Monday, July 7, 2014 | By: Drotuno

Masen Manor Chapter 31 & Pics

Chapter 31
July 2002
“Edward, sweetie,” Chelsea called from the upstairs landing. “I think you’ll find what you need in the garage.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said with a nod, turning to Carlisle, who was staring at the sixth step with the calculating eye of a surgeon.
“It’s not a heart transplant,” I chortled, shaking my head at his glare before I stepped into the garage.
Along the back wall was a long counter. On top was what looked like Charlie’s old toolbox. I lifted the lid, nodding that he had everything in there that I thought we’d need, including a small pry-bar.

Chelsea and Bella were watching us with amused expressions on their faces as they sat side by side on the top step of the second floor.
“You know, Edward, you don’t have to fix it. Either of you,” Bella sighed, but her smile was sweet and adorable.
Carlisle smiled, looking up from the toolbox. “We know we don’t have to, Bella. We want to. If it makes you rest easier…”
Bella wrinkled her nose, but looked to me. I didn’t need to read her mind to know that she wasn’t quite sure what to feel. Fixing the squeaky step would stop the panic that came with hearing it, but it almost felt like defeat, too, like she was letting the fear win. Jacob and Jasper had started the project just before they left, just like they’d promised her, but she’d stopped them. They hadn’t argued, but they’d left the supplies they’d bought, just in case she changed her mind. It had actually been Renee to ask for help; she’d wanted to start changing small things, clearing out the bad and focusing on the good, and that was why we were attempting this project while she was at one of her therapy appointments.
Carlisle took the pry-bar out and slipped it beneath the lip of the step, but Chelsea’s mind made me fight a smile with what was coming.
“Carlisle, wait!” she gasped, and he froze, gazing up at her. “What if… What if there’s something in there?”
“Like what?” he asked, his eyebrows raising high on his forehead.
I chuckled, shaking my head. “This will be good,” I said just low enough the two women couldn’t hear me.
“I don’t know! Maybe Charlie hid something, or…or…what if…”
Bella’s musical laughter rang out down the stairwell. “Chelsea, you read way too many mysteries… There’s no super-secret video tape or incriminating photographs. I bet there’s some dust and dead bugs that met a terrible fate.”
Chelsea laughed, elbowing my girl playfully. “Hush, you!”
Shooting my girl a wink, I turned to Carlisle. “Well, c’mon, Indiana Jones, let’s see what’s in the tomb.”
The girls giggled when Carlisle rolled his eyes, but he carefully pried the wooden plank of the step up. With a dramatic reveal, he lifted the whole board off the step frame.
“Well?” Chelsea and Bella asked at the same time, leaning precariously forward.
Carlisle snorted, pulling the board away so they could see from the top.
Bella huffed, raising a rather sexy eyebrow up at Chelsea and folding her arms across her chest. “I told you. Look! Dead spiders and cobwebs.”
Chelsea chuckled. “The reality is boring. That’s why I read mysteries.”
We all laughed with her, but Carlisle and I went back to the step. He ran a finger along the frame, tilting his head at it.
“No, you think?” I whispered just to him, but I rubbed a thumb across it.
“Looks like the step was loosened a long time ago,” he stated and then pointed. “This… This is my mark. See how it’s fresh?” He then pointed to a similar mark on the other side. “This one has been here.” Lowering his voice for only me, he added, “And the tool matches, son.”
Out of pure curiosity, I looked to the ladies, asking, “How long has the step squeaked?”
They looked to each other, and then to me, shrugging.
“Oh, I don’t know… Maybe a year or so before Charlie died?” Chelsea guessed with another shrug. “That would be a guess. Why?”
“Because he loosened it…or at least it looks that way,” Carlisle answered her, starting to prep the board for sanding and wood glue.
Bella huffed a light laugh, but across her face several emotions flickered. They mixed and blended into a watery smile. I saw ancient sadness, a touch of amusement, and something I could only guess was guilt. Sometimes, the inability to read her mind hurt, because I only wanted to help.
“Bella-love?” I called her, and her eyes broke away from Carlisle’s work and back to me. “You okay?”
Chelsea wrapped a loving arm around my girl’s shoulders, kissing her temple. Bella stared at the board in Carlisle’s hands, only to glance between the two of us.
“He wanted it to squeak,” she murmured without much emotion behind it. “So he could hear if someone came in…” She bit the inside of her cheek, finally locking gazes with me. “Well…” She inhaled sharply, letting the breath out slowly. “We don’t need it anymore. The threat is gone, and we’re plenty protected.”
