Stephenie Meyer owns the Twilight parts.
Thanks to Iris for cleaning this up and to M and Nic for pre-reading. Any mistakes left are mine.
Leaving Bella sleeping in my bed is one of the hardest things I've had to do in a while. She stirred for a moment when my alarm went off, blinked twice, smiled, and buried her face in my pillow. The sheets rest at the small of her back, leaving smooth, pale skin on display.
I listen to her breathe as I tug my boots on, tie them, and then kiss her shoulder before I stand to leave.
Her voice stops me at the door. "Be careful, okay?"
She's on her side, raised but not upright. I stop and give her a grin. "I will. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Sounds good." She buries her face in my pillow again, and I almost want to laugh at the idea of her being here, in my bed, while I'm leaving for work.
She sends texts throughout the day, as does Mack. Bella asks if Mack had fun, so I forward the pics to let her see for herself. Maybe if I help her get to know Mack through me first, it won't be a big deal to meet her.
If Mack's going to stay and Bella is going to be in my life, I'll have to find a way to maintain balance. It will never work if I try to divide myself down the middle.
And honestly, I'd like to wake up like I did this morning, with Bella in the bed next to me, as much as possible. I know Mack likes the idea of me having a girlfriend in theory, but the reality may be something different entirely. This is something I need to ease her into, as well.
I start as soon as Mack wakes up Sunday morning at Mom's house.
"Hey, Dad," she says, rubbing her eyes and settling into the chair next to mine in the kitchen.
"You okay?" I ask.
"Yeah, I'm still catching up on sleep from camp." She yawns and reaches for the box of cereal Mom offers her. "We stayed up talking every night, and they woke us up at, like, dawn."
"But you had fun, right?"
"It was the best three days of my life." She perks up and tells me about all the things she learned and tried. "And even if I don't become an astronaut, there are tons of cool jobs with NASA, Dad. I'd like to go back to camp next year for one of the full-week sessions. There are specialty camps, too. They're going to send an email in the fall with a discount code for early reservations. Please, can I go? I'll help pay for it. Aunt Kim is taking me and Elaine to a babysitting course through the Red Cross before summer ends. I'll work and help pay for it…"
"We'll see, Mack. A lot of that will depend on where you're living next summer. I saw the lawyer while you were gone. Not at the office or anything, but he's Tanya's brother-in-law, so I met him at Silky's. He said he can see us one day this week if you still want to."
She takes a deep breath and nods. "I do. I don't want to move again, and I don't want to live with them anymore."
"Okay, then." I take the cereal and pour some into a bowl. "I'll call him Tuesday morning."
Mom manages to keep her excitement silent, but the smile on her face beats Christmas. I want to warn her to be wary. I am. I don't trust Charlotte and Peter to do the right thing.
"So, what did you do while I was gone?" Mack asks me after giving Mom a quick glance.
"I met some of Bella's friends Wednesday night, and then I hung out with her Thursday and Friday."
The newspaper drops from Mom's hand to the table, and Mack gives me a toothy grin. "Nice," she says. "Did you have fun?"
For a second, I'm stuck. Parts of Wednesday were a lot of fun. Bella was right about that. As hard as Thursday night was in the beginning, by the time Bella fell asleep, she was smiling. And Friday was good, from the moment I woke up holding her until I fell asleep the same way that night.
"Yeah," I tell her, because for the most part, we did.
"Paul told me that she's Charlie Swan's daughter," Mom says.
"Who's that?" Mack asks.
I finish chewing a mouth full of Life before I answer. "Uncle Paul's lieutenant."
She stares at me for a moment and then bursts out laughing. "Oh, that's fantastic… She's a TACT lieutenant's daughter. And Jane thinks she's got it bad. What's Bella's dad like?"
"I only met him once, and Bella was hurt at the time…"
Wrong thing to say. Mom immediately becomes concerned, and so does Mack. I tell them the whole story and reassure them that Bella is fine now.
Kim calls and invites us to swim today. Rachel is over there with her kids already, and Paul is working. Mom comes with us and spends her day in the shade, watching her grandkids swim and spray each other with water blasters.
