Bella breathed a sigh of satisfaction when she typed the last period on the document and hit save for the last time. Setting her laptop aside on the couch, she uncurled her legs from their cross-legged position and stretched her cramped limbs. She had been slouched over her computer for hours, tapping at the keys at a frenetic pace until she was finished and satisfied with the results. Even though she was emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, the experience had been a cathartic one.
"Finished?" Edward asked, handing her a glass of red wine which she sipped gratefully.
"I am." She looked up at him, her expression cautious and hopeful as she pulled on her bottom lip with her thumb and forefinger. "Would you like to read it?"
"I do but a little later." He sat down next to her, put his arm around her and pressed his lips across her temple in a gentle caress. "Right now, I want to relax with you for a bit, if that's okay?"
"It's more than okay," she said, resting her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes.
"I know how hard that must've been for you. How do you feel?"
"Exhausted, drained but...good. I feel good. It was very cathartic. Thank you for leaving me alone so I could this."
"I'd do anything for you."
He didn't tell her how he fought every instinct he had to hover over her, protect her, even if it was from her own mind. It was very hard but he did it. It was something she had to do and he had to let go and let her.
Ever since she had come to him a few days before, telling him about the road block she was encountering with her former contacts, Emily's phone call, her words, what she was implying by them, he had been more suspicious than ever.
It wasn't just that though. Bella, as much as she tried to hide it, saw a seed of truth in Emily's words and it hurt. Badly. He had wanted to vehemently deny any similarities between him and Sam, but he couldn't. Not really. Oh, their intentions were as different as night and day but the results were the same. It was like being slapped in the face by reality again and it made him uncomfortable in his own skin.
"Do you think I am making the right choice?" Bella's voice floated towards him, breaking him from his thoughts.
He thought about his answer carefully, weighing it again and sighed. "To be honest, I thought it was a crazy idea but if you believe this is the right way to go, I trust your judgment."
"I do. Your reasoning is sound and you're right, this is too volatile a topic to trust just any one to handle with the right amount of objectivity. You can tell your own story better than anyone else. Let them come to you."
Later that night, after she fell asleep, wrapped in his silk sheets, he made his way down the stairs. Grabbing a stiff drink he was sure he was going to need, he flipped open her laptop and began to read.
"Admitting to being a victim of verbal and mental abuse is never an easy thing to do. There is a shame in it; a fear of judgment. 'How did you not know?', 'How could you let it get that far?'. 'Why didn't you fight back?' 'How could you tolerate it?' 'What kind of self-respecting woman lets herself get treated that way?', 'why didn't you just leave?'.
Those questions may seem simple but the answers are not so obvious.
I was nearly at the lowest point in my life when I went away to college. My first boyfriend, Edward Mason, the love of my life, had left because he had to go and I let him. I was almost killed and lost a child I never knew I had as the result of a vicious attack perpetrated by boyfriend's sadistic step-father. My father died of terminal cancer shortly after the trial that put my attacker away for a long time. The life I had envisioned for myself was over. Before I met Sam Quileute, I didn't think there was anything left to break, to shatter. I was wrong. He took what was left and annihilated it.
The entry of Sam into my life during college felt like a gift at first. He took care of me, treated me well and gave me a purpose where I had none. I was never in love with him but our relationship was mutually beneficial. Sam offered me a way out; a way where I didn't have to dwell on the past and refocus. In exchange, I would help run his campaigns, be by his side as the perfect politician's wife. In politics, they call it quid pro quo.
Things began to gradually change after our engagement was publically announced. Sam and his father, Joshua, had a very different idea than my own on what made an acceptable fiancé for a budding politician. No longer could I go out in public without passing inspection on that I wore, how my hair was or what my make-up looked like. My public words had to be carefully scripted and my private conversations suspect to listening ears. I lost the freedom to choose who I spent my time with. Everyone had to have a purpose and that purpose was to use connections to push Sam further up the ladder.
