Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.

Beta'd by HollettLA

Offbeat

Chapter Eighteen: Panic Room

As soon as we were put together and fully dressed, Bella opened the door to greet her father. He stood there for less than a second before he entered her bedroom. The Chief just walked right in like he owned the place.

Maybe we had clothes on, but Bella . . . my meticulous woman had forgotten to make the bed in her haste.

We realized that fun fact at the same time, a condom wrapper in plain sight—the fucking rubber still on my clothed and shrinking dick.

She had wide eyes, and she had nothing to say.

"Sir." I put my hand out to shake his. "How you doin'?"

Charlie walked past me, pushing my hand away. "What's this?" He waved his finger.

I looked to Bella, remembering her telling me that she'd told her father about us—that we were together. "I was helping Bella study." I didn't know what else to say, and I certainly wasn't going to tell him what we were really doing.

Charlie came toward me, and Bella snapped out of it to get between us. "Edward was just leaving."

I narrowed my eyes. "I was?" It was late, and I was supposed to spend the night.

Bella nodded, biting her thumbnail.

I placed my arm around her. "You okay?"

"Get off of her," Charlie said.

A short laugh escaped me. "Sir—"

"You should go." Bella started to push me out of her bedroom, her breaths a bit labored.

"What?" Surprised, I latched onto her.

She had tears in her eyes, was most likely on her way to having an anxiety attack, and that brought an errant thought to mind. Bella's been good lately, her stress level almost down to zero with passing all her exams—school ending, and we have open lines of communications now. No secrets between us.

But do I make it worse for her?

I refused to believe that because Bella says the opposite. Apparently, I have a soothing effect? I make her happy and whatnot.

But what was this now?

"I have to talk—I have to talk to him," Bella whispered.

"Um…" Alice poked her head into the hall, and that's when I saw Whitlock was on his way out, too.

I looked to Bella again. "We can talk to him together." I knew her father could hear us, but I didn't care. "I thought you told him about us?" She'd invited me to go out there for a week—to stay at her house. I didn't understand this.

"I di-did." Bella choked on her words. "I mean—"

None of that mattered. "I'm not leaving until you calm down." I pulled her into my arms and rubbed her back, my eyes meeting Charlie's. "We were hanging out. She's twenty years old," I told him. "You know we're together—I'm her boyfriend."

He grimaced down to the condom wrapper before looking around the room. "You forgot something." He tossed my wallet over to me.

I caught it, racking my brain for something to say. "This isn't what it—"

"I think it's exactly what it looks like." Charlie folded his arms over his chest.

"No...I meant—" Again, I wasn't going to speak of what we were doing. But I needed him to know that's not all I was here for. "I love your daughter." She was still in my arms, and I didn't wanna let go. "I'll leave now, but I'll be back. I'd like it if we got along—we could be friends."

"Bells loves you," he said. "I bet you're a great guy, but my daughter doesn't need a boyfriend. She's got a year of school left and then she's coming home. You guys don't have a future—"

"Who are you to say that?" I asked, knowing full well that Bella plans to go to graduate school right where she is now—at Columbia.

"Shhh." Bella reached up, her shaky hands frantic as she tried to close my mouth—mush my lips together. She crossed that line, was now having a full-blown attack. "Just—just—" She gasped for air.

"Hey...look at me." I held on tighter as she was limp in my arms. "You're fine. Deep breaths."

Her legs gave out, and I tried to ease her onto the carpet, but she collapsed to smack herself in the face.

"Bella, stop…" I pulled her hands away, so she wouldn't hurt herself.

"Bella, look at me." Alice got between us. "You're okay. You're not dying." Alice hugged Bella tightly, and I still had her hands.

"You're okay." The sight broke my heart, and none of this looked as though it fazed Charlie, or maybe he was used to it? "You're not concerned?" I asked him.

"She'll be fine in a few minutes." He gestured, and there was anguish in his gaze. "She's having one of her fits. She'll be fine as soon as you go."

"N-no," Bella disagreed.

"We all know you're going to be fine, Bella." Alice rocked her, looking back to me and then to her uncle. "Both of you shut up!"

Bella winced, stiffened, and tried to fight Alice.

