Sunday, November 11, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 18

Chapter 18
It had taken all the restraint I had to stop myself from intervening when Archie launched himself at my wife. Every bit of restraint. If it hadn't been for the fact that she and Jasper were pushing him, that her smile when he'd jumped had been genuine, then I would've stepped in.
Not since since Kevin had the family rallied around one person, one singular vision. The time prior to that had been protecting my Bella. There were times in between when we were a flawless team, but not as solid as this. The whole lot of us had been utterly overflowing with pride when Archie finally let go.
As we all sat in the middle of the snow-covered backyard, Archie gazed around with wide eyes. His thoughts were shock and a touch of awe at himself. He'd come so far, been pushed passed just about every limit, and now he was sitting in the yard that he'd played in as a child.
That last thought made me smile, but I hid it in Bella's shoulder. Unable to be quiet, the family broke out into different subjects. Maybe it was to help relax Archie, or perhaps they were nervous for him, because he was definitely out of the house. And more than just a step or two. He was several yards from the back cellar doors.
"I rode my first horse...right over there," he suddenly piped up, though his voice was tentative. He pointed toward the far back of the yard at the edge of the woods.
We all came to a standstill, letting him guide us, letting him lead the moment. I didn't even want to hear his thoughts at this point because this was an enormous step for him.
"Her name was Star," he said with a slight chuckle. "She had a...a white spot," he murmured, gesturing to his nose. "She scared me to death, really. I was...four, maybe five at the time."
"Who taught you?" Esme asked gently.
"My mother," he said with a sad smile. "She loved to hunt, fish, ride horses...that sort of thing. She had all brothers growing up." He was quiet again for a minute – almost two – and then smiled again. "I fell off a few times. This is like that...isn't it?" he asked, but looked to Carlisle.
"A bit," he answered with a small chuckle. "Archie, in the last few weeks, you've had a crash course in a hundred years of history, not to mention you're discovering things about your immortality that it took some of us years to learn. This...this is a really good thing."
Archie was embarrassed by the praise because he'd never really heard it growing up, except from his mother. He nodded but gave his surroundings another wistful glance. He was remembering playing catch with friends, reading on cool, spring days under the tree closest to the house, and running away from his mother when she chased him.
It was also interesting to watch a hundred years of changes to the house and lawn fly through his mind. There was a barn, but then it was gone. There were swings set up for the orphanage, but then torn down. I saw grasses that grew too tall and then were cut, planters filled with every flower imaginable, only to be overrun with weeds. Human faces, both scared and curious, swam in and out of clarity. I hid my grimace at a few of those that never made it out of the house. Even the interior changed rapidly in his mind – furniture moving in and out, paint colors, rugs. There were blurry moments of his human days and even blurrier immortal ones when he was absolutely starving. It was those times when he struggled to maintain his sanity.
My family was looking to me, but I simply shook my head as a warning. He needed this moment. He needed to recognize that his past was his own – good or bad – and that he wasn't alone. I watched him piece it together: Carlisle's struggle, my illness, Rose's attack, Alice's imprisonment, Jasper's fight, Kevin's father, Adrian's sister, and even Emmett's bear attack. But the one person he had the most in common with was Bella. Flaming red hair and pale, immortal flesh swarmed to the forefront, and Archie looked to Bella.
He remembered her story, how Bella had overcome it all, but mostly, she hadn't let Victoria beat her. That she hadn't let all the lies and abuse that Jake had thrown at her make her weak. And for that, he was inspired by her, especially after today.
"Just so you know, she didn't do it alone," I told him aloud, which only kicked up the curiosity higher around us. "She had this." I gestured around the group of us with a finger. "But you're right," I agreed, twirling her ponytail around my hand. "She never let a single bit of it stop her."
He frowned and nodded. A single shiver wracked his frame, and I monitored his mind. My brow wrinkled as I watched a true change take over him. And I wondered if that was what it had been like when I stepped back into Bella's life. The very second I'd returned back to her, I'd felt at peace, at home. I'd felt right again, and there would've been nothing that could've torn me from her side, save for my death. Once I'd accepted that we belonged to each other, that I wasn't just some passing crush to a human girl, it had all fallen into place. I'd physically felt the change. I wondered right then if Archie felt his.
His next thought surprised me, though, because it went into a darker direction than I'd expected.
"Yeah," I said with a nod. "It's still there. It's still standing."
"I need to see it," he said softly, locking gazes with me. His eyes were more of a blood orange color now that he'd taken animal blood from its source. "I want to look."
"Okay," I conceded. "I'll take you. But you should know it's about a half a mile from here."
"I remember," he murmured.
"Half a mile? That's pretty far, son," Carlisle warned, but Archie nodded to him.
"I know. I'm...I'm okay," he said, surprised that the words were the truth, looking down at his hands. "I feel...different."
