The Path We Choose

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Off The Beaten Path - Outtake #4 - Masen

Masen POV~ Summer of 2019 (17-years-old)

"Nana, I'll be back later. I'm going to meet Uncle Jasper for lunch," I told her as I headed for the front door of their house.

"Okay, dear. You have your key?" she asked before I could make it out the door and I nodded my head. "What time are you going to head home?" she asked when I looked up from the text I'd just sent my sometime girlfriend, Becca.

"Dad and Mad should be back home by dinnertime, so probably when I get back from lunch so I can make it home somewhere around there," I told her with a smile. I missed my sister, something fierce if I was being honest, and couldn't wait to see her. She'd been away at soccer camp for the past two weeks and since I didn't want to hang around the house without her, and Nana and Papa had to come back to the city for a bit, I decided to hang out here while she was gone. It wasn't that I didn't love Callie and Eli, because of course I did, but spending part of my summer vacation with my 7-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother wasn't exactly my idea of vacation.

Besides, I had something I needed to talk to Uncle Jasper about anyway...even though I'd put it off until the last minute.

"When are you guys going back?" I asked as I patted my pockets to make sure I, indeed, had my key.

"Well, your grandfather should be done with his meeting late this afternoon, so probably not until the weekend when Jasper, Alice, and the kids can come, too. You know how much your cousins adore Maddie, not to mention Ladybug and Eli," she teased me when I glared at her.

"Oh, and you, too, you big baby," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Just like your father, I swear," she muttered after she kissed my cheek.

"Love you, Nana," I called out with a chuckle as I stepped out onto the sidewalk. I figured I'd walk to lunch and then pack up my truck to go back to Lake George.

I smiled when I thought about what Nana had said before I left. Any reason at all our family could find to get together, and everyone was all for it. Nana and Papa had a house up at Lake George and had ever since Callie was born. They still came back to the city fairly regularly to take care of Foundation business, but my Nana couldn't stand to be away from her grandchildren any more than necessary. She would probably never admit it, but I had a feeling she didn't want to be far from Mama either.

When Uncle Jasper and Aunt Alice finally got married in between Callie and Eli being born, and then had a baby just after Eli, Nana and Papa started splitting their time between Lake George and the city. Aunt Rose and Uncle Em were at our house so much it was almost like they lived there, and my other cousins spent the weekend with Cal and Eli all the freaking time.

When you threw in Seth and Tanya, Dem and Heidi, and hell, Ben and Angela and even Jake and Anna and all their kids...our damn house was like Grand Central Station on the weekends. In the summer? It was even worse.

Having a huge ass family was all great and everything, but there were times it was pretty much a pain in the ass, too. Mama loved it though, and Dad...well, he did, too, except when he didn't get to spend time with Mama because she was too busy with everyone else. They had been married almost 10 years now, and he still couldn't keep his hands off her. I shuddered when I thought about it, but it made me smile, too.

My mother was still as beautiful, if not more so, than she was that day way back when, when I saw her in the park that first time. My friends...and their dads...stared at her whenever she would be at one of my baseball games, and I couldn't tell you the number of times I'd overheard some of the moms complain about how their husbands stared at her too much. They weren't really bitchy about it though, because everyone loved Mama so much, but it didn't stop them from being jealous. I couldn't really blame them, she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen, and Dad, well he still looked at her like he couldn't believe she was really ours on a daily basis.

She was also still my best friend which brought me to what I needed to talk to Uncle Jasper about. He and I had gotten really close as I had gotten older. He always made a point to spend some time with just me whenever they came to visit or we all came to the city. It wasn't like Uncle Emmett, Seth, Demetri, or even Papa ever ignored me, but I felt closer to Uncle Jasper than any of the others. Mama said it was because we were so much alike in that we were so protective of her...and maybe that was true. Besides my dad, because let's face it, no one would EVER be as protective of her as him, there wasn't anyone else that could come close to me and Uncle Jasper...not even Aunt Rose. It was more than that though. He understood me, and I always felt comfortable telling him things I couldn't tell my parents. I didn't have secrets, our family didn't work that way, but everyone needed someone they could tell everything to. I had Mad of course, and Emily and Wyatt, who were still my best friends, but Uncle Jasper always had a way of looking at things that made sense.

As I got closer to the restaurant, I picked up my phone and called him to let him know I was almost there. "Hey, Speedy, you almost here?" he teased when he answered the phone and I groaned.

"Are you people ever going to let me live that shit down?" I grumbled and then ran a hand through my hair, exactly like my father did.

He laughed, letting me know the answer without having to give it to me. "You guys suck," I told him which only made him laugh harder.

"Aw, come on, Mase. It's your first speeding ticket, and I'm sure with your genes, it won't be the last," he told me and I couldn't help but smile at that.

Wyatt, Emily, Maddie, and I were out on a Friday night a few weeks back. It was right before school let out, and we had left the restaurant we'd stopped at later than we meant to. I didn't want to break curfew so I drove a bit...well, a lot faster to make it home on time and just as we had gotten back into town, I got pulled over, making us late getting home.

Dad tried to get mad at me, but Mama shut him up pretty quick when she reminded him I drove like he did, so he had no room to talk. The fact that he was lucky and hadn't gotten pulled over didn't count. I'm pretty sure he never got a ticket because everyone, including the local police officers, loved Mama and well, him, too. Apparently that same love didn't extend to their offspring. It might have had something to do with the fact that I was going more than 10 miles an hour over the speed limit, though.

