"Are you feeling better?"
Wednesday morning's light had filtered thru the wide wooden slats that covered my bedroom windows. I watched as the dust particles floated their way thru the air instead of answering Alice's question.
"Are you coming to dinner tonight?"
I sighed before answering. "I don't think so." I could hear her banging around in her kitchen over the phone- bowls, coffee mugs, and utensils being thrown into the dishwasher. It seemed shockingly normal for some reason. "I probably wouldn't be the best company."
"If you're that sick you should go to the doctor, Edward. See if Dad can call you in something to the pharmacy. Are you running a fever?"
I hated lying to my sister so I only responded with a noncommittal grunt. "I'm going to go back to bed. Can I call you later?"
The dishwasher door was shut and the water from her sink turned off before Alice took a deep breath. I could imagine her standing in the kitchen while total chaos reigned behind her in the living room while my niece and nephew started their day by fighting over who got to pick what Netflix show they watched. "Please go to the doctor, okay? You never get sick… and you never miss work."
"I'll be fine."
Probably. Maybe. Eventually.
"Edward, I mean it. I'll call Dad myself."
She muttered something under her breath, something that sounded a lot like I can tell something is wrong with you… something more than what you're telling me, but when she spoke clearly into the phone all she said was. "I love you. Call me if you need something, okay?"
I told her I loved her too, muttered a goodbye, and then dropped my phone on the bedside table. Lying back, I pulled a pillow over my face, knowing that I would eventually have to leave this house. I would have to deal with enormous fucking mess that Bella and I had made for ourselves on Saturday night. I'd have to face seeing her… working with her. I knew I had to grow the fuck up and move past my past with Bella. But knowing all of that didn't make any of it easier. If anything it made it worse.
My phone made a soft pinging noise and I shook my head.
It had to be. She knew I wasn't telling her the truth and it would only be a matter of time before I found her on my front porch wanting me to look her in the eye and tell her this was nothing more than a bug that I'd caught. She'd take one look at me and see past the four day stubble on my cheeks, stained t-shirt, and frowning face; knowing that something had happened between me and Bella.
Without sitting up I tossed the pillow aside and reached for the bedside table. Clumsily I picked up my phone, ready to just explain everything that had happened, only to see that the alert on my phone wasn't from my sister.
Bella's text message stood stark against the black background of the screen.
I read it once before shaking my head and throwing my cellphone across the room. When it hit the wall I pulled the pillow back over my face and screamed into it.
"Ms. Swan I'm not sure I understand what you're asking."
I wanted to slam my hand down onto the table in frustration and anger while demanding that the Quileute Tribe's Elder Counsel listen to the minimal requests I'd laid out before them. I took a breath and tried to smile politely. "My client-"
My fingers balled into a fist underneath the table as I was interrupted yet again. "Yes, Emily Young-my client- has asked that I represent her in the matters I've laid out before you. She is asking that, for her own protection, a restraining order be granted against her husband and brother while we petition the tribe's counsel for a divorce on grounds of physical and emotional abus-"
"You are not a member of this, or any other, tribe. Correct?"
I reluctantly nodded. "I am not but my father-"
"Your father's marriage to Sue Clearwater doesn't change the fact that you have absolutely no knowledge regarding issues concerning this tribe, or the right to represent one of its members. We don't have restraining orders, Ms. Swan." He held use his fingers to make air quotes as he spoke. "If your client is asking for this then why didn't she contact us herself? Use the resources that we do have available?"
My temper finally got the better of me. "Sir, if you would allow me to present my request without interrupting me I am sure I will answer all of your questions." I continued without allowing him a chance to respond. "My client has suffered severe physical and emotional abuse from her husband and her brother. She is currently staying in a safe house, off the reservation, because she is so worried about what might happen if she comes back. All she is asking is that you allow me to present these requests, on her behalf, for her own safety."
"Does she think we can't protect her?" Another one of the elders asked me.
I shook my head. "It is my understanding that, in the past, Emily's previous tribal representation didn't really put her best interest ahead of the tribe's and-"
"In La Push?"
"No. Her first divorce petition wasn't filed here."
Even though I had been able to get some of the story from Emily I still wasn't entirely sure about what had actually happened before Emily, along with her husband and brother, had come to the La Push lands. She wouldn't tell me the whole story from start to finish. But even without the full story, without knowing everything, we had to start somewhere and getting the tribe involved in her protection seemed like a safe bet.
Or so I'd thought.
"Have you spoken to Sam Uley? Does he admit to taking part in this alleged abuse?"
