Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chapter 23

A Small Reprieve

By quarter to nine, Edward's house had nearly cleared out, leaving Bella the chance to clean in a peaceful silence. Alice had tried to help, but Bella had all but pushed her out the door knowing she had to work a double shift the following day. Carlisle, Esme, and Jasper had taken care of all the decorations and trash outside before taking off for the night. Emmett, Rosalie and Ian had all fallen asleep on the living room couch sometime around seven, and after finding them, Bella had covered them with a blanket she'd found in the linen closet at the top of the stairs. They'd been so exhausted all day, and she'd felt so horrible for them that she couldn't bear the thought of waking them.

The only ones still awake were Edward and Alec, and both of them were in the backyard playing fetch with Tango and Cash. As Bella scrubbed dishes that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher, her gaze would occasionally drift to the window and she'd smile at the sight of the men laughing as the dogs tore off after the baseballs they threw. It warmed her heart to see Edward enjoying something other than the food she'd been sneaking in to him while he'd been in the hospital.

With the last of the dishes washed, dried, and put away, Bella quickly wiped down the counters and did a quick sweep through the downstairs of the house to make sure everything had been returned to its pristine condition. As she moved from room to room, she admired the home Edward had worked so hard to obtain. It really was a lovely home and she could tell how much care he put into it after seeing all the renovations he had told her he'd made since moving into it. It had taken him eight long years, but he'd remodeled nearly the entire house all on his own. The only room he hadn't yet tackled before the fateful night he nearly died, was the kitchen—and that was only because he was undecided on whether he wanted to go with a look that was sleek and polished or warm and inviting.

In the back of his mind, he'd always hoped that by the time he made it to that room he would have found someone to settle down with, and she could have chosen the kitchen she would have liked to have. Unfortunately, when that time came, he hadn't even been casually dating anyone, much less getting ready to settle down with them. His excuse as to why he hadn't remodeled the kitchen yet was because he was undecided, but deep down, he knew he was just waiting for the right person to come along to finish the job—because much like how his home wouldn't be complete without her new kitchen, his life wouldn't be complete without her.

Satisfied that his house had been returned to its original state of tidiness, Bella picked up her half empty glass of iced tea and headed out onto the back deck. She silently slipped into one of the cushioned chairs and stretched her aching legs out in front of her. Her intent had been to relax for a few minutes while watching the guys play with the dogs before heading home for the night, but her plans had been quickly thwarted by Tango. No sooner than she had sat down did he come tearing up the ramp Carlisle and Charlie had built, and all but hopped right up into her lap.

"Tango, down! You're not a lapdog!" Edward laughed as he rolled himself across the lawn toward the ramp. "I swear he doesn't usually do that, he's normally pretty good about keeping at least two paws on the ground at all times."

"Ohh it's alright," Bella chuckled, grasping his face between her hands and giving him a playful rub. "He just knows a pushover human when he sees one, don't ya boy?"

Edward reached out to scratch Tango's back and smiled as Bella laughed when his back leg started thumping against the deck. When he pulled his hand away, he looked at Bella, still smiling, "If I haven't said it already, thank you for everything you did today. You didn't have to go through so much trouble."

Bella shrugged, smiling softly as she continued petting Tango, "It was a big day for you, and after everything you've been through recently...it just felt like something to celebrate, ya know? At any rate, it was worth it if you enjoyed yourself."

"I did, surprisingly very much so," he chuckled, shaking his head as he realized it was the first family gathering he'd been a part of in at least two years that he'd truthfully had a good time at, and he said as much. "It's not often I actually enjoy family gatherings. Most of them usually end with people arguing or my mother invites people I haven't seen since high school at the very least and it's just...awkward to say the least."

"Well good, I'm glad," Bella smiled before looking down at her watch. It was already almost ten and she was exhausted. "I think it's about time for me to head home," she sighed, frowning slightly. "Do you need anything before I go?"

"Nah I'm good, but thanks. You sure you're okay to drive home? You look beat and there's a perfectly good bed upstairs if you'd rather just stay here," he offered, hoping she'd take him up on it. It was the least he could do after all she'd done for him that day.

