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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chapter 22


I groaned as I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head to keep the sunlight from shining in my face. I never should have had that much to drink last night, but it was fun as hell and I'm on vacation so I figured why the hell not. I chuckled to myself as I remembered Rose's reaction to the handprints on the car…and my response back to her.

Rosalie Whitlock stunned speechless…I am the fucking man!

Once I crawled out from my cave of pillows, I smelled the delicious aroma of coffee wafting up the stairs from the kitchen along with the smell of eggs and bacon; I stretched and reached across the bed to find Bella only to find that her side is empty. Of course she's up already; there is a house full of people for her to look after. My girl, always thinking of others before herself.

I tried to make myself feel bad for keeping her up until the early hours of this morning, but honestly, I couldn't. Last night was fucking amazing, but it always was when we made love…even though that is technically not what we did last night, it doesn't really matter. The love is always there and that is what mattered the most.

Rolling out of bed, I made my way into the bathroom and found a mug of hot coffee waiting for me on the counter and smiled as I realized Bella left it for me. Jesus Christ, I loved the hell out of that woman!

I walked into the kitchen after I took my shower, still thinking about last night…or technically this morning again. Last night had been so incredible and being with Bella is almost indescribable. I loved her so much, and the realization I get every time I think of finding her, I get more and more dumbfounded at the way fate brought her to me.

I sure as hell never expected to feel this way about someone and I had resigned myself to the fact that I probably would never find the woman that I would want to spend the rest of my life with. These last few days with her here at her most favorite and special place have been amazing and more than just a little bit needed. Not to sound like too much of a pussy or anything, but it has brought us even closer together than before. There is still so much to find out about her and her me because God knows I sure don't like talking about all my shit too much, and the last few days before everyone got here have gone a long way to doing just that.

I can't believe all the things I didn't know about her before though! Being with her constantly for three days has taught me so much about her, just by watching her throughout the days and the little things she does. I'm telling you….walking in that garage the other night and seeing her playing the drums?

Yeah… hottest fucking thing ever.

And the car and watching her cook and well…just every damn thing about her.

So fucking hot.

I found myself sometimes thinking that maybe we should slow down or whatever but seriously, I just can't find it in me to want to. I think about her all the damn time, and again, not to sound like a chick or anything, but it feels like a part of me is missing when I am away from her, like I can't breathe right or some shit like that. And the electricity that seems to crackle all around us when we were together, man I just can't get enough of that either. Even if I am not looking, I fucking swear I can tell when she walked into a room or was getting close to me. I just feel her.

Part of me thinks maybe all that should scare the shit out of me but it just doesn't, it just feels right.

And that right there my friends was the kicker of all kickers… it feels right. I know we were meant to be together, if we weren't, the love between us wouldn't feel so fucking perfect. And damn, the way Maddie and Mase love her, could anything be more right than that? I honestly think if God forbid anything bad happened between us, my whole family, kids included would keep Bella and get rid of me! Truthfully, that is the way it should be anyway.

I realized as I finished making my second cup of coffee…thank you Bella my love for making the first and leaving it in the bathroom while I was showering, that Jasper, Rose and Seth have all stopped at the windows looking out over the back yard.

"Oh," I hear from Seth.

"My," from Rose.

"God!" whispered Jasper.

I rushed over to the window to see what the hell they were looking at. Mase is on the tire swing and Maddie is standing off to the side. Bella is down on her knees tying her shoes. I noticed that Maddie was wearing a soccer jersey with Bella's name on the back… it's pink. I have never seen Bella in pink; in fact I'm pretty sure she absolutely fucking hates the color pink.

Bella was talking to her, I can tell by the way Maddie looked at her and nodded her head. Bella stood up and I realized that she was wearing a soccer jersey, too. This one is red, white and blue with the name Swan across the back, as well as the number 16. I noticed a "c" on the front, I guessed for captain.

I didn't know she played soccer.

She had shorts on… god she is so beautiful…and soccer cleats. She held a ball in one hand and Maddie's hand in the other. Almost as if she could tell we were looking at her, she turned around. I saw her breath catch as she looked at Jasper, Seth and Rose. I looked over to the three of them, too caught up in watching my beautiful girl to have been paying attention and what I saw shocked the ever loving shit out of me. They are crying, all three of them, tears running down their faces and looking at Bella with so much love it took my breath away.

"Guys, what the hell?" I asked.

Jasper was beside me, his arm around Rose and Seth on her other side, holding onto both of them. I couldn't figure out what was going on, not understanding at all what I was seeing.

"Really, what is the matter?" I asked again, beginning to get a little freaked out.

I know this had something to do with Bella, I could feel it.

Jasper looked at me, with a sad smile, like his heart was breaking and then looked back outside to Bella. I watched the three of them, their hands in fists pressed against their hearts as they looked at her. She was doing the same back to them. That must be some secret friend thing, which to be honest made me feel more than a tad bit jealous.

I noticed Jasper incline his head in my direction, seeming to ask Bella a question. She turned her eyes to me then back at him and gave Jasper a small smile and a tiny nod of her head. He leaned over to kiss Rose on the forehead, hugged Seth real quick and faced me.

"Edward, it's about time for me to tell you a story," he said then leaned in and gave me a hug.

That took me by surprise but I just nodded my head.

"OK," I said.

I saw Rose, tears still on her face, smile at Bella and gave her a wave and Seth just looked at her. I could tell they were having one of their private conversations in their heads and when was over he blew her a kiss, slapped me on the back and walked away.

I stood there and stared at Bella, knowing that what Jasper was about to tell me will change everything, but I loved Bella so much that it didn't matter. I started to move to the door and go outside when I saw her shake her head at me. I knew she wanted me to listen to Jasper before I talked to her.

I looked at her, and hoped she could see how much I loved her from this far away. I knew I could feel her, her love for me. She pressed her fingers to her lips and lifted them up, our secret way to say I love you. I did the same back to her. With one last glance at me, she smiled and then reached down to take Maddie's hand and they walked to the soccer goal set up in the yard.

I turned around and saw that my parents were walking into the kitchen, followed by Emmett and Alice. Angela and Ben walked in behind them, along with Tanya. I noticed Jasper, Rose and Seth standing together on one side of the table.

I had to say my mind was going about a million miles a minute and my heart was going almost as fast. I told myself that whatever this was, whatever Jasper was about to lay on me, on all of us, that I would keep my shit together and be here for Bella.

I was about to lose my mind and blow up at Jasper when he looked at me.

"Edward, I know you have a lot of questions right now, let's all sit down and I will tell all of you everything," he said.

"Ali darlin' I think you should sit beside Edward, he'll need you," Jasper said. "Dr. C., you and Mama E need to be close, too."

Ok, now I was seriously about to lose my shit here, not one minute after I tell myself I'll keep it together.

"Jasper, damn it, what the hell is this about?" I yelled at him.

Alice had pulled me down into a chair, sitting beside me and holding my right hand in both of hers; I felt mom and dad as they stood behind me, dad's hands on my shoulders.

Jasper got up and stood in front of me. He squatted down and took my other hand in his and said "Ed, there are some things, well a lot of things about Bella that you need to know. Seth, Rose and I have talked to her about all of this, and she asked that we tell you her story first, before her."

"Why?" I asked, "Why can't she tell me? This doesn't make any sense Jasper. We have been here for three days by ourselves. Why couldn't Bella tell me then? Or tell me now, herself? I don't understand," I trailed off in a whisper.

"I know you don't understand Edward, but if you can give me a little bit, I promise I will tell you. I know you love her Ed, I can see it, Rose and Seth can see it…hell anyone that looks at the two of you can tell how much you love one another. But, Bella's past is not pretty, and the reason she asked the three of us to tell you, to tell all of you, was because it is very painful for her to relive some of this as well as the fact we lived it with her."

