Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author-mama4dukes. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
It was December 26th—the day after Christmas. I always shut down my entire company from Christmas Eve through January 2nd. I paid everyone for that period, and it didn't count against their accrued time off. It was the least I could do for my employees.
Bella and I were sitting at home watching TV. We had finally moved back in on December 15th after the renovations were completed. We stayed in the hotel penthouse through the duration of the construction because it simply didn't make sense to move.
As far as the renovations were concerned, I hired extra guys to help so the job could get done quickly. Hell, on the weekends, I went in and assisted because I wanted to move back into my home. Besides, with my wife not lurking about, I could upgrade our outdoor kitchen to my specifications. We razed the entire outdoor entertainment area, expanded the space, and made it more chef-friendly. Embry happily assisted with the construction and did all the wiring. We were now the proud owners of two grills, a smoker, a wood-fired pizza oven, plenty of counter space for prep-work, two refrigerators, a freezer, a dishwasher, and two sinks. I also installed an outdoor bar, recycled the old Starbucks espresso coffee machine in our kitchen, and transferred it outside. I also added additional seating space for when the entire pack came over for dinner, which was frequent.
When my wife saw the area, she didn't complain as much as I thought she would. She did, however, tell me that she would not be responsible for maintaining the area. She said the kitchen inside the house was her domain, and the outside would be mine. Then she walked back into the house, unboxed her new Keurig machine, and placed it next to my brand new state-of-the-art, high-performance, commercial espresso machine that I had imported from Switzerland. It was the exact same model they use at the more recent Starbucks.
"Bella, we agreed that coffee is my domain."
"Yes, it is, but the kitchen is mine. The Keurig machine is on the kitchen counter, where my domain begins. It's not on your coffee bar, which is wholly separate from my space." She placed a storage drawer underneath her instant coffee maker and carefully placed coffee pods inside the drawer as if it would be a permanent fixture on our counter! "There we go. It's perfect where it is. You're not going to complain, are you, Paul? Especially considering you went and hired the most over-priced architect of outdoor spaces in Arizona to design your little man kitchen without any input from me, are you? By the way, I grew up with his wife, and we play golf together sometimes."
Damn it. I hadn't considered the fact that my wife has a lot of friends in Arizona. "No, honey, I'm not going to complain at all. I love your instant coffee maker."
"I love your coffee, Paul. The Keurig is only for when you're not home."
And that was the end of the discussion. It was never brought up again. I know it wasn't the cost that upset her; it was the fact that I didn't allow her any input on the outdoor area, which was pretty selfish of me in hindsight. But then again, there was the hot pink garage from hell. Damn it! That outdoor kitchen is payback for the garage. I deserve my man kitchen!
Yesterday, we broke into my man-kitchen with a big Christmas party for the pack. Everyone and their kids were invited. Even Carlisle Cullen showed up in the evening. Bella asked him after she found out he didn't have anywhere to go for Christmas. He also gave us an incredible gift—a Kamado Joe. I had been debating whether or not to get one but figured I'd wait to see if I really needed one. After all, I still had the Weber Ranch Kettle grill Embry got me. Now the two charcoal grills were sitting side by side, a perfect complement to the outdoor kitchen.
Bella stood up. "I'm going to make a snack. Would you like something?"
"Cookies? I don't mind if I do."
"I never said I was baking, Paul."
"But you were thinking it, right?"
She shook her head. "No, I was actually going to have a bowl of oatmeal."
"I don't mind oatmeal cookies."
"Are you craving cookies, Paul?"
"Well, your cookies are delicious."
"Okay, since you're such a good boy, I'll bake cookies for you, but you have to help."
"Yes!" I pumped my fist in the air. I get cookies. I grabbed her hand and tugged her along to the kitchen.
A half-hour later, I was in the middle of devouring Bella's awesome Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies when the doorbell rang—not once, not twice, but several times in rapid succession. My wife turned to me with a worried expression on her face because the last time that happened, it was Vandenberger invading our privacy. She still became frightened at the sound of the doorbell ringing, and I didn't blame her one bit.
Giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, I checked the video on the security camera, also a new addition, to see who it was. I didn't recognize the person, but she looked like she was in desperate need of assistance, so I answered the door.
"Ma'am, may I help you?" I asked the woman.
I took in the sight of the bedraggled woman barely standing on my doorstep. She was wearing dark sunglasses and kept her head down. Her hair was a mess as if it hadn't been brushed for days. Her blouse was wrinkled like she had slept in it, and there was a rip where her sleeve met the bodice. I noticed droplets of dried blood on her clothing. "Please, please!" she begged. "Brady, I need my son, Brady. Please take me to him."
"Ma'am, Brady doesn't live here. If you could tell me who you are, I will attempt to contact him."