"Archie," I called him, and he glanced back up. "I'm sure you want privacy for this, but... As a precaution, I'm going to have Emmett and Jasper lag behind and Carlisle come with us."
"That's fine," he agreed, but his eyes flickered to the girls and Esme. He didn't want them to see what he was about to do because he wasn't sure how he'd react. He simply didn't want their pity or to scare them.
"Sweet girl, we'll be right back," I whispered against Bella's temple. "We're not going far, okay?"
"Sure. We'll take care of...that," she said with a smile, pointing to the buck off to the side, "and then we'll be inside when you get back."
"Thank you, baby," I said with a chuckle.
The girls, Kevin, and Adrian walked away at a human pace but quickly disappeared into the woods carrying the remains of the buck Archie had drained. They would bury the body in order to dispose of it.
I turned to Archie. "Are you sure?" When he nodded, I turned to my brothers. "Follow us, but stay back a bit. We're not going far."
"Sure, Ed," Emmett agreed immediately, though his mind was a little confused as to where we were going.
Jasper, on the other hand, had an idea, and he was completely right. But he grinned when Archie started to walk toward the woods.
"Hey, Archie," he called with a chuckle, placing a hand on his shoulder. "We..." He gestured around at the lot of us. "We don't walk anywhere if we don't have to. Do you even know how fast you are?"
Archie's brow furrowed, but he honestly had never, ever opened up at full speed. He'd moved about the house at a fast pace, but never had he really just...taken off.
I huffed a laugh and grinned at him. "Oh, now this is truly one of the perks of this life, Archie."
Carlisle chuckled. "Truly. We'll stay with you. Edward, lead the way. You seem to know what the destination is..."
"I do," I said, sobering up quickly. I studied Archie's face one last time to make sure he was really okay with not only being outside, but with leaving the yard altogether. His mind was made up, so I nodded once and took off into the woods in the opposite direction that the girls had gone.
Ice and snow clung to the branches of trees, causing a blur of black and white, as I ran. I didn't go my fastest because I wanted to keep pace with Archie. He was almost grinning at what running was making him feel. Through his mind, he couldn't believe just how much he could keep track of while going so fast. He'd never allowed this part of his immortal mind to run free. He was aware – and could avoid – fallen trees, drifts of snow, even small woodland creatures that were caught unaware. He could smell the pine sap, the clean scent of untouched snow, and Emmett and Jasper, who were not far behind us and a little off to the side.
When I slowed down, so did everyone else. I grimaced as to what Archie wanted, though I couldn't blame him one bit. I, myself, would've probably wanted the same thing.
I placed a hand on his shoulder and guided him into a small clearing, a clearing that was extremely familiar in my mind. I'd seen it time and time again through Archie's thoughts. I'd even sought it out because I'd been curious as to whether or not the tree William Varner had tied his son to was still standing.
It was. It was a rather large oak that had to have been around fifty years old when Archie had been chained to it. Now, it was thicker, taller, and rather intimidating to see. Large branches hung low and were heavy with the recently fallen snow. The trunk was twisted and gnarled, giving it a sad, scarred look to it. But it was the bumpy roots around it that had been the problem from the beginning.
Those roots had caused the hole in which Elaine Varner had broken her leg. Archie's dad had tied him to his tree for a reason. It had been pure, vindictive punishment. I sighed, shaking my head and shoving my hands into my front pockets.
Is that... Carlisle started, his face spinning to gaze at me.
"Yes," I barely answered aloud, keeping my eyes on a slowly walking Archie.
I wished I could give Archie his mental privacy. There was a part of me that regretted not bringing Bella with us, if not for that reason alone – to let the guy have his moment of grief, of guilt, of regret. I also wondered if she'd have been able to talk to him, but I sincerely doubted it. He truly needed to see the place where his life had gone to hell.
Once Carlisle realized where we were, he stayed silent next to me, but his thoughts were a combination of heartbreak for the boy and pride that he was facing a very, very old wound.
Archie didn't approach the large oak at first, but he eyeballed the ground, causing flashes of his mother's accident to come to mind. He'd wanted so badly to take care of her, to get her home, but it had been impossible. Physically, he'd been unable to do more than let her lean on him, and even that had been a struggle.
He pushed his mother out of his mind, giving the small clearing a slow glance. He remembered the fight with his father, the surrender to William's wishes, and the begging not to leave him in the woods, but it was all for nothing. He glanced off to his left, the place where Victoria had appeared like a ghost, like an angel, but he'd known she wasn't either of those things.
Shaking his head, Archie stepped closer to the tree and placed his hand on the trunk. He allowed his fingers to graze over the rough bark, but he froze about halfway up, his fingers digging into the wood.
"Oh hell," I groaned, looking over to Carlisle. "The chain – or at least part of it – grew into the trunk," I muttered softly.
