The Long Walk Home
Edward began the lonely trek to his house in the woods
without realizing it. Even at his slowest pace, it would have taken no time at
all. But he couldn’t help pausing every few feet to turn toward Bella’s house,
scratch his head, and ask the question that plagued him since she slammed her
“What just happened?”
He’d stand there, waiting for an answer—any answer—to reach his frazzled brain. But all he heard were crickets.
Crickets that seemed to be laughing at him.
He’d shake his head and continue, being careful not to step in any more puddles and making good time. Until some phrase from his earlier undressing floated to him on the mocking breeze.
“You being a vampire has very little to do with this.”
A perfect line delivered with accuracy and archness. Yet she did not seem amused by the admission. And she meant it with every fiber of her confounding being, even though it made absolutely no sense.
“Infernal woman! What is she about?”
He seldom spoke to himself aloud, let alone with the sort of crassness from which he refrained even at the height of emotion. But in the 11 minutes since Bella uttered those six unfathomable words, he’d used every ounce of his decorum not to resort to stronger language.
“What the hell just happened?”
His outburst drew the attention of a lone cooper’s hawk, flapping his steel blue wings against the graying skies. Edward noted the atmospheric shift, and if he didn’t run home, he would get drenched in the looming downpour.
The prospect was fitting.
Soldiering on, his mind returned to their conversation despite his protests, and he groaned as the bewildering chain of events replayed with maddening clarity.
He planned well: Use the worn path so her trip out of the woods would be quick and safe. Stick to the facts. Do not get emotional. And whatever you do, do not say you do not love her.
He hadn’t shared the parameters with anyone, hadn’t had the courage to reveal how low he planned to stoop to save her from him.
In hindsight, perhaps a second opinion might have been helpful. Though he could think of no one who would take his side.
Alice shared her unsolicited opinion whenever their psychological paths crossed, so avoiding her for the past 24 hours had been a strategic necessity.
The mention of his sisters brought him to another halt.
What was he going to tell them?
He knew Alice saw everything—Bella made the kind of life-altering decision his sister couldn’t avoid if she wanted to. He could practically hear Alice squeal upon realizing their departure would be delayed and hoped she had the decency to keep the details to herself.
He snorted at the odds of that.
But if she managed to keep her chirpy trap shut, a worse truth remained.
He would have to tell them.
He would have to face his golden-eyed family and tell them.
But tell them what, exactly?
That he took Bella for a walk near her home, told her the family was leaving Forks, and encouraged her not to come?
That he turned his back on Bella in more ways than one, told her his world was not right for her and it was high time he stopped pretending otherwise?
Or that he stared Bella down with unfeeling eyes and told her the entire family had deserted her without a goodbye but that was fine because she was no good for him, he did not want her, and would forget her as soon as a better distraction presented itself?
Emmett would break his limbs as Jasper inundated him with a dose of debilitating guilt. Esme would burn his battered body at the stake before Alice scattered half his ashes at First Beach and the other half in Lauren Mallory’s locker with Rosalie on-hand to smirk her way through it all.
And Carlisle’s disappointed gaze would haunt him for all eternity.
Assuming he’d earned the right to one.
He tore his hands through his hair, noting the strands trailing from his fingers.
Another low oath rose in his heart, and he clamped his lips shut to prevent its escape.
He continued his walk, praying his all-seeing sister had mercy on him.
As it turned out, he would have been better off in Lauren’s
Before Edward made it onto the property, he heard a cacophony of opinions, his parents loudest among them.
Variations of “Edward, how could you do that to her? To yourself? To all of us?” looped around Esme’s mind whereas her husband preferred the succinct but equally effective “Oh, son.”
Jasper’s thoughts were more entertained than angry, though Edward sensed the displeasure beneath his teasing. “I’m liking Bella more and more,” he thought, crossing his legs and opening yet another monstrous Civil War narrative, sparing Edward no further thought.
Rosalie’s opinion was brief, though Edward feared she might choke on her smugness. “Serves you right for trying to run our lives,” she mentally sneered. “I hope you get the chair.”
Emmett vacillated between amusement at Bella and disapproval in Edward. “That was low,” he thought. “I know her birthday freaked you out, but low blow, bro.”
Edward could tolerate almost anything, but Emmett’s censure was his tipping point. He stalked toward the house and, blind with fury, walked right into Esme’s ceramic planter, spilling its contents all over his damp shoes.
“Temper, temper.” Alice appeared on the front steps, her head tilted in sympathy. “Bad day?”
Edward growled, and she dropped beside him. “What’s the matter, Eddie? Plans go awry? Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans of moronic men…”
“Why did you tell them?”
She blinked in innocence. “I’m sorry?”
“Why”—he rose to his full height, towering over her—“did you have to tell them what happened with Bella?”
Edward heard the indignation crest in her mind and was surprised when she only shrugged. “They would find out sooner or later. You know, once Bella took the stand.”
Jasper at least had the decency to mask his laughter in a cough.
Edward pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, wondering if he could crush his own skull. “What the hell is she thinking?”
“Thinking is your department,” Alice said. “Though you did little of that before your walk this afternoon.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she held up a hand. “What are you going to do?”
Normally adept at running simultaneous trains of thought, Edward felt as if his whole life had derailed. “Do?”
She rolled her eyes but not in anger. “About this trial? What are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to do anything!” He stormed into the house, nearly taking the door off its hinges. “She cannot do this, Alice. No matter what’s going through that infuriatingly illogical mind of hers, the very notion of her taking me to court is…”
“Absurd? Is that what you were going to say?”
Her volume amplified her hurt, and he sighed. “Please don’t do this now. I know I deserve it, but if you love me at all, please don’t…”
She whacked him upside his head, earning a whoop from Rosalie and a weary “Violence solves nothing” from Esme. Edward rubbed his aching dome, wondering how much more abuse he could take.
“I can’t see the outcome of this case because there are too many variables.” Alice clasped her hands, her golden eyes soft with sympathy. “But here’s what I do know: Bella is taking you to court with every intention of winning. She is determined, she is pissed, and if you have any sense at all, you will treat this situation with the seriousness it deserves.”
Edward stared at his sage and stubborn sister, and his resistance broke. Slumping to the floor with his head in his hands, he sighed as she tapped her lips with a thinking finger.
“First things first. You need a good lawyer."