Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter 31

A Change in Scenery

Saturday morning, Edward awoke in the most unfamiliar of ways. The sun shining brightly through the window warmed the side of his face, and the enticing fragrance of sizzling bacon—not the burnt to ash remains he had become accustomed to Alec making—lured him from the best night's sleep he could recall having gotten in far too long to remember. As his eyes opened, and he took in his surroundings and position on the couch, confusion gave way to recollection as he remembered falling asleep with Bella the night before.

"Morning sleepyhead," Bella's smiling voice greeted him as she approached him. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I have to piss..." he trailed off, his eyes widening. "I didn't just say that out loud."

"Yeah, you kind of did," she laughed, helping him move his legs so she could push the ottoman out of the way. She held his wheelchair stable for him as he maneuvered himself into it. "Go take care of business, brunch will be done in about ten."

As he wheeled himself toward the bathroom, Bella headed back into the kitchen just in time to sidle up next to Alec and save the bacon from burning to a crisp. When she heard the bathroom door close, she lifted her gaze to the man beside her.

"Think he'll go for it? He seems to be in an okay mood, all things considered."

"Worst that can happen is he'll say no...maybe pitch a fit. Can't hurt to try though," Alec shrugged as he stepped away from the stove and leaned against the counter. "He's gotta get out of here for more than just therapy and doctor's appointments. Being holed up like this isn't helping him any."

"I know," she sighed, her shoulders slumping. "I'm just worried that doing this might make things worse."

"Hon', trust me on this one. What we saw can't get much worse than that. But if I know him at all, this will help."

"Where is this place again?" she asked curiously as she flipped the last blueberry pancake in the pan.

"About thirty minutes north of Concrete, literally in the middle of nowhere," Alec chuckled. He sobered as he took in her worried features and rubbed her shoulder. "It'll work, Bella. Any time he's ever needed to get away, that's where he goes."

"We'll see," she shrugged, unable to let go of her concerns.

The cabin they were planning to take him up to for a two day reprieve was a nearly three hour trip, and one they couldn't make without a truck. Alec had informed her earlier that morning that neither her car, or his, would fare well in the muddy, rugged terrain sure to be remaining after the previous day's storm. With a few quick calls to some of the guys in the station, Felix had agreed to swap vehicles with Alec for the weekend so they could manage the trip. The first concern plaguing Bella's mind was how they would get him into, and out of, the truck without making him feel worse for wear for not being able to accomplish it without assistance. But her worries didn't end there.

Once at the cabin, they had steps and uneven ground to contend with as well. She wasn't sure being pushed around would uplift his spirits any. In fact, she was positive it would be entirely counterproductive.

By the time they were seated at the table, Bella's nerves had her stomach churning near painfully. It had been agreed upon that she would broach the subject with him as, according to Alec, Edward seemed to respond better to her than most everyone else—himself included as of late. As she watched him pick at the food before him, with less than half the vigor he usually held while eating food she'd prepared for him, she questioned again if she and Alec were doing the right thing.

"So, Bella...what are you planning to do with your three day weekend?" Alec questioned, his face a mask of innocence. Her eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as she contemplated flinging a piece of bacon at his face for cornering her.

"You have a three day weekend? How'd you manage that?" Edward asked, showing more interest in that bit of news than he had been in his meal.

"Um, yeah. Jay told me to take Monday off because of how late we worked last night," she answered, busying herself with pushing bits of untouched pancake around her plate. "I was thinking..." she trailed off, resigning herself to take a leap of faith and hope for the best as she put her fork down. "I'd kind of like to get away for a day or two...go somewhere relaxing, maybe?"

"Like where?" he asked, his mood suddenly somber at the thought of spending the weekend at home with just Alec, or Emmett...or whoever else happened to stop by to baby-sit him.

"What about the cabin?" Alec offered, tossing a quick smirk and wink in her direction that went unseen by Edward. "We could all go. It'd be fun and a change of pace. I think we could all use that right about now."

