At her door she's beautiful, hair down, shined-up lips, eyes looking into mine the way they do. I fold her into my arms.
"Edward? My mom's home."
I back Bella into the house, kissing her. She pushes me away, but I keep a tight hold around her waist. Her mom is standing right behind her.
"It's over, Bella."
"What?" She breaks free of my hold, but I catch her hand and put my lips back on hers.
"The sneaking. My dad knows."
"He's okay with us?" Her free hand's on my chest and she's arching back, wide eyes fixed on mine.
"He's staying out of it. It's none of his business."
Our fingers still connected, she leads me up the stairs to her room, both of us ignoring her mom's stare. When the door's closed, I take Bella's face and kiss her good and hard.
I pull back, sit with her on the bed and tell her about my dad and what went down. And then we kiss until I'm on top of her, hips between her legs, pressing against her, needing her, wanting her, right here even with her mom downstairs, with the door maybe not even locked. There's a charge in me. A rush. There's nothing in my mind but Bella. And she's feeling it, too. I can tell by the way she's responding. As I start pushing away at her shirt, she starts peeling away at mine, and her hand's on my stomach when there's a knock at the door that freezes everything, even our breath, possibly our pumping blood.
Bella jumps up, straightening her clothes. I stay where I am, lying on my side and other than pressing on my crotch to hide that, I'm on this strange high of not wanting to hide anything else.
"Do you have a pen?" Renee asks, and Bella slides her desk drawer open.
"Isn't there one downstairs?"
"None of them work."
Bella offers her mom a pen and Renee scribbles something down on a tablet she's holding. She pushes the door open wider and wags her tablet at me. "Grocery list," she says, as if I asked her what it was. Obviously I didn't ask, which makes me think this pen thing was nothing but an excuse for her to come in here.
I sit up on my forearm. She hands the pen back to Bella and says, "Edward?"
I sit up the rest of the way, hoping she's not about to make me leave, or worse, make me leave without Bella.
"It's good to see you again." She smiles. "We're having enchiladas, will you be staying?"
"Okay, but after what I witnessed down in my living room," she says, "this door stays open." Leaving the door open she walks away.
Bella falls back to the bed next to me with the pen still in her hand. She drops it between us. We lie on our sides. I place my hand on her face. "You drive me out of my mind. I was about to have sex with you. You were going to let me."
"Thank God for moms-" She stops. It's abrupt. Brakes slammed. Her eyes widen.
"No, it's okay." My fingers graze her cheek to erase any hesitancy. "What were you going to say?"
"Just, thank God for moms who knock and don't barge in." She rests her head on my shoulder, her arm around me. I feel her squeeze. I kiss her forehead.
Adjusting myself to get comfortable, I slide my hand under her pillow and meet with lavender. I pull it out. "Hasn't come true yet?"
She takes it from me, sniffs it and puts it back under her pillow. "Close," she says. "Give me your hand."
I give it to her and she sits up, writing something on it. It tickles my palm. "What are you doing?"
She lets go of my hand and while I read what she wrote she writes on her own, and then she shows me hers. Both say "I love you," but the "love" is a heart. She takes my hand and smashes our palms together. "There. Nothing in between. That's my wish."
I shake my head at her, and keep shaking it as I move closer and closer until I'm right in her face, our clasped hands between our chests. I plant kisses all over her lips.
"Now you can never wash that hand again," she says.
"Oh, yeah? Do you know what I do with this hand?" I glance down at my jeans.
"Ew, Edward!" She shoots up.
Her smile takes up her whole face. "No, you're not." She shoves at my shoulder.
I reach for her elbows, guiding her toward me. "You got my picture in the paper."
She drops down onto her back. I lean over her. Reaching up, she scrapes fingers at my jaw. "Yeah, you know. I try to submit local nature photos, but they get the back-burner unless there's some story to go with it. Sports in this town on the other hand. That's easy. So I sent in some boring picture of some dumb boy and they ate it up."