He took a deep breath and then asked, "Can you do that Edward, can you listen while I tell you Bella's story? Can you listen with your heart and your mind, never forgetting that she loves you more than I have ever seen her love anyone else, and just so you know, that means more than Rose, Seth and I. Please?"

I looked at Seth, Bella's brother for all intents and purposes and he nodded at me, agreeing with Jasper. I looked at Rose, her best and most loyal friend and she also nodded her head at me.

And then I looked at Jasper, her protector and rock. I was scared out of my mind at what he was about to tell me but I said, "Yes, yes Jasper I can. Please tell me everything."

He got up and walked to the other side of the table, sitting beside Rose. Seth was on the other side of Alice, Tanya beside him, her arm wrapped tightly around his arm.

Emmett stood against the windows, arms crossed against his chest. His eyes are pinched, like he was already bracing himself. My brother may be an insensitive ass at times, but he loved me and Maddie and Masen fiercely and hated anyone and anything that made us unhappy. He has told me over and over again how happy he is for Bella and me, and not just because he can brag to anyone and everyone that he has slept in Isa Swan's bedroom! He loved Bella, just like Alice and my parents did and he knew whatever was about to be brought to light had brought her pain, and that hurt him.

Angela and Ben were sitting at the breakfast bar, holding hands. Uncle Marcus and Aunt Diane were sitting off to the side on the sofa and Demetri was waiting for Heidi to arrive out front.

Dad's hands gripped my shoulders; I felt the tension there.

He and mom have known Bella the longest in my family, and I knew even before Bella and I fell in love, that he had carried the memory of her around with him…even if he never mentioned her. He loved Bella as much as Alice, like she was his own daughter.

I reached up and grabbed his hand, taking the strength I would need from him. I loved my dad, not going to lie. I told him daily, hugged him everyday, and told anyone who asked. He was the greatest man I knew and I made sure to tell him that frequently. I knew I might have done things in my past that have not made him happy, but he loved me and was proud of me, and there was nothing I treasured more than that.

I had a tremendous family, I knew how lucky I was, how lucky I was to have Emmett and Alice and the close relationship we had. I had counted on them and had their support my whole life and when the debacle that was Lauren happened they were all there beside me, every step of the way.

My mom was behind Alice, running her fingers through her hair. That meant she was nervous, too. It's just what she does. I looked up at her, and she leaned down and kissed my cheek, holding the other side of my face in her warm, soft hands.

"Be strong Edward my boy, I love you and Pop loves you, and we will all be here for you and for Bella."

"Thanks Ma, I know, and I love you too."

I leaned into her hand briefly and then looked across the table at Jasper. "Ok, J, let's have it."

And so he began.

"Everyone in this room loves Bella, that much is plain to all of us, and you Edward, love her most of all," he said as he looked at me.

"Of course I do Jasper, you know what my future plans are in regards to Bella, we talked about this yesterday," I told him, frustrated already at not knowing what was coming.

"I know Edward," Jasper told me before he took a deep breath and sat back in his chair.

"I am going to try to explain to you Edward, and to the rest of you how much that woman out there has had to endure for her whole life and how difficult the last five years have been for her and by association, us three as well." Jasper breathed out and closed his eyes for a brief moment.

"Edward, did you happen to notice the jersey Maddie was wearing just now?" Jasper asked me as he looked out the window.

I followed his gaze and was amazed at the sight outside. Bella was bouncing the soccer ball back and forth on her knees and then dropped it down to her feet and did the same thing. Then once she had done that for a bit, she flicked the ball underneath her so it went all the way around her body and came back down by her feet in front of her.

I turned and looked at Jasper who just grinned at me, looking ever so much like a proud parent.

He snorted and shook his head before he said, "She's been doing that move since she was eight years old. That was nothing; wait until you see her do it when she's running!"

I looked at him, shocked at the image that immediately flooded my brain. "She's that good?" I asked stupidly.

Jasper, Seth and Rose all chuckled loudly at that before Seth reached around behind Alice and slapped me on the back and said, "Edward my man, you have no idea. J is about to blow your freaking mind."

"Edward, Bella has been playing soccer since she was eight years old and from the first moment her foot touched a soccer ball, it has been her life. It was all she ever wanted to do. She was good from the get go…great even. There wasn't anyone in Forks or even in all the area surrounding Forks that could hold a candle to her. Bella beat my ass every day from the time we started playing at eight until we hit high school and even then," he sighed deeply, "Even then she was better than most anyone had ever seen."

"She was a star Edward, and my god did she ever love to play. It was a beautiful thing to watch, even when she was small and less than coordinated, her love of the game was obvious to anyone who saw her on a soccer field," he said, sounding full of awe for my girl.

"I don't understand Jasper, why wouldn't Bella tell me about something that has obviously been the most important thing in her life?" I asked, sounding as frustrated as I felt.

"I know you don't understand Edward, but there is so much more, ok?" Jasper softly asked me.

Nodding my head at him he went on. "Bella played on the boys team like I said up until the time she hit high school and needed to switch to the girls team for scouting purposes. She had coaches and recruiters paying attention to her probably from the time she turned fifteen, wouldn't you say Seth?"

"Probably thirteen I bet, J. Remember when Bella left that summer to go to that camp she got invited to? I think that was the summer right after eighth grade," Seth said, smiling as he remembered.

Thirteen? She was a star that young? My God, what the hell happened to make her hide this part of her life from me I wondered.

"Edward," Jasper said sharply, "There is a reason for all of this, you promised you'd listen, now wait until you know everything before you start jumping to conclusions, ok?"

I raised my eyebrow at him and indicated he should go on. "We all supported Bella, Edward. Charlie never missed a game if he could help it. Being Chief of Police often came before being dad, but he made every effort to be there if he could. But, Seth, Rose and Sue? They never missed a game…ever. Not in twelve years. No matter where the game was, in town or out, they went to every one. I was already on the team with her and then in high school she was on the girls team and I was on the boys so we were always in the same spot."

"Sue filmed every damn game. Poor Rose, I don't think she had a date on a Friday or Saturday night all throughout high school because if Bella wasn't playing for school she was playing on the club team and eventually the teams even higher than that and Lele didn't want to miss a game."

"Jasper, you said Sue, Seth and Rose went to every game, but where was her mother in all this? I don't understand what happened with her mom," I said, the question I knew when answered would explain so much about Bella.

"She's a fucking bitch," Rosalie hissed.

Seth's eyes turned hard and black at the mention of Renee's name. And Jasper, the man looked like he was about to go on a rampage.

"Renee Swan was the most vile, hateful person you could have ever met Edward and she made Bella's life a living hell for the majority of her life," Jasper growled out, his voice full of emotion.

I felt my blood run cold at his statement and heard Esme's sharp intake of breath. Pop's hands were squeezing my shoulders and I am sure he didn't realize how hard he was doing it. Alice gripped my hand so tight I lost feeling in my fingers and as I glanced around the rest of the room, everyone reacted to Jasper's statement the same way.

Fury…total fury that her own mother would treat her that way.

"How do you mean Jasper?" my dad asked since I was having trouble forming a coherent thought.

He began quietly, his voice steel hard as he spoke, "She was hateful to Bella Dr. C. Never physically, so everyone stop going down that road, but in all honesty the emotional abuse was a thousand times more painful to Bella and more painful for us to watch as well than if she would have just beaten her with her fists. Her words hurt Shortcake in ways a hand never could."

"Why?" I asked, wanting to understand the reasoning behind such appalling behavior.

Jasper shrugged his shoulders, "She hated Bella, plain and simple."

"Surely not Jasper," Esme said, her voice portraying the pain she was surely feeling, the pain we were all feeling.

