Sunday, May 26, 2013 | By: Jenny

In Pursuit Chapter 10

Chapter 10
Bella POV
Yawning, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen, following the smell of coffee. I could hear Edward and Jasper talking as I passed the second floor landing, and Alice’s door popped open before I’d gotten any farther down the steps.
“Morning,” she chirped, looking way too chipper for seven a.m.
“G’morning,” I mumbled, covering my yawn with my hand.
Alice linked her arm through mine and chattered about what she planned to do all day as we walked, and I half listened as my mind tried to finish waking up. We had gone to bed early the night before after Al had left, since it had been a crazy twenty-four hours and we’d had such a long drive that none of us had gotten much sleep – if any at all. I knew that Alice and I had both dozed in the car for a few hours, unable to keep our eyes open, but if I wasn’t mistaken, neither Edward nor Jasper had even attempted to close their eyes on the trip from the East Coast, in the plane or in the car. By the time we’d all made the beds with the sheets Alice and Jasper had bought and then crawled into bed, we’d been almost like zombies. It had been a unanimous decision to wait until morning to unpack and explore everything Al had brought with him.

When we walked into the dining room together, Edward and Jasper looked up. Jasper smiled and drawled out a good morning, while Edward nodded almost perfunctorily and then turned back to the food in front of him.
“Sit down, ladies. Have some of Forks’s finest morning cuisine,” Jasper said, pulling out the chair beside him for Alice.
Alice gratefully accepted the large paper cup of coffee he set in front of her and smiled. “What’s for breakfast?”
Jasper pushed a styrofoam container to Alice as I sat down in the chair across from her.
“Fried eggs, sausage, home fries, and biscuits with gravy,” he answered, smacking his lips playfully.
“Yum! Thanks for going to get it, Jazzy,” Alice said as she popped the lid on her breakfast and dug in.
“Not me, darlin’,” he said around a mouthful of food. “Ed went and picked up breakfast.”
Alice mumbled a thank you after shoving a bite of her potatoes in her mouth, to which Edward nodded again in response.
“Scrambled, not fried, and crispy bacon,” he muttered, almost under his breath, as he pushed an identical container in front of me, along with a plastic cup of orange juice.
I chanced a glance, and his gaze was at the container in front of him as he scooped up another bite of home fries and shoved them in his mouth. He seemed...angry, I’d done something wrong, but he’d also taken the time and energy to remember a passing comment I’d made one morning a few weeks before about not liking fried eggs unless they were smothered in ketchup with cheese between two pieces of bread. Maybe he’d just woken up on the wrong side of the bed.
I mentally shrugged and then opened the container, my stomach growling at the sight of the bacon and eggs, as well as what looked like freshly cut fruit. I popped a piece of cantaloupe in my mouth and chewed, holding back a moan at the sweet juice that exploded on my tongue. As I ate, I listened to Jasper tell Edward what Al had brought for them.
“Yeah, four more phones, so we have a total of six now – won’t need to be picking up any more anytime soon, I reckon.” Jasper took a big drink of coffee before continuing. “I guess he felt like we weren’t armed well enough – though, we’ve been doing fine so far, I figure – because he brought two rifles—”
“Sig Sauer 22?” Edward interrupted, raising an eyebrow.
“None other,” Jasper answered. “More ammo for the nine mills, as well as extra for the Sigs, plus a couplea knives, two tasers with a note to give them to the girls – I’m guessing that was because he didn’t know they were crack shots—” he winked at us before continuing “—and four vests.”
“Christ,” Edward hissed. “Why the hell none of us thought to get that shit before now, I don’t have a fucking clue. Even if we couldn’t have flown with them, we coulda gotten ’em from Ben.”
Jasper shrugged. “Got ’em now; that’s what matters. Wait’ll you hear what else he brought, man... Surveillance shit for the end of the driveway – supplies to set up an alarm in case someone drives or walks across it, plus a video camera to put up there so we can see from the house who it is before they get up here. The man knew what he was doing.”
Edward nodded. “That works. I’ll get that set up today.”
“He brought all our stuff from the other house too, right?” I asked, wondering if our tablets had gotten included.
“Everything.” Jasper smirked. “Even those yoga DVDs, so if you ladies need to...relax this afternoon, you can.” Then he eyed Edward. “Hey, Ed... You know what’s coming up, right? Want to do—”
Edward’s chair scraped along the floor as he abruptly stood and shoved it back. “Forget about it. I am. I’m also gonna get started on that alarm,” he said to no one in particular as he left the table.
