Disclaimer: Not mine.
Chapter Twenty Six
Three years later...
I stared out the window, watching as snow blanketed the city of Chicago, the bright white making everything look pure, new. I remembered the snow in Seattle, and on the rare occasion, Forks, but it never looked like this. It never covered every square inch of earth until it felt like you'd been transported to another time and place.
I drew in a shuddering breath and closed my eyes tight, trying to fight against the sadness that suddenly swept over me.
"Are you okay, Bella?" Esme whispered, her voice soft and soothing as she passed me a cup of coffee. I inhaled deeply, the steam washing over my face, the warmth of the mug soaking into my skin as my fingers wrapped around it.
"It's hard," I confessed, my eyes stinging. "I miss him so much."
"Oh, honey, I know you do," she soothed, rubbing her hand over my back. "I wish I knew what to say."
"It's okay; I'm glad you came by, although I still think it's funny you made me take a snow day."
"Eh, ever since this happened." She laughed, rubbing her hand over her swollen stomach. "Dad doesn't have any complaints with Carlisle. I have to find some way to mess with him."
"And telling him I wasn't used to the snow, even though I've lived here over three years was the way to do that?" I quipped, wiping away the residual tears wetting my cheeks.
"My dad loves you, Bella; he would have come up with some reason to give you the day off anyway; I just beat him to it."
"Well, he could have spent the day with me, you know? I kinda have a crush on Liam; he's hot."
"Oh my God, Bella, stop. That's so gross." She made a gagging sound as she spoke, causing me to laugh hard enough to spill coffee all over my hands.
"Shit!" I gasped, wiping my hands over my jeans.
"That's what you get for macking on my Dad." She snorted.
"Whatever; he's totally doable."
"I'm leaving if you say one more word that involves sex and my Dad," she warned, a smile on her face.
"Fine, fine. You're no fun at all."
I looked back out the window, the momentary light, happy feeling passing as quickly as it began.
Esme noticed; she noticed everything.
"You know, he's in a better place, right? All of the suffering, the pain he was in trying to get better; it's over now. He's at peace, Bella."
"It's just so unfair," I croaked, "it was too soon; he was too young; he's supposed to be here."
Everything in my life was falling into place, everything was on the mend...until it wasn't.
"You know if you want to talk, I'm here. Anytime. I'm just down the hall."
"I know." I nodded, reaching up and squeezing her hand, offering her a small smile even though what I really wanted to do was curl into a ball and cry about all of the things that I―that we―had been cheated out of.
"Call me later?"
The click of the door behind her left me alone again―the silence deafening.
I gazed impassively at the clock, my body registering that it was time to eat, but my heart and mind were too weary to bother. I hated today. Today was the anniversary of the biggest loss I'd ever experienced in my life.
I sat by the window until my coffee was cold and my legs were stiff. With a resigned sigh, I uncurled my legs and slipped my socked feet onto the floor, Edward's shirt falling down my thighs as I stood.
My shirt, I reminded myself. The one I always wore when I needed to feel close to him.
I shuffled into the kitchen and pulled open the fridge door, shaking my head at the sad shape of my food supply. The phone rang, causing me to jump, the sudden break of the silence sending my heart into my throat.
I smiled, the sound of Royce's voice the first thing that actually made me smile all day.
"How're you doing?"
"If you say you're fine, I'm leaving work right now to smack you," he interrupted.
"So violent," I teased.
"Yeah, yeah. So honestly, are you okay?" His voice was so soft, genuine, and I never felt more grateful for him being a part of my life.
"Yeah," I whispered.
He was quiet for a second before he finally acquiesced that I was okay, and then promised to see me soon.
I closed the fridge and walked into the living room, falling onto the sofa and pulling my knees under my shirt until I was covered in as much of it as I could be.
I drifted in and out of sleep until the sound of the front door opening roused me. Warm lips pressed against mine as chilled fingers slid under the edge of my shirt.
I opened my eyes slowly, a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth as Edward's bright greens came into focus.