"Mrs. E. I wish I could tell you I was mistaken, but I am not. We'd all heard Renee say it, many times over. In fact she was never shy about letting Bella know exactly how she felt about her. She never missed a chance to cut her down or embarrass her, and never failed to tell anyone who would listen to her just how little her daughter meant to her. She blamed Bell for every bad thing that ever happened to her," Jasper said, his voice full of the disdain he obviously felt for Renee.

At Esme's anguished sob, Jasper began to tell us many stories of Renee's callousness towards her own daughter. We heard the story of the barbeque, where Renee first allowed her feelings towards Bella to become public knowledge. The heartbreaking incident when Bella got her first pair of soccer shoes. He told us of all the times she completely ignored Bella, going days with out speaking to her at all like she did when Bella first learned how to cook. How she never attended any school function, never took her shopping or to lunch or any other thing any normal mother would like to do with her daughter. How Sue had to take her shopping for her prom dress because Renee didn't have the time or the inclination to do so, how Sue took her to the doctor for her first female exam. Instance after instance of her complete indifference to Bella's entire existence.

I admit to feeling a small pang of sympathy for Renee Swan when Jasper explained the conversation between Sue and Bella before Bella had left for college, explaining the loss of the baby boy and the resulting diagnosis of endometriosis.

But, the pang lasted for but a second as the three of them continued to give example after example of the cruelty Bella's mother…and I hated to use the term because she didn't deserve the title, showed to Bella on a continual basis.

My thoughts were a jumbled mess in my mind, not being able to reconcile the woman that I loved and that loved my children with such abandon it made my heart ache, with a little girl that struggled every day under the weight of knowing she was never wanted by the one person who should have loved her unconditionally.

"She never went to any of Bella's games, not once in all the years she played. The better Bell became, the more horrible Renee was to her. Her jealousy continued to grow and grow and when Bella was old enough that she could just leave, she did. From the time she was going into our senior year of high school she stayed with us at Sue and Seth's house almost constantly, only going home when she had to," Jasper said.

"And Edward, Shortcake was good…like professional level good. It was what she had hoped and dreamed to do with her life. It was all she wanted to do," Seth said quietly from beside me.

"No shit?" Emmett said as he turned to look outside and Bella was dribbling with the ball much to Maddie's delight from the looks of it.

Seth chuckled again, "No shit. I have some of the tapes here of her games. You should watch them sometime."

"Seth!" Rose said sharply to him, and Seth sheepishly hung his head at her rebuke.

Emmett looked back and forth between the two, and asked the question I am sure every one of us wanted to ask, "What? Why can't we watch them?"

Jasper tipped his head back in his chair and closed his eyes and when he picked it back up he had tears in his eyes and as they fell down his face he softly said, "Edward, today, as far as I know, is the first time Bell has touched a soccer ball in over five years. She swore she never would again and seeing her this morning in that jersey with Maddie, has been shocking."

"Five years?" I croaked out, trying to put the pieces together in my mind. "What happened five years ago Jasper?" I asked.

"Emmett, you are the athlete among us here," Rose said as my brother looked at her. "Do you recognize the jersey Bella is wearing?"

I watched with everyone else in the room as Emmett turned towards the window and placed his hands on the frame as he gazed at Bella for a few moments, before we all heard an admired sounding "No fucking way!" from him as he turned back to Rosalie, his face showing the reverence it seemed like he felt.

Rose smiled at him and then looked back outside to her best friend before turning back to him and the rest of us and she said, "Yes way."

"Unbelievable," he muttered, glancing outside again at Bella and smiled. "Brother, the love your life just happens to be wearing a United States National Team jersey. The one they wore to the World Cup in 2006," Emmett said to me, the pride he felt for Bella shone through in his tone of voice.

"What?" I croaked out. "How is that possible, why would she keep something like that from me?" I questioned, feeling my heart beat faster as I absorbed this information.

"Wait a minute," Emmett said sharply as he stared at Rose and Jasper and then looked at Seth, "I remember watching those games on TV, and while I may not have known Sweet B that long ago, I sure as shit would have put it together the first time I met her. She didn't play in those matches did she?"

I watched as Jasper grabbed Rose's hand and gripped it tightly and then noticed as Seth shifted his body closer to Tanya's and leaned into her embrace even more than he already was.

Fuck…this was going to be bad, I could tell.

"No, she didn't," Jasper said, his voice full of a torment none of the rest of us understood yet.

"What happened?" Alice whispered from beside me, her voice portrayed the fear of hearing Jasper's answer as she tightened her grasp on my hand.

"She was hurt…badly," Seth groaned and I watched my best friend as she comforted my loves best friend as he began to softly cry.

"How bad?" Carlisle asked from above me as Esme clutched him tightly around his arm with her hands.

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose with the fingers of the hand Alice wasn't holding and tipped my head back for a moment before I braced myself to face Jasper.

When I looked him in the eyes, I could feel his pain, and the pain he felt for Bella as he quietly said, "The worst, for a soccer player anyway."

Emmett squeezed his eyes shut at that, no doubt already picturing whatever it was in his mind and then groaned out a low, "Fuck."

Jasper nodded his head at Emmett's quiet but seemingly accurate guess when he said, "Yes, Emmett. She tore her ACL, MCL, and meniscus all at the same time, complete tears of all three. She also broke the ankle on the other foot when she fell."

"Jesus Christ," I muttered, my heart immediately clenched at the thought of my beautiful girl being in pain.

"It gets worse," Rose breathed out as her fingers curled in to a tight fist where they sat on the top of the table.

I heard Tanya gasp from beside Seth before she asked, "How can it be worse than that, Rose?"

Seth groaned at her question and bent forward holding his head in his hands as Tanya rubbed her hand in a soothing motion on his back.

When I saw Seth's shoulders quake and heard the strangled voice of Jasper as he held in a sob I knew that what was coming was agonizing for them to live through again.

My gaze flitted to Rose and my breath caught in my chest as I looked at her. Her eyes were smoldering. The clear blue eyes she normally had were full of such a seething fury, that if they were directed at me, I would have been a cowering mess.

She was terrifying in her anger and that scared me like nothing they had said so for had.

Rosalie inhaled deeply through her nose and then gazed at each of us in the room, one at a time, before she settled her eyes on me.

"Her injury was intentional," Rose hissed out, her voice so full of venom she almost choked on it.

Every person in the room froze at the admission, all of us lost in our thoughts of how something like that could have happened to our Bella.

My dad immediately wrapped his arms around my mother as she began to cry, picturing an injured Bella no doubt.

Alice was shaking her head back and forth whispering, "No, no, please no," over and over again, as if she could somehow stop it from happening.

I looked at Angela who was in the arms of my best friend. Ben quietly murmured to her, the words not mattering at all at this point.

Uncle Marcus and Aunt Diane were both shaking their heads back and forth in complete shock.

Tanya had completely enveloped Seth in her arms as he continued to shake beneath them, his silent sobs cutting into my heart a thousand times more painful than if he was screaming at the top of his lungs.

Jasper had tilted his head back; his eyes stared unfocused at the ceiling as he breathed deeply in and out, not moving in the slightest.

Emmett…my God, my brother looked like he was ready to kill someone. The muscles in his broad shoulders tensed so tightly that the slightest provocation would likely set him off. He looked completely unhinged.

Rosalie stood silently from her chair and walked towards my brother and gently laid her hand on his forearm and I watched in astonishment as Emmett immediately relaxed his stance under her touch. He pressed his huge hand on the side of her face and bent his head forward and rested his forehead against hers for a time, before he lifted his head and pressed a light kiss on her cheek.

She wordlessly sat back down in her chair and reached for Jasper's hand and laced their fingers together.

I stood then and walked to the window. Bella and Maddie were now kicking the soccer ball back and forth to each other; Bella stopped every few tries to show Maddie something before they started again. Masen was happily playing with Rufus, rolling around in the grass with him. Masen let out a peel of laughter as Rufus licked his face.

