Birds of a Feather

Chapter Fourteen

BPOV

Over the past few weeks, Edward and I had found a neutral zone in songwriting. If I wanted answers it was the best place to ask for them because he seemed willing to give in that capacity; conversely, I was willing to take a step away from the boundaries I'd enforced in all other aspects of our working relationship, and instead take a leap into hearing him out.

There had been times in the studio or during meetings when our past issues resurfaced and got the better of us. It was nowhere as bad as when he first returned to town, but we had out moments—and we were cognizant of them and the people around us, too. Along the way our writing time had become a sort of confessional; one where each party was allowed to have opinions and we could gnash them out to our hearts content.

So, with everything that had happened in New York—along with the things I was just plain nosey about—it seemed natural to invite Edward out to the lake with me. Plus, my daddy was keen on having him out for a spot of fishing and a chat. He'd all but whooped with joy when I told him I was bringing Edward over for Sunday supper with me, talked me into bringing him out earlier so they could go fishing, too.

"Daddy, we're gonna to be workin'. He's a busy guy, I don't know that he'll have a whole day to spend up at your place."

"That sounds like a pile of horseshit to me, kid. And I thought your album was finished, anyway."

I sighed. "It is, but we're already workin' on material for the next one. Because apparently that's how you become successful."

He was quiet for a minute and I thought I'd won, but then he said, "You bring him out early enough to give us some time on the lake to chat, and then you can write in the afternoon. Easy fix and everyone will be happy."

I threw a dishrag I'd been holding and gave up. My father was as brick of a wall as I was—I definitely hadn't gotten it from my mama's side. "Fine, okay. I'll get the food started while y'all are playin' around. You know, you're lucky you're my favorite guy. Don't know anybody that'd willingly bring their ex around for you to spend all day with."

"See you bright and early on Sunday, then," he said, and then he hung up on me.

I looked at Sam, who was currently gnawing on the dishrag I'd tossed, rolled my eyes, and wondered why the men in my life all had to be such pains-in-the-butts. And then I picked up the phone to see if Edward wanted to go fishing with my daddy.

~o~

Five thirty in the morning on a Sunday was a ridiculous time to be awake. I was not a happy camper when Edward knocked on my door, and I held the door open wordlessly for him and then went back to tossing notebooks and water and a real change of clothes into a bag.

"You look . . . comfy."

I humphed while looking down at my paint-splattered, flannel sleep pants and old high school homecoming t-shirt. I wasn't getting dressed up for company before the butt-crack of dawn, and if he didn't like it . . . well, tough.

"That's because I am. Be right there."

"What if I planned on takin' you out for breakfast?" he called after me as I veered down the hallway leading to my bedroom.

"McDonald's has a drive-thru."

Sam, anxious to greet the company, launched himself off my bed as soon as I opened the door and went tearing down the hallway. I uttered a few choice curses about damn dogs and fucked up wood floors, grabbed my guitar, a scarf, and my jacket, and met Edward in the living room.

He was bent over and petting the wriggling black lump of a dog, and Sam was doing his best to take Edward's feet out from under him.

"You ready, or can I go back to bed until a more decent hour?"

"You're cheerful, ain't ya?"

"Yeah, that's just the tone I was goin' for."

"C'mon, Sammy boy. Let's get out to the truck before the she-beast incinerates us with her laser stare."

"I heard that," I muttered, grabbing the travel-mug of coffee I'd set out and my things.

Sam didn't seem to care much that I was grumpy—he ran straight to the SUV and sat patiently next to the passenger door, tail thumping on the driveway. I yawned, fumbled with my things, and tried to lock the door while still holding my coffee.

Edward held out his hands. "Let me get that."

I stood on the porch a moment longer than I meant to and watched him take my things to the car. It was a new habit of his, being all polite and helpful, and the little gestures didn't go unnoticed.

Hell, I didn't even give him guff about it most of the time.

"Let's get this show on the road," he called, holding the door of the truck open for Sam. "I got a morning of fishin' with the Chief to get to."

Once I was in my seat, I said, "Sorry, don't want to delay your bromance with my daddy."

He ignored me. "You hungry?"

"No, it's too early to be hungry. Why, are you?"