Archie spun to glare at me when I spoke. He wasn't mad, just...very sad. He pointed to the ground. "My mother fell...right here," he said, gesturing to a rather prominent root jutting up from the snow-covered dirt. "I heard the snap of her bone." He huffed a laugh that almost sounded hysterical, but he held up a hand when Carlisle started toward him. "My dad thought I'd learn my lesson if it was this place...this tree he tied me to."
Jasper and Emmett appeared off to the side, despite my request to stay back, but Jasper couldn't help it. He could feel Archie's turmoil all around him. Emmett, on the other hand, was hoping this wasn't going to set the "little guy" back a step or two.
Archie spun back toward the tree, reaching for that tiny piece of chain. With one swift yank, it snapped out of the trunk with a strange sound. Bits of bark and wood shot off into the distance, but Archie gazed down at about three feet of chain in his hand. It was rusty, old, and still clinging to some of the tree from which it came.
"He wouldn't tie the dog to the tree...but he tied me?" he asked to no one in particular. "It wasn't my fault," he barely whispered.
"No, little dude," Emmett sighed. "It really wasn't."
"She knew these woods better than me. It wasn't my fault."
"No, Archie, it wasn't," I agreed, but it seemed what we'd been trying to tell him had finally sunk in.
"It was an unfortunate accident, son," Carlisle soothed.
"I know," Archie suddenly said, and when he looked up, his eyes were black with anger. "He never listened. He never believed me!" His hands squeezed around the metal links in his hands, and the parts that were in his palms disintegrated into rusty dust.
Emmett smiled. "Do it again, buddy. Tear it up. Get rid of it. Make it all go away."
Archie grinned, but it was more of a sneer. He wadded up the chain like it was a piece of paper. Brown granules sprinkled down to the forest floor at his feet.
Glancing over at Jasper, I wrinkled my brow in a silent question as to whether he was feeding Archie this anger.
No, Edward. He's doing this all on his own. It's all I can do not to tear that tree up for him, Jasper thought to me, smirking a little.
I snorted softly, glancing back to Archie, who was indeed staring down the tree like it was an army about to attack. He brushed his hands off on his jeans, shaking his head slowly.
"And then she comes," he whispered, again to no one in particular – only this time, Carlisle started to approach him. "That...that...that demon. I didn't stand a chance." He rounded on Carlisle. "Did I?!" he yelled at him, and my father froze mid-step.
"You couldn't have fought her, no," Carlisle responded gently.
Emmett suddenly couldn't take it. He'd never once regretted his life or Rose changing him. Not once. He rushed forward to Archie, spinning the angry vampire to face him.
"You've had a shit go at things, buddy, but it's not all bad. Look where you are. Fuck, dude... Last week, you couldn't even step out of the cellar. A few weeks before that, we thought you were a damn ghost. Look at you now. Do I look angry to you? Do I look like regret any of it?" Archie shook his head no, wide-eyed but still angry. "You're here. You've overcome it all, little man. Get rid of it!"
Emmett sprinted in a blur across the clearing to a different tree, and with one large fist and a heavy swing, that tree's trunk exploded. I grinned, turning back to Archie.
"He's right, son. You can find something good to cling to, but you have to let go of this...this regret you have," Carlisle stated.
"I did," I piped up, shaking my head and stepping forward. "I get it. I hated every ticking second. I hated a hundred years of my life, Archie." I raised an eyebrow at him to remind him we weren't so different. "It isn't all bad. You can tear away the past, rebuild, start over, and find the good in things."
"We've all done it, man," Jasper added.
Grinning when the thought entered Archie's mind, I nodded encouragingly. "Do it! If it makes it better...then do it!" I growled, remembering having said that very thing to my sweet girl once when she'd needed to rage, to tear something up after the death of her elderly lady friend, Miss Gail.
In the fastest move I'd ever seen him make, Archie launched himself at the tree – wasn't a tree to him. It represented everything that had gone wrong. It was Archie himself, his father, Victoria...everything he'd been holding in. He tried to punch it like Emmett had, but only half of it shattered, causing the whole thing to rumble, shake, and teeter. With one more hard swing, a loud crack echoed through the quiet forest. Wind whistled through the big branches as the tree tumbled down to the ground. Limbs snapped, snow splattered everywhere, and birds flew away into the distance.
Carlisle, Jasper, and I had to step back, but once the tree settled into a broken mess onto the ground, Emmett cheered, punching the air with a giant fist.
Archie fought his smile as our biggest brother's hand landed on his shoulder. He chuckled once before saying, "That felt really good."
Jasper and I bumped fists, but Carlisle stepped forward and said, "I just bet it did. How do you feel?"
Archie's brow wrinkled, and he took a deep breath, letting it out. "I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of not knowing anything. I feel like I could level this whole forest, but my mind is...weary."
We all nodded in understanding. It happened to creatures that couldn't sleep and whose minds never stopped.
