Beta: Stacyo72 and maxandmo- a huge thank you to both for sticking with this story!
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.
Ch. 4 Irrepressible Trust
It's somewhat ironic that I haven't truly left SeaTac since I arrived back in the United States three months ago. When I was seventeen and living with my father, SeaTac was synonymous with adventure and excitement. It was the antithesis of Forks, Washington, the tiny Podunk town where my father was the chief of police, all four of them, himself included. SeaTac, an abbreviation of Seattle Tacoma International Airport, meant visits to my mother: first, the dry heat of Phoenix and later the humid warmth of Jacksonville. SeaTac led me away from the claustrophobic lugubrious skies and excessively verdant landscape of the Olympic Peninsula. But SeaTac isn't just a pathway to a different destination; it's also the name of the town surrounding the airport, a modest middle class community of twenty-six thousand.
Amid the airlines headquarters, freight forwarders, hotels, and restaurants located in the city limits is the SeaTac Federal Detention Center. The building, like the surrounding overcast Northwest skies, is a fortress of pale grey, a color that engulfs me. My life is overwhelmed by grey. The interior walls are a dingy white, the color of old chewing gum. Cell doors are slate grey and the tables and chairs of the common areas are a dull shade of gunmetal. Even the bright orange uniform I wore as a detainee has been exchanged for the drab grey that signifies I'm now a convicted criminal. A mere four months ago and three miles away, I rose from my first class seat and exited a Swiss Air flight, not knowing that a trap was already sprung and my life was about to irrevocably change. It was here in SeaTac that I last heard Edward proclaim his love for me, once as a soft whisper before we walked hand and hand down the hall connecting the plane to the terminal. The last time was a frantic shout while I was handcuffed and forcibly separated from him. My journeys to the police stations and courtrooms of downtown Seattle are the only trips I've made away from this same relatively small stretch of Earth- only ten square miles in all- to which I seem inextricably bound. I will live here for no less than the next fifteen years.
"Swan! Pay attention!"
My head snaps up as the correctional officer, the C.O., berates me for not responding when called. I nod in acknowledgement but say nothing more. Apologizing would only antagonize him and irritate my new cellmates. Instead, I lower my head and stand still in front of my bunk as the four p.m. count continues. I've only been in the general population for a short time and I'm still not used to the change in routine from the detainee section. Unbidden, I recall the paragraph regarding counts in the SeaTac prisoner's handbook I was given on my first day as a convicted inmate.
During the course of the day, Monday through Friday, there are five official counts. . .
It is your responsibility to be ready for the count when the time nears. . .
The Unit Officer will announce "COUNT TIME" when it is time to count and you are expected to:
1) STOP what you are doing and go to your assigned cell or area;
2) Remain silent during the count;
3) Remain in your cell until the officer has announced that the count is clear.
With a quick nod the C.O. leaves, satisfied that we're all present and accounted for. We remain where we are until the signal is given that the count is complete. I sit down on my bunk bed and lean forward, giving myself the luxury of taking a few deep breaths. My three cellmates return to their own occupations. It's Saturday afternoon so not everyone is working. I've applied for a few jobs. There are openings on the janitorial staff and the kitchen staff, neither of which I really want to do. The laundry also needs workers but I've seen The Shawshank Redemption enough times so there's no way I'll work there. The other open job is a library assistant. I applied for that position even though my counselor warned me that jobs like that are always given to prisoners with "seniority", those who've been here a while. Regardless, if I'm going to make twelve cents an hour, then I want to do something I'll halfway enjoy or not bother at all.
I surreptitiously glance over at Jessica, the one who's closest to my age, as she lies across her top bunk reading a tabloid. She idly turns the page before she freezes and suddenly looks up at me then down again at the page. I have no doubt as to what she's seen. I raise an eyebrow in silent confirmation.
