A/N: Thanks for being patient. I appreciate it more than you know.
RL is crazy, I'm going a bit crazy, and there's a new, large project in the works involving my OF that's consuming much more time than I imagined. It'll be worth it though. And I can't wait until I can share more with everyone. :)
There weren't too many pitchforks or torches last time, although I was surprised to see the variety of wishes for Edward's future. I obviously can't please everyone, but I hope you enjoy what lies ahead.
Thanks to WitchyVampGirl for pre-reading parts of this bad boy for me. And for quelling my insecurities over lunch. I love you much my dear.
There'll be a wee bit more at the end.
Chapter Song: Trouble by Butch Walker
Characters belong to SM. The rest of this insanity belongs to me.
Chapter 28 – Truth and Time
I pounded my fist against Rose's door for the third time, looking helplessly over my shoulder at Jasper.
"She just called a half hour ago! Where do you think they went?"
He stifled a yawn and shoved his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. "Maybe they fell back asleep?"
I shook my head. "Rose never calls me this early unless it's something important. I don't think she's sleeping." I raised my hand to knock again but the door flew open.
"I was in the shower," Rose explained, moving aside so we could enter. I kicked off my shoes and headed for the living room. Emmett sat on the loveseat in his pajama pants, hair sticking up all over and sleep brimming his eyes. Jasper crossed the room and sat next to him, resting his elbows on his knees and dropping his head to his hands.
"What's going on?" I asked when Rose joined us.
"Shut up, Emmett!" She balled her hands into fists and began pacing back and forth across the room.
"Is this really necessary?" Jasper looked warily at her.
"Alice, you might want to sit down."
I frowned. "You're five months pregnant, Rose. You should be the one sitting down."
"I'm too angry to sit down." She turned to look at me and I sank onto the nearest open seat.
"Couldn't this have waited until later in the afternoon at least?" Emmett fixed his eyes on Rose. "We were out until almost three last night, babe."
"Thanks to you two I got no sleep at all last night." Rose glanced back and forth between Emmett and Jasper before finally taking a seat on the edge of the sofa. "There's no point in dragging this out any longer. I want to hear the whole story – every detail – from the beginning. I don't care who tells it, but one of you better start talking."
I furrowed my brows in confusion and held up a hand. "Put the brakes on here, please. I have no clue what's going on. What story are we hearing? And why are you so angry?"
She turned to face me. "You remember our bathroom break last night?" I stared at Rose blankly. We'd taken about five different bathroom breaks. "The one we took right after everyone started dancing?" I nodded, mentally pinpointing which one she was referring to. "While you stopped to get a drink on the way back to find these two," Rose waved her hand in the direction of the guys, "I happened to overhear the end of a rather disturbing conversation. It involved Bella, Edward, and some sort of bet."
"Oh God," I groaned, rolling my eyes and looking over at Jasper. "You two aren't dragging her into your stupid fantasy sports leagues now are you? Don't get me wrong, I'm all about women loving that stuff, I just can't see-"
"A bet on Bella, Alice, not a sports game," Rose clarified.
"A bet on Bella?" I was still confused. "I don't understand. Were you guys skeptical about her wanting to live with Edward, or…?"
Jasper pressed his fingers against his temples and shook his head. "No, it was nothing like that."
"What was it then?" I pressed.
Emmett leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. "This is all yours to tell, Whitlock. I just got dragged along for the ride."
"Bullshit. You had the chance to out us all months ago and you chose not to."
"God damnit, SHUT UP!" Rose's cheeks flushed with emotion. "I didn't call you over here at this time of day so I could watch the two of you bicker like five year olds. Jasper, just tell us what the fuck is going on."
He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and took a deep breath. "I'm sure everyone remembers the first night Edward and Bella met. I'm sure everyone also remembers how obnoxious Edward was at that point, especially toward women."
"You can say that again," Emmett mumbled.
"It took him a little – or shall I say, a lot – off guard when Bella doused his phone with champagne instead of falling all over him. He was so used to getting whatever single woman he set his eyes on that it jarred him when one finally refused his advances."
Jasper's eyes met mine and I felt a lump begin to form in my throat. His expression was filled with guilt, sadness, and a certain degree of admission; for what I still didn't know, but I guessed I'd find out any minute.
