Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter 30

A Change in Perspective

As Emmett navigated their way through the streets of Tacoma, heading back toward home after Edward's grueling and stressful therapy session, Edward silently contemplated asking his brother to call off the pending gathering that night. He was tired, grumpy, and wasn't feeling up to pretending to be anything but. The dilemma was, Edward acknowledged that his brother's intentions and thoughts had been in the right place when he'd made the plans, and he didn't want to make him feel as though his efforts were unappreciated. They'd nearly arrived home when Edward finally decided to voice his desire for a postponement of the night's festivities when he spotted Alec's car parked alongside the curb in front of the house.

"Isn't Alec supposed to be working today?" Edward asked, looking from the car to his brother with a furrowed brow.

" least I thought so, anyway."

After putting Rosalie's car in park, Emmett hopped out into the rain and quickly removed Edward's wheelchair from the backseat. He tried to shield his brother from as much of the pelting droplets as he could, but by the time they reached the front door, they were both saturated from the torrential downpour.

"Alec?" Edward called out, wheeling himself toward the kitchen and leaving tracks of water behind him on the hardwood flooring. "Where ya at, man?"

"Den," he called back just as Edward turned the corner toward it.

"Why aren't you at work?"

"Commish is having a fit over the massive amount of OT being dished out lately," Alec answered with a slight grimace. A fit would have been putting it lightly. "Since I'm already a shift over for the week, Carlisle had no choice but to send me home."

"That sucks. It sounded like you guys were busy earlier, too," Edward commented as Emmett waltzed into the room, brandishing a towel in his direction. He'd already made a quick sweep down the hallway to dry up the trail Edward had left behind him, knowing it was something that would have irritated his brother at one point in time.

"We were...they still are. It's the damn wind out there, it's knocking transformers and power lines down all over the place."

As Edward passed the towel through his rain drenched hair, Alec wondered how his therapy session went, but he was wary of bringing it up. The subject had become so overly touchy as of late that, more often than not, Alec found himself choosing to let Edward take the initiative to talk about it when, or if, he felt the desire to. Unfortunately, he needed to talk to his best friend about something, and if he was as stressed out as he'd been the past week or so upon returning from his sessions, what he needed to relay would only exacerbate that strain.

"Spit it out before you choke on it, Alec," Edward grumbled. Never before had he been reluctant to speak whatever was on his mind, and the obviousness with which Alec was hesitating was setting him on edge. If it was bad news, he'd rather his friend just blurt it out; get it over with so the sting would fade quicker.

"I was talking to Tyler this morning...he overheard the Chief and the Commish going at it yesterday," Alec said and then cleared his throat. "From what he heard, if you're not back by the end of the month, Guseman will be stepping up to Lieutenant."

"Fucking hell..." Edward groaned as his head fell back.

"What's the big deal, bro?" Emmett asked, sincerely not understanding the issue. "It's probably only temporary until you come back."

"Em, it's taken me ten years to get to get where I am. Ten fucking years," Edward ground out angrily. "Guseman's not just gonna step down when I come back. Shit doesn't work that way."

"Where are you going?" Emmett asked as Edward turned his chair quickly and wheeled himself away.

"To take a shower. I don't want to talk, or even think, about this bullshit right now," he grumbled in reply as he snatched up a pair of sweatpants from the laundry basket at the foot of his bed.

Once under the steaming spray of the shower, Edward leaned back against the wall and tried to allow the heat of the water to wash away the stress eating away at him. It seemed like no matter what he did, or how hard he tried, he couldn't catch a break. He felt ready to explode out of his skin with his chaotic emotions; the constant flux of highs and lows that left him feeling battered and raw at the end of each and every single day.

"When will this ever end?" he mumbled to himself as he put his face in his hands. The steady stream of water rained down over his head and flowed over the tense muscles of his shoulders and back as he lost himself in a world where the only sounds were that of the beat of the water against him and his own thoughts.

Three months had passed since the night of the fire, and, if anything, the condition of his life was getting worse, not better. Every new day was proving to be more exhausting to push himself through than the preceding one. At what point was he going to wake up without an ounce of will to fight for what he'd once been so determined to achieve? He'd already reached his breaking point earlier that day, and the news of a possible demotion was the proverbial feather threatening to push him over the edge.

A knock at the bathroom door before he heard it open, made Edward pull his face up from his hands.

"You okay, Edward? You've been in there for almost an hour," Alec's concerned voice echoed slightly within the confined space.

