AN: Hope everyone is having a good New Year so far. I can't complain…yet. ;)
A quick side note, if you've read my o/s, That's What He Said, it has now been expanded into a short story. It's basically completed, except for an epilogue that I will be adding. If you haven't read the o/s, I highly recommend it. It's a rom-com, with extremely non-cannon B/E. It's actually my favorite story that I've written, so check it out. So yeah…
My beta has been super busy so this chapter is being posted unbeta'd and will be reposted when I get the beta'd version back. I tried catching all my mistakes, but I already know I missed a few. It happens.
I had texted Edward during my lunch break, telling him we needed to talk. This discussion was long overdue and I wasn't taking no for an answer. It wasn't as if I was asking him to declare his undying love for me or anything. I just wanted to know where we stood. If he had a change of heart, then as much as it would suck, I would accept it. Not knowing was much worse.
Unfortunately, an hour before he was scheduled to leave the hospital, he called and said he was waiting for an ambulance to transport a gunshot victim. Of course, Edward was the only available surgeon.
Grabbing a sketch pad and a soft pastels set I brought from the house in Forks, I idly wondered if it was someone I knew. If by chance it was, was it someone really worth saving? Obviously, violence of any kind, whether caused by weapons or hands, no longer fazed me. Gunshot wounds happened every day on the streets; it was just rare that victims reported it or actually got treated before they succumbed to the wound. Luckily, it had never happened to me.
My hand glided and arched and swished across the page. I grabbed colors without much thought, as I considered people worth saving. Peter was someone I would definitely let die on the operating table. He served no purpose in this world. I'd definitely save Marcus without a second thought, but I hoped that wherever he was now, he was happy and safe. James? Umm…probably not; I'd let him live. He was an asshole, douche bag, but he was never malicious, just an opportunist at its worst. Eric Yorkie? No. I wouldn't let him die on the operating table, either. I'd save him, watch over his bedside, and kill him myself when he was at full health.
"That's…kind of disturbing," a voice said from behind me, scaring the ever loving shit out of me. I recognized Edward's voice immediately, but too startled to acknowledge him right away. "What the hell is going through your mind right now?"
I focused back on the page in front of me. It didn't do it very often, but there were times I would draw, stream-of-consciousness, without thinking; letting my hand move freely. Nothing brilliant ever emerged from it, but it did help clear my head. However, what my eyes saw in front of me was nothing I had ever set out to draw. A black shadow loomed over a body that was lying on a concrete slab in its own pool of blood as decrepit fingers reached around the lifeless man's ankles and neck.
"How'd the surgery go?" I asked instead, ignoring his inquiry about the drawing.
"Smooth, thankfully." Whether it was because he thought I couldn't handle the details or I just wouldn't understand what he was explaining, Edward never went into detail about his work. After I while, I just stopped asking.
"Let me get changed and then we'll talk. Sound good?" he asked as he removed his suit jacket. I nodded in the affirmative.
As he went to his room to change, I took another look at the drawing. It was a little disturbing. Not in the horrific, gore way, but in a too realistic way. Upon a closer inspection, the bloodied man looked familiar. His hair was black, slicked back with strands falling out of place around his face. His eyes, too, were a deadly black, but the shape was akin to something I'd seen before. His face had a sneer that seemed permanently placed, even in death. I knew this man. I only met him once, but it was one time too many.
"I don't know if you ate or not, but I ordered some Chinese. I'm starving." Edward tossed the phone on the couch before taking a seat.
"I could eat," I shrugged, placing the now eerie drawing on the coffee table. Edward's eyes followed and stayed on the pad longer than made me comfortable.
If he only knew who he was looking at!
"So do you want to talk now or wait until we eat?" he offered.
"Umm…let's just do it now. If we wait I'll lose my nerve or I'll be too nervous to eat, anyway."
"Alright. Well, I have to talk to you about something, too, but you go first," he said.
With a deep breath, a quick mental pep talk, and zero confidence I began. "Look…here's the thing." I was going to dive right in, take the bull by the horns, and everything else that told me to just do it already. "I thought that maybe we had something going…er…" Already I was starting off on the wrong foot. The words were coming out wrong, making it seem that there was definitely something – feelings – between us. For all I knew, it was a fleeting thing for him.
With another deep breath, I started again. "I just thought that we were going to talk about us when we got back from Forks. It's been a while already and we haven't addressed it, yet. I'll understand if you don't feel the same anymore," I assured him, "but I would just like an idea of where you stand." It came out a lot more fluidly than I thought it would. In my own ears I sounded sure of myself, calm even, despite being a wreck inside.
