Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter 11

The Sadness of Goodbye vs The Relief of Hello

Bella awoke at seven am on Friday morning to the shrill metallic wail of the battery operated alarm clock she hadn't used since she was in high school. When she rolled over to shut it off, she nearly fell out of the bed, no longer accustomed to its small twin sized mattress. As she opened her eyes and pushed herself up into a sitting position, she smiled drowsily at her familiar surroundings. All of the flowers the Cullen's had filled her hospital room with now filled her bedroom, and Bullwinkle—Emmett's hilarious reminder of his lack in drawing skills—sat proudly in the rocking chair in the corner of her room.

Aside from those new additions, her bedroom in her parents' house hadn't changed a bit in the six years since she'd moved out for college. Pictures of friends and random photographs of nature that she'd taken years before still clung to her sunshine yellow painted walls with colored thumbtacks, and the blue and yellow tie dyed celestial tapestry she'd made for freshman year art class still drooped from her ceiling. She remembered wanting to take that tapestry with her when she left for college, but her mother begged her not to because she loved it so much.

An artistic talent was one of the very few things she shared in common with Renee, and looking up at the work of art she and her mother had created together, she was glad she hadn't taken it with her. It would have been destroyed in the fire along with the memories attached to it.

The sound of Bella's ritualistic morning coughing as she started to move about filtered through the wall and served as a wake up call to her parents, the deep rumble and dryness of it impossible to ignore. Renee rolled over in bed as Charlie began rubbing his hands over his face, worried his daughter would never be fully healthy again.

"Do you think she'll ever be able to start a day without that horrid hacking?" Renee fretted.

"I hope so," Charlie sighed as he took her hand in his and held it between them, caressing her fingers with his thumb as he stared up at the ceiling and waited for it to subside. When a few minutes of silence passed and they heard her enter the bathroom and turn on the shower, they sighed in unified relief and prepared themselves to get up and face another day.

By quarter to eight, the scent of pancakes and sizzling sausage was wafting up the stairs as Bella began to make her trek down them. Before joining her parents in the kitchen, she packed her inhaler in the side pocket of her portable oxygen system, just in case of an emergency. She disliked the idea of having to carry it around with her everywhere she went, but she feared the possibilities of what could happen if she over-exerted herself and began struggling to breathe again more.

"Hey, kiddo. You got up early this morning. What do you have planned for the day?" Charlie asked as he dropped his folded up newspaper down onto the kitchen table.

"Morning, Mom," Bella smiled, kissing her cheek as she passed by her on the way to get some juice from the refrigerator. "Um...I have to head into the office to talk to Jay about taking an extended leave of absence, and after that I'm going to head to the hospital for a while."

"Bella," Charlie grumbled discontentedly.

"Dad, don't start, please. We've been through this already. We've been through this almost every day this week. I'm not changing my mind so let it go," she intercepted, shaking her head as she sat down at the table.

"I'm not letting it go, Isabella. You're twenty four years old and just starting to really put your life together. Why in God's name are you so insistent on putting your entire life on hold for one person when he's already got practically half the city at his disposal for support?"

Bella tuned him out within his first sentence and crossed her arms over her chest as she pursed her lips and stared at her glass of orange juice.

"For shit's sake...Renee, help me out here," Charlie groaned.

"Honey, your father's right. You can still visit him and help him with anything you can without quitting your job," Renee piped in as she placed a plate in front of Bella.

"I'm not quitting," Bella huffed as she straightened up in her seat. "And it's not just for him. I can barely manage minimal activity at best, so how am I supposed to get through a ten to twelve hour day running all over this city without putting myself back in the hospital?"

She wished her parents would understand that her job didn't allow her to sit in an office chair for hours at a time. Bella spent her exhaustingly long work days running back and forth between attorney offices, libraries, and courthouse file rooms and her job frequently required her to carry heavy loads of research materials and case files. It just wasn't feasible for her to return to work in her condition, and she'd explained as much to her parents on more than one occasion since she'd left the hospital.

"Bella," Charlie sighed, shaking his head at her. "You and I both know that in a couple of weeks you'd be ready to go back to work at least part time. I'm not saying you'll be back to a hundred percent, because I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that taking an indefinite leave of absence is unwarrantable."

