Thank you all. Getting back into writing this and reading your comments has been a highlight of this year for me. I wish a safe, happy, and healthy 2014 for you and all your loved ones. :)
This is awkward. Carlisle and Edward are sitting on opposite sides of this table reading printed copies of Banner's file. I've read most of it already, and I can guess the exact moment Carlisle gets to the part where Banner suggests that Carlisle may have sexually and physically abused his son, by the hard set of his jaw and the rise in color. I'm trying not to stare, I doubt either of these men would notice though, being too engrossed in the reading material. It's just that, they look so similar. Not just the same jawline, brow, the straight nose. There's an echo in the way they both move, a symmetry in the expressions, the way they each clutch the thick stack of papers.
Edward pushes his chair back and stands up abruptly. He's patting his chest for the pack, slipping a cigarette between his lips.
"Esme doesn't like smoking in the house—"
Edward, cigarette lit, is already headed to the back porch. I glance down at his stack of papers. I catch the words, "...dysfunctional, unhealthy sexual attachments, inability to maintain healthy relationships, sexual or otherwise..." Oh. I don't blame him.
Carlisle stares at his son's retreating back for a moment. He leans back in his chair and closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He looks suddenly ten years older.
"I've been trying to get him to quit," I say.
He sighs. "It doesn't matter. He could smoke two cartons a day and it wouldn't make a difference."
"What do you mean?"
"His unique physiology. Each month..." Carlisle opens his eyes to look at me curiously.
"...Each month, when he transforms..." He pauses. "It's excruciating. The bones, muscles...his entire body is destroyed and rebuilt all in one night."
I won't ever be able to forget that terrible sound, the crunch of bones breaking, the tearing of flesh and blood. His screams of agony. To go through that twice in one night, every full moon...I don't know how he bears it. He has no choice but to bear it. My heart aches to think of him, enduring this for twenty long years now. And for Carlisle to have to be witness to his child enduring this awful ordeal, and to be completely helpless, unable to make the pain go away. To have to see it again and again, and to know there is no end.
"Without his ability to heal quickly, Edward would never survive the change. He can't get sick really, because his body won't allow it. Homeostasis for Edward is human, in peak physical condition, that's zero for him. The monthly transformation of wolf back to human is akin to a reset button."
"So...does this mean Edward should be back to normal by next month?"
"I hope so. Typically, I'd say even less time than that, with his accelerated healing. Of course, things like...gunshot wounds for instance," at this he looks askance at me, "would take longer to heal. But what disturbs me is he's never been this sick before. He's never been sick ever. So I'm wondering if we're dealing with something entirely different. He should have been back to normal with this full moon."
I look out the window at Edward who is sitting on the deck chair outside, his back to us. It looks exactly like one of the adirondack chairs at his cabin. He is hearing all of this. Probably already knows all of this. I wonder if this brief honeymoon period of the last eighteen hours of so is just that. Brief. Fleeting. Edward is highly sensitive, probably more aware of his body than anyone. Does he know something we don't? Is his sudden willingness to try to have a relationship with me...is it because he knows something far more terrible than I ever would consider is happening? I push the thought from my brain. No. I won't consider it. We are not done fighting.
"What about the drugs, all those things Banner prescribed?"
Carlisle glances down at the file in front of him. He dismisses this concern with a wave of his hand. "Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. And one used to treat schizophrenia. It's a not unreasonable treatment for someone suffering from clinical lycanthropy, if that was the case. These were designed to keep Edward docile, I'd imagine. Though they wouldn't have the side effects he seems to be exhibiting. We actually don't know if what's in Edward's file is an accurate record of his treatment. They could just be for show, for the hospital administration. Or he could have been building a case against Edward, to keep him locked down."
"If it's not the drugs, what do you think it is?"
Carlisle is silent a long time. I wonder if he has heard me. Or if I just imagined asking the question out loud.
"I don't know."
Somehow, those three words are scarier than anything. I had pinned my hopes on Carlisle. That he'd know exactly what to do. That somehow he'd have the magic bullet that would make all of our problems disappear. He's just a man. A father scared for his son.
"You've seen it?" The wolf, he means.
"I saw him turn back. Yes."
I don't know how to answer this without getting Edward in trouble. Well, not in trouble exactly, but his father already believes he's behaved recklessly and I don't want to give him additional ammunition.