She looked up at me and removed her sunglasses. Her face was battered as if she had been in a boxing ring. She had cuts and bruises everywhere and odd marks on her neck. Brenda Fuller was a bloodied mess.
I heard Bella gasp beside me. "Paul, invite her inside. I'll get my medical bag," she said before rushing upstairs.
I helped the lady inside, brought her to the living room, and had her sit on the sofa. "Mrs. Fuller, how are you?" I asked. What a ridiculous question to ask? Of course, she's not okay. She looked like she'd been in a boxing ring. "Do you remember me?"
"Yes, you're Paul Lahote. I'm so sorry for bothering you, but please… Please call Brady!" she cried in desperation.
I could hear Bella doing just that with my supernatural hearing. And being proactive, my wife also called Barry and asked him to come to our house in an official capacity. She rushed downstairs with her medical bag.
"Hello, we haven't met. My name is Isabella Swan Lahote," she greeted.
"It's very nice to meet you. You must be Paul's wife. My name is Brenda Fuller. I'm… I'm Brady's mother. I.. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for intruding on your personal space. I just didn't know where else to turn. My son… I have no idea where he lives, but I found your address on my husband's bureau, and I knew my son moved here. I… Please, please, I need Brady."
Brady was getting closer but still several minutes away. Barry, on the other hand, was almost on our block. Damn my new tracking gift. I knew where the entire pack, their wives, and kids were! Hell! I even knew that my father-in-law was currently hanging out with Josh Uley and Billy Black, somewhere in La Push.
"I gave him a call. He's on his way. He lives about twenty minutes away," Bella told her.
"Bless you! I… I… I'm a terrible mother! I don't deserve him!" Brenda Fuller broke down. Bella and I turned to each other with perplexed expressions.
I nudged my wife in the ribs to do something. She mouthed, "You're the Alpha," to me before letting out a sigh and asking Brenda, "Would you like something to drink? We have bottled water, coffee, tea?"
"Some coffee would be nice," she replied. "Thank you."
"Cream and Sugar?" I asked.
Before my wife could, I rushed off to the kitchen. I stared at the two coffee makers—my eighteen-thousand-dollar espresso machine and Bella's hundred-dollar Keurig. I spotted the dish of cookies I had been enjoying and made my decision. The woman interrupted my cookie time! On top of that, she hasn't exactly been supportive of Brady throughout the years. She was getting Bella's instant coffee, damn it!
Just as the doorbell chimed, I brought the coffee out. Our sudden guest took it gratefully, thanking me quietly. I then went to open the door for Barry; thankfully, he was in plain clothes. I stood in the foyer explaining, in a soft voice, how the woman had abruptly shown up at her house, beaten and battered, begging to see Brady. We decided to wait for Brady to show up before introducing Brenda Fuller to Barry. She might not want to talk to a police officer, but there was no way we were going to let this go unreported. We let Bella handle Brenda Fuller. She seemed to be doing a good job chatting about completely inconsequential things.
Brady showed up a few minutes later. I, again, explained what had transpired to him in the foyer before we all went to the living room.
"Mom?" he asked, taking in the sight of her. "What happened?" I was worried about the baby wolf. Brady's expression was stoic. He looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but in front of the woman who birthed him.
"Not here, Brady. At home," she requested.
"Whose home?" he asked.
"I just want to go home. Please, I just want to go home."
I took in the sight of the woman who, on paper, was my mother. Did she ever love me? Why the hell was she here now? And she had the nerve to ask to come to my house, where my wife, children, and wife's family live? The family who took me in when I was thrown out of my home in the ninth grade and supported me every step of the way—encouraging me to finish high school. No. She wasn't coming to my house. Besides, she looked like she needed to be in a hospital.
"I'm sorry, I don't think it would be a good idea if you came to my house, the one I live in with my in-laws. Now please explain what happened."
She got up to leave but instead clutched her left arm and ribs.
Bella, my alpha's strong wife, stepped in to steady my mother. "You're injured, Brenda, and in no position to leave. You mentioned you drove here. Did you drive all the way here from La Push?"
She nodded that she did.
"Then you must be exhausted. And while I'd love to let you go to sleep in one of my guest rooms, it would be irresponsible and unprofessional of me to do so without checking your injuries. I'm a licensed nurse practitioner. Do I have your permission to examine you?" Bella asked.
"Yes," she whispered.
"Standing next to Brady is Lieutenant Barry Blackfoot of the Paradise Valley Police Department. He would like to ask you a few questions as well."
My mother tried to stand up again but couldn't. This time she clutched her abdomen. "No! No police!" She turned to Bella and Paul. "Why did you call the cops?"
"I'm afraid that when you showed up unexpectedly on our doorstep with very obvious injuries, we had to call the police. It was for our safety as well as for yours," Paul explained. "I'm sure if you were in our position, you would do the same.
