Twilight character names belong to Stephenie Meyer. I own Dodge and Burn.
Since this is essentially D&B's conclusion (the final chapter next week is 6 months into the future) I wanted to take a moment to give special thanks to the D&B team. I can't stress enough how lucky I've been to have long working relationships with such smart, savvy and talented women. BtwntheStacks wrote my first blog review for Work of Art and I asked her to preread for me. We've been together ever since. Lemonmartini and MsKathy offered help for Animate Me and continued on through Dodge and Burn. Azucena has been a tremendous support for all three of my stories. My work has developed thanks to their insight and care. Their friendships are very special to me.
Their generous efforts provide examples of what makes the fanfic community so special. We come together in amazing ways to support each other's creative endeavors. Rose Arcadia made a wonderful blinkie for D&B. Eddiebell made banners and Iris-Elli found great images that helped make the Facebook page a visual feast.
And finally you, the readers...Your reviews have taught me so much. I have taken each one, both good and bad, into my consciousness. You have showed me how it feels to love and hate characters, to have hope and how it feels when hope seems lost. I have a tougher shell and a more tender soul now thanks to you and I think my writing is better for it. You make every late night, every sacrifice so worth it. With a full heart, I thank you all. xoxo abbie
Dodge and Burn / Chapter Thirty-Three / Our Beautiful Life
Bella gasps and Edward winces as Jacob and Carly react with shock to Leo's declaration.
"What?" Jacob asks with an unsteady voice. "You're my father?"
"Leo!" Bella yells.
"What, Bella? What am I to do? I cannot deny what I am to him. He's my flesh and blood."
Jacob is shaking his head in disbelief, and Carly has her head angled with a curious look. She reaches over and pulls on Jacob's tuxedo sleeve. "You know, he looks a lot like you, Jacob. I bet he is your dad."
"Well that was helpful," Edward quietly observes in a random way, nodding toward Carly. He settles into one of the armchairs and stretches out his sand-covered legs.
"Thank you, Carly. I am his father and I must tell you, Jacob, hearing this news was the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Jacob raises his eyebrows and turns to Bella. "Is this for real, Mom? Or just another one of your wild escapades?"
"Oh God," Bella groans, dropping her head to her knees.
"Are you okay, Bella? You don't look well?" Leo asks.
"Hey, thanks a million," Bella moans into her knees.
"What's wrong with her?" he asks Edward.
Edward, who looks rather wild himself, leans back into his chair and shrugs. "Rough day."
Bella laughs and lifts up enough to rest her elbows on her knees and press her fists under her chin. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."
She looks at Leo and then points to Edward. "Hey, he doesn't look so great either. What about him?"
"No, he looks like hell. But I don't care about him. I care about you," Leo points out.
Jacob coughs and Edward makes a face before replying, "Truer words have never been spoken."
"So can we refocus here?" Jacob asks. "I need some answers, and I need them now. Like, does this mean I'm no longer a bastard child?"
The color drains from Bella's face. "Jacob?" she asks, sadly.
He looks over to Leo with his arms stretched and his hands out. "Well?"
"Ah, technically Jacob, you're still a bastard child," Carly offers helpfully.
"Oh," Jacob answers, looking a bit crestfallen.
"My son is not a bastard!" Leo insists.
Bella suddenly leaps out of her chair and claps loudly once. "Okay, okay…enough of all of this. I need to talk to my son privately."
Edward nods. "Good idea. You may want to address the pill bottle thing while you're at it."
"Pill bottle?" Leo asks.
Bella glares at Edward. "Never mind that, Leo. And Edward, I'm glad you seemed to have calmed down, but can you please not make this any harder."
Edward squints at her, thinking she looks kind of hot with her wild hair and sand-covered legs. Then he realizes that he must be losing his mind to even be thinking such a thing in a time like this.
Bella walks over to Jacob and places her hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Jacob. Let's go sit in the garden."
He grabs Carly's hand. "Please wait for me. Okay?" he asks.
"Of course," she says sweetly. "Don't worry, Jacob. I'm here for you, no matter how long it takes."
He smiles happily and squeezes her hand. "Thank you." He turns to his mother. "I need to get out of this monkey suit. Give me a minute and I'll meet you out back."
