Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I'm just playing around with them.
Lots of thanks to MelissaMargaret for making this pretty, and to anhanninen and xxluvCarlisleEsmexx for prereading. Their help is invaluable, especially on this chapter, and I couldn't do this without them.
I didn't mean to fall asleep as I watched and held Bella, but one minute I was holding her hand and the next thing I knew, that hand was playing with my hair.
My eyes popped open right away, making her jerk her hand back.
"Sorry. I'll stop."
"No." I paused and cleared my throat. "It's okay. You don't have to stop." I pulled her hand back, letting it rest on my chest as I smiled at her. "Hi."
"Hi," she whispered back but then her eyes filled with tears. "I'm so sorry, Edward. So sorry. So sorry."
I shushed her but didn't know what else to do as she started sobbing, so I just pulled her closer and rubbed her back. I hated when girls cried because I never knew what to do, but I couldn't panic now. Not when I was so happy to have her here. God, I was so glad she was here beside me after everything last night.
I was probably doing the wrong thing, but Bella seemed to be okay with it, settling her head against my shoulder. After a few minutes, she stopped crying and lifted her head to look at me.
"You must hate me," she said, smiling sadly. "Your whole family hates me, don't they?"
"What?" I asked, shaking my head. "Bella, no. No one hates you, especially not my family. They were all worried. And I could never hate you. You're . . . you're my best friend."
She sniffed and a few more tears fell. "You're my best friend, too, Edward. I didn't know how I was going to make it without you."
"Well you don't have to find out." We smiled at each other and then she laid her head back down.
We lay together for a while without saying anything. I'd never just lay in bed with a girl before, but I decided I liked it with her. This was . . . comfortable. I was comfortable with Bella, and from the way she talked and acted, she felt the same around me. Somehow we just fit with each other, and it was as if suddenly I could see it.
Maybe Bella had noticed this from the start and that was why she'd wanted to be around me. It didn't really matter, though. All that mattered was that we both knew about . . . whatever this connection was, and I hoped it would be enough to make her stay.
As much as I liked lying in the quiet just the two of us, I was almost looking forward to facing Mom and Dad and maybe getting an explanation from Bella. Whatever she was afraid of, I was sure we could help her. I'd be her bodyguard every day if I had to – if that was what it would take. I didn't want her to leave again, especially like last night, so we needed answers.
I wasn't sure how to ask Bella if she wanted to go downstairs because I definitely didn't want to make her cry again. All I'd said before was 'hi' so there was no telling how she'd react if I asked her if she wanted to go find my parents and spill her secrets. Probably not well.
But Bella's stomach did the deciding for me, growling loudly.
I squeezed her hand. "Hey. Want to go get some breakfast? I'm sure Mom made something good." I scooted over a little, just so I could see her face, and she looked at me, biting her lip.
"Um . . . okay. I'm hungry, but I-I'm scared."
That was pretty obvious – even to me – and I kind of knew she wasn't just afraid of what she'd mentioned in her note.
"Mom will be happy to see you. And Lucy." That was the wrong thing to say again because the tears returned.
"I need Lucy," she said, sitting up as she kept crying. "Where is she? Did she s-sleep okay last night? I n-need her."
"Okay, okay," I said quickly, sitting up with her. "We'll go find her. Come on."
I scooted out of bed and held my hand out, but instead of taking it, she stood and wrapped her arms around my waist. Well, this wasn't going to make walking down stairs easy. But I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and somehow managed to get us downstairs safely.
Bella was stiff as we walked and it was even worse when we found Mom and Dad sitting in the living room.
"Bella needs Lucy," I blurted out, making them both immediately look up at us.
"I'll get her," Dad said, standing up. "She's just downstairs playing with the boys. I'll be right back, sweetheart." He kissed the side of Bella's head as he left the room which seemed to make her relax but cry more at the same time.
Best friend or not, I really needed to get away from the crying for a few minutes. And get some antacids.
Mom was my savior as she opened her arms wide. "Oh, my darling. It's okay, I promise. C'mere."
Bella nearly ran to get to the couch, throwing herself into Mom's arms.
"I'm gonna . . . food," I mumbled to Mom as she situated Bella beside her and held her in her arms. "Are you guys okay . . . ?"
