Sunday, November 1, 2015 | By: Drotuno

A Few Tables Away Chapter 26 & Pics

Chapter 26
“Baby boy,” Mom whispered as she pushed the grocery cart. “Isn’t that the girl from your class?”
I looked up from the comic book I’d been reading, pushing my glasses up my nose. I nodded slowly when I saw Katie at the other end of the store’s aisle.
“Yeah. Katie.” I frowned, going back to my reading when I felt my cheeks heat up.
I hated being shy. I wished I was more like Emmett, who got along with everyone – girls included. Though, at that very moment, I was glad he was at baseball practice, because he’d have razzed me something awful in the store, especially had he caught me blushing. I was just happy to have Mom to myself for an hour or so.
“You like her?”
Shrugging, I didn’t bother to look up. Katie was pretty, with light-brown hair and bluish-green eyes. “She’s okay. She… Sh-She likes Mike, ’cause he’s funny and…and…can even make the teachers laugh.”
My mother didn’t say anything for a moment, but I felt her eyes on me. When I looked up, she only said, “Pick some cereal for you guys. Make sure to grab that fruity one your sister likes.”
Setting my comic down in the basket, I spun to pick up three boxes. Emmett liked that chocolaty stuff, while Alice liked the fruit-flavored cereal. I liked the one with the marshmallows in it. Once I set them in the cart, I reached for my book back, but Mom’s hand covered mine.
“Edward, look at me,” she said softly, glancing around to make sure we were the only ones in the cereal aisle. “One day, you’re gonna meet a girl who won’t mind that you’re quiet and shy. It’s okay that you are those things, son. It’s what makes you…you. You’re a smart, handsome, sweet boy, Edward. Don’t change that. Don’t try to be like your brother, who is outgoing and sometimes hot-headed. And you can’t be like your sister, either, who doesn’t particularly care about the opinions of others, just those she loves. You are my quiet, introspective one, and I love that about you. You’re going to meet a girl who embraces those parts of you, who loves you for you. When you do, my sweet boy, then I want you to always be honest, no matter how hard the truth may be to say. It’s easier to keep track of the truths than the lies.
“There’s always going to be Mikes in the world, and there will be Katies, too, those silly girls who are drawn in by the frivolous stuff. You, my baby boy, are not frivolous. You are deep thoughts and an old soul. You are the classic book, not the grocery-store drivel,” she said, raising an eyebrow at me, which made me grin.
“You buy grocery-store books, Mom,” I teased her, ducking when she reached out to ruffle my hair.
“I do, but it’s the classics that I keep on my shelves, that I reread time and again. It’s the classics that will still be around well after the grocery-store novel has long been forgotten.” She grinned at my chuckle. “You’ll find another classic, Edward, someone just like you. And when you do, hold on to her. Put her on a high shelf and love her and keep her safe and take care of her.”
“I…I…can’t talk to girls, Mom,” I admitted softly.
She smiled, brushing my hair from my forehead and pressing a kiss to my wrinkled brow. “Trust me, son. The right girl will make you talk. But the right girl won’t mind that you can’t find the words, either.”
Smiling softly at the memory, I glanced up to Dr. Carmen. “She was right,” I told her, shrugging a shoulder and laughing a bit.
“Your mom was a smart woman,” she said, glancing up at the clock. “We’re just about done for this week, Edward. Anything you want to discuss?”
I took a deep breath and let it out, raking a hand through my hair and adjusting my glasses. It had been a crazy semester, but thankfully it was over and summer was finally here.
“My…” I sighed deeply, picking at my jeans. “My dad is in jail. Some…some light-security place, but still… He got sentenced to three years.” I huffed a humorless laugh, shaking my head slowly at how that sounded. “They said he won’t serve it all, and when he’s out, he…he can’t be a doctor anymore,” I added, meeting her warm, hazel eyes. I wrinkled my nose. “Is it wrong that I feel like it’s not enough?”