Things were tense and quiet until the front door clicked shut, and then Alice turned to Jasper.
“What in the heck bit him on the ass?”
Jasper shook his head. “I’m not sure. He’s been like that since Al left. Might be he’s upset ’cause he’s away from his sister, who’s not too far off from having her baby. Might just be he’s worried about us being able to keep the two of you safe. He’ll snap out of it, though. Give ’im some time outside to work off some of the tension and he’ll be fine.”
“Well, good, ’cause he’s being kind of a jerk,” Alice grumbled.
I chuckled, agreeing with her, but I realized I felt bad for him. “It must be hard, being away from his sister right now. From what he’s said, they’re pretty close, so I know he must be worried. I hate that we’re the reason he’s not there with her and the rest of his family...”
“Nah, darlin’, you ladies aren’t the reason,” Jasper said firmly. “I know he’s told you this, Bella, but you gotta get it through your pretty head: you aren’t responsible for any of this shit. That’s all on Volturi. And yeah, he’s upset that he can’t be there with ’em, but they get it. They know he’d be there if he could be.”
I was quiet as I thought about it, and I realized that I knew Jasper was right. Edward had been telling me over and over again that it wasn’t my fault, and though I still felt guilty sometimes, I was coming to grips with the reality that I wasn’t to blame. I could only hope that when his sister did have her baby and he wasn’t there to see it, Edward didn’t suddenly decide I was.
“Okay, kitchen’s done,” Alice said, smiling over at me.
We had cleaned the house – which really only consisted of dusting the surfaces that hadn’t been covered by sheets, and after a quick clean up of the bedrooms, bathrooms, and living room, we’d moved into the kitchen. There hadn’t been much to do in here, either, aside from wiping down surfaces and putting stuff away that Alice and Jasper had bought the day before.
“Has the ice maker started making ice yet?” I asked, wondering how long that would take. Edward had plugged the refrigerator in the night before, and he’d hooked up the water line then, as well.
“Yeah, I looked a few minutes ago. It’s full.”
“Excellent,” I sighed, reaching for one of the red plastic cups on the counter. Filling it halfway with ice, I grabbed a Coke from the fridge and poured it in, emptying the can and then tossing it into the garbage.
“We need to go shopping again soon,” Alice said as she got her own drink. “We just got drinks, coffee and a coffee maker, chips, and other snack-type stuff. We need to get a set of cookware and some dinnerware so we don’t keep eating fast food. I already feel like I’m going to grow out of my clothes since I haven’t been dancing in a while. Much more of the greasy diner food and I’ll have to buy all new clothes.” She huffed, poking at her stomach.
I laughed, shaking my head. My sister was short – even shorter than my own five foot four – and slender, with barely an ounce of fat on her. I knew she didn’t consider herself fat, even now, but I also knew how much she used to burn off by dancing; when she wasn’t teaching, she was practicing ballet, tap, or jazz. So she was right in a way... The greasy food we’d had the last two meals was delicious, but too much more of it without going back to exercising like she had been doing for years, and she would have a problem. Of course, the same could be said for me. Plus, Jasper was a damn good cook, and I’d enjoyed the time I’d spent in the kitchen with Edward, so those were definite side benefits.
“Okay, so shopping. We’ll put that on the list. What else do we need to do?”
Alice thought for a moment. “Besides finishing up the dusting and stuff, I think that’s about it for immediate concerns.”
“Good,” I told her. “Let’s grab Edward and Jasper and play cards. Al included two decks in the bag of stuff he brought.”
“Ooh, yeah! Let’s play poker.” Alice grinned and then hurried off from the kitchen to find the guys.
Shaking my head, I grabbed our drinks and took them to the dining room table, thinking of how quickly Alice had turned she had every right to be at the mention of us playing poker. I may have been the numbers girl, but Alice was a card shark when it came to poker – Texas Hold’em, 5-Card Draw, 7-Card didn’t matter. She had an uncanny knack for the game, almost like she had an ability to see what cards were coming up in the deck. She wasn’t counting cards, I’d made her swear about that, but somehow, she was just simply that good.
