Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 20

The Chinks in Angel Armor

It seemed like weeks had gone by in a blink of an eye for both Edward and Bella, their days, and many nights, filled with moments of both laughter and seriousness as they forged a solid friendship with one another. They spent hours talking and learning about each other when no one else was around, which, peculiarly, was more frequent than not.

His family claimed they were just busy, Emmett and his father both having gone back to work, and his mother trying to stay on top of the things in Edward's life that he was currently unable to tend to. But after some very curious looks when they did come to visit, Bella was skeptical of their true reasons behind their short and, in some cases, no longer daily appearances.

They'd been acting strangely ever since the weekend of the fundraiser—which had gone fabulously. In just one day they'd managed to raise almost seventeen thousand dollars for his cause. Her boss, Jay Jenks, and his father had even stopped by and given a donation on behalf of the city. His family, with the exception of Rosalie, still continued to treat her kindly, but every time Edward called her on that Saturday, the rest of his family - especially his mother and Alice - would just act—strangely. Unsubtle elbow jabs, indiscrete whispers, and excitement filled eyes had Bella casting them wary glances as she stepped away to take the calls. She had no idea what the two of them were up to, nor did she think she wanted to.

As the end of August sped toward them, Edward found his aggravation with still being stuck in the hospital peaking at unprecedented levels. The only thing that soothed his agitation was Bella's ability to take his mind off of his surroundings for periods of time. When he was left alone at night, he'd last an hour or two, at most, before wanting to tear the walls down.

He'd been so close to being released just two weeks before. They'd finally removed the chest tube that had been the literal thorn in his side, but just a few hours after having it removed, they'd had to replace it because a pocket of air had collected in his chest, threatening to collapse his lung again. They'd called it a pneumothorax, but he'd just called it a pain in his ass.

He was tired. Tired of physical therapists coming in to work with him on regaining full use of his legs, because he wasn't in pain until they started moving his legs all over the damn place. Tired of being jabbed every morning for routine blood work, and having to endure the cafeteria food when Bella didn't sneak him in something better which, admittedly, was rare. He was tired of needing two people and a wheelchair every time he just needed to go to the bathroom, and he was really tired of being wheeled down to radiology twice everyday for routine chest x-rays, where he'd inevitably end up arguing with whatever tech was unlucky enough to get him because he refused to remove his chain and medallion for the pictures.

"Looks like someone's being a Sullen Cullen this morning," Bella's quiet voice snickered, making his distant gaze refocus and dart in her direction. To his surprise, she wasn't alone but flanked on either side by her parents.

"Hope you don't mind," she smiled as she approached the bed, "But the cavalry decided last minute to come with."

"No, not at all," Edward attempted a smile as he nodded toward them in greeting. "Charlie, Renee...G'morning."

"Good morning, sweetie. How are you holding up?" Renee asked, brushing his hair away from his forehead. It had grown far too long for his liking during his stay and he couldn't wait to get the hell out of there and shear that shit off. He'd rather be bald than have the cowlick ridden disaster of a mop-top he was currently sporting.

"I'd be better if I didn't have to eat that bowl of what they're trying to pass off as cream of wheat, that's for sure," he grimaced, pointing toward the bowl he'd left abandoned on the tray table.

"Well hopefully this might tempt your palate a little bit more, hm?" Renee smiled warmly, retrieving two Tupperware containers from her incredibly large purse. When she popped the lid off of one, the mouth watering scent of maple syrup and cinnamon accompanied the delicious sight of three pieces of powdered sugar sprinkled french toast.

"Don't look at me," Bella laughed, shaking her head when he looked at her in question. "I burn it every time I try to make it because when I try to cook it on a lower heat it comes out soggy and gross."

"Renee, you are a godsend," Edward grinned, "Thank you."

"You're quite welcome, now dig in while I get rid of," Renee cringed when she looked at the bowl of white lumpy substance, "...whatever that is over there."

They all conversed casually as Edward nearly inhaled the container of french toast and side of fresh cut fruit. When Charlie asked him if he'd heard word of when his doctors would attempt to remove the tube again, Edward grunted around a mouthful of food and swallowed as he nodded.

