Beta- StacyO72 – whenever I have any Harry Potter questions, I know she's got the answer. She can also quote Jaws verbatim. She's multi-talented that way.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.
Ch. 15 Leave A Light On
So come the evening
I'm out on the dunes
Looking for a token
Something to prove
All I remember
Is more than a flame
In my fantasy fire
Whatever I've done to receive
Whatever I need to redeem
Whatever you say
Even if I wait a lifetime
I know, I swear
If you leave a light on,
If you leave a light on for me
I'll come there
You can leave a light on for me- Leave A Light On, Duran Duran
I'm sweating despite the fact that I'm down in the hold surrounded by ice, loading box after box of frozen mackerel and illex squid, the bait for our upcoming trip. We've got over two hundred rectangular boxes, each weighing almost thirty pounds, to equally distribute in a few of the pens. The rest of the pens will be filled with groceries that we want to keep cold- some of the gallons of milk, the meat; all the perishables that won't fit in the refrigerator in the galley. Most of the pens will remain empty until it's time to fill them with fish. Then we'll use the ice machine we have on board to make salt water ice, which is colder than fresh water ice, keeping the fish at a perfect thirty three degrees Fahrenheit, just one degree above freezing. We don't waste time making salt water ice to keep the grub and bait cold. The freshwater ice from Newton's is fine for that purpose.
"Richie, you almost done?" Emmett calls out from the deck above me.
"Yeah, just finished."
"Good. Get your gear off. I need you to come with me to grub up."
I groan as I peel off the thick orange pvc gloves and then the inner cotton liners covering my fingers. The gloves kept my hands dry but they're still red and stiff from handling the bait. I open and close my hands a few times trying to get the blood back into them as I tell Emmett I'll be right there.
"Where's Jasper? It's his turn, I went last time." I ask once I'm on deck. I'm annoyed. I don't want to go to the mainland.
"Queequeg pulled rank on you. I think he's shacked up with Alice somewhere having tantric yoga sex or some shit."
"Who? Wait, what did you call him?" I asked, totally confused.
"Didn't you ever read Moby Dick?" Emmett rolls his eyes.
"Yeah, about six years ago."
I can't recall anyone except Ishmael and Captain Ahab, I think I just read a summary online.
"Queequeg has all the tats and he's a savage but he's like all into his native spirituality. Fuck it, Jasper's Queequeg, it fits. Get your shit off and let's go," Emmett huffs. He doesn't like having to explain his nicknames for people.
Five minutes later, my oilers and boots are stowed away and I'm sitting next to Emmett in the Newton's Suburban as we sit in a line of cars slowing crawling onto the ferry to Point Judith. I fire off a quick text to Bella to let her know I'll be in the mainland. She knew I'd be busy today getting ready for tomorrow's steam so she was having lunch with one of her friends. A few seconds later she texts me back.
On my way to meet Angela for lunch. See you around six.
"That Bella?" Emmett asks when he hears my phone beep.
"You two going to the Wolf tonight? Rosie and I will be. It's the last big night to party before heading out."
Emmett parks the SUV on the car deck behind a beat up pick-up covered in bumper stickers including three about fishing:
National Marine Fisheries Service Destroying Commercial Fishermen and Their Communities Since 1976
RI DEM Destroying Commercial Fishing One Fishery At A Time
Commercial Fishing: Support it or Import it!
"Guess that guy's a fisherman," I say as we exit the truck jutting my chin to point out the driver who is also on his way to the upper deck.
Emmett nods. "Let's see: faded baseball hat, old ripped jeans, tee-shirt from a marine supply, and anti-government bumper stickers on an F-150. Yeah, that's a dragger."
He calls out to the guy "Hey! I got the NMFS one on my Jeep down in North Carolina."
The two strike up a conversation about how the newest government regulations suck even more than the last ones. Emmett lays the accent on thick. He likes to play the good ole Southern boy sometimes. He thinks it makes the New Englanders less aloof if they realize he's not from around here. That makes no sense to me. I don't really know what the hell they're talking about so I let my mind wander. I'm not really looking forward to this trip. Even though I know I'm safer at sea where it's just me and the guys, I don't want to be away from Bella for an entire month. I want to wrap myself up in her and stay in the hotel room until the whole mess in Romania is over.
