A/N: Shucks, you guys! My review count is over 1,000! Amazing. Thanks to everyone who is reading, reviewing, alerting, etc. It makes my day.
Thanks Softragoo for prereading! I would be lost without you!
Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns all things Twilight.
Chapter Twenty Seven
"Sweet Jesus," Rose mumbled. "Look at your hair!"
Edward ran a hand over his shaved head and raised his eyebrows at Rose, daring her to comment further.
Rose looked at me. "Why do I get the feeling you had something to do with this?"
I raised my hands up. "I had nothing to do with it."
"What is the big deal? It's just hair."
I laughed so hard that I bent at the waist a little.
"This is coming from the man who considered making me sign a contract before you'd let me near it with a pair of scissors." I pressed my lips together and shook my head.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, I saw what you did to those pink shorts. How can a man not be afraid? I do need my ears, you know."
Rose waved us through her doorway. "Quit bickering in the hallway and come in."
She pulled me into a tight hug and I sighed against her shoulder.
"How'd it go?" she asked softly.
"Was he an asshole the whole time?"
"No, just in small increments."
Edward made a noise from behind us. "I can hear you."
Rose released me and patted Edward on the cheek. "It's a good thing Bella didn't cut your ears off, huh?"
"Where's the kids?" he asked, changing the subject.
She looked perplexed for a moment before pointing to the kitchen. He looked at me sideways before moving past Rose in the direction of the kitchen.
"Good God, you're around him for four days and he's a completely different person. Did you see that he almost smiled when you made that crack about the contract? That was…"—she closed her eyes and shook her head a little—"weird."
"He's been through a lot, Rose, and I think he's going to be better than he has been in a really long time."
She smiled warmly at me. "That's the first time he's looked excited to see Em and Sam in a long time." As if on cue, the sound of Emily's giggles erupted from the kitchen. "Please tell me that you're staying in Chicago."
"I wish I were but I can't right now."
We moved into the living room and plopped down on the couch.
"Because of the shrink? I can find you a shrink. And there are a shit load of diners in Chicago that would hire you in a heartbeat."
I sighed. "I just need to get back on my feet a little before I do anything drastic, you know? I'd love to move back here but…remember when I called you around Christmas?"
"Yeah, you were, um, upset."
I let out a dry laugh. "I was seriously losing it and when I think back on it, it's scary to remember how I felt then. It's hard to explain but I was so confused and full of pain, and I'm terrified that one little set back can send me back there. I'd love to live here again but I need to be more, I dunno, secure with who I am."
"Just promise me that you won't rule it out for the future," she said.
"I absolutely promise."
Smiling, I grabbed her hand and squeezed.
"What do you promise?"
We both looked in the doorway to see Edward looking at us, his face covered in green paint. It was covering his cheeks, his forehead; even his nose got a nice swipe down the center. Simultaneously, we burst out laughing.
His face remained neutral. "What? Do I have something on my face?"
Emily weaved around him and sat down next to me on the couch, laughter dancing on her features. Sammy trotted in after her; Edward bent down and gave his behind a little pat as he went by. Sam ran faster and giggled as he climbed into his mom's lap.
"What happened to you?" Rose finally said as she tried to catch her breath.
He cocked his head. "Whatever do you mean?"
She rolled her eyes. "Seriously? You have no idea?"
"No," he sighed. "I don't have time for these silly games. I have to get to work." He turned his eyes toward me and grinned wickedly. "Bella, do you have a kiss for me?"
My eyebrows popped up and I pressed my lips together. "Hmm mmm…I forgot to brush my teeth this morning. I wouldn't want you to, uh…"
He made his way over, stalking over to me like he was waiting for me to run. "A little morning breath never hurt anybody. Come on…give me a big smooch."
Rose and Emily started cackling. I called them both traitors as I tried to flee from certain paint death. Edward caught me in one arm and pulled me to him, sticking out his bottom lip in a pout.
"Don't you love me?"
"You know I do but I really don't want paint all over my face."
I tried to squirm away from him, leaning my face as far away from his as I could get but he dug his fingertips into my ribs. After contorting and letting out a squeal, I looked back up at him. His face was only inches from mine and suddenly the room temperature spiked. The arm holding me around the waist seemed so strong and I wondered how I had ignored the press of his body against mine.
"Kiss her, Edward!" Emily shouted.
Oh, yeah…kid in the room.
Edward's smile grew and he leaned down toward me. "Do you trust me?" he asked.
Narrowing my eyes playfully, I said, "With my life, yes but with paint…I don't know."
As his lips came closer, I didn't pull away from him, and I expected to feel the cold paint smeared all over my face. Instead, he brushed his lips over mine, the ghost of a kiss and pulled away. I was willing to bet that there wasn't a trace of paint on my skin. Oddly enough, I kind of wished that there was.