"I'm fine." He lied. He wasn't fine; not even anywhere near the vicinity of fine. If he had been, he would have felt the chill beginning to set in the water pounding against his naked flesh. He would have been aware of how long he'd been sitting beneath the rapidly cooling rush of water, motionless, drowning in his misery.

The bathroom door closed with a muted thud and a soft click, but Alec remained in the room. Edward could hear him move his wheelchair and lower the toilet seat, and without peering beyond the veil of the shower curtain, Edward knew he'd sat down upon it.

"That's a load of crap. Talk to me, man. What's going through that head of yours?" Alec asked, assuming the most comfortable position he could while crammed between the sink and a support bar.

Edward reached forward and slammed his hand down over the lever to shut the shower off. The water was just getting too damn cold for comfort and thoroughly washing himself would take at least another ten minutes beneath the frigid stream. Without a word, Alec grabbed a towel and pushed it between the curtain and wall for Edward to take. Minutes of silence passed between the men as Edward continued to sit motionless on his shower perch, dripping wet with the towel resting in his lap.

"Did you hear the joke of the day?" Alec asked, his voice tinged with audibly false amusement.

"No," Edward sighed, not really in the mood for a joke, but Alec continued, just as he knew he would.

"Newton got himself a girlfriend."

Try as he might to fight it off, the smallest of smiles graced his melancholic face. "You don't say."

"Yep...she's pretty cute, too. I feel bad for her though, dating Newton and all."

At that, a chuckle finally broke through, and though it only lasted the merest of moments, it achieved what Alec had been hoping for. Edward opened up to him.

"I'm never gonna fight another fire I?"

Alec had known this was coming. In fact, he felt it was long overdue. With the silencing of the scanners in the house within his first week home, came the waiting game as to when, or if, Edward would ever voice his greatest fear.

"Not if you don't think you will," he responded truthfully. "If you give up, you'll have a definite answer...but it won't be the one you want. Keep fighting, and the possibility of a different one will always be there."

"I don't know how much more I can take, man. I really don't," Edward admitted, shaking his head. Droplets of water fell from his hair and ran down his skin, looking like the tears he'd shed that blended into the streams of water that flowed over him and disappeared down the drain.

"Stop dwelling on the bad and focus on the good, and you'll be able to take a lot more than you think," Alec offered encouragingly. At Edward's scoff, he sighed. "Look at it this way...Workman's Comp is covering all of your medical and rehabilitation bills. The bank may have turned you down for refinancing your original loan amount, but they did refinance what you still owed, and that brought it down to a payment you can easily make with what you're bringing in from Disability. Yeah, money's gonna be tight as hell, but it's manageable and you won't lose your house.

"If you need more than that to remind you that everything hasn't gone to shit, look at what you've gained out of this whole thing—Bella, the Swans...your own family."

Of all that Edward had lost in that fire, he'd gained just as much in Alec's eyes; if not more. His parents were finally putting him first for once, Emmett had done a complete one-eighty and they were well on their way to repairing their damaged friendship, and Jasper...well Jasper was still just Jasper, but at least he was taking steps to fix his life on his own for once. And then there were the Swans. Their continued support, kindness, and friendship was a blessing no one could have expected or even begun to hope for.

"Just focus on the good of what's come out of this, Edward. There are people out there that have to go through what you are with no one to support them. You've got that much at least."

"Yeah, I guess," Edward sighed, finally bringing the towel up to dry off his face and chest.

He knew he had people to support him, but the problem was, none of them could truly understand what he was going through. No one understood what it did to him to feel so defeated at the end of every day, and to not be able to look forward to the next day because he'd lost hope of anything being different; of anything changing for the better for once.

"Bella called by the way. She said she'd be late but she'll be here as soon as she can...something about someone losing a file or some shit that her boss needed first thing Monday morning," Alec informed him as he stood from the toilet seat. "Are you really up for the guys coming over tonight, or not?"

"Not really...I don't have the energy to pretend right now, and I don't want..."

"Enough said," Alec cut him off, not needing him to explain himself. "I'll divert 'em back to Felix's. You care if Em and I head over there for a while?"

"No, go," Edward answered instantly. "You guys need a break from this shit just as much as I do."

"Aiight. I'll get out of here so you can do your thing."

