A bit shorter than normal, but I'm working on a tight schedule Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy! Thank you to guests AnneCullen, GrimFWaters, and Itket. I appreciate everyone who reviews, and I promise to try and answer you all as soon as possible…considering school is crazy at the moment.
Billy glanced up when I entered the kitchen, Jacob keeping his arm around me for a moment before letting it drop. He'd picked me up at the border when Edward had dropped me off and kissed me goodbye, promising to call when he was on his way back. "Bella." He greeted simply, placing the newspaper on the table.
"Hi Billy." Jacob hesitated for a moment, looking between us, then nodded to his father, heading back to his bedroom. He seemed…upset. Different even, like there was something wrong. I'd tried asking in the truck, but he'd insisted he was fine. Not wanting to push it, I'd let it drop, but I intended to ask him later if he wasn't okay.
"You okay?" He asked a little gruffly, and I knew that he didn't want to hurt me…it wasn't really his fault that the lawyers were harassing him.
"Fine. Do you think you could give me the number…for the lawyer? I was going to try and meet with him tomorrow after school." He regarded me silently for a long time, then nodded slowly.
"Yeah…I can call him for you if you want." He offered, leaning forward over the table, but I shook my head.
"I can do it…thanks though." He seemed a little more worried now.
"Would you like me to come with you?" He offered. "I'm sure Jacob would go…" He seemed to harden a little. "Or have you already asked one of the Cullens?"
"No. I haven't asked anyone. I'll go by myself…it's not a big deal." He certainly wasn't convinced of that, but I'd had enough of this conversation. I just wanted to call the guy, get this over with, and then hopefully everything would go back to normal. He nodded, reluctantly giving in, then pointed to the kitchen counter.
"I left his business card over there…I'm sure he's still at the office." I nodded, heading over to the counter. "And Bella…" I turned to look at him, halfway to the counter. "The next time you run off and decide to spend the night with those people, a phone call would be nice." I sighed, nodding once again, this time mildly abashed. It had been kind of Billy to allow me to live with him. Just because I was angry didn't give me the right to treat him like that.
"Sorry." I mumbled, heading back to my bedroom, card in hand.
Emmett pulled me into his arms, kissing me passionately for a long minute, one hand on the back of my head, the other wrapped firmly around me, and I regretted that he had to leave as soon as I left for school. I knew he needed to hunt…actually, I could stand a hunting trip as well, but I'd gone more recently than he had. It was too sunny for me to actually go to school, but I could hang around nearby, keeping and eye…and an ear, on Bella. I was watching her for the day, and Esme and Carlisle would take over after school was out. 'Lucky…they get all day together, alone in the house.' I thought, a little jealous as Emmett moved to release me, but I refused to let go, and I felt him smile as I moved closer, my hands going to the top of his shirt.
"No, you two!" Jasper snapped from outside our door, banging his fist lightly against the wood. "Come on. Not again! Bella's about to leave for school! Rosalie, you're looking after her today. Come on!" I spared a withering look at the door, but was distracted when Emmett's hand trailed down my back to the hem of my blouse.
"Emmett! No!" This time it was Edward at the door. "Enough already!" Emmett sighed, kissing me one last time, his thumb stroking the skin of my lower back, then released me, his grin conspiratorial.
"Just wait until Bella's changed. We'll get revenge." I laughed softly, resting my head against his chest for a moment as he hugged me, kissing the top of my hair. "I love you." He murmured, and I heard Jasper and Edward retreat.
"I love you too." I answered, kissing him quickly once more, looking forward to the time when we were no longer pretending to attend high school. After this semester, we were finally graduating, and while Alice, Jasper, Edward, and Bella were pretending to be seniors, we had all the time in the world to do as we pleased.
With a reluctant smile, he pulled away, fixing his shirt, and I turned to our dresser, running a brush through my hair quickly to smooth it. "About time." Jasper grinned as we opened our door, and, looking around to make sure Carlisle and Esme weren't watching, I lifted my middle finger in answer, rolling my eyes when I heard him chuckle behind me. "C'mon Em. We'd better get going if we want to be back by tonight. See you Rose."
