A/N: Hello, lovelies! Yes, I've been gone. But here's the next chapter in honor of Twific Meetup 2014 - certain people have been hinting that an update was needed. Nashville has been so much fun, y'all!
All standard disclaimers apply.
When a knock came at the door late in the afternoon the following Friday, Edward hustled to answer it. Almost nobody bothered to knock and, anyway, he knew who would be waiting for him in the doorway.
He'd spent most of the day making sure the cabin was perfectly clean, and had even pulled the vacuum out a second time after Wisp and Pet spent a half-hour rolling around and playing on the living room floor. Wisp was clean, but Pet's black fur showed up plainly on the pale carpet.
Wisp definitely knew that something unusual was going on. She watched him suspiciously as he worked, splitting her attention between Edward and her cat, and only really stopped when he gave her something to occupy her—namely food. She ate lunch and an afternoon snack without fuss, but even so he could feel her questioning gaze on him as he wiped down counters and mopped the kitchen floor.
He'd explained to her several times that a good friend of his was going to come and spend some time with them, but he doubted she understood more than a word here and there. A small part of him worried about how she might react to Tanya, but he told himself the anxiety was baseless. Wisp liked almost everyone, with the notable exception of the demon psychologist who had taken her away from him in the beginning. She even liked Garrett, the elderly police sketch artist, despite the fact that he asked her to draw things she didn't want to. Hell, she liked Rosalie, and Edward didn't like Rosalie himself much at the moment. So Tanya? He was sure Wisp would respond just as she always did—with a hesitant but open heart. There was no reason for her to do otherwise.
Pet disappeared up the stairs as if fired from a slingshot at the knock on the door. Wisp tensed, wide, soft eyes turning to him, just as they always did when she was unsure about something. "Rose?" she asked, though she did not sound as if she really believed Rosalie might be on the other side of the door.
"No, not Rose. I told you a new friend was coming over, Remember?" Edward closed his hand around the doorknob, watching Wisp's brow pucker. She was nervous, yes, but soon that would fade. It was only Tanya. There was no reason for worry.
His heart rate increased slightly as he took a deep breath and pulled open the door. Yes, it was "only Tanya," but there was something...something important about this visit. He wasn't sure he could explain exactly what he felt, except an eager wish to see her again. Their time together in Seattle the week before had felt so nice—so normal. Not his new normal, but a regular normal—the normal of people who didn't have a childlike young woman living with them.
The door opened to reveal Tanya's tall, lanky form hidden under a large black umbrella as the rain poured down. Dusk hovered close in the trees around the little cabin, and he waved her swiftly inside.
"Come in out of the wet! Here, let me take that for you." Edward shut the door and set the umbrella upside down in the small tile foyer, then held his hands up for Tanya's coat as she shrugged it off.
"Edward! It's so good to see you." She had a small suitcase with her, and she propped it against the wall as she stepped in to hug him. Her long pale hair smelled like patchouli and sage.
"It's good to see you, too." He hung her coat in the hall closet, then came swiftly back. "And this, Tanya, is Wisp. Wisp, sweetheart, this is my friend Tanya."
Wisp knelt next to the coffee table in the living room, where she'd been drawing with her colored pencils. A purple pencil still hung in her limp fingers, but her wide brown eyes flicked from Tanya to Edward and back again. Her lovely, full lips were slightly parted, the rest of her body perfectly still.
Tanya did not speak either. Her cool blue eyes assessed the girl on the floor, and when Edward looked at her he could not identify the expression on her face. She looked...not exactly surprised, but not exactly pleased, either.
Several seconds passed in uncomfortable silence.
Finally Tanya shifted. She stepped forward and crouched near Wisp. "Hello," she said, in a voice Edward wasn't sure he could classify. Her tone wasn't stilted, nor was it technically the high-pitched voice some people used to talk to babies and pets, but it wasn't normal, either. "So you're Wisp? Edward has told me so much about you."