"That was, uh…" I stammered.
"Kiss her again!" Emily suggested.
Mischief danced on Edward's face before he cut his eyes to Emily. "Your turn, little girl!"
Emily squealed and leapt off the couch, running past the groping arms of Edward.
He sighed. "I really do have to go. I'll see you tonight?"
I nodded and bit down on my lip to keep from grinning at him like some love sick school girl. "You're not going to wash that stuff off your face?"
Then he turned on his heel and walked out.
I laughed and plopped down next to Rose. She was looking at me like I'd just preformed some sort of miracle.
"That was like the first five minutes of a…"—she clapped her palms over both of Sammy's ears—"porno."
I snorted. "What are you talking about?"
"You guys really love each other," she stated.
"Yeah," I said, nodding my head, "we do."
Sammy squirmed to get her hands away from his ears. "Mommy, stop!"
She pulled her hands away and let him see her exaggerated shocked expression. "Don't you tell me to stop, little man!" His eyes went wide until she started tickling him and he giggled and twisted in an escape attempt. When she finally released him, he scampered off toward his own room.
"What did you say to him? He's like a different person."
I shrugged. "I just told him the same stuff I told him months ago—that he's a good man who deserves to be happy."
"I wonder how long that's going to last," she deadpanned. "Probably until you board that damn plane to Washington."
"He's really trying, Rose, and he's winning so don't make it hard on him."
It was hard not to tell her that he wasn't going to be in Chicago much longer but I felt that Edward should be the one to tell her that. Edward and Rose had a bond that I was jealous of sometimes. It was that love and hate relationship where they could have said anything to each other and not feared the consequences. They went out of their way to make the other one fidget. It was probably unhealthy but it worked for them. I didn't want to be in the middle of it but I still wanted to be a part of it. It was a fine line and if I'd told Rose about Edward leaving then I probably would have crossed that line.
"I'm glad but don't fault me for not trusting this new Edward."
"Was he really that bad?"
She shrugged. "I might not have made it real easy on him but he didn't make things easy on himself, either. There were a few times when…when I was a little scared of him."
"He would never…" I shook my head.
"I don't know what he would do but I didn't know if I could take that chance with the kids and Emmett has his own temper." My eyes widened and when she caught my horrified expression she gasped. "Oh, no! Not like that…he's very gentle with me and the kids but he's very, um, protective."
I sighed but my own overprotective hackles were still raised. "But still, Edward did a hell of a lot for you and the kids while Emmett was in prison. You couldn't really think that he'd hurt you."
Rose shifted a little on the couch, clearly not enjoying the topic. "You know what I think?"
"What?" I asked.
"I think he needs you a hell of a lot more than you needed him." I smiled and she offered me her own grin. "What do you want to do today?"
"Visit Esme," I replied.
Her grin grew. "You're going to see her tonight at dinner."
"I don't care. I want to go see her."
"Let's get the kids ready and we'll go."
Forty five minutes and ten arguments between Rose and Emily in regards to her clothing choices later, we were sitting in Rose's new Honda minivan, heading toward Blossom's Bookshelf. My foot tapped with anticipation but my nerves jolted with each familiar landmark. I had ignored many of Esme's calls while I was in Forks and had only spoken to her a handful of times; each of those being very short and full of bullshit. Swallowing hard, I wondered if she would be angry with me or if she'd lost all trust in me. Suddenly, seeing Esme didn't make me as giddy as it had before.
"Posh ride, huh," Rose commented, breaking me away from my self-loathing.
"The minivan—pretty sweet, don't you think?"
I ran my hand over the dash board, my fingers running through something red and sticky. Rose merely shook her head and rolled her eyes and handed me a napkin.
"I love it. It's perfect for you guys."
"Carlisle found us a really good deal at a used car lot across town. He knew the owner and assured us that they wouldn't let us drive off with a lemon."
"How is Carlisle?" I asked as Rose pulled up to the curb and parked.
"He's really good." Her face dropped into a frown. "He has a new addiction, though."
I raised my eyebrows. "No more internet shopping?"
"No, he still does that but…"
She heaved out a sigh. "He buys shhh…stuff for the kids."
My shoulders dropped with relief as I opened my door. "Jeez, Rose, by the look on your face, I thought you were going to tell me that he's smoking crack. What's wrong with letting them spoil your kids?"
"He bought me an I-Pad!" Emily piped in. "And my own Wii so that I can practice and beat him at Guitar Hero!"
I raised my eyebrows at Rose and she shot me the universal "See!" expression.
As we walked down the concrete steps to the shop, I told Rose that if it bothered her that they spent so much money on the kids, that she should talk to them about it. I was sure that they'd understand.
"I know, it's just…it's just that I don't want to hurt them and I'm afraid that…"
"Afraid that what?"