Her voice gave off the tone of a command that wasn’t to be ignored. It still rang with sadness, but with a truth behind it. I could see it in her eyes that she trusted us completely, that she didn’t have to be scared anymore. Where Charlie had tried the absolute best way he could to protect them, Carlisle and I – hell, my whole family – would not fail again. Ever. I could see in her my fierce mate, the immortal she would be eventually, as her dark eyes stayed locked with mine.
“Okay, sweetheart. It’ll take a bomb going off to loosen it this time,” I promised her as I placed a hand on my chest.
“Damn straight,” Carlisle agreed, grinning when the girls chuckled again. “Okay, son, let’s get to work.”
August 2002
My house was quiet for the first time since the summer started. Glancing up at the clock, I frowned at how slowly time seemed to creep when Bella was nowhere near. Shaking my head at just how spoiled that made me feel, I went back to the piano keys beneath my fingers.
The music flowed, causing my muscles to relax and my mind to stop worrying. I’d been trying to give Bella time with her mother. Both needed each other too badly. They needed to heal together, even if it came wrapped in days of shopping, movies, and spa treatments. Grinning at that last one, I chuckled softly to myself. Bella had been a little grumpy about that day trip, but she’d come back stunningly beautiful, smelling better than ever. She stopped complaining when I just about kissed every inch of her.
As the school year drew closer, I’d backed off a bit so that Chelsea, Renee, and Bella could find some sort of routine. I’d have my girl the rest of the year, for the most part, so I wanted them to have the rest of this summer to simply be. I was still crawling through Bella’s window, holding her through the night, and occasionally “sleeping over,” using the guest bedroom, but on sunny days like right then, I was happy to know I could leave the girls to do as they wished.
Finally, they were safe.
I pulled my hands from the piano, gripping my hair as the reality of that hit me. I’d killed that wretched bastard, Phil. My reflection in the shiny surface of the piano showed that I was well on my way back to having my golden eye color back, but not yet. Still, a part of me didn’t regret a single drop of blood consumed that night. The only drawbacks were Bella’s worry and my overzealous strength due to the human blood.
The Brown brothers were safe in county lockup, awaiting transfer to federal prison. They’d taken a plea, offering a few bits and pieces of information in order to lessen their prison sentence. They’d both managed to get twenty-five years. They’d probably serve about half that, if they kept themselves out of trouble inside. At least, that was what both Seth and Harry Clearwater had said. They’d been pretty angry with that sentence, but it didn’t faze me. I didn’t care. Their father, Patrick, was still going strong, but I’d hold true to my word. The brothers were safe as long as the old man was still breathing, but they would never, ever live to be as old as their dad. I just had to be very patient.
I started to play again, smirking at the minds around me. A few humans on the sidewalk heard me, thinking my song was pretty. The few neighbors on either side of my brownstone didn’t mind the piano. They did, however, detest the neighbor on the far end with the too-loud stereo and the late-running parties. But another mind hit me, and it was as soft as butterfly wings.
Edward, may I come in?
“Yes, Esme. Of course,” I answered aloud, turning around on the bench to see her step through the front door.
She pulled off her hat and gloves she’d used to hide her skin while driving, opening her arms for me. “I’ve missed you.”
I smiled when she cupped my face. “Me, too. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
Her thoughts centered around my eye color, but she made no mention of it. She was proud of what I’d done, concerning Phil, because he was the foulest of creatures, and so was Carlisle, though they’d worried that I’d slip back with my diet. Esme’s pride was practically showing all over her face, and she briefly wondered if there hadn’t been some sort of catharsis when it came to removing Phil, simply because he’d reminded me so much of my own father. But she said none of that aloud.
“Well, my last student interview finished early, so I thought I’d head this way. I wasn’t sure if you needed me to ride with Bella on the train back to Hunter’s Lake at the end of the week,” she said, sitting down on the sofa.
I took the chair next to her. “Bella would probably love that, since I have to drive my car back to Masen.” I chuckled. “She’s missed you.”
Esme beamed, and I could see just how much my mother loved my girl. Hell, the whole family adored her, even the ones who hadn’t met her yet. Tanya was chomping at the bit to meet her, but she couldn’t leave Alaska just yet.
“I’ve missed her, too. I’m just selfish enough to say that I can’t wait to have her back at Masen,” she said with a grin and a light laugh. “How’s she doing?”