I lifted the rest of my fingers, waving over my shoulder as I headed out the door, not bothering with my car. I could run faster anyway, and I'd stay in the shadows, watching as Bella drove to school, making sure she was safe, and listening from outside the building in case she needed me. She had her cellphone on her, or was supposed to, and if she needed help, she had been instructed to call me. I placed my hand in my bag, checking for my little tablet. I was almost certain that Bella wouldn't call…no way she would admit that she needed help. She wasn't the type. So I anticipated a long day of entertaining myself with my computer and wishing Emmett was with me.
Peter and Charlotte stepped into the living room a few minutes after the others had left. I knew that they'd spent much of the night with Jasper and Alice, and I'd even heard that Charlotte had tried to convince Peter to try hunting with the others…to no avail. Still, I had some hope….she was showing interest, and if she could convince her mate to try it, there might be two less vampires killing humans. Realistically, I knew the chances were slim that they would covert to our diet, but I could hope.
"Good morning." I greeted from Esme's side, placing a marker in my book and setting it aside. Esme was curled up beside me, tucked under my arm, and she smiled at them.
"Good morning Carlisle. Esme." Peter greeted us politely.
"How was your evening?" Esme wondered, sitting up a little, and Peter sat on the loveseat across from us, tiny Charlotte almost on his lap.
"Pleasant. Thank you again for allowing us to stay with you." I nodded.
"Of course. You know you're always welcome to visit for as long as you like."
"How's Bella?" Charlotte wondered, her expression mildly worried, and I smiled gently at the girl.
"We believe she'll be okay. Her father's death was hard on her, and it's only made worse when she has to deal with his estate."
"What about her mother?" Peter wondered. "I thought that until humans were 18, they had guardians to take care of these things.' I nodded.
"Yes, typically. But Bella hasn't contacted her mother, and seems to want to handle it on her own."
"Does she not get on well with her mother?" Charlotte asked.
"I believe they get along very well…only, Bella is reluctant to inconvenience her mother, just like she doesn't want to inconvenience us." Esme explained with a sad smile. "It's why she decided to stay with Billy Black…she came her because her mother wanted to be with her new husband."
"She asked her daughter to leave?" Charlotte asked in surprise.
"I don't believe so." I answered, shaking my head. "I think Bella just knew that her mother missed her husband when he had to travel, and she didn't enjoy travelling with them, so she came to live with her father."
"Then why not ask Edward to go with her?" Peter asked, still not quite understanding Bella's motivation behind keeping it a secret.
"I can only guess she didn't want to inconvenience us either…or maybe she doesn't know how to ask for help. Maybe she was afraid that he would be upset with her."
"I don't think he's capable of being upset with her." Charlotte put in wryly, her smile softer than her words.
"No…I don't believe so either." Esme agreed with a laugh. "But you must remember, Bella is human. She doesn't understand how we feel emotions. Edward has fundamentally changed because of her…Bella is everything to him now. But although I know Bella loves him very much, humans can't feel the way we can. They fall in love, and if it ends badly, they are capable of moving on. We are not." I tightened my arm around her, watching as Peter seemed to unconsciously do the same with Charlotte. "She will understand one day, and I believe she is beginning to now. I hope that she begins to see us as her family as well….to understand that we want to help her.
"I'm sure she'll come around." Charlotte smiled, leaning against her mate's chest, and I nodded, hoping the same thing.
The road was too familiar. I'd come here once since moving to Forks, when I'd come to get my truck. But I'd purposefully avoided looking at the house. Now, as I pulled into the driveway, I couldn't' look away. I'd agreed to meet the lawyer at the house, and I was starting to regret it as I parked behind his fancy car in the driveway. This place wasn't comfortable anymore…it wasn't my home. I felt like I paying an unwilling visit to a stranger. With a jolt, I realized that thinking about home made me think of Billy's…sitting in the kitchen with Jacob or making lunch with them…or of sitting in the living room at Edward's house, his arms around me, the rest of the family gathered around.
