Chapter Fourteen: A Beautiful Mess

Edward

"Dinner was great, sweetheart. Can I help you clean up? You wash, I dry?"

"Thanks, Dad. And no, absolutely not. Why don't you and Edward go into the living room and relax?"

"Because then you'd be in here alone," I answer, stilling her hand as she reaches for my plate.

Because I may not be able to help her with the dishes like I always did–I washed, she dried–but I can at least get them to the sink, which she lets me do without argument, though she could do it much faster herself.

"Thank you, handsome," she tells me, once the last plate has clattered still, and still in one piece, I think, in the bottom of the sink where I dropped it.

"No, thank you," I correct, "because your dad was right, dinner was great."

"You'd say that even if I burned it to a crisp." She leans down and kisses me sweetly, before looking past me. "And so would my dad. And it's just one of the many reasons why I love you both so much."

"And because we're both so devilishly good looking?" Charlie asks, pretending to admire his reflection in a spoon. "Me especially?"

"Definitely for that reason," she laughs, and takes the spoon from him.

And my breath from me.

Because her beautiful laughter will always do that to me.

Because it's pure.

Natural and unforced.

Like the love in her eyes when she looks back at me and finds me watching her.

And the pride. Because she still feels that, too, when she finds my eyes on her.

Even now... still...

No matter what kind of husband I've become to her...

She's still proud to be my wife.

Whether anyone's watching or not.

And even if that anyone is one of the most important people in her life–like now.

Because Charlie is watching.

And is doing it no differently than he ever has.

And with no less of a smile on his face at what he sees.

Because he's still proud, too. That his daughter is still in love with the man that he loved first. The man he told her was good, and good enough.

Would never be anything but to her, if she gave him the chance to show her. To prove it.

He had faith in me. Trust...

That I was sincere. That my pleas and declarations for her were honest and heartfelt.

That a woman like her...

So extraordinary in every way...

Could change any man. And had.

And she listened. To him. And to me. Eventually...

Stopped running from me. Stopped hiding from me. And stopped being afraid.

To let her heart speak louder than her head.

Her heart that was already mine...

But that she'd been afraid to listen to. And let guide her. To the place I begged her to come to.

And wanted her never to leave once she was there.

The place where she is now.

Still without regret.

And still with her father's encouragement. "You know, I think I'm even smarter than I am good looking." That breaks into the silence...

And brings a beautiful noise. "You are, Dad. Positively genius. It's why I've always listened to you, and your genius advice."

He laughs, because maybe she hasn't always...

Because my sweet, beautiful, and perfect wife can be a little stubborn when she wants to be...

But then he smiles proudly. And gives me a firm slap on the shoulder as he walks by.

"Well, this genius is going to go kick his feet up and bask in his achievement. His finest."

"You do that, Dad," Bella calls after him. "We'll be right behind you!" And tosses the dishtowel on the counter and sits herself in my lap. "Let's go, handsome. You earned his basking."

I did...

But as I wheel us out of our kitchen, all I can think about is if he'll someday stop.

Because something else changed me.

The me that she'd made better.

FBoFW

...

"So, how's my boy? Really?"

"Struggling, Charlie."

"Any part of that struggling I might be able to help you with?"

"Can you make me not a liar?"

"I've never known you to be a liar, Edward."

"I made promises to your daughter. And to you. About what I would give her. What I would be for her. What I would–"

"And you've kept them."

"I had kept them. Now... well, now I'm just a liar."

"I don't think you and I agree on what a liar is. Because there sure as hell isn't one sitting in front of me."

"The fact that I'm sitting in front of you makes that not true, Charlie."

"You think so? Well, again, we disagree."

"Come on, Charlie... I know you like me, love me even, and God knows I've always been grateful for that, but no father would ever wish what sits before you now for his daughter."

"No? Well, let's discuss that, shall we? What I wish. And what sits before me. What I see...

"I see a man. A man who worships the ground my daughter walks on. And the air she breathes. And the sun that warms her skin.

