Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | By: Drotuno

A Few Tables Away Chapter 6 & Pics

Chapter 6
The sound of birds chirping in the late afternoon echoed all around us as we walked up to Bella’s house, though one sound overrode them all. It was eerie and loud, and it sounded like it came from another time and place.
I glanced over to my right to see what it was, and Bella laughed softly. “Sandhill Cranes. See?”
She pointed toward the far edge of the yard, where three very tall birds were calling to each other. They were pale gray, with red feathers along the top of their heads. Everything about them was long and skinny – legs, necks, beaks.
“Damn, they’re as tall as you!”
Bella grinned and nodded. “Yeah, they mate for life and raise one baby to adulthood. The shorter guy is their most recent. My mother’s painted pictures of them. I’ll show you inside.”
They called out again.
She smiled again, her lips close to my ear as she whispered, “I love that sound. It’s what I imagine pterodactyls sounded like.”
I huffed a light laugh, because she was right; it was otherworldly. The sound of the front door opening made me jump, but I smiled at Jasper’s lazy half grin.
“Ed! This is how you spend your nights off?”
Chuckling, I shrugged, but Bella tsked at him, pushing him out of the way. “Hush, Jasper. Dad invited him, but I made sure he came!”
She took my hand and led me inside past her cousin, who was still laughing. He gripped my shoulder but looked to Bella.
“They wanted to eat out back, but I told them not to,” he told her, and she nodded. “It’s too damn muggy anyway.”
I gazed around the foyer, and again, I noticed the difference between my house and theirs. My mother had liked clean lines and light colors, and after she’d died, those things seemed to represent coldness and loss. But this house was bright and colorful, although not overwhelmingly so. Wood floors, with long rugs, covered the wide open spaces. To my right was a large living room, with sofas and chairs and flat screen on the wall. To my left was a long table set for six people. But it was the art on the wall that got my attention.
There were sceneries, still lifes, and portraits, not to mention some more modern pieces. And they were all signed R. Swan. It had to have been Bella’s mother. However, the large painting in the foyer was of the cranes we’d seen outside.
“You must be Edward,” I heard behind me, and I spun to see a woman who shared a lot of her daughter’s features – dark hair, smooth skin, and a very warm smile.
“Yes, ma’am.” I held out my hand to shake hers. “Edward Cullen.”
She smiled and shook my hand, only to tug me in to a brief hug. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Bella and Jasper…and now my husband. It’s good to meet you, honey. Gosh, aren’t you a handsome thing?” She cupped my face, and I smiled, not having felt a mother’s hug in so long. It wasn’t the same as my own, but it was damned close. I couldn’t help but smile at her.
“It’s good to meet you, Professor Swan,” I said, meaning it.
“Edward, this is my mother, Renee.” Bella laughed a little. “Look, there are two Professor Swans in this house. Just call them Renee and Charlie.”
“God, yes. There’s enough name calling in this house between Jasper and Bella,” Bella’s dad added, coming into the room. “Good to see you, son. Come on in.”
“What’s he talkin’ about, Nerdly McGeekerson?” Jasper whispered to Bella.
“No clue…butthead.” She narrowed her eyes on him for a second. “You know, cracking a book every year or so wouldn’t hurt you.”
Jasper seemed to take that with a grain of salt and walked away muttering something about hurting his eyes with small print and big words.
I snorted, but Bella pulled me to a stop. “You’ll have to forgive my mother. She has a tendency to blurt out whatever she’s thinking.” She wrinkled her nose adorably. “Sorta like me. We’ll either drive you crazy, or you’ll get used to it.”
Chuckling, I nodded. “It’s fine. Really.” Actually, it was rather refreshing…and a lot like my sister.
She took my hand again and led me through the house toward the most amazing and mouthwatering smells I’d ever encountered. It beat any restaurant, hands down. I wasn’t even sure I cared what they were cooking. The smell alone was maddening, and my stomach almost ached to find out.
The kitchen was huge and wide open, with an island in the middle that was covered in food. It was almost the southern cliché of meals – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and fluffy biscuits the size of my fist. There were also fresh vegetables and some sort of cobbler/pie thing on the end. My mouth fucking watered at all of it.
However, my attention was drawn to another woman in the room. She was shorter than Renee, with a touch of gray in her light-brown hair. She was currently cutting up a tomato for a salad in front of her, and her smile was just like Jasper’s – all crooked and easygoing.
