A/N: As a Thanksgiving present, I'm posting my contribution to Fandom For Suicide Awareness. If you're interested in continuing to donate to this cause, you can google To Write Love on Her Arms to find out how. Thank you to everyone who donated! I'm posting for poor Pandora's Box Is Heavy, who didn't get the message in time that she shouldn't read the backstory. Sorry, hon! In this futuretake I promise there's plenty of fluff and even some sex!
This is a POSSIBLE futuretake for my story Wisp. So, just to clarify, this is a POSSIBLE future for her and Edward. I can't guarantee anything at this point because, as I've said before, I don't plot out my fics ahead of time. I write as they come, so I'm just as surprised as you are when each chapter posts. :) Huge thank you to LyricalKris and Hev99 for looking over this for me! LyricalKris was also the inspiration behind this whole thing, because she dared me to write angst at Disneyland.
All standard disclaimers apply.
Wisp (Possible) Futuretake
"I think Esme's sad that she couldn't come."
Edward slipped one hand over the console, taking his eyes off the traffic momentarily as his skin touched soft, well-worn denim. Dark eyes gleamed at him, and he couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. "You're the expert on emotions. I'll defer to whatever you say."
Bella sucked her lower lip into her mouth, her pale cheeks pinking like carnations. He loved that expression on her, and she wore it whenever he gave her a compliment. Consequently, she received an awful lot of compliments. "Well, I just sort of had a feeling, I guess."
"You don't have to qualify your statement." Edward reluctantly pulled his eyes back to the road, but left one hand on her knee. He stroked rhythmically with his thumb, feeling her warmth through the fabric. "I know it's a little late now, but do you have everything in your carry-on that you'll need? Your Ativan? Rescue Remedy?" He didn't really think that naturopathic stuff was good for anything, but she liked it. If it worked for her—even just as a placebo—he certainly wasn't going to complain.
She nodded; he watched the movement of dark hair out of the corner of his eye. "I went through the list three times, and made piles before I put anything in a bag. Rose helped me, too."
"I'm sorry I wasn't there to help."
"You had a meeting. I understand."
Yes, she understood. She was always understanding, but Edward still felt guilty whenever he had to leave her while she did something new. She was still, and probably would always be, nervous in new situations. Lists helped. Preparing as much as possible beforehand helped. But it didn't completely take away the anxiety, and Edward hated when she had to deal with that alone.
"We're almost done with the hard part. I should get galleys back next week but, after that, we'll have some quiet time to ourselves."
"I like that."
Edward squeezed her knee and smiled again. "I know you do."
Both Carlisle and Esme had worried that this trip would be too much for Bella, but it was what she wanted and Edward had faith that she could do this. She wasn't the little girl they'd pulled out of the back of a dirty pickup truck anymore, though she would always have some limitations—memories of the first twenty years of her life. Wisp lingered around the edges of her personality, some days more than others, but the core of her was purely Bella.
Of course Alice had been the one to introduce her to Disney movies. She loved them all, but Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan were her favorites. She said it wasn't just because they were the first books she was ever introduced to, read to her by Rosalie when she still had incredibly limited understanding of what people were saying to her, but Edward suspected that was a big part of it.
So, naturally, when Alice told her there was a place where she could experience her favorite films as if they were real, her heart was set on going.
Edward had to admit that Carlisle and Esme's worries were valid. Bella didn't handle crowds well, and she was uncomfortable around strangers in almost any situation that did not involve her work. She didn't like being out of her comfort zone, and she thrived on routine. When you added in the fact that her knees began to hurt when she had to walk too much, a trip to Disneyland didn't seem like the best idea.
But she wanted it so badly, and one thing definitely had not changed in the six years Edward had known her—he was absolutely incapable of telling her no. She got what she wanted, if it was at all in his power to give. She asked for so little and she deserved so much. And, though he would always worry, Edward was through trying to influence or even predict the future. Bella—his little Wisp—had taught him how foolish that was. With her, nothing was ever certain except that she loved him. She lived every day with joy, doing her best to focus on neither the past nor the future. She was incredibly good at it, and Edward did his best to follow her excellent example. He couldn't change her past, and he had no idea what might happen in their future. In the years they'd been together, he had learned very quickly not to underestimate her...or overestimate. Some things came easy to her and others, he suspected, would always be a struggle. But his girl was stronger than she looked, and if she thought she could do this, he wasn't going to argue with her.
This trip had taken a while, though. Bella had been in no shape to face any sort of crowds for a very long time, and she still had trouble walking long distances. Now that Chase was a sturdy five years old, he was also ready for his first trip, and Edward couldn't say which member of the family was more excited—Bella or Chase. Chase was definitely louder about it. He'd inherited Emmett's lungs, and Edward prayed that his voice changed sooner rather than later. That shrill little-boy voice definitely got on his nerves at times.
Still, Alice, Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie, and Chase all going with them made Edward a little more comfortable. Bella would have plenty of familiar faces around her, people who knew her intimately and would understand how best to help her if she needed it. Plus, they'd decided on the smaller park—Disneyland in California, not Disney World in Florida—and they were going in late February, when crowds would be thin. They planned to stay for a whole week despite the fact that most guidebooks claimed two or three days was more than enough time to see everything; this way they wouldn't have to rush and, if necessary, Bella and Edward could retreat to the privacy of their hotel room without jeopardizing the vacation.
Edward had vague memories of his only trip to Disneyland, when he was eight years old. Carlisle and Esme had taken him sort of as a rite of passage, stating that seeing at least one of the Disney parks was something every American child should do. He didn't really remember much except loving Splash Mountain and waking up the next morning with sore feet, but once she heard about their planned trip Esme pulled out the photos. Bella loved pictures of an eight-year-old Edward in a pair of Mickey ears posing with various characters—the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland was her favorite. She'd convinced Esme to scan the photo and then used it as the background on her phone and her computer. With anyone else, Edward would be more than a little irked. But Bella was different—always had been. Anything that made her smile was fine with him.
As they pulled into Seatac's long-term parking, Edward glanced at Bella again. "You'll let me know if it gets to be too much, right?" he asked cautiously. "I really need you to promise me." The airport and flight worried him more than the actual vacation, to be honest. They couldn't take a break at twenty thousand feet.
Her sweet, accommodating nature never ceased to astound him. Rosalie would have divorced Emmett's ass—or, more likely, never agreed to marry it in the first place—if he ever tried to hover like Edward hovered. But Bella never seemed to mind, and had even admitted shyly at one point that what other women might find obnoxious, she found endearing. It made her feel loved, something she needed constant assurance of. If he could change any one thing about her, it would be her lack of self-esteem. The rest of what other people called flaws were insignificant to him.
Bella let him open her car door and help her out with a bracing hand—rising to her feet from a seated position was still problematic for her—and she nestled against his side. So long accustomed to reading her moods through her facial expressions and body language, Edward didn't even have to ask if she was all right. She was fine—nervous, but fine.
The past few years weren't easy, but she was worth it. This moment was worth it. Her long dark hair was caught up in a messy knot at the nape of her neck, her body encased in comfortable jeans and a sweatshirt for traveling. Wisp's innocence still shone in her eyes, but it was tempered now with better understanding of who and what she was.
"I'll be with you every minute," he promised, breathing the words into her soft hair. "Right by your side." He ran his hands down the silky skin of her arms, rubbing lightly. So beautiful. She might still seem flawed to outsiders, but to him she was absolutely perfect. "You know that there's no pressure, right? We'll take it one step at a time. If you get uncomfortable, we can always head back to the hotel for a while."
Bella nodded. She knew. One thing that had never been in doubt between them was that she called the shots. When she needed something, Edward did his best to provide it.
"I hope it's everything you dream of."
Her hands slid out of his hair and onto his shoulders, and she bit her lip. "I don't know what it will be like," she admitted. "Alice showed me lots of pictures, but I won't know until I see it for myself."
"You know I won't leave you alone to fend for yourself. When you go to the bathroom, I'll stand right outside. When you want food, or your picture taken, I'll be right there beside you."
Bella giggled. Unlike many women, she did not hide from the camera. She seemed fascinated by it, even now. When questioned, she explained shyly that it felt nice to have those visual memories, to know that she had been to these places and done these things. She wasn't locked in a little room, a little house, anymore. The world was open to her.
"Just let me know if you need anything—anything at all," Edward pressed. "I want you to have fun, and you need to be comfortable in order to do that."
Bella leaned up and placed a soft kiss on his nose. "I know," she said. "I'm really looking forward to this—thank you, Edward."
"You deserve everything," he told her honestly. "If this is what you want, I'm more than happy to take a vacation with you."
Her head tipped up, and he felt the brush of her velvet lips against his jaw. "I love you."
"I'm glad, and I love you, too." He smiled at the sparkling excitement in her eyes. "Come on, pretty girl. Let's go on vacation."
The others met them at the gate, Chase looking extremely serious as he guarded his rolling Cars-themed suitcase. "They keep saying not to leave your bags unattended," he explained. "I don't wanna get in trouble."
This was five-year-old Chase's first trip to Disneyland, too—his first flight, in fact. Edward was kind of glad that he had splurged on first class tickets for himself and Bella while the kid with Emmett's lungs and a high-pitched little-boy voice was going to sit between his parents in coach. Not that he didn't like Chase, but that voice got to be a little much after a while.
"Are you excited, Bella?" Chase asked, bouncing on the edge of a plastic airport seat, drumming his feet on his little suitcase. "I'm excited. I want to do everything. Well, almost everything. I don't need to ride the carousel, you can ride a carousel anywhere. And I might be too big for Dumbo, because that's a little-kid ride."
"Son, no one is too big for Dumbo." Emmett leaned back in his own chair.
"Except maybe you." Rosalie eyed his bulk. "If you get stuck inside a fiberglass elephant and can't get out, I'm not claiming you."
"C'mon, babe, it's Dumbo! Everyone has to ride Dumbo."
"It's just a warning. Do with it as you will."
The key to making Bella as comfortable as possible was pre-planning, Edward had discovered. They didn't leave home unless she knew where they were headed, what they planned to do, and who else was going to be there, preferably at least a couple of days in advance. He'd learned the hard way that she did not react well to surprises, even good ones, with the notable exception of presents. This trip, then, had been planned down to the smallest detail. She'd studied pictures online of their hotel and the park itself, and they had a private van waiting to take them from the airport to their lodgings. Edward had decided they would fly into Long Beach airport, a small and quiet alternative to LAX, in the late afternoon. They'd have plenty of time to get to the hotel, get settled, and have some dinner, and Bella could recuperate and prepare mentally for the next day.
"We can get a map, right?" she asked softly, tucking herself under his arm again. "Alice promised they had maps."