“Amazing,” I said with true, honest awe and respect. “She’s talking more and more every damn day. She’s urged her mother into seeing a therapist, and she even went with her a time or two. She sat down with Jenks and her accountant to give them strict and specific instructions on what is to happen on her eighteenth birthday, which made the accountant laugh, because apparently, she sounded just like Charlie. She wants her mother taken care of, as well as Chelsea. The trust fund will dissolve on September thirteenth at midnight, but Renee will receive enough that she’ll never have to worry again. Chelsea, too, for that matter, and when she started to argue, Bella put her foot down, telling her that she’s just as much of a parent as Renee.”
Esme grinned. “Good for her!”
Chuckling, I shrugged. “I seriously think that Bella just doesn’t want the responsibility of it all, but I get that. It’s not something she cares about.”
Her expression softened, and she smiled sadly. “Well, Bella’s not a shallow girl, and I’d be willing to bet she’d give up every dime to have her dad back, so…it’s simply not important. I could imagine that she’d see it as a chore, a responsibility.”
Nodding, I hummed in agreement and smirked at Esme’s train of thought. “Yes, we’ve talked about the coming school year.” When she laughed, I shot her a wink. “According to Bella’s mother and her friends at school, I’m supposed to be away at college, so I’ll have no choice but to stay behind the scenes for now. I’ll make ‘scheduled visits’ to see you guys…and her, of course, but we’re not keeping us secret anymore. I can’t do it. Her age isn’t an issue as far as the public is concerned…and it really won’t be by September.”
“So Harris will teach her piano,” Esme surmised, raising an eyebrow at me.
Sighing at that fact, I nodded. “Yes, but not on any full-time schedule. He’s merely going to check her progress throughout the school year, and he’ll grade her final recital. She’s way out of his league, and her lack of speech made him uncomfortable last year, but…” I grinned, locking gazes with warm, happy honey. “I think he’ll be surprised with her this year. She really wants to try being more vocal in classes. She’s just stubborn enough to do it, too.”
Esme shook her head in awe. “She’s come so far,” she whispered, her voice filled with emotion, and I swallowed to tamper mine as I nodded in agreement. “Where is she? I’m surprised you’re not together. Everything okay?”
“Couldn’t be better.” I laughed a little, glancing down to my floor and then back up to Esme. “Today is doctor checkups and school shopping. I wasn’t invited. Well, I’m always invited, but…” I pointed out the window to the sunny day. “I had to decline, so I’m due over there for dinner.”
My smile fell quickly, but Esme caught it. She slid down the sofa to take my hand.
I shook my head, trying to wave it off, but I couldn’t lie to her. “You think… Do you think she’ll get tired of it? I…I can’t be…normal. I’ll never be able to take her anywhere like…”
“Did she say something, son?” Esme asked, squeezing my hand.
“What? No, no of course not, but I worry. I mean, I can’t…hear her mind, so I don’t know if she’s okay with it, or simply covering up,” I admitted softly. “And then…I feel like… I feel like I bombard her with just…me. I need her too much.” The last sentence came out soft as I rubbed my face, but she heard me just fine.
Esme smiled sadly, but pushed my hair from my forehead. “Please trust me when I tell you… She needs you just as much. It’s written all over her beautiful face, in the smile she gives just you, and in that musical laughter that only you can bring out in her. No, my sweet boy, she’s yours. She could never speak again, and it would still be true.” She smiled again at my worried face, rubbing a thumb over the wrinkle between my brows. “I knew it the second I introduced you on the stage of the auditorium. The entire room crackled with it. So don’t you doubt anything.”
Nodding, I glanced down at my hands. “We haven’t… Leah predicted…” I groaned, squeezing my eyes closed, and finally blurted it out. “We haven’t truly mated, Esme… And I’m…” I opened my eyes to see nothing but calm understanding. “I’m losing my mind, but I’m still too strong, and sometimes, it’s just overwhelming.”
She patted the sofa cushion next to her, and I moved so that she could wrap an arm around my shoulders and kiss my cheek softly.
“You know it’s overwhelming in any relationship, Edward. I know you do. You can see it in people’s thoughts,” she said softly and slowly. “It has nothing to do with what you are; it’s about the love that tends to overflow between two people. And you two love deeply, son. You’ve come so very far, starting with the sweetest, strongest friendship I’ve ever seen.”
Smiling a little at that, I nodded. “I know, and I love that, but I could kill her.”
“Tsk. Not a chance. I can’t see it, Edward. You love her too much.”
“I’ve bruised her already.”