"Damn, girl. Here you are acting all quiet and shy and meanwhile you were fucking that fine Cullen motherfucker, robbing him blind, and then fucking that other one too. Hmpf, look at these e-mails. 'He's never going to know how it feels to really be inside me, with no barriers. Only you know that. He wears a condom every time. I can't wait until this job is over so I don't have to pretend anymore. I want only you James. I want only your hands on me. I want only your cock in me. He'll never know how I really sound when I come. I save that for you. I only scream for you.' Was he really bad in bed or were you just saying that to keep your other man from gettin' jealous? I just can't believe that someone who looks like this isn't a good fuck. That would be a damn shameful waste of such a hot body."
She holds up the magazine and I can see a spread of pictures over both pages. The headline in large print proclaims me as The Black Swan. Seriously? I don't know how but the magazine has pictures of Edward shirtless on a beach somewhere, looking as perfect as I remember. There are also less flattering pictures of James Floyd and myself.
Jessica is short and round with brown curly hair that reaches past her shoulders. The right side of her head is braided in tight cornrows against her scalp. On the inside of one wrist she has a homemade tattoo that is so faded and blurred I can't tell what it's supposed to be. She talks incessantly. I already know that she was the girlfriend of a notorious coke dealer in Seattle. She lived the life, partying hard, in exchange for transporting drugs over states lines. She was picked up for possession with intent to deliver and never again heard from her boyfriend. Despite that, she refused to incriminate him and received a full ten year sentence for her loyalty. I sigh, and look directly into her pale blue eyes. I'm about to respond that I was framed and I never sent those emails when a low voice speaks in a thick Latin accent from beneath Jessica's bunk.
"Mind your damn business, wigger girl. She ain't got to tell you nothin' about what they were like in bed. You always acting like you're the shit when you ain't nothin' but a damn mule."
"Shut your fuckin' mouth, Maria! I'm sick and tired of you trying to pigeonhole me. Mexicans aren't the only ones capable of running drugs."
Maria tosses her long black hair over her shoulder. She is older than both me and Jessica, perhaps in her early fifties, but she is still attractive with smooth skin and dark expressive eyes. Despite this, she carries herself with a hardness characteristic of one who's spent a lifetime on the wrong side of the law. She narrows her eyes up at Jessica and snorts in depreciation.
"You so capable then what are you doing in here? I got ratted out by stupid mules like you. I'm sick and tired of your ass stinking up my bunk. You can call me all the names you want, it doesn't change the fact that you're still nothing but a foolish white puta no matter how hard you try not to be. Where's your bad-ass boyfriend now? He dropped off the face of the Earth when you got picked up, didn't he? He let you take the fall and now you're in here rotting and he's moved on to the next stupid bitch willing to do anything for his big black cock."
I glance over at the third occupant of our small cell, a tall quiet woman, perhaps in her late fifties or early sixties. Her chin length straight hair is mostly gray and she has crow's feet around her brown eyes. A series of fine lines cross her forehead. I can see a simply wooden crucifix hanging around her neck. I don't know much about her other than her name is Martha and she is some type of religious activist. Maria and Jessica continue to toss insults back and forth to each other but Martha ignores them, her focus on a book of prayer meditations.
I awake in the dark, momentarily confused by where I am. I know instinctively that I shouldn't move. I shouldn't give away the fact that I'm conscious. I heard a low moan close by and the sounds of wet, rhythmic movement and it all comes flooding back. I'm in my bunk. Martha is sleeping in the bunk above me, her soft snores barely audible. Although I can't see them from this angle, I know that Maria is in Jessica's bunk, as she is most nights. They might hate each other in the daylight but necessity and passion keep them together in the dark. I can hear Maria's low voice tenderly whispering the same Spanish insults she used earlier in the day as she brings Jessica closer to the edge of release. When Jessica doesn't immediately vocalize her assent, Maria stills. "Maybe you don't want it as bad as you claim. I bet Swan hasn't had a good fuck in a while. Maybe I should stick my fingers up her instead of you. I bet she'd like it, I bet she'd beg me for my whole fist."