Emmett elbows me as we reach the upper deck. "So, the Wolf? You in?
"No, she's not working." I shifted uncomfortably in my seat thinking about tonight's plans.
"Oh yeah. You two kids gonna play Inspiration Point?"
Emmett makes some sort of weird face, waggling his eyebrows and winking at the same time.
"Em, don't do that. You look like you're having a seizure."
"Richie's getting laid!"
I see a lady I recognize from around town looking us up and down. I sigh.
"Keep your voice down. Someone will hear you and it's not like the entire island doesn't already know I'm dating the chief's daughter," I hiss.
I lead us away from the bulk of the passengers to the stern of the boat. Originally Bella and I had planned to spend the whole night naked in my hotel room but it was her time of the month and neither one of us is interested in me earning my red wings. I certainly wasn't going to share that information with Emmett though.
"Actually, no. She's cooking dinner at her house for me and … her dad." Her gun-toting, Sam Elliott mustache wannabe dad. I add in my head.
"Oh. Well, that's cool. It's not like you haven't met him before." Emmett nods as we find a new spot to sit. "He likes you, right?"
"Yeah, but that was before when we were just Carlisle's crew. Now he knows that I'm sleeping with his daughter."
Emmett laughs; the sound reverberating through him. "Damn Richie, you better hope Bella hides his guns."
"Hides whose guns?" A deep voice behind us makes me jump. "And why are you calling Ted Richie? Is that an alias? Are you running from the law?"
I turn around and there's Chief Swan in full uniform, sunglasses on, arms crossed in front of him and his service revolver by his hip. Fuck. Me.
I decide avoidance is the best policy so I skip over the question about the guns and focus on the name.
"Emmett calls me Richie Cunningham because I'm from Milwaukee and my hair's sort of red," I explain. I avoid the other questions as well because Ted Platt is an alias and while I'm technically not running from the law, I am on the run.
"What's happening on the mainland, Chief? The staties need back-up?" Emmett asks and I don't know whether to be grateful he's changing the subject or pissed because we all know he's being a facetious ass.
Charlie makes some harrumph noise. "It's just a court appearance, Emmett. Some rowdy asshole fisherman from the Predator wasn't behaving at the bar. You know how longline deckhands can be."
Emmett nods enthusiastically. "I bet it was that little shit Demetri wasn't it? He's a total prick. Was it Felix? The dude is usually pretty mellow but he's even bigger than me and someone could have just walked into him and gotten knocked out."
Charlie raised his eyebrows. "Well, Emmett it's confidential and I wouldn't want to compromise her identity."
Great, now the two of them were gossiping like a couple of hens. Emmett practically squealed with excitement.
"It's Heidi the Hellion? Dang, Chaos must be so pissed. What'd she do? Ooh was there a girl fight? Rose is going to be on the boat with her this trip and they could argue and then get physical. Shit, that's hot." Emmett groans and adjusts himself.
I bury my face in my hands. I can't believe Emmett is acting like a pig in front of my new girlfriend's father.
Charlie just snorts. "You wouldn't think like that if you saw Heidi without her dentures in." He shudders at the image in his mind. "Besides, I'm not so sure she'll make bail. This isn't exactly her first offense."
They both giggle like schoolgirls sharing some inside joke. They settle down and Emmett gets contemplative.
"What is with heroin addicts and meth heads having no teeth? I know she doesn't do that shit anymore but damn, she can't be more than early thirties and she's got nothing but gums." Emmett shakes his head. "Of course, that can work to a guy's advantage." He turns and elbows me. "You know what I mean, Richie? Shut your eyes and it'll be the best blow…"
"Christ, Emmett! Shut up!" I run my hand through my hair, practically pulling it out by the roots.
Emmett nods at both of us. "Sorry, Richie, Chief. Rosie's still blue balling me and I'm not used to this waiting crap. I'm hornier than a two peckered billy goat on a hill full of ninnies."
Charlie snorts. "Good for Rosie. Too bad her friends don't follow her example. Don't you agree, Ted?"
I look up and Charlie's staring down at me with that look that says I know you're corrupting my sweet little girl you filthy piece of shit. I can practically feel my balls crawl up inside my body. I'm at a complete loss as to what to say. There's no good answer:
Yes, it's too bad your daughter hopped into bed with me so fast.