Edward had been outside for the better part of an hour, setting up the alarm at the end of the long driveway. When he came in a few minutes before Alice and I finished up the kitchen, he’d been a little less tense, a little more relaxed. Not quite back to the normal Edward I’d begun getting to know well, but still... And apparently, he was out of his funk enough that he’d agreed to play, because he came walking into the dining room behind Alice and Jasper.
“So what are we playing, ladies?” Jasper asked, tossing the deck of cards down onto the middle of the table.
I grabbed them and began shuffling as Alice told them we were playing Texas Hold’em, doling out small bowls of M&Ms to be used as the bets. Once they were shuffled, I dealt out two cards to each player. Before looking at their cards, Alice and Jasper each put in their candy for the blinds – one for Alice as the small blind, and two for Jasper as the big – and then we each looked at our pocket cards.
I had an eight and a ten of clubs, so after Edward tossed in his two pieces of candy, I added my own two. I didn’t have great pocket cards, but they weren’t bad, either. Alice added another piece of candy, calling on her cards, as well. Jasper checked, so as dealer, I dealt three cards face up into the middle of the table: ace of hearts, two of clubs, and six of clubs. Alice bet first, throwing three pieces of candy into the middle of the table. Jasper called, as did Edward, who chuckled.
“Mm, those are gonna make a great snack,” he said, smacking his lips playfully.
“Yeah, yeah. Keep dreamin’...” I tossed my own three pieces onto the growing pile and then grinned when I promptly added three more. That flush was looking awfully good at the moment.
Alice laughed at Edward’s suddenly grumpy expression and tossed in her own three candies to call.
“I’m out,” Jasper said. “Damn it all...”
“Folding on the first hand?” Edward asked, raising an eyebrow. “What kind of Texas boy does that in a game of Texas Hold’em?”
All he got was a raised middle finger in response, making both Alice and me giggle.
Once Edward had thrown his three candies in, I dealt another card: three of clubs.
Careful not to let my happiness over the turn card show on my face, I waited until Edward had thrown in his four candies before tossing my own in. Alice called as well, so I dealt the last card, the river, and the final round of betting went much like the previous.
“All right, ladies,” Edward said. “Let’s see ’em.”
Alice and I turned our cards over just as Edward did his, and while I saw that my flush had beaten his three twos, Alice’s full house – aces full of sixes – had beaten us both. She scooped up all forty-one candies and grinned.
“Thank you, lady and gentlemen,” she said, popping one into her mouth.
“Luck,” Edward grumbled, smirking when she raised her eyebrow and shrugged.
“We’ll see,” she sang. “Give ’em here. My deal this time.”
The next five hands went much like the first, with Alice winning three of the five. Edward and I each won a hand, while poor Jasper was left out in the cold with only Alice to console him.
“That’s it,” he huffed. “I’m done. I think you must have some sort of...witchy powers,” he said, pointing teasingly at Alice, “or you made some pact with the Devil.” He stood, shaking his head and mumbling to himself as he moved into the kitchen, grabbing a cup from the counter.
Alice giggled and went after him, promising to share her winnings with him and to teach him everything she knew. His response wasn’t clear, but Alice’s laugh was loud and long, so whatever it had been, she’d quite enjoyed it.
Edward looked at the pair of them and shook his head, the corner of his lip curling slightly, and then he looked at me. “If they ask, I’m gonna be in there, looking over the rest of the stuff Al brought,” he said, nodding his head toward the living room.
“I’ll tell ’em.” Holding up my cup, I said, “I’m going to get more to drink. You want anything?”
He shook his head. “Nope, I’m good. Thanks.” Then he was gone, around the corner and out of sight.
Once I’d refilled my drink, I made my way to the living room. When I got in there, I saw that Edward had everything spread out on the coffee table in front of the couch. He had one of the rifles in his hand, and he was looking it over as I took a seat on the other end of the couch.
After a few minutes of silence, my curiosity got the better of me. “So what’s up with calling him Uncle Al? Is he really your uncle?”
It took a minute, but Edward finally shook his head. “He was my dad’s college roommate, so I’ve known him since I was little. He’s always been Uncle Al to me, even after I got the job with him.”
I nodded. “That makes sense. He seems like a good guy. He was really nice about the...” I bit my lip, not wanting to think about it again, but then continued, “About me shooting the guy.”
Edward grunted, but continued looking over the stuff on the table without looking at me.