Silence surrounded the table as Edward rested his elbow atop it and buried his hand in his hair, his gaze blurring as he stared at his plate of half eaten food. He was tired of sitting around the house thinking about everything going wrong in his life, tired of hearing whatever whoever was with him was watching on the television, and tired of feeling like his entire life revolved around his recovery. He wanted out; a moment of peace away from everything that was stifling the life right out of him. An escape, even if only temporary.

As he calculated the struggles he'd encounter just to be given that moment of peace he desperately needed, Alec and Bella sat on pins and needles awaiting his response. Any response. When he finally spoke, Bella nearly saw stars as she released the breath she'd been withholding.

"Let's do it."

"Really? You want to go?" Bella asked as a beaming smile broke across her face, all of her previous tension dissipating from her body.

"Yeah...I do," he nodded, a small, answering smile crossing his lips.

Filled with excitement and relief, Bella hurriedly washed their breakfast dishes and tidied up the kitchen while Alec assisted Edward in his morning exercise routine. She couldn't keep the smile off of her face as she scrubbed and rinsed every dish, and wiped down every counter, her heart filled with the hope that this trip would be exactly what Edward needed to revitalize his spirits. When she finished, she sent the dogs out back and headed into the den.

"I'm going to run home and pack," she said, smiling again as she hugged the corner of the wall. "I should be back in under an hour."

Upon walking in her parents' front door, and seeing her father heading down the steps in his black department uniform, she internally groaned, realizing she'd forgotten to call them the night before—or first thing that morning when she'd awoken. She looked at him repentantly as he came to stand before her with a reprimanding brow raised.

To Charlie, she may very well be a grown woman, but she'd always be his little girl. The only one he had, and as long as she was living under his roof, he would worry as though she were still a teenager rather than his twenty-five year old daughter when she didn't call or come home at night.

"In the future, as long as you're living here, I'd appreciate being told when you're spending the night elsewhere. Got it?"

"Yes, Sir," she replied respectfully, and remorsefully. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, kiddo," he chuckled, shaking his head as he bent down to kiss her forehead. "Edward called and told your mother you'd fallen asleep on the couch after she tried you a few times and got no answer. Next time, we'd just rather know before nearly midnight."

"I promise," she nodded, wrapping her arms around him. He smelled of crisp aftershave and cologne scented soap; the combination uniquely Charlie and soothing in its familiarity. When she pulled back, she adjusted his tie and smiled up at him. "Just so you know ahead of time, I won't be home until Monday evening."

"Oh? Where are you going?" He followed behind her as she made her way toward the garage to find a duffle bag or suitcase to pack her clothes in.

"Edward's family has a cabin up north. Alec and I are bringing him up there for a few days of some much needed R&R."

Charlie nodded, gently pushing her aside to reach for his old camping duffle that was just out of her reach. "It's about damn time the kid does something to get his mind off everything. Do you need lanterns or anything? Did he say if the cabin had electricity and all that?"

Bella felt her heart warm at her father's doting concern. In all her years, while some of her friends wished upon every star in the sky that they could be given a different set of parents, she was never anything but thankful for the ones she'd been blessed with. Every day they gave her new reasons to appreciate the family she'd been given, and this day was no different. She just hoped, each day, she gave them the same in return.

As Charlie followed her up the stairs, Bella filled him in on everything she knew about the cabin. Where it was, that it had electricity and running water, but no central heat. There was a wood burning stove in the living room that piped heat throughout the cabin, but at night, it could sometimes get uncomfortably cold. They even shared a laugh at her retelling of her wary concern of having to stumble through the dark of night to reach the outhouse, and Alec and Edward's amusement when they told her if she tried, she'd find herself in a fishing shed. The old outhouse hadn't been as one for quite some time before the property was passed down to Carlisle by his father.

"Where's Mom?" Bella asked, turning away from her closet that held little that would be suitable for the trip. "I might need to borrow a few of her old sweaters. I don't have much more than work clothes."

