Cats and Dogs
An AH short romance to benefit Flight for Bobby Dupea (Autism Speaks).
A huge amount of thanks is due to Raum, for the beautiful banner, and to Room340C, my amazing Beta (and dog person).
Follow me on Twitter jmollyfanfic
Music: "Shattered", by Trading Yesterday
"Men are such pussies," Bella Swan said under her breath, her hands not faltering in their motion.
"Ow! Jeez, Swan, do you have to be such a bitch?" Edward Cullen snarled, flexing his hands on his lap. She regarded him haughtily from her position at his feet.
"Do you want this, or not?" she demanded.
He wanted her on her knees.
The admittedly attractive, twenty-seven year old man crossed his arms mulishly, looking daggers at her out of eyes the colour of lush spring grass. "If I didn't want to get better, I wouldn't be here, spending $80 an hour for you to torture me," he spat. Why oh why did this aggravating woman have to be the only Registered Massage Therapist in this Podunk little town? She had cut off her hair since he had last seen her. It lay smooth and silky against her scalp, but hung in a bunch of squiggly little tails down her neck, making her look like an 80's punk rocker. He didn't like it. At all.
She bit back a harsh reply. Edward Cullen was popular in Forks, even if Bella still thought he was a self-centered, arrogant, man-whore of an emotional infant with delusions of grandeur. She was fresh out of school, and still building her clientele here. The last thing she needed was for the bastard to bad mouth her to the doting locals. "You know, you could always drive to Seattle and see someone else."
He avoided looking at her, the poster boy for impotent frustration. "I can't drive that far. It's too painful."
The injury was obviously not new, the wide, six inch long scar decorating his bony knee fading from what had once been an angry red, to a ridged, pearly white. She wondered why it was not better, and why on earth he hadn't come to her sooner. Did he really hate her that much?
"Have you been doing your exercises?" she asked instead, rubbing her fingers in tiny hard circles over his kneecap, her mouth set in a disapproving line. He flinched. The muscle in his calf was so tense that she worried it was becoming spastic, and if it was, she might have to get him on the table despite his protests. If his muscles started to freeze in response to a gentle touch, he would have to go to a medical doctor for muscle relaxants or narcotic pain killers. She didn't like it when that happened.
She was relieved to find that his fascia yielded under her hand. She could help him with deep muscle massage. But she would have to gain his trust enough that he would not hold himself tense for her, and then she would be able to coax him onto her table, and work with his feet, and stretch the fascia in his calves and thighs until they allowed his bones and ligaments to relax into their proper positions.
At the thought of his lengthy form on her table, she felt a familiar tingle that she would sooner ignore.
"Yes," he said defensively, recalling her to the present, with that full lower lip teasing her in a pout. His cheeks flamed. But she wasn't about to fall for it. Or him. She knew how dangerous that lip was. She had discovered that when she was seventeen, and he was just short of twenty-one, and she hadn't been the same since. Nobody would ever hear from her that he could do amazing things with that lip. And tongue. Even now, she clenched for him, yearning to rewrite history. She wondered if he would hold a grudge forever.
"How many times a day are you doing your sets?" she asked narrowly. He wouldn't meet her eyes.
"And how many reps of each exercise?" she pressed.
"Seven reps of each of the five exercises the physiotherapist gave me," he said sullenly.
"How long ago were you injured?" she demanded critically, those penetrating brown eyes making him feel as small and inadequate as a rat. No, not a rat, a slug. He appreciated rats. They actually made great pets. He had not cared for slugs, though, ever since a ten-year-old Bella had put one down his shorts after asking to touch his penis. That kind of practical joke was traumatic for a guy.
"What, you didn't hear the thrilling tale?" he sneered sarcastically. "The grapevine is not doing its job, if the old witches haven't filled you in on all the gory details." Literally.
"I suppose you were playing football with the over-the-hill guys," she said unkindly, spraying oil on his knee and manipulating the fascia. His artificial joint was covered in scar tissue. It might never fully heal. "Bunch of morons, tackling each other at their age. Somebody's going to die of stupidity one of these days."
His face paled.
"I don't want to talk about it," he husked.
"What, is that what happened?" she asked, one brow raised. "Some middle-aged Humpty Dumpty killer tackled you and ripped your kneecap clear off?" Anger surged through her flesh. She wanted to know who had been so foolish. She wanted to claw him like an angry black cat. To wipe the good-old-boy goofy smile right off the unknown face.
"No," Cullen said curtly. "I was hit by a car, after a glorious sunny day at Ruby Beach. Luckily, a group of kids from Hoh rescued me before I could bleed out."
"I'm sorry," she murmured, picturing his old Volvo crumpled into pieces, with him inside it unconscious and bleeding, his leg shattered and useless. He had scars on it from pins. It must have been in traction for a very long time. Her traitorous heart gave a dreadful throb. She pulled her hands down his scarred calf, watching him, waiting for a response to her apology. For anything that might intimate a sign of forgiveness. But he averted his face, biting down on both lips, and his eyes were glassy.
Furious with herself, her words were clipped. "You're going to have to do more, a lot more, if you want to regain your mobility. I want five sets a day, and we'll book you for more physio, and-"
"I can't afford it," he interrupted, hoping to quash any further mention of it. He stared out into the empty reception area again. "I'm self-employed, I'm still paying my hospital bills, and I don't have the coverage." A flush crept up his neck, disconcerting her.
"What, you don't have medical insurance?" she squawked. What. An. Idiot.
Edward shrugged angrily. "It's all used up. If you'd care to take me outside and run over me, they'll cover a new complaint. Then I can get more physio."
Her ire faded. So it was true: he had not come into millions when his bon vivant father died, and he was struggling to hang onto that big house he'd grown up in. Bella sighed quietly. It was a lovely house, with a huge covered verandah and a quaint, enclosed gazebo covered in fuchsia climbing roses. She remembered how he had tended his mother's gardens while his father and brother paraded an endless line of women through the house. None of them had filled the hole left by Esme Cullen. Bella wondered what life would have been like had Edward's gentle mother not…
"I'll expect you here every day without fail. Five sets, and I'll teach you more exercises, and we'll work you up to more reps. I want you to do at least twenty," she said harshly.
"Why?" he wanted to know, his eyes frank and vulnerable.
"Because I don't want that leg to atrophy any further, dumbass. It's much smaller than the other one. You've lost a great deal of muscle. If you don't build it back, it's never going to get better," she said crossly.
"No, why would you help me?" he argued resentfully. "You don't like me, Swan. I understand why, I can tell you're not over it. So why would you want to help me?"
Because I miss you. Because arguing with you was better than having a pleasant conversation with anyone else. Because I was a fool. I pulled the roof down on our heads, and I wish I could undo it. I wish that night had never happened. But words can't be taken back once they've been flung out. There's no turning back the clock.
"Even if you do think I'm nothing but a cock tease, Edward Cullen, I wouldn't wish an injury like this on your dog. Now, Doctor, the members of this delightful town count on you to provide services to their loved ones, and the last thing they need is for you to become unable to walk."
He cringed as though he'd been hit, his lowered eyes assuming the colour of moss, and she regretted her sharp tongue. But she wasn't going to apologize to him, even if hurting his feelings was threatening to tear her heart from its uncomfortably lonesome spot in her chest. He deserved to be hated, didn't he?
"I'll expect you here three times a day. I can be here as early as you want," she said coldly.
"I don't think I can fit three times into my schedule," he said, the hurt evident in his voice.
"Tricky Woo will just have to adjust until you're better," she insisted, getting off her low stool and folding her arms stubbornly.
"Hah," he laughed bleakly, catching Bella's reference to the overindulged Pomeranian from the Herriot books. "Spoiled constipated dogs wait on no vet," he joked weakly, getting out of the chair. He pulled out his wallet and offered Bella four Andrew Jacksons.
"Keep it," she said, pushing his hand away. What her boss, Mike, didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Once Cullen was gone, she would erase his name from the appointment log and tell Mike that he hadn't shown up.
"But," Edward began, a worried line appearing between his eyes.
"If I ever need veterinary assistance for my cat, I'll know who to call," she informed him. He nodded once, his dignity appeased. He didn't know that she didn't have a cat anymore.
