Trust

A Little Green & Easybella Outtake

by SqueakyZorro

Disclaimer: Twilight, its characters, and its recognizable elements belong to Stephenie Meyer. Little Green & Easybella belong to bettigefecht. This look into Esme's character is mine.

Bettigefecht generously bid on my Fandom Gives Back auction oneshot, and I am humbled and honored by what she asked me to write: an outtake from her wonderful story, Little Green & Easybella, from Esme's point of view.

If you're reading this, you've doubtless read LG&E, an amazing story with a truly unique Edward. If you haven't, I have two suggestions: First, go read it—you're missing a wonderful story!—and second, don't try to read this first. I didn't want to repeat huge portions of several chapters, so this outtake assumes the reader has read LG&E at least up to Chapter 15, and up to Chapter 27 would be even better. Of course, if you make it that far, you won't be able to resist reading as much as Betti's posted. :)

~T~

I'm dizzy from the maelstrom of emotions swirling through me. A part of me focuses on behaving as normally as possible, pulling my Sunday bread and other goods from the basket I brought, asking Bella to brew another pot of coffee, and getting breakfast ready. If I'm upset, Edward will be upset, and I'll do anything in my power to keep his homecoming as joyful for him as it is for me.

Well, it was undiluted joy. Up until I walked in and found him shirtless and Bella awash in obvious embarrassment. The explanation was obvious, but so unexpected—I must have looked like a fool, just standing there and staring at Edward. So many thoughts ran through my mind in those few seconds. Did they just...? Did they really...? Was this his first time? Is he okay? Did they use protection? Is he in love with her? Did she take advantage of him? How can I protect him?

But I don't let any of that come out. I absolutely refuse to upset him when he's just come home.

And then he says, "We made love."

Oh! My heart breaks a little at the way he says it—so simple, yet so much more meaning than that he engaged in a particular physical act. He loves this woman, as deeply as his incredibly pure heart can, and he's come into his own, taking responsibility for adult behavior in a mature, though socially awkward, fashion. One of the myriad emotions whirling through me is pride in the man my son has become, despite the obstacles thrown in his path. I'll have to find a way to say this—to tell him how proud I am—but right now, I'm so scattered that all I can do is cling to normalcy. "So...have you two had breakfast yet?"

I feel foolish, but I just have to make him put on a shirt. Were we at home, I'd think nothing of letting him sit down to breakfast without one; he's very picky about fabrics and often wishes to wear as little as possible. But with this...situation, I can't help but insist that he cover up.

When Edward leaves the room, I fiercely cut off Bella's attempts to apologize or discuss the matter while he's nearby—he does not need to hear that conversation. Even worse, if she feels the need to apologize, she must believe she's done something wrong, and I'm terrified that she slept with Edward in a weak moment that she now deeply regrets. Her extreme embarrassment seems to lend force to that inference. I feel a great deal of sympathy for Bella; her situation is not one to be envied, by any means—left by her husband for his gay lover—but there's no way on God's green earth she's using my Edward to boost her self-esteem when he can't possibly understand that dynamic.

I count on having a few minutes to regroup while Edward starts the laundry and gets a shirt. His phone call for directions catches me off-guard—especially when he asks about how best to remove bloodstains. My heart stops, and I can't help my first gut reaction. Bloodstains? What the hell did that bitch do to my son? My knees weaken, and I lower myself into a chair. Then the words I just spoke to Bella a moment ago echo in my head: Have you even looked at him? Beaming like a child on Christmas. I take a deep breath. He wouldn't beam like that if he was hurt.

My next thought is almost as bad. Oh, my God, could he have hurt her? I quickly pull up my memories of Bella's behavior since I arrived this morning and fell down this rabbit's hole. No. She's embarrassed and she tried to apologize—if she were the injured party, she wouldn't apologize. I take another deep breath. I can't prevent my quick look at Bella—is it possible that her marriage wasn't even a marriage at all?but I won't put either of us through the ordeal of asking her for clarification of that point. My sympathy for her and my concern over her intentions toward my son, however, both increase as I tell Edward to use cold water and encourage him to get a shirt and come back right away.

I'm so looking forward to sitting down to breakfast, hoping that conversation will ease up over the meal. I take my seat and wave him toward the vacant seat across from Bella. I'm puzzled when he says he wants my seat. What can it possibly matter? He won't be budged, though, and when he pulls out his secret weapon, how am to resist him? He almost never calls me "Mom," and I can deny him nothing when he does. Only after I move and we're all seated do I realize that I unconsciously attempted to place myself between Edward and Bella—and he has no intention of being separated from her. Once he sits, he immediately reaches for her hand, but he touches me, too—holding my hand and looking at me with such an expression of love, I can hardly keep from weeping right there.

I watch them carefully through breakfast, and his entire manner toward her tells me that he is, in fact, deeply in love with her. Glances, little touches—scarcely a moment passes without some kind of contact, even if he thinks I don't know something's going on under the table. I wonder at how his decided preference for her as a boy has morphed so very quickly into this...adult devotion, but I cannot deny the truth of it.