He laughed. "Of course. I'll grab something on the way up. Go back to sleep, Bella. You look tired."

The heated seats were already turned up on my side of the car and it didn't take long before my eyelids started to feel heavy. Edward, clearly giving up on small talk, hummed along to an old blues album, Sam snored in the backseat, and I closed my eyes, strangely content.

~o~

"Bout time y'all got here. How was the drive?"

My father was waiting on us in the driveway when we pulled up, and had helped grab our things out of the truck. I'd like to think he was being nice, but I knew he was just anxious to get out on the lake. November was the last month he could fish for Crappie, and he was obsessive about knowing their feeding patterns.

"Mornin', Daddy." I kissed his cheek and grabbed Sam's collar. "Drive was fine; I slept."

"Chief." Edward sat the guitar cases down at his feet and stuck out his hand. "Good to see ya. Ready to get on the lake so I can show ya a few things?"

My dad laughed heartily and grasped Edward's hand. "Son, there ain't a single thing you can teach me about fishin' that I don't already know. Let's get Bella settled and get goin'. Dawn is here and the fish are on the move."

It didn't take long before they were high-tailing it down the back lawn. I watched them from the kitchen window as they climbed into the boat and sped over to the first sure-thing-hole. My coffee was cold, though, so I grabbed the pot from the counter, shook my head at the sad state of affairs, and started a fresh pot.

The contents of my dad's fridge were better than the last time I was out: a few more fresh veggies, some fruit and some nice cuts of meat in the freezer. I figured out he had the fixings for an apple pie and beef stew, and, with that all set, I grabbed an afghan my grandmother had crocheted years ago and snuggled up on the couch with a book.

The book wasn't as interesting as I would have hoped, though, and it left my mind free to wander.

I'd been a grouch this morning, had fully expected Edward to give me shit about it or get grumpy right back the way he used to before we'd fallen apart. But he hadn't. Matter of fact, I couldn't recall him picking a fight with me over much of anything in a long while.

Weird how easy we were getting along.

Eventually the grandfather clock chimed eleven; I knew the boys would be back in soon and found that I was looking forward to spending the afternoon with them. I marked the place in my book and got up to start my preparations for supper.

As I kneaded the dough and worked it on the floured board, an easy, calm settled into my rhythm while I worked. A fleeting thought at the back of my mind imagined a complete scene of harmony. Unwilling to explore something so unrealistically hopeful, I focused instead on shaping the crust for my pie.

I'd just put the apple pie in the oven when in walked the captain and his first mate.

"Told ya if'n you'd dropped your line closer to the floatin' dock, you'd have had a better chance."

Edward dropped into a chair, a surly expression on his face. "I did. And you still caught more."

I was guessing his fishing hadn't gotten any better in the intervening years, and that my daddy had whooped his ass in catches yet again. I stared at him until he looked up and winked at me; clearly he was enjoying the friendly banter with my dad.

My dad hung his vest on the hook just inside the door. "It wasn't close enough. I told ya that. That's your problem, son. You get an idea in your head and don't listen when folks tell you you're wrong."

Edward's jaw flexed. "I'm not wrong. I mean, I wasn't. I cast my line where you said. Sounds to me like you kept the best spot on your side of the boat."

"All right, manly men. Break it up. Coffee?"

"Sure," they said, one slightly after the other.

Smiling, I grabbed a couple of mugs and handed them each a fresh cup. My dad left the room but Edward stayed behind, intent on making some conversation.

"I'm enjoyin' myself so much, I don't know if I'll feel like workin'."

I held up the wooden spoon, pointing it directly at him. "Tough. The whole point of the day was getting' some songs done. You're not jackin' around just because you spent too long on the boat."

"You tryin' to tell me you didn't ask me out here just so you could spend time with me?" He put a hand on his heart. "You wound me, woman."

"Oh, hush," I said, turning to stir the pot of beef stew that was simmering. My lips quirked. "You'll live."

"Smells good."

"Thanks. Hey, get out of my hair and go visit with Charlie some more. I'm almost done here and then we can do a little writin'. Deal?"

He reached over my shoulder for a hunk of carrot and bit into it. "Deal."