"You got me an interview."
"Don't let it go to your head." She gives the side of my forehead a couple of taps. "I've seen these track stars who turn into total assholes once they beat a record and get recognized."
"Oh really? Like who?"
"I'm Fig now?"
She laughs. "Fig?"
"It's Jasper's name for him. Fig. As in Fig Newton."
"What's his name for me?"
"Probably something like Sex on Legs, or something else just as sleazy but accurate." I tuck my hand under her waist and pull her against me. Her fingers meet the hair at the back of my neck, nails giving light scratches.
"Hmm. Maybe we should see how accurate my dad sees it over dinner."
"That's just what we need. Another dad trying to rip us up."
"Never." She lifts her head to kiss me.
"Thank you for doing that with the newspaper."
"You deserve it. Plus, I got paid for it."
"And for what you did with my dad."
"I was hoping he would see you clearer."
"And for calling my dad 'Sir.'" We both laugh.
We lie still for a few minutes before I ask her if Max can come to dinner. She says, "Always."
"Come with me to get him."
"In a little while. I want to stay here like this for now."
"Okay." I rub my hand over her shoulder before pulling her face closer. I kiss her. "Hey, Bella?"
I pick up her hand, press our written-on palms together, and I look into her eyes, loving their shine. "This is it," I tell her. "Nothing in between."
"Nothing," she says.
Under the sun, my aunt's hair shines like polished copper as she opens the front door. She calls out "Phil" in a voice I've never heard before, like a timid question, like instead of wondering if he's home, she's wondering if he exists.
She moves inside and I follow, hiding behind her. He doesn't make a sound, but I know he's there, and when I step aside I see that he still hasn't shaved or slept, his brown hair messy, his eyelids puffy. He's not smiling.
"We're home," Aunt Cheri says, and Phil's shoulders relax, a breath streaming out of him like he's been holding it for days, or ever since she left. Maybe, in a way, he had been. If she hadn't come back, maybe he'd still be holding it. When his arms embrace her, they squish her up tight and noises come from his throat like tremors, as if something inside of him is shifting.
He looks at me, tears rimming his eyes and he says he has something for me.
I follow him through the swinging doors to the kitchen. The sunlight beaming through the windows is powerful, brightening the walnut wood of the cabinets. He opens the fridge and pulls out a bouquet of flowers. "They're for you." He holds them out to me.
"You kept them in the fridge?" I take them by their cold bundled stems and push them to my nose. They smell like today's sun and wind, like outside just before my aunt and I stepped into the house.
"Didn't want them to wilt."
Laying the flowers on the counter, I look at him, watching his gaze travel to my aunt and return to me.
"Why don't we go out back?" Aunt Cheri says, her hand on my shoulder, close to my neck. We walk in a line—me in the middle—out the back door, and to the porch swing where I sit between the two of them. The ground is dry. Flowers bloom in pinks and purples around the trees, stacked gray stones surrounding them as if holding everything together.
Our feet move in sync against the grass, rocking the swing back and forth. Breeze after breeze shakes through leaves. A flock of birds fly out of a tree all at once, wings flapping. Squinting, I watch them climb the sky.
Nobody says a word, leaving the earth itself to do the talking.
My palms resting on my jeans are beginning to sweat. Phil's hand falls to mine, giving the back of it a squeeze. After a few chest-raising breaths, I turn and look up at him. I look into his eyes, splotchy red over white, light brown irises lined in darker brown. Small pupils. I look so closely, I see myself reflected back.
"You're my dad." Even though I blink several times in a row, the tears still slip out. "You're my dad."
He nods, and as he talks, he continues to nod. "I couldn't be prouder of a daughter."
Aunt Cheri pats my leg and in a shaky voice tells us she's going in to make tea. The swing rocks, her side of it left feeling cold and too big as she gets up and goes inside.
Phil's hand is slow to move off mine and his arm circles around me, resting over my shoulders. I stare forward. He gives me two tugs, two squeezes into his side. I lean against him, letting my head fall to his shoulder.
