Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to S.M.

Tatted E belongs to me!

Pre-read by Jonesn. She loves my cookie recipes.


Chapter Twenty-six: Cullen's Confession

Tap, tap, tap.

The eraser on my pencil taps on the blank page of my notebook. I stare unseeing at the page, wishing nothing more than to fill each line with my thoughts, but my mind is in a void. For the first time in my life, there are no words and it's terrifying.

Tap, tap, tap.

"Get out of your own head-space, Cullen," I grumble. "Stop over-thinking things and just write what you feel."

The tip of my pencil touches the space between two lines on the page. One light dot scars the page now, darkening with the pressure of my frustration forcing the pencil deeper into the page.

Snap.

Lead breaks for the fourth time. Four times and four pencils. They cover my desk, those broken pencils, casualties of the internal war raging inside my head. Bad thing is, this is all my fault: the blankness, the inability to write, the lack of creativity. I'm the one who read Bella's Facebook messages like some kind of jealous boyfriend, although that wasn't my intention at all.

I've seen those guys, the ones who sneak around on their girls' phones. Most of them are cocky, heads held high with arrogance and an 'I don't give a fuck' attitude, when in reality they are the ones who are insecure, the ones who don't trust their girls because they can't trust themselves. Usually they are the ones cheating in the relationship, their insecurities directly connected to their own actions.

Does Bella believe I'm that guy?

The top drawer of my desk is full of sharpened pencils. I toss the broken one aside and it skids across the desk, slamming into the other discarded pencils. I take a new one out and press the tip against the open notebook, running my tongue along my bottom lip and the studs protruding from my flesh. There are no songs, no lyrics. Nothing I write can suffice to how I feel inside. But my hand begins to move on its own accord and before I know it, words are scrawled on one line. They're a minimal amount of words, words that have been spoken by millions of people for thousands of years. Unoriginal, but true. So fucking true. Not an apology, but a written confession.

Before I can puss out, I fold the paper in half and open my bedroom door. Soft light shines from the crack between her door and the floor. Music fills the air, heavy and morose, music she listened to before we became a couple, music that reminded her of how sad she was inside after moving from her childhood home. Forehead resting on her closed door, I close my eyes and listen to the occasional lyric not muffled by the wood separating my girl from me.

Lay down your burdens don't you let them drag you into the ground

I know you're hurting but there's plenty of your pain to go around

Knuckles ready to knock on the door, I pause and drag my fist down the wood. There's no reason to knock. She won't answer the door anyway and hasn't in a couple of days. My bed is cold at night and my inspiration is gone. More than that, my heart feels like it's no longer in my chest. It's living and breathing inside of her.

I slide the folded paper under her bedroom door and walk back to my room. The sheets and duvet feel rough against my skin. I don't remember them ever feeling rough against my skin. I close my eyes and take deep breaths, forcing myself to relax, but it doesn't work. Not only am I an insomniac, but the few hours I do normally sleep are because she's tucked into my side, her warm body radiating comfort and love.

God, I love her.

Hours pass and she never shows up. Eyes sore and bone-tired, I crawl out of the bed and throw on some clothes, bypassing not only her closed bedroom door, but also Esme who's saying something as she stands in the foyer. I don't hear a word she says. Nothing registers. Nothing except my car keys weighing down the pocket of my hoodie and the coolness of the spring air. Still feels like winter. I squint up at the sky. Grey and overcast, as usual.

A door slams behind me. Footsteps shuffle across the walkway. "Edward."

I open my mouth, but my words are stuck. I clear my throat, temporarily knocking the knot lodged there away. "Yeah?"

Bella is breathless and breathtaking all at once. Face flushed, cheeks pink, she crosses the distance between us, her arms wrapping around her torso in an attempt to cling to her own body heat. A piece of paper flutters in one hand with each step and I hang my head, staring at the scuff on the toe of my boots.

"I think you left something." She's only a foot away, handing me a familiar piece of paper.

"You don't want it?" I shake my head, pain stabbing at my chest. Oh, there's my heart. Aching and alive, not dead.