"Still a cat person, huh?" he asked coolly, hobbling out of the room. They had met when she was four, and he was eight, and his rambunctious Border Collie, Bear, had attempted to ingest her Calico, Wednesday Addams, for lunch. It had begun the war. He had been in love with her ever since.
He was still in love with her.
"Still a dog person, huh?" she asked, arching a brow in challenge.
He had set the stage for their entire relationship nineteen years earlier, by summing up his feelings as only a precocious eight-year-old boy could: You are a cat person, and I am a dog person. Dogs and cats can never mix. And they never had. Cullen and Swan? Oil and water, plain and simple. Their years passed in a haze of pithy comments and tit for tat skirmishes: permanent marker on favourite t-shirts, scissor snips of hair the night before Sadie Hawkins', murdered teddy bears and birthday kicks to the shin.
And later? Accusations of cheap, or crass, behaviour, insults traded in front of respective boyfriends or girlfriends, and always, always philosophical debate. Nobody could keep up with them, and nobody could replace the other in their lives.
"How many Kleenex in your bra today, Swan? They for Tyler to blow his nose in?"
"I dunno, Cullen. How many tube socks in your shorts?"
"All me, Baby. You want a taste?"
"Sure. Just as soon as I'm finished cloning zombie DNA in my basement."
Nineteen-and-a-bit years after meeting, they stared at each other, waiting for who-knows-what miracle to break through the wall of pain. But Edward knew what pain was. Pain came from loving people, and left scars in its wake. And some injuries could never heal, no matter how much you wanted them to. Some hurts were… permanent.
Outside the clinic, a Matchbox-sized blue car pulled up and honked impatiently. Edward seemed to droop. Bella looked past his shoulder, and her face turned scornful. "I see your girlfriend is here. What's her name again, do you even know?"
"She's not my girlfriend," he said automatically, although the female in question was certainly hinting that she wanted them to be… official. She was getting annoyingly clingy. His mouth turned down. "She's just a girl that I see sometimes. Jessica."
"Well, you'd better not keep Jessica waiting," Bella snapped as her eyes -shifting from him to the flavour of the month- overflowed with dislike. "And you'd better not stand me up in the morning. What time?"
"Um," he said, shifting awkwardly on his feet, "I have to prepare for a surgery at seven-thirty."
"Okay," he said, turning regretfully toward the door. He eyed the steep front steps with trepidation. It had been hell climbing up them. Why on earth did a physical rehabilitation clinic not have a wheelchair ramp?
"Wait," Bella snapped, marching behind the desk to fling open a closet. She pulled out a heavy, lustrous mahogany cane and handed it to him.
"This was your Dad's," he protested.
"I want it back when you're strong again," she asserted, ushering him toward the exit. "Six-thirty."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, enjoying the patina of the wood. He wasn't about to tell Swan that he had canes of his own. No, if he borrowed her Dad's, he would at least have the assurance that he would see her again. Plus, it felt like she was giving him a gift, and anything he could get from her, he would eagerly take.
Edward repressed a sigh, eyeing the beaming Jessica with reluctance. He put his bad leg down on the first of the steps, facing sideways so that he could brace himself using the cane. His left foot joined his right on the step, and he eased himself down the next one, feeling the familiar grief weigh more heavily with each inch of separation from the girl behind him.
He had been a sheltered, immature man-child, relying on the protection of his mother's skirts to get him through life. And Bella had been a spunky, insanely intelligent little girl with a mouth too big for her own good. And his.
If only he hadn't been so stupid, it might have been Bella waiting to collect him in that car…
On the fateful evening, she was seventeen, and he was coming up on his twenty-first birthday. She had been goading him all weekend about the hoard of girls she assumed he was fucking at U-Dub. She was, sadly, wrong.
They stood at opposite sides of the small, lattice-covered gazebo. It was a cool May evening. The next Friday would be her Senior Prom. And she wasn't going with him. He had casually asked her if she had a date, and she had answered that she would be going with her boyfriend, Jake.
"I don't like him, Swan," he growled. Jacob Black was a manipulative, whiny jerk.
"Well, that's nothing new. You don't like any of the boys I date. How's Tanya, by the way? Or is it Katrina you're fucking now? Or Chelsea?" she asked spitefully.
"Bella," he huffed, putting his hands on his hips.
She was undeterred. "I'm well aware that you're allowed to whore yourself away in college, but I'm-"
"Actually I'm n-"
"So who gives the best head, huh?" she asked, giving him a scathing look.
He stared at her in blatant disbelief, and then burned red enough to light the entire peninsula. "That's none of your-"
"I'm giving Jake my virginity," she announced.
"What!" he yelped, blinking at her.
"I'm going to let Jake fuck me," she shrugged. "We're all renting hotel rooms after Prom, and-"
"No," he said hotly. "No, Bella."
"Why not?"she asked blandly. "I want to get it over with." She took a sip of her Coke, her mesmerizing lips wrapped in an O around the bottle.
His blood boiled. "No! You can't!"
"It's my life. I most certainly can!"
"But I've been waiting-" He checked himself, hanging his head.
"What?" she asked softly.
"Nothing," he muttered, cramming his hands into his jeans pockets. She crossed the deck to him, stepping closer… closer, to peek up into his eyes. He was a good foot taller than she was, and he was determined not to look at her.
"What?" she coaxed, the hint of a smile lurking at the corners of her mouth.
"You shouldn't just throw away your first time," he said gruffly. "It ought to be with someone who … cares about you. It should… mean something. And Jacob? He'll probably blow his load in five seconds and leave you high and dry." He scowled. Stupid Jacob Black! "You should … expect better." He shuffled his feet uncertainly.
"Lots of people lose their virginity on Prom Night," Bella smiled, amused by his unexpected sentimentality.
"So why be a mindless sheep?" he argued. "Having sex on Prom Night, for everyone to gossip about after? That's just…"
"So how would you have me lose my V-card, if not after Prom with Jake?" she asked, biting her lip to keep from laughing. Her eyelashes fluttered as she looked at him impishly. Vixen. "What, do you want the job?"
And then, he bit his lip and clammed up tight, because for all they bickered and drove each other crazy, he couldn't imagine not having her in his life. And if he gave her the answer she was so heartlessly waiting for, he could lose her forever.
"Edward," she asked, trying to get him to look her in the eye, "do you want that?" He wouldn't look at her, so she grasped his chin in her small hand and lifted it.
His eyes were stormy, conflicted, and she realized, with a jolt, that it was exactly what he wanted. And something in her heart opened, that made her reevaluate everything she had ever known. It left her awestruck. And oh, so vulnerable.
She hadn't been planning on giving her virginity to Jake, really. She just said it to make Edward Cullen jealous.
And it worked.
His long, slender fingers curled around her shoulders, and those magnetic eyes of his pulled her into their depths. He ghosted kisses over her face and then pressed his lips to hers, as he had wanted to do for so long. He pulled her bottom lip between his, and shuddered when she voiced a feminine squeak and melted into his arms. Resistance was futile. He surrendered to his passion, locking her in his embrace and communicating through his kisses all that he had ever wanted to say.
Had he been the kind of young man you find in poems, he would have laid his heart on the floor between their feet, and spouted the kind of perfect words that would have led them to a happily ever after. But he was only Edward Cullen, the younger brother of a heroin addict, the son of a mother dying of cancer and an ostrich of a father whose world was falling apart. And he didn't know that the girl he coveted would have been his forever, had he only opened his mouth as well as her blouse.
I've loved you since the moment you screamed dirty words at me and threatened to whack my dog with a red plastic baseball bat.
I love that you're an independent person, patient with your childlike mother, and intolerant of fools.
I love it when you belittle me in front of other people, then defend me to the teeth if one of them says anything against me.
I love your eyes when they go all soft and doe-like, and how your tongue peeps out when you're deciding how to counter a complex argument, and how your whole face lights up when I tell you some absurd story to end the day. Your laugh sustains me through the night when we aren't together. And I love how you call me 'Cullen' and your lip curls up when I call you 'Swan'.
I love you, and I have been waiting for you to grow up. And the spiced, exotic scent of you means home to me, and I have wanted to come home for so long…
But he was so young, and he said none of those things, because he didn't know how, and he was scared to be rejected. And she was too young to understand that everything he felt, he was giving her in his touch.