"You must be Bella. It's nice to finally meet you." He was about Billy's age, his greying hair slicked back, his friendly smile a little too friendly to me. I wondered how much money he was making from this. "I'm Raymond Lockett. I was your father's attorney."
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Lockett." I shook his hand when he reached out, keeping the handshake as brief as possible, then crossed my arms.
"Please, call me Raymond. Was your mother unable to come? I couldn't reach her…"
"She couldn't come." I told him simply, not wanting to talk about my mother. I glanced back at the woods, feeling oddly as though I were being watched. 'Don't be stupid.' I told myself, turning back to the man. 'I spend most of my time with vampires. I shouldn't exactly be afraid of shadows in the woods.'
"Well…alright. If you'd like to come inside, we can get started on some of the paperwork, and if you can give me your mother's email, or maybe a fax number…then we can get started." I nodded, following him inside warily.
He sat at the kitchen table, looking more comfortable than he had a right to be, and I hovered on the other side of the table. "Alright, the will. Your father left everything to you, including the house. Now, if you would like to sell it, I can help you with that…there are just a couple of forms. And all of his possessions in the home are yours as well. You could keep whatever you want, hold an estate sale, give them away…throw whatever you don't want in the trash." I couldn't understand why he was grinning…as though I could find that funny. He cleared his throat, sounding a little nervous now. "Would you like to take a look around the house...I'd like to try calling your mother again."
"She changed her number." My voice sounded strange, but I brushed the thought away. "Here." I reached down, scribbling down the new one on a loose piece of paper, then crossed my arms once more as he pulled out his phone, dialing the new number. I didn't consciously tell my feet to move…but suddenly I was walking upstairs, tracing the familiar path to my old room. I didn't even glance at Charlie's room. As a child, I'd almost never gone in there, and although it was hardly off limits, I felt the same way when I grew older. Like it would be a violation of my father's privacy. Instead, I stepped into my old bedroom and shut the door behind me quietly, cutting off the voice of the man downstairs.
The comforter was purple. He remembered that I loved purple when I was a kid. Everything I'd owned had been purple…dresses, hats, backpacks, folders, pens….everything had to be purple. On the desk sat an old computer, covered with dust now, and I wondered if he'd bought it or found it somewhere for me. Fairy lights covered the walls still, and I felt my throat close up. I stepped up to the bed, glancing back at the closed door, and fell to my knees in front of the bed, burying my head in my arms and sobbing as the memories assaulted me. This had been my nursery. As a young child, it had been my refuge. Later, as a teenager, before I'd stopped coming here, it had been my haven. When things had been awkward with my dad or one of the other kids had made me cry or my mom hurt my feelings…it was always safe here. But now I couldn't stop remembering my dad bringing me breakfast in bed on my birthday, or how he'd knock on the door, peering shyly in when he wanted to talk to me. The times he'd watched me reading until I'd looked up to find him chuckling in the doorway, swearing I read more than anyone he'd ever met.
The door opened and closed, and I was glad the lawyer was a man. I'd never met a man who could deal with a crying teenager…well, I'd met one. Before I could go any further with that thought, a hand was on my back, then another, and I looked up in shock when I realized that the hands were cold. "Oh sweetie, it's okay." Esme pulled me into her arms before I could greet her…or ask what she and Carlisle were doing here. "Oh, baby you should have told us. We'd have taken care of it." Carlisle rubbed my back as I cried into her cold neck, her arms tight around me.
"He knew I was afraid of the dark." I sobbed, not even knowing why I was telling them this. "I could never tell Renee, but he knew, and he put lights up." I choked on my words as her arms tightened, and Carlisle's hand moved to my hair. "Everything he bought me was purple, because it was my favorite color when I was little." She was rocking me on the floor, holding me in her lap as she kissed my hair. "I didn't get to tell him how much I loved him!" I heard Carlisle sigh softly, and arms went around both of us. But they didn't shush me…they didn't seem uncomfortable or upset…they just sat and held me, waiting for me to go on if I needed to. But I didn't want to be here anymore…I wanted to be in my real home. "Can we go home?" Esme stood slowly, holding me against her and helping me stand. Carlisle stood with us, rubbing my back.
