Oodles of thanks and love to my extraordinary beta, Mel/mcc101180, and to my pre-reading goddess, caz12771! Y'all're pure awesomeness. =)
~December 21, 2010~
It was several hours later when I lifted a sleeping Bella off the bathroom floor and put her under the covers of her bed. I was elated, my heart and soul a hundred times lighter than they'd been when I'd arrived, as I stared down at her peaceful face. Despite all the interruptions – James with food, Bella puking up said food, Felix and Jacob just wanting to make sure we were "alright" – Bella and I had managed to talk tonight. There were still a shit-ton of things we needed to work on, but I was happy, and we were in a better place – sort of.
One thing I was not happy about was Bella starting a job at the diner. Felix's Aunt Andrea had heard that no one would hire Bella and had offered her a few hours waiting tables. Even though, on a logical level, I understood that it was a necessary part of her emancipation process, I didn't like it. I also didn't like how she refused to take any money from me to buy maternity or baby items. Our subsequent argument had drawn Felix to the bathroom, and I'd had to promise to keep my voice down and stop agitating Bella before he'd leave us alone again.
Grudgingly, and with the caveat that we would be discussing it again at a later date and time, I acquiesced to her demands for independence. My capitulation wasn't because I agreed with her convoluted logic that, until we were together again, Sweet Pea's and her financial welfare were solely her responsibility, but because I didn't want Felix to throw my ass out on the street when I told Bella how idiotic that was.
I didn't understand why she was being so stubborn about this. She was allowing my father to pay for her medical care, so why couldn't I help buy baby supplies and such? Deep down, I knew Bella wasn't a petty, spiteful person, but her acceptance of help from everyone else but me felt like an act of vengeance. Like she didn't believe I had suffered enough, so as punishment, I had to sit back and witness – but do nothing to ease – the struggles I had introduced to her life. I tried not to let it get to me, to remind myself that she was just doing the best she could with a fucked-up situation, but that shit hurt … a lot.
In the end, I backed off – for now – and we agreed that we'd both fucked up royally in the last several weeks, but we were only going to be able to move forward if we worked together to do so. As a first step, I vowed to make every effort not to hover over her, not to push her about our relationship, and to have faith that she would come to me if she needed anything. In return, she swore not to purposely hide her needs from me and to try and be more open to my attempts at digging us out of the hole I'd thrown us down.
Bella also relented and said that I could be a more active participant – so long as money wasn't involved – with Sweet Pea. To show her sincerity, she invited me to go with her to her next ultrasound appointment on the seventeenth. I was ridiculously excited about this, especially since the What to Expect books said we might get to hear the baby's heartbeat.
Much to the amusement of the occupants of the living room, I was practically skipping as I left the house in the early evening hours. Fuck 'em. For the first time in weeks, I was filled with a hope that didn't feel false, forced, or borrowed, and even the glare that James threw me just before I shut the door didn't ruin my good mood.
All of my happiness evaporated, however, when I pulled into my driveway and saw Emmett standing on the porch, leaning against the side of the building, and scowling over his crossed arms as he waited for me to get out of my car. Was it too late to go back to James and Felix's? Surely now that Bella and I were talking again, they'd let me crash on their sofa, right? Swallowing the fear-fueled bile burning its way up my esophagus, I stepped out of my Volvo.
"Mom and Dad aren't home, Brother." Emmett sneered, his hulking frame unfurling as he rose to his full height, and he propelled himself down the first step. "So you and I are going to have us a little chat."
A more sinister smile had never been displayed by my brother, and the logical side of my brain was telling me to get the fuck away as quickly as I could. My short, useless life flashed before my eyes, but I was paralyzed as he stalked toward me with calculated steps. In addition to praying I wouldn't end up in the hospital from this encounter – and that I didn't piss myself in fear – I tried to remember if I'd made arrangements yet with Uncle Caius for Bella and Sweet Pea to be taken care of in the event of my untimely, sudden, or brother-induced gruesome death.
Emmett was mere feet from me when my survival instincts finally kicked in, and I turned tail and ran. We ducked and weaved our way through the trees lining the drive, my ribs shooting painful sparks of protest throughout my torso every time I juked and spun, as he gave chase. We ended up back by the Volvo, and I quickly scrambled up onto the hood and then the roof, his merciless laughter following me.