I freeze, afraid to breath. Only a small beam of light shines through the window of the otherwise solid cell door. Is it enough for Maria to tell I'm awake? Jessica begs and whimpers agreeing to whatever Maria says as long as Maria gives her what she needs. In the small space of the cell, I'm perfectly aware of when Maria resumes moving her fingers. I lay completely still trying to go back to sleep as she and Jessica use each other for their mutual gratification.
"You look like you didn't sleep well," Martha says as she sits down next to me at breakfast. Her tray's dark grey hue is only slightly lighter than the table upon which it sits. I'm surprised she's talking to me. I haven't heard her say anything in our cell.
She continues, "You'll learn to ignore the fornicators soon enough. It was difficult for me too at first but I've learned to sleep through it."
She smiles sweetly as she glances at my shocked face. I had no idea she knew our cellmates were diddling each other in the early morning hours.
"I don't approve of course, but I'd much rather they seek out each other than look for it from me."
I shut my mouth, which has been hanging open, and nod while I return my attention to my breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast.
"Not bad for the powdered stuff, eh?" Martha notes as she digs in to her own plate. "I pictured oatmeal at every meal like something out of Charles Dickens. You know – gruel and porridge."
"Why are you here?" I blurt out. I'm not sure if I mean sitting next to me or in prison at all.
"Well, I did a few un-Christian things in the name of Christianity, for which I'm paying my penance, both physically and spiritually." Martha smiles sadly. "You looked like you could use someone to talk to. Regardless of what you did to get here, being here is enough to upset even the most unrepentant sinners. Not that I'm judging you as such mind you, but you don't seem to have the same … hardness that some here do. They've had years to build that thick skin and even so this place still gets to them." She pauses and looks up from where she's pushing the remains of her breakfast around in her dish.
"I was convicted of domestic terrorism but my true sin was pride. The Reverend, my husband, and I had acquired a bit of notoriety among the other local Christian groups. We were convinced of our righteousness. There was a court order to remove the Ten Commandments plaque in the main lobby of the Federal building in Seattle. We strapped explosives to our chests and chained ourselves to the lobby desk threatening to blow it all up if they enforced the order. Unfortunately, we weren't thinking about the consequences of our actions in this modern age of terrorism. I'm afraid we were enamored with our own growing fame and never considered the danger we posed to all the people working in that place.
Matthew 6:1: 'Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.'
Yes, we were guilty of the sin of pride and now we're both here in SeaTac serving our sentences apart from one another. My husband is on the men's side but of course, we can't see each other. We'll have to wait until we're paroled. Luckily, our children are all grown so we don't have to worry so much about them," she concludes with a nod.
We talk throughout breakfast and continue the conversations often over the next several weeks. Although I've never been religious, I'm intrigued by Martha's blend of devout Christianity and surprisingly open-minded practicality. She is determined to atone for her crimes by becoming a model of Christian love and charity. "Judge not lest ye be judged" she quotes often. Despite the odd assortment of behaviors, both frightening and sad, that we witness occurring on a daily basis, Martha never says a bad word about anyone. She confides in me that she prays for us all, so that we might each discover the error of our ways and return to Jesus. Yet, she never preaches or condemns the way I expect a Christian evangelist to act. I ask her about it as we wait for visitors to arrive a few Saturdays later. Jake and J.J. are confirmed on today's schedule. I haven't seen my son in almost six weeks. Even though he was approved on my visitor's list when I was a detainee, I had to wait for him to get re-approved once I was moved from the detention center to the general population. Even my dad had to get re-approved. Charlie had visited me earlier in the week, his dark eyes tired and worn, filled with concern for me. Martha's eyes have a similar expression as she answers me.
"Evangelism is sometimes far more effective when you aren't yelling, screaming and telling people all the things they do wrong. That's fine for the Reverend during the Sunday sermon but I prefer to set a good example and hope that perhaps I will lead some back to the Lord.
Matthew 6:6: 'But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.'
My plan seems to working for you, doesn't it?" Martha leans over and nods toward the small book of prayer meditations that I'm holding. I bought my own soon after I read her copy.
