As always this story would be nothing without my pre-reader SparklyMeg, and my beta's Marly 580 and Mauigirl60.
So a lot of you were hopeful after the last chapter…I hope you enjoy
"Bella?" I call, just before they make their way out the doors.
She turns, the nervous smile still on her face. "Yeah?"
"Will you . . . will you at least text me to let me know you landed okay?"
Her smile widens. "I'll call you."
Bella stays true to her word and calls me when she lands. Rose has picked her up, and will be taking her back to her place. With everything that's happened, Bella doesn't feel comfortable being alone just now.
The conversation is stilted and awkward at best, but I'm just glad she called. It gives me hope that we'll be able to move on from this.
She sounds tired and begins yawning halfway through our conversation, so we hang up with the promise to talk soon. I hate that things are so awkward between us, but with everything that's happened, I know I'm lucky that she's even still speaking to me. We have a lot of shit to work through, and I hope Bella lets me make it up to her. It kills me that I couldn't get on the same flight she did so I could make sure she got home safely; knowing she's back in Seattle, surrounded by her friends, has me breathing a little easier.
The lounge at the airport is quiet, but I still pick a corner away from the other travelers to sit in, hoping they'll take the hint and leave me alone. While I wait, I send Emmett a quick text, letting him know when I'll be landing. He replies quickly, letting me know he'll be there, and that he won't be staying at Rose's tonight.
The flight home feels as though it takes much longer than the flight here did. All I can think of is Bella and how I can make things up to her. Things were such a mess when she left for the job, but I was confident that I could get her back. Now, with things turning even more complicated, I'm worried that this might have pushed her too far. But one thing is clear: I want her back in my life as my girlfriend.
With my thoughts in turmoil, I finally lose the battle against exhaustion; my tired eyes succumb to sleep for the majority of the flight. Before long, a flight attendant is waking me to let me know we'll be landing soon. I raise the window shade and watch the bright lights of the city come into view. The sun set hours before, but below, the city is still full of activity.
Just as he promised, Emmett is waiting for me in the arrivals area. I smile weakly as I approach, surprised when he pulls me in for a hug.
"I'm glad you're okay, Edward."
I chuckle, not used to such a show of affection from my brother, and hug him back. "Thanks, Em." I shift my bag higher up my back as we make our way to the car.
"Have you seen Bella? Is she okay?"
He smiles sadly. "Yeah, she's doing okay. Glad to be home, I think, and she's definitely glad to see Rose."
We climb into the car. For the first time in hours, I can feel my body relax, safe in the knowledge that Lauren's in a different state and locked up behind bars. I can now begin to focus on my future again.
It's as if Emmett knows I need some sort of distraction. While my thoughts are occupied with my brunette beauty across town, Emmett keeps the converdation light, talking about Maggie's upcoming birthday and the pranks they've all been playing on her at work. I know we need to discuss things—I want to find out what happened to Mike, and I can tell he's itching to find out about Lauren and L.A.—but for now, I'm grateful he doesn't ask anything.
When we arrive back at the apartment, I know Emmett wants to talk about what happened, but all I can think about is sleeping. I've been awake since finishing work the other night, having only caught a few hours on the plane, and right now, my bed has never looked more appealing.
Emmett nods understandingly and tells me he'll be here when I wake up. Before I go, he mentions my parents, and I flinch at the thought of having to tell my mom everything. Once she makes sure that both Bella and I are okay, she'll freak out that I flew off alone and went after Lauren myself. Even I'm not immune to the wrath of Momma Bear.
I kick off my shoes but can't find the energy to remove any of my clothing. The last few days finally take their toll as I crawl under the covers and quickly fall into a deep sleep.
The sun is rising when I wake hours later. The bright glow streams through the window, since I'd stupidly forgot to close the curtains last night.
I scowl and turn my back on the sunlight, shoving my head underneath my pillow. Although I've slept for a decent amount of time, my body still isn't ready to get out of bed. I lie there for a few minutes, debating whether I should go back to sleep or drag my ass out of bed. The latter wins, since it means I might get to see Bella.
I shower quickly, get dressed, and then tiptoe my way to the kitchen. It's been a busy few days for Emmett, as well; since it's early, I assume he's still in bed.
I needn't have bothered with my stealthy ninja moves. As I approach the kitchen, I can hear the soft beats of the music coming from the radio.
Emmett smiles when he sees me. "I figured you'd be up early."
I nod and pour myself some coffee. I lean against the kitchen counter as Emmett bustles around the kitchen. "I'm making us pancakes. That okay?"
I grin. "When are pancakes not okay?"
He chuckles. "I thought you'd say that. Can you grab a couple of plates for me?"
I do as he says, and we sit at the table. I cover my pancakes with peanut butter, while he drowns his in maple syrup. He turns his face up at my breakfast—and I at his—before we grin at each other. It's been this way for years, and I love how Emmett acts the same, making me forget the last few days have happened.
It lasts for a few moments before the questions begin.