As for Bella...well, I can make neither head nor tails out of her behavior. She can't sit still—fidgeting, bouncing, shifting position. At the same time, I can see her response to Edward's looks and touches; like Edward, she seems to think I see nothing, but I'm noting every move. The way he reaches his hand to her, and she meets him halfway and holds it in hers. Her blush and soft look a moment after she lets go to pour his coffee and his hand disappears under the table. How she drops her napkin and blushes even more just as Edward shifts position, his hand still under the table. I'm reminded of the under-the-table footsie and handsie games Carlisle and I played when we had dinner with either of our parents while engaged, and the memory adds to both the charm of the scene and my anxiety over how this happened so quickly.

I keep up a polite chatter with Bella about recipes while Edward stays quiet, focusing almost exclusively on the woman next to him. All through the meal, I try to gather as much information as I can. I have no capacity to puzzle it out now, but I know I'll have some hard thinking to do later that day.

Carlisle's text couldn't have come at a better time. After all, how long can one talk about jam recipes? And if Bella blushes any redder, she'll faint. I excuse myself to call him.

"Esme? I didn't expect you to call; I was just giving you my itinerary." His low, smooth voice never fails to comfort me, even from miles away, and I sigh as my nerves relax, just a bit.

"I know, love; I'm not calling about that. I'm here at Edward's, well, Bella's actually, and..." Is there any diplomatic way to say that I found our son cuddled up with his former babysitter less than a day after he came home? And that doesn't even start to describe the undercurrents...

When I hesitate, Carlisle prompts, "What is it, dear? Is he all right?"

I hasten to reassure him. "He's fine. He's just...he and Bella have...well, they..."

"Oh, have they run into each other again already? Well, that must have been nice for them."

I can't help the choked laugh that escapes me. "Oh, goodness, a bit more than 'nice,' I think." I take a deep breath and then blurt, "Carlisle, they slept together."

As I continue, my words come faster and faster. "When I came over for breakfast, he wasn't in his apartment, and I knocked on Bella's door because I thought she might know where he was, and she did because he was there—with no shirt on and coming out of her bedroom." I pause just long enough for a breath. "And I've just spent what was probably the most uncomfortable breakfast of my life trying to make small talk with Bella so I wouldn't upset Edward...and oh, he loves her, sweetheart, it's so obvious it just breaks my heart, but I have no idea where her emotions are—her divorce was just final, and she's so incredibly embarrassed, and she keeps trying to apologize, but it would destroy him if he thought she regrets it, and I don't know what to do—should I try to protect him? Can I do anything to protect him, or is it already too late, and I'll just have to pick up the pieces if she hurts him..." I run out of breath at the same moment I realize how much my control has slipped. I have to get hold of myself, or Edward will notice when I go back in.

"Esme, love. Take a few deep breaths. First, does he seem well?"

I do as Carlisle suggests, inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth in what's become a calming ritual over the years. "Yes, he's, oh, he's more than well—he's so happy! Completely enamored with her, barely able to let her out of his sight."

"And how is Bella treating Edward?"

I think about that for a moment. "She's...well, she's fidgety—worse than a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as my mother would say—and she's blushed at least a dozen times so far..."

"Yes, but does she seem impatient with Edward's attention? Does she try to put distance between them?"

"No." The significance of that fact hits me as I speak the word. "No, she doesn't, not at all." I take another deep breath. Okay. This at least indicates that she isn't just playing some post-divorce game with him.

"Well, I'm sure she is quite embarrassed and nervous; she's older than he is and used to babysit him, and you're his mother—I'd be more concerned if she felt no misgivings."

"I suppose...yes, I see your point." And I do. But unlike Carlisle's, my emotional reaction isn't so easily cowed by logic.

"Would you prefer it if I came back a day early?" he offers, and I smile; he knows me so well. "This...development is quite amazing, really. My own presentation is done; I could miss the last day's sessions if you need me there."

With one last therapeutic breath, I realize I'm fine...well, not fine, but composed. "No, stay. You said some of the sessions looked interesting; I don't want you to have to cut it short. I'm fine. I'll remind Edward about dinner at the house tomorrow, and before he arrives, we can talk about how to approach this with him."

"All right, my love. Don't hesitate to call if anything else happens—the sessions aren't that interesting."

I chuckle. "Thanks, sweetie, I will. I love you."

"I love you. Give Edward my love, too."

I tuck my phone away and re-enter Bella's apartment. I'm breezy as I say my goodbyes, using the call with Carlisle as an excuse to leave this exceedingly awkward situation. With eyes sharpened by Carlisle's questions, I see that while Bella is about as scattered as I am, she seems to incline toward Edward without even realizing it. No, she's not brushing him off.

Edward follows me out to see me off, and I toy with his shirt as I try to pull my thoughts together. Is it too late to try and instill some sense of social propriety...the instinct that tells most eighteen-year-olds they really don't need to tell their mother they had sex when she walks in on them?

"You shouldn't have told me, Edward."

"I'm sorry," he says, showing no surprise at my comment, and I wonder if Bella already tried this.