Bella kept her eyes on her plate, listlessly pushing her food around with her fork. She didn't want to admit to herself that her father was speaking the truth. There really wouldn't be any legitimate reason for her not to return to work in a few weeks on a part time basis, assuming her health continued to improve. The problem was she knew herself too well, and she knew that if she returned too early, she'd never be able to just stop whatever task she was doing and let it go when it became too much. But more than that, she feared getting back into a routine of long work hours and too little personal time that would disenable her from being able to visit with the Cullen family daily as she'd been doing.

It had only been three days since her meltdown in the hospital and waking up to a room full of gifts, but it seemed like a lifetime ago since she read their heartfelt words on the card they'd left for her. They truly wanted her there with them, and even though she'd been hurt by Carlisle's initially disingenuous actions, she could look past them. He'd been entitled to the way he'd felt—she just wished he wouldn't have hidden it behind a deceitful veil of compassion.

"Can you just...let it go?" she mumbled to her plate, wanting nothing more than to get on with the day she'd had planned when she went to sleep the night before.

"No, Bells. What are you going to do for money? How will you pay the bills you already have, or the ones that will start rolling in from the hospital?" he pressed argumentatively.

She looked up at him and narrowed his eyes, incensed that he felt she hadn't given her decision the utmost consideration. "I'm not an idiot, Dad. My health insurance will pay most of my hospital bills and what it doesn't, I can make monthly payments on. Considering my car is paid off and I no longer have rent to pay because I no longer have an apartment, I have enough in my savings to get by until I have to go back to work, and that's not including whatever I can get out of an insurance settlement."

As she trailed her argument off, Bella rose from the table and took her plate into the kitchen to dump her barely touched breakfast into the trash. After she rinsed her plate and loaded it into the dishwasher, she turned and leaned against the counter, facing her parents at the table.

"I don't expect you to understand why I need to do this so badly, but I need you to accept it. I need you to trust me to do what's best for me right now," she said, imploring them with her eyes to back down.

The kitchen was silent as Charlie crossed his arm over his chest and ran a hand repeatedly over his mouth in contemplation. Renee darted worried eyes back and forth between her daughter and husband, wishing for nothing more than an end to their disagreement one way or the other. She didn't necessarily agree with Bella's choice either, but she was a grown woman and was highly capable of making her own decisions.

"Dad...please," Bella urged gently. He sighed in displeasure, furiously rubbing his hands over his face as he leaned forward to sit up straight in his chair. When his arms dropped down onto the table, he looked over at her and nodded.

"Fine," he answered and pointed a finger at her. "But you listen here, young lady. Jay Jenks went out on a limb and took a chance hiring you right out of school, with no experience whatsoever. Don't waste the opportunity he gave you, Bella, and don't make him regret giving it to you. Do you hear me?"

Bella couldn't help the thrill that shot through her veins at her father's concession and a smile spread across her face as she rounded the kitchen counter toward him. She wrapped her arms around him, laying her head down on his shoulder as he chuckled and shook his head.

"Thank you, Dad," she whispered. "I love you."

"Love you too, kiddo."

A half an hour later, Bella was making her way through the parking garage for the municipal complex. She knew from having previously walked the same path countless times before that, even speed walking, the trek would take her at least ten minutes to Jay's office. Unfortunately, she couldn't even think about speed walking the distance anymore. The humid heat and her ability to exert herself easily had her making a slow journey toward his office, careful not to outdo herself. Even still, with all the caution she'd taken, she was digging into her emergency pack for her inhaler by the time she made it to the elevator in his building .

When the doors opened, she entered and hit the button for the seventh floor before leaning against the faux wood paneling and trying to slow her breathing. The man that had boarded the elevator along with her was standing off to the side and eyeing her with a horribly failed attempt at being discrete. She wanted to roll her eyes at him, but she lacked the energy and disrespect to do so.

"Bella?" a sweet voice called out in recognition as the elevator dinged, stopping at the fourth floor. She opened her eyes and smiled as the young woman with caramel skin and jet black hair boarded the elevator.

