Sunday, September 20, 2015 | By: Drotuno

A Few Tables Away Chapter 14 & Pics

Chapter 14
“Go, go, go!” Jasper and Charlie whisper-yelled at the football game, and it ended in groans of disappointment when the player was tackled.
Dinner had been amazing, and I was so stuffed I could barely keep my eyes open. Bella and I had stayed up late. My face heated with the memories of what we’d done. We had also ended up reading into the wee hours, and I was pretty sure it was because neither of us was willing to be separated just yet.
The kitchen was cleaned up, leftovers put away, and Aunt Jane and Renee were out back on the porch with hot cups of coffee.
However, it was the sleeping girl with her head on my chest that kept me right where I was on the living room sofa. I didn’t give a damn about the football game, and it wouldn’t have taken much for me to fall asleep with her, but I was enjoying the simple act of holding her.
“You know, Ed, you can move her,” Jasper said softly with a chuckle to his tone.
“No, no…” I laughed, shaking my head, and running my hand down her hair. “She’s fine.”
Charlie snorted, drained his beer, and stood up. “I’m not sure she’s ever made it past halftime, but you don’t have to be her pillow, son.”
Grinning, I nodded. “She’s helped me more times than I can count, so…assuming the role of the pillow is an easy thing,” I stated honestly.
Jasper chuckled and Charlie squeezed my shoulder as he left for the kitchen to go grab another beer. My eyes started to drift closed as the game’s white-noise came back on. My nose was nestled in Bella’s hair, and her hand was gripping the sleeve of my thermal shirt. The weather outside was bright, clear, and crisp. To me, it wasn’t cold, but to the native Floridians, it was perfect Thanksgiving Day weather.
Sounds and light started to fade until the feel of my phone in my jeans pocket shocked me back awake. I shifted as best I could in order not to disturb Bella. And I smiled a little at the sight of my brother’s face on the screen.
“Hey, Em,” I answered softly, and I had to pull the phone away from my ear due to the yelling and noise coming through the damn thing.
“I’m so fucking done, Edward!” he growled over the line.
I glanced up to Jasper, motioning to help me with Bella. I carefully slipped out from the sofa, and Jasper settled her onto a pillow before I stepped out the front door onto the porch.
The yelling didn’t stop, but I could barely understand what he was saying. “Em! Emmett, slow down. What happened?” I asked, gripping my hair as I paced back and forth.
“What do you think fucking happened?! He’s such an ass, baby brother. And without you there, and without being able to keep you under thumb, he’s taking his fuckery out on everyone else. Oh, I knew… I just fucking knew he’d set his sights on Alice eventually.”
My eye twitched, and my temper sparked. “What did he do?”
The phone rattled, and suddenly, Rose’s voice came over the line. “Hey, Edward.”
“Rose, what’s…what’s going on? Did he… Is he…?”
My worst fear was that he’d start in on the degrading bullshit, the physical punishments that never ended, or ground her until she had no social life or friends. Emmett and I gladly took all those things as kids in order to keep her safe, because she’d been the one good thing in the house, the one person who’d taken care of us when we’d come home after the wreck. She’d been the one person who’d had nothing to do with any of it.
“Edward, I need you to stay calm. And I need you to listen. Alice is fine. However, she’s grounded all to hell and back. He…he…took away everything – car, phone, makeup, clothes… Fuck, he even went into her room and trashed her posters, her closet, her bookcase. He even yanked the home phone out of the wall.”
My mouth fell open. I knew Alice was sassy. I knew she was braver than Emmett and me any-damn-day, but I couldn’t fathom what she’d said or done to make him that mad.
“Because he found out about her applying to Edgewater…and about your Bella.”
My chest squeezed tight, and I had to practically fall down into the porch swing. “Okay…and?”