"Come on, Archie," Carlisle encouraged, guiding him away from his destruction. "Let's get back. Esme will want to mother on you a bit, I think."
That caused an embarrassed smile to cross Archie's features, but he nodded. Before we left the clearing, he stopped, giving the now-leveled tree one last glance. As he looked at it, he realized he didn't feel anything toward it any longer. He glanced up at me and gave one nod.
I didn't acknowledge that thought aloud, but I did ask, "Run back?"
He grinned, looking every bit the young man of twenty in which he was frozen. "Umm, yeah... That was...something."
All four of us laughed, and he joined us as we took off back toward the house.
"Oh," Alice gasped and then sighed sadly as we finished getting rid of Archie's kill. "The tree. That's where they went."
"Damn," I groaned, shaking my head.
"Well, it's understandable," Adrian piped up softly as he led us back toward the house. "I mean...Archie's never really seen where everything happened. It all sort of started there. You know?"
"I hope he tears the bitch down," Rose grumbled, grinning when Esme hissed a reprimand. "What? I do! He deserves his closure."
I smirked but stayed quiet. Of course Rose would believe in retribution and closure. The ways in which she'd gotten even with Royce after his attack and her change were no less than terrifying, but Edward had said she'd calmed down a little after that, even more so after Emmett had come into her life. Perhaps she was right. Maybe Archie did need to tear that damn tree down.
We trekked back into the house, all of us kicking off wet and muddy shoes at the back door. Esme stoked the fire in the fireplace as Kevin snatched the remote for the TV. He and Adrian fell down into the loveseat together, Alice and Rose took the sofa, and Esme squeezed into the chaise with me, making me giggle. But she wrapped a loving arm around me, kissing the side of my head.
We watched whatever design show, fashion competition, or talk show that Kevin happened to stop on for a few minutes, but I was pretty damn sure we were all thinking about Archie and the boys. TV was merely a distraction.
Kevin muted the noise, looking up to Esme. "You think Archie will ever mate?" he asked out of the blue.
I smiled softly but looked over at her, as did everyone else.
"Anything is possible, I suppose," she mused, her brow furrowing a little. "Why do you ask?"
Kevin shrugged and grinned. "He's been alone so long..."
Something about the way Kevin said that reminded me so much of how my family had seen Edward for so many years. And how Edward had seen himself – alone, angry, bitter...a monster. Archie wasn't really bitter, just a little sheltered. He was angry about how he'd come into this life, but he was slowly learning that he'd not really lived.
"You think a mate will make it all better?" Rose teased, batting away the pillow Kevin launched her way.
"Doesn't it?" I piped up. "I mean, look at Edward. They're very similar in some ways – age, time alone, not exactly happy..."
"Hmm, that's true," Alice sighed. "Edward's completely different now than he was before Bella."
Kevin and Adrian knew our story, but Kevin still asked, "That bad?"
I chuckled, looking up to Esme, who answered. "Not bad, no," she said carefully, sounding like a loving mother that didn't want to make the eldest yet the baby sound like a spoiled child. It made me grin, but she went on. "Edward was very lonely. And his talent wasn't much help. Carlisle often worried that he'd changed him too young, but I wasn't sure that was truly the problem. He was fine for a few years, trying to give Carlisle and me some space. But even after Rose and then Emmett, we started to see that he wasn't...interested in finding a mate."
I tsked a little, shaking my head. "He was interested," I corrected her a little, wrinkling my nose. "He tried, but..."
"But it wasn't you," Adrian finished with a chuckle, shooting me a wink when I grinned unabashedly. "I can't imagine watching all of you and being alone." He laughed, shrugging a shoulder. "Not to mention what Edward's heard," he said, tapping his temple.
"And there was the problem," Rose said with a nod. "Edward was always just on the outside of things, never really with us. There wasn't much he could do about it, either."
"Oh, I hated that," Alice murmured sadly. "There were times I didn't want to leave him alone, or times I'd make Jasper stay home. I felt badly for him."
"He knows all of this, you know." I grinned. "He never truly held it against you."
"No, but he felt he somehow, like something was wrong with him," Esme stated, smiling when I gasped and looked up at her, because I was damn sure that he'd never admitted that to anyone but me. "Oh, sweetie, I knew that. It was written all over his face. And that's my worry for Archie. He's so behind, so sheltered that I worry that he'll think he's always missing something, that he'll always feel like an outsider, even if he chooses to stay with us. It was really hard as a mother watching my son go through that for so many years. It would break my heart to watch it again."
"You want to keep him, don't you?" Kevin asked, laughing at her. "We're all just strays to you!" he yelled dramatically, causing all of us to laugh with him.
She grinned, rolling her eyes. "You're all my kids, silly boy," she corrected him. "And if Archie chose to come with us the next time we moved, then I'd accept him; Carlisle and I would accept him just like we have all of you. But it truly is up to Archie."
