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Esme makes a mean roast, and tonight the house is savory with its smell. Bella and I offer to help with dinner, so Esme sets us up with wine and cheese to nibble on while we mash potatoes and saute vegetables. Her rapport with Bella is so effortless that sometimes they even leave me out.
I don't mind. I want them to be that comfortable.
Because frankly, I didn't consider the implications of what dinner would be like with Bella and what's left of my family. It isn't until we're seated at the table that I find myself anxious and vigilant, half listening to every conversation between every person. She likes my aunt and uncle. Everyone does; they're impossible not to. And she's all right with Rose. I don't know what they spoke about earlier, at the apartment, but there's definitely peace there. Maybe Rose sees something of herself in Bella.
Emmett and Bella, though, circle one another with mutual caution. Their interactions are forced and polite; brief. Maybe he feels guilty about what we did. Maybe Bella's intimidated by him. I just don't know.
After dinner, Carlisle and Emmett escape to the living room while Rose, Esme and Bella linger in the kitchen. I end up in the den by myself, messing around on the piano.
It's not long before Bella wanders in. She joins me at the bench, playing with the hair at the nape of my neck. "Esme said you'd be here."
Shrugging, I smooth my hands over my jeans. "She knows me well."
I look at her, her lips. The way she bites them. "I want you to."
Nodding, she takes a seat at my side. "Are you okay, though? You kind of just disappeared after dinner."
I nod. "I do that sometimes – I'm all right. Are you okay?"
"Of course." Her eyes soften, and takes my hand, bringing it to her lap. "Why wouldn't I be?"
I watch her closely, trying to get a read on her. "Being here, with Emmett. With everyone."
"It'll take some getting used to. But..." She rests her head on my shoulder. "I'll be fine. I'll have to be."
"You don't have to be anything."
"I do if you want me to stay, right?"
She's right. I do want her to stay, and I want her to want it, too.
Outside, rain pelts softly against the windows. Bella runs her fingers over the keys of the piano, pressing some of them. "I love being here with you. I love you."
I stare at her, relishing the way she makes me feel. I'd thought she was pretty the day we met, but now she's absolutely beautiful to me. "I love you, too. And you can talk to me. About anything."
She nods, her eyes straying to my hair. She's always touching it, which I like, but right now I need her to listen to me, so I grab her hand and hold it still, forcing her attention back. "I'm serious. You can tell me if Emmett makes you uncomfortable."
"Of course he does." She sighs. "There was a time when I was nothing more than a target to you guys. It's different with you, because I know you now. But I don't know him... and I don't even know if he likes me. Maybe this is as good as it gets."
Maybe it is, but I doubt it. I can't speak for Em, though, and I can't control him. I can only hope that with time he and Bella will start to see each other differently.
"I'm sorry," she whispers.
"It's okay." I lean forward, grazing her cheek with my lips. "I think...he's as uncomfortable as you are. You know? We've changed a lot since you first met me. We're still changing. If you'd told me, a year ago, that I'd be sitting here with you instead of working another con, I'd think you were crazy. Neither of us are who we used to be."
The rain's falling harder now. Dishes clatter quietly in the kitchen, punctuating the murmurs of Esme and Rose's conversation. Bella's hands are back in my hair, and this time, I reciprocate the affection, kissing her.
Later, I walk my brother and Rose to their car. It's bitterly cold out, the ground slick and wet. Em starts the car to get the heater going before tucking Rose into it, kissing her before closing the door.
"So is she okay?" he asks, nodding toward the house.
"She's fine. I mean, she's getting there."
"You know what you've gotten yourself into, right?" He leans against the car. "Her family...they're no joke. It's a big can of worms, bro."
Folding my arms, I nod. "No, I know. Doesn't matter, though."
He laughs quietly. "It does."
"No. It doesn't. I don't care who her family is. I love her, and she needs me right now. I need her. This is just the way it is. The way we met sucks –"
"To put it lightly."
"But it doesn't have to define us forever."
I'm being idealistic, but it's all I have and I cling to it.
Em glances down at his wife and smiles, shaking his head. When he looks back at me his face is open, and he ruffles my hair the way he's done since we were kids. "Nah, I guess it doesn't."