"It was my fault. Edward was really careful, it was actually during the second full moon that I found out, I never would have known. He went through his usual precautions, but I tracked him down and accidentally let him out."
He nods, looking down at the stack of paper in front of him. "And you don't have a problem with his...condition? You do realize a relationship with Edward comes with certain...difficulties."
"We all have baggage."
"Yes. But this is beyond the usual concerns that might arise in a normal relationship."
I'm getting a little annoyed but I don't want to snap at him for being so patronizing. I know he's just trying to do the best by his son, but for fuck's sake. He doesn't have to tell me that. I've been living it for months now.
"Carlisle. I know. I'm aware of the dangers involved. For all of us. Look, Edward didn't fall out of that building and break his ribs by accident. He did it to protect me."
"To protect you from himself."
"He was willing to sacrifice his life for me. And...I would do the same for him."
I don't have to think about this as the words fall from my lips. Suddenly it is very clear to me that I had been foolish in my doubt. This was me, second guessing, not trusting myself, not believing I was someone worth loving. How could I be so blind to what was right in front of me? I should have seen it, should have known. Edward has never said as much, but from the beginning he's been showing me, through deed, through action, to denial of his own desire, the depth of his devotion. He's sacrificed his body, his happiness, his own life, to keep me safe. He's still sacrificing himself. Loving me goes against every single instinct for self-preservation he possesses.
All of this. All of this has been for me. Because he loves me.
"I just want you to know what you are getting into. It will be difficult. Is it worth it? All the fear, the pain, the potential for death? The fact that you may never be able to bear his child? You can't ever hope for a normal life with Edward."
"Is he worth it? Yes. Absolutely."
He doesn't believe me. He's not going to let this go. Why is it so difficult for him to accept that I love Edward? I can't believe I'm doing this, but there's no other way.
"Was she worth it?"
"Your wife. Edward's mother."
His blue eyes are cold with fury. I know I have no right to talk about her, but I have to make him understand. I see his hands clench into fists, white knuckled.
"You knew she was a werewolf. And you loved her anyway. Do you regret it?"
I'm a little terrified right now, but I steel myself and hold his gaze. slowly, he relaxes, the jaw loosens. He seems to sink into his seat a little, defeated.
"No. I don't regret it. I loved her. I still do. I never stopped. And I loved the son she left me...I would love her all over again, even knowing what I know." He turns to me, eyes soft. "You're just so young. I don't want to see you get hurt. I don't want to see Edward get hurt."
"I won't ever hurt him."
"And if someday you stop loving him?"
I hadn't considered this. It never seemed a possibility. But I see now the fear in Carlisle, not just about the conflicts that might arise from us being in a relationship, but what could happen if there was a bad break-up. If I was the kind of person out to seek revenge. I could effectively destroy his life. Have him locked up in an underground government lab for the rest of his days.
"I won't hurt him Carlisle. You just have to take my word for it."
He stands up, filling a kettle, setting it on a burner, and pulling two mugs down.
"Would you like some tea?"
I nod. "Rooibos please."
Tea is what you offer when you don't want to look at the other person for a while. It's something to do with your hands. The time water takes to boil is the exact amount of time needed to compose your face. He turns back to me, setting the WBEZ mug in front of me. Carlisle's is chipped, with "Dad" painted on the side in a crude, childish scrawl.
Edward walks in the house, he looks down at the table and then comes straight toward me and pulls the mug from my hand.
"Did he make this?"
He walks to the sink and pours the contents of the mug down the drain.
"Edward. Come now. Was that necessary?" Carlisle protests.
He ignores this, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet. He grabs my coat and sets it around my shoulders.
"We're going home."
"Edward, I would never...The results. Eugene is sending them over in just a few hours...just wait until then."
Edward acts like he hasn't heard this. My hand held firmly in his hand he starts to pull me to the door.
"Baby...I think we should...your blood work..."I trail off.
He stands there seething. It's clear as day that it physically pains him to be in the same room as his father right now. But he hasn't dragged me out the house yet because I am reluctant to go. He stares at the floor, his mouth set in a thin hard line. Furious. I don't know what has triggered this. Carlisle looks a little angry, the color high in his cheeks.
