have clients to meet."
He hesitated for a moment, like he actually wanted to say something else. Then he took a step towards the door before stopping and turning back to me abruptly. "Fuck you, Edward," he spewed venomously. "Fuck you, and your mother and your entire family!"
Out the door he flew, and the only thought on my mind was that I was so fucking done with pointless drama.
~~ 0 ~~
Not even twenty minutes after Mr. Friedrich fucking Hall flew out of my office, I was entering the condo. Too distracted to get any work done, I'd opted to return home rather than stick around at the office and try to force productivity on myself. Isabella was just coming out of the bathroom, and she stopped short in her tracks when she saw me. Clearly, she hadn't expected me back so soon.
"How did it go?" she inquired quickly, making her way over to me. "What did he want?"
"He wanted me to drop the accusations against him in return of him overlooking Mother's little escapade with James' family money."
"And?" She frowned. "Did you agree to do it?"
"I was tempted, but no, I didn't," I answered sincerely. "She's on her own. I'm done with her."
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't relieved." She sighed, reaching over to take the jacket I'd shrugged off. "I know she's probably going to go to jail when they catch up with her, but... I can't bring myself to care anymore." She paused, staring down at her hands. "Does that make me a bad person?"
I placed a finger under her chin, so I could look her in the eye. "Of course it doesn't. She's the bad person, not you, Bella. Honestly, I'm amazed you even put up with so much shit from her. You're stronger than I could ever be."
She shook her head lightly. "That's not true."
"It is," I insisted, before letting go of her chin and starting to take off my tie. "Anyway, please let's talk about something else. These past few days we've had enough drama to last us a lifetime. How's Matthew?"
"I nursed him about ten minutes ago, and now he's asleep again."
"I'll go see him for a little bit," I said, starting to head in that direction.
"Oh, Edward?" Isabella called, causing me to turn back to her.
"Alice called. She invited us to dinner next Saturday."
My eyebrows rose in surprise. "Just us?"
"Uh, no, she said something about having everyone over for her homemade ravioli. I guess she's trying to keep the family close."
"Alright, sounds good," I agreed, looking Isabella over. Lack of proper sleep seemed to be taking its toll on her. "Are you sure you're up for it?"
"I'm not an invalid, Edward," she said petulantly. "Besides, I actually look forward to getting out of the house for a little while."
"I didn't say you were," I tried to appease her. "Who's going to stay with Matthew?"
She sighed, rubbing the pads of her finger against her temples. "Kate, I guess. I'll give her a call later."
"Are you okay?" I asked softly, taking a step towards her.
"What do you mean?"
"You look different than you did this morning. More... fatigued."
She shrugged, trying to look unaffected and failing terribly. "I don't know, I've been trying to nap while Matthew did, and couldn't. I kept thinking about you and that Mr. Hall. My mind was full of stupid scenarios, and I just couldn't close an eye." As she spoke, she started fidgeting, and I saw that her hands were trembling. "I'm so tired and grumpy and... so not myself."
"Go lie down," I coaxed gently, coming to stand in front of her. I cupped her cheek and placed a brief kiss on her forehead. "I'll be here if Matthew wakes up."
"No, I want to stay with you." Her voice turned shaky as she wrapped her arms around me, resting her head on my chest.
I held her to me, sensing a meltdown approaching. "Baby, you need to rest."
"No," she whispered, sniffling all of a sudden.
"Are you crying?" I pulled back to get a better look at her.
She swallowed thickly, a couple of fat tears sliding down her cheeks. "I'm sorry."
I sighed, shaking my head. "What are you sorry for?"
"I just... I don't know what's wrong with me." She buried her face into my shirt, her hold on me tightening. "I don't want to cry, but I…."
"It's alright, sweetheart," I reassured her, stroking her hair in what I hoped to be a soothing manner. "It's probably your changing hormones kicking in. There's no reason to be ashamed for feeling the way you do. We've both been under a lot of stress lately. It's been overwhelming and tiresome. Hell, even I could use a break, and I didn't have to go through nine months of pregnancy and five hours of labor. So, how about we just take it slow for a while, mmm?"
"Yeah," she whispered though sniffles. "I'd like that."
"Do you want me to lie down with you?" I offered, craning my neck so I could look at her.
"Mmhmm." She nodded, making no move to pull away from me.
After a minute, I took her hand, guiding her towards our bedroom. I lay down with her, not before making sure Matthew was still sound asleep.
"Come here," I beckoned, reaching for her thinning frame. I pressed my front to hers then pulled the comforter over us. Isabella sighed, tangling her legs with mine and tucking her head under my chin. "Better?" I murmured, running my palm up and down her back.