I sneak away for a few minutes to call Bella to see if she's interested in a late dinner. She's already made plans with Alice, so we agree to try again Tuesday evening. It's the first of three days off for me, and Mack will be home. It sounds like Jane may be coming home with us for round two of scary movie night. Jane has already been through one of those babysitting courses. They're trustworthy enough for me to leave them for a dinner date.
Since Bella is busy, I crash at Mom's to get more time with Mack. I'm up and out the door before either of them wakes Monday, and I don't have a chance to check my phone until almost four Tuesday morning. Holidays are almost always like that. Drunken people don't mix well with grills, fireworks, or firearms.
I catch a nap for a couple of hours at the station but still end up crashing hard on Mom's couch until Mack wakes me up around noon.
"You've got to call the lawyer guy today," she says. "Don't forget."
"I will. I'll do that now."
Mom greets me at the kitchen door with coffee and my fully-charged phone. "Thanks."
"You look beat."
"It was a rough night."
She pats my cheek. "You make sure you get some sleep tonight. The girls are old enough to stay up on their own."
"Mom, stop. I'm fine." I hold up my phone and open the door leading out to the garage. I need peace and quiet to talk to Jeff.
He answers on the second ring, puts me on hold to check with his assistant, and then offers me an appointment at three on Wednesday.
"We'll be there," I tell him.
Mack and I spend our afternoon at Paul's. I help him change the oil on Rachel's minivan, and Mack stays locked up in Jane's room listening to whatever it is they think passes as music these days. Their love of boy bands can be laid squarely at Rachel and Charlotte's feet.
"How's it going with Bella?" he asks.
"Good. Things are good," I answer. He nods absentmindedly, cleaning his hands before reaching into the fridge he keeps out here for beer and leftovers. I decline the longneck he offers and continue, "I think I'm going to ask if she wants to meet Mack."
"Whoa," he says.
"That's some serious shit, man. You've never introduced a woman to Mack. Hell, you've never gone out with the same woman more than once since you and Charlotte split up." He pauses to take a swig from his beer. "You've known Bella since… what? April?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. March."
"Why are you being an asshole?"
"I'm not." He shakes his head. "Not trying to be, anyway. I've seen a lot of shit, Edward. Do you know how many of my friends are divorced? The fucked up shit I hear? It makes me thankful for my boring as fuck life. I just don't want to see you get screwed over again. You're a whiny fucker."
"Thing is…" I stop to think about the right way to say this. "I couldn't walk away now if I tried. There's just something about her…"
"It's called pussy."
I smack his chest with the back of my hand. "It's not. I mean, yeah, she's hot as fuck and beautiful, but she's smart and she's tough. Not like balls out, just… solid."
"I don't know what the hell you just said."
"I have a lot of respect for her," I say. "That should be enough for you."
"Okay." He holds up both hands, palms facing me. "Dude, I'm happy to see you happy. Believe me. I've been worried about your sorry ass for a long time. But this is the first relationship you've been in since Charlotte, and meeting Mack is a big deal. If you think it's time…" He takes a pull from his beer and looks me in the eye. "That's your call."
"Mack and I are seeing the lawyer tomorrow afternoon."
"Let me know if you need anything," he says.
Jane comes home with us after a stop for yoga in Midtown. Bella is working at the clinic, but I still spend the hour texting with her. There are long pauses between her answers, and the thought of her wearing that lab coat with her hair pulled back does things to me.
I tell her so in a text and then hold my breath after I hit send, wondering if she's going to think I'm some kind of fucking pervert.
Only the lab coat?
I swallow and shift in my seat.
I think about it again after she answers.
I could make that happen…
My reply is the lamest shit ever but necessary, since yoga class ends in 20 minutes.
Jesus. Can we revisit this idea in the near future?
The wait for this answer is the longest, making me wonder if I took it too far, but she replies as the girls come into sight across the street from the parking garage.
Bella has some freak in her, and it's going to be fun finding out how much. Unfortunately, now is not the time.
Is seven good for dinner?
She answers during the drive back to my apartment, so I don't see it until after I've parked.
Perfect. Meet you at Westy's?
