Wednesday, September 30, 2015 | By: Drotuno

A Few Tables Away Chapter 17 & Pics

Chapter 17
As a little kid, I never thought to question my parents on certain things. Esme Cullen had always been open and forthcoming with all three of us. She’d explain things, teach us things, and she’d done it all with patience and love and hugs.
The sound of the splitting log sounded dull in the snowy late morning. I stood the next one up and swung again as my mind sorted through memories.
I was trying my damnedest to remember if my father had ever hugged me – or any of us, for that matter. Other than the occasional medical issue, I was pretty sure he’d never touched us. Actually, I’d never really wanted to be anywhere near the man. I’d been perfectly content in my mother’s presence.
I swung the axe again, simply to lodge it into the stump I was using, and it landed with a thunk. The crunch of snow met my ears, and I smiled at Alice as she grabbed the logs I’d just cut.
“You don’t have to…”
She laughed. “I’m not a damsel in distress, Edward,” she countered, setting them on the back steps in their bin. When she faced me again, she pulled her wool hat down a bit. “I’m not the fairy princess in your story.” She picked up a few more logs.
Laughing, I shrugged. “Fair enough, Ali. What’s left on his damn list anyway?”
“Way too much, but I guess he wanted to keep us busy until you go home,” she stated.
The word home made me think of Bella. Pulling out my phone, I checked to see if she’d texted back. I smiled at silly pictures of her and Jasper at Sunset Roast, multiple messages of her love for me, and a few stating how much she missed me. I sent one back after taking a picture of the snow-covered backyard, teasing her about her thin Floridian blood, along with the fact that I loved her and missed her more than I could explain.
I’d been back in Washington for ten days. Christmas was just a few days away. I’d kept my word to Bella about daily chats and messages, not to mention reading to each other just about every night. I’d also kept my word to my dad, taking his ridiculously long list of punishment chores, and he’d kept his about staying out of my face. After each job was finished, I’d cross it off and move on to the next one. Alice helped most of the time, but chopping the wood was hard work and heavy, not to mention it left my hands sore and tender, even with gloves on.
“We should tackle the attic next,” Alice suggested, grimacing.
“Well, if we do that, then we might as well decorate for Christmas. Don’t you think?” I asked, grabbing the axe to put it away in the now spotless garage – one of the first chores we’d done on his stupid list. “I mean, the ornaments are up there.”
“The church is selling trees,” she whispered, and I knew why she was tentative about it. Mom was buried in the cemetery across from the church. “Maybe we could…should…”
Nodding, I took a deep breath and let it out, and it plumed out of me like a white fog. “Okay, let me clean up. We’ll go get the tree, stop at the cemetery, and maybe grab something to eat. When’s Dad home?”
“I heard him leave about six this morning. So we’ve got all afternoon. Why?”
“Because if I eat at the diner one more time, I may vomit,” I said, rolling my eyes at her laugh.
“Spoiled to Southern home-cookin’?”
“Abso-fucking-lutely,” I answered with a laugh, reaching for her hat and yanking it hard down over her face. “I may have even learned a thing or two. We’ll stop at the market on our way home.”
Once I was showered and in clean clothes, I walked down the hallway to open the attic door and pull down the ladder. Emmett and I had just cleaned it a few years prior, and no one really went up there, so I couldn’t imagine there was much that needed to be done, except for maybe some sweeping. My brow furrowed at a few boxes that were open, but I didn’t pay them much attention. I was looking for the Christmas ornaments my mother used to meticulously pack away every year. The last time we’d decorated was the Christmas of Emmett’s first year at UW. He’d already met Rose, but they weren’t dating yet, and Alice and I wanted to celebrate having our oldest brother home for the holidays.
I found the box I was looking for and dragged it to the edge of the attic hatch.
“Here, big brother. Hand it down,” Alice said, and I slowly lowered the box into her hands. It wasn’t heavy, but the sound of bells shifting around inside made her smile.
Once I was back down in the hallway, I said, “There’s not much to do up there.”
“Thank fuck.”
Grinning her way, I nodded. “There are some open boxes from the last time Em and I cleaned. You been up there?”