Mom nodded to me and started talking softly to Bella, so I took it to mean I was free to go.
The kitchen counter was covered with bread and other things to make sandwiches with, which made sense when I looked at the clock. Apparently we'd slept completely through breakfast and it was now after noon. I wasn't exactly ready for lunch food though, but I found some breakfast casserole in the oven that we must have missed out on for breakfast.
I wasn't sure if Bella still wanted something to eat since she was crying again, but I scooped a serving her as well. As the food warmed, I found some Tums in the cabinet and chewed on a few. They were the peppermint kind which I hated, but I had to do something if I was going to last the rest of the day.
As I was grabbing some glasses to pour us some juice, I heard steps come into the kitchen. I was kind of hoping it was Bella with Lucy because I might have been missing that little girl. Maybe just a little. But when I turned, it was only Mom.
"Where's Bella?" I asked as she came over and hugged me.
"She took Lucy to the bathroom and so she could freshen up a little."
"Oh. How is she?"
"I think she's doing okay, all things considered." She stepped back but kept her hands on my arms. "And how are you? Dad said you were awake most of the night watching her."
I looked down and nodded. Dad had come in a couple times during the night to recheck Bella's temperature. It had gone back to normal within a few hours, but I hadn't wanted to sleep after that either.
"I'm . . . I'm okay. Just worried."
Mom squeezed my arms. "I know you are, dear, but I really think everything will be okay now. And you took such good care of her last night. You really rose to the challenge and your father and I are both so proud of you."
I shrugged, feeling awkward. "I just had to," I mumbled, knowing she probably wouldn't understand that explanation, but when I looked back up, she was smiling.
"I know." She squeezed again. "I know. But we're still proud."
"Thanks, Mom." I pulled her in for another hug because I felt like I had to do that too. Whether for my benefit or hers, I wasn't sure, but it did feel nice.
After releasing her, I went back to finding juice glasses and noticed Lucy's cup in the cabinet.
"How's Lucy?" I asked.
Mom chuckled. "Oh, she's her usual self today. I lay with her for a while in their bed last night but finally took her to my bedroom. So she had a sleepover with Nona and Granddad and was happy as a clam when she woke up. She's asked for Bella a couple of times, but we told her that Mama was sleeping and needed to rest. You should have seen her face when Carlisle brought her in the room a few minutes ago."
"Happy?" I couldn't stop myself from smiling at the thought of Lucy being happy. Something about her magic made her happiness rub off.
"That's an understatement. I think she knows everything's not exactly right but I think she'll be the little ray of sunshine that helps us all through this."
I wasn't sure what to say to that so I just poured the juice and then took the now heated food out of the microwave.
Just as I set the plates and glasses on the table, Bella joined us. Lucy was in her arms, and she was holding on to her tightly like Lucy was going to disappear. Lucy was giggling and seemed happy enough.
"Eddard!" she called when she saw me. "Hey, Eddard! Mama wake now." She wrapped her arms around Bella's neck and squeezed. I didn't see how Bella could breathe after that, but she was smiling and not crying anymore.
"Uh yeah. I see that. We slept kinda late, I guess."
Lucy nodded. "Sleep, sleep, sleep, wake, wake, wake." She started rambling about something else, but I had no idea what she was saying.
Mom chuckled at my confusion, patting my arm and Bella's as she left the room. "We'll be in the living room if you need us. Enjoy your food."
That reminded me of what I was doing here in the first place. I gestured toward the table, waiting for Bella to sit before I took my seat. I actually remembered some of the things Dad had tried to teach Emmett and I about being gentlemen back when we were teenagers. I hadn't cared about it then, but now I had a reason. Or at least I was pretty sure I did.
The only thing I was positive about was that I was starving and this breakfast casserole was delicious. I cleaned my plate and was about to get up and get more, but when I looked up I noticed that Bella hadn't eaten much of anything. She was picking at the food with her fork and Lucy was even sneaking little bites with her fingers.
"Is . . . is the food okay?" I asked. "Do you want me to fix you something else? I'm not the best, but I can probably manage toast or something." It would probably be burnt too, but I'd try my best for Bella. She needed to eat something.
