Chapter 8 (The Reason- Hoobastank):
It's been several weeks since we said goodbye to Dad, but it seems like a lifetime ago. The days since have seemed to last forever, every minute bringing with it a new memory of my father – or worse, a new memory he wasn't there to share with us – and inevitably more tears. Seth has been a trooper, every time he sees me crying he wraps his arms around me and holds me until they stop. Between him and Emmett, I think I've spent more time being held than not, but the tears are slowing and the healing is starting.
Because of the timing of Charlie's death we never felt like celebrating either Christmas or the New Year, so tonight we are doing both. Rose and Jake are having a belated holiday party and all of our friends will be there, and together we will finally open the presents Dad left us. I don't think I can do it at our house and I'm grateful, thanks to our friends who are more like our extended family, I don't have to. Seth is really excited to see what his Grampa got him and I have to admit that I'm a bit curious myself. During his last few weeks Dad spent quite a while searching online for the perfect gifts for everyone and there's even one for Em.
Emmett. Wow, what can I say? He's been our rock throughout this. Without him, I don't know where either of us would be right now. He's strong and soft all at the same time, caring for the two of us and loving me in a way I had only ever dreamed possible before. He makes me believe that anything is possible and I know that he loves my son nearly as much as I do and it's amazing.
Emmett, Seth and I pull up to Jake's house right on time and Seth jumps out even before Em can shut the car off. He and JR meet up in the front yard and take off together around the side of the house, laughing in the way that only best friends can and my eyes mist up imagining if that Dad were there he might be remembering me and Jake at their age doing the exact same thing. I open my door and get out, only to have Em reach out and pull me into a tight embrace, almost as though he knows what I'm thinking without having to ask. With his lips pressed lightly to my temple he tells me that he loves me and it's enough to bring me out of my threatening funk before we walk hand in hand up to the front door, where we are met by a smiling Jake and Jilly hanging on his back like a monkey.
"Ok Jillybean, Daddy needs to breathe. It's time to get down now. Go find Mommy and tell her that Uncle Em and Bella are here for me please," Jake says laughingly as he pries his death-gripping daughter off his back.
"Geez man, I don't know if I should call you Jake or Jungle Gym from now on with the way she was climbing you and all," Emmett laughs as he grabs Jake and pulls him in for a man hug.
"Hey bro, hey Belly," Jake greets us before holding out his fist to Seth, who has just reappeared with his friend, for a bump. "Hey my man, what's up?"
"Not much Uncle Jake, just really excited to finally open my presents," he says hurriedly as he rushes past Jake to race upstairs with JR.
"Alright, come on in, everybody's in the living room or the kitchen. I think Rosie's in the kitchen if you want to head on back there Belly," he says while turning to hang our coats in the hall closet.
I head back towards the kitchen, listening to Jake and Em's laughter as they turn into the living room and as I near the kitchen, I am bombarded with a litany of wondrous holiday smells. My mouth starts watering as I recognize pumpkin and pecan pie, two of my favorites, along with the unmistakable smell of freshly baked Christmas cookies. Yum.
"Oh my God Rose, it smells absolutely delicious in…" my words trail off as I round the corner and come face to face with none other than Alice Cullen.
"Bella," she starts hesitantly, not at all looking like one of the evil vampire wannabes I've come to picture the rest of her family as. "Please listen before you get mad that I'm here. If, after I say what I need to say, you still want me to leave I will. No questions asked. This is your party, and even though Jasper was invited, I sorta crashed it."
I sigh warily, hoping that I'm not making a mistake by agreeing to hear her out, but before I can utter even a single word, Seth and JR come running into the kitchen.
"Mom, can Seth and I take some cookies upstairs. I know that normally I'm not allowed to eat in my room, but I promise not to make a mess. Please…" he pleads, both him and Seth standing in front of Rose with their hands folded against their chests and innocent, wide-eyed, pouty-lipped looks plastered to their faces. Oliver Twist has nothing on these two and while I find it slightly amusing to notice that my son is not the only child to employ such heart-rending stealth-begging tactics, the majority of my attention is riveted to the play of emotions running across Alice's face. I realize in that moment that this is the very first time that she has seen my son… It's the very first time that she has been this close to her nephew and the look of mixed pain and pure love in her eyes nearly breaks my heart. Nearly.