The phone fumbled again, and Emmett’s angry voice came back on the line. “I’m not going back, Ed. I can’t. You have no idea how close I came to killing him when he called my fiancée a fucking whore. I refuse to let him control us anymore, ’cause that’s why he’s so pissed – he can’t control us once we’re spread as far away as possible. As soon as Alice is out of that house, he’s shit out of luck, man, and he fucking knows she’s the only fucking reason we’re still in contact. I packed up what I wanted out of my room. I can’t. I won’t. I will go to jail, little brother, I’m not even kidding a little fucking bit.”
“Shit,” I hissed, and I nodded because I completely understood it. I couldn’t bear the mere thought of our father saying something to Bella, to the one person who meant more to me than my own life. I’d caught the word fiancée, too, but now wasn’t the time to ask. My brother was too pissed.
“Okay, I’ll deal with it when I go home for Christmas,” I stated decidedly, simply because there wasn’t much choice in the matter. There was a part of me that already felt numb at the prospect of it.
“Ali said you’d come anyway,” Emmett sighed, and I caught movement in my peripheral vision. “You don’t have to go back, Edward.”
Glancing up, I saw Charlie standing there, a shoulder leaning on the porch railing post. His face looked worried as he tried to cover it up by running his fingers over his mustache.
Bella had told me that she’d told her father about the wreck, my mother, my dad, so I rubbed my face and sighed. “I can’t not go back, Em. Not now. Now that he’s aiming Alice’s way. No. I can’t do that to her. If I don’t go home, he’ll be ten times as pissed off. I’d rather just…face it. Maybe it’ll take the pressure off her, yeah?”
“Damn, baby brother…”
“Just call me if you hear anything, Em. Otherwise, I’ll be back in Forks in a couple weeks.”
Emmett promised he’d check on Alice as best he could. Even without the phone, there was still e-mail that Alice could access at school or the library. When the call ended, I sat forward on the swing, gripping my hair.
I felt the swing shake with Charlie taking a seat next to me, and I glanced over at him.
“You okay, son?”
I shrugged a shoulder and then finally nodded. “I don’t have a choice. I knew I was going back, and I knew I had to check on my baby sister…” I trailed off.
“We all have choices, Edward,” he said softly. “Every choice we make affects everything and everyone around us. Then, there are things out of our control, like what kind of family we’re born into or the members that surround us. You can’t pick your blood relatives, son.”
Snorting humorlessly, I nodded.
“However, you can surround yourself with people who treat you better than family. I’ve learned that family doesn’t necessarily contain the family tree. You get what I’m telling you?”
“Yes, sir, but it wouldn’t be right, wouldn’t feel right abandoning her. He’s pissed because she wants to come here to be near me. He’s pissed because I asked my brother and sister to keep Bella a secret from my dad, for this reason. He’s…”
“Your father is emotionally and verbally abusive, Edward,” Charlie stated so firmly that my head snapped up to look at him. He was pissed. “Maybe even a touch physical, but… He uses what you love against you. He’s probably done that his whole life, maybe even to your mother, but I’m just guessing there. However, he’s using your sister, using your brother’s fiancée – sorry, he was loud enough I could hear him – against you.”
“S’okay,” I muttered, gazing blindly at the wood porch floor. “I don’t know what to do. She’s my sister. She…she took care of me and my brother a-after the car accident, and she was only ten then! She’s always done it. I just…”
“Family – good family – is important. I’m not saying you’re to abandon them, not at all, but there will come a time when those choices I mentioned will come into play. You have to decide what’s best for you, son. You came to Florida for a reason, and I think that was an amazing and very intelligent first step of proving yourself to be a man, of separating yourself from something that in all reality could’ve made you a completely different person, but you are you. You’re a good man, son. You’re smart and kind. If you weren’t, then I wouldn’t have my daughter coming to me that first dinner saying she was keeping you.”
Grinning, I shook my head.
