The Path We Choose
Sunday, September 5, 2010
I woke up with my arms tingling from staying in the same, awkward position for too many hours and tried as best I could to adjust Maddie and Masen so they weren't both lying on top of me. I was shocked when I looked at the clock on the nightstand and saw that it was just past three in the morning, and that I was alone in bed with the kids.
Worried about where Edward was and that he was alone, I slipped out of bed, grabbing Edward's hoodie to put on over my tank top and pajama pants. Thankfully when Esme brought Maddie and Masen into mine and Edward's room earlier she had convinced me to change my clothes too, thinking that it would help the kids fall asleep faster if I was dressed for bed as they were. I had only meant to hold them for a few minutes until they had fallen asleep. I never intended to do the same.
I opened the bedroom door quietly and as soon as I closed it softly behind me, I heard the unmistakable sound of Edward's breathing. I smiled as I began to move toward the living room, but stopped abruptly when I saw Father O'Connor sitting in the chair beside him, a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in his lap. I had no idea he was here, but the moment I saw him I was relieved beyond words to see him. I had no doubt that Esme and Carlisle had asked him to come over and I was so grateful that he was here. One look at Edward's mostly relaxed face let me know how much Father's presence had calmed him, and that was more important than anything.
Looking around the loft, I couldn't decide what to do with Father O'Connor. He looked very uncomfortable sitting in the chair with his head tipped to the side, but I didn't want to wake him either. Not to mention Edward, who was still fully dressed in his jeans and t-shirt. Thankfully he'd at least taken his shoes off. Making a split second decision to send Father into Masen's room, I shook him gently.
"Huh…what?" Father muttered as he opened his eyes, looking very surprised to see me.
"Isabella, is everything alright?" he asked me and I smiled at the wonderful man.
I reached down and took the book off his lap and said, "Yes, everything is fine. Why don't you go to Masen's room and sleep there? You can't sleep sitting up in this chair all night."
"I was just sitting with Edward until he fell asleep," he said quietly as he looked over at Edward on the sofa.
"Well, I'm going to get him in bed as well. Can I get you anything? I'm sure Edward has some sweats and a t-shirt you can borrow that will be more comfortable for you." I asked feeling a bit uncomfortable about offering him clothes, but knew that it was the polite thing to do.
"Well, if it's not too much trouble, that would be great," he answered and I quickly went to our room and got him the clothes and then put them in the kid's bathroom for him. I also set out an unopened toothbrush we'd had in the drawer so he could brush his teeth.
"I put the things in the bathroom for you." I told him when he somewhat stiffly stood up from the chair.
He smiled kindly at me and then looked down at Edward. "Thank you dear. I hope it's okay that I stayed with him. He was so upset earlier and Carlisle and Esme both thought that he could use my help. I don't want to overstep any boundaries," Father O'Connor said with some hesitation.
"Oh, no! You needn't worry. I'm so thankful you were here for him. This whole ordeal has been so hard on Edward. I'm so happy he has you to talk to. I know he doesn't want me to worry and he takes on so much…" I told him honestly.
Edward spent so much damn time being everyone's Superman; it was nice to know he had someone he could let down all his walls with and be honest with. As much as I knew that person was me in most cases, even I could see how in this particular instance it couldn't be. Edward needed someone outside the situation he could confide in. As much as I was dying to ask the man what they had talked about, to make sure Edward was okay, I wouldn't. Edward needed his privacy and there was no way Father O'Connor would ever betray that, even to me.
"Well I hope I was able to help him, at least a bit," he said as he looked down at Edward's still sleeping form. "Thank you for the clothes and the bed Bella. I'll see you both in the morning. Is it okay if I stay until the children wake up? I'd like to see them before they go," he said quietly as he turned to me.
"Of course you can. I'm sure they'd love to see you. Carlisle and Esme are coming over for breakfast before Uncle Marcus and Aunt Diane meet over here," I said quietly, my pain evident to my own ears.
"It will be okay Bella. We're all here for you both. We must not lose faith," Father said and I nodded my head.
"I know," I answered, believing that with all my heart.
"Good night dear," he said with a quick squeeze to my hand. When I heard the door to Masen's room close, I turned to Edward.
I really hated waking him up, but he needed to change his clothes and I knew he'd much rather be in bed with the kids when they woke up in the morning.
Walking over to the couch, I bent down and kissed his forehead and pushed his hair back with my hands. He looked so peaceful sleeping there, but selfishly I wanted him in bed with me. Sleeping in bed without him was never an option when I could have him beside me.
"Edward, baby, you need to wake up," I said softly as I ran my fingers lightly down the side of his face. The stubble that graced his jaw made him look so sexy, not to mention what the tight black t-shirt did to his chest.
But it wasn't just the muscles he had that made him so strong…that made him my Superman.
It was what was inside of him. His unwavering sense of right and wrong, his willingness to do what needed to be done no matter the pain it caused him…his unending and infinite love for me and for Maddie and Masen and for the rest of his family. It was his unshakable belief that together we could face and conquer anything that made him strong.
I was in awe of him and more than a bit ashamed at my own actions from earlier today. Yes, it was my life that was threatened and yes it was my picture that was attached to that sick letter but unlike Edward who asked the hard questions and made the hard decisions, I had folded into a tiny ball and tried to bury my head in the proverbial sand. Once again, I relied on Edward to take care of me and it was so unfair.
"Mmmm," Edward groaned as he tried to turn over on the couch.
Placing my lips my to his ear, I whispered again, "Edward, sweetheart. Wake up and come to bed with me."
"Bella?" Edward asked groggily as he tried to open his eyes and look at me.
"Well I certainly hope you don't have anyone else waking you up by calling you baby and sweetheart," I told him with a grin.
He reached for me, his hand cupping my cheek. "You know there has only ever been you angel," he said, melting my heart and turning me into a big pile of Bella goo right there in the middle of our living room.
"Come to bed with me Edward. I woke up and you weren't there. I hate sleeping without you," I told him honestly.
He rolled off the couch and stood up. His shirt was wrinkled, his hair a riotous mess, but his eyes were soft and full of emotion. "I'm sorry Bella, but you and the kids were sleeping so peacefully and I couldn't so Father O'Connor stayed up with me," he said and then looked around the room and back at me with a confused look on his face.
"I sent him to sleep in Mase's room. He was sleeping in the chair when I came out here," I told him, slipping my arm around his waist and turning us toward our bedroom.
"Thank you baby. He's too old to sleep sitting up like that," Edward said.
We entered our room silently and I watched as Edward took a deep breath as he looked at the kids sleeping in our bed. I knew he was thinking about them leaving in a few short hours' time the same way that I was. It had to have been hurting him, but I knew if I asked him if he was okay he would only lie and tell me he was fine. I decided it was better not to ask.
"Why don't you get changed and I'll see if I can scoot them over," I said as I watched him take one more long look at them before he went into the bathroom where I heard the water running while he brushed his teeth.
I managed to get the twins separated with Mase on my side and Maddie on Edward's, just the way they liked it. I knew that as much as Maddie loved me and was my little shadow, when it came to snuggling at night there was no place that little girl would rather be than tucked up close to her daddy. Not that I blamed her in the least since that was my favorite spot to be as well. The strength that Edward always exuded was never more present than when his arms were wrapped around you and you felt as safe as anything you could ever imagine. Masen liked to curl up close to me. His little head fit perfectly in the crook of my arm and his hand was usually wrapped around whatever shirt I was wearing, as if he was afraid I would disappear.
I heard his discussion with Edward earlier today and it damn near broke my heart. That little guy was more like his father than anyone would ever know…so fiercely protective, even at his age. It was amazing really the way he was and I was going to miss him so much. I knew that they both needed to go with Marcus and Diane though, for their own safety. It was comforting to know that Masen would keep Maddie safe. It seemed like so much to put on one so young, but that was just the way Masen Samuel Cullen was.
The water turned off in the bathroom and Edward appeared in the doorway, his frame filling the space and allowed little light to spill into the room from behind him. My dark warrior…it's what I immediately thought of when I saw him standing there. He was naked from the waist up, his hair fell in his face and his eyes were almost black due to the lack of light in the room. He was solid, he was strong…and he was completely and totally mine.
"Bella, are you okay angel?" Edward asked quietly from where he stood, still in the doorway.
"I just want you to hold me Edward," I whispered, shaking with the need to be in his arms. I always wanted him, there was no doubting that, but right now I needed his arms around me, more than ever, holding me close and allowing me to feel his heart beat beneath my cheek.
He walked toward me, brushing my hair back with a gentle caress and then ghosted his lips across mine before he kissed my forehead. "As if you need to ask my love," he whispered as he pulled the blankets back and crawled over his daughter to our spot in the middle.