After a very stern lecture from Dad and Mama in which they let me know it wasn't the ticket they were mad about, it was the danger I'd put the others in by driving so fast, I had to clean Dad's office from top to bottom. I mean really clean. Wash the walls and windows, scrub the floors, the whole bit. Maddie, Wyatt, and Em helped, because like they'd said, it was just as much their fault as mine we were running late; I just happened to be the one driving that night. I could guarandamntee I wouldn't drive that fast again. Once I stopped to think about what would have happened to my best friends and sister if we would have crashed, more speeding for this Cullen.

"Yeah, well, after cleaning Dad's damn office, I won't be speeding anytime soon, I can promise you that," I huffed, still kind of annoyed at the whole thing. I was 17-years-old; I was supposed to drive fast.

"Your dad says that all the time, I'll believe you as much as him. Now, hurry the hell up, I'm starving." He laughed and then hung up the phone.

I did as he said and picked up my pace and made it to Mr. Saul's about ten minutes later.

"Masen Cullen, how are you, my boy?" Mr. Saul boomed as soon as I stepped foot inside my favorite deli. "Your Mama, she still foolish enough to be married to your father?" he asked after giving me a bear hug. It was the same thing every time we came in here to eat, and had been for years. I nodded and showed him the most recent pictures of the family and listened to him ooh and ahhh over how much Callie looked like our mother. I couldn't argue with him, Ladybug was the spitting image of Mama, but with green eyes, and she was going to break my heart one day when she decided there was someone she loved more than me. The girl had had me wrapped around her finger from the moment she was born, and it only got worse the older she got.

My parents adored her, Maddie and Eli did, too...but me...I loved her to the moon and back - a million times or more. Maddie was my best friend, a part of me, and there wouldn't ever be any two people closer than me and my sister. I loved Eli, but he was only five. But Callie...I was her hero, her everything, and I couldn't help but love the shit out of that. It was me she searched out in the middle of a thunderstorm when she got scared or when she had a bad dream, it was me she ran to when she fell down and scraped her knee, it was me she asked to help her with her homework. She still had my dad acting like a goofball whenever she batted her eyes at him and more often than not Maddie, Mama, and her would be in the kitchen together cooking or curled up on the couch watching a movie together. Eli followed her wherever she went and she hardly ever got annoyed with him, but there was no doubting who her favorite was.

I rolled my eyes at my Uncle Jasper when I finally put my phone away and sat down at the table. "Shut it, old man," I hissed at him when he started laughing at me.

"Whatever, Mase, your sister has you so totally enamored with her, you might never find a girl she'll give you up to," he told me as he picked up his Coke and took a drink.

I smiled at him and shrugged my shoulders at him. "Ah, it's all good. Besides the feeling is totally mutual."

I really wasn't kidding. It would take a hell of a guy to be worthy of my baby sister, and even if he was the best one in the world, he still wouldn't be good enough for my Callie.

Mr. Saul brought our food, without having to order it, and left us each an extra glass of Coke and then left us alone. After eating in a companionable silence for a few minutes, Uncle Jasper asked me, "How is summer baseball going?"

I finished chewing and looked at him. "It's going really well. I was off this week which is why I came to stay with Nana and Papa," I answered, my words fading at the end because I was thinking about what I wanted to talk to him about.

"Mmm hmm," he answered and raised his eyebrows at me.

I huffed at him, kind of hating that I couldn't pull one over on him, but kind of glad he always knew when I was bullshitting him, too.

"Fine, I need to talk to you about something," I told him.

He sat back in his chair and settled in, not saying a word as he let me decide where to start. That right there was one of the main reasons I always talked to Uncle Jasper before just about anyone else. He never rushed me, just waited patiently for me to tell him what I needed to.

My stomach tied in knots and I wasn't sure how to begin...this was pretty big, at least in my mind it was. I felt kind of bad because I hadn't talked to either one of my parents, or even Maddie yet, but I needed to talk to Uncle Jasper before I talked to anyone else.

"Mase, just spit it out. You know you can tell me anything," he prodded and I nodded my head and dug in.

"Coach Henderson pulled me to the side after last week's game and gave me, interesting news," I began and chuckled when his eyes got big. I guess this was not what he was expecting!

"Okay," he said, though it sounded more like a question.

"He's been approached by a few college coaches...and a few MLB scouts, too," I told him, still kind of in shock about it.

It's not that I didn't know I was a good ball player, because I knew I was, great even, but we were talking big time schools and big time prospects.

"Holy Shit, Masen, that's fantastic!" he exclaimed and then noticed that I wasn't quite as excited as he was. "Why do you look like you did when Rufus got sick?" he questioned. "Masen, talk to me. What's going on? I thought you wanted to play baseball."

"I thought I did, too," I told him and then blew out a frustrated breath. This growing up and becoming an adult shit left a lot to be desired sometimes, just saying.

"You wanna tell me what that means?" he asked me with a crooked eyebrow.

I ran my hands through my hair and then pinched the bridge of my nose, and tried not to think about the fact that my dad did the same things when he was upset or frustrated. "It's like this," I told him and gripped my glass in my hands. "Now that the opportunity is there, I'm not as sure about it as I was when it was just a dream," I told him and waited for him to tell me I was being silly and selfish, but he didn't.

For as long as I could remember, all I wanted to do was play baseball, even before Mama introduced me to Derek Jeter, which pretty much had cemented the deal as far as I was concerned. Now that it looked like I could have my dream, I didn't know if it was what I wanted.

"What else do you want to do?" he asked me, saying nothing about baseball for the time being.

I shrugged my shoulders, but I knew it wouldn't fool him. He didn't say anything, just like I knew he wouldn't, and I sighed, deciding to just tell him all of it.