After Edward had finally emerged from the bathroom, Emmett and Alec made sure he was set up with anything he'd need within arm's reach before leaving for Felix's house with Tango and Cash in tow. Edward had never been more grateful for the peace and silence their departure had awarded him. Lounging on the reclining seat of his couch, Edward closed his eyes and slowly began to decompress.

As the muted, stormy daylight faded into night, he reached over to turn on the table lamp beside him. In the soft glow surrounding him, he focused on the sounds of the rain falling against the earth outside, and forced his racing thoughts to quiet. And for the first time in what felt like ages, he felt at peace—if only for a moment.

"Darn-it, Chelsea...what did you do with it?" Bella grumbled to herself, slamming the filing cabinet drawer shut. She'd searched high and low in every place she could think of for the missing file, and she couldn't leave without locating it. It was jam packed with copies of phone records and internet correspondences that Jay needed for a court hearing first thing Monday morning. And of course, Chelsea had gone on vacation at the beginning of the week and Jay hadn't gotten a chance to double check the case file to ensure everything he needed was in it until just after lunch that day.

"Anything?" Jay asked, returning from checking everywhere in his office for the third time.

"No. I have no idea of where else to look either."

Bella frowned as her gaze flickered around the room. She felt horrible even though she'd had nothing to do with its missing state to begin with. The missing file had already caused Jay and his wife to miss their flight for a romantic weekend getaway in Sonoma Valley to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary, and at the rate they were going, their whole trip would be awash.

"I'm calling Chelsea again," Bella sighed, picking her cell phone up off her desk and scrolling for her number.

Hopeful, but not expectant, Bella listened to the rings and prayed she wouldn't have to leave another urgent voicemail. As bad as she felt for Jay and his wife, she too had places she'd rather be at that moment other than searching for what seemed to be as utterly elusive as a needle in a haystack. She'd almost lost hope, thinking Chelsea's recorded message would kick in at any moment, when Chelsea herself answered.

"Chelsea!" Bella cried out, jumping off the desk she'd been perching on. "The Fischer correspondence file—where is it?"

"It's not in the case box? I put it back in there over two weeks ago," Chelsea responded.

"No, it's not, and we can't find it anywhere," Bella stressed, frustrated as she began pacing the floor.

"Hold on, give me a second and calm down." Bella continued to pace as the noise that had been in the background began to fade. "Okay. In the bottom drawer of my desk, there's a spare key taped to the underside of the drawer above it." As soon as she'd said the words, Bella was on her knees in front of the open drawer, feeling for the key she'd said would be underneath.

"It'll unlock the supply drawer on my desk, and in there, there's a portable hard drive. I scan and back up everything, so everything you'd need will be on there, but you'll have to go through all of the documents and prepare them for Jay. Do you remember what he was looking for in them?"

"No," Bella answered, sighing in relief as she grasped her salvation in her hand. "But Jay's here with me so I'm not completely up crap's creek."

"Damn, tell him I'm sorry, but I know I put it back in there when I was done with it."

"I will." Bella nodded as she opened up the computer folder that held the documents they'd been searching for all afternoon. "Thanks, Chelsea. Enjoy the rest of your vacation."

After a brief goodbye, Bella looked up at Jay across from her with a wary expression. "You remember specifically what you needed off of these things, right?"

"Yes," he nodded, loosening and removing his tie. "Print them out and let's get started. This is going to take a while."

Bella's heart sank as she looked at the time on the computer screen. It was already half passed six. Her heart sank even further when she called Edward's house for the second time, only to find out that their plans had been canceled—and Edward was sitting at home alone. She'd really been hoping that a night of socialization would help lift his spirits, but instead, he was choosing to wallow in solitude.

For nearly three hours, Bella and Jay sorted through countless documents, highlighting, making side-notes, and cross-referencing information to points in Jay's arguments. When the last sheet of paper had been filed away into the spot where it should have been to begin with, Bella all but ran out of the building with Jay hot on her tail. If he hurried, he and his wife would be able to make the last flight out to San Francisco.

By the time she pulled into Edward's driveway just before ten at night, Bella was dead on her feet. It took nearly every last bit of energy she had in her just to pull herself from the car and walk up to the front door of the dark house. If he hadn't answered his phone when she'd called to say she was on her way, the lack of illumination from beyond the front windows would have made her assume he'd gone to bed.

