Saturday, August 18, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Chapter 167 - Bella


Jacksonville... Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 9:35 A.M.

I stifled a yawn as Edward guided me down the ramp from the plane with a hand on my lower back. It had been freezing cold in Seattle the night before, and we'd barely left on time just before midnight because of the ice. We'd slept off and on through the flight, but it certainly wasn't the most comfortable night I'd ever spent. Edward looked more refreshed than I did, and I couldn't help but grump about it.

"Only because I'm used to sleeping in...less than satisfactory conditions, love," he explained, humor lacing his tone as he reached up to smooth my hair. I'd pulled it up into a ponytail after leaving it down for the flight, but without a mirror, it wasn't as good as I'd have liked.

"Yeah, well, at least it's only my mom and Phil. They won't care." I shrugged, smiling as he shifted the carry-on luggage in his other hand and grasped my left hand in his right. "Nervous?"

"Not particularly. I mean, I want her to like me, of course, but just worried that I won't be able to hold my tongue about how she treats you," he said, not holding anything back.

I stopped in my tracks, pulling him off to the side to let others go by. "Sarge, I love that you want to come to my defense, but I promise, it's not necessary – especially not now, with my mom. She is who she is. Nothing she says or does is meant to hurt. Most of the time she doesn't realize what she said, did, or didn't say or do was upsetting, and when she does, she's always quick to apologize and try to make it right. That's just the way she is and how she's always been."

"I don't like that you have to make excuses for her," he said, the stress in his voice and his shoulders showing me just how upsetting this truly was for him.

Standing on my tiptoes, I kissed him quickly. "Tell you what," I said, pulling him along as we started for the exit into the airport once more. "If I feel like something she says or does upsets me enough, I'll be sure to tell you, and I'll let you come to my rescue however you want to, okay?"

His answering smile and nod were all the agreement I needed.

Just like when the girls and I had met the boys at Sea-Tac, we met my mom and Phil in baggage claim. I was still searching for them when I heard her squeal.

"Bella! Phil, there she is! Come on!"

I looked up and grinned as my mother came rushing up to me, throwing her arms around me.

"I'm so glad you're here!" she gushed in my ear, nearly vibrating with excitement. She pulled back, her grin stretching from ear to ear as she looked over at Edward. "And you must be Edward. It's so good to meet you! I've heard so much about you from Bella and Charlie, I feel like I already know you!"

I laughed at Edward's stunned expression as Renee hugged him just as fiercely as she'd hugged me. Looking at Phil, who was standing a couple of feet back, an amused smile on his handsome face, I couldn't help but chuckle.

"Hi, Phil," I said, holding back my laugh as he moved to hug me rather awkwardly. We weren't close by any means, but he was a good guy and had always been friendly. He treated my mom well and put up with all her quirks and eccentricities, so I had always appreciated him.

"Hey, Bella. Have a good flight?"

"We did. Long, but that's okay. Come here and meet Edward." I looked back and giggled at Edward, who still looked like he'd been thrown into Hurricane Renee as my mother kept peppering him with questions about his time in the Army and how he was settling into Seattle.

I made the introductions and watched as Phil and Edward shook hands, exchanging simple, manly greetings.

"C'mon, Bella. Walk with me. Let the men get the bags," Renee said, looping her arm through mine.

Smiling at Edward with a raised eyebrow, I took my carry-on bag from him as he nodded to indicate that he would get our luggage.

When we got far enough away that the men couldn't hear us, Renee began babbling excitedly. "Bella, he's so cute! The pictures you sent didn't do him justice. And sweetie, you look so happy."

The entire way out to the car, it was a stream of questions and exclamations, with her never letting me get a word in edgewise.

"I loved the pictures of the spare room you sent. The colors aren't what I would have chosen for me, but they're so you, Bella!"

"Is he as good in bed as he looks like he would be?"

"Has he proposed yet?"

By the time the guys caught up to us in the parking lot so Phil could open the car door, I knew my face was beet red. My mother hadn't even paused for answers to her questions, which was good since I wasn't sure I wanted to talk to her about half of them. I was also thankful Edward hadn't heard them. I was embarrassed enough already...

"Better," he murmured softly into my ear as he stepped up beside me, grinning. "And not yet, right, Isabella?"

My face flamed again. "Forgive her," I told him with a laugh. "She lacks a filter."

He shrugged, still looking slightly disoriented. "She's...different." He chuckled. "I have to admit, she's not at all what I expected. Are you okay?"

Nodding, I smiled to show him I was fine. "She's just Renee, and she's always been this way."

"I'm beginning to understand what you and your friends meant." Grinning, he shrugged. "We may all survive the visit after all."

"Come on, you two!" my mother called through her now-lowered window.

Edward took my bag and opened the door. "After you," he said with a grin before climbing in behind me.


The car ride home to my mom and Phil's house was full of chatter. Renee was full of questions for Edward, and he was taking them all in stride.

"So what are your plans now, Edward?"

"I'm actually signed up to start attending classes at the university in Seattle in January," Edward said from beside me.

"Have you had any college before now?" My mom was half turned in her seat, nearly strangling herself with the seat belt in order to see him.

Edward shook his head. "No, ma'am. I—"

Renee waved her hand. "Call me Renee, or even Mom. No more ma'am stuff."

