As always, I own nothing.
Sitting in the car, in the parking lot that sat directly in front of Hope House, I was starting to seriously reconsider the offer I'd made to help Jasper. Suddenly, it didn't seem like such a great idea to "just run a key by so Edward can get some files we need to finish closing out the estate." I shouldn't have volunteered to do it, regardless of how desperate I'd become to fill the empty spots in my day, because I already had a suspicious that this was going to end unfavorably for everyone involved.
This is what I got for asking if there was anything I could do to help Jasper. What part of me thought this was a good idea? Why had I told him I would do it?
"Because you're an idiot." I told myself. "That's why."
As I got out of the car, I told myself that maybe I'd get lucky. Maybe he wouldn't even be there and I could just leave the key with the first employee I saw. After all, when Jasper had asked me to "run a few errands" he never mentioned having to actually give this directly to Edward. But as I pulled open the door that lead into the lobby, I knew that luck was definitely not going to be on my side anytime soon. Standing behind the receptionist, staring at the computer screen, stood an extremely disheveled Edward Cullen.
He glanced up at me, quickly the first time, and then once it had registered that I was the one standing just inside their door, his gaze slowly focused on my face.
"Hi, how can I help you?" The completely oblivious receptionist asked me.
Instead of answering her however, I simply held up the key I'd been asked to get from my mother's purse. "Jasper said you needed this."
Edward's eyes went from my face, to the key, and then back. It took a few awkward seconds of silence before he finally snapped out of the state of surprised shock. "Yeah," he said, roughly clearing his throat. "Yeah, we couldn't find the key to her desk and…"
"You're Bella?" The receptionist interrupted him. She was up and out of her chair, pulling open the door that lead back into their offices, before I had a chance to even nod my head at her question. "I've heard so much about you!"
Her hand was thrust towards me, and I dumbly shook it. "I'm sorry?"
"Your mother talked about you all the time!" She said, practically ripping my arm off with the vigor of her handshake. "I am so sorry for your loss."
Thankfully, Edward interceded before the poor girl was put through the humiliation of me telling her that whatever my mother might have told her about me was probably nothing more than a pack of lies meant to make herself look like a saint.
"Bella, why don't you come on back? I'll get you the files Jasper needed." His hand, placed firmly on my back, led me away from the overly enthusiastic receptionist. As I walked past him, I heard him say, "Bree, hold my calls. Okay?"
I didn't look back to see if Bree was nodding her head, or still following behind us. Instead, I slowly walked my way down the hallway that led past conference rooms and offices. The walls were filled with children's framed artwork and pictures of people throughout the community, smiling and laughing. When my eye caught sight of a picture of my mother, I stopped to look at it.
She looked polished and perfect just like she always had. Her hair styled in an elegant shoulder length bob, pearls around her neck, nail polish matching the suit she was wearing. I shook my head at how absolutely fake it all seemed.
"That was the last Trustee portrait she had taken," Edward said from behind me. "After she got sick, she refused to get new ones."
Without looking at him, I muttered, "Typical Renee."
Crossing my arms across my chest, I moved down the hallway to look at the next picture, and then the next, until I came across Edward's. He looked handsome, anyone would agree with that. In a timeless navy suit and tie, he looked very debonair, and entirely out of place next to the older Trustees' portraits that accompanied him.
"Are you the youngest one?" I asked, straightening the frame.
"Well I was." He held his hand out for the key I was still carrying. "Until you took Renee's place."
I dropped the key on his opened palm, but not before saying, "You know I'm not taking her place, Edward. Jasper must have told you that I-"
"Yeah," he cut me off. "Jasper told me you had absolutely no interest in anything regarding Hope House. I know."
With that, he closed his fingers around the key and walked past three more doors until he reached the corner office. I watched him as he unlocked it and then hesitated before pushing it open. Once he had, he didn't go inside. Instead, he took a step back and motioned for me to go in first.
I wouldn't have thought it was anything more than him being gentlemanly, with the whole ladies first thing, until we were both in my mother's office. His shoulders were set in a rigid stance, higher than normal, while his fingers clinched into fists.