"Don't be. You meant no harm, and to be perfectly honest, I'm glad you told me. But Bella... she's beyond mortified. And the sheet, oh my." I wonder if I'll ever hear the full story about the sheet; if her ex is gay, that may explain part of it, but she's twenty-four years old—has she really not been with anyone else, either? None of my business, of course. "You two have a lot to talk about. You know that you need to speak to her, right?" Please, oh please, don't let him be hurt during that conversation...

He nods.

"Are you happy, darling?"

He shrugs, and I feel a familiar combination of affection and frustration. He's come so incredibly far, but sometimes communication can still be challenging.

"You will find out," I say, smoothing down invisible wrinkles in the fabric on his chest. "I'll see you tomorrow, son. Don't forget about the family dinner, okay? Don't make me send out a search party once again." I smile a little, trying to get across that I'm just teasing, but he doesn't respond, which is unusual now. Years ago, it was the norm, but typical social niceties now come fairly easily to him. I look closely, trying to read him.

He stumbles a few times, trying to voice his thoughts. His internal struggle makes me wish I could help him find the words that elude him, but it's better for him to find them himself. I wait patiently until they come to him. Finally, he tells me he's thankful—thankful for what I've done for him. I feel tears gather.

"Esme?"

"Yes?" I say as he hugs me tighter than any grizzly bear.

"Do you feel anything when we are hugging like this? In your body, I mean?"

I catch my breath and shiver, clutching him to me. "Oh, my God. Yes, I do, Edward. Of course I feel something."

"What is it you feel?"

"That's not an easy thing to describe, honey." I look at his furrowed brow and wonder how to answer.

"Could you just try... anyway?"

For him? Of course I'll try. "It is warm... a warm feeling in my stomach and everywhere. Sometimes it's tingling. It's not always the same, you know. Sometimes it makes me light-headed with happiness, sometimes it spreads out into my chest or even up to my throat, and it might linger there even after we've stopped hugging. Sometimes I feel like I will tear up any moment...like just now. But whatever I feel when we hug, it is always wonderful."

Oh, the purity—the depth—the strength of Edward's love! He lets so few into his world, but the lucky chosen ones receive a priceless gift.

"I like hugging you, too," he says, and from him, these wonderful words mean more than any I love you. I bask in their glow for as long as I dare before stepping back.

"I'll see you tomorrow," I say and pat his cheek.

I leave, trying not to wonder what on earth is now going on in the apartment I just exited, and focus on our farewell instead.

Oh, that hug.

Only Bella and I were ever permitted to hug him. Not even Carlisle. From the first day...

December 2003

I volunteered at the children's home where Edward lived. I played with some of the children, read to others, helped still others with their food. I saw him, sitting by himself. He was such a beautiful child: his looks drew the eye, but something more held mine—so quiet, so intent on the music box he held—winding it over and over, watching the cylinder rotate, with the pins striking the teeth for the different notes of Clair de Lune.

I approached him and sat next to him, watching with him. Eventually, he looked in my direction but not really at me.

"I love that tune," I told him. "Do you know it was named after moonlight?"

His eyes snapped to mine, and that quickly, a connection was formed. He gave me a small smile before bending his head back over the box and rewinding it again. When it was time for me to leave, without thinking, I put an arm around his shoulders and hugged him to me, telling him I'd be back the next day.

As I left, I noticed a few of the staff watching me strangely, but it wasn't until I returned the following day that I discovered he never let anyone else hug him. They hadn't noticed the eye contact, but that engendered a similar reaction when I told them about it. I was told he'd been there for about five years. I also learned that while no legal obstacle to adoption existed, they had not expected any interest. Over the next several weeks, the staff made sure I was aware of the difficulties I would encounter if I seriously pursued Edward's adoption: the atypical behaviors, the outbursts, the lack of any real communication. I listened, and I learned whatever I could, but they didn't dissuade me—we belonged together.

Carlisle had doubts. Of course, we had talked about adoption almost since we learned we couldn't have biological children, but he repeatedly asked if I was sure about this child. I took him to meet Edward, who didn't really acknowledge him. Instead, Carlisle watched Edward and me for the whole two hours we were there. He was silent the entire drive home, and I tried to not cry, afraid he'd already made his decision about this little boy.

"I love him, Carlisle. He is mine," I told him, looking at his stern profile.

"I know. I saw."

We started the adoption process the next day.

Of course, I was naive. With no more staff to field my questions or to act as a buffer, I bore full responsibility for Edward, especially with Carlisle working long hours on his residency. I was so charmed by the unspoken communication that Edward and I experienced in our quiet moments together that I didn't fully appreciate how limited that form of communication was for everyday life. Much as I cherished those moments, I'd have given everything I owned just to know what would bother him—before it caused a meltdown—so I didn't feel like I was wandering a minefield.

By the time I finish reliving that time, I'm home. I sigh as I sit on the couch and curl my legs under me. Over time, I learned his ways, and together we found ways to communicate.

Our first major breakthrough came when I saw some picture cards on a morning talk show, used for communication by the mother and nonverbal daughter being interviewed. I immediately ordered a set online. Such a simple idea, but such a relief for both of us! All he had to do was show me a card and I would know just what he wanted.