"What are you doing here?" I scooted back on the couch as he slid in beside me and pulled me into his side.
"I skipped my last class; my professor was cool."
"You left without waking me this morning," I accused, threading my fingers through his.
"You looked so tired, I wanted to let you get some rest. Plus, I knew I'd be home early. You didn't really think I'd leave you alone all day, did you?" He reached up and cupped my cheek, his thumb brushing softly over my skin before he leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine.
"You shouldn't have skipped class, but I'm really glad you did," I whispered, wrapping my arms around his neck and crawling into his lap as he surrounded me in his warmth and hugged me close.
"I miss him too, you know? He was like a father to me. Especially after―" he broke off, his eyes taking a faraway look.
After Edward was released from the hospital, and I learned the true extent of just how far he'd fallen, I called my dad. Between the two of us, we got Edward set up in rehab, and not one single second of it was easy.
"Bella, oh my god, this hurts; I can't do this. Please give me something; I need something." Edward begged, his arms clutched around his stomach as he leaned over the toilet, his face ashen and covered in sweat.
"I can't," I choked, not bothering to wipe away the tears streaming down my face, his pain tearing me apart. "Edward you have to be stronger. It'll get better; I promise." His response was nothing more than a gurgle as he vomited in the toilet over and over again.
All of the time we'd been torn apart, my stubborn, blind reaction to what happened that night had rendered me completely unable to stop and think that maybe, just maybe, something wasn't right―and it nearly destroyed us both.
My guilt about how I stuck my head in the sand and drowned my pain by drinking myself into an oblivion, not to mention running away from my problems instead of dealing with them, finally forced me to see that I should talk to someone...professionally.
My dad was there throughout it all. I flew back and forth from Chicago to Seattle twice a month for the six months Edward was in rehab, and we talked almost every day. But my Dad...he was with Edward every free second he had. They never went into detail about what they did, but I knew whatever it was, it had an impact on Edward's recovery.
After six months in rehab, Edward was finally ready to be on his own. He'd gained a healthy amount of weight, his face more like the one I remembered and not the one I'd seen in the hospital that still haunted my dreams. A face that, were it not for the beeping of the heart monitor, I would have thought belonged to a dead person. And for all intents and purposes, I guess it did.
"So," he whispered, taking a hesitant step closer and sliding his hand down my arm until his fingers brushed mine.
I shook my head and smiled at him softly as I threaded my fingers through his and squeezed as hard as I could.
"Ouch!" he yelled, bending forward and trying to pull his hand from mine. "What was that for?"
"Don't be hesitant with me. Don't be unsure. I love you. I want you. Only you," I promised, reaching around his waist and pulling him close, the smell of his aftershave making my stomach tighten.
"I just―this is the first time we've stood together with no barriers, no watchful eyes."
"Then I think we should take full advantage of that," I said, lifting up on my toes and pressing my lips to his.
"Baby," he groaned, wrapping both of his arms around me and pressing every inch of our bodies together. "So we're really doing this?"
I knew what he was asking. We'd discussed with both of our therapists where we planned on taking our relationship once he was released from rehab. To say we disagreed on that subject would be a gross understatement.
But at the end of the day, this was our life, and even though they were concerned that picking up our relationship would be detrimental to his recovery, we knew better. Being apart wasn't the answer, being apart was the most painful experience of both our lives, and we refused to ever be separated again.
"We're really doing this."
"When do we leave?"
"Tomorrow. But right now, we're going to a hotel and stripping down until not one part of your skin isn't touching mine."
"Hey," he whispered against my ear, his arms tightening around me. "Where'd you go?"
I shook my head and burrowed into his chest. "I'm here. I was just thinking."
He hummed and lifted his hand, his fingers pulling through my hair in slow, soft strokes. We stayed that way, the quiet no longer as suffocating as it once had been. I tried not to think about that time in our lives, when everything fell apart, but it was so hard on days like today.
"I was thinking about before you moved here."
His hand stilled, and he pulled in a deep breath. "When before?"