I shook my head, ignoring the fact that he'd used the word alleged. "No, I haven't. I don't really believe I need to." I pointed at the files I'd handed them. "If you would look at the medical records, and pictures, that I've given you I believe they show that this is more than an allegation. The abuse has been documented by more doctors and therapist than I can count. My client has been in and out of hospitals since she was a teenager. We have years' worth of documented-"
"That might be true but don't you think that a man has a right to face the accusations he's facing? This could be nothing more than a misunderstanding. A he said-she said marital dispute."
An incredulous laugh escaped my mouth. "A misunderstanding?" I flipped thru the file sitting in front of me, plucked out a picture of Emily's mangled face, and slid it across the table to them. "Does that look like a misunderstanding? Her husband permanently disfigured her face." I forcefully pointed at the picture. "I can assure you that something like that doesn't happen by accident."
My temper was getting the best of me, forcing the tone of my voice to turn condescending, but I was absolutely disgusted by the insinuations that these men were alluding to. Did they really think Emily could, or would, lie about something like this? That she would be able to fake the years of medical history that supported her claim to be a battered spouse?
"We allow each member of this tribe to be heard in situations like this Ms. Swan. If your client wants to proceed with her petition for a divorce then she needs to understand that her husband will also be allowed the right to explain his side of the situation."
"And the request for a restraining ord-" I stopped and corrected myself before they had to. "For protective assistance? Will the counsel instruct Sam Uley and Paul Young that they're to stay away from my client until further notice?"
The four of them looked at each other for a brief second before the one sitting directly across from me stood up. He slid the picture of Emily, and the unopened file of copies I'd given them back across the table to me. "We will take that into consideration and let you know."
And just like that, without any sort of answers or explanations, the meeting was over.
I briskly stood up, speaking quickly as they started to walk out, and played the only trump card I had. "You should know that if we are not able to get the help we need from this tribe's counsel then I will be forced to seek alternative methods of keeping my client safe. You may not have restraining orders but I can, and will, go to the Forks Police Department and ask that they issue a protective order for her. She is staying within their city limits, in a non-profit facility that is funded by the state of Washington. By law they are required to step in if asked to."
Their icy glares told me everything I needed to know. They might not like having an outsider representing their tribe members, and I'm sure they knew I was going to be a pain in their ass, but they definitely didn't want the local government or State involved.
"We'll let you know."
I nodded once in recognition and didn't bother thanking them for seeing me.
As I left La Push I tightened the grip on the steering wheel of the car, shaking my head, and trying to calm the anger that pulsed thru my veins. I'd arranged this meeting with the hopes of establishing a line of communication with the tribe, and their elder's, for Emily's sake. She needed the support of her community when it came time to formally petition for a divorce but it had been made painfully clear that that wasn't going to happen.
As I pulled into the back parking lot of Hope House my anger hadn't really dissipated- if anything it had probably risen a notch higher as I resentfully took notice of Edward's empty parking space. I forced a smiled and gave the security guard a polite nod as I held my badge up to the locking sensor at the back entrance of Hope House.
When it beeped it's acceptance he held the door open for me. "Morning."
For the fourth day that week I held my breath as I walked down the hallway that lead to my office. Part of me had hoped Edward wouldn't be there again today. Another part of me felt the complete opposite because the anticipation of seeing him for the first time, since what had happened between us after his birthday party, was leaving me an anxious mess of nerves. I wanted to get it over with but I also wanted to run away from Forks and never come back.
More than once since Edward had dropped me off at my mother's house that night I'd considered packing my suitcase and going back to Arizona. I didn't want to deal with what had happened. I didn't want to remember what Edward's body had felt like against mine. I didn't want to feel the phantom touch of his lips on my skin- especially when he would be sitting in an office directly across from mine. But three things had stopped me from running away again- Alice, my father, and Emily. I'd made a promise to all three of them, and to myself. I couldn't just walk away. Not this time.
I nodded at Bree's enthusiastic greeting and tried to smile. "Morning."
She dropped a folder into the wire basket that hung on the wall outside of Edward's office- it was still overflowing with paperwork. Just like it had been yesterday… and the day before…
"Still sick?" I asked, hoping that my voice didn't sound as bitter as my thoughts were.
She nodded sadly, "he sounded horrible when he called this morning. I hope it isn't contagious."
"I'm sure it isn't…"
Bree said something as she started to make her way back to her desk but I didn't bother listening. Instead I sat down in my chair, stared at Edward's closed office door, and tried to ignore the anger, sadness, and regret that bubbled in my stomach. I seriously doubted that Edward was legitimately sick. And if he was how big a coincidence would that be?