"Weber!" The C.O. calls out, indicating that she may enter the visitor's area.
Martha smiles radiantly as she stands. "That would be my daughter Angela I suppose.
Remember Matthew 6:33-34: 'But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.'"
I reflect on her words as I wait for my name to be called. Martha has helped me quite a bit in the struggle for why this has happened. Why me when I did nothing wrong? God doesn't create the evil in this world. She told me. God gave people free will to choose between right and wrong. If an injustice has been done to you by the choice of man, God will right that wrong. It may not be in a time you wish, but it will come. Have faith.
Faith is fickle. I had spent so much of my early relationship with Edward doubting. How could someone like him- a young, wealthy Prince Charming in all but title, want more from me than just a casual fling? He was destined for someone his own age from his own social strata, not a middle-class single mom who hadn't been to the gym in a year. Still, he persisted, eventually winning me over. I stood by him throughout the financial and emotional disaster caused by the Supreme Court case. I thought I had proved that his money was never important to me; I'd love him whether he was a billionaire or a pauper. Yet, when I needed him- when I needed his faith and love, he abandoned me.
As I reflect upon it now, I suppose I resisted his advances because there was always a part of me that knew. He wasn't prepared to be a knight in shining armor. Modern day princes don't go into battle and slay the enemy. Fair maidens don't fall in love forever and get a happily ever after. That future died with dragons, unicorns and other mythical creatures. Regardless, I had ignored my instincts of self-preservation and fallen in love While I could never have imagined it would end this way- with me in prison, my life in shambles, and my heart broken- I suppose it was inevitable that someday, Edward's capricious nature would emerge. Those born with a silver spoon in their mouth rarely have their strength of character tested. It's easy to seem kind, noble, and generous when you're given every advantage in life. Perhaps it was better to have my life implode so spectacularly. It proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Edward didn't have the type of backbone necessary when life got hard. The result was that now I need to base my life on what is real and what I know is true in my heart. Faith in myself and in the justice of a benevolent Judge above is all I have left. I pray I will not have to wait a lifetime to see myself exonerated.
"Swan!" I pocket the small book as I stand and walk toward the door of the visitor's area.
"Mom, really it's not like that." J.J. separates his play money into neat piles like I had once shown him on our dining room table. SeaTac has a children's section in the visitor's area that contains a few old-fashioned board games and other approved toys so that prisoners could play with their kids. J.J. and I were half way through a game of Life that carbon dating would show to be from sometime in early nineties. This Life had no pretend ATM cards, no electronic sounds, and none of the careers earned a salary over fifty thousand dollars per year. Still, it's his favorite board game and playing gives us a temporary semblance of normalcy. I can almost forget the cold concrete walls, locked doors and steel bars that surround and enclose me. Almost.
I glance across the room where Jake is standing in front of the one working vending machine, vainly trying to get it to accept a dollar bill that isn't quite up to the machine's stringent standards of crispness. I don't want to insult Jake but I'm afraid to believe what they're both insisting is true. I think they don't want me to worry about something I can do nothing about. I turn back to J.J. and give him the "mom can see inside your head so you better tell me the truth" look. J.J. had a rough time when I was arrested. As the grandson of a police chief, he'd deeply trusted the American judicial system. He'd had the blind faith of a child who didn't understand that the innocent could actually be proven guilty and that sometimes the guilty got away with their crimes. Thanks to the combined efforts of Jake, Paul, Billy, and my parents, plus a few analogies about Loki and other villains masquerading as good guys, J.J. had eventually accepted the truth of my situation.
"J.J., are you sure? It's okay to tell me if the kids at school are…are saying mean things because of me, because of where I am," I stumble over my words, trying not to say something that will cause him to shut down rather than open up. J.J looks up from his money and fixes his dark eyes, so like my own, in a withering look that should be impossible for an eight year old to muster.