"Just take it Cullen." She smiles at the narrowing of my eyes. There's shadows under her chocolate depths. Deep shadows of unrest.

I take the paper and unfold it, staring down at new words scrawled beneath mine. For the first time in days, a smile worms its way onto my face, cracking the stoic, slack planes that previously resided there.

"You do?" I ask.

Bella nods, gumming her lips and dipping her head in a bashful sort of way. "More than anything or anyone."

I fold the paper into tiny sections and tuck it into my wallet, where it will stay close to me for as long as I exist. "More than anyone, huh?"

Bella rolls her eyes. "Like you have to ask."

Relief is sudden, sharper than razor blade, staggering in intensity. I decide to try the words out, just to see how they sound in the morning air, wanting nothing more than to memorize the expression on her face the first time I tell her how I feel. "I love you, Isabella Platt."

Startled by the words no longer simply put on paper, but floating in the universe, her mouth parts and her eyes widen. Then she closes her eyes and smiles, wrapping those slender arms around her torso again and hugging herself. Jealous of her arms, I push myself off the Volvo and hold her close, burying my face in her hair and making a vow to never hurt her again.

"I'm sorry." I kiss her forehead. "I'm so sorry, baby."

"It's not entirely your fault." She sniffs and hides her face against my chest. "I overreacted at school. And then ignoring you at home …"

"Sleep has been non-existent the past few days." I purse my lips, wanting to say more, but not wanting to piss her off again. "You know, I was surprised when you didn't come to bed that first night, then I knocked the next day and nothing. That's not like you."

"More Rose's idea than mine." She sighs and steps back, out of my arms, shoving loose strands of hair out from in front of her red-rimmed eyes. "After the fall-out at school, I wanted to talk to a friend, an old friend, someone I could trust, someone who would tell me their honest opinion about you reading my messages. So I called Rose."

"Rose, the friend who hasn't spoken to you in months? That Rose?" Months, hell. More like a year. Their friendship ceased to exist after I punched Bella's ex on the beach last year on Spring Break.

"We talked about that." Bella shrugs and looks past me, a blank expression on her face. "She said she was worried about me, about us being together, but she didn't know how to tell me, so she just … didn't."

What the …

I scowl. "What's she got to worry about? She doesn't even know me."

Bella sighs. "She knows what she's seen, which is you acting like an ass to Paul on Facebook when we first met. She knows how rude you were to me when I first moved here, and she witnessed you become violent with someone she's known her entire life."

"He was forcing himself on you." Clenching my fists, I take a step back, reminding myself to take slow, deep breaths before I do something stupid, like slam my fist into my car. "Did your 'friend' forget how Paul was practically raping you on the beach? How convenient for that to slip her mind."

Bella presses her fingers to her forehead, massaging her flesh. "Rose thinks you have an anger problem."

"An anger problem?" I toss my hands in the air, my face humorously heated. "I don't have a fucking anger problem."

Bella cocks an eyebrow, a half-smile on her face as she watches me pace. "You sure about that?"

"So that's why you've been ignoring me?" My pacing stops and I study her face. "You believe your friend? You think I'm violent— that I would hurt you?"

"No, I needed some time, some space to think."

"I'd never hurt you," I whisper.

Sadness floods her face and she steps forward, fingers flexed and reaching. "I know you'd never hurt me."

Instead of letting her touch me, letting her consume me, I turn and open the door to my car, swaying slightly on my feet. The world tilts on its axis and I blink, confused about why the road is suddenly sideways. The weight of my hoodie pocket is lifted. Metal tinkling against metal tickles my ears. Bella takes my car keys and shoves them inside her pocket.

"You're not going anywhere. Not until after you've had some sleep." Worry is her voice— concern and care, something I hate to admit that I've missed, something I never realized I craved. Not since my mom died.

"I can't sleep without you." Voice soft, I look into her eyes, wondering if she knows she holds my world in the palm of her hand.

Bella blows out a deep breath and bites her bottom lip. "Me neither. I haven't slept the past couple of days. All I've been doing is lying in bed internally kicking my own ass for overeating and for being so stubborn, not forgiving you sooner. Come on, let's go to bed."