"Of course, sweetheart." He murmured, gently running a thumb under my eye. Esme lead me downstairs, and he followed closely, all of us pausing when the lawyer looked up at us in surprise.
"Is everything okay?" He asked looking between Esme and me. He must have seen them come in…then again, they were certainly as able as Edward to avoid detection if they needed to.
"No." Carlisle said shortly. "She shouldn't have been here alone."
The man spoke defensively. "I just spoke to her mother an…"
"She's seventeen and her father just died…in front of her. What did you think was going to happen?" He snapped, ushering Esme and me out the door. "Esme and I will come to your office tomorrow and speak with you about her father's estate."
"Only her guardian or a member of…"
"We'll have the legal matters settled by tomorrow." He said shortly, leading us out the door and to the car.
He paused by the black Mercedes, stepping in front of me by the door, and I looked only at him…I refused to look at the house again. Absently, I noticed that the sun, which had shone so brightly today, had retreated back behind the clouds. "Listen to me, Bella." His hands were cold on my face as I leaned against Esme, tears still falling from my eyes, although I didn't know why. "You're almost eighteen, but you still need a legal guardian to take care of your father's estate…if you don't wish to do it and if you don't want to have your mother come. If you do wish to be present, we'll go with you and help you." I was already shaking my head. I didn't want to go back to that house. "Bella, do you want to make us your legal guardians? You can continue to live with Billy if you wish, or with us. It's up to you. But we would take care of the lawyers and the house."
"What about Renee?"
He smiled a little wryly. "We have plenty of connections. Jasper could have the documents…um…made, by tomorrow morning if we needed to." I had a strong feeling that whatever he was talking about wasn't strictly legal, but I found myself nodding anyway. I didn't know if I wanted to continue living with Billy and Jacob. I cared about both of them, but I would be living with the Cullens soon anyway…as soon as high school was over. "Okay. For now, we're just going to go back to the house. Is that alright? Or did you want to go back to Billy's?" I shook my head, closing my eyes and resting my head against Esme's shoulder. He didn't answer, only ran a hand over my hair and then opened the back door for me, waiting for Esme to sit beside me the back seat, then shut the door, climbing into the front and driving us home.
Peter and Charlotte were sitting in the living room when we arrived, and they looked at me in confusion…I wondered if Peter had talked her out of going on the hunting trip after all. Distracted by their concerned faces, I realized that my eyes were probably still red, and I still sniffed every once in a while, my breaths shaky and shuddering. "Are you alright?" Peter asked, his tone one of surprise, and I nodded brusquely, still hiding under Esme's arm. I didn't dislike them, but I felt a wave of embarrassment that they were seeing my breakdown. I saw Peter glance at Carlisle, looking lost, and Charlotte started to stand, her hand lifting hesitantly, but I felt Esme shake her head, and Carlisle moved with us, leading me toward the stairs.
They led me into Carlisle's study, Esme walking behind me as we moved toward the sofa. Carlisle sat beside, his arm still around me, and Esme was on my other side. To my surprise, when he spoke, he didn't scold me for not calling or asking for help like I'd been expecting. "You're not my biological daughter." He said instead, his voice soft. I knew that Peter and Charlotte were still downstairs…that they could probably hear us. But I didn't care…I wanted to know where he was going with this. "But neither are Rosalie or Alice…it doesn't matter to me." He took my hand, squeezing gently as he looked at me earnestly. "Edward, Emmett, Jasper…they're all my sons, whether I changed them myself or not, and the same goes for my daughters…the same goes for you." He ran a thumb under my cheek, wiping away the tear that fell absently from my eye. "I see you as my daughter, Bella, whether or not you decide to join our family as one of us…"
I didn't realize I'd been waiting to hear that…didn't realize I'd been longing for him to say that I was his daughter. I'd felt it. I'd felt the family start to shift, start to include me and bring me into the family. But I'd also known that Carlisle was the leader of the family…what the one who made the final decision. If he said that I was in his family, then…then I had a father again. It wasn't Charlie…Charlie was gone and I would probably never stop missing him. But I wasn't alone. With a soft sob, I reached forward, putting my arms around him. "I love you Bella." He murmured. "We both do…so much."
