WARNING: Abortion is mentioned in this chapter. I know it's a sensitive topic, and I don't mean to offend anybody, but it is a part of the story. If you choose to skip that part, it's halfway in. Stop where it's asked if Megan had grass to play in at home. You can restart reading after you see the dots that separates the next scene. Thank you for your understanding!
Chapter 17: The Flipside
Bella's legs wobbled as she walked up the gravel walkway to the little trailer where Megan once lived. She leaned up against Edward the whole way—the entire ten feet to get there. His strength, his belief in her, would buoy her and keep her legs moving.
Whether her mouth would cooperate or not, was another matter she'd deal with when the time came.
What was she supposed to say? "I'm sorry I suck as a human being and was too lazy to watch your kid. But, hey, life happens?"
She'd rather go back and bury herself next to Megan, than say those cruel words.
Edward knocked on the door for her, before she could catch her breath.
"It's gonna be all right," he told her.
Her head snapped toward him, her eyes flashed with liquid fear as tears began to gush. "How?"
"Because Megan will help you know what to say. She wants you to be better, just like I do." He kissed the corner of her mouth and wiped it away with the pad of his thumb, the way she had for him so many times.
The door creaked open, and there stood Quil in some khaki shorts and a wife-beater.
"Be-lla?" His voice was barely able to string her name together; it was so stilted and broken, it sounded like he was falling and begging for help.
"Yeah, I'm . . . I'm here," she said with a shadow of a smile. "And I'm . . ." Edward put his arm around her back, settled his hand on her waist and squeezed. "I'm so sorry for what I did. I wanted you to know that."
"She misses her, and she bought her a teddy bear to give her at the funeral," Edward added.
"Why didn't you come?" Quil's asked Bella, and his face contorted with anguish, his lips trembling. "We waited for you. We waited a whole thirty minutes, but still . . . You didn't come."
Tears ran like raging floods down her cheeks. "You what?"
"We waited and waited. We all wanted you there so you could get closure. I was worried sick about you, and then you avoided us all. Were we that horrible to be around? We tried to be there for you," Quil said, then lurched forward, grabbed her into a hug.
Edward joined in. "See? They love you!"
"No . . . I . . . My dad said you had forbidden me to go," she sobbed. "That you couldn't stand the sight of me."
"That was my dad saying that crap. And he didn't mean it. He was so drunk off his ass when your dad visited; he didn't know what he was saying." Quil sighed and laughed through his tears. "All this time you thought we despised you?" He pulled away and cupped her cheeks with her hair between his hands and her face; the strands damp from tears.
"Well, I . . . Yeah," she admitted, biting her lip after.
"Damn, girl. You know it wasn't your fault at all. I'm the one. I told you before we left, to ignore her after you put her in the crib. And if I hadn't been so adamant about Meg learning to self-soothe, she'd be alive today." He stepped back and wrapped his arms around his torso. "The ironic thing is, we can't seem to have any more kids. It took a long time before we even wanted to try again, but once we did, nothing occurred. We didn't plan to have Meg—she just happened, like a blessing that fell straight out of the sky into our laps. She changed everything in our life. Everything. There were times I resented her—my stolen youth and wildness. Now I'd give anything to relive those twelve months with her, but without the drugs and partying. I'd do more with her, watch her little smile when I made goofy faces at her, watch her giggle when she stole food off my plate. I miss the little sounds she used to make when she'd drink her bottle and fall asleep on me. The few times I let her do that is what I treasure most. I tried to force her to be independent, and she couldn't do that. She wasn't ready, and it was my fault she found my spoon in her crib and choked on it."
"Your what?" Edward asked.
"God, this is sick . . ." Quil groaned and dropped his head. He closed his eyes. "I sometimes hid my drug paraphernalia in her room. I must have dropped it in there. It was a teaspoon and part of the handle had broken off since I'd practically destroyed the thing. She swallowed it. They found it in the autopsy. For some reason, they didn't find a trace of drugs in her system." He cleared his throat with a forced cough. "I should've served some serious jail time, but the tribe found a way to cover things up and get me through it so I could stay with Claire and my family."
Bella grabbed Edward into a sideways hug, clung to him like he usually did for her. Her head was tucked under Edward's chin. "It was still my fault I didn't check on her," she said, her voice wavering.
"You were twelve, and you were being a good babysitter. You followed my instructions." He glanced up at her and then back down. "It sickens me to think of what I used to be like. Did Jake tell you I cleaned up my act after she died?"
