A/N: Back to the present...
Beta'd by Michelle Renker Rhodes.
All characters belong to S. Meyer.
Chapter 5 – Going Home
It's mid-morning on a hot day in New York City. I've gone into the ERA office building in midtown for a couple of hours this morning to settle some items and leave instructions with my assistant, Angela, as well as with Ben Cheney, my second in charge there, and the rest of the staff for while I'm in London. We go over the upcoming piece we'll now be doing on the Congressman and decide what to push back to accommodate him, and I put Austin Marks, our top photographer, on alert.
They're all getting used to my schedule. I've worked my ass off straightening out ERA these past couple of months; ten, twelve, fourteen hour work days. I barely spend any time at all in the high-rise flat Michael gave me in one of his mid-town buildings. It's not like I can sleep anyway, when I'm so far from home. Other than to catch occasional hours of slumber or to have a quick go with Michael to relieve some stress, the flat is useless space.
My staff works just as hard as I do. I let them know from the beginning that these first few months would be hectic, and they know that I demand the best from them – whether I'm here or in London.
I try to go home every other week. Michael has been good about it, I must admit – but then again, he usually lets me do things my way, rarely puts his foot down with me – unlike the way he did with this upcoming piece on Edward. Michael knows my work ethic, and he knows that things will get done no matter which office I'm using. Besides, the London office needs my attention too – and if things work out, this is where I will set up permanently as managing editor of ERA London. Someone else can have the prestige in New York. Probably Ben, he seems to be up for it from what I've seen.
The black Bentley Michael has assigned for my use weaves through traffic, its driver guides us out of the city and into Brooklyn. Here we enter the Belt Parkway, which winds round the narrow Hudson River and reminds me of the River Thames and the way it winds round my home. I'll be there soon – just a few hours.
I'm lost in thoughts about home when my mobile vibrates. I pull it out and find a text from the Congressman.
Ms. Swan, please call me at your earliest convenience to discuss the piece for ERA. You may call my private number: 646-555-0534.
I snort and glare out the window – wondering how badly he's panicking.
Fifteen minutes later, as we take the ramp off of the Long Island Expressway towards JFK Airport, my mobile vibrates once more.
Ms. Swan, your secretary told me that you're on your way to the airport, but I think it would be beneficial to the both of us if we spoke before you left.
His texts are vague enough to mean anything. I wonder how often he and one of his conquests have traded deliberately vague texts.
I smirk and drop my phone back into my bag. I'm not playing this game with him.
While I'm checking in, the phone vibrates yet again.
Ms. Swan, I believe we have a lot to discuss. Please call me.
He's desperate. In the light of day, he may not be feeling quite as invincible any longer. My threats to him from last evening must be sinking in and he's feeling his perfect political world fade away.
A wry grin lifts up one corner of my mouth as I walk through customs and place the phone on the waiting tray, but though my mouth grins, I feel cold and empty inside. This wasn't the way things were supposed to be between him and me. An image hits me of he and I back in that hotel room…the way he held me…the way his green eyes took me in…
But life is what it is, and I won't cloud my day with thoughts of him and his lies. I'm going home, where I have better things to occupy my time and mind with.
As I sit by the gate and wait for Virgin flight 625 to be ready, I pull out my mobile.
Congressman Cullen, as I indicated last evening, I will have my assistant contact your assistant to set up all logistics regarding the piece for ERA. This will occur at MY earliest convenience, Congressman, and not a second earlier. Have a pleasant week.
Then, I call first my mum and then Rose to make sure that everything is alright and let them know I'll be home in a few hours, and I shut off my phone.
London is bleak and grey when I arrive – opaque clouds cover an ink-like sky that threatens blessed rain. I draw in a deep breath as the chauffeur waiting for me in Heathrow takes my bag and leads the way outside. New York City's summer is almost unbearably hot, and by contrast the coolness of the air here soothes my frazzled and tired nerves.