She looks at him with such longing, and I suddenly can't deny Alice an opportunity to meet him. Breaking into their begging session, I address my son, "Hey Seth, could you come over here for a minute? There's someone I'd like you to meet." Alice's head snaps up at my words, a hopeful expression on her face. I can only hope that she understands the look of 'don't make me regret this' I am giving her, and by the barest nod of her head I'm pretty sure she does. "Seth, this is Alice. She was one of my best friends in high school. Alice, this is my son, Seth Swan, fourth grader extraordinaire."
"Hello Seth, how are you?" Alice asks, holding her hand out to shake his, and I can see the slight tremors I am sure she's trying to hide.
"I'm fine Miss Alice, how are you?" my son responds politely, barely pumping her hand before dropping it.
"I'm wonderful now, thank you for asking." The shakiness of her hand now hidden as she wraps both of her arms around her middle, though doing so does nothing to hide the hitch in her voice or the moisture gathering in her misty eyes –eyes that I notice never leave my son's face.
Seth turns to face me, the obvious 'what is that about?' written in his expression for a split second, before he asks impatiently, "Can I go now mom?"
I can't help laughing as he and JR race out of the kitchen, a plate of their hard-won spoils clutched in JR's hands and I watch them until they turn the corner and vanish from my view before turning back to deal with Alice.
"Oh my God…" she whispers shakily, the tears flowing freely now. "He looks just like Edward when he was younger. Ed's been denying this, you know, but even though I was sure that you wouldn't lie about it, I don't think I really truly believed it until just now. He's really my nephew, isn't he Bella?" she asks hopefully.
"Yeah, he is, but don't think for one moment that I'm just gonna let your family step in in any way shape or form and try to run his life. He is a Swan, my son, and he will never be a Cullen. Your brother made sure of that," I say venomously, just the thought of dealing with Edward's family bringing out my 'Mama Bear' instinct, urging me to protect my son from their evil.
"Good, they don't deserve him." Her proclamation surprises me, but not as much as the next words out of her mouth do. "I know that you will find this hard to believe, but I have missed you. You have always been my friend and that's why I never wanted you to date Edward, not because I thought you weren't good enough, but because he wasn't good enough for you. I knew that he was using you for the summer, but every time I tried to say something he would stop me, and you guys were always together. Then suddenly you weren't, and you never returned any of my calls, and I just knew that you hated me too."
"Why are you here tonight Alice, why now?" I ask.
"Because I couldn't stay away any longer and I knew that you would be here. Jasper talks about how great you guys are all the time, but he won't give me any specifics. He says that it's up to you whether or not you want me to know Seth, and Bella; I desperately want to know him. I'll do whatever you say, pretend that he's not my nephew, whatever you want, but please give me a chance to prove that I'm not one of them." She takes a deep breath before continuing, "They hate Jasper but I'm marrying him anyways, because I love him. They've told me that the minute I say 'I do' I'm not a Cullen anymore. That I'll lose everything connected to the Cullen name. But it'll be worth it; I'll have Jasper and I'll be a Whitlock instead and that's so much better in my opinion."
It's a lot to take in, a lot to think about. Do I want her to be part of our lives? Do I trust her, believe her? I'm not sure. "I don't know Alice. All I know is that he is my world, my everything, and he has been for the past ten years. I don't want him to ever feel any pain, and though I know that I can't protect him from everything, I can protect him from your family."
"I know, and I don't know what I can say to convince you that I'm not one of them, but please give me the chance to prove it to you," she begs, her tears streaming down her face and soaking the front of her silk shirt. She does nothing to stop them, nothing to keep them from probably ruining what I'm sure is a very expensive designer label, and that in itself goes a long way to convincing me that she might be different from the rest of her family. I mean, just look at Emmett. He's related to them – his mom and Esme are sisters, but the difference between the two was night and day. Where Esme could freeze water with nothing more than one of her icy glares, Em's mom is warm and caring, loving and compassionate. Maybe Alice isn't as evil as the rest of her family, but giving her a chance will be the only way to prove things one way or another.
I huff out a loud breath, hating my giving and nurturing nature more than anything in that moment. "Fine, I'll give you a chance. But, and I can't stress this enough, there WILL be ground rules, and if you break even one, you'll lose any future chance at having any kind of relationship with him. Understand?"
"Yes, thank you. I understand. I'll agree to anything you want, I promise." The words rush out of her mouth so fast it's difficult to completely decipher them.