She blew out a sigh through puffed cheeks. "I'm afraid that this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back, you know?"
I shook my head, not understanding.
"Hey, Em, can you take Sammy into the bookstore and find daddy? Tell daddy to check Sammy's diaper." Rose winked at me and I giggled.
"Sure, Mom," Emily said.
After they went inside, Rose leaned against the brick wall outside the door.
"I've never had anyone except for Emmett. I never knew my real father but I had a step dad who used to…used to do horrible things to me and my sister. He hurt her the most and when I'd try to intervene, he'd beat the shit out of me." She ran a finger over the scar along her jaw. "A cork screw."
"Jesus," I whispered. "How come you never told me this?"
She shrugged and said, "Because it doesn't define me as a person and Emmett came along and like the knight in shining armor that he is, swept me off my feet." She smiled at the thought of her husband. "One time, before the sweeping took place, he came over and caught my stepdad two seconds away from taking his belt to my ass. I never saw my mom or my stepdad again."
"God, I'm so sorry, Rose."
"Nothing to be sorry for, Bella; as sick and twisted as it might sound, I'm glad that happened to me if it meant I end up where I am. Sure, things have been hard but that's what makes life today so fucking sweet."
I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed. She held me tight and sighed into my hair. "I'm afraid to let people like Carlisle and Esme into our lives because I'm terrified that if I talk to them about those stupid gifts that they'll just tell us to fuck off. I'm starting to love these people and it scares me that they're just going to get bored of us. If they can't buy my kids fun shit, why in the hell would they stick around, you know?"
With my hands on her shoulders, I pulled away from her and looked into her teary eyes. "Rose, you know Esme and Carlisle would never do that."
"I don't know that."
"If you want, I can try and talk to her about it. I'll make it sound like it's coming from me."
She shook her head. "No, I don't want them to think that we don't appreciate it or…"
"Rose, stop beating yourself up over this! Esme will be cool with it."
"Well, okay, only if you think—"
"I do," I said, pulling her into another tight hug. "Now, let me go say hi to my ex-boss."
We walked in and Emmett dropped a load of books onto the floor as he made eye contact with his wife. "Hey baby," he said with a cheeky grin.
"Hey," she said and then seductively bit into her bottom lip. I grinned and rolled my eyes at their playfulness. "Where'd the kids go?"
"Emily is in the back, changing out the CD to some horrible pop shit and Esme took Sammy to the bathroom."
All the mischievousness drained from her face. "You're making her change him?"
He held his hands out, palms up. "What was I supposed to do? She just grabbed him and ran! The woman is nuts!"
Rose looked at me and pouted.
"I'll talk to her and make it all better."
It didn't keep her from sighing sadly. Some sort of pop boy band started playing throughout the store, courtesy of Emily.
"They are totally going to break up with us," Rose grumbled.
I barked out a laugh.
"Bella?" Esme's voice was like music. She gave Sam a kiss on the forehead and then put him on the floor before walking over to me. "Emily didn't tell me that you were here."
"Esme, um, I just wanted to—"
She cut me off with a hug that nearly knocked the wind out of me. Slowly, I wrapped my arms around her and lavished in the feel of one of her amazing hugs.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
She shushed me. "I missed you, Bella. I'm so glad that you're okay." She pulled away and looked at me from head to toe. Her grin grew when her gaze reached my eyes. "You look spectacular!"
"Thank you but I wanted to…to see you before tonight because I needed to tell you how sorry I am that I didn't call. Or answer when you called. It wasn't because I didn't think about you or miss you because—"
"It's okay," she cooed, wiping a tear off my cheek. "It's okay."
I hugged her again before the sound of the bell hanging on the door chimed. We broke our hug but she kept her arm around me. Emmett walked over and started chatting with the younger college-aged guy that had walked in; Sammy was wrapped around Emmett's leg—riding it like a carnival ride—as he waved a hand over the Reference section.
"Thanks Esme for changing Sammy," Rose said sweetly then added, "You didn't have to do that."
Esme flipped her wrist at Rose and made a dismissive noise. "You know I love that little man."
Rose's smile was sad.
"Oh, hey! I forgot! We brought lunch!" I turned to Rose. "Did we forget it in the car?"
She cocked her head and scrunched up her face in confusion.
Internally, I rolled my eyes. "You know, the sandwiches from down the street that we picked up."
After staring at me blankly for a moment, she looked from me to Esme and then back at me again before the figurative light bulb dinged above her head. "Oh! Right! I'll go get them!"
I eyed Emmett as he squatted beside Emily to try and talk her into a 'decent' CD.
"What was that about?" Esme asked with a narrowed eye.
She scoffed. "Bella, I might be old but I'm not senile. What was that between you and Rose?" I pressed my lips together and her eyebrow popped up. "Why do I feel like I'm being left out of a secret club?"