“Huh? No! Spiders, Edward! Are you fucking crazy!?”
I laughed, holding up my hands in a surrendering gesture. “My bad, Ali!”
I wanted to tease my very strong, fearless sister about bugs, but I couldn’t find it in me to do it, not when I still couldn’t step near or even look at large bodies of water without cringing and breaking out into a sweat.
“So I’ll be cleaning up there, I see,” I did say teasingly, rolling my eyes when she looked up at me pleadingly. “Fine, fine.”
Just before we left the house, I checked the kitchen to see what I needed, though I was expecting I would need just about everything. I could see that Alice kept a few things in there for herself – cereal, soda, milk, eggs, some things for salads, and frozen dinners and pizzas. All of that was pretty standard in the Cullen house, since our dad didn’t eat with us much. The cabinets were just about the same – cans of soup, boxed mac-n-cheese, and instant oatmeal.
“What are you making?” Alice asked, her eyes wide with amusement as we walked to her car.
“Um, I was thinking chili. Bella’s mom taught me the last time she made it. It’s pretty easy, and the weather’s perfect for it, since we’re gonna get more snow tonight. I’ll make enough to last through tomorrow.”
The drive to the church was slow with the weather, but Forks wasn’t all that big anyway. There was a tent set up in the front parking lot, and most people had already gotten their trees. I was happy to see that there were a few left.
“We don’t need a big one, Ali, but you pick it,” I said, getting out of the car. “Besides, you want to be careful about tying it down on top. A small one will fit in the trunk.”
Pastor Liam greeted the two of us, hugging my sister. He was around our parents’ age, and he’d always been very kind. He and my mother had known each other from a long time ago. After she’d died, he’d tried to keep checking on the three of us. I sighed at the memory of that time. Mom’s funeral had been a huge deal since she’d been a teacher at Forks High. Her lady friends had dropped by with food, Pastor Liam wanted to check on us, and the rumors had started to spread like wildfire. It was that last thought that had me glancing across the street to the cemetery. I hadn’t visited my mother’s grave in a year – the last Christmas.
“Edward,” Pastor Liam said softly, his hand landing gently on my shoulder. “It’s good to see you, son. You’ve shot up an inch or two since the last time I saw you. How’s college?”
Smiling politely, I nodded. “I’m good, sir. School’s good, too.”
He studied my face for a second. “And your father? I only see him in passing when I visit the hospital.”
Smiling ruefully, I answered honestly. “The same as always.”
The man laughed lightly, if not knowingly. “I bet.” He squeezed my shoulder, pointing to a table filled with potted poinsettias. “Just got these in…if you want to…” He gestured across the street to the cemetery.
Swallowing nervously, I nodded. “Actually, yeah… I would.”
When I reached for my wallet, he stopped me. “Those are on me, son. Go on. I’ll take care of Mary Alice and send her over there once she’s picked a tree. You can pay for it when you’re done.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I muttered softly, picking up the bright-red flower.
Crossing the street was surreal, and despite how long it had been, I felt twelve years old all over again. The funeral seemed like yesterday, not a little over seven years prior. I remembered everything – the tie around my neck that felt too tight, my suit that rubbed against my very sore stitches, holding Alice’s hand but sticking to Emmett on his crutches like glue, the sound of sniffles and nose blowing, and the smell of impending rain. I remember following the broad shoulders of my dad in his black suit, but I also remembered he never uttered a single word to us.
Mom’s grave was on the other side of the cemetery in the corner at the edge of the woods. It was beneath a small fir tree, which seemed fitting with the holiday and the snow that weighed down the branches; it was like she had her very own Christmas tree. Her granite headstone was a harsh reminder of the cold, abrupt loss of her. It seemed so fucking wrong for her to be there. I wasn’t sure what I believed when it came to life after death. I wanted so badly to imagine my mother like the angel I knew she was on earth, but then again, I’d never had a prayer answered, so all of it was confusing.
I removed my wool cap and knelt down, taking my gloved hand and brushing the snow off her tombstone. I also cleared a spot for the poinsettia, which was shockingly red and green against the white/gray of its surroundings. I brushed more snow off the words “Loving wife and mother,” frowning at them.