“So?” she asked, smirking when I glared her way. “Bruises also happen in ‘normal’ relationships, as you put it. She’s a petite girl with fair skin, sweetheart, so it makes sense that she’d bruise easily. I did, when I was human. Hell, I’d get a bruise bumping into a table accidentally. You didn’t do it out of malice, and I bet she didn’t even feel it.”
I huffed a laugh. “No, she was fine. I just scared myself, I guess.”
“What did Carlisle say?”
I let out a deep breath. “That as long as we were careful…in every aspect…we should be fine. I just… It’s me. I worry too much, I think. I’ve waited so long for her, and now that she’s here…” I smiled over at Esme. “Just…tell me to shut up and be grateful. That’s what she’d say.”
Esme laughed, her head falling back. “I’ll do no such thing, but I can see her telling you that.”
Esme smiled and kissed my temple. “She’s good for you. Let that guide you.”
Nodding, I said nothing, but my head snapped up. Almost as if our talking about her had caused her appearance, my girl burst through the front door like the happiest of sunny days. She was pink cheeks and a swinging ponytail, with a shine to her eyes that was simply gorgeous.
“Edward!” she called, but froze when she saw who was with me. “Esme!” she squealed, rushing to her. “I didn’t think I’d see you until I got back to school. I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said, glancing between us once she pulled out of Esme’s hug.
I snorted loudly and rudely, causing both women to giggle. Opening my arms, I wrapped Bella up and pulled her to my lap, inhaling the pure scent of her.
“Never,” I growled into her neck, smiling against her soft skin when she squirmed a little. “Not that I’m complaining, but I didn’t think I’d see you for another few hours, love. What brings you here so happy?”
“Oh! Chelsea wants to barbecue, and she sent me to get you. Seth and Harry are coming. It’s sort of a thank you to them and a going away party for me before I go back to school. Esme you can come, too.”
My eyes flickered to the sun beaming in through the window, but back to Bella when she laughed.
“Tonight, Edward. Not now, silly. Did you really think I’d do that?” she asked me, tilting that beautiful head at me as her eyes rolled dramatically. My mouth opened to say something, but she kissed me to keep me quiet. “Shut up and be grateful…and say you’ll come for a night swim before my summer is over.”
Esme laughed lightly, her thoughts on how right I’d been about Bella’s attitude. She also was screaming “I told you so” in my head, so I shot her a glare, which only made her laugh that much harder.
“Yes, Bella…we’ll be there,” she answered for both of us as she stood up from the sofa. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to call Carlisle to let him know my schedule for the rest of the week.”
“Okay,” Bella and I said softly at the same time, watching her walk upstairs to the guest room.
I turned my attention back to Bella. My eyes soaked in the sight of her, and she turned to meet my gaze.
“I missed you today. Actually, I’ve missed you all this past week,” she said softly, a slight look of sadness in her eyes.
I kissed her lips. “I wanted to give you time with Chelsea and your mother, sweet girl. I get you all to myself over the school year. I was letting them be selfish with you.”
“Oh.” She studied my face, her brow furrowing. “And it’s been sunny, too, huh? Do you hate it?”
“Do you?” I countered, my insecurities coming to the forefront.
“No,” she said with a light laugh. “I hate that I can’t be with you, not the why…”
Something in my chest eased up, and I let out a slow breath. “Me, too, love.”
“So…you’ll come swimming?” she asked again, grinning at me.
Chuckling at her sweet face, not to mention the fact that I was unable to tell her no, I simply said, “Yes, ma’am.”
There were more cars than I was expecting when I pulled up to Bella’s house and led Esme to the front door. Chelsea’s mind was a little frazzled when she greeted us.
“Edward, I’m glad you’re here,” she stated with a sigh.
“Chelsea, you remember my aunt. Esme Cullen,” I introduced.
“Of course! Mrs. Cullen, it’s good of you to come,” Chelsea said, closing the door once we were inside, but her gaze landed back on me. “Renee meant well, but… I think there are too many people here for Bella.” She grimaced a little. “Or maybe it’s who came.”
“Where is she?” I asked, glancing around, though my mind was struggling with the plentiful thoughts surrounding me.
There were a few minds I recognized – mostly officers who had guarded the Swan house. There were a few I didn’t know, as well as shrill squeals and laughter from the pool area. One face came to Chelsea’s mind, but I didn’t know her…until she thought the name.
“She’s in the library, Edward,” she told me, her eyes meeting mine. “Could you…”
I nodded, turning to Esme, who kissed my cheek, saying, “Go to her. I’ll be fine.”