“Aunt Jane, this is Edward Cullen,” Bella introduced. “Edward…Jane Whitlock.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs.—”
“Oh, no. Call me Aunt Jane,” she chastised with that same smile. “Mrs. Whitlock was my mother-in-law, and she was a rather cranky, cross woman…God rest her crusty soul…” As soft laughter rang out in the kitchen, she wiped her hands off on a towel and walked around to me. “My sweet Lord, Bella. Wherever did you find him? He’s—”
“The library,” Bella interrupted with a laugh, “though he works with Jasper.”
“Oh? You’re at my coffee shop?”
“Yes, ma’am. I just started.”
“And my son,” she drawled, glaring Jasper’s way as he stole a biscuit. “He’s treating you okay?”
Grinning, I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. He’s been great.”
“Hear that? Great!” Jasper taunted both his mother and cousin, nodding once firmly.
“Recite the alphabet, genius,” Bella sneered.
“Oh, the filing. How bad was it?” Aunt Jane asked her, and Bella merely shook her head with a scowl on her face. “Sorry, sweet pea.”
I chuckled but stayed quiet. If it weren’t for Jasper’s horrid filing system, I wouldn’t have met my Library Girl, so I didn’t regret the long day spent in his office.
Aunt Jane patted my shoulder. “It’s gonna be a few minutes for dinner. There’s one more batch of chicken in the pan.” She gestured to the stovetop. “Edward, we don’t normally eat such a grand display of artery-hardening food, but it’s what Bella wanted.”
“It looks amazing,” I stated, not caring at all about how bad it was. It had to be better than fast food any damn day.
“Don’t judge me!” Bella snapped playfully. “C’mon, Edward, I’ll show you the house.”
The sound of chatter and laughter faded a bit as we walked out of the kitchen. She led me back through the living room but took the stairs this time. The house was truly like stepping into a movie. It was filled with antiques, but it wasn’t stuffy at all. The whole place felt lived-in, filled with a warmth that seemed to start at my feet and work its way to my chest, finally spreading to my fingers.
Bella showed me the guest room, the bathroom, and the room she used to work in when she was home-schooled, but attached to the latter was her bedroom. I stopped at the door, not sure I should go in, but she sat down on the edge of a big bed.
I tried my damnedest to keep my thoughts clean, to stay away from wondering things like what she wore to bed or how she looked with that dark hair spread out on her pillows. I’d fantasized about it more than I’d like to admit, but all that seemed wrong now that I knew just how sweet she was, how kind and funny and smart she was.
Letting my eyes slowly gaze around the room, I took in the neatness, the tidiness that matched my own, but there were plenty of contradictions there. The walls, while painted pale pink for a little girl, had posters of movies and music bands. There were also some paintings that were done by her mother. The bookshelves were overflowing but still neatly organized, packed as tightly as she could get them, leaving a shelf for framed pictures and a few knickknacks.
But the smell of the room made me break out into a sweat. It was the concentrated smell of Bella. I’d caught whiffs of it in the library, in class, and definitely in her car, but it was all here, thick and arousing and beautiful. It smelled clean like soap, but it also smelled sweet like fruit or flowers. If I had to guess – and knowing my sister’s room – it was a combination of everything she used: soap, deodorant, shampoo, lotions…all of it. I wasn’t sure, but God, I liked it. The smell was comforting and sexy all at the same damn time. I wanted to drown in it.
My eyes caught pictures on the dresser, and I stepped to look at them, smiling at a young, knobby-kneed Bella.
“Oh, stop it!” she hissed, but laughed. “My awkward phase was…awkward!”
“Wasn’t everyone’s?” I countered with a grin over my shoulder at her. “At least you outgrew yours.”
I turned back to another picture but heard her approach me as I picked up what looked like a family portrait. I recognized everyone in it, despite the fact that Bella and Jasper were just kids, except for a man who had to be Jasper’s father. He looked exactly like his son – light-brown hair, smiling eyes, pleasant demeanor.
“Uncle Marcus. Jasper’s dad,” Bella whispered next to me. “He and Aunt Jane divorced when Jasper was about…oh, fifteen, I think. He moved to Georgia, has a new family, I guess. Jasper doesn’t speak to him.” The question had to have been all over my face, because Bella shrugged. “Why did he leave? I don’t know. My dad said sometimes, people have to start over somewhere new in order to make different decisions.”
“I get that, but leaving a wife and kid?” I grimaced, shaking my head.
“My dad gave me that excuse when I was a little girl. As an adult, I think he had someone else,” she stated but looked up at me with a sad smile. “That makes more sense.”
“I guess,” I muttered but smiled when Bella slipped her hand into mine again.
“C’mon, you’ll like the last room the best, I think.”
She led me back downstairs and through the living room again. This time, she took a short hallway to a closed door, opening it for me to go in. My mouth fell open at the sight of that room. It was shelf after shelf of books. Some looked to be as old as the house itself, but there were new titles there as well. One corner was a desk, piled with papers and files. Another corner had a different desk, only it was more like a drafting table, and next to it was an easel. The whole room was a bookworm’s dream. Dark woods, nailhead furniture, and thick rugs gave off a feeling of stepping back in time.
“Whoa,” I whispered, trying to soak up as many of the titles as I could. Bella’s giggle made me smile. “This is…wow.”
She squeezed my hand. “Of all my friends, I figured you would appreciate this the most.”
My head snapped to face her. “Friends?”
She grinned but bit her lip before standing up on her toes to kiss my cheek. “It’s a good place to start, Edward. Is that okay?”
I froze for a moment, my heart pounding too hard to breathe, much less speak. So I nodded like an idiot. Honestly, I’d take anything she gave me, but as I gazed into dark-brown eyes, I knew I’d never be just friends with her. I wanted more, but I didn’t know what to do to go about getting it.
“Good,” she sang, grinning up at me. “I’m gonna check on dinner. Feel free to look around in here.”
Nodding, I turned to browse the shelves, hearing her footsteps fade down the hall. The eerie call of the Sandhill Cranes came in from outside, making me smile, and I walked to the large bay window to find them, but I caught sight of her backyard…and froze. Memories and fears rattled around in my head at the sight of the small lake that was situated at the back of their property.
“Gosh, Ed… Could you have waited longer for this book report?!” Emmett teased from the passenger seat.
“Dude, seriously? Did you even turn one in?” I snapped at him from the backseat as I sorted through the supplies we’d just bought at the store. “Or were you too busy kissing Ashley to read a book?”
Mom chuckled, shaking her head at us as she turned the windshield wipers up higher. “Hush, both of you. Edward, you’ve already read the book, so this part will be the easy part. It won’t take you any time at all.”
“Exactly!” I huffed, flicking Emmett’s ear from behind.
“You little…”
He started to turn around, but the car swerved and my mother gasped as a dog darted into the road. She slammed on the brakes, causing my seat belt to snap tight. There was a sickening thump before the car started to spin, and it made me sick to my stomach as trees and road blurred by. My brother cried out at the same time the car collided hard into something. I thought it was a tree at first…until my feet started to get wet.
The water was cold, dark, dirty, and it was pouring in from everywhere, despite the windows being up.
“We’re sinking!” I yelled but looked up front to see my brother out cold, as well as my mother. The latter had blood trickling down her face from a cut on her temple. “Mom! Mom!”
She roused a bit, glancing around. “Baby boy…you gotta get out. Get your brother out. I’m right behind you…”
I fumbled for my seat belt lock, and it came undone. I dove over the seat to do the same to Emmett’s. Reaching for the window, I pushed the button to roll it down, but the power gave out about halfway down. I was skinny but not that skinny. I kicked at it with my sneaker once, twice, and it broke, leaving shards sticking up that were still attached to the window tint, but I ignored the sharp pain down my side when I swam through it, pulling Emmett behind me. We broke the surface of the water, and he snapped awake.
“Holy hell!” he gasped. “Where’s Mom?”
“She said she was behind us,” I panted, wincing as I touched the open wound on my ribs.
The car gave a lurch and a great big bubble of air, and I screamed for my mother, starting to head back down after her.
“No, Edward, you can’t! You’ll get sucked under!”
“What?! No! Mom! MOM!”
I gasped when warm hands cupped my face.
“Edward, sweetie,” Bella said over and over. “Edward, look at me.” She raked her fingers through my hair. “Oh shit, you’re shaking. I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m… I should’ve…”
I squeezed my eyes closed, shaking my head. “I’m okay.”
“You sure?”
I nodded again. “Yeah. I just…”
“The water?”
My eyes snapped open to see her face, afraid she was disgusted with me or worse…making fun of me. But she wasn’t. In fact, tears were welling up in her eyes.
“You scared me, Edward. One second, you were happy; the next you were zoned out and shaking. You…don’t have to tell me, but just…let me know you’re okay. I should’ve told you about the lake. I’m sorry.”
She wrapped her arms around my waist in a hug so fierce it was almost too tight, but I sighed at the feel of it. It had been so long since I felt that calm after the memory.
“I’m sorry I scared you. I’m okay,” I whispered to the top of her head, smiling at how much shorter she was than me. “I…I…I have a fear of water, Bella, which you’ve figured out. The…why is harder to talk about.”
She hugged me closer before pushing back. “Why move to a beach town, Edward?”
Smiling, I shrugged. “Because it was as far away from home as I could get, and honestly, I thought I could fight it. Apparently, I’m too weak.”
“You’re not weak.”
“I wish that were true.”
She studied my face, but her arms were still around me as she swallowed nervously. “Dinner’s ready. Are you…”
“I’m starving,” I whispered back, and the urge to kiss her was so damn strong that I started to sweat. She was so close, my arms were around her, and I was still coming down from the adrenaline. I caught a tear that escaped her eye, wiping it away. “I’m okay. I promise.”
“Kids?” Renee called from the living room. “Time to eat!”
“’Kay,” Bella answered, taking my hand and leading me to the dining room, where everyone was already seated. They left two seats side by side opposite Aunt Jane and Jasper. Charlie was at the head of the table, with Renee at the other end.
I glanced through the door, only to see a screened patio and another table. Smiling a little, I now knew why Jasper had said he’d stopped them from eating outside. For me. No one in my whole life had cared enough to do that. And no one had ever brought me down from the panic like Bella had; the feelings were almost overwhelming.
“So…Edward,” Renee started, pulling me out of my own head as she passed the mashed potatoes. “Where are you from?”
“A little town in Washington. Forks,” I said, smiling at the laughter, but that was the name, and I was used to the jokes about it, so it never bothered me.
We all traded stories about small-town life. Jasper and Bella ratted each other out about different adventures as kids, and I told a few about my brother and sister. The food was amazing, and the conversation so much fun that I’d forgotten who I was sitting with – my bosses, my teachers, and the prettiest girl I’d ever laid eyes on. I made no mention of my parents, which didn’t go unnoticed by Renee, and Bella was right; they were a lot alike.
“What about your parents, sweet pea? What do they do?”
Jasper and Bella froze, glaring her way. But I nodded. “My dad’s a doctor back home. My mother…” I took a deep breath. “My mother died when I was twelve.”
“Oh, darlin’…that’s… I’m sorry,” Aunt Jane crooned softly. “Did she—”
“That’s enough.” Charlie’s voice was firm but still gentle. “Leave the boy alone.”
The table went quiet for a moment, but Renee turned to Bella. “The art show is coming up. Can you help me again this year?”
“Yeah, sure.”
They started talking dates, who would be there, and how the new students this year were really talented, but Charlie’s heavy hand landed on my shoulder.
“I owe you an apology, son. Your mother’s name sounded familiar, so I searched for her online.” He kept his voice low and grimaced, shaking his head. “I’m… I…I saw there was an article. I’m sorry about the accident, Edward. Damn shame, really. You’re lucky to be alive, buddy. You and your brother.”
I nodded, pushing my potatoes around. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like a failure, like I’d let my mother down somehow. Or maybe I’d let my dad down, which was why he hated the mere sight of me. I wasn’t sure.
“But I’ve read your mother’s work, son.” He grinned, patting my shoulder when I looked back his way. “You’re every bit as good as she was…” He pointed his fork at me. “Maybe better. She’d be damned proud. You should be, too. We’ll see if we can shape you up to be a writer, if that’s what you want.”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Well, the talent is there. We’ll work on technique.” He nodded once to himself but grinned my way. “I’ll also tell you who you need for classes next year.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
“You’re a good kid, Edward. I can see that a mile away. If you weren’t, then this chatty group wouldn’t give you the time of day, but I’ve heard good things. You’re welcome here anytime.”
I felt my face heat up, but I thanked him again. Bella’s hand slid into mine on my lap, giving a squeeze.
Smiling, I looked her way as she said, “You can stay as long as you like, but I need to help clean up before I take you back to the dorms.”
“Okay. Want some help?” I offered.
“Yeah, that’d be awesome. Jasper, you too!” she ordered, and he grinned and nodded.
As everyone finished up, Bella and I started to clear the table as Jasper put leftovers away. They all were warm and welcoming, but Bella… God, I owed Bella something, anything. She deserved an explanation of why I was the way I was. I needed to talk to Alice first, but I knew what she’d tell me. She’d say to write it down first, to get it down on paper in order to be ready to say it out loud. That may be true; I’d have to think about it. But for the moment, I was happy being treated just like Jasper and Bella. In that house – in fact, for the first time since the accident – I felt like I belonged.


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