FYI: In my head, Robert Pattinson/Edward Cullen still has the same longish wild hair he had in the first Twilight movie.
Age clarification: Tyler is around 38.
I scraped the scrambled eggs into a pan and placed them in the oven to warm alongside the hash browns. As I shut the oven door and stood from my crouch to glance at the bacon sizzling on the stovetop, the back door opened and in came Jake and Jasper.
Jasper was awfully bright eyed and bushy tailed-this morning….jittery even.
Jake was not. It looked like he hadn't slept much as he headed straight for the coffee maker after a grunt and a nod to Petey, who sat at the table sipping his coffee and reading the paper, and Edward, whose finicky ass was already eating a pop tart. Even though I knew it probably wouldn't last, it was nice to see them putting their differences aside….if only for my sake.
"Is that…..," Jasper trailed off as he cocked his head to the side. "Do I hear Ginuwine?"
I turned off the stove fan so I could better hear and, sure enough, the ummistakable intro to 'Pony' was thumping down the hall.
Music was a big part of our life in San Francisco. Didi sang in a band and her band mates were over all the time arranging songs and coming up with playlists for gigs. There was always something on whether it was the soundtrack to the latest Disney original, top 40, 80s pop, or, as was the case today, the totally inappropriate favorites of Xavier's teenage years.
"I'm going to hurt him," I grumbled. "Make him explain to the next friend's parents where Maddie gets her vocabulary."
"I heard that, B," Xavier said as he and Maddie came into the room doing some kind of coordinated dance move. "You know me and my butterbean can't resist a good beat."
As he twisted around to get low, I saw his iphone in his back pocket and took the opportunity to snatch it, hoping to stop "the beat".
Luckily, he still had the same security code.
"Aww man!" he complained with Maddie adorably echoing him as he picked her up and swung her around.
"Don't even….you know what part was coming up next," I replied, holding the phone away from him.
"Put me dow, Put me dow!" Maddie cried through her giggles.
Xavier placed her on her feet and she dizzily stumbled back towards 'her' room probably to get whatever toy was her favorite today.
"B, give a guy a little credit," Xay said as he moved to the counter beside the stove top. "It was the clean version."
"Hmph," I huffed as I flipped the bacon. "Cuss words aren't the only problem and you know it."
"I know no such thing."
"Um, I believe you were present and accounted for that time Maddie called one of Didi's dates a scrub. To. His. Face," I retorted, pointing my fork at him to punctuate my words.
Jasper choked on his coffee as Edward tried not to laugh beside him at the table.
"What's a scrub?" Petey mumbled, probably having never heard a TLC song in his life.
"To be fair," Xay replied, his hands in the air. "My girl was just telling it true. That boy was a scrub. It just took Didi a few weeks to see it."
Jake nodded his head in amused agreement, having heard the whole story before.
I huffed again and turned back to the stove doing my best to stay annoyed with Mr. Bad Influence over there….of course, he wasn't going to have that.
"Speaking of Dee," Xavier said solemnly, patting my shoulder in sympathy though the mirth in his eyes told a different story. "I forgot to mention it yesterday but she said to tell you that an edible arrangement is coming your way given the recent celebrity news."
Leave it to Xavier to talk his way out of trouble with a joke….but I cracked a smile and played along anyway. "I know…..how could he, right? Like I need this on top of everything else."
Jake walked over to where we stood by the stove and leaned over me, eyeing the bacon I was cooking like the hungry wolf he always was. "What are you two talking about?"
"I don't know if you boys have read the latest issue of US Weekly or surfed their website as our B does every morning." Xavier paused for dramatic effect. "But Robert Pattinson has gone and gotten himself engaged."
"Who's that?" Jasper asked, clueless.
I went to open my mouth but Xay stopped me. "Let me take this one, B. You know those vampire movies that are so popular with the tweens? The one where the sparkly vampire falls in love with a human girl and proceeds to have a star crossed romance for several movies until they get married and have a miracle hybrid child, who happens to be cursed with the worst name ever. That's him. Bella lurves him."