"A man who, even if he were standing, would fall to the aforementioned ground in a shameless heap of goo at so much as a smile from her no matter who was looking.

"A man who would put the world in her hands if it was in his power to do it. A man who practically has.

"A man who has loved her with his whole heart, and other things I'd really rather not think about...

"A man who has loved her with his all, and all the while wished he had more to do it with. And give her. Even though she wanted or needed for nothing. Would never... could never...

"A man who would lay down his life for her as willingly as he offered it to her. Begged her to take it. Share the whole of it. And be the center of it.

"What sits before me, Edward, is a man. The man my daughter loves. Will always...

"And the man I do. My son-in-law... who's exactly what I'd wish for her. And what I did. And what I still do."

"But–"

"But nothing. A man doesn't have to be standing to love. To be anything or everything. And sure as hell not to be loved. Or wished for. By me or by her. He only has to be a man. The. The one I'm looking at."

FBoFW

...

"It's nice to meet you, Tyler. You're spoken very highly of around here."

"It's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Swan, and likewise."

"Call him Charlie," Bella tells him, "Mr. Swan makes him feel old."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And that makes me," she says now, and glances at me. "Unless it's my husband saying it... then it makes me... " She trails off and then clears her throat, making Tyler and I laugh and her dad cringe.

"Sorry, Dad. The point was, he's supposed to call me Bella, and he knows it." She shoots Tyler a stern glare, to which he salutes, and makes everyone laugh this time. And fall in line.

"Very nice," she says, and continues with a satisfied smile, "Anyway, Dad... they're going to be busy for a while, and there are a few things I need to pick up, so I figured I'd do it while they are. Do you want to come with me?"

"Actually, sweetheart," I interject before he can answer her, "I was going to ask your dad if he'd sit in on our session." Because I want him to see me work.

Know how hard I'm trying...

Fighting...

To be that man he saw before the one he sees now.

Even though he thinks we're the same.

Accepted both of us...

I want him to see...

How much I don't. "If he–and you–wouldn't mind?"

"Of course I wouldn't," she answers immediately. For herself. And for me.

Before she looks at her dad with trusting eyes.

The ones that he gave her, before he told her to give them to me.

And "I'd be honored to sit in, Edward."

FBoFW

...

"I said I'd be honored... but you didn't have to do that... prove anything to me... I know who you are."

"I did have to."

"Have you had to with Bella?"

"No. Not yet. I want to... want to show her... but I'd like to be able to show her more."

"Well, I understand that, Edward... but I think you should let her show you something. And that you shouldn't wait too long to. Because you need to see, too. Let her remind you...

"That she loves you the way she does because you already did."

FBoFW

...

"You know what I love?" Bella asks, her eyes glued to my face, where they've been since Charlie left.

"Well, you said what instead of who, so... cream cheese scrambled eggs?"

My wife smiles at me–and then at the plate I put in front of her–and gathers a generous bite onto her fork. "I love that you always look a little sad after my dad leaves."

"I love your dad," I tell her, and watch her slip the forkful of eggs into her mouth.

"I know," she says, once she's swallowed, and after a satisfied moan... "That's why I love it."

"He loves me, too, you know... " I tease, and maybe defend just a little... "It's not one-sided."

"Oh, I know that, too... " she laughs, "He's probably got tears streaming down his cheeks as we speak for having to leave you and go back to his wife."

"Perhaps," I say with a proud smirk, making her laugh even harder.

And me make another promise.

To myself.

That she'll always have reasons to.

FBoFW

...

I've been thinking a lot about what Charlie said...

About letting Bella see. And letting myself. Letting her show me...

And, though she does every day... every minute...

I think it's time I did.

Take my father-in-law's advice.

And, like Bella did, stop being afraid to be vulnerable.

I said I wanted to show her more...

Something she once needed me to do...

But I don't want to wait for that anymore.

Waste time waiting for it.

Or make her.

Because it may never happen.

That day may never come.

What I am on this one may be all I ever have to give her. The enough her eyes tell me I am if it is.

She sees me in this chair everyday...

Sees me, not it.