"They do, and we'll get one. I won't have you wandering and lost." Not now—not ever again. She had a home and people who loved her.
One of the lasting things Bella had to deal with from her previous life was a lack of any sense of direction. Because she had been kept indoors, often shut in dark rooms, for the first twenty years of her life, the ability to visualize her surroundings and position herself in them had not developed. She got lost frighteningly easily—in friends' houses, in their neighborhood, in her office—until she learned her way around, and even then she often got mixed up. Edward was secretly glad that she insisted on a practice run, as it were, before she had to go anywhere new, and she didn't go wandering around on her own. Maps helped, and he'd promptly taught her to read them once they realized she had no sense of direction, but they weren't always reliable, and neither was the GPS application on her phone.
Now, as they waited for their flight to board, he uncovered his tablet and called up a digital copy of the colorful, official Disneyland map. "Here," he said, holding it between them. "I'm surprised Alice hasn't shown this to you yet."
"She did," Bella said, studying the image, little concentration lines marring her perfect brow, "but I have a hard time seeing it." She tapped her temple.
"You'll do better once you see it with your own eyes," he promised. How someone with such an eye for detail and such perfect drawing skills could lack direction—wasn't that related to perspective somehow?—Edward didn't know. All he knew was that he wasn't letting her get lost anywhere, even the so-called happiest place on earth.
"It'll be fine," Alice said, returning from the concourse Starbucks laden with cups. She handed one to Rosalie and Jasper, behind her, gave a small cup to Chase. "We'll all be together. We'll ride rides, eat junk food, and watch fireworks. What's there to be afraid of?"
"Not too much junk food." Rosalie cut her eyes toward the hot chocolate Chase was currently guzzling.
"It's his first trip to Disneyland—let the boy have some fun." Alice stuck her tongue out at her friend.
"Fine, but when he's both bouncing off the walls and sick to his stomach at two in the morning, I'm putting him in your hotel room."
"I won't be sick," Chase said confidently, raising his head. There was no lid on his paper cup, and he had a whipped cream moustache. "I can handle my sugar."
"You, my dear," Rosalie said, "are definitely your father's son."
"What can I say?" Emmett grinned. "I make good kids."
"Do you want anything, Bella?" Alice asked. "The flight's so short they won't even give you food in first class."
Bella shook her head, smiling faintly. "I'm okay."
But Edward could feel the anxiety slowly rising in her body, her soft frame stiffening against him. She only ever turned down food if she was nervous or sick. "Remember to breathe," he said, winding his fingers around hers. "You're safe, and I'll be with you the whole time. No one will bother you."
"I'm afraid people will think I'm weird," she admitted, chewing on her lower lip.
"No one will be paying attention to you. People are incredibly self-centered that way, which in this case is nice. Plus, even if someone does think you're weird, what's the worst that could happen? You'll never have to see them again." Classic CBT. She carried little flipcards with her wherever she went, in case she needed a reminder to correct her faulty thinking patterns.
"Yeah. But I'm still nervous."
"I know." He could feel it, and he wished he could do something about it, but she wanted this trip so badly. Bella had expressly told him that he was not to even suggest canceling or cutting it short, no matter what.
"We haven't really gone on vacation before."
No, they hadn't. It wasn't a possibility for most of the time she'd been with him, and even once she was doing better he hadn't really thought about it. They'd gone camping several times with Emmett and Rosalie—Alice was not the outdoorsy type—but Edward didn't really consider a couple of days in a tent a vacation. He also wasn't a huge fan of seeing Bella sleeping on the ground, even with a sleeping pad. She'd had enough of that in her life, and he'd far rather pamper her than watch her roughing it.
Rosalie, though—seeing Rose without a functioning bathroom for several days was definitely an experience.
"Well, now we will." Edward turned his head, resting his lips against her hair. "If you decide you like it, we can try to go other places. But there's no pressure. I'm just as happy at home with you."
She hummed her agreement, pouring over the map until boarding for first class was called.
"Window or aisle?" Edward asked as they found their seats. He put his carry-on in the overhead bin, but Bella's was small enough that she could tuck it under her seat for easy access.
"Window," she said quickly, sliding into the big black seat and gluing her eyes to the tiny window. Edward wasn't fooled—she wanted him as a barrier between her and the other people on the plane more than she wanted to actually admire the view.
Not that there was much of a view right now. It was a typical Washington February—grey and cold, almost dark as night even though it was only four in the afternoon. It was supposedly sunny and hovering around seventy in Anaheim, which made Alice extremely happy. She grinned at them as she passed by on her way to coach, but Bella was studiously ignoring the slowly-moving shuffle of people, focusing on the view out the window.
"Try some Rescue Remedy," Edward urged.
"I'm okay," she promised. "I want to do this. I'll be okay."
And she was.
She didn't at all like takeoff, squeezing Edward's arm until he swore she cut off circulation to his hand, and she didn't want to interact with the flight attendant, which was normal for her. Edward suggested that she pretend to be asleep when she saw the woman coming their way, and that seemed to help.
The flight was just under three hours and Bella spent most of it curled in her seat, alternately looking at the Disneyland map and at a website that listed the various restaurants inside the park, along with their menus.
"What's a churro?" she asked, furrowing her brow. "I see them everywhere."
"It's…like a donut, sort of," Edward tried to explain. "Covered with cinnamon and sugar. I'm sure you'll like them." Almost definitely she would. She had quite a sweet tooth, and Edward had every intention of indulging it.
She asked him questions about the food items she didn't know for the rest of the flight, and Edward answered the best that he could. Some of them were mysterious even to him. She seemed particularly intrigued by cotton candy, something he found extremely difficult to explain. He couldn't wait to watch her try some. It would be as entertaining as—if not more than—her first sip of soda.
Bella refused to use the airplane lavatory—not an unwise decision—but she seemed fairly composed when the plane finally touched down and they were free to disembark. She shouldered the messenger bag she'd chosen as a carry-on, grasped Edward's hand tightly, and followed him into the quiet Long Beach airport.
The place was even smaller than Edward thought, and it took no time at all to get their luggage and climb into the van waiting for them, even with Chase and Emmett in tow.
"I'm getting Mickey ears," Chase said firmly. "Everyone has to have Mickey ears. Are you getting Mickey ears, Bella?"
"I don't know," Bella hedged. "Maybe?"
"There are better souvenirs," Alice assured her, "I went online and looked. There's a nice jewelry store on Main Street, and—"
Edward tuned her out. If she and Jasper wanted to pay Disneyland's ticket prices just for the opportunity to shop, that was their problem, not his.
"Do you want to wander around the Downtown Disney area tonight?" Alice suggested.
Edward cast a cautious glance at Bella. She was pressed against him, and when she tipped her head up and met his eyes he knew what she wanted. "I think we'll stay in tonight," he said, winding his arm around her. "You guys can go, but it's been a long day for us."
Bella never said no to pizza, and ordering it into a hotel room only added novelty to the junk food. Edward relaxed in pajama pants on the bed, his beautiful girl cross-legged beside him, watching the local news as she ate. She liked Hawaiian pizza best, and he didn't argue with her even though he didn't really care for pineapple on his pizza. This was her first vacation, the only place she had ever asked him to take her, and he was going to make this trip as perfect for her as he possibly could.
"Have you decided what you want to do first tomorrow?" he asked, picking off a piece of pineapple from his own pizza and offering it to her. She took it from his fingers with her perfect, soft mouth, giving his thumb a playful lick to catch the warm juice.
"I don't know," she said, chewing thoughtfully. "I'd kind of like to stay in a group at least at first. You don't think the others will mind, do you?"
"Nope. They're all here for you, just like me."
"Then...whatever Chase wants is fine," she said with a shrug. "I would usually say to take it one thing at a time, but it doesn't look like Main Street is anything but shopping."
"Well, we could save Main Street for later and start at...I don't know. It kind of looks like a big wheel. Clockwise or counter-clockwise?"
Bella furrowed her brow in the way that told him she didn't understand his words. He pointed to the tablet on the bed, where the map was still displayed. "Clockwise," he said, circling in the right direction. "Like the way a clock moves. Or counter-clockwise, which is the opposite."
She cocked her head to the side, and Edward let her puzzle it out for herself for a minute. Even small directional puzzles, like aligning the motion of his fingers with the memory of the hands of a clock, were difficult for her. "So," she said finally, "either we start here or here?"
"We can start anywhere you want. We could even pick out the things you're most excited to see and do them first, no matter where they are."
"Well..." Bella took another bite and looked at the map again. "I want to see Peter Pan and Alice. They're my favorites."
"That's Fantasyland, right here." Edward pointed without getting his greasy fingers on the display, and Bella nodded.
"And the big boat sounds like fun. I've never been on a boat before."
"You've been on a ferry. That's a boat."
"Oh, yeah." Bella wrinkled her nose. "It feels different when you're sitting in the car."
"I'm sure it will," Edward agreed. "What else are you most excited to see?"
"Winnie the Pooh," she answered quickly. "Alice said that's close to Splash Mountain. I'm not sure about fast rides, Edward. What if I don't like them?"
"If you don't like them, you don't have to ride them," Edward said firmly.
"But Chase wants to."
"Chase may not be tall enough for the fast rides—I don't know what the requirements are. But just because he wants to doesn't mean you have to. We can ride only the slow ones if that's what you want."
"I want to try," she decided. "But I'm nervous."
"Where is your nervousness, on a scale of one to ten?"
"Umm..." Bella thought, wiping her hands on a napkin. "Like a four, maybe? Not too bad, but my stomach is fluttery."
"A four isn't too bad," Edward agreed. "You've tried things that made you a four before."
"Yeah." Bella smiled. "Thank you, Edward. I'm really happy to be here."
"Let's hope you'll be even happier tomorrow."
Edward made love to his girlfriend that night in their hotel room, tangled in soft white sheets, her body hot and sweet, moving with his. He kissed her mouth, ran gentle lips carefully down her pale throat. He touched her in every way he was unable to for so long, both of them afraid, she of pain, he of crossing lines that shouldn't be crossed.
But all that was behind them as she moved over him—by far his favorite position—and he moved with her, within her, hands twined, achingly deep and slow.
"I love you, Edward," she whispered, running her hands up his arms and down his chest. Her little pink nipples were lusciously hard, and he couldn't keep his hands to himself. He ran his knuckles over the puckered sweetness before moving his wrists, stroking with his thumbs. She loved being touched, but had asked him never to knead and pull at her breasts "like bread dough," in her words. So he didn't, just as he never bit her, and never got rough. She wasn't the broken child he'd pulled out of a pickup truck anymore—not by a long shot—but there were still some lines she would never be able to cross.