"Food shopping. Lemme see what I can dig up for you," Charlie replied, standing from where he'd been seated at the foot of her bed.

As she waited for him to return, Bella set about packing her undergarments, the plaid, flannel sleep pants of her father's that she'd borrowed when the change in seasons brought a chilly draft through the window beside her bed, and one of the two pairs of jeans she owned. She figured—as long as she managed to not get too dirty—she could wear a pair for more than just one day. After a moment of contemplation, just to be safe, she folded and packed a pair of sweatpants.

"Here, take these." Charlie's voice had her lifting her gaze and turning toward him as he crossed her room, one of his sweatshirts and a few flannels draped over his arm. "I can't tell what she would, or wouldn't, mind coming back with a few stains. These'll be big, but at least they'll keep you warm."

As she took the shirts from him, she was instantly brought back to her high school days when she'd taken one of his favorite, well-worn flannels out of his closet to use in place of the school issued, standard smock in her art class. It had served its function to keep her clothing free of paint, chalk, and oil pastels, but it also helped bring her away from the classroom and to a mental place of inner peace where her inspiration and creativity blossomed.

The Tacoma P.D. sweatshirt reminded her of times during those same years when her father would replace her pajama shirt with it in her overnight bag for the school's twice yearly campus campout. No matter how many times she'd tried to convince him that boys and girls slept on strictly opposite sides of the school's gymnasium, with all of the chaperones between them no less, he still replaced it when she wasn't paying attention. She knew just as well as he did the message he was sending to all the boys in school, and more importantly, her own boyfriend:

"Hands off."

She couldn't resist teasing him. "Trying to send a message are we?"

"Do I need to?" he shot back, only fractionally serious. "I have plenty of time before my shift starts to swing by there and deliver it in person."

"You have nothing to worry about, Dad," she laughed as she scooped up the pile of clothes she'd set aside for the day. "Save the flashing of the badge for another day."

Showered and changed into a pair of jeans, long sleeved t-shirt, and one of her father's roomy, but comfortable, flannels, Bella retrieved her bag from her room and headed down the stairs. After dropping it by the front door, she mentally checked off everything she'd packed, making sure she wasn't forgetting anything she might need. Convinced she'd remembered everything, she headed into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water for the road.

"Got everything?" Charlie asked as he moved about the kitchen, fixing his travel mug of coffee before he headed out. It had never mattered what shift he was working for which three week period, he couldn't function after the sixth hour without the caffeine fix held within his twenty-four ounce mug.

"Yep. Just have to grab my coat."

"Take your mother's black one," he said, placing the jug of milk down on the counter and turning toward her. "It's warmer and she hasn't worn it in years. And call home when you get there."

"I will," she promised as she stepped into his open arms to embrace him goodbye. "Love you."

"Love you too, kiddo. Have fun, and make sure he has a little too."

Stepping out onto the front porch, her bag tossed over her shoulder and her mother's coat draped over her arm, Bella smiled up at the clear blue skies. She hoped the weather would hold out for the entire weekend so they wouldn't be holed up indoors. The breeze was brisk, but the sun shining down from the cloudless sky was enough to warm her.

When she returned to Edward's home, Alec's car was nowhere to be seen, but in its place sat an old, black Ford Bronco. Just looking at it made Bella worry her lip as thoughts of how they were going to get Edward into it reignited the anxiety she'd harbored earlier. She feared he'd have difficulty and his desire to go would evaporate just as quickly as the slight lift in his mood had appeared.

"Are you guys ready?" she called out as she entered the house.

"Just about," Alec responded as he came striding down the hallway with two red duffle bags, yellow maltese crosses on either side of them. "Once Edward's done getting dressed we can hit the road."

She followed him outside to where he dropped the bags beside the truck parked along the curb. " are we getting him in there?"

"Easy, we're not," he smirked. "He's gonna do it on his own. Just watch."