“So, umm, how far along is Rose? Is her husband – I’m sorry, I don’t remember his name... Is he excited about the baby coming?” When he didn’t answer, my mouth spoke without my brain’s approval, continuing the word vomit I was apparently using to fill the silence. “I’m sure your parents are excited. This is their first grandchild, yeah? I bet they’re thrilled and waiting on pins and need—”
“Christ, Bella!” Edward interrupted, startling me. He grabbed his hair and pulled once before standing and moving to the window. Without turning to look at me, he said, “Look, we need to get something straight. I’m your handler, not your friend. I’m here to keep you safe, get you through the trial, and then get you acclimated to your new life. I’m not here to become buddies with you. My family, my personal life... They’re off-limits for discussion.”
I recoiled, feeling like I’d been slapped. My chest ached, tears burned at my eyes, and suddenly, it hurt to breathe. Swallowing back a sob, I choked out, “Got it. Sorry to have bothered you,” and then I turned and ran to the stairs, heading to Alice’s room on the second floor. If Edward felt that way, I certainly didn’t want to impose on his personal space on the third floor any longer.
Edward POV
“Fuck,” I hissed as a door upstairs slammed closed, falling down on the edge of the sofa and throwing the First Aid kit across the room. It thumped against the bookcase, coming to rest on the bottom shelf. “You’re an asshole, Cullen,” I muttered to myself.
Gripping my hair in my hands, I seethed at myself for making her cry, at Uncle Al for putting all this fucking shit into my head, and at Bella for just being...Bella. All I fucking wanted was to tell Bella about Rose, about how I wanted a nephew to spoil and send back to his parents just for shits and giggles. Emmett would adore her – and Alice, for that matter – and my sister would have a shit-ton in common with them both.
Bella was too much, too close, and too beautiful. She made me feel unstable and weak. If Al could see it written all over me like a fucking book, then I knew I was in some serious damn trouble. If somehow this whole security detail went to shit, if something happened... Fuck, I couldn’t even form the goddamn thought. I couldn’t fail Bella – or Alice. I just couldn’t. And in order to keep my head on straight, I had to back off. I was getting in too deep with her, which would lead to mistake after mistake. Mistakes in this line of work were deadly.
“Get up,” I heard Jasper from the front door. “Now, Cullen!”
I gazed up at him, my eyebrow raising at the rage that was just barely under the surface of the normally laid-back guy. One of his hands was on the front doorknob, the other balled up into a fist.
“The fuck do you want?” I snapped defensively.
“A walk in the garden,” he responded sarcastically. “Let’s go. What I have to say to you shouldn’t be overheard. Don’t make me force you out of this fucking house, Edward.”
As tempting as pushing the Texan’s buttons sounded – because I could use a release for all this pent-up frustration – I stood up from the couch slowly and stalked through the door, down the steps, and onto the front lawn.
“Sweet Jesus, Edward! What the fuck is your problem?” he yelled as soon as we were far enough from the house.
I kept my back to him, saying nothing for a minute, so my partner took the opportunity to continue.
“You’ve been a real shit since yesterday! Even I’m getting whiplash! One second you’re okay, the next, cold as fucking ice. Did Al say something? Is there an issue I don’t know about?”
“Then what the hell?” he growled, finally shoving my back to get a reaction from me.
I spun on him, gripping the front of his T-shirt and shoving him right back. He stumbled a few steps but made no move to come back at me.
“Ed...” he sighed, shaking his head. “Dude, you made Bella cry. She’s in Alice’s room right now. Did she do or say something wrong?”
“No.” Fuck, I actually whined my answer, but the girl could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. And that was just another problem added to the pile. “She’s getting too nosy, Jasper. This was supposed to be about keeping them safe, getting them to trial...not about being BFFs.”
“And we are!” he argued. “We’ve done the best we can under the circumstances, asshole, but you can’t keep her at arm’s length completely. We’re all under the same damn roof.”
“You think I don’t know that?!” I seethed through gritted teeth. “She’s every-fucking-where.”
“She’s supposed to be every-fucking-where!” he yelled back, but then stopped completely, narrowing his eyes on me.
I couldn’t look at him. Hell, I couldn’t even meet his gaze.
“You like her,” he surmised, almost in a whisper.
I snorted, shaking my head and starting to pace. It had gone well beyond like at this point. I wanted her. And it was fucking killing me. I was supposed to keep her safe, not follow her around like a puppy, which I was about five seconds from doing. That shit would get her killed. I’d make stupid decisions if shit changed.