He left to go into the living room and I finished cutting out the biscuits for later. Conversation from the room drifted out, but not at a volume I could make out enough to eavesdrop on. By the time the biscuits were in the oven, it was radio silence in the front room. I poked my head around the corner to see what they were up to.

Charlie was asleep in his Lazy Boy, glasses a little further down his nose. Edward was snoring softly, head resting on the back of the couch and Sam curled up beside him.

Shaking my head, I washed my hands and headed for the sun porch with my guitar.

As I played quietly, I was overcome with the realization that, for the first time in a really long time, I felt safe with my emotions . . . whatever it was they were.

Footsteps signaled the interruption before Edward stepped into the room, guitar in hand and face still red from sleep. "Hey, sleepy head."

He sat down his guitar and stretched, and a long yawn followed. "Yeah, haven't done that in a long time."

"Obviously you needed it." I looked down at my guitar, the way my fingers fluttered over strings and picked out a sweet, simple melody.

"Whatcha got goin'?"

"Thought I'd work the melody from 'Preacher' a bit, I had a new idea for lyrics." Recently, we'd started to refer to our songs with one word titles until we got the lyrics where we wanted them.

"Let's hear it."

I played for him and he listened, not offering any comments at all. I was in the middle of my third verse when I stopped abruptly.

"I had a really good time in New York. Eric and Jessica were great. Thanks for the trip."

He crossed his ankle over a knee and brought the guitar to his lap. "I'm glad. I figured you'd kick a fit and punch me in the junk when I got there for sendin' you off to charm school."

I scoffed. "Charm school. Pssh, you'd have to send me to a four year college to resemble anything remotely charmin'."

"Well, you looked good for pictures. Maybe I can get a person in to teach you how to be nice to reporters and stuff."

I lobbed my guitar pick at his head, rooted around in my case for another. "Ass. You still ain't figured out how to quit while you're ahead. Hey, you think it'd be possible to hire them. You know, for when we tour?"

"Eric and Jessica?"

"Obviously."

"Dunno. I can have Leah look into it this week."

I studied my fingernails. "I'd really like that."

"Then I'll make sure to ask." Without another word he launched into the tune I was just playing, worked it up to the spot I'd left off. There was a smile on his lips when he said, "Sing it for me again?"

We worked through it for a while more, haggled over some chord changes—and I won that battle, for a change—and tossed some lyrics around. He'd just started playing again when I stopped mid-chord.

Because, as we'd worked, something had been niggling at the back of my mind like a mosquito, and I was sick of it jabbing me every few seconds.

"If you want to change that lyric again, we can, but let's get through this part at least."

"I wasn't gonna say nothin' about that, thank you very much. I had a question."

"My, my. You're just talkin' up a storm today. What is it now?"

"I have to ask you about Tanya because it's driving me nuts."

He set his guitar down and closed his eyes, and then took a deep breath and opened them. "What about her?"

Everything in me wanted to look down, to pick at my nails or fiddle with my shirt, but I fought that urge and watched him for any reactions. "Were you seeing her, I mean, when we were separated?"

He stared at me for a beat, held my gaze and gave nothing away in his. "No. I worked with her. "

"Well, I got the impression it was more than that."

"And what gave you this impression?"

"She said as much. Or implied it, I guess. She wasn't exactly subtle in tellin' me to leave you alone and to get out of her way."

"Well, I can honestly say she's not gettin' any of that nonsense from me. Can't help it if she thinks I'm hot, though."

I picked up a wadded sheet of paper and hucked it at him; it hit him on the shoulder and bounced to the floor. "Thank goodness we're on the porch because the house isn't big enough for that ego."

"I don't have an ego," he mumbled.

I smirked—he did so. "So she was just fussin' at me—with no provocation—for no reason? Because, I gotta tell ya, that makes no sense to me."

"Since there needs to be clarification for this, I'll lay it out for ya plain and simple: I wasn't with Tanya. I haven't been with another woman since you, Bella. I don't know how else I can prove it to you so you'll just have to take my word."

As he spoke I watched his face, looked for any sign of a lie, but couldn't detect one.

His word.

Six months ago I wouldn't have thought much of his word, but today . . . well, today was a different story.

I pulled my leg up to my chest and rested my chin on my knee. "Well, she gave me an earful about doin' you wrong. Was wonderin' what version of the story she got."