My photography, which I loved, was called a useless waste of time. It was an ongoing argument that resulted in Sam throwing my camera against a wall; its pieces shattering just like me."
Edward had to drag his bleary eyes from the computer screen and take a good swallow of his drink; the warm liquid burning hot down his throat, diminished the taste of bile that resided there. If Sam Quileute were in the same room as him now, he didn't know if he would be able to stop himself from killing him and liking every minute of it.
She had told him before what happened, in bits and pieces but not like this, never like this. This was something more vile, raw and gutting. This was a blurry memory of his own mother's life and it put a brand new perspective on what he thought he knew. Even worse, he couldn't stop himself from making the parallels between him and Sam once again. It made him sick.
Still, he forced himself to read on; a penance for his own mistakes and out of love for the woman sleeping upstairs. If she could gather up the courage to write this for all the world to see then he could damn well work up the courage to read the rest it, no matter how torturous to do so.
The next part was worse. He could hear Sam's voice in his head demeaning her, making her feel less than human; an object, a possession that existed only to serve him. He could visualize her; her brown eyes haunted and vacant as she became smaller under his punishing words.
"He never hit me or slapped me. It was more subtle than that. A pinch here, a tug on the hair there, even a bite or two to mark his displeasure and never where the evidence would be visible. He liked to use his dominance in the bedroom, forcing me to do his will and getting pissed off if I didn't submit; critiquing my 'performance' with harsh bitter words.
'You're a lousy lay, Bella. No wonder why Edward didn't stick around.'
'You act like a prude when we both know you're not. Maybe I should just slap your ass raw and see if you're a cold fish then.'
'There's nothing about you that turns me on. I don't know why I even try anymore.'
'Can't you do anything right?'
"Why do you insist on making things difficult for yourself?'
'I own you. That was the arrangement.'
'Change your clothes. You look like a slut.'
'Don't blame me. You're the one that made me angry'
'Are you really that stupid?'
'It's all your fault.'
Still I stayed. Maybe it was because by that time, all his demeaning words had taken their toll and I believed him or maybe it was just easier to be resigned to my fate, the decisions I knowingly made than fight them. It was what I deserved.
Eventually, my inherent need for survival kicked in. I knew I had to fight back or leave to make a fresh start for myself or risk turning into someone I hated. I was almost there already. My resistance was met with censure at every turn. It became obvious that this die had already been cast and the only way to change it was to break it.
I began to look for things I could use against Sam and his father, evidence to dismantle their carefully constructed plans, leafed through papers in his office when he wasn't home, which, thankfully wasn't often. I found nothing out in the open. In short, I wanted out but I had become essential and I felt they wouldn't let me go so easily, not without having something I could use against him…"
He cheered at her determination to leave but that quickly turned to disgusted horror when she detailed the night that served as the final catalyst to her breaking the engagement. In all the years he was involved with BDSM, never had he hit that level of debauchery. What Sam did, what Bella witnessed; the utter humiliation and torture of another human being for sexual gratification even had never been something he would condone. He had his doubts it had been consensual. No wonder why Bella had reacted the way she did when she found out about his own darker sexual side that formed over the years. This was the stuff of nightmares.
Sam's "hobby" wasn't something he was completely ungrateful for, though. If he didn't have that outlet, God only knew how worse it could've been for Bella.
When he was finished reading, he fought the urge to be violently ill. His heart was beating hard and sweat dotted his brow. She exposed everything; the money she was offered to keep silent, the hypocrisy of Sam's campaign stance for more laws on sexual predators and violent acts against women, the reappearance of Sam and Joshua in their lives and what she was afraid it meant.
She'd either be called a hero or burned at the stake for this.
"So, what do you think of it?"
Edward jumped. He was so immersed in his thoughts, he never even heard Bella's approach. His eyes took her in; her brown her flowing down past her shoulders, dressed in one of his T-shirts, and held her trapped in his gaze. He had to remind himself that what he read was in the past. She was with him now. She was safe.