"Carlisle, you'll call us right? If you hear anything."
"Okay. Come on Edward. Let's go home."
We take the train back. Edward, nearly has a bit of meltdown trying to operate the new Ventra system. Like a true Chicagoan. I take the card from him and wave it in front of the sensor, and just hold my breath and hope for the best until the light turns green and he can pass through the turnstile. I don't know what to make of what just happened. From the corner of my eye, I see a flash of blonde hair and turn around quickly, thinking perhaps Carlisle has followed us. But Edward's father is no where to be seen in the mass of commuters streaming in and out of the station. He's still waiting for that phone call. He wouldn't come.
We wait for the el on the rickety wooden platform. It's April but the air is still frigid and they've turned off the heatlamps for the year. I hop around a little, to try to ease my shivering. Edward takes my hands and puts them around his waist, wrapping his coat around me for warmth. The heat just radiates from him. I press my cheek against his chest and...it's perfect here. All around us is the chatter of too loud cell phone conversations, teenagers laughing, the clink clink of blind buskers. And we are immune to them in our cocoon spun of wool and down, our breath like smoke in the chill air.
For the first time in my life I feel not so alone. I have a warm place to come home to, good friends, and someone to love. Someone who loves me back.
I don't ask until we are back at my apartment.
"What happened back there?"
He shrugs off the coat, then takes mine and hangs them in the closet. And then he sits down and carefully unlaces his boots. Not lifting his eyes to me, he says quietly, "He used to slip drugs in my food."
"What?" He knows I've heard him and doesn't repeat it. I think he must be joking. But Edward doesn't joke. Shocked and horrified, I can't think of anything to say. I knew about the tranquilizers. I just thought they were always voluntary. And then the thought occurs to me that Carlisle may have put something in my drink and Edward must have sensed it or something, but why would he do such a thing?
"Did your Dad slip something in my tea?"
Edward shakes his head.
"Then why did you throw it out?"
I guess this explains Edward's extreme control freak tendencies in the kitchen. I had noticed that on the few occasions that I did cook, he would always watch. I always assumed he just liked looking at my ass. I never would have guessed he was making sure I didn't...interfere with his food.
"How long did it go on? Him drugging you?"
"'Til I was fifteen." It looks like he's listening for Rose or Emmett, but it appears we are alone again. For now. He doesn't even look angry. More embarrassed, I think.
"You don't have to talk about this now Edward." I trace his jawline, now soft with his red-gold beard. It's the longest it's been since he let me shave it off so many months ago. It grows so fast, he's got at least three inches of beard and a half inch of hair on his head. I think of that stranger, hidden under all that hair when we first met. He was in hiding. Cut off from humanity. Barely human anymore. That's got to be a good thing, his hair growing back so quickly. It has to mean he's healing.
"Are you growing your beard out?"
He shakes his head, scratching his chin. "No. They wouldn't let me have a razor at the hospital."
I leave him in the bathroom with a new pink razor, and a bottle of shave gel. I don't know what to do with myself now. It feels odd, getting back into the normal routine. What do normal people do all day? What is Edward going to do here, besides running from the law and a possibly sociopathic psychiatrist? Will he get a job? I can't see him in an office. And he doesn't seem particularly computer savvy, although I could be wrong. Rosalie is probably still working at the coffee shop. Making herself scarce, for my sake. I look at my own, long abandoned laptop. It has a fine layer of dust covering it. The idea of continuing my vampire novel seems laughable at this point.
He emerges from the bathroom looking lighter, more like himself. He's still too thin of course, we'll have to figure out a way to get Edward some food that his body can keep down. But he looks ten times better than he did just a few days ago. I hope Carlisle is right, that all Edward needs is time.
I can't resist that face, that clean, beautiful jawline. I push him to sit on the bed, while I apply facial lotion to his skin. He rolls his eyes, but he indulges me. Really it's just an excuse for me to touch his face. I trace the lines of his lips with my Kiehl's lip balm. These full pink lips. How can a person be so beautiful? Grabbing my wrist with one hand, he pulls me down until we are face to face, less than an inch apart. He touches his lips to mine, so soft.
"He's wrong you know. Your Dad."
He shakes his head. "No. Everything he said is true." He looks down at our clasped hands. "I wanted you to know the risks involved...being with someone like me. But I was wrong before. I'm not going to make the decision for you anymore. I'm giving you the choice."