"Now hold on," I protested. "You two asked which celebrity I thought was the best looking and I gave my honest opinion. He's pretty. This epic love affair is all in your head and I must say…you seem to be pretty well informed on these 'tween' movies, Xay. Anything you want to tell us?"
"You've met my sister….like I had a choice," he shot back, laughing.
He opened his mouth to start teasing me again, but was stopped in his tracks with one meaningful look from me. He knew what that one raised eyebrow and I-dare-you smile meant….one more comment and I'd start talking about his attendance at no less than 2 midnight premieres and the 'I Like Boys That Sparkle' T-shirt he sported to both. Sure, it was all done under duress….but some details just weren't important.
Surprisingly, it was Peter who picked up where Xay left off. "He's a good-looking boy." He held up his phone to show Jasper, Jake, and Edward the picture. "Looks like you, I think," he said, gesturing to Edward.
Edward screwed up his face as he evaluated the picture. "My hair doesn't look that stupid, does it?"
My face flamed at the direction this conversation had taken. Robert Pattinson definitely looked like Edward….that was precisely why I thought he was so pretty. And the hair…I loved it. They both had that tousled bedhead look going on. Edward's was in fine form this morning between our secret make out session last night and what was obviously a less than comfortable sleep on the couch.
"Breakfast is ready," I announced, hoping to distract them, as I moved the bacon from the skillet to a grate to cool. "Time to fix your plates."
I wasn't sure my ploy had worked until I got a boost from Maddie. She came streaking into the room giggling with sticky hair and nothing on but a pair of Dora undies. She threw a 'hey mommy' my way before going to hide under Edward.
"Hey baby," I answered, glancing over at her as I pulled the eggs and hash browns from the oven. Both her appearance and her behavior had me suspicious. "Where are your clothes?"
She bit her lower lip as she peered at me from under Edward's chair where she was wrapped around one of his legs like a monkey. "Wed spill stuff all oba them."
As I walked over to Edward's chair and kneeled down to Maddie's level, I got a whiff of something. What was that? Definitely mint, but something else too…
"She did," I said, my eyebrows raised exaggeratedly. "Gosh, that doesn't sound like Red…..but if she's playing with things that don't belong to her, I guess she's in trouble. Do you think maybe she needs a timeout?"
Maddie's eyes widened comically and she shook her head furiously, the thought of being made to be quiet and alone in a room was the worst thing imaginable to her 3 year-old mind. "No, Mommy no! She did int mean to! Ehwud, tell Mommy don be mad! Tell huh!" she cried as she clung to his leg.
Edward looked so torn. He knew he wasn't supposed to go against what I said, but at the same time, he wanted to save his Little Bit. 'Please,' he mouthed over her head and I threw him a smile to let him know I was just teasing her.
Relieved, he smiled back at me. "Mommy knows it was an accident," he said, running a hand over her sticky hair.
"I do," I agreed. "I'm not mad."
Our little exchange was fortunately not the center of attention as the other guys shuffled around the room talking, fixing their plates, and pouring more juice and coffee. Even so, I tried to keep the googly eyed look off my face as I watched the preciousness of Edward with my baby girl.
"Come 'ere, you. I don't think I've gotten my good morning hug yet," he said as he reached down and pulled her up into his lap. "Remember the doctor said I can't get all better without at least 5 of your hugs a day."
Maddie gasped. "Oh no Ehwud! I memba!" She threw her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. "You betta?" she asked as she patted his back.
"Much," he coughed out, his eyes blinking and watering as he got a nose full of her hair. In self-preservation, he turned his head from her as he rocked them from side to side.
She must have really doused herself in whatever it was…..which meant there was probably a huge mess somewhere.
"Hey Maddie, where did Red find the stuff she spilled on you?" I asked warily.
"Petey's woom," she answered.
I threw up a silent prayer that the mess was contained to the bathroom or even the floor and not the bed….or the walls.
"Since Red is our dog, I think we should probably go clean up after her, don't you?" I tapped her on her cute little nose. "And then we'll go get you a quick shower."