And loves me no less. No matter how much I am. So, making her wait...

For something she's never asked for, and something I know she never would...

Feels selfish.

Something I promised her I'd never be.

And something, even though these walls could tell tales...

Wonderful, heavenly tales of a man's greed...

And a loving woman's devotion to satisfy it...

I've never been. Because there are other tales to be told.

"Bella, would you do something for me?" I ask her, wanting there to be more of both.

And her answer is automatic. Much like it's always been. Because she loves me so much... "Of course I would. Anything."

And tells me Charlie was right. And that I was right to listen to him. "Would you join Tyler and me today? I'd like you to know what we do. What we're trying to-"

"I'd love to," she says just as automatically, and with as much love as she's ever said or done anything to me. Or for.

"Thank you, sweetheart. For saying yes."

To everything.

FBoFW

Bella

I didn't hesitate when Edward asked me to join him in his therapy today...

I said yes.

It was easy. Automatic.

He wanted something and I wanted to give it to him.

I know the asking wasn't as easy... for him...

Inviting me to see him at his most vulnerable...

Watch him struggle...

Fight...

Against something that seemingly has already won...

But that I know hasn't. Because I know my husband. And that he'd never give up that easily.

Something I knew before he showed me.

Before he let me see him sweat. And strain. And push himself harder that I've ever seen him...

Which, believe me, for my husband... well, it's no small thing.

Epic comes to mind.

Extraordinary.

Astounding.

Breathtaking...

All Edward in every way.

Still.

I know why he wanted me there with him. Why he swallowed his pride and asked me.

I know what he wanted me to see. What he wanted to show me...

And I, like my dad when he'd asked him, was honored...

But he didn't have to.

Honor me. Prove anything to me.

I know who I married. And I know what.

I married a man. A strong... determined... put-it-all-out-there-and-leave-nothing-inside man.

What he's been to me–and for–from the moment he decided what he wanted was me.

No matter how hard it was on him. How hard I made it for him. How seemingly impossible...

He never gave up. Never stopped trying. And never failed to awe and amaze me with his effort.

I didn't tell him that, of course... then...

That I was awed and amazed...

I knew he'd just use it in his already-overflowing arsenal of weapons against me.

But he got it out of me eventually.

When I stopped fighting.

Because trying to win against my husband...

Well... you have to be bigger than me.

You have to be...

Something I've never seen.

FBoFW

Edward

That wasn't easy...

Showing Bella my weaknesses...

Letting her see something beat me...

No matter how hard I tried not to let it...

Fought...

BATTLED...

It wasn't easy at all.

And, though I don't think it was easy for her to watch, at moments, anyway, she did.

Every movement.

And every one that I wanted to be but wasn't.

She never took her eyes off of me. Even when mine weren't on her, I know she didn't.

Because even when I couldn't see them, I could feel them.

Exactly where–from the first moment I looked into them–I wanted them to always be.

On me.

Smiling for. Shining... with fire and excitement and love...

I wanted them. To capture them. Hold them. And keep.

Know that they were only for me.

Mine...

And would only ever be.

And only ever be filled with happiness, something I believed I had the power to control if she'd just hand them over to me.

An unrealistic goal, perhaps...

Though I only admit that now because I failed to make it an accomplished one.

Or keep it one, anyway.

Because I left them. Their sight, even though they were closed...

They looked happy when they were open. Because we were. Made each other. In every way.

Every single day...

Even the ones we had to spend apart.

Until that fateful one.

That made those too many.

And put so many other things into them.

Bella's eyes...

That the fear returned to. Because she was vulnerable again.

Because I made her that way.

Not for me...

Not like that other way she was...

That she stopped being afraid of and was so often willing to be for me after she did...

If it was what I wanted...

Craved seeing her be...

But the way she is now. Vulnerable to the things I can't control, but are me. Part of.

But working against me instead of with.

Against us.

My beautiful wife and the husband I want to be to her. And for her. And with...

Again...

Something I dream of every night. Pray for every day. Fight for... with everything I have in me...

Everything that isn't enough.

Yet.