He crossed his arms, and I could see him working at keeping his temper even. "Wasn't from me. I work with her, I've talked to her a few times but not about anything all that personal. Don't like people knowin' my business all that much. Maybe she got something from Jake—they hooked up a couple of times."

That made my ears perk. "She was with Jake? Lord above, I knew there was something wrong with her . . ."

Edward snorted. "There's the girl I know. Yeah, on and off. You know he never really says with anyone for too long."

"Ah, so she used Jake to get to you."

"How'd you come to that conclusion?"

I shrugged. "Female intuition."

"If you say so, but it never happened."

"Trust me, women know these kinds of things. Jake hookin' up with her is just par for the course."

He fingered the frets on his guitar absently. "I know that y'all don't get along, but why, exactly, is it that you and Jake are so ornery with each other? Used to think it was just your personalities, but I'm startin' to wonder if it ain't more than that?"

The new color I had applied to my fingernails only yesterday was starting to lift, and picked at my thumbnail.

"He's not a very nice person, Edward. He never once was nice to me after you and I got together, always made snide comments or mean jokes when you weren't in the room. He's jealous of me for whatever reason, like I took his best friend away or something. And I know you either couldn't, or wouldn't, see it because you two have been friends so long, but he didn't like me bein' with you, and he tried to pick us apart."

He scratched his head tiredly. "Why the fuck wouldn't you tell me that he was bein' such a dick to you? I would'a told him to cut that shit out."

"I did, at first. It was really bad after we all got to New York. You were busy a lot and when I'd come to the studio or go to gigs with you guys, he'd make sure you were occupied before he started. But I didn't make a big enough deal of it, I guess. Dunno, maybe I should have, but I didn't want you to think I was just bein' a nag."

"You put up with his shit just to keep the peace? Why?"

"I didn't want to disrupt what you guys had goin' on and I thought I could handle it."

His anger rose and he began to get loud. "Clearly you couldn't. You let him harass him and piss you off, and that all boiled over onto our relationship! Because you internalized it the way you do and took it out on me. And that's bullshit." "

"I didn't let him do anything!"

"But by doing that, by not telling me and thinking you could handle all of this, it eventually got to you and turned toxic. And you ended up being angry with me about it."

I pursed my lips, considering. It wasn't fair on my part, but I guessed in some way I did hold him responsible for that. For not paying enough attention to notice when his friend had stepped over the line of annoying into downright insulting. "That might'a been part of it."

He groaned and rubbed his hands over his face harshly. "You were pissed off at me because I wasn't there enough for you. I wasn't there to keep him out of your face."

Yet again, one of our conversations had moved into uncomfortable territory, and I had no qualms that our shouting would bring my daddy out to the sun porch faster than a fox. Because here was more than one truth to it, and looking at it from a different perspective than the one I was inclined to view it from . . . well, that was a bitter pill to swallow.

"Yes and no."

"Help me out here, I'm tryin' to understand."

I took a deep breath, looking for the right words. "Jake was a problem, but he wasn't the only one. There's so much that went wrong with us, Edward. It was like a boulder rollin' downhill, just collectin' hurts and angry words as it went."

My words made him sad; I could see it in the slump of his shoulders, the breath he expelled and didn't take back in right away. I opened my mouth to tell him I wasn't blaming him as much as I used to, that I was starting to see past my anger into the things I should have done, too, but my dad poked his head into the room just then.

"Is this ready yet?"

Edward looked out of the window while I watched my dad watching us. He had that no-nonsense look about him, and I knew he knew we weren't handling things like rational adults.

Putting my guitar aside, I said, "Guess we'd better eat now. We can get back to this later."

~o~

After the dishes were cleared, Edward and I took a walk down toward the dock with Sam in tow. The November air was unseasonably warm and I sat on the dock watching Edward throw the stick over and over for Sam. Each time he'd come out of the water, he'd stand too close and shake the droplets on to me.

My mind was back on the sun porch, though, and I didn't have a laugh for Sam like I would normally. I watched the light dance over the water instead, watched the color change from bright blue to golden yellow as the sun sank further in the sky.

When Sam had tired, Edward came and took a seat next to me, our knees close and feet dangling over the edge.