My shoulders slumped as I told Esme about what Rose had said on the way here about the gifts. Rose was going to kill me. Esme was oddly silent and by the time she opened her mouth to respond, Rose was bustling through the door, out of breath and overexcited.
We spent a majority of the day at Blossom's, interfering with Emmett and Esme's work but we couldn't be apologetic about it. Esme didn't seem to mind either. I didn't realize just how much I'd missed her until I was able to feel her comforting arms wrap around me. There was no one kinder than Esme, in my opinion, but she didn't see herself that way at all.
"When I grow up, I think I want to be Esme," I told Rose on our way back to her apartment.
Rose snorted. "I think we all do but shh…stuff just gets in the way that shouldn't."
"I don't know," I told her, "you're on your way there."
She barked out a laugh and I jumped a little in my seat. "I'm not even close to being an Esme."
"You did a lot for me, Rose."
She cut her slightly narrowed eyes at me. "What? I let you babysit a couple of times?"
"No, you took care of me when I really needed it. If I hadn't met you, I would have…well, I don't know what I would have done but it would have been ugly." Tears were starting to well up in my eyes when I realized that I had never really told Rose how much she meant to me. "When I was alone and terrified, you opened your home to me and that couldn't have been easy considering how you're feeling about your relationship with Carlisle and Esme. Weren't you afraid that I'd just leave one day?"
She shrugged. "All the time but I fell in love with you, Bella—just like everyone who meets you does. You were the first real friend I'd had in a long time and even though I knew there was a chance that you'd leave, I wanted to give you every opportunity to stay."
I could feel my lip trembling as I turned in my seat to face her. "You know how much you mean to me, right?"
Her shoulders did a little half-assed shrug thing and she made a weird face. "Yeah, I do." She didn't sound convinced.
"Stop the car," I said.
"Stop the car!"
She flattened the brake to the floor with her foot and Emily let out yelp. Sammy giggled and whooped.
"What the…what?" Rose screeched as her knuckles grew white on the steering wheel. Someone honked behind us. "Did you see something?"
I clicked off my seatbelt and leaned over toward her so that I was able to wrap my arms awkwardly around her. The hug was tight. I hadn't realized that Rose was so clueless. Guilt made my chest ache as I thought about all the phone calls that I'd ignored when I was in Forks. I was so sunk into my own issues that I never gave a second thought about how my actions affected her or Esme or the kids.
"I love you, Rose. You're not my blood but you are my sister and I'm sorry that I never made you see that." I released her and looked at her face. Both of us were shedding tears and offering sad smiles to each other. "If I had my life together, I'd be moving right back into my old apartment so that I could be close to you guys again. I miss all of you so freaking much…you have no idea."
She let out a wet sob. "Oh, I have an idea."
We hugged again as a chorus of car horns rang out from behind us. I pulled away again, wiping tears off of Rose's cheeks.
"What's going on?" Emily asked. "Did someone die?"
I bit my lip as Rose gasped. "What makes you say that, Em? That's a horrible thing to—"
A gummy worm smacked me in the side of the face courtesy of Sammy. He squirmed and giggled in his car seat, his little grubby fingers searching the baggie for more ammo.
"Sammy! Stop throwing stuff at people!" Rose closed her eyes and then mumbled under her breath, "He's never going to stop throwing stuff at people."
I laughed. "He's a boy; boys throw things. He'll grow out of it."
She offered her own laugh. "It's funny how some days I can't wait for him to be eighteen and other days, I want him to be a newborn."
My eyebrows rose. "But never a three year old?"
She sighed and shook her head. "No, I think the toddler phase of Samuel McCarty is killing me."
Another horn honked, this time it was loud and drawn out. Rose put her hand out the window and even though I couldn't see, I imagined she wasn't just waving them around us.
"I'm such a good mom," Rose said sarcastically as I got myself buckled in. "Moms aren't supposed to cuss and give people the finger."
Emily gasped from the back seat. "You gave that guy the middle finger?"
We ignored her because confirming it wouldn't result in anything positive. Rose pressed on the gas and we headed toward home again.
"You're an awesome mom, Rose. If I ever have kids, I hope that I have what you have."
Her laugh was laced with bitterness. "What? A mouth like a trucker and a questionable career?"
I shook my head. "No, unconditional love and the strong will to do whatever it takes to provide for them."
"That's not hard to do, Bella." Rose said, turning down our street.
A flash of my own mother flashed into my mind—her tears as she told me she was leaving, her nearly invisible presence in my life, the lack of love in the hug she'd given me on my graduation day a couple years ago. I never thought I'd missed her in my life but when I saw the things that Rose sacrificed for her kids; the proud smile on her face every time Sam would blurt out a new word; the glow that radiated from her each time Emily would wrap her arms around her middle and squeeze—that's when I knew that I'd missed a relationship that I didn't even know could have existed. There had been good times in my childhood before she had left but they felt meaningless to me when the end result equaled what it had.