Wisp did not answer. She stared at Tanya with her huge eyes and did not attempt to move.
"I see we have similar fashion sense."
They both happened to be wearing black yoga pants. Tanya had several thin, form-fitting cotton shirts layered over hers while Wisp wore a warm, fuzzy fleece top, but aside from her Christmas dress, clothes never seemed to matter much to Wisp.
Except for socks. She loved her socks.
"You were coloring, I see." Tanya pulled Wisp's unfinished drawing from the table, holding it up to look at. "Edward, did you draw this for her to color?"
He snorted an amused laugh. "I can't draw for shit. She does that all on her own."
"Mine." Wisp's voice trembled, but she reached her delicate fingers toward the drawing. "Mine."
"I think she wants it back."
"Oh. Of course." Tanya gave the paper back, and Wisp clutched it against her chest. "It's very good."
A hint of a frown crossed Tanya's forehead. "My name is Tanya."
"Alice." Wisp turned the paper around but did not offer it for Tanya to take again. She pointed to the figure in a blue dress and white pinafore surrounded by odd-looking trees.
"Oh. Right. Yes, I guess it is." Tanya glanced helplessly up at Edward.
He merely grinned and held out his hand, helping her back to her feet. "Don't tell me you've forgotten your childhood? Wisp loves Disney's Alice in Wonderland almost as much as she loves Peter Pan. She can draw just like the movies, too." The pride in his voice was strong.
"I guess it's been a little while."
"Guess so." Edward shifted uncomfortably in his shoes. It was easy to forget how far removed most people of his age were from the childhood memories Wisp was only just now discovering for the first time. For Wisp, it was entirely acceptable to obsess over animated films. After all, she'd never seen them before. Tanya, on the other hand, had outgrown these things years ago. There was no reason for her to remember Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan; she wasn't surrounded by them every day as Edward was.
"Anyway, it's very nice to meet you, Wisp." Tanya smiled, but there was a little quiver to the corners of her mouth. "Edward, can I talk to you?"
"Yeah?" He jammed his hands in his pockets. He knew that falsely-bright voice all too well.
"Oh. Yeah." He held his arm out, guiding her toward the kitchen. Wisp's keen brown eyes followed their progress as he rested his hand ever so slightly on the small of Tanya's back. He could feel her curiosity, but for some reason it didn't feel the way he was used to it feeling. When he glanced behind him, there was no hint of a smile touching Wisp's soft lips. Her searching glance was deep and inscrutable.
"What's wrong?" He swiveled to face Tanya, the wall obscuring his sight and Wisp disappearing. Tanya looked infinitely unhappy.
"You told me you were taking care of a little girl. That girl's fully grown."
"She is not," he objected. "She's just a kid."
"Edward, she may not mentally be all there, but she's no child."
"She's not retarded, she just never had the chance to learn."
Tanya shut her mouth, lips slimming into a thin line Edward remembered very well. How many times, especially later in their relationship, had see seen just that look on Tanya's face? She now wore no makeup and had both freckles and an uneven tan after spending time in South America, but that expression was nonetheless very familiar.
"Tanya, I'm serious. I can see that you're not happy, but I don't know why. What are you upset about?"
"I'm not upset. I'm just...surprised, I guess."
"It's clear that she's not what you expected."
"No, she isn't." Tanya drifted to the kitchen window, staring out at the rainy blackness. "I don't really know what I expected, but she's not it."
Edward waited. There was more coming. This felt so familiar, falling into old patterns even though both Tanya and he had changed so much. Like slipping on a favorite old pair of jeans, long forgotten in the bottom of a drawer, soft with age, creased in just the right spots. He knew this feeling, the rhythm of these not-quite arguments. At the moment he found the familiarity oddly comforting.
"I just...when you told me about all the help she needs daily...bathing and everything...I assumed she was a lot younger. She's not, though, is she? She's small, but fully developed."