So, he peeled her blouse off, somehow got her out of her bra, and discovered how her breasts seemed to be made to fit within his hands, and how her skin tasted and felt just as good as it smelled. He learned what soft noises he could evoke from her. And because she was so happy, she did not realize that his touches were clumsy because he'd never done it before. All she knew was that she was worshipped, and that she trusted him to take care of her and put her first.
They toed off their shoes.
They managed to bump heads as she reached to undo his jeans, and stopped to snort about it until he took over the job, and dropped them along with his underwear in one fell swoop.
And then she balked a bit.
"Your dick's a lot bigger than the last time I saw it, Cullen," she said nervously.
"Bella, we don't have to," he reassured her.
"No, I want…" she insisted, reaching to touch. Instantly, he angled away, taking her hand in his.
"I won't last if you…" he said, turning red again.
"Sorry," she winced.
"No, don't be sorry, Bella. Don't ever be sorry for this." He undid the button on her jeans and eased them down. "Is it okay?"
"Yes," she said, her eyes apprehensive. Gently, he sat her on the narrow bench, and stripped them off her legs. Then he parted them, hands kneading at her inner thighs, and had his first look at a pussy.
He decided right then and there that no other pussy could possibly be that gorgeous.
He decided right then that no other man was ever going to see it.
He decided right then that she belonged to him.
Edward turned large eyes to Bella. "Can I … touch?" She bit her lips and nodded, so he took his hand and tentatively pressed it to her labia, searching for her clit. They both drew in a huge breath and blew it out as he found it. Both of them watched his hand as he gently stroked her swollen wetness. He swallowed hard, his cock straining so it was bent right up onto his belly.
"Can I?" he asked, and licked his lips. Bella nodded once, misunderstanding, and waited to be deflowered. Instead, he brought his head down to her secret places, and gave a tentative lick.
"Oh!" she gasped, not sure whether to be mortified or aroused. Her fingers slapped down, pushing him away, and covered her pussy shyly. He peeked up at her sheepishly, wondering what he'd done wrong.
"Don't you like it?" he asked.
It was Bella's turn to avert her eyes and blush.
"Bella," he murmured, rising up on his knees again to brush a kiss onto her mouth. "Let me."
Anxiety made her bite her lip again, but she nodded her permission. Taking her hand, he held it in his left while exploring with his right.
He found the entrance to her vagina, and to his surprise, it was quite… small. Not like anything his friends had boasted about. Not obvious. Definitely her hymen was intact. He was very, very careful not to hurt her as he pushed his finger inside. Oh, was anything better? His Bella was hot, and puffy, and perfect to sheathe him. He felt strangely proud of himself. He bent his head and applied his tongue to her privates again, while gently probing with his finger. For curiosity's sake, he kissed up to her mons and wrapped his mouth around it, biting down gently with his lips. She seemed to like it, so he did it again. Then he went back to licking.
This exquisite torment was becoming too much for Bella to bear. She began to shake, overawed by his actions, and fell limp. Both of them were so innocent that they assumed that she had had an orgasm. She hadn't. He raked his eyes up her body, and locked eyes with her. They both looked determined to continue.
"Can I have you?" … Forever?
She put her hands on his shoulders. "Yes. I want you to be my first."
"Are you sure?" he checked. She nodded, so he drew her close to the edge of the wooden bench, and closed the distance between them. Awkwardly, he lined himself up with her entrance. He was absolutely determined to be the gentleman that his mother wanted him to be, so he resolved to move very, very slowly. "Last chance to stop," he whispered.
Bella pressed her lips together firmly, and shook her head. Edward leaned toward her, and his cock bumped away from where it was supposed to be, leaving it sliding along the length of her pussy. She flinched slightly.
"Sorry," he murmured, and lined himself up again. Bella clutched his shoulders and urged him closer.
The tip of his cock pressed against her opening, and he gave a slow, steady nudge. He was so excited, but he didn't want to hurt his Swan, so he went incredibly slowly. He could feel her just begin to stretch around the head of his cock, and it was all he could do not to push forward and take his pleasure. But then, incomprehensibly, she gasped and began to push him away.
"S-stop!" she cried. "It hurts! It hurts!"
"I'm sorry, Love. It's going to hurt," he reminded her, and felt her stiffen. She was very tense. He pressed in a little further. There was a moment, a moment encapsulated in time, where he knew he had broken her hymen, and then mercifully the first few inches of his dick were in her. He could sink inside. But that joyful experience never came, because he suddenly found himself lying on his back on the floorboards, and his Swan was running away from him, clutching her clothes to her chest. Sobbing.
"Bella! Come back!" he yelped. Levering himself up on one elbow, he prepared to run after her, to tell her it was okay, that he was sorry, that he didn't mean to hurt her. But as he sat up, he got a good look at his groin in the moonlight. And he was stunned.
There was blood on it. Quite a bit of it. He had hurt the one person in the world who always had time for him. Bella made him feel cherished. And in that moment, he hated himself.
Curling his legs to cross them, he sat naked on the chilly deck of the gazebo, and thought about his life. He was ashamed. Bella had told him 'no', and he had not stopped. A year beforehand, he might have confessed his shame to his mother, but now she had enough to deal with. His father wasn't handling anything. And Emmett was no good for advice. Emmett was blithely killing himself. The one person he could always rely upon had run away. She ran away from him without even getting dressed first, for fuck's sake!
She was afraid of him. Afraid of him. How could everything have gone so wrong?
She was seventeen years old. Not even a legal adult. And he had hurt her. Hurt his precious Swan! He could… he could… be charged… with assault. A mammoth icicle of dread pierced his entire being. Would his dearest companion … accuse him of rape?
He couldn't bear the thought. He clutched his hair and rocked himself, and he cried. He cried. He cried because his Swan wouldn't want him anymore.
At two in the morning, having heard his family calling for him, he sat in the same position, numb. About half an hour later, Emmett thought to look in the gazebo, and what he saw threw him for a loop.
"Hey, Eddie," he crooned, hiding his terror, "whatcha doin' out here? It's cold, Bud. Time to get inside."
Edward did not move, he lay in fetal position on his side, his eyes open and his face glazed with tears.
"Come on, Baby Brother," Emmett coaxed, extending his hand. Surprisingly, Edward took it. Emmett pulled him to his feet, then he noticed the blood. "What's going on, Kid?" he asked casually, tugging Edward gently toward the house.
"Bella," Edward rasped, and would say no more.
Bella, meanwhile, had run across the Cullens' expansive lawn, clothes in hand. She hid behind some bushes to dress. Then, she walked into her mother's house as though nothing had happened, and went up to bed.
She had a quick bath, slipped into a comfortable nightshirt, and curled up under the covers.
She wanted to scream at herself. She had both started and finished her romantic relationship with Edward Cullen in a single night. Teased him. Flirted. Then, she had given herself freely to him. And then, she had panicked like a kid at the first sign of pain, and used both feet to shove him off of her.
She was sure he felt terribly upset, but she was so ashamed of herself for not carrying through, for kicking him away from her, when he had been so … loving, that she couldn't talk to him.
Her phone buzzed on her nightstand, and she didn't answer it. She was too ashamed.
He phoned six times, but he left no message, and she didn't pick up once.
Bella slept late the next morning. She had her breakfast, sitting down carefully as she was still tender. She wondered if Edward would come over to talk things out.
Edward was not there. After a night-time discussion with his father, who castigated him roundly for his foolishness, he was sent packing back to U-Dub, banned from spending the summer at home.
Three weeks after he left, his mother Esme died.
After a huge argument with a mother who just couldn't fathom her daughter's inexplicable behaviour, Bella went to the funeral. She sat at the back despite her mother's wish to sit closer. And in the receiving line afterward, she gave her heartfelt condolences to Carlisle, and kissed Emmett on the cheek. Three Cullen men in tailored black suits. And she couldn't raise her eyes to speak to the third. She offered him her hand, slowly, and he took it urgently, and clung to it. Because she couldn't look at him, she didn't see his red eyes fill with tears. She tugged her hand free of him, and half-ran from the church.
Her annoyed mother found her pacing outside, and insisted on going to the reception. Bella lurked in the corner of the church basement, picking at her plate of dainty spiral finger sandwiches. A large form hovered over her. She raised her eyes timidly, and looked at Emmett. She waited for him to speak. To tell her how Edward was doing. Unfortunately for her, drug addicts do not have the best interpersonal skills.