"Mom, you don't need to worry. I'm not changing schools. If someone is stupid enough to say something or to snub me because of you, I don't want to hang out with them anyway. My true friends are still my friends and you being in jail won't change that," he shrugs as he lines up the little plastic car and places a blue person in it.
"Wow," I exhale quietly as I lean back in my seat. I'm stunned by my son's poise and maturity. "When did you get so grown up?"
He smiles that warm toothy grin that reminds me of Jake. "I am eight now you know," he pauses and his look changes to one of sadness. "I do miss Edward once in a while, but I'm glad he's gone now. Dad says he was a douchebag to not stand by us and I agree."
"J.J.!" I try to look stern but I can't help the small twitch at the corners of my mouth. Douchebag was always Jake's favorite word to describe someone he didn't like.
"Please Mom, you know in this case, Dad's right."
"Regardless, you should watch your language. Just because it's you, Dad, and Paul now doesn't mean you should talk like you live in a men's locker room," I tousle his hair as Jake comes back with a few candy bars and takes his place.
We play Life twice and move on to a few of the other games available as the afternoon whittles away. It's almost normal except for the C.O. standing guard in the corner of the room, and the other prisoners in their grey uniforms scattered throughout the room.
When J.J. returns the games to the shelves at the side of the room Jake leans over and whispers, "Really, Bella, are you doing okay?"
I nod, feeling my throat constrict just a bit. "It sucks but I'm surviving."
I point out Martha sitting across from a lanky dark-haired girl in glasses. The resemblance between her and Martha is so strong that I'd known immediately she's Martha's daughter, Angela. I briefly describe Martha and my other cellmates to Jake as I keep one eye on J.J. who's carefully placing the games on the shelves.
He chuckles "Seriously? Two lesbian druggies and a Jesus-freak terrorist?"
I look around; making sure no one overheard him. "Keep your voice down! Martha has really been helping me and she's very determined to redeem herself. She is the least terrifying person in this place. As for the others, one is a dealer, not a user. The other is a trafficker but okay, she did use. I think they're bi-sexuals? They went the other way outside," I raise my voice in question. "I defer to you on all matters of homosexuality. You're the expert."
Jake snorts again but keeps his volume to a low whisper. "Paul says bi-sexuals are just people who haven't accepted that they're really gay."
I roll my eyes. In the time I've gotten to know Paul, I've realized that some homosexuals are actually less tolerant of bi-sexuals than heterosexuals are.
"Well, Paul's never been locked up. People here do what they have to in order to get through it," I snip.
Jake raises an eyebrow. "Bella, have you changed teams? I wouldn't blame you, after the way that douchebag deserted you."
I huff. "Please, sex with anyone is the last thing on my mind right now. Also, can you please watch your mouth around J.J.? While I don't disagree with your analysis, douchebag is really not something I want to hear coming out of our son's mouth," I jut out my chin toward J.J. who's now headed back to our table. The visit will be over soon.
"Okay, okay, no calling the douchebag a douchebag, got it," Jake teases before he clears his throat. "Ah, one more thing, I got a call from CNN. Anderson Cooper is doing a story about… this," he waves his hand between us and then in a circle. "CNN says that it will be a fair piece. He wants to interview me and of course, you. I'll do whatever you want," Jake adds as J.J. sits back down.
"Anderson Cooper? Anderson COOPER?! Seriously? Jake, he's Gloria Vanderbilt's son! The Vanderbilts, the Cullens, the Rockefellers: they're all part of that same old American upper crust rich network. Do you really expect me to share my story with a gay version of Edward?" I seethe. Just the thought of sitting down with one of America's privileged elite turns my stomach. Even if Cooper is somehow on my side, I can't bear to share my side of the story with another member of the Ivy League schooled, jet-set raised One Percent. I'll see Edward in every small gesture, every nuance of speech.
Jake holds his hands up in surrender. "Bella! Calm down! I'm just the messenger. I don't expect anything. I'll tell the girl that called that you're not interested, no comment, whatever."