Smooth fucker he was, that was for damn sure.

"Honestly? I'm not really sure. Music maybe? I love playing the drums and the guitar," I hedged.

"You love music enough to give baseball up?" he zeroed in and asked and I shook my head.

"No," I answered, knowing he knew I would say that.

Uncle Jasper folded his hands in front of him and waited for me to look at him. "Masen, whatever it is you think you want to do, you don't have to worry about making anyone but yourself happy. Now, tell me what is going on with you."

"I think I want to go to med school," I told him, admitting out loud for the first time what I wanted.

"You want to be a doctor? Like your father?" he asked and I shook my head.

I smiled when I thought about my dad. "Not like Dad, but I couldn't ask for anything better than to be like him," I told him honestly. Maybe it made me a pussy or whatever, but Dad freaking rocked and I had no problem whatsoever telling anyone and everyone that very thing. He was an amazing doctor, a kick ass dad, as far as I could tell a perfect husband, and an all around good man. If I grew up and was half the man he was, I'd be ahead of the game. "More like Papa I think, but I want to focus more on research, I think, or maybe even some pro-bono kind of thing," I finished and shrugged my shoulders.

I picked my head up to look at my uncle and was shocked as hell at what I saw. He was smiling, a huge, toothy smile and his eyes were glassy because they had tears in them. "I'm so proud of you," he said quietly, in a shaky voice. "So fucking proud," he said again and I couldn't help but look at him like he was nuts.

"What?" I questioned because really...I thought the guy was off his damn rocker right at the moment.

He held his hand up and stopped me from saying anything else. "Let me ask you a question, and think about it before you answer me, okay?" he asked and waited until I nodded my head before he went on. "What is really causing you to question playing baseball? You're only seventeen-years-old, not many kids your age would have a clue as to what they want to do with their life yet, Mase. But you, since the very first moment I met you, all you have talked about wanting to be was a baseball player. Not that I don't think being a doctor like Edward or Carlisle isn't noble, because it is, and they are both great men...but you're you, Masen. What do you want to do?"

I sat still for a few minutes and didn't say anything, thinking about his questions...really thinking about them. For the past week, my mind had been going over and over what Coach Henderson had told me, and while the news was exciting, I just didn't 'feel' like I thought I would when I finally got to this place, to being so close to having what I thought I wanted.

"I want to go to med school," I answered him quietly, but confidently. He started to say something back but I interrupted him when I said, "But I don't want to disappoint Dad and Mama."

That was the hell of it all. I knew how excited Dad would be when I told him about the scouts. He had been an awesome baseball player when he was my age, he was good enough to play in college, too, if he had wanted to. Mama had been such a star athlete when she played soccer, she was the best of the best until someone took her dream away from her. I didn't want them to be disappointed that I wanted to walk away from an opportunity neither of them had been given.

"Masen," Uncle Jasper called to me quietly when I hung my head. "Look at me, son." He waited until I picked my head up and there were even more tears in his eyes. "Your mom and dad love you, and they will always love you, no matter what. They only want you to be happy, Mase, and if not playing baseball is what makes you happy, they won't stand in the way of that," he tried to tell me, but I shook my head.

"I know they'll always love me, Uncle J, but the thought of disappointing them kills me. They've given up so much for me to play baseball...taking me back and forth to practices, traveling to watch all of my games, sending me to camps and training sessions. Hell, Mama was at every game when she was pregnant with both Cal and Eli, even when she looked like she was about to pop," I said as I blew out a frustrated breath.

Uncle Jasper grinned and then sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, that is because your mother is the most stubborn woman any of us have ever met," he said with a smile and a shake of his head. "Mase, I know you have heard about Bell's mom, and I know she has told you about Charlie as well. It shouldn't come as a shock to you that Bella would support you one hundred percent in anything you wanted to do. Not just because her own mother didn't do the same for her, but because as parents, it's what we do." He took a breath and then said, "Your mom and dad have supported Maddie in her soccer, and they'll do the same for Callie and Eli, too; just like your Aunt and I will do for Owen and Olivia. We just want you guys to be happy, doing whatever it is you choose to do."

"I just feel like I'm letting them down, Mama especially, because I'm getting a chance she didn't get," I told him and heard him suck in a sharp breath.

"You are some kid, I tell ya," Uncle Jasper said with a sigh. "Masen, what your mom went through when she got hurt was not anything I, or Seth or Rose will ever forget. It was horrible, I'm not going to lie, but just because Bella didn't get to live out her dream, doesn't mean that she wants you living it for her. She wasn't much older than you, when she got hurt, and no one can say for sure what she would have wanted six months or a year after the World Cup anyway. People grow and change, Mase, it's a part of getting older and growing up."

I nodded at him when he stopped talking but I knew he could tell there was more, but as he always did, waited instead of pushed.

"I don't want to be that far away from home, either, Uncle J," I told him quietly. "Maybe it makes me sound like a pussy or whatever, but it's the truth. If I did the baseball thing, there is no telling where I'd end up. I know Mad is leaving, either for art or soccer, hell maybe even both, and that's fine I guess, but it's not fine for me. What if Mama needs me, or Callie, and I can't get to them? I'd never be able to handle that," I told him as my voice shook.

"You aren't responsible for them, Mase,” he told me softly.

“I know that here,” I told him as I pointed to my head, “but here doesn't know it,” I said as I laid my hand over my heart. “I mean I love Dad and Eli, and Mad is well, between soccer and art camps, she's been ready to get out on her own for years now. I love baseball, but I don't love it enough to give up on being around to watch Callie and Eli grow up. My family is pretty damn great and I know how lucky I am to have the parents I do and the rest of you all, too, and I don't want to miss anything.”

