* * *AN: This was a very difficult chapter to write. If you are at work, you might want to wait until you get home to read. This chapter contains physical and psychological violence and might be a trigger for some. It also deals with the death of a child. * * *
Unbecoming Chapter Eight: Lullaby and Goodnight
Story Summary: In the aftermath of her divorce, a heartbroken Bella Swan looks for danger to give meaning to her life. If only her hot ex-husband would stay out of the picture. ExB AH
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot of the Twilight Saga are the property of its author. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media. Copyright infringement is not intended, nor will I ever make a dime from this fanfiction. So there.
Many thanks to LJ Summers, prettyflour, detochkina and jmolly for the beta work.
Thanks to GinnyW_31 for her expertise regarding OB/Gyn elements of the plot.
Thanks as well to TwilightMomofTwo, EternalSummer79, Kristin Hazzard, Twilover76, pomme_de_terre, Mutt N. Feathers, and perrymaxwell for the pre-reading.
Thanks so all for reading. I've fallen woefully behind on my review replies. But I've read every one. Thanks as well to everyone for the rec's, tweets, posts on FaceBook, and general hilarity.
Despite all of Mrs. Stanley's predictions about Edward and me being together, he was busier than ever while I pursued my undergraduate degree. Determined not to sulk, I loaded up my schedule and took twenty-one hours my first semester at St. Catherine's. It kept my mind off of him. Sometimes.
He emailed me every day. Like an addict with a fresh fix, I looked forward to each letter. He had the most charming way of viewing the world and a great sense of humor. I felt bad that I didn't write back letters as long as the ones that he sent me. I wasn't good with words. So I mailed him care packages of his favorite foods instead and sent him drawings.
"What are you doing Friday night?" Angela took a seat by me at the table in the library. It was finals week – the last day of exams to be precise.
"Shh!" Sister Lois gave us the "you, little missy, are going straight to Hell" glare.
I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote, "Nothing."
Angela took the sheet from me and scrawled in her loopy handwriting, "A group of us are going to that new Mexican place on Main. Please come."
"Okay. What time?"
"I'll be there," I wrote. "I have to get home now. Thanks for thinking of me."
If he kept his promise, Edward would be home tonight. I suppose because I lost my parents and joined the Cullen family around the holidays Esme overcompensated. Christmas was sacred in the Cullen house. Esme spent all year making projects: holiday quilts, embroidered table cloths with gold trumpets and angels, or crocheted snow flake ornaments. She designed the holiday family greeting card by hand that she mailed out to over five hundred people. Esme had great taste. She made the tree the centerpiece of her decorations and put some pine branches over the hearth and a wreath on the front door.
My heart leaped when I saw his car in the driveway. Running into the house would have appeared unladylike, so I forced myself to walk.
"There you are!" He hugged me longer than usual. He felt so warm. "Bella, you must be freezing." He tugged me closer and ran his hands down my arms and back.
"Not any more."
He kissed the top of my head. "Have you eaten?"
"I brought your favorite Chinese food. You can eat it while we watch a movie."
Silly me, I lasted ten minutes before I fell asleep against his shoulder. Edward must have carried me to bed. I should have known all that stress would bring a night terror on.
When I fell under Morpheus' influence, I had a nightmare about the accident that killed my parents. I could remember our car sliding down the mountain, how I saw my parents' bodies flailing against their seat belts as we tumbled screaming and yelling, and the sounds of breaking glass and twisted metal. The glass of the passenger-side window hurt my head as I slammed against it repeatedly. I felt so cold, scared, and alone. I called out for my parents, but no one answered. I didn't know how long I sat in the car crying for them. It felt like forever.
I came awake with a yelp, bolted out of bed, and ran straight to Edward's room. I didn't bother knocking, just dove under the covers next to him. The wind sent another blast that hit his window and I shivered in time to the rattling pane, trying to warm up.
Edward arranged the down comforter around us. We shared a pillow.
He pulled me against his chest, and I felt his hand on my bare skin as he stroked my lower back making small circles. His t-shirt felt so soft against my cheek. His familiar scent comforted me. I nodded in response to his question. He was always so warm compared to me.
He asked, "Was it the same dream?"
"It can't hurt you." His hand moved to my hair. I sighed as he ran his fingers through it.
"When I'm awake, I know that. . . I remember being so alone and it was so cold."
"So it's the being alone part that scares you the most?" He could always cut through what I was saying and hold up an insightful point that hadn't occurred to me.
"Yeah. In my dream, I feel like being alone will get me killed. Being alone and crying for help and no one answering . . ." I shuddered. "There's no worse feeling, Edward."
"Sunshine, you'll never be alone again. I promise."
I snuggled against his warmth and let it lull me to sleep. When I woke up he was gone. He left me a note with a bag beside it.
"Sunshine, got you your favorite pastry. See you later, Edward." Inside the paper was a chocolate glazed cream-filled donut from Krispy Kreme. Sometimes I thought Edward was the perfect man.
Friday afternoon found me nervously standing outside of the new Mexican restaurant afraid to go inside. I'd spent hours getting ready and wore a new forest green velvet dress and leather boots with a navy wool coat. My car was in the shop, so Mother dropped me off, and I'd told her that Angela would give me a ride home. I felt like a little girl dressed up in her mother's clothes about ready to enter a room full of adults who would see through my disguise in an instant.
"Bella, you look fantastic! I love that color on you." Angela gave me a hug. "We're inside on the right hand side."
She led me to a table – three guys and three girls now made up the group. I had thought it would be a girls' night out and tried to mask my surprise.
Angela gestured to the man who sat across the table from me. "Bella, this is Stefan. He's from Romania and studying here for a year."
With his perfect cheekbones and long eyelashes he could have been a model. He had this manner about him, though, that suggested he expected women to throw themselves at his feet. Starting with me.
He made me nervous because he kept staring at me throughout dinner, so I lost my appetite. Was this some kind of blind date that I'd agreed to without realizing?
I glanced up to see Edward standing by me.
"There you are." He positively beamed.
He wore a sharp suit and tie and looked so handsome, he took my breath away. He made Stefan look like Quasimodo's ugly little brother.
"Hi, Edward," Angela said. "Did you come to try the food?"
"I came for Bella. I'm her ride home."
