Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. It belongs to Stephenie Meyer
This is what happens when characters won't stick to the outline; a full chapter before the trial weekend begins. :)
Thank you for all of your reviews. I'm so happy you're on board with the direction of the story, unconventional relationship and all.
I have a fabulous beta, Mauigirl60, and a wonderful team of pre-readers, Dawn, Diane and Veronica, to help me with this. The story would not be the same without your guidance and input. Thank you!
I pack up everything of importance: documents, picture albums and the gifts from Mr. Masen, as well as my clothes. Everything else will have to wait. I check Seth's room, grabbing his clothes, as well, and a picture frame of him and Mike. In the shot, Mike is sitting next to Seth, who's giving the camera a brilliant smile, showing off his four little front teeth. He's not even a year old. Mike's head is turned to the side, a bored look on his face.
You fucking asshole.
The spark of anger I feel takes me by surprise. How did I not see it back then? His disinterest in his own son, his obvious wish to leave? Was I that desperate for my dream of a perfect family that I ignored all the signs? Quickly, I shove the picture into my bag, before I end up smashing it, sitting down heavily on the edge of Seth's small bed. I look around this room, which is full of memories. In the corner sits the old rocking chair I used when I'd feed him during the night. I would look down at his little face and smile to myself, knowing I'd made the right decision. I'd pace on this floor with him in my arms, doing my best to soothe him as he cried during his bouts of colic, hoping he wouldn't wake up Mike. More than once, I'd fallen asleep on the floor next to his crib, exhausted from staying up with him through the night. For years, I've sat right in this spot every night and read him a bedtime story. I have very few memories of Mike in here. This room hasn't witnessed fighting or yelling. This space belongs to me and my son, and I dearly wish I could pack it all up and take it with me, but I know I can't. At the door, I turn around to give the room one more look. I was happy here. Seth was happy here. And now we have to leave. It's heartbreaking, and my son doesn't even know it yet. How I'll tell him that we're not coming home again, I have no idea, and I know I won't be having that conversation today. I'm too raw, too spent.
"'Bye," I whisper to Seth's room as I turn off the lights, feeling equally sad and silly.
It's just a room, after all. Four walls, a floor and a ceiling. We'll find another place to make new happy memories. I'll make sure of it.
With everything ready to go, I help Seth put on his shoes and jacket, and bundle myself up, as well. Then, I go to the kitchen, finding him where I left him.
My voice is timid, seeing him absorbed with his phone. He'd gotten it back and could be working. Looking up, he gives me a warm smile.
"We're all packed up," I say.
"Wonderful. Let's go."
He takes the heavy bags from me, hoisting them over his shoulder with ease.
"After you," he says, like a perfect gentleman, following me out.
Leaving the apartment unlocked isn't ideal, but I don't have much choice in the matter. I shut the door tightly, hoping nobody will realize they can walk right in. As we walk down the hallway, I pause in front of Mrs. Cope's door, slipping the note I'd written underneath her door with some difficulty. I probably should just knock, knowing she's home as always, but I honestly can't deal with explaining Mr. Masen to her. In the note, I tell her about the break-in, urging her to be careful and also ask her to notify the building's manager; I also give her Alice's address in case the manager needs to reach me to change the lock, although I won't be holding my breath on that one.
Once outside, we follow Mr. Masen down the street to where his car is parked. It's really nice, a Mercedes, I think. Black and sleek. Definitely expensive. I remember the only time I've been in it, the first night we met, and marvel at how different everything is now.
"Nice ride," I comment, for lack of anything better to say.
"Thank you," Mr. Masen says, putting our bags in the trunk.
He looks at Seth.
"Do you like cars?" he asks, a bit hesitantly.
"Uh-huh." Seth nods. "Too bad yours isn't red. That would've been cool."
He climbs into the backseat, leaving Mr. Masen apparently speechless.
"Sorry," I say. "He, uh, tells it like it is."
Mr. Masen doesn't say anything, but I swear he looks amused for a second. I join Seth in the backseat and make sure he's safely buckled up before putting on my own seatbelt. I give Mr. Masen the address, which he puts into his GPS, and we're off.
It's a short ride to Alice and Jasper's place, and the only one talking in the car is Seth. He's telling Mr. Masen about Maria and Lucy, like he's supposed to know who they are. To his credit, Mr. Masen smiles and nods along with Seth's prattling like he's totally interested in why Maria is cooler than Lucy because she likes Lego better than Barbie, but Lucy is fine with watching Mater's Tall Tales so she's okay, too, even though she kicked him in her sleep that one time.
Mr. Masen is lucky and finds a spot right outside. Before I've unbuckled Seth, he's holding the door open for us, even offering me a hand as I step out into the cold autumn air.