Yeah, right. I certainly didn't feel that way. But I couldn't exactly say:
No, I'm glad your daughter didn't wait to spread her legs.
Well, it's not like she was a virgin. I was late to the party on that one.
My stomach churns as I run over my options. I actually consider faking sea sickness since I'm pretty close to vomiting as it is. I feel Charlie's hand clamp down on my shoulder.
"You're probably better off not answering that one." I exhale the breath I've been holding and nod. I feel like I should say something but I'm not sure how to do that without sounding like a douchebag. I take another deep breath and say what I feel.
"Sir, I know it's only been a short time but I just want you to know that I really care about Bella and I'm grateful that I have her in my life."
Chief Swan's eyes meet mine and for a brief second they soften just a bit. He removes his hand from my shoulder, pats me on the back.
"Good answer kid. I guess I'll see you at the house for dinner?"
I nod. "Yes sir."
Just as the chief is about to turn away, a skinny dark-haired kid about my age walks by and shakes his hand. I watch them greet each other and I know I've talked to this guy before but I can't remember where. He catches my eye and nods.
I nod. "I'm sorry, I know we've met, was it at the Black Wolf?"
"My name's Ben. Nah, I don't get over there too much."
Charlie claps his hand on Ben's back. "Ben's family owns the pharmacy. He spends all his time working there or helping out at Newton's."
I nod. "Oh."
My eyes widen as I realize why I know him. He sold me condoms this week; twice. "Oooh."
"You been into the pharmacy lately, Ted?" Charlie asks, giving me a penetrating stare like he's trying to determine if I have anything contagious, like gonorrhea or syphilis.
I can tell from Ben's face that he remembers me buying condoms too. Luckily, he's a sharp kid.
"Yeah, I usually help during a big packout at Newton's so that must be it. You've been hanging out with Bella? My girlfriend Angela is a good friend of hers. I think they're having lunch together today. "
I nod, grateful for his smooth cover-up, and we make conversation for a few minutes before Ben continues on his way. The chief walks down the deck, saying hello to just about every passenger on board. Once he's out of earshot I turn to Emmett, and shove his shoulder hard. He doesn't budge an inch but now my arm's a little sore.
"What the fuck, Emmett? Did you really need to talk about toothless blow jobs in front of Bella's father? Are you trying to getting me castrated?" I whisper angrily, trying to convey how pissed I am without raising my voice.
"Calm down Ted. The chief's a cool guy. For a minute, it was just us dudes hanging out, shooting the shit and I forgot you're banging the apple of his eye." He whispers back as I groan in disgust.
"Can you not say it that way? You heard what I said to Chief Swan. Bella isn't just some chick I'm banging and the last thing I need is for her father to hear you." I plead.
Emmett chuckles. "You're really afraid he's going to cut your balls off and use them as chum, aren't you?"
I shake my head. "If you had any sense you'd be too. Bella said he considers Rose to be like a second daughter to him. Her dad is one of Charlie's best friends and he's like the big game hunter around here. If anyone should be afraid of fathers with guns it's you."
Emmett laughs. "I got nothing to be afraid of. I'm as pure as a choir boy in a porn shop right now."
"Again, that makes no sense," I reply as I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. I take it out and read the text from Bella.
Can you be at my house by five? I need some help with dinner.
I text back: Sure, did you have a good lunch?
It's not until we're back in the Suburban that my phone buzzes again.
It was a very enlightening experience. We can discuss it when you get to my house, Frat Boy.
I narrow my eyes, confused by the text. Frat Boy? She'd never referred to me as that before.
She doesn't respond until twenty minutes later when I'm cruising the aisles of the supermarket.
Just Peachy. See you at 5.
"You're so fucking whipped." Emmett cracks as he backs the Suburban onto the bulkhead next to the Vampress.
"Why? Because I bought Bella a coffee?" I put the drink in the cup holder as Emmett parks. I need to get the grub put away fast if I want to have enough time to get cleaned up before heading over to Bella's house. I head to the back of the Suburban and start unloading the groceries.
"Can I have a large ice coffee cream no sugar and can I have a bag so I can put my balls in it too?" Emmett does a poor imitation of a girl's voice as he follows me down the dock. "Look at you knowing how she takes her coffee: pussy-whipped." He slowly enunciates the last two words, pointing his finger at me as I climb on board the Vampress.