"Not about that; I was thinking about Dad and how much he helped us."
"Yeah. He...I don't know what I would have done without him."
I stared out the window, holding Bella against my chest as I tried to get a handle on my own emotions. Remembering Charlie, and all of the ways he helped, when he acted like more of a father than my own ever did, always caused an aching feeling of loss.
I stumbled out of the bathroom, my chest tight, a familiar bitter taste coating the back of my throat, that had nothing to do with vomit. Cravings they called them, triggers that could trick the mind with tastes and smells. It was pure fucking torture.
"Do you want to step outside for a smoke?" Charlie asked, his voice causing me to flinch in the too quiet room.
"Yeah," I mumbled, my throat scratchy.
We walked down the hall and out the back door, the first traces of spring beginning to show, even though the air was still too cold to stay outside for very long.
I lit a cigarette and took a long pull, trying to extinguish the burn in the back of my throat. Charlie sat patiently beside me, his eyes facing forward, giving me the opportunity to pull myself together.
I sighed heavily and leaned my elbows on my knees, my hands falling limply in front of me.
"Still having a tough time?" He tried to sound casual, but his concern was impossible to conceal.
"I have my good days and bad days." The good days were getting more frequent, but after three months, the bad days still brought me to my knees like a boulder had been dropped on my head.
"I need you to be stronger than the addiction Edward," he said, his voice suddenly serious, his eyes wide with a touch of panic.
He shook his head, his face conflicted. "I need you to do more than that, Son. I know how unfair it is of me to put that kind of pressure on you, to make you promise things that may be out of your control, but I'm going to do it anyway."
"Charlie, what's going on?" My heart began beating a little faster at the hint of desperation in his voice, my stomach tightening.
"I just need to know that my baby is going to be taken care of when I'm gone." He dropped his gaze from mine and pulled in a deep breath. "I don't want her to be alone."
"Bella's my whole world; she's my reason for everything."
"And you almost threw it all away."
I hung my head, feeling ashamed and chastised at the truth of his words. "I know."
"I'm not trying to hurt you, Edward. I've always thought of you as my son, and my need for you to get better isn't just about Bella. When I found out what happened..." he trailed off, his glassy eyes meeting mine, causing my chest to burn. He was quiet for a moment before he spoke again, his words strained. "When I didn't know if you were going to make it, I can't imagine what I felt would have been any different if you had been my biological son."
I couldn't stop the tears from sliding down my cheeks. "I'm sorry for disappointing you both," I choked.
"None of that matters now; you just have to get better. For you and for Bella."
I nodded, but his previous comment nagged at me. "I have no intentions of letting the addiction win, but I'm not the only person Bella has. She has you, too."
His low grunt and quickly shifting eyes caused my stomach to bottom out.
But I did make it through those six months of hell. Intense therapy, intense cravings, intense everything. I was one of the lucky ones, though, because I didn't have to go through it alone; I had a support system, more than I deserved.
Charlie, Bella, Emmett; they were my rock. Even Jamie and Vic came around after a few months. Both were hesitant, unsure how their presence would be accepted, but I didn't blame them. At that point in my life, I wasn't someone who could be reasoned with.
When I first moved to Chicago, to say it was awkward would have been putting it mildly. Bella had a life here: a job, new friends...an ex-boyfriend. It still stung to know she was with someone else, even though logically, I knew I had no right to be upset. But when it came to matters of the heart, logic was very rarely a consideration.
I found a support group and a therapist, trying to keep my head above water, to not let my insecurities and doubts mess with my head. I knew Bella and I were forever. I'd always known, but accepting we'd been thrown so far off track was still hard; it still hurt.
While in rehab, I'd decided to go back to school, finish my degree. I loved my music; it was my passion, but I couldn't go back; I couldn't live that lifestyle any longer. I was impatient to start, wanting nothing more than to jump right in as soon as I moved, but Bella pushed for me to take it easy, to not put that kind of pressure on myself for a while.