"Thank you," I whisper, holding onto him for a second longer than is necessary.
He unloads our bags as I help Seth out, but I'm surprised to see him carrying them when I turn around.
"Lead the way," he says, motioning to the apartment building.
"You . . . want to meet my friends?"
"If that's all right?" he asks.
"Um, sure. It's just . . . Alice's boyfriend, he doesn't know about you."
"He'll find out this weekend anyway, won't he?"
I nod my head, still feeling uneasy.
"You work for me," Mr. Masen says calmly. "That's all he needs to know."
"You're my mommy's boss?" Seth pipes up. "Thanks for the toys!"
"I told him I got a job so I could buy stuff for him," I explain.
"Oh." Mr. Masen looks at Seth. "You should thank your mother. She bought them, not me."
"I did already," he says. "Right, Mommy?"
"You sure did," I say, giving him a smile. "Let's go see what Lucy and Maria are doing, okay?"
Outside their door, I decide to knock rather than enter, like I normally would. It doesn't feel right to barge in when I have someone with me that they don't know.
"Here comes the bride!" Alice exclaims, flushed and laughing as she opens the door. On her head is what looks like a veil made out of toilet paper. "Come on in Bella, we're . . ."
She looks behind me. Her eyes widen and her mouth opens and closes a few times.
"Celebrating," she finishes, looking at me again. "Is that . . ."
"I'm Mr. Masen," he says, stepping up next to me, holding out his hand. "How do you do?"
"That just means hi," Seth helpfully supplies, before slipping past her with his toy-stuffed backpack.
"Um, hi?" she says, taking his hand.
"I see best wishes are in order," he responds, giving her a charming smile.
"Oh, my God," she whispers, using her free hand to yank off the makeshift veil. "Thank you."
"Babe, what's the holdup?" Jasper calls over the music playing in the living room.
He dances out to join us, wearing a toilet paper bowtie around his neck.
"Oh!" he says, wrapping his arm around Alice. "Who's this?"
"This is my boss, Mr. Masen," I say.
"Hey, man." Jas reaches out to shake his hand, friendly as always. "You wanna join us for a drink? We're having a bit of a celebration here."
"Thank you, no. I don't want to intrude on your happy occasion. But congratulations."
He turns to me.
"We should . . ." Alice is already pushing Jasper inside. "Let them say goodbye. It was nice to meet you!"
"Nice to meet you too," Mr. Masen says to the door as it slams shut.
"They, uh, just got engaged," I needlessly explain.
"It's usually a lot quieter around here," I say, not sure why I feel the need to tell him that. "Just Alice and the kids."
"Oh? Is he stationed somewhere usually?"
"Uh, no. They've been apart. Jasper had some . . . problems."
Mr. Masen's expression turns serious.
"No, no!" I protest. "Nothing like that. I mean, he was a bit of a stoner after high school, but he's a really good guy."
Shit! Why did I say that?
Instantly, I feel horrible for blurting out intimate details about Jasper to a man he doesn't even know. Mr. Masen looks anything but placated. In fact, he looks frighteningly upset.
"Drugs," he practically sneers, "are unacceptable to me, Isabella. Is he still using? Are you?"
"No! What are you even . . . No! Of course not! I've never!"
"Never?" he demands, eyes blazing at me.
"No, never!" I assure him. "Do you really think I'd stay with my son in a place with drugs?! For goodness' sake, I don't even like wine—well, except the Italian one you have—and Jasper stopped all that when he found out Alice was pregnant. I swear."
He holds my gaze for a very long time; I see the anger slowly seeping out of him before his shoulders drop suddenly, like a deflated balloon, and he puts my bags on the floor with a dull thump.
"I don't like drugs," he says quietly.
"Neither do I."
He nods once before straightening up to his full height.
What the hell just happened?
"Friday?" he asks.
"Yeah," I say, still a bit stunned by his reaction. "We'll come."
"Good," he says, reaching out for me.
I go into his embrace willingly, tilting my face upward when he cradles my cheek in his hand.
"I shouldn't have said that," he murmurs, caressing my face. "You wouldn't put your child in danger. I apologize."
He tightens his arms around me and I snuggle against his soft wool coat, closing my eyes. My body is so tired, but my spirit is elated. I smile as he rests his chin on top of my head, exhaling deeply, relaxing against me.
Feels so nice. I'll be good to you, Mr. Masen.
Slowly, he pulls away. His face is neutral again, but his eyes are still warm as he gazes down on me. Then, he reaches into his pocket, retrieving his wallet.
"Here," he says, pulling out some bills and handing them to me.
"No," I protest. "I haven't earned that."
He takes my hands, holding them and the money.
"You will not starve yourself again," he says sternly. "Those days are over."