Dr. Carmen jotted something down in her notebook, but then she set it aside and leaned forward. Her dark hair was peppered with gray, and her demeanor was calm. “Are you upset that he’s not being punished enough? Or are you still angry with him for things you think he evaded?”
Shrugging, I said, “I don’t know. Honest. It’s not about the money, and it’s not about his hatred for me and my brother and sister. We aren’t going to miss him. I just… I feel my mother didn’t get…justice. He…he used her and, in turn, us. But…” I shrugged again, not sure what I meant or how to say it.
“Edward, you have to accept that your mother wouldn’t want you to dwell on justice or revenge against your father. She didn’t. She could’ve caused a scene, dragged you and your siblings through a harsh court battle, and essentially exposed your father sooner. However, she tried to simply walk away. The choices she made were hers, and no one will know what she was thinking, but as a parent myself, I can almost understand. She just wanted you to have a good life, a happy one.” She sat back in her chair, eyeing me for a moment. “And if you want to give your mother justice, then the absolute best thing you can do is to move on. Success, prosperity, happiness – those things are what would not only give your mother justice, but it would serve as revenge against the man who tried to keep you from achieving those very things.
“You aren’t the damaged one, Edward. He is. And his guilt and past ate away anything compassionate that he ever had. To live your life to its fullest would be the ultimate in payback. Be happy, follow your dreams, marry that girl you love so much…”
I grinned, my cheeks heating up. “I plan on it.” I laughed a little when Dr. Carmen smiled back at me. “Bella’s…it for me. Just everything. She’s that classic my mother told me about. I really do want to put her on a shelf, love her, take care of her. I’m hers until she says different.”
“Having spoken with her a time or two, I’m pretty sure you’re right, and I think she’s in it for the long haul. Just make sure you don’t put her on a pedestal,” she said gently.
Nodding, I swallowed nervously. “We’re moving in together.”
“This weekend, right?”
“Nervous?” she asked, smiling, and her dimples made her look younger than she actually was.
I thought about it for a moment but shook my head. “Um, no. I’m… I’ve fought anxiety and nerves and insecurity my whole life. Moving in with Bella makes me feel…none of that. In fact, I…I can’t wait.”
“It’s hard meshing two lives together.”
“I don’t doubt that. But we’re very similar. We’re neat and tidy, we’re quiet, and we’ll be starting our sophomore year come fall, but as much as I appreciate her family and all they’ve done, I…I… I want to start doing things on my own – for Bella, for myself. I feel the need to prove Dad wrong.”
“Prove him wrong… Which part, Edward?”
She let me be quiet for a moment, and I frowned at the table in front of me. “He was wrong. Everything he ever said to me was wrong – the wreck being my fault, that love makes you weak, that I…I was a loser.
“The wreck was an accident. And…and…love makes me strong; it made me stand up to him when I never did before. And…and… I’m not a loser.” I shook my head, scowling at the memory of his rants. “I’ve busted my ass to maintain my scholarship. I’m working part-time at the café so that I can pay for books and not spend everything my mother tried to save, but that may change when Aunt Jane expands the new section into a bookstore.” I grinned at the thought. “I have the most amazing people surrounding me, helping me, pushing me.” I met her gaze again, shrugging one more time. “I used to want to be invisible. I wanted to disappear into the background. Now...I just want more.”
“Yeah, I want to finish school and write, maybe teach like my mother did, or…or run the bookstore that Aunt Jane is opening. I want to marry Bella and have a family. And I swear, I’ll never look back.”
Dr. Carmen glanced at the clock and smiled, nodding once before standing. “Now that would be justice, Edward.”
“I can’t believe you’re puttin’ me to work on my vacation, baby bro!” Emmett teased as he dropped two boxes into the middle of the living room.
Grinning over at him, I set my own box onto the kitchen counter. “Sorry, Em. You can hit the beach tomorrow with Rose, all while knowing I’ll be unpacking all this shit.”
He laughed but leaned against the counter, studying me. He and Rose had been in Florida since just before my twentieth birthday, which had been celebrated at the Swan house with not only every member of their family but my brother, Rose, and Alice, too. It had been the first time in years that I’d had a birthday party.