I pulled off the hoodie and then followed him into the bed where I immediately found MY spot on his chest. "I love you so much Edward," I whispered softly after we'd lain in bed for a few minutes, letting our bodies relax against the other.
"Me too. More than words can say Bella. We're going to be okay baby, I promise you we will," Edward said hoarsely, as if he was fighting to keep something inside.
I turned my head and pressed a long, open mouthed kiss to his chest above his heart…my heart. "I believe you Edward. I have all the faith in the world in you and in us," I told him fervently, meaning it with all my heart.
"Always and forever beautiful," he whispered softly, the words barely heard as they floated in the darkness above us.
Even though they were little more than a breath, the words settled over our family as we shared our bed for the last night…together.
Though the next few weeks were going to be miserable, frightening, and fraught with dangers we couldn't even begin to understand, I knew, with everything inside of me that we would all come through this okay and stronger than ever.
There wasn't any another option.
I awoke in the morning, still wedged between Masen and Edward, to the delicious aroma of Esme's homemade sticky buns and coffee.
"Do I smell Mama's sticky buns?" Edward murmured sleepily and I nodded my head against his chest. His chest rumbled as he chuckled and then I felt his lips on the top of my head and his fingers when he ran them through my hair.
As much as I didn't want to face the day, the lure of Esme's gooey goodness and the aroma of fresh brewed coffee made my stomach rumble, and it couldn't be put off any longer.
"I know baby, but we've got to get them up and fed before everyone gets here," Edward whispered as he rubbed my arm up and down with his hand.
Sighing deeply and trying to give myself a much needed internal pep talk that had a snowball's chance in hell of working, I looked up at Edward. His mouth was pulled down in a frown and the space between his eyebrows was as wrinkled as I'd ever seen it. His eyes were guarded and I hated, for what felt like the one thousand two hundred and eleventh time since yesterday at the office, that this was happening.
I opened my mouth to say sorry for what felt like the one thousand two hundred and twelfth time when I felt a finger on my lips. "Don't say it again Bella. I mean it," Edward said giving me a very stern look complete with gorgeous lips pressed in a thin line and green eyes hidden beyond narrowed eye lids.
"Fine," I huffed a bit petulantly and then carefully disentangled myself from both Edward and Masen.
I finally made it out to the kitchen just as Esme was finishing scrambling some eggs and placed them on a platter to carry to the table.
"Good morning dear," she said, trying to keep her voice cheery even though her heart was breaking along with the rest of ours.
I walked over to her, passing Father O'Connor and Carlisle sitting at the table already with mugs of coffee in their hands.
"Esme, you really didn't need to do all this," I told her as I kissed her quickly on the cheek and made coffee for both Edward and me. It was going to be a hell of a day and we'd both need the caffeine.
"Hush Bella. Of course I did. Now are the children and Edward all up as well?" She asked right as Maddie and Masen came tearing out of the bedroom.
"Nana!" They both exclaimed looking much more rested and relaxed than any of the adults in the room that was for sure.
I listened to them with one ear as they chatted happily about what they were going to do once they got to the lake house and I couldn't help but marvel at the resiliency of children. Although neither of them wanted to go and I was positive they were both afraid of the things going on around them that they didn't truly understand, they looked at going to the lake as an adventure and nothing more. For that, I was more grateful than I could put into words.
With the other ear, I listened for the shower to turn off so that I would know when Edward was done. I'd left the bedroom not even more than thirty minutes ago and I missed him, missed his strong and comforting presence more than was rational.
"Woof!" Rufus barked happily as he ran around my feet when I stood still for too long.
I bent down and picked him up, carrying him to the sofa where I could sit with him on my lap. I loved the little guy so much. Not just because he was from Seth and not even because he led me to Edward and the kids, though that was more than reason enough. But because he was ours, a part of this family and we all loved him. From the kids, to Edward and me all the way to Esme and Carlisle, Rufus was important to all of us.
"You, my favorite little guy, better be good up at the lake with Maddie and Masen," I told him as he looked at me with his head tipped to the side, like he was truly trying to understand what I was saying…and more than likely he did from the intense way he stared at me.
"Keep them safe, you hear me? You need to keep watch over all of them, even the grownups. They're our family and it's your job to protect them all," I whispered to him as I bent my head down and rubbed my nose back and forth over his soft head.
"I'm going to miss him as much as the kids and certainly more than Uncle Marcus." Edward chuckled softly as he bent down and tipped my chin up at him.
Even upside down the man took my breath away.
"I know, me too. But he needs to go with them," I said sadly as Rufus licked my hand.
Edward walked around the couch and sat next to me, pulling Rufus onto his lap and ran a hand over his wrinkly head. "You listen to mommy, you hear me? You be good up there and keep an eye on things for me," Edward told him.
The sounds of the kids laughing and Esme moving around in the kitchen pulled Rufus' attention to the other room and I looked at Edward with sad eyes.
"I know angel. Let's go eat, I know Mad and Mase are starving," he said as he held a hand out to me to pull me to my feet. "I love you my Bella. Never, ever forget for one moment how much. My life is nothing without you," Edward whispered softly as he placed the softest of kisses on my cheek.
Breakfast was a somewhat somber affair, though we all tried to keep happy smiles on our faces for the kids' sake. As soon as we ate Esme's delicious breakfast, Maddie and Masen scampered off to their rooms to get dressed. I looked at the clock and felt my stomach twist painfully as I realized in less than an hour my children were being sent away. The thought instantly brought tears to my eyes.
"Baby?" Edward cried out and rushed to my side and I cursed my inability to be strong for more than five damn minutes at a time.
"I'm so sorry Edward," I said between panting breaths as I tried to calm myself down.
"Bella, please. I told you not to apologize to me again. I can't listen to you do it anymore, I'm serious," Edward told me as he held my face in his hands and stared at me, willing me to calm down.
I shook my head, well as best I could with his hands gripping my face so tightly at any rate. "Not for what's happening Edward," I managed to whisper, the coffee I'd had with breakfast churning sourly in my stomach.
"I don't mean to fall apart. I'm trying not to, I really am," I told him truthfully. "Look at me, I'm a damn mess. I know they need to go, I do. I just hate that they have to. They're your," I said but what I was about to say got cut off abruptly.
"Isabella Marie Swan," he hissed as his green eyes pinned me to me chair. "If you even think about finishing that sentence I will seriously beat your ass. Just stop, you're acting completely crazy right now. Why don't you take a few minutes and let me take the kids downstairs to say goodbye to everyone there and then we'll be back up when Uncle Marcus and Alec get here."
"Okay," I said meekly, feeling even more like shit for almost saying something I surely didn't mean or would ever say anyway.
He stood up and lifted my head up to look at him and his eyes were softer again. "Bella, I love you. But you need to knock the nonsense off. I know you're scared and I know you hate that they have to go, but you can't let them see you like this. It isn't fair to them and it isn't fair to me either. You are so much better and stronger than this baby. I know you are," he whispered gently as he kissed my forehead and then went to get the kids.
Carlisle followed him leaving me with Father O'Connor and Esme. I took a few deep breaths and wiped my face with my fingers, pretty much ashamed of what had just happened.
"Bella, would you like me to get you a cool washcloth?" Esme asked sweetly, and I felt even more like shit since she was being so damn nice and not acting at all like I just basically threw Maddie and Masen back in Edward's face.
I nodded, still not sure I could find my voice, and closed my eyes to try to collect myself.
"You two make quite the pair my dear," Father O'Connor said with a chuckle and I snapped my head in his direction, making him laugh even harder. "You should have heard him last night Bella. He's just as bad as you are. Both of you need to stop being so concerned about the others feelings and worry about your own for a moment. While Edward wonders why this is happening to you, you wonder why it's happening to him. You and Edward both need to focus on getting through this trial together, as one. Edward is right you know. You are stronger and better than this," he said gently.
I took a few shuddering breaths, thankfully feeling more like myself again. "I know you're right. I told myself that last night when I woke him up to come to bed. I'm tired of being so afraid all the time. I'm tired of Edward not only worrying about what this is doing to the kids but me at the same time. I want to be stronger for him Father, I really do, but those three are my whole life. Without Edward, Maddie, and Masen…I have nothing," I finished quietly.
"Bella Swan!" Esme exclaimed as she came back to the table carrying a wet washcloth and a glass of ice water. "You have all of us as well as Jasper, Seth, and Rose. You will never be alone again Bella. Now, you need to buck up and face all of this like the soon-to-be Cullen you are my dear. We are all afraid for you, Edward, and the children but we are doing everything we can to make sure that nothing happens. You have to put your trust in you and Edward and you have to trust the rest of us as well. This is what families do sweetheart," Esme said as she kissed my cheek.