Bella's semester wraps up in a clusterfuck of finals and holiday mania. She immerses herself in it all, playing her part as a typical student exceptionally well. We try to spend a few nights a week together, but I see less of her than I'd like to. That's okay, though. If staying busy keeps her mind off of Charlie's case, then so be it.
Anyway, it puts me at ease knowing she's safe in class or surrounded by friends.
Meanwhile, the nights I'm not with Bella, I work late, sometimes staying after for drinks with Jasper. He says he's still pining away for Alice, but according to Bella she's seeing some guy from one of the frats.
"That's okay," Jasper says, when I tell him. "I can wait."
On Bella's last day of class, we get a phone call from Charlie. It looks like it's going to be a big Christmas for the Swans this year, with family flying in from all over.
Bella's silent for a long time after hanging up. When she reaches up to wipe her face, I go to her, kneeling at her feet.
"It's just..." She sniffles, shaking her head. "I think they know this is Daddy's last Christmas for a long time. I mean his last one out. Regardless of what goes down, he's doing time."
I think of my own father, hidden away somewhere. Living the good life, probably, even if it is incognito.
"I'll take care of you. You know that, right? And you've got family. A lot of family. You're one of the lucky ones."
She nods, looking so damn mournful that it breaks my heart. Her heart is breaking right now, and there isn't a thing I can do. "I know it's not the same."
"No," she agrees. "But I'm still glad for it."
The door opens and in walk Lauren and Alice, talking nonstop the way they usually do. Swear to God, they rarely shut up. I like them more than I used to, though; especially Alice, who's warmed up a lot.
"Hey, Edward." She tosses her bag onto a desk. "How's it hanging?'
"I'm all right. You?"
"Eh. Been better."
Lauren rolls her eyes. "Her frat boy fucked some girl at last night's mixer."
Bella cringes in horror. "For real?"
"Yeah," Alice says. "Totally for real. Apparently it wasn't the first time, and you know I don't share. So. That's the end of that."
Jasper's goofy grin flashes through my thoughts. Clearing my throat, I look up at Alice. "You know, a friend of mine's been into you for awhile, now."
"Oh yeah?" she asks, arching an eyebrow. "Is it that blond kid? From the club?"
She nods, smirking. "Give him my number."
"Give it to him yourself." I pull Jasper's number up and hit send, tossing Alice my phone. Glaring at me, she presses it to her ear and disappears into the next room.
"Nice." Lauren nods, procuring a suitcase from beneath her bed. "Well, I'm gonna start packing. The sooner I can get home, the better."
"You driving?" Bella asks.
"Mhm. You staying at home?" Lauren's packing at lightning speed, folding clothes like it's her job. "Or with Edward?"
"Home. My whole family's gonna be in town until New Year's."
"No way," Lauren says, gaping. "That's great! Last time they did that –"
"Seven years ago. I know. Remember the snow angels?"
Lauren nods, and they smile at each other, obviously lost in the same sweet memory.
"They'll be here til New Year's, I think."
"I'll definitely come by." Lauren smiles. "That's awesome, though."
And it is. Thing is, I doubt the family is convening simply for the sake of nostalgia. The holidays are upon us, but so is the trial, and in the event that things go south, Charlie and his daughters are going to need all the support that they can get.
Plus, Bella's uncles mean more muscle. She hasn't said that, but I'm sure we're both thinking it.
"You know what I think about sometimes?"
It's late, and we're on the phone. I'd rather have Bella in bed beside me, but now that she's staying in her father's house it's going to be harder to do that. Rubbing my hand over my face, I close my eyes and envision her as she sounds, wondering if she's in bed, too.
"The night you took me dancing. In Miami."
My chest tightens. "Yeah? What about it?"
"What do you mean?" She laughs a little. "The dancing. The way you danced. I wish we could do it again."
"So we find a club that has music like that. We could go again."
"Really? I'd love that."
Memories of Bella pressed against me, our legs tangled on the dance floor, flood my mind. Remembering makes me a little hard, actually, and I palm myself, thinking of the little dress she wore that night. I remember it clearly – how she'd looked, how she'd let me kiss her.
The way things are nowadays, we rarely go out just for the fun of it. The possibility of finding a club downtown where I could take Bella dancing appeals to me so much that I slide my laptop closer and start googling salsa clubs, hoping to find something.