"Well, I did. It was hard; harder than anything I'd ever done. I wanted to get lost and forget the pain more than anything, but Claire was willing to forgive me and help me through the rough days. I still really love her. She's everything to me. Stronger than I'll ever be. She's the reason my life means anything at all," he said so low she could barely hear him.
"Where is she? I want to apologize to her too," Bella said.
He shook his head. "She's not here. Once a year she leaves to go visit her mom for a few weeks. She won't be back until after Thanksgiving." Quil sniffed.
"Can I write her a quick note, then?" Bella offered.
"Sure." Quil turned around, disappeared inside and brought back a little pad of paper and a pen.
Bella scribbled something quickly and gave him a parting hug. She shuffled back to the car while her head pounded and her heart ached.
"He was the only guy I ever loved. And after Megan died, I didn't believe in love anymore." She stared at the ground but didn't see anything.
"The only guy you ever l-l-loved?" Edward stuttered. He swallowed with a clicking sound.
"Until you . . ." She clutched him to her chest, kissed him until she thought she'd fall over. So drained . . . "Now, what I felt for him seems like a bad joke in comparison." She smiled.
He opened the car door, sat her on his lap and told the cab driver to take them to the Quileute cemetery.
The bear sat on the other end of the backseat.
He stroked her eyes, her cheeks, her lips; kissed her in those same spots with gentleness and understanding. He placed sweet breaths on her forehead and the top of her head. "See . . . I told you that you were all good; every bit of you."
"I thought I was only capable of being nice, not being good," she intoned. Her whole body was limp like she was dead. Maybe the old Bella had to die in order to come back and be something new and different . . .
He hummed and rocked her, then after a while said, "Not my shining star. She's filled with goodness and light."
The car stopped a few minutes later, and though this part should be easier since Megan was dead and gone, it was more difficult to face.
Edward got out and waited with the door open, ready to help her out.
She folded in half, her head between her legs as she hyperventilated and heard nothing but a baby's dappled cries in another room. Bile rose to the back of her throat as that green, sickly feeling overtook her.
She could almost feel the wind on her face as Quil drove her home with the windows down in his car, and could remember exactly how she'd smiled because she was so damn happy to be alone with him.
She had kissed him goodbye. He let her!
"Dammit! She didn't deserve this!" she screamed, kicked the seat in front of her.
"Hey!" the cab driver yelled and wrenched himself around to glare at her.
Edward yanked her out, held her tight. Bella cursed, screeched, cried harder than ever; beat her fists into his chest even though he made it almost impossible with his crushing grip on her. "I hate myself for this! I hate that she died, and I didn't save her. I didn't know!"
"I know you didn't, sweetie," he said, like she'd called him a few times. "She knows that too."
"She doesn't! Nobody told her!" she cried.
"Let's go tell her right now. Let's make sure she knows what happened that night," he said in a soothing, low voice.
She flopped into his chest, absorbing each of his breaths so she could gain some strength.
He brushed her hair off her face. "I want to tell you a story. There's this beautiful woman—she's even stronger than she ever thought she could be. She told me she's been to hell, but I've seen her climb out on her own." He kissed her mouth with a slow press then withdrew even slower with a smile. "And I'm so proud of her."
"You are?" Her chest hiccuped, threatening to break into wails again.
"More than anything." His eyes were filled with compassion and adoration.
"I can do this," she said to herself and nodded her head once. She tried to catch her breath.
"You can." He paused. "And I'm lucky enough, I get to watch."
She smiled but it was lacking in anything more than a little twitch of the lips. "I love you."
"I know you do. I love me too. I love you, and I already love this little girl, Megan, because you love her." He opened the car back up, grabbed the teddy bear and handed it to her. His arm went around her shoulders. Then he moved, his legs not taking their full stride, but instead, keeping a pace that was slow and measured.
It forced her to move with him. She buried her face in his shoulder and depended on him to lead her.
Neither of them had any idea where her gravestone was, but within a few minutes of looking, Edward found it.
"Hi, Megan," he said. "You were a smart little girl with a lot to give your daddy, your mommy, and my girlfriend, Bella. They all love you and miss you. Bella has something for you."
Bella refused to look. She stayed in her safe spot in the curve of his shoulder.
"She wanted you to have this," Edward said and gently pried the stuffed animal out of Bella's hand. He let go of her and a tiny mewl escaped her chest.
She clasped her own hands like Edward had to do in times when he needed somebody and there was nobody available.
When she opened her eyes, she saw uneven ground over a grave with no grass, but a few flowers. It was nothing but dirt.
Edward set the bear at the base of the headstone, but it covered some words about her.