"I love you," he murmured, speaking into the rush of sweat and skin, her body and his twined so closely together that he could feel the strong, rushing beat of her heart. She was the most beautiful, resilient, and precious person he'd ever met. Edward knew he could spend the rest of his life loving her and never feel like he'd wasted a moment of it.
She curled sweetly against him once they were satisfied, still so small and delicate, still more than perfect. He tucked her close against his side, reaching for her knee and hitching her leg over his. There was something about the feel of her body draped over his, hot with sleep, dewy in the aftermath of sex, and he loved that she didn't deny him.
"We have to set an alarm," she mumbled against his skin without attempting to move an inch. "I don't want to be late."
"Don't worry," Edward groaned, already close to sleep, "Chase's here, remember? He's enough of an alarm for anyone."
And he was, too. By the time morning rolled around, Bella was tucked firmly in Edward's spooned grasp, and she had changed her tune as he knew she would. Bella loved sleep—swore she could taste it like syrup on her tongue—and rousing her before she wanted to be up was always a difficult task.
Luckily, their room did not adjoin anyone else's, and Chase didn't have a key—otherwise Emmett's son might have seen more than he needed to of his aunt and uncle. As it was, the incessant rap of little knuckles on the door and the shrill little-boy voice would not be silenced.
"Bella? Bella, Edward? Are you awake? It's time for Disneyland! Bella? Bella?"
Edward could only hope that, as the hotel was right across the street from Disneyland, most other guests would be understanding of the noise.
Bella rolled onto her stomach with a soft whine of complaint, pulling the blankets with her. Edward smiled at his girl, loving her sleepy, grumpy noises. He reached out and tickled her ear, eliciting another grumble.
"Don't make me eat all of the pancakes without you," he teased.
"Sleep," she grumbled.
"Bella...little Wisp. Don't you remember where we are? Your nephew is calling for you."
She turned her head toward him and one sleepy brown eye opened. "Chase?"
"Do you know any other obnoxious little boys?" Edward brushed a kiss across her forehead. "Disneyland, remember?"
"Mm." She reached up and dug her knuckles into her eyes, rubbing furiously. "Disneyland. Mm-hm. Is that Chase?"
"The ungodly racket? Yes. Give me a kiss and I'll go shut him up."
She tipped her head willingly toward him, holding up her mouth to be kissed, and Edward brushed his lips against her sweetness. "Good morning."
Bella merely smiled, then buried herself in the blankets again as Edward pulled on a pair of lounge pants and went to answer the door.
"Bella! Oh, it's you."
"Yes, it's me," Edward said, a hint of amusement in his voice. "I love you, too."
Chase ignored the sarcasm—or, more likely, it floated right over his head. "Where's Bella? We need to go!"
"You do know that the earlier we leave the hotel, the longer you have to wait in line," Edward said. He blocked the open doorway so the kid couldn't sneak past him to harass Bella.
"But we need to go now," Chase insisted. "Alice said—"
"There you are." Emmett appeared from around a corner, his hair sticking up every which way, sleep still in his eyes. He jogged toward them and grabbed Chase, hoisting him over his shoulder like a sack of flour. "I thought we were going to go check out the breakfast spread. This sure doesn't look like breakfast to me."
"Dad!" Chase kicked his legs. They were getting long.
"Nope, don't 'dad' me." Emmett poked at the back of his son's knees with his free hand, making him screech. "If you want to go to Disneyland anytime soon, you'll leave Edward and Bella alone. They'll give us a call when they're ready to leave."
Part of Edward wanted to tell Emmett that it was okay and they'd been assuming Chase would wake them up anyway. But he knew better by now than to take Chase's side in anything, so he wisely kept his mouth shut. "We will," he promised instead. "We'll call as soon as we're ready to leave."
Bella was in the bath when Edward closed the door, and she smiled at him when he peeked in. "You sure you want to get all clean now? Something tells me you might be wanting a soak at the end of the day."
"Then I'll have another bath then." Her smile broadened into something sweet and playful. "I'm on vacation."
Edward had to laugh. "Yes," he agreed. "You certainly are."
"Besides, I didn't feel right going to Disneyland smelling like sex."
"I'll do it. Dare me, and I'll do it."
Bella stretched out in the big tub. "Take a bath with me instead."
Who was he to turn down an invitation like that?
Bella's nerves were showing more by the time they were ready to leave the hotel. She had barely nibbled at the big buffet breakfast, which wasn't at all like her, and her face was pale as she took Edward's hand and they stepped into the California sunshine.
"Maybe we should have gone out last night," he suggested, watching her carefully. "Just walked around so you could get a feel for the place."
"I'm okay," she promised, squeezing his hand as they waited for the light on Harbor Boulevard to change. Wanting what she called an "everyday" Disney vacation, Bella had turned down the offer of an expensive Disney hotel, instead opting for one of the mid-priced ones right across from the main entrance. Edward was happy that, at the very least, they wouldn't be a Monorail ride away from their hotel if she needed a break. The walk from the hotel to the gate was negligible.
"Look, Edward," Bella said, pointing to the Disneyland sign across the street. "Can you believe we're really here?"
It was hard to believe they'd come so far, Edward agreed. Not in miles, but in something that mattered so much more. Bella was his girl, his love, the one person he could count on to always be on his side. She wasn't a scared little girl anymore, but in some ways she would always be his little Wisp.
"Bella!" a shrill voice shrieked, and the sound of pounding sneakers pelted their way.
"Careful," Edward warned, holding an arm out to catch the boy barreling their way. Chase knew he couldn't jump on Bella like he jumped on the rest of the family, but that didn't mean his six-year-old brain would remember when faced with the promise of Disneyland. "Bella, we're here! We're really here!"
Alice's phone was out, as usual, taking video as the light changed and the group moved across the street and under the Disneyland sign. Chase grabbed Bella's hand, tugging her forward. "Isn't it perfect, Bella? Isn't it just like you always dreamed?"
This early in the morning, only a few scattered people walked leisurely along the sidewalk under the Disney sign. Most were headed the same way, toward the park. Tall, glossy green shrubs gave way to a wide paved area, and the sound of piped Disney music reached their ears. "Oh!" Chase squealed. "I know that song!"
Edward kept a sharp eye on Bella, holding the hand that Rose's kid wasn't tugging. Her eyes were wide with awe as she gazed at the buildings behind tastefully-decorated walls and fencing. From here the castle wasn't visible, but the tall Twilight Zone building was, and Edward saw the top of what looked like Space Mountain, too.
"It's okay," he said when Bella tensed as they approached the security checkpoint. "They're just going to look in everyone's bags, just like Alice warned you they would."
Bella's little messenger bag didn't have much in it—her Ativan and Rescue Remedy, a small bottle of sunscreen, her wallet and phone, and a digital camera that had been Garret's parting gift to her when he retired. The cast member manning the security checkpoint barely glanced inside before wishing them a good day. Both Alice and Rose took considerably longer to get through the bag-check, though admittedly it wasn't Rosalie's fault. Her big bag mostly contained stuff for her son...including the toddler leash she threatened him with on a regular basis.
Once through security, they found themselves in a wide, bricked plaza. The gates to Disneyland were to their right, California Adventure to their left, and the Downtown Disney district in front of them. By mutual decision—and Chase's furious whining—they had already decided to spend the first day at the original Disneyland.
"Are you ready?" Edward asked, squeezing Bella's hand gently as they headed for the haphazard lines of people waiting to enter the park.
Excited brown eyes glittered at him, paired with a perfect smile. "So ready."
The gates had only just opened and started accepting people into the park when they reached the entrance plaza. This trip was supposed to be for both Bella and Chase, but they were such different people with such different personalities that it was hard to keep track of them both at once. Chase wanted to barrel ahead, rushing into the scattered crowd moving under the elevated train tracks and into the park proper, while Bella walked slowly, her eyes big as she committed every detail to that fabulous memory of hers. Emmett latched onto the back of his son's collar with one big fist as Chase tried to push forward.
"Easy, squirt. Remember what we talked about? You gotta pace yourself. Nothing's going anywhere, I swear."
Bella clutched Edward's hand with one of hers, the other clasped around a colorful folded map of the park. Alice had tried to coax her into using the phone app instead, but Bella said she didn't want to spend her entire trip staring at her phone. Edward didn't blame her. Besides, despite her worry, this was an amusement park. If she stayed with the group, how lost could she possibly get?
They walked through the airy little tunnel under the train tracks, the whole group keeping to Bella's pace despite Chase imploring them to hurry, and emerged onto Main Street. Bella's big eyes went wide as saucers, the beautiful brown sparkling like Edward had never seen before.
"I know this song!" Chase shrieked. "It's from Brother Bear!"
It wasn't a movie Edward was familiar with—certainly not one of Bella's favorites—but Chase began to dance along to the upbeat number as much as he could with his father's fist still tangled in his shirt collar. That boy, Edward thought with a roll of his eyes, was a mini-Emmett, no doubt about it. There was very little Rosalie in him at all. His dark hair was smooth rather than Emmett's rough-and-curly mop and he had a certain baleful glance that was all Rosalie, but other than that he was his father in miniature.
"This has to be the most beautiful, the most peaceful place I've ever been to," Chase belted, waving his arms as he twisted and turned as far as his father's hand would let him. Normally this kind of behavior garnered strange looks out in public, but here people only smiled indulgently and continued on their way. Edward guessed that a six-year-old singing along with the canned music was probably fairly tame for this place.
Bella's eyes were bright with color and life as they walked slowly into the fantasy turn-of-the-century town replica that was Main Street. Edward didn't think he'd ever get tired of watching her look like that. She clutched the strap of her messenger bag tightly in a white-knuckled fist, and it was obvious that her eyes didn't miss a single detail. Her nose twitched, chest rising and falling as she sucked in deep breaths of the sugar-scented air. "What is that?" she asked, her head turning toward the warm, syrupy scent.
Alice pointed to their left, and Bella stepped up onto the sidewalk to peer into a big window behind which a man dressed in white was making fresh waffle cones. Edward breathed in the dark, warm sugar-smell, watching her keen eyes take in the process from thick batter to flat waffle to round cone. The confectioner's hands worked with quick confidence and skill, and even Chase stopped whining for a moment to look.
"I don't care about the ice cream," Bella breathed, "I want to just eat that."
The ice cream shop wasn't open for business yet, but Edward vowed that if she still wanted a cone later, she would get one. Fuck whatever the guy behind the counter thought.
"Do we have a plan yet?" Jasper asked as they neared the end of the street, where it opened up into a big circular hub with the castle right in front of them.
"Whoa." Emmett stopped walking and cocked his head to the side, staring at the fairy-tale building. "I didn't think it would be so..."
"Pink?" Rose deadpanned.
It was awfully pink, something Edward hadn't remembered or taken note of in promotional materials. The lower half was grey, but the upper was pink with blue roofs.