"Sexually, you mean? The doctor isn't completely sure. She only just had her first period, and the doctor says she may grow a little more as her nutrition improves and her body comes out of survival mode."
"But for all intents and purposes, she's physically an adult. She has hips and breasts, such as they are."
Edward hitched one shoulder up. "Yeah, I guess? I'm just curious why it matters."
"Because you're a man and she's a woman? Because I'm...just surprised, I guess, that the state would give her to you, under the circumstances."
"It's not like that. I told you it's not like that. I mean, you have male clients. What's the difference between you massaging a man and me helping Wisp bathe and dress?"
"I don't know," she said honestly, "I just know it is." A snort of laughter left her nose. "Maybe it's because it's so much more intense for you."
"Mm." Edward's head dipped as he considered. "How so?" He chose not to dwell in his own mind on the instances when Wisp had deliberately tried to engage him sexually. "You must have had at least one guy get hard on your massage table."
"Well, sure. It's a natural physical reaction. They're usually so embarrassed about it and I try to help them laugh it off, you know? Show them that, while I won't engage their genitals professionally, there's nothing inherently shameful about it at all. But it's different with you and her." She paused, staring idly at the doorway, though Wisp was not visible from this angle. "Maybe it's the emotional component. I don't know. I just know that I feel uncomfortable with this situation, and I feel like the state should, too. As much as I want to support you, Edward, it's just not normal for a healthy man your age to be caring for a woman who, in other circumstances, he might consider dating."
"I'm not dating Wisp. I mean, yes, I spend a lot of time with her, but she needs it."
"She needs you, you mean."
Edward hesitated. This was dangerous territory. He could hear the envy in Tanya's voice, but he genuinely could not understand it. Why would she ever be jealous of Wisp? She was a successful woman with a marketable trade that she was very good at. She was beautiful and savvy, and could probably have almost any man she wanted. Wisp couldn't even walk or talk well. What could the one want that the other had?
"She needs help," he said slowly, trying to choose non-threatening words as he formed his reply. "And she chose me to give it. Or fate did, or something. She trusts me, and she needs to trust her caregiver. I had the time, so I agreed to do what I could." Wisely, he stayed silent about his quest to get Wisp back when she had been taken. Knowing how desperate he had been to retrieve her was not necessary and would only make Tanya more upset. His relationship with Wisp was completely platonic, but for whatever reason it bothered Tanya so he did his best to downplay his involvement in the development of the situation.
"She may need help," Tanya said, "but that's not the only reason she's here, is it?"
Edward rubbed at his jaw with his fingers, feeling the unnatural smoothness—he'd taken extra care with the razor this morning. "What are you trying to get at? I really don't get it. You were fine with this whole thing until you saw her."
"Because you describe her as a little girl!" Her voice rose, then abruptly dropped again before Edward could warn her about loud voices disturbing Wisp. "She isn't," Tanya near-whispered. "And I don't know if you've realized it, but she sure has."
An uneasy tickle tightened in Edward's gut. "I told you she's had a ridiculous amount of sexual abuse in her life. She has no idea what appropriate relationships are."
"And you're not helping with that." Tanya crossed her arms over her chest. "She's too close to you in age for this to be appropriate, Edward. Why can't you see that?"
Edward did his best to breathe, slow and calm. What had happened to the idea of Tanya coming by with some crystals for Wisp? When had his nice weekend with adult company turned into the third degree? More and more, he was seeing and hearing shadows of the old Tanya surfacing. The flick of her chin as she spoke, the twist of displeasure to her lips, as if she tasted something unsatisfactory. Even the way she held herself, tense and vertical, without the touch of easiness she seemed to have picked up in Venezuela. "If she was an adult physically, mentally, and emotionally, then maybe. But she's not." That much he fully believed. "If she's doing something inappropriate, she doesn't mean anything by it. She doesn't have any concept of romance, just sex. And for her, sex has always been currency. It will take time for her to really learn that she doesn't need to trade that way anymore."
