Elizabeth was in the family room with Carlisle and Esme when they returned. An IV was still attached to arm but she was sitting on the sofa with her legs propped up, her dim green eyes staring vacantly at the television set. She turned to them when she heard them, fear in her gaze that soon turned to a wary relief.
Edward swallowed heavily and turned to Carlisle. "Can we have some privacy?"
"Of course." It was Esme who answered as she stood up. "I'm so glad you returned." She gave his shoulder a squeeze as she walked past him, motioning for Carlisle to do the same. Carlisle paused briefly in front of Edward, his expression both a warning and a plea before he followed his wife.
"She's very tired but she wanted to wait up for you. Please, just…," Carlisle shook his head, "she's just very worn out," he finished with a deep sigh.
Edward bristled under the unmistaken message. Bella was about to follow them out of the room but Edward grabbed her hand before she could get any further.
When she nodded at him, he led her to the loveseat that Carlisle and Esme just vacated. He didn't think he could do this without her presence lending him strength and he felt no shame in admitting that to himself. Waiting until Bella sat down, he seated himself next to her, their hands still clasped.
Elizabeth looked at them expectantly, wringing her hands together in her lap. She had good reason to be wary, he thought. Although he resigned himself to forgiveness, he couldn't give her absolution.
"Thank you for coming back. It's good to see you again too, Bella."
Bella nodded in acknowledgement but remained silent. This was Edward's show. She wasn't going to intrude on that.
"It's Bella whom you should be thanking. If it weren't for her, I would've never come to Florida in the first place."
"Wait." He held his hand up to silence her. "You've had your say, now I would like to have mine."
He had contemplated what he was going to say the whole drive back but now that he was facing her, the words got stuck in his throat. He felt like that fifteen year old boy again who wanted nothing more than to feel safe and protected but wasn't and he hated it. Bella gave his hand a little squeeze, a silent show of support and it was all the prompting he needed. What he was going to say was going to be difficult but he needed to say it.
"You failed me when I needed you the most," he started, his tone soft but harsh. "Whatever threats Laurent made against me would've been better than living with the belief that my own mother cared about her abusive husband more than she cared about her own flesh and blood. I am your son and you deserted me." His voice cracked and he had to look away from her, couldn't watch as her tears made a slow trail down her cheeks.
"The irony is I stayed in that house two years longer than I had to in order to protect you. I took the beatings and didn't fight back so he wouldn't turn his fists on you," he said with vehemence as his own fists clenched. Turning his watery gaze on her, he continued, "I prayed every night, begged to God and everything holy that you would fight for me…fight for me and leave him…but you never did. I had to fight for myself. In order to do that I was the one that had to leave."
Elizabeth shook her head as she bit down on her bottom lip, the sobs she was keeping back, shaking her frail body.
"For years I felt guilty, years. I felt like there was something wrong with me. After all, what mother chooses her abuser over her child? It bled into everything in my life, tainting it to the point where I had to shut off everything. I wanted to feel nothing…," he spat angrily. "Nothing.
"So don't ask me to understand why you did what you did. I can't. Don't expect me to absolve you of your wrong doing. I won't. Your words today cannot erase what your actions did all those years ago."
"You're right," Elizabeth said as her voice broke, the anguish and remorse so blatant in her drawn face. "You were my little boy. I loved you so much and I failed you so abominably. I made so many mistakes…so many. I know no amount of apologizing will ever excuse what I did…what I allowed to happen. I hate myself for it more than you could ever hate me. If I could go back and change it all I would."
Her words tugged on a memory in his not so distant past. He had said much the same thing to Bella not that long ago, begged for her forgiveness, pleaded for a second chance. He knew what his mother did was far more heinous but it didn't mean that what he did didn't cut as deeply or hurt any less even if his own reasons were justified at the time. And Bella had given him forgiveness; she had understood despite her own pain, she had given him a second chance.
As he looked at his mother, he realized the true finality of this visit. If he didn't forgive her, take this shot at closure now, there would be no more chances, second or otherwise. This was it. Could he live with himself if he turned his back? Maybe. Would this day haunt him in the forms of remorse and regret? Probably but could he take that chance. He looked at Bella for a clue but her face gave nothing away. She was clearly letting him know that this was his decision and his alone. She would support him either way.
Getting up, he went to his mother, knelt in front of her and for the first time in many years, he took her hand in his. Trying to ignore how papery it felt on his own skin and what that meant, he looked up at her. The tears streaming down her pale cheeks brought a few more to his own eyes.
"Elizabeth," he started and had to stop to clear his watery throat, "Mom…what you did - it was wrong, so, so wrong…but you already know that don't you?"
"I do," she said through tear laced lips.