"As long as my chest x-ray today looks as good as yesterday's, they'll try to take it out again sometime later today."

He didn't want to get his hopes up again, but it was rather hard not to when they dangled the carrot of "If everything goes as planned, we should be able to discharge you by the week's end" in front of him.

"Ugh, I'm getting fat from all this good food you all have been sneaking in to me," Edward laughed, patting his belly after he pushed the table tray away. "I'll be as big as a house by the time I can work it off if you guys keep this up."

"We're just trying to get you back where you were, kid. You lost almost thirty pounds over the first month in here," Charlie said, attempting to mask his concern with an easy going smile. He may have been able to fool Edward who didn't know him all that well, but Bella heard her father's worry clear as day and she cast him a secret, appreciative smile.

A little after ten am, Charlie and Renee said their goodbyes to Edward when hospital transporters arrived to wheel his bed down to radiology. Bella didn't even bother to ask him if he wanted her to come back later, having gotten the same answer every time she'd asked over the last few weeks. She walked beside his bed as they made their way down to the department, and then she waited in the outer corridor to keep him company while they waited for the transporters to return and bring him back upstairs. It was the same routine every morning and every evening before she went home, it never changed, but she was happy to do it for him if it was what he wanted. It beat sitting around in his room bored out of her mind.

When they got settled back into his room, Bella pulled out a deck of cards and quickly shuffled, "Gin, Rummy, Spades, or Texas Hold 'Em?"

"Hmm," Edward hummed, bobbing his head from side to side. "Gin—we played Spades yesterday and I played poker last night on my phone."

She dealt the cards and they eased into a comfortable silence as they formulated strategies in their minds. It wasn't until the fifth or sixth discard that Edward spoke.

"So Jasper called last night," he commented.

"Oh yeah? How's he doing?" Bella asked, her focus trained on the cards in her hand. "I haven't seen or talked to either him or Alice in a few days."

"He's doing okay. I think living with our parents again is driving him crazy because he asked if he could crash at my house instead," Edward laughed, picking up the King of diamonds Bella had just discarded. All he needed was the Jack of the same suit to call Gin.

"What'd you say to that?" Bella asked, slightly distracted as she tried to decide between going after trip tens or keep holding out for the nine she'd been waiting for.

"I told him to dream on," Edward snorted, picking up a card from the deck and pursing his lips at it before throwing it down as his discard card. "There's a reason I bought a house, and it wasn't so I'd end up living with my family again."

"How old were you when you bought your house?" Bella asked curiously, sliding the eight of diamonds she'd just picked up from the deck into its spot in her hand and pulling out one of the tens to discard.

"Twenty two. It took me a few years to save up enough for a down payment and another year of busting my ass just to furnish it," Edward chuckled, drawing another useless card from the deck. "My mom used to get on me all the time when I first moved in because the house was basically empty. The only things I had were from my bedroom in their house and a mini four cup coffee maker my father had given me as a joke."

"I don't get the joke," Bella said, dropping her hands to her lap as her brow furrowed. Edward just laughed and shook his head, "When you work twenty-fours, you blow through a four cup pot of coffee before you've even had a shower and then you have to brew a second pot for your to-go cup. I cursed him every morning until I learned how to program it to brew a pot before I woke up and trained myself to brew a second pot before heading back up the stairs for a shower."

"Good lord! I'd keel over from a heart attack," Bella guffawed. "I once drank two frappaccinos in a span of three hours and my heart was racing so fast I thought I was going to pass out...Gin, by the way."

"What?" Edward barked, snatching up the card she'd laid face down on the discard pile and groaning. "You had my card the whole time!"

They spent the next two and a half hours playing Gin, with Edward refusing to let her shuffle or deal because he was convinced she was rigging the deck. Gin was the only card game she remained undefeated in. He hadn't even won a single game against her, and they'd been playing it for weeks. She was ruthless.

When his lunch tray arrived just before two, Bella promptly threw it in the trash and grabbed her purse to go find them something better to eat. He wouldn't put any weight back on by eating watery soup and sandwiches that were questionable as to whether they were tuna or chicken salad.