As always, with the grief, the missing her, came the anger. I missed her to the point of pain, but then, I was mad at her, too. She’d said she was right behind me, but she hadn’t been, so it felt like a lie, no matter how hard I tried to rationalize it or let it go. And what she’d left behind was what made my anger that much sharper. Had she known what Dad was like? Did she realize what he’d become if she was no longer with us, if she could no longer protect us? All three of us had wondered about it more than one time, but not one of us had bothered to voice it to Dad, and there was an angry, bitter part of me that wanted to confront him about every damn rumor we’d had slapped in our faces. Maybe she had been leaving him. Maybe he really cheated on her…or she did on him. Maybe he never really wanted us, which was obvious with how he treated us, but then a few questions remained… Why would he give a shit about grades and colleges and personal lives? Why would he care what we did and where we went as long as we were no longer his legal responsibility? And if he never really wanted us, then why not just…walk away?
“You okay, big brother?” I heard behind me, and I nodded, wrapping an arm around my sister when she knelt beside me. She was quiet for a moment but finally said softly, “I wish I could talk to her just one more time.”
Kissing the side of her head, I whispered, “Me too.”
Alice turned to face me. “What would you tell her?”
Smiling, I stood up, and Alice followed suit. “I dunno… Lots of things. I’d… I’m… I’d like to tell her about Bella, about school, and Glenhaven. She’d love it there, with the warm weather and the beaches and the sunsets. I…I think she’d love Bella…and her family. I wish she could read some things I’ve written. I’d…I’d ask her why she said she was following me out of the car and she didn’t.” I shrugged a shoulder, shoving my hands into my jacket pockets. “But if I think that way, then I want to be mad and ask her about Dad, and not a bit of it would do any good.”
Alice nodded, and despite how young my sister had been when Mom died and despite how strong she always appeared to be, her voice cracked a little when she said, “I miss her.”
I pulled her into a hug, nodding a little.
“I miss the little things – hugs, cookies, back-to-school shopping, her laugh. God, her laugh was just…perfect.”
Chuckling, I sighed deeply. “Yeah.” I glanced around when white, fluffy flakes started to drift down around us, and I pulled back to look at my sister. “Did you find a tree?”
“Yeah, it’s cute. Like two feet or something.”
“Cool. C’mon,” I said, gesturing to the weather. “Let’s get to the store and then back home before this becomes ugly.”
“Okay, that needs to stay on low for a bit,” I told Alice, jerking a thumb to the big pot of chili on the stove.
“Smells yummy,” she said with a grin, looking up out of the box of ornaments.
“Thanks.” I smiled and pointed toward the living room where a fire was burning bright. “You got the tree? ’Cause I want to finish the attic before that’s finished and Dad gets home. That way I can call Bella from my room.”
“Yeah, I need to call Emmett tonight, and I have to do that on the down-low from Dad. Em wanted us to check in every once in a while…just so he knows Dad’s not doing anything shitty,” she explained with a grimace.
I barked a laugh, checking on my chili one more time. “Define shitty,” I said with a chuckle, glancing over my shoulder as I stirred the pot.
She grinned. “I dunno. It seems since Thanksgiving, Emmett thinks Dad will get worse.”
My brow furrowed, and I put the lid back on the pot. Facing her, I said, “You know, Charlie said the same thing after Emmett’s call that day.” I shrugged a shoulder. “I honestly don’t know what pissed Em off more – Dad picking on you or his calling Rose a whore.”
“That’s the thing,” Alice agreed. “Emmett said to remember when we were kids…that Dad would at least pretend to be civil around friends and stuff. Now…it’s like he’s…”
“Desperate,” I finished in a whisper. “Or maybe he just doesn’t give a shit about pretenses anymore.”
“Yeah. Or maybe both.”
“Hmm,” I hummed, tapping the counter. “Well, when you talk to Emmett, tell him he doesn’t have to dig the grave just yet, but there’s a perfect spot in the woods if he needs one,” I teased her, which made her laugh wickedly before I walked back up the stairs to the attic ladder.
