Chapter Twelve: Clearing Sky
I wake up at eleven twenty-three the next morning with an emotionally-charged headache/alcohol-fuelled hangover and a note on my dresser. It's written in Alice's big, loopy handwriting.
Alice must have left earlier in the morning; I hope she didn't get in too much trouble from her mom. Everything that happened the night before previous begins to weigh me down until I don't want to move from under my bed covers. But I know I need to get up. I threw the covers off myself, strip, and haul myself into the shower. I scrub at my body and face, letting the water wash away everything bad. I let the memories of Phil's voice be washed away, just for the moment. I need to be functioning when I talk to Charlie.
My hair is a wet mess, my t-shirt is too old, my jeans are a season out of style and there's still eyeliner smudged along the line of my lashes. Resigned, I open up my curtains, open up my door and come face to face with Charlie in the dining room where he's seated, newspaper in hand.
I try really hard not to cry as I explain in my own terms what happened last night, and I see that Charlie finds it hard to stay strong for me, too. We're close in a way that we shouldn't be; this should be my mom's territory. But she isn't here, and doesn't want to fight hard enough, so my dad becomes my rock instead.
Charlie takes a sip of his coffee and looks at me steadily. "We need to go down to station this morning, Bella. We need to report it."
At those words, I burst into tears. I'm such a mess I can't even explain why I'm crying – maybe it's stress, or remembering the last time I reported my mom's boyfriend. Whatever. Charlie, ever astounding in the uncomfortable dad role, pats me on the back and fixes me breakfast. He gives me bacon and eggs, and I don't even bother to remind him that I'm a vegetarian. He's so good to me, I think I can forgive him for forgetting my eating habits one time.
We drive to the station, go in the back way so we don't have to deal with the awkward 'Working on a Sunday, eh, Chief?' questions. It's not as bad this time, reporting it. Charlie's workmates are always nice to me – one of them gives me a chocolate bar from the vending machine with a sympathetic smile across her face. We talk about possibilities: what they'll do when they apprehend Phil, what he can be charged with, how I can assure my safety. Charlie lets me play the radio really loud on the drive back home so we don't have to talk.
The day has been slow; like I'm only half-awake, distracted by anything.
I make us mac and cheese for lunch, pop some ibuprofen for my headache and fall asleep on the lounge trying to avoid thinking about anything or anyone. I wake up at two and start reading Northanger Abbey again. Jacob drives my Chevy back and conveys his apologies in a hug that cuts my air supply in half. He lets me lean on his chest as we watch some terrible Christmas movie on TV – only proven more terrible by the fact that it's nowhere near December. I remember why he's my best friend as he talks all about Leah instead of asking me stuff that I don't want to talk about.
At four, Jacob's gone back home after he finally admitted that Billy grounded him for throwing the party, and he had to jump out the kitchen window like some wolf-ninja, aw, you shoulda seen it Bells! just to drive my truck back. Charlie uncharacteristically keeps hovering near me, so I go up to my room. I feel like Alice's note is actually a big neon sign as I sit on the edge of my bed.
When I feel as though I can't ignore it anymore (can't ignore him, can't ignore how I feel), I grab the home phone and dial Edward Cullen's cell. It's such a simple action for such a monumental result.
He says Hello? And I say, Hi, It's Bella. Uhm…
"I remembered that I forgot to give you, uhm, the bibliography for our bio essay." Great lie, Bella. Really, you could be on Days of our Lives with that type of acting prowess.
Edward doesn't miss a beat. "You could email it."
"Okay, I need to see you," I confess in a tired rush. "I really need to see you. I need to explain in person."
It feels like I wait a millennia for him to answer. Finally, he says, "All right," and tells me he'll come over to my house in half an hour.
I nervously wait outside on the porch, scratching the white paint off the railing until his Volvo eventually appears in my drive. Anxiety rises up inside of me like vomit. This is something I shouldn't can't won't run away from. I can't hide from things anymore. Hiding from my feelings stuffed Edward and I's relationship around. Hiding from Phil's phone call stopped the police from cracking down on him straight away. Even though I don't blame myself for how I acted the night before, I want to take full responsibility for all that I've done to Edward. I've treated him like he was nothing when in reality he was everything.