I wasn’t sure what I’d find in the library, but I stopped at the sound of her playing our newest song that we were working on together. As much as I loved that sound, I knew she was feeling a bit off. I could hear it in her playing, and I’d seen in Chelsea’s mind.
Quietly, I opened the door, closing it back with a click. I couldn’t help but smile her way. She was wearing shorts and a tank top, but I could see her swimsuit underneath tied at the back of her neck. Her eyes were dark and angry.
“Now…where’d my happy girl go whom I saw just a few hours ago?” I asked her, straddling the piano bench next to her, and she curled into my chest.
“I’ve never seen you in shorts,” she stated, which made me grin into her hair.
“Never mind my pale legs, Bella…” I chuckled when she snorted, but pulled back so that I could see her face. “What happened? Chelsea’s in a panic.”
“Mom invited…every-damn-body – neighbors, some of her art class friends, old school friends,” she mumbled, turning her face into my chest. I couldn’t help but wrap my arms around her. “I know she meant well, but… There are people I don’t want to see.”
“Like Maggie.”
Her head popped up, and she nodded slowly. “Edward, she…she…”
“I know what she did,” I soothed her, tucking a loose curl behind her ear as I studied her beautiful, yet hurt-filled face.
Maggie had been her best friend at the time of Charlie’s murder and Bella’s attack. The girl’s father had been a police officer. Maggie had taken it upon herself to bring crime scene photos to school with her. It was a thoughtless, childish thing to do, but they’d only been thirteen at the time. Not that it was a decent excuse, but it explained some of it.
“It’s been five years, my love,” I told her softly, kissing her before she could argue. “You aren’t the same person, and she probably isn’t either. I’m not saying what she did was okay. Far from it. I’m just asking… Is it worth staying angry over? Is she worth missing out on life?”
Bella’s gaze fell to her hands in her lap.
“My sweet girl, you’ve moved on, healed. You have better friends now, loyal ones. You have this…strange, yet completely devoted boyfriend.”
Bella’s giggle was prettier than the damn song she’d been playing, but her eyes met mine.
“Hey, I just call them like I see them,” I explained with a grin. “He truly worships the ground you walk on,” I whispered against her forehead.
Something about that caused her to freeze, but then quickly grasp either side of my face. She kissed me roughly, but I wanted her to hear one more thing.
“Bella, you’ve let go some of the worst things imaginable. This… This is nothing. It’s just…life. Friends come and go, they don’t always stay loyal, but you... You’re lucky that you have friends who will always be there. Always.” I raised an eyebrow at her so that she’d understand where I was coming from.
I knew she understood when she muttered, “I miss Alice.”
“I know you do, sweetheart. She misses you, too. Soon, you’ll see each other again. She’s trying damned hard to get to a point she can come to you,” I vowed, tilting her face up by her chin. I pressed a kiss to her lips. “Don’t let one person ruin anything for you, love. You’ve come a long way, and I, for one, am so very proud of you.”
Bella seemed to steel herself, sitting up straighter and looking up at me. “I just…have to get through this, right? Then I’m back at school. It’s probably the last time I’ll see her…any of them.”
Smiling, I nodded. “Most likely. Them?”
Bella grimaced. “Yeah, there are a few old classmates here, but…” She shrugged a shoulder that I couldn’t help but kiss. “You’re here, so…nothing else matters.”
“That’s my girl,” I growled softly against her sweet-smelling skin, making her squirm a little. “So…shall we?” I asked, standing up from the bench, offering her my hand, and bowing dramatically to her. All of it made her laugh, but she took my hand with a sweet smile and a blush to her cheeks.
I tried to focus on the feel of Edward’s hand in mine as he led me through the house. He was right; I shouldn’t still be holding anything against anyone at this point, considering all that I’d been through, but seeing Maggie had opened up fresh wounds that I’d thought I’d forgotten.
“There they are!” my mother sang, and I glanced up to see several officers I recognized, along with Harry and Esme. “Why don’t you two go on and get something to eat? You can hit the pool if you want. There are towels already out there.”
Edward greeted my mother and shook hands with a few of the officers. He got a pat on the shoulder from Harry.
“Seth’s manning the grill, Cullen, so if you don’t want it burned, I suggest you get to steppin’,” Harry teased, giving me a wink.
I really liked Harry, and it wasn’t just because he was an old friend of my dad’s. He was genuinely kind and just…real. He didn’t always follow the rules, but he seemed to always know what the right thing was. I could tell Edward liked him, as well.
Edward led us to the back door, where he stopped us. “Swim or eat, Bella?”