"You're wrong," I told her and then paused, careful not to say the wrong thing because Emily and Sam were right behind me. "When times were tough, you could have walked away."
She shook her head and glanced at her kids in the rearview mirror. "No, I never could have…"
"See?" I shrugged. "That's what makes you amazing, Rose."
Rose thought about what I said as she parked the van on the street in front of our building. Then she turned to me, a smile fighting at her lips. "You really think that?"
I offered her a big smile. "I don't think…I know."
Edward was nervous as we rode in the back of Emmett and Rosalie's minivan. His palms were sweaty and his knee bounced against the floorboard at a highly annoying rate. I put my hand on his knee several times to get him to stop but as soon as the weight of my palm would lift, it would go right back to its bouncing.
"She doesn't hate you, Edward," I whispered. "Esme is one of the sweetest people on the face of the planet. She's not going to hold one incident against you."
It didn't work. All the nervous energy rushing through his veins seemed to meet up and expel itself through his bouncing knee. Finally, I just kept my hand there and eventually, I let it slide up his leg until I reached his upper thigh.
He cut his eyes to me. "That's inappropriate, Ms. Swan."
I scooted as close to him as the seatbelt would allow. "And what's your point?"
His swallow was an audible plunk in his throat and he adjusted his position by raising his ass off the seat a little and then sitting back down. There was an internal battle going on—he didn't know whether to adjust my palm toward his crotch or away from it. With a sigh, he made up his mind and grabbed my hand, threading his fingers through it.
I pouted. "You're no fun."
He groaned a little and murmured, "Ah, fuck, Bella—"
"Edward said the 'F' word, Dad!" Emily announced from the seat in front of us. Both of us thought she was too enthralled with her cell phone to pay us any attention but apparently we were wrong.
Edward narrowed his eyes at me, silently blaming me for his verbal slip.
"Ooh, that's three dollars, Uncle Edward!" Rose said in a sing-song tone.
"I think I've paid for Emily's first year of college just for that word alone," Edward grumbled.
"You guys started a cursing fund to raise money for Emily's college?" Edward nodded. "When did that start?"
"Around Christmas," he told me.
"Edward couldn't open his trap without letting a curse fly out so it was our way of punishing him," Rose explained from the passenger seat. "Emmett's contributed quite a bit too."
I could hear Emmett make a disagreeable noise from behind the wheel. "I have not! Maybe once or twice."
Emily chortled. "Yeah, once or twice a day!"
"Don't make me whoop your ass in Wii, Emily because I—"
Emmett was interrupted by Emily's giggles. "You said the 'A' word…that's a dollar."
"Dammit," he mumbled.
Rose slapped her palm over Emmett's mouth. "We need groceries this week, Emmett. For the love of God, stop talking."
"Aw, Mom! That should be like fifty cents…he was gonna say it!"
"Emily, you shouldn't encourage bad words," Rose admonished. "It's the exact opposite from what you should be learning from this whole cursing jar idea."
I couldn't help but find the entire exchange rather amusing. "This is better than game show network."
"You just wait until she gets you," Edward grumbled. "Emily has ears like a bat."
Emily looked over her shoulder at Edward. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Edward flashed me a look and spent the remainder of the short journey explaining why having ears like a bat isn't necessarily an insult. He left out the part about it being annoying for the adults around her.
Esme opened the front door as soon as we pulled into the driveway, indicating that she was staring out the front window watching for us. I smiled as I pictured her doing just that. Carlisle followed her out, his limp so slight that a stranger never would have known that he'd lost his leg to cancer. Emily hugged Carlisle first and then Esme but she went right back to Carlisle and started telling him about the A she'd received on her English paper that he'd helped her with. Sammy reached Esme and asked for cookies.
"Oh, honey…" She looked pained because she knew she'd have to deny him. "How about after dinner? If you eat all of your green beans, you can have a cookie." Sammy pouted and Esme looked away, that troubled Grandparent expression clear on her face.
"Bella, you look good!" Carlisle said between Emily's chatter. "I hear you're doing well."
I smiled. "I'm better. How about you? How are you feeling?"
His return smile was glorious. "I'm alive and in love—what more could I ask for?"
Esme flushed and turned her attention to Sammy who was still conniving to get his dessert before his vegetables. If I were a betting woman, I'd have Esme in a corner of the kitchen sneaking cookies in Sammy's pockets within the half hour. Edward was quiet behind me; I could feel the tension in his muscles as he held my hand. It was making me uncomfortable for him to be uncomfortable.
"Esme, have you met Edward?"
She turned and smiled at him. "Yes, we met at Rose and Emmett's apartment one night."