"Alice, I swear I would go back and do that whole night over if I could. I never knew you and I would end up here together, and I never wanted to hurt anyone." He looked down at his hands and took another deep breath. "We'd both been drinking and at the time I thought it would be funny to set Edward up to fail. So, I proposed we make a bet. If Edward got Bella to fall in love with him then he got my new Hamptons place. If he didn't get her to fall in love with him then I got his new BMW."
I blinked a few times, trying to formulate my thoughts. "You're kidding, right? This has to be some belated April fools joke."
Jasper shook his head. "I wish I was kidding. It's all true."
"Let me get this straight." Rose stood again, pacing the room once more. "This whole time Edward has been playing us all for fools? Every 'I love you,' every affectionate moment, all the weekends together … it's all been part of some beautifully organized plan to win a fucking house?"
Emmett shook his head. "It's not like that, Rose."
"How did you get involved with this, Em?" I asked. My mind was reeling, trying to put fifty different puzzle pieces together with no master image to guide me. I wanted to believe that the bet became null and void somewhere along the way. Without confirmation from one of them, however, I didn't know what to think.
"Jasper dumped his guts to me one night when we went out for beers."
"When was this?" Rose never failed to get information, especially when she was determined.
"I don't know, a month after the Guggenheim thing?" Emmett dragged his fingers through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. "I wanted to tell you as soon as I found out, Rose, believe me. But then I ran into Edward at the gym and confronted him about it, and he swore he'd find someone else to represent him as soon as the book came out."
"I knew it!" Rose stopped pacing and stamped her foot against the floor in frustration. "Bella obsessed over every little thing that happened last fall – taking him on as a client, agreeing to be his friend, the kiss, the book tour. Every one of those things meant so much to her, and here he was leading her on the whole fucking time!"
"He's not leading her on, Rose," Jasper replied calmly. "We called the bet off shortly after he and Emmett had their confrontation. Everything that happened after that point has been what Edward wanted to happen."
Rose arched an eyebrow and frowned. "Why should we believe a word you're telling us? You've kept everything hidden for this long; how are we supposed to know whether you're telling us everything or not?"
"What do I stand to gain by keeping information from you, Rosalie?" Jasper sounded irritated. "This is already going to create a world of hurt for two people I care about. Do you honestly think I'd want to rub more salt in open wounds?"
"I don't know, Jasper, would you? Because right now I really don't know what to think about you – or Emmett."
"Will you at least listen to me for a minute?" Rose glared at Jasper before sitting back down on the sofa and blowing out a loud sigh. This was enough encouragement for him to continue. "Neither of you knew Edward before he met Bella. I know you heard about him, probably even from some people you're close to, but you didn't spend any time with him. He carried around so much bitterness from his last relationship that I'm not sure he knew how to like any women, let alone love one. Bella changed all that.
"Yes, women were disposable to him, and yes, he was the master of manipulating them into giving him what he wanted, which was usually a cheap and easy one night stand. The minute he started working with Bella all of that changed. He stopped going out every night. He stopped bringing home a different woman every weekend. He stopped being the arrogant, misogynistic ass he was and started making a conscious effort to be a better person. And not knowing him would make it hard for you to notice, but there were small changes too.
"Edward is … humbled. He actually cares how his actions affect those around him. He worries about what Bella will think of things he does and things he says. He frets over simple shit, like what to cook her for dinner or how to rearrange his living room to make space for her favorite armchair. And he looks at her in a way I've never seen him look at anyone before … Even Jess, who he thought was 'the one'.
"I know it probably won't make a damn bit of a difference what I say here, but please believe me when I say Edward's love for Bella is no joke. And it certainly has nothing to do with winning some childish bet."
Silence fell over the room as we all sat lost in thought. The angry expression Rose wore never disappeared, but her features softened slightly as the minutes ticked by. I cleared my throat when it finally started to become awkward.
"You two realize you're very much responsible for fixing this?" I looked at Jasper and then at Emmett. "I know Edward is the one in the relationship, but you both had knowledge of this. The least you can do is find some way to make sure that everything doesn't blow to bits when Bella finds out."
Emmett's eyes widened. "When Bella finds out? Why do you even need to tell her?"
"Really Em? You've already kept this a secret from the rest of us for over six months. Now you think we should keep it a secret from Bella?" Rose rolled her eyes. "Un-fucking-believable."
"You heard what Jasper said," Emmett argued. "Edward genuinely loves Bella. I think his best friend would be the source to go to if you had any questions about this, don't you? Jasper knows him better than anyone else."