"I'm glad you invited me up here today. Didn't get a lot done, but I think it was something I needed. Hell, I think we both needed it."

The setting sun cast his face into weird patterns of bright and dark, and I squinted trying to make out his features. "Daddy was sure happy to see you."

"Yeah." He hesitated, and then said, "He was talkative on the boat, that's for sure."

"Really?" At his nod, I continued, "And, somehow, I don't think you're gonna tell me what he had to say."

"Nope."

I pulled a face but left it alone. His mood had lightened some, and while I wanted to pick our conversation up where it'd left off, I wasn't sure if I should. We'd get to them eventually, of that I had no doubt, but for now I was comfortable to sit on the dock with him and be restful. I turned my head and watched Sam find a small log and cart it onto the shore to chew. Edward chucked a stick he had been holding into the water; Sam raised his head for a moment and then went back to working on his log.

"You ain't gettin' his attention now. You know that, right?"

"Yeah, I know. Damn dog is as stubborn as you are."

"Probably."

I found a small pebble on the dock and chucked it into the water in front of me, watched the spreading ripples that it made.

"I've been thinkin'," Edward said. He took a deep breath and then leaned back on his hands. His face turned to mine and he waited until I was looking at him, too, before speaking again. "We need a clean slate, everything out on the table. And I mean everything."

"Where'sall this comin' from?"

"I think it's time we put some of our issues away so we can move forward. We keep dancin' around the small stuff when it's obvious there's things that need to be said."

Earlier, my thoughts were flowing faster than my mouth could move but now, being in the center of it all, I had no words.

But, he was right. We were dancing around subjects. Letting some in and through, leaving others that should have been easier to talk about out. It was a stupid dance, even more so than some of the newfangled ones I saw in the clubs we played, and it wasn't getting us anywhere.

"Jake is clearly something I should have listened to you about, and I'm so pissed off I could spit that I brushed it aside, but there's other things I know you have to say."

"I don't know where to start."

"What's the first thing that comes to mind?"

The thoughts were spinning fast as a merry-go-round. Prioritizing them with the correct emotions behind them was another matter. So I went with the hardest one, and hoped the rest would be easier. "You left me."

I saw him flinch, and felt like I was the one who did so.

"Yeah, I did. I'm not proud of that, but I just didn't know what else to do at the time. You were so depressed and my bein' there didn't seem to help none. Couldn't hold you, couldn't comfort you. It was a void, and I wasn't equipped enough to handle it at the time."

"You leavin' . . . I hear you, now. I get what you're sayin'. But it hurt, Edward. My heart was already broken, and that just took the pieces that were left and crushed them."

"I guess . . . I guess I just looked at it as a way to give you what you seemed to want, which was to be alone. I had work, commitments to keep. I chose to do that instead, to provide a life for us while you sorted out what you wanted."

My eyes filled with tears, and I swiped them away. "What about your commitment to me?"

"I swear to God, Bella, I tried everything I could before I decided to leave. Bringin' my family and the counselor in was sort of this last-ditch effort thing, but I didn't know how else to fix it."

"That's the thing. You didn't need to fix anything. I just needed you to be there."

"And I was. As long as I could be."

"I don't buy that. You cooled your jets for a month and then you were off and runnin'. It's taken me over a year to get to where I can even talk about it."

"You mean after we lost the baby."

I was the one to flinch this time. "We didn't lose the baby, I did."

He grabbed my hand, used our fingers to brush away my tears. "Don't do that. Don't. That's way too much to put on yourself, and it doesn't even make sense."

I watched out hands drop to the dock, extracted mine carefully so I could ball it in my lap. My fingers flexed as I breathed in and out, my body shook with the effort. "It was my body," I whispered. "Something was wrong with me."

My reaction seemed to set something off in him. His hands shook, too. "There isn't anything wrong with you. It didn't happen, and I can't begin to fathom how much I wish it was different, but that line of thinkin' is bad, Bella."

"You don't understand,"I started, and then stopped. My throat was scratchy, dry, and the words hurt too much, anyway.

"Try me."

I looked back out at the water, over at the tree line, down to Sam. Anywhere but at him.

"I felt . . . it made me feel like less of a woman. Like I wasn't ever going to be everything you wanted."