“You’ve won her heart, which is saying something, but you’ve won yourself a different type of family, Edward.” He chuckled a little, shaking his head. “My wife wants to adopt you, my sister thinks you’re the most adorable thing she’s ever seen, and my nephew treats you like a brother. But it’s my little girl who means the world to me, and she’s decided that you’re it. You’re here, and you’re not going anywhere, so that means…you, your well-being, and even your siblings are now part of the equation.” His mustache twitched a little. “In order to keep her happy, I need to keep you happy, not that I wouldn’t, Edward, because you’re a damn good kid, despite what you’ve been told or what you’ve come to believe.”
“I don’t know what to do,” I sighed. “I don’t want to go; the idea makes me crazy, but I can’t… I have to and…”
Charlie gazed out over the front yard for a moment, finally looking back to me. “No one said you had to stay the whole Christmas break. And no one said you had to face things alone. That guest room is yours whenever you wish, and Bella…”
Swallowing thickly, I nodded. “I know, but I…I…” I sighed, looking over at him. “I know she wants to go with me, but I won’t…I can’t do that. I can’t bring her near him.” Charlie nodded, but I went on. “I moved here to get away from him, but I…I also knew I had to be there for my sister at least until she graduated high school. I’m…I’m hoping this is the last time. I…I don’t know what I’ll do if he stops helping with school, or even what’ll happen come summer, but I…I can’t do it anymore.”
“Good for you, son.” He gripped my shoulder. “Stupid son of a bitch…” He shook his head slowly. “I’ll never understand it. Your kids should be the people you treat the best, with the most patience, with the most love, because they’re who will be taking care of you when you’re old and pissing the bed.”
Chuckling, I nodded, but then I shrugged a shoulder.
Both of us glanced in through the window when an explosion of curse words and name calling filtered out to us.
“Oh, hell,” Charlie groaned. “Jasper found the can of whipped cream.”
“You, asshat!” I heard Bella’s voice snap and then the pounding sounds of footsteps and laughter.
Charlie chuckled again but stood up from the swing, facing me. “When Bella brought you to dinner that first night here and told me she was keeping you, I asked her then about the holidays. It worries me to no end to send you home to a rough situation. I don’t like it – as a father or a teacher. I don’t see how a man could blame his child for something that was clearly an accident. But…I also understand your loyalty to your brother and sister.” He sighed, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his pants. “I understand, too, your need to protect Bella, so…” He grimaced, shaking his head. “I would…really like it if you kept in touch while you were gone. I don’t care if it’s Bella, Jasper, or even myself, but…”
“I’d planned on it, sir,” I told him. “Bella made me make the same promise.”
“Of course she did.” Charlie laughed, and we both looked up to see a disheveled, grumpy-looking, slightly messy Bella step out onto the porch. “Oh, shit,” Charlie mumbled, shaking his head. “Did you kill him, baby girl?”
“No, but he’s currently taking a shower. An entire can of whipped cream may or may not have ended up in the back of his boxers.”
Snorting to a loud laugh as Charlie squeezed his eyes closed and shook his head, I opened my arms for her. Her disgruntled expression was just as adorable as the rest of her, but I tried my damnedest not to laugh when I reached up to wipe away a smear of fluffy, white whipped cream from her cheek and her nose.
Her fierce expression didn’t change as she glanced between us. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
Taking a deep breath, I said, “Apparently, Thanksgiving at the Cullen residence went…awry.”
She narrowed her eyes, glancing again between me and her father. “That’s it! You’re not going! He’s not going, Dad!”
Smiling, I shook my head. “I have to go, pretty girl,” I stated as calmly as I could. “I’m the reason things went…crazy.”
She sighed impatiently, her nostrils flaring with her temper as I told her what had happened – about Dad finding out that Alice had applied to Edgewater, about Emmett and Alice keeping my relationship with Bella from Dad, and about how his temper was now focused on my little sister.
“Then I’m going with you.”