"Listening to you argue on Edward's behalf is the last thing I want to do right now. You didn't just betray Bella, Emmett; you betrayed Alice and me as well. No amount of pleading is going to make that go away."
"I told you we should have come clean that night you confessed all this to me!" Emmett stood and walked to the window, staring out at the sprawling city and slapping his palm against the glass. "I knew that shit was going to end up hitting the fan, and now look."
Rose looked over at me and shrugged, ignoring Emmett's outburst. "We have to tell Bella. Regardless of how good Edward is to her now, or how genuine his feelings are, she deserves to know all of this. I mean, she's moving in with him for fucks sakes! She should make some sort of informed decision, especially about something that big."
"Let me talk to him first, Rose," Jasper pleaded. "I'm the one who got the three of us into this mess. I should be the one who gets us out."
"You can talk to him all you want, Jasper, but that's not going to change anything." Rose crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. "We have no reason to trust either of you right now, and neither does Bella. Nor do we have any reason to support you in your campaign to redeem Edward."
I bit my lip and thought about what Rose said. Telling Bella everything Jasper had just told us would surely break her heart. But, Rose was right. Bella needed to know who she was moving in with, and regardless of his current intentions or feelings, the bet was a part of Edward.
"We'll tell her when she gets back," I decided. "I don't want to ruin her time in the Hamptons. Besides, I think we all need some time to sit on this and get to a point where we can approach it rationally. There are too many heightened emotions in this room right now and that isn't going to help or fix anything."
"How can you manage to stay so calm right now?" My best friend crossed and uncrossed her legs anxiously. "I want to punch something. Or someone. I haven't quite decided which yet."
I shrugged. "It's in my nature. Besides, just because I'm calm doesn't mean I'm not angry." I looked over at my boyfriend and frowned. "I can't believe you would dream up something like this. Drunk or not, it's a really low thing to do."
"So where does this leave us?" Emmett slumped down next to Rose and attempted to put an arm around her shoulders, but she shrugged him away and stood up.
"You can go home," she said cooly. "I need to get some rest and right now I don't think I can be in the same room as you."
"Please, just go Emmett. I have nothing nice to say to you right now, so I'd rather just not say anything at all."
"I think I'm going to go too," I said, standing and pulling my sweater tighter around myself.
Jasper looked up at me. "Am I coming with?"
"We can share a cab, but I'd like to be alone for a bit as well. I need to sort all of this out; figure out what part affects me and how I want to handle it." Jasper nodded and stood up.
"I'll call you this afternoon," Rose said, standing and wrapping her arms around me. I sank into her embrace and laid my head against her shoulder. This whole situation was a mess and I had no idea what was next when it came to fixing it.
"Please get some rest," I said when I pulled away. I rubbed her tummy and cracked a small smile. "You're sleeping for two now, you know."
Rose's cheeks reddened with a pregnant blush. "I will. I promise."
I turned and headed for the door with Jasper in tow. I held it for him and he headed down the hall in front of me, hands in his pockets and head hung in what I guessed was shame.
"Alice, I'm truly sorry," he whispered once we were on the elevator.
I nodded and swallowed the lump in my throat. "I know."
The cab ride was filled with silence, and after Jasper got out at his stop, I let the tears I'd been holding back start to fall softly down my cheeks.
In a matter of twelve hours everything had gone from really good to really fucked up.
I only hoped there was a way we could all work together to fix things.
I sighed as the masseuse's fingers expertly worked the muscles in my upper back. Every ounce of tension I'd felt for the last few weeks melted away effortlessly as his hands glided across my bare skin.
"How is this pressure?"
"Perfect," I mumbled.
I spent the next ninety minutes drifting in and out as complete relaxation took hold of me. Edward had chosen to wait until our last day in the Hamptons to visit the spa, and now I knew why. I wanted this little slice of bliss to stay with me for as long as possible.
"You're glowing," Edward commented when I met him in the lobby after.
I smiled. "I feel amazing. Thank you so much for setting this up."
He leaned down and kissed my cheek before lacing our fingers together. Spring was finally upon us, and a light breeze blew my hair around my face as we strolled down the quiet Hamptons street.
"Did Alice fill your plate up with projects yet?"
I shook my head. "Nope! My calendar is squeaky clean for the time being. Which is a blessing, because Victoria wants to meet with us regarding an expansion of the firm, and I don't think I could pull that off and move and try to manage a new client."