We were quiet for a moment after she said that, but Kevin, not to be deterred from his original question, said, "Well..." He huffed, rolling his eyes. "He's not gay."
Rose and Alice collapsed in a heap of laughter.
"No," Adrian agreed, shaking his head. "No, he's not gay."
"Oh, boy," I sighed. "Here we go. No matchmaking with girls...immortal or human," I said firmly. "He's got enough to be going on with."
"That's very true," Esme agreed. "Although, now that he's out of the house, he'll only get better and better."
All of us smiled at that. We were so proud of Archie.
The television stayed muted as the conversation switched to different things, only to wind up at the subject of Carlisle and his work.
"Okay, so..." Rose said, rubbing her hands together. "Emmett and I are out, and now Bells and Edward are out. Tell us, close is Dad to going back to the hospital?"
Esme laughed. "Oh, so close," she gushed, holding up her thumb and finger about an inch apart, and we exploded into hysterics. "So, so close. And he's almost caved when we've gone to pick up blood for Archie. I'm still in, though. He has until Thanksgiving for me. Who's left?"
"Oh, yeah...he's wavered," Alice said knowingly, "but he's made no firm decision yet. Let's see... Jasper's with you: Thanksgiving."
"We're still in," Adrian piped up, gesturing between himself and Kevin, who was nodding and grinning. "We said by Christmas."
"When did you guys go out?" Esme asked.
"Yeah." I laughed and nodded. "Em and Rose said within a week of moving in, so they were out damn fast. Edward and I said within two months, so we've been out a week."
"Speaking of bets," Kevin said, wearing an evil grin, but it was Alice's maniacal laughter that made my eyebrows raise. "Isn't it about time that we found out whether Heavy E likes to talk dirty? I mean, I've never even heard him curse!"
I sighed and groaned, rolling my eyes. Carefully shielding everything about me, I shook my head.
"I have, but only when he was fighting with the boys," Rose added with a laugh. "Spill, woman!"
I looked to Esme, who surprisingly enough was wearing a blank expression. "Don't tell me! You're in on this nonsense, too?" I gasped, my mouth hanging open.
She finally broke into a grin. "Look, I think my son is a perfect gentleman, but I also think that he's absorbed a lot – and I do mean, a lot – of outside influence with that mind reading of his."
I smirked, glancing around at them. I would never confirm, nor deny any of it. The fact that it was a family bet was disturbing, and I couldn't quite remember how it started, but it was most likely when I was still human and couldn't hear all the trash talk that they'd spew at one another.
"Edward is a perfect gentleman," I concurred, giving them nothing else. "You really should drop this ridiculous bet," I told them firmly.
"Hell, no!" Rose guffawed. "I've got a new BMW riding on this shit!"
"Oh damn." I sighed. "What else?" I asked, looking around at them. "What else are you betting? And who's betting what?"
"Emmett thinks he doesn't talk dirty, thinks it would be 'beneath' Edward to do so," Rose told me, using air quotes. "He's sure of it."
"Jasper can't tell, but he's going with does talk dirty. I get a trip to Paris for a new wardrobe if he's wrong," Alice piped up. "Since I can't tell, then I'm in, too. I see no decisions concerning how Edward speaks, so I say he doesn't."
"Oh, so these are between each couple?" I asked, but it was Esme's laugh that caught my attention.
"Yes, it is. Carlisle says no. Never. That Edward doesn't," she admitted. "I think...knowing my son...that he's very passionate. So I bet that he did."
"And what's the bet between you two?" I asked her incredulously.
"A new house...from the ground up," she said with pride and a silly grin.
"I bet no," Adrian said with a chuckle. "Kev here says he does."
"Not a chance!" Kevin cracked up. "Heavy E has some seriously freaky issues. There's some closet dirty talk, I just know it!" He paused for a second, glancing at Adrian. "Our bet is—"
"Ugh! Don't!" Alice held up her hand. "Their bet is some sort of sexual debauchery in public."
Kevin grinned, but Adrian sighed, looking away and fighting his smile.
"Oh my damn," I gasped, looking at my family. "You people need a life. I'm not kidding. And I really have no idea what you're talking about."
"It doesn't matter," Alice countered with a grin. "No bets are valid unless everyone hears it. So if you're lying, then please...continue, because it really doesn't matter. If you're not lying, then this bet will go on for decades."
Suddenly, I couldn't take it because there was one person that could actually confirm the existence of Dirty Edward. I stood up from the chaise, much to their amusement, thinking really loudly to Edward. Edward Anthony Masen Cullen, if you're hearing this shit, then you'd better save now!
My phone went off about the same time that I swore I could hear laughter faintly in the forest.
E: They know nothing, my sweet girl. ;) Please, trust me. I'll tell you why soon. We're not far. Be there in a few.