Remembering those awful first few months hurt. Even to this day, some of those thoughts still lingered. Less than before, sure, but there were times they popped up, and those were the days that were the hardest to get through. For months after, I'd spent my days in the nursery that was too bright to be comforting, Sam and my guitar at my side while I tried to figure out how to move forward.

Edward pulled my face around to meet his, kept his hand on my cheek. Seeing his eyes shiny, too, broke the dam and I let out a sob.

"Shh. Shh, sweetheart. Don't do that. How could you even think that?"

"I don't know. I just do."

And then I was in his arms, and even though my body stiffened at first, the comfort I'd wanted for so long was enough to make me not want to bolt. He smelled the same as he always did, sunshine and cotton and a dash of the bar-soap he preferred. His arms were as strong as ever, the chest my head rested against just as solid, and my shoulders shook with regret and sobs and everything else I'd wanted to get out for the past year.

For the moment, that was where I needed to be.

If we were going to move on, for both our sakes, it was time to let some this go and sew up the wound so things had time to heal properly.

My tears darkened his t-shirt, but he didn't seem to mind much. He only held me tighter, shushing nonsense words into my hair and rocking me back and forth. I couldn't help but think about the life we had planned, the prospect of that baby and him and me just one big happy family. Hopes and dreams that were dashed on the rocks, and I cried harder still.

After a while the tears subsided, my breathing returned to normal. Edward's heart beat under my ear, the pace of it calming me. With a stuffy nose, I sniffled and raised my head to look at him.

His face was pensive, eyes distant and focused far on the water. His thoughts were a million miles away, though, and I waited until he looked down at me to smile tentatively at him and let him know that I felt a little better, now.

With my mind free of the emotional clutter, I thought about my dad. He was probably wetting himself watching from the house and that made me snort.

"What's so funny?" he asked without letting go.

"I was just thinking about what my dad is doing right now."

Edward turned his head to look at the house. "Oh, yeah. He just ducked out from the kitchen window."

"Thought so."

Reluctant to do so, I took that moment to move away from him and sit up straight. His hand passed behind me, moved my hair over my shoulder. It was comforting, nice, and I sniffled again.

"I know some things don't last forever, Bella Marie, but I just don't want you gone from my life."

Staring at him was a little easier, and I did. His face had changed over the years, lost some of the youthful adorableness and turned handsome. Baby fat of seventeen or lean ruggedness of mid twenties, his face would forever be etched into my heart.

"We'll figure something out."

He stood then, offering me a hand up so we could head back into the house. I kept my arms crossed at my chest, trying to avoid Sam hopping around as we walked up the hill.

Charlie was sitting in his recliner, glasses perched on his nose. "You guys ready for some pie yet? I've been waitin'."

"You didn't have to wait on us, Daddy."

"I want to spend some time with you before y'all leave."

So after I'd washed my face we ate pie and talked about local goings-on, and my dad and Edward talked about some new line of reels Bass Pro Shop had out. We were slow getting our things gathered to load up the car and all the while my dad kept drawing Edward into conversations and delaying our departure just a little longer.

"We should probably go, dad." I hugged him something fierce before we headed out the door.

The ride back was silent, soft music playing on the radio. The ride was free of chatter, but not uncomfortable—we'd just gotten all our words out for the day, and were content to just be silent. Sam slept in the backseat, and when we arrived back at my house, I lingered in the front.

"Thank you, again, for comin' out there with me."

Edward turned his head leaning against the seat rest to look at me. His eyes were soft, kind, and the smile he gave me was one for the picture books. "Think it was something we both needed."

He leaned across the console then, his eyes asking permission. I moved ever so slightly, closed my eyes when his hands cupped my cheek and his lips met mine softly. It was just a little kiss, a mere brushing of mouths, but there was so much behind it. Respect, understanding, and a love that once was. I touched his forehead with mine and pulled back, opening my eyes to watch his face.

He moved away, a small smile on his face. "Talk to you this week?"

"Yeah, I'd like that."


~o~


So many of you take the time to give kind thoughts and words about this story. Keep it coming and I may be able to give you something in return soon. *wink*

Song- True Love Way – Kings of Leon

And thank you nicnicd for making me obsessed with SoA. And for your glittery edits. xo