He raised an eyebrow. "An expansion?"
"Event planning," I explained. "Victoria was so impressed with the work we did on her party that she offered to financially back us if we were to add that segment to what we already do."
"Are you kidding?" Edward stopped and spun me around so I faced him. "This is a big deal, Bella! I can't believe you didn't tell me before this."
An embarrassed blush covered my cheeks. "I just wanted to enjoy my time here. And enjoy Jasper's amazing house. All play and no work for the week, you know?"
"I believe a celebratory dinner would have fallen under the play category, wouldn't it?" He pulled my arm around his waist and secured his around mine, and we continued walking. "I mean, it's work related, but it's also cause to have a toast or two. Victoria White doesn't put her eggs in just any basket, Bella. The fact that she wants to back you two on a business venture says a lot about your work."
My blush deepened. "That's the same thing Alice told me. Trust me, I feel very fortunate right now. So many good things are happening lately. It's hard to believe all of them are real."
"You deserve every good thing that comes your way, Bella." We came to a stop when we reached Edward's car. Minutes later we were back at the house.
"I have a few surprises for you," Edward said when we were on the porch. A trill of excitement shot through me. I'd been graced with many surprises over the course of our courtship, and none of them had disappointed me.
"What kind of surprises?" I cocked an eyebrow and smiled suggestively.
Edward chuckled. "None of those, unfortunately. Although if you got that suitcase back from Renee…"
"Oh my God, don't even remind me!" I slapped my palm against my forehead and cringed. "I still can't believe I forgot that there!"
A full-force laugh escaped his lips. "Renee still hasn't mentioned it?"
"Nope," I said, shaking my head. "I know my mom well enough to know she won't mention it. If she did find it, she was probably mortified."
"I can't say I blame her. Who wants to picture their daughter using all those crazy toys?"
I slapped his arm playfully. "Alright, enough with the suitcase talk. Where are these surprises you speak of?"
Edward grabbed my hand and led me through the house and out to the back porch. The view was spectacular; a grassy hill gave way to the beach, where a picturesque sunset hovered over the Atlantic. The patio table was set for two and lit with candles. A rolling cart next to it held a bottle of wine, a fresh salad, and what appeared to be a homemade pizza.
"How did you manage this? We were out all afternoon?" I took in the scene before me as Edward pulled my chair out. He sat across from me, grinning coyly and uncorking the wine.
"I called in a few favors," he explained, pouring the crimson liquid into our glasses.
"It's perfect," I said with a smile.
"It's simple. But that seemed like a nice way for us to end our week here." We dished up our food and started eating. My skin felt warm despite the chilly April air.
"So what's the other surprise?" I asked when we'd finished our salads.
"It's waiting for you back in the city," Edward explained. I stared at him in confusion and he continued. "I gave Esme my key to your place before we left. She's been over there all week packing things up for you."
My initial reaction was to get mad at him for sharing my key with anyone, even his mother. That passed quickly, however, and embarrassment settled in. "She didn't have to do that, Edward. You didn't have to do that. I could have had movers come in and pack like you originally suggested."
He shrugged and grinned. "Esme loves doing things to help others – especially you. And I didn't want you to have to lift another finger." I opened my mouth to protest but he reached out and rested a single finger over it. "I know you well enough to know you're stubborn and you love your independence – even with a broken wrist. You'd still try and pack things if we hired the movers to do it, and I didn't want to see that happen. You need everything to be nicely healed next month when we go to Paris."
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. "I'm not stubborn. I just don't like other people doing things for me when I'm capable of doing them myself."
"And that's fine – when you're capable. A broken wrist does not render you capable of manual labor."
I stared at him for a moment before cracking a smile. "Thank you."
"There's the girl I've grown to love." Edward reached across the table and squeezed my good hand. "You're welcome."
"Speaking of Paris…" My voice drifted off as I imagined what it would be like to spend a week with Edward in the City of Love. "How are we going to juggle that and the move?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I move in on May 15, right?" Edward nodded. "And we leave for Paris on May 25."
"How will we find time to go through all my belongings, move what I want to store to a garage somewhere, and make room for what I want to keep in your place?" I took a sip of my wine and frowned. "We're working adults with busy schedules. Preparing for an international vacation on top of that is going to be a nightmare."
Edward was silent for a moment and then his eyes lit up. "Move in early."