"Ma'am, I'm not here to judge you one way or another. I'm only here to listen to your story and take a report," Barry stated.
My mother broke down and started crying. When I was in grade school and middle school, she would always start crying, and I would be the one to sit and listen. I had no idea why she drove all the way here. Damn it! She probably came here because she thought I was the only one who would hear her out just like I did in the past. Why me? Why were my kid brothers such assholes?
I approached my mother and sat next to her. "Mom, you're among friends here. I trust each person here with my life, Missy's life, my children's lives. Please don't try to stand up anymore. It's clear to me you're hurt. Did Dad do this to you?" I knew it was he who caused the injuries. It wasn't the first time, but I had never seen her in such a dreadful condition. When I thought about it, my mother was just as much of a victim as I was. She was frightened. As far as I knew, she spent her entire life being terrified of my father. Maybe she had no choice but to throw me out. I don't know, but it still rankled my nerves that she didn't stand behind me. She'd never even met any of my kids. I wasn't here to judge anymore. I was only here to listen to what she had to say. "Mom, did Dad hit you?" I asked again, this time forcefully.
She squeezed her eyes shut as if doing so would make all the bad memories disappear and then nodded her head, whispering, "Yes."
She looked up at me. Her lip was cut, her eyes both blackened, and she had marks all over her neck. I gave her a hug, and she held onto me tight, and then she broke down and cried. It took her a few minutes to compose herself before she began telling her story.
"I found out about his very pregnant mistress and confronted him. He's been seeing Jacob Black's ex-wife—Angela. I heard rumors about it a few months back, but I couldn't believe it to be true. When I confronted him about it, he became angry and started beating me. Then he did something he never did before. He took his belt off, strapped it around my neck, and pulled hard. I could barely breathe, and I struggled, but I was able to reach for a bottle of vodka. Somehow, I managed to elbow him, so he lost hold of his balance. I hit him on the head with the bottle and knocked him out. I spotted the Lahotes' address on your father's desk and took it because I knew they would know how to find you. I'd heard rumors that they refused to put up with your father. I grabbed my purse, my laptop, and whatever cash we had in the house and rushed straight here."
I could tell that Bella was angry about the abuse my father had inflicted. Paul, on the other hand, looked spooked and uncomfortable. I knew about his horrific past, and my mother's story might have brought back bad memories of his past. My alpha was a sensitive soul.
"How long did it take you to drive here?" Barry asked.
"I left around nine pm on Christmas Eve. I slept for a few hours at a motel in California along the way when I could no longer keep my eyes open, and then I drove the rest of the way here." She looked up at Bella. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to thrust my troubles onto you. I just didn't know who else to turn to."
"I'm glad you came to us. This is always a safe haven," Bella assured as she opened her medical bag to remove her stethoscope. "Lieutenant Blackfoot, do you need to take pictures of Mrs. Fuller's injuries?"
"I do." He addressed my mother. "If you'd like a female officer here, I can call one for you, or Mrs. Lahote can remain to chaperone."
"Mrs. Lahote will be fine."
"Paul, why don't you and Brady go outside and grill something while I examine Brenda?" Bella suggested.
It was our cue to leave. I trusted Barry and Bella implicitly. They'd let us know when they were done.
I walked out to Bella and Paul's new backyard. It was humongous and gorgeous. Paul had expanded it out to where he had purchased his neighbor's property. I helped build it and was pretty proud of it. Right now, we were working on the gym and tennis court, which was being built where the neighbor's house used to be.
"Are you okay, kid?" Paul asked. His eyes held sympathetic concern for my plight.
I knew I could ask my alpha anything, and the question on my mind happened to be, "Does it ever get better? Am I ever going to forget the abusive background I came from?"
He considered my question carefully, taking out some steak from the refrigerator. He placed it on the counter and turned to me. "It already has gotten better, Brady. Look at what you have achieved."
I took a look around me. "I haven't achieved as much as you have."
"I think you have. All of this crap—it's just material—stuff money can buy. I'm not talking about that, though. It's what you have in here." Paul tapped my chest over my heart. "You had a crappy upbringing, combined with the supernatural stuff that was thrown your way. Yet, you managed to graduate from high school when all odds were against you and pull yourself out of poverty. You have a fantastic imprint and four kids—all of them well-behaved and who look up to you like you're the king of the world."
"I had help along the way."
"Oh, and you don't think I did? Brady, I had a ton of people supporting me in their own way. Where do you think I learned values? It sure wasn't from my parents, but I did have Joe Cameron and Josh Uley teaching me lessons along the way. Heck, even my mother helped. Do you know how? She is the one who insisted I should work hard, go to college, and crawl out of the hell hole I was in. She told me I had to do it independently because my no-good father sure as hell wasn't going to help. Mom used to stand between Dad and me to take the beatings because it was the only way she knew to protect me."