My life was out there on that lawn and I loved the three of them with a fierceness that rivaled anything that could be conjured up in a book or in a movie or written about in a poem or a song.

Bella was the one that made our circle whole, the one who completed my family and as I turned around and looked in the room I knew she completed our entire family. She was the missing piece…the one we all needed without knowing it. She was the sister that Alice had desperately wanted all her life. Bella was the person that could bring my brother to his knees either with her smile or her words and he loved every second of it, basked in it. She was the other daughter my parents always wished for; the baby that they needed to care for and nurture with the love they still had left to give. She was the partner in crime my best friend had always yearned for, the friend who would love her for who she was and not be threatened by her beauty. Bella was the beautiful girl my uncle could flirt shamelessly with, but the one that could give as good as she got. She was the other niece my aunt wanted, the one she could fawn over relentlessly.

She was what we all needed in someway. The beautiful, loving, selfless being outside teaching my daughter, sharing her dream with her was loved and adored by every person sitting in this room and yet there was someone out there, some evil, despicable person that took her dream away from her.

I was angry, livid.

My body shook with my anger and I didn't have anywhere for it to go. My breathing quickened, coming in short, painful breaths. I wanted to punch someone or throw something or scream at the top of my lungs. I wanted to do something…anything to get rid of the feeling of fury that threatened to take over me. I dropped to my knees, buckling under the weight of everything I was feeling, and held my hands in my head.

I don't know how long I sat there and wallowed in my pain but I felt a heavy arm wrap around me and raised my head to stare at Seth, whose eyes were trained on me.

"Edward, look outside," Seth commanded me and nodded towards the window.

What I saw caused my breath to hitch and the tears that I had been holding in spilled in a torrent down my face. Bella was standing behind Maddie, her arms placed on Maddie's legs as she demonstrated a kicking motion to her. My daughter looked up at Bella in reverence when she repeated it, without help and obviously correctly, as Bella clapped and gave her a kiss in congratulations. Bella gave Masen a high five as she walked past him, who was also clapping for his sister and took her place opposite Maddie to continue their practice.

"How, Seth," I begged. "How could someone take her dream away from her? Why Bella?"

He helped me off the ground and pulled me to him, giving me a strong hug. "Come on Edward, we need to finish talking so you can go to her."

We walked back to the table and I sat back down in my chair and leaned back into the arms of my father. It tore a hole in my chest as I remembered that Charlie was gone and Bella didn't have a father anymore, well not a biological one anyway. She had Carlisle now.

"I love you Pop," I whispered and felt him bend down and kiss the top of my head like he had done for my whole life.

"Love you more, son," he said softly and placed his hands comfortingly back on my shoulders.

'Edward," Jasper said, his voice heavy with the emotions we were all feeling, "Bella was hurt on purpose, it's true. It happened about a year before the World Cup was supposed to start in a qualifier match that was being played in Salt Lake City over the summer. Bell was one of the youngest players on the team, having been chosen when she was still in high school and named a starter shortly after we started college. Once you get to the level Bella achieved, it was a pretty small and elite world. We're talking the very best of the best, the top twenty two women in the country and I am not far off in saying Shortcake was near the top of that list if not at the very top by the time she was twenty."

"The summer before our Senior year in high school, she was invited to attend the camp where the team would be selected from. I worked with her every day, from sun up to sun down helping her to get ready to go. She had her coach at the time spending every available moment with her; Seth and Rose were at the field with us every day with a stop watch or a rope or whatever else we could think of to use to help her get ready. We spent two months spending a minimum of ten hours a day getting her as ready to go as we could. Shortcake's dream was important to all of us and we all willingly did what ever we could to help her achieve it. She made it of course, and you know what Renee said to her before she left and then did when she got back." Jasper stopped and glanced at me to make sure I remembered.

How could I forget Jasper telling us just a short time ago the hateful and potentially demoralizing things Renee had told her at that dinner and then followed it up with the utterly hateful nonsense of Bella not deserving to be happy?

Rose was correct, Renee Swan was a bitch.

"As if dealing with Renee and her vitriol wasn't enough for Bell, she also had to deal with backstabbing and jealous team mates. Bella trained and performed and earned her starting spot through sheer talent and hard work, but of course that didn't matter to those she beat out for her spot. Bella was a forward and she excelled at her position, which also made her a target for most everyone on the opposing side. Our girl may be little but she was fierce as hell and completely unafraid of anyone," Jasper finished with a smile.

"There was one teammate of her's named Victoria Mendoza and she hated Bella with a passion. They met during a camp one summer while Bell was still in high school and Victoria's dislike of Bella was instantaneous, mostly because Bella was everything she wasn't. Well liked by her teammates, talented, generous…everything we all know our Shortcake to be. Victoria's dad was some kind of big wig in the National Soccer scene and most felt her spot on the team was due more to political pressure than from her deserving to be there."

"Victoria made it her personal mission to make Bell's life hell every chance she could. She badmouthed her to the other members of the team and the coaches. When the team was selected and the publicity started, she told members of the press lie after lie about her. She tried to make her look bad at practice, anything she could think of she tried. Victoria knew that when the time came, she was losing her starting spot to Bella and she just couldn't take it."

"As the time came for the qualifiers to start, one of the other forwards had a minor injury so the coach played both Victoria and Shortcake in the same match. The coach unwittingly gave Victoria the perfect opportunity to get her supposed revenge on Bella by playing at the same time. It was about half way through the first half and one of their teammates passed the ball forward as Bella and Victoria were both running towards the goal. With all the confusion between the forwards and the defenders, Victoria was able to slide into Bella, taking her out instantly. All the muscles in her knee tore immediately, obliterating her knee cap as well and you could tell she broke the ankle on her other side when she fell. We could hear Bell's painful cries all the way in the stands and I thought Charlie was going to shoot the girl right then and there."

I felt like I was going to be sick as I imagined the pain Bella had to have felt when she hit the ground. The physical pain from her injuries had to have been minor to the realization that her dream of playing soccer was just ripped away from her by a spiteful shrew.

Jasper described the agonizing trip back to Washington, Bella barely coherent between the pain from her injury and the heartbreak from the assault. He told us Victoria was never punished, there wasn't any way to prove it wasn't anything more than the unfortunate accident she proclaimed it to be. Bella's surgery to repair her knee and ankle was a nightmare for them to suffer through as well as the rehab that she had to endure. Of course, he went on to explain, that was nothing compared to the way Bella seemed to fade away and retreat into herself.

I couldn't picture that at all. My girl was so amazingly strong; the thought of her being that broken almost brought me to my knees again.

"It was hell Edward; I'm not going to lie. Once we got back to campus that fall, of course everyone knew what had happened and it was exceedingly difficult for her to go to class day after day and have someone bring it up again and again," Jasper told me as he gave a weary sigh.

"Once her injury had healed somewhat and she was off the crutches, she began to slowly become the Shortcake we all knew and loved, though the light wasn't completely back in her eyes. She still spent too much time by herself on Friday and Saturday nights." Jasper was interrupted by Angela's loud shout of "Hey, she was with me, you know!"

"Pardon me," Jasper chuckled a bit, "She still spent too much with Angela in their apartment and I decided to do something about it," He finished with a pained look on his face.

Rose wrapped her arms around her brother and whispered something in his ear none of us could hear but we all heard the reply back of, "Hell yes it was Le, and I am getting tired of everyone saying it's not."

I watched as Rose huffed and sat back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest.

"A few of the guys on my track team were having a party and I had convinced Bella to come with me. After I spent a week begging and pleading, she finally agreed and we went. She tried to have fun, she really did but she just wasn't ready. I was having fun and didn't want to leave yet so I asked one of my teammates to bring her home. James readily agreed and it was the biggest mistake I would ever make in my life," Jasper said in such a way that made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

This was not going to be good, no way.