To leave him. Or to love him. If I said I wanted it, he would go without a single word of protest. It's so easy for him to believe that I would reject him. We could walk away and avoid all the pain and hurt that if I'm really honest, I know is sure to come. But there will always be some obstacle, even in a normal relationships. You can't predict the future, you can't plan for it.
He waits, his face so open to me, I can read him as clear as black lines in a book. Hurt, fear...hope.
As if there was ever a choice.
"I choose you Edward. Always."
If Edward is trying to win Rosalie Hale and Emmett McCarty over, he's succeeding. Killing it actually. He pulls another pizza hot out of the oven and slides it onto the cutting board. He's improvised a pizza stone with a layer of unglazed terra cotta tiles he found in the garage and scrubbed thoroughly. It's ridiculous. The crust is caramelized and charred in all the right places, with just the right amount of chew, and thin and crispy toward the center. He condescends to allow me to scatter four large basil leaves over it the melted fresh mozzarella and bright red tomato sauce. That's my only job. And then he drizzles olive oil, cracks fresh black pepper and then a light dusting if sea salt over it and it is ready to be eaten. The sea salt, he bought this morning of course. I imagine he took one look at my plain old iodized salt and deemed it unacceptable.
Rose and Em watch in awe, the salad, which is actually quite good, is momentarily abandoned. I slice the pizza with a sharp knife, the crust making a satisfying crunch as I cut through to the wooden cutting board. Even Rose doesn't make a pathetic attempt to dab at her pizza with a napkin. This pie is perfect and she knows it. We all take a bite, ignoring the heat, and almost moan in unison.
"He can stay. Forever." Rose says, mouth full.
"Marry me." Emmett exclaims.
Edward doesn't hang around to watch. He's already on to the next ball of dough. Four perfect balls in separate bowls, rising since this afternoon. That means four more pizzas. I can't wait. He stretches the dough easily, fluently, as if he'd been doing it all his life, until it is a rough circle, the center so thin you could read a newspaper through it if you wanted to.
"Dude, can I try?" Emmett asks.
"No." Edward says, not unkindly, but there's no room for misinterpretation. He ladles a few spoons of the raw tomato sauce, spreading it out, leaving a short rim of unadorned dough.
"Edward gets a little...territorial in the kitchen. It's nothing personal." I explain.
"That's fine by me. He can have the kitchen," Rose says.
My phone rings in the living room. I dash out to pick it up.
"Hi honey, how are you? Is this a bad time?"
"No, it's fine. Edward is making us pizza, but I can talk for a minute."
"Oh his pizza is just wonderful, isn't it? It's been so long since I had his cooking."
"We should have you over sometime." We. I love that I'm already thinking of us as a unit. A dinner party with the parents. There's nothing more normal than that. If, that is, Edward and Carlisle can stand to be in the same room for longer than an hour.
"I would love that. How is Edward?"
"You didn't talk to Carlisle?" I check the clock. I'm surprised hasn't called yet. The best case scenario is he got the blood work back and it was normal. Let's hope.
"Not yet. I'm still at the office. It looks like I'll be here a few hours longer."
"So what's up?"
Esme is the opposite of Edward in terms of volubility, so when she doesn't answer I think the connection has been lost. Then I hear some nervous throat clearing and she starts speaking but I can't follow, and then finally I have to interrupt and ask her what exactly is going on.
"Bella. I'm sorry honey, I've got some bad news..."
My heart drops. Everything is perfect now. My roommate and Emmett are getting along with Edward. And we were just about to sit down together and share this lovely meal that he has prepared. He built a freaking pizza stone. I don't want to hear her bad news.
Mustering all he courage I can gather, I ask, "What is it?"
"I...I'm sorry Bella. I don't know how it happened. There must have been a leak at the office, or else my computer had been hacked but...someone posted the manuscript for your novel online."
They posted my...? Oh. I'm so relieved I can't formulate a response. She takes my silence for shock and despair and apologizes some more. I should say something now.
"It's okay Esme. It's not your fault," I manage to squeak out.