She hopped down from Edward's lap and I ushered her towards the bedrooms, but stuck my head back in the kitchen as she continued on. "Petey, I think Maddie got into your shampoo. It smells very….herbal? I'm sorry. If you'll let me know where you got it, I'll replace the bottle."
"Herbal?" Petey repeated, looking up from his paper, and then it seemed to come to him. "Oh, don't worry about it. It's just some stuff Charlotte made for my beard, something about it being exfoliating and a brisk wake-up call."
He gave a good natured eye roll as I giggled. "Sounds like Charlotte."
"So how was Ma?" I asked my Dad as I sucked down more coffee trying to convince my body that I'd had plenty of sleep. The guys and I had gotten up early this morning to go to Aro's, hoping to catch him off guard, only to find his place empty. I knew if I didn't keep the caffeine coming I'd be fading by lunchtime. "It's been awhile since I've been out there."
"She mentioned that," he replied as he got up to fix his plate. "She's…Charlotte. She's fine."
As Edward, Xavier, Jake, and I began to dig into our breakfast, Dad sat down with his breakfast and a fresh cup of coffee, and cleared his throat. "Speaking of your mother, a few days ago she saw Renee in Port A. She cornered Charlotte asking her questions. I haven't mentioned it to Bella yet because it honestly slipped my mind with everything else going on and there's really nothing to tell." He sighed and rubbed a hand over his forehead. "Just keep your ears open…..that woman is always up to something."
"I'll talk to Bells about it," Jake volunteered. The whole shitty mother thing was his area so no one argued. "I'm taking her and Maddie to visit Harry and Sue today. We can talk on the ride."
Jake's plans with Bella worked out perfectly for me to get some one-on-one time with Xavier. With so many people in the house, I'd thought it would be next to impossible, but he was all too eager to come with me to the Chief's to survey the fire damage rather than go with Jake and Bella, or head up to the clubhouse with Dad and Edward.
I had a feeling he had questions for me just as I had for him.
At dinner last night, we'd looked over Bella's work schedule for the next week and made plans for her protection and Maddie's, and exchanged what little information had been gathered so far. Although Xavier was really only in town to see about Bella, he brought with him a list of past aliases of James Witherdale that he'd already given to Jake and, more importantly, a rare picture of the asshole….that he'd gotten by surprisingly nefarious means. Both things were helpful, but it was the picture that was invaluable. For obvious reasons, it was a strict policy of all government agencies that their undercover operatives have absolutely no internet presence, so despite the superior hacking skills of Quil Ateara, we had little hope of him finding basic identifying information let alone a picture.
I was glad to get a good look at the bastard. We all were. It was nice to know who you were looking for….but it also presented a bit of a dilemma with Xavier. His first thought was that we should spread his picture around to anybody and everybody to try and find him as quickly as possible. I understood his thought process. Unlike the rest of the guys, he was for the most part a law-abiding citizen who went to the police with problems and let them handle it. Life in the MC was different. We worked outside the law and had to be careful, selective with who we trusted. The last thing we needed was for too many people to know we were looking for Witherdale when he disappeared. And he would disappear.
I figured our little field trip to the Chief's was the perfect opportunity to not only get Xavier's insight into the last few years with Bella and her current situation but to also feel him out to see whether he would be a hindrance.
"So is there more I need to know about this guy…Marcus or James or whatever we're calling him today? Anything you didn't want to say in front of Bella?" I asked Xavier as we walked through Dad's backyard towards the Chief's house.
"From what I gathered from Jake's tirade over the phone the other night, I think she told you everything," he replied with a wince.
"He pretty pissed?" I asked.
"Yeah….but I get it. He felt like I should've involved him from the start….especially after we had so much trouble with the police and couldn't seem to shake the asshole." He shrugged. "I was just doing as Bella asked. She didn't come right out and say it, but I'm not stupid. I've been around Jake enough to know he's far from harmless."