"Somehow, I don't even know how he managed to this day, but somehow he brought Bella out of her depression and she acted more like her old self in no time. He seemed to really enjoy spending time with her and she looked forward to seeing him, too. Over the course of the next few weeks, James and Bella became really good friends and that friendship evolved into a boyfriend/girlfriend one."

I immediately went back over the discussion Bella and I had in her loft the night she returned from California and we first told each other we loved the other. She said she'd only been with two other people, her high school boyfriend Will and a guy from college named Ian.

She lied to me?

I shook my head, knowing that she would never do that, not ever. There was something I was missing here, something huge.

Rose caught my eye and seemed to know where my thoughts went during my musings and brought me out of it by saying, "Edward, just wait okay? I know what you're thinking, but she told you the truth."

Taking a deep breath and closing my eyes long enough to gather myself back together, I opened them and stared her straight in the eyes and said, "I know she did Rosalie, I would never doubt Bella that way."

She just nodded at me and let out the anxious breath she seemed to be holding. I have to say I was more than a little pissed that she would automatically assume I would think Bella lied to me, but I let it go for now. From the looks on the faces of Seth, Jasper and Rose, we still had a ways to go yet.

I wasn't sure how much more I could handle to be honest.

This was way more than I ever anticipated when we sat down at the table a short while ago. I glanced at my watch and was shocked as hell to see we'd only been sitting here for a little over an hour.

So much trauma for my sweet girl to fit in such a short period of time…but there was more to come, I could feel it.

Jasper took what seemed like the thousandth deep breath since he began talking and began again, "Around the time that Bella and James began dating, there were modeling scouts on campus and our Shortcake happened to catch the eye of the one from Twilight Sporting Goods. She knew who Bella was since Twilight made the uniforms for the National Team and pursued Bella relentlessly. They sent her flowers, tried to take her to dinner, showed up at her job at the bookstore…anything they could think of to get her attention, they tried."

"It was ridiculous," Angela said from her spot next to Ben. "Bella would be studying at the library and they would find her. She would be at the grocery store and they would be standing by the car when she came back out. If she and I tried to go out to dinner, they paid our check." Angela shook her head. "After awhile, Bell just got pissed and told them to fuck off but they didn't give up."

"It was during this time that we got the call telling us to hurry home to Forks from Sue. Charlie had been diagnosed with his illness and we were all devastated, Bella the most of course. From the stress of dealing with Renee and finding out her father was sick, and then the modeling scouts continuing their quest of signing Bella to a contract and trying to finish classes, it's a wonder she didn't collapse…but she didn't. But it wasn't long before everything changed," Jasper ominously said.

"Oh, God," I moaned out loud and immediately my mom bent down and kissed my cheek, "Stay strong Edward, you need to focus on Bella."

"I'm trying, Mama, but this is killing me. She's been through so damn much, it's a wonder she hasn't curled herself in a ball and refused to go on," I groaned.

"We're getting closer to being done Edward, I assure you," Seth told me with a resigned sounding voice.

"Charlie being the Chief of Police in our little neck of the woods was not the highest paying job in the world and the insurance the department offered left a lot to be desired. Bella got a full-ride scholarship to college and worked at the bookstore to help with expenses but money was always tight. Bell's soccer was expensive, there's no denying that. Charlie had no problem spending the money on her, Renee, as you can imagine complained often and loudly," Jasper went on.

"Renee somehow managed to blame Bella for Charlie being sick, and while Bella was more than intelligent enough to know that Renee was full of shit, it didn't stop the feeling of guilt to start building. Shortcake went over every pair of shoes, every soccer camp, every trip Charlie took to watch her play somewhere and convinced herself that if she hadn't been so selfish in wanting to play soccer, there would be the money to afford the treatments and experimental procedures the doctor's wanted to try on Charlie."

Carlisle stepped in here and added, "From reviewing Charlie's file when I got to Seattle, when he was first diagnosed, the cancer was already at an extremely advanced stage. The cancer had begun to spread to the lymph nodes and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments were having minimal effect on stopping the progression."

"The first few months after the diagnosis were stressful for all of us, but most of all for Bella. Renee was constantly calling Bella hysterical after every visit from the doctor. The modeling scouts were beginning to wear her down and James was …becoming a problem," Jasper said as he watched my reaction with unease.

My body tensed immediately and I hissed at him, glancing from him to Rose to Seth and noticed they each wore the same look of trepidation. "What kind of problem?" I ground out, needing to know the answer but not wanting to hear it at the same time.

He held his hands up at me, "I am almost there Edward, just a little longer, I give you my word," Jasper said.

"Hurry the fuck up J, this waiting thing is about to kill me," I said in frustration.

I think everyone in the whole room was getting on edge. Emmett looked like he was ready to collapse; Alice couldn't have had any feeling left in her fingers since I don't think her grip had lessened even a bit since Jasper first began to speak. Seth looked like he hadn't slept in days and Tanya looked like she wanted to start crying and never stop. Everyone else looked pretty much the same except Rosalie. Her face was completely blank and that was more worrisome for me than if she looked like any of the rest of us.

"As Charlie continued to get worse and the medical bills kept mounting, Bella was very close to giving in to Twilight and Volturi, who had now become involved. Once Twilight decided that they wanted Bella to be their signature model, Volturi sent Jane to Oregon to meet with Bell and see if they could work out a contract of some sort. Renee was pressuring Bella to sign, James was as well. The deciding factor was Charlie. The doctors in Seattle wanted to try to do a bone marrow transplant and since Bella was the only living blood relative, she was the only chance to find a familial match. Charlie was adamant that the only transplant he was willing to try was if the donor was Bella. He never explained why, and we still don't know what his reasoning was," Jasper told us.

"I know," Esme said very quietly.

Every set of eyes turned to my mother and Seth, Jasper and Rose focused their attention on Esme with such ferocity I am surprised she didn't flinch from it.

"Charlie felt so guilty for the way Renee treated Bella," she began and I immediately stood up, and faced her, my throat tight trying to keep from yelling at my mother.

"You knew about Bella's mom and never said anything to me? How could you do that Mama?" I cried out to her.

This really was getting to be too much for me, I felt like I was going crazy. All I wanted to do was run outside and hold Bella and press my nose in her hair and feel her body next to mine. I needed her and the separation was becoming unbearable.

I missed her, and she was just outside.

Esme walked towards me and took my hands in her's and held me still with her gaze, "Edward, I had no idea the extent of Renee's cruelty towards Bella. All Charlie would tell me was that it was his fault that Renee acted the way she did."

"Edward, Esme is right," Seth cut in, "There is no way Charlie would have spoken to your mother about Renee's treatment towards Bell, at least not in a specific way. Charlie Swan was the most private person you could ever meet."

"Son, you know your mother would never have kept something like from you, no matter what," Carlisle told me and I knew he was right.

I hung my head, exhausted from the tumultuous morning, "I'm sorry Mama," I told her, my throat constricting as I barely held the emotions inside me that desperately wanted a release.

"Enough Edward," Esme told me, "You know that is not necessary." She took me by the hand and had me sit down again.

"As I was saying, Charlie felt so guilty for Renee's actions towards Bella and he was convinced that if Bella turned out to be a match and the bone marrow transplant worked, that Renee would be so grateful towards Bella that the animosity she had felt for so long would disappear," Esme told everyone in the room.

"I told him it was foolish to believe that Renee would ever change the way she felt, but Charlie knew he was dying and it was his greatest wish that his wife somehow would mend the relationship she had with Bella. I tried to talk him out of pinning so much on the test, knowing from speaking with Carlisle that the chances of Bella being a match were not good at all."

Jasper spoke then, his voice heavy with pain, "Well, I suppose that makes sense. Chief was always trying anything he could think of to try to make things better for Bell and Renee."