"So," he says around a mouthful of pancakes, "what the hell happened in L.A.? I mean, all I got was a few texts telling me Lauren is involved and you'll figure it out. Then the next time I hear from you, you're telling me that Bella is okay. What happened that made you think she wouldn't be okay?"
I tell him everything and, God, it feels good to let it all out. Everything I felt from the minute I realized I had to leave for L.A. explodes as I fill Emmett in. From the fear that settled deep in my stomach when Alec appeared at my door, to the anger that pulsed through my veins when I figured out that Lauren was the one behind it all. How I'd come to realize that there were so many issues stemming from my relationship with Lauren, and how I let them rule my relationship with Bella, who'd seen it all along.
She saw how my past insecurities plagued me, stopping us from moving on, yet she still tried. She was patient while I worked through my issues, and I threw it back in her face at the first sign of trouble.
What we had was beautiful, and I might have ruined it. I had a girl who I loved, and for some reason, she loved my crazy ass. She put up with a lot from me; I have to wonder that in the end, is everything going to be too much for her?
"So, now what?" he asks as we clear our plates.
I shrug. "I don't know. The cops said they'd called Lauren's parents, who were flying out, and I assume it'll go from there." I sigh and take lean back against the counter. "My guess, though, is that they'll lock her away with the rest of the crazies."
"Honestly, Em. You should have heard her—the way she kept talking about us getting married again and, sometimes, even completely forgetting that Bella was there."
Emmett walks over to me and claps me on the shoulder. "Well, I'm just glad that you got to her in time. And I know Bella will be extremely grateful."
I smile. "Thanks, Em." I glance at my watch. "Do you think it'd be okay if I went to see Bella?"
"I would call her first. She might need some space to begin with."
"Space," I mutter. "Crap!"
I know he's right, but it's still a blow to my ego. I want to be able to fall back into my relationship with Bella. Something I know is not going to happen—at least, not right away.
I take Emmett's advice and call Bella. It's another stilted conversation in which she asks me not to come over. The space she's intentionally creating between us hurts, but doesn't come as unexpected. She hangs up, promising to call me soon—a promise I hope she keeps.
I go into the living room, where I find Emmett playing his Xbox. "Are we going to the club today?"
"Nah. You could use a day off. We're not open tonight, so we can just leave the paperwork and play catch-up tomorrow."
"You're sure?" I know he's only doing this for my benefit.
"Of course." He finishes his game and puts his controller down. "Mom's invited us over. Think you're up for that?"
I sigh. "Yeah, sure. I mean, she's gonna find out sooner or later, and she'll freak if she doesn't hear it from me."
He chuckles. "Yeah, you've got a point there." He looks at his watch. "Wanna leave in about an hour?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Okay." He throws the spare controller to me. "But right now, you
owe me some two-player action."
My stomach churns as we pull up at my parents' later that day. There are so many things my mom's going to freak out about. Of course, Bella's safety will be the main issue, but I know she's going to want to knock some sense into me about how I treated her.
Not that I blame her.
When we arrive, we find our parents putting the finishing touches to the table. My father is setting the cutlery as my mother brings the food from the kitchen.
"Perfect, just in time!" Emmett grins as he takes his seat at the table.
My mom rolls her eyes. "Nice to see you, too, Emmett."
I chuckle and take the heavy dish from my mom, setting it in the middle of the table as we take our seats.
My mom beams at us as we all help ourselves. "I'm so happy you both could make it, boys, but I'm a bit surprised that the girls aren't here."
I cringe. I thought I'd at least be able to get through dinner before she'd start.
Thankfully, Emmett jumps in to save me. "I asked Rose, but she already had plans."
"Oh." My mom looks over at me. "And what about Bella, dear?"
I could lie. I could say she had plans, as well. But it's my mom, and I've never been able to lie to her.
"Um . . . I didn't ask her. We . . . uh, we broke up." I keep my head down, avoiding my mom's gaze.
"Oh, sweetie. What happened?"
"We . . . had a fight."
She smiles sadly. "So, did you break up, or is it just a fight?"
I chuckle sadly. "Nope. We definitely broke up."
Silence falls over the table as we all continue eating our dinner. My brother tries to take the heat off me and rambles on about random things, while I avoid my mother's pitiful looks. She might have let it go for now, but I know she'll want to speak to me away from Emmett and my dad.
After we've all finished eating, we move through to the living room; sure enough, my mom corners me.
We take our usual seat on the front porch before the questions begin.
"Talk to me, sweetheart," she says softly. "Last time I spoke to you, we were discussing engagements, and now you've split. What changed?"
I lean forward, resting my elbows on my knees. "I was stupid, Mom."
She rubs my arm soothingly. "What happened?"
"I . . . I let what happened with Lauren get between us. I love Bella, I do, but in the back of my mind, I convinced myself that she was the same as Lauren. In the end, though, I was the one who pushed her away, instead of the other way around."
"Oh, honey." She wraps an arm around my shoulder. "I'm sure you can work things out with her."
