Muchachas, hello! This is short but due to popular demand on Twitter, you want something more than nothing ;) We're chugging along! Thank you all so, so much for your support, love, and enthusiasm for TD. Your kind words are what keep me from giving up on this bad boy. I know I'm terrible at writing back reviews but please know that I read and appreciate every single one. Anyway, you guys rock. Enjoy the update!

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, I do own a brindle great dane that's turning three on Tuesday!


He was smiling at me.

Seated across the table at a fancy steakhouse like the one we'd went to with his parents what felt like years ago, Mr. Cullen was nursing a glass of some kind of red wine—yes! Red wine during a work day. I thought he was trying to trick me until he said something about "If you won't tell, neither will I,"—and smiling at me. It wasn't a typical smirk of a smile. It was reluctant. Like we were in a race together and I won but only by a fraction of a second.

Bittersweet. A bittersweet smile and I didn't know why it made me feel so sad.

"Relieved?" he asked, taking a sip from his glass.

It was the first time we've really spoken since I'd gotten into the car with him once we left the courthouse, with my car staying in the lot. On the ride over, he'd been glued to his phone, making arrangements for some issue that was going on with a major fruit distributor in Georgia. He hadn't even asked me where I wanted to go eat but free food? He could've taken me to Burger King and I wouldn't have complained.

Though I probably would've wondered if he was high, because Mr. Cullen eating fast food? I'd bet my first born the man didn't know the difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper.

And that was exactly what led to us sitting on seats opposite of each other, waiting for our salads.

"A little bit," I answered him honestly.

He blinked.

"But maybe not as much as I expected."

He then nodded, slowly, pensively.

"Thank you for coming," I added suddenly, remembering Mrs. Cope's aloof attitude. Bitch. The idea of falling under the same category as that old, incompetent bat made me boil beneath my skin. So a thank you? I could handle it.

Mr. Cullen lifted a single shoulder. "You're welcome," he replied before quirking his mouth to one side. "Your family didn't come?"

He was there. He knew.

"I didn't tell them." What I didn't add was that they didn't even know about it. "And my friend can't really take any time off from work right now."

His eyes were way too perceptive. He was way too perceptive.

"My mother threatened to come," he said. That quirk of his mouth deepened into what almost kind of looked like an amused smirk. "I had to convince her that you wouldn't need her as backup. If she would've come, I'm sure she would have said something to get herself arrested."

And then he laughed out of the blue like if he was having a memory that amused the shit out of him.

"It wouldn't be the first time," he added.

Oh lord. Why wasn't I surprised. "She's gotten arrested?" Classy, sophisticated, with-so-much-money-she-probably-crapped-it-out Esme Cullen had gotten arrested?

"Yes." He laughed again. The sound was so pure it was strange. Clean. Untampered. "Only twice and there weren't any charges brought up against her. My grandfather still has friends that owe him favors in the police department."

I couldn't help but snort. The image of an almost sixty-year-old woman wearing a three-thousand dollar suit in a holding cell was freaking ridiculous. "For what?"

Mr. Cullen smiled so big it kind of shocked me. He never smiled like that. I would know. "Disturbing the peace."

Of-fucking-course.

I smiled at him before we both started laughing. "It's not that surprising, is it?" he asked.

I shook my head, because no. It absolutely wasn't.

"If she would've seen Mrs. Cope, she probably would've lost it."

He flashed me that mythical smile again, all perfect white teeth and masculine pink lips. "You're absolutely correct."

The fact that he'd caught on made me mad. Just a little. I mean, if he cared enough to realize that she was ignoring him, it must have bothered him to some extent. And why? Because her stepdaughter was a psychopath? There was no way in hell she wasn't fully aware of that fact. I'd met Kate once, before she tore apart his office and before she tried to kick the shit out of me—literally—and I knew that bitch was a few crayons short of a full box. Mrs. Cope had to know that.

Bros before hos and all that, but still.

"Why'd you put up with her for so long?" I asked him without even realizing that the words were out of my mouth.

Mr. Cullen sat up straight in his chair, watching me as he sipped at the blood red wine in his glass. "My father was friends with her husband. Back when I was still in school, I remember hearing that they'd lost most of their money in bad investments. They went bankrupt. And then he got sick... Father mentioned that she was looking for employment in the company to take advantage of the health insurance..."

Holy shit.

This man had tried to do something nice for once in his life. Okay, maybe not for once but it was rare.

"So you hired her?"

"Yes. I thought I could show her most of the things I needed but it didn't matter how many times I showed her, she didn't catch on."

That was the understatement of a fucking millenium. Mrs. Cope didn't know how to do a damn thing. She'd fed me to the wolves with her lack of experience.

Mr. Cullen grimaced. "If I didn't know that she needed the insurance, I would've let her go. I tried transferring her to a different department a few times but she'd cry and tell me that no one else would have the patience I did."

And I laughed.

It was rude and I didn't care.

But patience? PATIENCE? Mr. Cullen had patience? That was the excuse she fed him?

It was a freaking miracle that I didn't fall off the chair with how funny I thought that was. Goddamn that woman was good. By good I meant she was a good, manipulative old crone.

Even though I was laughing, Mr. Cullen obviously had a clue that I was laughing at what he said implied because he shot me a withered glare that had no real punch behind it. "I learned my lesson, Isabella."

"Oh, I know."

Because it all made a ton of sense now. Why he hadn't trusted me a single bit when I first started. Why he hadn't cut me any slack. And while it didn't excuse him from most of the shit he'd done and said, it cooled my memories. It smothered any residual anger I'd held onto since before our Atlanta trip.

I probably would've been almost the same way. Probably.

A small part of me wanted to ask him where Kate had fallen into the history of Mrs. Cope but I figured there wasn't a point in pushing.

Mr. Cullen gave me a tiny, lopsided smile that made me forgot about the blonde maniac. "How's school coming along?"

Uh. "It's coming." I frowned. "I hate most of my classes."

"Why?"

Easy. "They're boring."

He blinked. "Then why don't you study something else?" Like it was that easy. Like I hadn't been struggling for years before he took over half of my life.

How he knew what I was studying, I didn't know. I hadn't told him personally but there was always Jasper and Alice. "I don't know what else to study."

I don't know what I was ecpecting but it wasn't the soft smile on his face, or his shrug, or him leaning forward on the table, giving his manners a big fuck-you and planting his elbows on the table. "You're bright and you work hard. You can do anything you want."

Well.

I don't even think my parents had ever told me that.


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xoxo -M

P.S. As soon as I hit update, I checked my email and saw that TD was nominated for Fic of the Week over at The Lemonade Stand. Woo hoo! I never get close to winning but I'm honored to have been nominated. So thank you to those who did! And if you happen to vote for my beloved little Assward, THANK YOU too! www dot tehlemonadestand dot net