She jumped a little at the sound if my voice but then shook her head. "Oh, no thank you, Edward. This is fine, but I just don't think I can eat."
I nodded, but I didn't really understand not being able to eat. I could always eat something, but maybe she was still scared. Whatever Mom said to her before was apparently not enough to make her feel better.
Scooting my chair back, I went back to the oven and scooped some more casserole. I only nuked it for a few seconds this time because Bella was starting to look even more scared as she pushed the food around her plate.
When I got back to the table, I sat and offered her my hand. She only hesitated for a second before placing hers in mine, threading our fingers together. She ate a few bites by the time I'd cleaned my plate again which was better than nothing. Maybe I wasn't so bad at this comforting thing.
"So. What are we doing now?"
Bella pushed her plate back and sighed. "Esme and Carlisle want to talk to me. About . . . everything."
"Oh. What did Mom say before? Can I ask that?" I had no idea how this worked – not that there was a common procedure for how to act when the homeless girl that your family had basically adopted tried to run away because she was afraid of something and to protect us. That seemed like something I was just going to have to wing.
"You can ask." Bella held Lucy close to her and squeezed my hand. "She . . . um said that everyone loved me and that everything would be okay. And no one's mad, but she and Carlisle need to know about me so they can help. And that I shouldn't be scared."
Well, that sounded pretty good to me but apparently wasn't enough for her.
"She's right," I said. "No one's mad at you. Last night we all just wanted to bring you home."
"She said that, too – and that everyone stayed here last night to make sure I was okay. I-I need to say thank you, but I don't know if I can." She sniffed, and when she glanced over at me, I saw the tears were back in her eyes.
"I can stay with you," I offered. "You don't have to talk to them alone." And everyone else seemed to be giving us space anyway if they were all here because I hadn't heard or seen them yet.
"Please," she said, looking at me all the way. "Please stay with me. I don't think I can do it without you."
I nodded. "Okay. Should we get it over with?"
She agreed but kept a death grip on my hand all the way into the living room. Lucy wasn't even jabbering like usual so apparently she knew this was serious too.
Mom and Dad were in the same spots they'd been in before, so I picked a spot on the couch where Bella could sit between me and Mom. Not that she needed much room because she was almost sitting on me.
"Is everything okay?" Mom asked softly.
Bella looked at me and bit her lip, so I wrapped my arm around her and nodded. Guess I was going to have to take the lead on this one.
"Um . . . Bella wants to talk to us about . . . stuff. Can we do that now?"
Mom nodded, reaching over to hold Bella's free hand. "Of course, sweetheart. Is it okay if we talk in here or would you be more comfortable somewhere else?"
"Here is good," Bella nearly whispered.
"Okay, darling. Now, we want you to feel safe and comfortable so feel free to say no, but Alice and Rose wanted to know if they could come up and be here for you during this. You decide what's right for you, but I know they'd like to offer as much support as they can."
"Oh." Bella stayed quiet for a few seconds but then nodded. "That's okay with me. They can come up if they want. And um . . . Lucy's asleep. I don't want to wake her up, but I need to see her . . ."
"Why don't we let her lay on the other couch?" Dad suggested. "Then she'll be comfortable but hopefully not disturbed. Is that okay?"
Bella agreed and carefully stood, carrying Lucy over to the smaller couch across the room. No wonder the kid had been quiet. She didn't even move as Bella laid her down and put a blanket over her.
Mom must have texted Alice or Rose because almost as soon as Bella was sitting back next to me, they were in the room and coming over to hug Bella. That started the tears again, but thankfully it wasn't as bad as earlier.
Once everyone was sitting down and Bella had her death grip on my hand again, Dad cleared his throat.
"Okay, sweetheart. We never wanted to pressure you into telling us about your past, but I think after last night it might help if we know as much as you're willing to tell us. I know you're afraid, but I promise we will protect you. You're part of the family, and we love you and Lucy very much. Whatever it is, we'll handle it together, all right? You can trust us."
"Okay," Bella said, nodding slightly. "I'll tell you everything. What. . . where should I start?"
"Wherever you want to," Mom said. "Maybe the beginning?"