"Esme and Carlisle won't allow it," I say.

Bella smiles, grabs my hand and walks backwards up the walkway, leading me to the house. "I think they'll make an exception this time."

~c00ch~

Grogginess lingers long after the sun arrives. Bella traces a pattern of words on my chest and I close my eyes, smiling as I identify each letter of every word.

"I love you, too," I murmur, my voice thick with sleep.

"Smart boy," she says.

No longer tracing words, she teases the metal in my left nipple, tugging the piercing and sending a thrill of pleasure shooting straight to the pit of my belly. Warmth floods my abdomen, twisting and flipping, working its way to my cock. I take her hand, remove it from my piercing and bring it to the swelling inside my sleep pants. She sucks in a deep breath and laughs, alternating between palming my erection and cupping my balls, rolling them from finger to finger.

"We have to be quick," she whispers. "School starts in less than an hour."

I groan. "Not enough time." But she crawls beneath the sheets and I'm in fucking heaven. My cock twitches as she tugs the sleep pants down. I lift my hips and they're gone, along with my boxers. Hot breath and an equally hot hand wraps around me, licking and sucking, teeth skimming my skin, but not in a painful sort of way, unless painfully pleasurable is a thing, and I guess it is, where my girl is concerned. I buck into her mouth, threading my fingers in her hair and massaging her scalp. She moans at the sensation of my fingers scratching her head. The vibrations travel from my cock to my balls and I moan as well, groaning as she increases momentum and suction until she … doesn't.

"Baby." I'm whining, my cock throbbing, now in my hand. I stroke myself, wishing my sweaty palm was her wet mouth, but not wishing for long. Not when she's locking my bedroom door and shimmies out of her underwear. The top she wears is tight, her erect nipples denting the surface of the fabric. but my focus is on her pussy, on the bareness of it all, the slit in the middle, the way it's already gleaming in the morning light flooding in through my bedroom window. I crave it, desire nothing more than to run my tongue down the slit, teasing her from front to back.

Bella crawls on my bed and I kiss her, putting everything I feel for her behind lips and tongue against tongue. Lips travel from my mouth, down my chin, along my neck, each searing kiss bringing my hips from the bed until her mouth is on my abdomen, tracing the tattoos embedded in my flesh. I knead her ass, coaxing her lower body closer to me. She doesn't seem to notice my intention, not until her lips are wrapped around my cock and I'm easing her legs apart while she's lying on her side. Tongue darting between my lips, I lick her nub, pushing the hood back with my thumb. Her entire body twitches, legs shaking and I bury my face between her legs, squeezing her ass with one hand, guiding her body turn until she's quite literally sitting on my face. And we ride each other out, hips rocking and tongue seeking until we're both exhausted, even after a restful night's rest.

"I shouldn't have listened to Rose," she grumbles later, hours after classes have ended.

Don't call her friend a bitch, don't call her friend a bitch.

I shrug, ducking under the guitar strap as I remove it from my shoulder. "She was just looking out for you."

Bella perches on a stool, tucks the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth. "It would be fabulous if the two of you got along."

"Who is Rose?" Emmett asks. Sweat beads on his forehead and he wipes away the residual sweat formed by a two-hour long practice session. There's a gig in Seattle coming up and we need the money. I need the money. The days of depending on our parents for food and shelter are dwindling. Even though I know Carlisle and Esme will float cash our way over the next few years, I want nothing more than to prove I'm responsible enough to not only take care of myself as an adult, but take care of Bella too.

Jasper laughs and tosses a drumstick in the air. We watch it twirl before he catches it with ease and points the drumstick in my girl's direction. "Rose is Bella's bitch-ass friend."

Bella glares between the two of us and I work on not smirking, but it's fucking impossible. "Hey, he said it, not me." I nod in Jasper's direction and turn, unable to contain my snicker as I carefully return my guitar to its case.

"I swear, the two of you gossip more than two girls." Bella rolls her eyes and glances at her watch. "Rose will be visiting us while we're in college and vice versa."