Uncle Jasper leaned forward and slapped me on the back and said, “You really are something else, kid.” I was about to give him a smartass remark back about not being a kid, but Mr. Saul came to the table bearing gifts...cheesecake, my favorite!

We ate our desserts and he told me some funny stories about Olivia and twin cousins. They were almost the same age as Eli and just as into everything as he was. The kid, I swore, if anything was ever missing in our house, chances were it was because you'd left it laying around somewhere and he swooped in and picked it up...which is why he'd been called Swoop since he was three.

We finished up, and Mr. Saul refused to let us pay, like he did every time, but like every time, we left a huge tip on the table and walked out the door after waving goodbye.

"So you're heading back?" Uncle Jasper asked me once we were on the sidewalk.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and nodded my head at him. "Yeah. Dad is supposed to pick Maddie up at the airport in a few hours so by the time I get back to Nana's and throw my stuff in the truck, I should make it back home around the same time they get there."

"Well, with the way you drive, you could probably make it there in no time," he teased me and I glared at him and then had to laugh when he laughed at me. "You make it too easy, Mase. Be careful going back, okay, and we'll see you in a few days when we come up."

He stepped forward and gave me a hug, one I returned gratefully. "Thanks for talking to me, Uncle J, it helped, like always."

He slapped me on the back and then stepped backward. "Anytime, Masen, you know that. I am always here if you need me. Love you," he said with a wave.

I turned in the direction of Nana and Papa's and started walking back, thinking over my conversation with Uncle Jasper. I couldn't wait to get home and talk to Dad and Mama...and Mad. It went without saying how much I was looking forward to seeing Callie, too. Even Eli..I thought with a smile. I looked at the window I was passing by and laughed when it was a toy store and there was a race car set. Swoop would love the hell out of it.

I was so lost in thought I bumped into someone and blurted out an "Excuse me," before I looked up to see who I had run into.

"Masen Cullen?" said the surprised voice and one I was positive I would never, ever hear in my entire life.

There in front of me, in a city of millions of people, was my egg donor, Lauren Mallory. I refused to even think the word mother when it came to her.

I stood in front of her, dumbfounded as I struggled to come up with anything to say to her, so I merely nodded my head.

"It is you," she breathed out as she continued to stare at me.

I knew who she was...had known it for a long time, longer than Dad and Mama even knew about. After that day all those years ago when she showed up at the soccer fields, I'd known who she was. I had overheard Dad, Mama, Aunt Alice, and Uncle Jasper talking about what had happened so I knew it was her. Once I heard her name, I looked her up on the Internet and found a picture of her, just to be sure, and sure enough, they were the same person. I never told Maddie about it, but when Mama adopted us, her and Dad sat us down and told us our egg donor's name and what was going to happen once we saw the judge, and I tried not to think about her ever again.

Oh, every now and then I would think about my birth mother, wondering how someone could just give her kids away like she had. It was not like I wanted things to be different or to have anything to do with the woman, because I sure as hell didn't, but I couldn't help but wonder why. I knew Maddie did, too. We'd talked about it from time to time, but we both knew we were so much better off with Mama and loved her so much that it didn't really matter.

I mean it did...but it didn't.

"You," I finally managed to force out.

"You know who I am?" she asked, surprised that I knew.

I nodded my head and ran my hand through my hair and shifted from foot to foot as we stood awkwardly on the sidewalk while people moved around us.

She looked nervously around and then back to me and said, "Are you, do you...will you sit with me for a few minutes?" She pointed across the street to the Starbucks and said, "We can have a cup of coffee if you'd like."

I hesitated, unsure of what to do. I didn't have anything I really wanted to say...or hear from her, but it was probably the only chance I'd ever have to talk to the woman. I briefly wished Maddie was with me because I knew I would feel stronger if she was beside me, but she wasn't, so I needed to do this on my own if I was going to do it at all.

Knowing I could leave anytime I wanted, I slowly nodded my head and we made our way across the street and into the quiet coffee shop. We found a table in the back and after telling her I didn't want anything, we sat down. I stared at her while she fidgeted with the napkin beneath her cup of coffee.

She wasn't an unattractive woman, really, but of course she couldn't hold a candle to Mama, but then again, no one did as far as I was concerned. She had shoulder length plain-looking brown hair that just kind of hung there. She had washed out brown eyes and her mouth was in a tight line. It didn't look like she smiled very much and her shoulders had that slumped, defeated look.

In a word, she looked kind of pathetic.

She shifted in her seat and finally looked at me. "So, what are you doing in the city?" she asked.

Really, I thought to myself. Of all the things she could have said to me...THAT was what she wanted to start with after seventeen years?

"Visiting my grandparents," I answered, not giving any extra detail.

"Ahh, I see," she said and tapped her foot on the floor beneath the table. "Having a good summer so far?"

"Yes," I answered, feeling really uncomfortable.

"How is baseball going?" she asked and I stared at her, with my mouth open in surprise. She shrugged her shoulders when I hadn't said anything for a few moments and said,"I've seen your picture in the paper. You're very good. Your sister, too, at soccer," she said and kind of sneered the word.

"You've been checking up on us?" I asked incredulously. I knew, instantly, that both my parents would go ballistic when they heard that news.

"You're my children, of course I have been," she said in a tone of voice like it made perfect sense.

It didn't make any sense, not one damn bit of it.

"No, we're not," I said slowly, shaking my head at the audacity of the woman across from me.