Walking through the front door, she kicked the shoes off her tired feet and hung her damp jacket on the knob of the closet door in the entryway before padding barefoot down the hall toward the den. Turning the corner, she finally spotted him, sitting in the silent room with nothing but the lamp on beside him. No TV airing a program he wasn't even watching, no fire scanner broadcasting voices or blaring tones, no music fill the empty air. Just him, sitting in complete silence with his eyes closed and his fingers rubbing against his forehead.

"Hey, I'm here," she said softly as his eyes cracked open to see her leaning against the wall at the room's entryway. "Are you up for a movie? I stopped on the way and rented one."

"Sure," he nodded, taking in how drained she appeared. He almost wanted to ask her why she didn't just go straight home, but he was glad for her company. "What'd you get?"

She snickered as she pulled the DVD case from the plastic bag and held it up. "Horror. It should be a crime to rent anything else this close to Halloween, and the weather's perfect for it."

"Sounds good to me."

As Bella sat down on the couch beside him, Edward noticed the raised flesh on her arms. "You're cold. Grab the blanket off my bed."

"I'm fine," she denied weakly.

"Bella," he chuckled. "You have goosebumps. Either you grab it, or I will...and it'll take ten times as long if I do it."

"So pushy," she laughed, bumping into him with her shoulder before she got up and crossed the room. When she settled back into the couch, she curled her legs up underneath her and pulled the blanket up to cover her shoulders. While the preview trailers began to play, she turned her head toward him. "Alec told me you had a rough day. What happened?"

"Nothing really..." he trailed off with a shrug. She got the message loud and clear; he didn't want to talk about it.

With a softly spoken "okay", she turned her gaze back toward the television. She wasn't up to fighting him for answers after such a long and stressful day, and she'd learned over the course of time that when he was truly set against talking, she could sooner press water from stone. So when he sighed and paused the DVD, it caught her completely by surprise.

"I just had a bad day," he began as she turned back to look at him. "It's tiring, you know? The constant build up-bottom out I go through every day. I just didn't want to deal with it today, it wasn't that anything bad actually happened...well that's not really fuckin' true."

Bella reached out and took hold of his arm, wrapping her own around it as she brought it underneath the blanket with her. Holding his hand between both of hers, she returned the sad smile he gave her as he squeezed her hand. "You are getting better, Edward. A month ago you couldn't do much more than slightly wiggle your toes. Now you can bend your right leg if someone helps support the weight of it. It may not seem like much, but that's progress."

"Yeah...I guess," he begrudgingly admitted as his head fell back against the couch and he stared at the ceiling.

"Edward, you can talk to me, you know," she said softly, knowing he was withholding what was really bothering him. "Whenever and about whatever. I'll always listen."

Silence pursued and Bella rubbed his arm soothingly while his gaze flittered about the ceiling. When he finally began to talk, she listened to him heave the weight off of his chest that had been holding him down.

"I spent the first seven years of my career busting my ass to work my way up to Lieutenant in the department. I was next in line for Captain," he spoke to the ceiling before turning his gaze to her. She could see the sadness in his eyes as they darted back and forth between her own as he spoke his next words. "It was all for nothing."

Her heart sank as he looked away from her again and continued. "If I ever go back to active duty, I'll be starting all over again. Straight from the fucking bottom. This shit sucks. I damn near killed myself to get where I was, and now it's been flushed down the toilet right along with everything else I've ever busted my ass for. Everything else I've ever wanted.

"When I was a kid, my parents struggled to give us the things we wanted. You'd think for what we do and what we risk, we'd get paid better, but we don't. They were barely able to make ends meet between their salaries. I wanted better for my kids if I ever had any, so I set my goals high early on. And I was getting there, too...but doesn't even matter. I'm not gonna have a pot to piss in soon anyhow. Might as well get used to not having one."

"Tell me what to do, Edward," she frowned. "I don't know what to say or do to make any of this any easier on you."

He smiled half heartedly as he shook his head. As he looked into her warm, worry filled eyes, Alec's words from earlier came back to him and he realized how right he'd been. His decisions may have cost him more than he'd been aware he was willing to risk, but out of it, he'd gained one of the best friends he could have ever asked for in Bella. His fingers laced between hers and he gave a gentle squeeze as he spoke. "You do enough just by being here. It was just a rough day...I'll get over it."

Bella wasn't convinced, not in the least, but as he let go of her hand and withdrew his arm from the blanket before restarting the movie and turning off the lamp, she acknowledged to herself that she could only do so much. The rest was up to him. She could listen, provide encouragement, and be the focus of calm that the rest of his life lacked, but it was up to him to put those offerings to use in ways that helped him.