"Guess I'll meet her in a few months," Em says. He's attending U-Dub with me and Bella. Jasper is planning on chasing what I'm worried will be a pipe-dream. My cousin Anthony has hooked up with the a well-known local band, a band in desperate need of a new drummer. Dreams and aspirations of playing professionally is one we both share, but that's all it is to me now: a dream. Stability and settling down is something I never imagined I'd want out of life, but looking at Bella sitting on the stool with her knees tucked under her chin …

The door connecting the garage to the kitchen creaks open. Carlisle's glossy blond head pops through the open door. A wavering smile rests on his face. "Practice over yet?"

I raise my eyebrows, wondering what's up with his worried expression. "Yeah, we're finished."

Carlisle nods. "Bella, Esme needs to talk to you inside. She's in the family room."

I take a step forward, but Carlisle shakes his head a fraction of an inch. Bella wrinkles her forehead, but says nothing, uncurling her legs from the stool and hopping down. Carlisle's gaze never leaves mine, even after she walks through the open door past him. Dread claws at me and I'm not certain, but I know that this has something to do with Charlie Swan. Carlisle and Esme have been acting jumpy the past couple of days. Their evenings have been spent holed-up in their bedroom with the door shut, or whispering and shooting worried gazes Bella's way. This has been going on ever since Esme handed Carlisle that damned card. Part of me wishes I'd never passed that card along to Esme, but a bigger part, the newer, better side of me, knows I made the right decision by handing the card over.

Carlisle closes the door and my friends turn to me with twin expressions of confusion. Em is the first one to speak. "What's going on?"

"Some guy drove by here a while back asking where Esme Platt lived." I purse my lips, remembering the day. "Seemed kinda sketchy, so I lied and told him I'd never heard of Esme Platt. He handed me a business card with his name. Turns out he's some Army recruiter from South Carolina."

"That's where Bella is from, right?" Em asks.

I nod. "Yup. Anyway, he's back in town now. I gave his business card to Esme and told her Carlisle should check it out. I guess he did."

Jasper tucks his drumsticks in his back pocket and rolls his head from side to side, working the kinks from his neck and shoulders. "Who do you think he is?"

"Not sure, but I have a feeling I'm about to find out."

Em clamps a hand on my shoulder and gives it a brotherly squeeze. "You got my number, man. If you need anything, give me a call. That goes for Bella too. I like that kid, even if she has turned my friend into a puss." Em laughs and ducks the half-hearted punch I swing his way.

The house is quiet once I enter, leaving my friends after a couple of more jabs and insults. The neutral colors flowing from room to room are supposed to be soothing, according to Esme, who has admitted she'd always secretly wanted to be an interior designer instead of a hospital administrator. But the ocean blues and sand-colored tans do nothing to ease the anxiety claiming my body. Soft, feminine voices whisper to one another nearby, in the family room. I hesitate near the stairway, fighting the urge to burst into the family room or strain my ears.

So fucking nosy. Don't you remember? Not minding your own business is what caused your first fight.

Heaving a sigh, I climb the stairs, grumbling below my breath. Gaze fixated on the floor, on the toe of my boots shuffling from one step to the other, I almost plow into Carlisle who is standing in the doorway of my bedroom.

Slumping against the opposing wall, I clear my throat. "Everything okay?"

Carlisle frowns, his face a mask of worry. "To be honest, son, I'm not sure. The gentleman who gave you his business card … well, he claims to have been in a relationship with Bella's biological mother back in college."

"Oh." Relief floods my system and my body immediately relaxes, shoulders going slack against the wall. "So he knew Esme too. Bella says they were best friends in high school and best friends in college."

Carlisle shakes his head, narrowing his eyes and glancing at the empty stairway. "Esme doesn't know him, but that's not surprising. Bella's mother, Renee, never told anyone who fathered her child."

Carlisle's words don't instantly sink in, but when they do, the dread returns, followed by cold, hard anger. "Father? Charlie Swan is her father? Where the hell has he been the past eighteen years?"