I nod, as a give them both a lukewarm smile. "Sorry, I guess the douchebag still gets to me sometimes," I point to J.J. "I can say it, you can't." We share a laugh and try to enjoy the last few minutes of our visit.
I awake to another morning of fluorescents casting their filtered light among the grey shadows of our cell. It's been three days since my visit with J.J. I'll hopefully see him again in another four. The announcement for count time blares over the loudspeaker. The opening of cell doors echoes from beyond our own still closed door. I barely have time to stand and find my shoes when the door opens. The usual morning C.O.'s are there but they are closely followed by the Supervisory Officer, and my Case Manager, Kate, whom I've met a grand total of two times now.
"Officer, please mark Ms. Swan as present for the count," Kate's eyes meet mine and she smiles sweetly. I'm immediately suspicious. The last time I met with her, she seemed more interested in a hang nail on her thumb than anything else. Also, prisoners are never given the courtesy of a formal address, it's always just Swan, not Miss or Ms. I glance at Martha and see she's just as confused as I am. Maria regards Kate with cold wariness and Jessica looks like she just wants to go back to bed.
The Supervisory Officer hands me a medium sized cardboard box and tells me to grab my things.
"Am I being moved?" I ask.
"We'll answer all your questions once we get to the office but it's a good idea to collect your possessions now." Kate gives me another closed mouth sugary smile.
I turn and grab the few books, pictures and personal possessions I have with me and shove them in the cardboard box. I follow the S.O. and Kate into the common area through two, then three, locked doors and finally to the hall where the administrative offices are located.
Kate leads me not to her small cluttered space, but to the Warden's office. I freeze, standing in the hall as they walk through the door. I've never even seen the Warden. I can't imagine what could have happened to cause me to be here.
The S.O. turns and sees me hesitating. She leans back and grabs my arm gently. "Come on, you'll want to hear this."
It's then that I see Jasper Whitlock, his face beaming like the sun on the hottest day of the year. I utter a small "oh" and hold onto the S.O.'s arm for support. She leads me to a chair in front of the Warden's desk. I sit but my eyes are focused solely on Jasper.
"Did you find them?" I ask.
There are a few rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds and one shines through the windows of the office, casting a golden halo around Jasper's blonde hair. I blink, trying to rid myself of the image of Jasper as a guardian angel. I know it's just my emotions that are causing my eyes to play tricks on me.
His smile diminishes just a bit as he shakes his head. "No, but it's okay. In fact, it's better than okay."
It feels as though it takes forever for the story to emerge although it's probably no more than ten minutes. Edward. Edward found the security tapes that proved my innocence. Edward had led the fight to have my conviction overturned. I can feel my throat constrict again. I'm given a cup of water and I sip slowly, trying to gather my scattered thoughts. I can't seem to form a cohesive sentence. I speak in monosyllables.
"When?" I ask
"Hopefully today. The preliminary paperwork is complete. We just need to bring you before the judge, either in a private hearing or in chambers, and the verdict will be formally dismissed."
Free. I'm going to be set free. I'm going home, but where is that?
"I'm working on it. If it's too late and it's already been auctioned, then the funds will be yours. The same for your assets. If any of your possessions can't be returned, you'll be given the cash value of whatever was sold. There won't be any reparations due to the Cullens or the U.S. Government. Once the verdict is overturned, it'll be as though you were never convicted."
"J.J.?" I hear my voice crack. I feel the catch at the back of my throat and take another deep sip of water.
This time, Jasper's smile widens. "Your parents and Jake have already been notified. I imagine they'll be waiting for you once you're released. "
I nod, trying to absorb all that he's telling me. I know there are tears streaming down my face. I want to smile but I'm afraid to accept this.