Bella's heart clenched and her breathing stuttered. Her feet marched over, took the bear and found a dip about ten inches from the headstone. It was where Bella imagined her heart to be. She placed the bear there and it fit perfectly like it was mean to sit there for all eternity, on top of her chest.
"I'm really sorry I didn't protect you," Bella strangled out in a garbled plea for forgiveness. "I should've . . . I should've never let you cry back there. For how long did you ask me to come get you?" Tears chased down her cheeks once more. "How long did you choke on that spoon? I could've saved you, but I ignored your sad cries."
Bella stepped back. Edward was like a wall behind her; implacable and unmoving. She rested her back into him. His arms wrapped around her and he kissed her ear.
"Tell me something you miss about her," he said.
She wiped the tears away and took a breath. "I miss how she used to say my name: Bewwah. It was adorable. She would sing it like it was a nursery rhyme. 'Bewwah, Bewwah, Bewwaaaaah.'" She exhaled in a whoosh. Saying that small portion brought a moment of peace to her soul. So, she said another thing she missed about her, "The way she'd jump into my lap with a book and stab the cover with her fat, roly-poly finger . . ." She paused and smiled. "She loved to read—just like me."
He nuzzled his nose into her neck; hummed like he agreed and could see it all in his mind. His body swayed her back and forth a little.
Another moment of calm descended on her, and suddenly, the burden she'd been carrying, felt like it lifted. "She liked to push my cheeks together before I'd kiss her so it would be a fish kiss. She giggled every time." Bella giggled herself, for a second. "And when I blew bubbles with her at her one-year old birthday party, she hugged me over and over."
"She was special," he said into her neck.
"She was. I really loved her like I was her aunt." She stared at the bear, almost wishing she could be the one to sit there and protect her little body from this day on, and keep it from ever being disturbed.
"Let go—put all those feelings of how you miss her and love her, into the things you care about now. She'd want you to do that." He squished her up against him.
"I know . . . I know she'd want that, but I don't know if I can. What if I forget about the small things she did I adored?" She turned around to face him, his arms relaxing until they were loosely encircled about her waist.
"You won't. You're going to write it all down, and anytime you think of her, you can read it and it will be fresh in your heart again." His green eyes were soft like a bed of grass—a bed of grass that should have covered her resting spot.
"If I ever have money, I'm gonna make sure the cemetery grounds are better cared for. I want her to have grass to play on."
"Did she have grass where she lived in that trailer? I didn't see any . . ."
"She didn't, but she should have." Something hit her, jolted her even—it was a moment of undeniable clarity. "Just like I should've had a dad that didn't wallow in his house filled with garbage. I should've had a dad that told me he loved me, hugged me, and could go places with me instead of wasting away in his own sorrows." He smiled at her like she was finally getting it. She took a big, cleansing breath and rambled all of the injustices about her upbringing, "I deserved a mom who wasn't a flighty, uncommitted parent, sleeping with any guy that could throw a ball. I hate that she chose her boyfriends over me all the time, and she ignored me whenever I did anything wrong." She paused and stood straighter. "Forget I said that—she ignored me anytime I did anything right. She didn't care what I did as long as I stayed out of her way. I embarrass her because I made dumb choices . . . But what about her? I don't throw it in her face she had to get an abortion a few years ago because she got knocked up by some nameless, one-night-stand!" Bella's face heated and her voice grew louder. "I earned my own money, working summer jobs, and I use it to buy my own groceries. She refuses to let me eat how I want. Dad too. And I only wanted to avoid becoming both of them—" she gazed intently into his eyes "—they're miserable. Both of them, and they took it out on me. That's abuse."
"Sounds like it to me." He nodded.
"I'm moving out, Edward. I have to. I'm gonna get a job and find a way to pay rent and finish up school. I'm really smart. Did I ever tell you I skipped a grade in elementary school?"
He shook his head and his eyes were alight with pride and joy.
"But then, when I did rehab, had two relapses after and ran away, I failed that year and had to repeat that grade. I'd have graduated already and could've been independent if I hadn't screwed up so much." She huffed. "I hate that I gave them that much control over me." Her foot scraped back and forth on the ground. Her head spun with so many possibilities of her future. "I can't go back to either of my parents. I'll get a studio. When you graduate, you'll move in. We'll figure this out together."
"Thank you!" he cried, laughed and kissed her.
"No, Edward, thank you! You're the one that showed me the way." She turned her eyes back on the grave. "Thank you, Megan. You showed me the way too. I'll try to visit you again someday." And though her heart stopped at the thought of ever returning to Forks, she knew she was telling the truth.