"Let's get a picture before the crowds get any thicker." Alice herded them all into position in front of the castle, then pushed her camera into the hands of an unsuspecting passerby, instructing him to take a serious picture and a funny one.
"Just smile," Edward suggested when Bella squirmed against his side and tried to hide her face in his shoulder. She didn't mind having her picture taken, but she didn't like making funny faces at the camera. Emmett and Chase both stuck their tongues out and twisted their faces into grotesque shapes and Alice jumped into Jasper's arms, narrowly avoiding being dropped.
"Just so you know, when they act like this I refuse to acknowledge that they're mine," Rose said. She put her arm casually around Bella's shoulders and the two leaned their heads against each other. The man with the camera pressed the button, and then handed it back to Alice.
"It's not so bad," Bella said, turning around to stare at the castle again. "I would have chosen different colors maybe, but this is supposed to be Sleeping Beauty's castle. She's the one with the fairies who argue over pink and blue, so maybe it's fitting."
"What are we doing first, squirt?" Emmett asked, grabbing his kid by the collar again. "I swear, if Bella wasn't here I'd have you on that toddler leash in a heartbeat."
Edward made a face at Emmett, who made one right back. Chase was far too old for a toddler leash anyway.
"Uh..." Chase pulled at the map in Rose's hand. "Lemme see, mama!"
"What was that?"
"Lemme see it please, mama."
Rose released the crumpled brochure to her son, and Chase pored over it with all the attention of a master tactician planning a battle despite the fact that he could barely read. "Peter Pan," he said finally, giving up on the map and shoving it back toward his mother. "Bella likes Peter Pan, and so do I. Let's do that one first."
"That way," Alice said decisively, pointing them through the castle.
"Is that okay with you?" Edward and Bella lagged behind the others a little, peering over the edge of the drawbridge at the ducks in the moat.
"Yeah," Bella said with a smile. "I told you, I'm fine. Today I'm happy to do what Chase wants, and just see what everything looks like."
"You let me know if there's anything at all you want or need."
She touched his cheek gently, her thumb rasping against his not-quite-cleanshaven skin. "Just stay with me, please? That's all I need."
"Baby, you know that's something you never have to worry about."
They made it through the castle, Chase sparing not a glance at the little shops inside, and he pointed victoriously at a clock tower to their right. "There, dad! Right there!"
The line didn't look too long, even though it folded back on itself several times. They entered the queue, and Bella stared at the plastic pirate ships hung on cables as other tourists climbed in and out at the loading dock. Ambient music from the movie swirled around them.
Edward could feel the excitement buzzing in Bella's frame. Peter Pan was the first book Rosalie ever read to her, and one of her first Disney movies. It was fitting, he thought, that Chase had chosen it for their first Disney ride.
Most of the pirate ships had plain black sails, but a few were different colors or had a skull-and-crossbones motif. "I want a skull ship!" Chase announced, predictably. "And a pirate hat," he added, spying another kid with one. "Dad, I want a pirate hat!"
"You get one souvenir per day, kiddo, so you might want to think about waiting until you know what else they have," Rose interrupted, placing her hand on Chase's bobbing head.
"What kind do you want?" Edward asked Bella as the line inched forward. "Pirate ship, I mean—not a hat." He actually knew exactly what souvenirs he was buying as presents for Bella, and hoping that Alice would help distract her to keep it a surprise.
"The kind that I won't fall out of," she murmured. "Edward, are those really going to hold us?"
"Yes. Look at all those people getting on and off—they're plenty bigger than you and me. We'll be fine."
She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, chewing on the soft flesh. Edward slipped his arms around her from behind, pulling her gently against his chest. "You're fine, little Wisp." His voice was a sigh breathed into her ear. "I've got you."
"You've always got me." Bella turned her head to the side, tucking herself under his chin in the way he loved. Nothing about this would ever, ever grow old.
The line moved quicker than Edward would have guessed; the people working the ride obviously knew what they were doing. Chase climbed into a pirate ship between his parents, and Alice managed to snap a photo of them before they sailed off into the ride. She and Jasper got into the next one, and then there was no one between Edward and Bella and their turn.
"Do you want to go first?" Edward asked into her hair. Their ship stopped and a cast member held it steady, motioning for them to enter.
Bella stepped hesitantly forward, her body beginning to tremble as the vehicle shifted under her. Edward kept a hand on her back, settling next to her on the plastic seat, his hand resting on her knee as the lap bar came down.
"There," he said, rubbing the soft denim of her jeans, "that wasn't so bad. Now relax—this isn't a fast ride."
"There were babies in line," Bella noted just as their pirate ship began to move. "If babies can do it, so can I."
The first scene they floated into was the Darlings' nursery, and then they flew out the open nursery window and into the starry skies of London. It was too dark to see Bella properly, so Edward slipped his arm around her back. She was tense and trembling, but he didn't think it was with fear. Passing through a section slightly better-lighted gave him a glimpse of her face, and he knew in that moment that she was fine.
Her mouth was puckered in a tiny O, her big eyes huge in her delicate face as she stared at the scenes laid out before them. First London, complete with little automobile lights on the city streets, and then, after passing through an area of blackness, Neverland came into view.
Even Edward had to admit that it was lovely. Somehow they'd managed to get a 3D effect with pinpricks of stars around them, the island radiant and glowing amidst the blackness of the "night". Lights danced in a simulation of rushing water, the mountain shone in shades of purple and green, and there was even a rainbow over the lagoon.
Next came a scene of Skull Rock, Tiger Lily the Indian Princess caught by Captain Hook, then a scene of Peter Pan dueling with Hook on the pirate ship while Wendy walked the plank. Edward only spared a glance for the ride, much more enthralled by Bella's reactions. Always expressive, at the moment she looked...radiant. Like a new world had opened up before her yet again. Fantasy and reality met and blended together in the sweet innocence of whimsy.
The ride ended fairly quickly. "Bella?" Edward said softly as they waited to be unloaded. "Bella, we have to get off now. Are you okay?"
Her deep eyes were glassy when she looked at him, her cheeks alabaster-pale.
"Bella?" He touched her trembling hands, locked firmly on the lap bar. "Bella, talk to me, honey."
Her lips parted, but no sound came out. She licked them, swallowed several times, and blinked forcefully. "Again," she whispered finally.
Edward exhaled, a slow smile spreading across his face. "Okay. Whatever you want, Bella."
Chase wasn't averse to riding a second time, and the rest of the adults were indulgent. The line was still fairly short, and when they got off again Bella was smiling. She hugged Edward's arm tightly, burying her face in his shoulder.
"I didn't know it would be so...so much," she said.
Edward had to agree. The experience wasn't "real" by any means—the too-bright colors and cartoonish quality of the experience kept it from being terribly realistic, but the bombardment of colors and lights and sounds combined with the sensation of motion was, like Bella said, so much. It transcended reality, in an odd sort of way.
"Hey academic," Jasper said, turning his head, "don't start analyzing Disneyland. You're here to experience, not to study."
Edward started to flip him the bird, then remembered where he was and stopped. That was going to be a difficult impulse to ignore for the next week.
"What next, squirt?" Emmett asked. "I see the carousel."
Chase wrinkled his freckled nose. "Dad, I said no. You can ride a carousel anywhere."
"Why don't we just start walking and see what's next?" Rosalie suggested. Chase didn't immediately protest, so they kept walking away from the castle.
Bella kept a tight grip on Edward's hand, looking around with wide eyes, turning to stare at everything—the moving carousel with its multitude of white horses, the Bavarian fairy-tale architecture of the buildings, the back of the pink-and-blue castle. A muted gasp left her lips and she tugged at his arm, pointing toward the castle. "Edward!" she squeaked. "Look!"
"What?" He whirled, trying to see what had startled her. If she was still talking, it couldn't be that bad. When she was frightened she withdrew into herself, sometimes for days. "Bella, what's wrong?"
She pointed wordlessly to a tall window covered by crimson curtains. "I swear, she was just there!"
"Who, baby? Who was there?"
Sure enough, a moment later the curtains opened and the figure of the wicked queen from Snow White came into view. Chase sneered with little-boy derision, but Bella was enchanted. She insisted on pulling out her camera and snapping a photo, timing it just right so she got a clear shot of the queen before the curtains fell again.
The rest of the group was a few yards away, looking at the entrance to the next ride.
"I don't know any Mr. Toad," Chase said as Edward and Bella caught up. "Do you, Bella?"
"From a book," she said, "not a movie. Wind in the Willows. I like it a lot."
"You like everything you read," Chase said dismissively. "How will I know if I like the ride?"
"What's not to like? It's a ride. C'mon, kid." Emmett herded his son gently toward the short line. It wound its way through a small, shaded garden, then into a building designed to look like a stately manor house. On the outside of the building, frescoes of cartoon characters were etched into the faux stonework.
"Mr...Mole. Mr...Badger. Mr...Rat?" Chase looked up at Bella with wide eyes. She was a fount of literary knowledge; the only one, in his eyes, who could possibly answer questions about books. "Who are these guys, Bella? Will I like the ride? What's the story about?"
Bella thought for a moment, as she usually did. Talking wasn't foreign to her anymore, but it still could be difficult at times. "I don't know if you'll like the ride or not," she said slowly. "In the book, Mr. Toad is..." She paused, twirling her hand in the way that meant she was searching for the right words. "He gets...obsessed? I think that's right. He gets obsessed with cars, and spends lots of money buying them, but he's not a good driver and he crashes all the time. His friends try to help him, but he does some bad stuff and even goes to jail for a while."
Chase didn't look convinced, but he didn't insist on getting out of line either. He pestered his dad about when they might come across some fast rides as the line moved them slowly closer to the vehicles. These were old-fashioned cars—really old-fashioned, Edward thought, like from the beginning of motorized transportation. They sat on a track rather than hung suspended like the pirate ships, which he hoped would make Bella more comfortable.
The inside of the building was decorated like a fine manor as well, with arched ceilings and chandeliers. There was a mural of the characters on one wall, and a statue of Mr. Toad sitting in a beveled window. Edward agreed with Chase—he didn't recognize these characters, either.
The cars weren't really big enough for Rose, Chase, and Emmett to sit side by side, but they squashed anyway, Chase insisting that he got to sit behind the wheel. He seized the steering wheel and the car lurched off into the ride.
"Are you driving, or am I?" Jasper teased, grinning at Alice.
"I am," she said definitively. "If we let you drive, we'd be late."
"Go on," Edward urged, letting Bella slip behind the steering wheel. "It's not a real car; you're fine." Eventually he hoped to get her driving, but right now she just wasn't there yet.