At this point, I'm terrified that I'm dreaming. I idly wonder if anyone will notice if I pinch my arm. I don't want to wake up and go back to the nightmare that has been my life for the past several months. Can it really be over just like that? I look around the room from smiling face to smiling face. Just yesterday, most of the people in this room believed I committed the crimes for which I was convicted. Only Jasper had been on my side, never giving up. Yet even so, without Edward, I wouldn't be sitting here now. Edward had never stood by me. Edward threatened me with a restraining order if I didn't stop writing to him. I thought Edward had fully believed the lie. Yet Edward saved me when no one else could or would. I just couldn't process it.
It's the aroma of coffee that brings me back to reality. This isn't the warmed over cheap bean prison variety smell, but full-bodied rich roasted Starbucks. I look over my shoulder to where an office worker is setting up a breakfast spread complete with pastries, muffins, and scones –holy shit, Starbucks scones- next to the familiar white cups with the green goddess logo. I stare dumbfounded as the Warden himself asks me if I'd like breakfast before I leave for court.
Everyone wants a turn to speak. The Warden gives me some speech that I only vaguely register, his main purpose seems to revolve around the idea that even though I was wrongly incarcerated, that I would still think well of the treatment of the prisoners by the SeaTac staff and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Kate, who never did a damn thing for me, hopes that our counseling sessions were of some comfort during my time at SeaTac. Even the S.O., a tall, sturdily built woman with a Russian accent who I'd only met once, is asking me to call her Irina, as though we're now equals instead of a guard and a prisoner. That's when it really sinks in. I'm going to be free. I will once again be their equal. Yes, they're probably being so nice because they'll afraid I'll sue, but I can't think about that now. I won't have a record, I won't be a convict. My life is mine. If I want to sleep until ten a.m., I can. I don't have to worry about head counts, meal times, or lights out. I can go to the bathroom in total privacy. The scone I'd scarfed down sits in my stomach like lead. I drink my Starbucks to wash it all down.
God-rays: that's what the beams of light that break through the sifting clouds are called. The sky is once again thickening with grey cover but the God-rays break through in spots. I walk forward onto the front steps of the courthouse with only Jasper by side. There are no reporters. Jasper has been careful to keep the proceedings quiet so that I could enjoy my first moments of freedom without paparazzi breathing down my neck. I entered the building just two hours ago with a guard by my side and my hands in cuffs, as dictated by Federal prison regulations. Now, I'm free with all the chains removed. I'm dazed, yet elated. Jasper was right. With the paperwork already done it was just a matter of a few quick questions and answers with the judge. When it was over, the judge actually hugged me.
I look over to see J.J. running towards me with Jake, Paul and my dad right behind him. My mom had returned to Florida after the trial ended.
"You're not in school?" I ask stupidly as he hugs me fiercely.
Jake laughs as he catches up to us. His dark eyes sparkle with a joy that's been absent for months.
"I'd say your mom being freed from prison and completely exonerated is a pretty good reason to play hooky."
I nod and laugh as I wipe happy tears from the corners of my eyes. "I guess that's true."
"Bells, baby, it's so good to see you outside." Charlie's voice is husky and his eyes are wet.
The double meaning is obvious. My dad's face is as emotionally open as I've ever seen it. All the pain, fear, and anger he's been holding inside have left their mark on him, but now, the hope and joy have finally surfaced. The good supplants the bad. My prayers have come to fruition. He wraps his arms around me and J.J. and I feel truly safe for the first time in forever. Jake, Paul, and Jasper all join in the group hug. I bask in the love and support of the men who've stood by me. In a strange twist of fate, this awful nightmare has managed to repair the damage done when Jake left me for Paul. The animosity Paul and I once felt for each other has disappeared. I never could have imagined, three years ago, that my ex-husband's husband would be one of my staunchest friends. We make plans to go out for a celebratory lunch, insisting Jasper accompany us when he tries to exclude himself from a "family" event.
We walk to the bottom of the steps with my dad in the lead when he suddenly halts, his shoulders tense. With the exception of J.J, I'm surrounded by men averaging six feet or better. I can't see anything beyond their tall heads.
"What is it?" I ask, fearing that a random reporter working the court beat has spotted us.