But Alice wasn't letting go for nothing. "Can't you see? It's the conflict—the tension. The two men in Bella's life, and she loves you both so much. Right, Bella?"

She whimpered, crying some more, still trying to push her cousin away.

"Stop," Alice warned. "You know I'm just trying to help you. Bella, breathe…easy in, slow and long out. Easy in . . ." She kissed Bella's hair.

I leaned forward to kiss her sad lips. "You're okay." I gulped, sitting back on my calves.

"Where are her pills?" Charlie asked. "I'll get them."

"In her top drawer." Alice pointed. "But…Unc, she doesn't need one. She's okay. Right, Bella?" She leaned back to look at her cousin. "We're gonna calm down…and then we'll fix the couch for Charlie?"

Bella sniffled, looking at me and nodding.

"No, she should take them anyway." Charlie pulled a medication bottle from her nightstand, and . . . I never knew she took medication besides the pill. "She'll sleep better, and she'll feel a lot better in the morning—won't be as stressed." He turned back to us. "Make yourself useful. Get her something to drink," he told me.

I didn't reply. I didn't move because I didn't want Bella to take anything. Besides that one day at the zoo, Bella hasn't had a real attack—a bad one like she's having now—around me, anyway. She's come close, and I've been warned. Alice told me all about it. But my girl has been really good lately, nothing even close to an attack. Even so, with both Alice and me here, Bella should calm down soon. She didn't need medication.

"I'm okay," she whispered, but she wasn't okay. Bella was still freaking, and I thought if I left, things would calm down.

But I didn't want to leave.

Between a rock and hard place, I sat there. "Hey…" I wiped her tears away.

Bella was stiff, rigid and uncomfortable.

"Ali, give Bells her pills. Edward and I will be outside," Charlie said.

"No!" Bella cried, jumping into my arms.

"It's okay." I held her cheeks. "We should talk, get to know each other better. Right? Maybe we'll do something on my day off?"

She nodded to placate me, her eyes swimming with questions and fear.

"I'll be right back." I handed her over to Alice to stand up. "I'll be in the hall—I'm not going anywhere."

I left Bella's room, and Whitlock stared at me warily. He hadn't left, muttering something about waiting for me. But then Charlie followed us both into the outside hallway.

"I don't hate you," he said right away. "Far from it. I owe you a great deal, but I do feel your relationship with my daughter is highly inappropriate." His eyes traveled to Jasper when he said that, too. "You're her savior, when you were only doing your job. Her gratitude and affection were almost immediate," he explained. "And you took advantage. You both did." He looked to me and then to Jasper again.

"No," Whitlock laughed. "They asked us out. They—"

"You're missing my point." Charlie massaged his forehead. "My daughter isn't in the right place mentally to have a boyfriend. She might not understand—"

"Whoa!" I cut him off, his words angering me. "I don't think you know your daughter very well. With all due respect, Bella's got a strong mind—she's independent, more so than a lot of people older than her." I shrugged. "You're underestimating her—"

"I know how smart she is," he countered. "She has a disorder, which may impair her judgment—"

"That's bullshit!" I nearly shouted. "You seem like a good dad, looking out for her and shit, and you have no idea how…commendable that is to me." I placed my hand on my chest. "But I'm not going anywhere until she tells me to, and...I know she won't." That suddenly became abundantly clear to me.

We love each other, and I needed to have faith in that love, in Bella. Despite my whole life, which has been shit, I have this amazing woman who accepts me and loves me just as I am. Instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, I needed to wake up and smell the roses—realize and enjoy what we have, not dread the thought of her leaving me.

"She's an adult." I continued. "Her mind is sound, and I'm offended for her, pissed myself, for even having this conversation with you. You, as her father, should…have more faith? Trust her decisions?" I didn't know what I was trying to say, but yeah. Him underestimating her, making her smaller than the force of a person she truly is . . . that bothered me. Bella once told me that her mother was the only person to ever see her as normal—whatever the fuck normal is. She'd told me all about how people treated her differently, how her father did it, too. Charlie always babied her.

"There's nothing wrong with her, and you—of all people—should know that, recognize it." My teeth gnashed together, and I needed to calm myself now.