"Hey Claire," she greeted, stepping back to make room for her and the heavy looking file box she was carrying.

"How are you? We all heard what happened and we've been so worried. I kept meaning to stop by the hospital and see you, but Jenks Sr. is prosecuting a huge case in just a few weeks. He's had us working our tails off for the last month straight," Claire spoke, concern in her eyes and remorse in her tone. Bella just chuckled and shook her head at her, not wanting her to feel bad for not having had the chance to come visit her.

"Don't worry about it. I know how it goes around here, and so far, I'm doing okay," Bella responded, wishing she could offer assistance as Claire struggled with the box in her hands. When her eyes drifted up to the man still in the elevator who was now conspicuously averting his attention with profound determination—she had to wonder just when the notion of chivalry in the office environment had gone up in flames. This time, however, she did roll her eyes at him before turning her attention back to Claire.

When the elevator doors opened to the seventh floor, Bella followed behind Claire, listening to her recount all that she'd missed in the last three weeks. She'd been snickering under her breath over Claire's story about a new office assistant being so nervous during a meeting that she spilled coffee in one of the prosecutor's laps when she looked up and spotted Jay Jenks leaning against the wall just outside his office door, smiling softly at her.

"Sorry Claire, but my boss is waiting for me," Bella apologized. "I'll give you a call next week, maybe we can get together for lunch or something."

"As long as you can handle eating in the courthouse file room," Claire sniggered. "I've been up to my knees in files for the last week in there and I'm only halfway through."

"Done deal. I'll bring the sandwiches, you bring the makeshift chairs," Bella laughed, making her way toward Jay.

He pulled away from the wall and ushered her into his office before shutting the door behind them and leading her to a cushioned leather chair across from his massive contemporary walnut desk.

"Lookin' good, kid," he chuckled as he lowered himself into his office chair. "Hell of a lot better than the last time I saw you."

"You came to the hospital?" Bella asked in confusion. She hadn't been aware that he'd been there, but then again, she'd been unaware of anything for nearly two days.

"Sure did. Your father called first thing the morning after and my father and I came straight out. I hope you don't mind, but everyone here pooled together after the picture of your building made first page of the paper. It's not a tremendous amount, but every little bit helps, right?" he asked as he withdrew an envelope from his desk drawer and pushed it across to her.

She took it from him with furrowed brows and nearly fell out of her chair when she peeked inside and saw the amount written on the check. "I don't...I can't...Jay, this is too much," she shook her head rapidly as she tried to pass the nearly five thousand dollar check back to him.

"Bella, take it. You'll need it more than any of us do if for nothing more than those hospital bills," he refused, wanting her to have the money. She didn't need to know that more than half of it came from him and his father alone. She was a hard worker, probably the hardest working he'd had on his staff since the day he took office as Assistant District Attorney. If anyone in that office deserved a helping hand when they needed one, it was her.

"My father also contacted your insurance company, acting on your behalf as your attorney since a conflict of interest inhibited me from doing so myself, and you can expect payment within thirty days. They're declaring it a total loss on all of your belongings and we got them to settle for just shy of fifteen—which is half of what we were going for, but almost twice what they originally offered."

Bella looked at him with bewildered eyes and a slack jaw, unable to process all that had just happened in the span of five minutes. "I don't even know what to say but...thank you."

"No need to thank me, Bella. You've earned it around here and if anyone deserves a break right now, it's you. Speaking of which, my secretary informed me you wish to take a leave of absence. Is that right?" he asked and she nodded, feeling ashamed for requesting now after all he'd done for her.

"It is. I just don't have the energy or the stamina for the long hours and physical strain right now. And to be honest, there are some personal matters I wish to tend to," she answered truthfully, earning a knowing smirk from him.

"The firefighter wouldn't happen to be the personal matter, would he?" Jay asked rhetorically, already knowing the answer, but she bit her lip and nodded her affirmation anyway. "He's a good guy. His brothers leave a little to be desired occasionally, but Edward's always been a pretty damn honorable man for as long as I've known him. Guy's got more guts and glory than half this city combined."

"So I keep hearing," Bella laughed lightly.