Bella deserved to pay homage to the spot where her life changed forever—the place she finally took control.
They spent so long speaking to Quil, visiting Megan's graveside and getting Edward to change his clothes so he wouldn't reek of beer when he got home, that they barely made it in time to board the plane. It was a first-come-first-serve situation for the seats.
Edward stood still and his mouth dropped open when he saw the plane was so crowded there were only single seats scattered through the cabin. They wouldn't be together.
He tightened his hold on her hand. "I don't wanna be without you. I didn't like flying alone before."
"But you did it just fine," she said, caressing his arm with her hand. She smiled to give him confidence. "For me?"
"M'uh," he grunted, shaking his head.
"We can't be together. It's not allowed. The spaces are all taken. It'll be fine; it's only a three hour flight," she said.
"I can't—not when I know you're nearby, but I can't touch you," he said.
She stood there, trying to figure a way around this.
He was chanting numbers quietly now in the middle of the aisle, his eyes closed, refusing to move. She kissed his cheek to calm him down. The numbers continued to spill out of him.
"Trust me, Edward. Take your seat. I'll make sure we're together," Bella told him.
She took the ring off her pinky and forced it onto her ring finger. It was tighter than she would've liked, but she could figure out how to get it back off when they got home.
Bella lifted her carry-on to put it in the overhead baggage area, when Edward suddenly barked, "I'll get it. I told you I wanted to carry things for you."
"Oh, I know, honey," she said all sugary, while rubbing her lower abs.
Bella leaned back to check out who was sitting in the spot next to where Edward had been ready to plant himself.
Her stomach immediately dropped and she was in fact queasy. Good. For once she could tell the truth to get what she wanted.
A blonde, curvy goddess, thin, chesty and with the brightest sapphire-blue eyes Bella had ever seen, was sitting next to Edward's seat. Everything about her was perfection.
No way was this woman sitting next to her man!
Bella made sure to flash the ring on her finger as she fanned herself. "God, it's stuffy in here. Is it hot to you?" she asked him. She leaned into him for a hug like she was feeling unwell and needed his support. He rubbed her back.
"I'm fine. Do you need to sit? You look kind of pale," he said.
"I'll be okay in the back. Take your spot. At least I'll be near the bathroom so if I have to throw up from the morning sickness . . ."
The blonde woman stood up. "You two should be together." She waved Bella into her spot and moved aside.
"Thanks . . . You sure you don't mind?" Bella asked her.
"Not at all." She gazed down at Bella's ring finger with a look of regret, swallowed and moved swiftly to the back of the plane to find a new seat.
Bella ushered Edward to sit by the window so she could take the aisle seat.
"Did I put a baby inside you?" he whispered, leaning into her shoulder so his lips were at her ear.
"No. We have to have sex for that to happen, and even then, I'm going to make sure that never happens . . ."
He sat up and looked as grave as he did at the cemetery.
"Something wrong?" she asked him. Now he was the one looking washed-out.
His gaze went to the window. "Nothing."
"Don't lie to me." She scratched his back. "You told me I couldn't do that to you. I want the same courtesy in return."
"I think you should reconsider having kids with me. You'd be a great mom, and I want kids," he rasped. Emotions were cutting off the speech in his throat.
She struggled to get him to turn around and face her, but when he did, she placed a gentle, understanding kiss on his lips. "I love you . . . But slow down, okay? I'm not ready to talk about this kind of stuff. It's scary enough to even consider having a boyfriend."
"Then why did you put on a ring and pretend to have my baby inside you?" His eyes implored her to make the charade all true.
The fasten seatbelt light was on and the stewardess gave the usual speech about safety. Bella ignored it and attended to him.
"I was trying to manipulate a situation without making a fuss. I wanted it to be that ladies choice on her own to move. If we started asking people to do what we wanted, they might've refused," she explained.
"So you lied to spare her feeling uncomfortable?"
"Yeah." She smiled.
"But what about my comfort? I don't like thinking about how I want my baby inside you and you don't want it there. I don't like imagining that's my ring on your finger, and you might not really want one there," he said. He reached out and touched the diamond.
"I'm . . . God, I'm sorry . . . I didn't think . . . This was my mom's wedding ring. I grabbed it at the last minute and didn't want it to get lost in my suitcase," she said, staring at the way his fingers fiddled with the gem.
"I want to ask you to marry me, but I worry you'll say no. It was so difficult to get you to even say yes to being my girlfriend. But I want forever with you." His gaze shifted to her face. "And even that won't be enough . . ."