"Maybe that's why I'm getting laid and you're not." I counter, smirking as I throw on my gear and prepare to go below.
Emmett sniffs "Yeah, I don't think you're getting any when you're having dinner with her father. I'm more likely to get in Rosie's pants tonight than you are in Bella's."
We both look up at the same time to see Rosalie with her sea bag on the dock. The Predator is tied up across from us. I'm shaking with laughter as Rose stands on the dock looking like a vengeful banshee with her blonde hair whipping in the sea breeze and shining in the late afternoon sun. I unlock the hold and start to climb down while Emmett hems and haws and makes even more of an ass out of himself.
"Shit. Fuck. Uh, Rosie, I didn't mean it like that I was just saying that it's like a billion to one versus a million to one or something and uh, what are you doing here now? I thought the Predator's leaving with us tomorrow?"
"It is. I thought I'd get my gear on early so that I wouldn't have to worry about it in the morning, you know in case I decided to sleep over somewhere but since the odds are a million to one I guess I shouldn't have bothered."
It takes a second but then Emmett has that light bulb moment and he's spluttering and practically begging Rose to give him a chance to improve the odds.
"Now who's pussy-whipped?" I mutter so that only Emmett can hear me. Emmett steps back and kicks his foot out so that the next thing I know I'm on my ass at the bottom of the hold. Good thing it's only about a seven foot drop.
"Jackass!" I call out but I'm laughing.
"Hale, are these deckhands bothering you?" I hear a harsh voice call out.
I climb back up the ladder in time to see Captain Chaos himself approach. Caius Volterra is exactly as everyone's described. Tall, lean but still hard muscled despite being at least in his early fifties; his long white blond hair tied back in a ponytail, he reminds me of Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter. He's a cold hard-nosed bastard who literally runs a very tight ship. Despite one of his crew being in jail, the boat is neat, the decks scrubbed, and all the gear, grub and bait is already stowed. I watched part of the packout the other day. His crew moved with almost military precision as they offloaded the catch. Carlisle, Jasper and Emmett were no slouches but the Predator crew made them look like a bunch of sporties. We'd hung out with them the night they offloaded and they were all just as Emmett said: Heidi was a hellion, Demetri was a prick, Felix was mellow and Alec, Caius's son and first mate was just as cold as his father, yet somehow they all gelled as a crew.
"No, Cap. It's fine. Emmett was just showing me how well he understands statistics." Rose smiles sweetly and crosses her arms.
"Hale, I really don't give a shit about your little romantic pastime. Just make sure you're on board by six am. I want to leave with high tide which is at seven- o-five. Got it?"
Rosalie nods. Emmett for some reason decides to talk. "So Cap. Heidi gonna be sprung by then?"
Caius turns his hard ice blue eyes towards Emmett. "Why is that your concern?"
"Oh well. Doc said we're supposed to be fishing near each other so I just wondered if you were going to be able to steam out when we do."
Caius crosses his arms. "Didn't you just hear me tell Hale when we're leaving? My crew will be ready tomorrow morning…"
He looks us up and down. My hair's a mess from being whipped around on the ferry and my oilers are wet from falling in the ice. Emmett hasn't shaved in a day or two and he's wearing a t-shirt that says Women want me, Fish fear me.
"Will yours?" He sneers before climbing onto his boat and disappearing into the wheelhouse.
"Rosie, you sure you want to spend a month on that boat with that fucking asshole?" Emmett asks, walking over to the edge of the dock.
She puts her hands on his shoulders. "Sure. I'll be fine. He might be a prick but he knows what he's doing and he's got a disciplined crew."
"Yeah, that's what they said about Captain Bligh too." Emmett replies, wrapping his hands around her waist.
I turn my attention back to getting the grub packed in the hold. Emmett isn't much of a help since he's too busy flirting with Rose but I manage to get it done. I grab Bella's ice coffee and head over to my hotel room. I take a quick shower, mess around with my hair, then throw on a pair of clean cargo shorts and my nicest shirt and walk over to Bella's cottage. I stop at the liquor store for a bottle of wine and a six pack for her dad and the florist for a bouquet of flowers. I still arrive at ten minutes 'til five. I smile. My mom would be proud of my promptness.