"I'm sorry." He cleared his throat past the painful lump stuck in it. "I just-I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this. What you wrote…it was…" He shook his head with remorse. "Jesus, Bella…I-" His voice broke and he buried his face in his hands, feeling the dampness of his tears on his palms.
She touched him then, a soothing hand bracing his shaking shoulder. "I'm here."
With a deep, stuttering breath, he lifted his hands and turned to look at her with red-rimmed eyes. "I know," he said grasping her hand and placing a kiss on her palm. "I thank God every day for that…and I'm so, so, sorry."
"I've been so blinded by fear for you, for us, needing to keep you that I kept doing the one thing that could cause you to leave. I didn't get it before, not fully, but so help me, I get it now."
Bella didn't have to ask why. She knew. Having the ugly truths spelled out clearly, unmistakably in black and white made it more real, more tangible. What she had told him was child's play compared to what he just read.
Feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted didn't stop him from sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her up the stairs to their room. There was a need within him to exorcise those demons in his head, to expel the visions in his mind.
Where Sam had belittled her, he brought her up high. Where he had been cruel, Edward was tender. Where Sam cut with words, he healed her with his body. Where Sam sought to control her, he gave her the reins, trusted her with them.
Every touch was a caress. Every kiss, a vow. Every thrust, a promise. Every word, an affirmation. He wasn't only helping her heal, he was healing himself, removing the chains of his past that bound him.
She told him with her body and her words, that she was his and for perhaps the first time ever, he believed her. Deep down in his core, he believed her. He trusted her. Despite all the chaos surrounding them, he felt at peace.
Alice was never this quiet. They were often reprimanded at the college campus library because she didn't understand the concept of silence. There was always something to say, someone to comment on, some gem of unsolicited but "wholly necessary" piece of advice she had to impart. Yet, the only sound in the room was Bella's incessant picking at her thumb cuticle with her forefinger, making a soft snapping noise as she paced.
Every so often, she'd dare a glance at Alice, who sat there, eyes darting left to right at a quick pace as she read. Her face, normally expressive, adopted a blank expression. The only emotional tells were the pulse beating at her temple and the occasional sniffle that belied her otherwise stoic mask. It was driving Bella mad.
Alice finally finished reading and dragged her watery gaze to meet Bella's. "Can we kill him? Seriously, Bella, I want to hop on a plane to Florida right now and go all Bruce Lee on his ass. I can't believe I didn't see all of this. I was there, God damn it. I knew he was controlling but- hell! I should've-
"No." Bella sat down next to her. "You did warn me. Remember? There was only so much you could do. The rest had been up to me. Don't put blame where it doesn't belong."
"It doesn't belong on you either."
"Not all of it anyway." Writing it all down was good for her. It changed her perspective and made her really see things that she hadn't before.
"Are you sure you're doing the right thing here? I'm still shocked that Edward's okay with this. It's going to be a circus around you for a while. I would think he would prefer to pummel Sam rather than have you put through this to help that bastard drop out of politics."
"Oh, I'm sure he thought about it." Bella smiled a bit at the thought. "But he trusts my judgment and my judgment says that if we don't really know who is the enemy here; Sam or Joshua, the only side I can pick is mine. I'm in control of the info and where it's submitted to."
"That's brilliant…and potentially dangerous. Thank God you have Eddie's goons watching both your backs."
"It's a calculated risk. I just can't sit and do nothing anymore. The stakes are too high now and I feel like everything is closing in on me and I have to break the cycle that started years ago in order to really be free of it, no matter what happens."
"I'm really proud of you, Bella and I'm going to support you any way I can. So what do you need me to do?"
"Let's grab a drink. Then we're going to copy and paste this and post it en masse to some of the network medias' Facebook pages and watch it go viral."