Chapter Twenty Four: Incriminating Evidence

Jasper's car is in my driveway when Aly and I pull into it, with the newest member of my once empty house clutched in a plastic water-filled bag in her hand.

Cleo the fish. My first promise kept. Because I think I'm going to get the chance to keep others. Many, many others. Because I'm going to get to keep her. My little sister.

It's what Jasper told me. Just yesterday in my house. That isn't just mine now.

But the voice I hear isn't coming from this house that's ours. Mine and hers...

It's coming from the one next door. Through the one that's open. And it isn't Jasper's.

It's Edward's.

And it's angry. "What the hell kind of investigation are you running here, Detective? You get a piece of evidence practically gift wrapped and put in your hand and you're too incompetent to secure it? Or even fucking tell me about it before you lose it?"

Evidence? What evidence?

"I didn't lose anything! And you were out of town when it turned up, not that you did a damn thing for our investigation before you left, Agent."

That's good, Jasper. For me... and her...

"Well, if you hadn't have done such a halfass job with it before I got here-"

We don't hear Edward finish his sentence, or any more of their conversation through his open door, because I close mine with us inside.

"They don't like each other, do they?" Aly asks me once I have.

"No, they do... " I tell her, because deep down I really believe that, regardless of their demeanor with each other. "They just don't always agree on everything."

"They agree on you," she says, looking right into my eyes with a knowing she shouldn't have. "About how important you are."

"Well, Jasper has been my friend for a very long time. He's important to me, too."

"But different than Edward is."

"Yes, it's different."

"I know, because you look at him different than you look at Edward."

Maybe I should be more careful about how I look at Edward...

"But Jasper doesn't look at you different than Edward does. He looks at you the same. That's why they don't like each other."

You see too much, Aly... just like you've heard.

And I want that evidence to be lost, too. With the other.

And stay that way.

So that we can stay this.

"I'm sorry if you beautiful ladies heard any of that," Edward says, closing my front door with himself inside and Jasper out. Because he left without ever coming in. "Sometimes I forget my manners."

"I've heard bad words before," Aly tells him. "My dad said them all of the time when he thought I couldn't hear him. And my mom, too. I even had a jar in my room that I put a piece of paper in every time they did. It was full."

"A piece of paper?" I ask her, "Did the pieces of paper say anything?"

"They said the bad word they said, and a different one I thought they should have."

"Are you going to write on pieces of paper about me now?" Edward asks her, looking guilty and ashamed.

And damn adorable...

"Do you want me to?" she asks him instead of answers.

"Not really... " he tells her, "but that's just because I don't like it when pretty girls I like are mad at me. Or think I'm bad. But I did a bad thing, so... "

"But you said you were sorry. And I know that you meant it. My mom and dad never did that. Or even thought about if I could hear. Because if they didn't see me, they didn't think about me at all."

"I thought about you."

"I know. Maybe I'll write that on a piece of paper and put in a jar. And make a jar of good things instead of bad ones I wish weren't."

"Ï like that idea," I tell her, wishing I'd have thought of it.

And had made a box of good.

Instead of the one I did.

That's buried now.

Forever.

I hope.

There's a knock at the door just as I'm clearing our dinner plates from the table. Aly's, mine, Edward's, Jasper's, and Alice's.

And Edward and Jasper move to answer it at the same time.

And Aly looks at me. And then at Alice, who already was.

Because they both know things they shouldn't.

Have seen and heard.

And then I worry that someone else has. And does.

Because I hear my father's voice.

At my front door.

That I want to close with him outside of.

Lock it before he was.

Seal it.

Before any bad could slip through it.

Or be let to.

Something neither of those important men in my life are letting happen.

The two.

"Who are you and what do you want with her?" I hear Edward ask.

"He's her father," Jasper answers for the man outside. The one who isn't important.

The stranger.

Who should have stayed that way.

And far.

Buried...

In his drunken oblivion.

But who didn't.

"Ït's okay, Edward," I say, rushing to where they stand, and "Stay here, please," before rushing out the door and closing it behind me. And in front of my past. That I don't want in my future.

But part of it refuses to be left behind. Or in if I'm out with it. And without him.

Jasper is out now, too.

"Go back inside, Jasper."

"No, Bella."

"You're still around, I see," my dad says to him, before glancing past him, to who else is. Though he doesn't know him, or why that's so important to me.