“No.” I shook my head. “I’d give you the world, Bella, that’s no lie, but I can’t put you in that situation. I can’t.” I was still shaking my head when Charlie shifted a bit behind her. “If I don’t go, my dad will be even angrier, and who knows what he’ll say or do…to any of us. If you come with me, he will…” I sighed, locking sights on Charlie for just a moment. “Bella, he’ll use you against me. He’ll focus on you to… Oh, God, if he said the things to you that he said to Rose, Bella, I…” I groaned, gripping my hair with one hand and touching her chin with my other. “Please, don’t ask that of me.”
Bella’s sweet face was a mix of hurt and worry, her eyes watering a bit.
“Don’t, please… Don’t cry. You have no idea how badly I want to take you, but I know what’s waiting.”
“What will he do?” Charlie asked, from his perch on the porch railing.
“Lots of yelling.” I smiled ruefully, tapping my temple. “I’ve learned to tune it out. But I imagine that the attic needs cleaning and wood needs chopping. I’m sure there will be things that need to be repaired.”
“He’s getting worse, Edward,” Bella stated.
“He’s losing them, and he knows it,” Charlie sighed, standing up straight and folding his arms across his chest. “I don’t like it, son. It feels wrong sending you back.”
“It’s a month, not even,” I countered, shrugging a shoulder. I wanted to tell them a month was nothing compared to the seven years I’d endured, but Bella would most likely lose it.
Charlie let out a deep breath, pushing off the railing to go back inside and muttering about idiots raising good kids.
“Edward, please.”
Looking back to Bella, I shook my head no. “I can’t, pretty girl. There’s a part of me that…shuts down when he starts his shit, and I’ve learned to deal with it. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of yelling. If you’re there, I… I can’t… My brother almost killed him,” I said grimacing at the thought. “And honestly, my dad isn’t worth the trouble that would bring.”
Bella glared at me with a skeptical expression on her face, but her hands reached up to cup my face. “What’s the real reason I can’t go, Edward?”
Studying her face, I took a deep breath and shifted on the swing. “C’mere,” I whispered, pulling her down onto the seat and wrapping my arms around her shoulders. I started to push the swing gently with my foot and pressed my lips to her temple, saying, “When I came here to Glenhaven, all I wanted…all I asked for was a new start. I needed to get away from my dad, from Forks, and from all the rumors and whispers that I’d grown up with, but I also wanted to be someone different.” Smiling against her hair, I chuckled a bit. “Problem with that is… I’m me. I can’t change who I am. I came here anxious and afraid of water, shy and scared, running from my problems. I’m still all those things, but instead of an escape, instead of simply going to school, I’ve found…more. You… Jesus, Bella… You have no idea what you’ve done.” I laughed softly into her hair, which was a bit sticky from Jasper’s prank, but I didn’t give a shit. “You’ve given me…everything.” I leaned on the last word, reminding her of our first kiss.
She turned to look at me, and I kissed her lips to keep her from saying anything.
“From the first time I saw you, the first time I spoke to you, you’ve shown me what things should be, could be,” I explained, trying to brush her hair from her face, but I smirked when it wouldn’t cooperate. “You, pretty girl, are my home now. This house, those people inside, and you… I need this to come back to, and I also need it to stay far away from Forks, Washington. I need the two polar opposites to stay separated.”
Bella was shaking her head, tears welling up in her eyes. “I get that, baby. I do. Really. But…if you…if you need me, then I can’t promise to stay away. Could you?”
Smiling, I kissed her again. “No.” Sighing deeply, I trailed my finger down her beautiful face. “You remember our first lunch after our kiss, after we became…more? When you asked me about going home? You were worried to even ask about it, but do you remember what I told you then?”
“That you have to appease your dad to keep him paying for school,” she provided, but I shook my head.
“No, pretty girl, not that part.”