Smiling, I shrugged. “I snacked while Chelsea was getting stuff set up. We can swim.”
He nodded once, but cupped my face. “Look at me, love.” When my eyes met his, he smiled. “Don’t forget that they don’t know you now. I hear their minds, sweet girl. They think you’re still silent, that you’re still—”
“A freak…”
Edward growled, his eyes darkening, despite the contacts he was currently wearing in order to hide their unusual, yet temporary color. “Actually, no. That word isn’t what they’re thinking. Sad…is the word I hear.”
“Oh.” I swallowed nervously, but nodded. “Okay.”
I knew there were four or five of them out there. They’d all been at my old school, lived in my neighborhood, and some I’d once considered good friends, but they’d disappeared when I couldn’t talk. Some had even laughed at me, or taken the pictures that Maggie had brought to school and slapped them down in front of me, tossing questions at me left and right. They’d all left me alone when I’d had a panic attack that day. I’d been alone until Masen Academy. It was that thought that brought me back to the patient, handsome thing in front of me.
“Ready?” he asked, smiling and opening the door when I nodded.
The second we stepped out onto the porch, we were greeted by Seth and Paul, who seemed to be arguing over the grill. However, the group of people about my age stopped joking and swimming to look my way.
“They think you still won’t speak, Bella,” Edward whispered against my temple, but he smiled when I looked up at him. “Your call, love. I’m here for you. They don’t matter to me.” He rolled his eyes, though, shaking his head. “And they really want to know who I am. Especially the girls.”
My eyes narrowed at him, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “Aren’t you glad you can’t read my thoughts?”
He snorted. “We’ll save that debate for another time, my love. C’mon, let’s go…mingle.”
The word “mingle” sounded foreign and strange coming from Edward, but it did cause me to chuckle. However, I saw the attraction cross over the girls’ faces as we stepped out onto the pool deck. It was impossible not to be attracted to Edward. He was, in fact, beautiful, and it didn’t matter that he was in a plain white T-shirt and navy blue board shorts, because he looked like he’d stepped out of the pages of a magazine.
The first one to us made me smile. Danny had been the one I’d complained to my dad about, the one who had tried to hold my hand on the school bus. He was tall and skinny now, his dark hair buzzed short. He was followed by everyone else.
“Bella,” he said, giving Edward a wary glance, but it was Maggie’s nervous gaze that caused me to speak. She looked sick at the sight of me, not mean, not laughing.
“Danny,” I greeted, which caused Edward’s hand to squeeze mine and gasps from my old friends. I looked to Edward. “Edward, these are some of my old friends. Danny, Troy, and Jason,” I said, pointing to the three boys. “And Maggie and Sophie. This is my boyfriend, Edward.”
There were greetings all around, and Danny’s face fell a little, especially when Edward’s arm went around my waist, holding me closer. Seth called that burgers were ready, and everyone but Maggie left us.
Edward glanced down to me, kissing my forehead. “I’ll give you a moment,” he murmured before walking toward the pool.
“Bella, I…” Maggie started, her eyes on Edward as he walked away, but she locked back on me. She was older, taller, but just as pretty with her dark, curly hair as she was when we’d been friends. “I’m…sorry. I got into so much trouble…”
I held up a hand. “Don’t. It’s…not important.”
She nodded, not looking convinced, but asked, “Are you coming back to school?”
I shook my head. “No, I have a new school. It’s kinda perfect, actually. I’ll be going back there.”
Maggie nodded again, glancing over when Troy called her, but again, she looked to me. “Is that where…” She jerked a thumb toward Edward, who was sitting on the edge of my pool.
“Yeah,” I grinned, shaking my head at Edward’s smirk that he couldn’t quite hide quickly enough.
She laughed. “Danny’ll be disappointed. He’s always had a crush on you.”
“Sorry,” I sang, starting toward the edge of the pool. “I can’t help it.”
I swore I heard her mutter, “I don’t blame you,” but my focus was on Edward. From behind, I grabbed the bottom of his T-shirt, and he laughed as I pulled it up and off of him. He raised an eyebrow at me, toying with my tank top. Suddenly, the chatter and laughter and music from the stereo faded into the background.
I took off my tank, then stepped out of my shorts as Edward slipped into the shallow end of the pool, holding his arms out for me. Despite the fact that it was nighttime and he was wearing contacts, his eyes were dark fire as they raked over every inch of me. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen me in so little. He’d seen me in less, actually. But the way he was gazing at me made me feel beautiful.