He dropped his head and nodded, a sharp breath exhaling through his lips before he braced himself and looked up at her again. "But that was the past and we can't change it or erase it. I also can't let it have such an excruciating hold on the present and the future, so while I can't forgive what you did, I think…I think…that maybe I can forgive you."
"Thank you." She squeezed her eyes shut, her sobs no longer silent but hard, wracking ones that soon turned into loud coughs.
In a panic, eyes wide, he turned around not knowing what to do. Bella was right there, tears falling unchecked, thrusting a glass of water in his hands. He brought up to her lips, coaxing her to drink.
"What's going on?" Carlisle rushed into the room. "What did you do?" He stared accusingly at Edward.
"He forgave me," Elizabeth said in awe when her coughs subsided. "My son forgave me."
Three Days Later
"Damn it." Edward scowled at his reflection in the full length mirror. "You'd think I never put on a tie before." Impatiently, he pulled at the skewed knot of his tie, yanking it downward from under the collar of his crisp white shirt and tossed it aside.
"I'll help you," Bella said as scooped up the tie from the floor and shook it out a little, moving between him and the mirror. "Here, bend towards me a bit." He leaned down towards her as she slid the black silk around his neck. With deft fingers, she tied an expert knot and ran her fingers down the length of the material to smooth it out. "There, that should do it."
He grasped her hand before she could remove it from his chest. "Thank you. And I don't just mean about the tie, but for everything." He meant every word. If it hadn't been for her at his side, helping him, making the necessary phone calls, assisting with the arrangements, wrapping her body around his in the late hours of the night when the memories hit him the hardest, he didn't know how he would've made it through the past few days.
Getting the phone call at the hotel from Carlisle that Elizabeth passed during the night had been a shock. He hadn't expected her to go so quickly. He thought he would have more time to get to know her again. Bella had told him in that way of hers that made everything easier to bear, that his mother had been holding on for him, to see him one last time and once that happened, once she had his forgiveness, she knew she was free to go, in peace, at last.
"You don't have to thank me, Edward. I love you."
There was a brief tap on the door before Carlisle poked his head through. Edward sighed at seeing his uncle's reflection in the mirror. They'd formed a mutual civility in the past couple of days since Esme had convinced them to check out of their hotel and stay at the house but it was tentative at best.
"Your friends are here," Carlisle told them. "They are waiting downstairs for you."
"Thank you, Carlisle. Please tell them we'll be down shortly. We need just a few more moments," Bella told him politely.
"I will. The limo should be here in fifteen minutes to take us to the funeral home. We'll meet you in the foyer." Carlisle shut the door behind him, leaving them alone once again.
"Friends?" He looked at Bella, noting her guilty expression as she fiddled with the pearls at her throat, her face turning slightly pink.
"When I called Jasper to tell him, he insisted on flying down for the service. Alice wanted to come too," she explained. "I hope you don't mind?"
The way she phrased as a question bothered him. It was as if she thought he would get angry at her for giving him exactly what he needed. Wrapping her in his arms, he kissed the top of her head.
"No, of course I don't mind."
"I also called Rose and Emmett but they can't make it but they send their prayers and sympathies. Their babysitter wasn't available and they didn't want to bring my nephews. It is a long drive for them and it's not really a place for children anyway so-."
"Bella, stop." He tilted her head up so he could look at her. "It's okay. I'm not mad."
"I was hoping you wouldn't be but I wasn't sure. This is overwhelming for you as it is and-"
"You're rambling again," he interrupted her with a small smile. "You always do that when you're nervous. Don't be. I am so grateful for you. I've been so lost these past few days but you, Bella, you saved me. You stepped in and helped where I was floundering, taking off from work to be here when you could've very easily flown back to New York."
"Caius was very understanding so don't worry about my job. Besides, wouldn't you have done the same for me?"
"Yes," he said with absolute sincerity. "I failed you once. It is a mistake I will never make again."
The nauseating scent of so many funeral blooms was a smell he would never forget. They surrounded her closed mahogany coffin in the front of the small room. Most of the flowers weren't even from him, or Bella, he should say. She was the one who had made the flower arrangements for them. Yet, most of the lilies and orchids, Elizabeth's favorites, were from other mourners. He still awed at how many people, women mostly, had come the day before during the wake to give their condolences, to say goodbye. They shared stories of Elizabeth; stories that made him realize how little he knew her. The images in his head contradicted so vastly to the memories in theirs.
Esme had told him that some of them were from Elizabeth's therapy group but many were women from the local women's and children's shelter where she had volunteered until her health declined. It was her way to give back, to try and redeem herself in some way.
