Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chapter 32


A Change in Attitude


The ear splitting sound of guns being fired echoed in the vast enclosed space long after the bullets had been discharged. Even with the protective earmuffs in place, Edward winced at every gunshot. The last ten alone had been made by Charlie, himself.

Sunday night, instead of spending another night in the cabin, Alec, Bella, and Edward headed back to Tacoma at Charlie's request. They hadn't had much of a conversation on the phone, after the half hour it took Edward to bring himself to find the number in Bella's contact list. In total, their call had lasted all of five minutes, during which Edward self-consciously explained his reason for calling after Charlie had mistaken him for his daughter, and Charlie replied with a question that did nothing more than confuse him.

'How do you feel about shooting?'

When he'd responded that he'd never shot anything, aside from a bow and arrow in high school gym class and the occasional slingshot as a youth, Charlie just laughed and said: "See you bright and early tomorrow morning, kid."

He hadn't know what to make of it, at all, and he'd said as much to Bella; who, like her father, laughed. At least when she stopped laughing, she didn't leave him hanging in confusion.

"He's bringing you to the shooting range. Guy time." She'd explained, amused by her father's antics.

Six am, bright and early, just as he'd said, Charlie was standing at Edward's front door. Bella—having made an educated guess as to what time her father would arrive based on what time the local range opened for officers—made sure Edward was up and ready to go with ten minutes to spare by the time the doorbell chimed.

Edward still wasn't sure what the purpose of bringing him to a shooting range was, but he wasn't questioning it either. He wasn't sure he'd be able to hear the answer, deaf as he was quickly becoming.

As Charlie fired off another round of shots, Edward looked around and noticed that the other three men that had been down the opposite end of the lane, had left. It was just the two of them remaining. When the echo faded, Charlie removed his earmuffs and turned toward him.

"Looks like it's just you and me, kid," Charlie shouted while motioning for him to take his earmuffs off.

"What?"

Charlie couldn't do anything but laugh as Edward wiggled his fingers in his ears, trying to restore his hearing. "Takes a little getting used to, don't it?"

"How are you not deaf?" Edward questioned, still hearing ringing in his ears.

"Same way you're not from sirens. Your ears get used to the noise," Charlie chuckled. "C'mon, let's take this outside. I can't teach you to shoot if you can't hear me."

Edward followed behind him down the long corridor, and through the doors leading to the outdoor firing range. He wasn't sure he even wanted to learn, having never had the desire to before, but he kept his mouth shut and followed Charlie's lead. Outside, there were two more men standing in the first and third lanes, one with a scoped rifle aiming at a target about two hundred feet out, and the other with a shotgun, his target significantly closer. The shots were still incredibly loud, but not as overwhelming as they had been indoors.

At the end of the lane, as far away from any employees or off-duty officers as they could get, Charlie turned and leaned against the railing. Edward looked at him skeptically as he held his firearm out, but took it when Charlie quirked a brow at him.

"Have at it, kid."

Warily placing it in his lap, Edward wheeled himself into the lane's standing area and locked his chair. With shaky hands, he lifted the shiny, black pistol and took aim. Sucking in a deep breath, he pulled the trigger—and nothing happened.

"First rule of firearms, Edward. Always engage the safety when you're finger's not on the trigger, ready to shoot. Without aiming it anywhere but down the firing lane, slide the lever on the left to disengage the safety."

"You could have said something before I pulled the trigger," Edward chuckled, slightly amused.

"Accidents happen, kid. Let's try not to have one today, eh?" Charlie shrugged.

Standing directly behind Edward, he watched as he took aim and tried not to laugh, already knowing he would miss his target. With another steadying breath, Edward pulled the trigger and cursed, not expecting the kick back.

"Did I even hit it?"

"Way off, son. What exactly were you aiming for? The tree ten yards to the left?" Charlie teased. This was his favorite part of teaching a newbie to shoot.

Another three missed shots had Edward bristling and Charlie winded from laughing. "C'mon, my daughter had better aim in high school, Edward," he razzed, highly amused. "Focus, kid. Imagine the trajectory line of the bullet coming outta that gun.”