He sat next to me in the booth, threw an arm over my shoulders, and played with my hair. My mind went in two directions. Part of me felt confused. The other part wanted to jump him right then and there, and that mortified me. I didn't need Angela, who studied us both with interest, to tell me that my face turned scarlet. What the heck was he doing? He never touched me in public. Not like that.
"Are you two together?" Stefan asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes," Edward answered and gave me a warm look that made me blush even more.
"How long?" Angela had a friendly expression. My lips moved, but I didn't know what to say.
"I was a goner the second I saw her." Edward reached out and took my left hand in his and kissed it. "Are you ready, Bella?" He put money down on the table after he glanced at the bill.
I loved the way he said my name. Like it mattered. He helped me into my coat, and after telling everyone goodbye, we went out into the bitterly cold night holding hands. The wind hit us with a frigid blast and Edward said, "Let's go!" We ran laughing to the car.
Judging by the lack of lights when we returned home, Mom and Dad went to bed early.
Edward shut the front door and locked it.
He put his hands on my shoulders and asked, "May I take your coat?"
By the time he slid it off, I was a trembling mass of nerves.
"Thank you," I managed to croak.
"You look so beautiful tonight. I love that color on you."
I smiled at him, not sure of what to say.
He had this expression I'd never seen. Almost like he was nervous. He cleared his throat and asked, "Do you want a June wedding?"
I realized then that he'd gotten dressed up for me. Edward never wore suits unless he had to. I almost pinched myself to see if I was dreaming that he just proposed. I was so shocked I blurted the first thing that came to mind.
"Can't we elope instead?"
"Mom would never forgive us. You're her only chance to plan a wedding."
"She'd invite the whole town!" I wrung my hands and shuddered.
He pulled me into his arms. I felt like my skin was on fire. He held me close and whispered, "We'll face it together, like always, and I'll see what I can do about keeping the ceremony small. I can't wait to make you my wife." He ran his hand along my cheek.
"Really." He smiled.
He was so much taller than me. The tree was the only source of light. He sat down on the leather sofa and pulled me into his lap.
"I couldn't wait any longer to give you this. Give me the best Christmas ever and be my bride?"
He held out a ring. I covered my mouth, awed. It was stunning. I didn't answer, and just nodded wide-eyed.
"You will?" He looked to the heavens, sighed, and whispered with a beatific smile, "Thank God."
He pulled me closer and kissed me. Being in his arms was bliss. My stars, that man could kiss. I never wanted to stop. I had long dreamed of what kissing him would be like. And I was wrong. So wrong. Because this was even better than I imagined.
"Gosh, Edward," I moaned as he brushed his lips against my throat, "you're awfully good at this."
"Really? Um, thank you. I haven't had a lot of practice."
"What do you mean?"
He smiled and blushed. "You're my first kiss. And you're not so bad yourself. I can barely keep my hands off of you."
"You seriously have never kissed anyone else?" I squeaked. I mean I thought I was odd being a college freshman at eighteen and not having kissed anyone. But Edward was six years older. And male. And gorgeous. How did that happen?
His hair stood up in patches from where I'd run my fingers through it. He looked adorable.
"I can be disciplined when it's important. I've waited all this time for you, Bella. It's you that I love."
I said to him, "No one could ever come close to how I feel about you."
We sat in front of the fireplace and watched as it began to snow. I wanted it to be June already. We ended up not marrying until I graduated from college, but I didn't mind the wait. Every Christmas Eve, Edward planned some way to show me how much he loved me. I would forever cherish Christmas Eve because Edward made all my dreams come true.
I shook myself as I came back to the present. That was the old Edward, when he was my love. Before he turned into that frightening stranger with the forbidding face. I tried to push the memories away and concentrate on getting some rest. I imagined myself walking on a sun-kissed beach listening to the ocean.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I had a dream about someone screaming in agony like bullets pierced flesh and crowbars crushed bones. My throat kind of hurt, too. Mutilated dolls danced before my horrified eyes. Then I heard a child whisper, "Mommy, I'm scared. Don't let the bad man take me." I felt inhumanly strong hands around my neck tenaciously choking off my air. Despite my feeble struggles, I now wore a delicate necklace of agony. I could feel my attacker sniffing at me like an animal.
"I warned you that if you talked, I'd come back to teach you a lesson," he rumbled.
I wondered when that screaming would stop. The desperation I heard in it was freaking me out.
Now I felt like I stood in an earthquake as everything started shaking. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes. Edward had me in his arms. I froze.
I was so flustered. "Um." How eloquent.
He was so close. Almost close enough to kiss. "You were having another nightmare."
Panting, I asked, "Another?"
"You had them every night at the hospital. That's why they sedated you at night."
"You were screaming my name."
I'd have to add that to the list of things I needed to forget how to do. I wanted to crawl under the bed and die of mortification, but God couldn't be that merciful.
I couldn't cross my arms over my chest since I was squashed against him. Instead, I scoffed, "Was not."
He kissed my forehead and I stiffened. "Were too." My skin burned where his lips had touched.
Ridiculous, because Edward had never, to the best of my knowledge, lied to me about something like that.
"Going back to sleep now, fibber-maker-upper."
He chuckled. "I think we should stay awake for when the SWAT team uses the battering ram against the door and throws the flash-bang grenades in the room." He sobered. "You were so loud. It sounded like someone was murdering you."
If only he knew. It felt like I had a block of ice in my stomach.
"Gee, thanks. Sorry I disturbed your sleep." I tapped at his arm so he'd let me up, an old signal of ours.
I went to the restroom to get some water and wash my face. The haggard woman that glared at me from the mirror had black circles under weary eyes. I couldn't believe I had screamed so loud he could hear it all the way in his room on the other side of the suite. Edward sensed my unease as I approached my bed.
He said, "I'll stay. I don't mind. I don't sleep well anyway without you in bed beside me. I never have."
I was so tired. I couldn't remember the last time I had a decent night's sleep. Pathetic wretch that I was, I caved. I didn't protest when he pulled the covers around us. My head rested on his shoulder. His hands were gentle against the bare skin of my back. If he made a move on me, I was going to elbow him in the throat. No . . . the groin. Heck, why be picky? Both.
I felt his chest rumble as he tiptoed into my personal minefield. "You haven't had trouble from nightmares in years. Did you have the same one from when you were little?"