"Be easy." Whitlock pushed me back, out of Charlie's face.

I groaned, pinching the bridge of my nose. "I'm not going anywhere, sir . . . We could try to get along for her sake, or . . . well, you saw what happened in there. I do the right things. I love her. I respect her." I counted off my fingers. "I protect her to the best of my ability—and for that? I, at the very fucking least, deserve your respect. You don't have to like me, but extend the same respect that I'll show you—for her, for Bella. Can you do that?" I poked his chest.

"Yo, relax." Whitlock squeezed my shoulder.

Charlie didn't say anything, but he nodded, wearing a smirk.

When he was quiet for a beat too long, I stepped around him to check on Bella.

They were still on the floor in her doorway.

Bella wasn't calming as fast as she has in the past.

"Edward—"

"I'm here." I stole her from Alice. "I'm here."

"My chest hurts."

"I know, baby…just take deep breaths. I'm not going to let anything happen to you. I promise." I kissed her cheek, holding her tightly. "You're safe with me. I know you know that."

Alice smiled brightly at me, nodding and giving me a thumbs up, so I guess I did good.

"We're fine, okay? We're not fighting. We had a nice talk." I kept my voice breezy, soothing.

"Yo-you're lying," she whispered.

"He's not."

I heard Charlie behind me, but I didn't move.

"He's not lying, baby girl. Everything's okay, you're fine." He was close to me, holding Bella's cheek, and then I felt him pat my shoulder. And I hoped that meant he agreed with what I'd said, that we could get along for Bella. "Maybe tomorrow we can check out the Empire State Building?" Charlie asked.

Bella sniffled. "Edward has to tell us, um, what the terror alert is first." She stated, matter-of-factly, her breathing shaky. "It's always yellow, but…"

I smiled, burying my nose into her hair. "It should be fine."

Bella nodded against me, and I felt her relax within my embrace. She was almost there but not quite, calming further as time wore on. Charlie kept her talking, and I kept rubbing her back, and I knew she'd be all right in just a few more minutes.

But then I jumped when raucous laughter and clapping sounded behind me. "You did it!" Charlie shouted, his tone happy. "You got through it."

Bella let out a short giggle. "Hey, Dad..." She finally greeted him.

Bella still wasn't 100%, trying her hardest now to smile, but she left me to hug her father.

Alice nudged me. "That was something we'd do when she was younger—celebrate when she got through the worst. Also, it let her know we were proud," she whispered. "That she was so strong, accepted, it was okay . . . My goob of an uncle still does it." She chuckled, shaking her head.

I got to my feet again, and I wasn't sure what I should do.

Logically, I knew I couldn't stay the night anymore, but I still didn't want to leave.

"Are you okay?" Alice asked me.

"Are you?" I raised a brow.

She sighed. "Now…I am. I hate that she gets so upset."

"Me too," I admitted.

"I can hear you guys." Bella turned to us.

Alice patted my bicep and then walked around Bella and Charlie, going into the living room.

Bella's eyes met mine, and I looked to her pops.

"I'll, uh…I don't know," he whispered, leaving the doorway.

Bella grinned, watching him go. "He can be awkward in social settings, too."

"I'll call you tomorrow?" I asked.

Bella stared up at me. "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry about?" I pulled her into my arms again. "Don't apologize for nothing."

"You and my dad are so macho . . ." She pursed her lips. "Neither of you would back down, and—"

"But everything's fine now." I nipped those lips. "You take meds?"

She shook her head. "I don't like them. They make me tired; Alice knows they knock me out, but my doctor gives them to me…just in case. He also upped the dosage after the whole...you know. But I don't take them."

"Okay." I kissed her hair.

"I was doing really well. Nothing close to an attack for two weeks now, longer than that." She sounded disappointed in herself. "I just…got scared…that...he'd make you leave me. I didn't know what would happen when we'd go to Forks. I hoped for the best, thought I'd be able to talk to him more beforehand. I mean…my dad's been single a long time, but I know he knows what we were doing, which is…Edward, it's gross. He knows. He saw the—" She snatched the condom wrapper off the floor to stuff it deep into the trash can. "The bed's all rumpled, too." She smoothed her blanket over the sheets.