When Jacob's stepped away, Leo speaks up. "Bella…I did not know he was here. I was shocked and spoke, not thinking."
She sighs. "I know, I know. Just let me talk to him first, okay?"
Leo nods and Bella turns and heads to the backyard.
There's a long silence after Bella and Jacob head outside.
"Well now," Edward says, looking up at Leo. "This sure is fun. Have a seat, Leonard…take a load off. You too, Carly."
Leo gives Edward a look and then settles into the chair across from him. Carly walks up to the mantle. "What happened here?" she asks, starting to turn the knocked over pictures upright and move things back in order.
"I was looking for something," Edward says. "I was in a hurry."
"I can see that," Carly says, picking up a broken, small vase from the floor that has busted into several large pieces. "Maybe this can be repaired," she comments to herself.
They all look up startled when the doorbell rings again. "I'll get it," Carly offers, moving toward the door before Edward can stop her.
"For God's sake, don't let anyone else in," Edward warns her.
When the door's open, there's a set of surprised gasps. "Michael!" Carly calls out happily. "It's so great to see you!"
"Michael?" Edward growls, and Leo looks over at him, concerned.
"Great to see you too, Carly," he says, stepping inside and giving her a hug. "Are you visiting Bella, or is Jacob home from school?" He gives her a big, hopeful grin.
"Jacob," she admits, smiling.
"That's great, so great," Michael says knowingly.
"Well isn't this cozy," Edward comments. "How the hell do you two know each other?"
"Yes, who is this man hugging Jacob's Carly?" Leo asks Edward, looking concerned.
"I'm Bella's friend. Her ex, as a matter of fact," Michael answers.
"Her accountant," Edward throws in, smirking.
"Our Bella was with him?" Leo asks, aghast.
"I know. Hard to believe; right? Imagine how I feel following this guy? At least you're a suave Italian and all that."
Leo nods in agreement.
"So who's this?" Michael asks Carly, nodding towards Leo.
"Jacob's father," Carly says, her eyes wide.
"Jacob's father? No shit! Wow. Just wow. I think I'm going to sit down, too." He studies Leo for a moment. "So you're the Italian guy she dated in photography school."
Leo nods. "We were deeply in love."
"Can you do me a favor, Leonard, and tone it down with the love stuff." Edward says to Leo before turning to Carly. "So I'm still waiting to hear your connection to Mr. Numbers over here."
"Oh, Michael helped me with my college scholarship and financial aid paperwork. He was awesome."
"And from what I hear, you're doing amazing work, Carly," he replies proudly.
"Thanks Michael," she says. "Hey, I need some water. It looks like we could be waiting for a while. Do you gentlemen want anything?"
"I need a beer," Edward replies.
"Me too," Michael agrees.
"If Bella doesn't have any wine open, make that three," Leo chimes in.
The three men sit silently for a while until Michael finally speaks up.
"So, where are Bella and Jacob anyway?"
Leo waves his hand toward the back of the house. "In the garden."
Michael nods his head and taps his fingers on the edge of the couch nervously. He moves his briefcase from in front of him to the side of the couch.
Edward looks over and notices that Michael is in his work clothes. He's even wearing a tie. "What are you doing here anyway?" Edward asks Michael.
"We had an appointment to work on her taxes," Michael says.
"Well, I can promise you that she won't be doing any tax work today. So you can just leave, and I'll tell her to reschedule with you," Edward says.
"Are you kidding? And miss all of this? I'm not going anywhere." He leans forward and picks up a picture book from the ottoman to flip through.
Carly rejoins them and passes out the beverages. "So where in Italy do you live, Leo?" she asks, trying to make polite conversation to break up the thick tension in the room.
"Lucca," he responds.
"Oh, that's in Tuscany, isn't it? I've always wanted to go there."
"Well, you and Jacob must come as my guests as soon as possible. Early fall or late spring is ideal. You can bring Bella, too."
"I don't think so, Leonard," Edward says, shaking his head.
"Leo-nard-o, Leo reminds him.
"Whatever," Edward responds gruffly. "Isabella stays with me."