"Aw, c'mon, Eddie. I just wanna talk to you!"
His saccharine tone and devilish smirk did little to convince me of his sincerity, and I knew I sounded like a pussy when I asked him if he was telling the truth. My voice quavered and cracked the whole time, but I was more concerned with my ability to breathe than my pride in that moment. It was only after his maniacal cackling died down, and he promised he wouldn't lay a hand on me, that I warily climbed down off my car and followed him into the house.
By the time I'd joined him in the formal living room that had been the scene of our previous "chat," Em was settled back in the same chair I'd ended the confrontation in. I gingerly lowered myself onto the loveseat adjacent to him, doing my damndest to bite back the wince and groan I wanted to expel. Em's eyebrows shot up in question, but I ignored him in favor of trying to find a comfortable position. Not that I cared, but my reticence must have irritated him, because he huffed in exasperation as he got to his feet and left the room.
I found him a few minutes later rummaging through the cabinets in the kitchen and muttering something about stubborn assholes. My chuckles drew his attention, but he kept right on looking for whatever prize was eluding him. Moments later, the mystery was revealed.
"Here, fuck-face," he grunted, shoving two ibuprofen and a bottle of water at me over the shiny granite countertop of the island. Reclining back against the sink, he waved his hand toward the medication, again raising his brows at me. "I saw you flinch when you sat. Take the damn pills and stop being a pouty prick."
No further provocation was required. I greedily swiped up the painkillers and popped them in my mouth, chugging half the proffered liquid in the process to wash them down. "Thank you, by the way," I offered in gasping breaths between pulls. When I was done, I wiped my mouth on the back of my sleeve, tossed the bottle in the recycling bin by the garage door, and mirrored Emmett's position on the opposite side of the island. "So what did you wanna talk about, Bro?"
Where the fuck was he going now, I wondered as he just grinned and walked out of the room. I was getting tired of chasing the asshole down when he was the one who'd wanted to chat. The thought of just going up to my room and ignoring his cryptic – albeit helpful – ass crossed my mind, but I thought better of it. Despite being "healed," my ribs still hurt like a son-of-a-bitch if I pushed my physical limits too much. Instead of doing what I wanted, I once again followed him into the living room and settled down on the sofa, waiting to hear what was on Emmett's mind.
I had no idea how long we sat there, staring each other down – his expression ranging from amusement to deep contemplation, my restless body and brain twitching and fidgeting. No longer able to handle the awkward silence that had descended, permeating the room with a thick cloud of tension, I finally snapped. "You're going to pay for my rear window, asshole."
That got a reaction out of my newly reticent brother. Em leaned forward, his elbows hitting his knees hard, and snarled, "Like fuck I will. It's the least of what you deserve for taking off on a date with Stankly like you did."
"What the–" I grappled to make sense of his babble. "Who the–" Nope, I still couldn't make heads or tails of what he was saying, so I just flat out asked, "What the fuck are you talking about? I was with Jess, and it wasn't a date."
"That's who I said." His voice dripped with disdain, but it turned to sardonic humor in response to my confused, furrowed brow. "Like you didn't know she was a whore who has spread her legs for half the guys in the county." Em ignored my growl – why I felt the need to defend Jess after today, I didn't know, but I did. "And not a date, my fat, hairy ass. Alice wouldn't tell me what the fuck was up before she left, and Jamie said I had to ask your stupid ass when I called, but I know what I saw when I came out of that building. Slutica was all over you, and you weren't doing shit to stop her."
Ignoring the rest of what he said – for now – I focused on what I felt was the most important piece of information. "When the fuck did you call James?" And then with more anger as I realized the implications of that phone call, I demanded, "What the fucking hell was up with chasing me around?"
Flopping back against the cushion behind me with a huff, I watched in barely repressed rage as my bastard brother fell over the arm of his chair in uproarious laughter. Every time he would start to simmer down, he'd look up at my mutinous face and be beset with renewed mirth to the point of tears streaming down his face. Perhaps it was the aching, throbbing pain radiating through my chest, or perhaps it was because he'd managed to kill my Bella buzz, but I didn't find my line of questioning – or this fucked-up situation – the least bit humorous.
"Oh, knock it the fuck off, Em, and answer the damn question. You knew everything was fine, so why were you being a sadistic prick?"