"You're killing my brother," he said gruffly, trying to get it through her thick skull that Edward was in love with her. "You're cutting him up." If he had to guilt her into talking to him, he would. "Are you going to have him charged?"
Bella Swan blanched. All Edward cared about was whether he was going to get in trouble. She blinked away tears. "Tell him he can stop worrying," she said bitterly. "The little cock tease isn't going to make any trouble." She started to walk away and Emmett grabbed her arm, his mouth working as he stared at her, unable to find any words to correct her misapprehension. She pulled her arm free, eyes flashing. They turned frosty. "Tell him to stay away from me."
Bella Swan straightened her spine, and marched out of the church hall. Emmett's mousy brown head bowed. He sighed, looking and really seeing how his baby brother was fixated on the spot where she had disappeared. He walked over to his brother, feeling like an old man, and put his arm around him.
"What did she say?" Edward asked weakly.
"Forget her," Emmett growled, giving his brother a squeeze. "She's nothing but a bitch. She's not going to forgive you. She wants you to stay away from her." He held his brother up. Poor kid was gonna collapse with grief. At least there was one bright spot. "She says she won't press charges if you leave her alone."
And he had left her alone, Edward thought, as he knocked back a couple of Tylenol that Jessica had brought him. He had gone back to college and buried himself in his studies, and in his spare time he had fucked everything that moved. And he had felt vindicated for doing it after Austin Marks, a guy in Bella's year, had approached him to ask if Edward and Bella weren't friends anymore because they had fucked. Yes, Edward had said. And then Austin had congratulated him for getting away from such a lousy lay.
Jessica hovered in front of Edward, eyes brimming with affection, and ate up his murmur of thanks. He sipped his coffee, conceded that she really did make good coffee, and thought to himself that he shouldn't take out his upset on her. She was a nice girl. The kind of girl who didn't do casual relationships.
"You know," she said, getting uncomfortably close, "what you really need is a wife. Somebody to take care of you and your house so you can-"
"-I'm sorry, Jess," he said coldly, staring out the window at the gazebo. "I told you. I'm not looking for a commitment."
"Well, I am," she told him, confident that he wouldn't want to lose her. She had bent over backwards to make herself very useful to him.
"You deserve more than what I'm willing to give you," he said, taking another sip of coffee. "You're a good girl. I appreciate everything you've done for me. You need a man who will love you as much as you deserve. It would be best if you just go."
She stared at him, processing. "You… you're breaking up with me?"
"Yes. It's for the best," he said flatly.
In shock, she went upstairs and packed her bag. He did not say good-bye as she walked out the door twenty minutes later. He just stood there, drinking his coffee…
"Ow!" he groaned a week later, from between gritted teeth, as his feet turned circles on the farcically small bicycle pedals. Anybody would think he was practicing to become a ridiculously uncoordinated circus clown.
"Suck it up, Cullen," Bella said mercilessly, watching him from her stool at his side. A sheen of sweat broke out across his forehead. "Forty-two, forty-three…"
He whimpered as his right thigh muscles prickled, and she hesitated as a sickly pallor appeared to accentuate the dark circles under his eyes.
"Okay, enough," she told him, reaching out to rub gently above his knee. His arms gripped the rests on the uncomfortable chair, and his eyes squeezed shut. Bella watched him solemnly, tracing his knee gently in a way that didn't have much to do with therapy. He opened his eyes, and he looked so sad. She wanted to heal him, but she was afraid that she couldn't be the one to do it. And even to get a chance at it, they would have to sort out their past.
"Cullen?" she began, and hesitated. She couldn't take the chance that he would pick a fight with her, and leave, and never come back. If she couldn't have him, at least she could help him to get strong again.
He was waiting for her question.
"Your accident," she said, blinking nervously. He withdrew into himself, and seemed to her to shrink. Literally.
"Please don't, Bella. Not today," he begged.
"Were you the only one… in the car?"
"Car?" he frowned. "Swan, I wasn't in a car."
"But you said a car hit you," she frowned, confused.
Edward blew out an angry breath and stood up. "A car hit me. I was not surrounded by a vehicle at the time. I ran out in the middle of the road, and it hit me. You don't need to tell me it isn't the brightest thing I've ever done. Trust me, I know that already." He took a step toward the door. Bella grabbed his wrist.
"Edward?" she begged, "Don't go." Her hand slipped into his, seemingly of its own volition, and without thinking about it, his fingers closed around hers and took the comfort offered. He sat down in the uncomfortable chair again, feeling dangerously close to tears. They sat in silence for several minutes.
"Why were you in the road, Edward?" she asked, bracing herself for the answer. He had always been smart, and careful. Even in high school he had never imbibed alcohol. He said that there were too many addictive personalities in his family, and that if he started he might never stop. She had respected him for that. And he had liked to be in control. She couldn't imagine him getting drunk or doing anything stupid. And then something occurred to her: could there have been someone else in the road? Had he… pushed someone out of the way, and been hit instead? It would explain why he got so choked up every time she tried to ask him about it. "Was… someone else with you? In the road?"
"You'll just think I'm stupid," he said bitterly.
"No, no. I couldn't think that. Especially not when you were so badly hurt," she said, rubbing soothing circles on his thumb. "There was someone. There, in the road with you."
He dipped his chin, and his eyes turned to brilliant emerald pools. Fat tears sat on his lashes. She sighed unhappily.
"Who was it, Love?"
"You'll only laugh," he said roughly, taking his hand back. Who was she to call him 'Love'? She had broken his heart into a kajillion bits.
"Why?" she asked softly.
He huffed a laugh, and the tears on his lashes actually flew away from his face and splattered on his lap. "Because you're a cat person," he said, laughing bitterly.
She took back his hand. "Hagrid."
"Hagrid," he confirmed, rolling his eyes. He stared at the ceiling, trying not to cry.
Bella remembered Hagrid very well. Edward had wanted a Mastiff the minute he had seen Fang in the Harry Potter movie, and Esme and Carlisle had obligingly obtained one for him. At the age of seventeen, he had therefore become the proud owner of a brindle-coated English Mastiff the size of a pony. Esme was forever complaining about the amount of food he devoured. But Edward adored him, and walked his dog everywhere. The dog had become a staple focus for Bella's teasing. She adored Hagrid, too. But she never would have admitted it to Edward.
"What happened?" she asked sadly.
"I took him to the beach for the day. It was the kind of weather we never get here, you know?"
Yes, she did know.
"Hot and sunny. The sand was all shiny pink with bits of ruby. Prettiest day ever. And I threw the Frisbee for Hagrid for hours. Then, some kid lost track of his ball. It was one of those ones like you see in the bins in stores, you know? The nice big fat blow-up beach balls that are really light, and easily blown away?"
"And Hagrid chased it," he said, lip trembling. "Right out of the fenced-off part of the beach. Right into the road. Right onto the highway. And there I was, bellowing for him to stop, and pelting after him. I ran right out into the road without looking, and wham, I got hit." He sucked in a breath. "Hit and run. The fucking driver left the scene. And do you know what? I was still yelling for the damn dog." He shook his head. "Fuck, if I hadn't called him, he probably would have been all right. But no, he came running for me, and this car on the other side of the road… it… Hagrid went right up the windshield, right over the top of the car. I was screaming like a madman," he said incredulously. "He might have killed the kids in that car, and my bones were sticking up out of my leg, and all I could care about was Hagrid."
"I'm so sorry," Bella said, wrapping her hand over their joined ones and rubbing at it.
"Emmett and my father were furious," he shared. "All that my father talked about for weeks were my hospital bills. He said I was a moron to run out onto the highway after a dog. I didn't see Emmett right away, he was in rehab again. So, to comfort me during my surgeries, I had a critical father ranting about the need to defer my year in school, and a brother who was too fucked up to say anything that was really rational." He felt the need to explain, even though it would make him look like a pussy. "All I had in life was Hagrid, Bella. My mother left me, you left me, and finally, even my dog left me. I told myself I hated everyone, and I took up with a succession of girlfriends who let me stay with them while I got better. I never spoke to my father again, do you know that? He died of a massive heart attack two years ago."
"I heard." She was solemn, staring at their joined hands. He was holding onto her pretty tightly now.
"The bastard left me positively swimming in debt," he said angrily. "Oh, yes. Turns out he was an inveterate gambler. Hocked everything he could, my dear old dad, and mortgaged the house to the hilt. Emmett immediately turned full ownership over to me. Said he didn't want it."