"Can I go?" asks Michael, looking up from his book. Everyone turns to him, shocked. He grins, putting his hands up in the air. "Just kidding. I thought this room could use some lightening up."
The room goes quiet again, as they all sit and sip their drinks and pretend not to watch each other.
Bella sits on the swing and Jacob, now in old jeans and a T-shirt, pulls the chaise lounge over closer so he can sit facing her.
"So first things, first, Mom," Jacob says calmly as he sits down and leans toward her. "Please tell me you weren't intending to off yourself with this oceanic symbolic swim with the pills crap. Because that shit will really piss me off."
"No," she replies firmly. "No offing myself."
"Good, glad to hear it. But man, that stunt really pissed off your boyfriend."
"Yes, apparently I have developed quite a knack for pissing him off."
"I can see that," he agrees. "You may want to tone that down."
"Thank you for that advice. Actually, Jacob, I've determined that I'd be a better girlfriend if I decided not to live in fear of getting Alzheimer's anymore. That's what today was all about."
"Well, cool. I can get behind that. You shouldn't worry about it anyway-it's either going to happen or it's not, so don't fret about it and enjoy your life," Jacob says.
"But the thing is, I had planned to have a serious discussion with you about it. You know I don't want you to ever take care of me like I took care of Grandma. But I guess I got ahead of myself today," Bella explains.
"It's okay, Mom. We have lots of time to work out that stuff. Besides, I plan to cure Alzheimer's so there's really nothing to worry about." He grins like he did when he was a kid.
She leans forward and messes up his hair. "You always wanted to be Superman. I love you, my sweet boy."
"Mom, I'm not a sweet boy anymore," he says.
"I know, I know," she agrees. "And I think Carly knows it, too. Did you see the way she looked at you? Good idea wearing the tux, dude. That's how to make a great impression with the ladies."
"Well I can't take credit for that, Mom. She was coming over to make sure it fit all right for the wedding tomorrow."
"Oh, I see. But still, she looks like she wanted to do more than fit your tux."
"Mom," he says, blushing. "Be classy. You know I'm so in love with her. I'd marry her today if she'd have me. It's always been Carly for me."
She smiles at him tenderly. "Oh, I know, baby. So can I give you some advice?"
"Ha! Advice from the woman who's always fighting with her boyfriend?"
"We're not always fighting! We make love far more than we fight."
"Too much information," Jacob insists with his hand up.
"So with Carly, just treat her really well, Jacob. Try to see things from her side, try to imagine and do what would make her happy and then she will do the same for you."
"Wow, real relationship advice from Bella Swan," he teases. "This is a first. You've lived a barren, boyfriendless life for most of my growing up years, you know."
"Yeah, well, there was Michael and I've got a boyfriend and an ex waiting for me in the living room, so I haven't exactly been a nun."
There's a long pause as they study each other.
"Jacob?" she asks gently. "Can we talk about your father, Leo?"
"You mean my sperm donor. He isn't my father."
"That isn't fair. He didn't know about you until just weeks ago. He's here now, isn't he?"
"And why didn't he know?"
"I was afraid."
"Him rejecting you, rejecting us."
"Are you serious? I thought you were braver than that. And to think I could've been traipsing around Italy with all those Italian babes all this time, and instead I've lived this boring American existence."
"Boring?" she asks, her voice edged with disbelief.
"Well, life with you is never exactly boring, but still…" he says.
"Jacob, why can't you be serious about this?"
"Look, cut me a break will you? In the last twenty minutes I've learned that my mother may have tried to kill herself, the love of my life finally looked at me in a way that makes me believe this will no longer be a one-sided clusterfuck. Then some Italian dude shows up on our doorstep looking to bond with me, his newly discovered son. What exactly are you expecting from me here, Mom? Because I defy anyone to handle all of this gracefully."
"You have a point," she says.
She pushes off the swing and rocks for a minute, watching him. "He told me he wants you to come stay with him in his villa."
"He has a villa?" Jacob asks.
"Yes, and you can bring Carly."
"Really?" Jacob looks thoughtful.
"And he's desperate to get to know you, to be a dad to you. He's a good man, Jacob."
"Mmm," Jacob responds.