"Yes, much," she replied softly. "I'm glad you came home so quickly."
"Me too, baby. I'd much rather spend time with you and Matthew than wasting it by being counterproductive at the office."
"How very thoughtful of you," she said ironically, a hint of amusement coloring her voice.
I chuckled, squeezing her to me. "You know me; I'm the nicest, most thoughtful guy on earth."
"You can be. Sometimes."
"Enough talking. You need sleep."
As if on cue, she let out a big yawn. "Yeah... sleep."
~~ 0 ~~
I was jolted awake by my son's urgent cries. Beside me, Isabella stirred as well, her body's movements sluggish as she started to get up.
"I'll go," I murmured, gently pulling her back down.
She nodded, not even attempting to put up a fight like she sometimes did, and I realized precisely how exhausted she really was today. "Milk's in the fridge," she mumbled, burying her face into her pillow. "Top shelf."
"I know." I kissed her hair. "Go back to sleep."
Matthew was now crying like he was hell-bent on waking up the entire building, and I walked over to his crib, bending down to pick him up.
"Hey, buddy," I said softly, holding him to me and peppering light kisses on his cheek. "Are you hungry?"
He began settling down as soon as he was in my arms, and I smiled at him proudly. I felt as if he already recognized me as a father figure, and that was more than enough to make my heart explode with joy. He was what mattered most; not my mother, not Mr. Hall, not even the rest of the family. My son and my wife were the reasons I strove for a better, brighter future. Between the two of them, I felt this sense of completeness that hadn't been in my life before, and I hoped to be a good husband and father for both their sakes. They deserved nothing less.
I carried Matthew into the kitchen, going straight for the fridge. Opening it, I took out his bottle.
"Look what I have," I said, showing him the bottle, before placing it in the electric warmer.
He gurgled something at me, and I chuckled, amused that I'd actually gotten a response out of him. As we waited for the bottle to warm up, he started to get restless again. I walked around with him in my arms, hoping to distract him with different objects around the kitchen. It worked for a few minutes, and when the light on the warmer began to flash, I was relieved. Removing the bottle, I tested the temperature by squirting a few drops of milk onto my inner wrist. Satisfied with the warmth, I settled into a chair and gave Matthew the bottle, which he accepted eagerly.
As he fed, he kept his eyes opened, which I noticed was something he did quite frequently. He looked at me, almost the entire time, like he was studying me. His eyes were still that odd shade of blue newborn babies had, but his hair looked a little bit darker than last week. He was a really cute baby, and I wasn't saying that because he was mine. Well, maybe I was being slightly subjective, but he was a cute baby nonetheless.
"I love you," I whispered, stroking his head. "Never forget it."
The only response I got was the sound of his enthusiastic suckles.
~~ 0 ~~
Jasper's apartment looked positively different. Signs of Alice's cohabitation were everywhere, from the deep purple couch in the living room, to the new appliances in the kitchen and the scented candles in the bathroom. It was quite funny, witnessing his status transition from boyfriend to future husband. But in all honesty, I was really happy for him. I knew how much he loved Alice, and that there was no other woman with whom he'd rather spend the rest of his life.
We were all gathered around the dining table; all but one. My father had to leave town on business, so he had been unable to attend this particular family dinner.
Isabella sat at my right, and I stole a glance at her, wanting to make sure she was okay. She'd felt a little down the past week, but seemed better now. Sensing I was observing her, she turned her head towards me and smiled reassuringly. I took hold of her hand, bringing her knuckles to my lips before linking our fingers in my lap.
"So, guys, Jasper and I have news," Alice announced, skipping to the subject.
"Uh-oh," Emmett said playfully, tossing his napkin onto the table.
"Shut up, Em," Jasper mumbled, shooting him a dirty look. I was certain Emmett was the only person I knew who had the innate ability to piss off even a saint.
"I think I know what's coming," he taunted, and Jasper chose to ignore him, allowing his fiancée to make the announcement.
Alice beamed, placing her hand atop Jasper's on the table. "We're having a baby."
"I knew it!" Emmett boomed with a triumphant chuckle. He was in high spirits today.
"Congrats!" Loud cheers erupted around the table; my own voice matching the others in almost perfect unison.
I glanced over to Jasper, and could tell by the look on his face that he was really excited about the prospect of becoming a father. Also, the timing seemed perfect; he was pushing thirty and his wedding was just around the corner, so there really was nothing holding them back from having their own family. Besides that, my brother was the kindest person I knew, and I was willing to bet he was going to make an amazing parent.