Please only be yet...

Please, God...

My mouth moves with my broken-record prayer...

But, as if to mock me... laugh at me... taunt me... my legs don't. Don't go where I want them to.

Not on their own.

My will not strong enough to guide them.

So I have to.

And the rest of me, that I awkwardly drag into the bathtub.

The new one Bella had put in on the first floor of our house.

That is an exact match to the one on another. A higher...

The one big enough for five people...

Three too many...

And that now feels like an ocean to one.

Because I'm one too few.

And sitting in the new instead of the old.

Something else that mocks me as I sit in it alone.

Something I never did until I couldn't do anything but.

I never got into the old one without my wife.

And did because she invited me...

Lured me...

With words and without.

Whenever she was in it alone. Because it was too big. For just one.

Too calm.

Too still.

Too... wrong.

Like this one feels now. And did every other day since I've been home and had to get in it.

Because I had to, instead of wanted. For practical reasons, instead of fun. Out of necessity, instead of the needs of another sort that took me to that other before.

That brought me... us... so much...

Well, there's sure as hell no point in thinking about that. Because I can't give her shit now. In that tub or this one. Or anywhere else.

And she can't give me anything. Because I can't. Because my worthless fucking...

"Edward?" My painful thought is cut off by Bella's sweet voice calling to me from outside the door.

"Yeah?" I answer with a sigh. And an admittedly childish slap at the water that makes it splash out and onto the floor.

"Can I come in?"

It can't be any more humiliating than what she just saw, right? "Sure. Do you have a–"

"A what?" she asks, when I don't finish.

Because she doesn't have what I thought she might. She has something else... "Uh... I thought maybe you had a jar you wanted me to open for you or something... but that's not a jar."

"Well, you are the master of jar opening, but you should know that I would never be so impatient as to interrupt your bath to do it. And no, it's not."

And, though I know, because it's a simple item she holds in her hands, I ask her anyway... "What is it?"

"A request."

"A request?" I repeat, eyeing the crystal pitcher again briefly before looking back up at her.

"Yes," she answers simply, her eyes where they always are when she asks me for anything... looking directly into mine.

"I'd be more than happy to squeeze you some fresh orange juice as soon as I'm finished in here," I tell her, knowing it's not what she's asking me for, but unable not to say the stupid words.

"I've gotten reaccustomed to drinking the stuff that comes in a bottle," she informs me, playing along for the moment.

But that hurts, too. "I'm sorry you have."

"You took good care of me, Edward. Extraordinary care...

"Spoiled me... far more than I did you. And my request... well, it's that I'd like to take a turn. And do something for you. If you'd allow me?"

"Allow, huh?" I ask her, her use of that particular word not sounding the way it once did. On other occasions when she asked if I might allow her to do other things...

Things she wanted to do for me. And to...

Things that did spoil me...

Made me feel like a king...

A god...

"Of course," she says, as if there were no other response I'd want or accept from her.

"Unfortunately, Bella... I think our days of playing 'Edward, may I' are over. And–"

"I disagree," she says, passion in her eyes. "Respectfully, of course. Because you love that game. And can. Always."

"I wish that were true," I tell her, knowing that if it were... if it was possible at all... my cock would be hard as a rock from her words and I'd be telling her to ask me for it. If she hadn't already at the sight–or mere knowledge–of its, and my, love for that game... "But it's obviously not."

I gesture her to follow my shamed gaze to my limp and pathetic form in the water and she doesn't refuse, silently or otherwise. But she doesn't acquiesce, either. Or wait for me to allow her to do anything.

She walks with confidence up to the edge of the tub and sits the heavy pitcher on the corner to the right of the faucet. Then slips off the cardigan she wore over her simple white t-shirt–that I now see she wasn't wearing a bra beneath–and tosses it to the floor next to her already-bare feet. Bare and wet, like her sweater now, thanks to my childishness. Something I want to warn her about, though I know it's too late...

And still want to, even though her feet already told her...

And even though she, without a word about it, told me she didn't care about by doing it anyway. And again, because her jeans now join her wet sweater...