"And he drives a very fast Fiat. And he's very smart, and very talented. He was always very good to me."
"Do you really think he was impressed with me? I mean, he didn't really get to talk to me."
"He was impressed," Bella says without hesitation. "In Italy, he asked me a million questions about you. He never had kids, Jacob. You're his legacy."
"Whoa. I'm a legacy."
"So, can you be open-minded? Give him a chance, so you guys can get to know each other. You don't have to like him, just give him the chance he never had because of my mistake."
Jacob stands up and paces to one end of the pool and back.
"Okay," he agrees simply. "Let's go get this father-son thing going. I'm not ready to call him Dad yet, but I won't call him a sperm donor again."
"Thanks," she says, smiling. Bella stands and puts her hands on his shoulders. "I know you hate it when I fawn over you, but can I tell you how much I love you? You're amazing."
He rolls his eyes. "Thanks, Mom."
"Look who's back," says Bella cheerfully as she and Jacob enter the living room. She looks over and notices the addition to the group. "Michael, what are you doing here?"
He sets the book down. "Bella, remember? We had an appointment to go over your taxes. Can we meet now?" Michael asks in mock seriousness, knowing very well what the answer is.
"I'm so sorry, but no," she answers, bewildered. "I'm sure you've gathered there's a lot going on. I'm frankly amazed you're still here."
He shrugs. "Where else would I go? Besides, this has been rather entertaining."
"Michael," she says, giving him a bug-eyed look.
"But Bella, next time you forget an appointment I'm charging you," he teases.
"Be my guest," she replies with a smile, but then her expression shifts to humble. "I'm sorry I forgot, Michael, today got kind of crazy."
He stands up and grabs his briefcase. "It's okay, besides it's great to see Carly and Jacob again. Why don't you call me when or if your schedule calms down."
Michael lets himself out and all the attention turns to Jacob. Leo is studying him intently for any clue as to where he stands.
"Are you okay?" Carly asks Jacob.
Jacob smiles warmly at her and nods. "I'm fine."
Leo stands up. "I'm very sorry that you got the news like this, Jacob. I didn't know you would be here today."
"Yeah, Mom told me."
"But that doesn't change the fact that I'm so happy to meet you. It would mean a lot to me if you would give us a chance to get to know each other."
Edward notices how nervous Bella looks as she watches her son. It reminds him of the risk Bella took seeking out Leo, and how much rests on this moment.
Jacob stares down at his bare feet, deep in thought, then gazes up and looks Leo in the eye. "Sure, we can do that," Jacob replies. "I'm not ready to call you Dad or anything, but I'd like to know more about you…more about your family."
Leo's face lights up with happiness. It even chokes up Edward a bit as he tries to imagine what this must feel like for this father and his son. Leo steps forward and extends his hand to Jacob. "I'd like that. My family name is Leonardo Simone Russo, but you can call me Leo."
Jacob accepts his hand and shakes it. "Okay, Leo it is." He gestures to Carly. "We have this wedding thing tomorrow to go to, but if you want we could have lunch on Sunday before I have to head to the airport."
"Thank you, Jacob. That would be wonderful. Shall I pick you up at noon?"
"Yeah, that works."
"Okay, I think I will head to my hotel now. I need to recover from my long flight and… all of this," Leo says, smiling.
Bella leads him to the front door and they wordlessly give each other a long, knowing look edged with relief. "We'll talk later," she says quietly as she hugs him goodbye. By the time she closes the door, Carly and Jacob are already hand in hand, heading toward the backyard.
Edward takes a sip of his beer as he watches Bella slowly walk to one of the chairs and sit down. She notices an abandoned beer bottle on the ottoman tray, and she lifts it to the light to determine that it is still half full. Not caring who the beer belonged to, she lifts it to her lips and takes a long swig, then leans back into the chair and closes her eyes.
"The only thing that would have made that more thrilling is if Lauren had showed up. Yes, that would have made the afternoon complete," Bella says.
Edward chuckles. "I can call her and get her over here if you'd like."
Bella opens one eye to glare at him and shakes her head. "Oh, that's very kind of you, but no thanks. Hey, that reminds me, how did your talk with her go last night?"