My neighborhood. Well, not exactly, but The Pinch is as close as it gets without actually being in Harbor Town.
Westy's is great.
Mack and Jane make some kind of vegetarian pasta but give me a pass once I explain that I'm taking Bella for dinner and giving them the realm for a little while.
"Behave," I tell them when I'm leaving. "We're eating downtown, so we'll be close. Call if you need me."
"We'll be fine," Mack says.
"Yeah, totally." Jane nods. "This is better. It will make the movie even scarier."
I wait on the other side of the door until I hear both locks click into place. I know in my head that they'll be fine. Rachel and Paul started letting the older kids stay at home alone for short periods of time more than a year ago, Mack included.
That doesn't stop the twinge of guilt I feel for leaving.
If Mack is going to live here with me, I'm going to have to learn to trust her. She's a smart girl. Paul has given all our kids self-defense lessons for years. Jane and Mack together could probably kick my ass thoroughly if they needed to, and I'm glad.
Bella's truck is parked across the street from the restaurant when I arrive, and she's sitting at the bar watching the end of a Cardinals game on the TV behind the bartender.
"Hey," she says, standing to kiss my neck. "Do you want a table, or do you want to sit here?"
I want her all to myself or as much as possible in a crowded restaurant.
She orders a healthy rice and vegetable dish, and I get the biggest loaded burger on the menu, since I missed out yesterday.
"How was Jasper's shindig?" I ask.
"It was cool," she says. "Some of the people who live in his apartment complex are dicks about the pool, but other than that, it was great. I spent most of my afternoon relaxing on a float. How was work?"
"It was busy."
"How did Mack spend the day?"
"She went to Jared's with Mom. He had to work, too, but the rest of the family had fun without us."
The food is delivered with a fresh round of tea for both of us.
"We're going to see Jeff tomorrow," I tell her after we're done eating.
"Are you worried?"
"A little. For Mack."
"It must be tough for her."
"I'm not sure she realizes how this is going to change… well, everything, especially her relationship with Charlotte."
"A lot of that depends on Charlotte," she says cautiously.
"True." I pull my phone from my pocket, double-checking to make sure I haven't missed any texts or calls. I haven't. "Sorry," I tell Bella. "Tonight's a first. I've never left the girls alone before."
"What are they doing?"
"Immersing themselves in movies about demonic possession the last time I saw them."
She laughs. "How sweet."
"Yeah, they'll be up all night."
We stay long enough to share dessert, and then I walk her to her truck. It's hard, because my place is only a few blocks away, and thoughts of her wrapped up in my bed and under my body are still fresh from the last time we were together.
She steps into my arms, rising up on her toes to kiss me goodbye. "Good luck tomorrow," she says.
"Thanks." My hands linger on her waist, and I feel like a stupid fucking teenager for not wanting this to end.
The more I have her, the more I want her.
"Are you busy tomorrow night?" I ask. "Mack mentioned going to yoga since she missed so many days last week. Maybe we could have dinner somewhere in your neighborhood…"
"I'd like that," she says. "I'm scheduled at Rum Boogie Thursday and Friday, so tomorrow might be my last chance to see you this week."
The girls are rooted to the couch with a huge bowl of popcorn and a bag of sour worms between them. Both of them jump when I open the door to the apartment.
"Crap, Dad!" Mack's voice is near hysterics. "You scared the bejesus out of us." Her hand covers her heart, and I grin.
"Sorry." My keys land on the bar in the kitchen, and I grab a longneck from the fridge. "Is there enough popcorn to share?"
I'm not really hungry, but I've missed Mack these last few days, and I'd like to spend some time with them.
"Sure, Dad," she says, shifting closer to Jane on the couch.
I take the spot next to her in the dark, and Jane stretches out at the other end, extending her legs over Mack's lap and resting her sock-covered feet in my lap.
We make it through Exorcist II with me barely able to keep my eyes open. I give up before they start the third installment.
Mack stays in her room with Jane all night this time, and I have a missed call from Carmen when I wake up Wednesday morning. I try to call her back but get her voicemail. Since she didn't leave a message, I don't either.