The ride vehicle moved smoothly forward, doors opening to swallow them into the ride. Immediately Edward felt lost. He didn't know the story, and he didn't remember this ride from when he'd been here as a child. They were driving through the manor house, crashing into everything—not literally, but it was clear what the special effects meant—then out in parkland, scaring sheep. The ride was faster and jerkier than Peter Pan, and Edward saw Bella's hands clutch the steering wheel tightly, her face tense, body rigid as they swerved around another corner. Now they were in a city, and a cop was yelling at them to stop. They almost drove off the end of a pier and, true to Bella's words about the book, ended up in court and then jail, which they drove out of...only to be hit by an oncoming train. There was a flash of light, a moment of blackness...
...and they ended up in...hell?
It was hot and steamy, little demons bouncing along the walls and a big, smoke-breathing dragon-thing hovering over them. Bella squealed, her cry drowned out by the noise of the ride, and buried herself tight in Edward's shirt.
Thankfully, that was the end of the ride. They emerged into sunshine, and Edward picked her up carefully as soon as the lap bar rose. She wrapped her legs around him, whimpering, her cheek wet against his neck.
"Hey," Edward said softly. "Hey, little Wisp, it's okay." He shared a glance with the others, their faces equally sober.
"That was cool!" Chase decided. "Let's go on that one again!"
"We're not going on that one again," Rosalie said firmly. "Come on—I see spinning teacups." She put her hand to her ear in the classic "call me" pose, only turning away once Edward nodded.
"Come on, little Wisp," he crooned. "Let's sit down. You're fine. Everything's fine."
Finding a bench somewhat out of the flow of traffic, Edward sat and shifted Bella until she was seated across his lap rather than straddling him. He stroked her hair, letting her huddle against him as much as she wanted. Since he really didn't know what the trigger in there had been, he just held her and let her deal with it in her own time.
"We won't go back in there," he promised, whispering the words against her scalp. "Was it too fast? Too loud? Too jerky?" Probably all three.
After a few minutes, Bella's body relaxed minutely. It wasn't much, but it was enough that Edward felt safe trying to talk to her. "Hey, little Wisp," he murmured. "I'm sorry you're upset. Can you tell me what number you're at?"
She shifted in his arms, shakily showing him both hands.
"A seven? You've been at a seven before, and you got through it. I know it feels bad now, but I promise it's going to pass."
She nodded, settling back against him.
"There, pretty girl. We can sit here for as long as you need. Can you hear the music from the carousel? I think I smell chocolate, too." Actually, the smell of sugar was pervasive. He wouldn't be surprised if they had some sort of secret system pumping that shit into the air.
They sat for a while, Edward smoothing his fingers through her long hair and down her warm back, the sounds of the crowd and the rides fading into the background. Her soft body and gentle, shuddering breaths consumed him, and he waited patiently for her to explain just what had happened.
"I don't like that ride," she whispered finally. Full sentences were good—they meant that she wasn't retreating completely into herself. "I don't want to do it again."
"You don't have to. You don't even have to look at it if you don't want to."
She sniffled against his shoulder, slowly digging through her bag for a tissue.
"Do you want to talk to me about it?" Edward asked cautiously. "Or would you rather wait?"
Bella considered as she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "I don't want to remember."
"Do you remember what your therapist said? You can't help remembering. What you can do is choose what to do with the memories."
They sat in silence for a little longer. Edward wasn't quite sure what to do. When she got like this, she could sit in his lap for hours—almost as if they were back at square one. He really didn't mind, but he also had no idea if that was what she wanted—what she needed—right now.
"Do we need to go back to the hotel?" he asked softly. "It's okay if we do. We can sit quietly for a while and then try again later."
But Bella shook her head against his shoulder, and he felt her resolve strengthen as her body tightened against him. "No," she said, and she inhaled a deep, shuddering breath. "No, I want to be here."
"Okay, sweet girl. Do you want to talk about it right now, or do you want to be distracted?"
A damp giggle bubbled against his shoulder, and then Edward saw wet, beautiful brown eyes peep up at him. "Distract me," she said. "Please?"
Edward grinned. That he could do. "Well," he said, "the two things that distract you best are kisses and food." He found the soft underside of her chin with his crooked knuckle, tipping her face gently toward his.
Her lips were warm, moist and lightly salted with tears. They were as familiar to him as the feel of her hand wrapped in his, the subtle weight of her in his lap. Edward kissed her softly, letting his mouth linger, feeling the tension slowly melt from her limbs. He was as attuned to her as she was to him, as if she were an extension of his own self rather than something distinctly separate, foreign and unknown.
"I love you," she whispered against his mouth, and Edward smiled.
"I love you, too. Are you ready for the second part of your distraction?"
She let him lever them to their feet, accepting the hand he held out for her. "I think so. What did you have in mind?"
Edward looked around. There weren't any actual restaurants in view, and it was still reasonably early in the morning—not time for lunch or anything substantial like that. He saw what looked like a coffee cart and wondered if maybe they had pastries or hot chocolate or something like that.
On closer inspection, the coffee cart turned out not to have coffee at all. In fact, it was selling something much, much better.
"This," Edward said, pulling Bella gently with him, "is what you were asking about yesterday."
She frowned. "Maps?"
"Churros." He motioned for two, and exchanged a bill with the man at the cart. Bella looked intrigued as he passed her a long, warm, ridged cylinder of fried dough covered in copious amounts of cinnamon sugar. The tiny square of parchment meant to keep her hand clean was useless as soon as she bit into the end of the treat. It was crispy and chewy at the same time, and the moment she bit it, a rain of cinnamon sugar spilled onto the sidewalk.
When he saw the grin on her face, Edward knew he'd done the right thing.
"I hope you know," she mumbled, speaking around a mouthful of sugar, "I'm eating these every day we're here."
He offered his hand, which she readily took, and bit a chunk off of his own churro. It was good—it wouldn't top Esme's chocolate cake or anything, but it was good. "Why don't we wander that way?" Edward pointed down the path the others had taken, toward the multicolored spinning teacups. "We'll probably run into everyone sooner or later."
Bella nodded, mouth full, and they set off on the short walk to the other ride. There was a little bit of a line, and Edward spied Rosalie's pale hair, her tall frame setting her apart from the rest of the crowd.
"Hey," he said, "where's your kid?"
She turned and rolled her eyes. "Out there with his father."
Edward followed the direction of her pointing finger and, sure enough, he saw Emmett's bulk firmly ensconced in a pale green teacup. "Why aren't you with them?"
"Are you kidding? This is their third time. I went once, and that was more than enough." She shuddered. "Chase is cranky because he thinks they don't spin fast enough. I swear, that kid is going to puke before the day's out."
"I'm sure he wouldn't be the first." Edward squeezed Bella's hand and received a glittering smile in return. "Do you want to try this one?"
She considered, watching the teacups spin as the "Unbirthday Song" played, and ultimately shook her head. "I think I would get sick. Maybe I'll try later?"
"I'm with you, Bells." Rose grimaced. "Anything that makes you want to hurl can't possibly be fun."
"Where's Alice?" Bella asked, looking around. The park wasn't very crowded, but there were still plenty of people strolling in clumps along the walkways.
"In there." Rose pointed to a cottage that looked like it belonged in Wonderland.
"What's in there?"
"What else? It's a store."
It was, in fact, a store, and Alice grabbed Bella's hand the moment they stepped hesitantly through the door. "Bella," she said, hauling her over to a display, "okay, now we can do you, too."
"Do me what?" Bella's eyes flicked to Edward's, and he gave her a sympathetic grin. "What's going on?"
"We're getting Mickey ears for Chase and Emmett while they're riding. Rosie's being a party pooper and won't wear them. What kind do you want?"
The store was filled, literally floor to ceiling, with different kinds of hats. Any sort of Mickey ears you could think of—traditional ones, pirate ones, princess ones... There were Mad Hatter hats—both the animated and live action versions—and birthday cake hats, and dwarf hats with attached beards, headbands with Winnie-the-Pooh or Tigger ears. Pirate hats with no ears. Crowns and tiaras. Sorcerer Mickey hats. Goofy hats with hanging ears. Donald hats with a duck "bill". It was overwhelming for him, and he saw the telltale shudder of Bella's hands that meant she felt the same.
"Alice." He stepped up behind Bella and put his hands gently on her shoulders. Instantly her body relaxed, leaning into his. "Not now, okay?"
Alice looked at him, then studied Bella's face closely. "I know your favorite colors," she said finally. "I've got this."
Edward bit back a sigh as he slid his hands from Bella's shoulders to her waist. "Why did we bring them, again?"
She turned her head and flashed him a grateful smile. "Thanks. I'm okay now."
"What number are you?"
"Like...a two? Really, I'm okay."
Edward believed her. One look at her brown eyes was all that he needed.
"Some of these hats are funny." Now free of Alice's demands, Bella relaxed and really began to look around the small store. It was themed wonderfully, with striped walls and whimsical mirrors, the racks of merchandise neat and brightly colored. Bella let her hand drift out, stroking a finger across the filmy gauze hanging from a princess-themed hat. She explored the shop slowly and with deliberation, the way she did everything. Edward noted that she seemed to be more interested in the decorations than the merchandise, but that was typical Bella. "It looks just right," she decided, smiling softly. "Like Wonderland come to life."
"That's what this place is supposed to be," Edward agreed.
"Do you...do you think they'd mind if I took a picture?" She bit her lower lip. "I don't want to get in trouble, but it's just so...so pretty."
"Sweetheart, they wouldn't make it look like this if they didn't expect people to enjoy it." His heart hurt sometimes at her hesitation, the fear she lived with even now. "You won't get in trouble. I promise."
She waited until there was no one in the way, then snapped several quick photos of a window display, a mirror, and a few other decorations. Edward watched with a smile, knowing that those photographs made her so much happier than any hat or souvenir Alice could buy.
"Bella!" Chase called, poking his dark head through the doorway. "Come on! Mom says we can ride the other Alice ride now!"
Bella looked at Edward. "Is it spinny?"
"I don't think so. I think it's like the other ones we just rode."
Bella relaxed slightly. "Okay, then."
The Alice ride turned out to be exactly like the other two—a journey through the story aboard a themed ride vehicle, inside a dark building lit with strategic colored and blacklights. This time the ride "car" was shaped like the caterpillar from the movie and, thankfully, the ride did not end in hell. Bella loved it. Her cheeks were pink when they emerged, her eyes bright and shining.
"It was almost as good as Peter Pan," she decided, taking Edward's hand as they strolled. "I loved the part in Tulgey Wood! I think I like the caterpillar better, too. I kept feeling like we'd fall or something in Peter Pan. But the stars and the island...it was so pretty, Edward."