"I just know how hard you've worked on this. I've discussed this with my bosses and we completely understand if you don't want to continue. As this was an egregious error on our part, you will not be held to your contract to finish this series. We can regroup tomorrow and figure out or next course of action. I'm sorry honey, this must be such a devastating blow."
"It is...a surprise."
"I know how eager you were to continue the story."
"It's okay Esme. I'll figure something out. Actually I think I might have a few ideas about what I'd like to write next."
I feel a little guilty. But I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Bless Angela. For leaking the manuscript and keeping quiet about my identity. It's been a few days now. If she hasn't said anything to the authorities by now, it's doubtful she ever will. My last loose end, neatly tied up in a bow. Esme apologizes a few more times before I can extricate myself from the phone call. I feel about thirty pounds lighter as I come back to the warmth of the kitchen.
"...how do you feel about Hawaiian pizza? The little chunks of ham and pineapple..." Emmett inquires.
Edward shudders, visibly. "Fuck Hawaiian pizza," he mutters. Emmett catches this and guffaws loudly.
"Who was that?" Rosalie asks.
"Esme. Work stuff, nothing important."
She takes another bite. "This is the best damned pizza I've ever eaten."
"What about deep dish?" asks Emmett. I know for a fact that this is his favorite. That two-inch thick, tomato and cheese casserole that somehow has incorrectly been passing itself off as pizza in this part of the country.
"Fuck deep dish." Edward says loud enough so we can all hear. He punches the air out of a ball of dough with his fist and then drapes a dish towel over it.
"Not even Pequod's?"
He walks up to Emmett. Leans in close to his ear and says in a low voice, "Fuck Pequod's. Pequod's smells like feet." Oh boy. Edward just insulted Emmett McCarty's place of worship. They are eye to eye, and for a moment it looks like they might fight...or kiss. But then a wide, infectious grin breaks out on Em's face, and he claps Edward on the back.
"I like you! I'm glad Bella kidnapped you!"
"Me too." He catches my eye, a small smile on his face.
He's got a little smudge of flour on his cheek. I dust it off lightly and he captures my hand and kisses it. And then he sends me back to the kitchen table with a gentle smack on the bottom.
Rose is making kissy faces at me. I give her the finger because I am a mature adult. Not to be outdone, she curls her hand into an "o" and slides up and down my extended middle finger, the universal sign for "doing it". Touché. We both collapse in to giggles.
"Okay. I'll admit it. I was wrong."
"You. Were. Wrong."
She rolls her eyes.
"Can you say that again? I want to get it on video."
"B, not another word. Can you blame me? This," she gestures at Edward's back. His finely muscled back, now clad in a threadbare white tee-shirt and my apron tied around his waist. "Doesn't look good on paper."
"But...I can see it now." She shifts her grip to hold my hand and gives it a little squeeze. "It feels right. You two feel right. I'm just really happy that you're happy."
"I am. Thanks Rose."
"And I am beginning to see what you see in Eddie over there. He looks much better without that beard."
"Aww, I kind of liked the beard."
She raises her eyebrows and I blush. "I bet you did." She leans in conspiratorially and whispers, "You think Em would look good with one?"
"I don't know. Probably."
"Probably what?" Emmett asks. Seeing that I am occupied, Edward has transferred the menial job of basil placement to Emmett.
"You'd look good with your hair grown out."
He scratches at his short, buzzed head. "Nah. Too high maintenance. Right dude?"
Edward is looking at Emmett's hands. He points at the sink for Emmett to wash them again.
"Edward has gorgeous hair. I used to cut it for him."
"If it's so glorious, then why did you shave it dude?"
"I don't remember." His brow a little furrowed, he resumes his work at the counter.
The last of the pizzas out of the oven, Edward sits down next to me at the kitchen table. I take a slice, place it on a plate and slide it towards him.
"Try it. Just a little."
Rose and Emmett are discreet enough to look away and get into a silly argument, just so he doesn't feel so under the microscope. His eyes drop to the plate and he swallows thickly.
"It's delicious. Just a bite. If you feel sick we can stop."
I turn back to my plate. Trying not to watch as he takes a small bite and chews. And swallows. And waits. And then he eats the whole thing. Then another slice. And another. Until he has consumed the an entire pizza.
My roommates are high-fiving Edward. Fist bumping. Emmett cries out, "Woohoo!"
Edward looks at me and he smiles. And he eats.