It took me a while to answer. "I really don't want to talk about it."
I felt his hands in my hair, brushing it away from my face as his weight pressed against me.
"I take that as a no."
He had a pair of pajama bottoms on that I'd never seen. Flannel, Black Watch tartan. I wondered where he'd found them. He hated shopping almost as much as I did. At the last second, I stopped myself from feeling the fabric.
Note to self: Bella Swan, you no longer have permission to put your hands on Edward's pants, especially near his crotch. Instead, I tangled a hand in the cotton fabric of his top. He'd been lifting weights as his chest looked larger than I recalled under his black t-shirt.
When it came to passion, I had always been shy. That had changed when Edward started working out at the gym a few years ago. His shoulders made my knees go weak. One day when he took his shirt off, something came over me and I threw restraint out the window and pounced. We never made it to the bed. I recalled the awe on his face after we made love – how cherished and special he made me feel.
Time passed with me doing elaborate mental gymnastics to keep from talking about my dream. I let the silence speak for me.
"Bella, sometimes it helps talking about them, you know. Was it about the –"
"G'night." I squirmed out from under Edward's weight, turned my back and pulled my knees against my chest. I refused to let him see the tears that I wiped away.
I couldn't talk to him about my nightmare. I didn't want Edward to know that it was my fault we lost the baby. If I had only been more careful, acted like a reasonable human being, I'd be a mother today.
I had never been known for being loquacious, and I wasn't about to start now. In the end, it didn't make a difference. I was still divorced, childless, unwanted, and alone.
I had once thought that nothing was worse than being separated from my one true love. Cruel experience taught me the extent of my folly. Lying in bed beside Edward, having him so close I could smell him, and knowing he didn't love me anymore proved every bit as agonizing. Even worse– knowing that I deserved to suffer only added fuel to the fire.
I drifted into an uneasy sleep.
The smell of bacon and French toast tickled my senses awake. I rolled over and saw it was ten in the morning. My bad shoulder protested as I moved. I pulled the pillow over my face, and willed the dull ache to subside. Edward had set breakfast up in my room.
The early sunlight illuminated his unshaven face. He looked delicious as he concentrated on the paper. Forget the food.
As my luck would have it, he caught me peeking at him. With a grin, he tossed a section of his newspaper at me. "Breakfast is served, milady." That was how he always used to wake me up.
I grumbled, "Go away, you annoying man." That was not the usual answer.
His smile faltered for a moment. God save me from morning people. He enthused, "Not happening. Come on, Sunshine."
I ignored his shameless use of my nickname and his boundless enthusiasm and pointed to my head. "Sleeping here." I pulled the comforter over my head.
"I'll pull the sheets off of you and let you fly home in that outfit."
I had always been modest, but I didn't want my ex to think he could control me, so I bluffed. "And?"
"I'll eat your French toast."
Refusing to look at him, I pushed away the bedding, got up, gingerly walked over, and took my seat across from him at the round table. I pretended that he wasn't all but taking my vitals as I approached. The red scar on my shoulder showed through my sleeveless cotton tee. I did my best to ignore that he was staring at it, or that my white t-shirt didn't camouflage my nipples. He was a breast man. Of that I was quite sure. Not that I had much to offer in that department.
"Bella, did you ever see Dr. King?"
"Who?" I took a bite and almost moaned at the flavor.
Edward cleared his throat. "Dr. King, the psychiatrist?"
I gritted my teeth. The preoccupation with shrinks was getting old.
"Why do you ask?" I stabbed another piece of my breakfast.
"I take it that means no." He exhaled slowly like he was trying to stay calm. "Sometimes people who have brain injuries like you behave differently. Lose their tempers. Pick fights. Like yesterday with that man."
I lost my appetite and pushed away my plate. So now I was crazy?
With effort, my voice stayed calm. "Is that what you think happened?"
"Bella, in all the years I've known you, you have never been violent."
I tossed my napkin to the table. "Maybe I've finally grown up, Edward, and fought for something for once."
"What are you talking about?"
"That man tried to drag our administrative assistant, Anya, back into sexual slavery. She's pregnant." I tripped over that word. "He's the one that she escaped from. She was fifteen when he forced her to work as a prostitute, after keeping her in a cellar and abusing her for months. He branded his initials on her arm. Anya doesn't want her baby born into that life."
"Oh, I had no idea." Edward put down his coffee cup and just watched me, so I kept talking.
"He ran past our security and attacked her while everyone stood around and watched. He had a knife. She begged me for help. So I didn't pick that fight. I ended it."
He leaned forward on his elbows and cradled his head. "I'm having a hard time getting over the idea of you swinging a desk on someone's skull."
"It was the only thing I had handy. I could not stand there and let him take her."
He put more bacon on my plate. "Eat some more, please. You've lost too much weight. You are far more argumentative than normal and, considering I've known you since you were five, I can't stress how different that is from my quiet Bella."
"I'm fine, Edward. I've gained five pounds since I left the hospital."
I rubbed my aching shoulder while he watched my every move.
"Have you had anyone look at that since you got out of the hospital?"
I tried to be civil as I finished off the bacon. "I'm not your responsibility any more, Edward." I stood up and went to my suitcase to get a clean set of clothes.
He rose to his feet and took three steps toward me. "What if I want you to be?" He seemed so serious. So earnest.
My hands shook at his question. I wrapped them around a pile of clean clothing. He only felt sorry for me because he felt bad that I was shot. I had to nip this in the bud before I got hurt. Again. There were things that hurt worse than bullet wounds. I should know.
My smile kept me from crying although my eyes brimmed with tears I refused to shed. "Then I'd say you're the one that needs the psychiatrist, because you're tilting at windmills that you burned to the ground." I did not look at him to gauge his reaction.
Softly, I closed the bathroom door behind me. Sure, he'd seen me naked more times than I could count. But that was then and this was the fearful now. I took my time getting ready. When I worked up the courage to leave the bathroom, Edward had his coat on, and oh my stars, he smelled delicious. I lectured my pouting inner child to get over herself. He took my suitcase from me.
"Bella, it's going to be in the forties today."
He ran the fabric of my coat through his fingers. "You only have a thin jacket. You'll be cold." I hadn't taken time to buy more than a few long-sleeved shirts since I'd been in Europe. "I'll pick something up at the airport."