His view at the moment was very pretty. Her skin was peaches and cream, her hair glinting in the California sunshine—not hot yet on an early spring morning, but warm enough that she'd opted for just a t-shirt. The fine hairs on her forearms, the only body hair she had, lit with a golden glow. The sounds and the crowd faded into the background, and all he saw was her. There were moments, sweet and fragile, that he wished he could cup in his hands and cradle like butterfly wings, keeping them safe and vibrant forever...and this was definitely one of them. Her hand lay in his, warm and firm, delicate and perfect. She was happy; he could tell by the eager little bounce in her step and the cotton-candy shade of her cheeks. He knew that if he leaned in close, her breath would smell and taste of cinnamon and sugar. Nothing hurt. Nothing hung over their heads, like the other shoe waiting to fall. Right now, they were two people very much in love, on vacation with their friends. If her internal scars prevented her from riding a particular ride, what did it matter? Other people had fears, too. They feared the dark, or fast speeds, or ghosts, or any of a hundred other things that might happen in this place. Bella's limitations weren't a disability. They were just another part of who she was.
"Look! Edward, look!" She pointed to a spot on the grey concrete wall above his head, and Edward raised his eyes to see a grinning statue of the Cheshire Cat in a little alcove grinning down at them. "Can I take a picture? Please? It will only take a minute."
"You can take pictures of whatever you want, whenever you want," Edward assured her, and the group stopped so she could snap several photos of the cat. She even let Alice handle the camera, taking a picture of Edward and her below the statue.
"Where to now?" Emmett asked. He still had a grip on his son, though Chase had consented to hold his hand at this point.
"There!" the boy cried, pointing across the way.
Edward eyed the huge replica of the Matterhorn mountain. Laughter and screams rose above the noise of rushing water and the faint sound of polka music coming from the ride queue. This was a roller coaster, one of the "fast" rides Bella had noted last night that she was unsure about. He had vague memories of riding it as a child and enjoying it, but if Bella wasn't ready he wasn't going to push her.
She looked at the giant ride towering high into the pale blue sky, considering it for a long minute.
"We can do something else," Edward reminded her. "It's okay."
She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, straightening her spine. Edward knew that look. She wanted to try.
"I think it's better to know sooner rather than later if I like fast rides," she decided, nodding her head slowly. "I don't want to avoid them all week if they're actually fun."
"I love you, Bella!" Chase squealed, and he tugged his father's hand, moving the group into the line.
"Stay with me?" Bella asked, stepping back so her body was in contact with Edward's chest. "I want to try, but I'm scared."
"It's normal to be scared," Edward assured her. "Roller coasters are meant to exploit your fear. Fear creates an adrenaline rush—do you remember that documentary we watched a couple of weeks ago?"
"I didn't really understand, but yeah, I remember." She bit her lip but released it again almost instantly. "I understand things better when I can touch and experience them."
"Well, now's your chance." Edward kissed the top of her head as they moved toward the front of the line. "Just remind yourself that it's safe—watch all the people getting off with smiles. They're not hurt. They enjoyed it."
Bella did, looking at the people deboarding the little chain of cars. "Yeah," she said slowly. "They look happy. Or disappointed. Maybe because the ride is over?"
"Probably," Edward agreed.
He kept his eye on her as they reached the front of the line. They were ushered into a car with one long seat, so Edward sat down first and then Bella got in front and settled against his chest.
"This is good for your first roller coaster," he said, brushing a kiss against the soft shell of her ear. "I can hold you the whole time."
"I like that."
The cast member made sure their seatbelts were fastened, and then their car rolled into a dark tunnel and began climbing a hill. It was pitch black, the darkness surrounding them, and Edward shifted his hands to feel how tightly Bella gripped the handrail. She was clearly not a "put your hands in the air" roller coaster rider. He rubbed her taut knuckles gently, then returned his arms to her waist just as they reached the top of the hill.
"Edward?" she squeaked.
"Hold on, baby. We're about to—"
His words were cut off as the real ride began.
They rounded a corner, not too fast, and a pair of glowing red eyes stared at them from the darkness as an animalistic roar sounded. Bella squealed and ducked her head, and then they were moving.
The ride wasn't terribly fast by roller coaster standards, with no steep drops, and Edward was able to keep his arms tight around Bella the whole time. He couldn't tell if she was terrified or excited, tense or relaxed, as the bobsled rumbled and jerked down the mountain. Her head came up and she seemed to be looking around at the stylized ice and rock, the quick glimpses down at the rides and people below. Her breath caught and a sharp, surprised noise left her throat more than once.
The ride ended in a shallow splash of water. Bella flinched back against Edward, but the splashdown was so minor that they didn't get wet at all. He loosened his grip as their bobsled came to a halt, slowly sliding his hands down her arms, laying his fingers against the inside of her wrists. Her pulse thrummed in time to the quick pant of her breaths.
"Are you okay?" he asked, tucking his chin into the crook of her neck. "Bella? Sweetheart?"
One of her hands flipped over, releasing the handle of the bobsled and catching Edward's fingers instead. She took a deeper breath, then twisted in her seat, her head tipping up and back to look at him.
Her face was stark white and brilliant red, her eyes dark and glittering. "I..." The words that tried to come out of her mouth failed, and she swallowed quickly before trying again. "I...wow."
Relief gripped Edward, and he squeezed her sweaty hand as their sled lurched forward for their turn at the unloading dock. "Wow, huh? Is that a good wow, or a bad wow?" He already knew the answer but he waited for her to confirm it anyway as he helped lever her out of her seat. Jasper and Alice waited a few steps away, the latter nearly bouncing in place as she blatantly refused to rein in her excitement.
"I..." Bella sucked in a deep breath, and Edward supported her with his hands as she rose and stepped out of the bobsled. Her knees shook, and he could see the thrill of adrenaline surging through her body. "Just...wow."
Alice lunged for her when they got close enough, wrapping her arms around Bella's neck tightly. "I'm so proud of you!" she said. "If you can handle that, you can handle anything!"
Edward wasn't quite so sure about that particular statement. After all, the Matterhorn wasn't the fastest or most frightening ride in the park. It was a good one to try her resilience for just that reason: now she could judge a little better how much she could handle.
When Alice finally released her, Bella backed herself into Edward's chest and he gladly slid his arms around her. A fine tremble rippled through her body, a visceral reaction to the endorphins coursing through her. Her sweaty palm covered the back of his hand, locked around her waist. "I love you," she said softly, tipping her head back to rest against him. He gladly tucked her under his chin, letting her gather herself back together from the physical, emotional rush of the ride. "Where's Chase?" he asked. Two minutes without that piping little-boy voice was extremely surprising.
"Bathroom," Jazz said with a grin. "And probably begging Emmett for souvenirs."
Edward grinned. Emmett wasn't exactly a pushover, but Rose was definitely the firm parent.
They strolled the way Jasper gestured, Edward keeping his arm firmly around Bella's waist, and soon Chase's voice could be heard once more. Emmett had his hand as they spread the map between them, Chase frowning with hilariously adorable concentration as he tried to decide where to go next. Edward glanced at Bella beside him. Her eyes sparkled and snapped, her beautiful lips curved in a soft smile, and he knew that giving her this chance was the right choice.
The morning grew warmer, California sunshine burning off the film of clouds, as the group indulged Chase's whims, letting him choose what to do and when to do it. Eventually he gave up on the map and started wandering toward whatever looked or sounded interesting, though Bella insisted on always knowing where on the map they were. It calmed and centered her, and Edward knew how important that was. She needed to have that crutch, and he would never deny her.
For lunch, though, Edward put his foot down and told Bella to pick whatever she wanted, regardless of what Chase might think. They were in New Orleans Square, having been lured by the sound of live jazz music, and Edward saw the moment a scent caught Bella's attention. Her little nose tipped up as she breathed in deeply, then turned unerringly toward the enclosed patio filled with little round tables and scattered with diners.
"There," she said decisively. "I don't know what I smell, but that's it."
He loved when she was so sure of herself.
The restaurant, when they found the entrance, was called the Cafe Orleans, and it was one of the fancier, full-service eateries in the park. Emmett and Rose scrutinized the fancy indoor part of the restaurant—all glass, porcelain, and tablecloths—and decided they'd find something more casual, glancing significantly at the boy scowling with impatience and swinging his dad's hand. Alice and Jasper agreed to try the restaurant.
Edward took one look at Bella's face and asked to be seated outside on the patio—it was a warm, soft, sunny day, and one thing that had not changed over the years was her love of basking in the sunshine. There were lush trees around them and shade umbrellas overhead, but glimmers of sun still seeped through and painted her rose-petal skin with warmth.
She studied the menu closely, lifting her nose to breathe in the scent of others' meals, a little crease between her eyes as she tried to figure out what smell had caught her attention. With a frustrated little exhale, she leaned back in her metal chair and looked at Edward helplessly. "I want what I smell," she said, a little sheepish, chewing on her lower lip, "but I don't know what that is."
"What does it smell like?" he asked, looking at his own menu. He didn't have the keen attention to detail that she did, but had experienced many more foods in his life.
"Spicy," she said slowly, sucking in another breath. "Smoky. Starchy?"
Trying to catch the scent she described in his own nose, Edward studied the menu. "I think...I think it's the gumbo you smell. Do you want to try it?"
Bella studied the menu, then nodded decisively. She happily asked for soda, too, and when Edward asked if there was anything else she wanted, she wrinkled her nose before admitting that the monte cristo sandwich sounded interesting, but she wasn't sure if she would like it. Edward offered to order it for himself and they could share both, to which she readily agreed.
He ordered for the both of them—Bella was extremely nervous talking to strangers still—as she listened to Alice chatter about the nightlife in the Downtown Disney area that she and Jasper planned to check out that night. Edward didn't even have to ask whether his girl wanted to go with them; she didn't like loud music or the sort of dancing that happened in clubs, and the crowds were far too thick for her to feel comfortable anyway. Whether they spent the evening in the park or back at the hotel he didn't know, but they definitely weren't accompanying their friends. If Bella wanted to, they might offer to watch Chase so Emmett and Rosalie could go. She was extremely fond of the boy, but there was no telling how she would feel by the end of the day.
Jasper had chosen a grilled salmon sandwich with sweet potato fries and Alice a salad topped with blackened chicken, but when Bella's bowl of gumbo was set before her the smile she wore told Edward they had guessed right. That smoky, slightly spicy smell was exactly what she wanted. It was topped with spiced rice, and he watched as she stirred the rice into the thick, steaming stew and took her first taste. Her smile widened as she rolled the taste around in her mouth. "Yum," she said, grinning at Edward before digging for another spoonful.
He turned to his own meal, feeling light and happy. Bella had survived a whole morning with only a minor meltdown, and she was now eating lunch on a patio streaked with sun and shade, eagerly digging through the gumbo to try the sausage, chicken, and ham separately.