"You might not be so happy when you hear what I have to say." I know that my words will hurt her, there's no way around it, but it actually makes me feel bad when I watch her shoulders slump under the weight of the pain she feels coming. "Right now Alice, we are not friends and you are not his aunt and I don't know if you ever will be. I can't promise you anything. I will allow you to be in his life, but how much will depend on you earning my trust, and I can't promise that it will be easy for you to earn it either. I don't trust anyone named Cullen and I've been too hurt by that name to believe anything good could come from someone who holds it, but you are not your brother and we used to be good friends. We can start that way, you and me getting to know each other again, but I want you to understand that it won't be easy for me. And while it may not be fair, you will probably be held to a higher standard because of who you are."
"I understand that Bella, and I promise that I'll earn your trust again. I just want the chance to know him."
"And you have to know, he doesn't know who his father is yet. I haven't decided what to tell him, but you are not allowed to even hint at knowing or telling him anything him anything about it. Even if he asks you straight out, if you tell him anything without my approval, you're done." I can't help the anger that imbues my words.
"I promise, whatever you want me to do or say or even not say, I'll do it," she answers without a second's hesitation.
I nod in acknowledgement and tell her, "You can get my number from Jasper and we can make arrangements from there." I turn around to talk to Rose, and to end my conversation with Alice, only to find that Rose has left and I can only assume it was to give us some privacy. In order to not be completely rude by walking out of the room without saying anything else I say, "If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to Emmett."
I numbly walk out of the kitchen and enter the living room and make my way to Emmett where he wraps his arm around my waist and pulls me into his warm side, continuing his conversation without missing a beat. It feels right, so very right, to be so close to him, and I melt into the strength and comfort he provides while I think about what just happened. Did I really just tell Edward's sister that she could be a part of Seth's life? Am I really going to allow one of them to get close enough to possibly hurt my son? I think I did, but it doesn't feel like a bad thing to me, not right now. Would it really hurt to give her a chance? We used to be friends, close friends, and I can't really remember any reason, other than Edward that is, that we stopped being friends.
After finishing his conversation Emmett pulls me off to the side so we can have a semblance of solitude and privacy and asks, "You're being awfully quiet, is everything alright?"
"I think so Em, I'm just thinking," I answer quietly.
"About?" he asks without really pushing me to say what is bothering me. He knows me well enough to know that I need time to process things my own way.
"Did you know that Alice is here?" I ask instead of answering him outright.
"What?" he nearly shouts in response. I hush him, not wanting to cause a scene around our friends and he takes a few deep breaths before he speaks again. "Why is she here, and more importantly, are you okay with her being here?"
"I think so Em. I'm not too happy that she blindsided me by just showing up, but truthfully, I probably wouldn't have talked to her any other way. And she had some pretty interesting things to say."
"Like what? What could she possibly have to say to you?" His anger is simmering just under the surface so I gently place my hand on his jaw to calm him down.
Looking into his eyes, I let him know that I'm alright, that I'm not scared (much) and that I have things under control. "She wants the chance to get to know Seth, to be in his life."
"No way Bella, she'll hurt him. She's a Cullen; you know what they're like," he says, instantly coming to Seth's defense.
"I already told her that it will be on my terms, not hers, and that there will be rules. She can't tell him who she really is to him, nor can she say anything about Edward," I tell him.
"And you think that she'll follow the rules?" His tone, while more than slightly sarcastic, lets me know that it's a serious question.
"If what she said to me in the kitchen is true, then yes, I think she will," I state with an underlying confidence I didn't know was there.
"What can I do to help?" he sighs and shows me that no matter what, he's on my side.
"I think that the two of us need to sit down with her without Seth around and talk this out. Then, if she's serious about wanting to know him we'll go from there. As far as I'm concerned, I told Seth that she was an old friend from school, but I think we should also let him know that she's your cousin. That might make it easier to integrate her into his life slowly. We'll also tell him that she's marrying Jasper. That should be sufficient." Or at least I hope it will be, I add to myself.
"Alright Bells, I trust you. I just don't want to see my boy get hurt," he says, his lips speaking the words into the crown of my head and placing a loving kiss to punctuate his feeling.
"Neither do I Em, neither do I," I sigh.
I know that I did not cover what the presents were, but I did it intentionally. Use your imagination and picture the things that would mean the most to each of them from Charlie and you have his gifts. This chapter was all about Alice and dealing with possibilities. All that's left now is the Epilogue, and while it's a bit different from the rest of the story, I hope you'll enjoy it anyways.