"Bella, it's hard, I know it is. It's hard to stay strong in the face of not only danger and evil, but in the unknown as well. But if you continue to be afraid, then you lose yourself. Don't let whoever is doing this to you, and by extension all those that love and care for you, affect your life in this way. Live my dear and face the unknown with your head high and beside Edward where you belong," he said and truer words had never been spoken.
What was happening wasn't fair. We all knew it wasn't, but until Alec and Riley could stop whoever it was, this is what we had to deal with. It sucked, so bad. It was hard, and the most painful thing I'd ever had to endure, but we couldn't stop living either.
I nodded at them both, not saying anything and went to our room and sat on the edge of the bed. I took a few more deep breaths and then looked at the ring on my finger and the bracelet on my hand and realized that those symbols along with the pendant around my neck were all I needed to remind me of my place… to remind me what was important. My family meant everything to me, and if we had any chance at all at coming through this still intact, it was going to be together. I let Father O'Connor's words settle over me. I belonged beside Edward and we would get through this together.
By the time I got myself together I could hear other voices in the living room and knew that Alec, Riley, and the others had arrived. Standing up, I ran my fingers over my pendant and then looked down at my hands at the ring and bracelet and then straightened my shoulders and walked out of the room with a smile on my face.
Edward, Alec, Riley, Marcus, and Demetri stood by the dining room table while they went over last minute arrangements. I could hear Esme and Diane in the kids' rooms making sure they had what they needed. For the time being, there would be no trips to see them and there was no plan on anyone other than the four of them traveling to Lake George until at least after the fashion show.
Twenty one fucking days…30,240 minutes…1,814,400 seconds…until that damn thing was here and done with.
Yes, I'd already figured it out, thinking it might be easier to count down that way, but I didn't think it would be.
Everyone looked in my direction when they heard the door open and after a brief head to toe inventory by Edward to make sure I was okay, he flashed me a brilliant smile and held his hand out to me. I walked over to him, telling myself over and over that all this was necessary and we would all be okay. My hand slipped effortlessly into his and I listened intently as they finalized the plans for leaving.
There was talk of decoy vehicles and such and while I cringed internally at the terms that were bandied about. Thankfully, I kept a calm look on my face. Edward would squeeze my hand periodically and every once in awhile Alec or Marcus would stop talking and look at me to make sure I was following along and when I nodded they would continue. I hated having to listen to the technical terms, thinking it made the fact that Maddie and Masen were leaving sound cold, but I understood that they had a job to do and that they were going to do whatever was necessary to make sure they were safe.
It was all that mattered to me really. As long as Edward and the kids were safe, then I knew I would be okay to face whatever came our way.
As soon as Esme and Diane walked out of Maddie and Masen's rooms the air got decidedly more tense and I knew it was going to be time for them to go.
Speaking up and trying to keep things on a somewhat lighter level, even though it was totally false, I called to the kids, "Hey you two! Come to the kitchen with me," I said with a smile and waved them over. Yesterday after we'd gotten home and after we'd had our dinner before Carlisle and Esme had arrived, I made a quick batch of double chocolate cookies for Masen to take with him and a batch of peanut butter ones for Maddie.
I grabbed the containers from the cabinet and handed one to each of them. I had attached a little note to each container, basically just telling them how proud of them Edward and I were and how much we would miss them. Not too much, but I wanted them to know that we would be thinking about them every moment they were gone.
"Thank you Mommy!" Masen squealed when he looked inside and he plucked a cookie out and stuffed in his mouth too quick to tell him not too, not that I was planning on it anyway.
"I'm saving mine for when we get to the lake," Maddie said primly and I smiled at her. I knew she would, it was just her way.
"I figured babygirl, but there are plenty if you decide you want one on the trip up there, okay?" I asked and kissed her on the cheek as she sat on the stool in front of the island.
"Bella, sweetheart, it's time," Edward said softly as he approached and stood behind each of the kids, placing a hand on each of their shoulders.
I nodded, not able to speak due to the large lump in my throat and walked around to stand beside him. He reached down and wove our fingers together, and whispered in my ear, "I love you Bella. It'll be okay," and I nodded again, though I did give him a small smile.
Marcus and Diane had their suitcases in their hands and we all traipsed to the elevator. The ride to the bottom was much too short, and brought us that much closer to having to say goodbye.
There were four identical Suburban's in the parking garage. Two would be traveling to Lake George; the other two were a diversion. Edward and I were going to be driven around the city for a bit and the other vehicle would follow us to make sure no one followed.
It was a lot to take in, but I was infinitely grateful to Alec for all his preparation and his diligence in keeping the kids safe. It was more than we could have ever asked for and though it was awful they had to leave, I knew it was for the best. It gave me the strength to put a smile on my face…at least until we got in the car and the kids drove off in the other direction.
Carlisle put Rufus' kennel in the back of the suburban and Marcus loaded up their luggage. I gripped Edward's hand in mine, pulling his strength to me and used it to keep me together.
As Carlisle and Esme hugged and kissed the kids, Marcus and Diane walked toward us. While Diane hugged Edward, Marcus wrapped me in a comforting hug. "You can trust me to protect them with my life little one," he whispered as he kissed my cheek.
"I know Uncle Marcus. I'm not going to worry as long as they are with you all," I told him honestly.
I wasn't. I knew Marcus and Demetri would ensure nothing would happen and the kids loved Heidi and Diane so they would be fine. "I love you for doing this for us, thank you so much for your help," I told him before he pulled away and he nodded and moved onto his nephew.
I cried a bit watching the two of them, their bond was unmistakable. Demetri hugged us both with promises to keep an eye on things and Heidi and I shared a look. I had told her a few things about the kids that would make things easier on everyone. Just routines that Maddie and Masen liked to follow as well as some of their favorite things to eat and watch on TV. I figured the more things stayed the same for them, the better.
I was so grateful to all of them; I couldn't even find the words to thank them. This…this is what families did for one another and I had never been so blessed in my life than to have these people around Edward and me.
Demetri and Heidi walked to get in the second vehicle and Marcus and Diane got in the first with Alec and Riley, leaving just Edward and I to say goodbye to Maddie and Masen. Carlisle, Esme, and Father O'Connor moved off to the side and I was so grateful that Edward had the others say goodbye before. There was no way they could have handled all this, plus all of them at the same time.
When we approached the twins, they were holding hands and each had tears in their eyes and my heart shattered at the sight of them. I kneeled down and opened my arms to them, and they both ran to them and wrapped their arms tightly around me.
"Shhh…guys, stop now," I told them as I pulled back and wiped both of their faces. "It will be okay, I promise. Daddy and I will call you every night before bed, just like I always have. And anytime you need to talk to us, just call. We're not farther away than a phone call, ever," I told them as my voice broke and suddenly Edward was on the ground beside me with his arms around all of us.
"You two take care of each other okay? Listen to Uncle Marcus and Aunt Diane and have fun with Uncle Dem and Heidi," he whispered hoarsely, tears flowing freely down his cheeks.
"We will Daddy," Masen said with a hiccup and Maddie nodded her head, her curls shaking with the motion.
"You know we love you right, that you're only going to the lake so you stay safe. Mommy and I love you very much and we'll miss you just as much," he said as he stood up.
"I love you too Daddy," Maddie cried and clung to his legs.
He picked her up and kissed her cheeks and whispered something in her ear that made her smile and look at me. Edward winked at her and then grinned at me. "You'll find out soon enough baby," he teased making us all smile.
"Mommy, you promise you'll call every night before bed right?" Masen asked and I wrapped my arm around him again.
"I promise little man. Every night. And if you want, maybe we can even practice too?" I asked which got a huge smile. "Uncle Dem can bring the laptop up there and we'll get on Skype and practice, how does that sound? And you, little miss," I giggled at Maddie who looked at me expectantly, "we can color and read stories together okay?"
"Daddy and I will do everything we can to get you guys home soon, we promise," I said when Marcus got out of the car to open the door so we could get them inside.
Edward stepped back to let me say goodbye first, and I bent down and pulled them to me one more time, inhaling their sweet scent so I could carry it with me. "I love you both very much, never forget how much okay? Take care of each other," I sobbed, not being able to hold it in any longer.
They each kissed me on the cheek, and whispered they loved me too and then I stepped back and let Edward have his turn. He enveloped them in his huge arms and kissed the both over and over, whispering in their ears. I knew he was telling them we loved them and would miss them, but I wondered at what else he said since they all looked back at me and smiled before he kissed them each on the head one more time and helped them in the car. With one last wave to me and one last kiss I blew back, Edward closed the door and rested his hand on it for a moment before he took a deep breath and held his hand out to me.