Her entire chest and abdominal cavity felt like it was filled with concrete; heavy and immovable.
"I really screwed this up, didn't I?"
He nodded and sucked his lips into his mouth, probably to keep from saying the wrong thing. The looks he was giving, had her on the verge of tears and close to begging forgiveness at his feet.
She pulled his bottom lip back out with her thumb and kissed him.
"How can I make this up to you?" she asked softly.
He curled over and laid his head on her belly. She draped an arm over him and stroked his hair with the other.
His hand was on her calf, gripping it.
The plane was taxiing down the runway. A moment later they had lifted off and were angled up into the sky where Edward belonged with the other angels.
Once the plane stabilized, flight attendants started handing out drinks and snacks.
Her legs vibrated; he was humming.
Was he that stressed out he was converting numbers into music? Had she done that to him?
"Would you like something to drink?" the flight attendant asked Bella.
"One Sprite and one water, thanks," Bella replied.
Edward's head popped up. "Is the soda for me?"
"No." She gripped his chin softly. "You haven't eaten in a while, and we're in-flight."
His lower lip jutted out. "But you're gonna drink a soda in front of me?"
"How mean do you think I am?" She chuckled. "It's for you to take home. I need to make this up to you somehow." A lame apology seemed lacking, so did a soda, but what else did she have to give?
"You're so good to me!" he squealed and tossed his arms around her.
She hugged him back. "Do you forgive me then?"
"No, not yet, but I do like it when you think about me and how much I want to drink that stuff."
When he sat up, she told him. "Edward . . . I've been thinking."
"About what?" He moved his bangs off his forehead. Was he sweaty?
"I think we need to wait . . . I mean I want to, but let's wait," she went quieter, "to sleep together."
He stiffened. "I'm ready. I'm not a child anymore."
"I know, I know . . ." She patted his knee. "It's just that, I've already had you breaking so many rules. I already worry I've corrupted you, and your purity is one of the things I treasure most about you. If I were to destroy that for my own selfish reasons, then I'd . . ."
His eyes sagged. "You think I'm ugly?"
"God no!" she blurted, then sat back in her seat and made sure to scoot closer to him. "I want you more than any one I've ever wanted in my entire life."
"Then why?" he asked in a hushed voice, seemingly more aware of others around them. His eyes were filled with anguish.
She was proud of the way he adapted so fast, regardless of how he might be all twisted up inside. It showed he could focus externally and be self-aware. "I have so many things I struggle to forgive myself for . . . I don't want any more of them to involve you."
He stared, and his brow crinkled. "I think I understand."
"Yeah. You're saying you want me to wait until we're married. That means you've said yes." He took her hand, entwined it with his and settled it in his lap. His whole back loosened and he relaxed into his seat with a dreamy look on his face.
"I have no choice, do I?" She chuckled.
"Nope. You're my Bella, and I can wait to have you if it means you'll be mine forever," he lilted. "We're marrying."
"Sounds like you're stuck with me," she said, her head swimming. She yawned and her whole body was groggy. She could argue with him later about how he shouldn't settle for broken goods.
He pulled her into his chest. "See why we needed to sit together? You need to sleep."
"I dooo," she said through a long yawn.
"Your dad told me you had nightmares every night and hadn't slept well at all."
"When did you talk to him?" She slumped more into his body.
He tickled her back, drawing the shapes of numbers through her shirt. It made her smile. "When I first got there. I had to listen to him talk about you before he'd let me go up to your room."
"I didn't realize you had much of a conversation," she mumbled. Her eyelids drooped.
"There are a lot of things you probably don't realize about me, because I am full of surprises," he said.
That was the last thing she heard because sleep finally took hold and didn't let go until they were an hour from home.
When she woke, there were two green eyes on her face.
"I love watching you sleep. When we're married and living together, I'm gonna watch you all the time."
"You're creeping me out," she said, chuckling and wiping the sleep out of her eyes.
There was a tickle at her navel.
She looked down and saw Edward's naughty hand had made its way inside her shirt.
"How long has that been there?" she asked.
"Not long enough." He smirked.
"What else did you do while I was sleeping? Any exploring I should know about?"
"Nothing to talk about," he said, biting back his growing grin. "Besides, I'd rather show you later . . ."
Not much to say except you all continue to blow me way with your amazing feedback and positive reviews. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And a million hugs to my beta, SunflowerFran and my pre-readers, Amandac3, Paxson Adkins and Dinia Steel.
See ya Friday!