Dancing in the Dark
Oh my darling I must, I must confess
This can't be love, no I am just a man possessed
And so the tide has turned to day
We can turn and walk away
The drive to Mama Esme's is quiet. Bella doesn't say much but neither do I. Truthfully, I'm happy enough to have her so close. The more time I spend with her, the more I realise just how much I missed her while she was away. I glance at her. Her face is turned towards the soft afternoon sun. Her eyes are closed and a small smile pulls at her lips. The sun etches her profile in gold. She looks exquisite.
"What are you thinking about?" I ask softly.
She keeps her eyes closed and lifts her shoulders. "It's a sunny day. I love it when it's cold, but the sun shines. I was hoping my mom is somewhere as beautiful as this. I know she will be. With Leah."
Her words are like a fist around my heart. An image of my own mother, beautiful, young, and healthy flashes through my mind. My fingers fidget, wanting to reach out to Bella, to tell her I understand her pain, but I grip the steering wheel harder instead.
I have to keep an emotional distance. I'm feeling too much too fast for this woman, and I have no business to.
She is someone else's.
She has too much to figure out.
I'm not good enough for her.
The reasons—as few as there are—are profound. Despite Bella's assurance that I'm more than a guy who strips for strangers, I'm unable to shake off the heavy discomfort her words have left. During our morning together, I've started thinking about doing something better with my life. Arguably, I should have done that the minute I knew about Shortcake. I realise I'm a fucking fool.
I think about the camera Bella gave me for Christmas—the one I have taken to carrying everywhere—and the pictures I've taken of my daughter asleep, laughing, sitting on my lap. I wonder if giving me such a gift was Bella's way of showing me there is more I can do. I haven't done art or photography seriously for years, but I still hold deep affection for it. Then there's the Wolf Pack. They rehearse as much as they can. I know I've neglected Jake and the boys terribly. Luckily, they understand. They dance in the studio I rent. Another option would be to make that a full time venture, open it up to more dance groups. I could even teach.
My mind begins to tick over, considering and imagining.
There are other options. Nevertheless, the thought of leaving Eclipse makes my stomach twist with unease. A stirring of ridiculousness flickers under my skin. Ridiculous or not, Eclipse is all I've known for over ten years. It's been my constant, my escape, my release. The idea of walking away from it is . . . terrifying.
We pull up outside Mama's house and enter the front door just as Carlisle walks down the hallway from the kitchen, holding Shortcake in his arms. My whole body immediately relaxes. She's wide awake and looks beautiful in tiny blue jeans and a pink sweater. Mama has even attached one of the clips Bella got her for Christmas to her hair. I hurry over to them both, beaming.
"Hey there, beautiful girl," I coo, plucking her gently from Carlisle's arms. I kiss her cheek once, twice, three times, smelling my family all over her. "I missed you," I murmur against her skin. I did. I miss her every time I leave her. I can't explain it other than to say it's as if part of me is missing when we're seperated. She nuzzles into my neck, and I hum against her head. Her hair smells of cookies, and I breathe as much of her in as I can. I suddenly realise which part is missing when she's away from me; it's my heart.
Bella appears at my side, smiling. She places a hand on Shortcake's back. "She's grown so much since I saw her last."
I pass my daughter over, watching with rapt eyes as Bella clutches her tenderly, placing kisses across her forehead. Now that Bella has told me about her loss, I look at her with Shortcake in an entirely different way. I know now why she was so wary at first; she didn't think herself deserving of sharing joint custody, of being so close to her sister's daughter. She didn't want to get too close for fear of losing her. Of losing me.
I push my hands into my pockets and watch them. Shortcake smiles in her adorably crooked way, and Bella laughs. She hugs her close and closes her eyes. She whispers softly in my daughter's ear. It's such a loving, private moment I look away.
"Where's Mama?" I ask Carlisle. "I thought she was taking Shortcake out."
"Work," he replies, watching Bella with a smile. "They called her in." He looks at me with bright eyes. "She was certainly annoyed about cancelling her show-off-the-granddaughter date."
I laugh. "I bet."
His gaze stays on me a touch longer than is comfortable. I know he sees the tired lines on my face. He doesn't miss anything. "You okay?"
I nod and shift my weight from one foot to the other. "Sure."
I glance at him and shake my head. "No more than usual."
"Okay," he murmurs, not convinced. "What are your plans for the day?"
I shrug. "Well, the sun is shining. I was thinking of taking Shortcake and Bella down to the harbour. Maybe get a late lunch."
Bella's head snaps to me. "Really?"