Even Bella had her own card, I recall, and my mind drifts back to the day we made it.

It all started with that damn dog that scared Bella and triggered Edward's protective side.

I couldn't believe it when Carlisle relayed the conversation he had with Bella as he was driving her home. Edward had spoken! His first word, I marveled. Oh, what I wouldn't give to have heard it myself! I knew I would be unable to keep myself from grilling Bella for every detail.

Edward's unusual agitation that night was explained; no wonder he wanted Bella to sit with him until he fell asleep. The next morning, I was unsurprised that Edward slept a bit late. He seemed fine at first, following his normal routine. Once breakfast was over, though, his behavior began to concern me. First, he went to the kitchen, pulled a Tupperware container from a cupboard, and held it up. I had no idea what he wanted.

"Your cards, dear. Can you show me with the cards what it is you want?" He brightened and started to flip through them, searching. He was soon frowning again, though, and in a gesture that was quite unlike him, he threw them to the floor and stomped out of the room.

I followed him to his bedroom. Sitting at his desk, he grabbed a crayon and colored a small green dot in the center of the page. He stood and brought the paper to me. I stared at the picture, having no clue what it could be. "Edward, dear, I'm sorry; I just don't understand. What is it you want?" Ripping the paper from my hands, he returned to the desk and drew what appeared to be a snowy landscape with a green sky. I was still at a complete loss and becoming more anxious by the minute.

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern, although eventually Edward seemed to calm enough to work on other tasks. After lunch, the rough sound of Bella's truck engine could be heard approaching the house. In a flash, Edward was out the front door, waiting anxiously on the steps. Only then did I begin to suspect what he had wanted all day.

"Edward, do you want to see Bella? Is that what you've been trying to tell me today?"

His eyes met mine, and I read the affirmative answer there even before he nodded vigorously.

Of course he wanted to see her! He'd been worried about her after her scare. And we had nothing that he could use to tell me. The green pictures doubtless had significance to the two of them, but they were a bit of a puzzle to anyone else.

I had to admit I felt excluded sometimes when they were together. Their connection was so easy, so free. I, of course, was the one to enforce the rules when Bella came to play and sing.

Envy notwithstanding, however, Bella was good for my son. Something about her very presence calmed him. When she was there, he never seemed anxious or overwhelmed, and he never had an outburst in her presence. The nightmares he couldn't describe were less likely to come if she sang him to sleep.

So if Edward ever needed her again, I wanted him to have the means to ask for her. He colored a card green, and Bella helped him write her name on it. I took her picture with my digital camera and printed it out. Edward glued it to the card, and I laminated it. Bella punched the hole in the corner so it could be added to the cord that held the rest of the cards.

The Bella-card became a permanent part of Edward's collection. He would use it countless times over the next several months.

Looking back, I remember how frustrating that day was for both of us. I so looked forward to hearing him speak again, and I heard nothing the whole day; while I escaped having a full-blown meltdown to deal with, Edward had cooperated very little. Meanwhile, Edward was worried sick for a good part of the day, wondering if Bella had fully recovered from her scare but unable to communicate his concern to me.

My thoughts revert to Bella's current intentions. Can she really want him, romantically? Love him the way he loves her? He's made tremendous progress, able to handle most situations with ease, but he will never be a typical boyfriend. He's so transparently in love, deeply; if she doesn't feel the same, he'll be devastated. I hate cliches, but they usually contain a sliver of truth, and she is recently divorced under circumstances that would make any woman eager to prove she could make a man want her. Of course, Bella's not just any divorced woman; she has a history with Edward, and they always did have that connection...and Edward, clearly, will brook no interference—even in such a simple matter as me sitting between him and Bella at breakfast. A chuckle escapes me.

But then I sigh, not sure what I can really do. He's an adult now, and he's learned to be independent, which was exactly what we wanted when we sent him to school. If he stayed in the condition he was in when we adopted him, he could not have managed on his own, which means he'd be right back in an institution if anything happened to Carlisle and me. The thought strikes right to my heart, then and now. To isolate that beautiful man—and I suppose I'll have to get used to thinking of him as a man—locking away that wonderful heart, that sly sense of humor, and that breathtaking talent...nothing could be more wrong. Recognition of that independence is why he's in the apartment in the first place instead of at home with Carlisle and me. My meddling mama bear instinct will have to stayed reined in, however much I struggle to do it.

Carlisle arrives home the next afternoon. I greet him with a heartfelt kiss, needing his closeness after my twenty-four hours of living on nerves. He smiles warmly and cups my cheek. "So, our son has a girlfriend?"

I frown at him and jerk my head back. "I don't know that. Hell, I don't think she even knows. She feels something for him, I guess, but I have no idea if she'd use that term."

He gives me a tolerant look, which I hate. He uses it when I let my instincts get the better of my logical side. I know I'm being slightly irrational, but that look just seems so . . . patronizing, and it infuriates me. I scowl at him as he says, "Well, it all has happened amazingly quickly. I mean, they were close long ago, but it's been years. I wouldn't have thought they'd even remember each other."