I harrumphed, rolling my eyes, but quickly erased his message before Rose could snatch my phone from my hand. I grinned her way and pocketed my phone.
"They're not far," I stated, hoping to change the subject. "I wonder how Archie's doing out there."
Esme tugged me back down into the chair with her at the same time that we went back to the TV. Kevin found a show about actors on Broadway, and we all settled in to watch it. With a brief glimpse at his face, I wondered if Kevin missed it – performing on stage. Though, he usually never complained, and I was pretty sure he really enjoyed playing music with the boys.
I chuckled when the loud ruckus that was the boys met our ears. They piled into the house, looking wind-blown.
"Off with the shoes!" Esme yelled, which caused grumbles, not to mention sudden stops.
Snickering softly, I realized that every last one of them sounded like her real, complaining children. But it was Emmett's excitement that had us all sitting up and taking notice.
"Oh yeah! Guess who hunted on his way back!" he announced with a big-ass grin.
"No way!" Kevin gasped, and all our eyes fell to Archie, who looked like he'd rather be ignored, but he also looked rather proud of himself.
"Yes way," Edward said with a chuckle, stalking into the room, and he plopped down at the foot of the chaise that Esme and I were sharing.
"And he did it on pure instinct," Carlisle praised, patting Archie's back. "He took down a moose."
Those of us that had been left behind broke into cheers, causing Archie to gaze more at his feet than anywhere else, but he was wearing a pretty damn big grin.
"Well, now all that's left is to sign him up for school," I teased, leaning into Edward's strong arm around me and chuckling kiss to my temple as I sat forward.
Poor Archie's panic-stricken face snapped up to gape at me.
"I'm kidding!" I laughed, shaking my head.
"Oh, okay," Archie said with a slight sigh of relief.
Edward pulled me closer but merely smiled into the kiss to my cheek. But I pulled back to look at him. I wanted to roll my eyes at the mirth that was gleaming in his eyes and the shit-eating grin he was fighting. And I was absolutely certain it had more to due with the conversation I'd had to endure more than it concerned Archie. Edward lost his fight with his grin, and I narrowed my eyes at him as the family continued to rally around Archie.
They have to all hear you, you know, I thought to him, and he nodded slowly, his grin barely wavering.
"Trust me," was all he'd say in my ear, giving it a swift, soft kiss.
I wasn't sure why I cared that no one knew about that side of Edward, except that it was mine. It was a side of him only I knew about. Maybe it was fun to keep them guessing, or maybe it was just a part of us that we just wanted to keep private. But whatever the reason, we guarded it like nothing else, it seemed. However, I didn't see a private conversation coming up anytime soon, so my curiosity at why my handsome husband was so confident that our secret would stay safe was just about to drive me crazy.
He laughed. "I love you. Relax, love."
I pursed my lips at him, but gave in. I completely trusted him, but still...this was important shit. His chuckle shook us both as I pulled his back against me, his head resting back on my chest. Archie was deep into a conversation about television with Emmett and Jasper, so I could see what the next lesson would be. The concept wasn't all that foreign to Archie, having seen some of it come through the last several years. He'd told us that he'd been shocked in the fifties and sixties at the sight of it, but by the time it had reappeared in the seventies, he was okay with it.
"What you really need to learn is the phone," Emmett told him, holding up his cell. "And I mean that. Just in case we aren't home and you need us..."
"Actually, that's not a bad idea," Alice murmured, shrugging a shoulder.
Archie looked overwhelmed for a second but shot a glance to Edward when he chuckled.
"Don't let it intimidate you. That's a technology you'll really find useful, but it's like nothing you'd be able to compare it to," Edward told him, playing with my wedding ring. "Did you see any telephones with the last few tenants of this house?"
"Yes," Archie answered, nodding at the same time. "I mean, I know what it does. I've just never..."
"Right," Edward said with understanding. "Emmett's right, though. Even if you just use the house phone to call us, you'll need to be able to contact us in an emergency."
Archie took a deep breath and let it out slowly, swallowing nervously. "I hunted today. I think I can handle learning the phone."
"Oh ho! Look who's all cocky now!" Emmett teased, and the whole house exploded into laughter. "Come on, Mr. Know-It-All... We'll use Dad's office phone to teach you," he told him as he, Carlisle, and Jasper all left the room.
I had to bury my giggle into the top of Edward's head as I ran my fingers through his hair. "He's going to be okay, isn't he?" I asked softly, but it seemed everyone else in the room was looking to Edward for the answer.
Edward nodded. "I saw what it was like to see an immortal permanently change today. It's so rare and extremely interesting," he said softly. "It literally was like watching it set in stone in his mind. He just...changed. Once he realized that what had happened before had no bearing on what happens now, he it."