Snorting to myself, I climbed up to get to work. Despite how much I missed Bella, missed her family, and missed Florida, I was at least grateful that I’d had little to no interaction with my father since the day I’d come home and that my sister was out of the line of fire. I only needed to get through the next couple of weeks, and she only needed to make it to the summer.
The attic didn’t exactly need all that much in the line of cleaning, and it wasn’t exactly warm up there, but it was stuffy. I tugged my shirt off and dropped it by the hatch. Then I removed some cobwebs, discovered and squished the spiders Alice hated, and started to organize the boxes. Most of them up there were things that Mom had stored – baby clothes and blankets from all three of us, quilts and old bedding, not to mention different decorations for different seasons. There were a few boxes from Emmett – mostly his sports stuff – and old games none of us played anymore. I shifted those around to allow more room, and I swept up. The last few boxes were the ones I’d noticed were open when I’d retrieved the Christmas ornaments for Alice.
I knew what they were, but in spite of my sputtering heart, I looked inside anyway. It was some of my mother’s things. The first box contained some of her clothes, things that didn’t get donated to charity after her funeral, and her box of jewelry. Most of the latter was costume stuff or things that matched her clothes. It was stuff Alice wanted, so we’d put them up there when one of our most severe punishments had been to clear my parents’ room out of Mom’s things about four months after she’d died. Frowning at that old memory, I noted that those things had been rummaged through – and rather roughly, at that – but I rearranged them, closing the box back up. I stacked it away off to the side.
The next box was just papers and such, it seemed, but again, the box looked like it had been ransacked. File folders were askew and lying on top, pages were ripped or just dropped back in there, and nothing seemed in order. As I tried to put things back in their place, I realized they were from my mother’s desk in the library. It was just old files – utility bills, car payments and registrations, insurance papers, and her old bank statements. As I put things back in their folders, I noted that her bank was different than the one my dad used. He’d given Emmett and then me a card to use for school supplies, only depositing money in the accounts for books and such. Where his bank had a red and blue logo, my mother’s was green.
My brows shot up high at the balance from the last statement that was filed away. I knew my mother had lost her parents – our grandparents – in an accident before we were born, but I’d never questioned any of it because it seemed to make my mother sad to talk of it. I’d also never thought to question money at all. Hell, I was just a damn kid. But I was looking at seven figures. Turning the statement over, I saw it was in a savings account, not a checking. Her checking account seemed to only receive her paychecks from Forks High.
I filed that away, and I couldn’t help but neaten the row of folders. It was just a part of me to straighten it up. I looked in the last file that had been pulled out, and saw that it was my mother’s life-insurance policy, the beneficiary having been my dad, which made sense. I closed the box back up and stacked it on top of the rest along the wall of the attic. With one last sweep-up, I dumped the dirt into the garbage can I’d brought with me.
I grabbed my shirt and the can and turned off the light, descending back down to the upstairs hallway…coming face to face with my dad. He seemed surprised to see me, though he wasn’t looking me in the eye but at my chest – more specifically, my scars. I dropped the can, which caught his attention.
“What the hell were you doing up there?” he snapped.
“Uh, cleaning. It was on your list,” I told him calmly, pointing to the garbage that had dust and debris on top.
When he had nothing to say to that, he scoffed, “Put your fucking shirt on, Edward!”
I huffed a laugh, glancing down at my scars, and somehow, I could hear my sweet Bella’s brutal honesty coming out of my own mouth. “Does it bother you to see them?” I asked him softly. “Does it remind you of her?”
He sneered, stiffening as I snatched my shirt off the rung of the ladder, but he didn’t say anything.
“Try looking at it in the mirror every fucking day,” I muttered on the way by, pulling my shirt back on and grabbing the garbage can. Just before I went back down to the first floor, I added, “I made dinner, by the way. Feel free to join us.”
I stepped back into the kitchen, setting the can back in its place and washing my hands. My chili looked perfect, and the smell made me homesick for the Swan house, for my Bella.