The water was warm, his hands already the same temperature as he lowered me slowly down. Instead of touching the bottom of the pool, I wrapped myself around him, which caused a low, rumbling purr to vibrate the water just a little.
“You’re…so beautiful, Bella,” he whispered, his voice in awe as he sank us down into the water, taking a seat on the steps.
I glanced over my shoulder, smirking back at Edward. “Does anyone care that I’m about to kiss you stupid?”
He grinned, chuckling softly. “No. Not one. And if they did, I’m not sure I’d care.”
“Good,” I muttered before pressing my lips to his.
There was something freeing about being not only in the water, but hidden in the dark pool. The lights were on, but they were more toward the deeper end, so the steps were in shadows, which meant hands were roaming…everywhere. I pressed closer to Edward, my hands moving over his bare chest, but my breath caught at the feel of his want, even more when his hands cupped my bottom and pressed me closer.
“I can’t help it, Bella,” he breathed against my lips before pulling back just enough to press his forehead to mine, but his hands didn’t stop – down my sides, up my thighs, fingers teasing just beneath my breasts. “I’d apologize, but I’m really not sorry. Maybe for the timing…”
I smiled, giggling a little. “I love you.”
“Always,” he replied instantly and sincerely. His long fingers trailed up and down my spine, while his other arm wrapped firmly around my waist, keeping me close but still. “Bella, you’ve got to stay still, or we’re gonna have a little problem,” he warned me, raising a deadly eyebrow at me.
Little…” I laughed, my head falling back. I felt his chuckling kiss to my neck, but suddenly, I was picked up and tossed back into the water. I came up sputtering, slicking my hair back from my face, but laughed even harder when I was wrapped up from under the water.
When we resurfaced, Edward was cradling me in his arms, a beautiful crooked smile on his face, but he leaned to my ear. “It’s still a problem, my beautiful girl,” he said, his voice a touch raspy. “It’s a problem because I can’t do a thing about it right this second, no matter how badly I want to claim you as mine in front of your friend Danny. He’s got wandering eyes and a vivid imagination, Bella, both of which are making me crazy. And when I finally can do something about it, I promise you on every star in that sky above us that it won’t be in a pool in front of a bunch of people, so can you give your vampire a break…just for now?”
Grinning into his neck, I whispered, “Sorry, Edward.”
“Don’t be,” he breathed against my cheek. “However, your mother is looking for you…”
Nodding, I pulled back from him. “Okay, okay…we’ll behave.” I started toward the pool steps, dragging Edward by the hand behind me. Before we got out, I stopped him. “Hey, Edward…it doesn’t matter what he thinks. I never liked him that way.”
Edward’s lips quirked up a little. “I know…and so does he.”
I snorted at his pride-filled grin, but dragged him out of the pool behind me. “Let’s go mingle, Edward…like you said.”
He laughed, but followed me dutifully out of the pool.
The train station was busy with bustling people, rolling luggage, and loud calls over the speakers. I glanced around me, smiling at Edward and Esme talking with Chelsea, but it was my mother who needed the attention.
Alice and Edward had explained to me that my mother was still feeling out of sorts with everything that had happened. She was heartbroken and a little angry, but she was also filled with needless guilt. I tucked my train ticket into the back pocket of my jeans, turning to face her.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” I stated softly, my eyes tearing up when hers did. “None of it. Not even Daddy.”
Every officer and Harry had explained exactly what Phil had planned and done in his search for money. He’d conned my mother – plain and simple. He became what she needed and wanted simply to get closer to her, to my family’s money. Even her therapist, Dr. Buchanan, had explained to her exactly what a sociopathic person Phil had turned out to be.
“I want you to keep seeing Dr. Buchanan, Mom,” I urged her. “Please. She’ll help you sort out things.”
“What about you?” she sniffled, hugging me close and pulling back to cup my face. “Edward will be at school…”
I smiled. “Dr. Cullen’s around. I’ll have him. Esme’s great, too. Don’t worry about me.”
Her lips twitched a little, and she nodded. “I will always worry, Bella, but…I’m happy to see how far you’ve come. You’re stronger than I am. You always were. You’re like Charlie that way.” She wiped my tears with her thumbs. “I see so much of him in you. Your strength, your logic, your…” Her voice trailed off, but her eyes drifted to Edward. “Your ability to love with everything in you, with your whole heart and soul. I wish I could apologize to him. I never meant…”
I shook my head. “Don’t. He knew. I’m pretty sure he knew what Phil was capable of, but there was no stopping it. You said yourself – and so did Chelsea – that you guys were falling apart. Phil took advantage of that.”