"But you did," Bella said, caressing his hand. "Oh, Cullen, why didn't you sell the house?" she sighed. "It's only a house. I know you took care of the garden because of your Mom, but you really don't need it to remember her."
His throat worked for a moment as he looked out into space. "I didn't keep it to remember her."
"Then… why?" she asked slowly.
He looked at her impatiently. "I kept it because it was the only place I could still have you."
"Have me?" she scoffed. "Like, as in a shrine? Hah! Like you ever loved me, Cullen!"
"I did! I loved you Swan. But you were afraid of me. You ran away."
"I don't believe you," she said, eyes flashing. "You left and never spoke to me again!"
"I would gladly have spoken to you, had you given me the opportunity," he said hotly. "You told Emmett that you wouldn't have me charged with statutory rape as long as I left you alone! Do you know how that-"
"I never said any such thing!" she growled.
"Emmett told me. He spoke to you at my mother's funeral. I was too chicken shit to go and speak to you myself, so he went to see if you might be willing to talk to me. He told me he tried to tell you how much I loved you, how it was cutting me up inside when you wouldn't take my phone calls, and that when he didn't get a response he asked if you were planning to press charges against me. That's when he told me what you said," Edward stated, hurt and offended that she was denying it.
"Emmett didn't say anything like that. He came over and told me you were fretting about whether I was going to have you charged. I was feeling so ashamed for treating you like I did, because I thought…"
"Go on," he ordered.
"I thought you loved me and I broke your heart."
"I did. You did," he frowned.
"But then after what Emmett said, I thought you were only worried about yourself, that you were afraid you'd get in trouble, and you probably only called to make sure I wasn't going to charge you, and you didn't really care about me," she said anxiously.
He reached out and cupped her face. "I loved you. Bella. I was fretting because I hurt you and you wouldn't talk to me. I was fretting because I was afraid you hated me, and I'd never see you again. I didn't sleep for weeks: what if you hated me? What if you charged me with raping you? What if you were pregnant? I never even thought about protection. I felt like a monster. A really, really stupid monster who took what he wanted without fear of consequence. The only consequence I was scared of at the moment I took your virginity was that I wouldn't please you and you'd stop being friends with me. In fact, I think you are my addiction because everything that could go wrong did go wrong and you left me and I went into withdrawal." He dropped his hand. "Now, I think it's time you told me what you were thinking when you booted me in the stomach and ran off screaming without your clothes on, don't you? And after that, I'm going to call Emmett in rehab and kill him."
"He's in rehab again?" Bella asked curiously.
"Don't change the subject."
She cast down her eyes. "I… panicked. I wasn't really ready, I guess. I thought I was ready and I wasn't. And I led you on because I thought I loved you and I wanted you to be jealous so you'd-"
"You thought you loved me," he echoed, hopes dying. "You didn't, really. It was… just a game to you. I was… just a crush."
"No," she protested. "I figured out pretty fast that I was in love with you. You don't pine for somebody you don't love. And I felt like such a tease, pushing you off me like that when you were being so … wonderful. You've got a big cock. Trust me, I know. When you pushed in, it really hurt. I thought about having you all the way in, and it scared me. And then, I thought 'what if I get pregnant?' because like you said, we didn't consider protection. I didn't know what to say, so I ran off. I was certain I'd hurt you. And I was sure you'd be angry with me. I couldn't face it. So I … didn't communicate with you."
"I was certain I was a monster, and you wouldn't want me anymore."
"I was certain you thought the same thing about me," she informed him. "And I went out of my way to prove I really was a monster. I had sex with a lot of guys on the rebound."
"So did I," he admitted. "Um, girls, that is. But it's really hard to hang onto a girlfriend when you tend to shout 'Bella' during sex, you know?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "I've… ended a few relationships… that way, too."
He looked at her incredulously. "So. You loved me after all."
"Yes, I did," she repeated.
"And… what about now?" he asked. "Can you forgive me?"
"There's no need to forgive you," she said. "It was my fault."
"You told me to stop," he said heavily. "I didn't. And you were underage."
"I think you were past the point of no return," she admitted. "But can you forgive me for running out like that?"
"Yes. Could you… love me now?" he pleaded.
"I've never stopped loving you," she told him.
"Come here," he directed, opening his arms. "I love you, Swan, and I have missed you so badly."
She crawled onto his lap. "I love you, Cullen. I missed you, too. So much."
He pressed his face against her hair, "I actually tried to bash down the gazebo when I came back here. Took a sledgehammer out of the shed and had a go at it. I wasn't strong enough. It was really humiliating, actually."
She drew back, laughing. "Well, we're just going to have to get you all strong again. But you'd better not fuck with Esme's gazebo, or I'm going to beat your ass."
"Okay," he said blithely, "I'll rip it down tomorrow."
"Freak," she snorted. "Cullen? I want you on my table."
"Um, Swan? Don't you think that's moving a little fast?" he asked, wincing.
She smacked his shoulder. "I want you to get better, and the best way for me to work on you is to have you on my table."
"Oh," he said, embarrassed to be caught up in the web of his overactive imagination. He might long for Bella, and he may have been entertaining some unchaste thoughts, but he didn't want to appear ungentlemanly.
Bella crawled off his knees. "Go on, get in there. I expect you to be under the blanket in five minutes."
"Who can resist an offer like that?" he asked smoothly, looking like the felis domesticus that ate the serenus canaria domestica. Picking up Bella's father's cane, he righted himself and strutted toward the massage room at the back of the clinic. She couldn't resist smacking him on the backside as he passed.
"There's the Swan I know and love," he teased.
"Shut up and get ready for me," she growled.
"Ooh, going all dominant on me," he said as he retreated, the smile evident in his voice.
"Shut up and submit," she chuckled.
Bella gnawed her lip, feeling butterflies in her stomach. Hurriedly, she went to the door of the clinic, and locked it. It was almost eight o'clock at night, and she didn't want any people coming in while she was in the back. Or so she told herself. She realized that the CD in the player was of wave sounds. Surely he didn't need to be reminded of a beach while being treated for injuries that occurred at one. She picked through the handful of CDs on the desk, and selected one with birdsong and music that she liked. She warmed the large gel pads that she would use to make his body more pliant. Then, squaring her shoulders, she went through to the back.
The glaring overhead light was on. He hadn't shut the curtain that served as a door, not that she would have respected it anyway. She had seen him up close and personal, and was accustomed to nudity. But she was a little surprised to find him lying face down on the table, without the sheet and blanket. He was giving her his trust.
She caressed his back as she crossed the room to the CD player, biting back tears. His body wasn't the same anymore. Gone was the lithe muscle he had guarded so assiduously in his teen years. Where he ought to be hard, he was soft. Where he ought to be rounded, he was bony. And on his lower back, there was another angry scar.
Bella moved to her wall of lotions and oils, and selected the one that she had always dreamed of using on him. It contained sandalwood, cinnamon and a hint of musk. Setting it on a small side table, she retrieved her Bic and lit some candles. He watched her, his eyelids heavy. After she turned off the light switch, she came to his side, pressing her lips between his shoulder blades.
"You're a mess, Cullen," she said without even having touched him. He thought her voice sounded strained. Was she going to change her mind about him?
"Thank you," he said sarcastically.
"What's this?" she wanted to know, tracing over the straight, white scar on his lower side.
"Kidney exploded," he said matter-of-factly.
"Exploded?" she echoed, not sure she had heard him right. She started sweeping her oiled hands across his back, learning him.
"From the impact," he stated.
"What do you mean?" she asked woodenly.
"It's like what happens to a soldier hit by the shockwave of a grenade," he explained. "It's not the actual blast that kills him, it's the force of the blow to his organs. The cells of the body act like bubble wrap with all the air squeezed out. The force of the impact burst my kidney. Fortunately, the sports car that hit me was low to the ground, and not going as fast as it could have been. My other organs were spared, and I still have one perfectly functioning kidney."
Horrified, she stooped to kiss the scar, and felt him stiffen, and relax. He had come so close to dying, and she would have lived on, never having known that he had loved her. She rested her forehead on the small of his back, and released a small sob.