I wonder how she is – if she's changed at all in the past week.
I'm a coiled up bundle of anxiety as the car makes its way out of the city and into Essex, the familiar Thames following us through our path. Mile by mile, we leave the crowded city behind until the space between flats grows larger, and pretty backyards with roses and tulips spring about. The coast winds into a picturesque small town full of sandy beaches bordered by restaurants, pubs and shops. And spreading out from the town center of Leigh-on-Sea are the homes – my home. My real home; not the one I keep in London or New York.
My real life.
I use my key, because it's late, but when I step in my mum has been waiting up for me, a grin on her face and a glass of wine in each hand.
I grin back, happy to see her, and gladly step into her outstretched arms.
"Oh, Love," she chuckles, "you're home. Give us a hug, then."
I hug her tight yet hastily and step back.
"How is she?"
"She's just fine, Love," my mum smiles. "Alice went to bed about an hour ago. You know she can't stay up too late, that one."
I draw in a deep breath and let it out slowly, both relieved that she's well, yet disappointed that I won't be able to see her smiles 'til morning. And now that I know that everything's good, I study my mum.
She looks tired yet happy, her blue eyes twinkling, and her long brown hair quite a mess round her. But my mum has always had a jovial disposition, except when my dad died. Then, she was quite depressed, and I took over for a while, taking care of both her and Alice. Nevertheless, she has a way of finding the bright side to everything. I believe her fondness for wine has something to do with her usual, giddy self. No, she's no drunk, but Alice and I tend to keep an eye on her.
"How've you been, mum?"
"I've been good. Busy," she chuckles. "She's a ball of energy, that one, she is."
I smile, my heart swelling with joy.
"And you, Darling?" mum asks. "Did you see him, then?"
Another thing about my mum: she doesn't beat about the bush – about anything.
I sigh and put my bag down, taking a sip from the proffered wine glass before setting it down on the side table.
"Yes, Mum, I saw him."
"And did you tell him?"
My gaze shifts to the picture behind her, of the smiling, happy child celebrating her sixth birthday.
"No, Mum, I didn't tell him."
"You've given up the idea, is it? I'm glad to hear it."
I sigh deeply. "No, Mum, I haven't given up the idea. It was just a bit more…complicated than I thought it would be."
She moves closer and cups my cheek. "Bella, love, if you're going to tell him, don't turn it into a horror show, for God's sakes!" She chuckles, her words only slightly slurred. I vaguely wonder how many glasses of wine she's had while waiting up for me. I'm quite glad that Alice is here, and Rose so close by.
"I'm not turning it into a horror show, Mum, that's simply how he'll see it."
"How do you know that?" she asks, grinning widely. "I don't see how anyone could ever not want-"
"Mum, you don't know him. I do. And I don't want to talk about this right now. I want to go see her."
My mum watches me knowingly for a few seconds, and then chuckles once again. "Well go ahead, then, let's have a look at her."
With my heart racing in my chest, I shoot up the stairs of the house I grew up in. I wanted to buy my mum something bigger when Michael started paying me more than I knew what to do with, but she insists that this is where she and dad married, this is where she'll die. Sort of morbid, but I suppose I understand that sort of devotion – even if the one to whom I was once devoted turned out to be an arsehole. I can only assume that it's different when that devotion goes both ways.
But I banish those thoughts as I turn the knob to the door of my old bedroom, now decorated in pinks and purples with large wallpaper stickers of princesses and castles and swans…
There's a soft nightlight on - because I've been told she doesn't like the lights off when I'm not home. As soon as I see her though, everything else fades away. Nothing else in the world matters. No problem is insurmountable – nothing that bad could've ever happened, not if I have her.
My six-year old daughter.
Edward's and my daughter.