And then, still wearing her t-shirt, and also-white cotton panties, that I've always found sexy as hell, steps into the growing-cool water.

"The only thing that's obvious to me," she tells me, bending over to pull the plug, and giving me a reminder of just how fucking sexy they are, "is that I'll have a floor to mop when we're done here."

"I'm sorry I made a mess," I tell her, because I am. So fucking sorry for this mess her life has become...

"Since when?" she asks with a smirk over her shoulder, not taking my regret-filled words seriously, and turning on the tap, filling and emptying the tub simultaneously.

"Since that day I left you in our bed alone," I tell her honestly, the words flying out of my mouth before I can stop them. And followed by others... that I never wanted her to know... and still don't, even as I confess them. "And then turned around to go back to you."

"What?" she asks, turning to face me, all traces of playfulness lost with my words that carried none to her ears.

"I turned around," I repeat, because, like that day, it's too late to take it back now. "To come back here. To you, who I never should have left."

"You had a meeting," she says, trying to defend me, and the guilt she now knows I feel. Have felt for months...

"It wasn't more important than you."

"You never had to choose, Edward," she says now...

Declares...

And drops to her knees between my positioned-open legs in the nearly-empty-now tub. Which she doesn't seem to notice. Or ignores... grabbing my face between her trembling hands. "You never had to choose between me and living your dream. I never would have asked you for that."

"I know that," I tell her, and then choke on what else I try to. "I ch-ch-chose. Me. Like always. Like I did with everything... since the day you said I do to me. And those archaic vows I asked you to say to me."

"I wouldn't have said those archaic vows if I didn't trust you," she says, still defending me. And the place of honor she's always let me stand tall and proud in. And now, sit in... anything but either.

"I never meant to bring us here, Bella... " I push, the shame and guilt overwhelming me, "to this... "

My words fall from my mouth unfinished, and lie limp and lifeless with the rest of me... in this cold, hard, empty place my wife still fights to make perfect for us. For me... as she wordlessly drops one hand from my face and reaches back to replace the plug, so the water will rise warm and soothing around our shivering bodies. And then drops the other, which, together with her first, its task now accomplished, she lovingly uses to lower my legs one at a time to lie flat along the smooth bottom of the tub.

"There's nowhere else I want to be, Edward," she whispers, though her unwavering devotion to me screams the words at me, "So, whether you meant to bring us here or not, I'm grateful to you for–"

"Don't, Bella. It's not–"

"This beautiful life we have. That I have lived being spoiled for all of... taken extraordinary care of through every moment of... in this beautiful home... by the most–"

"Bella, please... "

"Beautiful, gentle, and kind husband a woman could ever dream of having love her. And choose her... "

"Bella... "

"I'm grateful. To you. And will be for the rest of our lives... that I said those vows, that I have never wished I wouldn't have said to you. And never wished you hadn't have asked me to say. And that I would say again... word for trusting word... archaic or not... on this day or any of the others I may have the honor of spending with you. My husband. The man I love beyond comprehension. Beyond reason. And beyond change... of any kind... that could ever fall upon us... by innocent, beautiful choice or by chance...

"So, stop apologizing to me. And stop feeling guilty. And blaming yourself. For anything. And start being proud. Again. That I love you. And for –as you damn well know–making me. And making me want to. And show you that I do. Even more than I ever have before. In any way and every. In any game you love, or moment like this that isn't one...

"Be that Edward. The one who promised me this beautiful life, and then made a mess on my floor... "

She pauses and reaches back again, this time to turn the water off, because the tub is full. Nearly spilling over...

And does when she moves back... straddles my legs, still on her knees... and grabs the soap... and the washcloth...

And smiles. "... That I will gladly clean up. As soon as I'm done with him."

Fuck...

I LOVE my wife.

xx

Thank you for your patience in waiting for this. It wasn't my choice to make you.

And thank you, Edward and Bella, most of all, for giving me what I was afraid I'd lost. Some of you here might know what that means. And how much, perhaps, it means to me. And how happy I am right now. xo