He hadn't really paid attention to what he'd ordered, only concerned that Bella wanted to try it, but now that he looked at his plate he wasn't so sure. He had a battered, fried sandwich oozing cheese where it was cut in half, slices of turkey and ham peeking out from within the golden breading. That in itself wasn't so strange, but then it had been dusted with powdered sugar and there was a little cup of fruit jam that obviously went with it somehow. There was also a side of red grapes, and he popped one in his mouth as he tried to figure out what to do with the sandwich. Glancing to the side, he saw someone else eating one with a knife and fork, using the jam as a condiment to dip bites in, so with a little trepidation he picked up his flatware and cut a bite.
The combination of melted cheese and salty meat with sweet sugar and jam was...odd. Definitely odd. But not unpleasant. He took another bite, then offered one to Bella.
She ducked her head eagerly to his fork, taking the bite, and he watched as she chewed and swallowed. "I like it," she decided, licking a dusting of powdered sugar off her lips, "but I like mine better."
Edward took the bite she then offered him. The gumbo was good, rich and thick and smoky, but he didn't care for okra, so he was content with his own meal, occasionally giving her bites when she leaned toward his shoulder. She drained two glasses of Coke and a glass of ice water, which Edward took note of. They needed to do better at keeping her hydrated. The day wasn't hot, but she'd been on her feet for most of the morning.
Of course she wanted dessert when it was offered, and dessert turned out to be Mickey-shaped beignets—more fried dough covered with more powdered sugar, with more little ramekins of sweet stuff to dip it in. Thankfully Alice shared with her, while Edward apologized silently to his arteries for the amount of junk that would no doubt be consumed over the rest of the week.
When they met up with the others again, Rosalie put her foot down and said that they weren't going on any fast rides until lunch had settled. Chase whined for about thirty seconds, until Bella gently suggested Pirates of the Caribbean, which was close and supposedly slow.
"Jack Sparrow!" Chase crowed, and he happily dragged his father the way Bella pointed.
Once they settled in the large boats, it was far too late to worry whether the motion of being on the water would trigger any upset stomachs. It was also far too late to wonder whether the dark ride might trigger Bella somehow, which Edward was frankly a little worried about. This was a long ride, from what he could remember. It wouldn't be over in one or two minutes like the Toad ride that had frightened her so badly. He tightened his arm around her and she snuggled close to his side as their boat lurched into motion.
The boats were so wide that all of them could sit in the same row. Bella fit snugly between Edward and Alice, and though Chase had begged to be on the end, Emmett sat between him and the edge of the boat. It was probably wise; Emmett was too big and too quick for his kid to try anything and actually get away with it.
They drifted away from the dock, through the blue-black of a simulated bayou night, complete with lazy banjo music and the moving glint of fireflies. Bella's eyes were bright; she seemed utterly enchanted by it all. Rounding a black corner, suddenly they were faced with the graceful arch of a brick bridge to sail under, on which was mounted a skull.
A talking skull.
"Cool!" Chase definitely wasn't scared.
Bella caught her breath, but her body didn't tense against his as the skull rattled off its spiel, telling them to "keep their ruddy hands inboard" and "hold on tight; there be squalls ahead." It chuckled a last warning of "Dead men tell no tales," before they moved forward and were abruptly plunged down a short but steep drop—just enough to get Edward's stomach and make Bella squeal and clutch his knee tightly. She let out a breathy giggle at the bottom as Edward shook off the light spray of drops that had splashed him. So it went through the whole ride—Edward kept wondering if things would frighten her: simulated cannonballs splashing around them, or some rather realistic fire effects, or even the scene where a pirate auctions off a line of women to other pirates. But she was unfazed throughout, giggling at the funny bits of dialogue, laughing when Chase caught sight of his hero, Captain Jack Sparrow, and wouldn't stop pointing or trying to take a picture until Emmett took his camera away.
The Haunted Mansion, however, was different.
Though it was meant to be a gently humorous haunted house, more tongue-in-cheek than actually scary, from the minute they stepped through the doors, Bella was attached to his side and refused to let go. Partially it was the format of the attraction—rather than starting out as a ride, a big crowd of people gathered together in the entryway of the mansion, then were ushered into a small round room where a sinister voice spoke to them. "Is this haunted room actually stretching?" it asked as the paintings on the walls did appear to stretch. Edward felt the telltale stomach-flip that meant they were actually in an elevator, but when the doors opened again and the crowd started down a dark, cobwebbed hallway, he could feel Bella shaking under his arm. She ducked her head, looking down rather than at the creepy decor—the busts whose eyes seemed to follow them, the paintings that turned sinister when lightning crashed. He had a feeling that she would clap her hands to her ears to tune out the funereal organ music if she was willing to let go of him.
She settled down once they stepped into the actual ride cars, curling into his side and peeping out with only one eye. Edward held her close, slipping a hand under the long fall of her hair to feel the dampness on the back of her neck. She really wasn't liking this.
"Hey, you don't have to look if you don't want to." He breathed the words softly in her ear. "It's fine. You can close your eyes until it's over."
She shook her head infinitesimally against him. "Worse that way," she said, voice tight, strained. Edward said no more about it, simply held her close as they traversed the rest of the ride. To him, it wasn't terribly frightening, especially when they reached the large graveyard scene where all the ghosts were singing. Bella, however, did not seem to agree. She hid her face completely from the hitchhiking ghost mirrors, and even though he knew she wanted to get out of there, she was shaky and slow when it came time to get out of the ride vehicle and stand on her feet again.
When they finally emerged back into the sunlight, Bella was pale and shaky. Even her lips were white, and she shook as she hugged Edward's arm with both of hers. With a quick glance he told the others they could go on, then found a bench in the sun where he and Bella could sit.
"I don't think I like haunted houses," she murmured, tucking her legs up beside her body as she leaned against his side.
"I don't think I like you in them," Edward concurred. This wasn't the sort of panic she'd suffered in the Toad ride, but rather a dose of more generalized fear. He was glad of that, though any unpleasant emotion emanating from his girl was unacceptable. "If it makes you feel any better, I think even Chase was a little scared in there."
She shrugged a little, burrowing her head against his chest. "It doesn't make me feel better that a little boy was unhappy."
"I don't think he was unhappy." Edward rubbed her shoulder, stroking gently. "A lot of people like being scared, at least a little bit. That's why horror movies are so popular."
She shivered against him. "I don't think I understand that."
"Yeah." Edward had suspected she wouldn't. "But most people don't have the memories you do, sweet girl."
"Yeah. I know."
After a while her shivers eased, and she tipped her head up toward him. "Edward? I think I'm ready for a break."
"You want to go back to the hotel?"
Bella nodded. "I'm tired. Is that okay?"
"Of course, sweetheart. Come on."
They took the steam train that circled the park, getting off at the Main Street stop, and Edward gladly acquiesced when she asked to peek in some of the shops. She wasn't interested in most of the little souvenirs—keychains, pins, t-shirts—but was enchanted by the large, intricate snowglobes, particularly one of Neverland, and one of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. There was a large confectionary, where Edward bought her a cupcake topped with a tower of frosting—white, because both of them agreed no chocolate cake could compare with Esme's. Then, taking her hand and holding the little box with her cupcake in the other, he headed toward the gates.
"How are your legs doing?" Edward asked as they exited the gates and strolled through the entrance plaza, nice and slow now that Chase wasn't egging them on.
Bella shrugged. "Tired, but I'll live. We're almost back to the hotel."
"You know I worry about you."
She smiled. "Yeah, I know, and I love you for it." On impulse, she released his hand and tucked her arm around his instead. She hugged herself close, and Edward dropped a kiss in the soft strands of her dark hair. These were the moments he cherished the most—when she was soft and warm against him, sweet and just...just there. With him. There was never any question of whether she loved him, just as he hoped she never questioned whether he loved her.
They crossed the big, busy street separating Disneyland from their hotel and all Edward could think about was getting her back to their room so she could relax. It might not be a bad idea for her to soak her feet in some hot water for a while, and definitely she needed to ice and elevate her knees. He had a bottle of ibuprofen, if she'd take it. They could watch TV, or maybe she'd want to take a nap—something she still did on occasion. They'd either order in for dinner or head to one of the restaurants in walking distance, and—
The abrupt way she suddenly stopped walking threw Edward and he stumbled, his arm held by a suddenly much tighter grip as she hugged herself fiercely against him.
"Bella? Baby?" He looked at her in concern. Her face was ashen, white as cracked ice, and she was staring at something—someone—ahead of them on the sidewalk.
It was a sidewalk preacher, a haggard-looking older man prosthelytizing loudly, harassing the people headed across the street to Disneyland. "The Devil lives behind those gates!" he yelled. "You're giving him your souls, your corrupt souls, and money to boot!"
At first Edward thought it was just the content of the speech and the aggressive way the man lurched in front of passersby that was bothering his girl. She didn't like aggressive people, and while she'd made long strides in coming to terms with the damage religious zealots had done in her life, this sort of fire-and-brimstone preaching predicated on hate rather than love was still deeply upsetting to her.
But as he looked closely at her eyes, Edward realized that, no, it wasn't just that. There was something lurking in those soft brown eyes that he'd never seen there before. It was a sort of hazy recognition, slow and confused, like music from a dream. Her hands tightened around his arm, fingers digging into skin and muscle.
"Bella." Not knowing what else to do, Edward pulled her against his chest, into his arms. He curled around her, giving her the option to hide in the crook of his neck if she wanted, but she didn't. She swallowed hard and leaned into his hard body, but did not turn her face. A raw, almost voiced breath shuddered from her throat.
The old man looked their way, a frown of disapproval on his face, but then he stilled, too. He was sunken and drawn, the flesh sagging, almost melting from the sharp bones of his face, thin lips dry and surrounded by jagged, prickly salt-and-pepper growth. But it was his eyes Edward watched, brown eyes that were eerily familiar.
Once the realization sunk into his mind, Edward didn't have to guess anymore. This—this old man, twisted and haggard, was Bella's father.
Immediately, he tried to walk Bella backward, away from the man in front of them, but her feet were planted solidly on the ground and she did not move.
It wasn't quite a question, but Edward wasn't sure it was a definitive statement, either. He sounded...unsure? Like he couldn't necessarily trust what his eyes were telling him.
The answer from Bella was so quiet, Edward doubted the man heard it...but he did. "Daddy." A breath, a whisper. Nothing more.
Edward tried to tell himself that this unexpected reunion was none of his business. He tried to tell himself that he needed to step back and let Bella handle it however she wanted to.
After about three seconds, he realized that wasn't happening.