“Still can’t go, huh?” he asked, and I shook my head without looking up from the box I’d opened. “You think…maybe one day?”
“I dunno, Em.” I sighed, resting my arms atop the box.
“It’s not the scars anymore, is it? It’s just the water.”
Nodding, I raked a hand through my hair. “Th-The scars don’t bother me. I mean the only person who sees them is Bella, and she’s never… She doesn’t mind them. I don’t… I’m a fucking coward about the water, and that may never change. I don’t think I’m missing anything, but still…”
“You know what I remember?” Emmett said softly, a faraway look in his eyes. “I barely remember the dog or my knee hitting the dashboard…and…and I don’t remember Mom in the car at all. But I remember you, baby brother. I remember coming to as you pulled me through the window. You ripped yourself wide open to get my ass up to the surface. You fought me like a tiger to try to help Mom, but you’d have died, too. Edward…that’s not a fucking coward. Without you, Ed, I wouldn’t be here helping you move in with your girl.”
He pushed himself up straight, shrugging his large shoulders. “Daddy Dearest told you too many times that it was your fault. You associate water with Mom, but…I can’t look at it that way. I see water, and I see my kid brother saving my life. Dude, I was twice your size.” He grinned a bit but shrugged his shoulders again. “You’re right. You’re probably not missing much, but I hate that you think you’re a coward, ’cause you’re fucking far from it.” He raised a deadly serious eyebrow at me. “A coward wouldn’t have punched the ever-lovin’ piss outta Dad. And a coward wouldn’t have looked him straight in the eye and told him what a piece of shit he was to Mom. But honestly, Edward…watching you our whole lives not give into his bullshit, no matter what that bastard said…even in fucking court! You are the strongest man I know. You think Alice is strong?” He huffed a laugh, shaking his head slowly. “She is, but she ain’t got nothin’ on you, baby bro. Neither of us do. Got me?”
He smiled sadly, gesturing to the door. “Let’s get this done so you and Bella can get your neat-freak on. Emphasis on the freak.”
Snorting into a laugh, I shook my head at his salacious grin and eyebrows rising up and down. “Don’t forget, we’ve got to get Ali moved into the dorms in a few weeks,” I reminded him, still chuckling a bit.
“Yeah, I know.” He reached for the doorknob, pausing enough to look back at me. “Rosie and I… We’re looking at transferring down here. She’s looking at a college for law school just up the panhandle. Just… You’ve found something good here. Even Alice is doing well. We’re gonna hold off on the wedding until she finds out, but I wanted to give you a heads-up. I mean you are the Best Man and all.” He smirked at my open-mouth stare, not because I was his Best Man – I’d already told him yes to that – but because I’d have both my siblings in the same state. “Rose likes it here, and… My family is here. Plus, I honestly don’t want to be in the state of Washington when they let Daddy Dearest outta jail.”
“No shit,” I sighed, following him down the stairs and out to the moving truck we’d rented.
The girls were sitting on the end, feet dangling, and I smiled at my beautiful girl, who offered me a bottle of water and open arms. I took the water, gulping almost half the bottle before setting it down beside her. I pressed my lips to hers, smiling into the kiss when arms and legs held me captive.
“You okay?” she whispered, pushing my hair from my forehead as I nodded. I honestly couldn’t get any better. “Having second thoughts?”
Grinning, I dug my fingers into her sides just to hear her squeal into giggly protests. “Not a chance in hell, pretty girl.” I dropped kisses to her cheek. “Though, the thought of unpacking scares me.”
Her smile was brighter than the beaming Florida sun, but she leaned in and kissed me briefly. “We got this part, baby. We can be as OCD as we want, because it’s just us. No one can make fun of us, because it’ll be ours. We can do whatever we want, however we want. Always.”