And watch she did as Alec wedged the wheelchair as far between the open door and passenger seat as he could, and all on his own, Edward managed to use no more than his upper body strength to situate himself into the front seat. When Alec shut the door behind him and turned to fold Edward's wheelchair, he smirked at her once more.

"See? That was the easy part...getting back out will be a little harder, but not impossible."

With all of their bags stowed away in the backseat beside Bella, and the dogs loaded into the very back of the truck, their journey began. Along the way, Bella was entertained with countless stories of memories of their youths—summer weeks spent swimming, fishing, and exploring the vast forest surrounding the cabin. She'd known Alec and Edward had been friends nearly all their lives, but in hearing their numerous tales, she began to understand that their bond ran much deeper than mere friendship. They were family; brothers, separated by bloodlines but reconnected by the unbreakable bond forged between the kindred souls of two children.

When Edward wasn't weighted down by the hardships in his life, Bella doubted there ever existed two men more alike one another. They even shared the same laugh; full and hearty, straight from the belly and crinkling their eyes in the same spots. It was adorable, and heartwarming to know that, if nothing else, Edward had in Alec what few people ever find in life.

A soul mate.

In the late afternoon sun, as Alec pulled the truck into a clearing and Bella spotted the cozy little cabin, she almost felt as though the sight of it was a familiar one. From their stories, she could picture a younger Alec and Edward leaping over the deck rail and running for the water as Esme hollered at them to use the stairs before one of them broke a leg. Looking at the dock that extended at least twenty feet out into the lake, she could almost hear eight year old Emmett yelling "canon ball!" as he hurled himself off the edge of it, his target his fifteen year old big brother floating, unsuspecting, on an inflatable inner tube.

She could almost see the blinding, ear to ear, smiles on all of their faces before years of adulthood and responsibility began to tear them apart.

"Are you coming?"

"Huh?...yeah." She hadn't even been aware that Edward was already settled in his wheelchair, so lost she'd been in her imaginings of years long ago when she'd known nothing of their family aside from the reputation of their surname's life calling.

Serenity surrounded them as they watched the sun set fire to the autumn tinted foliage sprawling as far as their eyes could see, and reflected off the still waters of the lake just a short distance before them. Edward breathed in the crisp, clean air deeply, allowing the peace the isolated cabin's location provided him to seep into him and alleviate some of the tension he'd been harboring within for months. This retreat had been exactly what he'd needed to decompress, and glancing at the people standing beside him, his friends and very foundation of his support system, he realized they'd needed it just as much.

"I wish I'd thought to bring a camera. This is gorgeous," Bella murmured, not wanting to speak loud enough to disrupt the tranquil atmosphere.

"At least now you know not to forget it next time," Edward chuckled quietly, smiling at her look of surprise.

She hadn't known if this trip would be a one time experience for her, or if she'd ever be invited to come along in the future. With just that one lightly teasing comment, she had her answer. A camera could wait, this wouldn't be the last she'd see of the beauty before her.

Long after the darkness of night fell upon them, and the chill in the air forced them indoors, Bella set about making their beds for the night—their sleeping arrangement having been decided upon during the drive up. Little did she know at the time that just an hour after they'd settled into their designated sites of slumber, Alec's snoring in the recliner beside her would have her tossing and turning until she was near tears from her inability to fall asleep. Exhausted and exasperated with trying, and failing, to drown out the obnoxious noise with her pillow, she finally could stand no more. Pulling herself up off the couch and padding as silently as she could across the cold hardwood floor, her blanket and pillow in tow, she headed for the only other available sleeping space that posed no threat of hypothermia.

The bedroom door stuttered out a whining creak as she pushed it open, and in the moonlight, she could see Edward, nearly silent and fast asleep. She wrapped her blanket around her and pushed the door closed just enough to drown out the sound of Alec's snores without latching it shut. It was the second creaking of the door that brought Edward out of his slumber, his eyes opening and focusing on the bleary sight of Bella swathed in a blanket, standing just feet from the bed. For a moment he thought he might have been dreaming, disbelieving that she'd really come to join him in his bed, but she nearly jumped a foot in the air when his groggy voice called out her name.