Edward cleared his throat. "Yeah, uh, sorry about that; I was having a bad night."
"More like a bad year," Rose grumbled. I gave her the stink eye and she stuck her tongue out at me before walking into the house with Emmett's arm around her shoulders.
The three of us stopped walking while everyone else went into the house. Carlisle looked hesitant to leave his wife's side, probably aware of the first conversation Esme had with Edward but after a slight nod to her, he disappeared through the door.
"Okay, let's just get this over with," Esme mumbled and looked up at Edward with determination. "Bella is important to me, Edward. Do you know how special she is?"
This was a new side to Esme—her eyes were narrowed, her arms crossed over her chest and her stance strong. This was protective Esme and I grinned as Edwards squirmed under her gaze.
"Yes, Ma'am," Edward replied, glancing at me. "She's pretty important to me, too."
"Well, then you should know how pissed off everyone in that house would be if you hurt her." He nodded and swallowed thickly. "I know what you've done for her; I know that you helped her through one of the most difficult parts of her life and I thank you for it. But I also remember that you sent her away, told her to leave because you didn't want her here and I barely heard from her again for six months." I opened my mouth to tell Esme that the lack of contact had been my fault but she shushed me, "Can it, Bella, me and Edward are having a chat."
My mouth dropped open before I had a chance to stop it, I snorted out a laugh. Esme tried not grin. Edward looked panicked.
"Now, I get it that some relationships weren't meant to last and I'm not telling you that I'll hunt you down if that's the case but if you ever, ever tell Bella to leave Chicago again like that…" She pursed her lips and her eyes nearly squinted closed.
"If I had my choice, Mrs. Cullen, I'd find some way to glue myself to her. But I don't think she'd appreciate that very much, to be honest. Telling her that I wanted her to leave Chicago was the biggest mistake of my life..."—Edward shot me a pointed glance—"And there have been plenty of mistakes."
Esme shifted on her feet a little and cocked her head as she examined him. "So, what are your intentions?"
"This is ridiculous, Esme," I huffed and looked at Edward. "You don't have to answer—"
Edward cut her off; he spoke to Esme but his eyes were trapped in mine as the words flowed off his tongue. "My intentions are to keep her safe; protect her from everything bad in this world. If a day passes where I don't make her smile, make her feel loved, then I know that I will have to try harder. She deserves the absolute fucking best and if I don't give it to her, then I don't deserve her."
I couldn't help the watery smile that spread over my face as he looked down at me. Esme cut off our eye contact with a hug; she wrapped her arms around Edward and he hesitantly hugged her back, his eyebrows raised in my direction. When she pulled away, she gave him a little pat on the cheek and said, "Welcome to our family."
Twenty minutes later, Emmett and Edward stood by the grill, speaking of manly topics like sports and marinades. Even though the conversation between the two was easy, there was still stiffness to their postures, like they were both waiting for something bad to happen. I knew that Edward hadn't been the nicest guy since I'd left and I wondered if their friendship would ever go back to being simple and comfortable.
While Carlisle grilled out, Rose chatted with him about Sammy's upcoming year in preschool and some of the new developments from the past few weeks. His fine motor skills had improved but he still wasn't within the normal range. The way that Carlisle looked at Sammy—with concern and adoration—put a smile on my face but I felt a twinge of sadness, knowing I'd be leaving in a couple of days.
"What are you grinning about?" Esme asked from the chair beside me.
"Just thinking about how nice this is and how much I'm going to miss it."
"You could always come back, you know. I could use some extra help at the bookstore until you get back on your feet and then you can start looking for your dream job. There are plenty of jobs in Chicago that would suit you wonderfully." She grabbed my hand and squeezed it, reassuringly. "I missed you so much when you left."
I smiled sadly at her. "I missed you, too."
"Do you think you'll ever move back to Chicago?" She tried to keep her tone neutral but I could see the hope in her eyes. It made me feel wanted and needed and loved.
"I don't know, Esme. There's so much up in the air right now and I feel like there's so much more that I need to talk to my dad about. If I could pack all of you up and take you with me, I would."
"You have no idea how proud I am of you, Bella. Do you realize what you've managed to overcome? When you think about it, it's…miraculous."
I nodded slightly. "I think I'm starting to see that."
"Well, if you ever decide to move back, you have a place to stay and a job waiting for you; just know that, okay?"
"Thank you, Esme."
Edward walked by me, glanced down at me and winked as he went into the house. After a few minutes, I followed him in, hoping that he wasn't still feeling awkward about being around Esme. The door to the bathroom was closed so I knocked and asked him if I could come in. He opened the door quickly and pulled me in by my hand.
"Hey, are you—"
His lips cut me off, a hard crush of soft skin. The tips of his fingers trailed under the hem of my shirt and over my bare back. I wound one hand around the nape of his neck and then reached for hair to tug, whimpering when I came up empty. He pulled away from me with a gasp, panting to catch his breath.