Edward considers the question for a minute as he remembers the long night. "It was cathartic," he admits. "Perhaps the best talk we've ever had."
Bella's eyes pop open wide and she leans forward as her cheeks flush. "The best? So what does that mean?"
"It means we talked about things that we should have talked about years ago."
"Does it mean anything else?" Bella asks, feeling hopeful he made progress.
"She signed the divorce papers," Edward says.
"Really?" Bella asks, smiling.
"Yes. She agreed to the divorce," he states simply, smiling back.
"I'm shocked. How did you get her to agree to do that?"
"She finally realized that I've changed fundamentally and my heart completely belongs to someone else now."
"And who might that be?" Bella asks coyly.
Edward sets down his beer bottle and holds out his arms. She gets up and slowly walks over to him until she's standing between his legs. He reaches up and rests his hands on her hips."
"You," he whispers.
"What was that?" she asks softly.
He leans forward until his forehead is pressed against her belly.
She smiles and crawls onto his lap, noticing his shorts, although still caked with sand, are almost dry.
"Can I ask you something?" Edward asks.
"Anything," she replies.
"I know that you didn't realize I'd come looking for you, but did you really have to be so dramatic this morning-going to the beach and all? I mean, what happened to talking to Jacob about the future first?"
"You're right…but I had a huge epiphany last night and it turned all my carefully laid plans upside down."
"It sure did. I may not have liked your method, but I'm glad for the end results."
"Yes, at least we both agree about that," she says. "Moving forward I promise I'll work on my dramatic tendencies."
"Thank you. That would be helpful," he says with a nod.
She looks down and notices the sand settling into the upholstery. "Hey, can we go outside and hose each other off? I'm getting itchy from all this sand."
"Sure," he says as she eases off his lap.
As he walks behind her, he admires the swing of her hips. "After we get the sand off how about a hot shower? I've always wanted to wash your hair."
"Ooo that sounds great." She turns around and grins. "So you aren't mad at me anymore?" she asks.
"Just a little bit, but I'll get over it."
She reaches back and takes his hand, weaving their fingers together as they approach the French doors to the backyard. When she grabs the doorknob, she suddenly stops. "Oh my God, will you look at that!"
"What?" Edward asks, stepping alongside her.
"Look, look!" She points through the window. Jacob and Carly are sitting on the swing and kissing passionately.
"Whoa," Edward says, smiling. "Go Jacob!"
"I can't believe it!" Bella says happily.
"Looks like they have it all figured out. No drama, no dancing around it…" Edward says.
"Just love," Bella says, sighing.
"We should take a lesson from those two," Edward says as he slides his arm around Bella and pulls her closer into his side.
She tips her head against his shoulder. "Well, in fairness to us, we did have a few messes to clean up so the decks were clear."
"And look at the progress we've made since yesterday," Edward says. "My divorce papers are signed."
"Yes," says Bella. "There's no more bottle on the mantle, and the ocean is the tiniest bit sweeter now that all my sugar pills have dissolved."
Edward laughs. "Yup."
"And from that, we've agreed that we will deal with the future together, Edward, whatever life hands us."
He leans over and kisses her on the forehead. "That's right, Isabella."
They look back out at Jacob and Carly who are now talking and laughing as the swing rocks.
"Oh, and lets not forget that now Jacob knows about his dad and seems okay about it," Edward says.
"Yes, thank God," says Bella letting out a big sigh of relief.
"He's such an impressive kid. I mean seriously, Bella, how he handled all of that just now."
"He's a rock," she says, nodding.
"And as for our exes, Leo and Lauren, I think they're very clear where things stand now," Edward says.
"Yes, they are." Bella turns to Edward so they're face to face. "So right now, this very moment this is it! Are you ready?"
He smiles. "So ready. Now what am I ready for?"
"This is the very start of our brand new beautiful life," she says happily.
"Yes, it is," he says softly. He looks into her bright eyes as he pushes her tangled, sandy hair off her face. He slowly leans down and kisses her tenderly.
"Shower?" she whispers, winking as he pulls away.
"Oh yeah, my beautiful mermaid, lets go get wet."
We made it through the crazy day! I'd love to hear how you're feeling now...
See you next Saturday with the final chapter.
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