I chuckled, closing the distance between us. "I don't think he knows exactly."

Even her eyes were smiling now, and she was gorgeous. "It's weird and...I panicked."

"I know. I was a little weirded out, too." I smiled, my knuckle trailing along her cheek. "You should wash your face, make a cup of tea. I'll get a ride home with Jasper."

Bella agreed, nodding. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"We should go to lunch? Or…? You know that I work tomorrow. Anything before three is cool, though."

"Lunch sounds good. I bet you could tell my dad some stories. I bet you do more in one day than he does in a month—being the chief of police," she explained through a whisper. "Forks is real small…population 3,120, and everyone's spread out."

I grinned. "Sounds interesting."

She shook her head, her eyes widening. "No way. New York is just…" She had stars in her eyes. "I never wanna go back, Edward. I wanna stay with you. I think we have a future."

"Good." My heart sang in this moment. "Good. I don't want you going anywhere."

Regardless, I'd probably follow her anywhere . . .

Bella whimpered again, hugging me tight—almost too tight for her small frame. It made me smile wide, feeling wanted and loved, feeling whole. "I love you," she said.

I palmed her cheeks. "I love you, too. I'll call in the morning, or you call me. It's late, but maybe we could get up early…do something."

"We've said that," she corrected me.

I laughed. "I don't wanna go."

She mirrored my expression. "I know. I don't want you leaving either."

Placing my arm around her, I ushered us out of her bedroom. "Walk me out."

Alice was getting Charlie's bed settled while he sat at the dining room table, drinking one of Jasper's beers. My buddy was still waiting for me, munching on a piece of cold quesadilla. It was misplaced, but I stole a bite of his—hungry.

With greasy lips, I placed a kiss on Bella's cheek, just so she'd scrub it away with her hand.

She's adorable.

Our goodbye wasn't long. I didn't get a decent kiss, but I'd see her tomorrow.

"Officer Cullen!" Charlie shouted for me, and I was already a flight down. "We should get together—" like we'd already established "—maybe you, your father, and I could grab a drink tomorrow night?" His tone surprised me, all nice and shit.

"Oh…Um, sure." I had no intentions of Charlie meeting Carlisle. And I was more than sure of Bella filling him in. That's not something I minded. It just wasn't a conversation I planned to have with her father myself. "Sounds great. Goodnight!"

"'Night!" He waved.

Jasper and I didn't talk much on our way back to my apartment. He had been just as surprised as I was. Apparently, Charlie has a key, and Whitlock was rounding second on the couch when he arrived.

I knew I had it worse—my head being between Bella's legs and all—but my girl's smart. No matter if Whitlock and Alice would never bother us, or barge in, Bella locks her bedroom door anyway.

I thanked God for small favors, that Charlie didn't have that key.

As I dug my own keys out of my pocket, Jasper jerked his chin toward my building. "McCarty having a party?" Since we're on the first floor, our living room window faces the street. The lights were on, music sounding, and you could see the shadows of bodies in the room.

I slumped back, exhausted.

"Wanna crash at my place?"

I shook my head. "Nah…I have clothes at Bella's, but…nothing extra on me." The duffle bag at my feet only had dirty clothes in it.

"You sure? No, wait. We'll be seeing enough of each other again." He chuckled.

I furrowed my brow. "What?"

"Capt. didn't tell you? Since there were no problems before, what with everyone complaining now." He rolled his eyes. "Tomorrow, me and you are back on together."

I shrugged, truly not caring. It may sound fucked up, but I didn't mind being Black's partner, and I actually loved being Whitlock's partner. However, even if he's my current roommate, could easily be a best friend . . .

McCarty and me?

I wasn't cool with it, although I had no idea how Black and McCarty would fare together.

Feeling badly for Jake, I said goodnight to Jasper, and then entered my building.

The closer I got to our apartment, the louder the music was.

Taking a deep breath, I opened the door.

Hale and McCarty were in the living room, a few of their friends scattered around. There was booze, pizza, and it was so late…and I wondered when I became a senior citizen.

Hale obviously wasn't drinking, but she approached me—wary. "We all had a long day, you know?" she asked. "You okay?"