I considered what Paul just revealed and realized that Mom always took the beatings from Dad. She always stood between my brothers and me and took the brunt of it. She shouldn't have had to, though. She shouldn't have had to put up with that scum bucket named Tony Fuller who had no right to father children—he had five, including Embry, and one on the way that we knew of. I doubt he had the capacity to love, or maybe Angela was the first person he ever loved. I had no idea, but I refused to treat my wife and kids the way he did. He was a shit father—the worst kind of cretin ever to exist. I was ashamed to have his DNA running through me, and it was even worse that I passed it along to my kids.
Before I knew it, I had tears streaming down my face, and my alpha pulled me into his strong arms to let me cry.
"Why? Why does bad stuff happen to kids? Other than being born, what the hell did we ever do? What did we do to deserve such screwed-up parents?"
"I know. I know. It's something I've contemplated for many years, but the thing about life is only you have the power to change the direction your life is going. It's not your parents, your wife, your kids—it's you. You have that strength within you. What do you want to do, Brady?"
I looked up at him. No one had ever asked me that question—not one person.
"I've always wanted to go to college. I had really great grades in high school. I was the valedictorian."
"No kidding? I had no idea. What would you study in college?"
"I don't know. I never really thought about it. It doesn't matter anyway. I can't exactly go to college."
"Why not? One of your employee benefits is that the company reimburses you for up to five thousand dollars in tuition per year. I know it may not seem like much, but it can go a long way at a community college. You could always go part-time and take one or two classes at a time."
"How did you become such a great guy with parents like yours?"
"I don't know, Brady. You tell me. You're not a bad guy yourself." He put some steaks onto the grill. "Besides, I'm not perfect. Bella is upset about the outdoor entertainment area."
"Seriously, how could she be upset about this? This is glorious."
"But I didn't consult her about it and ask for her input."
"Meh, she has that atrocious garage of hers."
Paul let out a full belly laugh. "You're right, Brady. She has that pink monstrosity!"
"Paul, thanks for listening," I said seriously.
"You know, if there's one thing I regret, it's not coming home to visit my mother after I left La Push. It doesn't matter how crappy a mother she was; she still loved me in her own way. You still have your mother, Brady. You don't have to forgive her, but maybe you can listen to her. I'm sure she has a story to tell." He flipped the steaks. "Do me a favor? Get the butter out of the fridge for me."
"Sure." I opened the fridge and grabbed the butter for him. He plated each steak after putting a dollop of butter on each one and scooped some of Bella's delicious potato salad on the side.
"Bella just sent a text message to say they're done for now." He handed two plates to me. "Why don't you bring one to your mother and begin your conversation with her? Oh, and send Barry and Bella out here, okay?"
"Thanks, Paul. Thanks for being such a great alpha."
"A great alpha, huh? Thank you for being a great friend." He winked and sent me on my way. I walked into the living room. My mother looked a bit more put together, but not by much. Bella had treated some of her cuts, and her arm was in a sling. "Paul said your steaks are outside."
Barry nodded in acknowledgment and headed outside, giving my shoulder a squeeze on the way out.
Bella stayed behind to say, "Brady, you're going to have to cut your mom's steak for her. She can't use her left arm right now. As soon as we're done eating, we're going to have to head to the hospital, okay?" She patted my arm and kissed me on the cheek. "Everything will be okay."
After Bella left, I cut my mother's steak into bite-sized pieces like she used to do for me—like I do for my kids now. I placed the plate in front of her on the coffee table.
"Dig in before it gets cold," I suggested.
"How are you, Brady?" she asked.
"I've been well. I've just been working—taking care of Missy and the kids."
"You're a good parent, Brady. Much better than your father and me. How are your children? You have three kids, right? I'd love to meet my grandkids one day."
"You have five grandkids. You would have known this had you kept in touch with me."
"You have five children?" she asked, surprised.
"No, Mom, I have four children, but you have five grandchildren. Were you aware of this?"
"N… N… No… I had no idea. Who? How?"
"It was Kurt. He got Jenny Cameron pregnant and then beat her when she tried to tell him. He denied the child was his."
"Oh, but Jenny Cameron is just a child. She's Blake's age. Oh, the poor girl." She sighed and looked down at her toes. "Like father, like son. You know, when I found out I was pregnant with you, I thought I was lucky. Tony proposed to me right away, and I was going to be his wife. Little did I know that my life would soon become a nightmare.
I made sure that Little Susie got to know my children, even though she was still too young to play with them. After all, Jenny's daughter was my niece, and I vowed to be a good uncle. It wasn't Susie's fault her father, my brother Kurt, was a lowlife thug.
"I didn't know. I swear, I didn't know. No one told me anything. Kurt is in jail now. They keep throwing more charges at him because of the Willie Black incident. They denied him bail, and frankly, I think jail might be the best place for him. Is it wrong of me to say so?"