"Well, of course, they'd remember each other. Edward never forgets anything, and Bella sat for him for close to year before he went to school."

"Sure, but have they even contacted each other since he left?"

"Not really. They wrote letters for a while, but the counselor said I should hold them until Edward adjusted to school. I was going to pass them on when that finally happened, but by then, he never mentioned Bella. I figured it was better just to leave well enough alone. So, really, no, they haven't had any contact."

Carlisle's brow furrows in what looks like disapproval. "You withheld letters they wrote to each other? Why?"

I arch a brow in surprise. "I just told you, on the counselor's advice. I talked to him because I was concerned at how Edward would handle separation from Bella. The school was across the country, so he wouldn't be able to visit much at all, and he was already resisting the idea. So I asked for help on how to handle it. The counselor said Edward needed to adjust without interference from back home. When I talked to the staff at the school, they agreed."

Carlisle is still frowning. "That doesn't sound right to me. I know psych is not my specialty, but I know Edward and I know the bond he had with Bella. This just doesn't seem like the best way to have handled it." He pauses then asks, "Why did you never mention this before?"

Taken aback, I stare at him blankly. "You never wanted to talk about that kind of thing. You were working crazy hours, trying to finish your surgical residency. When I brought up all the details about the school, you usually listened without saying anything." I pause, remembering some of the frustration I felt; I could have used some real support instead of a pat on the head, which is all that seemed to be available at the time. It was all water under the bridge, and I didn't want to dwell on it, but really, what was he getting at?

Trying to explain better, I added, "You remember, after that day at Volturi's? We talked about what an amazing talent he has. I said I wasn't sure the school he was attending could do enough to foster it, and maybe he should go to a top-notch school—something nationally known that could give him the absolute best chance at a full, independent life. You said something like, 'sounds like you've got a handle on it.' I found Glenholme and said I wasn't sure about how far away it was since it would be hard to visit, and you said, 'it'll all work out.' If I remember right, when I mentioned some concern over how he'd feel being separated from Bella, you said something like, 'You're such a worrier, but I love you for it.' I knew you had tremendous pressure to succeed, so I figured I should just handle it."

It's his turn to look blank. "Is that really how I seemed?" He shakes his head, seeming almost dazed, before looking at me with a penitent expression. "Esme, darling, I—that was never my intention. I didn't realize I gave that impression." He sighed heavily. "I don't have the connection with Edward that you do, but I love him deeply. I certainly never meant to..." His voice trails off, and I can almost see him flipping through his memories of that period in our lives. A look of consternation appears on his handsome features. "I'm so sorry. I was saying the right words, but with hindsight, I'm beginning to realize I wasn't really listening."

"Carlisle, it was a hectic time. When we talked about adoption originally, it was to be after you finished your residency. I just happened to find Edward before then. You tried, really; I know you did. I didn't push you because it seemed fair to let you focus on your training, especially when Edward let me in more than you."

He seems to take some comfort in my words, but I can tell he'll be thinking about this for a while. He knows he can be a workaholic, but he prides himself on reining it in as much as possible to be there for Edward and me. I know my words must have come as somewhat of a shock, and I doubt this will be the last time we talk about it.

I'm more preoccupied by the disapproval he voiced. "You really think it was the wrong thing to do, holding the letters?" Now that the subject is raised, I remember the mental anguish I went through at the time. I see his attention is diverted from his self-reflection, and he looks at me. "I had second thoughts at times, and I even considered transferring him to a school closer to home—especially when he tried to run away. But the counselors here and at the school both said he was testing boundaries. They said I had to give him more time to adjust and not to cave too easily."

I rise and start to pace back and forth across the room. "I hated to see him so miserable, but they were so sure... When that incident with the other student happened, I really was going to bring him home. I don't know if you remember, but I'd even made flight reservations for us."

I stop pacing and spread my hands in a helpless gesture. "But then he didn't mention Bella again, and he stopped asking to come home. He started making excellent progress, just like the counselors said he would." I fold my arms in against my chest. "If he'd asked about her after that, I'd have given him the letters and explained, but he never did. It seemed silly to resurrect everything when he was doing so well, so I just left them in a box."

Carlisle listens to my stream of consciousness without comment. When I finish, he asks, "What did you tell Bella about her letters?"

"Just that he was very busy at school." I squirm a bit internally and feel a slight blush heat my cheeks.

He frowns. "Didn't you explain to her that you were keeping them on the counselor's advice? And that you'd be able to forward them once Edward had adjusted to school?"

"Well, no...I didn't really think about that. I was more concerned with how Edward was doing. And I didn't want her to get the idea of sending the letters directly to the school—I didn't want to interfere with his progress."

He arches a brow. "Oh? Then why the blush?"

I blush harder and then say, a bit abruptly, "Why should I explain it all to her? She helped take care of him for a while, but it's not like she was family or anything."

Carlisle's face softens. "Because she loved Edward, and he, her; their bond was clear."