"Are you up for a negotiation on the terms of length of this supposed leave of absence? Because I'll be frank, it takes four of the others to get me what you can in half the time and I'm going to be needing you back soon," Jay spoke seriously as he leaned forward, clasping his hands together atop the desk.

"How soon?" Bella asked, slightly relieved that he hadn't refused her request outright.

"I know you need time to recover. I can see that much with my own two eyes," he said as he gestured to her emergency oxygen pack. "What do you say I let you use eight of the ten weeks of paid vacation you've earned the past two and a half years and then we'll see what you're up for then? If you come back at that point, I'll keep you on light cases until you're feeling up for more if need be."

Bella contemplated his offer for all of ten seconds. Eight weeks—and paid to boot—was more than gracious and she wasn't about to push for more and potentially risk her career.

"I think I can work with that," she smiled gratefully.

"Well then, Miss Swan, enjoy your vacation."

Bella left Jay Jenks's office just shortly after eleven am, and after chatting with a few people on her way back toward the garage, she finally made it to her car just before noon. As she slid into the seat of her black 2005 Chevy Cobalt, she placed her portable oxygen supply on the passenger seat and went about hooking the mask up to the small tank. She'd just placed the mask to her face when the cell phone her mother had insisted she replace immediately upon leaving the hospital, began to vibrate and ring in her pocket. She fished it out while taking deep breaths of oxygen through the mask, irritated that a walk she'd taken multiple times nearly every day of her life for the past few years had exhausted her so greatly.

She wanted her health back. She wanted to be able to go jogging down at Swan Creek Park when she felt stressed out. She wanted Edward to finally wake up for longer than a span of just a minute or two at a time. She wanted his family to be able to get a decent night's sleep for the first time in ages. She wanted...

She wanted so many things right now, for herself and for others, but none of them were possible at the moment.

"Hello?" she answered, slightly breathless as she pulled the mask away from her face.

"Hey, Bella. It's Alice...are you okay? You sound...winded," Alice's sweet concerned voice flowed through the line.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Just feel like I ran a...marathon even though I only...walked about four blocks," she answered slowly between deep breaths. "What's up?"

"Bella," she sighed worriedly. "You need to take it easy. Is anyone with you? Do you have your oxygen with you?"

Bella rolled her eyes but couldn't help the slight smile tugging at her lips, grateful she was to have made such a caring new friend. "No, no one's with me...and yes, I have it with me... I'm using it right now."

"Alright," she answered unsurely. "Well call me if you start having a hard time breathing, okay? I can come to you wherever you are, it's not a problem."

"Alice, I'm fine...really," Bella assured her. "Did you all need anything when you called...or?"

"Oh, no!" Alice laughed, having completely forgotten why she'd called to begin with. "I was just wondering if you were planning on coming by soon. Jasper and Emmett are going to get pizza and we wanted to know what kind you liked if you wanted some."

Bella chuckled under her breath and told her any kind would be fine, so long as it didn't have mushrooms or anchovies, and told her she should be there in about a half an hour. She spent another ten minutes after hanging up the phone getting her breathing under control and basking in the cool air blowing from her car's vents before pulling out of the garage and heading toward the hospital.

As she drove through Tacoma's city streets, her mental list making of things she needed to take care of over the next few weeks was cut short as she became consciously aware of how close she was to her old apartment. Before she knew it, she was instinctively making the turns toward the old historic house that had been renovated into eight flats. Parking across the street, she shut her engine off and exhaled deeply before turning her gaze to the destroyed building.

All that was left was a giant pile of scorched wood, blackened and unrecognizable. Memories of the few years she'd lived there played out behind her eyes; the excitement she'd had the day she moved in and she and her mother painted every room in cheery colors - getting more paint on themselves than the walls in most of the rooms; the first time she locked herself out of her apartment and Walt, the building's elderly owner, came to her rescue at nearly midnight with a spare key; the day she met Tanya and Irina when she nearly sent the three of them tumbling down the staircase.

Bella had sprained her ankle that day when she'd overstepped one of the stairs, catching her heel on just the edge of it and sending her sliding down a handful of others and smack into the two women—but she'd also made two of the best friends she could have ever asked for that day as well. They'd helped her limp to her car and Irina drove them to the hospital. Four hours and three x-rays later, they spent the night with her watching cheesy movies and drinking wine to numb the pain. It was the first of many nights of popcorn, wine, and movies that made them toss more kernels toward the TV screen than into their mouths.