"Move in early." He polished off the last of his pizza and swiped his napkin across his lips. "I can make arrangements with the movers. I'm sure Esme got most of your stuff packed, and what she didn't should be easy for the gang to box up for you. Why don't we push the moving date up and that will take some stress off our shoulders?"
"Push the moving date up how much?"
I thought about it for a minute. There wasn't anything stopping me from moving in early. Plus that would give me extra time to get my apartment cleaned up before I turned in the keys.
"Alright," I agreed. "Let's do it."
"Great!" Edward stood and held his hand out. I took it and he pulled me up and into his arms. "I can't wait to wake up next to you every morning."
"We'll see if you say that after I hit you with a dose of my morning breath," I joked.
A laugh rumbled in his chest. "Been there, done that."
"Kiss my ass," I giggled. He pulled back and arched an eyebrow.
"Been there, done that too."
I rolled my eyes and pulled him back toward me.
Nervousness aside, I was more than ready to start the next leg of my life with Edward.
-=- HC -=-
My first goal upon arriving home Thursday was to unpack my bags and get my laundry in the washer.
Rose and Alice's arrival at my apartment put the brakes on that plan, however.
"I'm coming!" I yelled in response to the relentless knocking at my door. I glanced through the peephole and shook my head when I saw the two of them standing there. "To what do I owe this visit?"" I asked, pulling the door open.
"We need to talk." Rose stalked down the hall toward the living room. Alice smiled sadly and stepped forward, giving me a hug and a peck on the cheek.
"How was the Hamptons?"
"Amazing. You're going to love spending time out there with Jasper with summer." I glanced over my shoulder and frowned. "What's got her all riled up this morning?"
Alice looked down at her feet. "The guys," she explained. I simply rolled my eyes and chuckled in response.
"What stupid thing did they do this time?"
"Alice! Don't you dare tell her!" Rose stomped back into the hall, cheeks flaring and hands placed firmly against her five-months pregnant hips. "Bella, come sit down please. We have some things to discuss."
I looked back and forth between my two friends, taking in the anger on one face and the somberness on the other. Whatever happened was serious, and definitely not good.
"What's going on?" I asked after we were all seated. Rose took a deep breath and started to speak, but Alice held her hand up and stopped her.
"Please try to be rational – both of you."
"I've been rational all week, haven't I?" Rose spat out. Alice nodded and folded her hands in her lap.
"Okay, enough of the cryptic shit. What the hell is up?"
Rose took another deep breath. "When we were at the White party last weekend I overheard Jasper and Emmett discussing you and Edward," she explained. "I walked up behind them just in time to hear Emmett tell Jasper something about him not needing to make a bet about you with Edward. That you'd fell in love with him easily enough on your own and without any extra pushing."
"What are you talking about?"
"Edward was angry when you shot him down at the Guggenheim last fall," Alice said. "At the time, Jasper found Edward's anger funny. So he decided to encourage him to pursue you by betting Edward that he couldn't get you to fall in love with him."
"He claims his intention wasn't to hurt you, but to show Edward that not every woman in this city would trip over themselves to be with him." Rose rolled her eyes. "It was a total douche bag thing to do if you ask me. Good intentions or not, you don't fuck with someone's feelings like that."
I sat staring at them in silence before bursting out in high-pitched laughter. "I don't know what your goal here is, but April Fools Day was weeks ago, girls. "
"We're not kidding around, Bell." Rose scooted down the couch until she was next to me. "I made Jasper and Emmett come clean on Sunday morning. What we're telling you now is exactly what they told us then."
"Oh really? What was their wager then? A couple hundred bucks? A Caribbean vacation? Please, enlighten me as to what my value is."
"If you fell in love with him, Edward got the keys to Jasper's Hamptons house," Rose explained. "If you didn't, Jasper got the keys to Edward's new BMW."
The color drained from my face as an ice-cold feeling of dread engulfed my chest. "The Hamptons house we just stayed at?"
Rose nodded. "Jasper wanted Edward to be the one to tell you, but I thought it would easier hearing it from us. Besides, who the hell knows if he'd actually come clean about everything? He's clearly got a problem with honesty."
"I'm so stupid." I dropped my head to my hands and blinked back the tears that had started to form behind my eyelids. "I knew about his reputation. I read the stories, I saw the pictures, Christ I was on the receiving end of his ridiculous pick up attempts. And yet I was still stupid enough to trust him."