"Wow, that was nice," I mumbled.
"I didn't think you were ever going to come find me."
"Was I supposed to?"
He kissed the end of my nose. "Didn't you see me wink?"
I smiled. "I thought you were just being cheeky."
His teeth nibbled on my neck, just under my ear. "I was and you should have taken the hint." My body melted into him as his hands slid down over my rear and his fingertips tucked underneath the hem of my shorts so that he was grazing my skin. "God, you look so fucking good today. Your legs look amazing."
"Really?" I asked dumbly, my hand finding its way under his shirt and over his abdomen.
"Mmm…how do you think Carlisle and Esme would feel about me using their bathroom as a place for me to get my girl off?"
I whimpered. "Esme has always been really open-minded about stuff. I'm sure she wouldn't have a problem with it."
"Do you think we're being rude?" he asked, unbuttoning my shorts and slipping his hand under my panties. "I mean, we should probably be out there, mingling. Jesus, you're wet…"
It wasn't fair, asking me a question and making me think while his fingers played my female parts like a guitar. "Huh uh…it's not rude if we hurry the fuck up."
Six minutes later, I was adjusting my bra and fixing my hair in the mirror. Edward looked at me with a smug smile on his face and a glazed over look in his eyes. I turned around and wrapped my arms around his waist, pressing his back against the wall with the weight of my body.
"That didn't take you long," he commented. "I must have some talented fingers."
I flushed against his chest. When I was in the heat of the moment, I could spurt out the sexy but when the moment was PG, I was speechless.
"I feel bad," I said. "I didn't get a chance to make you—"
I was interrupted by a loud tapping on the door.
"Bella? Are you in there? Have you seen Edward? I think he left."
"Uh, yeah—sorry, Rose, I was just…" I trailed off and looked up to Edward for help.
He raised his eyebrows and whispered, "Taking a piss."
Before I could stop myself, I repeated, "Taking a piss" through the door. I cringed because that was such an Edward thing to say.
Rose was quiet for a moment. "You've got to be kidding me! Tell Edward that the guys are in the living room, watching the game and he's being summoned…or whatever."
Edward rolled his eyes. "I can hear you just fine, Rose."
"How was I supposed to know you weren't neck deep in Bella's—"
I yanked open the door, cutting her off. "Where's Emily?"
Rose cocked an eyebrow and fought a smile. "Out back with Esme." She peeked over my shoulder to look at Edward. She pointed down at his crotch and said, "You should take care of that before you scare my children."
I pushed Rose away and closed the door behind me as she cackled like The Wicked Witch of The West. Something Emily must have taught her the past year when she'd practiced for her school play.
"You are evil, Rose."
She stopped laughing with a sigh. "I can't help it. That was too good to let go."
"Tell me about it," I mumbled.
After sucking in a breath, she gaped at me as we walked into the kitchen. "Listen to you now, Bella Swan. A year ago, all dicks were evil in your eyes and now, you can't get enough."
"Stop teasing me or I'll tell Emmett about all those thongs you tossed in the dumpster a week before he came home from Pekin."
"Seriously, girl, is he good?"
I closed my eyes and let my head lull back, a sign of exasperation. "Rose, I'm not going to talk about this."
"Oh, come on! Just tell me one thing!"
"What do you want to know?"
I sighed, putting some thought into her request. "It's about the best damn feeling in the world."
"What's the best feeling in the world?"
We both turned to see Emily standing in the doorway behind us. Rose and I blinked at her for a moment before stuttering a few things like "eating chocolate" and "spotting rainbows". Emily rolled her eyes and scampered off toward the living room. She was almost out of sight before she looked over her shoulder and said, "You owe me a dollar, Bella!"
I frowned. "That's not fair. I didn't even know she was there."
After watching the end of the White Sox game, we cheered Emily and Carlisle on as they played some Wii. Emily was very competitive and Carlisle didn't let her win so they ended in a 3-3 tie in the bowling. With narrowed eyes, she told him that she'd see him there at the same time next week. He chuckled and accepted her challenge.
"Well, we should get going," Emmett said as he watched Sammy yawn from the sofa beside Esme.
"Uh, before you go, we have something we need to talk to you guys about." She eyed Rose and Emmett carefully as Carlisle sat down on the arm of the sofa beside her. He put a supportive hand on her shoulder as she paused.
I cleared my throat. "Do you want Edward and me to…?" I trailed off, pointing at the front door.
"No, you guys can stay," she said in a soft voice and then she looked up at Carlisle helplessly.
He sighed and offered her a small smile. "You want me to ask them?"
"If you want to," she replied.