I duck my head, feeling ashamed. Maybe I could have explained to Bella; she was quite mature for her age; she might have understood. On the other hand, she wasn't the type to blindly follow authority—odd, perhaps, for a police chief's daughter, but true—and if she disagreed with the counselor's advice, she might very well have done exactly what I feared.

His voice gently interrupts my inner debate. "She did write, didn't she?"

"Yes." I sigh.

"How often?"

"Well, once a week."

"For how long?"

I start to get irritated. "What is this? A cross-examination? I thought you were a doctor, not a lawyer."

He looks at me, not without sympathy. "A teenage girl doesn't write regular letters without genuine feeling present; surely you realized that?"

My worry increases. "Well, I guess I didn't think of it that way..."

We're quiet for a few minutes, pondering our own thoughts. I reexamine the logic of my long-ago decision and realize that, sound as it was for the most part, it had a few holes. My anxiety rises higher as I consider what effect my deception will have in light of this new stage in Edward's and Bella's relationship.

Carlisle breaks the silence. "So what happens now?"

I look up at him. "They were going to spend yesterday together, and Edward is coming here for a family dinner tonight." I force out my next question. "Will they have talked about why neither got answers to their letters?"

"It seems likely, don't you think?"

I start to fret over Edward's reaction. I haven't thought of those letters in years, and I hate the thought that they may cause him pain. "Will he be hurt?"

Carlisle rises and pulls me against him, hugging me. "I'm afraid it's likely, and Bella will also be hurt and angry."

I moan and bury my head in his chest. "Oh, what do I do now? I have to fix this..."

"We'll have to see what happens. When will Edward get here?"

I snuggle into him a bit more, needing the contact. "An hour or so."

He lifts my chin and places a sweet, comforting kiss on my lips. "Then let's get ready for dinner. We'll have to take this a step at a time."

He gestures politely for me to lead the way, and I ascend the stairs, my nerves tightening with each step.

I find myself at a loss for what to wear. I originally planned to wear the same slacks, with maybe a fresh blouse, but that suddenly doesn't seem like enough. I flip through hangers in my closet, considering and rejecting myriad outfits before settling on a silk shirtdress and heels. A part of me recognizes that it's far more formal than a family dinner at home requires, even a welcome home dinner, but another part needs just that bit of reassurance that no matter what inadequacies or doubts I might feel, I'll at least look my best.

Edward is late. I pace around the living room, wondering if I should call. No, it's only a few minutes. I have to get used to treating him like a man; he's not an eleven-year-old boy anymore. I can't stop pacing, though, and after twenty minutes, even Carlisle agrees that perhaps I should call. Edward picks up on the second ring, and my worst fear—that he fell victim to some accident or other—is allayed. But what on earth is he doing just standing outside our house?

Carlisle goes out to see what's going on as I ask him what's wrong. Edward says we need to call Bella and then his voice seems to...break. I call his name even as I drop the phone and follow Carlisle outside.

Edward is clearly struggling to speak, more than I've seen in years. I try to reassure him, to let him know he can take his time, and all the while, I'm picturing ways that Bella could have hurt him, from inadvertent slights to a deliberate brush-off. My heart breaks for him even as it breaks a little for myself when he pushes me away.

"What has she done to you?" I whisper, afraid to use a louder voice in case it becomes a scream. An anger such as I've never known threatens to demolish any thought of proper behavior. If she's hurt him, I will personally make her wish she was never born...

"I don't know if she'll come back!" he blurts out, and tears start to fall from his beautiful green eyes. "What if she doesn't come back?"

My anger is forced aside in the face of his pain; that's not what he needs now. Maybe it was just a tiff, a misunderstanding? "Oh sweetheart...did you two get into a fight?"

He shakes his head, seemingly unable to speak any more, but comforted by the fact that Carlisle leaves immediately to get Bella and bring her here for dinner. I draw Edward into the house and try to calm him—calm us both. I'm only partially successful with either of us. When Carlisle calls to say he's found Bella and they'll be home shortly, I nearly weep with relief while Edward goes to meet them outside.

I watch the couple as they enter the house, Edward's arm around Bella...Edward's arm creeping toward places it really shouldn't be in public...well, if I had any doubt about where a good portion of their Sunday was spent, it's now put to rest. The difference in Edward, though, is like night and day. He's not nervous, he's speaking easily—light years from the state he was in mere moments ago. He laughs loudly at something none of the rest of us understand, and a part of me wants to laugh with him and a part of me is frustrated at not being to understand any of this.

They didn't have a fight, she didn't leave him, she didn't deliberately hurt him...but when he arrived here, he was absolutely terrified that she would not come to him—would not be with him when he needed her. I decide the only conclusion to be reached is that something is still missing for him—she hasn't given him something he needs to feel secure.

It doesn't take me long to figure out just what that likely is: he's been open and honest with her; I'll be a monkey's uncle if he hasn't already told her he loves her. How likely is it that she's said it back? And what is with the cigarette smoke and alcohol smell? What was she doing when Carlisle found her? If she wasn't wearing her uniform apron, I'd be sure he found her at the local bar! And God, that's the last thing Edward needs, to get caught up with a girl who's going through a belated rebellious phase...