"Hey," I say eventually, interrupting what she's saying.
"I found one. A club."
"Yeah. You could bring Alice, if you want. I could bring Jasper."
"Look at you, matchmaking," she teases.
"Just making my life a little easier. He won't shut up about her."
I snort, knowing that she wouldn't think it was so sweet if she knew what Jasper really thought about Alice. He likes her, all right, but it's pretty primal. "So, how about tomorrow night...you doing anything?"
"Nah. Just dinner with my Dad and Tanya. Tomorrow's good." She pauses. "In fact, maybe you could come early. Eat with us this time."
Now I'm the one pausing, considering the possible consequences. Sitting across the table from Charlie Swan, the man I've screwed in ways he can't even imagine? God, fate has a sense of humor. "Are you sure that's a good idea? Your sister hates me. And your father will, too, if he ever finds out who I am."
"He won't. And Tanya will be fine. Her boy's coming... I forgot to tell you."
"Tell me what?"
"Tyler. From Miami. He's flying in tomorrow."
Seeing Tyler in Seattle is surreal.
He blinks at me, seemingly stunned. Guess Tanya didn't mention me.
"Long time, no see." I go to shake his had, but he pulls me into a hug, slapping my back.
"I wondered about you, man," he says, squeezing once more before letting go. "What're you doing up here?"
"Living, working...this is where I'm from, originally."
"No shit. Bella have anything to do with why you came home?" He gives me a knowing smile, elbowing me.
Thankfully, Tanya slips into the room, face carefully neutral. I have to give her credit – she's a lot nicer to me than she used to be. "Hello, Edward."
Tyler looks between the two of us, something like wonder lingering on his face. "You didn't tell me Edward lived out here."
"Only found out recently, myself."
"Huh." He shakes his head, grinning widely. "What're the chances, right?"
Tanya stares at me, and for a second she looks so much like Bella it's startling. "I know, right? Anyway, you two ready to eat? I'm starving."
Dinner at the Swan's isn't that much different than it was at my place, except this time I'm the one who feels uncomfortable. There's a small part of me that wants to know Bella's father – even with all the legal shit that's brewing, she still looks at him like he hangs the moon. But I can't, maybe not ever.
Tyler, on the other hand, chats amiably with Charlie, whose predictably suspicious demeanor dissolves the longer they talk. Either they really do have a lot in common or Tyler's a con man of his own. It's amusing to watch.
I chime in just enough to be polite, but it's Bella who's got my attention, with her secret smiles and sideways glances. She's being unfair, and she knows it; now all I want is to take her to bed so I can show her the things my words can't.
The food's good, though, compliments of Tanya, and dessert even better. She'll deny it, but Bella made brownies just for me.
In a typical Tyler move, Tyler's rented an SUV to use while he's in Seattle. When we go outside, he tosses the keys to me and smirks. "Lead the way, local." It's a lot like last summer: the four of us, in one vehicle, headed downtown to go dancing.
Jasper is meeting us at the club, but we stop to pick Alice up along the way. She and the girls chat in the back while Ty and I catch up, making sure to keep our eyes open for Havana. I've never been, but in the end it's not hard to find. We luck out with parking, and before long we find Jasper, who looks like a kid on Christmas when he sees Alice.
Once we're inside, we have to battle the crowd to find a place to chill. It's dark, and so ridiculously packed, that I almost second-guess coming, but then a good song comes on. This time Bella's the one pulling me on to the dance floor.
She's more confident this time around. I realize how nervous she must have been around me before, back when we first met. Tonight, she follows my lead effortlessly, holding tight, letting me touch her the way I want to. We dance for hours. There's nothing better than seeing Bella like this, living in this moment, right now.
Losing my self to the music is easy.
Losing my self to her, even easier.
By half past three we're squeezed into a pair of booths at a late night diner Jasper suggested. Alice is practically in his his lap on their side of the table, and it's been long enough since we left Havana that neither of them can blame the alcohol.
"Guess they get along." I smirk down at Bella.
"Shh," she whispers, smiling. "He's totally her type."
She pinches me, so I squeeze her thigh. We might be venturing into foreplay, but then our waitress reappears, asking if we'd like anything else. Jasper and Alice separate, but only a little.