And so wrong. "Edward, please... "

"If anyone is going to protect you here, Bella, it's me."

I'm not so sure that's true, Edward. But I love that you want to. Or think you do.

And hate it, too... "I don't need protecting. I promise I don't. By either of you. So, please, both of you, go back inside. I'll be in in a minute."

"And I'll escort you in," he tells me, "And that's the end of it."

If you stay, it might be. The end of us. And me. "Even if I'm ordering you to go without me? And wait for?"

"So, you want to go backwards? And close the door again?"

"No... I just want... It's cold out here. And hard. And I just want you to go back to where it isn't. And wait for me to come back."

"Bella, if it's cold and hard-"

"Please, Edward? Give me what I need? What I'm asking you for... that you know is not easy for me... Please?"

"Are you only asking me?"

"Yes," I tell him, because I am. And he looks angry instantly, but only because I'm not finished yet. "Because I'm not asking Jasper... Go inside, Jasper."

"Bella-"

"Now."

His expression is one of hurt, but he turns and opens the door. And then does what I expect, and waits for Edward to join him on the other side of it before he closes it.

Something he does, but only after he does something else. And says, when his lips leave my skin and move to my ear. "My door's not locked, Bella."

"Thank you," I tell him, and watch him disappear behind mine.

And then I turn back to the cold and hard I don't want to be anywhere with, gesturing him to follow me next door.

He looks confused, but does, and once we're inside the door of Edward's house, I ask the question that could slam another in my face. "Why did you come here?"

"Because you left here."

"My comings and goings stopped concerning you a long time ago. If they ever did. So-"

"That's not true, Bella."

"WHY did you come here?"

"I think you know why. And what I saw before I did. What told me I had to."

"I'm not interested in hearing about your drunken delusions. So, go home and take them with you."

"I know I deserve that... earned it from you... but I haven't touched a bottle since the night you came home. Haven't swallowed a drop. Of anything... but truth. Horrible, ugly truth."

"Good for you." How does it feel, Dad?

"No, Bella... it's not. It's not good for me. It's not good for anyone."

"Then, bottoms up. That should bring back good for you."

"I know what you did."

"You don't know anything."

"I dug it up."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say as calmly as I can.

"Yes, you do. You just don't know what I found. With it."

"You didn't find anything. But my address. That you showed up to uninvited. And unwanted. And that you can leave now." And the Oscar goes to...

"I'm sorry, Isabella. For all of the things I did wrong. Didn't do at all. Failed you by not... "

Not me. "Don't call me that! And don't apologize to me! Just go away! Go back-"

"I can't do that."

"Yes, you can. If you're really sorry for anything, then you can. You can turn around and walk out of here. And forget that you ever had a daughter that you failed. Forget-"

"I can't forget what I saw. And why I might have. All of the things I didn't see... wasn't paying any attention to... too drunk and too delusional to see right in front of my face. Even when you weren't anymore. After I watched that boy take you away... the one that's a man now. And still here. And could take you somewhere else... I can't forget, Bella."

"So, what? You were silent all of my life - most of it - and now you have something to say? Something you want me to hear? The last something? That you're here to take it from me? My life that you never wanted to be a part of?"

"I'm not here to take it from you. I came to tell you that. And that from the bottom of my heart I'm sorry for not being in it. And for what it's become because I wasn't."

"You don't know anything about me! Or my life! Or what it's become!"

"I found them. And I burned them. The gloves. The ones you wore to...

"I burned all of them. And removed all traces of blood from the box they were in. And hid it somewhere no one will ever find it. Because I won't help anyone find you. Not after you helped me find myself... by losing yours. Before you came home to bury it. In a place where you thought nothing lived."

But... "You burned them?"

"Yes."

"You... the cop... the Chief of Police... "

"And father. Though I know that's pushing it... but yes. I did."

"And you came here to tell me that."

"Yes. And that I want to help you."

"Help me?"

"Yes. In any way that I can. As any of the things that I am. And should have been, but wasn't."

"You wouldn't if-"

"I know you killed your mother, Bella."

I stare at him... shock and disbelief not letting me look away now... and my voice not letting me speak a word of it.

A word of anything.

So, he fills the silence again. "Maybe if I'd have gone after her... when she left... made her face us... you...