I mean really, what fucked up reality was the woman living in? From the time I was little and could remember, it was just me, Mad, and Dad...until Mama came into our lives. As far as I knew there had been no attempts by her to try to see us, to be apart of our lives, with the exception of the one incident at the soccer fields.

"Yes, you are. You'd still be mine if it wasn't for that damned woman," she hissed under her breath and immediately, I clenched my hands into tight fists. No one talked about my mother that way.

"What the hell are you talking about?" I demanded, wanting nothing more than to get the hell out of there.

"She took you from me. I was going to try to make things right with Edward and she stole him from me; she stole you and Maddie from me. She ruined everything," she said in a cold voice.

Okay, that was just freaking weird.

"Are you nuts? I'm seventeen-years-old and this is the first time I've ever seen you, let alone talked to you. What do you mean she took us from you? We've never been yours, you didn't want anything to do with me or Maddie," I told her, totally confused.

"When I found out I was pregnant with you and your sister, I was so young. I got scared and I made a mistake. Once I realized it, I wanted to try again, but Edward was already blinded by her. He didn't even give me a chance," she said and for a brief moment I felt sorry for her...until she opened her mouth again. "I never should have asked for money when you were born, I should have made him marry me," she said, I guess to herself but I damn sure heard her.

"You gave us up...for money?" I cried, suddenly sick to my stomach.

She looked at me, and right before my eyes I saw her mask fall away. Her eyes were vacant, cold and her smile held no warmth at all. Her eyes might have been brown like Mama's, but they weren't full of love like hers were. She might have smiled, but it wasn't the happy smile of Mama's. The woman in front of me was an empty shell of a person and all I wanted to do was get away from her.

I moved to stand up, and she reached out and grabbed my arm, her fingers bony and cold against my skin.

"You don't understand. I didn't have a choice. My parents needed money, the guy I was with was pressuring me, so it seemed like an easy thing to do. Besides, Edward had plenty of money and he was so fucking happy to be a father, I knew he'd do whatever it took to keep you, so I made him pay. I was all set to make him pay again and then that woman ruined everything," she scornfully said.

I'd had enough, and though I felt sick and felt like crying at the thought of meaning nothing more to the person that had given birth to me and Maddie than a means to an end, I had something to say to her.

I shook her hand off and slammed my hands down on the table, not giving a shit that the few people in the coffee shop were blatantly staring at us.

"That woman," I said in a shaky, but steel-hard voice, "is my mother and don't you ever forget it. She's the best thing that has ever happened to me and my sister, so thank you for making sure that she could be. And if you ever, fucking ever, talk about her like that again, I swear in front of all these people, I will make you regret it. Don't ever try to talk to me again, don't ever try to talk to my sister, in fact, don't even think about us ever again, because if you do, you won't like what happens to you. You make me sick, stay the fuck away from me and my family," I told her and turned around to walk away.

As soon as I walked out the door, everything came rushing back to me and I ran to a trashcan and threw up. I didn't want to, and couldn't, go back to Nana's like this so I turned and walked toward the loft; my home.

I knew I was close to losing it, but I held it together until I got to the building the loft was in and using my key, I fumbled with the lock until I opened the door and ran for the elevator to go upstairs. I was breathing heavy, my head hurt, and my throat hurt from working so hard to keep from crying. I got in the elevator, and with a shaking hand pushed the button for the top floor. I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall, trying to keep from thinking about what had just happened.

When I reached the top floor, I stumbled out the elevator doors and raced to the door of the loft. Once I opened it and then closed it behind me, everything hit me.

I reached for my phone and hitting the speed dial, I called the one person I needed more than anyone.

"Mama," I cried out when she answered the phone, feeling my whole world crash down around me.


"Eli, Callie, come on you two. We need to run to town to go to the store so I can make Mad's dinner before she gets home," I called, sighing at the fact that kids never cooperated when you really needed them to.

I heard my phone ring and smiled when I noticed it was Masen's ringtone. Glancing quickly at the clock, I assumed he was calling to tell me he was on his way home.

"Skittles, leaving on time and everything. Good boy," I said with a smile but it faded the instant my sweet boy answered the phone.

"Mama," he choked out and immediately I felt my body go cold.

"Baby, what's wrong, are you okay? What's happened?" I asked quickly, my mind racing as I pictured him in a heap of metal on the side of the road somewhere.

I listened as he stuttered. "Lunch...Uncle Jasper...Lauren...have coffee...she said...oh God, Mama. I need you," he cried and I felt my heart break at how shattered and alone he sounded. I didn't understand what happened, but the second he said he needed me, I was picking up my purse.

Getting to him was all that mattered.

"Baby, just hang on for me, okay? I'm on my way. Are you at Nana's?" I asked quickly trying to figure out where to leave Callie and Eli until Edward got here.

Oh shit, Edward, I thought with a heavy heart.

"No, loft, couldn't go...wanted to be," he sniffed and took in a big gulp of air.

"Sweetheart," I said on a sob. "I'm sending Jasper to stay with you until I get there. Just hang on okay, Mama's on her way," I told him. "I love you."

"No, just want you," he told me, and I wished more than anything that I could crawl through the phone and get to him right away.

"Mase, I don't want you to be by yourself. You don't have to talk to him, but just let him stay there until I get there, please?" I begged feeling my face wet with my tears.

Callie and Eli had walked in the room and held onto each other when they saw me crying.

"Kay, love you, Mama," he said so quietly I almost didn't hear him.

"Love you, baby. I'll be there as soon as I can," I promised and felt myself torn completely in two when I hung up the phone.