"No, Kurt is where he needs to be. How are Logan and Blake anyway?" I asked, thinking about my kid brothers. Logan was right in between Kurt and me in age. Blake was the youngest."
"Logan moved out of the house in June. He and your father got into a fight about something—I don't know what it was about, and he left. He called me in August to tell me he had enlisted in the Marines." She paused to have a bit of potato salad before continuing. "As for Blake, there's hope for him. He attends Forks High School and just signed up for the ROTC program. He gets excellent grades, just like you used to.
She looked down at her plate and took a bite of steak, flinching when she had to lean down. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for being such a horrible mother to you—to all of you."
"Why? Why did you throw me out of the house?"
"I didn't want to, Brady, but I was afraid of what your father would do to Missy and your child. I knew Tom and Trina would provide a safe haven for you. Family has always been important to them. It is to me, too, only I was afraid. You know how your father is." She sighed. "I wish… I hope you'll let me back into your life someday."
I thought back to what Paul said about regretting not visiting his mother. He was right. I had a chance. My mom might not be a saint, but part of the reason was that she was a victim herself. She deserved another chance from me.
I saw her struggling to eat her food. I reached for her plate and began to feed her. "Let's get you better first. Then you can meet Missy—properly this time."
"Thank you, Brady."
I had no idea what the future held, but there was hope. We still had a lot of work to do to rebuild our relationship, but it appeared as if we were both willing to put in the effort. It was a start.
We accompanied Brenda Fuller to the hospital last night, where I admitted her under my care, listing Randy as my supervising physician. She had significant injuries and was going to have an extended stay. Currently, she was undergoing a battery of tests to check for any internal damage, but at minimum, she needed surgery on her arm.
Since about six weeks ago, I've been volunteering twice a week at the tribal clinic on the WaYa Reservation and working once a week for Randy at his practice. This all happened because the latter came into the tribal clinic and started whining on my first day volunteering. Had it only been Randy, I would have been fine, but Babs decided to show up and throw a bitch fit about how she didn't feel comfortable with her primary care physician. I still chuckled when I thought about the conversation.
"Isn't Randy your primary care physician?"
"Well, yeah, but I don't want him staring up my hoo-ha! I need you, Bella."
"Now you see why I need you to work for me, Bella. Babs doesn't want me staring up her hoo-ha!"
"Oh, fine. Just once a week on Wednesdays, and I don't want to take on any maternity patients unless they're pack."
"Perfect. We have a deal. You were right, Babs, your strategy worked." They high-fived each other.
I remember rolling my eyes at my two friends and then having a good laugh with them. Of course, Roy caught them joking around with me and made them put in some volunteer hours at the clinic. It was particularly crowded that day, and Carlisle wasn't scheduled to come in until after dark.
Working on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays was perfect for me. It was only twenty-four hours a week, and I was no longer on call at the hospital. Of course, my salary dropped significantly because I was only getting paid when I worked for Randy on Wednesdays. It didn't really matter to me, though. We didn't need the money, and I was happier when I was working.
I glanced at the time on the clock. It was already eight am—time to start the day. I glanced at my still sleeping husband and threw my gym clothes on. Personally, I had no idea why Paul was constructing a home gym. I still planned on going to our usual gym. I liked the classes there, and I usually worked out with Babs.
"Babe, where are you going?" Paul mumbled.
"I'm hitting the gym."
He sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Wait for me. I'll go with you."
"Okay, but I have to go to the store to pick up moisturizer afterward. I ran out already."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you, we're out of moisturizer."
"Since when do you use my moisturizer?" I asked.
"Since we stayed in Oklahoma at the vampire lodge. I decided I like yours better." He rubbed his hands in circles around his cheeks. "It makes my skin feel silky and smooth."
"I was wondering why it was disappearing so quickly." I sighed, seeing that my husband was still in bed. "Hurry, Paul. The class I want to go to begins at 8:30 AM."
"In a minute." He reached and pulled me into his arms to kiss me.
Somehow, I got lost in his kisses and wound up underneath his outstanding body. His kisses were like magic, as was his touch, but we had to hit the gym.
"Paul, I just got dressed," I said as my bra hit the floor. How he was able to get me undressed so quickly, I had no idea.
"So, you can get dressed again," he murmured as his lips brushed my nipple. Okay, I surrender. My husband has a special gift; he could always make me lose my train of thought. Where was I going anyway?