I nodded, opening my bedroom door to throw my duffle in. Truthfully, the past two hours made me forget all about my horrible day. "Yeah, I know." I'd bet money my day was worse than hers.

"Do you mind? I can ask them to—"

"It's fine," I said, my eyes landing on Tanya. She waved, and I didn't acknowledge her. "I'm just gonna go to bed."

When I said that, Black left the bathroom, eyes instantly wide—happy to see me. "Hey, man!" He hugged me like we were besties.

Rosalie cracked up, laughing at our exchange, before going back to her party.

"'Sup?" I slapped my hand to his, and I smelled the liquor. Black was drunk and smiley, and yeah. I still wanted my bed. "I'm goin' to sleep. Goodnight."

"Can you hide me?" he whispered. "That chick is dangerous—should arrest her." He stared at Tanya. "Bitch gives ya a hickey, and you need a tetanus shot . . ."

I laughed out loud, throwing my head back. "Have fun."

"No, be my wingman…or pretend you're my lover." He grabbed my hand.

I pushed him away from me. "What the fuck?"

His eyes were pleading. "That's—that's how desperate I am, bro. We're partners. Help a brother out."

I chuckled. "Look, I got an extra blanket." He obviously couldn't drive home. "Bunk on my floor, whatever. Leave in the morning." I thought he looked about ready to pass out anyway.

He belched. "You know what? Fuck it. I'll just take a cab home, right?" Black widened his arms. "I'll just leave." Jake clutched the beer bottle to his chest as he walked back into the living room.

I watched, watching Tanya lunge at his ass quick.

Getting a kick outta that, I laughed my ass off, fast to close my door and lock it.

After sending Bella a text to let her know I was in, I landed facedown on my bed.

/=/=/=/=/=/

A persistent banging on my door woke me up. It was around ten in the morning, and I was still tired—my head feeling heavy.

"What?" I shouted.

"Bella's here," Emmett said.

I jumped outta bed, running for the door to unlock it. "What?"

Emmett sidestepped, still in a pair of boxers, and that's when I saw her.

Wearing the same pajamas, I left the room to enter the living room, and now I saw Charlie.

Bella wore a mask of . . . I don't know. She looked mortified, staring at the empty bottles, the pizza boxes, and everything else that littered the room.

"You young guys know how to party," Charlie commented.

"Party?" Bella asked.

I pushed my hair back, yawning. "I went right to sleep." No one was sprawled anywhere, or passed out. The room was just messy, and then Hale came out to say hello.

"You guys want coffee?" she asked.

I had no idea when she became a dishrag clutcher, always trailing after Emmett.

When I first graduated from the academy, she was more butch than me.

Maybe pregnancy softened her? Who knows?

"Do you want help straightening up?" Bella had that worry crease between her brows.

Hale waved a hand. "I'll get to it later."

I blew out a breath, knowing the longer Bella stayed in here . . . Hale being so blase about the mess was going to have Bella on edge. "Let's go in my room." It was neat, clean…except my socks on the floor. I hurried to snatch them up and throw them into the hamper.

Charlie looked out of place, looking around my bedroom.

"Hi." Bella leaned over to kiss my cheek, but then she shot up—thought better about sitting on my bed. "We thought maybe you wanted to join us for breakfast?"

"Don't lie," Charlie said, opening my closet. "I wanted to check out your apartment." He smiled at me.

I rolled my eyes. "Feel free to look around." I had no idea what he thought he'd find in my closet—the missing women from the neighborhood?

"I didn't lie. I'm hungry," Bella whispered. "We should get breakfast. Then we can go to the museum before Edward has to be at work." She turned to me. "I love the Museum of Natural History, and it's not far…not that far. We have to take the train."

"You don't have a car, Edward?" Charlie walked to my window. "You have bars on the windows . . ."

"It's a ground floor apartment. Of course, we do." I smiled.

"It's not safe?" He stared at me.

I widened my arms. "By the time someone saws through the bars…It's safe. She's safe with me." I held Bella's hand.

"All right." He hummed. "Get dressed so we can go."

"Okay…" Nervous, not knowing what the day would bring and still feeling tired, I entered the bathroom to clean up.

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