"Mama, what's wrong?" Callie asked me and I squatted down and held my arms open to give them both a much needed hug.

"I need to take you and Eli to Charlotte's until Daddy gets home. I have to go to the city, I need to get to Masen," I told them once I stood up and started moving them toward the door, dialing Charlotte's number.

"Mama, what's wrong with Masen?" Callie immediately asked, tears falling the second she heard her brother's name. Shit, I should have known better than to let her know he was upset.

"Ladybug, I'm not sure yet, okay? I know he needs to talk to me so we need to get you two to Charlotte's so I can go to him," I told her, feeling horrible when I saw her little chin quiver.

Once I told Charlotte quickly what was going on, I got the kids buckled in the car and hurried to their house. Callie was still crying by the time I dropped them off because she wanted to come with me, but since I wasn't sure of everything myself, I told her no.

Within twenty minutes of hanging up the phone with Masen, I was speeding toward my son, saying a silent prayer that he was okay.

As soon as I hit the highway, I pushed the button on the hands free in my ear and dialed Edward, tapping anxiously on the steering wheel while I waited for him to pick up.

"Hey, Angel," he said sweetly and as soon as I heard his voice, I lost it.

I vaguely heard him I was crying so hard and I quickly took a few deep breaths to get myself under control. That would be all I have an accident on my way to Masen.

"Shit, Bella...Baby, what's wrong?" he cried frantically into the phone and his tone of voice was all I needed to focus.

"It's Masen," I said through a hiccup.

"Masen?, is he?" he questioned quickly.

I took another deep breath and with a shaky voice I told him, "I don't know, Edward. He called, too upset to even talk. All I could understand was he'd had lunch with Jasper and then somehow I think he saw Lauren and now he's at the loft, waiting for me. He needs me," I told him.

"Baby, what do you mean Lauren? What the hell is going on? I don't understand," he said. Edward sucked in a sharp breath and I could almost feel him squeeze the phone on the other end. "If that bitch," he started but I cut him off.

"You don't have to worry, if she hurt him somehow, there won't be anything left for you to do anything to," I menacingly said...meaning every damn word.

No one hurts my children and gets away with it.

I told him I'd left Callie and Eli with Charlotte and that he would need to pick them up there. "Poor Ladybug, she was so upset about Masen," I told him sadly.

"Of course she was. What are we going to do if she told him anything, Bella?" Edward asked in an anguished voice.

We had always been honest with Masen and Maddie in regards to Lauren, with the one exception of telling them about the money. We never wanted them to know they'd meant so little to her that she would give them up for money, even for as large a sum of money as she was paid. It wasn't for her, but for them and if she'd told Masen about that, there wasn't anywhere she could hide that I wouldn't find her and rip her to shreds.

"We'll deal with it together, just like always," I told him as I pressed my foot farther down on the accelerator.

"Are you okay?" he asked after a moment, and I sighed.

"No, and I won't be until I can get to him. I've never heard him that way, Edward," I told him, a fresh batch of tears falling down my face.

"I'm coming that way. I'll pick up Maddie and then we'll meet you at the loft," he said quickly, but I was shaking my head, even though he couldn't see me. "Edward, no, sweetheart. As much as I would love to have you with me, Callie needs you. She was so upset and she'll be so worried about Masen. She needs you more than I do. Just hurry and get home to her and I'll let you know something when I get there," I told him.

"Let me call Ali and see if I can find out anything and I'll call you back in a minute. Be safe, sweet girl, but hurry to our boy. He needs you," he told me. "Tell him I love him," he said thickly, and I could tell he was trying to hold it together. I knew the thought of Masen sitting alone, distraught, upset him just as much as it did me. "I love you, Bella."

"Love you more," I told him and hung up the phone, immediately dialing Jasper.

When he answered, I didn't even say hello, instead I practically shouted, "Jasper, what the hell happened at lunch today?"

"Well, hello to you, too, Shortcake," he teased.

As soon as he heard me sniffle he sobered immediately. "Bell?"

"Something's happened and I don't know what it is. Masen called me, hysterical, from the loft and all I could understand was you two had lunch and then something about Lauren."

"Fuck," he said in a low growl. I heard him moving and I asked, "Where are you?"

"Well, I was on my way back to the Foundation, but I'm heading for the loft. You're on your way?" he asked, assuming correctly that I was.

"Yes. I left Cal and Eli with Charlotte and hopped in the car. I should be there in about an hour and a half," I told him, taking into account my excessive speed. "Edward was calling Ali so she'll probably meet you there. Make sure he's okay, Jasper, please?" I begged him.

"You know I will, Bella. Now, be safe and get here. I'll call you when I get to the loft," he told me and I hung up.

Dear God, I said quietly, alone in the car. Please let me get to him. Let him be okay.

I prayed over and over, until I saw the signs alerting me I was almost there. Jasper called as soon as he'd gotten to the loft. Masen didn't want to let him in but when he threatened to call Dem and Seth to break the door down, he opened up but locked himself in his room, refusing to come out.

I whipped the car into the parking garage and threw the car into park. I flung the door open, not even bothering to shut it before I ran to the elevator and made my way upstairs. I ran down the hallway when I reached the top floor and gripped the doorknob tightly in my hand and opened it, finding Jasper and Alice sitting on the sofa. He had his arm wrapped tightly around her and I could tell she'd been crying.

"Bella, he won't come out. He just keeps asking for you," she told me.

"He didn't say anything?" I asked as I looked at his closed door and then back to them.