"I know, Bella, but I've been so busy since we got back and…" I lifted my palm, cutting him off. He had used the excuse of stress and all that bullshit before and it was a lie back then. More likely than not, it was a lie now, too.
"I know you're a busy guy, but give me a little credit here. Trust me when I say I know rejection and how to handle it. If this is the brush off don't make it worse, because it's already going to be awkward."
"Can you let me finish?" he asked, irritation cutting through. I sighed impatiently, but motioned for him to go on. "As I was saying, I've been really busy and it's actually something I needed to talk to you about. Do you remember that grant proposal I was working on when we first met?"
"Vaguely," I answered in a bored tone. I actually knew it very well. I would listen to him as he read it out loud to himself. There was a lot of medical and business jargon I wasn't familiar with. The gist of it, though, was that Edward was asking for a grant to renovate, or rather expand, the pediatric ward. According to him, the pediatric ward was too depressing, therefore slowing down the healing time of the patients. Moreover, Edward argued that if the ward was revamped and expended, it would bring in more patients, thus bringing more capital into the hospital. He explained to me that on paper it sounded callous – the business side of the hospital taking priority over the children, but that's the way it needed to be if he were to have a chance at this grant. However, the passion in which he spoke freely about it told me that Edward really did care about the children. I couldn't say that I was surprised, though. I'd seen him with Isabel and it was nothing short of heart warming.
"So anyway, I received a call the morning we left to Forks. I got it, Bella! We got the grant!" He was excited and maybe even relieved, as if he just revealed a secret that he'd been dying to tell someone. Despite my annoyance the seemingly change of subject, I couldn't help but be just as ecstatic as he was.
"Oh my God! That's great!" I ran to him, hugging him tightly. I was probably way too proud of him than I should have been, but I knew this was something that he wanted badly.
"Why didn't you say anything?" I asked when we finally let go of each other. I didn't escape my notice that he hugged me back just as tightly, or even more so. I wasn't dumb enough to look at it than more than just his excitement taking hold of him. At least not yet.
"It was your weekend." He shrugged. "I know you weren't asking for attention, but I still wanted you to be the main focus so I didn't want to bring it up. I emailed my boss, thanking him for the information, but said I had to be out of town for the weekend and that we'd talk about it on Monday."
All the annoyance I had felt before disappeared. Granted, he still hadn't explained why the talk was put off for so long, I appreciated him putting me first that weekend, though now I felt guilty.
"Thanks," I choked out. "I'm sorry that you couldn't bask in your glory when you found out. I know you worked really hard on that proposal."
"Eh. It was still there when we got back, so no worries. Anyway, when I got back on Monday I was basically rushed into a meeting with the board about the grant. One of the stipulations of the grant was that the project had to begin immediately. Since that meeting over a month ago, all my free time, and I mean all of it, has been devoted to getting the project started. I was making calls in between surgeries, going in early and leaving late to do research on different companies that I thought would be good fit for the job, going over bids. It's not like I'm doing this on my own, but I never expected to hear back so soon so none of us were prepared. Plus, the hospital wants the ward done sooner than later so it feels like a rush job with all of us doing more than our fair share."
Well, didn't I feel like a complete asshole? I was just as bad as the people I used to encounter everyday on the streets. I thought the worse of Edward without giving him the opportunity to explain. As I sat there thinking about it, I could recall all the late nights I heard his feet padding across the floor, wondering about the apartment, and there was the perpetual stressed look on his face. Also, he declined to go out with Emmett and Jasper the few times they had invited him out.
"This is what I have to actually talk to you about," Edward continued. "I wanted to ask if you would volunteer your services to the hospital."
"Sure," I agreed although I was slightly confused. "I don't know that much about caring for sick kids, but I can try. I'll just have to coordinate everything with my sessions and the bakery, but I'm sure I can make it work." I had already began figuring out times and dates in my head when I heard Edward chuckle nervously. "What?" I asked, my own voice sounding nervously amused.
"I didn't mean I wanted you to play nurse, Bella." He stopped talking and began running his fingers through his hair. "I'm asking if you'd be willing to paints some murals on a few of the walls. Basically, make the place look like it's somewhere where kids and parents feel welcome." He was uneasy, fidgety, and utterly adorable.
"Why do you look so scared?" I chuckled.