I nodded, pleased that he wasn't completely oblivious to the kind of men he was dealing with and hoping that meant he'd follow our lead…..but still, I didn't fill in any of the blanks he left open. Having more information than was necessary about our activities was dangerous. Xavier seemed like a good guy and he didn't need that burden.
"Thank you," I said simply.
He looked over at me with his brow furrowed, confused at my gratitude.
"For being there for her," I continued. "Bella was always like a sister to me."
"Really?" I was surprised but I kept my voice even.
He nodded. "Yeah…not from Bella, she didn't talk about her past. It was her roommate, Maddie's mother. Lauren told us what she knew about all of you."
I was usually good at keeping my face neutral but I must've looked taken aback because he mistook my expression for one of disapproval.
"It wasn't that she was trying to divulge Bella's business," he clarified. "It was more that she wanted us to understand her… without Bella having to do the explaining."
"What was there to explain?" I asked.
His head tilted thoughtfully as we continued our walk. "Bella was just….closed off, especially at first. She was hard to get to know. Lauren, on the other hand, was very open. She was that rare foster kid success story, upbeat and surprisingly not damaged by the rough hand she was dealt. Coming from a big family, her experience was very foreign to me and my sister….but she told us about it. Bella just kept quiet. Aside from Jake, she never talked about or visited family or old friends and we didn't know why."
I nodded as he spoke. It made sense. Bella coped with the loss of Charlie by cutting herself off from home and it followed that she avoided discussing her past. "So how did Lauren know?"
A sad smile spread over his face. "Lauren was….. well, she was the persistent type. She said it took time after they met in undergrad, but eventually Bella opened up and let her get close, learned to rely on her. Lauren knew what it was like to not have the support of a parent. She understood how sad and lonely Bella felt when other students were loading their cars to go home for the holidays, when they called their dad about acing a test, or had their parents come to town for parents' weekend."
"She was really good for Bella….she got it, but she refused to let herself or Bella wallow. She explained to us that it wasn't that Bella was hiding anything….it was just painful for her to remember and easier for her not to dwell on."
I looked down as we walked, taking in all he'd said. It sounded like Lauren was exactly who Bella needed in her life at that time. I was grateful to her and so sad that her life had been cut short, that Maddie had lost her…that Bella had lost her.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Xavier glance over at me. "So, uh," he began, clearing his throat. "I gathered by the warm reception last night that that's Edward. The Edward."
"It is," I answered tentatively, unsure of where he was going with this. I wanted to be forthcoming with him because I didn't want his willingness to give information to stop, but I had learned a long time ago to stay out of Edward and Bella's relationship so I was wary of saying too much.
Xavier shook his head. "I could never put my finger on what her deal was with men. I mean she occasionally went on dates and some of the guys, like Marcus, even hung around for a little while, but it was just this vibe she gave off…like she was already taken."
"I'm very familiar with that vibe," I offered. I guess some things didn't change.
"I would've left it alone," he said, smiling with his hands up in a gesture of surrender, "but not my nosy sister. She pestered Lauren until she got the full run down on Edward. Sounds like they were quite the couple…."
I paused before replying, trying to choose my words carefully. "Just the way it always was….even when we were kids they were the 5 year old version of boyfriend and girlfriend. It only deepened as we got older. They were inseparable by the time we were teenagers."
"So, I guess her leaving must've been pretty tough on him."
Looking off into the distance, I thought back to those days. "It was. It was hard on all of us….all of her friends I mean, but Edward…Edward was lost."
My response hung in the air for a moment, both of us quiet. I'd guessed where Xavier was going with this line of conversation now….but I waited anyway.
"That's the reason I'm bringing this up," he said finally. "I can tell something's going on between them again and I, I don't want to see her hurt any more. I want to make sure this isn't some kind of revenge thing for him, because she can't take someone pulling the wool over her eyes again….not this soon."
He continued on before I could answer him.