She forlornly shook her head and looked at me, looking devastated. I knew how much she loved Masen and how happy she was about the relationship Jasper had with him. "No. All I could get him to say was that you were his mother and he needed you. He just keeps saying it over and over."

“Have you talked to Edward again?” she asked when I started toward Masen’s door.

I shook my head and said, "He was heading back to Lake George with Maddie. They'll get Cal and Eli and I told him I would call when I got here. Will you call him and tell him I'm here? I need to talk to Masen," I told her, and gave them both a hug and a kiss. "Thank you for being here."

"We'll wait here for you," Jasper told me but I shook my head. I didn't know what had upset Masen so bad, but I knew he wouldn't want anyone to know unless he told them. "No, I think it's best if we're alone. I'll call you if I need you, I promise."

He looked like he didn't want to go but Alice stood up and pulled him up with her. "Let us know if you need anything. We love you," she said and gave me another hug, squeezing me tightly before leaving me a moment alone with Jasper.

"You sure you'll be okay?" he asked and I was anxious to get to Masen.

I shrugged and moved toward the door again. "Bella, he's a strong kid. He'll be okay," he told me and I nodded before turning from him and walking to Masen's door.

I knocked and said softly, "Baby, it's Mama. I'm here."

Masen POV~

As soon as I heard her voice, I rolled out of bed and practically crawled across the floor to get to the door. I reached up and turned the lock and she was inside in an instant, on her knees in front of me.

"Oh my baby boy," she cried and as soon as she wrapped me in her arms, I finally felt safe again.

I cried huge, wracking, painful sobs as I clung to her, trying to forget about what that hateful excuse for a woman told me earlier, but I knew I never would.

"Shh, Mase, it's okay. I've got're okay. I'm here now...shhh, baby," Mama said over and over while she kept rocking me and kissing my head.

I didn't, couldn't, say anything for the longest time; I just let her hold me until I felt like I could finally talk.

Finally I was able to lift my head up from her shoulder. I must have looked like a mess, but I felt awful when I saw how red her eyes were from her crying.

"Oh, Mama. I'm so sorry," I told her wanting to kick my own ass for freaking her out the way I had.

"Mase, stop it. Now, do you want to tell me what's happened?" she asked me reaching out for my hand.

I stared at her hand wrapped around mine. They were so tiny, but they were the strongest hands I knew...even stronger than Dad's. They belonged to the strongest, bravest, best person I knew...that I would ever know.

I was so damn lucky.

"You're my mother," I whispered softly and then looked up at her. "You'll always be my Mama."

She lifted the hand I wasn't hanging onto up to my cheek and laid it there and I could literally feel her strength, her love for me flowing through her. "Of course I will, Masen. Even when you're old and gray, even when I'm gone, I'll always be your Mama. It will never change, nothing can change that."

"I saw...her today," I choked out, my stomach lurching at just the thought of her. I couldn't even say her name, I didn't even want to think it.

"Oh, sweetheart," Mama said sadly and then stood up. "Come on," she told me and led me to my bed. She kicked off her shoes and crawled in and patted the pillow next to her for me to lay down.

It was our thing, it was what we'd always done whenever we talked. We'd done it ever since I was seven-years-old and I kicked off my shoes and laid down next to her.

"Talk to me, baby. Tell me what happened," she told me and I did.

Through it all she stayed quiet. She narrowed her eyes when I mentioned 'she' had been keeping tabs on me and Maddie. She got downright scary looking when I told her what 'she' said about her taking us and Dad away from 'her.' She got tears in her eyes when I told her what 'she' said about the money and what I told 'her' about never talking to me or Maddie ever again.

By the time I finished, I felt better... kind of.

I opened my mouth to say something, but then closed it, thinking better of saying what I wanted.

"Mase?" Mama questioned and I shook my head, not wanting to upset her anymore than I already had.

"Baby, come on. We don't do this, remember? You can ask or tell me anything, you know that. No secrets," she reminded me and gave me a smile...her smile, my smile, the one she only gave me. We all had one, and it was so funny but none were the same.

It was one of the hundreds of things that made her...her.

I took a deep breath and then looked at her. "You know I love you, right, so this doesn't mean I don't, okay?" I told her up front and she rolled her eyes at me.

"Masen Samuel Cullen, would you just spit it out already. I'm not going to get mad or upset with you. Just tell me," she said and gave me 'the look.'

I took another deep breath and asked, "Why didn't she want us? I mean, I'm happy your our mom and I wouldn't want it to be any other way...but how could she just give, she sold us, like we were a car or something. How can someone even do that?"

"Baby...I'm not sure I can answer that," she said and then reached up and pushed my hair off my forehead. "Let me ask you something," she said quietly and waited until I nodded my head at her. "Does it really matter why she did what she did? If she told you she hated kids, or didn't ever want to be a mom, or if she begged you to forgive her and give her another chance...would any of that make a difference to you?"

I didn't even have to think about it before I said, "Hell, no. I don't want to have anything to do with her. I didn't before today and I sure as hell don't after today. Nothing she could ever tell me would make me change my mind about her."

"Then it doesn't matter why she did what she did. Masen, you're the amazing person, friend, brother...son you are, despite her, not because of her," she told me and again I shook my head at her.

"I'm who I am because of Dad and Maddie...and Callie and Eli...and you. I'm who I am because of all of you," I told her and I couldn't help but chuckle when she sniffed and had to wipe her eyes. She was such a softie...even worse than Dad....and Uncle Emmett.

"You're some kid," she told me and I huffed and rolled my eyes at her.

"What?" she asked.