“And...and don’t give me that bullshit that you understand her, either,” Jasper stated, walking to me. “This is more than understanding.”
My nostrils flared, my fists balled up against my sides, and my eyes locked onto him with a scathing look. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Jasper. Let it go.”
“I won’t, Edward. I can’t. I have to live with your foul-ass, too. I get this professional bullshit you’re trying to pull off, but it’s not working because you’re hating every nanosecond of it. It’s eating you up. Why?”
I swallowed thickly, looking out over the cool green woods. “I kissed her,” I whispered.
All that could be heard was the soft cry of a bird somewhere in the distance. It seemed even Jasper had stopped breathing. But I could hear my own heart thumping in my chest at even the mere memory of it.
“On the plane,” I stated, turning to face him. “I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t not kiss her. She was upset...and she was right there...and she was...” I grunted to myself, shaking my head because I wasn’t going to tell him just how amazing she’d felt wrapped around me. “If I don’t keep my shit straight, it could get them killed.”
He smirked, letting out a sigh. “No, it doesn’t have to be that way, man.”
I glared at him, but I knew he was speaking from experience at this point. I could tell things were more than just a quick fuck between himself and Alice. I’d tried to ignore it, tried to blow it off, but it was in my fucking face every day, twenty-four-seven. And he’d changed nothing about the way he handled his job; he was completely spot-on without hesitation. Suddenly, I fucking hated him for it.
“Yes, it does,” I countered. “It has to be that way. It can’t work. I’m no good for her outside of this situation. And when it’s all said and done, she’ll start her new life in Seattle.”
“Where we’ll be,” he added, looking at me like I was the dumbest thing he’d ever seen. “Al said that there’s no written rule that you can’t be with her afterward. Yeah, we’re bending the rules, Ed. But it’s our job to keep their identities safe and secret, even after the trial. They can be introduced to who we know as their new names. And stop making excuses. Neither of you are saints. You need to trust me on that.”
I snorted, not believing a word of what he was saying. Bella was good and innocent.
“You know, you’re a real prick,” he stated, frowning at me when I nodded in agreement. That was exactly what I’d been trying to tell him. “You push and pull at her. You play with her and then shut her out. Now you’ve kissed her. Want to tell me what you plan next? Fuck her and then push her away again? ’Cause I may have to kick your ass for that one. She’s not the bitches at the bar, she’s not something for you to play with, but she’s not perfect, either.”
He stepped up into my face, his expression fierce. “You need to pull your head out of your ass, Edward. I was just like you. Ask Alice. I fought her at first, but I decided who better than to watch over her than someone that actually, truly gives a shit about her. I also haven’t exactly been a saint before this detail, but I’ll gladly give the bar scene up.” He poked my chest hard. “You...need to ask yourself whether this is about staying professional...or if you’re just scared Bella is another Maggie.”
I opened my mouth to curse him the fuck out, but he raised his hand to stop me.
“Your sister told me all about her. So don’t even give me any shit about it. I know what she did, and it was a real fucked-up thing, but grow up, Edward. It’s time to let the past go.”
With that said, he spun on his heel to leave me standing in the yard. Before he got halfway to the front porch, he turned to eye me.
“I’d tell you to apologize, but you’d probably just fuck that up, too. You’d turn on all that fucking charm of yours, pull her in, and then be a shit all over again tomorrow. Leave her alone, Edward. If you can’t act like a civilized human being, then just...stop messing with her.”
He slammed the front door behind him, the sound of the same bird crying over my head. Rubbing my face, I walked away from the house under the guise of checking the security camera at the end of the driveway, but really, I needed to think.
Two fucking days. I couldn’t sleep, nor did I say much to anyone, not that I hung out with any of them. I stayed up in the living room, wishing like all hell that we had some sort of cable, but really, I played hand after damn hand of Solitaire on the coffee table. I’d barely acknowledged that they’d filled the kitchen with pots, pans, and cheap plates and silverware the day before, not to mention a lot of groceries, but it was a welcomed change from the greasy-ass food we’d been picking up at the diner.
We were back to the way shit was in Connecticut. If I was in a room, Bella wasn’t. She spent most of the day with her Kindle outside on the back deck if the sun was out or on ​the front porch in the swing if it was raining. At night, she’d hang out with her sister upstairs in Rose’s old room. She would barely look at me, much less speak my way. Even Jasper had no patience for my ass. We’d talk about perimeter checks and watch the security camera, but personal shit was no longer brought up.