"Her self-confidence took a major hit from all the shit with Marcus. He made her doubt herself. It's bad enough to second guess your decision making ability in your personal life, but in our profession….as a surgeon, you can't do that. Confidence is key when you have another person's life in your hands. "
"It took some time but she's good again on the professional front. I want it to stay that way. She's worked too hard and made it through too much-"
"You don't need to worry about Edward," I said as I put my hand out to interrupt him. "I can promise you he's not out to get back at Bella. I get it…..where you're coming from and you're a good friend. I know last night he probably came off like a cold bastard and he can be, but not when it comes to Bella. She's his soft spot. He could never do anything to hurt her."
Xavier bobbed his head in understanding as I spoke.
"That's all I needed to hear."
As we reached Charlie's backyard, we both looked around and zoned in on the charred cave that used to be his shed.
"Yeah….." It looked pretty bad and only served to remind me what a sick motherfucker we were dealing with. "Let's run in the house. I need to grab a flashlight and a box in case we see anything that can be salvaged before the crew comes by this afternoon to take what's left of the shed to the dump."
"Okay." Xavier's eyes didn't leave the destruction.
As I turned to walk toward the back door, he grabbed my arm to stop me. "I know you don't need my permission and I'm not asking for details...but please do whatever you have to do to keep her safe from him. For good."
I said nothing, acknowledging his request with a look and a brisk nod, and then waved to him to follow me into the house.
"I'm sorry it didn't work out for us to go see my dad today, Bells," I said as we got into the cutlass. "But when I called this morning, his nurse said it wasn't a good day."
I stared out the windshield discouraged as I cranked up the engine. I'd grown used to my dad's condition over the years, but I still hated thinking of him confused and disoriented. It frustrated me that I couldn't fix it or even help him.
"I understand, Jake." She put her hand on my arm after buckling herself in. "You don't have to apologize. The last thing I'd want to do is upset him."
"We'll go soon," I assured her. "And Sue is thrilled we're coming to the diner. I called Sam and he's bringing Emily, Seth, and some other old friends."
"Sounds great," she replied, looking over at me with a teasing smile. "But you know what I really want to know is whether or not Leah is going to be there?"
I jumped around in my seat, trying to dodge her pokes and back out of the drive way at the same time. "Shush. We're just friends."
"Uh huh, friends….with benefits….who don't date anyone else."
"Whatever, I'm a ladies man and you know it." I turned up the radio to end the conversation before I got myself in trouble. I knew that Maddie's Frozen CD was on deck from yesterday. As luck would have it, 'Let It Go' was on and having heard it 37 times the day before, I was ready.
"Munchkin, are you going to sing with me?"
Conceal don't feel, don't let them know!
Well, now they know-oooooooo!
Maddie giggled as I belted out the end of the verse and joined in for the chorus.
After we'd let it go with Idina about 4 times, Maddie finally gave in to moving on to the next track. As I listened to her sing to Red about reindeer in the backseat, I tried to come up with a way to bring up Renee to Bella.
She was a sensitive subject. Though we used to discuss our absent mothers often when we were younger, it had been years since either of us had brought it up. Back then, humor was my go-to. Renee would pull one of her stunts and I would listen and sympathize, but usually eventually make light of the situation so that Renee's actions wouldn't drag Bells down any further. I was the only one who could do that because my mom sucked too.
With everything that was going on, I wasn't sure this conversation about Renee was going to progress along those same old lines.
A procrastinator by nature, I had less than 10 minutes left before we arrived at the diner when I decided to just say it.
"Renee's in town," I blurted. I glanced over at Bella, who was leaning against the window on her elbow. She looked caught off guard but calm so I figured I'd trudge along. "Charlotte saw her in Port A a few days back. She was asking about you."
Bella's nostrils flared. "And you drew the short straw?"
"Come on, Bells. I volunteered. Peter said it slipped his mind. He wasn't trying to keep it from you."
She let out the breath she'd been holding and began picking at her fingers.
"I'm sorry," she said, dropping her eyes to her lap. "You don't deserve my attitude. I don't know why I'm surprised. Of course she would pick now to reappear."
"She does have a talent for coming around just in time to complicate bad situations," I said, thinking back to the Chief's death.