As the preview trailers came to a close, and the movie began, Edward's despairing words tugged at her heart strings. It was noble of him to want to give his future family more than he'd ever been given, and she couldn't even imagine how it felt to have lost what he'd worked so hard for. It was a tremendous setback in terms of his career, but she was more concerned with how much fight the news would take out of him when he was running on reserves as it already was. In the green glow of the movie's rating screen, she spoke again.

"For what it's worth, my parents didn't have much to spare when I was growing up either. They gave me what they could, when they could, but when they couldn't, I didn't feel any less loved by them. Wanting to provide excess for your family is noble, and it shows how good a person you are. Not being able to doesn't change that though. Material belongings and wealth don't equate happiness, but love can. Just ask my parents. We may not have always had it easy, but, for the most part, we've always been happy."

When the haunting intro music came to a close, Bella instinctively curled further into Edward's side. Still having not said a word in response, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and focused his gaze upon the screen. To Bella, it would seem as though he were truly watching the movie, but his mind and thoughts had traveled far away from where they sat in his den.

He'd never envisioned being able to provide a life of luxury for his future wife and children. He'd known all along that, in his chosen profession, he would never earn a salary that could finance outlandish desires. Edward had never had childish fantasies of taking month long excursions to exotic locations, buying expensive vehicles whenever he wished, or living in mansions that he could get lost in trying to find the game room on his way back from the Olympic sized, heated, indoor swimming pool. Those had been some of his brothers' childhood dreams. Never his own.

What Edward had always wanted was so down to earth and level headed that, when asked to write an essay over the weekend about his wishes for his future, his fifth grade teacher worried he was afraid to dream and hope for more. While other children handed in pages upon pages of their desires, Edward handed in barely a single full page in steady penmanship, unaffected by the excitement for what he was writing as the other children's handwriting had been.

At just ten years of age, Edward didn't waste time trying to think of something creative to say. Instead, he wrote exactly what she'd asked of him. He'd told her that he wanted to be a firefighter, he wanted a family, and a house that wasn't too big or too small. But most of all, he wanted to be able to afford to send his kids to summer camp if they wished to go, so they wouldn't cry themselves to sleep like his brother did on Saturday night. His desires had been simple, and so very telling of the man he'd become.

At twenty-nine, his wishes for his future remained quite the same, and his hard work had finally placed him in a position where he could have afforded to provide a more comfortable lifestyle for his hoped for wife and children. It had taken him ten long years to achieve that goal. How long would it take him to achieve it a second time, and would it even matter if he did by then? Or would history repeat itself, and like his parents, he and his future wife come to be so stretched beyond their means by the time the additional income was granted to them, that it did little good? Would possible future financial struggles strain his hypothetical marriage to the point of near dissolution as it had for his parents many years before?

These were the questions that made the news of losing his position in the department so incredibly disheartening. Every day one more hope, one more lifelong dream, swirled down the drain right before his eyes. What would he lose next? What would he be left with in the end, if anything? Who the hell would want him when he had nothing left to offer?

Not even ten minutes into the movie, Bella's eyelids began to droop. Each blink became more sluggish and drawn out, leaving her eyes closed for long stretches of moments as the minutes continued ticking away further and further into the night. Her body, likewise, began to sag and press further into Edward's side, and it was the feeling of her beginning to slip forward, out of the hook of his arm, that brought him out of his dismally pensive state and back into the present.

As carefully as he could, so as not to wake her, he eased her upper body down into his lap. Her eyes opened for the briefest of moments, awakened by the movement of her head lifting as a throw pillow was placed beneath it, and she questioned if she'd even be able to make it home should she get up. Upon feeling him bring the blanket up around her shoulders once again, she turned and looked up at him with a half lidded, drowsy gaze.

"I should go," she murmured quietly as he brushed her overgrown bangs away from her face.

"You should stay. You're tired," he replied, tracing her perfectly arched eyebrow with his thumb.

"You'll be uncomfortable like this all night." She made a weak attempt to get up, but he stopped her with a gentle hand on the curve of her neck.

"I'll be fine. Go to sleep, Bella."

It was there, in Edward's den, where two friends fell asleep in the flickering light of a movie that neither had watched. And, unbeknownst to each other, with their arms awkwardly curled around one another, it was there that each of them dreamt...of a better tomorrow.

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