"You ready to do some sightseeing sweet girl?" he asked, trying not to sound like his heart was breaking while he held his hand out to me.
I nodded and walked to him, waving at the kids one more time and at to Uncle Marcus and the others as well. We did the same to Demetri and Heidi and when we approached the vehicle we were going to ride in, I made the mistake of looking at Esme and Carlisle, who had his arm wrapped firmly around her as he rubbed her back. From the shake of her shoulder, I could tell she was crying and I stopped abruptly, pulling Edward with me.
"Baby, what…," he started to ask and then looked in the direction I was.
"Edward," I said, looking at him through tear filled eyes and he stepped forward and kissed me on the forehead. "Angel, we have to go. They have a strict timeline they need to stick to," he said as he pulled me in the car with him.
I nodded at him and let him get me settled in the seat and then he got into his own.
The sound of all the vehicles starting at the same time rumbled through the garage and it shook the ground…or maybe it was just me shaking.
We pulled out of the garage and I reached for Edward's hand, his thumb rubbed back and forth over my ring.
My heart shattered when our vehicle turned right while the vehicle that held the other half of our family turned left and my breath caught in my throat. I knew I wouldn't be able to breathe right until we were together again.
"It's just you and me baby," Edward whispered, as he lifted my hand to his lips where he pressed a long, warm kiss over my finger and I smiled at him.
"Yep, and we can make it through anything as long as we're together," I told him as he gave me a tender look.
"Damn straight we can," he said as we both settled back in our seats, hearts heavy but anxious to put this whole nightmare behind us.
"Rufus, come here!" I yelled at him before he got too close to the water.
I huffed when he finally came back and then sat down on the ground. I'd just gotten done talking to Daddy and Mommy and I missed them…and I wanted to go home.
I loved it up here at the lake house and I had a feeling that once whatever was going on was over, we would move up here. I was excited about that. I would miss my friends, and I loved my school and my baseball team, but I really hoped we would move here. Far, far away from whatever was going on back in the city.
Daddy and Mommy might not have realized it, but I knew things were a lot worse than they told me and Mad they were. I could just tell. From the way Daddy always looked around and from the way Mommy always looked like she wanted to cry, I could tell things were bad.
I was scared but I was so mad too. I couldn't understand why someone would want to hurt my mommy. She was the nicest, prettiest, funnest mommy in the world and it hurt my tummy when I thought about something happening to her.
"Hey buddy, whatcha doing?" Uncle Marcus asked as he sat down next to me.
I loved Uncle M…so much. He was always so funny and it made me laugh to watch him and Papa tease each other. It also made me laugh to watch him with Daddy.
"Just sittin," I said with a shrug of my shoulders as I looked to make sure Rufus was still close by.
"You talk to your mom and dad?" he asked me and I nodded my head, digging in the dirt with a stick I had picked up.
"I did," I answered him with a sigh. "I wanna go home Uncle M."
He nodded at me. "I know you do Masen. I wish you could too, but you can't, not yet."
"But why not? I could help daddy make sure mommy was okay. I could! I may be little, but I'm strong and I could help. I want to help," I said, hanging my head cause I sounded like a whiny baby.
"Mase, look at me," Uncle M said and when I lifted my head he scooted me closer to him. "I know it's hard for you to understand, but you and Maddie can't be there right now. You have to be here and hopefully it's only for a little bit longer. Your mom and dad just want to make sure you guys are safe. You know if they didn't have to send you up here, they wouldn't have," he told me and I nodded my head.
"I don't understand why someone wants to hurt her," I said quietly as I swiped at my cheeks.
I didn't mean to cry, but I just couldn't help it.
"Masen, I'm a heck of a lot older than you and I don't understand it either. Bella is sweet, pretty, and everyone loves her. To a lot of people, she has everything and they want it too. When you want what someone else has, sometimes it makes you say and do things that aren't nice," he told me and I understood that…kinda.
Last year when my friend Bobby got a new iPod touch for his birthday, I wanted one so bad. I raced home, sure that daddy would get me one and when he told me no I was so mad. Then when I saw Bobby the next time, I got mad at him too, cause he had something I wanted. I was mean to him for a few days until I thought about what I would feel like if he was mad at me for the same thing and knew I would feel bad so I stopped being mean.
"I'm really scared something bad is gonna happen to Mommy," I whispered, feeling more tears come.
"I know you are buddy. We all are. Everyone loves Bella so much, and none of us want anything bad to happen to her, especially your daddy," Uncle Marcus said with a smile.
I couldn't help but snort at that. I watched my friends' moms and dads when we were at my baseball games or at Maddie's soccer games and none of them acted as goofy as my dad did when he was around my mom. He always watched her with a silly look on his face and boy, they kissed ALL the time. It was kinda gross if you asked me, but he was always laughing now so I figured it was a good thing.
I knew I had a 'real' mom out there somewhere, and I kind of thought it was that crazy lady from the soccer fields. I didn't ask anyone cause I really didn't want to know. I heard daddy and mommy talking to Aunt Ali after she talked to me that day at the soccer field, but I don't know what they said and I didn't care, really. Bella was my mommy now and I loved her. Ever since I got hurt at the baseball game with her, I knew I loved her and wanted her to always be my mommy. My friends were all so jealous of me cause Bella played the drums with me and I had my very own set. She was the coolest mom ever!
When me and Maddie talked to Nana and told her we wanted Bella to be our mommy I could tell it made her really happy, and that was nothing to how excited daddy was when he talked to us about it. Maddie and I were positive we wanted to ask her and when she told us yes, it was our turn to be really excited. I never told daddy, even though me and Mad talked about it sometimes, but we both missed having a mommy. It was hard when we had Mother's Day projects at school or when we did things for Christmas and Valentine's Day to give to our parents and we didn't have a mom to give anything too.
Sure we made things for Nana and Aunt Ali but it wasn't the same thing but now we had a mommy and now someone wanted to hurt her and it made me sad, and mad, and really scared.
"Daddy will make sure she's okay," I whispered, knowing it was true.
Even though Uncle Emmett and Uncle Dem were both bigger than daddy and Seth was too, there still wasn't anyone stronger than my dad. I knew he would make sure she was okay, but I was still mad I couldn't be there to help him.
Bella was our mommy and we picked her so I wanted to be the one that helped keep her okay.
"How about we go back up to the house? Aunt Di and Heidi were making brownies when I left. I bet we can sneak one before dinner," Uncle Marcus laughed at me and pulled me up with him.
"Come on Rufus," I hollered when we started to walk back to the house.
"There you two are!" Aunt Diane laughed when we walked through the back door and went into the kitchen. "I was beginning to think you fell into the lake!"
"Nah, Masen and I were just hanging out for a bit," Uncle Marcus said as he snatched a brownie off the plate.
"Marcus! Those were for the kids!" Aunt Diane yelled at him and then Uncle Dem came running in the kitchen.
"Did I hear someone say brownies? Sweet!" He swiped two and shoved them in his mouth and looked just like Uncle Emmett.
They were both so silly.
"Demetri Cullen, when I said kids I meant Maddie and Masen," she said as she placed a glass of milk in front of me.
"Ah, Mom. You know I can't resist brownies besides Mase loves me and he would share, wouldn't you little man?" I nodded my head at him cause I really would share.
"Hurry up Masen, I got the XBOX all set up. Let's get online and beat Uncle Em and Jasper at some football!" I started chugging my milk cause I loved Madden and when I was done I saw Maddie sitting at the table coloring a picture.
"Do you want to come play with us Mad?" I asked her, not wanting to leave her by herself.
"Nah, it's okay. I'm just drawing Mommy and Daddy a picture, see?" She held it up and it was a picture of the house here at the lake.
She made the bestest pictures ever. Mine always turned out like crap, but hers were always so pretty.
"It looks great, they'll love it," I told her.
"I miss them. I wanna go home," she said and I remembered Daddy telling me to keep her safe and that she needed me.
"I know sissy. Me too, but Daddy said he hoped soon. We'll be okay," I told her and kissed her cheek before running to the game room to play football.
We would be okay. Mommy would be okay. I knew that cause Daddy said so and Daddy never lied.
The week after Maddie and Masen left were the most excruciating seven days I had ever spent in my life. Aro had been kind enough to rearrange my schedule to give me the Monday and Tuesday following the kids leaving off so that Edward and I could spend the days together before I had to start my appearances again. Fashion Week was to start on September ninth and ran until September sixteenth when I would make my final appearance as a Volturi model representing Twilight Sporting Goods.