He had already started quieting down to panting chuckles, but my contempt-laced inquiry sobered him the rest of the way. His elbows once again met his knees as he leaned forward, pinning me with his cold stare.
"I didn't know everything was 'fine.'" He looked ridiculous making little air quotes on either side of his head as his face scrunched up in derision. "All I knew was that James said Bella didn't kick you in the balls when you showed up on her doorstep after your date–"
I growled in exasperation and scrubbed my face with quick, rough strokes, not caring if my words were muffled. "For the last fucking time, it was not a date!"
"Whatever." His flippant refusal to heed my denial was pissing me off beyond reason, but before I could mount a rebuttal attack, his eyes narrowed, his voice dropped to a gravelly snarl, and his entire demeanor turned menacing. "I don't give a fuck what it was or wasn't, shit for brains, because whatever it was tore Bella to pieces. James said Bella willingly agreed to talk to you, and that's why you only got chased instead of me ripping your fucking head off, but make no mistake, I still want answers."
All semblance of fight had left me as soon as he'd reminded me of how broken Bella had been over the Jessica debacle, and guilt gnawed at me. Bella had once told me that I was the source of the greatest happiness and contentment she had ever known in her life, but here lately, all I seemed to be able to offer her was heartache and despair – even when putting every effort into remedying my fuck-ups, I only caused her more strife.
"She's in love with me." My voice was small but heavy with the mental and physical exhaustion blanketing me all of a sudden.
"Who? Bella?" Emmett reared back, his face contorted with confusion, and then he burst into boisterous laughter. "Well, yeah. That's obvious, dipshit. Otherwise she never would've let your punk ass in the door," he said as if I were the stupidest creature on earth – and maybe I was.
I shook my head slowly and met his gaze steadily. "Not Bella – Jessica."
For the next hour, I walked Emmett through the whole sordid affair, sparing only the details that were private and intimate to Bella and me, starting with Mike's first confession. He didn't seem surprised when I revealed my suspicions about Jess' part in everything, and a part of me wondered if I was the only one with scaly eyes when it came to Jessica. If Em's snorts, nods, and eyebrow raises were any indication, I had been. Even now, in spite of everything, there was still an automatic, knee-jerk instinct telling me to protect my friend, but it was getting easier to overcome the desire.
Emmett sat back, his arms folded over his massive chest and one ankle crossed over the opposing knee, staring at nothing and yet appearing to be absorbing everything around him. He was quiet, not even humming or murmuring as he often did when deep in thought – or as deep as Em ever thought. I briefly contemplated just leaving him here, but I found something about this deathly still, introspective, quiet version of my brother to be morbidly fascinating even though it unnerved me. It was a side of him I'd never seen, and I wasn't wholly certain I liked it.
Eventually, he turned to me, his eyes sad and voice stoic. "That's fucked up, little brother."
Not knowing what else to do, I simply nodded. It wasn't like I could contradict him, but I couldn't bring myself to vocalize my agreement.
"Does Bella know all of this? Did you tell her?"
I tilted my head back, my skull digging into the padding behind me as I crossed my arms over my eyes so that just my mouth was exposed. "Yes."
He exhaled harshly, as if he'd been holding his breath in anticipation of my answer. "Do the others?"
My arms dropped down, landing heavily beside me, and I squinted up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly to dispel the hazy irritation brought on by the intrusion of light. "No." I rolled my head to the side and once again met Emmett's sympathetic, direct stare. "Not unless she's told them since I've been gone."
He pursed his lips, furrowed his brow, and nodded while humming. Without warning, his face split into a giant grin, cavernous dimples appearing in each of his cheeks, and he slammed his hand down on my knee, patting it several times as he chirped, "No worries, Bro. We'll figure this shit out."
My returning smile wasn't quite as bright as his, because I wasn't so sure if we could figure everything out, or even what figuring it out meant here. None of that mattered at that time, though. Not when I was fighting not to tear up like a little bitch and weep with happiness at finally having my brother back on my side. Seriously, if I didn't think it would have hurt like hell, I would've hugged Emmett.
Instead, we settled for nods of acknowledgement of the moment and shooting the hell out of each other on Halo. If only the rest of my off-kilter world could be righted as easily, but I had a feeling this storm had yet to fully pass. We were merely in the eye of the hurricane, and there was a shit-ton of chaos still to come.