I am,” Edward huffed, taking sight once more. Another shot, another miss. “What the hell is the point of all this?” he shouted, dropping his hands, with the gun still cradled in his right.

“What’d I tell you about the safety?” Charlie reprimanded sternly, taking the gun from him as he stepped to Edward’s side and crouched down. Once the safety had been reengaged, he turned his gaze upward. “The point is, when you’re so damn busy being pissed off about things you can’t do, you miss out on the things you can. That’s the point of this, kid.

“It might have been different for me because I had a wife and daughter at home waiting for me, but it didn’t stop me from being pissed off. Some days it was at the perp that shot me, others it was at myself for leaving myself vulnerable in that moment. My hand should have never left my sidearm, and I should have never turned my attention away from the car, but I did. Those were mistakes I made that could have changed everything.”

Charlie’s eyes had never been more expressive than they were as he spoke in that moment. Just looking into them, Edward could see how hard his struggles had been, how much pain it had caused him.

“Worse than being angry at him, or myself, was when I’d lash out at Renee or Bella.” As he said this, his eyes glimmered slightly with anguished tears. “She was nine, Edward. She didn’t understand that my anger wasn’t because of anything she did wrong. Renee knew better, but knowing didn’t stop it from hurting her any less. Anger’s never made a man stronger, or made it easier to manage a situation. It just gets in the damn way and ruins what little good exists. Do you understand?”

Edward nodded as Charlie put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You’ve got a good family, kid. You’ve got good friends. And you’ve got one of the best things in my life that pushed me to let go of what I kept letting poison me from the inside out—my daughter. I can’t tell you how to find yourself, but I can tell you the quickest way to lose yourself. All this anger you feel, let it out in the rehab building and leave it there, the way I left mine here.”

The silence growing between them was oppressive; awkward. He could see the truth in Charlie's words, but agreeing with them, and acting on them, were two entirely different things. Charlie was a strong man, and he'd undoubtedly passed that inner strength on to his daughter.

“You know...”Edward trailed off, clearing his throat. “Bella’s pretty lucky to have you as an old man. It’s easy to see now where she gets her strength from.”

“Nah, that’s all her own—and she didn’t get much wisdom from me either,” Charlie chuckled, grateful for the lighter conversation. “Trust me when I say that parenting isn’t so much a teaching experience as it is a learning one. You’re bound to do more things wrong than you ever do right, but you’ll figure that out on your own one day.”

“So...” Charlie quirked an eyebrow in Edward’s direction. “You ready to learn how to shoot the right way, and maybe figure out what you’re really capable of?”

Three hours, four magazines, and six shredded paper targets later, Edward returned home with what Charlie had deemed 'commendable marksmanship.' After Charlie had pointed out that he was lifting the barrel whenever he pulled the trigger, he only missed the paper once—because Charlie startled him out of his focus by shouting “bang!” His bullet missed the target by a mile, sinking into the dirt retaining wall beyond the line of targets, but they’d shared a good laugh out of it, and he learned something about Bella as well.

According to Charlie, it had been years since he’d been able fumble her shot. Her focus on the range was, in her father’s words, unshakable, and he was tremendously proud of that fact.

“How’d it go?” Bella asked, smiling when she saw the ear to ear grin on his face, Charlie’s matching one trailing just feet behind him.

“Good,” Edward chuckled, nodding. “Why didn’t you ever tell me you’re a master marksman?”

She narrowed her eyes at her father, laughing under her breath. “Don’t believe everything he tells you, or he’s liable to have you believing I was an accomplished ballerina at age four as well.”

“Were you?”

“Sure,” she snickered, the idea of it entirely preposterous. “If you call wearing a tutu and tights while spinning around the living room until I was dizzy ballet dancing. Now go eat, we have to leave in a half hour.”

Bella waited until Edward disappeared down the hall before stepping outside with her father. Closing the door behind her, she turned to him with anxious eyes.

“How’d it really go? Did it help?”