I sit carefully on the edge of her bed and take in her soft features. Peace and pride and wonder and so much I can't even describe fill me to my core until it brims over and splays out the way her long, copper hair splays against her pillow. Even in slumber, she's a mirror-image of her father – though her beauty is feminine and young and so innocent. She smiles in her sleep, dreaming happy dreams, I pray; blissfully unaware that her father has no idea that she exists, or that he would consider her a liability if he did know of her; unaware that she will only ever have one parent to love and care for and protect her.
"Ellie," I murmur quietly, her name a whisper on my lips, said in a tone that reminds me of the way her father once used to say my name – like a prayer, full of worship.
But unlike that lie, this is real. My overwhelming love for her is real.
Despite my efforts to be quiet and still and let her rest, her eyes suddenly flutter open, and I gasp unevenly, lost in her emerald eyes. Up until yesterday it had been seven years since I'd last seen Edward, and though I have a reminder of him in my life every day, I hadn't realized until this moment how identical their eyes are; the color, the shape, the way they sparkle.
Elizabeth London Swan.
"Mummy, you're home!" she exclaims, sitting up in one go and throwing her small arms round me. I'm engulfed by all-consuming love and warmth.
"Yes, Ellie, my little love," I whisper shakily against her hair, holding her tightly to me. "Mummy's home."
I wake early the next morning wrapped around my daughter in the double-bed we share. By the sounds of her soft breathing, she's still fast asleep, and I'm grateful because she's growing so quickly and needs her rest – but at the same time, I can't wait until she awakens so we can talk and spend time together and I can gaze into those beautiful, sweet eyes of hers.
Not wanting to let go of this quiet, special moment that's become so rare these past couple of months, I simply lie there for about a half-hour, just holding her while she sleeps, her soft, warm little frame cradled in my arms, her long hair tickling my forehead and nose. My heart aches with bittersweet emotions. After a while, I place a tender kiss over her hair and rise up carefully to get ready for work.
When I get downstairs, Mum and Alice are already round the table; Alice ready for university and Mum ready for her day. I smile when I see that though the morning is busy, they've bothered to prepare a full breakfast including baked beans, mushrooms, eggs and bacon. They love to cook, these two.
"We know how much you miss it," my mum chuckles when she sees me eyeing the table.
Al sprints up and gives me a warm hug while Mum goes to the stove and pours me a cup of tea.
"How was your week, Bella?"
I grin at my little sister. She's petite, shorter than my five foot two frame by a couple of inches. Her hair is a darker shade than mine, and she keeps it quite short, pixie-like with a long fringe that suits her beautifully. Her skin is paler than mine, but she's got our mother's blue eyes; whereas I have our dad's brown ones.
"It was…interesting, Al." I smirk, trying to keep it short and simple in front of mum.
Mum sets my tea in front of the seat I've taken at the table; dad's old seat. They've always reserved it for me.
Alice sits back down and Mum hands me a dish, so I can serve myself from the pickings on the table.
"Mum says you saw him, then?"
So much for short and simple. I nod as I spoon baked beans onto my dish.
"How does he look? Is he as bloody handsome as he looks on the telly and in the papers?"
I roll my eyes and stuff a bit of mushrooms in my mouth.
Mum chuckles once more. "Darling," she says, looking over at Alice, "you forget your sister had quite a go with the man a few years back, do you? The proof of it is sleeping soundly up there in her room! She knows quite well how handsome the man is!"
And that is Renee Swan - quite blunt in everything. Even seven years ago, when the ramifications of that weekend were first coming to light, Mum took it all so calmly. I think since losing my dad, nothing's really shocked her anymore.
Alice laughs heartily.
"Never mind that. I rang yesterday after Ellie's football game, but you guys must've still been out. How did her team do?"
Alice's blue eyes sparkle with pride. "They won the game. Ellie scored the winning goal!"
"Yes!" I do a fist pump in the air. We take our football pretty seriously here in the U.K. "She must've been quite thrilled with herself!"