Bella took a deep breath and let it out, squeezing my hand even tighter. I held her close and took a deep breath myself. I had a feeling I was about to hear some messed up shit, but I had to be able to deal with it for Bella. I knew she needed me, especially right now.
"Well, I uh don't remember much about being little. I know my birthday is September thirteenth, and I'm pretty sure I'll be twenty-one this year because I can remember thinking about being seven – that's the first memory I have – and then I counted from there."
She was a lot older than I had thought, and everyone else looked surprised too, but we kept quiet because she definitely wasn't finished.
"Um . . . I don't have a mom or dad that I know of. I lived with people named Jim and Tori. They were . . . they weren't very nice." She shuddered a little, so I pulled her even closer, rubbing her arm.
"Are they the ones who forced you to do housework?" Dad prompted gently, and she nodded.
"Mmhmm. I always had to clean while they were gone all day, and if I didn't do a good job, they wouldn't feed me. But I learned fast. And when I was older, I started cooking, too, so I wasn't hungry after that. They didn't really pay much attention to me so I sort of did whatever I wanted. Except leave. They kept the doors locked all the time, and I only tried to get out once." Her voice changed and she got a really weird look in her eyes. "Never go outside, kid. If people see you, they'll send you straight to the fucking police. You think living here is bad? Yeah, you won't survive jail. That's where they lock up kids who don't stay inside like they're supposed to. And you really don't want to know what I'll do if you come back."
I shuddered this time. She was obviously quoting one of those assholes who'd made her do work, but who said shit like that to a little kid?
"So you were afraid to go outside?" Dad asked. "Did they threaten you any other way?"
"No." Bella shook her head, and thankfully sounded like herself again. "Well, not really besides that time. They always told me no one could see me or I'd be in big trouble but like I said, they left me alone most of the time as long as I did what they wanted. And they were gone all day usually and sometimes at night after they were sure I wasn't going to try to leave. I watched TV sometimes when they were gone but there were only a few channels. And I snuck Tori's weird magazines into my room so I'd have something to do whenever they were home. Because that's when their friends would come over and they all start putting needles in their arms and smoking things."
Mom had been crying for a while, but she sniffed loudly and turned to Dad. "Drugs?"
"I'd suspect so. Probably heroin, maybe others." He turned back to Bella. "Did they ever cook things in the house, sweetheart? Or did you see them selling things to their friends?"
Bella nodded. "People came and gave them money for little bags or bottles sometimes. But they never cooked anything. I was the only one who used the kitchen."
"Okay. It probably wasn't methamphetamine, then," Dad decided. "Did they ever hurt you when their friends were over?"
I held my breath, waiting for her answer. I remember her saying before that she'd never been sexually assaulted and though that conversation had been awkward, I was kind of glad now that I had been there to know that much. There was still plenty of screwed up things that could have happened, but at least I knew it wasn't that.
"Not . . . exactly," Bella said slowly. "Um . . . when I was seventeen, one of their friends . . . well, he noticed me. I tried to stay in my room, but I really had to go to the bathroom. He saw me when I came out, and he said . . . the things he said . . . I-I didn't know exactly what he meant, but I knew. He wanted to do bad, bad things to me." She sniffed and leaned her head against my shoulder, so I shushed her and put both of my arms around her.
"It's okay," I said. "Its okay." I wasn't sure exactly what to do but I had to say something, both for her and to keep myself from going after any bastard who had said any kind of fucked up thing to her. I was angry. No one deserved stuff like that, but especially not her.
"You're safe, darling. Remember that." Mom wiped her eyes and reached over to place her hand on Bella's knee. "You're safe, and we won't let anything happen to you."
Bella nodded but didn't lift her head so I didn't loosen my hold either.
"Does anyone want some water?" Alice asked, slowly standing while wiping tears from her face. "I'll go get us some?"
Dad nodded, so she went to the kitchen with Rose following her. They were both crying, so I figured they just needed a break, too.
This was hard to hear, and I couldn't imagine living through it. Most of the time I complained about our family and didn't want to be around them much, but at least we were all nice to each other. Yeah, we teased and Emmett and Alice bossed me around growing up, but Mom and Dad clearly loved us and took care of us. Bella hadn't had any of that.
