Chapter Thirteen: Choices
"I know you just want to do what's best, Bella, and I'll respect any decision you make, but please don't rush to make it. I'd hate to lose you. And the kids... well, you know how much the kids love you. The ones you've taught, and the ones who've been waiting excitedly all summer to be in your class. Your end of school year visits to the kindergarten classes are always a hit. They can't wait to come back to school. And you."
"I never meant to tease them, Bill."
"I know that."
"I love the kids. And I look forward to every school year, too, but this one... it-"
"Would be a sad one without you."
"I just don't know how I can do it... leave him alone... He has to come first."
"I understand that, Bella. He's your husband, and you love him... but are you sure that giving this part of yourself up for him is really the best thing? For either of you?"
"No. I'm not sure. But-"
"Think about it some more. And discuss it with him. Take as much time as you need to be sure. We'll start the year with a substitute if we have to. But I'm going to hope that you come back... while I wait for your call. Your next one."
That call wasn't easy to make. And not easy to leave knowing he'd be waiting for another. Because I thought when I made it, that it would be the only.
My decision had been made. The one I thought was best. Was the only one I could make...
Until he asked me if it was. For Edward.
And then I wasn't sure.
And now I turn from the window, because what's outside of it doesn't matter. My answer will be found in.
And maybe even sooner than I think. "Edward... I didn't hear you come in... How long have you been there?"
I know the answer to that... Too long... because he looks angry. But I wait for him to tell me.
"Why did you tell Bill you weren't coming back, Bella?"
"Because I think you need me here."
"So, your kids... the job that you love... take pride in... the job that you're better at than anyone in the world... what? Don't matter? Because you think I need you?"
"I love you more. And I take pride in being your wife. More than anything else. In being the best one I can be... and-"
"But it's not all you are."
"And I won't let it be. Won't let you let it."
"Call him back, Bella."
"Let's just talk about it. I'll-"
"We just did. And now we're done. Call him back. And tell him you'll be."
"Edward, please... there's time. I want to-"
"Be a good wife?"
"Well, of course I do. And-"
"Then do as you're told."
"So, is it alright? If I come for a few days?"
"Why would you ask me that, Charlie?"
"Because you're the man of the house. Well, maybe... "
We both laugh, because it's hard to be that with the woman of this one. And because it's no secret to anyone close to us that I'm often on my knees before her.
Or was... when I could still get down on them...
"And because you're the man I'm coming to see. If that's okay with you."
"You never have to ask me, Charlie. You're always welcome here."
"That's good to know. Then I'll see you tomorrow night. Give my beautiful daughter a kiss for me."
Because that I can do.
If she'll let me.
"You're ordered to let me give you a kiss."
"Ordered by whom?"
"Is that right?"
"And you support this? Me taking orders from someone besides you?"
"Well, I wouldn't normally, but in this case... "
"Well, then I guess I have no choice but to let you. Since you do. And since that's almost like it's coming from you... and God knows I'd never disobey one of those... "
"I know you're mad at me, Bella... "
"I'm not mad at you, Edward. I just don't like it when you take my choices away. And me going back to teaching the kids this school year should have been my choice, not yours. It should have been a decision we made together, not an order you gave me because you made it for me."
"Because you'd already made the wrong one."
"One that I was willing to rethink. By talking to you, my husband, who I made it for. But you didn't let me do that."
"Because I had no choice. You weren't listening to me. To what I'd already told you."
"What have you ever told me that I didn't listen to?"
"That one of us has to be the same."
"I need that, Bella. And you're the only one of us that can give it to me."
"I'd give you anything. You know that. And it's all I wanted to do by making the decision not to-"
"I do know that."
And that I can't let you give me too much.
I can't let you give until there's nothing left of you.
"So, come down here. And let me give you something. For once."
"Edward, you give me everything."
Not anymore, Bella.
"Please don't be upset. It's not a big deal... at all... it-"
"Not a big deal? Look at you!"
"Edward, it's okay. I-"
"You're covered in piss, Bella! My piss! For no reason but that you slept next to me! I pissed on my wife while she slept! My sweet, beautiful, perfect wife! That's a big deal, Bella! It's a big deal to me!"
"It was an accident... and nothing that can't be fixed with a shower and a dry set of-"
"Go! Now! Wash it off!"
"I will... just let me help you first. And-"
"I don't want you to help me! I'm humiliated enough!"
Humiliated? "Don't say that, Edward. Don't ever say that. Not to me... your wife that you think is so sweet and beautiful and perfect... because she's still the same. I'm still the same. And so are you, in all of the ways that matter. And I love you. And you should never be humiliated with me. About anything. And let me-"
"I said go!"
Edward has never screamed at me like that before. So loud and with so much force that it made me jump. Tremble. And take a step back.
Edward has never screamed at me at all. Has barely ever even raised his voice. Because I've never given him reason to.
And because he's gentle and kind. Because he loves me. Thinks I'm sweet, and beautiful, and perfect...
Something I already knew he did. Before he told me. And before he told me he was humiliated. Screamed it... and for me to go. Louder and harder. After he did.
Another order I obey. With a whisper... "Okay."
Because I don't know what else to do. Or say.
But I will.
I vow it to myself as I walk away.
That next time - something I have to admit to myself there might be - I'll know there's a choice. That I'll have one.
A thing I can do... or say...
Instead of letting him push me away.
I didn't go immediately back into our bedroom after I showered and dressed. I wanted to... but I wanted to give Edward time.
