Managed to crank out the rest of this chapter today so here it is. Enjoy!
Chapter 22 - Friday
Esme convinces Dad to stay in their guest bedroom, so he calls in a favour with one of his deputies to take some time off from work. When Edward realises my reluctance to leave he suggests we stay too, which is how I find myself standing awkwardly in the doorway of Edward's childhood bedroom ready for bed in a pair of pyjamas borrowed from Esme, my teeth freshly brushed.
As far as rooms go, Edward's room is pretty standard for when I expect from a teenage boy. It's obviously been tidied over the years but the band posters and baseball trophies still remain. The walls are a neutral beige colour but the room is accented with blues, including a double bed in the centre with a dark blue bedspread. The furniture is set out in a relatively symmetric fashion which makes it easier for me to wrap my head around that fact that I'll be spending the night here instead of our room.
My comfort is found in the form of strong arms snaking around my waist and warmth surrounding me as Edward pulls me into a hug, my back pressed tightly against his chest. I become aware of my knuckles tapping the wood of the doorframe in a repeating pattern of threes.
Tap tap tap...Tap tap tap… Tap tap tap...
I force myself to stop knocking and instead lay my arms on top of Edwards where they sit around my waist. Edward kisses me on the temple as I continue to study the room.
"You still knock in groups of three." I glance to the side to see my Dad watching me. He looks tired. "You used to do that when you were little. Most of your other habits were in even numbers but you always knocked in threes. Your therapist said it was a standard coping technique."
"I had a therapist?" I ask in surprise. This is the first I've heard of it.
Charlie nods in reply. "I would take Tuesday afternoons off work and drive you to Seattle for your appointments. I started taking you when you were 4 years old and the doctor in Forks tried to pump you full of meds."
I can feel Edward stiffen behind me as my father continues.
"I wasn't happy with medicating you so young and without exploring other options, so I looked around and found a therapist. I had hoped that it would help you cope and adapt as you grew older."
It hits me then just how much he'd done for me when I was younger, more than just being the Dad that I remembered, and also just how much he's planned to do for me as I got older. It brings back the tide of anger that I'd been trying to tamp down.
"I wish she'd never taken me away." The venom in my voice surprises even me, but for once I'm tired of always being weak. I wish I had the chance to stand up to my Mother, to show her how much she's hurt me.
My dad comes forward and rests his hand reassuringly on my shoulder.
"Me too, Bells." As swiftly as the burst of anger arrives it disappears again. The wistful edge to his voice makes me want to cry again, even more so when I see my Dad struggling to keep himself together. He rubs his eyes roughly before clearing his throat.
"Well, I just came to say goodnight. I'll see you in the morning." Before leaving he turns his gaze to Edward. "And Boy, while I'm sleeping under the same roof you will be an absolute gentleman. You hear me?"
"Dad!" I exclaim in surprise. Charlie holds his hands up and backs off.
"Sorry Bells, but you're still my little girl. Don't expect me to just accept that you're married to this guy without me getting to know him first." I go to answer him, to stand up for Edward, but instead my husband moves to stand next to me.
"Of course Sir, I understand," Edward extends his arm out towards my father. "I look forward to getting to know you more."
Charlie stares him down for a moment before conceding and shaking his hand firmly. "As do I, Son."
They continue to have a macho stare down for a few more moments before I cross my arms and clear my throat loudly. My dad reluctantly lets go of Edward's hand and shoots me a smile. "You get some sleep, Bells. We'll spend some time together tomorrow if that's okay?"
I nod as a yawn escapes me, my eyelids drooping with fatigue. "Need to move the bed." It comes out as a mumble, almost incoherent. "Have to move it two inches to the right. Else it's not in the middle."
Edward chuckles, placing a loving kiss on the side of my head. "Charlie, would you mind giving me a hand with this?" He gestures towards the bed. I stand at the doorway and observe as the two of them grab a side each and lift the bed, carefully lifting the large piece of furniture slightly to the right.
As they place it down in its new position the faint tingle of discomfort disappears. I barely remember getting into bed, or my father leaving the room with a final goodnight. As soon as I feel Edward wrap me in his arms I drift off to sleep.
The next morning I find myself in the passenger seat of my father's police car, instead of my usual walk to work. My armrest is taking a beating from my relentless tapping, the groups of threes becoming the background rhythm for the slight rocking motion as I try to get a hold of myself. Charlie remains quiet, sensing my need to work through things on my own.
Waking up in a new place was somewhat disorientating and confusing, but after finding my usual cereal waiting for me in the kitchen (which Edward had thoughtfully bought and left here in case of an occasion such as this) and Esme and Charlie chatting happily over breakfast it wasn't the worst thing in the world. With all the upheaval in my life recently I'm finding it easier to get through times like this, and I have more confidence in myself to handle anything life throws at me. After being told by Mother my whole life that I'm a freak who can't ever be normal it's freeing to prove her wrong, even if it's something as small as getting myself through a disruption to my routine.