I finished up breakfast, leaving the French toast, sausage links, and fruit out for everyone while opting to take a run in the woods. I pushed myself hard on the old trail I used to run when I was training for the football team at Forks High, trying to bring pain, bring something other than the fucked-up feeling of emptiness in my chest. It didn’t work. The only thing it brought was the burning in my legs as I made it back to the house.
I stepped into the kitchen, sweat pouring down my face and my bare chest as I grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge. The conversation that I’d interrupted came to a dull murmur, and I ignored them...until Bella spoke.
“Um...Jasper, I need...” she said tentatively...softly.
“What’s up, darlin’?”
“I need... Is there any way that I could get a haircut? It’s too long; the ends are breaking.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jasper glance my way, but when I said nothing and continued to down my water, he gave Bella her answer.
“Umm, sure. I believe there’s one of those old-school beauty parlors downtown. It’s right next to the barber shop that Edward sent me to. I’ll take you. When?”
“Whenever,” she sighed, sounding sheepish for even bringing it up.
Something about her going to Jasper about something she needed just...hurt – and pissed me off at the same time. She’d always come to me, since the beginning, and it bugged my ass to no end that I’d fucked up so badly that she didn’t trust me with a simple fucking haircut.
I finished off my water, grabbed another bottle, and walked out of the kitchen.
“Alice, you going?” Jasper asked.
“No, I had plans to give myself a pedicure today,” she said lightly. “I was going to try growing out my hair.”
Bella chuckled a bit, a sound I’d missed. “Yeah, right. You’ll be begging for a cut as soon as your bangs start poking you in the eyes.”
“Probably,” Alice said with a laugh, “but it’s worth a shot.”
“Well, go get dressed, Bella. We’ll head over there when you’re ready. You haven’t seen those places...all those old women chattering on about who’s doing who while their husbands are just as bad next door in the barber’s chair,” Jasper teased her.
I heard Bella thank him, the stool at the counter push back, and the dumping of dishes into the sink, so I walked into my parents’ old room to grab a shower. Once I was clean, dressed, and about to grab the doorknob to my door, the phone went off in my pocket.
“Cullen,” I bit out.
“Well, aren’t you a ray of sunshine this morning?”
“What, Al?” I sighed, having no patience for his cryptic bullshit.
He laughed at me. “I figured you’re missing your Oprah Network. So I was letting you know the cable guy will be out Friday around noon.”
I grimaced at how far away that was, most of a week, ignoring his jibe at me, but said, “Fine. He’s been checked out, I assume?”
“Most definitely. He’s the only guy in the area, so you’ll just have to deal with his schedule. Welcome back to Forks, kid. Where the cable guy doubles as a local firefighter and the dog catcher or some shit, too.”
I snorted. “Right, it. I’ll watch out for him. Is that all?”
Al was quiet for a second, but then asked, “You all right, son? Everything okay out there?”
“Everything’s...fine, Uncle Al,” I sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “No problems. We’re all just...perfect,” I spat.
“Jasper’s okay? The girls?”
“We’re fine, Al. Promise. Everyone’s safe; everyone’s following the rules.”
“Good,” he said, probably not convinced from the tone of my voice, but he let it go. “Call me if you need anything, son. And I mean that.”
“Will do,” I stated and then ended the phone call once he’d said goodbye.
I walked out of my room, down the hall, and into the kitchen, reheating my breakfast. The smell of nail polish hit my nose, and I shook my head at how it brought memories back of living with Rose. She changed her nail polish color almost as much as most people changed their fucking underwear.
The scent was wafting in through the back door, where Alice was sitting at a table, a couple of little bottles in front of her. I was tired of being alone, and I wasn’t sure she’d even talk to me, but I sat down outside with her at the other table.
“Which color, Edward? Blushing Bride? Or Raging Red?” she asked, holding up two different bottles – one pink, the other bright-ass red.
I eyed the two, smirking a little at her. I’d had this conversation with Rose, too. “Pink. It’s not so...”
I snorted and then took a bite of a sausage link drenched in syrup. “Yeah. Something like that.”
Alice giggled a little. “Yeah, I know, but sometimes, you want to”
“Yeah, okay. Whatever, Alice,” I murmured, waving her on to do what she wanted. “You sound like my sister.”