"Well…I mean…I've seen the caliber of your work and, now, know of your underground success, if you want to call it that. I don't know if my request comes off as insulting, and like I said, this would be volunteer work so…"
"So you think I'd say no?" I asked for clarification.
"I don't know. Maybe," he admitted sheepishly.
"We must not know me very well then," I joked. "I never turn down volunteer work. Besides, I think you're making me out to be more acclaimed than I really am. You're wrong, but it's still flattering."
"Wait! So you'll do it?" he asked, his eyes wide and full of unadulterated glee.
"Oh course! I'll need some info, though. Like, do I have free reign or is there something already in place? When do I start and how long do I have?" I rattled off some of the hundreds of questions I had.
"You won't have to start for another three weeks and I believe you have additional three to four weeks to finish, but I'm not sure about that so I'll have to get back to you. As far as creative license is concerned, I believe you have semi free reign. Everything as to be approved before you get the go ahead."
"What about supplies?" I asked. It was actually a fairly important question.
"That's probably the only thing the hospital will reimburse you for."
"I'm not worried about that," I said, waving my hand in dismissal. The cogs in my head already began turning with different ideas that I could present to whoever had the final say so.
"Bella…Bella…" I heard Edward call, dragging me out of my thoughts. He shook his head in amusement when I finally was paying him attention. "You have no idea how glad I am that you're doing this for me – the hospital."
"Anyway to help the kids," I said, smiling over-enthusiastically. Edwards smiled, a second later becoming serious.
"So, um…I just want you to know that I haven't forgotten about us, but I wanted to do it when I could focus more time on it. I didn't think it would be fair to either of us if we agreed to give a relationship a chance only to have each other pulled in different directions," he began.
"Do you still want to?" I asked, insecurity flaring back up. "Like I said, if you don't want to I'll understand. It'll suck, but I'll understand."
"No, I still do," he answered simply.
"Okay," I replied slowly. "Does it mean that's it's a better time now?"
"It's not great, but it's better than when we got back from Forks. I don't want you to keep thinking that I was playing with your head, either."
"No, no. I get it now," I assured him.
"And also, I just want to say that I'm really proud of you for talking to someone. I haven't been very supportive since you started and for that I apologize. Things are more or less lined up to start this project so I won't be overly busy like I have been. If you want, we can try going out on a date and see how that goes; take it from there?" He sounded unsure of himself and completely vulnerable and I think that's when I liked him best.
"Yeah?" I murmured, feeling like an inexperienced teenager all over again.
"Of course. How about Sunday since we're both off?" he inquired.
"On one condition," I added, as if I actually had the right to add a stipulation. "Please don't take me to an art museum or gallery.
"Aww, shucks." He pouted and snapped his fingers dramatically. "Seriously, though, I have an idea of what we can do. I think you'll like it."
"Mmhmm. It'll be fun."
The food arrived just minutes later. After platting the food, Edward put on Rent, my absolutely favorite muscial. Getting comfortable on the couch, I sat a little closer to him than I normally would have. I was feeling brave and maybe a little hopeful that he would wrap his arm around me after he was done eating. Maybe it was too soon for that, but it was still a nice thought.
He never did put his arm around me, but he rested his arm behind me on the couch, absentmindedly playing with the end of my hair while watching the movie. It was juvenile, but it still made me giddy with hope again. I never sat so still during a movie, in fear that any movement would make him realize what he was doing and stop.
Forty minutes later, we stood up and stretched the kinks out. I wasn't ready for the night to end, but apparently he was.
"I have some paperwork that I need to finish up tonight." He took a step closer and placed a kiss on my forehead. "We'll talk more tomorrow." He smiled at me, almost shyly, before grabbing our plates.
"Leave it; I'll clean up. Finish what you gotta do," I instructed.
After cleaning up and making sure nothing was out of place, I noticed the sketch pad still on the coffee table. It was a reminder that I really didn't need, but I couldn't bring myself to throw it way or destroy it. I was beyond that – him- though. I had to learn to keep things in my past exactly there. I was more than ready to move on.
Too bad my heart and head weren't on the same page.
"What do you think that means?" I asked Dr. Brash at our next session. I threw the sketch pad on the coffee table that separated us.
She picked up, glancing at it for a few seconds. "Who's this supposed to be?"
"Eric," I answered, as if I were discussing just any other man. I also knew I didn't need to explain who he was. She knew about the rape.