I shook the mouse connected to my computer and waited for the screen to come alive.
Was he avoiding me? And did I really have a right to be mad at the fact that be might be? Look what I'd done to him once upon a time and was almost willing to do again. With anxious fingers I fished my cellphone out of my bag and pulled up my text messages with Edward. It had been four days of waiting, not knowing, and ridiculous anticipation of what would happen when he finally did come back to work. It was enough. We both had to face what had happened.
Are you avoiding me?
I don't know why I expected an answer immediately, even though the read receipt confirmed he'd seen the message only a few seconds after I'd sent it, but after a few minutes I knew one wasn't coming. I'd tried. I'd made the first move. And three hours later I knew I didn't need a response back from Edward to know the answer to the question I'd asked him. He'd made it abundantly clear… It was yes.
Maybe it was the fact that I'd let anger fuel me throughout the rest of the day. Or maybe it was because the waiting and anxious anticipation of what would happen was leaving me exhausted. It could have been a million reasons. It didn't matter. What did matter was that I found myself on Edward's front porch, ringing the door bell, and waiting for him to open the door.
When he finally did, the look of absolute agony that covered his face didn't stop me from stepping around him and letting myself into his living room. I waited, impatiently, until he shut the door before dropping my purse on the floor and asking, "What are you doing, Edward?"
His back was still to me- his hand was still pressed against the door- and his head fell forward the moment I spoke.
A long moment of silence passed before I asked again. "What are you doing? What are we doing?"
He roughly rubbed his face with his hands before turning to look at me. "Nothing."
I shook my head. "This isn't 'nothing'." I motioned between the two of us. "You can't act like-"
"You have no right to tell me what I can and can't do, Bella." He took a step towards me, anger lacing his voice. "You don't get to tell me how I'm supposed to handle… this!" He forcefully waved a hand at me.
"It isn't just hard on you!" I yelled back at him as I took a step forward- meeting him head on. "You think I'm not confused by what happened? That I don't hate myself for letting it happen? At least I'm adult enough to know that we have to face it and deal with it!"
"What I know is that I can't keep doing this with you!" Edward screamed over me. "I can't keep… waiting and… hoping that all of this will just magically make sense! I can't keep…"
His voice trailed off as he shook his head.
"What?" I asked, pushing at his chest. "Tell me! You can't keep what?" Push. "Hating me?" Push. "Blaming me?"
He grabbed my hands before screaming, "Loving you! I can't keep loving you!" his hands tightened around my wrists as he leaned down over me. "I never thought I would see you again, Bella! Let alone sit on that fucking couch and have you that close to me! I told myself I could do this… that I could be your friend and move past all of our bullshit but I can't! Saturday night proved that!"
Stunned, I blinked slowly, trying to process his confession.
"You get two fucking feet away from me and all I want to do is go back to exactly where we left off! I want to forget everything and act like nothing has changed!" Edward continued in a strained voice. "You… you have no fucking idea what…" He shook his head before letting go of wrists and walking around me.
I watched as he roughly wiped away tears that had fallen onto his cheeks and all of the anger and resentment I'd had pulsating thru me evaporated. We stood in silence; him staring at the wall facing away from me and me watching his shoulders rise and fall in controlled breaths.
When I finally managed the nerve to speak it was in a broken whisper. "Edward…"
He just shook his head.
I tried again, taking a careful step towards him. "I.." My hand slowly reached forward wanting to touch him, to comfort him, but then stopped.
What? I what?
I didn't mean to hurt him? That couldn't be true. I knew leaving him all those years ago would hurt him.
I was sorry? I was… but that isn't what I was trying to say.
With a saddened realization I pressed my lips together, closed my eyes, and shook my head.
I still loved him, too. I'd never stopped.
"Just leave, Bella." He said miserably, interrupting me and still refusing to look at me. "I'll be at work tomorrow and we can go back to pretending that whatever this is that we're doing is working. You'll eventually leave and everything will go back to the way it was before you came back."
Silently, and reluctantly, I picked my bag up off the floor.
I could tell him. I could say it. But then what? He was right. I would eventually leave and the two of us would be right back where we'd been before any of this started.
Let it be, I told myself, help Emily, settle your mother's estate, and then leave. Let Edward move on. Let him forget that you'd ever come back.
AN: I am determined to finish up all of my stories! Don't give up on me- it may just take some time!