I pulled down some bowls from the cabinet, calling out to my sister, who was still decorating the Christmas tree. “Hey, Ali! Come eat!”
Just as she stepped into the kitchen, we both looked up at the ceiling when the sound of Dad’s bedroom door slammed.
The day before Christmas Eve, I gave all the damn chores a rest. Alice had wanted to go to Port Angeles to simply get out of Forks, and I’d ridden along with her to get out of the house, but I’d texted with Bella pretty much the whole time. Even Jasper piped in every now and then. Both were telling hilarious things about the Swan house in Christmas chaos. Jasper called Bella a neat freak, and she’d dubbed him Scrooge.
When we pulled into the drive, Alice stopped so I could grab the mail. There were a few Christmas cards in there from various friends of my parents, one from Emmett and Rose to Alice and me, and various bills. But what caught my attention was an envelope from my mother’s old bank. Alice pulled on into the driveway next to Dad’s car, which was strange. He was supposed to be covering for a few doctors who’d wanted to take the holidays off.
“Ali, wait,” I whispered, grabbing her hand before she could open her car door. I held up the letter. “What’s this?”
“Dad’s bank. Those come all the time.”
“That’s not his bank,” I told her, pulling out my wallet and showing her the bank card he’d given me. “This is his bank. This…” I held up the letter again. “This was Mom’s bank. I…I only know that because there’s a file folder full of statements up in the attic. She had a checking and savings account. You know…money from when her parents died in one and paychecks from FHS in the other.”
“Okay, so?” she asked, but her eyes narrowed on it. “I mean…they were married, Edward, so it makes sense that they’re addressed to him now. Maybe he just left it where it was.”
I tapped the envelope across my knuckles, studying it for a moment. There was a part of me that wanted to know what it said, perhaps what the balance was, because deep down inside, my stomach was churning. Something seemed wrong.
“Did Mom have a will?” I asked her softly, my eyes glancing to the house for a second.
“Edward…I was ten!” she countered with a laugh. “I don’t remember all that much.”
“What do you remember?”
“Um, I remember staying home with Dad because I was watching a TV show, and I remember the phone call he got when you guys showed up at the hospital. Dad took me with him, and he made me stay with you after they’d stitched you up and Emmett was in surgery, but the nurses kept an eye on me. Dad was kinda all over the place. He was…dealing with police and the surgeons and the nurses. He told me that Mom wasn’t coming.” Her face looked sad. “I remember when you woke up, and I remember you crying. I remember Emmett waking up from surgery the same way. The funeral is blurry. There was that lady Dad brought in to watch us, but only until Emmett was like fifteen or so.” Shaking her head, she shrugged a shoulder and looked my way. “He barely talked to us before, big brother, so he really wasn’t going to come running to us after, you know?”
Nodding, I tapped the letter again. Glancing her way, I opened it. It was the same as the ones in the attic, a simple bank statement, with balances and charges. The significant difference was the type of account it was: a trust, with Carlisle Cullen as the beneficiary. The other significant difference was the balance.
“Jesus…” I breathed, shaking my head and turning the pages over in my hands.
Shaking my head, I looked over at her. “I think we need to call Emmett.”
“Because this account is like missing a third of what was showing up in the attic.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed, and she picked up her phone, scrolling quickly and putting it on speaker.
“Ali-boo!” our brother answered. “What’s shakin’, midget? Daddy Dearest give you lumps of coal yet?”
I snorted but spoke up. “Emmett, listen.”
Quickly explaining what I’d seen in the attic and about the statement in my hand, I finished with, “Did Mom have a will?”
“I dunno, baby bro,” he said grimly. “Do me a favor, you two… Just…keep that shit quiet for now. Okay? Let me see what I can find out. Rose’s dad is a lawyer. Let me ask him a few questions, and I’ll get back to you. Don’t say shit to Dad.”
“Okay,” Alice and I said together.
“And keep that fucking statement.”
Nodding, I folded it and stuck it in my back pocket. “Done,” I told him. “Merry Christmas, Emmett. We gotta go.” I tapped Alice’s arm, pointing to Dad, who was watching us out the window.
“Merry Christmas, guys.”


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