As for Alice, she was in seventh heaven.
"Thank you! Oh, my God, I cannot wait. We're so happy and excited," she exclaimed breathlessly, glancing at Isabella. "I think I need to spend more time with Matthew to prepare."
"You're welcome to our home anytime, Alice," Isabella replied gently, and the way she said our home pleased me to no end.
"How far along are you?" I inquired in return.
Alice sighed contently, rubbing her palm over her still flat stomach. "Barely over ten weeks."
"When's the wedding?" Rosalie wanted to know. She'd been quiet up until that moment, seeming lost in thought for some reason.
"Well, Jas and I talked about it, and we've decided to stick to the original plan and have a June wedding."
"That's great." She smiled sincerely. "Still thinking about a beach wedding?"
"Yeah, I already spoke with a childhood friend of mine. Her parents have this beautiful home in Maine, and they're willing to let us have the wedding there."
"Doesn't your father still have that beach house in Florida?" Emmett gave her a questioning look.
"No, he sold it out a couple of years ago. No one used it much anymore," Alice explained with a dismissive wave.
"You know, Dad used to have that flat in Miami. I wonder what happened to it," I mused, glancing from Emmett to Jasper.
Jasper shrugged. "I have no idea. We should ask him sometime."
I turned to Isabella, leaning over to whisper against her ear. "When we were younger, our parents owned three houses and two flats."
"Really?" Her eyebrows rose in surprise.
I chuckled. "Yeah, it was ridiculous. They had the mansion in Chicago, a house in Ontario, and another one in Vegas. Then they had the flat in Miami and one in Paris."
"That's... crazy," she murmured in response. I dared to say she looked quite appalled. "No one should own that many homes when there are people in the world who can't even afford one."
"I know," I agreed more seriously. "It was mostly my mother's doing."
"What happened to them?"
"Dad realized things were getting out of hand and decided to sell them one by one. A few years ago, he still had the flat in Miami, but I don't think anyone's used it for a really long time."
"I'm going to ask him about it," Emmett cut in, looking at me then at his wife. "How about a trip to Miami, Rosie?"
She nodded. "Sounds good."
"What about me?" Jess whined from beside her.
"You're staying home," Emmett teased.
"What? You can't be serious, Dad."
He laughed at her horrified expression. "I'm not; calm down. You can bring your friend Emily if you want."
"Yes!" She fist-pumped the air triumphantly. "It's going to be so much fun."
"I need to get some air," Isabella said from beside me, and I stared at her questioningly, taken aback by the sudden mood change.
Alice gave her a worried look. "Are you okay, Bella?"
She smiled tightly. "Yeah, I'm fine; it's simply a headache."
"I'm coming with you," I offered, helping her to her feet. "We'll be right back."
Once we were standing on the balcony, Isabella wrapped her arms around me, placing her head on my chest.
"I'm fine," she said before I even had a chance to ask. "I just feel tired."
I kissed the top of her head, inhaling a dose of her floral perfume in the process. "Do you want to go home now?"
She shook her head, letting her eyes fall closed. "Let's stay a little longer. We're celebrating."
"Okay," I murmured into her hair. "Too bad Dad isn't here with us. He's going to be so happy for them when he finds out."
"I wonder how Matthew's doing."
"I'm sure Kate's taking care of him properly."
"Yeah, I wasn't worried about that." She chuckled. "I just… I miss him. Which is ridiculous, I know; I've left his side barely an hour ago."
"I know what you mean," I whispered lovingly, stroking her back. "I miss both of you every single time I leave home."
We were quiet for the next few minutes, just holding one another and basking in each other's soothing nearness. I loved being like this with her. I loved kissing her, and holding her close, and sharing my most intimate thoughts with her. In fact, I simply loved her.
"You know," she broke the silence sometime later. "I feel like things are finally starting to settle for us. Don't you?"
I shrugged. "I don't know, baby, but I certainly hope they are. We deserve a little peace and quiet."
The chilly winter air made my skin break out in goose bumps, and I pulled my wife closer. Her body heat enticed me, momentarily derailing my train of thought to a different path. Sleeping next to her every night, and not being able to touch her the way I wanted, was proving harder than ever. We hadn't had actual sex in about three months, give or take a few days, and there were times when I felt I was going crazy with desire for her. Five more weeks until the good doctor gave us the green light; not that I was counting. Ultimately, I liked to think that I was a patient man. Well, most of the time.
"Yes, we do." Isabella finally opened her eyes, smiling up at me. "I love you, Edward, and I think we're going to be just fine."
As always, thanks for reading! Yours...