Alice and Rose came back a few minutes later with bottles of water for everyone. I set mine beside me and helped Bella open hers. Once she'd taken a few sips, she handed the bottle back to me and smiled.
"Okay?" I asked softly, though I was pretty sure she wasn't.
But she still nodded and focused on me. "Yeah. You're still here."
"Of course." Where else would I be now? I hoped the story wouldn't get much worse, but I definitely wasn't even thinking about leaving her side now.
The water seemed to help everyone calm down again – or at least stop the tears for the time being.
"Are you okay to keep going, Bella?" Dad asked. "We can take a longer break if you need to. It's totally up to you."
"No, I can do it," she assured him.
"Okay. You're doing such a great job. So, did anything happen that night?"
Bella shook her head. "I ran back to my room, but no one followed me. But after that night, everything was different. Jim and Tori started looking at me a lot. And I heard them talking about money. That wasn't so weird, but it sounded like more money than they usually talked about. I finally figured out that they were talking about selling m-me. To their friends to do bad things." She took a deep breath, squeezing my hand. "I-I couldn't let that happen, so I made a plan. The next time they were passed out, I stole the money out of Jim's pocket. I knew I needed some if I was going to leave. They didn't lock the doors when they were home, so it was easy for me to get out. I don't know how, but I found a bus station as I was running and I bought the farthest ticket they had."
"Do you know where you were? Where Jim and Tori lived?"
"I think the sign said Florida? Jackson or something. And my ticket went to Tennessee. I can't remember the name of the place but I think it was a lot smaller than where I'd been."
"You made it out on your own. You're so brave, Bella." Mom shook her head a little, like she couldn't believe it. "You're incredible, sweetheart. I'm so proud of you."
Alice and Rose agreed, but the only thing I could think about was asking Emmett and Jasper if they wanted to go down to Florida with me to kick some asses. Those fuckers were going to pay if I had anything to do with it.
"So is Tennessee where you worked in the coffee shop?" Alice asked.
Bella sat up a little, smiling a real smile this time. "Yes. I met a lady at the bus station. I was too scared to talk to anyone because I thought they'd call the police, but she was nice and told me she could tell I needed help.
"Her name was Shelley Cope, and she owned a little coffee shop that had an apartment above it. I was afraid to tell her much about me, but she let me stay in the apartment if I worked for her. At first, I just helped clean, but when she realized I could cook, she started letting me help bake everyday. She was nice and made sure I had everything I needed to live by myself."
"She sounds lovely," Rose said, smiling and not crying for the first time since we started this. "Were you still there when Lucy was born?"
Bella nodded. "Yes. Um . . . there was a boy who worked at the shop in the afternoons. Jake. He went to high school, I think, and he . . . liked me or something. So Mrs. Cope told me I could go out places with him if I wanted to. It was fun, I guess. He took me to see a movie at a place with a big screen, and we went to McDonald's a few times, too. He kissed me there."
I had to stop myself from getting mad. Who was this stupid kid named Jake? And why had she wanted to spend time with him? I didn't know what I was feeling right now, but I didn't like it. Bella was my best friend. Not some punk named Jake.
Dad moved his head a little, catching my eye. He raise his brow at me, but I shook my head. I'd figure this out later. As soon as I was sure Jake wasn't a problem.
"I wasn't sure what to do," Bella continued, "but he kissed me again another day, too. It wasn't bad or anything, so when he asked me if I wanted to do more, I said okay." She lowered her head, and I could tell she was blushing as her voice got softer. "He . . . um . . . showed me how to do stuff to him with my hand, which wasn't bad either, so when he wanted more the next week, I said okay. He said . . . he said sex was good, but it was fast and . . . weird. I wasn't sure if we did it right. Until I missed my. . . my thing for a couple of months and I got sick a lot at work every morning so I asked Mrs. Cope why. She knew I'd been out with Jake, so she brought me this stick thing I had to use the bathroom on. That's what told me I was going to have Lucy."
Now I really wanted to go after that little asshole along with the others. He got her pregnant and what? I didn't see him taking care of his kid. And they'd been homeless when I found him. I might not have known much but I sure as hell wouldn't have let my kid be out on the street.
And that feeling I had was even worse now. They'd had sex? Obviously he wasn't any good at it which made me a little happier for some reason. But I was mostly angry. I didn't care if Bella had agreed. He had still taken advantage of her. Bella. My Bella.