"Maybe she wouldn't have done so much damage. If, even if she didn't want to stay, I'd made her say goodbye... maybe you could have accepted it. Could have healed. Let her go... and the others you didn't. For whatever reason you couldn't.

"But I didn't. I didn't give you that chance. Didn't make her give it to you. And didn't give you one at a happy, healthy life with all you had left. The miserable father you were stuck with. Who didn't give you anything you deserved. Or needed. Anything at all... but what you didn't."

Maybe... but it's too late for that now. And too late for this. "Well, consider the dad slate wiped clean. I'm all grown up now, and I don't need one anymore. Or anyone or anything that isn't next door waiting for me."

"You mean like your ex-but-still-present-boyfriend the police detective? Who's in charge of the investigation into the killings? Your killings?"

"He's one of them, yes. The people I need."

"And the other one? Who's in the place the first wishes he still was?"

"He's not your concern."

"Is he yours? In the ways he should be?"

"He's mine in every way."

"Does that include his job? With the FBI? And his location? The one I'm standing in? Right next door to you? Where he wasn't until after there were killings to investigate? Yours?"

"I'm not stupid. I'm-"

"Surrounded by people who want to destroy you."

"They love me. They-"

"Will forget that. And might only want you to believe that so- shit! My God, how stupid can I be?"

I'm about to ask him what the hell he's talking about now, but when I open my mouth he covers it with his hand. And shakes his head at me, putting a single finger to his own lips.

But I pull away. Because I don't want him to touch me. Or protect me from who I do. "This house isn't bugged. And if it was, it's already too late. I-"

"Didn't say anything," he whispers, "Not enough. And you're not going to say another word."

Oh yes I am. Because I don't like the ones you said. "Edward loves me. He's not-"

"Going to leave room for you to doubt it if he doesn't. And... "

"Go ahead, Chief Swan. And what? What am I not going to do with the woman I love?"

"Edward... " I barely manage to whisper. And only.

"I know what you said, Bella... and I tried... to wait for you to come back... but I could feel the temperature drop in here from that warm place you left me in. So, I came to make sure you weren't getting too cold."

I look at his front door... that isn't the one he came through... unheard... and wonder if anyone else is about to.

Silent or not.

If my father is right...

Could even possibly be...

And if Edward didn't come because he worried that I was getting cold.

If he came because he'd gotten even warmer.

Hot, maybe.

Because I'm in flames.

Right in front of his eyes.

That weren't here a moment ago.

Maybe.

I didn't hear him until he wanted me to.

Hear him say what I wanted him to say.

Have been waiting for.

But Edward...

Did he?

Before he got here?

Or after?

Did he hear me?

Say what he's been waiting for?

"Say goodbye to your dad, Bella."

Or not?

Because I didn't deny it?

And won't the hold he has on me.

That I don't deny now.

Even though it could end me.

"Goodbye."

xx

Ummm...

So, just a few things... off topic to that ummm... or from? Yeah, we know I'm not a master of words. THAT is evident.

Anyhoo... I was a little surprised by how many of you thought the last chapter was sappy. Or maybe a lot surprised. I guess because I didn't think it was?... Because, boy, and girls, I can be. Really sappy. And I have evidence of that, too. Totally incriminating. And complete. I'm talking about When You Close Your Eyes, that beat this, and the princess of sappy, Cups Full of wishes, to that status. So, go read it. Please. Because it means a lot to me.

This does, too, of course. And maybe you're all a little pissed at me for where I left it... but we'll be back. All of us. Cross my sappy heart.

Oops... almost forgot... I'm also not a master of brain function. And because I'm not, and wasn't at all when I started this, what you see now may look a little strange to you. Because I'm in the process of fixing my embarrassing error, but am not finished yet. I have to re-upload all of the chapters to do that, and that's going to take time. The mistake involves numbers. Chapter numbers. Which changed, sort of. Because the first previously said 'prologue', which it wasn't. And doesn't say now. Because I already fixed that part. It's all that's changed/changing, other than for a few 'a beta would have caught them' errors I'm fixing, too, as I go. Because I don't use one. OBVIOUSLY. So, if you're behind and the chapter numbers (the ones I type at the top of each) don't seem to make sense, don't worry, I didn't skip any. Which you won't know until you see this... if anyone even reads my E/Ns... but which I thought I should try to explain anyway.

Okay, that's it.