"I'll be fine. I think it's only a ten or fifteen minute drive from here, tops," she replied as she rose from her chair. "I programmed the number to the home nursing service into your phone in case of an emergency, and I made up the sofa-bed in the den for Alec. Everything from the party's been cleaned up, and put away and your clothes from the last few days in the hospital are clean and folded...I left them on the foot of your bed in the den...I'm pretty sure that's it..." she trailed off, her nose crinkling as she tried to think if she was forgetting something.

Edward just stared at her, stunned and ashamed once again that he'd treated someone as caring and selfless as she was so harshly. He'd been a complete stranger to her the night their paths crossed, and yet, she'd treated him with nothing but kindness from the first moment he could remember waking to her gentle touch.

"Thank you...again," he nodded, unable to meet her gaze through his shame.

"You sure you don't need anything before I go? Last call," she teased, poking him in the shoulder.

He shook his head as he reached up to grasp her hand. His lips turned up into a half smile as his thumb caressed the back of her hand. "No...you've done too much for me as it is. Will you come back tomorrow?"

The pleading look in his smoldering green eyes, lit by the floodlights on the back of the house nearly knocked her breathless, rendering her only capable of nodding once as she bit her lip. And when he nodded back and lifted her hand to place a kiss against her knuckles, her knees nearly gave out.

"Text or call me when you get home so I know you made it safely, okay?" he asked, already worrying even though she hadn't yet left.

"I will," she smiled softly, turning to pick up her glass from the table. "See you tomorrow," she whispered as she hugged him gently.

"G'night, Bella," he sighed as he let her go.

Bella's thoughts spun dizzily as she slid the screen door shut behind her and made her way into the kitchen. His kissing her hand could have been nothing more than a gentlemanly show of gratitude, but she couldn't help but wonder if she'd been wrong. Maybe it was truly possible he could one day feel for her the way she was beginning to feel for him. It was such a small gesture, but it had given her hope.

Hope that could one day destroy her if she wasn't careful.

As she turned the corner of the counter, Bella froze upon seeing the statuesque form leaning against the sink, a swaddled baby in blue cradled in her arms and sucking on a bottle.

"I just need to put this in the sink and I'll be out of your way," Bella said quietly, dropping her gaze as she slowly approached the sink.

Rosalie wordlessly stepped to the side to give her room, but spoke just as Bella's arm stretched out to place the glass in the sink. "What you did for Edward today was nice...thank you. It's been a while since anyone's really done anything like that for him."

Bella wasn't sure what to say, or do even, so she just nodded and gave her quick, tight lipped smile. Rosalie's abrupt change in demeanor toward her was—surprising, to say the least.

"Did you...Would you like to hold him?" Rosalie asked, stammering slightly. She'd seen Bella smiling sadly at Emmett earlier in the afternoon as he held Ian while he fussed, and she'd felt horrible knowing Bella was keeping her distance from the baby out of respect for her when she truly didn't deserve it. Not after how despicably she'd treated her.

"Are you sure? I don't..." Bella trailed off, her eyes hesitantly meeting Rosalie's soft blue ones as her fingers twisted around each other nervously.

"I'm sure," Rose smiled, gently lowering Ian into Bella's awaiting arms.

"He's beautiful," Bella breathed through a smile, tears pricking at her eyes when he opened his big baby blues and looked at her.

"He is," Rosalie nodded, leaning back against the counter and watching the woman she'd once despised with every fiber of her being, marvel at her child—the best and purest part of herself.

"I was wrong about you," Rose paused, clearing her throat as Bella's gaze shot up to hers, her eyes darting back and forth nervously. Rose smiled abashedly and adjusted her footing before continuing, "I've spent a lot of time thinking about what you said to me outside Edward's hospital room...and you were right. The way I was acting was hurting him. And then Emmett told me about how you were there for him when he couldn't get a hold of anyone else in the family, and I got angry again because I couldn't figure you out. I get the whole wanting to help Edward because he risked everything to save you, but why Emmett? You don't owe him anything."

"Because he needed someone," Bella shrugged, her tone wary. She wasn't sure where Rosalie was headed, but she already knew Emmett most likely would have chosen any member of his family over her to be there for him. Even if Rosalie would be speaking the truth, Bella didn't need, or want, to have it pointed out to her in Rose's usual tactless fashion.