"You don't have a sweater?"
Mrs. Bishop had bought me one, but I had destroyed it in the washing machine. "No."
Edward acted baffled. I was the spouse that always dressed for the elements.
He opened his suitcase and pulled out a dark green cashmere crewneck I'd bought him two years back. Cautiously, I slipped it over my head. I could smell his cologne around the neck. The sweater reached my knees.
As we exited the hotel elevator, I asked, "Can we stop by their courtesy office? I need to check my email."
Vicky stood behind the front desk and frowned at the sight of me wearing Edward's sweater. She could have been hog tied, naked, coated in honey, and set on fire in front of him and Edward wouldn't have noticed. When he concentrated, the rest of the world vanished. At the moment, for reasons mysterious to me, I was the focus of his attention.
Edward pulled a chair out for me. He sat by me and watched as I accessed my account, which made me nervous. It was just like old times when he'd come home from work and find me on the computer.
I typed out a quick note to Alice to let her know I was on my way. Again.
I emailed my attorney to let him know that I was back in town. I needed to find out what was up with this account Alexander had claimed that I had. His card fell out of my pants pocket.
Edward picked it up for me and stared at it like it was a snake. "When did you see him?"
He put a hand on my upper arm. "Did he hurt you?"
Nonplussed, I gawped at him. "No." And I pointed to my sore shoulder. "Ouch."
Edward ripped his hand away as if electrocuted. "I'm sorry. What did he want?"
"He claimed that he managed Esme and Carlisle's accounts and one for me. I told him that I wasn't a Cullen anymore." Edward grimaced. I continued, "But he insisted that he had money that was mine."
"I already told you, you can't unbecome a Cullen. You're one for life. Anyway, did he ask for anything?"
"Only for me to meet him for dinner at his hotel."
Edward muttered, "He's a wanted man here in the States . . . probably in Europe, too." Edward paused, and glanced at his watch. "The travel reservations are in our name. We've got to go now."
"Hang on. I promised Alec I'd check in with him."
Alec's chat status showed he was online.
A: Back atcha, wonder woman.
B: Any news for me?
A: Things are a little unsettled in Prague. You have excellent taste in enemies. Turns out, the guy you clocked comes from one of the most powerful families from around here. Working on smoothing things over, but I don't think you should return here.
My heart sank. I had liked that job.
B: Is Anya okay?
A: She's staying with me for the near future. She and the baby are fine. Tyler wants to open an office in the US where you are, and I plan on coming to join you, and bringing Anya. It's not safe for her here.
B: Thanks for telling me. I've been worried about her. Gotta go, ex wants to leave. Later.
It looked like I had to go on a vacation whether I wanted to or not. I shut down the browser.
Edward's gaze was frank. "Aside from me and Jasper, you've never had male friends."
I came so close to saying, "Look how well that turned out." For the record, I barely had any female friends either.
I blinked at him. "What's your point?"
"Are you sure he's just a friend?"
My fingers itched to smack him. "Are you seriously asking me about my feelings for him? Or his for me?"
"Both." He acted like a man waiting for the first blow to hit.
"Not that it's any of your business, but he's a friend. When you're out in the middle of nowhere in primitive conditions, you get to know people." I walked past him. He seemed relieved.
What the heck? So, he didn't want me, but he didn't want anyone else to want me either? I needed to develop a love life, STAT. I spun back around.
Edward seemed to relax after that.
The entire time we were in the shuttle on our way to the airport, Edward fiddled with his phone texting back and forth with someone. He had never been the type to spend time typing when he could just pick up the phone and call.
When we got to the airport, he got us on a standby flight that left half an hour earlier than our original one. He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief once we were airborne.
Emmett met us when we landed. He picked me up with a hug. "Did you shoot anyone this time, hot stuff?" I hid the fact that my shoulder really hurt. I didn't want to make Emmett feel bad.
My ex glowered at him as Emmett set me down. "No, she only took a desk to the skull of a knife-wielding human trafficker. She was positively restrained."
"As a heart attack," Edward grumbled.
"He asked for it." I crossed my arms.
Emmett's eyes flickered around the lounge. "We're attracting more attention than we want. Um, the car's right out here. Let's go."
I saw a few people pointing at us as we walked from the building. I looked away when one person started snapping pictures with a cell phone. Edward noticed it and put his arm around my waist as we walked.
All I wanted to do was go somewhere that I could call home. A place where I would be left in peace. Now I had the delicate problem of trying to find a place to stay. My birth parents had left me well off, and I had money that gathered interest in a savings account. Also, Edward had thrown obscene amounts of money at me in the divorce settlement. I had never touched a penny of it, and that would not change. I rubbed at my eyes. I just needed to be still for a while. Maybe I should take a break.
Edward asked Emmett, "Would you mind taking us to the hospital? Bella has an appointment with Dr. Felix."
Now I knew what all the typing was for, and tried not to resent Edward for it. I knew I should go, but I wanted to be the one to make the decision. At this point it wasn't worth fighting over. I knew Emmett would side with Edward. Emmett drove us straight there.
Dr. Felix's nurse ushered me back to an examination room, handed me a gown, and told Edward to wait out front with a frosty glare Jane would have envied. Five vials of blood later, I lay on the cold table and stared up at the white ceiling feeling the thin tissue paper with my hands.
Linoleum floors make for conversations that carry. Down the hall, I heard Emmett tell my ex, "Edward, it's been very hard to sit back and watch what you've done to Bella and not beat the crap out of you."
"You've been a good friend to her, Emmett. Thank you."
"Stop sucking up, bucko, and tell me what the hell is going on. You don't know what you're playing with regarding Bella."
"What do you mean?" He sounded genuinely puzzled.
"Now is not the time to put pressure on her. She lost everything right down to her last name by the time you and your family got done with her. I watched her become more and more depressed. I'd say she quickly dropped twenty-five pounds, and her hair started falling out. She acted like nothing bothered her, and usually changed the subject if I tried to get her to talk. Then she really scared the crap out of me. She gave away her possessions and vanished. Do I need to draw you a map?"
"Yes, I don't know what you're hinting at. So Bella wanted to start over. It makes sense."
"Edward, for someone with such a high IQ, you are moronic about people. Aside from clothes and her bank account, she doesn't have any possessions left. One thing I remember about her when we first met was she liked wearing jewelry. Have you seen her wearing any lately?"