I knock on the door but there's no sound from inside. I can hear noises coming from the backyard. Like most of the houses on her street, there are no fences separating the front yard from back, or the neighbor's yards from each other. It's all just one big green meadow, dotted by white and brown shingled houses and leafy old trees. I walk down the steps of her small porch and walk up the driveway past her hunk of junk truck, my feet crunching on the crushed white sea shells that comprise the driveway. I reach the back of her house and Bella is there, setting the table on the small wood deck. She's got her iPod hooked up to some speakers and it's blasting Imagine Dragons. Her dark hair is wound around some big rollers. She's still in a Newton's Fish House t-shirt and cutoff shorts.
"Hey Baby." I call out. I've got the flowers and bag from the liquor store in one hand and I'm holding out the ice coffee in the other. I can't help the big smile on my face but it falters a moment later.
Bella turns, a look of horror plastered on her face. "What are doing here?"
I have an urge to turn around and make sure she's isn't talking to someone behind me.
"Uh, you texted me and said to come at five, right?" I ask.
"Yeah and what time is it now?" She replies, walking over to take the ice coffee and the flowers.
"It's ten of."
"Right. So why are you here?" She speaks slowly as though I'm a child.
"Because I didn't want to be late. That'd be rude." I respond, trying to figure out what I'm missing in this conversation.
She sighs and uses that same disappointed tone. "No, Edward. Showing up before the time your host tells you to is rude. This is New England. If I tell you to come at five, you shouldn't be here until five ten or even five fifteen. That way, everything is ready and you don't see me in hot rollers and my old clothes."
I'm totally confused. Is she for real? "Are you for real? You're mad because I'm ten minutes early when you asked me to come early to help you get ready?"
Bella looks conflicted like she's chagrined and angry at the same time. "I did ask you to come early and you even brought me a coffee and flowers. Thanks. Look, let's go inside and you can put that stuff down and I'll finish getting ready then we can talk."
She turns and I follow her into the house, past a laundry area into the small kitchen. I put the beer in the fridge, open the wine and even find a vase for the flowers while she runs around upstairs. I'd go up and check out her room except after that reception, I'm not sure how she'd react. I wander around from the kitchen to the living room and the den, checking out the family photos and memorabilia. The décor can best be described as New England sports teams go to the beach and fish. Finally, Bella's footsteps echo on the stairs.
"Your hair looks great," I say, admiring the soft long curls that frame her face.
She's wearing jeans and a red V-neck tee shirt that hugs her in all the right places. I start to walk over and give her a kiss but she places a hand on my chest stopping me.
She gives me a tight smile. "Thanks. Come on. "
She walks into the kitchen and I follow. I'm getting a bad feeling that I fucked up somehow. Is being ten minutes early really that big of a deal?
She gives me corn to shuck, brusquely instructing me on how she wants it cleaned so that some of the husk stays on so she can grill it that way. She's giving off that same angry vibe and I'm hoping it's just a period thing, like cramps. I'm still trying to figure out if I should mention her attitude or if that's an even quicker way to have my balls cut off when she speaks.
"So Angela and I were talking at lunch and I realized that I didn't know which fraternity you're in. Isn't that funny? I guess you never mentioned the name. Which one is it?" She asks as she takes sword steaks out of the fridge where they've been marinating.
Her question is completely unexpected. I'm well aware of why she doesn't know. I've purposely avoided telling her. I stall, not sure if I should lie or tell the truth. It's not like she knows my real name.
"Oh, well, it's not one of the better known ones; it's mostly just got chapters in the Midwest."
"What's the name of your fraternity?" She's got that whole negative body language going on with the crossed arms and a look on her face like she just sucked on a lemon. I don't know what to do so I lie, badly.
"It's Delta Delta Delta." I wince hoping she's never seen the old Saturday Night Live skits from the nineties.
"Delta Delta Delta? Really? So that's the fraternity house you lived in at Concordia University?"
"Yep. So lunch was good then?"
"It was. Angela told me all about her boyfriend Ben's trip to Concordia last year. He was trying to open a chapter of his pharmacy professional fraternity there but apparently, they don't allow fraternities on campus since it's a religious school."
Shit. I didn't know that. I look down, concentrating on remove the corn silks as I try to figure out my next move.
"Uh, yeah. That's true. There are no fraternities on campus. Delta Delta Delta is located off campus."