"No concept of romance? Really?" Her head tilted sideways as she stared at him with warm blue eyes. "Do you know what I saw in there? I saw a girl who fully believes she's found her happily ever after."
"She doesn't even know the phrase, and that should tell you something." Edward found himself laughing at the absurdity of Tanya's claim. Wisp didn't think of him as her Prince Charming. She had no reference point for romance; it had never before existed in her life, as far as he knew. Men who kept girls as possessions didn't tend to address matters of the heart. In that sense, Wisp was an emotional infant. Even small children knew fairy tales. Maybe Wisp considered him her hero, but that wasn't the same thing at all. Tanya had nothing to worry about.
"The heart wants what the heart wants," Tanya said, clearly not believing him. "Just because you've never read her Cinderella doesn't mean she has no concept of romance. Don't sell her so short."
Sell her short? Him? Never. Edward was actually a little offended by the idea. He just didn't believe she understood what was, essentially, a cultural construct. In the end, their argument came down to differing philosophical viewpoints. Tanya believed an understanding of romance was inherent to the human condition, and he did not. All Wisp had known so far in life was survival. That didn't mean she had no capacity to learn other emotional patterns, but he believed they had to be modeled and taught. Tanya clearly disagreed.
But stating their argument in sociological terms would not go over well—he'd learned that the hard way back when he and Tanya were still dating. She hated to be "analyzed," as she put it. So Edward let it go. "Look," he said instead, "just...try? You came all this way. Let's try to start over and just see how this weekend works, okay? If you're still uncomfortable, you don't have to come back." Though he was big enough to admit to himself that he would be fairly disappointed if that happened. The time they spent together in Seattle was still fresh in his mind. They'd gotten along very well, and he needed more adult companionship in his life. Wisp was sweeter than any person he'd ever met, but she could not be everything for him, nor was it fair to expect her to be.
Thankfully, Tanya didn't choose to press the issue. Instead she shook her head as if shaking off the spat, closed her eyes for a count of five, and when she opened them again, she smiled. "So, what's for dinner? Can I help with anything?"
Edward breathed slowly, one breath, then another, trying to reset his mind and chase away the bewildered frustration at the entirely unexpected argument. "I was thinking something easy—pasta? I'm pretty sure there's some eggplant in the refrigerator." Esme had been thoughtfully keeping his kitchen stocked, though Edward was wondering when a good time might be to try to take Wisp grocery shopping. If he could figure out how, it would be a good foray into the outside world and give her some more autonomy.
"That sounds good. Does...Wisp...eat eggplant?" Tanya crossed to the refrigerator and opened it, peering inside.
"She eats almost anything," Edward said with a shrug. "No raw onions or vinegar. So far I think that's it."
Normally Wisp was now helping him cook most meals, but Edward left her in the living room to draw tonight. Tanya took her place, starting on a sauce as he sliced bread and boiled water, both of them working around each other with the movements of people long used to sharing space. It didn't take much time to complete preparations—not nearly as long as when Wisp helped him, as he had to supervise every task he gave her to make sure she was doing it right and wouldn't hurt herself.
"Wisp won't eat at the table," Edward reminded Tanya when she began to lay plates.
"Oh. Right." She frowned, then shrugged. "Plenty of people in the world don't even have tables to eat from, anyway." She picked up the plates and handed them to Edward, letting him fill them before carrying hers out to the living room. "Here, though?" she asked as Edward followed her, holding his plate and Wisp's. "She'll eat here?"
"As long as she doesn't have to sit in a chair."
Wisp watched him with huge, wounded eyes. She had packed her colored pencils and paper away carefully and was just sitting at the coffee table. Somehow, she knew not to offer her help in the kitchen.
But when Edward sat next to Tanya on the couch after placing Wisp's plate in her spot, she raised her arms to him in entreaty.