It wasn't like we needed the money. Between the two of us, money would never be an issue. But having all of that free time scared the shit out of me. When Bella suggested I start playing again, like I used to, before agents and tours and all of the other bullshit, I balked. My fear of relapsing, of putting myself in that setting, of losing her...none of those scenarios were an option for me.
But Bella's confidence, her belief that I was strong enough, gave me the courage to try. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. It was an outlet, without the pressure, and made those first six months in Chicago absolutely perfect.
And then everything changed.
"Hey, Dad." Bella grinned, holding her phone to her ear with her shoulder as she stirred whatever was in the pot that had my mouth watering.
She frowned, her brows creasing as she pushed the pot away from the burner and grasped the phone in her hand. "But I thought you were coming here for Thanksgiving."
I stepped in front of her, bending my knees until we were eye level, giving her a questioning look. She widened her eyes, her expression bewildered as she shrugged her shoulders.
She was quiet for a second, her face morphing from confusing to worrisome. "What's wrong?" she asked in a whisper.
She nodded, even though he couldn't see her. When she raised her eyes to mine, they were glassy with unshed tears, and with a sinking feeling of dread, I knew nothing good was going to come from this.
"We'll be on the next flight out," she promised, already moving to the bedroom.
"What's going on?" I asked, pulling a suitcase out of the closet.
"I don't know; he said he'd tell us when we got there." Her voice was strained, anxious.
I walked over to her and pulled her shaking hands into mine. "Let me do this; you go call Esme and let her know what's going on."
She bit the inside of her cheek, a habit she'd had for as long as I'd known her, before pushing up on her toes and kissing me quickly. "Thank you."
I packed our bags while she called Esme and then booked our flight. The entire trip to Forks I held her hand, both of us silent as we tried to work out exactly what Charlie was going to tell us.
When we walked through the front door, I had to grab Bella by her shoulders and pull her to my chest to keep her from falling into a heap on the floor. Not that I was in much better shape, my knees nearly buckling as I took in Charlie's gaunt, vacant expression, his skin a sickly yellow.
"Dad," she cried, her nails digging into my arms as she clung to me.
I wrapped an arm around her waist and moved us into the living room, my eyes locked on Charlie as he stared helplessly at Bella.
We sat shell-shocked as Charlie told us he'd been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer last November. A year ago. He'd been dying for a year and never breathed a word to anyone. The conversation we had while I was in rehab made sense now; he wanted to make sure I'd be there for Bella when he died.
I felt sick.
Bella shook and cried as he told us about the treatments he'd undergone―how he'd tried so hard to fight it, but it was too advanced―there was nothing else he could do.
"How long?" Bella rasped.
"Maybe three months."
She fell apart all over again.
After hours of discussion, Bella decided to take a leave of absence from her job, and we both moved into Charlie's house. Thankfully, he didn't protest, wanting to spend as much time with us as he possibly could.
For Christmas, Bella went all out: decorating a huge tree in the living room, cooking a Christmas dinner Charlie couldn't eat, and showering him with gifts that he'd never use. But she needed to do it, so he let her.
"Edward?" she whispered, propping herself up on one elbow to look down at me.
I blinked a few times to wake myself and shifted so I was facing her. "Yeah?"
"You know how I told you I didn't want anything for Christmas?"
I scowled even though I knew she couldn't see me in the dark. I was still pissed about her adamant refusal to let me buy her anything. "Yes."
"Well, I've changed my mind. There is something I want," she said, her voice soft and hesitant.
"Yeah?" I smiled, sitting up until my back was against the headboard.
"Anything you want, baby. You know that," I promised, reaching up to push her hair away from her face.
"I want my dad to give me away."
I stared at her, my brows pulled down in confusion as I processed her words.
"We're forever, right?" she interrupted.
"Of course." I breathed, my throat tight.
"Then marry me. What are we waiting for? Haven't we wasted enough time?" she implored, her eyes wide, her hands fisting the front of my shirt.
"Bella, there is nothing in this world I want more than to marry you."