"My admin Kate told me that Bella gave her jewelry to the Junior League to auction this Christmas."
Edward's voice lowered. "She did?"
"Does that strike you as normal for Bella?"
"No. I'll have to call them to get it back. This must be her grieving."
"I think it goes far beyond that. Only one conclusion makes sense. She was getting ready to kill herself. That's why she gave away everything and went to Africa. She doesn't care about living."
After a long pause, Edward's voice shook. "Bella would never."
Emmett argued, "How do you know? You weren't around. She confided in no one as far as I know."
"I just know her."
"Seriously? That's the best you have? Have you seen the sketches she made while she was in Africa?"
"Yes," Edward answered with a heavy sigh. "Those images are burned in my mind. I have no idea how she stayed sane. She's never been one to surround herself with harsh things."
"Did you ever think your ex-wife would take on a gun-waving nutcase when she was unarmed?"
"No," his voice broke.
"Did you see any drawings in there of her old life?"
"Right, not a single one. That should show you something."
"I don't know what to say. I'll do anything to help her."
Like what, irritate me to death? Emmett was right, my ex was obtuse.
Emmett sighed and said, "If it's one thing I've learned since I've come to know her: never underestimate what your ex-wife is capable of doing. Yeah, she sucks at lying, but she's a much better pretender than you ever gave her credit for. She's still in very bad shape, and Alice and I have both tried to get her to seek help. She's refused every time."
Edward sounded like he was pleading. "I'm trying to help her. I'm trying to get our lives back."
"I'm worried sick about her."
"You should be. So stop pressuring her. You can't change history. Give her room and time, and get your family to back off. It's only fair after all the shit you and Mommy Dearest put her through."
"Please don't pick on my mother. She has suffered every day since this nightmare began. This has been agonizing for my family."
"I'm sorry if I sound rude, but you deliberately put yourself in this position when you decided to treat Bella like Carthage and all but sow salt into her heart. I don't have much charity for your family. I had a ringside seat watching Bella's life get decimated. You didn't. You ducked and hid. Now you're looking at smoke and ashes and trying to put a new door up like nothing ever happened. That's beyond fucked up, and it won't work."
Edward sounded weary. "I can't tell you everything now, but I had reasons – good ones – for acting as I did. You have no idea how hard it was to hurt her and stay away. I just want my wife back. I love her. I'll do anything to help her."
Maybe I needed to get my hearing checked along with my brain. Was hallucinating a side effect of a concussion? From my position in the examining room, I sat there gobsmacked. He loved me? What horse hockey. Loved me? If this was love, I'd hate to see how he treated someone he hated. This had to be face-saving so he wouldn't look bad in front of Emmett. The only thing Edward felt for me was guilt.
"The old Bella that you knew?" Emmett sounded so serious. "She's gone. You and yours immolated her like a vampire in sunlight. Now you're left with an entirely different creature. So stop making assumptions about what you know, and encourage her to get help."
If I were being completely honest, I enjoyed hearing Edward have his head handed to him. I couldn't argue like that. I'd never stuck up for myself – then again, I'd never fought with Edward, either.
Dr. Felix came in the room and shut the door, cutting off their conversation.
He seemed happy. "Well, your initial results are back. You still have a ways to go with your nutrition." He peered down at the papers in his hand. "The results show that you're anemic."
Then he had me move my arm around and poked at my shoulder.
"Your shoulder is healing as I'd expect, but you need more physical therapy. You've lost about ten percent of the range of motion because of the wound."
Dr. Felix studied me quietly before asking, "How are you handling things?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's been all over the news, young lady, that you've had a horrible year."
I blushed. I didn't know how to answer that, so I stared at my swinging feet. "Yes."
Despite being so tall, Dr. Felix really gave off a fatherly vibe. "If my daughter went through all that has happened to you, I'd encourage her to get therapy and consider anti-depressants. Are you still having the nightmares?"
"Are you sleeping?"
He wrote me several prescriptions and handed them to me. "You should consider taking these."
"Do I have your permission to talk to Edward about this?" He handed me a set of forms.
"Yes." I signed it. Doing so would keep him out of my hair. I exited the examining room clutching a fistful of prescriptions.
When I reached the lobby, Edward handed me a cup of coffee he'd picked up for me at Starbucks. "I got your favorite." He took the prescriptions from me and looked them over.
"Bless you." I almost took a sip but felt the steam and yanked the cup away from my mouth, putting the lid back on. I'd drink it when it cooled down.
"Oh, sorry, I forgot to warn you it's hot." He rubbed at my lip. I stood there with what was doubtless the deer-in-the-headlights expression. We both jumped when Dr. Felix cleared his throat and came into the room.
My stomach rumbled. The vending machines I had seen down the hall tempted me. I left him talking to Dr. Felix.
"Bella, where are you going?" Edward asked.
"To get a granola bar from the vending machine." It was forty feet away around a corner from them.
He reached into his pocket. "Do you have any American money on you?"
My feet halted and I blushed. He smiled gently and handed me a few quarters. I'd have to add that to the money I owed him for the plane ticket.
He nodded, turned his back to me, and went back to talking to Dr. Felix.
I was putting the first quarter in the machine when I saw a stranger's face reflected in the glass.
"Hello, little one. I've found you at last."
He looked like a brawler, a slightly thinner version of Emmett. I didn't recognize the face, but the voice was one scorched into my memory. I almost fainted from terror.
As I inhaled, I recognized his scent. He reeked of cigarettes and patchouli incense. The coins in my hand dropped to the floor and scattered as I spun around to face the devil himself. He had the meanest eyes – sunken pits of brown that were almost black, looming above a smashed nose in his pale face. One quarter he stomped with his massive foot, as if he could squash it like a grape. I imagined it was me instead of the thin metal under the sole of his boot.
Why couldn't I run? My feet seemed sealed to the ground. The cup in my hand shook so much I almost dropped it.
This man had single-handedly ruined my life. Images from that ghastly night began bombarding my brain, like someone had bombed a dam, sending a flood of memories racing towards me, each one more painful than the next. I had blocked it out – what he did to me. How my baby died. I felt like I'd been yanked into frigid water unexpectedly and struggled to reach the surface while the pressure squeezed my lungs.