I fought my smile at her happiness, because it was completely and totally contagious. I hadn’t been lying to Dr. Carmen the day before in our session. Bella was it for me. Occasionally, my dad’s voice would enter my head, telling me I’d be used by the first girl I fell in love with, but then I’d look at Bella. I’d see the love she had for me, the warmth, the devotion that was all for me, and I’d push his voice away. He knew nothing, and Bella was everything.
I toyed with her long ponytail, tugging it gently. “Then I guess we’d better get our stuff in there, huh?”
“Yes!” she cheered, kissing me quickly, holding my face in her hands. “And we should have backup help soon. Dad, Jasper, and Alice are coming to lend a hand. Mom and Aunt Jane are bringing food.”
Charlie was teaching a summer course, so it made sense he hadn’t shown up yet, and my sister and Jasper had been inseparable since Alice had graduated from Glenhaven High. I chuckled at the thought, at their age difference, but Jasper treated my sister like a damned princess. As if Emmett and I hadn’t spoiled her enough, Jasper was a thousand times worse. But they were good for each other, even I had to admit that, though I was pretty damn sure I wouldn’t be here without Bella and her small, loving, silly family, so I knew my sister was safe with him.
Bella grabbed my face again, squishing it to kiss me. “The more help, Edward, the quicker we’re moved in. The quicker we’re moved in, the faster we can finally have…we can have…”
I chuckled at her loss for words, but her honest rambling was still my absolute favorite thing. I kissed her lips to hush her.
“Everything, pretty girl. The quicker we’re in, the quicker we have…everything.”
I closed my laptop, glancing out the window. The rain had stopped, and I’d gotten a shit-ton written on the story I couldn’t seem to get out of my head, so after discussing it with Charlie, who told me to just get it down, I found myself lost to my characters. Today had been the perfect day to work on it, too. The rain had started early, Bella was working downstairs in Aunt Jane’s bookstore all day, I was off from Sunset Roast, and I was caught up on homework.
Tonight, though, was a different story. It was Bella’s birthday. I snorted as I shook my head. A year ago, I was nervous as hell as Bella drove me to her house for the first time. I’d missed out on her real birthday last year, but I wouldn’t this year. We would all meet at the Swan house for dinner tonight. And this year, I had a present for her. The necklace I’d bought for her was hidden in the back of my nightstand drawer. I’d considered a promise ring, and I’d vowed to myself to buy Bella the real deal closer to our senior year, but damn it all if I didn’t want something on her from me, something permanent and beautiful, which was exactly how I saw her in my life.
Gazing around our apartment, I sighed in contentment. My office was just like Bella had wanted – shelf upon shelf of books and a desk for me to use to write. My mother’s books lined the shelves, as well as my own and Bella’s added in. The bookcases were full to overflowing but neat and orderly, simply because Bella and I were that way.
I walked into our bedroom, another example of neatness, except for the bed. The bed tended to stay just a bit rumpled, which proved we’d lost ourselves to kisses and secret smiles, touches and pleas for more just this morning before Bella went to work. Personally, the bed was the only thing I liked messy. I pulled on a T-shirt, tied my sneakers, and then reached into my nightstand drawer for the little velvet box before I stepped into the living room.
Our place was small, but it was ours, and we loved it. We liked to cook in our small kitchen, stealing kisses and taste tests. We would read to each other on our sofa in our usual position, with Bella’s back to my chest. And we’d loved each other on just about every surface in the place. There was nothing inside that apartment but good memories. Even small disagreements ended up with us laughing and kissing. Meshing our lives together had been a huge step, but after the last month and a half, I couldn’t have been happier.
It wasn’t perfect. We’d had to find a new schedule, and starting our sophomore year made us as busy as ever. I still worked at the café, but Bella worked with Aunt Jane in the bookstore that was now a part of the coffee shop. Homework and classes, along with our part-time jobs, meant we only saw each other at the end of the day. The very best part was curling up with her every damn night.
I grabbed my phone and keys to head downstairs, locking the door behind me and making sure Bella’s present was still in my pocket.