We park a few doors down from the coffee shop slightly earlier than I'd usually arrive. Four minutes early to be exact. It's 10:44am and I can't bring myself to get out of the car just yet. When Charlie realises I'm not making any attempt to climb out of the car he doesn't either, instead rolling down his window to let in some fresh air.
"3 more minutes," I inform him, keeping an eye on the small digital clock on the dashboard.
"Take all the time you need Bells," he replies with a reassuring smile. In the meantime I check my pockets to make sure I have everything - 10:46 am - and run my fingers over the soft green texture of my notebook, making sure my pen in securely stashed in the spine so it doesn't fall out.
I glance down the sidewalk to the storefront of the coffee shop, trying to estimate the number of steps needed to get me there. The sidewalk isn't too busy, but there are just enough people that I feel the need to add a couple more steps in case I need to avoid running into people. 25 steps should do it.
As the clock ticks over - 10:48am - I take a deep breath and open my door. I vaguely hear my Dad following me, but I'm focused solely on navigating around people to get to the door of the shop.
I'm halfway there when Charlie catches up to me, shielding me against other pedestrians so they don't get too close. I relax a bit, enjoying feeling protected and not having to be so tense.
The bell jingles as Charlie opens the door for me and I feel like I can breathe again. Inside everything is exactly the same and it was yesterday. Part of me feels like there should be some difference to reflect how I feel, but nevertheless, I reveal in the consistency.
I pay for my drink as usual while Charlie talks to Jacob. I struggle to remember him from when I was a child, only drawing vague memories of being on a boat with cold winds and unpleasant smells. I get a flash of playing in the mud with a small, russet-skinned boy along with older girls, twins.
"Jacob," I cut into their conversation suddenly. "How are your sisters?"
They both look at me in surprise, but Jacob breaks into a wide smile. "They're good, Bells. Rebecca lives in Hawaii with her husband. Rachel is almost finished with College in LA. She should be coming home soon." I nod, pleased that I remembered something about this boy who remembers so much about me.
I make my way over to my usual seat and sink into the soft cushion. Charlie follows a minute later, taking the seat across from me. I resist the urge to bury my nose in my journal, instead placing it on the table between us. My hands twist together on my lap, pulling at the fabric of my pants. If I'm not careful I'll put a hole in them - I've done it before.
Charlie clears his throat, shifting slightly in his seat. "So, Bells. What have you been doing these past few years?" I shrug. I don't really know what to say. I don't know where to start. "Edward said he met you in Phoenix? How long have you lived there?"
I nod in reply, trying to collect my thoughts. "Since...since we left Forks. We didn't always live in the same house, though." I can't comfortably look him in the eye as I reply, instead studying the upholstery pattern of the armrest. "We lived in an apartment to start with. It was really small and smelled bad." Like a dam opening, I can't help but dump everything out in the open. "There was only one bedroom so I slept on the couch. Except when Mother had her boyfriends over...then I slept in the bathtub."
Jacob brings over our drinks, placing my usual hot chocolate on the table in front of me. I go through my routine, placing one of the two marshmallows in my mouth and the other directly in the centre of the froth. After stirring three times I relax once more, noticing Charlie hasn't touched his drink and is instead gripping his armrests tightly, knuckles white from strain. A quick glance at his face tells me he's angry, which makes me nervous.
Charlie leans forward and stares at me intently, causing me to avoid his gaze even more. "Bells, I need to ask you a couple of questions. I need you to be completely honest with me, okay?" His intensity is unsettling but his tone is gentle. I nod quickly, unsure about what he wants to know. "Your mother's boyfriends, did they ever touch you or do anything inappropriate?"
His question surprises me. I start to shake my head, but something makes me pause. A memory buried deep under layers of debris. I can see the apartment vividly in my mind, can almost smell the mildew and general filth. I play through what I remember of the men, the ones that would come by late at night and pound on the rickety front door. As more and more details unearth themselves from my brain I feel myself tense up.
"None of them…touched me." My emphasis on the word 'touched' made Charlie's face harden with anger. "But…" I struggle to find the words, to get them in the right order. "There was one who would always watch me." Charlie remains silent, letting me continue. "The first few times he came over he stared at me. I always stayed in the living room when she took them back to her bedroom." Memories arise, of muffled voices and bed springs. "But he would try to come and talk to me. Mother wouldn't let him. Then one day I fell asleep on the couch before he'd left. I woke up and he was standing over me. He had his...he was touching his..."