There was an empty waiting area behind me. I glanced around to see if anyone was nearby. I couldn't hear Edward or Dr. Felix.
We were alone for the moment. He towered over me. The smile he brandished promised nothing but cruelty.
"You've been a bad little girl," he whispered. "You don't seem to have learned your lesson. Would hate to have to start paying visits to some of those Cullens. Weak heart your Mother has, right?" He had an accent; it sounded French.
And suddenly, I lost control of the rage that swept through me – the righteous anger of a childless mother came to life. I was never going to be his victim again and I owed it to my baby to make him pay.
It took every bit of control I had to say through my rage, "You killed my baby."
He radiated pure malevolence as he leaned over. "I did. You deserved it for ruining my life. You're next."
I backed up, yanked off the lid from my cup, and flung the steaming coffee in his face. His piercing scream hurt my ears and warmed my tattered soul.
"Wow, you don't look so good. Here." I tossed a napkin at him.
Then I kicked him in the balls so hard it hurt my foot. I might have broken a toe, but I didn't care. Ugly Eyes bellowed louder when I kicked him with the other foot and he fell to the floor. Grabbing at his crotch, he got to his knees with his eyes shut like a blind bear. Once he was on his feet he lunged for me.
I read a war story once where the author explained that when you fight everything slows down. I had thought at the time it sounded like horse hockey. But he was so right. I blocked out everything around me and focused on the beast that haunted my nightmares.
I backed up as fast as I could, but wasn't quick enough. He swung out blindly and cuffed me across the face. I saw stars as I went flying and landed on the empty chairs in the waiting area. It made a huge racket.
I gritted my teeth to keep from shouting in pain. "Bastard."
Memories continued flooding me. Things I'd pushed away. Images so painful I almost forgot to function.
Ears ringing, I scrambled to my feet and looked for a weapon. Where's a good desk when you need one? I picked up an end table and tossed it at him. He batted it away like it was a toy.
"Murderer!" We finally attracted notice of a group that walked around the corner. I heard gasps as people stopped and stared. Someone yelled for security.
He snarled at me, and spat, "You deserve to die for what you did!" I'd never seen this man in my life. I couldn't wrap my mind around what he had done to me.
He sprang at me and hit me again, this time in the stomach. I curled into a ball as I tried to get a grip on the pain. Suddenly, I heard a loud noise and saw blood splatter the wall behind him and the glass of the vending machine. His shoulder all but exploded in a shower of gore as someone shot him twice, propelling him backwards. I turned to see that Edward held the gun. He appeared incandescent with rage.
People started screaming. The noise from the gunshots hurt my ears. Time seemed to stop. I was back in Africa, dying in the dirt. Then my mind took me to the old house and images of my personal hell assaulted me.
Edward picked me up in one arm and pulled me away from the area, keeping the gun aimed at Ugly Eyes. All I could see was the blood.
Dr. Felix, and Emmett came running.
"Bella, what happened?" Emmett asked.
I stammered and pointed at the man on the ground. "Him. Last Christmas." Emmett would understand. I could barely breathe, but I sobbed, nonetheless.
Edward rubbed my back. I had no idea what he did with the gun, but it probably was a good thing it wasn't in my hands. "Bella, honey, where do you hurt?"
"My foot. I think I broke it kicking him. He hit me in the head and stomach."
"Who fired the gun?" A security guard came running.
Edward raised his hand. "He attacked my wife."
I could feel tears burning a trail of fire down my face, as I wheezed. I started shaking and wrapped my arms around myself. "Just now he said he was going to hurt Mom next." My teeth chattered as I started to hyperventilate.
Dr. Felix knelt by the man and started first aid. "Edward, she needs a sedative now. Get her to the ER."
A bystander, an elderly man, said, "From where I stood it looked like a clear cut case of self-defense. That one," he pointed to Ugly Eyes, "he threatened the little lady there." He might have been aided in that assessment by the people that lurked in the corner snapping pictures and chattering into their cell phones.
Edward said to the security guard, "I heard him threaten to kill her and saw him hit her. I defended my wife. That's my statement."
Wife? That's it, I had clearly lost my mind from getting hit one too many times in the skull. But he beat me to the funny farm.
The guard said, "I'll come to you to sign the report when I finish filling it out, Dr. Cullen. You will have to talk to the police, too, and they're on their way. Ms. Swan, glad to see you're . . . um, okay."
Emmett said to the security guard, "Randy, I can fill you in on the back story once she's been treated. She's in no shape to talk." He turned to us, "ER. Let's go."
Edward carried me into the bustling Emergency Room following Emmett. I couldn't breathe. He put me down on an examining table and Emmett slipped an oxygen mask over me.
"I'll be right back. I have to check you in," Edward said.
"Bella, we have got to stop meeting like this," Emmett deadpanned. "You hurting yourself just so you could see me. I mean, really." He batted his eyelashes at me. "I know I'm irresistible and all, but I'm in a relationship."
I snorted and giggled through my tears, and then broke down and sobbed.
"I'm giving you a sedative, okay? A strong one." I felt the sting of the needle and alcohol. It didn't take long for it to hit my bloodstream. The only thing that kept me from becoming hysterical was the collection of chemicals he gave me that made everything seem fuzzy. Like it didn't matter.
He probed my stomach with his hands. "You're going to be bruised here, but he didn't break any ribs." Emmett asked, "Which foot hurts?" I pointed to my right one, sniffling. He took off my shoe and sock as Edward came in. My foot was swelling. Emmett gently probed as I tried to calm down.
"X-ray?" Edward asked.
"Yeah, and a CT scan for her head." Emmett scribbled something on a pad and handed it to Edward. "You got this?"
"I do." He carried me down the hall. An hour later I was the proud owner of a new walking cast and quite loopy from the sedatives and pain killer.
I know Edward talked to the police, but I didn't remember much of it, or leaving the hospital. I only knew that I woke up in a strange bed. I leaned on my elbows and stared around in confusion.
Edward said, "This is our place."
Our? What the heck had Emmett given me? LSD?
The mattresses only had a bed frame. There were no pictures anywhere. It looked like Edward used this place to sleep.
"Please, I need to hear from you what happened that night, Bella, to you and our baby. Please?"
I sat up, wrung my hands, and then clasped them together to keep from shaking. I stammered, "I don't know if I can."