After spending the morning making love, my wife and I decided to get out of bed and begin the day. We decided to forego the gym and hike Camelback Mountain instead. It was the perfect day for it—not too hot, not too cold—and since the rest of Arizona was still in a post-Christmas sales shopping frenzy, not too crowded either. It was also very overcast and gloomy, kind of like how La Push is all the time. In fact, by the time we reached the summit, there was a downpour accompanied by thunder. It rained so hard that I had to carry Bella in my arms and run down the mountain because we both wanted to get out of the wet weather. We drove home quickly and dove into the shower and then left again because we realized we'd only had a couple of protein bars and water as snacks and were ravenous. Neither of us felt like cooking.
"Where the heck did this rain come from?" Bella asked, glancing outside. "It hardly ever rains in December."
"I have no idea. It's been a weird twenty-four hours. Who would have predicted Brenda Fuller would show up at our house, especially in the state she was in? I feel so bad for Brady." I turned into the parking lot of a bit of strip mall with a few restaurants. "Vietnamese, Mexican, Chicken Wings, or Burgers."
"Isn't that Jared's minivan? And Manny's truck?"
"Alrighty then, how about we go elsewhere?" I really didn't feel like dealing with the pack right now. "How about we get some sushi?"
"Sushi sounds marvelous," Bella agreed.
"Oh, good, because I don't sense any of the pack in that vicinity." I turned the car around. "Damn it! Crispy and Babs just walked into the restaurant."
"Paul, just go to the Kebab restaurant downtown by my old office. No one ever heads into the city on the weekends."
"Hey, you're right! No one is downtown. Let's go!"
"Paul, I swear, that gift of yours is going to drive me insane!"
"Tell me about it! I can pretty much pinpoint where everyone is right now. For example, did you know that Carlisle Cullen is at the Tonto National Forest right now? Why the heck would he be in a forest?"
"Paul, the man has to eat to survive. He's probably looking for animals to feed from."
When I consider that, I'm happy I only acquired a couple of vampire traits with my new tattoo. I wouldn't want to have to suck out blood from animals. Ew!
"Obviously, he has to eat, but can you imagine having to actually feed from animals?"
"No, I can't. I like food too much." She looked out the window, staring at I don't know what. "But there was a time in my life, when I was young, immature, and misguided, that I wanted to become a vampire more than anything."
"And thank God you didn't become a vampire. I would have died without ever meeting you."
"Yes, I believe that fact was established during our spiritual journey into the past." She paused and turned to me with a smile. "Just so you know, it was worth it to go through all that emotional and physical trauma to be with you. I love you so much, Paul."
I reached for her hand. I thought back to my childhood and the trauma inflicted on me by my parents—specifically, my father. I also thought about my mother, how she would stand in between my father and me to take the brunt of his beatings, and how her final thoughts prior to her death were of me. And then I glanced at Bella—so beautiful, so strong, and so perfect for me. "You're right; it was worth it."
I have no idea what made me so sentimental. Maybe I was still affected by the spiritual journey, or perhaps it was the unexpected arrival of Brady's mother which brought back traumatic memories of the past. I was just an emotional mess today with no explanation for it all.
"The next time we're in La Push, I want to visit my mother's grave," I suddenly blurted out because, for some reason, I couldn't stop the tears from coming to my eyes. I realized that no matter how unfit a mother she was, she was still my mother.
"I think it's a fantastic idea. You can bring her flowers. Maybe you can introduce me to her?"
"Yeah, I think I'll do that. Mom would have liked you." I paused, considering how nice it would have been if my mother had been able to kick her addiction to alcohol and drugs. "You know, Bella, I realized recently that I never really appreciated my mother. The fact that I survived my childhood is proof of that. When I consider how violent my father was, it's a miracle I'm still alive. My mother would throw herself between us and tell me to run and hide whenever my father got into one of his moods. A couple of times, she was in worse shape than Brenda Fuller was the other night."
With tears in her eyes, Bella whispered, "I had no idea it was so bad, Paul. Your father sounds like a vicious man. When you said you were abused as a child, I didn't realize to what extent—you never elaborated. I've never seen a woman as battered and bruised as Brenda Fuller, and you say there were times when your mother was in worse shape than she was. I can't imagine what it was like for you to have to grow up in that environment."
"It wasn't pretty. Whenever Mom was in the hospital, I usually stayed with the Uleys. They took such good care of me and treated me as if I was one of the family. I remember one time I had to stay with them for two years because my mom went from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility, and my father was sent to jail. It was probably some of the best years of my childhood. I had a real family, and Sam was a pretty cool older brother. I had new clothes to wear and food in my stomach. Of course, the Uley's ran a tight ship. They were pretty strict about manners and school. When I think about it, it was a crucial period in my life. I always kept up with my school work, even after being sent back home to live with my mother. Keeping up with school work is what ultimately got me into college.