Jasper hadn't been lying when he said that Aro and Jane had set up numerous appearances for me leading up to the opening night of Fashion Week. I understood what they were trying to do and even I had to admit that it made sense. Starting with the MLB All-Star game and ending with the Teen Choice Awards, I really had been on television more in the last few months than I had throughout my entire career. Just this week I was going to be on David Letterman, again, Good Morning America, again and I was also going to be making an appearance at the US Tennis Open and attending some events surrounding that. Not to mention a few interviews on the syndicated radio shows in the city as well as a photo spread in Vogue. ESPN The Magazine also wanted to do an article on me so I had to do a photo shoot for that, too. And that was just what was coming up this week.
Once we made it through that week with no problems, the next one went by just as quickly and with just as many appearances to attend. It seemed like Aro and Jane were trying to fill the last weeks of my contract with every photo op, talk show, radio interview, and restaurant and club opening they could. I began my day usually before the sun came up and Edward and I would make it home anywhere from dinner time to way past our bedtimes depending on the commitment for the evening.
I had to say that being so busy made the time pass quicker and gave me less time to dwell on the fact that there was still someone out there that wanted to kill me and that half our family was two hundred miles away.
We did manage to talk to the kids a few times a day, and like I promised, I answered the phone every time they called, it didn't matter what was going on. The only time it became a bit of an issue was during a live appearance on Good Morning America, but as soon as there was a commercial break, I called them right back. We spoke every night before bed and Edward and I talked with them on Skype at least once a day. It was hard, but we were making the best of it.
Fashion Week was finally here, I realized with a start, when I woke up Thursday morning. It was so strange to lay in bed with Edward and know that next week at this time; I didn't have anyplace I had to be. That I had no office making my schedule, and that I had no one I had to check in with, except for Edward and whoever else I wanted to talk to. If I wanted to walk around the house in boxers and a t-shirt all day, I could. If I wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…I could.
It was incredibly freeing to realize all of that, and if I was being honest, it was somewhat bittersweet as well. While the past five years were not what I wanted for my life, I couldn't find it in me to be angry about it either. I was able to get my father the best medical care money could buy and while it didn't save him, it did make him more comfortable when the end came. I knew, even though it ultimately took me reuniting with Carlisle again years later to come that understanding, that I had done everything within my power to save him.
While I am convinced that Seth, Jasper, Rose, and I would have remained close for the past five years, I'm not entirely sure that our bond with one another would be as strong as it was today if wasn't for that time either. My family and I had been through so much and not only had it brought us closer together, we had all learned what it meant to truly sacrifice for people who you love.
I sighed and looked at the man beside me in bed. It was hard to regret anything about the past five years when it led me to him and his, now our, children. It was impossible to second guess anything that happened starting all those years ago with Renee, then years later when I got hurt and then Charlie got sick and the James fiasco, since the path led me here, to him.
Edward, Maddie, and Masen were my gift, I truly believed this. I don't know if it was a reward for suffering everything I did in the past of if it was just because we were destined to be together. I didn't really care what brought us together, just that we were.
"Why are you staring at me while I sleep? That's a little creepy baby," Edward mumbled as he peeked out of one eye at me.
"Humph! You watch me all the time, I know you do," I giggled when he pulled me on top of him.
I looked down in his sleepy, rumpled face and my breath caught when I thought about how much I loved the man beneath me…how much he owned me, heart, body, and soul.
"Now what is that look for my beautiful girl?" he asked as he cupped my cheek and ran his thumb back and forth over the warm skin thanks to my ever present blush.
I shrugged my shoulders and he pushed my hair back over them. "I was just thinking about this time next week. I can't believe the end is so close," I said softly and then laid my head down on his chest hearing his heart beat strong and sure beneath my ear.
He ran his fingers through my hair, a ritual I hoped he never tired of, and said just as quietly, "It almost seems surreal that in less than seven days I'll have you all to myself, forever. What do you think about running away to an island somewhere? Just you, me, and the kids?"
I giggled but he went on, "Just imagine it baby. Mase and I can fish, you and Maddie can make grass skirts to wear. We'll make a hut, one for us and one for them, that way at night, I can make love to you all night long to the sounds of the ocean," he said with a sigh.
"Edward, we can't run away to an island, but we can go on a really long vacation if you want to. Just the four of us. Someplace quiet where we can just be together," I whispered as I ran my fingers through the smattering of chest hair he had.
"I like that idea too, Bella. I need sometime with you and the kids, just ourselves. Anyplace in particular you want to go?" He asked as he shifted us so that I faced him.
I shook my head, "Surprise me Edward. I don't care where it is, as long as we're together. I don't care where; I don't care for how long. All I need is you and the kids…and maybe a book or two and a kitchen to cook in. Other than that, the place really doesn't matter," I finished as I leaned in and kissed him.
"Giving me free rein to spoil you may come back to bite you on the ass my love," he chuckled as he crawled on top of me. "You never know what crazy, over the top vacation I might come up with." Edward grinned and then kissed me again.
"Sweetheart, I hate to burst your bubble, I really do, but you do realize the kids have school, right? We already had to make special arrangements for their first few weeks. We can't just pick up and take off with them again," I said with a sigh, wishing we really could do just that.
"Damn it," Edward huffed as he flopped back on his side of the bed and threw his arms over his head. "I forgot about that. Well, that just means I have to be more creative then, doesn't it?"
The gleam in his eye made me a bit nervous to be honest. When Edward Cullen set his mind to something there was no telling what he could come up with, but I didn't care. Just being with him and the kids is all I wanted.
"I love you Edward," I said as I kissed him one more time before I got up to start my last week as a Volturi model.
"Not as much as I love you my sweet girl. Now go fix me breakfast woman, I've got some planning to do," he said with a smirk.
I really couldn't wait to see what he came up with, not that I would tell him that.
"Sweet girl, are you alright?" Edward asked as he leaned against the doorjamb of our room as I threw things hastily in my bag to take to the show.
Christ, I couldn't believe it was finally here!
My dress for the after party and my shoes to go along with it were already in my dressing room, having been delivered to Angela yesterday by Alice and Tanya…especially since they helped pick out the damn thing in the first place.
Now I was just making sure I had my iPod, my robe, and my rhino so that I could chill out in my dressing room until it was time to get dressed.
"It seems like so long ago when I won him for you," Edward said quietly as he walked toward me.
I picked up the stuffed animal and rubbed my nose against the soft fur and smiled. "It really does. Hard to believe it was only a few months ago, though," I said with a sweet smile as he hooked his hands at the small of my back.
He bent down and nuzzled my neck with his nose and whispered, "Even then, I think I knew I loved you. I sure as hell knew you drove me crazy. I couldn't stop thinking about you and I drove Tanya and Pop nuts at the office talking about you all the time. I was worse than a teenager with a crush, baby," he said with a chuckle as he kissed me in my favorite spot.
"I slept with this little guy every night, you know? He even came with me on that first trip to California. I had to have something that reminded me of you to keep me from going crazy since I was so far away from you," I told him as I ran my hands through his hair.
"I love you so much Bella. Tonight is going to go perfectly and tomorrow we'll talk with Alec about going to get the kids," he told me as he stood up and kissed the end of my nose.
"I love you too, Edward. I can't wait for tonight to be over," I said with a sigh as I placed the animal in my bag and zipped it up.
Edward showered and got dressed, dressing much earlier than he needed to, but he was coming with me now to the Lincoln Center where he would meet up with the family later. Once it was time for me to start getting ready, he wasn't allowed backstage, but he was waiting as long as possible with me before he had to take his seat.
"You always look so sexy in a suit Edward," I said to him as I eyed him up and down in the elevator. He had on a black suit with a white shirt and an bright blue, gray, and white tie on that matched the dress I was changing into later to attend the party.
"Well, I'm glad you think so baby. Since I've been on leave from the office, I haven't had to dress up that much. Can't say I miss it a whole lot either," he whined as he fidgeted with the tie, making it crooked in the process.
After we stepped out of the elevator and I saw the suburban waiting to take us to the show, I stepped forward, reaching up to adjust the knot of his tie again and then pulled him down to me. "Well then, we'll just have to get the hell out of the party as fast as we can and get back here so I can get you out of this suit then, won't we? Can't have you being all uncomfortable when the alternative of you being naked is so much better," I whispered as I licked up the side of his smooth shaven jaw.
"Evil, evil little girl you are," Edward said as he pinched my ass and then led me to the car.
Emmett and Seth were in the front and Edward and I got in the back. We got settled in the car and got our seatbelts fastened and then went over the plan for the evening with Alec and Riley…again.