"Uncle Jasper told me that today, too. I'm not a kid," I told her and to prove my point when she giggled at me, I stuck my tongue out at her.

After that the mood seemed to lighten a bit.

"Do you want to tell me what you and Jasper talked about? You don't have to, but we're here, we might as well spend the time wisely."

We talked about what Coach Henderson told me and I told her what I was worried about. She said almost the exact same thing as Uncle Jasper did, unsurprisingly. We talked about Maddie and soccer and her art. We talked about what I was going to do with the rest of my summer. I talked to her about Becca and some of the things I'd been thinking about when it came to her. We talked about Callie and Eli.

We talked about everything...for hours...and by the time we were done, I knew without a doubt I made the right decision about not wanting to play baseball.

We heard our cell phones going off at the same time, hers with Dad's ringtone and mine with Maddie's.

"We'd better answer those. They're going to be worried enough as it is," she told me.

She moved to get up but I reached for her hand. "Thank you, Mama. I'm sorry I freaked you out so bad."

"Well, I don't ever want to hear you sound like that ever again, that's for damn sure, but if you need me, ever, Masen, I'll come running. You never have to worry about that. You're my baby, my son, and I love you...always."

"I love you, too, and you're not just my Mama, but my best friend," I told her.

She smirked at me, and though I was being completely serious, and she knew I was, too, she said, "Such a Cullen, I swear. Poor Becca."

"Hey, I learned from the best," I hollered after her when she went to go call Dad back.

"Yes, I'm quite aware. Again, I say poor Becca," she said with a wink when she leaned back inside. "Now call your sisters, they'll be going nuts until they hear from you."

I hit Maddie's name on my phone and she answered immediately. "Mase?" she questioned, her voice shaking with worry for me.

"Sorry, Sis. I'm fine...just had a bit of a meltdown," I told her and threw myself back on the bed. "I saw our egg donor on the street of all things," and sighed when I heard her gasp. "Tell me about it. She's a fucking piece of work."

I quickly told her what happened, sparing nothing. I didn't keep secrets from anyone in my family, but especially not Maddie. She knew me better than I knew myself sometimes.

"She really did that?" she asked me, sounding so much like Callie did when she was sad, it pissed me off all over again.

"She did. But, like Mama reminded me, none of that matters now anyway. We have her...and she's the best mother we could possibly have. Maybe we should thank the bitch for giving us up so we'd get to have Mama?" I joked, but I meant it. I couldn't imagine not having her as our mother.

We talked for a few more minutes before Maddie asked me, "Are you sure you're okay"

I looked at a picture of the four of us, taken obviously before Callie was born, that I kept here in my room. It was from Christmas and we were nine. It was one of my most favorite pictures because Mama was in the middle of me and Mad and she just looked so damn happy. "I'm fine, Mad, I promise. I'll see you soon, okay? Let me talk to Cal and then I need to call Becca."

"Oohh, Becca," she teased and I growled at her. "Shut it, you don't hear me saying anything about Nolan do you?"

She huffed because she knew I had her. "Love you, Sis."

I could hear Callie in the background and as soon as Maddie handed her the phone she frantically shrieked, "Masen!"

"Hey, Ladybug," I said softly and felt like total shit when I heard her sniffle. "Hey, now...I'm okay, Cal, I promise. Nothing for you to worry about."

"But Mama and Daddy said you were sad, I hate when you're sad. Who made you sad?" she asked me in the way only she could.

"No one for you to worry your pretty little head about, honest," I told her, feeling my heart melt at my little sister. She was going to break me one day, there was no doubt about it.

"You promise, pinky swear promise?" she asked and when I told her I did, she sighed. "Kay. When are you gonna be home, Maddie won't give me my present until you get here."

I chuckled and told her, "Mama and I will be there soon, Cal. Love you."

"Love you, too."

I hung up the phone and laid my phone on my chest breathing in and out a few times with my eyes closed. I had the best damn family...ever.

I dialed the next number, nervous as hell. Why, I had no idea...well, yeah, I did. I was about to do something I should have done a long time ago. Besides Mama, she was the other person I thought about today. When she answered, I couldn't help but smile.

"Hey, Becca," I said when she answered her phone, her voice making my hands shake.

"Masen, hi. I was hoping you'd call."

"Listen, do you want to go out Friday night? I have something I need to talk to you about," I asked, silently saying a prayer that she said yes. I was going to tell her I loved her...I couldn't wait any longer. After talking to Uncle Jasper and Mama, I knew Becca was one of the other reasons I didn't want to play ball anymore. I wanted to see where things could go with her.

I heard her squeak and I hoped that was a good sign. "I'd love to," she said quietly and I gave myself a high five.

"Great. I'll pick you up at seven, okay? I can't wait," I told her, completely meaning it. In only a few days, I was going to tell the first girl ever, I loved her.

Now, I just had to hope she loved me, too.

"She said yes?" Mama asked a minute later when she saw the smile on my face.

"Yep, she sure did. I'm gonna tell her, Mama," I told her.

"She's a lucky girl, Masen Cullen. Now, let's get out of here and back home. Your dad is beside himself," she told me slipping her shoes back on.

"He's not mad at me is he?" I asked, suddenly really wanting to see my dad.

"Of course not, Masen. He's just worried about you, that's all, and for some reason he won't believe you're okay until he sees you. I swear some days the man is impossible," she said with an exaggerated sigh.

"Whatever, Mama. You're as crazy about him as he is about you. I hope I'm as lucky as he is one day."

"Such a Cullen," she said.

"Damn straight, and damn proud of it, too," I told her as we walked out of my room and out the front door.

I couldn't wait to get home.