“Hey, sweet pea!” Aunt Jane greeted when I stepped in from the back. “You just missed Bella. She ran out to the beach to get your sister and my son. We’re about to head out to the house.”
“Okay,” I said softly, pushing open the bookstore door and glancing up. Chuckling, I said, “The sign looks good!”
“Well, kiddo, I owe you for the name.”
I waved her praise away but glanced up again. “As the Plot Thickens was really Bella’s idea.”
“Well, both of you, then. Sweetie, she’ll be back in a minute.”
I smiled and nodded but stepped out onto the boardwalk that was still damp from the rain. The sun was setting on the beach. It was quiet, most of the patrons finding somewhere else to be, but there were a few caws from hungry seagulls and laughter coming from the beach. The soft crash of waves hitting the shore was calming, but I couldn’t see the water.
Glancing up the boardwalk and then back toward the wooden path that ended in blinding white beach sand, I shifted nervously on my feet. Memories of the day I’d worked with Bella in Jasper’s office came crashing down around me.
Jasper pointed toward the door. “We’re dead today. Go…hit the beach or somethin’.”
“Not a bad idea,” Bella told him as she picked up her bag and then grabbed my hand. “Let’s go, Edward.”
I didn’t argue with her, simply because I was stunned at the feel of her hand in mine, but once we were through the sitting area and out on the boardwalk, the smell of the salt water, suntan lotion, and people hit me full force. It was the glittering sight of the water down the long wooden pathway that made me stop, almost making Bella trip.
“I… I’m…” I was shaking my head. “I can’t… I just…” My chest constricted, my breathing became shallow, and I licked my dry lips. “I…I’m… I gotta go. I’m sorry.”
I turned away from the water. My walk was fast, even when I heard her call after me. I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop until I heard rapid running footsteps and a flushed Bella was standing in front of me.
“Edward, wait,” she panted, and I looked away from her. “What’d I do wrong?”
I took slow, nervous steps down the wooden path, thankful there weren’t very many people around. I stopped at the end of the walkway, sitting down on a low post. Toeing the sand for a moment with my sneaker, I finally took a deep breath and gazed out over the beach.
Pinks, blues, oranges, and purples were splashed across the sky just above the endless ocean. Clouds were light and puffy, stretched over the sun. However, not one bit of it – not the water or the stunning sunset or even the splashing waves – compared to the beautiful girl who was teasing her cousin and my sister close to the shoreline. She was walking barefoot, her smooth legs deceptively long in her shorts. But it was the gorgeous yet slightly shocked smile that broke out on her face when she caught sight of me.
She rushed to me, leaving everyone out on the beach behind her. “Edward, baby!” she said, cupping my face. “Is everything… Are you okay? I was coming right back…” She paused, tugging my shirt. “C’mon. We’ll get you off this beach.”
Chuckling, I wrapped an arm around her, pulling her between my legs as I stayed seated on that low post. “Pretty girl, wait…” I took a deep breath, brushing my lips over hers softly, simply for courage. “R-Remember…” I frowned, toying with her fingers. “The…The day we after we met. You know, the day we worked in Jasper’s office?”
“Best day ever,” she crooned, wearing a silly-sweet smile as she leaned into me, brushing my hair from my forehead. “My Library Guy was way too cute for his own good.”
I laughed, unable to not wrap my arms all the way around her. “Yeah? Well, my Library Girl wanted to go somewhere that day, but I… I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t quite ready yet. Where’d you want to go, Bella? When you grabbed my hand, where were you taking me?”
She seemed to freeze for a moment, her big brown eyes wide but warm. “Oh God, Edward, I don’t know. Maybe ice cream at O’Malley’s or…or a walk on the beach, but I didn’t know, and I was pushy…”
Cupping her face, I brushed a lock of her hair out of her face. “No, baby, not pushy. You just didn’t know.” I pressed a long, soft kiss to her forehead, gazing over the top of her head at the shoreline. “Pretty girl… I…I want…to try.”
She gasped, her hands covering her lips, but then she leaned in to kiss me again. “Edward, there’s no rush.”