While she was gone, he watched the clock tick away, each minute passing bringing him one minute closer to his four o'clock torture session, otherwise known as physical therapy. He wondered what was in store for him that day, but was brought out of his thoughts by a knock on the door. He shouted for them to come in and smiled when Alice, dressed in her work scrubs, came around the corner. His smile was short lived, however, when he saw her face.

"What's up, Peanut?" he asked worriedly.

"You have a minute? I need," she replied, sinking down into the seat Bella had been in not long before.

"For you? Always, you know that," he sighed, turning on his side with great effort to face her. "Alright, I'm all ears. Lay it on me."

"So you know how Jasper and I have been seeing this therapist...counselor...whatever, right?" she asked and he nodded, remembering her mentioning how Bella had pulled some kind of strings to get them a few free sessions. "Well we had a session this morning and Jasper unloaded on me about how he still loves me even though I've changed so much over the last few years that he feels like he doesn't even know me sometimes, and how even though he feels that way, he never questioned leaving me."

Alice's eyes began to tear again, proving her previous assumption that she'd cried herself dry to be erroneous. Jasper had spent nearly the entire hour screaming at her and then storming out without allowing her to get a single word in edgewise. After he'd slammed the door behind him on his way out, Alice had sat in that office with their counselor and destroyed an entire box of Kleenex while sobbing so violently that she was rendered incapable of intelligible speech.

"Have I really changed that much?" she sniffed, wiping away under her eyes with her knuckles.

Edward sighed, running a hand through his hair as he contemplated how to answer that question. Had she changed since they'd gotten married? Yes, and quite a bit, but not in a bad way, and definitely not in a way that made it seem as though she'd turned into a stranger to him.

"Peanut, I don't really know what to tell you," he frowned, knowing he'd have to speak honestly and dreading his words hurting her even more. "Yeah you've changed, but it was to be expected, you know? You grew up—matured. You became an adult who wants adult things and there's nothing wrong with that, Ali. The problem is that while you evolved, he didn't. Jasper is the same person now as he was back in his senior year of high school. Give him a five dollar bill and the choice between paying a bill or buying a beer, and he'll go for the beer, every time."

Alice closed her eyes, sending a stream of tears and mascara down her sun kissed face as she shook her head. She was at a loss, and no matter how deep she looked into herself, she couldn't find the answers she needed to be able to fix their situation. To be able to fix them.

"I don't know what to do anymore, Edward," she breathed, her chin quivering as more tears continued to spill down her cheeks. He turned over and grabbed the box of tissues off his nightstand and handed them to her silently, waiting for her to compose herself and continue.

"It's just..." she trailed off, letting a strangled sound of anguish escape her throat as she threw her hands in the air, "We've been going to these sessions once a week for a month now, and next week is our last freebie and I'm not sure anymore if there's even a point to us doing this. Especially not after today. We just don't seem to be getting anywhere with it."

Edward rolled onto his back, staring at the wall as he thought back to all the conversations he'd had with both her and Jasper since he'd awoken. He remembered Alice telling him at some point about Jasper's breakdown in the ICU waiting room and, a few days later, when he'd asked his brother about it, Jasper told him Alice had asked him to move out to give them both a little space while they tried to work on their marriage. He could clearly remember Jasper being hopeful that they'd be able to save their marriage the day he'd spoken to him about it, but he knew how his brother worked, and right now, Jasper needed a swift kick in the pants.

"Drop him on his ass, Alice," Edward finally spoke, turning his head to look at her.

"What?" she whimpered, more tears coming to her eyes as they darted around the room. "I...Edward...I don't think I can."

"You can and, more importantly, you need to," he pressed, shaking his head at her when she moved to argue. "Peanut, this is Jasper we're talking about here. The man doesn't learn a damn thing unless he's forced to learn it the hard way. The best advice I can give you is drop him on his ass and save the money you'd throw away on therapy until the time comes when it won't be wasted. And I guarantee you the time will come, because he may be dense, but he's not stupid. You're the best thing that ever has or will happen to him. Give him a little time of stewing in thinking he blew it, and he'll realize that."

"What if he doesn't?" she sniffed, ripping another tissue from the box.

"Then he doesn't deserve you, Ali."