A tear slid down the side of her cheek as she gazed at the remains of the first place she'd felt at home since leaving her parents' house. That building, when it had stood tall, proud, and beautiful, had housed within it laughter, joy, friendship—warmth. The rubble left behind just held a painful reminder of how closely two people had come to losing their lives in its destruction.

Bella's fingers slid easily across the numeric keypad of her phone, the familiar number not needing even a second of thought to remember after having been dialed so many times in the past.

"Hey sweetie! How's freedom treatin' ya?" Tanya's cheerful voice soothed Bella's fractured heart instantly.

"Good, I guess...I miss you guys," she sighed, staring at the building.

"Aw...we miss you too, hun. But hey! Irina and I decided to take the plunge. I know, I know...Six years of living together in a shoebox you'd think we would have already...but it's time," Tanya rambled, her voice trilling with excitement.

"What? What plunge are you talking about?" Bella chuckled, swiping away at the fading tears.

"We're renting a house!" she squealed and Bella had to laugh at the mental image of her jumping around and clapping. "And it's awesome! It's bright yellow just like you're old room and it has white trim and the cutest picket fence...all we need is a dog but Irina said hell no. She said there's no way she's spending her Sunday mornings doing poop patrol in the yard. I told her we can get a chihuahua and put a diaper on it, but she just looked at me like I was crazy."

"Because you are crazy," Bella laughed, leaning her head back and looking at the ceiling of her car as she shook her head.

"Anyways, it has three bedrooms and it looks like we'll be moving in in four weeks and Irina and I wanted to know if you'd think with us?" she asked hesitantly, and after a moment of stunned silence she began rambling. "It's just...we loved living across the hall from you and really...we spent more nights in the same apartment together than in our own ones and it just feels...I dunno...weird knowing that you won't be just right across the hall anymore. Will you at least just think about it, please?"

"Yes, I'll think about it, Tanya, but I definitely can't afford to do it until I go back to work, and don't even try to pull the "you don't need to pay us rent" bit. If I move in, I pay a third of everything, okay?"

"Yes ma'am!" she chirped, getting Bella to laugh again because, even though she couldn't see her, she knew Tanya had just saluted her.

They spoke for a few more minutes and made plans to get together sometime over the weekend before hanging up. With one last glimpse of what had once been one of her favorite places in the world, Bella kissed the tips of her fingers and touched the glass, bidding the crumbled remains farewell before pulling out of her spot and heading back down the road.

By the time she arrived at the hospital, the pizza had long since gone cold, and though she attempted to eat the slice they'd saved her, somewhere between seeing her old building and knowing she would never be able to salvage any tangible piece of the memories she'd made there, she had lost her appetite completely. Instead of trying to force the food down, she lifted herself out of the ICU waiting room chair and dumped it in the trash.

"Are you feeling okay, honey?" Esme asked worriedly, standing and pressing a warm hand to Bella's forehead.

"Yeah, I'm just not hungry," she smiled sadly. Esme looked her over carefully and released a sighing breath as she nodded, knowing something was off but not wanting to push her for answers.

"Alright. I'll listen if you want to talk about anything though, okay?" she whispered to Bella as she hugged her gently. "Come on...they should be just about done running him a new IV and I have a surprise for you."

"What kind of surprise?" Bella asked skeptically, but only received a teasing smile in return.

"You'll see," Esme winked as she linked her arm with Bella's, her smile growing wider as they departed the waiting room and headed towards Edward's room.

The moment they walked through the glass doors to his room, Bella gasped as her hand flew to her mouth, tears brimming in her eyes.

"They took him off the ventilator?" she breathed, unable to believe her eyes and looking to Esme for confirmation.

"About two hours ago," she nodded with a tender smile. "He woke up around one am and he's been awake off and on all morning. The doctors were in here for about an hour this morning testing his ability to regulate his own breathing before deciding to try taking him off the vent. So far so good."