He glanced at Carlisle then and began again, "The test to see if Bella would be a match was extremely expensive and since Charlie's cancer was so advanced, the insurance refused to pay for it. Signing the contract with Twilight and Volturi was the only hope Bella had of being able to afford to get the test done."

Seth spoke next, "Aro and Jane knew exactly what they were doing, they locked Bella into a five year contract by promising to advance her the money for all of Charlie's medical bills. Her contract was drawn up in such a way that there was no way for Shortcake to get out of it early without being liable for an insanely huge amount of money. They wanted Bella and the contract was an iron clad way to ensure that she couldn't leave until the very last second of her term."

"Bella did not want to be a model; it was so far removed from what she wanted to do with her life it wasn't even funny. Renee pressured her, James pressured her, she felt responsible for Charlie and the weight of all that was too much for her to fight and she just…caved," Rosalie said as she stared off into space. "She was miserable, Edward. You have no idea. She cried herself to sleep for nights at a time. The only saving grace in all of this was that luckily, a guy I was dating at the time happened to be a contract lawyer and we were able to add the stipulations of Seth being her bodyguard and Jasper and I being her managers, but it was the only thing we could do."

"There was no way we were letting Bella sacrifice any more than she already had and then do it alone on top of it. She had already lost her dream of soccer and the career she wanted, we weren't about to walk away from her," Jasper told us.

My God…what they did for Charlie. What they did for Bella. I was speechless.

No wonder Bella is so anxious for her contract to be up in September. I looked at Jasper, Seth and Rose in complete amazement. Not only did Bella give up her dreams to help her father, so did the three of them…and they did it willingly.

Jasper went on to explain that they received the money and set up the test. The test was performed as soon as possible after that and the results were what everyone feared, Bella was not a match and the bone marrow transplant could not be done.

"She was devastated when the doctors told her and Renee blamed her because of it, of course. Charlie was managing to hang on and not get any worse and Seth, Rose and I convinced Bella that it was best to go back to campus and try to get through with classes so we went back to Oregon," Jasper finished, sitting back in his chair.

"What does James have to do with this?" I asked, still feeling like I was missing something.

"James was thrilled to be able to tell people he was dating a model and did so with an annoying frequency. Aro and Jane put Bella to work almost immediately after the contract was signed. At first, it was just getting her pictures taken and posted in a few magazines, then there were appearances around the Seattle area like when a new nightclub would open or for a sporting event. James insisted he go with Bella to all those functions and the more he went the more possessive and unstable he became."

I felt the muscles in my entire body seize at the word…unstable.

Jasper again held up his hand "Wait, Edward," was all he said.

Pop's hands were tightening on my shoulders and Emmett began to rock back and forth where he was still standing. He narrowed his eyes and hunched his shoulders anxiously waiting for the rest of the story.

"James began to follow Bella every where she went and showed up at places he shouldn't have been. He called Bella constantly when she had to be away; accusing her of every offense he could think of. He even accused her of lying about Charlie being sick and believed she was seeing someone else in Seattle," Jasper groaned out as he ran a hand through his hair.

"Did he…?" I croaked out, praying to all that was holy that Jasper did not say yes.

I wouldn't love Bella any less, of course, but I wasn't at all sure I could handle it.

"No, thank God," Seth whispered.

"But it was scary Edward," Rose continued. "He would stay outside her and Angela's apartment every night; he just stood there and stared at the building until morning. He waited outside every classroom until she was finished with her class and then walked to the next and did the same. James would stand in the bookstore and watch Bella, for her entire shift. If she was unfortunate enough to get a male customer, he would immediately accuse her of flirting with him or coming on to them. If we went out to eat, he would be sitting in the restaurant a few tables over. After a month of that behavior, Bella ended it with him. The pressure was just too much for her to handle and she was so close to just shutting completely down."

"Did you report his behavior to the police?" Carlisle asked the three of them.

Surely, there had to have been something they could do.

"We tried, but since he had never made a threat of any kind and hadn't broken any law, there was nothing that could be done. The more times her picture was in a magazine or on television, the more public appearances Volturi sent her on, the worse he got. After Bella ended things with him it was even worse. He left packages for her at the apartment, sent her flowers every day, called her phone so many times a day she changed her number once a week. We were all on edge, and it was difficult and stressful for all of us," Rose finished.

"He became obsessed with her, delusional in his belief that Bella had feelings for him, still had feelings for him after she ended things with him. He wanted Bella to be his and no one else's."

"It was during this time, Dr.C. that you were brought in. Bella used the money from her advance to bring you in as a last ditch effort to try to save Charlie. We would leave campus on Friday after Bella's last class and spend the weekend, leaving on Monday morning to make it back for Bella's class that was after lunch. Every weekend we went, without fail we went," Jasper softly said as he looked from me to my father.

"Oh God, Jasper. If I had known all of that, if Renee or Charlie's doctor would have told me any of the extenuating circumstances surrounding Bella and Charlie, I never would have accepted any payment," Dad said his voice full of sympathy for the three friends in the room and especially for the one who was not here.

"Dr. C. you did so much for all of us, you have no idea how much. No one had taken care of us the way you did at the hospital in such a long time. We were alone at school and Sue was still in Forks most of the time. You and Mrs. E. showed us more love and compassion those weekends in the hospital than we had ever had," Rosalie said, looking at both of my parents with so much love and gratitude I am sure my parent's hearts were breaking.

"It was during one of the last trips back and forth from Oregon to Seattle that James crossed the line from scary to dangerous. Bella needed to stay with Charlie later on a Monday so she brought her own car. We all went to Seattle together, Rose and Bell in one car, Seth and I in another and Bella convinced Rose to ride back to campus with me, assuring us she would be fine to drive home alone. She would get back to campus in the late afternoon before dark, so we listened to her and let her go back alone," Jasper said with a tortured voice.

"James had followed us to Seattle that weekend and was waiting to shadow Bella back to campus. We aren't sure of all the circumstances, but from what we could gather, James watched Bella as she was leaving the hospital to go to her car. One of the orderlies that we had come to know after being at the hospital so frequently offered to walk with her to her car since she was carrying her back pack and over night bag. Apparently he put his arm around Bell or something and it set James off, his delusions completely taking him over. He followed Bell as she drove back to campus and on one of the smaller roads we had to travel on, ran her off the road." Jasper began sobbing then, huge, heaving sobs of sorrow.

Esme ran to his side of the table and engulfed him in her arms and cooed quietly to him, rocking him back and forth until he got himself under control. Emmett had pulled Rose to him and he had her wrapped in his huge arms, her forehead pressed tightly against his chest. Seth was sandwiched between Alice and Tanya, both had their arms draped around him as he cried, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

I was going out of my fucking mind, there was no other explanation. There was no way in hell that Bella had survived all this trauma in her short life. It wasn't possible, it couldn't be.

It was so incredibly unfair, every fucking bit of it. She was good, pure…innocent.

I wanted to scream at whoever's plan it was to heap such an unfair burden on my beautiful, precious angel.

I wanted to go back in time and fix every bad fucking thing that had ever happened to her. I wanted to give her, her dream of playing soccer back. I wanted to give her a mother that would care for and nurture her. I wanted to give her Charlie back. I wanted to give her the peace and tranquility of a life that didn't involve hate or sickness or fear or death.

I wanted it so fucking bad and it killed me, completely shattered and wrecked me that I couldn't, that I was helpless to fix anything from her past.

Jesus Christ she was strong.

So incredibly fucking strong she took my breath away.

"It was all my fault, I'm so sorry," Jasper cried to Esme, not really talking to anyone in particular.

"Oh Jasper, no honey, no it's not," Esme told him over and over again as Jasper continued to cry, shaking his head every time Esme told him he wasn't to blame.