"My daughter." He says it in a whisper so quiet it's like he's saying it just for him.
I feel him shudder with a silent cry. A cry of relief it seems as he lets out a sigh.
"I wish we knew all along," I say, still looking out at our yard and beyond it, to where the trees grow gigantic. To where I used to go searching for the man in the one room house in my dreams. I think about how underneath everything in my life was a lie, and how growing up, my childhood and my teenage years were built on top of it, layer after layer, trying to balance. But now the lie has turned to sand, and maybe someday it will be ash, and maybe someday, maybe, it'll be nothing.
"So do I."
"I hate my mother."
He doesn't say a thing, doesn't tell me shush, or not to hate my mother, or anything. I think he'll let me hate her if I want to. Maybe he hates her, too.
A cloud wafts in front of the sun and it isn't until the cloud drifts on, sunlight hitting our faces again, that Phil talks.
"I want you to know something, Victoria," he says and I sit up, turning to face him. "Your life here, living with your aunt and me, you were always like a daughter to me." He clears his throat and straightens up. "What I mean to say is that knowing you're biologically my daughter, it doesn't change how I feel about you. I loved you just the same before I knew. I love you the same now, it just means something a little different." He tells me it's similar to when you have this near fully-formed idea, all the nuts and bolts are there. The blueprints. But for some reason it's not coming together. He points a finger at the air and turns it in a loop. "Then this last notion materializes, and it all makes sense. The idea is complete. It's as if something has been confirmed, you know? Rather than a bombshell that's been dropped."
I sort of know what he means. Even though it wasn't the same for me, I get that it was like this for him. For me it was much more like a bombshell dropped.
"I understand you must be feeling a little lost and betrayed, and you have every right to feel that way. What I think would be best though is for us to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and look to the future. Not think about what could've, would've, should've been, but just think about-"
My aunt and Phil decide that the next couple of days—Friday after school and Saturday—will be dedicated just to us, just to family. We eat dinner at the table together; we eat vanilla bean ice cream out of the container with big serving spoons. I wonder, as I take the carton from him and dig my spoon in, if there will ever come a time when I think of him as Dad, not Phil or Uncle Phil. Just Dad.
Sometimes, like now as my aunt talks about having the kitchen remodeled, I find myself looking at him, staring, maybe in the same way he once stared at me. But when I catch his eye, he smiles instead of running away.
After the tornado my life has been this past week, it's Sunday before I get to spend any time with James. He drives us to the west end of the forest, where we're meeting Edward and Isabella. We'll walk from there to the spot Isabella's always wanted to go, the place with the slick black rock and where the waterfall is to the distant left but so loud that after you leave you still hear its crashing, even in your bed.
It's a long hike, and there's no trail. Sometimes the space is wide enough for us to walk together, but most of the time, it's James and me in front and Edward and Isabella behind us. After a long uphill climb Isabella asks how much longer and if James and I even know where we're going. I yell over my shoulder for her to stop complaining since it was her idea to come here and she jumps on my back.
I screech and she falls off. "You're going to break all your cameras."
"Look again," she says from the ground, pointing at Edward who has her bag slung over his shoulder. He reaches a hand toward her to help her up. "He's nice, right? But I'm nice too because I agreed only to bring one camera just to keep it lighter." She kisses the side of his shoulder.
"What's the nicest thing he's done for you?" I ask Isabella, slipping my arm through hers. We've come to a small clearing of low plants and ferns, easy to step over, and we're able to walk in a row.
"He likes to break my new heels in for me. It's some kind of ladies' shoes fetish he has, but it saves my feet from pain." Edward yells, no way, and she admits he could barely fit his toes in her shoes.
"What's one of the best things James has done for you?" she asks.
I say that James once wore my fairy wings. They laugh. They don't believe me. I look up at James and he's looking down at me. I grasp his hand. He nuzzles his nose into my cheek.