To do the same. Something that takes him longer than it does me. Now...
And because I didn't want to humiliate him even further by going back too soon.
Before he was finished.
And ready to face me again. And himself through my eyes.
That only see what he sees...
Sweet and beautiful and perfect.
What he's always been to me. For me.
Before he thought he was less.
Something he's not... could never be to me... but believes he is.
Something I knew he might someday feel... struggle with...
Though I'd hoped he wouldn't.
But something we'll face. Together. Because what I hoped for didn't happen.
And something I never gave a thought to did.
Bella is sitting on the granite-topped island when I wheel myself into our kitchen. There's an empty glass beside her, and she's toying absently with the cap on the bottle of orange juice.
And I'd give anything to know what she's thinking, but it's not what I say to her. "It's early, you should have stayed upstairs after your shower and gone back to bed."
"I would have woken up in a little over an hour anyway, so I figured I might as well just get an early start to the day. And I was just about to pour myself a glass of orange juice, would you like some?"
"Sure. And I'd also like to talk about what happened. What I did."
"You don't have to... " she says, jumping down and getting another glass from the low cabinet across from it. The place she moved them to for me. "We don't have to talk about it at all."
"I do, Bella. I have to."
"Okay," she agrees easily, too easily this time, filling both glasses and carrying them to the table.
She sets one within my reach, and pulls out a chair and sits down next to the other. And in front of me.
Something I wish she wouldn't have done.
"You don't have to level yourself with me. I'm not worthy of it. You can go back to your perch."
"I was uncomfortable up there."
"I've always been beneath you, Bella. We both know that. You just fell in love with me in spite of it. I don't have a problem looking up at you. Certainly not now. After what I did. Though, I admit, looking at you at all is kind of hard after that."
"Are you finished?"
"No... I haven't even begun... "
"Well, you're going to have to wait a minute, because you're going to listen to me first."
"I never thought you were beneath me, Edward. I-"
"That's not true."
"You're talking about when we met? I didn't think you were beneath me, I just knew you'd been on top of everybody else. Of my gender, anyway. And I knew you wanted to get on top of me. And I merely expressed to you that you'd never get that chance. Which, as it turned out, and as you know, wasn't true at all."
"I'm sorry, Bella. Not for that... but-"
"I know. It's okay."
"No, it's not okay... I don't know what happened. It never happened when I was in that stupid jail of a place. Not to me. Other guys had mentioned it... but it never once happened to me. It's why I wasn't afraid to let you sleep with me. I thought I had control... was grateful that I did... knew I was lucky... until... God, Bella, I'm so sorry... "
"I know that you are, Edward, but you don't have to be. It was an accident. And it's over. Forgotten."
"Until it happens again."
She's thoughtful as she looks at me... but then suddenly smiles. "Since when do you apologize for sharing your bodily fluids with me?"
"Since I shared the one I didn't mean to."
"Yes... but did I complain? Run screaming? Ever?"
"No. You never did that."
"And I never would."
"Thank you, Bella."
"And more than anything... that I've ever done... I'm sorry that I yelled at you. You didn't deserve that... and I hate myself for it. I-"
"Hey! Don't ever say that, either. Not ever again. You can't hate my husband. Because he's sweet... and beautiful... and perfect. To me. And he always will be. And I'll kick your ass if you ever say a negative word about him. Capiche?"
Fuck, I love my wife. "Yes, ma'am."
"That's Mrs. Cullen to you."
"A choice I let you make, if I may humbly point out," I tell her, because I did. Humbly. And she did choose me. And I'll never be more thankful for anything in my life...
Than that this sweet, beautiful, perfect woman married me...
This woman whose sweet, beautiful, perfect laughter now fills the space around us - and any I had put between us - as she gets up from her chair and comes to look down at me in mine. With nothing but sweet, beautiful, perfect love in her eyes.
"Whatever you say, Mr. Cullen."
"I did let you. I may have begged you, but I let you choose to say yes. You didn't let me give you orders then. Believe me, you'd have said it sooner if you did."
"I'm not going to keep letting you, you know? Now... if you keep ordering me away."
"I really am sorry, Bella."
"I know you are. And I forgive you. Because I know why you did... this time... even though you shouldn't ever feel that way... not with me. Me, Edward... who chose you. Like you said. Chose to say yes. Chose to marry you. Chose to love you, because I couldn't not. You made it impossible. And still do. Every minute of every day... even when you think you're not. That I couldn't. I still do, Edward. More because you think I might not. More because you're so wrong when you do...
"So, listen. Hear me. Because I have an order for you, husband. Stop ordering me away! I choose to stay."
"Are you finished? Wife?" I ask her, just like she asked me.
And she laughs again. And says "Yes." Again...
"Good," I say. And "Now, come down here." Again.
Because I am beneath her.
And want to be.
Without humiliation or shame.
For as long as she chooses me.
"That's more like it, Mr. Cullen."
So, it's a little short. Kind of like the beginning was. And I think that's fitting, actually. Because this chapter is like a preview. Of what's to come. In most every way. And I suppose you'll interpret that however you want to. Because everyone always does here. Everything. Which more means here in my world than here specifically.
And I want to thank those of you here for that. Because you - my readers here - on this story - are truly amazing. You seem to all get it. And don't hate me for any of it. Or don't tell me if you do. And do tell me when you feel something else. The something this story is about. The something I try my best to portray. So, thank you. Again. For not yelling at me. And for being kind. Choosing to. Even when we're not.