Propping himself on one elbow, Edward rolled onto his side, and wrapped his arm around her. "Hey," he said gently, pulling her to his chest while she fell to pieces and clung to him. "Ssh, it's all right. I'm right here. I'm not going to die, Love."
"You can't ever leave me again," she sniffled, making a mess of his chest. He pulled her down onto the table, hitching her hip around his thigh, and cradled her head in the crook of his arm. He wrapped his other arm around her, and held her tight.
"Never again, so long as it is in my power," he promised, almost overwhelmed by her sobs. He let her cry it out, stroking his long fingers through her silky cap of hair. "You can't leave me, either," he whispered.
"Bella?" a loud voice called from the front room, startling them both. Bella slid off the narrow table, putting her feet down. Edward scrambled onto his stomach. Bella swiped at her eyes and nose, and flung a sheet over Edward's posterior just as her boss stuck his head in the room and turned on the light.
"Oh, excuse me," he said, looking highly disconcerted. "I saw the light flickering, and I wanted to see if everything was okay. I was afraid there was a fire. It's … getting pretty late." His eyes rested meaningfully on Edward's back.
"Um, yeah," Bella said thickly, wiping under her eyes with her fingers. "Everything's fine. Um, you know my boyfriend, Edward Cullen. Edward, you remember Mike Newton? He's my boss, and the senior physiotherapist here."
Edward hitched himself back onto his hip, being careful to keep himself covered. "Hi, Mike. How's Padme?"
"She's fine. Doing better on the new food. Boyfriend, huh?"
"Ye-ah," Edward said slowly.
"How long have you two been back together?" he asked nosily.
"Um, not very long," Edward said, a flush creeping up his chest.
"Huh. Well, I'll be going. Bella, do you want to come and lock the door behind me, please?" he asked expectantly.
"Sure," Bella said, embarrassed as all get out. She trailed behind him, chewing her lip as he stopped at the desk and read the appointment log.
"How long has he been coming here?" he asked with ill-disguised anger. Bella cringed.
"A couple of weeks," she confessed. "But only outside business hours. He usually comes just before and after closing, and sometimes during my lunch break. He's in really bad shape, Mike. I've never seen anybody so messed up inside, and he's out of insurance coverage. But this is the first time I've been able to coax him onto the table. Usually he just sits in the gym while I work on his knee, and then we do some physical therapy on the equipment."
Mike bit back a petty remark. It wasn't like him to deny or begrudge healing to someone who needed it. "Cullen, huh?'
"Yes," Bella confirmed.
"I don't like it," he pouted.
"Why?" she asked, blinking nervously.
"Word has it he's a real player," Mike asserted, hands stuffed angrily in his pockets.
"We've loved each other for a long time and we've both been really stupid," Bella admitted.
Mike nodded curtly. "Tell him to be here tomorrow at eleven sharp," he said, writing the appointment down in the book on the desk. "I want to look at him."
"Really?" she asked, feeling hope flutter in her chest.
"I can't have my best employee's boyfriend functioning at less than his best, can I?" he asked, pitching the pencil on the desk. He strode to the door. "Lock up when you're done, right?"
"Thank you," she said, smiling brilliantly. Without another word, he left, and she locked him out. She practically skipped back to Edward, and was surprised to find him dressed, and struggling to put on his right shoe, his mouth set in a grim line.
"What are you doing?" she asked blankly.
"Did he fire you?" Edward wanted to know.
"No. Of course not. Now strip, mister, and get back on that table. We have work to do," she ordered.
"Sorry, not tonight," he said, in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Fine. I'll bring the oil, and we'll do it at your place," she said dismissively. Then, she froze. "Unless… Jessica is there."
"I broke it off with Jessica days ago. I assume she went home to Seattle. But… I don't have the kind of home that will be… appropriate for you. I have a really crappy bed, no TV, and no groceries, and very little furniture outside my office, surgery and clinic." Everything was sold off at auction to help him make his down payment on the property. Even his mother's jewelry was gone.
"Then, you'll come home with me," she asserted.
"With your mother there?" he asked incredulously.
"My mother adores you. She's been badgering me for years to tell her why we fell out."
"You didn't tell her?" he asked, his eyebrows on the ceiling.
"No." She reached up to caress his cheek. "You just promised me you'd never leave me again," she reminded him. "Come home with me."
He relented. "I'll have to go home first, to see to my pets, and check the clinic to make sure nobody's brought in any overnight patients or boarders."
"Can I come?" she asked eagerly.
"Of course," he smiled.
Not long after, he unlocked his front door, punched in his alarm code, and flicked on some lights. He took Bella's hand and drew her into the large sunroom that his father had tacked onto the end of the house. Bella saw that the back of the room had been extended to become Edward's clinic.
He checked his voicemail. It was empty. He was –for the first time- pleased to find no animals in the kennel. He could go over to Bella's for the night.
"Do I get the guided tour?" she wondered.
"Sure," he said, pleased. "As you can see, this is reception. Do you remember Mrs Cope, the high school secretary?"
"Yes," Bella beamed. Mrs Cope was a sweetie and all the students had been fond of her.
"She retired, and she was bored, so now she's my office assistant," Edward shared.
"Oh, I can't wait to see her," Bella enthused.
"Come on back," Edward invited, taking her by the hand. "This is the first exam room."
"Nice," Bella said, looking at the large formica-topped examining table, the stainless steel sink, and the cupboards.
"And this is the second exam room. I didn't have much use for it at first, but the practice is starting to do well now, so I'm glad I have it." The second room was much like the first.
"This is the surgery," he said proudly, and Bella was impressed to see how professional it looked. It was just like a small operating room for humans.
"Impressive," she said.
"Thanks. The kennels are in here," he said, opening the door onto a room filled with metal cages that smelled strongly of antiseptic. "It has a door to the outside so my employees can take the boarders out for a run. I hired a couple of seniors to clean the cages and walk the dogs. And all that's left are the dispensary and the store room," he informed her. "Okay, we'd better go see to my kids before they decide to eat me."
Edward drew Bella back into the kitchen, where she was surprised to see a rather corpulent Bulldog and a long-haired Ginger Tabby curled up together in a wicker basket. Edward ignored them, moving around his kitchen to fill their food and water bowls. She noticed that the cat's repast was laid out on the counter, and giggled, deciding Edward had a gluttonous, cat-food-nabbing canine. The animals watched him intently, but did not move. He opened a door into the yard.
"Out," he said firmly, and they sprang from their basket and ran for it. He shut them out, watching them scamper about with bright eyes. Bella approached him, her face transforming with delight.
"You have a cat," she accused.
He shrugged, watching them play.
"Your dog is a little overweight, Cullen," she grinned. A veterinarian with a fat dog: who would have thought it?
"I can't walk him far," Edward said softly. "And you know what they say about Bulldogs."
"What?" she wondered.
"If you take every undesirable trait from every breed, and amalgamate them, you get a Bulldog. He ain't pretty, but he's family."
"He's so ugly he's cute," she decided. "What are their names?"
"The cat's Wednesday, the dog's Pugsley."
"You're kidding," she laughed. "I had a cat named Wednesday Addams once."
"I know," he said, turning to give her a meaningful look.
She was humbled. He had named his pets as a reminder of her. "You told me cats and dogs don't mix," she reminded him soberly.
He looked a little annoyed. "What did I know? I was eight." His eyes were compelling. "I got them when they were quite small. They had a couple of token spats, nothing exciting. Cats and dogs get along just fine, as long as they're introduced to each other properly."
She tipped her head and leaned in, inviting a kiss, which he was glad to bestow. Things were just heating up when there was a scratching and yipping at the door.
"Kids!" Edward said, rolling his eyes. He let his pets in and –once again- ignored them, even though they were running about his ankles in excited circles. Abruptly, both animals sat in tandem. Bella's jaw dropped.
"Good four-footies," he said in a silly-baby voice, chucking both of them under their chins energetically. "You're good aren't you? Ye-e-es." The animals ate up the attention. Bella could hear the cat purring from three yards' distance.
"Your cat can 'sit'?" Bella asked incredulously.
"Watch," Edward said, going to the counter and grabbing a jar of treats. He held a tidbit between his fingers. "Down."
Both animals lay down on their bellies.
"Roll over," he ordered.
Both animals rolled, their feet waggling in the air. Pugsley barely made it over. The pair waited on their bellies expectantly.