Alec looked up from his notebook and gave me a grin, "I know we've gone over this already Bella, but we can't afford to make any mistakes tonight. There are just too many people and too many chances for things to go wrong. Now, Edward is going to wait with you backstage until he has to take his seat out front. We have agents by the back door and side door making sure no one suspicious tries to enter as well as at the front checking ID's with the staff for the Lincoln Center. The staff has pictures of Jacob, Lauren, Victoria, and Kate to make sure they don't enter the facility," Alec said, taking a breath and double checking something on his list before looking at us again. "Now, Bella, you are the last one in the line up correct?" When I nodded he went on, "And then you will walk the runway one last time before taking your final bow and then going to back stage to change right?" I nodded again. "Edward, you are going to meet Bella backstage and then accompany her across the street to the party where the rest of the family will be waiting with Riley and me. Once you two arrive, you can make your rounds Bella and try to enjoy the night celebrating with your family. Barring any unforeseen happenings, once you get some rest tonight, we'll meet tomorrow to discuss the plan to bring the children back," Alec finished as he closed his notebook.
"Riley, you've been awfully quiet so far. What do you think?" Edward asked.
I knew that because Emmett had trusted Riley so much, his opinion was important to Edward. Not that Alec's wasn't because obviously he'd been invaluable the past month, but Riley had been around us longer. "I want this all to be over as much as you two do, believe me. I know tonight is a big night but just because nothing happens tonight, doesn't mean the threat is over. You need to remember that, alright? Until we find out who is sending those letters we have to assume there is still someone out there that wants to harm Bella. Letting our guard down, even for a moment, could wind up being disastrous."
"Shit," Edward murmured and that feeling was echoed from the front seat as well.
"I want the kids home, soon," I said as I looked from Riley to Alec. "Or else we go there, now that I don't have any commitments that have to be met."
"Bella, we have to do what Riley and Alec think is best," Edward said as he grabbed my hand and laid it between his.
I looked out the window for a moment before speaking, "I know Edward, but I miss them and I need them. I know you do too and they need us as well. We can't keep up this separation indefinitely."
"We'll talk about it more tomorrow, Bella," Alec said as we pulled up to the venue where there was already plenty of commotion going on.
Emmett parked the suburban and he and Seth accompanied Edward and I to the backstage area and Alec and Riley went to meet with the staff that would be monitoring the entrances later tonight to ensure that they were aware of the procedures they wanted in place.
When a half naked model paraded in front of Emmett, I slapped him in the back of the head. "Em, you better hope Rose never sees you watch another woman with your mouth hanging open like that. Your balls might be permanently detached from your body if she did," I giggled at him.
"Damn, B! You get to walk around back here with women like that? Maybe I need to find a new line of work," Emmett said with a wink as he watched another girl traipse around without a care that she was flashing everyone her goodies up top.
"When you run that past Lele, make sure you let me know man! I want front row seats to that shit," Seth laughed at him and slapped him on the back.
"Baby, please tell me you've never done that," Edward said as he pulled me against his side as we approached my dressing room.
"Edward Cullen, you should know better than that!" I said somewhat indignantly, but when I saw the relieved look on his face I could only laugh.
"Jesus. Thank God," Edward said with a smirk. "I'd hate to have to go around and knock the shit out of strangers on your last night."
We entered my dressing room and Seth and Emmett went to go find Riley and Alec, leaving us blessedly alone for a few minutes. I pushed Edward down on the sofa and then straddled his legs, trying not to wrinkle his suit in the process. "You know you're the only one that gets to see the goodies Edward," I whispered to him and bent forward to capture his lips in a scorching kiss.
When we had to separate to breathe he slipped his hands beneath my shirt and palmed my breasts. "I'm the only one that will ever get to see these gorgeous goodies ever again," he said as ran his thumbs over the tips that were now getting hard under his apt attention.
"Always and forever you baby," I said with a moan and then kissed him again.
A knock on the door a few minutes into our rather heated make out session later, put an abrupt end to the play time and my dressing room was like Grand Central Station from then on. I didn't have time to get nervous about the show which was a good thing, but I didn't get to talk to Edward much which was a bad thing. Fortunately, just knowing he was in the room with me helped keep the nerves at bay.
The announcement that show time was an hour away came and I was shocked so much time had passed already.
"Edward," Angela said as she checked my dress for the after party one more time, "it's time for you to take your seat out front."
He looked pained for a minute and that made my stomach twist but we just had to make it through the next few hours. "Sweetheart, I'll be okay," I whispered as I heard the door shut behind Angela.
"I know you will be Bella. It's me I'm worried about. I've never seen you do one of these you know? I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy that many people looking at you," he said as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Oh stop it!" I giggled at him, even though I knew he was being somewhat serious. "Edward, it's the last time and then I'm solely and completely yours to ogle any time you want to," I grinned and raised my eyebrow at him.
"Damn straight you'll be mine. I can't wait to make you mine officially," he breathed against my neck before he kissed me softly.
"Can't come soon enough if you ask me," I told him back and then gave him a quick kiss when I heard Angela knock on the door again.
"You have to go, baby. I'll be done before you know it and then we can go home and celebrate," I told him.
"I love you Bella, so very much. Knock 'em dead baby," he said with a wink as he kissed me quickly and then walked past Angela to make his way to the family and their seats.
"This is it Bella, are you ready?" Angela asked, and laughed when I nodded my head enthusiastically.
"Hell fucking yeah I am. In a few hours, I'm a free woman!" I said as I gave her a hug so we could go to hair and make up.
"Isa," the handlers called in the midst of the chaos back stage. "You're up soon, are you going to be alright?"
I took a deep breath, and tried to calm my nerves.
The night was surreal. There were people everywhere, pushing and shoving and yelling and screaming. I couldn't believe this day was finally here. The day that, for five years, I hoped and prayed would come just so that I could get to tomorrow.
Tomorrow where I would be free. Tomorrow where I would begin the first day of the rest of my forever with Edward, Maddie, and Masen.
Without thinking about it, I stretched my thumb across my fingers and ran it over the Mother's ring there; reminding myself that soon Maddie and Masen would be home with Edward and me…where they belonged. My other hand automatically reached up and held the heart pendant between my thumb and forefinger, rubbing the rough edges of the diamonds and using the sensation to keep me focused on what was important.
Edward. Maddie. Masen.
I repeated their names over and over again in my head, the mantra working its magic to keep me calm.
"Isa," Aro said as he stood beside me. "You look absolutely stunning," he said as he looked me up and down.
I blew out an embarrassed breath and rolled my eyes. I mean I was standing in front of the man who for the last five years, held my future in the palm of his hands…while I wore the world's skimpiest bikini. The same man who, up until three weeks ago, treated me like a commodity instead of a person. I was having a bit of a hard time reconciling the pleasant man in front of me now with the man I thought I knew for the past five years.
"Thank you Aro," I answered him as I rested my hands over my stomach where I would swear there were hundreds of butterflies floating around inside.
"Yes, Bella. You look lovely," Jane said as she stood beside her father.
While my feelings toward Aro may have changed, my feelings for his daughter definitely had not.
I really just wanted the night to be over.
I had a feeling if we could make it through the night without incident, Edward and I would be well on our way to our forever.
As I finished with my makeup and hair and took my place in line, I couldn't stop the feeling of foreboding that settled over me as I was about to step out onto the stage and underneath the lights.
"And now ladies and gentlemen," the announcer said excitedly into the microphone, "Making her last appearance as a Volturi model and Twilight representative, may I present, Isa!"
I took a step onto the stage…and my world changed forever.
The lights blazed and the music blared and I paid no attention to it at all. Edward and the rest of my family were out there in the crowd somewhere, and I tried not to think about that either. All that I was concerned with was walking up and down the runway without falling on my ass and making a total fool out of myself on my last official appearance.
I grinned to myself, breaking the rule to keep our faces as impassive as possible as we walked the runway. I couldn't help it. My heart felt like it was about to burst out of my chest and it wasn't because I was nervous either, though I suppose I should have been. I knew that out there amongst the photographers and the celebrities there could very well be the person that wanted to kill me for whatever reason their deluded brain had imagined, but I couldn't really find it in me to want to dwell on that fact too much. Instead I focused myself on the fact that soon...so damn soon this would all be over.
My stomach clenched when I thought about Edward and me getting married but I tried to put that out my mind as best I could before I ruined the whole damn show by smiling too much.
Who the hell made up the asinine rule that models weren't supposed to smile anyway?