"I dunno. This weekend might have been the icing on the cake."
"What do you mean?"
I stand and begin pacing in front of her. "I've lost her, Mom. I was so stupid, and now I think I've blown it."
"Talk to me. I'm sure we can figure it out."
I nod. "Okay, but there's a lot, so you have to let me finish before you cut in."
She smiles. "Sure, sweetie. I promise."
I start telling her the whole story, and when I pause, she assumes that I'm done talking.
"Honey, I'm confused," she admits.
"Um, everything sort of came to a head this weekend. We found out that her stalker was Lauren—"
"Lauren? Mallory? As in your ex?"
I nod. "Yeah. Anyway, it turned out she was behind everything. But she took it a step further this weekend. Bella had a job in L.A., and Lauren followed her out there."
I sit back down next to her. "Yeah. I don't know how, but Lauren kidnapped Bella." My mom gasps, and I take her hand in mine. "I got to them in time, and Lauren hadn't hurt her yet, but she was planning to."
"But . . . but Bella's okay?" My mom's voice is thick, and I know she's reining in her emotions.
"Yeah. She's shaken up, but no, she's not hurt."
"Thank God," she murmurs, and I agree with her.
"And now," I continue, "she wants her space, she doesn't want to see me. I haven't seen her since I watched her get on a plane at LAX. I slump against my mom. "I've lost her."
"You haven't lost her, Edward. But you do have your work cut out for you."
"You don't think it's over?"
She shakes her head. "No, but try to see things from her point of view. She needed you to believe in her, and you kicked her to the curb. Edward, she doesn't want to hear words; she wants to see with your actions how much she means to you."
"So, I should give her gifts? I dunno, Mom, Bella's not the type for lavish gifts—"
She giggles. "No, sweetie. You have to woo her. You skipped the dating part and moved in together too quickly. Go back to the beginning and start showing her how much you love her."
"Oh . . . yeah, that makes sense." When my mom puts it that way, it seems really obvious.
"It'll all work out. I saw the way she looked at you as well, and you don't just lose those feelings overnight."
I stand and help my mom to her feet. "Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate it."
She pulls me in for a hug. "Anytime, you know that. Although, you should have told me about the stalker beforehand."
"I know, I know. Everything was just happening so quickly."
She takes my hand and we go back inside. "I understand. C'mon, let's see if your brother left us any pie for dessert."
Feeling much lighter than I did before dinner, we head back inside. I can always count on my mom for great advice, and I could kick myself for not coming to her sooner.
"Everything okay?" my dad asks as we enter the kitchen.
I look at my mom and smile. "It will be."
"Are you sure you want to move back home already? You know you can stay here for another few nights," Rose says, the worry clear in her voice as she watches me pack up my things. She sits on the arm of the sofa, toying with Jake's leash.
"I can't sleep on your sofa forever, Rose." I zip my bag closed and throw it on the floor. I turn to face her, smiling as brightly as I can. "The only reason I moved out was because of the stalker. There's no need for me to be scared anymore."
"Still . . . you went through a lot. If you want—"
"I'm fine, Rose."
She chuckles. "Yeah, you sound it."
I laugh lightly and sit next to her. "I appreciate your letting me stay here, but if I want to put everything behind me, then I need to go back home. Plus, I have Jake to protect me." I gesture to the dog sitting at my feet.
"Okay. Well, will you at least call me if you need to?"
I nod. "Of course."
"Or . . . you could call Edward." Her eyes soften. "You know that he'll happily help you out. I know he misses you."
I blink back the tears that suddenly threaten to fall. "I . . . I can't yet, Rose. I just need to get my head around things."
She nods understandingly. "I know."
"So, what's gonna happen now?"
I shrug. "Alec's given me the rest of the week off. I think I might actually use the time to look for another job. I know Lauren was behind everything there, but it just doesn't feel right, you know?"
She nods. "Yeah, that makes sense. I think they'd be sorry to see you go, though."
"Nothing's definite. It's just something I've been thinking over."
"Well, don't make any rash decisions. The crazy is out of your life now, so things can go back to normal."
I nod and let her words sink in. While it's not something Edward was responsible for, I'm having a hard time forgiving him for pushing me away over the photos. It proved he didn't trust me. If he had, he would have believed me the second I said it wasn't me.
I know I'll need to speak to him about it eventually, but for now, I need to get my life back together.
My first night back in my own place passes quickly. I unpack everything I can and order take-out for dinner, making a note to go to the grocery store tomorrow to stock up.
Exhausted and sweaty, I double-check that the front door is locked, looking forward to a lazy night on the couch. The last few weeks have been non-stop, and as of right now, I'm going to enjoy taking things slowly.
Alone with trashy TV on in the background, I'm not surprised when my thoughts turn to Edward.
I try to imagine moving on without him, and it physically hurts. Our relationship may have been rushed because of Lauren but I'd loved him.
I still do.
The only question is whether our love will be enough.