By the time Alice left the room, she'd almost been late to punch in for her three to eleven shift, but she'd resolved herself to do as Edward had advised. If anyone knew Jasper, Edward did, and she trusted Edward to steer her in the right direction. If she'd figured out anything during her and Jasper's marriage counseling sessions, it was that she wanted to save their marriage. She just didn't know how or if it was even possible.

When quarter to four rolled around and Bella hadn't returned, Edward began to wonder where in the world she'd gone to get them lunch.

When his physical therapy session came to an end at five thirty and she still hadn't returned, he began to assume she'd gotten held up by something important.

When his doctor came in and removed his chest tube at ten after six, he began to worry horribly.

When his dinner tray arrived at seven, he'd blown passed anxious and gone straight to frantic because she wasn't even answering her phone. He couldn't even think about eating with the way his stomach was churning at the thought of something horrible having happened to her.

When she barreled through the door at quarter after eight, he ripped her head off while grabbing at his side because of the pain it caused him to do so.

"Where the fuck have you been?"

"I'm sorry, god I'm so sorry!" she panted, a slight wheeze escaping her lungs in rapid bursts. She felt like she was about to collapse, so she sank down into the chair to catch her breath. "Your brother...caught me on my way back up. Rose...went into labor early...and he was frantic...because they wouldn't let the room with her...some complication."

"What the fuck? Why hasn't anyone called me?" he fumed, reaching for his cell and double checking it, only to see he had no missed calls.

"No one here," she panted, unable to catch her breath. "My phone's dead...he left his at home...and he wouldn't...let me leave him. Crap...give me a minute here."

"Where's your air pack?" he asked, his anxiety spiking even higher at her increasing pallor.

"In the car," she groaned as she bent forward and concentrated on taking deep breaths. He was half tempted to hit his call button to summon a nurse for her; more than half tempted. He'd actually reached for it but she'd smacked his hand out of the way and violently shook her head at him. It took a solid fifteen minutes of him ripping his hair out for her to finally start breathing normally again, and if the past few hours hadn't aged him a decade, the last twenty minutes definitely had.

"Sorry," she mumbled, blowing out a gust of air. " of eight-oh-four you're officially an uncle to a five pound eleven ounce baby boy."

"Is he okay?" Edward asked nervously.

"Yeah, ten fingers, ten toes and breathing well on his own according to the doctor," she said and then grimaced slightly. "I didn't stick around to see him because...well...I'm pretty sure I'm the last person Rosalie would have wanted to see right now, but I stayed long enough to hear that mom and baby are doing just fine."

"Why didn't you just call me from a nursing station?" he asked, not pausing before shooting off another one, "Why aren't my parents here, or Alice? She should have been in the ER when Rose came in."

"Emmett tried getting a hold of your parents when they were in the ER, but he said couldn't get through to either one of them, and I didn't even know Alice was working. Emmett didn't say anything about her being down there," she answered as best she could. The last few hours were like a blur of chaos in her mind. "And I didn't call you because I told you, Emmett wouldn't let me leave him not even to walk down the hall to a nursing station. He didn't want me to tell you because he didn't want you to be sitting here worrying about them but not being able to even go down there or anything."

"Nice, so he leaves me sitting here worrying my ass off over you. Jesus, Bella...I thought you got into a car wreck or some shit," he grumbled, pulling at his hair again.

"I'm sorry...I didn't think you'd freak out over me," she cringed.

Edward looked at her, completely dumbfounded that she'd think he wouldn't worry when she failed to return for six and a half hours. He'd lost track of how many disturbing scenarios ran through his mind—at some point everything from a car accident to a fast food joint robbery, complete with a hostage crisis situation had flittered through his brain.

"Why the hell wouldn't I? You're my...friend," he nearly spat. "Wouldn't you worry about one of your friends, too?"

And there it was, the pause before he said the word friend because he wasn't sure what to call her, and then just how he'd said the word—almost as if it was offensive for some reason. She looked down at the ground, feeling horrible for making him worry but even worse for beginning to allow herself to believe in the possibility that he could one day see her as something more than a friend, when it was so obvious now that she'd been right all along. It was hopelessly impossible.


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