I walked…well strutted back and forth stopping and posing as I heard the clicks of cameras and registered the sounds of applause. It was surreal, really, this whole thing. I'd come to some conclusions over the past few weeks while the children had been gone. I recognized that while I didn't ever plan on doing this with my life, I was pretty damn good at it. I was easy to work with, I knew, and I tried to be as pleasant as I possibly could be to everyone who I came in contact with. I may have hated the touching and the ogling, but for the most part, people were genuinely nice and I enjoyed meeting them.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let's give one more round of applause for Isa! We are sure going to miss her but we wish her the best in the future," the announcer yelled over the music and I was shocked beyond belief and more than a bit moved when the entire audience rose to their feet to give me standing ovation.
Saying fuck it to the rule about not smiling, I let a big grin spread across my face and even went so far as to wave at the crowd. I blew a kiss in Edward's direction when I finally noticed him and he looked as proud of me as I felt of myself at the moment.
I did it…I honored my commitment to Volturi. I'd paid back my debt to Aro for his help with my father and now I was free. Free to go forward with Edward, Maddie, and Masen and free to live the life we wanted without any hindrances.
As soon as I turned and gave one last wave to the thunderous applause I slipped behind the curtain. My heart was beating a mile a minute and so much adrenaline was flowing through me I swore it would take days before the high I was on faded away.
"Bella!" Angela cried as soon as I broke free of the throng of people that had congregated backstage. I knew I had one more walk to do, the final of the show and then, I was done forever. "You looked so happy out there!" Angela said as she kissed my cheek and I didn't even care if she got lipstick on me or not.
"Ang, it was amazing!" I squealed, surprising myself by how happy I sounded.
"Well get your ass back in line so you can strut your stuff one last time. I'll go get Edward and bring him backstage to meet you, okay?" she asked excitedly.
I was herded to the end of the line by the handlers and took a few deep breaths as I got congratulations from a few of the other girls. I felt kind of bad at not ever making more of an effort to get to know any of them but really, I had nothing in common with them. Most, I won't say all because I have no idea, liked to go out and party and hook up with guys and stay out all night dancing and that was just not my scene. It never had been and that lack of a common bond made finding things to talk about pretty damn difficult.
The line began to move forward and I passed Aro and Jane as they both smiled at me. I had a lot of mixed emotions about the two of them but didn't have the time to dwell on any of them right at the moment. I stepped back through the curtain and made my way down the runway for the absolute, very last time ever and I couldn't have been happier. The next time I walked down anything and had people looking at me, I better damn well be meeting Edward at the end.
I was completely absorbed in all the thoughts swimming in my head and before I knew what was happening, all the models were lined up on either side of me and were taking the final bow of the night. With a final wave and a wink toward my family, I stepped behind the curtain.
Arms flew at me from every direction as I was engulfed in hugs and given kisses from the other models before they moved to the dressing area to change before heading to the after party. I had to attend, there was no way out of it and truthfully I didn't even mind all that much. I wanted to celebrate with Edward and the rest of the family and I owed it to Aro and Jane and to Twilight to make an appearance at the very least.
"Isabella, dear, what a spectacular night," Aro said as the crowd around me thinned out some. He bent down to kiss my on both of my cheeks and for the first time in five years I didn't cringe at his actions.
"Thank you Aro," I told him sincerely. "It was fun tonight, I have to admit," I smiled, taking the bottle of water one of the handlers handed to me while also passing me my robe. I took a long drink of the water and slipped the robe over my shoulders to cover myself now that the excitement had somewhat died down.
"You and your family will be attending the party at the club?" he questioned as he looked at Jane and then back at me.
When I nodded in confirmation, he said, "Very good. Well, dear, let's let you get changed and then we shall see you shortly." He picked my hand up and kissed the back of it and then proceeded to talk to a few of the other girls.
"Good show Bella," Jane said as I smiled at her and then at Ian who was standing behind her. I looked around for Edward but didn't see him yet. "Are you looking for Edward?" she asked me and I nodded my head absently as I continued to scan the backstage area.
The crowd hadn't thinned any and I couldn't see Alec or Riley …or Emmett or Seth for that matter. Jesus, there were so many people. All the models had their own entourages of people, managers, agents, boyfriends, and the place was still packed with people.
"Why don't you go to your dressing room and get changed and I'll send him back. I'm sure you could use a few minutes alone with him anyway before you head over to the party. I'll have Ian get a message to Angela and tell the family you'll see them at the club when you're ready to head over there," Jane told me and escaping to my dressing room sounded like heaven.
"Thank you Jane," I told her, letting out a deep sigh. "Can you remind Edward to let Riley and Alec know what the plans are too on his way back?" I asked as I started to move towards where the dressing rooms were.
"Sure Bella. Go sit and close your eyes for a few minutes. You've had a big night, and it isn't over yet. I'll get Edward to you in just a few moments," Jane said as she turned to walk back out toward the spectator area.
I wove my way in and out of the throng of people before I slipped into my dressing room and closed the door with a squeal of excitement.
Alone at fucking last and Edward would be here in a few minutes and we would be able to have some quiet time before the rest of the insanity of the night. I reached into my bag on the counter and pulled out the bracelet the kids had given me and slipped it back on. I had to fight tooth and nail to get to keep the ring and the pendant on so I didn't push the bracelet. I knew it was a battle I wouldn't win and I was just grateful that the ring and the necklace stayed.
I finished the bottle of water in my hand and noticed that both my hands were shaking. Deciding it was due to the adrenaline wearing off, I quickly slipped a pair of yoga pants and a tank top over the bikini I still had on. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I was thrilled when Twilight told me I could keep it as a thank you for the night's performance. I had no doubt Edward would thoroughly enjoy a peek up close and personal of me wearing it.
A knock on the door as I finished wrapping my hair in a pony tail tie made me smile and as soon as the 'come in' left my lips, the door was wrenched open and Edward strode purposefully toward me.
"You did it baby!" he bellowed happily when he reached for me and I jumped in his arms, wrapping my legs around his waist.
"I love you!" I said as I peppered his face with kiss after kiss.
"Bella, damn angel. You were so beautiful out there. Is it bad to say I hope we get some pictures of that shit because you were incredible?" Edward said when I finally moved from his lips to his neck.
"Edward, it was so amazing. I wasn't nervous at all and all I thought about was you," I told him as I kissed him, hard, on the lips and ran my hands through his hair.
"I love you Isabella Marie soon-to-be Cullen. So damn much. I'm so fucking proud of you for finishing this, even with all the shit going on around us," Edward said as he kissed my forehead.
I vaguely heard the door shut and lock behind us and it wasn't until I heard the voice of Jane sneer, "Well isn't this sweet?" That I realized she was in the room with us.
Looking over Edward's shoulder, who still had his back to her I said, "Jane what the hell…" I started to ask but my voice immediately broke off when I noticed the gun with the silencer on the end in her hand.
"It was you," I whispered, my voice shaking.
"Bella?" Edward asked as my legs fell away from his waist and I slipped down to put my feet on the floor.
"It was Jane," I said again and felt my body get pulled behind his as he turned around to face her.
"You!" Edward roared and Jane regarded us both with a disgusted, but self-satisfied look on her face.
"Yes me. Did you enjoy our little game?" she asked as she moved the gun back and forth. "I did, so very much."
My heart was beating so hard in my chest I felt like I would pass out. I tried to take a few deep breaths to calm down, even though the effort was mostly futile. Edward still stood in front of me, protecting me with his body as best he could. The tension was rolling off him in waves and his shoulders moved up and down with each heaving breath he took.
I took another moment to look at Jane and the look that I'd seen on her face from time to time over the past five years was present again. The look of pure hatred she had for me was there and her eyes were narrowed into slits as she stared at me. The repulsion she obviously felt was plain as day now that her mask was gone and I realized with a start that there was nothing there behind the eyes. She was a bottomless pit of hatred and evil and I had no idea how I had missed it for so long.
"Why?" I croaked out and moved to stand beside Edward.
"Bella, stay put," he hissed sharply at me as he glanced from me to Jane quickly.
"Oh my dearest Edward," Jane cackled maniacally as her eyes darted back and forth between us. "It's not Bella I'm after anyway. It's you," she rasped as she trained the gun on him.
"NO!" I exclaimed, hoping and praying that I could distract her long enough for someone to come help.
I knew with the plan we had discussed with Alec and Riley it would be a bit before they became alarmed that we hadn't arrived yet but I prayed that someone would hear…something.
"What's the matter Bella?" Jane taunted as she shook her head at me. "You've taken everything from me, so why shouldn't I take everything from you?"
"Jane, I don't know what you're talking about. What have I ever taken from you?" I asked as I inched around Edward and stood next to him.