"I should have stood up for her more. I didn't respect her as much as I should have. I should have been a better son…"
Bella cut me off. "Stop, Paul. Stop beating yourself up. It's all in the past. Besides, the fact that your mother stood up for you doesn't change the fact that she was an alcoholic and drug addict. She should have never regained custody of you without having completed rehabilitation and getting psychological help. It was a failure of the system-the same system that failed Brady Fuller while growing up. Neither of you should have been permitted to grow up in such abusive homes. Speaking of which, I'm going to do something about that right now."
My wife reached into her purse for her cell phone and called the hospital. "Hi Wanda, this is Isabella Lahote. Can you pull up Brenda Fuller's chart on your computer? Yes, I'll wait." After a pause, she returned to the phone call. "I'd like one of the social workers to speak to her and possibly recommend her for the program the women's shelter has in place for domestic abuse victims. Have her give me a call if she has any questions. Thanks, I'll be in touch." Bella turned to me. "Well, that's done. I'll make sure she goes through the program and completes it. She needs help—the same help your mom needed but wasn't given. We'll make sure Brenda Fuller doesn't fall through the cracks."
I didn't doubt her one bit. My wife would do everything in her power to make sure that Brenda Fuller didn't become another Paulina Lahote. It was too late to save my mother, but we could save this woman at least.
I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, unbuckled my wife's seatbelt, and dragged her onto my lap so I could hug her. "I love you, Isabella Marie Swan Lahote."
"I love you, too. Now feed me before I wither away into nothing."
The following morning…
I woke up to hear Bella speaking on her cell phone to the hospital. She had a concerned expression on her face, and after listening in for a bit, I could tell it was Randy calling her regarding Brenda Fuller.
Wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I leaned over and kissed Bella on the cheek. After brushing my teeth and shaving, I turned the shower on and hopped inside. Just as I was lathering up the soap, my wife joined me. She slid into my arms for a hug.
"Hey, are you okay?" I asked. "Was it the phone call?"
She looked down and nodded. "Brenda Fuller's broken rib resulted in a pneumothorax."
I shook my head. "Stop. Stop. Before you go any further, what is a pneumothorax?"
"Sorry, it's a punctured lung. Think of a balloon that's half inflated due to a slow leak. Now imagine the balloon as your lung. Would you be able to fully inflate that lung to breathe?"
"If it were my lung, I wouldn't be able to take in a full breath."
"Thanks, go on."
"Anyway, we put her on supplemental oxygen because, in many cases, where the tear is tiny, the patient generally recovers with that method. Unfortunately, this wasn't Brenda's first foray with a collapsed lung, making it tougher to recover using conservative methods. In fact, it was her third—which Randy found out today. To make a long story short, she took a turn for the worst and was referred to the pulmonologist and cardiothoracic surgeon, both of whom have recommended surgery due to recurrent pneumothorax in her case."
"How the hell can a man be so cruel as to inflict that kind of damage on the woman who bore his children?"
"I have no idea, Paul. It blows my mind, too." She reached around me for the shampoo and squeezed—nothing came out. She squeezed again—still nothing. "Honey, we're out of shampoo."
"I know. I used the last of it yesterday, only I forgot to put it on the list. We also forgot to pick up the moisturizer." She hopped out of the shower. "Hey, where are you going?"
Bella opened up one of the bathroom vanity drawers. She grabbed a couple of bottles, stepped back into the shower, and held the items up. "Which do you want? Hilton or Marriot?"
They were tiny bottles of shampoo from hotels we'd stayed at. "I love how frugal you are."
"Thank you, I do my best." We had a drawerful of hotel soaps and shampoos, which we'd always take home with us because we didn't want to waste them. They came in handy at times like this or when we had a houseful of guests.
After quickly showering, we both got ready for the day. We didn't have any solid plans. About the only thing we had to do was head to a couple of stores for necessities. While Bella worked on cooking breakfast, I made the coffee.
Just as we finished washing up, the doorbell rang. It was the postman with certified mail for me. I signed for it, thanked him, and wished him a good day, then plopped onto the sofa to read my letter.
"Who was that?" Bella asked.
"It was just the mailman. He had a certified letter for me. I was about to read it."
She nodded, grabbed a book, and started reading. I opened my letter; it was from the Department of Corrections in Washington State. "Well, shit!" I slammed the letter down and huffed.
"What is it?" Bella asked, concerned.
"My fucking father is about to complete his sentence and will be released to a halfway house in Olympia."
"What? Why? Wasn't there a parole hearing?"
"Not really because he wasn't a candidate for early release. He simply completed his twenty-year sentence. Legally, there's nothing I can do." I got up off the sofa and thought back to my last memory of him.
I was thirteen years old—small, malnourished for my age, and underweight. My mother and I were having dinner at home—macaroni, and cheese with hot dogs. We were almost done with dinner when my father walked into the house drunk—or maybe he was stoned. I don't know. He demanded dinner. When mom got him the mac and cheese and hot dogs, he became angry that we were having such a pathetic meal. Never mind that for me, the meal was a treat because we had hot dogs with it.