"You know how your daughter is," mom titters with no little mirth. "Quite intense, that one. When she sets her mind to a goal, no one's going to take it away from her. You and Alice were always so passively content when you were younger and played football. I wonder from where Ellie gets her competitive ambition?" she questions innocently, smiling while she sips her tea.
I purse my lips as I get up and gather my dish and utensils. "Right, well I'm off to London. I'll be home as early as possible.
"Leave that, darling," my mum laughs at me. "I'll take care of it. Go spend a few minutes with your daughter before you've got to be off."
"Thanks, Mum," I grin down at her.
Ellie is stretching in her bed when I walk in.
"Mummy!" she greets me, and I wonder if anything will ever thrill me as much as hearing the unbridled joy in her voice whenever she speaks my name. Even the way her father used to call me fails to hold a candle to the way she speaks her name for me.
She jumps out of bed and runs to me, and I pick her up and hold her close. It may be my imagination, but I think she may feel longer in my arms than she did last week – or it may just be guilt at leaving her every other week.
But it won't be permanent. Once I get ERA sorted out in New York, once I write the piece on Edward, once I end the political ambitions that were more important to him than were Ellie and I…then I'll be home to stay once again.
I walk us over to her bed and sit on the edge, holding her on my lap, gazing at her, smoothing down her hair. Unlike her eyes, which are exactly like her father's, her hair is a shade darker, more of a mixture of his and mine, I suppose. I swallow thickly.
"Good morning, sleepy head. I think you've grown this week." I smile.
She giggles. "We must measure me on the wall then, Mummy, to see if the line has moved."
Her sweetness makes me sigh. "You're right. Let's go do that right now."
We walk over to the wall behind the bedroom door, where I've annotated Ellie's growth with a pencil ever since she's been old enough to stand. After she stands still against the wall, I draw a line, and she turns and we both see that it's exactly where it was a fortnight ago - when we last did this.
She frowns, emerald eyes full of confusion. "But I thought I was bigger, Mummy."
I pick her up again, reveling in my ability to do so once more. The way I miss her when I'm gone is indescribable, and I know she misses me too. It guts me.
"Listen to me," I smile tenderly, "you, Miss Elizabeth, are growing up so quickly I barely recognized you last night. Where's my Ellie? I was about to ask, 'til I looked closer and realized that it was you, only so much bigger!"
She giggles heartily in my arms.
"Nanny and Aunt Alice tell me your team won the game yesterday."
Her face beams with pride. "I scored the winning goal, Mummy! I wish you would've seen it. I kicked the ball so hard it went flying past the goalie's head!"
I grin at her, touching the tip of my finger to the tip of her nose. "I'm sure Coach Hale must've been in heaven," I smirk.
Her mouth lifts up in a familiar crooked grin. "Aunt Rose took us all for ice-cream afterwards, but she let me have two scoops instead of one like the other girls!"
I sigh deeply. Rose spoils her. They all do. But it's hard not to. Along with her father's looks, Elizabeth has inherited his charisma, that indefinable something that makes everyone love her.
She also has a competitive streak.
"There are more important things than winning. You know that Ellie, don't you? There are more important things than being at the top."
A small line forms between her brows. "At the top of what, Mummy?"
I gaze at her quietly. "Never mind, my love. I'm so very proud of you. I wish I would've been there too."
She frowns. "Mummy, are you going back to New York?"
With her in my arms, I walk us back over to the bed. Perhaps her physical growth can't be differentiated between this week and last, but Ellie is a bright little girl; inquisitive. She's barely six, but one day soon she'll start to ask different questions - and I have no idea how I'll answer them.
"Ellie, Mummy has to go back to New York at the end of the week."
She looks down between us, and I can see her bottom lip quiver. It spears me.