We awkwardly greet each other. Edward's face is full of shadows in the fading light of the setting sun. We both sit down on my front steps under my direction, and Edward lets me speak.
"I need to apologize to you," I say to him, and straight away Edward launches flawlessly into his nicest-guy-in-the-world mode and tries to interrupt me. I raise my voice and politely tell him to be quiet, because you need to hear this and I'll never get it out if I can't say it all at once.
And so, I try my hand at a redemptive monologue worthy of King Lear. I look Edward dead in the eyes and trip over my words as I say, "I love you."
He stares. I talk.
"I thought that being in love was going to be this major grown up thing with fireworks and forever, but I know that it's not. I love you as much as I can in my own, strange teenage way. I have for ages and I'm so sorry that I never said it back. I was stupid not to trust you enough or myself enough to let you know that you one are of the few best things in my life. This past year…" I pause to swallow the sob in my throat. "This past year I've learned that I need to let other people in and lean on them or I'm fucked. If you and Emmett and Alice and everyone else hadn't been there last night, I don't know what I would have done." My voice cracks and I can't help screwing up my face against the terror and sadness that latches onto me. "T-thank you."
I wipe my forearm against my nose, sniff, and continue. Edward takes my other hand. I wish he wouldn't, because I already feel so guilty, but I know it would be wrong to push him away.
"I want to forget what happened between us last night. I know you felt bad about what you said, but it was true. I really have fucked you around all these years. And, I mean, for what? I've wasted so much of your time. Of my time."
Edward shakes his head emotionally at this statement, but I soldier on. "I want you to know that what you said last night didn't suddenly jolt me into realising that I loved you. I always had, and I had known that I'd been messing us up. I was just so scared. I think what happened with P-Phil just made it, like, a thousand times worse…"
I take a breath and try to blink away a few tears. My face feels so hot from all my crying and nervousness and the hot dying sunlight splayed over us. "Uhm, so, I just thought you more than deserved me telling you how I really feel. I'm not apologizing so you'll forgive me because I don't deserve you to. You already stuck by me through the incident and I felt like more people should have done that – that type of support I deserved. But I am guilty of screwing you over for a reason that slowly became worthless to me." My voice gets really squeaky and I have to wait a few moments before I can talk again clearly. I struggle to, but do it anyways. "A-A week ago I would told you I l-l-loved you. I hate that I have to do it now when I'm so upset. I hate the fact that what Phil has done has made me tell it to you like this when it should have been something special."
I wipe my eyes to see that Edward's has tears in his too, although he's just short of crying. How do boys do it? Edward takes my other hand and grips them both tightly in his grasp. "It still is special, Bella," he says as he sucks in a breath. "And I don't care that you stuffed me around-"
"I do," I interrupt him in a horribly cracked voice. "I do. I didn't tell you this so I could have your forgiveness, Edward. I did it so you'd understand that I know I did wrong by you, and how I feel. And why I acted last night. I know me confessing my love isn't going to make it all better. It shouldn't."
But then, Edward reaches forward and presses his lips to mine. I can't even kiss him back. All I can do is tremble in the wake of my mistakes.
Edward pulls me into his arms in a swift move and I try not to cry into his chest. "Too bad," he says into my hair. His thumb smooths along my jacketed upper arm. His voice is shaky and he summons strength to tell me things I feel like I don't deserve to hear.
"I accept your apology," he replies after a moment. I move away from him, push my hair back off my face and look at him as he talks. His translucent-green eyes are red-rimmed and blood-shot. He's like a beautiful mess. A mess I created. "Bella, you had the best fucking reasons to do those things. Yes, it made me angry. But only because I could understand why you did what you did."
And my world stops again. Halts for a second. Halts for a good thing.
I don't think my body could be more tired and sore as suddenly I close my eyes and understand and accept what Edward says. I feel like I've lived through a thousand lives in the space of two days. I feel like I've had more revelations than a repentant religious person. I let Edward know I believe him.
I slump against the railing, my head thudding against the white wood. Edward takes my left hand again. He runs his other hand through his brown-red hair. "You love me," he tests out after a moment of exhausted silence.
I smile tiredly. "Yup."
Edward's lips return a lopsided grin a little half-heartedly. If we weren't so tired from it all, I'm sure he'd be laughing with happiness. Is it weird to be confident in the fact that someone loves you back? Is it arrogant to assume? I don't really know the answer.