My father asked why we didn't have any meat. Mom replied that we simply didn't have the money. Then my father turned to me and asked why I didn't have a job yet. Before I could reply, my mother stood up for me and said I was only thirteen years old.
Then my father went on and on about how small I was and how I couldn't possibly be his child. He shouted I was a waste of space and resources, and then he slapped me. Being a scrawny kid, I remember falling to the ground due to the force of it. My mother immediately rushed to check on me.
That's when my father flipped his lid. He yelled at my mother and ordered me to defend myself. "Stand up for yourself, boy! If you're my son, prove it! Fight like a man!"
I tried to get up, but he kicked my face with his booted foot to keep me down, breaking my nose in the process.
"Leave my son alone!" My mother shoved him off of me. That's when my father flipped his lid and went into a rage. He beat my mother in front of me, but this time, I wasn't taking it. Since we were so poor, we didn't have a phone, so I ran out of the house and went next door to the Camerons for help. Joe Cameron called 911 and then rushed to my house to assist my mother, who by then was a bloodied mess.
I remember being in awe of Joe as he knocked my father out with one punch to subdue him. I also recall seeing my unconscious mother and sobbing. Before the tribal police arrived, Billy Black showed up with Harry Clearwater and Charlie Swan, who immediately radioed in for an ambulance. He administered first aid to my mother while Joe held me firmly by his side.
"Is my mom going to be okay?" I had asked Charlie.
"You're not to worry. The doctors will see her. You have my word."
When the tribal police finally showed up, Charlie Swan stayed with me, as did Billy and Joe. I was asked a battery of questions by Travis Johnson, who, even in those days, I knew was an arrogant prick. One of the questions he posed was, "What did you do to upset your father? Did you disrespect him, boy?"
"Now, what the hell kind of question is that, Johnson?" Charlie had asked before I could form a response. "Don't answer him, Paul. We know you weren't responsible for your father's violence." He glowered at Travis Johnson, who shirked back in fear of him. "You and I are going to have a talk outside! Now!"
After that, my father was taken away in handcuffs to jail. My mother, on the other hand, was loaded into an ambulance and taken away. Charlie took me to Forks Hospital to fix my nose. They placed me with the Camerons for a couple of nights, but their house was too crowded for an extended stay. Besides, their resources were already stretched. Josh Uley picked me up on the third day, and that was where I stayed for two years while my mother recovered from her injuries and went to rehab.
"Paul? Honey?" Bella's soothing voice shook me from my memory. She rubbed my back. "Hey, what were you thinking about?"
I let out a deep sigh. "My father. I was thinking about how he wound up doing twenty years in prison and what he did to us that day. What did my mother and I ever do to deserve that kind of violence in our lives daily?"
"You could ask him, Paul. You won't know until you ask him directly. He's still in prison, so he's sober now—at least he should be."
Only my wife would suggest I face my demons. Most wives would whisper soothing words to their husbands, assuring them that they could no longer be hurt. My wife, on the other hand, advised me to tackle the problem head-on.
"You want me to see my father?"
"I didn't say that. I merely pointed out that if you want answers, you might as well ask the source directly." Her attention went back to devouring whatever book she was reading.
"What book are you reading?" I asked.
"How to Marry A Vampire Cowboy," she replied.
"For real? You're reading a how-to book on vampires?"
She rolled her eyes. "It happens to be a supernatural romance novel. I saw it at the grocery store. The guy on the cover reminds me of Jasper." She held the book up for me to see.
A muscular guy with wavy, blonde hair topped with a Stetson hat was featured on the cover. "Hey, you're right. He does kind of look like Jasper." After a second look at the model, I asked, "That guy is too tan to be a vampire, and what's with the oily skin?"
My wife looked at the cover. "You're right. His skin isn't pale enough to be a vampire. Anyway, I figured I'd read it during my vacation." She turned to me with a smirk. "Don't worry, honey. I'm not defecting to the other side."
"Of course, you're not. I wasn't worried one bit." I paused for a second to think about what my wife suggested regarding my father. She was right. I had to see him. "Pack our bags, Bella. We're going to Washington."
"I had a feeling you'd say that. Where are we staying?"
"We'll stay in La Push or Forks. He's at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, so I say we fly into Sekiu instead of Seattle. We can have a rental car waiting for us there. I want to talk to Charlie anyway."
"I'll leave the planning up to you. I'll go pack our bags."
She put her book down, kissed me on the lips, and hurried up the stairs while I went to my office to make arrangements for our trip to Washington.
I had no idea what this trip had in store for me. There was a part of me that was terrified and another which was excited. The only thing I was sure of is after Brenda Fuller showed up on my doorstep bloody and injured, it brought back painful memories of the past to the forefront. I had suppressed them, but now it was time to face them.