As her wariness escalated with the looming silence between them, Bella smiled softly down at Ian as she gently pulled the nearly empty bottle from his tiny, pouting lips. Thinking it was probably the last time she'd ever be allowed to hold him, she sighed softly to herself and pressed a tender kiss upon the warm soft skin of his forehead before gently passing him back to Rosalie.

"I can understand how you'd feel that my only reason for trying to help Edward is because I feel like I owe it to him, and maybe that was true in the beginning, but it isn't anymore. And I wasn't there for Emmett for any other reason than he needed someone, maybe not me, but somebody because he was alone and scared out of his mind. I'm sorry if that doesn't answer anything for you, but it's the only answer I have to give."

Bella's words were honest and spoken with such tender sincerity that even Rosalie, who had constantly questioned her intentions from the very beginning, couldn't find it in herself to doubt the sincerity of her words.

"You really care...don't you?" Rose asked, her head tilting slightly to the side as her brow furrowed. Looking at the woman before her, stripped emotionally bare and unconcealed behind her usual mask of strength, Rosalie had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, if she had looked at her before and had really seen her, if she would have realized sooner what she was just beginning to understand.

"I do," Bella answered simply, truthfully, and Rosalie nodded as she adjusted Ian in her arms and began patting his back.

"Listen, Bella, I'm sorry for how I've acted toward you. I can't promise that I'll always be the nicest person to you, because even I can admit that I'm rather difficult to get along with, but I will try. It's pretty obvious that Edward wants you around, and Emmett's rather fond of you as well so..." Rose trailed off, catching Edward's prying eyes through the mesh of the screen door, watching their interaction with a smile. He mouthed a silent "thank you" to her and she flicked her gaze back to Bella as he retreated back into the shadows on the back deck, "Just don't let me be the reason if you ever stop wanting to come around."

Bella wasn't sure just what to make of Rosalie's words as she neither clarified whether or not she still felt Bella was to blame for Edward's injuries, nor did she provide an inkling of hope for friendship on the horizon. She had, however, apologized for the coldness in which she'd been treated, and that was more than enough for Bella.

"I won't," she affirmed before reaching for her purse she'd left on the counter. "Um, Edward offered me the bed upstairs, but I'm heading home. You, Emmett and Ian should take it. You're both so exhausted, I'm sure he wouldn't mind."

"I probably will whether Edward likes it or not because Em sprawled out across the couch when I got up with the baby," Rose answered softly, resting her cheek upon Ian's head lightly.

Bella nodded, standing a few feet away as she pulled the strap of her purse upon her shoulder. "Have a good night, and thank you..." she paused, smiling at the bundle of blue in Rosalie's arms, "for letting me hold him."

"You're welcome—and Bella?" Rose called as Bella began to turn and head for the door. She turned to face her, curious and lacking the wariness she usually withheld when Rose spoke to her. "In case no one else mentioned it, Esme has a tradition of making an over the top spread for Sunday breakfasts. If you want in, make sure you come early because these guys don't leave much behind for late comers."

"I'll keep that in mind. Goodnight, Rosalie," Bella laughed with unexpected ease.

Pulling into her driveway and sluggishly putting her car into park before turning the key in the ignition, Bella barely had the energy required to slide out of the car and shuffle her way up to her room. The golden glow cast from the porch lights was a welcoming sight, and one that reminded her of the love her parents had for her. It seemed such an unnecessary gesture, leaving the light on for her when they turned in, but it spoke volumes of the way she was in their every thought.

As she trekked up the walkway to the front door, she withdrew her phone from her purse and quickly sent off a text to Edward.

Home safe and sound. - B

She'd barely made it through the door before it jingled and vibrated in her pocket.
Glad to hear it. See you at breakfast? - E

She smiled to herself as she slowly climbed the stairs, too exhausted to move any faster, and sent him back a reply.

I'll think about it. Sleepy time now. - B

Bella silently shuffled her way into her room, cautious not to step on the one squeaky floorboard that would surely wake her parents as she traversed the hall to and from the bathroom while readying herself for bed. And as if he'd known the exact moment she'd slid into the bed and sank into the cloud soft comfort of her teenage years, her phone jingled and vibrated again with Edward's last message of the night.

Sweet dreams, Bella. And thank you again for today. - E

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