"Did you tell Jake?" Mom asked. "Was he there for you and Lucy?"
"No." Bella looked up at Mom and frowned. "He was moving away for more school at the end of the summer, and he didn't want a baby. But as soon as I knew she was in there, I wanted her, and I wanted to try to take care of her by myself and not give her to anyone like Mrs. Cope asked."
"Adoption?" Dad asked, and Bella nodded.
"Yes, that. I wanted my baby, so I went to the library at night and read all the books I could so I could learn how to take care of a baby, and I found baby things I could afford to buy at the thrift store. Mrs. Cope's daughter is a midwife who delivers babies, and she convinced her to help me for free. Lucy was born in my apartment on December twenty second."
"Aww. She was almost a Christmas baby," Alice said, smiling.
Bella smiled back at her. "She was the best present I've ever gotten. I took care of her by myself and when I went back to work, Mrs. Cope let me bring Lucy with me. We stayed there until last summer." Her smile fell and she leaned back against me. "Something happened to Mrs. Cope. I think she had a . . . stroke?" She looked over at Dad, and he nodded. "Her daughter came and told me one day when Mrs. Cope didn't come to work. She said she had to go live in a special home then and they were going to sell the coffee shop since she couldn't run it anymore. I knew Lucy and I couldn't stay there. I was already afraid Jim and Tori would find me, and I was afraid to get a job anywhere else because I didn't trust anyone to not tell on me. I didn't know what to do, but the next day, I found a letter in front of the door. Mrs. Cope had given me some money, so I packed a few things and left with Lucy that day. I didn't get to say thank you, but that money kept us alive and in motels until two weeks before you found us."
She looked up at me and the tears were back, but so was her smile. I couldn't stop myself from smiling back and kissing her cheek.
"I'm glad I found you," I whispered just to her. It wasn't the first time I'd thought it, but it was the first time I really admitted it to anyone, including myself. Bella . . . God, she had been so lucky to have found someone nice to help her – besides that dick, Jake. It was probably a miracle that she'd survived as long as she had and that nothing worse had happened to her.
Bella's smile grew wider and she moved her arms to wrap around my waist. It wasn't the most comfortable position, but I didn't care. I wanted to hug her too.
Dad cleared his throat, probably to get our attention, and he was smiling when we turned back to look at him.
"I guess that brings us full circle, doesn't it? I know I can speak for all of us when I say that we're very glad you had someone to look after you even for just a short time. And I'm sure there are specifics we'll need to talk about to decide what our steps will be from here, but for now, I think we should focus on your safety. Can you tell us what made you decide to run last night?"
Bella tensed in my arms, and Mom scooted over closer to once again hold Bella's hand.
"Bella," she said softly, waiting for her to look at her. "Sweetheart, I'll tell you again – we don't hate you. We could never ever hate you, and I know that face you just made. Don't you dare feel guilty either. Whether your decision was right doesn't matter, but it was so selfless for you to leave Lucy with us."
"Mom's right," Rose said as she stood and came over to kneel in front of Bella. "I'm sure you're thinking it, but please listen when I say you are not a bad mother. Not at all. You've done so much right for that little girl when really you shouldn't have had a clue. I don't think I could have done what you did, and I admire you so much for it."
"I do, too," Mom agreed. "We would have taken her and continued loving her without question, but we're making sure we get to keep you too. Did someone say something to you last night? Is that what made you decide?"
She was still tense, so I reached down and grabbed her water. After she took a couple of sips, she nodded.
"When I went to the bathroom, two girls came in. They didn't know I was there, I guess, so they started talking about me and your family. They said I would bring trouble because I was probably running for something. And they're right. I can't let Jim and Tori hurt you. I didn't give them a chance to hurt me before, but I stole so I know they're probably looking for me. I just wanted to protect you and Lucy. I love you all. I don't know what I'd do if any of you got hurt because of me."