Her brow furrowed as tears coursed down her face. “That he can’t hurt you? That the only people that could hurt you are your s-siblings and…”
“My siblings and you. Exactly. It’s true, Bella,” I told her, shrugging a shoulder, but I wiped away her tears with my thumbs. “Please, trust me. I am well aware of where I stand with him. I know that he blames me. I know that for a while, I blamed myself, but I also know that no matter what he says, does, or whatever, it can’t touch what I’ve found here. Coming here, despite his anger and protests, has been the very best decision I’ve ever made.” I smiled at the truth of that. “And I wouldn’t have come here without my sister’s encouragement, because I almost gave into him. So…that being said, Bella… I have to go. I have to go home at least this last time until she’s free of him. I owe her that…for…protecting my relationship with you…” I trailed off as my mind made a connection.
I opened my mouth but shook my head as I realized something. “Wait a second…”
I pressed a kiss to her lips and stood up from the swing. I started to pace, thinking back to the last conversation I’d had with my dad, when he’d told me not to weasel out of coming home for Christmas break. It was the same conversation where he’d told me I’d fall for the first girl that “got my dick wet.” My eyes narrowed, because he’d already known. He’d been goading me then, but I’d ignored it.
“He knew,” I whispered, turning to lock gazes with Bella. “He… He already knew about you. So…why’s he pissed now?”
“Because he’s an asshole?”
Chuckling, I nodded in agreement but knelt in front of her. “No, seriously. He had to have figured out… The phone bill… He’s always saying he knows how much Alice, Emmett, and I talk, because he pays the bill, but he must’ve seen your number. He already knew.”
“Which means he’s baiting you, baby!” she hissed at me, her eyes welling up again.
“Maybe, pretty girl,” I soothed her, “but it still boils down to this… If I don’t go, he’ll be even more pissed. I can’t… I owe it to my sister to at least…share this shit with her. She’s taken care of me since Mom died. I don’t want to go, you know that – you saw that last night – but it’s the right thing to do.”
Bella kissed my lips hard, and she tasted salty and sweet with her tears and the remainder of whipped cream. “Okay, then…compromise with me, Edward Cullen,” she commanded, and I nodded for her to continue. “You will talk to me or text with me the entire time you’re gone. And…and… At night, we’re still reading to each other…”
“Easiest deal I could make, Bella.”
“And…” she added, raising an eyebrow at me. “You… Edward, I’m not kidding. If I can’t…if I don’t hear from you, I’m coming to you. And I’ll bring Dad or Jasper or someone with me.” When I started to argue, she kissed me again. “That is not negotiable. Don’t even argue.”
I could see from her determined expression that she couldn’t be swayed, so I nodded in agreement. It would be easy to keep in touch with her, so I didn’t see a problem. I also knew that my dad’s work schedule would give me time without any interruption.
“I won’t argue, Bella, but I’ve got two weeks before I leave, and I’d… I’d really like to just…not worry about it. I’m gonna miss you enough as it is, and we’ve got tests coming and my shifts at the café so, can we just…be us, do what we’ve always done?” I asked her. It was as honest as I could be without begging her to run away with me, to hide from it all.
I wanted to tell her – in absolute detail – how much I loved her, but the words were too important, so I was pretty sure I’d have to write them down first. As I reached up to touch her face, I realized just how much she’d changed me. Maybe it wasn’t change but more of making me feel more…accepted, and I wasn’t even scared of telling her; I just wanted to find the right words.
“Please?” I asked in a whisper.
Bella’s smile was warm and sweet, as were those beautiful dark eyes of hers.
“Anything, Edward, but I need a shower first. Then I want to find out if Edmund and Faria escape the prison!”
“Yes, ma’am.” Chuckling, I nodded and kissed her, loving that she was enjoying The Count of Monte Cristo, but in all reality, it was fun reading with her. It made every book – even that ridiculous yet sexy romance – that much more…just more. And I’d take it, because I wanted as much good and more as I could get before I left Florida in two weeks.


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