"Who the fuck do you think you are?" he demanded, hugging Bella's tense form against his chest. "You don't get to talk to her! Not after what you did." There were families with small children hurrying past them on the sidewalk, but Edward couldn't care about his language, or making a scene. This man, the one standing right in front of them, was the root cause of everything bad that had happened to Bella. Everyone else who had hurt her, everyone in her life who had abused her, it was all because of this man—the father who was supposed to keep her safe. "Do you have any idea what she's been through? Do you know what those fucking men did to her?"
The old man's eyes grew sharp and cold—an expression that Edward had never seen from Bella. It highlighted the differences between them despite the fact that she had his eyes. When he looked, Edward couldn't see any other similarities between them. Except for those dark eyes, Bella must be her mother's child. Something in him was immeasurably glad of that.
Cold eyes raked down Bella's tense body, centering on her bare, ringless hands clutched around Edward's. "Living in sin with a man," the rough old voice said. "I should have known nothing could rid you of the Devil."
A soft whimper left Bella's mouth, and Edward hugged her tighter. "I'd marry her this minute if she'd let me," he snapped, dark and low. "I'd have married her a long time ago. You fucked her up—you ruined any positive association she could have ever had with religious institutions. Not that it's any business of yours. You abandoned her. She's no longer your concern."
To his surprise, Bella's hand moved against his, squeezing a little. He glanced down at her, meeting dark eyes more terrified than he'd seen them in a long, long time. They begged him silently, and there was nothing he'd ever deny her—nothing. So he hugged her tightly, hoping she drew strength from the feel of their bodies molded together, and forced himself to shut up.
"Why?" Her first attempt was no more than a whisper. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Why, daddy?"
The old man stared at her and said nothing.
"I knew you hated me." Her voice was soft, devoid of anger. "It was the first thing I think I ever really knew, growing up. I knew you hated me, and I knew it was my fault." Edward could hear the tears in her voice, though he couldn't see her face at this angle. "But even after you sent me away, I could never figure out why. Why you hated me so much. Please, answer me. It's the only thing I've ever wanted from you."
"Don't beg him for anything," Edward growled. The man was scum—worse than scum. He'd abandoned an innocent little girl to the harshness of the world, and there was never a valid reason for that.
"I live my life according to His will," the man said stonily. "Everything I do, my actions are led by His word. I do not question God and you, woman, do not question man. It is not your place."
"I don't believe in God." Her voice was steadier than Edward thought possible. "Only people who need an excuse for their own actions. Please! Why? Why did you hate me so much?" Her breath caught in her throat. "Would my mother have approved of what you did?"
The fury that overtook the old man's face came on swift and sudden. "Don't speak her name!" he yelled. "How dare you speak her name with your demon mouth?"
Instead of shrinking away as Edward expected, Bella's trembling body stood its ground and she yelled right back, her voice shaking. "I'm not evil! I was never evil! I was just a little girl!" Her hands clenched tightly around his. Though the words were shaky and trembling, full of the tears of a ruined childhood, they were strong...the strongest, Edward thought, he'd ever heard from anyone. This man had trod over her life before she'd barely begun to live. That she could stand here now and face him, utterly unprepared, was the ultimate act of bravery in his eyes. The girl he'd pulled out of the bed of a pickup truck so many years ago couldn't possibly have done it. In the same situation, he doubted he'd be able to, either. Bella had come so far, and become so incredibly strong.
"Baby," he said softly, "you're never going to get the answers you want out of him. Come on, sweetheart. He's not worth it."
She continued to stare at the old man in front of them, and Edward let her. He could ask all he wanted, but it wasn't his place to force her to do anything.
"Can't you give me that much, at least?" Bella's voice was flat, as if she knew better than to hope for a positive answer. "You owe me."
His eyes narrowed. "I owe you nothing."
"You don't bring a child into the world if you're not prepared to take care of it!" Her voice rose. It was something Edward had never heard from her before. Oh, he'd heard anger, but not this raw, aching sort of fire. No confrontation had ever coaxed this sort of emotion from her. "You made me! I didn't ask to be born, and for that you owe me!"
Passersby on the sidewalk were giving them strange looks, but Edward couldn't care. Bella had a hard time expressing herself with words most of the time, and this situation, while unexpected, had fallen into her lap. He sure as hell wasn't going to shush her now.
She sniffled, a wet sound, and Edward watched from behind as she wiped her sleeve across her nose. "I'm an adult, daddy," she said, spitting out the word like it tasted bad. "But I'm not, at the same time. There are things I'll never be able to do, ever, because of what you did to me!" She shook in his arms. "Like have kids. Edward is a wonderful, caring man, but he's never going to get a chance to be a father because of me—because of you!"
Edward held her tighter. This was one of the hardest decisions they'd ever made as a couple, but it was also one he knew was right. Bella had come so far, but they both agreed that having a baby wasn't in her best interests, or a child's. There were just some things she'd never be able to do, and having a little person depend on her 24-7 was one of them. Edward understood. He didn't feel any less fulfilled, knowing they would remain childless. Bella still worried that he did, he knew, but his feelings would never change. He wanted his girl. They'd built a loving and secure life together, and nothing else really mattered to him.
The old man's eyes narrowed, his face closing down. "It's just as well. Sin will only breed sin."
A hiccuped sob escaped her throat, and her fingers dug into Edward's hand on her waist.
"Is everything all right here?"
The uniformed officer paused beside them on the sidewalk, and Edward forced himself to look at him. "I think we just need to head to our hotel room," he said, carefully keeping his voice low and even. "Bella, sweetheart?"
She took a deep breath, still staring at the old man in front of them. Edward studied him, too. He knew he'd remember how he looked for the rest of his life.
"We've spoken about being a public nuisance before, sir," the police officer said to the old man.
"It's a free country. I have freedom of speech!"
"But you don't have the right to intimidate others." The officer stepped forward, not intimidating or threatening, just carefully moving between the old man and Bella. "Let's move along, sir, please."
Bella's father scowled, his expression dark and dangerous, but after a moment he stepped aside, turning away. His thin shoulders curved in, curling, sharp under the threadbare cover of his shirt. Bella's body moved once, as if she wanted to stop him, but ultimately she did not. She stayed in Edward's arms, holding his hands against her body even though there was no way he'd ever let go.
"I'm sorry if he disturbed you," the officer said, voice laced with regret. "We do our best to keep them away, but this is a busy, high-traffic sidewalk. It attracts people with an ax to grind."
Yeah, that was the understatement of the year.
"Let me know if there's anything you need." The officer offered his card, which Edward took gratefully.
"Thanks," he said, tucking the card quickly into his pocket before returning his arm to Bella's waist. "Come on, sweetheart. Let's get you inside."
They walked the short distance to their hotel room, Edward holding her tightly to his side. When the door shut behind them, he took a deep breath before loosening his grip.
She sucked in a shaky breath, turning to face his chest, and he let her wind her arms around his waist. One of his hands found the back of her head, cradling her close as he had done so often before.
"I'm so, so sorry, sweetheart," he murmured. "This was supposed to be a fun vacation." Did this have to happen here? Now? When she'd been doing so well?
"It's not your fault." Her voice was soft and hesitant, teary but, surprisingly, not hysterical. "I...never thought I'd see him again. Or recognize him."
Edward understood. He'd never really expected to meet Bella's father, either. Finding Felix and, finally, Dr. Gerandy had been monumental enough. When the clues dried up and nobody could locate her father, they'd come to terms with the fact that they might never get the chance to confront the man who had started all this—the man who had given her away to the first in a string of progressively worse monsters.
Now they had.
Bella ran her sleeve under her nose again. Her eyes were wet and red, heavy and swollen, but she met his gaze. "Do I look like him?"
Edward considered the question. It was a reasonable one, he guessed. There were very few instances in which he'd consider lying to Bella, but this was definitely one of them. If she looked anything like that man, he'd gladly lie to her face and tell her she didn't.
Luckily, he didn't have to.
"No," he said, so thankful that he could be truthful and give her the answer she needed. "You're nothing like him, inside or out." He traced a gentle thumb under her left eye, gathering tears. "You must take after your mother."
"I miss her," Bella whispered. "I never knew her, but I miss her."
"You have every right to." Edward kissed her forehead, his lips lingering against warm skin, smelling the salt of her tears. "Would you like to call Esme?"
She nestled against him again. "Later. Will you just—can we maybe sit for a while?"
Edward smiled softly, then picked her little body up in his arms as he'd done so many times before. "Of course, sweetheart. As long as you like."
They settled on the bed, his back against the wooden headboard, and he kept his arms firmly around her. "I'm okay, Edward," she said, voice quiet—contemplative.
"I wouldn't be."
"No, really." She sniffed again, but he knew better than to get up to fetch her a tissue. "I thought for the longest time that I needed to find him, needed the answers only he could give me, in order to really heal. To somehow move on, you know?"
Yes, Edward knew. It's why he'd kept looking for so long, hiring a private investigator when the police officially stopped investigating her case. She felt she needed to find her father in order to have closure, and he aimed to give it to her.
"But...I've seen him now. And he didn't answer any of my questions."
"No," Edward agreed. "He didn't."
"And I realized..." She chewed on the corner of her lip. "I don't think it matters."
She shrugged, burrowing closer, and Edward gladly tightened his arms. "I don't think even he knows why he did what he did. And if he doesn't know, no one does. Maybe there isn't a reason."
"That's not a terribly comforting thought."
Bella bit harder on her lip before answering. "It's better than hearing him give a reason that doesn't stack up. One that doesn't justify what he did. I think I prefer it this way—not knowing."
"I have something for you."
Bella turned her head to watch as Edward pulled something out of the little plastic bag that held her boxed cupcake. It was something he knew she had to have the moment he saw it, and had purchased while her attention was caught by the intricate snowglobes on Main Street.
It was a tiny diorama inside a lovely gilded frame, small enough to fit in Bella's palm. When a hidden button was pressed the scene of fireworks exploding over the Disney castle was illuminated with glowing bursts of light and color.
Bella gasped, cradling the expensive little collectible in her hands.
"Maybe you didn't get that princess-perfect life," Edward said softly, brushing her hair away from her face so he could see her expression better. "But I just wanted you to know that, happily ever after or not, you'll always be a princess to me."
A trembling smile broke over her face, and she looked up at him with shining eyes. "I did get my happily ever after," she told him, and there was no hesitation in her voice. "Unconventional, maybe, but I don't care. I'd pick you—and this—every time."
Edward knew as she smiled at him, that perfect smile that was only for him, that she meant it. Her father couldn't hurt her anymore, not really. She knew who she was. She knew where she belonged.
A/N: Happy Thanksgiving (even to you all who aren't celebrating it tomorrow!). And remember, this is just a POSSIBLE futuretake, so if you're opposed to Edward and Bella being together romantically, well, nothing's set in stone. Love to all my duckies! Mwah!
There's a link to a pic of Bella's present on my profile. :)