“And you sound like mine,” she stated, though all her light banter was gone from her tone. When I glanced up at her, she was tilting her head at me, her face pretty serious.
“I’m sure I’m gonna catch hell from you, too, so let’s have it.”
“No,” she said softly, shaking her head. “No, I get what you’re doing. I don’t believe a damn word of it, and neither do you, but I understand it.”
She nibbled at her bottom lip, a trait that was so much like Bella, it hurt to watch. Fucking twins. I could well imagine that Alice knew everything that had happened in the bedroom of that plane. But it seemed the tiny thing wasn’t saying it.
When I started to stand up, she stopped me.
“See, Edward, the problem is...Bella believes it. All of it. Whereas all of us see that you’re just hiding or maybe a little scared, she thinks that she’s less than worthy.”
“She’s more than worthy...” I started to argue.
“Yeah, well, this isn’t what you’re thinking, and it’s not about you. You should hear this. Sit the fuck down.” Her eyes were fierce on me as she pointed to my chair.
My eyebrows shot up, but I did as I was told. I’d never really seen Alice angry. It was a little unnerving...and fucking scary, if I were to be honest.
“You’re not stupid, Edward, so despite the fact that we’re twins, you can see we’re opposite in many ways. If she knew I was about to tell you this, she’d be pissed, but you need to hear it.” She paused, picking up a bottle of nail polish and turning it over in her hands. “She’ll be mad, but she’ll have to get over it.” She locked gazes with me. “This...thing you’re doing? You’re only reinforcing what he told her.”
I froze, narrowing my eyes at her. “Who?” I asked, though I had an idea.
She sneered, shaking her head. “Fuck, I hated him! I hated what he did to her.” She took a few deep breaths, looking out over the backyard and finally landing on me. “Bella has always been...the academic one between us. The bookworm, straight A student, the quiet one. She’s beautiful, but in high school, she was shy, focusing more on getting into college. She didn’t date much – a prom date here, Homecoming date there. We were living with our grandmother at that point, who couldn’t afford a college student, much less two.”
I nodded that I’d heard her, but my eyes locked in on the tree across the yard. I was pretty fucking sure I didn’t want to hear this story. I needed to hear it, but I didn’t want to. I was afraid of it. I remembered Bella’s reaction to the picture of this...Mike. Even more, I remembered her complete acceptance at my explanation of my back tattoo. Sometimes, pictures and memories needed to be deleted or burned. In my case, I needed a permanent reminder of who I was, what I was doing.
“When it came time for college, Bella and I both got scholarships to NYU. I went for dancing and theater, and she went in for accounting. We shared an apartment, we both got part-time jobs, and we stayed pretty much the same as we are now. Bella met a guy in school: Mike. You saw his picture. You saw that they would hit parties.” She sighed, and I gazed over at her. Her face was sad when she looked up. “Edward, she was still the same shy girl. She was maintaining a four-point-oh average. She’d rather read than party. But she went places with him.
“Mike was her first...everything. First drink, first hangover, first...first, first long-term relationship,” she continued, but then she paused. “I thought she was happy. I thought he was good for her. She got out more, was more social.”
I braced myself for what was coming. “What he do to her?”
“It wasn’t what he did. It was what he would say. Bella hid it all from me for almost a year.” Alice’s voice wavered, but she swallowed and went on. “He didn’t think I was home one day. I didn’t hear them at first, but then Mike started yelling, so I left my bedroom to come and check on her. She had a final to study for, but that wasn’t really what they were arguing about. Bella told him she needed to stay in, and he got pissed. He told her that he was going out with the guys anyway, that maybe Lauren wouldn’t be as...” She huffed, shaking her head. “Maybe Lauren wouldn’t be as boring and frigid as she was.”
I sat up, wanting to throw the plate in front of me. Bella was not fucking boring, and the way that she’d kissed me, she couldn’t possibly be frigid, either.
“Wait, I’m not done.”
“Wait, damn it! I almost went into the room then, but Bella told him that she knew he was cheating on her already. She hadn’t even told me this shit! Almost a damn year of his verbal abuse, and she never told me.” Alice sighed, still playing with the bottle in her hands. “Mike didn’t deny it, Edward. He laughed. Fucking laughed at her! He told her that he had to get laid somewhere, that she was useless and cold, that she was a cock-tease, that she was always so fucking busy that she never had time or was always too tired. Fuck, we were working, going to school, and studying! Christ, that was the same shit he should’ve been doing! But instead, he was playing around.”