Edward becomes fixated with the ants that are scurrying along the porch as he asks, "What happened with Phil in the end?"
I sigh. "Dad and I went to the police and reported it. They don't think Phil is much of a runner, so they reckon they'll have him in custody soon enough." I pause, swallowing. "He'll probably go to jail," I say quietly.
Edward nods, before locking his electric gaze onto mine. "And you?" he says roughly.
"Charlie thinks I should go see a counsellor. Get some one on one treatment as well as going to the support group in town."
"Do you like that idea?"
"I think it's worth a try. The idea of Phil always haunted me, and made me anxious, but last night was the first time I'd ever had a real panic attack over it."
"You know you can always talk to me, too."
A ghost of a smile spreads along my mouth. "I know," I say firmly. "And I will."
Edward looks pleased about this. "Good," he says in a quiet tone.
My fingers get anxious locked in Edward's for so long, and remove my hand from his for the moment. "Would it be okay if we start slow?"
He nods in understand. He's the boy who always understands. "Slow would be wonderful."
I breathe a sigh of relief, and I pull at the skin under my eyes. I'm so, so tired. Edward takes this as his cue. He gets up and helps me to my feet. He steps closer to me, so that I can see his tear-highlighted eyelashes and the stubble growing along his jaw. This closeness is so simple. So nice.
"So, you'll email me the bibliography tonight?" he asks. "Because then our assignment is done and on it's way to getting an A."
"Will you be at school tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure I will be; I'll text you if I actually sleep in or something."
Edward's reassuring hand finds pressure against my shoulder and squeezes it gently. "I would understand if you didn't go, Bella."
I wouldn't dare to try and count the number of times I am astonished and humbled by Edward's understanding. It makes me choke up a little. "Normal guys would run," I sniff in reply, a watery smile slipping on my lips.
Edward rolls his eyes. "I told you I'm not normal," he says before baring his teeth and swiping at me like some cute, seventeen year old Floridian vampire.
This makes me snort in response. Jokes are a great weapon against weepy girls. "Keep dreaming."
"Aren't I already?" he replies dreamily and leans in for another kiss. He gets teeth because, suddenly, I'm laughing so hard.
.Two weeks pass by in long drags. It seems like an age since Jacob's party. So much happens. So much stays the same, stuck. Renee calls, and although she doesn't say everything I'd like to hear, she apologizes and frets about me enough that I forgive her. We talk about me and Edward being together, which she pronounces as 'fate', and start to make plans for the commencing summer vacation. When I put on my make-up in the morning, I don't put my Forks-Bella-Swan face on, or my vacation-Bella face on. My foundation and mascara and cherry lip gloss and blush all scream me me me. Weird, crazy, on-her-way-to-happy me.
Suddenly time flies, and Alice and I are in English, sitting up the front like always, ignoring out teacher like we're too cool for school. We talk about Jasper, and when we think he'll ask Alice out on a real date. Alice's money is next week. I bet this afternoon.
I get a text full of a thousand and one exclamation marks hours later, and for once it seems that Alice is wrong. Alice's mom may sure have a thing against her visions, but I can't imagine her having a problem with someone as nice as Jasper. I turn to Edward, who's chugging down a glass of lemonade I just poured for him.
"Looks like we have more to celebrate," I tell him, waving my new silver cell phone in the air. "Jasper asked Alice out!"
Edward pretends to shriek joyfully like a little girl. I think he's trying to imitate Lauren Mallory, but I'm not sure if he has quite the nasal quality.
We're in the middle of having an informal date of our own; a celebratory date. We topped the class in our bio assignment and decided to congratulate ourselves by eating our body weight in junk food. It's crazy to think that after all that's happened I'm actually having fun. We get sillier and sillier, laughing louder and louder at each other's terrible jokes until we finally take it up to my room. Charlie doesn't mind if I shut the door – and this afternoon, judging by our antics, I'm sure he'd prefer if I did.
Edward runs a hand over me, and memories don't creep up on me this time. He lurks around my room, inspecting my well-worn Austen books, my dust covered PlayStation, and finally turns on my ipod in its dock. Edward saunters over to me as the final seconds of the song I was previously listening to tick over, and the next song in my playlist comes on.