He sat down in the front row reserved for immediate family members with Bella at his side and Carlisle and Esme next to her. Jasper and Alice took seats behind him. They would only be here for a little while before making their way to the church. He was supposed to give a Eulogy and only barely started to write one before he gave up on it, completely frustrated. Never at a loss for words, he found that they failed him now.
Closing his hand over Bella's, trying look at anything but the casket not three feet in front of him, he listened to the funeral director say his final words, listened to Esme's quiet sobbing and Carlisle's whispered prayers.
The ride to the church was a short, somber one and there were already people milling around outside waiting for the hearse to pull up. The service was due to start in about twenty minutes but Edward had no desire to sit and wait in a pew and neither did he want to listen to well-meant albeit misplaced sympathy or these people speaking to him as if they knew him only because Elizabeth has talked about her son so much.
"How are you holding up?" Jazz leaned in to ask him as they walked into the church.
"I'm as well as can be expected I suppose. How's the PR department dealing with the influx of calls I'm sure we've received?"
It was Bella that was instrumental in having his PR department issue a press release. News of his mother's death had spread quickly and knowing it was only a matter of time before who he really was came out, Bella had convinced him that if he gave out the info first, he could control it and thwart any media outlet from putting a nefarious spin on it. So, that is what he did. He never bothered to see what the end result was.
"They're doing their job. It'll be a few days before the buzz dies down."
"Hopefully another scandal will come and take its place soon."
"I wouldn't go as far as calling it a scandal."
"It's only been a day. Give it time."
"You know the business will keep if you want to take some time off."
"No." Edward shook his head. "I need something to focus my energy on."
"Your mother just died. I think-"
"Just let it go, Jazz."
Jasper blew out an exasperated breath. "Fine. We'll table this for now. Just remember what I said."
"Where's Bella?" he asked, ignoring his friend's comment as he looked around behind him, searching for her. He'd gotten separated from her when some of Elizabeth's friends surrounded him. Now he couldn't find her anywhere.
"Relax. Ali told me they were going to the ladies room. They'll come back before the service starts. Let's just go up front and sit down."
"Crap," Bella groaned as she and Ali were leaving the ladies room. "Al, you go on ahead. I have to go back in and take these stockings off. I have a run." It wasn't just a tiny run either. It was down the whole front of her shin.
"Are you sure? I could wait for you."
"No, I'm good. Tell Edward I'll be there soon."
"I'll just tell him you had a wardrobe malfunction."
She went back into the two-stall bathroom, mumbling over her 'wardrobe malfunction' as she slipped into a stall and tried to get her nylons off without her feet touching the floor. The heavy, exterior restroom door creaked open alerting her that someone just walked in to the bathroom with her so she immediately stopped her mutterings else she'd face even more embarrassment.
Opening the stall door when she was done, she faced the back and the mirrored reflection of someone she only saw once and never thought she would see again and it stopped her short. The woman turned around to face her with a tiny, acknowledging smile on her lips.
"You're Emily, Sam's fiance'," Bella said, too shocked to bother with pleasantries. "What are you doing here? How did you find out about this?"
"The obituary had the funeral information but it's not what you think," Emily sought to reassure her. "I'm not here to cause trouble. I swear it."
"Then why are you here?" She crossed her arms over her chest defensively. She wasn't sure if she believed her despite her seemingly sincere tone.
"Please, Bella, we need to talk to you." Her voice was nervous and pleading, sending off warning signals in Bella's head.
"We?" She lifted her eyebrow and gave the dark haired woman a dubious look.
"Sam and I. He's waiting just outside the rectory doors. He didn't want to chance being seen and interrupt the service and this is this first time we could get to you since the men you hired were called off," she said in a rush, then added more quietly, in weary tone, "You shouldn't have done that."
"I don't understand." Why the hell would they need to speak with her and so urgently too. Something wasn't adding up.
"Please. Five minutes. That's all we need. I wouldn't be here asking if it wasn't gravely important, if it didn't affect all of our lives."
There was desperation in her eyes now and her hands wrung together nervously. A sick feeling wove itself through Bella's stomach as she took in Emily's fraught state.
"Did Sam threaten you if you failed to coerce me to meet with him?"
"What? No. Of course not." Emily looked so taken aback, so shocked at the very idea that Bella believed her. "I know what you must think. I don't blame you. Sam explained everything about your relationship and it's not like that with us. I swear. He's a different man now."
She wasn't so sure she believed that but she was torn by the need to be with Edward and the desire to find out what would cause Sam and Emily to risk being seen here, today of all days. She had no idea what to do. Edward would be pissed and yet, Emily seemed to believe wholeheartedly in what she was saying.
"Fine," Bella sighed and checked her watch, noting the time. She had been gone too long already. Damn it. "Five minutes. That's all you're getting," She prayed she wouldn't regret making this decision.