Without hesitation, he scooped her up and into his lap. It was such an unconscious reaction that her slight weight rested on his legs before his brain realized what he'd done. She burrowed into his chest in satisfaction, watching Tanya from her accustomed spot.
Edward nuzzled the side of her head. "Why are you being shy around Tanya, huh?" he asked, retrieving his plate from the coffee table. He held it in one hand and offered Wisp a bite of penne with the other. She took it delicately, her body melting sweetly against his just as she always did.
"Edward Anthony Cullen, I cannot believe that just happened."
"What?" He took his own bite. Yes, he knew Tanya had expressed some reservations about his living situation with Wisp, but when she was nervous, what was he supposed to do? Just ignore her? Tanya hadn't interacted much with her, so of course Wisp was nervous. That would change with time. He offered Wisp a bite of eggplant, watching as she chewed the unfamiliar vegetable. "Do you like that?"
"Um," she agreed, gifting him with her sweet, innocent smile. Her eyes flicked toward Tanya for a moment, then returned to him. Poor thing, she was still so unsure.
"Edward, please tell me you do not have a twenty-year-old woman sitting on your lap, eating out of your hand."
"She's just a little nervous because she doesn't know you."
Wisp ducked against him, letting out a pitiful little whimper.
"See? She's fragile. You can't treat her like a normal person her age, because she's just not."
"And you can't treat her like a toddler, because she's not two years old, either, Edward! Did you see the way she looked at me?"
"I told you, she's nervous." He offered Wisp another bite. "She needs to be approached with warmth and compassion. Can you do that?"
"Can you get her off your lap?"
"I don't want her to cry."
Tanya took a deep breath. "Edward, I'm really, really trying here. But you...this...do you have any idea how fucked up this is? I mean, do you? Or are you too caught up in it to see things like I do?"
"Someone, I think it was Foucault, said that no one can accurately view a situation from inside it. I don't know that I agree, but it sounds like you do."
"Only because you're acting crazy right now. You've got a woman on your lap that you're not in a romantic relationship with, and you're feeding her from your plate. She was fine on the floor until you sat down next to me, and then suddenly she whimpers and you give in. And you think this is normal?"
"No, of course not." Edward bit down, accidentally catching the side of his tongue in his teeth. He swore under his breath as metallic blood mixed with the taste of garlic in his mouth. This discussion was giving him a headache. "But it's my normal. This is how I live right now." Yes, it was crazy, maybe. But Wisp's well-being was his responsibility, and that included her emotional health. If she was scared or unsure, he would do anything in his power to fix it. "Can we not do this anymore? Please? You're just going to have to accept that things are kind of weird right now. We're working on it, I swear. Do you want a beer? I'm afraid there's no wine."
Tanya exhaled deeply. "Yeah," she said, "fine. But I'm not going to stop telling you how crazy this is."
Edward rose, kissing Wisp's forehead as he lowered her to the ground. She whined, reaching for him. "I'll be right back," he promised, smoothing a hand down her soft hair. "I promise, I'm just getting drinks."
When he disappeared into the kitchen, Wisp's huge brown eyes rose. She studied Tanya, who stared right back.
"Hey chica," Tanya said, too low for Edward to hear. "You're pretty smart, you know that? But I see exactly what you're doing and eventually it's not gonna work anymore. You're going to have to share him now that I'm in the picture again. It may take a while, but I'm going to make him see. I won't take your guardian away from you, but he's not your Prince Charming, and you're going to have to understand that sooner or later."
Wisp said nothing, and whether she understood any of Tanya's words was debatable. But when Edward returned, he lifted her back onto his lap and she watched Tanya from her favorite place as he continued to cajole her to eat.
She had won Round One.
A/N: Thank you to all my readers who have stuck with me. Please don't ask about an expected timeline because I just don't know. RL has been really bumpy and I just don't have the time and energy to get updates out frequently. But Wisp WILL be finished, I promise you that.