It's obvious Edward doesn't know it. He wraps his arms around me, and kisses me hard as the chorus comes on. He tastes like lemonade and lolly snakes. He hears the line, "When I think about you, I touch myself," and wrenches his lips away, staring at me with a funny look his face. His expression seems to be saying, uh, explain?
"Alice's music lost the battle with my collection of eighties crap," I answer embarrassedly. I can feel myself blushing as Edward pulls him closer to him. I really need to turn off that music. But…I really need to stay up against Edward, where I can feel all of him.
Edward's right hand wanders below my hips and finds its resting place on the right cheek. He gives it a squeeze, which makes me yelp in surprise.
"Edward!" I half shriek. I'm glad Charlie has his game up loud or we'd be in big trouble. Edward laughs at me, his breath hot on my forehead as I look up at him. "When did you get so confident?"
A little bit of the unsure-Edward surfaces on his face, but his wicked hands continue to smooth along my short-shorts and place pressure against the warm skin of my stomach. "Well, I figured I could get a bit more adventurous with you as my girlfriend," he replies. I can tell he's trying to be suave, but it's all too obvious that he knows the 'g' word used to be a death sentence for our relationship.
I take hold of his strong upper arms and give him a kiss, warm lips to warm lips. "You haven't asked me out, yet," I barely breathe against them.
I feel Edward's tongue as he licks his lips nervously. I know he'd run his fingers through his hair right now if we weren't in such as position. I mould myself closer to Edward's lean body and look up into his translucently green eyes. My fingers stop the question from leaving his lips. I take it instead.
"Would you like to be my boyfriend, Edward Cullen?" I ask.
Edward nods, but doesn't need to whisper yes. We kiss and fool around and make love to my selection of bad eighties music. I lay with Edward still inside me as we talk about biology and college preferences and gossip about people at school and troll through my camera for embarrassing photos of Emmett. Edward kisses me as I confidently think I love you I love you I love you, because it's such a simple and easy thing to do, and watch as Edward smiles like the boy I met all those summers ago when I quietly whisper it in his ear.
I'm fifteen when I sit down by the wharf, already a little bored with this vacation. Renee can't stop texting her new boyfriend and is completely oblivious to my boredom. I can't play tennis by myself, and I would just look like a total fool if I tried to join in playing soccer with the rest of the local boys at the campsite.
I'd gone down to the wharf in desperation, thinking that maybe if I stayed out long enough I'd get a tan instead of sunburned. I'm sitting at the edge in the dazzling sunlight, watching the water ripple out with a light breeze when I see him for the first time.
He's a pale as me – I think that's what draws my attention first. He's made up of all kinds of crazy colours; orange-brown hair, ghostly white skin with a few freckles here and there, and weird eyes that aren't quite green or hazel. I guess he is around my age. He certainly seems tall enough; although, he isn't as muscled as Tyler is starting to get back in Forks.
In this instant, I think to myself that I should try and talk to him. Jess and even Angela were getting guys all the time – way more than the couple of kisses and gropes I'd had at parties. This kid had the face of a movie star, all handsome and wholesome, and I'm bored.
What could go wrong?
I get up and introduce myself. He tells me his name was Edward. He's on vacation too, with his family. But it isn't really a vacation, he assures me, because he actually lives in Florida. I excitedly ask him if he knows how to surf, and he says yes, I should teach you some time, and then his mouth moves into the cheekiest, cutest, lopsided smile I've ever seen.
I feel like I'd be shivering if it weren't so hot. I agree flirtatiously that he should teach me sometime. We talk for a little bit, doing the general background swap, before Edward explains that he'd come down to the wharf to jump in for some fun.
"Obviously you haven't felt the water today," I say, laughing. "It's freezing!"
"Really?" is the reply I got as Edward rushes forward and plunges into the icy water. I shriek in surprise and run towards the edge. It had to be, like, a bajillion degrees way too cold!
He resurfaces, laughing. This boy, Edward, looks at me, and gives me the most devilish grin ever. "Chicken?" he calls out, taunting.
I narrow my eyes. Well, well, well. Sweet, cute, and confident. Edward definitely had me intrigued. My summer was already looking up.
"Never," I boast in reply. Edward spread his arms wide, inviting me into the water.
Without considering the dangers, the risks, or the consequences, I dive headfirst.