"Well," he sighed, "it's no secret that I can't get around like I used to, kids. Esme works long days at the bookstore and it wears on her that she can't be here to take care of the house and me while she's gone. She's offered to sell her business so that she can be here with me more."
Rose gasped. "That's your dream, Esme! You can't do that!"
"Blossom's is doing such good business! I can work longer shifts, if that helps!" Emmett chimed in. You would think that Emmett would be concerned about his job but it was clear in his tone that his worry was with what his boss would endure if she lost her livelihood.
"That wouldn't be fair to you guys," Esme said. "You finally have your family together and you need to cherish every moment you have with each other."
Emmett scoffed. "We see each other all the freakin' time."
Rose lifted her eyebrows to her hairline. "You say that as if it's a burden!"
"No, no, baby, that's not what I meant. What I meant to say was it wouldn't really be, uh, cutting into our time if…well, it would but…" He grimaced because he knew he was losing the battle.
Rose rolled her eyes. "It's fine, Emmett." But clearly it wasn't. He was going to hear about this one later.
"Anyway," Carlisle continued, "I told Esme that I couldn't let her do that. So, we sat down and came up with a solution that involved your family."
"What?" Rose asked in a squeak.
Esme shifted a little in her seat and grabbed onto Carlisle's hand. "Well, we were wondering if you would consider temporarily moving in with us." Emmett and Rose gaped at her. "It wouldn't be for a long time, maybe just until next spring when I can hire someone else to cover part of my shifts at the shop. That way, you guys would be here in case Carlisle needs something. There's a lot of things we need done around here and we were hoping Emmett could help with that."
"What kinds of things?" Emmett asked.
"Well, repairs around here. The kitchen cabinets need refurbished and there's a spot on the roof that's going to need repaired. We aren't, um, expecting you to do this…unless you want to. We just wanted someone here to, uh, be here when the repair companies are here. Someone to—"
"What's this really about?" Rose piped in.
"What do you mean?" Esme asked.
Carlisle's lips formed a tight smile, as if he were expecting the conversation to shift in this direction.
"Esme, you guys are asking us to move in here because you need someone to watch over Carlisle like he's some invalid?"
"Well, his leg is—"
Rose interrupted with a bark of humorless laughter. "He just kicked an eleven-year-old's butt on the freaking Wii! Why wouldn't he be able to handle a few visits from a roof company?"
Esme chewed on her lip nervously and looked up to her husband for help.
"Okay," he sighed, "here's the deal. We love you guys. You're the only family we have and we want you to move in with us so that we get to spend more time with you and the kids. We want the kids in a better school district. We want to be able to watch them so that Rose can get a job, if she wants to. Every night we worry about you guys in that neighborhood and it would make us incredibly happy to be able to help you get on your feet so that you can fulfill some of your dreams."
Rose examined her nails for a moment. "Why didn't you just say so?"
"We didn't want you to think we were forcing ourselves on you," Esme squeaked. "We…I didn't want you to think that we aren't proud of the people you are and I didn't want you to get the impression that we want to change you. So, we wanted you to think that this was all for our benefit."
"Which it is," Carlisle said with a grin.
Tears filled my eyes as I watched the honest exchange between the two families. Every single one of these people had kind souls and good hearts. After I'd escaped Oklahoma, I didn't think that people like this existed since I'd just spent most of my time in the presence of pure evil. I thought that everyone had a streak of mean in them somewhere; you just had to dig sometimes to find it. But these people, these beautiful people, were so good and I felt honored to be part of their lives. Each one of them had made a positive impact on my life and if I never saw them again, I'd be a better person for meeting them.
Rose sighed. "You'd have to let me do all the cleaning." Esme's face lit up a little. "And the laundry."
"Okay," she said with hope dripping from her tone.
"Plus, you have to yell at Emily…a lot."
"Hey!" Emily chimed in.
Rose ignored her. "You can't let them get away with being disrespectful, even if they are cute."
Esme giggled like a cheerleader. "I can yell like the best of them."
"You really want to do this?" Emmett asked. "The McCarty family can be pure chaos sometimes."
Carlisle's smile was wide. "That's what we're counting on."
Rose was muffling a sob in her hands and I put my arm around her. Esme stood up, walked over to Rose and wrapped her in her arms.
"Why are you doing this for us?" Rose asked wetly against Esme's shoulder. "There's nothing in this for you."
Esme chuckled. "You have no idea how much is in this for Carlisle and me."
A/N: What do you think? The McCarty's moving in with The Cullens? A dysfunctional Brady Bunch? Any favorite parts to this chapter? Personally, I'm liking the bathroom scene but I'm a little pervy so... Any one else a little pervy?
So, I'm still working on the next chapter. Yes, you've caught up with my writing. I'm hoping to stick to my schedule but if I don't, I'm sorry. I will post next week, though - I promise. :) Reviews make me write faster... just sayin'.