His hand gripped mine painfully and it shook as he held it tightly in his. "Bella," Edward said, his voice trembling. He shook his head no at me but I would do whatever I could to keep her talking and give us any hope of getting out of here unharmed. I didn't care about myself, but Edward wouldn't pay the price for Jane's warped sense of reality if I could help it.
"Are you fucking kidding me Bella?" Jane screeched as her eyes bore into me. "What haven't you taken? My own father has barely noticed me for the past five years thanks to you! Do you know that since he found you, he's forgotten my birthday every year?" she muttered and Edward and I shared a look.
He motioned toward the door and I could tell he was planning on distracting or attacking Jane so I could get away but there was no way in hell that was happening. I shook my head quickly and turned back toward Jane, ignoring the painful squeeze Edward gave my hand.
"Jane, I can't help it if Aro has acted that way toward me. You know I've never asked to treat me any differently than an employee," I told her, trying to make her be rational.
The longer I could keep her talking the better I knew even though Edward was strung so tight beside me he would snap at the merest provocation. I tried to will him to calm down, but he was having none of it. His eyes were pinned on Jane and there was no way he was moving as long as she held a gun, I knew that.
"You may not have asked dearest Bella, but you sure enjoyed the attention he lavished on you. I watched you, you know. Every time he paid you a compliment, every time he kissed your cheek, you ate it up and took the attention that he should have been paying to me. Until you came along, it had been just me and him and that is the way it would have stayed if you hadn't interfered," Jane mumbled as her eyes moved quickly around the room, as if she was searching for something.
"Not only did you take my father, but you took Ian too!" she spat as she leveled the gun in our direction again. Her hand shook and though her eyes looked completely unfocused I knew one wrong move and it would be all it took before she fell apart.
"He doesn't know I found out, but I did. I know he only approached me in California so he could find out more about you!" Jane fumed, spittle flying from her mouth. "I loved him Bella but I wasn't good enough for him either. Every time I turn around you're always getting in the way and taking the things I want!" She screamed and I cringed at the voice that came from her throat.
I also hoped and prayed someone could hear her as she continued to rant and rave about everything she blamed me for. The longer we kept her talking, the greater our hope was of getting out of here.
"And now," she said in a chilling voice that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, "now you have everything I want. You have a family to call your own; you have a man that loves you as much as his kids do. You have the life I've always wanted, the one you took away from me," Jane said darkly.
"You have had months to heed my warnings and you didn't listen. I'll admit at first, I was just going to kill you, thinking that the world would be so much better off without you in it. But after watching the two of you," she said as she waved the gun back and forth, pointing at me and then Edward, "I realized that the way to hurt you the most was to take away the person that meant the most to you," she said slowly as she held the gun in Edward's direction.
Jesus Christ no, I screamed in my head. There would be no way I could survive if anything happened to him, especially because of me.
I wrenched my hand from Edward's, even though if felt like part of me was breaking apart to do so, but I needed him to let me go in order to save him. Maddie and Masen needed him; I wouldn't allow anything to happen to him, no matter what happened to me.
"Bella, stop!" Edward breathed out as he tried to grab me, but I shook him off. My heart broke; it was obliterated at the thought that Jane would hurt him just to get back at me.
"Jane, you don't have to hurt Edward. He has done nothing to you; it's me you're angry with. Let him go and I'll go away, I'll do whatever you want, just please don't hurt him," I begged, trying to ignore the sharp, shooting pain I felt as I realized that I had just basically said I would leave Edward.
I would though…if she let him leave, unharmed, I would.
"Damn it Bella, knock it off!" Edward hissed again from behind me.
I shook my head and watched Jane again. She was twitching and shaking violently and muttering to herself but every time one of us would make a move, she would snap her head up and focus her eyes on us. She was clearly out of it, but not so much so that we could escape. She was eerily in tune to our positions and what was going on around her.
Jane walked back and forth, her eyes darted from me to Edward and then back and forth again and again. The gun hung limply beside her leg and I heard Edward shift his position behind me and my heart stopped beating when Jane immediately leveled the gun straight at him.
"Better not make another move Edward or else the end will come much sooner than you like. You do want a chance to say goodbye to your Bella don't you? Don't move again or next time I shoot. I've been preparing for this moment for months and months now…don't ruin it for me or else you'll be sorry," Jane said nonchalantly and that tone was more haunting than anything else.
"Jane please, just let him go," I begged again when I couldn't stand to watch her pace back and forth any longer.
"Nice try Bella, but not happening. Oh sure, you'd be miserable without each other, but you'd eventually find your way back together. I've been watching you for months now, you know. You two are so sickeningly close nothing could tear you apart….except for this," she said in an even tone of voice as she lifted her arm.
It was almost as if the whole thing played out in slow motion…I saw her lift her arm, but it took me a second to realize what she was doing. When I did, I screamed, "No!" and turned and pushed Edward out of the way at the same time I heard a muffled "pfft," as she fired the gun toward Edward.
I felt nothing for the few seconds it took me to fall to the ground, but as soon as my head hit the floor, hard, a blinding, white hot pain spread from the upper left part of my chest outward. I barely registered the sound of a door breaking open and the shouts and more pops going off around me.
It was hard to breathe, really fucking hard. I heard the wheezing, wet sound as I laid on the floor, feeling something warm and wet beneath my head. I tried to open my eyes to see what was happening, but I couldn't. When I tried to concentrate on what was going on in the room, the sounds were all distorted and I wasn't able to focus at all.
"Bella! Fuck baby…open your eyes for me angel," Edward cried as I felt his hands moving quickly over my ribs, and I let out a horrific moan when he touched them.
"Jesus, Dad! She's broken her ribs and her breathing is labored. I think she's punctured a lung," he sobbed as he kissed my forehead.
"You hang on Bella, do you hear me? You're going to be okay baby," he said, though his voice sounded far away which didn't make any sense since he was right here.
I was suddenly so tired but I knew I wanted to tell him something, but my body wouldn't concentrate. The blinding pain from my chest was even worse now and my head hurt so bad I wanted to cry but I couldn't. The smell of blood was all around me and though I registered it, I couldn't find the will to wonder where it had come from.
I felt a sharp stab in my chest and some of the pressure dissipated and I moaned and managed to open my eyes. I felt hands moving across my chest as someone pressed a cloth or something against it. It hurt so badly every time they pressed against the blood there.
I was getting so weak but I could at least take a breath now, so I forced the words to come out, "I love you Edward, so much."
"Bella, you stay with me! You hear me, you aren't leaving me, you promised!" Edward yelled as there was a commotion as more people entered the small room.
"Edward, they have to take her now. You have to let her go," I recognized Carlisle's voice as he coaxed my Edward to let go of my hands.
"Pop, no! I can't, please don't make me," he sobbed and I wanted to tell him it was okay, but I couldn't.
"Let the paramedics get her stabilized then you can ride in the ambulance with her. The hospital already knows they're bringing her in son," Carlisle said as my mind drifted.
I was so tired, I wanted to sleep.
From far away I heard voices shout and I moaned again as my body was jostled back and forth. "Fuck, the bullet is still lodged in her chest," I heard someone mutter and I wondered if that was what hurt so bad.
My mind was overcome with pain and visions of Edward, Maddie, and Masen and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I heard medical terms and felt my arm get poked and prodded and then I was lifted into what I assumed was the ambulance.
The sirens were loud I was sure, but I couldn't really hear them. I knew Edward was next to me, I could feel him. I knew he was talking, I felt his lips move beside my ear, but I didn't understand what he was saying. I felt sleep and darkness pulling at me, and I wanted so badly to give into it. The pain was excruciating and it was getting harder to breathe again.
I felt the vehicle stop suddenly and the back doors flew open. I was jostled again as I was lifted from the back and immediately we were moving again, Edward running along side.
The bright lights of the hospital blurred my vision even more and I was suddenly so cold.
"I'm cold Edward, so cold," I managed to whisper.
"Bella God damn it! Fight baby, I need to you fight! Don't you die on me, you promised. Where you go, I go, please!" he shouted and I opened my eyes.
"I love you Edward. Tell Maddie and Masen I love them too, so much," I breathed out painfully.
"Wait!" he shouted and we stopped moving.
"Dr. Cullen, we have to get her into surgery immediately," a voice said from beside me somewhere.
"Isabella Marie Cullen, you fight for me and for our kids. Don't you die on me or I'll never forgive you. I love you angel, come back to me," he whispered and I wanted to touch him but I couldn't feel my body anymore.
And though I couldn't form any words I thought them to myself.
"Edward. Maddie. Masen…my future. I'll fight Edward, I promise."
Then the whole world faded away into nothingness…I couldn't see, hear, or feel anything.