“I don’t know, honey. It might have, it might not have. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, ya know?” Charlie responded, rubbing the back of his neck. “Even if he takes my advice, don’t expect it to be an overnight change, Bella. It wasn’t one for me, remember that, and I was dealing with half the crap he’s facing. I was out of work for ten months, he’ll be damn lucky to ever make it back at all.”

“I know, I know,” she sighed, circling her fingertips against her temples. As she dropped her hands to her sides, she released a deep breath. “It just...it kills me seeing him like this.”

“Give it time, kiddo. Just give it a little time. Whether it’s the hard way, or the easy way, at some point, he’ll figure himself out.”

“I hope so,” she whispered as he wrapped his arms around her.

For the first time since the very first few weeks he’d begun his intense rehabilitation routine, Edward felt motivated as he wheeled himself into the building. Despite the restless sleep he’d gotten the prior two nights in a row, and being woken up by Bella before the sun had even risen, he felt completely energized. The last time he’d felt as such, he’d been walking into the station house, a half an hour early for the start of his twenty-four hour tour. It only took Seth a momentary glance to see a different man heading toward him than the one who’d wheeled away from him just three days before.

“Well, now. I remember asking for A game, but from the looks of it, someone's ready to go for the championship,” Seth praised, clapping him on the arm.

“Something like that...” Edward trailed off, distracted by the group of people gathered at the back of the room. “Why are they all wearing bathing suits?”

“Aquatic exercise class,” Seth answered, and chuckled as Edward gave him a bewildered look. “The buoyancy of the water counteracts gravity, so people with weakened extremities can work on their motor control without the weight of their limbs limiting them. It helps build strength, too, because the water provides a bit of resistance.”

“Does it work? I mean...does it help them recover faster?” Bella asked curiously.

“In some cases,” Seth nodded. “In any case it doesn’t slow recovery down any.”

“Why haven’t I been doing it then?”

Seth’s face crinkled a bit as he crouched down in front of him, his eyes apologetic as they met Edward’s. “Because Workman’s Comp won’t cover it. They consider it alternative therapy, and they limit me to what I can, and can’t, do based on what they’ll pay the facility for.”

As Edward shook his head, his teeth clenching together as he thought about how screwed up the system was, Alec and Bella’s shared glance went by unnoticed. In the two months he’d been out of the hospital, Workman’s Comp had ruled nearly every decision regarding Edward’s care. They’d taken away the homecare, which had been the least of the troubles as Edward had enough support around him that he didn’t require it, but they’d chosen different doctors for him to see, and dictated how often he could see them.

His orthopedic-spine doctor was no longer Dr. Ashford, it was Dr. Canton, whom Edward was none too fond of, and his new pain management physician was nothing more than a family practitioner. Trying to get her to understand he couldn’t tolerate narcotic pain relievers had been such a nightmare that he’d given up, and resorted to popping over the counter medicines like candy on the days he couldn’t stand the pain in his lower back and hips.

If aquatic therapy was something Edward wanted to try, both Alec and Bella felt he should be able to, whether Workman’s Comp paid for it, or not.

“How much would something like that cost out of pocket?” Alec asked.

“About a hundred and twenty, give or take, per one hour session. Our programs are either three or four sessions a week. It’s expensive, I know, but if you want, we can try to get around Workman’s Comp...contact your main insurance carrier to see if they’ll cover it. Some will, some won't, but it can’t hurt to try,” Seth offered. “If they okay it, we’ll fill out the forms and get you started in it as soon as possible.”

“If it’ll help, I want to do it,” Edward nodded. “I just won’t be able to pay the entire cost on my own.”

“Let me see what I can do,” Seth said as he stood. “I’ll send Jimmy out to get you started on stretching, and give me about a half hour or so to get an answer from your provider.”

After Jimmy came and escorted Edward to a matted table, Bella followed Alec to a row of chairs across the facility floor. When he flipped open his phone and quickly dialed a number, she wanted to ask who he was calling, but after just a minute of him speaking, she wanted to kiss him.

“Hey, Ty, get everyone together and put me on speaker phone. I need to talk to you all at the same time.”

“Alright, man. You’re on. What’s this about? We’re all crammed in here and it smells like shit ‘cause Eric torched a bag of popcorn.”