When Bella excuses herself to freshen up, I go upstairs and gather a few things that should fit her. Part of me honestly hopes she'll feel better to get out of her work clothes, and part of me just wants to get that smelly apron off before we sit down to dinner. This uncomfortable mix of emotions lasts until Bella opens the bathroom door.

The face I see is not the face of a woman seeking to forget a bad marriage with booze, cigarettes, and a man too young for her. She's overwhelmed at being thrown into this family dinner when she was probably looking forward to a quiet evening at home—perhaps even spent coming to terms with her feelings for Edward and their relationship. I believe her when she says she won't hurt him, at least to the extent that she won't mean to hurt him. Of course, hurt isn't always intentional... My apology for what I know was borderline rude behavior is sincere, and I'm glad it's accepted. I leave her to change.

We start dinner, and I find myself questioning Bella, wondering just where Edward fits in her future. She's keeping the apartment and working for the Denalis, but is that what she plans forever? She wanted to be a teacher at one time—does she still? How will she go to college and still see Edward? Can she love him enough—give him enough reassurance—to keep him from having the kind of anxiety attack he had earlier tonight?

I don't even realize how hard I'm pushing until Carlisle's gentle but firm voice overrides my next inquiry. And then, Edward speaks.

"Esme. Stop. Now!" His voice is far less gentle than Carlisle's, and I blink in surprise. His tone leaves no doubt that, uncertain of her feelings or not, he will protect her, even from me. My suspicion is proved correct when he makes me apologize to her.

I don't hesitate to do so; I didn't realize how forceful my questions had become, and I certainly didn't mean to be rude or make her uncomfortable. But I'm far from convinced that she deserves a man like my son.

He's silent after my apology, and I'm just starting to think that the worst is over. I'm so preoccupied that I don't even see it coming.

"What happened?" I look up to see Edward focused intently on Bella. "When they sent me to boarding school, why did you never...answer? Didn't you miss me at all? What happened?"

Oh, dear God, no!

A clumsy attempt to halt the inevitable... "...snows of yesteryear..."? Where the hell did that even come from?

"But you never replied to my letters..."

They both turn to look at me, brown and green eyes alike in the realization and accusation beginning to dawn in them. Without conscious thought, I rise on shaky feet.

Bella, Edward...this is not—"

Whatever I was going to say next is cut off when Edward slams his hands on the table, shaking the sturdy oak and rattling plates and cutlery. My hands cover my mouth to stop my scream. Very rarely, when he first came to live with us, he would strike out during the worst of his outbursts. It's been more years than I can recall since I've seen Edward get the least bit violent.

And what can I say anyway? This is not...what? Not what they think? It's exactly what they think—on one level at least. I deliberately kept their letters.

But there was so much more to it. I have to try to explain.

"Please, Edward, you need to..."

"I want them. Where are they?"

"...understand; it was for your own good. I was just..."

"WHERE?" he roars, towering over me with his hands clenched, and I fight the small spark of fear ignited by his actions by clenching my own fists and raising my voice.

"...trying to protect you!" I shout with tears in my eyes. Please...please understand...you needed what they could offer...I had to do what was necessary...

I see Edward turn from me and verbally lash out at Carlisle before facing me and demanding, "My letters, I want them."

"Give them to him," Carlisle whispers.

"Your room." I look at Edward, praying for some sign that our relationship is not irreparably damaged. I see none, but I'm nonetheless compelled to give him what he asks. "There's a card-box on top of the closet. They are all there; I've kept them all."

Without another word, Edward storms off.

Bella's voice reaches me as if through a fog. "Why did you do that? You had no right to do that!"

Knowing how weak it would sound to her—a young woman with no one depending on her to do what is needed, not just what is desiredI can offer only the truth. "It was for his own benefit. I had to do it; Edward was much too dependent on you. He was obsessed with you, Bella, and he had no chance to adjust to the situation at school like that or to make new friends. The counselor said a clean break would be best—"

"A clean break?" she yells, cutting me off. "You made me look like a liar in his eyes!"

I swallow, remembering my debates with the counselor and the school staff, recalling the times I came so close to packing him up and bringing him home. "It wasn't easy for me either."

I can tell she doesn't believe me. She has no idea what I'm talking about. To her, it's just me rationalizing a decision that I couldn't have honestly believed was right. I can think of no way to make her understand, certainly not now, with Edward's rage almost a tangible presence even after he left the room, with the fog growing ever thicker around my brain, with her own anger plain on her face and in the stiff movements of her body.

"Isabella, I think you should follow him. He'll want you by his side now," Carlisle suggests, and I shake my head—no, let me go, I'm his mother, it should be me, I have to try to fix thisbut he takes me in his arms as I hear her footsteps leave the room. I bury my head in his chest and sob.

Carlisle helps me to the couch and holds me until I'm cried out. Neither of us tries to speak. Some time later, we both hear a loud, unmistakable cry from upstairs. A part of me thinks I should be either amused at what they've gotten up to or irritated that they did it in my house, but I'm too numb for that.