I smile. "Why not? Unless you need to be somewhere, with it being . . . you know." The words parents and anniversary hang silently between us. I have no idea whether she needs to visit a grave or if she has some sort of routine on this day every year.
Understanding my uncertainty, Bella's fingers flex, clutching Shortcake that much tighter. "No," she replies quietly. "I don't have anywhere to be."
"Lunch it is," I say.
Carlisle pats me on the shoulder. "Sounds great."
We arrive at the harbour an hour later. The sun is low in the sky, and the air if frigid, but it's beautiful. I push the stroller, which contains Shortcake, wrapped up like a damned taco with Bella at my side. We walk without saying much, despite the invisible wall of words that stands between us. I have so much I want to ask her. I want to know about her life after her parents died. I want to know how she and Leah dealt with their loss. I want to know how she coped with her guilt and why she still holds herself so accountable for such a tragic accident. I want to know if she really will finish things with Marcus, whether she'll take the job on the other side of the country.
Bella's arm bumps gently against mine. "You know you can ask me whatever you want."
I smile and release an anxious breath of laughter. "Am I that obvious?"
She shakes her head. "Not that much."
I hesitate, worried about upsetting her further. "I have lots of things I want to ask, Bella," I confess.
"Then ask," she answers gently. "I want to be open and honest with you, Edward. Don't be afraid."
I look at her and sigh while my brain flits through all of my questions like a spinning roulette table. "Were you badly hurt in the accident?"
I haven't really had time to think about how injured she was in the wreck, which took so much from her. Truthfully, the thought of her being involved in something so terrifying, so dangerous, causes a burst of protectiveness to occur in my stomach.
She looks down at her feet as we continue walking towards a small restaurant. "Yes," she answers plainly. For a moment, I resign myself to that being her only response. "I had a broken hip, femur, three ribs." She looks out towards the boats. "Shattered pelvis. I had a bleed from my pancreas . . . my uterus."
My body goes cold, and it's not from the sharp wind that whips around us.
She clears her throat. "I was in the back of the car. The truck hit us side on and pushed us towards the central reservation, which we hit. Head on. I was trapped for an hour before they cut me out. I don't remember much. I passed out from losing so much blood."
My throat tightens at the solemn tone of her voice. "God, I'm sorry," I croak.
"Me too," she whispers, pushing her hands deeper into the pockets of her winter coat.
We head towards a small nautical themed restaurant and make our way inside. It's lovely and warm, and I shrug out of my coat and hoodie, placing them on the back of my seat. I peer into the stroller to see Shortcake fast asleep. I adjust her blanket so she doesn't get too warm and reach for a menu. Bella sits opposite me and orders a juice. I order a beer. Once the server has gone, we sit, saying nothing, catching cautious glances at each other. I stare at her hands on the table and find myself needing to reach out and place mine against them.
It's ridiculous. I'm behaving like a virgin on prom night. I'm self-conscious and fidgety. I'm driving myself fucking crazy. I laugh humourlessly and shake my head.
"What?" Bella asks concerned.
"Nothing," I assure her. "I'm just an idiot."
I freeze when Bella's hand cups mine. "No, you're not."
My eyes stare at our hands together. Unable to stop them, my fingers find the gaps between hers. They settle perfectly, as if they were always meant to be there. Her skin is warm and soft. Like her lips. I clear my throat as memories of our kisses assault my mind.
"What are you thinking?" She asks, dipping her head to catch my eye.
I shake my head and smile uneasily. "You wouldn't want to know." I glance up briefly to see her cheeks redden. I let my thumb ghost over her knuckle.
I sit back when the waitress brings us our drinks, suddenly conscious of how close Bella and I have moved towards one another. We order our meals—two burgers, and fries—and settle back into the heavy, suffocating silence that has enveloped us since we left Carlisle.
Bella is the first to break. "Please, Edward, ask me. I have so much I want to say to you, but I have no idea where to start." Her laugh is nervous. "Help me out here."
I take a deep breath and ask her again about the accident. Call it morbid curiosity, but it seems like the most obvious place to start—the beginning. I learn that she was in hospital for two weeks, sedated and healing. She had pins in her hips and pelvis and part of her spleen removed. Her eyes become glassy and her lip disappears into her mouth when she speaks about her more intimate injuries. She was lucky she didn't have to have her entire womb removed. Instead, she was left with one ovary and the warning that she may never be able to have children naturally again.
I look down at Shortcake. My heart fucking aches.
"They held off the funeral until I was released from hospital," Bella tells me before sipping her drink. "It was . . . awful. Leah was a mess. We'd barely spoken. She'd visited me in hospital, of course, but her anger was too much for both of us. I deserved it, I knew, but I missed my sister.