Alec sighed, his eyes focused across the room at his friend. “It’s about Edward."

As Alec explained the situation and his reason for calling, Bella waited anxiously for their response. Worries over how Edward could come up with the money to cover the additional therapy tugged and pulled at her conscience as an aggravated noise escaped Alec's throat, followed by desperate words.

"Guys, this is Edward we're talking about. How many times has he covered for one of us? How many times has he stuck his neck out on the line for any single one of us? He’s never asked for a damn thing from anyone. We owe this to him.”

Not a full minute passed before Tyler spoke again. Alec's words of reason, though he hadn't wanted to need to use them, had hit each and every one of the men in the station right where it counted; in the heart, and hard. “We’re in, just let us know when and how much.”

“I should know before we leave here today. And do me a favor, get on the horn and hit up everyone else in the station.”

“Sure thing. Tell Edward we’re behind him all the way.”

“Will do, thanks guys.”

After ending his call, Alec winked at Bella. “It's taken care of. C’mon. Let’s go await the verdict with him.”

The twenty minutes they’d waited until Seth emerged from the office, almost seemed like an eternity. Upon spotting him, Edward sat straight up, bracing himself against one arm.

“What’d they say?”

“Good news, but maybe not good enough,” Seth answered, shifting his hands up and down in front of him, as though he were weighting something. “Since we’re a private facility not technically associated with the hospital, your provider considers us to be out of network, but they will cover half the cost. You’re pre-approved for either program on a four week interval basis...meaning you get re-approved every four weeks at their discretion.”

“That’s still more than I can pay out of pocket. I can’t wing two hundred a week...”

“Sign him up...”

“Alec, I can’t afford it,” Edward argued and Alec smirked.

“You’re not gonna be paying for it so settle down.” At his incredulous look, Alec laughed. “Come on, man. They don’t call us a brotherhood for nothing. Consider it a gift from Tacoma’s bravest.”

“What?...How did they...?”

Alec shrugged as Edward’s eyes darted between him and Bella. “I made a quick call...speaking of,” he grinned as his phone started ringing in his pocket. He quickly withdrew it and flipped it open, hitting the speaker phone button so Edward could hear what they said.

“Ty?”

“Yeah, man, it’s a go. Everyone’s in. We couldn’t get a hold of Felix, but I’m sure he’ll be in, and Em and the Chief said to put them down for double. Some of the medic crew are in, too...so it looks like...twenty-six of us altogether?”

“Twenty eight, add two for me and my parents,” Bella added as she encircled his arm in hers.

“I can’t believe you guys...this is...shit.” As hard as he tried to fight them back, tears brimmed in Edward’s eyes and blurred his vision. His hand quickly came up to cover his eyes as the first tear spilled over, his fingers pinching and pushing against his lids to keep any more from falling as he listened to the voices of the guys at the station all ramble through the line at once.

Bella wrapped her arms tightly around him as his chest shook with suppressed sobs. His hand fisted the back of her shirt tightly as he hid his face in the crook of her neck. It was too much, hearing all his friends, brothers, practically shouting their words of support and encouragement through the phone.

“Yo, Alec...is he alright over there? Tough guy sounds like he’s gettin’ all weepy on us.”

Thinking quick to save his friend from jabs the guys would hang onto for years to come, he laughed, forced as it was. “Nah, he’s chokin’ on spit. Squeezing a penny out of everyone is newsworthy, everyone shitting out dimes in his name is legendary. Hell, he’s turnin’ blue, I gotta go.”

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Bella whispered, trying not to laugh when she lifted her head to look at Alec. “What was that?”

He held up his hands with a defensive, yet amused, face. “I was trying to save the guy some face. What was I supposed to say?”

Edward groaned out a sigh, pinching the moisture away from his eyes once more, before pulling away from Bella. His glassy gaze, full of gratitude, locked on Alec and with a brief nod, he turned to Seth.

"When can we start?"

With a grin, thrilled by the rejuvenation of Edward's will to fight, Seth responded.

"How's the beginning of next week sound?"

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