"Really? So when you call the frat from school do they answer the phone "Delta Delta Delta, can I help ya, help ya, help ya?"
Fuck. She did know the Saturday Night Live skit.
I stop shucking the corn. "Bella…"
"Why are you lying to me, Edward? What are you hiding?"
I put down the corn and take a step towards her but she backs up holding her hands in front of her.
"Why is it that I know almost nothing about your family or your background? You never talk about your home. Other than that one time in Newport, you never speak about your parents. Plus there's this whole Ted/Edward thing. Why don't you want anyone to know your name is Edward? Don't give me that stupid line about clarinets and Squidward."
I stand there opening and closing my mouth, gaping like a dying fish, trying to figure out what to say. I have an obligation to protect my dad, myself, and Bella too. I should have known better than to fall for someone right now. It's easy to forget out here past the edge of the continent but the danger is real. The closer Bella and I become, the more precarious her future gets. I still haven't responded to her but it doesn't matter because she hasn't finished.
"Do you know how I spent the rest of my day today? It wasn't paying checks or calculating inventory or any of the things I planned to do at work. Instead, I said there at my computer googling Edward Platt of Milwaukee Wisconsin and guess who I found? First there was Edward Platt, World War II veteran who passed away last month at the age of eighty seven. Not you. Then there was the Edward Platt, age thirty six who was arrested for shoplifting at a Wal-Mart last spring. Not you. Finally, there's the Edward Platt, age fifty four, whose car was stolen sixteen months ago. Not. You.
Then I decided to check the Concordia University website, no Edward Platt registered there. At that point I started googling all the fraternities I could think of – Tau Kappa Epsilon, Phi Gamma Delta, Sigma Epsilon, Phi Kappa Psi- not one Edward Platt was listed on their current chapter rolls. So what does that mean? Who the hell are you? Who have I been emailing for the past month? Who have I been sleeping with for the past week?! We shared the most intimate act two people can share and I have no idea who you are!" She's pacing back in forth in her small kitchen, arms flailing as her voice gets louder and louder.
"Do you think I just do that, Edward or Ted or whoever the hell you are?! Do you think I jump into bed with guys, because I don't. I knew I shouldn't have fallen so hard so fast when I really don't know a damn thing about you. Rose was right. You could be just like Royce. This is why I've avoided deckhands. Do you have a girlfriend or wife? Do you have kids? Or maybe you're a fugitive? Did you steal something or kill someone? Holy shit, did you have something to do with your mother's death? Is that why you won't talk? My life is an open book, you either know or could find out everything about me and I'm not even sure what your fucking name is!"
"Christ, Bella! My mother?! How could you say that? Maybe we haven't known each other for very long but do you really think I'm capable of hurting someone, especially someone I love? My parents meant the world to me and they've been ripped away. My mother's gone and I don't know if or when I'll see my dad. This isn't my goddamn fault! I've done nothing wrong yet my entire life has collapsed around me. "
I'm gripping my hair with both hands, trying not to hyperventilate. She googled me. Fortunately, she doesn't know my real name otherwise, I'd already have to run again. In fact, if she'd googled Edward Masen, I'd probably already be dead. It doesn't take them long to track IP addresses. My head is swimming. I sink down into one of the chairs at her kitchen table and try to figure out how to handle this. I don't want her tangled up in this mess. Since arriving on Block Island, my life had become like a part in the mainline. I'd relaxed and let it go slack, not realizing that the entire time it was getting ready to whip back around and cut me and anyone close to me down.
Should I just leave and not come back? Let her think the worst of me to keep her safe? I look up. Her face is flushed in anger, her chest heaving, eyes blazing. I love those deep brown eyes that see right into my soul. I realize with startling clarity that I can't walk away. Bella is the light amidst the darkness. She's the only good thing in my life now and I may be a selfish bastard for wanting this but I can't give her up. I take a deep breath, first things first:
"Bella, you do know me, I swear. You're right that I haven't been honest about my name or where I'm from, but you know me. Every emotion, every moment we've shared has been as real as it gets. Please, please understand that I need to protect myself as well as those I care about, and that includes you. I'll tell you everything but you have to promise me that you'll accept what I say on my word. You can't google me or this or worse, have your father investigate it. I'm off the grid and I have to stay hidden. I know it sounds crazy but one online search of my name is enough to have us both killed. O.k.? Can you do that? Otherwise, I have to leave and I don't know how long it will be before it will be safe for me to contact you again."