I smiled into Edward's hair, placing a kiss to the top of his head and thinking the man in my arms would certainly know that feeling. I'd seen it happen with my own eyes.
"Well," I sighed dramatically, "it can happen to the best of us."
Edward turned to look at me, though it was a bit awkward the way he was lying with me. He smiled, and it was sweet and warm and a touch shy. "Yeah, sweet girl. It can happen."
"The United States didn't get involved in World War II until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor," Jasper stated. "At that point, we didn't have a choice. In fact, Roosevelt's plea to Congress was the next day. Here...let me play it for you..."
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan..."
A few of them were downstairs in the dining room with books, laptops, and pictures spread from one end of it to the other. I trudged past them carrying Edward's and my laundry, taking the stairs up to our room at a human pace.
We'd slowly gotten into a routine in the last few days. Just about everyone had something they could teach Archie. Emmett had slowly introduced him to just about every piece of technology in the house, and Archie had accepted it well. He'd already fallen in love with the e-reader that we'd given him and the iPod that I'd put in his room. He didn't show much interest in television, but he liked the radio, despite how strange the music must have sounded to him. He'd hunted once more with Carlisle and seemed to be taking his diet fairly well. He'd even stepped outside to wander the yard all on his own once or twice – though I couldn't blame him because he was in a house with five mated couples. Poor thing.
"As commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
"Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us..."
I stepped into our room, my mind hearing the speech that Jasper was still playing downstairs. Edward was sitting on our bed with his back propped up on the headboard and my laptop in his lap. His face was solemn as he focused on whatever was on the screen. He was wearing a simple gray T-shirt and black jeans, his legs stretched out and bare feet crossed.
I set the basket down on the bed, kissed the side of my husband's head, and went about putting away our clean clothes. Alice hated that I didn't use vampire speed to do it, but laundry was a soothing, simple chore for me. It always had been.
"With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable help us God.
"I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire..."
"Dastardly..." I mused over the word. "No one speaks that way anymore. A shame, really."
Edward snorted, and warm, golden eyes gazed up at me over the screen of the laptop. "I do."
I giggled. "You've never used 'dastardly.' Don't even try it."
He grinned, shaking his head, but went back to what he was doing. Though, he spoke softly. "We don't say 'four score and seven years ago,' either, sweet girl."
"True," I said, matching up pairs of socks. "But something in the English language has taken a hideous turn. Okay, so it's easier to say eighty-seven, but when did become okay to call women bitch and 'ho?"
"It's never been okay," Edward countered, wearing a disgusted expression.
"To you... I meant in society, in general. And that's really just a small example. I mean, there are so many messed up terms for things. Booty call? Really?" I rambled, shaking my head at it all.
"Booty call..."
"Say it again." He laughed.
"No!" I tossed a balled-up pair of socks at him.
"Just once more," he guffawed.
Narrowing my eyes at him, I snorted. He was too cute to resist sometimes. "Whatever. You know what I mean."
He chuckled. "I do. And you're right...things have severely declined in the ways in which we speak," he said haughtily, making me grin. "If I could permanently remove the word 'like' and 'umm' from the vocabulary of teenage girls, I'd be a happy man. They even think them."
I snorted. ", Edward..." I started, dragging out his name in a higher pitch than my own, and his dark glare was priceless. "I mean...umm, but you' totally hot." I made myself want to gag as I hung up jeans and button downs.
"Isabella,'s awful."
"And this one band camp..." I laughed when his low, supposedly threatening growl met my ears. "See? I'm glad you understand me."
That softened his expression into one that made me walk to him. I smiled into the kiss to his lips.
"Yes, baby, I understand," he whispered against my lips, cupping my cheek with one hand.
"What are you so intently studying over there, anyway?" I asked, taking the now-empty hamper into the bathroom.
"Well, I was working on finances, but come here," he ordered, waving me to him. "I'd like your opinion on something."
"Are you buying another car?" I teased, squeaking when he lifted the computer, tugged me down between his legs, and placed the laptop on my lap.
"No," he growled low in my ear. "Hush, beautiful, and tell me which you think would be more helpful for Archie."
I leaned my head against his as he rested his chin on my shoulder. On the computer screen, he had pulled up a list of several different DVD collections. Some were from PBS, and they were about music through the decades – 50s, 60s, 70s.
"Those, definitely," I told him, pointing to the screen. "There's time before and after, but those will help."
"I thought so, too," Edward agreed softly in my ear. "Now," he started, scrolling back a few pages. "What about these?"
I studied the screen, my brow furrowing at some of the subjects he'd chosen – the environment, AIDS, the Kennedy and MLK assassinations, and some more recent histories, like the Gulf War, the end of the cold war, and September 11.
"That's harsh stuff, baby," I whispered, grimacing. "I know he needs to know, but gracious..."
"I know," he sighed, his sweet breath pushing out warmly against my neck. "No one really wants to cover some of this stuff, so I thought he could watch it instead."