"So, are we doing dessert, or are you too full?" Jasper asks.
Alice points at a leftover menu. "Let's share a mud pie, Bella."
Bella murmurs her consent while I slip out of the booth. "Be right back."
Outside, I round the corner to find Tanya, posted up against the wall, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She rolls her eyes when she sees me, deftly plucking it from her lips. "Don't tell Bella."
"What?" I chuckle, lighting one for myself.
She sighs. "I only do it when I drink."
I shrug, pocketing my lighter. I only do it when the mood strikes. Sometimes that's all day. Sometime's it's not for months.
Tanya outs hers, dashing it beneath her boot. "I didn't know you smoked."
"I don't do it as much as I used to."
"Huh." She shivers, wrapping her coat a little tighter.
"Tyler still inside?"
She nods down the sidewalk, where Tyler paces and laughs. "Had to make a phone call."
I exhale, squinting at her through the smoke. "At this time?"
"Shit. Yeah." How quickly I forget.
Here it comes. I toss my half smoked cigarette into the gutter and face Tanya, who's looking uncharacteristically fidgety all of a sudden. My mind's eye recalls the confident blonde from the beach, the knockout who knew she was a knockout. That bravado has all but disappeared, and I suspect that this sober, direct version is the real Tanya.
"I really, really need you to treat her right. Okay? It's always been me. I've always looked out for her. But she has you now, no matter how I feel about that, and she's always going to choose you. I know that. I see the way she looks at you." Pausing, she lifts her eyes. "And I see the way you look at her."
I open my mouth to reassure her, but she barrels on ahead. "Thing is, though, you looked at her like that before. In Miami. And I saw it. I saw it and I told Bella to just go for it." She shakes her head. "You don't know how much I regret that. You...you broke her heart. I know you guys are working it out, and that's great. But just...don't do it again. Please."
"I've always looked at her like that because I've always felt like that. That hasn't changed." I shake my head, watching cars pass. "The only thing that has changed is I put her first now. She's not just the most important thing - she's the only thing."
I guess she said what she had to say because now she's silent. We look at one another for just a moment more before she nods toward the door. "I'm freezing my ass off. Come on."
Back inside the warmth of the diner, I watch Bella smile at something Jasper's saying. Our eyes meet, and then that smile's for me. I sit at her side, and without a word she feeds me the last of her pie.
Jasper promises to take Alice home, leaving Tyler and I to drop the girls. I'd prefer spending the night with Bella, but that isn't happening now that she's home. Besides, even if it wasn't Christmas, her time with Charlie is precious. I can't intrude on that.
"I'll call you tomorrow," she whispers, kissing the corners of my mouth.
"Okay." I grab her and kiss her properly, getting off on the way her breath catches. She slides her fingers through my hair, kissing me back.
"Thanks for taking me dancing. I had fun."
"I did, too."
"I want to do it again. Maybe even just us."
Just us. If I had it my way, we'd spend the rest of our lives in a state of "just us".
"We will," I promise.
She shivers, so I push her toward the front door, left partly open by Tanya moments before. Smiling, she waves and then closes it.
Halfway to my car, I get a text.
I love you.
I climb into my car, sending her something back before pulling away.
I love you, too.
The proceedings of Charlie's pre-trial seem incongruous to the merriment of the season. Bella and Tanya decorate the house until it's dripping with Christmas, but it's obvious they're stressed out. Tyler decides to stay in town a little longer, which makes him lose his job in Miami. He doesn't seem too upset about that, though, and I have a feeling his stay might be a little more permanent than he and Tanya pretend.
By Christmas Eve, all of Bella's aunts, uncles and cousins have arrived. Some are staying at the house, but most of them are set up at a hotel nearby.
Seeing Bella with her cousins only perpetuates the weird Florida time-warp. I only meet them once, but the ones that recognize me from the beach freak out, amazed we ended up in the same place after all. I spend as little time there as possible, figuring Bella needs the family time.
I need family time, too, especially at this time of year.
Esme knocks at my door before opening it a crack. "Edward?"
"Yeah, hey. Come in."
I give her a curious glance. "I'm fine...what's up?"
She sits on my bed, smoothing the blanket. "I've been thinking about you a lot. This is your first year on your own."