"Sorry," she whispered, her heart hammering away in her chest. "I didn't mean to wake you, I just couldn't sleep out there."

Without her even needing to ask, he pulled the blanket back on the opposite side of the bed in invitation. "He snoring?"

"Like a tractor," she muttered, shivering slightly as she tossed her blanket across the bed. He watched her silently, an almost foreign, warm sensation spreading through his chest as she slipped in beside him. His eyes caught hers, dark pools of ink in the faint moonlight, as she turned toward him and folded her pillow beneath her head. "How do you guys get any sleep in the station with that?"

"You get used to it," he chuckled, his voice deep and hoarse. For a moment he'd felt awkward, caught off guard by what he was feeling, but as she settled in, it faded away, leaving behind only the familiar comfort of her company.

"Where did you all sleep when you were younger? This place is so small. It's cozy, but I can't imagine all of you fitting in here."

He wanted to turn toward her, but after laying on his back for so long, his spot was finally toasty warm and comfortable—the chill of the bed no longer causing the joints in his legs to ache and throb painfully. The wood burning stove did a good job of heating the open area of the living room and kitchen, and an adequate job of heating the bathroom, but the bedroom was the furthest from the source of heat, and was subsequently always the coldest room in the cabin. In the winter, it was uninhabitable without a space heater or two running around the clock.

"If it was raining, we'd all sleep on air mattresses on the porch floor, but when it was nice out, we'd take 'em outside. If it was really hot and humid, we'd drag 'em down onto the dock for the open breeze," he answered, staring at the ceiling as he thought back to the golden days of his youth.

His sudden, breathy laugh after long moments of silence had her drooping eyelids flashing back open as he spoke. She'd been just moments from falling fast asleep.

"One summer, I think he was about nine or ten at the time, Jasper got this brilliant idea to put his air mattress in the water and sleep on it while it was floating. To this day I have no idea what he was thinking when he knew our mother would frequently wake up during the night and step out onto the deck to check on us. I think she woke the whole forest when she saw him floating at least twenty feet away from the dock."

He turned his head to look at her with an amused smile on his face. "He had to share a mattress with Emmett every time we came up here for the rest of that summer, and the next year, he wasn't allowed to sleep anywhere but on the porch or in the living room."

"Why did Emmett sleep in here with your parents back then?" she mumbled, barely able to open her eyes.

"Em was too young to be trusted to sleep outside with us. He was only four or five and had a penchant for wandering off when no one was looking," he answered, turning his head to look back at the ceiling.

As he stared off into the darkness, thinking about a time in his life when everything was as uncomplicated as it could possible be, Bella's breaths began to slow into a shallow, even rhythm beside him. At the sound of the softest snore he'd ever heard, his head turned once again in her direction. He wished he could fall asleep with such ease, but slumber had been increasingly difficult for him to find. Every night, as he laid in bed, it was a struggle to tame his chaotic mind. He would toss and turn, each of his effort filled movements adding to the despairing thoughts keeping him awake, as the alarm clock beside his bed steadily marked the passage of time through the dark hours of night.

If only there were a clock that brought him through the darkness of his life as accurately as the one beside his bed brought him through the night and into the light of a new dawning day.


Early Sunday morning, Bella awoke alone in the bed. Fast asleep, she hadn't heard or felt Edward leave the bed, and for a moment, it had left her feeling disoriented and confused by her surroundings. With the blanket pulled tightly around her, she slipped from the bed in search of him.