We finally touch base after my shower when she calls back to see if Mack can spend the night with her tonight. Part of me wants to say no. I haven't had any time alone with Mack since before space camp.
I have to remind myself that Carmen hasn't seen her since Charlotte left. Mack has missed her, too, and agrees to spend tonight with them on the condition that I drop her off late this afternoon. We have a lot to accomplish today.
First on the list is a late breakfast. Mack makes fresh blackberry waffles for us. I offer to clean up so she can pack and get ready.
The girls catch a late-morning yoga class, and then we take Jane home after a quick trip to Target, where they swindle me into buying a few cheesy horror flicks they find in a clearance section.
We arrive at Jeff's office a few minutes early, and Mack pulls her Kindle from her bag. She seems relaxed and nonchalant while I'm fidgety and nervous.
Jeff introduces himself to her and shakes her hand after we enter his office. Instead of talking to her through me, he engages her in conversation for a while and asks about her interests and her activities in Seattle. She tells him about yoga and how she's picked it up here as well.
When he's sure she's comfortable, he eases her into a discussion about why she wants to come back here to live with me. He explains our two options, temporary or permanent custody, and asks which route she wants to pursue.
She looks up at me after several moments of contemplation. "I want to come home, Dad. Not just for a year… I love Mom and Toby, but I hate it there. I just want to come home."
I nod and look at Jeff. "There's your answer," I say. "Let's do this."
He shakes her hand first, then mine, and assures me his staff will have the paperwork done in the next couple of days. Charlotte will be served in Seattle sometime early next week.
On the elevator, I send a text to Bella letting her know about Mack's plans with her grandparents.
Liam's best friend is in town, and they're hanging out at our house. Why don't I come to you, and then we can decide what to do?
I like the way she thinks. At my place, it's just me and her – no roommates or appendage-attacking cats.
I'll be home around six.
"Who are you texting?" Mack asks. There's a loud ping, and the doors of the elevator slide open.
"Bella. She's going to come over tonight."
Mack's silence is hard to read as we walk across the parking garage to get to my car.
"Is she your girlfriend, yet?"
I laugh, stilted and forced, and unlock her door. "I haven't asked her, if that's what you mean, but for lack of a better word, yes."
"Why haven't you asked her?" Her head tilts, and she gazes at me with honest curiosity instead of getting into the car.
"I don't think I need to. We've agreed that we're together, and that's enough."
"So she is your girlfriend."
"If you say so."
She spends the rest of the ride texting with someone on her phone; Jane, I'm sure. My guess would be they're discussing me and Bella.
Carmen is grateful and polite when I drop Mack off, and Mack hugs me for a beat longer than normal before I leave.
"I love you, Dad," she says. "See you tomorrow."
"Love you, too," I say. "Call me whenever you want me to pick you up."
Rush hour traffic on Poplar is a bitch and it takes me forever to get back to downtown. I beat Bella but only by a few minutes.
I had every intention of taking her out tonight, but when I open the door and see her standing there in jeans, a white tee, and flip flops… All I can think about is kissing and touching her.
"Hey," she says, stepping into my arms and kissing my neck. "I'm starving."
Her stomach growls, reinforcing her words, and I give up the notion of bypassing dinner to undress her.
There'll be plenty of time for that later. We have all night.
We decide to stay away from Beale. Neither of us is in a partying mood, so we pick something close. She's in the mood for seafood, and I wouldn't mind some spice. We end up at Flying Fish, relaxing at a corner table and people-watching the tourists as they wander by the front window.
Bella has a beer with dinner and another before we leave.
We take the trolley to get to my place, and she holds my hand tightly during the short walk across the bridge while I explain everything that happened in Jeff's office today.
I offer her another beer from my fridge, and she accepts before making her way into the living room and opening the curtains that hide the glass doors leading out to the patio.
"You have an amazing view," she says.
I shrug, because it's cool but hardly the reason I decided to move here.
We choose a movie on Netflix and settle on the couch. Before the opening scene is over, Bella pushes me back on the sofa and hovers over me as she unbuttons my shorts.
"I'm sorry I don't have my lab coat with me," she says with a wicked grin.
My cell starts to ring the exact moment her hand makes purchase on my cock.