I lift her chin up to look in her deep, reflective eyes. "Ellie, this won't be for much longer. I promise. And I'll ring you every day, the way I do now. And we can see each other over the phone and laptop screens. As soon as mummy takes care of everything she has to take care of, I'll come back to stay, and we'll never have to be apart again. In the meantime, Nanny and Aunt Alice and Aunt Rose will play with you, and take care of you, and you'll have so much fun you won't even miss me."
She looks up at this and furrows her brows, seeming puzzled. "But Mummy, of course I'll miss you. You're my mummy. No one takes care of me the way you do."
I pull her tightly against me. "I love you so much, Ellie. I'll always take care of you."
I spend a few hours in the London office taking care of business. Michael calls to see how I've arrived. We talk for a while, purely business, which suits me perfectly today. I need to clear my head and forget about what's waiting for me in New York in a few days. Besides, it never gets too personal with Michael.
He has no idea that I have a daughter – no one in my business life does. When he and I met a couple of years ago, it was all business, and by the time we threw sex into the mix, my personal life didn't matter. I keep a flat in London, which is my official address. He knows I have family in the outskirts of London, but he doesn't know where, and he doesn't care – which works beautifully for me.
Rose and I text on and off, and settle it that she'll meet me at home in the late afternoon.
When I get home, Rose and Ellie are outside in the front yard, practicing football. Alice is home too, and she and my mom sit by the swing seat round the porch watching – while my mom laughs and calls out instructions to Ellie.
Ellie runs to me, and I kneel on the grass in my skirt and heels and hold her tight. She tells me about her day – it's the beginning of summer holidays so she has long days to play – and then Rose gives me a hug.
"So how'd it go?" she asks when Ellie starts bouncing the ball distractedly from one knee to the next.
"Not exactly as I'd planned, but…it's looking promising," I smirk.
I won't tell her about the washroom incident; she'd see it as weakness, as my inability to resist him completely.
Rose stares at me and then sighs heavily.
My mum and Alice and Rose know what I went to America for. Ellie is here, growing up without a father because Edward put his political ambitions ahead of everything - because he lied to me. Now he's running for Senate, and I know what his next step is, and throughout it all, I've watched his entire life and career unfold exactly as he'd planned it - while my daughter grows up fatherless.
But while my mum and Alice may not be one hundred percent behind what I'm doing, they keep their opinions to themselves – or at least hide them behind half-jokes and teasing.
Rose has been pretty verbal about her disapproval. But she's my best friend - always has been, and always will be. She's always been there for me, and when my life began to fall apart, when I thought I was lost, she stood behind me all the way. She's as much my family as my mum and Alice and Ellie.
She pulls me by my arm and walks me over to where Ellie can't hear.
"What does that mean, then?"
"It means that I sort of chickened out."
"So you didn't tell him that he's a father?"
I shake my head.
Rose lets out a long breath of relief. "Bella, this is probably for the best. You have no idea how he would've reacted-"
"No, Rose," I cut her off. "I'm still going to tell him. And what's more, Michael wants me to write a piece for the magazine on the Congressman."
"You're going to announce in the magazine that you and Edward have a child together? Is that how you're going to let him know?" she hisses incredulously.
"No! Of course not! But he doesn't know that," I grin wickedly. "I'm going to tell him about Ellie, and then he's going to think that I plan to include that in the piece. He'll resign just to avoid the scandal."
She glares at me. "Bella, this makes absolutely no sense."
I sigh and look down between us.
"Bella, what if he wants to be part of her life – even if just for show? You do realize what that would do to her privacy and yours, right?"
My head whips up. "No." I shake my head vehemently. "No, he won't want that. All he cares about is his political career. He'll want to keep it all secret, and he'll resign from the senatorial race just to make sure none of this ever comes out."
Rose shakes her head. "Bella, I don't understand what the point of all this is now – seven years later. He hurt you, but you moved on and bloody well without him. Just let it go and forget all about it. Or is it that…you just can't forget-"
My nostrils flare. "The point of all this now, Rose, is that he has no right to continue rising, to see all his dreams come true while my daughter grows up without him!"