"Have you talked to anyone about this?"
"N-Not really," I whispered.
I jumped at his touch. "Bella." He gently stroked my cheek as I started to cry.
"That night. Can you please tell me what happened?"
My chest hurt even to think about it. Like a sinner dragged screaming to hell, I sank into the miserable pit of memories that opened up before me.
It was the middle of the night on the 23rd ushering in Christmas Eve. I had cried myself to sleep wondering what I could have done that was so awful that my husband would leave me and my family abandon me.
An odd noise woke me. It sounded like someone moved downstairs. Since the alarm didn't go off, I concluded that it was Edward coming back, and my heart leaped. I rubbed at my eyes and pulled down my sleep shirt and tried to fix my hair.
When I heard glass shattering, I realized that I had to be wrong. And I froze in the bed like a coward. The sounds of more glass shattering traveled from downstairs. It woke me from my stupor. I grabbed my cell phone and called 911 while putting on a robe. The signal was busy. Frantic, I dialed again. Busy again. I hung up and dialed a third time. Still busy. Edward hadn't told me where he and the family were going. Maybe they were in town. I called Edward's number first. It went straight to voice mail. With shaking fingers, I called Dad's number.
"This is Carlisle Cullen." I heard more glass smashing and jerked in fright. "Please leave a message and I'll return your call as soon as possible." His voice was good enough he could have gone into broadcasting. It made an awful contrast to the noise from below.
My heart started beating faster. Desperately, I tried 911 again only to hear that damn busy signal. I dialed Jasper's number.
"This is Jasper Cullen. Please leave a message."
I heard the sound of someone coming up the stairs and was too afraid to leave a message. Whoever was in the house, I decided they could have whatever they wanted so long as I could get out.
I heard a deep voice taunt, "Come out, come out, wherever you are."
I tiptoed into the hallway, and yelped when he grabbed me. My phone fell to the ground, and he kicked it out of the way. He held me off of the ground, smashed against his chest. The moonlight made it easy for him to see me.
I begged him, "Please don't hurt my baby."
He had a ski mask on. He didn't answer me. He just stood there and sniffed at my hair. Then the baby kicked.
"What the hell was that look for?" he asked.
"It's my baby kicking. Please don't hurt him. Take whatever you want in the house."
"What shampoo do you use?"
"Av – Aveda."
He sounded almost friendly. "Thank you, I'll have to buy it for my girl. Let's get you down on the floor." He lowered me almost gently until I stood on my feet. He guided me to the stairs and nudged me forward, so I moved. I thought he was going to let me leave.
I said, "Bless you. It's Christmas Eve." I stopped and swallowed and shut my eyes.
Then he whispered, "You made this easy since the alarm was off. A pretty woman like you alone in a rich house? You aren't too smart, are you? Tell the police about this and I'll be sure to come back and finish what I started."
I was so scared I could barely speak. "P-Please," I begged. Tears ran down my face.
"This is going to hurt you a lot more than it's going to hurt me." He laughed. Then he hit me in the head. I screamed and drew my arms instinctively up to my skull. His hand came down again on my arm and I heard a sickening crack as the bone snapped. I think I screamed again.
"Shut up!" He punched me in the abdomen so hard it sucked the breath out of me. I gasped and doubled over and he held me up by the shoulder and punched me again.
"Time to take a little trip." He lifted me by the waist as my feet kicked at him and I shrieked.
I felt myself go flying through the air until I landed head first on the stairs and rolled down to the cold tile floor. It knocked the breath out of me.
He whistled the song, "Whistle While You Work," as he stepped over me and said, "Be a good girl. Don't move. I want to remember you that way."
He snapped a picture. I heard banging from the study and I passed out.
When I woke up, it hurt so much to move. I tried to crawl for the door and started cramping. I thought if I stayed still I'd save the baby. I screamed for help, but no one came.
Then I felt the contractions start. I didn't have a watch so I had to guess at how far apart they were. My leg hurt so much I almost threw up when I tried to get to my feet. So I crawled awkwardly using one leg and one arm to the phone. It felt like it took forever as I had to take deep breaths when the contractions hit. I had to save my baby. I had to get help. God couldn't be this cruel. At last, I reached the phone and pulled it to the floor. I put it to my ear and heard nothing.
I chanted to the Heavens, "Please, please work," and hung up and picked it up again, hoping to get a dial tone.
I heard nothing but dead air as another contraction made me curl into a ball and weep.
Then my water broke.
I laid there and screamed, "Edward! Please help me! Someone!" For the longest time, I heard nothing. It was like being back in that car when I was five with my dead parents.
Mocking laughter startled me. Someone clapped. "Bravo! What a performance!" It was him. The Devil. He crouched down near me and gently pushed the hair from my face as I cringed.
He chortled. "That's one heck of a pair of shiners you're going to have." Then he shook his head like I was an idiot student he didn't know what to do with. "You're being too loud. Can't have anyone coming to help you. I have people watching the house. Shut up and stay put or I'll come back."
I've never felt more desperate and helpless in my entire life. "My baby is innocent. It's too soon for him to be born. Please help me!"
He dropped a hand towel by me and said, "For your baby." I could not stop crying and tried to beg with my eyes. I couldn't understand how someone could be this cruel.
"Women like you don't deserve to have children. This is how it should be."
He spat on me and left by the front door.
Edward's voice broke me from my memory. "Bella, you've been quiet all this time. Can you tell me what happened?"
My voice sounded flat. "That man broke into the house in the middle of the night. I tried to call for help, but 911 kept giving me a busy signal. You didn't answer your phone." I gulped and wiped at my eyes.
Edward's eyes widened and he flinched. I continued, "He beat me and threw me down the stairs and left. I crawled to the phone, but the line had been cut. I went into labor. I thought he had gone, but he came back when he heard me screaming for help. He told me he was watching the house and not to leave or he'd hurt me."
My ex blanched and pressed his lips together so hard they turned white. His hands shook. Then he said, "Jesus Christ." Edward held me. "Sunshine, I am so sorry I wasn't there."
"It took hours for him to be born. He was so small. I held him as he took his first breath. I didn't want to scare him, so I stopped crying. The house was cold and dark. I wrapped him in the towel."
Edward said, "That was a smart thing to do."