"They're all good choices," I told him, turning to kiss his cheek. "Just...not all in one day. Mix in a comedy, will ya?" I teased with a giggle.
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a sweet grin, keeping me on his lap as he added all of the DVDs to his cart and ordered them.
Downstairs, I could hear that Jasper had moved on to explain Normandy, the Allied Forces invasion, and just exactly what Hitler had been doing to people in those concentration camps. My nose wrinkled, but I turned to look at Edward.
"You don't want to talk about that stuff? You and Emmett went," I stated, remembering one of the stories he'd told me a few years ago about working with the French resistance.
"No." He sighed deeply, shaking his head. "I'm okay...right here," he said, quickly doing something on my computer. I felt his smile against my cheek when he pulled up my word processing program.
"What are you..."
"Shh," he interrupted, but he barely made a sound as his arms brushed against mine. He quickly typed, his long fingers dancing over my keyboard. He gave me the silent signal for my shield, and I descended it slowly down on us. "Since we're never alone..." he said, again almost with a sound.
I wanted to talk to you about the bet against us.
I laughed, shaking my head and switching to thoughts. Yeah, yeah... I've trusted you for days. Tell me what you know, handsome.
Edward chuckled, typing out more.
They don't know about D. E. And they've set themselves up for failure because no one can win or lose unless THE WHOLE FAMILY hears me.
I snorted at the initials for Dirty Edward. The fact that he even had initials was just hilarious to me. Yes, I gathered that much, but there is one person that has heard us. Archie was in the his room when we were in the library.
Edward nodded against me but quickly answered me on the screen.
He was incoherent, my sweet girl. He had no idea. I figured it out the day Kevin told him that he'd scared me, that he'd acted like a ghost. He was so starved that he had no idea about much, and his memory is spotty, at best. I was the same way once. You have a letter from me proving it.
"No way!" I gasped, gazing over at him, and he nodded fervently.
I told you to trust me, beautiful. Your secret is perfectly safe. ;)
The winking emoticon just about caused me to crack the hell up; instead, I sagged against him in relief, which made him wrap his arms around me and give my neck a long, slow, loving kiss.
Are we dumb for wanting to keep this private? I mean, do they really care? I asked him.
"Yes, to both," he said with a soft laugh, reaching for the keyboard again.
What we are...what we do together is ours and ours alone, baby. I don't want to take that away from you, from us. I've spent years listening to them, hearing secrets, and wishing I hadn't. They hear everything else. We should be able to keep this, despite the teasing. I've heard all that you could possibly imagine. It's no different than foreplay. Would you want to know what steps say...Carlisle and Esme take?
"Uhh, no!" I said firmly.
Exactly. It's as private as that, though they don't think so, and we can't tell them without revealing everything. They don't know – and we'll keep it that way – that it runs deeper than just words. It's a feeling, a letting go...for us. I know what it means to you, but it means the same for me. It represents just how different I am with you. It's not the words. It's the intimacy level. You understand?
I smiled and nodded, turning to look up at him. "You're the best," I told him with a laugh.
He grinned, all crooked and sexy, kissed my forehead, and deleted the document on the screen. "Sometimes," he sang, tapping his temple, "it's a perk."
Laughing, I closed the laptop and set it aside, turning around to straddle his lap. Cupping his face, I kissed him roughly. His hands immediately gripped my bottom to pull me closer. He gazed up at me through his long, beautiful eyelashes – eyelashes that I'd heard women envy. His eyes were warm, just a shade darker than amber as they looked up at me.
"I love you," I whispered, brushing my lips across his chin, his mouth, the tip of his nose, and finally, his forehead.
"I love you, too, Bella," he responded instantly.
I know we're needed here, and I get that, honestly, but I'd really like to go somewhere.
"With or without the family?" he verified, his face taking on a serious expression. It always did when I stated that I wanted something.
Doesn't matter, I thought to him, shrugging a shoulder. But a break from history and vampire therapy would be kind of nice. It's the holidays, Edward...even a trip to the movies would work. I hate to leave Archie, but...
"Cabin fever, sweet girl?" he asked with a smile. He leaned in to kiss my lips softly, almost reverently.
"Yeah, maybe a little," I admitted reluctantly.
He smiled, nodded, and gave my bottom a soft pop. "I'll see what we can do, okay?"
"Okay." I smiled, but watched as he tilted his head a little. "What?"
He grimaced a little. "I think Archie needs a break from wartime stories," he murmured, setting me on my feet at the side of the bed. When he stood in front of me, he reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear. "You know what you said about mixing in a little comedy?" he asked, chuckling a little, and I nodded. "Yeah...that. Come on. He needs a distraction."
We rumbled down the stairs, but it was Alice that broke into a great big laugh. "Hey, Archie! Ever played football?"


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