In the living room, she could hear the crackling of the wood burning in the cast iron stove, and smell the smoking pine in the air, but she carefully pulled the piping hot door open to check the fire anyhow. It appeared as though someone had added more wood not too long before she'd awoken. Stepping out onto the front porch, she pulled the blanket in tighter around her against the frosty morning air. Down, at the end of the dock, casting their lines out into the glassy lake surface as wisps of fog swirled in the breeze above the water, she found the men she'd been looking for, fishing.

With a soft smile on her face, she headed back into the cabin. After washing the sole pot left behind from their breakfast of oatmeal, she poured herself the remainder of the coffee they'd brewed from the carafe. The steaming liquid, diluted with milk and sugar hadn't even made it a full sip past her lips before it was emptied back into the cup.

"How do they drink that?" she grimaced, eyeing the cup's contents warily as she dumped it down the drain. It was bitter and so strong no amount of cream or sugar could ever hope to tame it.

While the kettle boiled water for her cup of tea, she searched the cabin for something to keep herself occupied for a while. Settling on a dusty copy of 'The Grapes of Wrath' she found in the side pocket of the recliner, she headed out onto the deck. With her blanket wrapped snuggly around her, and her cup of tea set upon a resin table beside her, she delved into a story about a family during the depression.

Down on the dock, Alec's weathered folding chair creaked as he bent forward for the can of corn they were using as bait. When they'd stopped for supplies on the way up to the cabin, neither he, nor Edward, had thought to buy bait. It was just as well, as they wouldn't be keeping anything they managed to catch. Catfish or fresh water bass had never appealed much to either of their palates, though they did both enjoy the sport of fishing for them.

Casting his line out into the water, only to slowly start reeling it back in, Edward thought about the previous night and what had begun to stir within him. From the very beginning he'd been attracted to Bella, but it had never transcended just that; physical attraction. The more he thought about it—thought about her—he began to realize that maybe it had and he'd just been oblivious, or unwilling to acknowledge that how he felt about her ran much deeper than mere physical attraction. He'd fallen asleep knowing there was a very distinct possibility that he could start feeling for her more than a friend should. But when he awoke just a few hours later to her curled up against him, her body having unconsciously sought out the heat of his own as the fire in the cast iron stove dwindled, he became instantly aware that he already did.

Somewhere along the line he'd stopped seeing her as just a friend and began seeing her as something...more. Whether this change had been recent, or had been in effect for some time outside of his awareness, he wasn't sure—but it was there, and he didn't know how to feel about it. Regardless of how much time they spent together, they'd only just met a few short months ago and were still getting to know one another. In the past, that might not have bothered him, but he wasn't the same man anymore, and some days, more frequently as of late, he doubted he ever would be again.

"You know...this isn't that far of a trip," Alec spoke quietly, focusing his gaze on threading kernels of corn onto his hook. "We can always come up here again whenever things get to be too much."

Edward shrugged as he reeled his line in, his mind elsewhere. "Maybe..."

"You can't keep going like this, man," Alec sighed, shaking his head. "Your situation sucks. I get it. Everyone gets it, but holding yourself back from living life doesn't make it any easier to deal with, Edward. You need to get out, do stuff..."

"Like what?" he barked, snapping his head to the side. He had enough on his mind without having to dwell on the sad state of his social life. The very same social life that had been virtually nonexistent even before his world had been flipped on its axis. "Go to the bar and drown my sorrows in liquor? Hang out with guys from the station who all feel sorry for me? What exactly is it you all want me to do?"

"Jesus...quit acting like it's a goddamn crime that we all want you to stop moping around all the damn time," Alec huffed angrily. He ran an agitated hand through his hair as he stared out over the water. Dropping his hand and shaking his head once more, he turned his gaze to Edward. "Just get out, bro. Do whatever the hell you used to do when you had some free time on your hands."

Edward barked out an angry laugh and Alec could see the muscles on the side of his jaw tense as he gritted his teeth. "You don't get it, do you? Nobody fucking gets it. I never had spare time. Every moment of every damn day I had some obligation to tend to, and now I've got...nothing. I have no goddamn purpose in life anymore."