"With no other family and with us both being under eighteen, we were placed with child services. Leah asked that she be sent to a separate family. They argued that it wasn't the 'done thing,' but I told them it was fine as long as I was told where she was. We were placed within two miles of one another. I wrote her letters, called her. She said little. I couldn't expect any more. Our family was destroyed because of my selfishness, my mistakes."
"Bella," I whisper. I reach for her again but am stopped by the waitress bringing our food.
"So you hardly spoke again?" I ask, once we're alone.
Bella shrugs. "Once we were both eighteen and we began college, we became more like acquaintances than sisters. We sent birthday cards, Christmas cards. She sent me a congratulatory card when I graduated from Harvard, but we were never the same." She looks at Shortcake, and her face takes on a wistful, far away expression.
For a split second, I think about Alice and how my life would be without her. I stop the thought dead immediately when I realise how much it would kill me. I adore my baby sister. I could never be without her, especially after the loss of our mother when we were so young. We're two halves of the same coin. She knows me inside and out and loves me regardless. She's needed me as much as I've needed her, and we've gotten through the hardest things two people can ever go through together.
No. My life wouldn't be complete without Alice.
With that thought, I start to appreciate that Bella has lost more than I could ever imagine. Sitting in front of me, tired, yet still beautiful, I begin to slowly understand what it has taken for her to get to where she is.
"And then you met Marcus," I murmur, needing to change the subject. Obviously, it's not the first subject I'd choose, but my inquisitiveness about the asshole is undeniable.
She keeps her eyes on her plate as she unfolds her napkin and places it on her lap. "Yes. We met through my job at Volture."
She's told me part of the story before. How she worked for Aro Volture who gave her a job, having known her stepfather, Phil.
"He was a couple of years older than me," she adds. "Had more experience, and he showed me the ropes."
I grip my knife. I just bet he fucking did. My inappropriate possessiveness doesn't so much surprise me as it does anger me. I already have too many feelings invested in Bella, and I have to step off. I need to give us both the space we need to figure just what the hell is going on between us. I take a giant bite out of my burger in an effort to keep my opinions about Marcus at bay.
Bella continues. "At the age of twenty five, working for an incredible law firm, living a life I knew my parents would be proud of, Marcus became everything I wanted." Bella's gaze meets mine, and the sadness in it pierces my chest. "I fell in love with him quickly. I fell in love with what we had, what we were together."
"And what was that?" I ask. My voice is quiet, rough.
"We were the perfect lawyer couple, powerful and envied." She lifts a forkful of fries to her mouth.
I stare at her, confused. "That's what you wanted? To be envied?"
She nods her head slowly. She swallows. "I did. I wanted to make my parents proud. To show the people who knew them that I could be as good as them, as happy and successful in all areas of my life."
Her shoulders drop at the same time her eyes do. She stares at the table as if it has the answers to life itself. "We want different things. I'm not happy with him anymore. Now I want to be happy for me."
The relief that courses through me when I hear her words is incredible. I run a hand through my hair. "That's good," I say softly. "You can't live your life for anyone but yourself, Bella."
She pins me with a firm look, but her voice is gentle. "I have been happy in my life, Edward. I need you to know that. I've been so lucky to have been given the opportunities I have, to know the people I do and to be loved and cared by them."
She licks her lips. "I'm just . . . I just need to be someone different now."
I frown. "Different how?"
She shrugs and tucks the loose hair behind her ears. "Not what people expect. I'll always feel guilty and responsible for what happened to my parents, but I also feel I've proven myself by becoming a great lawyer."
I nod. "You are a great lawyer, Bella." If she argues in court the way she argues with me, I know she's fucking phenomenal. "But is that enough for you?"
She glances towards my daughter and smiles. "I thought it was."
I sigh and rub my napkin across my mouth before dropping it ungracefully onto the table. "What is you want, Bella?" I try to hide the hope in my voice. I'm not sure I succeed.
She presses her lips together and closes her eyes. "I want to take that job in California."
That wasn't exactly the answer I was hoping for. I drop back into my seat. "Okay."
She opens her eyes and looks at me in a way that makes my heart thump hard against my ribs. I'm mute. My head is spinning with things I want to say, things I know I shouldn't say, while my chest feels as though a hole has been punched into the centre of it.
"I want . . . to be with you, Edward," she whispers. "I want to be with you and Shortcake."
I laugh humourlessly despite the prickle of warmth that her words carry up my neck. "But you want to take a job a million miles away?"
She nods. "I need to prove to myself that I can do this."