I pulled her face to mine, my lips touching hers softly as my thumbs swept away the tears falling from her eyes.
She leaned back, a small smile on her face as she laced her fingers with mine. "Edward Masen," she said formally, fighting to keep a straight face, "will you do me the honor of being my husband?"
I chuckled at her exaggerated hopeful expression before pulling my hands from hers and clasping them over my heart. I sighed dramatically before responding in a high voice. "Yes, yes, oh my God, yes!"
She laughed and smacked my arm, her smile wide . I grabbed her around her waist and lifted her until she was straddling me, her laughter slowly fading as she took in my serious expression.
"Bella, I love you so much. You're my entire world. I'd marry you a thousand times in a thousand different lives, because there's no way in any life at any time we wouldn't be meant for each other."
On January thirteenth I watched as Charlie, in too much pain to walk, clasped Bella's hand in his as he was rolled down the aisle in a wheelchair. When the minister asked who was giving the bride away, Charlie smiled, his eyes welling with tears as he stated as clearly as possible, "Her mother and I."
Emmett, Rose, Esme, Carlisle, Jamie, and Vic were the only people in attendance, just the way we wanted it: small, intimate.
Nineteen days later our lives were changed forever.
"Daddy?" Bella whispered, wrapping both of her hands around his and pulling it to her cheek.
"I love you, baby girl." He sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes fluttering closed.
I crossed the room and stood beside Bella, my arm wrapping around her shoulders, trying to offer her support as my own heart broke into a million pieces.
"Please, Daddy, no."
"I miss your mama, baby." He sighed. "She's waiting for me."
It was the first of February that Charlie Swan took his last breath in this world and joined his long lost love in another.
But we'd be okay, because we had each other.
"Are you hungry?" I asked, blinking back tears as I was reminded of how much I missed him.
"We don't have any food," Bella complained, her voice full of pout.
"I can go to the store, or we can go out..." It really didn't matter to me what we did, as much as I missed Charlie, I was here for her today.
"Pizza?" she smiled. I rolled my eyes.
"I think you purposely keep the fridge empty so you can order pizza all the time," I accused with narrowed eyes.
She shrugged, her face unapologetic. I laughed as I pulled my phone out and dialed the number.
"The usual Mr. Masen?" A young girl giggled in the phone.
I raised my brow at Bella and shook my head before answering. "The usual."
After Bella knocked back half a pizza, we ambled into the bedroom and turned the television on low, our arms wrapped around one another. When her breathing evened and her head rested heavily on my chest, I did what I'd done every night since I finally had her back in my arms, what I would do every night for the rest of our lives.
I thanked God for giving me a second chance at life―a second chance with my love―before brushing the hair from her face and gently pressing my lips to her forehead.
"Thank you for loving me as much as I love you."
*grabs y'all's hands and dances and twirls* Y'all didn't really think I was gonna kill Edward did you?
I'm kinda teary eyed right now writing this a/n because I'm so sad to end this story. But we got a glimpse of their lives, what happened over the last few years. I have a future take I'll add later that will be just fun so if you don't want to miss it put me on author alert.
HUGE GIGANTIC THANKS to Meg iambeagle for helping me get through this chapter. We spent lots of time in the doc working on it.
Okay, *sucks in deep breath* here goes.
Rose Arcadia, you made me a blog. You made me a facebook group. You pimped me hard. I love you even harder. Thank you for everything, it wouldn't have been the same experience without you.
To all of the people that rec'd, reviewed, tweeted, facebooked, smoke signaled, whatever-THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
To all my prereaders, Julie, Modernsafari1, O_oza, Rose, Amber...jfc thanks for putting up with my crap. For seriously. Your input and encouragement got me through this monster.
And last but not least, Perry Maxwell I love you. Thank you for being my beta. And telling me when something sucked. Your honesty is one of my favorite things about you. See ya on the next one! ;)
Speaking of the next one...yeah, there's already a next one, the first chapter posts today. Hope y'all will check it out!
Much love to you all! OMG I HAVE ALL THE CREYS!