"If that's not the biggest heap of horseshit I've ever heard in my entire life," Alec scoffed. "There's only purpose to life, and it's to live it, dipshit, so blow the dust off your ass and start doing it. Maybe then you'll find whatever purpose it is you're looking for."

Tense silence settled between them, the only sounds filtering into their angry minds coming from the nature surrounding them, and the whirring and clicking of their reels. As the morning hours pressed forward, and the fog hovering over the lake's surface evaporated, their moods slowly lifted as well. His fishing line long forgotten as it bobbed in the water, Edward's mind drifted back to the past, visions of their younger selves playing in the woods surrounding them without a care in the world.

"Do you remember that tree platform we found out here when we were about eight?"

"Yeah," Alec chuckled as he cast his line back in the water, remembering fondly those summers from ages ago. "You used to make Jasper sit on it while we pretended it was a house on fire. Poor kid would get hosed by our water guns until you'd turn to me and yell, 'I'm goin' in!', and haul him down on your back."

Edward nodded and looked down at his rusty old fishing reel. At one time, he may have laughed over the memory he once considered to be a happy one, but the recollection of it now pained him to the core. Of all his thoughts that spun dizzily through his head on a daily basis, one remained unmoving and ever present. For every brief glimpse of light he experienced in life, the significance of that memory laid in wait, ready to drag him back into the darkness that was consuming him.

"I live for the job, Alec. Even back then...I don't know who I am without it."

"Then it's about high time you figured that out, don't ya think?" Alec asked, standing and picking up their empty thermoses. As he turned to head back up to the cabin to make a fresh pot, he gripped Edward's shoulder. "I'll give you a little head start. Before you were ever a firefighter, you were a son, a brother, and a friend. Life doesn't have to be about titles, but if you need one, start there."

"Cash, stay here, buddy," Alec commanded when the dog made to follow him up to the cabin. However unlikely it was that Edward would find himself in trouble, he'd be able to hear Cash barking should something happen.

Halfway up the path, Alec glanced up to the deck and found Bella nose-deep in a novel, using Tango, curled up at the foot of her lounge chair, as a footrest. It was a comical sight if he'd ever seen one, as it appeared Edward's dog was just as betaken by her as Edward himself was, whether he realized it or not.

"At least the dog knows a good thing when he sees it," he muttered under his breath.

As he reached the top of the stairs, Bella's gaze shot up from the pages and a smile crossed her face. "How's it going? Catching anything good?"

"Aside from a mean case of identity crisis...not much else is biting down there," he sighed, collapsing into the chair beside her.

"Identity crisis?" she asked, not understanding.

"Yeah...without the job, he doesn't know who he is," Alec responded. When she dropped her book to the ground and began scooting her way out of the chair, his brow furrowed at her. "Where you going?"

"To talk to him," she replied, adjusting her twisted undershirt.

Forgoing shoes, she headed down the path toward the lake, careful not to step on any jagged rocks. At the end of the wooden dock, she lowered herself down near the edge of it, her side facing the water so she could look at him.

"Did I ever tell you my dad was shot?" she asked quietly after a few moments. He shook his head, and she nodded as she looked down at her lap and picked at a loose thread on her flannel pants. "He was, twice, when I was nine. Once in the chest and once in the hip. We almost lost him."

"What happened?" Edward asked, abandoning his pole to the ground.

"He pulled someone over for speeding. When he was at the guy's window, an APB went out over the radio, describing a man and car involved in a robbery just a few miles down the road. The guy opened fire before he could react, and because of the way he was turned, the first bullet went right through the side of his vest and almost hit his heart." When she looked back up at him, she had unshed tears shimmering in her eyes.

"My dad's a cop, Edward. In everything he does, he's always a cop first, and that incident almost took both his life and his career." She stood and pulled her phone from her pocket. Placing it on the arm of his wheelchair, she cupped his cheek with her hand and kissed his temple.

"He knows where you are right now. Talk to him."

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