"Do what?" My tone is sharp, but I'm . . . upset.
"I got my job at Volture because Aro knew Phil. I met Marcus because he was Aro's son. I seem to have been given so much. I've worked hard. I do work hard, but it's always been with the help of others."
I cross my arms over my chest, suddenly feeling cold.
"I appreciate everything those people have done for me," she murmurs. "But I need to do something on my own. I need to live my life for me, no one else"
I push my teeth into my lower lip and clasp the bridge of my nose as she fires my words back at me. I'm being a selfish prick. I know. But I can't help it. I don't want her to go anywhere. I want her here with Shortcake and me. I want to try and work out what we have together, what we could have together. I want to kiss her some more. Dammit, I want to kiss her everywhere.
"You think I'm being selfish." She doesn't ask me.
I shake my head. "I'm trying not to." It's the most honest answer I can give her.
She sits forward in her seat, our meals forgotten. "Do you know how much you and Shortcake mean to me?"
"No," I answer quickly. "I don't."
She doesn't flinch at the sharpness of my words. "You mean more to me than you could possibly imagine." Her face flushes beautifully. "I think about you when I'm not with you. I miss you when we're not together. I dream about you."
The brown of her eyes darkens as it does when I kiss her. I can't breathe. "Oh."
"Getting on that plane to California will be one of the hardest things I will ever do, but I need to do it." Her voice implores me to understand. I try, but my selfish need for her stops it. "I will . . . miss you both so much."
"And Marcus?" I ask, hating the jealousy that laces my question.
She releases her grip on me. "Marcus and I need to have a long conversation." She rubs her hands down her face as if the very thought of it exhausts her.
"But you're going to finish. . ." I trail off with a long exhale, unable to finish my sentence. I'm starting to sound like a whiny bitch, and I hate it.
The tips of Bella's fingers reach back across the table towards me. "Yes," she replies. "I will finish things with him."
My eyes widen. "You will?"
She nods. "But I have to do it in person." I open my mouth to argue, but she shakes her head. "I owe him that much, Edward."
Torn between elation and frustration I finally place my hand over hers. The touch is light, but the emotions behind it are heavy as fuck on my shoulders. I look up at her and try to smile. I'm not sure I'm entirely successful. "And when you come back from California?"
She sighs. "When I come back I'd like to find out what this is." She squeezes my hand. "I know I shouldn't ask you. I have no right to. I have done nothing to warrant your trust in me and how I feel about you. About this. But if I did—ask, I mean. If I asked you to wait for me to come back, would you?"
From an outsiders point of view, I imagine my response is like that of a rabbit caught in headlights. Her question, as wanted as it is, catches me entirely off guard. This is serious shit. Am I ready for that? Do I want that? I have feelings for Bella. I can't deny that. They run deep and scare the fuck out of me, but would I wait for her? Could I? Am I willing to put all my faith in the chance that she'll come back and we'll live happily ever after?
She takes my hesitation as a no and begins to pull back. I grab her hand quickly, holding her tightly.
"It's okay," she whispers. "I shouldn't have asked you that. I'm out of order. I'm sorr—"
"Bella," I say gently. I lift her hand to my mouth and place a soft kiss on her palm. She smells of almond soap and fresh air. I'll miss that smell more than anything else. "If you tell me that you'll come back to me, and only me, after twelve weeks," I breathe, "I would wait."
Her lips lift into the most gorgeous smile. "You would?"
I nod. "I can't not find out, Bella," I confess. "I need to know what this is between us." I would be a fucking fool if I let her go without trying to discover what we have. And I want to. I want to discover everything about her, inside and out.
"Me too." She places her free hand to her chest and tries to catch her breath. She looks as though she may cry. "Thank you."
We leave the restaurant shortly after I've fed a whining Shortcake and Bella has changed her, and we make our way back down the harbour. With the weight of our previous conversation apparently lifted from both of us, Bella tells me about her being in therapy since her parent's deaths. Hearing this is not a surprise. In fact, it's a huge relief. She's had such a harrowing life. Apparently, her therapist thinks the move to California will be a great one. I want to smack the therapist in the mouth.
As she tells me more about her life with the Volture firm. I understand how wrapped up and protected Bella's been. They have looked after her, guided her, and encouraged her. Years ago, when she was alone and riddled with guilt and grief, I can see why it would have fit. Now, as I look at her and see a stunningly vibrant, independent woman, I grasp what going across the country will give her. Her life with Volture was about proving something to her parents, to Leah. About gaining forgiveness, about repentance. This is about proving something to herself.