"Beg," Edward told them. The pair sat up on their hind legs. At least, the cat did. The top-heavy dog wobbled on his inadequate backside momentarily, and fell over. Edward sighed. "Pugsley, you're embarrassing me." The Bulldog grinned a doggy grin.
"Your cat thinks it's a dog!" Bella squealed, dancing a little jig.
"No, any cat can be taught tricks. It just takes a lot longer," Edward shrugged, giving each of his pets a treat. He snapped his fingers and they rushed for their dinner bowls. Then, he bit his lip. "I really should stay home tonight. I haven't spent enough time with them lately."
"Bring them!" Bella ordered.
"What?" he said, cocking his head to the side.
"Bring them to my place. My mother is going to freak!" Bella declared, grinning insanely. "You've got a phone?"
"Of course," he said, a line forming between his eyes. "In the office." He gestured at the door through which they had recently passed. Bella practically skipped in, and dialed home.
"Bella, where are you? It's getting late."
"I'm at a friend's. I'm going to be bringing some special guests home, okay?" She didn't want to show up and find her mother in the threadbare white cotton nightie she favoured.
"Um, okay," Renee said after a moment, eyeing the dust on her furniture. Bella hadn't brought home any friends in a while, and Renee didn't want them to think she wasn't a good housekeeper.
"We'll be home in a few minutes, so hurry up and get your robe," Bella urged. She was conscious of Edward lurking anxiously by the office doorway.
"How many friends?" Renee asked nervously.
"You don't need to make treats or clean up. See you in a few."
"Okay, bye," Renee said quickly, hanging up. Bella imagined her scooting around the sitting room, tidying up papers and whisking the basket of clean laundry upstairs.
Bella looked up at Edward with a smug smile. "Stop looking at me like that. It's going to be great. You don't know how many times she's complained about your absence over the years. I was a very bad daughter for not getting your ring on my finger."
"Really?" he murmured, wondering how soon he could fulfill Renee's commission without looking like a head case. Of course, he'd need to find money for a ring…
"Come on, she's going to be thrilled. Go get whatever stuff you need for the night."
Wordlessly, Edward went to the cupboard over the kitchen sink and got out a shaving kit. He ducked into the laundry room behind the right side of the kitchen, and picked clean clothes out of the dryer. He didn't own a suitcase, so he stuffed his things into a grocery bag. Then, he returned to Bella.
"That's it?" she asked incredulously. He shrugged and nodded. "Don't you need to go upstairs for anything?"
"No, a lot of the time I just sleep on the couch. The stairs are too much when I'm tired, you know. Plus, the couch is closer to the clinic. When I have animals here overnight, it makes it easier to check on them."
Bella looked at the broken-down couch, which was nearly the only thing in the fancy living room, with its gleaming maple floor and huge stone fireplace. The couch looked like it had been picked out of a frat house dumpster. On it, there were a sad, flat pillow and an old grey army blanket. She was appalled. Hiding her reaction from him, she stepped around Edward to pick up the animals' basket, dump their water, and stack all four bowls in it. Three sets of eyes watched her apprehensively. After a moment, Edward stepped over to the counter and picked up the jar of treats, which he added to the basket. He grabbed a couple of grocery bags out of a drawer, and filled them with cat kibble and dog kibble. They went in the basket, too. He was about to pick up his things, when he stopped in his tracks and went out in the living room, where he retrieved a handful of woolly catnip mice, Kongs, dog ropes and chew toys. That precipitated a trip to the fridge, from which he extracted a bag of carrots and a jar of natural peanut butter.
With everything collected in the basket, Edward put his dog on the leash and picked up his keys. After a moment's consideration, he put his bag of clothing in the dog basket, too, and signaled his readiness to leave.
"You do realize that it took you longer to pack for the animals than it did for yourself," Bella teased.
Edward shrugged. "What can I say? I'm low maintenance." He told a very excited Pugsley to 'heel', and led the way out of his big, empty house. "I have to turn on the alarm before we go."
"Alarm?" Bella asked, a little perplexed. Edward didn't seem to have anything worth locking up. He didn't even have a TV.
"I have a lot of valuable equipment in the clinic," he explained. "And there are controlled substances, as well. The dispensary and the stock room, along with the surgery, are equipped with motion sensors. Don't ever go in there at night once I turn the alarm on."
"Okay," Bella murmured. She had never thought about it. Obviously, there would be drugs and stuff inside.
Edward did a quick prowl of the house, checking to make sure that all the doors and windows were locked and the alarm contacts were intact. He double-checked the lock on his dispensary and stock room doors, set the alarm and motion sensors, and locked up the house. Then, he debated whether to fold himself into Bella's little red Taurus, or cross the expansive lawn to her house.
"What are you waiting for? Get in," Bella ordered, opening the trunk so Edward could put in the basket. She opened the back car door, and Pugsley danced on his paws and jumped in. Wednesday eyed the car mistrustfully, but hopped in after her faithful companion, fearful of being left behind. Edward opened the passenger door, and got in.
Bella started her car, backed it out of the drive, and drove a whole two hundred yards to her mother's, where the couple found Renee peeping out of the living room window. By the time Edward lifted the dog bed from the trunk, Renee was dancing from foot to foot in the doorway in her old pink housecoat, looking like it was Christmas morning. Bella grabbed Pugsley's leash and he galumphed out of the car, Wednesday trailing on his heels. Renee watched with delight.
"Edward!" she squealed as Bella stole the basket from him and carried it past her mother into the house. To his surprise, Edward found himself the recipient of a very enthusiastic hug. Bella rejoined them, giving her boyfriend a triumphant smile. "It's about time you came over," Renee scolded. "Always so handsome. What happened to all your hair?"
Edward ran his head over the bristly stubble covering his head. "I cut it."
Renee glanced between him and Bella, eager for more information. She and Esme had always hoped… Well, it was good to know their children had mended their fences. She turned her focus to her daughter, who looked strangely… older.
"Mom, this is Edward's dog, Pugsley, and his cat, Wednesday."
"Are you pet sitting for Edward?" Bella's mother demanded, her potential-son-in-law radar kicking in.
"No," Bella said decisively. "I'm keeping them." Grasping the front of Edward's t-shirt, she virtually dragged him into the house. The dog walked contentedly beside her left side, and the cat tagged along behind them.
Renee stood on the walk, staring.
"You're keeping the dog and cat?" she asked curiously. She didn't mind.
"No, Mother. I'm keeping Edward. The fur-babies are part of the package," Bella declared.
Renee hovered as Bella gave the animals treats, set up their dishes in the kitchen, and placed their bed near the sitting room fireplace. Edward decided he was cluttering up the little front hallway, and hobbled into the sitting room, where he sat on the loveseat, using Charlie Swan's cane to balance him. The significance did not escape his girlfriend's mother. She sat in Charlie's old chair, waiting to be enlightened.
Bella came in, having snapped off Pugsley's leash and put it on the little table beside the front door. She slapped her thigh and coaxed the animals into their basket, where she cooed to them as she fed them another treat. They settled in together, seemingly not disturbed by the change in domicile. Bella joined Edward on the old teal loveseat, picking up the remote to surf TV programs. She settled on an ancient episode of 'All Creatures Great and Small', then tucked her feet up and leaned into Edward's side. Edward relaxed, realizing he was not about to get the Third Degree. He put his arm around Bella and leaned back into the comfortable cushions.
Renee Swan saw which way the wind was blowing. She could wait to ask her questions. She wasn't about to ask anything that would scare the boy. She watched them chuckle at the TV, and every once in a while Edward would say, "I had a client just like that…" and they would chatter together just like they had when they were kids. It was like six years had not actually passed. They still teased each other, and they still practically finished each other's sentences. But now there was something … more. There was love there. She was sure of it.
At some point during the Late News, Edward's head nodded in the warmth of the room, and he sagged to rest his head on the high arm of the couch. Bella slipped onto her knees and undid his shoelaces, baring his feet, and lifted his legs onto the loveseat. He didn't stir when she slipped Gran Marie's old quilt over him and kissed him 'good-night'.
SIX MONTHS LATER:
Renee Swan smiled at her beaming daughter, who was cooing at one of the new additions while she meticulously fed him formula out of an eyedropper. Renee reached into the squirming basket that had displaced her coffee table, turned one wee rust-coloured newborn onto his back, and helped herself to another eye dropper.