Even after our path narrows again, Isabella and I keep throwing questions back and forth at each other about James and Edward, which starts to drive the guys crazy.
We come to the river, where the wind is stronger and the air colder, and climb on top of a huge smooth hill of rock. I sit between James' legs and Isabella sits across from us next to Edward. I ask Isabella what her favorite feature of Edward's is. James groans behind me, tired of this game.
She drops her head to Edward's shoulder. "Um..."
"I know what she'd say," Edward says.
"Don't go there, man," James says.
"Nah, I mean, I think she'd say my arms."
I see that she's touching his arm now, pushing her hand up under his sleeve, as he says this.
"It's his smile." She fingers over his lips, her chin on his shoulder, her eyes raised to his. "He has the best smile. You never smile for no reason. You always mean it when you smile." She drops her gaze and I can almost feel the heat in her cheeks as they redden.
Edward isn't smiling now. The expression on his face is so serious as he brings his index finger down her cheek, and as she's still facing their laps, he's looking at her with such intensity that I have to look away. I can tell out of the corner of my eye that they're kissing and while I think it might be quick, it doesn't stop until James interrupts.
"Actually, I've seen him smile when he's pissed off, too."
Edward laughs, breaking from Isabella. "That's true. Sometimes when people like Newton piss me off."
James and I talk Edward and Isabella into roadtripping with us after graduation. They'll only come for two weeks, though. By then, Max will be home from basketball camp. They'll fly out from wherever we happen to be at that time.
Right now we have no idea where we'll be or when. Our destination: a place none of us have ever been before. That's all we know.
James takes my elbow and pulls me to stand with him. We walk opposite the waterfall toward a corral of trees so dense it seems nothing could fit through, but we do, caging ourselves inside.
"What are we going to do when school's out?" I ask, teasing him. He has me by the shoulders, pushing me up against a trunk.
"Wrong question." My face is in his hands and he's staring down at me. "The question is, what am I going to do right now?" Above us I hear the rustle of the trees waving their branches while James stares, his eyes moving between mine and then down to my chin and back up to my eyes.
"What are you going to do right now?" I lift my knee, the sole of my shoe resting on the back of the tree.
"Kiss you 'til the sun goes down."
"Only until then?" I ask, closing my eyes as his face moves in.
"At least until then," he whispers on my lips.
Still holding my face, he kisses me. His tongue finds mine, his hands trailing down my arms to my hips and he presses into me. I sigh out a moan, my foot sliding down the trunk of the tree to the ground. And the ground is the river and the water's warm. I'm floating away and James is with me and our hands are clasped and he's looking at me and I'm looking at him. And all that's left is what we leave behind, in our trail, in our wake. Even after we disappear with the current, we've left our mark.
We kiss until the sun is down and the moon is up, my arms holding around his neck, his hands on my ribs under my sweater, his body flush with mine. I love the way the tree is digging into my back. James pulls away, breathing hard, his breath on my face. I bring him in close again.
"You're my one," he says into the kiss. My knees weaken. The right words can do that just as well as the right kiss.
When we get back to the rock, Isabella is snapping pictures of Edward as he's holding his hand out as if to say, "Give it to me. It's my turn." But I can't hear either of them with the noisy waterfall in the background, and they can't hear me approaching, so I snatch the camera from Isabella and push her toward Edward. I take pictures of them hugging, trying to get them off-center, the way Isabella taught me. Edward lifts her up, her legs draping over his arm. The waterfall shines in the night behind them.
When I stop trying to get them in perfect focus and just look at them through the lens, they look different, like shadows or moving silhouettes. They look like two people who can't be touched.
I turn to James who has his palm on my lower back. At what point do a group of friends cross the line of friendship over to family? Looking again through the viewfinder at Isabella and Edward, James' hand on me, I know it's this point. Right here. We're family. And this moment, it's poetry.