"Yes, Esme it is. I was the one that introduced James to Bella the first time. I was the one that said it was ok for her to drive home by herself. I failed her, I did. It is my fault he almost killed her, that he ran her car off the road."

I felt Carlisle remove his hands from my shoulders and walk over the Jasper, gathering Seth and Rose as he walked over to him. He stood Rose and Seth beside Jasper and gently moved Esme to the side and looked at the three of them.

"Enough Jasper. No more. Neither you, Seth or Rose is to blame for what happened to Bella. James is the only one who is to blame. You were 20 damn years old Jasper, all four of you were. My God, what you all have endured together. I have never been more in awe of any four people than I am of the group of you. It is truly an honor to stand before you, to stand before people who put others before themselves, who willingly changed their entire lives to help one of their own. You all may have been alone five years ago, but I swear, with God as my witness, that none of you, not one, will ever, ever be alone again. You four are part of this family now, forever. I am only sorry, sorrier than you can ever know that I was unable to do more for Charlie Swan."

He walked forward and kissed each of them on the head, like he had done to Emmett, Alice and I for our whole lives and in that moment I gained two more brothers and a sister…forever.

I was barely hanging on, praying to God that there wasn't anymore because honestly, I was about to crumble.

Jasper was finally able to get his emotions somewhat under control and Rosalie clung to him protectively. Seth sat on his other side; the three of them huddled close together.

Seth raised his eyes to look at me and roughly said, "Bella wasn't injured too seriously. James suffered far worse. Bella had a slight concussion, some bruising on her chest from the steering wheel and seat belt and a sprained wrist. The most terrifying thing was trying to find her. She didn't have GPS or OnStar so we had to backtrack to find her when she didn't make it back to campus. We had found a short cut on our many trips back and forth and the road he ran her off was sparsely traveled so no one had gone by to see the accident. Bell was barely conscious by the time we found her; she was more freaked out than hurt."

"What about James?" I gruffly asked, trying not to picture Bella alone and afraid on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere.

"He's dead," Rose said her voice flat. "After he rammed her car, he lost control of his and it flipped, numerous times until it hit a tree. He died instantly, or so we were told. Unfortunate if you ask me," she said in a cold voice.

Good is the only thing I can think of at that moment. Maybe that makes me a cold-hearted bastard, but I am glad he's dead. At least he can't hurt Bella ever again.

Jasper was able to explain that Charlie died just 2 weeks after the accident. Mom and Dad both felt horrible they didn't even notice Bella had been injured when she was at the hospital the next time. Dad realized that was why he couldn't find Bella once Charlie passed away to give her the letter, by the time he contacted the school, Seth and Bella had moved to New York to fulfill her contract and Jasper and Rose moved to California to begin their new jobs as well. They were all able to finish their credits to graduate through correspondence classes and online lectures thankfully.

There was one question left I had to have an answer to before I went to go find my sweet girl, and truthfully I don't know what answer I hope for.

"What about Renee?" I asked, resolving to myself that I would help Bella to deal with her mother no matter what the answer is.

"She died about nine months after Charlie died," Seth said in a voice that was completely devoid of any feeling at all.

"How?" I questioned.

Seth took a deep breath and answered me, "The coroner deemed it an accidental overdose but that is not the truth."

"Why do you say that?" Carlisle wondered.

Seth's eyes closed and again he sighed before he rasped, "Because Shortcake got a letter in the mail a few days after Renee was discovered. Renee told Bella she couldn't live without Charlie any longer and was going to join him, leaving her completely alone, and the way she hoped she would always stay. She blamed Bella again for Charlie's death and for her own as well. As Renee put it, she would be with her true family in heaven…her, her son and Charlie…and without Bella the way she had always wanted it to be."

"Heaven my ass," muttered my mother which earned her a snort from Rosalie.

"It took me almost a week to convince Bella to leave her room after she got that fucking letter. We never told anyone except for J and Lele that she got a letter or what it said. Bella thought it was better to just leave the cause of death accidental and by that point, there was no one else on Earth that cared if Renee Swan died on purpose or by accident," Seth finished.

I was done; I couldn't sit here for one more fucking second. My hands were twitching and my knee was bouncing up and down so fast Alice was moving with me.

"Is there anything else?" I croaked out, barely able to get a sound to come out of my mouth I was trying to hold everything in so fiercely.

Jasper looked at me, his eyes weary, and his body barely able to remain upright. "No Edward…"

I didn't even bother to listen to anything else as I shot up out of my chair and ran for the door, barely recognizing the fact that the chair fell over in my haste.

A part of my brain heard Jasper's grateful "Thank fucking God!" as I threw open the door and ran out and across the deck and down the stairs into the yard.

Masen yelled "Daddy!" as I passed him and I vaguely heard Rufus' bark or Maddie's laugh, the only thing I could concentrate on was my love, my Bella who was standing in front of me, her eyes full of unshed tears as she watched me run to her.

I came to a stop in front of her, my mind too full of what I wanted to say to her to even find a place to start. What I really wanted was to fall to my knees in front of her and beg her to marry me, right fucking now if there was a way, so that I could love her and take care of her and show her every single damn day for the rest of our lives that she was the most incredible person in the world.

"Edward," Bella said softly and that was all it took, I let go of everything I had held in from the moment Jasper had begun to talk until right at that instant.

I crushed her to me and held on to her, letting her strength flow into me as I cried for her, for every ounce of pain she had ever felt, emotional or physical because Christ, she'd had plenty of both. I cried for everything she had given up and lost because of the choices she'd been forced to make.

I cried and cried until I didn't have a tear left in my body.

"I am so sorry angel, so fucking sorry for everything you have had to go through. You are the strongest person I've ever met baby, but you have to do something for me now," I said softly as I picked my head up to look at her beautiful face.

I let myself have a few moments to memorize her face as it looked right at this instant; she was glowing, positively radiant in the sunlight. She was happy…and at peace. I knew it immediately as I lost myself in her gorgeous brown eyes. She completely consumed me, every part of me.

"Let me take care of you my Bella. It's time for you to stop being so fucking strong all the time. Lean on me, let me love you and I promise, I fucking promise baby that I will make you happy. We will be happy and I will love you forever. I am going to marry you one day sweet girl, and you, me, Maddie and Masen are going to be a family. Let me take care of you Bella, please?" I begged her.

I stood there, holding Bella's face in my hands and watched as my words reached her mind and her heart. My sweet, precious girl, who had lost so much in her life already, and had endured pain I couldn't even imagine. She had been so damn strong, trying to take everything on herself and now it was time to let someone else share that burden with her.

Please, baby, take that step with me…trust in me, I thought to myself…Please…

Bella stood there, staring into my eyes, as if searching for something.

That's it sweetheart…almost there now…

I stared back at her, letting every ounce of love I had for her shine through, letting her in completely.

Yes, Bella…that's it baby…

Her eyes softened and her shoulders relaxed and I knew…I fucking knew with every fiber in my being that she had let that last wall crumble down to the ground, obliterating it forever.

She nodded her head at me then and spoke so tenderly…"Yes, Edward. Yes, yes!"

Then she threw herself at me and the force knocked the both of us to the ground and she was kissing my face over and over again giggling, "I love you Edward…so, so much baby! You are my everything…my life. We're going to be so fucking happy!"

"Always and forever angel…I promise," I told her and rolled us over so that I was on top of her. I kissed her then, and savored feeling her body beneath mine.

All of a sudden we were tackled by two little monsters who wanted to join in the fun.

"Daddy!" Maddie squealed in my ear, "Get off Bella, you're gonna squish her!"

"Skittles, help!" Bella called for Masen and then they all ganged up on me and I was the one on the bottom.

"Everyone get Daddy!" my love giggled and they all proceeded to tackle me and we were a giggling, laughing heap of arms and legs in the middle of the yard.