Nodding once with a slight smile, Edward continued. "I went into the Army straight out of high school after both of my parents passed away."

"Oh, that's right..." She frowned. "Bella told me about your mother. Something with her liver or something, right?"

Edward nodded slowly. "Kidney disease. She passed away when I was eighteen, before I graduated high school."

"Oh," Renee murmured, a frown flitting across her face. "That's so sad. And your dad?"

Edward looked uncomfortable, so I squeezed his hand and said, "He died shortly after that, as well."

She must have understood from my expression that she needed to drop it. With a sad smile, she said, "I'm sure it was hard for you to lose both of them so close together and at such a young age." She floundered for a moment before picking right back up to where she'd left off. "So what are you going to study?"

Conversation flowed the rest of the way to the house, with Edward explaining that he wanted to become a music teacher – to which my mother had squealed excitedly again, claiming how "fun!" it would be for us to teach at the same school. I told her that Jasper was going back to school, as well, and then had to update her on how our friends were all doing now that the boys were back home for good.

"I tell you," Renee said as we followed her into the house. "I don't know how Alice and Rosalie did it, stayed sane while their husbands were overseas. I don't think I could have. They had to be so incredibly strong to survive that, don't you think, Bella?"

"It was hard for them, yeah," I answered softly, looking at Edward as I continued, "but it was worth it, I know."

I could immediately tell that Edward knew I was speaking not only of our friends but of myself. He smiled, winking, before I turned back around to lead him to the stairs.

"C'mon," I said, laughing as I heard my mom call out from the living room.

"No need to worry about sleeping arrangements. Charlie may be a fuddy-duddy, but you can stay with Bella in her room, Edward."

"Thanks, Mom," I yelled back, and then said just loudly enough for Edward to hear, "C'mon, Sarge. I'll show you to my safe haven, away from the crazy."


After spending a few minutes upstairs, basically hiding away and showing Edward around my room – even after not living here for years, my mom hadn't changed it at all, including the pictures I'd left behind on the bulletin board and posters on the wall – we headed back downstairs.

"Oh, good! There you are," Renee said, grinning. "Come, Edward. I want to show you these pictures. I'm sure Charlie didn't show you many of Bella when she was little."

I groaned but let Edward guide me to the couch with a chuckle, plopping himself down beside my mom.

"I saw a few pictures in Forks, but not many," he said, sounding eager. "I would love to see more."

She did indeed take him back all the way to infancy, explaining in detail as much as she could, from the first bath pictures, to the first bite of baby food that I'd promptly spit out all over myself, to chicken pox when I was six years old – why my mom had felt the need to document front and back completely naked was beyond me, even if she had wanted to show Charlie – to the first time I crashed my bike and knocked out my front tooth.

"At least it was still a baby tooth," I said, laughing at the memory.

"You look so pitiful," Edward teased, pointing to the scraped forehead, nose, and chin.

"Oh! And here she is on her first date," Renee pointed out, showing Edward the picture from when I was twelve.

I hadn't yet grown into my body, so I was still way too skinny, had no breasts, my legs were sticks, and my hair was frizzy from a perm my mother had insisted on trying. Add to that the shiny silver braces on my teeth, and I was amazed I'd had a date to begin with.

"Braces, huh?" Edward winked. "That must be why your smile is so beautiful now, sweetheart."

I rolled my eyes but grinned.

The pictures ended about the time I left to go live with Charlie. The last one in the album was of me, suitcase in hand, waving to the camera at the airport before turning to go through security.

"I have more," Renee said, looking perplexed. "I know Charlie sent me lots of pictures of you from when you lived there, and you've sent me a few since then. I just...don't know where they are."

"They're in a box in the spare room," Phil said, speaking up for the first time since we sat down with the album. "Remember, 'Nee? You keep meaning to go through it and put them in albums, but you never get around to it."

"Oh!" My mom nodded. "That's right. I need to do that!"

I leaned over to explain to Edward what was going on as she closed her eyes, started mouthing something, and waving in the air like she was writing on an invisible chalkboard. "This is how she commits things to memory," I told him quietly, rolling my eyes. "She says it's better than making a list because lists get lost."

Edward's eyes were wide, amused, as he nodded. "Gotcha."


The rest of the day was a whirlwind of activity. Renee wanted to show us where she'd been spending so much time with her acting group, so we went to visit the auditorium – where she insisted on getting up on stage and performing a scene from her latest role of Linda Loman from Death of a Salesman.

"I don't say he's a great man," she recited, shaking her head as she stared off to the side, like she was speaking to her son. "Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived." Her voice fell slightly. "But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person."

When she finished, we clapped and cheered, laughing when she bowed low.

"That's great, Renee," Edward said, smiling. "It sounds like you're having a great time."

"Oh, I am," she told him enthusiastically. "We've performed at several smaller communities outside of Jacksonville and traveled all over this area of the state." Then she frowned. "I think this will be my last play, though. I want to give someone else a chance to be in the spotlight – but my friend Susannah is taking a basket weaving course at the local community center and loves it, so I may join her when I'm finished here. Actual basket weaving, can you believe it?"

Basket weaving... I laughed silently. That was my mother in a nutshell.

"Anyway," she continued, smiling, "let's go home. I have some home movies I want to show Edward."

I groaned, making them all laugh as Edward wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me out of the auditorium.



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