Sam was pacing on the gravel right by the side door when Bella stepped into the sunlight with Emily. He stopped when he saw them, relief flooded his features. Bella saw something else, something she missed last time she saw him; the way he looked at Emily. There was no hiding the naked adoration in his eyes when he looked at her. Could he really have changed?
"Thank you for agreeing to this," he said, his eyes moving to Bella.
"Just make this quick. I need to get back inside."
"So Edward Cullen is that Edward huh? I should have seen it. The way he was so possessive of you, that it wasn't a new relationship."
This fact seem to amuse him but she wasn't laughing. "The point, Sam. I don't have much time."
He glanced around quickly like he suspected he was being watched and he lowered his voice, his tone turning grave. "It's my father. He's dangerous, Bella."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"No. You don't understand," he said through gritted teeth. "To him you are a loose end. He doesn't like loose ends. He gets rid of them. Your boyfriend sending his sloppy watch dogs made him angry and cautious but they're gone now and he's up to no good."
So that is what this was about. Joshua was still convinced she would talk and that worried her. "I promised I would never say anything and I won't." Bella grew panicked at his words. Sam seemed honestly scared for her and that made her scared. If she ever thought Sam was bad, Joshua was leagues worse.
"He's not going to take that chance. He's on the cusp of getting what he wants. He won't let you ruin it. Do you understand what I'm telling you? How much danger you're in?"
"Why are you coming to me then? Why not go directly to the police?"
"I have no proof. Nothing they would accept. Just a gut feeling. I know how he gets when he's planning something. I've tried to convince him you're not a threat but that's not how he sees it. There's nothing I can do but there is something you can."
"What could I possibly do? Get a bodyguard? Live my life in fear?"
No," he shook his head. "You tell the press everything you know about our relationship, about what I did, what you saw, about my father and do it fast. Beat him to the punch. Think about it. You would have thwarted him. He couldn't do anything to you then. Or to your boyfriend. He'd be one of the first suspects."
"And I'm supposed to believe you're okay with that? That you want me to tell all and your career, your ambitions go down the tubes? What's in it for you?"
"I don't want this life anymore." He sighed and shoved his fingers through his hair. "I hate it and I'm so, so sorry for the shit I put you through, for everything I did. If you tell the media, it serves two purposes. You prevent my father from making a move against you first and I get out of this life. No one would elect me, not after that."
"Why don't you just come clean then? Why involve me at all?"
"C'mon Bella, you know how this game works. If I'm the one that reveals what I did, I may lose some votes but I might gain more for being honest and remorseful. The P.R. spin would make me look like a fucking saint for admitting fault and publicly apologizing. The public eats that up and you know it. If you do it, I become a monster and I promise I will back whatever you say."
"Why don't you just tell your father you quit? Stand up to him for once in your miserable life."
"I can't." He hung his head in shame, his shoulders slumping in defeat. "I have my reasons."
"And what about Emily? Have you thought how all this would affect her? She'll be made to look like a fool for being with you, for staying with you."
"Yes, Bella," Emily said but looked at Sam and grabbed his hand. "I know how it will make me look. And I'm okay with it. More than okay. It doesn't matter to me what the public thinks. I don't want this life either. We want far away from it. Maybe we'll go to Washington State. Sam has relatives there and we could build a new life, a good life together, free from all of this."
"This is why you approached me in New York." It was all becoming clear now. It was a set up. He planned it and orchestrated everything. He just didn't count for her strength against him or on Edward.
"Yes, but there were eyes watching me and until I could get you alone, everything I said to you and to Edward, it was all an act. Look, I know you have no reason to trust me. I never gave you a good reason but please, Bella, just think about what I'm telling you," he looked at Emily and smiled briefly, "what we're both telling you."
"What you're telling me is you want me to put myself out there, telling people how naive and stupid I once was so you can bow out of your political career, with only a bit of scandal to disappear into obscurity. Isn't that the gist of this?"
"It will also save your life and possibly Edward's," Emily reminder her as she approached her with a piece of paper in her hand. "If you decide to do this, you can call me. This number is on a secure line. No one else but Sam knows it exists. I can arrange to have a reporter contact you so it doesn't look like you initially sought to reveal anything. We'll make it look like a leak. But please don't wait too long. Time is of the essence here."
In a daze, Bella took the number and stuffed it in her bag. "I'm sorry. I have to go now. I've stayed longer than I should have."
"Stay safe," Emily called out to her as she ran back into the church.
A/N - So, this was probably the most challenging chapter I've written for this story yet, especially the scene between Edward and Elizabeth. That was not something I wrote lightly, nor was it something I wrote without doing some research first. In the end, I wrote what I felt would best way for Edward and the advancement of his character. Understandably, some of you may like how I approached and others may not. I accept that.