I held out my hands and cupped them. "He fit in my palm. He was tiny – only about ten inches." I raised one finger. "My fingertips were larger than his feet."
Edward nodded at me, tears running down his face and said, "He'd weigh about ten ounces at that stage. God, Bella, I had no idea. That must have been terrifying."
In my mind, I was back there in that house. "I couldn't see much in the dark . . . He didn't cry." I wagged my fingers. "I counted his fingers and his toes. His skin was so soft."
I took in a ragged breath.
"I loved him so much. I was in awe."
I had to stop for a moment. It hurt to much to talk. I could feel the flood of tears running down my chin.
"I held him against me and tried to keep him warm. I could feel him breathing. I rubbed his back and sang to him. He barely moved. Then," I swallowed and choked back a sob, "he stopped breathing."
It hurt so much to think of it. I shook my head and held out a hand. "I can't do this. . ."
I sat there and cried. He held me and rocked me as I let out my grief.
Edward's hands were shaking as he stroked my back, put his forehead against mine, and gently kissed my forehead. Our tears mingled.
"He was so small, I didn't know how to do CPR. I couldn't bring him back. I tried, Edward. I'm sorry. He just stopped breathing and then . . . he was gone. I begged God to bring him back. When he died, I wanted to die too." I couldn't talk any more I shook so hard with sobs.
He tightened his arms around me and put my head against his chest as he covered us with a blanket. I could hear his heart. Edward's voice shook as he explained, "The world is a more special place with you in it. Bella, please don't apologize. You couldn't save our boy."
We lay quietly together while tears rolled down our faces. After a while, he gulped, and asked "How long were you alone?"
"Hours. I passed out after . . .after he was gone." Another sob broke out of my chest. "Heidi found me the next morning and ran for help. Mrs. Bishop called the ambulance."
His hand rubbing slow circles on my back brought me out of my reverie.
"Christ, Bella. I'm sorry I didn't kill him when I had the chance. He will never hurt you again."
I didn't think he could promise me that, but I held my tongue.
He wiped at his eyes with his sleeve. "How did Emmett know?"
"He treated me when I came to the ER. I told him I fell down the stairs."
Edward's voice shook when he said, "I can't emphasize this enough. Losing the baby was not your fault. You are blameless. You did nothing wrong."
He held me and rubbed my back. I'd dreamed of what being in his arms would feel like. Since I was five, Edward had been the person I had always run to when upset. But now being in his arms didn't bring the comfort that I had imagined. I still felt guilty. I couldn't believe he was being so understanding. I didn't deserve his consideration. If I had not been lazy that night and had turned on the alarm, my baby would be alive.
I couldn't tell him what was really on my mind, so instead, I wiped my eyes with my fist and offered, "I should have fought harder."
"Bella, that man is huge. You're barely five foot four. You can't win with a weight and height difference like that. I am so sorry I was not there. If I hadn't left you, our baby would be alive."
I didn't answer him. I couldn't.
He continued, "I didn't get your calls because we were in an area that had almost no coverage. We weren't able to use our phones until we got home on the twenty-seventh. I went by the hospital, but you had already checked out. They wouldn't let me see your records, so I didn't know about your other injuries. I went by the house, but you weren't there."
I felt numb hearing his claims. He couldn't have tried that hard to find me, and he never called. I didn't understand what he hoped to accomplish with this. He couldn't undo the pain he'd already caused.
"Mrs. Bishop came and got me. I lived with her for a month."
"I owe that crazy woman much more than flowers." He took an unsteady breath.
I had hit my limit. I could not stop shaking no matter what pretty words he said and at that point just tuned him out. I cried myself to sleep in his arms while he held me and rubbed my back. Between the pain killers and the sedatives I was out in no time at all. I never wanted to wake up.
No such luck. When I woke up, I found him sitting up on the bed beside me, reading. He handed me some tablets and water. I swallowed them without complaint. My face hurt.
He asked, "What are your plans for Thanksgiving?"
Why did he care? Edward had issues. Serious issues. I wanted to say, "Find more obnoxious thugs and smack them with desks in the spirit of the season. You?" But that was a little much even in my drugged state. Instead, I answered, "Nothing."
"I'd like you to join me."
"Where?" I stared around the room. He meant now? Join him now?
"With the family." The penny dropped. I felt like I'd been kicked in the throat.
I rolled away from him. "What game are you playing now, Edward?" I rubbed at my throat. It started to burn. And jeez, my head hurt. My side too.
I waited for the pain killer to kick in.
"I'm sorry. We need to talk."
Oh God, here we go again. I stiffened as if waiting for the blow and stood up. The room swam for a moment before I found my bearings.
I said, "Nothing good ever came from those words." That was how he had begun the discussion when he had informed me that he was divorcing me. Unsteadily, I backed away from him.
He held out a palm as if pleading. "Bella, I owe you many apologies and an explanation. Will you please hear me out?"
"Whatever." I sank back down to the bed. It wasn't like he could leave me again. Or break my heart. As soon as he was done babbling, I'd call a cab and go stay with Mrs. Bishop.
He sat down beside me.
"I was approached by a group of businessmen that I trusted who wanted to start a company. They claimed to make drugs for the Third World. At first everything seemed above board. I hadn't agreed to anything."
I just stared at him.
His eyes seemed to plead with me.
"The money they looked at making . . . Bella, it was insane. Turns out it was too good to be true. They told me that they were dealing in black market pain killers. I refused to do it."
"I can't see you doing anything illegal."
"That's when our life went to hell."
"I met with the other parties and they wanted me to use my knowledge to staff a lab. I told them that I did not want to be a part of this. The leader snapped his fingers. That man that attacked you, he worked for them. He brought in a DVD and put it in the player. They told Dad and me that they had a presentation to give us that would change our minds."
"Dad was there?"
Edward's shoulders sagged. "He was also approached about putting up money for the company."
"What did they say in this presentation?"
Edward took a deep breath.
"It wasn't what they said. It was what they did. They . . . murdered . . . Aro and Cicy and filmed it."
Thoughts? Please review.
EPOV coming up soon. See you next week.
For a list of support groups for anyone who has lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth:
For more on Carthage:
For more on fetal development at 20 weeks:
or this story of a baby who survived at 22 weeks:
Getting a busy signal when dialing 911 sadly isn't fiction: