Monday, August 31, 2015 | By: Drotuno

A Few Tables Away Chapter 8 & Pics

Chapter 8
“Ed, you okay?” I heard behind me as I put away the mop and bucket.
I nodded but didn’t say anything, reaching for my backpack. When I stood up straight, he was still eyeing me, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Did my cousin say something crazy?”
I broke into a laugh, shaking my head. “No, not at all.”
“Well, there’s a first,” he said with a teasing grin.
“No, she’s… We need to talk. I’m just…nervous, I guess.”
He sobered quickly, walking to me. “Sounds serious…” he started but then trailed off. “Is that why she asked to close up?”
Wrinkling my nose, I nodded. “Yeah, probably. Privacy.”
He nodded again. “Try not to hurt my cousin, Ed. Mm’kay?”
I snorted at the ridiculousness of that statement. “Of all the people in this equation, Jasper…it’s not Bella who’ll get hurt. Okay?”
I didn’t mean for that to come out so harshly, but it was the truth. I couldn’t hurt Bella if I tried. No, this was different. This would put everything in her hands; it would give her the power to destroy me.
“Oh.” He inhaled deeply and then let it out, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Then let me give you a piece of advice, and then I’ll leave you two to lock the joint up.” He waited until I nodded before he went on. “First of all, you and Bella have more in common than you think. Just a few years ago, she was just as…shy and she’d say nerdy, but she wasn’t. She’s just damned smart…like you. She broke out of that shell, and you will, too, Edward. You already have – a little, anyway.” He squeezed my shoulder to make sure I was listening. “I get the impression you’ve seen some pretty tough shit, but you need to know that Bella’s not gonna judge you on a bit of it. That’s just not the way she works. And…” He grinned, and it was crooked and mischievous. “She likes you, dude, so… I’m pretty sure you could tell her anything and she’ll take it. She’s a pretty tough cookie.”
I knew he was right; it was me who wasn’t so tough, but I didn’t say anything when I followed him out to the sitting area of the coffee shop. Bella was sitting on the sofa in the corner of the room, twirling a set of keys around her finger.
“I’ve got this, Jasper.”
“Right. No unsupervised parties, no alcohol, and don’t break anything.”
Bella grinned. “Sure, Dad.”
Chuckling, I shook my head at them and took the chair across the table from her as Jasper left us alone. Bella followed him, turning the deadbolt on the doors. She flipped the switch, leaving half the lights on. It gave anyone passing by the impression that the place was empty, closed.
I fidgeted nervously with the strap to my backpack, raking a hand through my hair. Bracing myself, I tore my gaze from the little table in front of me to look at Bella, who had slipped quietly back into her spot on the sofa.
“Did you…” I sighed deeply, tilting my head at her. “Did you mean what you said? About staying up all night?” I asked, wearing a smile at the thought of it. “’Cause it might take that long.”
Her smile was sweet. “If need be, Edward. I…I wish I could make this easier on you.” She offered me her hand on the table, and I placed mine in hers. “I’d say you didn’t have to tell me, but then…you seem determined, so…”
I dropped my eyes to our hands, toying with her fingers. “I need to do this. You…” I shook my head slowly. “You make me feel things I’ve never felt before, Bella. And with that comes the need to be honest with you. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” she whispered, linking our fingers together, “but if it hurts you…”
I laughed harshly, though there was no humor in it whatsoever. “I used to think I couldn’t be hurt anymore.”
It was cryptic, but it was true. Bella could walk away, and I’d live, but it would confirm my theory that I wasn’t normal. And I wasn’t sure that would stop me from liking her, because I’d truly started to shift from a crush on her to something else, and that was what made me want to be honest with her.
“Sweetie?” she called softly, and I met her warm eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. I promise you. Does what you’re about to tell me have to do with why you panicked at my house that night at dinner?” she asked, and I nodded. “Okay, so does this have to do with…with your mother, Edward?”
Her beautiful head tilted a bit, and her smile was small but warm. “And you’re scared to tell me?”
“A little,” I mumbled, wrinkling my nose. “Your opinion has become…important.”
She lifted our hands and, much to my shock, pressed kisses to my knuckles. “Then you should know that nothing you tell me will scare me or make me think of you differently. Whatever you say in this…closed-up café is just between us. Whatever has happened prior to this moment has no bearing on this tiny table in the corner of said café. And lastly, my opinion of you is pretty much cemented in stone. I think you’re a shy, sweet, smart guy. I think you’re the most handsome thing I’ve ever laid eyes on, and if you don’t stop me, I’m gonna embarrass myself by rambling stupid shit.”
Grinning, I felt my cheeks flame. “Thanks.” I took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes, deciding to just start from the dinner at her house. “Did your dad tell you he Googled my mother’s name?” I asked her, and she shook her head no. “He did. He said he remembered her name but couldn’t quite place what she’d written. When he did, he…he found the news article on her…death – a car accident.”
Bella nodded but didn’t say anything, so I went on.
Swallowing nervously, I focused on our hands linked together. “I was… I don’t know. I was a normal twelve-year-old kid.” I shrugged. “I had friends and played some sports. I picked on my little sister and bugged my older brother to death. I procrastinated on homework, watched too much TV, played video games. Normal stuff.
“We’re all pretty close in age. Emmett and I were in middle school at the same time, so we knew each other’s friends and teachers and whatever. I’d…always been the different one in the family. I liked reading. I liked making up stories for Alice and my mother. Emmett was good at math, and Alice liked science, but I was the…daydreamer.” I wrinkled my nose at that term, because it had been spat at me more times than I could count, but only after my mother was gone.
“You should know now… I look just like her. I have the exact same interests as her. She was a teacher at Forks High School – English, of course. Never mind her published work.” I smiled a little when Bella nodded, keeping my hand in hers. “My weird hair, my eyes, my smile…all from her. My dad…he’s blond and blue eyes, and my brother takes after him more. Alice…she’s… Well, she dyes her hair dark, but her eyes are like his.”
“Your hair isn’t weird,” she interrupted, grinning a little. “I like it.”
Shaking my head, I smiled again. “Thanks.”
I was quiet for a moment, and she let me be. I needed to get through the wreck. That was it. That was all. But the fear was always there, right there, on the surface. Along with that fear came the sense of failure, the knowledge that I should’ve done things differently.
“I’d forgotten a book report,” I whispered, frowning down at the table, but I didn’t see the table. I saw the teasing smile of my brother that I was in trouble. I saw my dad’s impatience that my mother couldn’t finish dinner because she had to drive me to the store for supplies. “I’d…I’d already read the book but had forgotten I needed to make a poster for it. My mom wasn’t mad, just…inconvenienced that we had to rush out at the last minute to get what I needed. Emmett went with us. Alice stayed home.” Frowning, I licked my lips. “My dad didn’t want us to go. He told her to let me suffer the bad grade, but she told him not to worry about it, that we’d be right back.”
I met Bella’s eyes. “Washington is rainy. Like always wet and kinda cold in the fall.” I swallowed back more nerves. “It’s not like here, where it rains in the afternoon but dries up pretty quickly. The rain there just keeps everything…slick. It was on the way back that it happened. Emmett was happy I was in trouble, but I was giving him shit right back…kinda like you and Jasper.”
Bella grinned, but it didn’t last long. I was pretty sure she could tell what was coming, but I needed to just…say it.
“Emmett has always been good with girls, so I was teasing him about not turning in a book report, only kissing his girlfriend. I…I…flicked his ear, and he…” I squeezed my eyes closed. “He took his seat belt off to pound me, but…Mom lost control of the car. Apparently it was a dog that darted out, and…she swerved. The tires lost traction, and we skidded off the road and into a…a…lake.” I pulled my hands from Bella’s, rubbing my face roughly and sinking my fingers into my hair. “I tried…I…I… My seat belt kept me from getting hurt…well, hurt on impact, but… Emmett was out cold, and my mother was bleeding. We were sinking fast. She…she… She told me to get my brother out, so… I was able to open the window some, but the water had killed the car’s power, so I had to kick it, break it. I was small enough then that I could climb over the seat to the front and…and…”
I looked to her, but I didn’t really see Bella. All I could see was the past. “She said… She said she was right behind us, but…when I pulled Emmett up, she wasn’t there. She…She…”
Bella got up from her spot and sat in the chair next to me, cupping my face. “Look at me, Edward,” she commanded gently, pulling my forehead to hers. I opened my eyes to tears and beautiful, sad brown eyes. “I can put the rest together…”
I knew she could, but I couldn’t stop now that I’d started. “I tried to go back, but… I was too weak, and the car was sinking so fast. Emmett stopped me, said I’d get sucked under. I fought him, and I tried anyway, but…I…I’d lost too much blood.”
“Blood? I thought you said…”
“The window, the glass shattered, but…the tint held it together, so the shards cut me when I pulled Emmett out.” I instinctively reached to touch my side, but Bella’s hand covered mine.
“You’re lucky to be here,” she said softly, squeezing my hand that was still flat along my ribcage.
“That’s what your dad said,” I whispered back, shaking my head. “We…we were lucky that someone was behind us. They called for help, but I don’t remember that. I…I woke up like two days later in the hospital.” I reluctantly pushed away from her a bit. “I…can’t face water… I can’t…really drive in the rain. And…my brother couldn’t play sports again because when he took his seat belt off, his knee shattered into the dashboard.”
I simply stared at her. With tears coursing down her face and her warm gaze my way, she was still the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. Reaching up, I gently swiped away her tears with my thumbs.
“You were so brave.” She took my hands in hers again but frowned when I started shaking my hand.
“No, not at all. It was… All of it was my fault. My…report, the car ride, teasing Emmett… Not helping my m-m-mom. Every bit of it.”
“No! Edward, baby, stop! It’s not your fault. You…You…You were twelve. Just twelve. A little boy. Nothing about that night was your fault. You have any idea how many last-second homework dashes to the store my parents have had to do? Imagine Jasper! Homework? Are you kidding?” she asked, though her voice raised an octave.
I cracked a smile but shook my head again. “Everyone… They told me. She…she drowned. I could’ve at least tried!”
“Who!? Who would tell a little boy who’d just lost his mother that it was his fault? Who would be cold enough to do that?” she practically growled those questions at me, her dark eyes almost black in their fierceness.
“My dad.”
Bella froze, her face paling as she studied me, and I turned away from her. “He didn’t,” she argued in a whisper.
“He did. From the moment I woke up in the hospital.”
I wasn’t going to tell her this part, but she already knew we didn’t get along, so she might as well know why. She might as well know everything, even the reason I left the Pacific Northwest and moved all the way across the country to the Sunshine State. She needed to know that my father blamed my mother’s death on me, that he used any excuse to tell me, even to this day.
I started shaking my head, because I could see it, smell it, hear it all plain as day. I was nineteen, but it didn’t take much to make me feel the pain, the fear, the guilt as if it were yesterday.
Beeping and whispers caught my attention, bringing me around slowly. I felt heavy and cold. I also felt pain everywhere.
“Big brother?” I heard beside me, and I blinked over to see Alice. “You awake, Edward?”
“Yeah,” I rasped, squeezing my eyes closed. “What…Where’s…”
“Hold on! I’ll go get Daddy!” she whisper-yelled, and she hopped down from the chair and out the door.
Gazing around, I could see I was in a hospital room. I was in the bed by the door, and to my right was another bed, but it was empty. The door pushed open, and my dad walked in, wearing scrubs and his white coat. His face was blotchy, red, his mouth set in a thin line. He was pissed.
He didn’t say a word as he picked up my chart, checked my pulse, and flashed a light in my eyes. Even when he pulled down the covers of the bed and lifted the gown I was wearing, he didn’t speak.
Looking down at the bandages once he revealed them, everything rushed back at me. Tears pooled in my eyes, and I flinched when he pulled the wrap and gauze away. When I looked down, the sight made me sick. I looked like I’d been clawed by a tiger or something – long, crooked, angry cuts raked down my side from just beneath my armpit to just above the waistband of my underwear. They hurt, but how I got them hurt more.
“Dad?” I hiccupped through a sniffle.
Without looking at me, he said, “You have a hundred and twenty-two stitches. You might want to keep that in mind before you start to move. Hmm?” I nodded, but he wasn’t looking my way. “They’ll still probably scar, but…” He shrugged a shoulder. “Your brother’s in surgery; they’re repairing his knee.”
“Dad?” I called again, and he looked at me.
“What, son?” he answered firmly. His gaze raked over my face, but then he looked down at my chart.
“What… Mom?”
“Your mother?” he snapped, glaring my way. “Your mother’s dead, Edward. I’m pretty sure you knew that.”
I turned away from him, a sob escaping me. “Sh-Sh-She said… Sh-She told me t-to get Emmett. Sh-She said she was coming!”
His nostrils flared, his eyes dark as he braced a hand on my bedrail. “Well, she didn’t. Had she died on impact, her lungs wouldn’t have been full of water. She drowned, Edward. You let your mother drown.”
“No, no, no! Dad, I did…I did what she said. I…I…I tried to go back, but everything went black. The car, it…”
“All this…” he spat, sneering at me. “All this over a goddamn book report.”
“Th-Th-There was…a…a…dog, Dad! I swear… I tried!”
He huffed a derisive laugh, shaking his head slowly. “You tried?” He laughed again, and it was scary and mean. He’d always been strict but never mean. “You failed, son,” he practically sang my way. “You failed, taking away my wife, your mother, and you’ll be lucky if your brother can walk. What the hell was he doing with his seat belt off?”
“He…He took it off!”
“Emmett wouldn’t do that. He knows better.”
I’d never argued with my dad before, and I could barely breathe, much less argue with him now.
“Fucking book report…” he spat out into the room with a slow shake of his head. “That better be one helluva damn report. You’d better get an A on it, no matter how late it is. In fact, you’re so worried about your grades, son, you’d better be the perfect student from this moment on…or face the consequences.”
Both of us looked up when Alice stepped back into the room, and her gaze landed on me. She barely batted an eye, crawling up on the bed to hug me.
“Alice,” he sighed impatiently. “Your brother needs his rest.”
My fierce, very small baby sister glared his way. “He’s crying! He needs hugs! Mom would hug him!” she stated, and I could see she meant it and wasn’t going to back down.
He narrowed his eyes at her, but he merely sniffed. “Make sure he doesn’t rip those stitches.”
She nodded, looking to me. “I’ll take care of you, big brother. Emmett, too.”
“Edward, Edward, Edward… Look at me,” Bella whispered against my forehead. She’d stood up at some point and was standing between my legs. Her arms were practically holding me together. Placing her hands on either side of my face, she tilted my face up. “Look at me.”
Her fingers covered my lips. “Oh, my fucking God… If you apologize…”
I frowned beneath her soft fingers, my gaze raking over her tear-stained face.
“What…” Bella started, but then she stopped.
“Ask me anything, Bella,” I said, pulling her fingers away from my lips. “Go ahead.”
She pursed her lips together, her nostrils flaring a bit, but she leaned to kiss my forehead. “What… What were those consequences, Edward? Over your grades?”
Shrugging, I looked down at her hand in mine. “Oh, umm, different stuff – chores, like chopping wood or yard work or cleaning the attic. We weren’t done until there were blisters. He’d, umm…ground us from TV and video games, or go to bed without dinner, which rarely happened, because he worked nights, so we’d eat anyway. Once we were old enough, he’d take away our cars.”
“Did he hit you?” she asked in a whisper.
“No, my dad hasn’t laid a hand on me since before Mom died.”
“You say ‘we.’ He punished all of you?”
“For grades, yes. We all had to be honor-roll students.” I reached up and captured her tears again. “Please don’t cry. You’re way too pretty to cry,” I begged softly, and my fingers trailed across the color that bloomed in her cheeks. “He didn’t beat us, if that’s what you’re asking. If he gets mad enough, he yells, throws stuff. He pretty much ignores Alice, which I envied for years. He thinks I ruined Emmett’s chances at baseball, but my brother doesn’t care. He’s going to UW to be an architect. The older we got, the harder it was for him to punish us, because we all make good grades.”
“Why do I think he specifically picked on you?” she asked.
“He did. I told you…I was different than my siblings, Bella. I’d rather read or write than go to the movies with the kids from school, especially those kids back home. The town is so small, they all heard about the accident, so it went from curiosity to picking on me when I didn’t talk about it. I rarely talked to anyone but Emmett and Alice. I wouldn’t go to the beach like the rest of them, and soon everyone figured out why, including Dad, which he had no patience for, mind you. My father thought I needed to be more social…or really, keep up appearances, so he’d get pissed when I’d stay home from parties or prom, which resulted in more chores or the car being taken away.”
“That’s why you told Alice you were okay with him selling it.”
“Oh, yeah. He wouldn’t let me bring it, because he didn’t want me here. He tells his friends it’s because the insurance would be too much. But he’s held it over my head since I was sixteen.” Smiling sadly, I looked up at her. “I’m not stupid, Bella. I’m aware that the sight of me reminds him of her, that he needed to place blame somewhere. I learned a long time ago that if I shut up, stayed out of sight, no one – not even my dad – could get to me. Though, that can set him off, too.”
“It’s unfair and so wrong that he blames you. He’s the grownup. You’re the kid. Hell, he could’ve even blamed your mom for not watching the road.”
Nodding, I sighed deeply, feeling exhausted. “I know, but he does. Sometimes, it’s easier to believe he’s right.”
“No. No, he’s not right. And I think he’s hurt you…”
“Broken dishes and cups of coffee didn’t hurt me, Bella. Insults and constant reminders can’t hurt me anymore, either.”
“I can see that they do. You’re shaking, baby,” she said through a thick, emotion-filled voice, cupping my face. “Why?”
“You… You’re the first person I’ve ever told anything to,” I admitted softly. “I wanted to be honest with you, because you’ve become so important to me, but I’m scared you can’t… That you won’t…” I grimaced. “I’m not normal, Bella. I don’t like parties or crowds. I can’t go to the beach like everyone. I’m not…” I huffed a humorless laugh. “I don’t even have a car, and… The panic attacks may never—”
“What did I tell you when you started this story, Edward?” she asked, squishing my face a little to stop my rambling. “I told you I wasn’t going anywhere.” She eyed me for a moment, her lips in a tight line, but I could see she meant it. “I want you to come home with me tonight. Let me take care of you. I promised you all night, and I intend to make good on that. We’ll stop by the dorms for your clothes. I’ll feed you, you can stay in the guest room, and we’ll ride to school together in the morning. Please…”
I smiled a little, shaking my head. “I haven’t scared you away yet?”
“Never. I may hold on a bit tighter.” She smiled up at me when I stood in front of her.
When she wrapped her arms around me, I pressed my nose to her hair, whispering, “I may get used to it.”
“Good! You need spoiling!” she huffed but grinned at my chuckle. “C’mon… I think Aunt Jane was making beef stew tonight.”
She linked our fingers together.
Suddenly, the idea of going to her house instead of my dorm room sounded like the best thing I’d heard in ages.


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