I nod my head, trying to control my emotions.
"Just . . . buy something nice to eat for you and your friends for dinner tonight," he adds. "And, take care of yourself and Seth."
"Okay," I whisper, taking the bills from him. "Thank you."
"Friday at four? And take a cab."
"Okay," I say again.
He kisses me softly, sweetly, at first. Then, he reaches around me, crushing my body against his as he lifts me up. I feel my feet dangling in the air as his tongue touches mine, making me whimper. I cling to his shoulders, responding eagerly to the kiss, wanting more and more.
"Fuck," he groans against my lips. "Sweet girl, what are you doing to me?"
"Don't . . . know," I pant.
Whatever this is, it's powerful. It's so unlike any other relationship I've ever had. Mr. Masen isn't going to pick me up at my parents' house and introduce himself. He isn't going to take me to the school dance. He isn't going to bring me to the movies for a date and then spend the whole time trying to cop a feel. He and I aren't going to argue about unpaid bills or lack of responsibility. We won't spend our nights with our backs turned. In fact, we won't spend our nights together at all. But we'll have three hours together each night before bed. Mike never set aside so much time for me. By the end, I was lucky if I saw him three hours total in a whole week.
This is different, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Whatever this is, I know I want it. I want him.
Gently, he lets me down. I fist my hands in the lapels of his coat to steady myself.
"I have to go," he breathes, obviously as affected as I am. "See you Friday."
"See you," I sigh, as he walks down the stairs.
Oh, my God.
I press my hand against my chest, feeling my heart thundering away. Definitely powerful.
Inside the apartment, Alice gives me a long look. I can tell she's bursting at the seams, wanting to know what happened but, for now, she focuses on her family. I do the same, making sure Seth is settled in the girls' room on a small mattress on the floor and a sleeping bag. He's beyond excited to sleep there tonight. Afterward, we join the celebration in the living room and the day passes quickly in a blur of laughter, cake, Disney, and dancing.
"Be sure you thank your boss for this," Jasper says, patting his stomach.
It's late and we've just finished the last of the Chinese takeout. The kids passed out a while ago, after having eaten their fill.
"Yes, that was really nice of him," Alice agrees, grinning at me.
She turns to Jasper.
"Why don't you go relax on the couch, baby? Bella and I will clean up."
He shakes his head, making a few of his previously combed down curls stick out.
"I'll do it. You two take a load off."
He leans over to kiss Alice before he starts clearing the table. She gives me a look of surprise, but doesn't hesitate to drag me into the living room.
"Okay, tell me absolutely everything!" she exclaims, throwing her hands up in excitement. "What happened? How did he find you? No, wait. First, can we just talk about how freaking gorgeous he is?"
I chuckle a little, nodding my head.
"I mean, you said he was handsome, but Bella, holy shit!"
"I know. He's . . . hot."
She laughs at me.
"Tell me everything!"
Half an hour later, Alice is still listening intently as I finish recounting the day.
"So we're going over there at four on Friday, and then we'll see how it goes," I finish.
"Wow," she sighs, falling forward, pretending to swoon. "It's like a fairytale."
"The X-rated kind," I add.
She looks at me, a bit more seriously.
"What do you think will happen?"
"I don't know," I tell her. "But I owe it to Seth to at least give it a try. What Mr. Masen's offering, I could never provide that on my own. I mean, the neighborhood alone is—"
"Forget about Seth for a moment," Alice interrupts. "Yeah, hard to do, I know. But try anyway. What do you want, Bella? Because you know Seth will be fine no matter what school he ends up in. He's smart and gets along with everyone he meets. Eventually DSHS will launch an investigation, realize that Mike isn't paying Seth's child support, and hopefully you'll get some help. So don't just do this for him. You deserve to get what you want too, and if this isn't the kind of thing you want, then you have to tell Mr. Masen that and come up with a new plan."
"You're right," I tell her. "And the truth is . . . I want him, Alice. He makes me feel . . . I can't even describe it. I want to make him happy, to take care of him. I want to be his."
"Then give it a chance," she says softly. "I won't pretend to understand it fully, but it's not my life, it's yours. And I've never seen you happier than when you guys, err, did your thing."
I take her hand.
"Just be careful, okay? And know that you can always come back and live here if it doesn't work out. You're my . . . my best friend, and I love you. I'm gonna miss seeing you every day!"
"Oh, jeez," I sniff. "I love you too, you know that."
Alice pulls me into one of her rare hugs.
"I haven't even gone yet," I mumble. "Nothing's set in stone. It's only a trial weekend."
Alice pulls back, smiling at me.
"I think we both know it's a lot more than that."
Next chapter will feature the trial weekend, I swear. I've already started writing it. :)
Take care until next time!