My mind rebels, refusing to let me finish my sentence. I manage to keep from sinking into a complete meltdown. "Mother came in and was really angry. She made him leave and he didn't come back after that." Charlie remains silent and I push on, nervous that he might be angry. "We moved soon after that to a different apartment. I had my own room in that one. And I went to school and came home and stayed in my room. Then I finished school online and a couple of years ago we moved to the big, new house." Charlie remains silent as I finish, taking small sips from my drink to occupy myself. As the silence stretches ominously between us I abandon my drink on the table and instead pull my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them. The rocking helps keep me calm, but only barely.
Charlie finally breaks the silence, his voice still strained. "Do you remember his name? The one that used to watch you?" I shake my head. "And you never saw him again? At all?" Again I shake my head to indicate no, the rocking motion of my body kicking up a notch.
"Please don't be angry Daddy." I can't help but plead, my voice shaky and quiet. "Please…"
"Shhhh, Bells. I'm not angry at you…" His arm stretches out in the space between us, before he pulls back, uncertain his comfort would be accepted.
"I know," I reassure him, and I do know. I completely understand that his anger isn't directed at me, but I can feel the heat of his anger and it's putting me on edge. As bad as I am at reading people's emotions, including my own at times, anger is something I'm very familiar with. I can feel it in the air as if it contains its own insidious life force waiting to strike at me.
"Please," I beg, eyes darting between objects around the room, "Just don't be angry. I don't like it when people get angry."
"Okay, okay," Charlie tugs nervously at his moustache. "Let's talk about something else." I nod vehemently, eager to move to an easier topic. "What about school? How'd you do in school?"
This topic is just as bad as the last. "I didn't like school. Too many people." Just thinking about the packed hallways and arrogant, demanding teachers makes my skin crawl. "Eventually, I did online school. That was better."
"What was your favourite subject?"
The question makes me smile slightly. "English. I was good at English." And then I find myself talking, telling him about the books I've read over the past few years, about the short stories I wrote in high school that were praised by my online tutors. The subject relaxes me and I eventually unfold from my defensive position, savouring the rest of my hot chocolate and enjoying the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere as I get to know my father once more.
When my internal schedule tells me it's time to leave the coffee shop Charlie convinces me to let him take me to a bookstore. My desire to browse the shelves trumps the need to escape home to my still-new sanctuary, so I steady my nerves and brace myself for the afternoon ahead. Jacob sends us a cheerful wave on our way out, unable to speak to us because of the small line of customers waiting to order.
We find a Barnes & Noble a short drive away, and I feel a wave of excitement and anticipation. Before I climb out Charlie turns towards me, somewhat hesitant. I wait, knowing he has something to say. "Bella, now that you're here and seem somewhat settled..." he pauses before continuing, "Have you thought about maybe… talking to someone? Someone who could help you with everything that happened with your Mom, and help you deal with things?"
I'm already shaking my head before he finishes. I glare at him as frustration rises in my throat, choking any possible response. I meet his gaze defiantly, my wave of irrational angry obviously showing on my face. I'm trying to get my life in order, have dealt with blow after blow of chaos and disorder that I already can't handle like the average person, and here my father is with one more thing to remind me that I'm not normal.
"Isabella! Don't look at me like that, young lady." Charlie says, firm but gentle with an undertone of steel that immediately douses the growing heat of my anger. "I can tell you don't like what I'm saying. You used to get that exact expression on your face when you were a young girl but I need you to listen to me. You have been through something traumatic. You were both emotionally and physically abused by that monster of a woman for more than 15 years."
I freeze, terrified at the thought of my father potentially seeing the police report. No doubt he already has, and that thought makes my stomach sink as he continues.
"Just because you may need a little extra help getting through some things doesn't make you any less of a person. You were always supposed to have therapy as you got older, and…" he cuts off, his words choked and strained. "I will never forgive myself for not trying harder to find you. She fed me so many lies over the years and I thought you were doing okay and getting the help you needed with her, but I should have known. But now, I want you to use every resource available to help you discover who you're meant to be."
"Carlisle knows of three sisters who run a therapy house and I really want you to try seeing them, please. I just…I just want you to be healthy and happy, Bells." The sight of tears in my father's eyes makes me realise that as much as I don't want to do this, I will. Because I know that I'll always have my father by my side, no matter what.
I take a breath, wiping the tears from my eyes before nodding. "Okay, Daddy. I'll...I'll do it. For you."
I want to thank you all for reading, liking, review etc. Next update will be sporadic as always, but I've vowed to finish this fic before I start writing my book!
I've had a few comments about how horrendous the grammar is in this story. It's not perfect, I'll admit, but I have no beta reader and this is just a hobby for me, so I hope you can still enjoy the story. (Also note that I'm using New Zealand English so it's a tad bit different to US English! i.e. colour, centre, realises)
Until next time, Happy reading!