Before I could stop myself, I asked if he was okay.
With his jaw set, Edward nodded his head. "Yeah. I'm fine."
He walked to my mother's desk, pushing the chair out of the way, before using the key I'd given him to unlock her desk drawer.
As he searched for whatever it was Jasper needed, I gave into the curiosity that was hounding me and looked around Renee's office. Her shelves were filled with different awards that she'd been given- plaques and small glass trophies. I rolled my eyes and resisted the urge to dump the whole damn lot of them into the trash can, but the sound of files hitting the top of the desk shook me from my bitter stupor and I turned back to see Edward squinting at my mother's handwriting.
I tried not to watch him, noticing the small, miniscule things that he did. But I'd spent the better part of my life honed in on his mannerisms. Before he ever opened his mouth and said a word, I could tell what kind of mood he was in, what he wanted or needed, and what he was thinking. I knew the crease between his eyebrows meant that he had been worrying over something. I could tell by the way he carried himself that he hadn't slept soundly in a while. And if I was brave enough to glance into his eyes, I knew I would find nothing but heartache and sadness within them… all because of me, because of the damage we'd done to each other. I crossed my arms across my chest and turned away from him just as he was looking up from the desk.
"These aren't everything," Edward muttered, flipping through files. With my back still to him, I listened and heard him pull out more drawers before shuffling items around until there was the small clinking sound of keys. Then the draw was shut and he said, "Let me check the safe."
He didn't offer to take me with him, and I was grateful. With Edward gone, I let out the breath I'd been holding since opening the door to the building. My hands, shaking, covered my face and I repeatedly swallowed to try and keep myself from crying.
I absolutely hated being like this, like I just couldn't get comfortable anywhere I went. I wasn't happy at my mother's house. I couldn't relax at Alice and Jasper's, my father's house, and certainly not anywhere near Edward. Regardless of where I went, or what I did, it was like putting a square peg in a circular hole. I didn't fit here. I didn't fit in Arizona. I didn't…
The sound of someone entering the room made me spin around, expecting to see Edward giving me some sort of apathetic look. Instead, I was met by a pair of wide, brown, eyes- one of which was partially covered by a blanket of dark, mahogany-brown, hair.
The woman in the doorway simply stood there as I brushed away the few tears that had escaped the corner of my eyes. She didn't offer an introduction or tell me that she was sorry for intruding, but once my eyes focused back on hers, she looked down at the carpet and shuffled to my mother's desk.
As she pulled the trashcan out from under the desk, I watched her, noticing that she moved with careful and slow movements- almost as if she was cowering away from me. It was when she straightened back up, and her hair fell back off her face, that I saw a long scar that ran from the woman's forehead to her chin, pulling the corner of eye and lip down. The cowering stance and lack of introduction automatically made sense.
"Hi." I said, keeping my distance. When she finally met my eyes, I smiled at her. "I'm Bella."
The woman nodded before lifting up a hand in recognition. Her mouth moved, as if she might have said hello in return, or even given me her name, but it sealed up tightly when Edward walked through the door.
He was reading, as he walked, but looked up when the trashcan was clumsily placed back underneath the desk. His face softened when he saw her, and the look of pity that filled his eyes was all too familiar. He'd looked at me like that for years.
The woman walked past him, with her head ducked and her arms crossed across her body, and he slowly moved out of the way- as if that would have made her more comfortable. Once she was in the hallway, Edward slowly shook his head before sighing.
"Is she okay?" I asked, keeping my voice down.
Before answering, he checked the hallway and then quietly shut the door. "She will be. Hopefully." He moved back to my mother's desk and once again started going through the files on her desk. "To be honest, I'm surprised that she came in here with you. Emily normally avoids any and all human interaction."
I moved closer to him, making sure to keep the chair and desk between us. "What happened to her?"
With hesitant movements, Edward sat down the folder he'd been holding and looked up at me. "She…" He cleared his throat and started over. "According her to medical records from the hospital her husband has always been abusive, but then he did that to her face and… well, we don't really know what happened, because she won't talk to anyone. She showed up here one night, the crap beaten out of her, and she has been here ever since."