Bella looked down at me as she laid on top of me and I tucked her hair back behind her ear and whispered to her, "I love you so fucking much baby. Thank you for letting Jasper share your story with me, I swear to you no one will ever hurt you again. Not fucking ever again."

"As long as I have you Edward, and Maddie and Masen, nothing else matters. I love you, sweetheart. Thank you for listening to him and for understanding," Bella told me warmly.

"Always and forever angel…" I told her.

And that is how long I would love her…always and forever.



"Thank fucking God," I breathed out as Edward ran outside to Bella.

I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth before he ran to her. The man looked like he was falling apart at the seams but as I turned and watched him through the window as he approached Bella, both of them looking like they hadn't seen the other for days or weeks instead of just a few hours, I knew they would be ok.

I fucking lost it when I watched Edward as he finally let go of all the emotions he had held in since we began our talk. Bella held him as he cried, both of them looking like they would fall completely apart if they let go of the other. She has always been the strongest person I have ever met.

As I watched Edward stop and look at Bella and her back at him, it seemed like she was making some sort of decision and I couldn't help but hold my breath. I had no idea what it was, but from the intense way Edward was staring at her, it was like Bella was making a life altering decision though.

Holy shit!

I knew he didn't ask her to marry him, although I have no doubt he thought about it for second at least, but I knew my Bell and she was finally, finally, going to let him all the way in and move forward.

When Maddie and Masen joined Edward and Bella on the lawn I felt Rose step to my side and Seth to the other. Rose laid her head on my shoulder and Seth put his big ass arm around my shoulder.

"That makes everything worth it right there," I said as I watched Bella and the kids laughing and tackle Edward, looking like the family our Shortcake deserved.

"Thank you," I heard a quiet voice whisper from beside us.

The three of turned to see Carlisle and Esme standing arm in arm as they gazed outside as well, tears in both of their eyes.

"You saved Bella so that she could save Edward. Look at how much the three of them need her," Carlisle said softly.

We watched as the four of them chased each other outside, Rufus in the middle running around in circles. Maddie and Masen were screaming in glee, Edward's face had a smile that looked like it could split his face in half and our Bella looked happier than I had ever seen her. In twenty years, I have never, ever seen her face so alive and carefree.

I glanced at Seth, brother of my heart instead of blood, and told him, "We've been replaced you know."

His face looked pained for a brief moment before it softened, "He's everything she has always needed. Besides, between the two of us, we can take him if we need to."

Seth, god it was going to be hard watching him have to let Bella go. I think he knew this time would always come someday, but with the reality just outside the window, it was a little different than some abstract unknown.

"That we can brother, " I told him, knowing that the brief statement he just made was as much as he could handle right now.

His love for Bella was unparalleled, even by Edward. There was no one on Earth Seth could ever love more than he loved Bella, not even his own mother.

Seth glanced out the window again and caught Bella's attention and he blew her a kiss before he turned around. He kissed the top of my head and then Rose's before he walked away to find Tanya.

Thank god he had Tanya; he was definitely going to need her.

"He's a very special man," Esme said quietly as she stepped in beside me.

I nodded at her, "There is no one any better Mrs. E."

"Oh, I beg to differ, Jasper. Look in the mirror some time dear," she said as she kissed my cheek and then whispered, "I love all of you, so very much. I am so glad we found you again…welcome to the family."

"Love you too, Mama E.," I told her.

"I like that better than Mrs. E.," Esme chuckled at me as she walked to Rose.

"Love you to sweetheart and like I just told your brother, welcome to the family, we're all here for you anytime you need us," Esme told my sister who looked like she had just been given the greatest gift she could have imagined…which she had.

She missed our mom so much, it was hard sometimes to know how unhappy and lonely my sister had been since our parents had died, and even more so since we'd been in California. Esme and Carlisle's welcome and acceptance was definitely not going to go to waste.

"Are you okay Jas?" Alice asked as she walked up beside me.

I took her hand in mine and laced our fingers together and brought our hands to my lips and kissed her knuckles, "I will be darlin', with your help, I will be."

Alice had come to mean so much to me in our short time together. When we had first started talking while trying to help Shortcake before the Gala, our connection to one another, even across the country was undeniable. I knew she was going to be it for me within the first ten minutes of our discussion.

She was everything I wanted in a woman…feisty, smart, charming and gorgeous on top of that. She brought out a side in me that only three other people in the world knew about, and to be completely honest, brought out a side in me that only she knew about.

"I can't wait to get you alone kitten, last night was incredible," I told her softly as I kissed her ear and let my tongue trace the shell from top to bottom.

"Me too, tiger. I need you again," she sighed at me as I let my hand trail down her side and gripped her hip to pull her close to me.

"Tonight darlin' I promise," I growled at her before kissing the side of her head as she went to talk to her mother and father.

"I saw that brother of mine," Lele smirked at me.

I shrugged my shoulders at her and leaned into her, "Don't think I don't know what happened out in the garage last night sister of mine, I'm not fucking stupid. Besides I'm willing to bet if I walked out there right now, Shortcake's handprints wouldn't be the only ones on that damn car would they?" I asked and chuckled as I watched her blush and then try to cover it up.

She was so fucking busted!

"Whatever Jasper." Rose snickered at me before she went to stand beside Emmett who looked at her like she walked on water.

I was happy for both of them; they would be so good together…if they didn't kill one another in the process. I sure hope Em knows what the fuck he's doing. I loved my sister like no other but she was a piece of fucking work, that's for sure.

"Jasper," Angela said, getting my attention. "We really need to talk to Edward and Bella and tell them what happened this past week."


I took a deep breath and looked from Seth to Rose, knowing they were about thirty seconds from killing me. I hope Alice knows how much I'll miss her when I'm gone.

"What is she talking about J?" Seth asked as he glared at me.

Yep, I was a fucking dead man.

"Ok, everyone come back to the table for a second," I said, figuring it was better to tell them all at once and get it over with.

Besides, it looked like Bella and Edward were going to need us all this time.

"This past week while Bella and Edward have been up here, there have been some very disturbing developments at Volturi," I began my anger and fear creeping out.

"What kind of developments Jasper?" Seth asked his voice hard as cement.

I sighed, "Bella has received some extremely troubling fan mail. Graphic. Threatening."

"Threatening towards Bella?" Rose asked, her worry coming through loud and clear.

I nodded my head and looked around the table at everyone sitting here before I hesitantly said, "And Edward as well."

"Fuck," Emmett hissed out as he gripped Rosalie's hand.

Alice had taken a hold of mine and Carlisle wrapped an arm tightly around Esme. Tanya looked frightened for both her friends and Demetri, who had Heidi with him, looked scared as well.

Ben walked forward then, and looked at Emmett. "When Angela told me on the way up here, I made a plan of things we need to look over in regards to security at both houses," he told Emmett.

Emmett immediately turned into professional mode and he and Ben walked off to the side with Rosalie trailing behind talking about modifications she needed to make to all the vehicles in the family.

I walked towards Carlisle and Esme and promised them, "Nothing will happen to either of them. I give you my word we will keep them both safe. There is too much at stake now to let any harm come to either one of them."

I walked over toward Seth, Emmett, Rosalie and Ben and prayed to God I could keep my promise.

If I couldn't we'd all pay the price.

1 comment:

  1. THIS is my favorite chapter so far... You made me cry~! renee is a bitch!! Now we know everything that happened I was afraid maybe they would find out that Bella was not Charlie's, glad that was not the case... Now we have them together, we have a problem with the idiots out there in fan land, *heavy sigh* it's a good thing that Em and Ben will now be on the security for all of them along with Seth and Jake, cuz them kids are gonna need to be watched as well. I know that they have made sure so far that the kids have not been photoed, but that was before and aro and jane are SOBs and cannot be trusted... just sayin'