I hold out my hand, silently begging her to accept it and accept me. She stares at me for an eternity before she shakily raises her arm and entwines her fingers with mine.
"Everything?" She asks.
I nod as I pull her onto my lap, bury my face in her soft, fragrant hair and just hold her. She reaches up and strokes the back of my head over and over.
"Edward, I'm sorry about what I said about your mom. That was out of line. You can trust me and I'll trust you. We need to be able to put our faith in each other."
I nod again but remain silent for a bit longer. Once I speak, everything will change. Finally, I sit back, place my finger under her chin and gently tilt her head up so our eyes meet. For the first time in almost four months, I tell the truth.
"My name is Edward Anthony Masen Jr. and I'm from Chicago, Illinois."
Bella nods encouragingly so I continue.
"I'm twenty-two. I'm double majoring in Music Education and Music Composition at the Bienin School of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I'm a member of Phi Kappa Psi and I lived on campus at the fraternity last year. I should be starting my senior year next month."
I pause, because the now that the normal ordinary life stuff is out there, it's time to explain just how insane a situation I'm in.
"My mom was a music teacher in the Chicago public school system. In fact, she taught me to play piano. My dad is an I.R.S. agent. Not too many people know what he does; just that he works for the government. It's not like I.R.S. agents are at the top of everyone's Christmas card list. I never really knew too much either but I know now that he works in the Tax Return Fraud and Identity Theft division.
I gently rub circles up and down Bella's arms as I continue.
"Over the past decade, tax return fraud has gotten to be a really, really big problem. Criminals steal personal information then file false returns, making up income and receiving big refunds. The money is refunded on debit cards and by the time the real person files his or her return, the thieves have made off with the money. All they need is a name, birthdate, and social security number. Before the internet, most people committing this type of crime got the information by stealing purses or breaking into files in offices, you know finding physical records, but they don't have to do that anymore. All they have to do is hack into a business, any business- doctor's offices, small local banks, even your church, and the information is there for the taking. It's gotten so easy and so lucrative that some drug dealers have cut back on selling drugs and started focusing on filing false tax returns instead.
My dad discovered that one of the biggest heroin dealers in Chicago was doing just that. This guy was a Romanian immigrant named Stefan Popescu. The police and the FBI had been after him for years but they could never get proof that he was the head of a drug ring. He was so removed from the dealing and no one in his organization would turn on him. My dad managed to link him to the fraudulent tax returns and he was caught red-handed with the debit cards. It doesn't sound like much but there was enough evidence to send him to jail for a really long time. "
"Just like Al Capone." Bella muses. "All the boot-legging and murders and when he was finally arrested, it was for tax evasion."
Before I can say anymore, we hear tires crunching on the driveway. Chief Swan is home.
"Please, Bella…" I beg her to keep my secret. "There's a lot more but we can't tell your dad."
Bella's hand strokes my cheek. "Are you sure Edward? He's a cop, he could help you."
"Just let me finish the story first, and then you'll understand. My mom's death- it wasn't an accident." I can feel my body tense just from the thought of what happened to my mother.
She slides off my lap just as we hear the front door open. Okay. I don't like keeping things from my dad but I'll put my trust in you."
A/N: OMG another update! So, quickly, it looks this story is still on track for somewhere close to 25 chapters So, Stacy thought Bella was really bitchy this chapter. I thought other than one particular comment, it was all justified plus let's not forget, it's that time of the month. Thoughts? Comments? I'm looking forward to reading your reviews. BTW, there's no special reason why I chose Popescu for Stefan's last name. I googled common Romanian surnames and there it was.
Look for my part of the collaboration on Countdown 2014 to post sometime soon, Mine is the 2nd to last chapter I think. I'm also working on a Christmas o/s for the Countdown but I thought the deadline was next week and it was last week so I guess I need to finish that! Look for teasers on Fictease, Twilightficzone, and A Different Forest. Fictease also has pic teasers, I might try to do that too. Lastly, Age of Edward entries will be revealed on 11/25. You never know who's been writing in those anonymous contests.
Find me on Twitter shelly_duran.