"So you want him to be a part of Ellie's life?"
"Then what? What do you want? I just don't get it, Bella. Ellie is not just your daughter," Rose says pointedly. "She's his daughter too, and he is a very powerful man! If he does decide he wants her, whether out of some temporary fatherly love or even just as a publicity stunt, all this might backfire on you!"
"I told you, he's not going to want her – not as a publicity stunt nor as a father - which is fine because Ellie doesn't need a man like him in her life. But he shouldn't get everything his heart desires, not if she has to do without a father."
Rose is still unconvinced, as I knew she would be. She and I have disagreed about this since I told her what I was going to do. She doesn't want Edward in Ellie's life any more than I do, but while I know how heartless he is, while I know that he'll simply resign quietly just to avoid the scandal, Rose is afraid he'll use this somehow to his advantage. But what Rose fails to understand is that Ellie isn't part of the Cullen Legacy – the one he told me about that weekend seven years ago – the one he had carefully planned out.
Conversation between she and I is strained for a bit after that – but we all have dinner together and eventually things return to normal and Rose and I are alright again. We've been through too much together for it to be any other way. Then I change out of my work clothes and put on some sweats, and we all go out to the back yard and play football with Ellie.
And I spend a beautiful week with my daughter and my family. Most mornings I go into the London office, but then I come home and play football with my daughter and Rose, help mum and Alice with dinner, Ellie and I go for long walks down the small beach in Old Leigh. We pick small shells and smooth rocks and bring them home for her fish tank. I take her to the amusement pier in Southend where we ride roller-coasters and have so much cotton candy Ellie's lips and tongue turn blue. On Wednesday and Thursday I work from home and Ellie and I spend the entire time together. It's almost perfect…
…until Michael calls me, late Friday night.
"Everything going well?" he asks.
"Yes, Michael. Everything is running smoothly."
"Good, good. Isabella, I know you're not due back in the New York office until Monday morning, but I need you back a day early."
"Why?" I blurt quickly. "Everything is going fine in the New York office, Michael. I'm in constant contact with Angela and Ben and-"
"I'm not worried about that, Isabella. I know you've got it all under control, but I got a call from Congressman Cullen earlier today. He says the only time he'll be able to set aside for the piece for ERA will be next week."
"Next week?" I hiss, closing my eyes and breathing out through my nose. "Fine, I suppose I can rearrange my schedule for next week. I'll give the photographer a call and let him know to be ready to travel Sunday night, but I need to know where we should meet the Congressman-"
"Isabella, the Congressman insists on a meeting before then, between you and him, to make sure you're both on the same page. I'm thinking early Sunday would be fine."
"A meeting?" I repeat through clenched teeth, barely controlling my fury. "I don't see why that's necessary."
"He says there are a few ground rules he wants to establish."
"Ground rules," I reiterate inflectionless.
He wants to censor me. He must be going absolutely mad wondering what I have planned for him.
"Michael, will you be at this meeting?"
"I can be, if you want me to. I can rearrange my schedule a bit."
"Yes, I'd appreciate it."
"Isabella, sweetheart, are you afraid to meet with the Congressman alone?" Michael chuckles.
"No, Michael. I'm not afraid of the Congressman at all. I just want you there when he sets his ground rules, to make sure that there's no misunderstanding."
And so that Edward can see how useless his ground rules will be.
"I'll call Angela then and have her set it up with his people."
"Good girl," Mike says, a smile in his voice.
When we hang up, I stare at my phone for a long while, my hand trembling around it, all the soft and tender feelings surrounding me for the past few days slowly fading.
I'll have to face Edward again sooner than I'd thought, and by the looks of it, he's not going down easily. But I'm ready for this, I'm ready for him – I have to be.
So was this really a surprise? :)
We will continue alternating between past and present for a few more chapters.
Link to 'Stories by PattyRose' is on my profile page.