Bella looked at me strangely and it hit me that she didn't know about Renee's appearance when Charlie died. Thankfully, my careless comment was pretty vague so I could recover with little effort. "Remember how she seemed to have radar for whenever you had one of your Bella-like accidents and had to go to the emergency room so she could swoop in to play the doting mother and threaten a custody suit."
"But only when she had a boyfriend she was trying to impress," Bella filled in. "And don't forget her favorite- showing up to spoil a holiday."
"I'll give Renee the title for holidays, but no one can ruin a life event like my mother. Remember my sister's wedding?" I asked.
"Oh God yes," she replied as she tried and failed to stifle a snort-guffaw. "That was so bad."
"Sure, sure, you laugh now," I said, "but at the time, I was the most embarrassed 11 year-old on the planet."
She looked over at me somehow managing to look contrite while still giggling. "I'm sorry, it's just….I got a flash of her outfit that day. I honestly don't remember everything that happened but that get-up of hers was unforgettable."
I relaxed as her laughter died down, realizing I'd gotten away with my little slip and gotten through the Renee reveal with relative ease. As we pulled into the diner parking lot, I reached over to take Bella's hand. "Seriously, Bells, be aware but don't worry about her. She won't be bothering you."
Only one more day I promised myself as I sat in between my mom and aunt on her couch listening to them gossip as Golden Girl reruns played in the background.
I'd come down to Olympia to my mom's ritzy retirement community to visit her for her birthday. She had moved here a few years ago after we lost my dad. She was so sad at the time that I worried she would never smile again, but the change of scenery and proximity to her sister had worked wonders.
And as bad as it sounded, her move had also gotten her out of my hair. I loved my mother, I did, but she was a meddler if there ever was one. She wasn't a self-proclaimed blue blood like my dad and she was proud of my profession and position. Her issue with me was my much younger wife and said wife's refusal to pop out kids on my mother's schedule. I was glad Kate had skipped out on this visit with her usual flimsy work excuse because if I heard my mom make one more not so subtle hint about when I was going to give her grandchildren, I might explode.
Couldn't we just leave that to my amazingly fertile sister?
Even so, the buzz of my burner phone was not exactly a welcome distraction…as I was dreading the shit out of who I was pretty sure was calling.
Esme had left a message bright and early yesterday morning about the conduct of some unnamed officer towards her and I can't say I was eagerly anticipating her return call. I'd rather deal with the Cullen men all day long before having one conversation with that woman.
But might as well get it over with I thought as I made my excuses and stepped outside of the room.
Sweet relief. It was Edward. "Yeah. Hey man. What's up?"
"Long story, but I got a guy I need you to look into."
"Okay. You know I'm out of town for the weekend, right?"
"Shit. I forgot." He hesitated a minute and I began to wonder just how big a deal this was.
"I can get someone back at the office to do it. It can be discrete. They don't have to know it's coming from you."
"No, I appreciate it, but I need this handled by you and only you." He sighed. "It can wait until you get back."
"Okay, if you're sure," I answered, skeptically. "I'll come straight to Cullen Motors when I get into town."
"Call me when you're on your way."
I hit end already antsy to get back to work.
Maybe I could tell my mom that something came up and I needed to head back? It was Forks…..but I was the Chief of Police so that was believable.
But before I had time to work out the details of my excuse, my mom shot all my hopes to hell.
"Tye! Would you bring the cordless phone in here? I'm expecting a call from your sister. Remember she's bringing the kids tonight for a big family dinner?"
Getting by my mom was one thing, but my sister? Yeah, not happening.
I rolled my eyes heavenward and exhaled before turning towards the kitchen to get the phone and make a drink.
If I was doing this, I wasn't doing it sober.
Reminder: Quil Ateara- after hearing the full story in Chapter 22 Jake told Bella he was going to talk to Quil (presumably about locating Marcus Tanner/James Witherdale).
Scrub- as in the TLC song "No Scrubs"
Sorry for the ridic delay. I got stuck on a few passages and couldn't get it together! I'm working on an E/B outtake and pretty far into the next chapter.
Thank you for all the reviews, follows and favorites. I love hearing what you think!