The job, she tells me, is with a large multi-million dollar corporation who are trying to merge with some other big ass corporation. She tries to explain it to me, and I listen, but I don't really get it. I just like seeing her talk so animatedly, so passionately about her work, even though she's leaving in three weeks.
"Do we need to talk about the custody agreement?" I ask cautiously, as we stand looking out towards the water. Having joint custody of Shortcake, I'm curious whether Bella's leaving for twelve weeks will affect Leah's wishes. I notice her stiffen beside me. "It's just we're meant to live close to each other."
Bella turns, leaning back against the railing. Her eyes stay on the ground. "I spoke with Leah's attorney," she says softly. "She said that my leaving is okay, with it being temporary and all. Because it's employment the rules are a little different."
I nod slowly. As selfish as it is, I hoped there would be a rule in the Will that stated Bella would have to stay. I turn from the amazing harbour view and mirror her pose. In my periphery, I see Bella move towards me. She places her hand on my forearm.
"Are you okay with that?" Her voice is quiet, nervous.
I smile tightly. "Of course I'm not okay, Bella." I look directly at her. "You're leaving."
Her eyes drop at the same time her hand does and her shoulders sag. I immediately feel like a self-centred prick. I lift her chin with my fingers. "I don't want you to go for purely selfish reasons," I explain gently. "But I get why you need to do this. I do. If Leah's attorney says it's okay, then it's okay with me." I shrug and smile a little easier. "Shortcake will be here when you get back, just like I will. Besides, bicoastal parenting is cool, right?"
She smiles and breathes a large sigh. "Thank you."
I take my hand from her chin and push it into my pocket before the urge to grab and kiss the shit out of her overwhelms me completely. The uneasy cloud that'd surrounded us lifts gradually, and Bella begins to tell me more about California. I say I've never been and she tells me I'd love it. If I was there with Bella, I've no doubt I would.
As Bella talks about her wish to take Shortcake to Disneyland one day, I discreetly pull my camera out of my daughter's bag and snap a couple of shots. Bella doesn't notice the first one I take of her, but she sees the second. She laughs and slaps my arm, but I know the photographs of her will be perfect. I do it again, capturing her, against the water backdrop of the harbour, her hair whipping around her face. I wish she'd take it down so I could see it in its full windblown glory.
I drop the camera from my eye. "Why do you always wear your hair up?"
She glances towards the ground and licks her lips. "In the accident, I suffered a trauma to my head. It left a large scar, where the hair didn't grow back. You can only see it when I wear it down. I don't like people seeing it."
I nod, not knowing what else to say.
"I have a lot of scars." She sighs. She gestures with a wave of her hand around her stomach. "On the lower part of my body." She looks up at me, and all I see is panic and nerves. I know where her thoughts have gone because mine are there too. I'm thinking of her naked and glorious beneath me.
I stop at the side of her and reach for her hand. "You're beautiful, Bella," I tell her. "Every part of you." She looks away. I cup her cheek gently, turning her back to me.
"You know, my mom had to have several operations to get rid of the cancer," I mutter, feeling the familiar tightening in my throat whenever I talk about my mother. "They left large red scars on her chest and throat. She always told me and my sister not to be scared of them that the scars proved to everyone just how strong she was." I let my fingers dance down across Bella's skin. "Never be ashamed of them. They show people what you survived. That you are a survivor."
One minute she is standing in front of me, the next Bella is against me, kissing me in a way that makes the blood thunder in my ears. Regaining my balance, I moan into her mouth and wrap my arms around her. I lift her as my tongue delves deeply into her mouth. She sucks on it, and I nearly lose my damned mind. Her fingers tangle in my hair and hold me so closely I can barely breathe.
I kiss her back as if my life depends on it. I kiss her to tell her I will wait for her. I kiss her to tell her that I think I may be falling in love with her and I'm terrified about what that means.
Our kisses slow down until we're forehead-to-forehead, gasping and breathless. "I'm sorry," she croaks.
"Don't be," I reply. "I'm not."
"It's just—I'm never more alive than when I'm kissing you," she whispers.
I laugh and peck at her mouth. "Good. Alive is good."
"Promise we'll talk every day I'm away," she says. She opens her eyes and stares pleadingly. Her vulnerability staggers me.
I rub my nose against hers. "I promise."
"And you'll send me pictures of Shortcake every week."
I smile and nod. "I will."
"Okay." She kisses me softly. "Jesus. I miss you already."
Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing.
Holy hold the tears, Batman!
Thanks for your patience, guys. I truly appreciate it. Your love for this little fic still staggers me. Cheers.
Much love and snuggles to Purelyamuse for being a superstar grammar princess. She helps make DitD shine.
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