"There's a good li'l baby," Bella cooed as milk leaked out of the round little face. The squeaky Doberman puppies had been delivered the day before, but it was the mother's first litter and she hadn't accepted them. It was the main reason why Edward adamantly vocalized his support for long-term, experienced breeders. Puppies born to inexperienced breeders tended to be victims of unwelcome surprises. The owner of the bitch had called Edward in a panic, and it was decided that, for an exorbitant amount of money, the Swan household would hand-rear the surviving pups. There were seven. They were roly-poly, with eyes shut tight, pink noses and toes, and they were probably the cutest baseball-sized things that the women had ever seen. It was imperative that they be fed every two hours for at least the first week. At night time, Edward's new co-op students, Katie and Meg, would be in to take over the task.
Wednesday Addams padded over to the basket, purring, and invited herself in. Instantly, the puppies quieted, comforted by her warmth.
The front door banged open, and masculine steps thudded into the house. "Hi," Edward called from the kitchen. Bella and Renee called out greetings. He moved around, opening drawers and cupboards and this and that, and then they heard the microwave beep to life. Five minutes later, he brought a plate heaped with leftover spaghetti Bolognese and salad into the room, and sat down cheerfully in his favourite spot.
"How are my little furbabies?" he asked around a mouthful of food. It was an hour past his lunch time and he was famished. It was good to live in a family where, not only could chores be divided, but you actually got tasty food to eat like clockwork. There would be no more Kraft Dinner for Edward Cullen.
"Your cat thinks she's a dog," Bella announced, gesturing at the basket. She put down her rotund puppy and picked up another, which whimpered appealingly until the eyedropper reached its mouth.
"If only," Edward joked, winking at his kitty. The human one. She stuck out her tongue at him.
"Kids, I've been thinking about something," Renee said tentatively, putting down her puppy and scooping up the next one. "I just want you to think about it, you don't have to answer me right away, and I'll understand if it's not something you want to do."
Edward and Bella exchanged an uneasy glance.
"I've been… thinking about the expenses," Renee began, "and I think I might have an answer, you know, something to consider."
Edward stopped chewing, and swallowed his pasta. "Go on, please Renee."
"Well, I don't want to be a burden," she said uncertainly, running her thumb over her puppy's belly. "But, you know, you two seem… pretty permanent, and… Swans mate for life."
"Mother, keep going," Bella said impatiently.
Renee looked off into space. "I've never lived alone. I left my parents' house and married Charlie. Hah, I never expected to lose him so young. But I wouldn't trade my life with him for anything. Anyway, after he passed, I had you with me, Bella, and then you came along, Edward, and I know that the natural progression of things is … going to leave me alone in this old house."
"Oh, Renee, we'd be right next door," Edward reassured her, confirming her impressions. He wanted to take things to the next level. Unfortunately, the three of them were barely scraping together enough money for groceries, never mind enough to pay for things like weddings. And grandchildren.
"Now, what I'm suggesting is this," Renee continued. "You have that beautiful house next door, sitting empty and cold. And Edward needs the space for his business, so there's no sense getting rid of it. And it has room for dogs and cats and whatever other menagerie animals you can dream up. And children. And… even then, there would be room to spare." She exchanged puppies, and raised her eyebrows. "Whereas this house, which is totally paid for, is going to get old and run down before Bella runs out of lifetime. It's cozy, and I have loved being here, but… it's very small and there's no room to expand this family. Only two bedrooms, and one bathroom."
Bella cursed in her head, deciding her mother was far too discerning.
"So… what I'm thinking… Edward," Renee said, "is that you should sell your house to Bella."
Edward lurched forward. "What!"
Renee held up her finger. "It's the only way I can ensure that she's always taken care of. You put your house in her name, and I will sell this house, and use the proceeds to pay down your mortgage."
"But… where would you live?" Bella asked, reeling.
"Well… that's the other condition," Renee said, not looking at them. "I'd have to live with you."
Both of the young people gawped at her, and then Edward's face lit with comprehension. "You're serious?"
"One hundred percent," Renee declared.
"You're serious! We'd all live together in the big house?" he asked, clearly getting excited. He turned to his girl. "Bella?"
"Up to you," she said, winking. "Living with your almost-mother-in-law? I dunno."
"Yes! Yes! Yes! The answer is yes!" Edward yelled, coming around the basket of puppies to kiss Renee on both cheeks. He was still holding his plate, and a dribble of pasta sauce slopped into the basket. In his excitement, he didn't even notice. If he didn't have so many bills to worry about, he could get Bella the ring he'd had his eye on.
Bella hurriedly wiped up the spill before their charges could eat any people-food. Tomatoes and onions were toxic to dogs.
"Okay. If you're sure, I'll go call Bob Jenks," Renee checked.
"Please!" Edward enthused. As soon as Renee was out of the room, he set down his lunch and launched himself across the room to kiss Bella. Alarmingly, she seemed rather reticent about a kiss. He drew back, frowning.
"Are you upset, Love? Should I stop her from calling?" he asked, worried that he had made the wrong decision. Did Bella not want her mother to live with them? "Of course, it's a big house. We could put her in one of the bedrooms on the far side, away from ours."
"Um," Bella said, blinking a little spasmodically. "That's… not it."
"Well, what?" he asked, growing apprehensive. Did she not want to live in his house?
"My mother," Bella said, blowing out her breath, "is entirely too perceptive."
"Huh?" Edward asked, lost.
She cleared her throat, looking down. "I have something to show you."
"Well, go ahead," Edward encouraged her, nonplussed.
"Um, I think you should know… that I think you're a really… good person to have around during… deliveries," she said, peeping at him from under her lashes.
"Deliveries?" he repeated blankly.
In answer, Bella pulled an object out of the kangaroo pocket of her hoodie. She held it up to his eyes, and watched as his comprehension dawned.
"Are you sure?" he said, eyes kindling to brightness. In answer, she set another object, identical to the first, down on the off-center coffee table. And then she reached into the hoodie-pocket, and pulled out a third.
Edward examined three little white sticks, lined up on a row on a wooden coffee table. All three bore bright blue stripes.
"We're having a baby," he said, stunned, and jumped to his feet. "We're having a baby!" he yelled, scooping Bella up and dancing her around. He set her down, all giggly, and ran into the kitchen. "Hey, Renee! You're going to be a grandmother!" He popped back into the sitting room, and pressed a hand to his forehead. "Oh, God! We're not even married. Oh, God! We have to- I'll be right back, Bella, promise!"
He flew out the front door and down the steps, stopped dead, came back to grab his keys from his laughing girl, and barreled back outside. He stopped beside the Taurus, changed his mind, and pelted across the lawn to the Cullen house. There were several clients, complete with pets, sitting patiently in the sunroom, all of them surprised to see their resident vet throw himself through the door.
"We're having a baby!" he announced joyfully to one-and-all. Mrs Cope and the new technician, Ben, were the first to offer their congratulations.
On the little porch across the lawn, Bella Swan waved as the group of townsfolk, who counted on her Cullen to take care of their loved ones, spilled out the front door. They began to hoot and laugh and applaud. Edward sheepishly strode back across the grass, his legs strong and muscular. He stopped in front of his Swan, eyes brimming with hope, gratitude, and love. She waited for him to say what he needed to.
"So," he said at last, ruffling up his glossy auburn hair. "Is this baby going to be a cat lover or a dog lover?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking me if we're having a Swan or a Cullen?"
"Y-y-you could put it that way," he winced.
Bella rolled her eyes. "Cullen, Jeez! That is the worst proposal I have ever heard. Just for that, I should tell you that dogs and cats don't mix. However, we have a cat in there that appears to believe she's the mother of seven newborn Dobies, so-"
"Marry me," he interrupted, slipping his hands to her hips, and rubbing small circles with his thumbs.
She put her arms around his neck. "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Now get back to work so we can get to bed at a decent hour tonight."
He kissed her hard, and started to jog back across the lawn.
"Cullen?" Bella called, halting him in his tracks. He turned back to grin at her.
"This baby is going to prefer cats."
"In your dreams, Swan! In your dreams." He hurried to the clinic with a spring in his step, rejoicing in the congratulations offered by his clients through the rest of the day.
And all of them – Renee, the Cullens, their children, employees, clients, patients and four-footers- lit up the Cullen House with their love and laughter.