My forehead fell to hers. “I’m… I don’t want water to mean bad shit anymore, Bella. There’s absolutely nothing bad in my life now.”
Bella’s smile was warm and sweet as she pushed back from me a bit. “Sweetheart…Are you sure? You have to be sure, because if it’s too soon or you panic… I don’t… It hurts me when you’re hurting, baby.” Her eyes watered a bit with that statement, and right then, I knew I was ready, because to hurt Bella would kill me, but I needed to let go of the past, the fear.
Nodding, I reached into my pocket, fiddling with the little black box. “Yeah, I’m… I’m sure, but before we do this, I want to give you your birthday present.”
I held out the little black box, cracking it open for her. A small silver book and an even smaller key were attached to a thin silver chain.
“The book… It represents the library, and…well, us. Our love of books. The key,” I said, huffing a light, nervous laugh. “Well, the key is you, pretty girl, because you…you’re the key to…everything.” Reaching over, I flipped open the tiny silver book, where inside was written: Always. “You…you asked for always, Bella, and I swear it’s yours.”
Bella’s finger reached out to toy with the necklace, but when she looked back up at me, tears fell from those expressive eyes.
“Happy birthday, pretty girl,” I whispered, reaching out to wipe away a tear from beneath her eye.
“I love you,” she said back, suddenly wrapping herself around my torso, which made me chuckle. Pulling back, she cupped my face. “Thank you. And God, you make me want to kiss you stupid, Edward!”
“I love you, too, baby.” Laughing, I shook my head, taking the necklace out and putting it around her neck. “I look forward to it.”
She fiddled with the book and key and then met my gaze with a shrewd expression. “Tell you what… You make it to the water, and I’ll kiss you stupid in front of the whole beach and boardwalk.”
I saw what she was doing; she was giving me an opportunity to make a new memory, a different one. A truly better one.
Glancing from her to the water and back again, I nodded, swallowing nervously. “Okay.”
“Take your shoes off, baby,” she said, pointing to my sneakers. “Leave ’em.” She waited until I toed them off, and then she held out both her hands for mine. “C’mon, handsome.”
I linked my fingers with hers, feeling the wet sand beneath my feet and between my toes. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that sensation. The closer we got, the harder I squeezed her hand, but just hearing her steady encouragement kept me putting one foot in front of the other.
She stopped us just out of the range of the waves rolling in, and she stepped into my vision. “You’re okay, and I’m right here. We can go back, if you want to stop. But I will tell you the water’s warm today.”
Nodding fervently that I heard her, I held on to her hand as she stepped back while a wave slowly crept up with thin water and foamy bubbles and seaweed. I looked back at her face, meeting the gaze that had changed me, made me a better man, and I took that last step, splashing down into the water. Before I could panic, her lips met mine. Her kiss was pride and heat. It was squeals of happiness, and I couldn’t help but kiss her back, smiling into it all.
As another low wave rolled over our feet, I wrapped my arms around Bella and lifted her up. Cupping my face and securing her legs around my waist, she laughed and kissed me again, and I heard cheers from behind us. I’m sure I heard Jasper whistle and Alice cheer, but I only had eyes for the beautiful girl in my arms.
I remembered the first time I saw her; I was broken and invisible. I’d been nervous and alone. I thought I was escaping my past, my life that had been filled with hate, guilt, and grief, but really, I’d landed right where I needed to be.
I still wasn’t sure what I believed about life after death, but if my mother was somewhere watching, then I was pretty sure she had a hand in some of this. Only my mother would have set the strongest, most perfect, most beautiful girl down in the middle of a college library just a few tables away from mine so I couldn’t possibly miss her.
Glancing down at my feet in the water and then back out across the ocean, glowing in the low sunset, I felt lips on my cheek and whispers of love. Instead of panic and fear, I only saw my future.


Unknown said...

I came to your website to tell you again what an amazing writer you are, hands down my favorite writer. Thank you so much you blow me away.

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