"Sweetheart, I don't want you to be afraid while you're with us," Dad said. "We can keep you safe. We'll work on the specifics after we're all well rested and ready, but I will tell you this. Those needles Jim and Tori used? They were filled with bad – and illegal – drugs. It's very possible that they're already in prison for what they were doing or they could even be dead. We won't know until we investigate, of course, but I highly doubt they'd be in any condition to hunt you down when there's no way to trace you. So for now at least, you can breathe a little easier, okay?"
"Really?" Bella asked. "You don't think they could find me?"
Dad shook his head. "No, I really don't think they could. You're safe now."
Bella made a weird choking sound before starting to cry. Again. But I held her close, wishing I had some more Tums and trying to comfort her. Before she stopped crying, she moved from my arms which didn't make me happy, but I couldn't really complain when she went over to hug Dad. It was obvious that she had really listened to what he'd said which made me relax just a bit. Hopefully this meant she wouldn't be running anymore for the time being. I still didn't like the idea of letting her out of my sight, but I could definitely sleep tonight.
After a few minutes, the room was quiet. I wasn't even sure if anyone else was breathing. But eventually, Bella got up and headed to the bathroom, and that was the cue for everyone to move.
"Oh, my poor, brave girl." Mom sniffed as she moved back over to sit next to Dad. "How has she lived through so much and still managed to be so sweet and innocent?"
Dad wrapped his arms around her and kissed the side of her head. "It's just a testament to how incredible she is. I'm ready to fill in the holes and gaps of her story, but I think we need to rest for a couple days first."
"We need to find those . . . those fuckers," I gritted out, clenching my fists. Mom didn't even complain about my language. Instead, everyone mumbled their agreement.
"And those girls at the party," Alice added. "Whoever they are, I don't want them invited again. No one talks about my family like that. Those bitches can climb ladders somewhere else."
Rose nodded. "And check on Mrs. Cope and try to find Bella's parents. Really, there's a lot we need to do, but Dad's right. We need a break and to focus on Bella."
A break sounded like the best idea to me. My head was swimming from everything I'd heard, and I knew I hadn't proceeded even half of it yet. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to find all the people who had hurt my Bella and make them pay.
But I guessed Rose was right, too. I needed to focus on Bella, and when she came back to the living room, she looked like she needed some more rest.
I stood before she could sit and took her hand. "Want to go upstairs?" I asked.
She bit her lip, looking over at Lucy who was still sleeping. I was about to offer to carry her upstairs with us, but then Bella nodded.
"Okay. As long as no one minds watching Lucy."
Of course no one did, so I was able to lead Bella upstairs. I wasn't sure where to go once we were up there, but she made the decision when she started walking toward my room.
"Bed or couch?" I asked, not bothering to turn on the light. There was just enough light coming in the window, and I really wanted to take a nap or at least rest my eyes. Now I remembered why I'd never stayed up all night again after college. And why I stayed away from emotional shit. That stuff was exhausting.
"Bed, please," Bella said softly.
We were still in our pajamas, so I motioned for her to get in bed before I quickly took care of business in the bathroom. She was smiling at me when I opened the door, and I wasted no time before crawling under the covers beside her and pulling her close.
I really liked this lying in bed with Bella thing. And I was almost one hundred percent sure that dick Jake had never done this with her. For some reason, that thought made me happy and smug, too.
"Thank you for staying with me," she whispered, settling her head against my shoulder.
"You're welcome. I'm . . . I'm glad you're okay. I'll protect you, okay? You'll be safe with me."
"Mmkay, Ehward. Lo ouu."
I wanted to ask her what she'd said because I had no idea, but she was already asleep. Yawning, I fixed the cover over us and closed my eyes to do the same.
We had a lot to deal with now because Bella's story had opened a whole new can of worms. But that could all wait until we got some rest.
And I was going to take advantage of the quiet while it lasted. It was only a matter of time before the kid showed up, but I didn't even regret not locking the door.
Things were definitely changing.
A/N: *peeks between fingers* Well . . . there you have it.
Please keep in mind this is not the whole story – just the major points of what Bella knows and lived. There are many holes in her story and still much more to be discovered. I'm sure this has led to more questions, but I promise they'll be answered eventually. As Edward said, this has opened a whole new can of worms, but they'll be working through it all together piece by piece.
Hopefully, though, this clears up a few things about Bella.
Thank you all again for being so awesome. I hope you enjoyed the chapter!