I ignored Alice's attempt to interject and continued my train of thought. "Of course he would have the keys to the Hamptons house. Because I'm stupid and I fucking fell in love with him! And then I just had to go around shouting it from the rooftops, so Jasper would know and Emmett would know and you two would know. Fuck, I've spent this whole time thinking I'm the one who needs to prove to my friends and family that this relationship is real, that it's worth something and that I'm not just another one of his trashy hook-ups. And now I find out I was nothing more than a good laugh and a fucking piece of real estate! Fuck!"
"They called the bet off," Alice blurted out. "They called it off before Thanksgiving. Jasper felt guilty and Edward was busy falling for you. They called the bet off and Jasper never got his keys back. So when Edward came to him asking if he could borrow the Hamptons house for a few days, Jasper told him yes."
I shook my head in confusion. "Why didn't anyone say something sooner?"
Alice frowned. "Emmett was going to tell Rose as soon as he found out, but then the bet was called off and he didn't think anything of it. Honestly I don't think any of them thought it would ever come to light."
I sat in silence, unsure of what to say. Part of me was livid. I wanted to pick up every breakable object within reach and smash it against the wall. I wanted to get in a cab, ride across town, and punch Edward square in the face for ever even thinking I was just a bet. I wanted to burn his book, throw his clothes out my window, and tell him to never fucking talk to me again.
Another part of me –a much larger part – was hurt. And with that hurt came a whole, big ball of skepticism. I'd been lied to, led on, and humiliated by men in my past, but none of those experiences stung quite as much as this did. Even though we hadn't started off on the best foot, things with Edward always seemed different. It felt more real than any relationship in the past, and I'd always accounted our shitty beginning to fate having a weird way of putting two people in the right place at the wrong time.
Now I knew the truth; fate had nothing to do with our coupling, but a shady, cheap bet did. This knowledge alone was enough to suck the air from my lungs and make my throat burn with an overwhelming nausea.
"So everything up until Thanksgiving was one big, carefully constructed lie?"
"Not everything," Alice said. "Obviously it was no coincidence that Edward chose our PR firm to represent him, nor was it a coincidence that he wanted to work with you specifically. His feelings are real though, Bell. Jasper and Emmett were both insistent on that."
I bit my lip to hold back the tears that threatened to spill over onto my cheeks. "So everything he said about Esme loving our work and doing research about our firm … all of that was bullshit?"
Alice nodded. "Esme does love our work. But he had no idea we even had a firm until that first story about the two of you ran on Page Six." The first of what I guessed would become a steady stream of tears fell down my cheek. "I'm sorry, sweetie. This is the last thing that either of us wanted to sit down and tell you, especially when you just got back from a week away with him."
I scooted back on the couch and pulled my legs up close to me, resting my chin on the tops of my knees. I wasn't sure how many details Jasper and Emmett had shared with the girls, but I also wasn't sure I wanted to know. A tiny voice inside my head was telling me that I needed to continue this conversation with Edward.
"That's it!" Rose stood abruptly and placed her hands on her hips once more. "I'm going to talk to Edward. He owes all of us an explanation, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let him have a night to sleep on it before he delivers."
"Rose," Alice said, standing and placing a hand gently on our friend's elbow. "I love you, and I love how protective you are of all your friends, but that conversation isn't one that you should have."
"Someone has to have it!" Rose exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air.
"I will have it," I asserted, giving her a pleading look. "It just isn't going to happen tonight."
"It needs to happen tonight, Bell," Rose argued. "This is a big fucking deal. It's not like he went to the track and put money down on a trifecta. You're a human fucking being, Bella. You're a human being and he wagered something on you. Do you really think your feelings even crossed his mind when he agreed to this?"
What was left of my emotional self-control melted away. "God damnit Rose, I'm well aware of what he did! I don't need you to sit here and lecture me like I'm a teenager again, and I sure as hell don't appreciate you rubbing salt all over a wound that you just fucking opened!"
Alice cringed. "Girls, please, calm down."
I whipped my head in her direction and narrowed my eyes. "Calm down? Really, Alice? You're telling me to calm down after the two of you show up here unannounced and drop this big fucking bomb on me? No, I'm not going to calm down! I don't want to calm down!
"I need time to be alone and process everything you just told me," I said, lowering my voice. "I need to think about all this shit and decide how I'm going to handle it. What I don't need is for either of you to get anymore involved in this than you already are."
Rose's shoulders slumped forward and some of the anger disappeared from her eyes. "Emmett and Jasper already involved us, sweetie."