"It's a long story." Carlisle sighs and scrubs his face. "One that Bella should share with you. She should be the one to tell you all this to begin with, but I wanted you to be aware of what's going on because she's going to need someone to talk to— someone other than me or her mother. She's going to need you, Edward. I can't imagine the pain and confusion that poor girl is going through, finding out after eighteen years that her father is alive and well, searching for her."

"Are we even sure he's her father?" I ask. "The guy could be some psycho off the street. Who knows?"

Carlisle runs his fingers through his hair, fingers twitching long after they've left his head. "Did you get a good look at the guy?"

I think back to the day he pulled next to the drive, the darkness of his eyes, the way his smile curled on his face, the Chevy that reminded me so much of my girl.

"Yeah, I got a good look at him."

"And?"

I clear my throat. "Doesn't mean anything. Not unless there's DNA testing or something. You don't think I'm gonna let some strange old guy hang around my girlfriend, do you? 'Cause that shit ain't gonna happen. Not unless he's got some sort of proof that he's her father."

"We're all a little leery," Carlisle says. "Esme is also suggesting a DNA test, to be on the safe side. I've also contacted a buddy of mine, a private investigator named Jenks, to perform a background check on Mr. Swan."

"Wow," I say, impressed. "My dad hiring a private dick."

Carlisle raises an eyebrow, the first hint of a smile on his face. "I think you just wanted to say "dick" in front of me."

I nod. "Yup."

"Speaking of dick, are you kids still being sa—"

"Dad," I groan. "You're not allowed to ask me questions about my sex life, remember?"

Carlisle chuckles. "No babies, son." He wags a finger in my direction and turns to the staircase. "No babies."

Carlisle pads down the stairs, his leather loafers squeaking with each step. Sighing, I enter Bella's bedroom and sit on the edge of the bed, waiting. Second guessing myself, I stand and go to my bedroom, unsure of whether she'll want some time to herself. The thought of her closing herself off again guts me, makes my belly ache and my chest seize in pain. There's a pack of cigarettes inside my desk and I grab them. The evening air is cold outside, the lingering winter air still clinging to the sky. I light a cigarette and nearly choke on the taste, on the staleness of the vice I haven't used in a few days. A few puffs and it's gone, discarded over the rail and into the grass. I'll deal with Carlisle's bitching about the butts later. For now, all I want is—

My girl.

She's sitting at my desk, laptop propped open, screen lit. Scrubbing my hands together for warmth, I walk back inside the room and close the balcony door behind me, glancing at the computer screen. Various apartments scroll down with the click of her mouse. She's silent, not even acknowledging me when I place my hands on her shoulders and drop a kiss on the top of her head.

"Apparently there's a lot of prostitutes in this area," she says, tapping the screen. She glances up at me, cracking a small smile. "Rumor has it that Jessica and Lauren are rooming together in this neighborhood. Coincidence? I think not."

I fake a wince. "Next."

"You sure you don't wanna stay here?" she asks, pointing at the screen. "Lots of nightlife in this area. In fact, is that a pimp I see smiling in the background?"

I squint at the laptop. "Bella, that's a KFC restaurant sign. You know, Colonel Sanders?"

Bella leans forward, eyes narrowed on the screen. "Oh, my bad. With the white suit, the little bow tie and the various ladies of the night swarming nearby … I coulda sworn he was a pimp."

A lopsided smile tugs at the corner of my mouth. Shaking my head, I grab the desk chair and spin it around on its wheels, causing her to gasp and squeal in laughter. I sit on the edge of my bed, rolling the chair toward me and between my parted legs. Bella smiles and its sincere, tired, but sincere and beautiful.

I take her hands in mine, holding them tight. "You wanna talk?"

She shakes her head, gumming her lips. "I'm tired of talking."

"Okay."

"Okay?" she says, her voice full of surprise.

"Okay," I reply. "If and when you're ready to talk, I'm here for you." She nods and I touch her chin with my thumb, the pad briefly brushing the swell of her bottom lip. "Wanna look at some more crack houses online?"

And she laughs and the sound takes the worry away, even if it's only temporary.


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