"Well, I'm not really on my own yet, am I?" I smile wryly.
She shakes her head. "You know what I mean."
"I think I'm okay. I have you guys, and Em...and Rose. Bella. I'm good."
"Do you miss your dad?"
It's taken me a long time to feel charitably toward him, but I do. "Sometimes. I wonder where he is these days."
"Would you ever go back to him?"
"No. He might not be living that life anymore, but I doubt he's changed much."
Esme nods, and though she tries to remain impassive, I can see the relief on her face.
Cold days grow colder, and we get our first snow.
Christmas comes and goes, and with it, most of Bella's family. Her uncles stay, however. I don't think any of us are surprised by that.
I'm at work one afternoon, getting ready to leave so I can pick Bella up, when she calls.
"Hey; I was just going to come get you."
"I know...but I couldn't wait. I had to tell you."
"I don't know; I think so." She pauses. It sounds like she's somewhere busy, surrounded by people and cars. "They offered my dad a deal."
Ducking into the kitchen, I find a quiet corner. "What kind of deal?"
Her voice quiets. "How fast can you get here?"
"Fast. You're still on campus, right?"
"Yeah, I –"
"Wait there, at our spot. I'll be there as soon as I can."
I hang up and clock out five minutes early, not bothering to tell my manager I'm leaving. Bella and I try to keep our discussions of Charlie quiet and in person, not trusting anyone or anything with the information we share. We never know who could be listening, and we both agree it's better to be safe than sorry.
Racing through traffic, I pull up to the corner Bella and I have designated as our liaison point. She jumps in, greeting me with a kiss as she tosses her bag into the backseat.
"Hey." She gives me a small smile and tightens her ponytail.
"Am I...dropping you home? Or –"
"Lo's visiting someone for the weekend if you want to stay over at my place for once."
Shrugging, I nod, and then turn in the direction of Bella's dorm.
"So...as you know, most of the crimes Daddy committed were here, in Seattle."
"But the counts in Miami are like...way worse."
"So they do have enough evidence for that."
That sucks. As far as I know, Charlie's going to have to do plenty of time if he's convicted of all the shit he did here. But Miami? He might as well have a life sentence.
"Well, the good news is that they're allowing him to serve a bunch of his sentences concurrently. And if he takes the deal, if he agrees to testify against the family that hired him in Miami, they'll shorten his sentence even more."
Stuff like this always has a catch. "What's the bad news?"
"It could be dangerous. He'd be in protective custody and we'd have to have special surveillance to ensure our safety."
And there it is. "Shit."
Mind racing, I struggle and fail to come up with a response. I understand Bella's cautious optimism and her willingness to accept the risks; this is her father we're talking about. In the end, Charlie will do hard time - even with concurrent sentences he's looking at eight to ten years. Taking this deal could change everything. But if snitching means putting Bella and Tanya in harm's way, I can't say I'm on board with that.
She grabs my hand. "Say something."
"I don't know what you want me to say. We can leave right the fuck now if that's what it takes. I'm not going to sit around and watch the two of you becoming targets –"
"We've been targets, this whole time. You knew that even before I did."
"This ups the ante."
Nothing's happened since the run in with Jacob Black, and the lull has made me complacent. I think I thought we'd be able to slide through unscathed, but it feels as if that's about to change.
I've been so focused on wooing Bella, and on gorging myself on her love – her body and her heart – that I've forgotten my initial purpose: to keep her safe.
I want to be positive, to be strong, but right now I'm just as scared as she is.
Rose wipes the side of her face, leaving behind smudges. She's been tinkering with her new toy for weeks now, hoping to have it ready by the time spring hits.
I watch as she runs her hands lovingly over the body of her recently acquired BMW M3. It's bright red, and an older model. "Don't most mothers to be decorate nurseries?"
"Shut up, Edward." She winks as she walks by. "You know this was my first love."
When we met Rosalie Hale, she was a permanent fixture in her father's garage, and just as talented a mechanic as any of the guys working there. She was also, at age sixteen, the best driver we'd ever met. The Hales weren't too thrilled when their only daughter left the family business a few years later to work with us, but they've since mended the rift.
In fact, this car was a gift from her dad. It needed a lot of work, but the process is exactly what Rose loves. She's been working on it since the day it was delivered to Carlisle and Esme's garage, where she has plenty of room to work.