I've heard poetry referred to as everything, the flow of life—living and breathing and growing on earth. But for me, that's too general. Poetry, to me, are the things—good or bad, pretty or ugly—that make us feel. Sometimes you feel something so deeply you can't find the words to express it, but maybe you do your best; maybe you use the moon as sadness or fear or something you relate to and where you find your strength, shining bright amid thick black; maybe the sun is your smile or your hopefulness and the people you love; maybe the stars, specks of light stamped in the dark, are your future. Why else would they be wished upon? Sometimes you want to do nothing but speak about the feeling, and the words flow out of you as if there could never be enough words, yet they seem never-ending. Like the flame and the sparks of a growing fire that's bigger and longer-lasting than you'll ever be.
It's this moment right here. The four of us. The earth's the poet and we're the poem.
Our bags are packed in James' trunk and waiting for us throughout our graduation ceremony. My mom is here. From where I am on the bleachers, I make eye contact with her as she stands in the back near the gym doors. She said she once had dreams for us. She couldn't reach them, couldn't even get near them. I close my eyes making up a poem about people who get lost, who make wrong turn after wrong turn in a maze of thorns they'll never see the end of. As much as they may try to find their way, they won't. I can't think of anything lonelier. I wonder if people like them even notice the moon.
My mom's gone before the rest of us exit. Carlisle tells me that she's heading back to Olympia, still on the treatment program. I nod and walk away, grateful for the information, but not wanting to have this conversation, here of all places.
I find Cheri and Phil, neither of whom mention my mom. They hug me congratulations; I hug them goodbye. They know what my plans are. I didn't lie this time, and while they tried to talk me out of going I kept saying it was only one month, only four weeks. Phil has flowers for me again. I joke with him, asking if he kept them in the fridge. We have at least made it to a place where we can joke about some things, laugh about others, but most serious conversations are stilted—mainly because of me. It wasn't until late one night as I lay in my bed that I started to realize I felt guilty for ever calling Phil Mud and the reason why. But the guilt, traveling up my spine irritated me, made me angry. Angry at Phil, whether rational or irrational, I didn't know. But it crept up on occasion in the dark like a goblin. By morning it was gone, but I was sure it would return.
When Phil hugs me outside the gym, he tells me to be careful and to watch over James. He gives me a wink and a tassel tug of my cap. When he pulls James aside, I can only guess that he's saying the same to him regarding me. Or maybe he's giving James some kind of warning, like a father might, like Phil might whether or not he was my biological father.
The four of us—Edward, Isabella, James, and I, still in our caps and gowns—head toward James' car. Edward picks up Isabella and puts her in the backseat, crawling over her, kissing her. She's not protesting. James and I climb into the front seats. He takes his cap off and tosses it like a Frisbee to the back, letting it land on whomever it lands on.
The engine roars to life. "Time to move forward," James says as he drives out of the parking lot, and we all agree. It's time to move forward.
A/N: Okay, sigh, I'm going to miss this story. I've loved writing it and the experience I've had with all of you readers, hearing/reading your thoughts, some of which have touched me deeply and some helping me to look at my writing/characters from a different perspective.
As always, I thank you for reading. And as most of you are E/B shippers I have to thank you for giving Victoria and James a chance. It amazes me how many of you came to care about them just as much as, if not more than, you do E/B.
Thank you to Madz, my beta, who is always so wonderful, giving my story careful reads, asking questions that make me think and re-think, and rewrite/revise to make the story stronger. She also encouraged me to write this story when I was unsure of the plot. I can't thank her enough for that. Thank you to the girls I write with: Dragonfly336, dreaminginnorweigen (thanks for giving this chapter a read just before I posted!), IReenH, moirae, and thimbles (you know what you do for me). They challenge me and support me in a way that is hard to put into words. But I'm sure they know what I mean.
Also, Happy New Year everyone! I hope you enjoyed this journey.
(For those who have asked, Yes, I have more multi-chapter fanfic stories in the works, and a few other one-shots as well.)