"Oh my… God."
I knew, just from looking at her, that she'd been abused. It was like a sixth sense- once you'd been in that situation, you could pick up on mannerisms and emotions, but I never would have guessed it was that bad.
Edward continued. "We've told her she can stay, as long as she needs to, but a few months back Emily started doing odd jobs around here; like she doesn't want to stay without paying us back somehow." He shook his head, sadly. "I just wish she would open up to someone, anyone, so that we can help her through this."
"No family or friends?" I asked, moving around the chair and sitting down. "She doesn't have anyone?"
Again, Edward shook his head. "I tried to contact a next of kin a few months ago and… it didn't end well."
The look on my face must have shown that I was waiting for him to continue, and he did, hesitantly. After pulling my mother's desk chair closer, he sat down and sighed. "Do you remember that day… at the beach? The guys that came over to talk to me?"
"That was Emily's husband and brother. After she'd been here a few weeks, I called her brother and immediately knew that I'd made a horrible mistake. He didn't give a damn about her safety or health. He just kept asking me where she was, what I'd done with her." Edward flipped a pen between his fingers for a few seconds before continuing. "For a while they showed up here, demanding that she talk to them, but she was always back in the residential part of the building and never even knew they were here. We'd lock down the building and call the police… finally they stopped."
"But at the beach…"
He smiled, grimly. "It isn't anything I can't handle, Bella. Trust me."
Worry fired up in chest. "That wasn't the first time they've confronted you, was it?"
Again, Edward sighed before answering me. "No. But, we've taken precautions. It will be fine."
"Precautions? I asked, shaking my head. "Edward you could get hurt! You've got to contact the police!"
"They're from the reservation, Bella. The police can't do anything, and we've contacted the tribe's elder counsel. No eye witnesses, no real threats… without Emily coming forward they can't do anything to either one of them."
"Maybe Jasper can do something." I suggested. "Has she talked to an attorney?"
"Emily won't talk to anyone, especially men. And, unfortunately, there aren't any female attorneys in this area that do charity work for our organization. We're trying to get one from Seattle, someone Jasper knows, but even that is taking forever." He stopped talking, obviously catching the look of anger and outrage on my face. His hands were held up before he continued. "We are doing the best we can, Bella."
"That poor woman has been abused for God knows how long, and there isn't anyone that is willing to at least try to talk to her?" I asked, anger making my voice louder than I meant for it to be. "Is that what you're telling me?"
"Jasper tried to talk to her and Emily cowered down in the corner of the office crying!" Edward yelled back at me. "No one wants the hassle of dealing with the reservation! I've tried!"
I stood up, ready to tell him to try harder, but stopped when I realized what was right in front of me.
I'd wanted something to keep me busy, something that would keep me out of my mother's house and not at Alice and Emmett's until I'd worn out their hospitality. This was something I could do, something I could make a difference at. To make the firm in Arizona look more appealing to clients, they'd ask me to keep my certification in Washington active, which I thought was ridiculous but did anyway. And now, here I was, faced with an opportunity to use it and my experience that I had as a family attorney. Not to mention the experience I'd had enduring my mother's abusive tendencies.
Suddenly, Alice's voice filled my head.
You'll find where you're supposed to be; especially with your… personal experience. You'll find somewhere that you fit in, somewhere that you feel like you can make a difference
My ass fell back into the chair, and I slowly shook my head, wondering how she could have known… How could she…
"Bella?" Edward asked, loudly.
Looking up, I slowly shook my head, trying to focus. He asked if I was alright, which I ignored. "Do you have an empty office available?"
"Uh… well, we can find one, but what-"
"I'm not comfortable moving Emily to a different environment. She is… safe here. And she needs to stay that way." I said, standing up. "But I'll need a space to talk to her, to try and get her to talk to me."
"Wait, Bella… what are you saying?"
"I'm saying I'm going to help her, Edward. And I can't do that using my mother's office."
AN: Well, what do you think?