When it's been quiet again for several minutes, I sit up, breaking loose from Carlisle's arms. I try to smile as I head for the powder room, but I'm sure it's a dismal attempt. I wash off the streaked make-up and smooth my hair. I have to at least try.

I slowly ascend the steps, wondering what my reception will be. Will he even let me in?

As I reach the top, I glance down to see that Carlisle is now at the foot of the stairs. I get the distinct impression that he thinks my approach at this time is a mistake, but he doesn't say anything.

I reach Edward's door and hesitate. They've undoubtedly heard me coming though—damn these heels—so I force myself to knock lightly and ask if he's all right.

My answer comes through loud and clear: Go away.

So I do. And I stay away when I hear them descend the stairs, when Carlisle speaks to them and gives Edward his new car keys. That was supposed to be a family moment, a joyful homecoming present...now it's their means of escape.

More tears well up, when I was sure I had none, and I'm an inconsolable mess when my husband finds me after they leave.

I don't sleep that night. Oh, a few snatches here and there, but no true rest.

That's fine. I don't deserve rest.

My mind is like a dog with a bone; it won't leave my years-ago decision alone. Something is missing.

I marshal my reasons, and they line up perfectly, little ducks all in a row.

There's no gap, no deviation...they look perfect, but...something is off.

Not right.

Wrong.

Something is wrong.

The eastern sky through our bedroom window is pearly with the approaching dawn when I finally start to realize what it is.

Edward's not a duck. And neither is Bella. Nor me and Carlisle, for that matter.

People aren't supposed to be in rows. At least, there's more to us than that. Sure, we can be in rows if we like, but that shouldn't be the only shape we can make.

I shake my head. I'm not at all sure I'm making any sense.

But it's coming.

By the time the sun breaks the horizon, I realize the problem with what I did.

I am Edward's mother. His mother. I know him better than anyone, love him more than anyone, take his best interests to heart more than anyone. More than that counselor. More than school staff.

I know what Bella meant to him then and what she means to him now. On some level, deep down, I know, in a place beyond reason or straight rows.

But I didn't trust myself. I let the experts make the decision for me.

I let them brush off what they deemed an unhealthy "obsession" with his babysitter and listened to their talk of a clean break being best, when I knew what Bella and Edward had was much more—after all, didn't Edward and I share a similar bond? Beyond reasons and straight rows. It simply was.

And it was and is good. Not unhealthy. It's good for all of us: Edward, Bella, me, and Carlisle. It's unselfish love—the healthiest thing there can be.

All the reasons I had, the weight of all the expert authority in my favor...they probably would have led to the right decision in nine out of ten cases—maybe even more than that, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

But they didn't lead to the right decision for Edward. For all of us.

And now all of us have to deal with the fallout of my mistake.

I tell Carlisle about my epiphany, and he agrees. And I realize I wasted his insight all those years ago, not forcing him to sit down and help me with this, thinking he was too busy and too distant, when in fact he saw more than the experts because he saw with eyes that loved all of us, and he saw more than me because he was back just far enough to see all of it clearly. I am thankful more than ever for this wonderful man who accepts my apology, tells me he loves me, and holds me to him even more tightly.

Will I get the same chance with Edward?

I know it's too soon. I have to let some time pass. I should probably wait for him to come to me, but I don't know how long I can bear to wait before at least making an attempt. A week? Maybe. I doubt I can hold out any longer than that.

Tuesday slowly passes. When night falls, I don't sleep well, but exhaustion grants me a few hours where a young Edward, a young Bella, white-coated experts, and handwritten letters swirl dizzily in my dreams.

Wednesday dawns, and I resolve to stick to my schedule, even if my heart isn't in it. I snort; no, my heart is in an apartment across town, hating my guts.

I follow my usual morning volunteer routine, arriving back home at about 11:30 a.m. for lunch before I head out to my afternoon appointments. When the phone rings shortly after I walk in the door, I pick it up and almost drop it in shock when I see the caller I.D.

I push the button and hardly dare to breathe. I'm struggling to articulate a greeting...something...anything...when I hear the most beautiful thing in the world, and I collapse to the floor on my knees.

"Mom, we need to talk."

~T~

A/N: Again, I thank Betti for trusting me with this project. We first met (virtually, lol) when Little Green and Easybella was an entry in the Cherry Exchange contest along with my first ever fanfic. I was blown away by her story, which had special meaning to me as the mother of a child with Aspergers. I could see pieces of my son in Little Green, and I wrote a heartfelt review. We've corresponded ever since, and I was thrilled when she decided to continue with the story.

Thanks are also due to my great and powerful beta, detochkina. This outtake wouldn't have been half what it is if she hadn't pushed me past my comfort zone. She deserves enormous kudos for the hours we worked over this. She loves Little Green and Esme as much as Betti and I do, and it shows.

In this outtake, I tried to keep a balance of using my own experiences to bring perspective and richness to Esme's character without making her a caricature of myself. The struggles she goes through trying to do her best for her son are shared by mothers the world over, but they are especially difficult and can be heartbreaking when a special needs or atypical child is involved. Try not to think too harshly of her - she really was doing the best she knew how with what she had at the time.