Mom sniffled and nodded. It wasn’t anything new for her to hear.
“I loved your father, Bella. You should know that. But people grow and change; they become selfish and bitter. He worked long hours – and I know that’s no excuse – but sometimes, I got the feeling that when I had you, he got all that he wanted from our marriage.” She smiled ruefully, tapping her temple. “I know that’s not true, but it felt that way at the time. I should’ve fought harder.” She cupped my face again, kissing my forehead. “That handsome thing over there looks like he’s about to pace a hole in the floor. He’s a good one, Bella, but I don’t think I need to tell you that. Being apart isn’t easy, baby girl, so if you two make it through this year, then you’ll probably stand a fighting chance.”
Smiling at her, I nodded. I wished I could tell her that we’d already been apart, that we’d probably never be apart again, and that there was no fighting to keep us together. Edward and I were forever together, mated, soul mates; I could trust my entire heart, body, and soul in Edward’s hands. However, I couldn’t explain that to her. The truth needed to stay secret, and pretenses needed to be maintained, at least for the next school year. College would be a different story.
“I’ll let Edward say his goodbyes, but baby, make sure to call a lot, and come home for Thanksgiving or at least Christmas,” she told me, smiling when I nodded. “Oh, and your birthday is in a couple of weeks…it’s a big one this year! Any requests?” she asked, wearing a smile that was genuine and true.
I glanced over at Edward, Esme, and Chelsea. “No, I’m okay. Everyone’s safe, and I don’t want to deal with that trust fund thing anymore, so…”
I shrugged a shoulder, because my wish list was filled with things my mother couldn’t buy at a store. I wanted to see Alice, but more than anything, I wanted Edward. I wanted to show him that I loved him, to see him give into the need that he fought so hard to keep in check. And I wasn’t so sure that would wait until my birthday, but he was determined to get his diet back on track. His eyes were a deep amber now that were still hidden behind contacts, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t give in until they were completely back to the warm, molten honey I missed so much.
“Well, I’ll see what I can come up with, then,” she sang, kissing my cheek. “Love you, Bella.”
“Love you, too,” I replied, smiling when my favorite strong arms wrapped around me from behind. “I’m supposed to be telling you goodbye,” I teased him with a giggle before turning around to face him once my mother had stepped away.
“Yes, I know,” he purred, brushing his lips across mine. “It’s gonna be awful…the hours apart.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “You’ll beat us there?”
He smiled. “No, I’ll be after dark. I’ve got to close up the house, and I may stop to hunt along the way, but I’ll be home by the time you crawl into my bed. I have it on good authority that you won’t have a roommate this year…and that you’re getting your old room back, so…” He grinned, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip in a way that made me almost blind with want.
“So…you’re getting your wish. I’ll be sleeping in the east wing,” I said with a laugh.
“Esme likes to spoil me.”
“Hmm, I see that. I’ll be talking to her about that on the train ride home, just so you know.”
His eyes darkened at the word “home.” But it was true. That was how it felt. Boston would always be where I came from, where my mother and Chelsea were, but Masen Manor was now home. I’d felt overwhelmed at the idea of it when Leah had said it, but not now, not when I knew the man in front of me was my future.
I wrapped my arms around his neck, nuzzling his throat. I inhaled the scent I loved so much, just to keep it with me on the train. Edward’s arms wrapped around me, his lips pressing to my pounding pulse point.
“You’d better go, love,” he whispered against my cheek, pulling back to cup my face and truly kiss me. It was deep, but over too quickly. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Nodding, I kissed his lips again. “Love you.”
“Always,” was his instant reply. He glanced up when Esme called my name, holding a hand out for me because it was time to board. When his eyes met mine again, they were happy, but a touch mischievous. “Your mother plans on ‘grilling’ me about what you want for your birthday on the way home, my love.”
I laughed, shaking my head and kissing his lips one more time. “Good luck with that.”
His chuckle was sexy and deep, but he glanced down to the floor as he shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, like he was fighting with himself to let me go – if only for this short separation.
“Bella, what do you want?”
“I don’t need a thing, Edward. I have all I want,” I told him, stealing a last kiss. It was the same thing he’d told me last Christmas when I’d asked him about presents. “Just you.”
With a last hug to my mother and Chelsea, I grinned his way. He shot me a wink and then a tentative wave before Esme gathered me to her side and led us toward our train.


aelita48 said...

Bella faced her old friends.

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