“Please tell me she punched his ass,” I said through gritted teeth, gripping my hair hard.
“I can’t,” she whispered, smiling sadly when I spun my gaze to hers. “She apologized to him. Said she was doing her best, but...she was tired, she was busy. She didn’t punch him, but she ended it with him as soon as I opened the door because I was about to punch him. He left after rolling his eyes and telling her she’d always be alone, that she was born cold.”
I stood up, snatching up my empty breakfast plate. “I can’t hear any more.”
“You will!” she yelled, stepping in front me. “See, she changed after that, Edward. He’d succeeded in convincing her that she was boring, that she was frigid. So every once in a while, she’d go out, find a guy, and there would be no commitment, no strings attached. That way, she could focus on her school, work, and eventually, her degree.” She sighed, shaking her head again. “She thinks I don’t know, but I do. I know why. It’s so that they don’t really get to know her, so she doesn’t let them in long enough to see the real her. She believes that the real her is just...”
“A numbers nerd,” I whispered, my head falling back as Bella’s own words to me came back like a slap to the face.
“Exactly,” she whispered back. “I know Jazz is a little pissed at you, and I’m pretty upset with you, but the sad part? Bella isn’t.”
“What?” I asked, thinking that couldn’t be right because she’d barely spoken to me in two fucking days.
“Nope. Not at all. She tried to stop Jasper from coming after you the other day. She’s more than once said that we’re to leave you alone, that we’re bugging you. She’s willing to accept it.”
“Bugging me?!” I yelled, finally giving in and throwing the plate in my hands. “Christ on a fucking cracker!”
“My sister isn’t boring. She’s more than what she thinks she is.”
“You think I don’t know that?” I asked her.
We both looked up when the front door opened and the sound of Jasper’s laugh echoed through the house, but Alice stepped up in my face.
“Edward, please, please don’t be like him. Don’t be proof that all men are the same to her, because I’m pretty sure she’s convinced that you are. She’s let you in, and you’ve only proven that she’s too boring to be even your fucking friend,” she whispered to me. “I see how you look at her, how you take care of her, even when you think you shouldn’t. The guy that worries about his sister can’t be the same asshole that just crushed my sister.”
Jasper and Bella slowed down when they saw me and Alice nose to nose, despite the fact that she was on her tiptoes to do it.
“Everything all right, darlin’?” he asked her.
I sniffed, taking a step back and feeling like the biggest asshole on the goddamn planet, but I bit it back. “Yeah, everything’s fine,” I answered for her, finally leaving Alice’s intense gaze and looking up at the other two. “I was just telling Alice that Uncle Al called while you were gone. The cable guy will be here around noon on Friday.”
I couldn’t resist glancing Bella’s way. Her hair was still long, still beautiful, but long layers fell around her face and down around her shoulders, looking silky and healthy. Her worried gaze flickered between her sister and me, but she simply nodded.
“What happened here?” Jasper asked, narrowing his eyes on me as he pointed to the shattered plate in the corner of the back deck.
“It slipped. I was just about to clean it up,” Alice said, covering for me and walking in to grab the broom. Her eyes locked with mine, silently begging me to not say anything.
I turned to Jasper. “If you’re back, I’m... I think I need to hit the barber shop, too.”
He handed over the keys without a word, looking at me like I had three heads. I had to get out of the house. I had to get away from all of them. I wanted to punch Jasper for being there for Bella when she was too scared to come to me. I wanted to scream at Alice that I was protecting her sister, not crushing her, but I knew it would be a lie. And what was sending me running to the Jeep was the fact that I wanted to shake the ever-loving shit out of Bella for ever allowing any man – myself included – to treat her the way that she’d been treated.
As I stepped past them all, I paused just a second in front of her. I opened my mouth, but didn’t know what to say. I should’ve told her that she was so far from boring, it was fucking ridiculous to think otherwise, that she was beautiful, and that she should stop worrying about everyone else and focus on herself for once. What I really wanted to tell her was that this fucking idiot Mike didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and I wanted to prove just how not-so-frigid she truly was, but instead, I chickened out.
“I’ll be back. Call the cell if you need me,” I murmured, exiting the house and slamming the door behind me.


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