I nodded, my hot tears soaking into his shirt, and I felt Esme's lips on the back of my head. For a long time, I stayed between them, resting as my two cold parents held me. From the moment I'd met Carlisle, I'd wanted to be in his family, although I may not have realized it. Somehow, I think he had…and Esme had immediately followed suit. "Are you okay, sweetheart?" She asked softly, and I managed another nod, my tears slowly coming to a halt. "Would you like to go back to Billy's tonight?"
I didn't. I wanted to live with my family…I didn't want to leave them. If I left, it may all have been a dream, and I'd be stuck on the edge again, wondering how these people felt about their son's decision to love a human. But I owed it to Billy, who'd been so kind in giving me a place to stay. I owed him some kind of explanation…some kind of honest discussion. Not to mention Leah and Sam, Jacob and Seth. I still had a little while before I graduated high school….one more year. I had plenty of time to move in here, now that I knew they wanted me, that my position here was secure. "I should." I answered simply, and they both nodded, traced of sadness and understanding in their eyes. "He'll be worried."
"Yes…why don't I drive you home? I'd like to speak with Billy, actually. Tonight, Jasper and I will make sure we have all the documents we need, and tomorrow, I'll meet with the lawyer. Okay?" I nodded, letting him hug me one last time before standing. Esme kissed my forehead, her arms pulling me close for a moment before she pulled away, running a finger under my eye.
"Why don't you get cleaned up first? We wouldn't want to worry Billy." I smiled a bit, nodding and hurrying to the bathroom where I splashed cold water on my face, cleaning the traces of tears and trying to alleviate the puffiness. As soon as I was finished, I headed downstairs to find Carlisle, but ran into Peter and Charlotte instead. Jasper's friend grinned, nodding.
"Hey human." I rolled my eyes, reminded of playful Emmett, or even Jacob when he teased me.
"Vampire." I greeted him casually, making him chuckle. Charlotte smiled at me as well.
"Are you okay?" She asked gently, leaning forward in her seat, and I nodded.
"I'm fine." I actually meant it this time, and she seemed to understand, smiling brightly.
"Great. So, Alice told me about the dance." Peter chuckled when my jaw dropped, and from the kitchen doorway I heard Carlisle's soft laugh.
"No…oh come on not you too! Why do vampires care so much about school dances!?"
"One of our many quirks. Not important, however. What is important is what you'll be wearing."
"I won't be wearing anything…"
"Ooo." She grinned suggestively.
"…because I won't be going!"
"Oh come on, Bella! Edward wants you to ask him! And I never get to pick out nice clothes!" I couldn't tell if Charlotte was playing along with one of Alice's plots or if she was genuinely a vampire that loved shopping…stranger things had happened. "Bella, he's dying to go with you! He loves dancing and music…it's romantic."
"Then you go!" I cried, crossing my arms, but she only rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, that's a great idea." I sighed, dropping the stance.
"I don't dance."
"It's all in the leading." She told me simply, smiling as though she'd already won. Peter was refusing to participate, staring fixedly at the TV with a slight smile on his face.
"I don't dress up."
"I'll bet Edward will love it."
"I'm….this is ridiculous! I have to go." I told her simply, throwing my hands up and heading for the door, hoping that Carlisle, at least, was above Alice's scheming. She laughed as I stormed out, and I told myself once more that going to a dance would be a bad idea. For all involved. Surely Edward didn't really want to go to a high school dance! Carlisle climbed into the car beside me, starting it and putting the vehicle in drive without a word, but the small smile on his face told me everything I needed to know. They were going to do everything in their power to get me to go to this dance. And if history was any indicator, in a couple of weeks I would be forced to wear something frilly and ridiculous and let Edward attempt to lead me around a high school gymnasium. 'Lovely.'
Thank you all for reading :)