She put the pad back down, pursing her lips while staring at me. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"What's there to talk about?" I shrugged. "It happened, it sucked but served as a wakeup call, and it's time to move on." She continued staring at me, her lips in a pucker. "What?" I snapped when the staring became uncomfortable.
"Frankly, Bella, I'm a little concerned about the nonchalance in which you approach the matter."
"Meh. It happens," I retorted, looking at everything but her. "Besides, what's the point of dwelling on it when I can't change what happened and it was my fault to begin with?"
"No, Bella, it doesn't happen," she responded in a strong tone that demanded my attention. "And the only one to blame is the rapist."
"Maybe usually, but not in my case," I argued.
"What makes you the exception?" she countered.
"I put myself in that danger. I felt it in my gut that it was wrong, but I still went," I answered with a feigned calmness. It pissed me off that she was arguing with me on this. I was right and I knew I was right.
"This happened to you before," she stated. I shrugged; she already knew the answer. "Were the other times you're fault, too?"
In same way or another they were. Peter had caught me off guard, rendering my unable to defend myself. Had I slept in the concealed spot at St. Mark's church instead of the shelter, it would have never happened.
She continued when I didn't answer. "Regardless, this time was different. Why? Why are you beating yourself up over this one and not the other?"
I shrugged once again, refusing to answer. It was suddenly hard to swallow.
"Do you think that you're a self-saboteur?" she asked suddenly.
"What?" I huffed. "No."
"I think I'm right," she countered.
"That's fine if you do," I said, feigning nonchalance, "but I'm not. If anything, it was the exact opposite – I was trying to get ahead; shatter the glass ceiling and all that," I answered sarcastically.
"Okay, so it was a failed attempt that went horribly wrong, but it wasn't something that never happened to you before. So I'll ask you again, why was that time different?"
"It wasn't different," I clarified. "The people around me were different."
"Meaning…?" she hedged.
"I dunno." I stalled for a bit, feeling stupid about my explanation, but it was the only one I had. However, if anyone would understand, it would probably be her. "It's like…aside from Rosalie, Edward and his family were really supportive in their own way. We didn't talk much or anything, but they didn't look at me like I was some kind of pariah. I think it had a lot to do with Rosalie being their family, but still. Sure, I had a rocky start with both Edward and his brother, Rose's husband, but we managed to get past it."
Had someone told me when Emmett and I first met, that we would have the relationship we have today, I wouldn't even amuse them with a reply. Emmett and I weren't best friends, but compared to where we were, we were in a good place. I think that was mutual respect. Or at least, I respected the hell out of him.
"Did you not have some kind of support system before them?"
"In a way, but it was different. Jane was my support system, but the support she provided was different."
"Jane didn't tell me to not to do; she told to be careful while doing it. She knew what it was like and I don't think that she would have stopped me if she were alive. She would have understood."
"Correct me if I'm wrong," she began, "but from what you've told me about Jane, she cared a great deal for you, yes?" I nodded. "So if she truly cared about your well being, I believe that she would have tried to stop you as well. You had a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and people that cared about you in some form or another. Why would Jane want you to jeopardize that?"
She wouldn't. Jane may have had her vices, which caught up with her in the end, but she was a great person. On the streets she was fearless and smart – able to take care of herself better than a lot of people I had seen come and go. Her problem was that once she was high, everything else disappeared – she was in a world of nothingness and peace, instead of violence and theft. If she had given herself the opportunity to get her shit together, I knew that she would have thrived as a productive member of society.
"Can we change the subject?" I asked, needing a break from the topic of Jane. Apparently, the pain of the death of one of my best friends was still too raw.
"Sure," she said sympathetically. "To anything in particular?"
"That," I answered, pointing again to the drawing on the coffee table. "What do you think it means?"
"Why don't you tell me – you're the artist."
I rolled my eyes, but thought about it anyway. "Do you think I should go to the police?" It wasn't a question that I had intended to ask. It just slipped out.
"Well, as your therapist, I would say yes. I'll warn you that it would be more than a bumpy ride to see that justice is served, but not only would it give you closure, it would make sure that he doesn't do something like this to anyone else. However, as a friend and fellow woman, I say hell yes, turn that asshole in!"
She was deadly serious but it made me crack up. She began pursing her lips, fighting the smile that was coming. Seconds later, she was laughing right along with me. I took a few seconds to calm myself before asking her a pivotal favor.
"So, um…if I decided to go to the cops could you come with me?" I asked, keeping my eyes locked on my hands in my lap. I knew I was stronger than this, but acknowledging that I was considering taking this step had me petrified.