"At least it has a proper backseat." Emmett looks the car over, grimacing. "She almost asked for the Nissan...with the roll cage."
"I can install a roll cage in this."
"Yeah, okay." He snorts. "Who needs a baby on board sticker when you have that, right?"
Chuckling, I watch the two of them banter back and forth. They've always been this way.
My phone rings, and without looking, I answer. "Bella?"
"Hey. You busy?"
"No, what's up?"
"Can we meet up?" That's code for we need to talk about things of a sensitive nature.
"Yeah. You want to come by? I'm at home."
"Give me a half hour."
Back in the garage, Em's ogling Rose as he pretends to listen to her prattle on about rear wheel drive and drifting potential. I grab the beer I've been nursing and head to the kitchen, where Esme's buried in a mountain of paperwork and a cup of tea.
"Bella's coming by."
"Hm? Okay." She gives me a distracted smile. No dinner tonight; she's at "a really, really crucial point", plot-wise, in her novel.
"I'll be upstairs."
Bella shows up way quicker than I'm expecting, bursting into my bedroom so abruptly the door bangs the wall. "Sorry."
"Forget it. What's up?"
"He's gonna do it."
My heart slams in my chest. "Okay. So what happens now?"
"Right now his attorney is negotiating the deal. They'll probably do the sentencing sometime next week." She drops into my desk chair, wringing her hands. "And then he flies down there to testify."
She nods. "I know."
"What do you need me to do?"
"Nothing for now. Uncle Riley got in this morning, and a friend of my father's is going to be hanging out. Just in case."
"You ever tell your dad about Jacob?"
"I did, actually. He was livid. He has somebody tailing him now."
That makes me laugh. Charlie might have gotten himself into a mess, but he's no fool. Still, I wonder how many other dirty cops are in on this. How many other crime families and drug dealers and shady types are linked to Charlie Swan? Jacob represents a much larger presence than just himself.
It's hard to defend yourself from something you can't even see.
"Edward?" Bella's next to me now: cheeks flushed, eyes wide, lips trembling.
I pull her so that we're laying down, tangled close. "We'll be okay."
"Can I stay here?"
"What?" I pull back so that I can see her face. "Where's she going?"
"Off with Tyler. Daddy almost shit a brick, but even he realized it might be a good idea. I think they're going to see his parents in South Carolina or something."
"Maybe we should leave, too."
"We can't run away every time things get rough."
"This is more than a little rough."
Bella's in class and I have the day off, so I'm taking advantage of the down time by joining Em and Rose for a ride in the BMW.
We hit a sharp corner and Rose shrieks with laughter, taking it like a boss.
I'm laughing too, but I'm also holding on for dear life. Seeing a car do this on TV and then being inside of one are two completely different things. If anyone can do it, though, it's the blonde in the driver's seat. We've been driving around Mercer Island for the past half hour, getting a feel for what the car can do.
Up front, Emmett's looking a little green around the gills. "I'm serious, Rosie, if we crash..."
Rose ignores him, drifting around another corner. Literally; she drifts. My stomach swoops.
I'm about to suggest she chill out, lest the cops are called, when my phone vibrates.
My girl's picture appears on the screen. "Hello? Bella?"
At first I can't hear anything. And then, voices.
"Bella," I say, louder this time, wondering if she dialed me by mistake.
But no; I hear my name, and then she's speaking to me, her voice trembly and breathless. "Edward."
"Where are you?"
"...you can...by...spot..." She's breaking up, and I can't tell if it's bad reception or something else.
Lymbyc Systym – Pittsburgh Left (Eliot Lipp)
Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen
this chapter is dedicated to Tiffany McGowan ( MsTanywral). she's a sweet, special girl and a good friend, and her heart broke the day cory monteith was taken from us. hope you're having a better week, babygirl. much love.
Truly, I'm sorry this has taken so long. I've been babysitting three kids in addition to my two (grand total of 5. five!) every day, so life is super hectic. also, i wrote a future take for Starry Eyed Inside and submitted it to the Fandom4LLS charity compilation. SO you can see where my time has been going. But thanks to everyone who was patient and kind and encouraging via tweets and PMs and FB.
me love you long time.