Someone has terrible timing. Charlotte's name flashes across the screen, and I reject the call. No way am I going to let her interrupt this.
Thirty seconds later, the phone rings again before I even have a chance to set it down. Only it's Mack's name on the display now.
"It's Mack. That was Charlotte a minute ago. Something must be wrong." She nods and takes care of my pants while I answer. "What's going on, Mack?"
"Dad," she says, tears in her voice. "I'm so sorry. Mom called to tell me Nonnie is taking me to get pictures made tomorrow so they can order my passport. Dad, I messed up. It made me mad, and I told her I'm not going to Japan."
"Okay," I say. "That's okay, Mack. She's going to find out anyway when she's served."
"I know, but I told her. I told her we went to the lawyer, and I told her I want to stay here."
There's a beep on the line. Charlotte's calling again. "It's okay," I repeat. "Look, your mom is calling, and I should answer. You didn't do anything wrong. You're not doing anything wrong, okay?"
"Dad, she's really, really mad."
The incoming call drops off, so I keep talking to Mack.
"You let me worry about that. For now, take the picture. Having a passport isn't a bad thing. It doesn't mean they're taking you away. I'm not going to let that happen."
She's silent for a few long moments. "Okay," she says. "I'm sorry."
Charlotte is persistent, and the phone beeps again. "Call me when you're ready for me to pick you up tomorrow."
"I will," she sniffles.
Mack ends the call, and I sit with my phone in my hand letting Charlotte's name flash on the screen. I'm not in a rush to answer. She'll hang up and keep calling for an hour if necessary. It seems to be one of the habits she hasn't kicked since we were kids.
"Charlotte is going to keep calling," I tell Bella. "If you don't want to hear this, you might want to step out onto the patio. Mack told her what's going on, and she's pissed."
"I'll be fine," she says. The phone rings again in my palm. "Don't make her wait."
I nod and lift the phone to my ear while accepting the call. "Hello?"
"How dare you?" Charlotte asks, her voice cold and calm. "What kind of bullshit have you been feeding her, Edward?"
"Mack decided on her own. All I did was offer her a choice."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You're the lawyer. Figure it out. You know as well as I do that Mack is old enough to choose which parent she wants to live with."
She laughs. "You have no idea what you're asking for. Are you really prepared for a teenage girl? She thinks you're perfect and faultless now, but try being an actual parent to her and tell me how that works out for you."
"Mack knows I'm not perfect," I say. "She also knows I love her." There's dead silence on the line, so I continue. "I had no idea how miserable she was there in Seattle with you. She says you barely have time for her or your son, because you're too worried about what your husband is doing behind your back. That's not my problem or any of my business.
"Mack is my business, though. Say what you want. It's not going to change anything. The papers are being drawn up, and I'll sign them as soon as they're ready. You're not taking her to Japan."
"Edward, please." She changes her tone, knowing now that I'm not bluffing. "Don't do this. I'm not going to be working while we're there. How am I supposed to pay you child support if I'm not working?"
"You think this is about money?" I stand and pace the floor between the couch and the sliding glass door. "I don't give a shit about child support. I just want my daughter back."
"You know Tennessee will enforce it, whether you want it or not."
Always the bottom line for her. Even with our daughter.
"What was it you said to me…?" I ask. "Oh, yeah… 'That's the way it goes.'" I may have gotten fucked in the divorce, but I'm done letting her fuck me over. "If you have any other concerns, direct them to my lawyer."
I end the call and toss the phone on the couch. Charlotte was rattled there at the end. She just found out, though. It won't take long for her to gather her wits and come up with a plan, I'm sure.
"Are you okay?" Bella asks.
"She's pissed." I lean on the frame surrounding the glass doors and stare at the bridge in the distance. "This isn't over."
"No," she says, sliding her arms around my waist from behind to hug my middle. "It isn't, but you have Mack on your side… your family… me. It's going to be okay."
I stand up straight and place my hands on hers, letting her assure me with the warmth of her cheek on my back. "I hope so."
A/N – You guys are the bomb. I love hearing your thoughts. :)
Hope you have a lovely week. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you soon!