"That's...God I don't even know what to say...I'm so happy for all of you," Bella stammered as Esme led her further into the room.

As Bella lowered herself into a chair, her eyes roamed Edward's face. The cuts and bruises that had marred his skin had faded significantly and the breathing tube that had distorted his features had been removed, leaving behind only the feeding tube affixed to his right nostril. For the first time in her many visits to his bedside, she truly saw him.

And he was beautiful.

Though it shouldn't have been surprising to her seeing as how his brothers were both handsome, and she'd noticed the features they shared before—the squared jaw, perfectly almond shaped eyes, and slightly cleft chin—she still found herself taken aback by his rugged handsomeness. Not even the flaws such as the small scar cutting through the edge of his left eyebrow, or the subtle bump on the bridge of his nose—most likely a result from having broken it at some point—or even the scar beneath his chin, took away from his beauty.

Her heart broke for him, all of Alec's late night words floating through her mind of how Edward lived his life drowning himself in work to avoid the loneliness of solitude outside of the station. She couldn't understand why he wasn't married already, or why he didn't at least have a significant other, when he was someone who was not only what everyone described to her to be a genuine beautiful soul, but good looking as well. It was baffling.

As the others began slowly filtering into the room, she heard Esme tsk and sigh behind her and the sound captured her attention away from Edward's face.

"He still has tape residue on his cheek. I swear they make that stuff irremovable on purpose," Esme mumbled to herself as she soaked and rang a cloth with warm water and added just a drop of soap. It was when she turned toward the bed that Bella first noticed just how tired and sleep deprived Esme's eyes were.

"Here, I'll get it. You're exhausted," she said softly, holding her hand out for the rag.

"Thank you, dear," Esme smiled softly, handing it to her and taking a seat as Bella moved toward the bed.

Bella found herself smiling and trying not to laugh as the Cullen children began squabbling amongst themselves. It seemed to her to be their favorite pass time, and while some of their arguments made Bella want to cower away from the viciousness of their words, the nonsensical griping ones were just downright amusing to her.

"Emmett, for the love of God, you're gonna break the damn TV. Pick a channel and stick with it already," Alice huffed.

"Pipe it, Peanut...the game's comin' on in ten minutes but I don't know what channel," he retorted.

"Don't call me that," she mumbled, and Bella's heart tugged at the sadness in her voice, though she couldn't fathom where the sadness had suddenly come from.

"Why not? Edward does all the time. Does he even remember your real name?" Emmett laughed. Bella's hand faltered, ceasing its movement abruptly as she suddenly understood the meaning behind Alice's disheartened tone.

"Yeah well...he's Edward and you're just a big dumb oaf," she growled defensively.

"Ouch," Emmett laughed. "I may be dumb but at least I can reach the top shelf of the cupboard."

"Enough, knock it off now...both of you," Carlisle's stern and aggravated voice cut in, rendering the room silent aside from the stunted audio clips on the TV as Emmett hopped from channel to channel and the steady beeps from Edward's monitoring equipment.

To avoid the awkward tension that had settled over the room, Bella focused her attention on gently removing the strip of sticky residue from Edward's scruffy face. She passed the rag over his skin with the utmost of tenderness, trying not to disturb his slumber. Once she was sure it had all been removed, she gently passed the clean end over the soapy area.

And, just as she slowly swiped it across his forehead, his eyelids began to flutter. Slowly, ever so slowly, they lifted and for only the second time ever in their lives, shamrock green locked onto cinnamon brown.

Moments of silence passed like an eternity between them, neither aware of anything surrounding them. For him, the woman whose lifeless body had tormented his dreams was hovering just above him—alive and well and smiling softly. For her, all of her hopes and prayers had been answered in the bright mossy depths of his eyes—free and clear of the torturous agony she'd seen in them the only other time he'd opened his eyes in her presence.

"Hi," she nearly whispered upon a breath of profound relief. His eyes flickered between hers, unsure if she was really standing there or if he was dreaming again because those eyes and that voice were far too familiar to him.

Another series of silent moments passed before she heard the one sound she hadn't been aware she'd been longing so badly to hear. It was broken, and barely audible, but she'd heard it clear as day.


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