"Hmprf!" Charlie responds while Jake and Paul roll their eyes in unison. Jasper's face takes on a composed, neutral expression. I'm about to repeat my question when my dad moves to the side. Edward Cullen is standing on the sidewalk directly in front of us. He removes his hands from his jacket pockets when he sees me. Our eyes meet but he doesn't move. His customary confidence is gone. I see none of the trademark charm that once was the hallmark of his personality. Instead, I see a nervous boy with dark circles under his eyes. Despite them, I wonder if he always looked so young? I gently place a hand on my dad's shoulder.
"I'll just be a minute." I need to get this out of the way so I can truly move on.
I muster my courage and bravely step forward to meet him. It's a mere ten steps down. I stop on the second to last so that we're even height wise. I don't feel the need to give him any advantages. Our eyes lock. I'm close enough that I can feel his breath when he shakily exhales.
I'm determined to say what I must and release myself of any debt of gratitude, no matter how slight considering that he was wrong to doubt me. I gather my courage and begin.
"Edward, my attorney informed me of your role in my release. I'd like to thank you for turning the evidence over to the proper authorities. I am very grateful to have this nightmare over. I wish you well," I retreat, moving up one step to indicate I'm finished in more ways than one.
"Bella! Please, I don't want to interrupt your time with your family now but please, we need to talk. There are things…facts that you don't know. Floyd was after much more than my family's money. Please, give me a chance to explain. Tomorrow? Please! Meet with me, just for an hour and hear me out."
Edward's hand twitches slightly, as though he wanted to reach out to me but was afraid I'd push him away. Instead, he runs it through his hair in a familiar gesture that signals his frustration. I know if I turn around I'll see my father scowling at Edward. I know the longer I hesitate, the more likely I'll agree.
"Edward, I don't think that…"
"Please, Bella. I'm begging you." His voice is soft and pleading. The sun chooses this moment to break through the clouds and shine a single God-ray on us. The many shades of brown, red, bronze and copper that compose his unique hair color sparkle in the sunlight. Memories I've suppressed for months rise to the surface. I recall moments of raw intimacy when we were so closely bound to each other that I couldn't separate my soul from his. His green eyes flicker with hope.
"Alright. One hour."
We agree on a time and place. I turn back toward my family, putting Edward out of my mind for the moment. I hug my son once more, ignoring the looks of curiosity, hostility, and hope my companions direct at Edward as he walks away.
A/N: Shelly, two chapters in one week?! Settle down now. These two chapters took six weeks to write. I wish I could be as prolific as some of the writers in the fandom but I'm just not. I'm in awe of their ability to churn out chapter after chapter, story after story, on a set schedule. I never seem to stay in the flow that way and I can't seem to write more than one story concurrently. Don't get me wrong, I'll never stop writing and I won't abandon any of the stories. Just don't expect me to work at a certain pace.
So, what the heck did I do over the past few months? Well, Tangled Up in the Mainline updated a few times, and I participated in the 2013 Age of Edward contest, stretching my comfort zone with an AU vamp historical Edward called Tikvah. After that, the very nice Breath – of –Twilight invited me to be one of the writers on Countdown to 2014: Fact or Fiction so I wrote two one-shots for that: a Halloween reincarnation story called Ghost Note and a sweet Christmas story called Get Here. All are now on my profile. I also participated in the compilation piece, Masen Manor. That was a really big stretch because I'd never written anything in the suspense/horror genre. I can't ever read those stories. In fact, it's one of the reasons I waited so long to read Twilight. I couldn't imagine liking a vampire story. Now look at me LOL!
My other major distraction was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series which Valwaltzing over on A Different Forest has been championing for some time. As always, this is something Stacyo72 told me to read years ago and as always, she was right. I finally broke down and started the first of seven 800 page books. I'm up to book five, The Fiery Cross.
I've got tax deadlines up the yahoo for the next month. After that, hopefully things will get back to normal. Don't worry: Stacy has the outline so even if I'm attacked by zombies, the story will get finished. She's three states away from me so she'll be safe.