"Well, then go home and chew Emmett out about it. Edward is my boyfriend and therefore it's me who needs to talk to him."
"Oh, I have chewed Emmett out, trust me," Rose laughed. "In fact, I'm not speaking to him until this whole mess is cleared up. If it gets cleared up."
"Which is completely ridiculous, by the way," Alice said. "I get being mad at him, but cutting him off permanently isn't exactly a mature way to handle this."
"Covering this up for months wasn't exactly a mature thing for him to do either, Alice," Rose pointed out.
"Wait, if Jasper and Edward made the bet, how did Emmett even get involved?"
Alice rolled her eyes. "Jasper spilled the beans to him one night when they were out having beers. He's more of a bystander than an actual participant."
"Bystander my ass," Rose scoffed. "He should have come to me right away when Jasper told him. Then I could have told Bella, she could have dropped Edward as a client, and we wouldn't be standing here dealing with this right now." Alice remained silent, and I could tell by the expression on her face that part of her agreed with what Rose was saying.
"Let's go grab dinner," she finally suggested. "I'm sure you have more questions and a public place would force Ms. Hormones over here to reel in her aggression."
I forced a smile, but shook my head. "I think I want to be alone for a bit."
"Are you sure?" Alice gave my elbow a light squeeze. "It might help to talk things out. We could invite Newton too. Then you'd get in a good laugh."
"I'm sure." I crossed my arms over my chest and looked down at my feet. "I need some time to myself to think about all of this."
Rose sighed. "I'm sorry to be a bitch about this, but it burns. Everyone trusted him, which was no easy thing to do."
"I know," I whispered, brushing tears away from my cheek. "Trust me, I know."
"I'm sorry, Bell." Alice wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close for a hug. I rested my forehead on her shoulder, causing my tears to fall faster. Alice held me for a few minutes before pulling back and squeezing my shoulders. "Promise me you'll call if you need anything? I don't care what time it is."
I nodded. "I promise," I whispered. Rose gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek before following Alice out.
I locked the door and leaned against it, sliding slowly to the floor. Head in my hands and knees to my chest I began to sob. Everything I'd fought so hard to contain in front of Rose and Alice came out, and as my body rocked against the door, I realized just how much was at stake, and how much both Edward and I could lose.
I looked around the hallway, taking note of how many memories involving Edward resided in my apartment alone. The tears flowed even harder when my eyes settled on the small stack of moving boxes at the end of the hall. As I sniffled in a raspy breath, I felt a dull ache begin in my stomach.
Was it truly foolish of me to believe that the things Edward said and did were genuine?
Should I trust Jasper and Emmett in saying that the bet was called off right away? Should I believe their assertion that his love for me wasn't driven by something material?
I had no idea how long I stayed on the hallway floor before finally forcing myself to get up and go to bed. The nightmare that followed was telling of my mental state. A large, faceless black creature chased me as I ran down corridor after corridor in an endless maze. It was dark and damp, and the burning in my lungs felt real as I pushed forward, desperate to find the exit. Eventually my strength began to diminish, and I found myself running slower, stopping to take frequent breaks, and finally collapsing in a heap. As the creature neared I began to lose consciousness, and I woke up just before the darkness of the dream overtook me.
One thing was clear – I had to talk to Edward, and it had to be an in-person conversation. I needed to see the look in his eyes when he explained the bet to me. I needed to see the emotion and know how he felt when I told him what I knew.
Tomorrow was Friday and he would be staying with me. Even though it wasn't the most pleasant way to start what could evolve into a good weekend, I knew I had to confront him about the bet right away.
I leaned back into my pillows and closed my eyes.
No nightmare that invaded my sleep that night could compare to the one Edward and Jasper's bet could create.
I only hoped that after tomorrow it wouldn't seem like such a nightmare anymore.
A/N: I couldn't not cliff hang. Otherwise this chapter would be ginormous. ;)
A small note: Tomorrow I'm pulling Endless Night and I Will Remember You. In short, I don't have time to write them, they haven't updated in over six months, and I'm not sure they'll ever be complete. There's a bit more detail on my blog, which is linked in my profile.
If You Only Knew readers, I'm still working on that update. I've been stuck, then when I get unstuck my schedule explodes and things just don't mesh.
Thanks for still being here! And for reviews, recs, and love. It makes me smile. Ridiculously huge smiles.
Until next time...