Chapter 26 ~ The Wounded
I could vaguely make out the sound of voices all around me, but I could not understand what they were saying. A lot of numbers were being shouted about and at one point I was lifted, moved. Everyone sounded as if they were under water. I kept trying to open my eyes, but they wouldn't obey my request. Something was wrapped around my neck and I felt like it was choking me, but when I tried to lift my arm to take it off, my arm wouldn't move and a jolt of the worst pain imaginable shot through the left side of my body.
"Just lie still, miss," someone said to me.
"Can you hear me? What's your name?"
I thought people were talking to me, but I still couldn't open my eyes. I caught fragments of conversation. "Shock..." "Blood pressure still dropping..." "Her heart rate..."
What exactly had happened? The last thing I knew, I was getting into my car — well, Edward's car — after grocery shopping. I was heading back to his place and was going to make Green Chile Stew for dinner, since I had a few hours to let it simmer. I had bought his favorite beer and some ice cream. He would be worried when I didn't arrive home.
That thought made me start to panic. It was ironic that nothing else had seemed to faze me, but suddenly my entire body started to shake uncontrollably and that stupid thing around my neck was making it next to impossible to breathe. I started gasping for breath as more voices shouted around me and I was lifted and moved again.
I was laid flat, my body still shaking. Someone strapped me down across my legs and my torso, which only served to increase my panic. I could hear movement around me, but still felt that I couldn't breathe. I heard the sound of an engine and—was that sirens? If I could just open my eyes...
"Can you hear me, miss?" A woman's voice spoke to me, but I could not see her. "Do you know your name?"
I coughed then and, before I passed out, I heard my voice as if it were not coming from my own body.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
Jesus, that sound was annoying. I couldn't place it and I couldn't drown it out. More than that, I couldn't see anything. Actually, that's not entirely true. Things seemed very bright, like there was a floodlight illuminating the room, but there was nothing there. No people, no things, not even the bed I was apparently laying in. It was as if everything was the same color and blended together in a sea of bright white, allowing for no delineation. There was only that annoying sound.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
My head hurt. Badly. And I was more thirsty than I had ever been in my life. And my nose itched, but when I tried to lift my hand to scratch at it, nothing moved. It slowly dawned on me that I couldn't move my body at all.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
I started to panic, but I couldn't speak. I tried to shout, to sit up, to open my eyes. Nothing. Only that sound, getting louder and faster.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
"Is she awake?"
Who was talking? I wanted to scream that yes, I was awake, and what the bloody hell was going on?
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
"How could you let her go by herself? What are you, a moron?"
Rosalie? Was that Rosalie? Who was she talking to? And why was she talking so loud? Her voice hurt my ears. I wanted to say so, but was unable to speak.
"Don't you think I ask myself that question twenty times a day? Don't you think–"
I tried to listen. I tried to make heads or tails out of what was going on and where I was, but all I really wanted was to sleep.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
"Don't leave me."
I could hear his beautiful voice, though it was muted. And, even in my confusion, I could feel that he held my hand. I felt his lips brush my fingers and heard his voice again.
"Please come back to me, Bella."
I wanted to tell him that I would never leave him, that I loved him, that I belonged to him. The words would not come.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep...
She was crying. I could hear a girl beside me and she was crying. As I opened my eyes, she looked down at me and I recognized that it was Alice. I love Alice. She was not, however, the one I wanted to see at that moment.
"Oh my God, Bella?" She ran quickly from the room, but was back in a moment. I could barely keep my eyes open, could hardly focus.
"Edward." I could only whisper his name.
"He's here, sweetie. He just went to get coffee with Jasper ... Bella?" Her hand went to my the right side of my head as others, people I did not recognize, moved into the room.
My heart ached and I wanted to cry, but instead I just slipped away again. Sleep had never seemed such a blessing.
It was quiet. Unearthly quiet. The bright lights had been dimmed, as well, and I silently thanked whomever was responsible for their dimming. As I opened my eyes and shifted them around the room, I knew where I was: a hospital room. Just why I was in a hospital bed, however, was a complete mystery.
I was thirsty and my head throbbed with incredible pain, as I discovered when I tried to move it to look around. Before I shut my eyes in agony, I did see that my left arm was in a large cast and that cast had what looked like bright pink and purple flowers drawn all over it.
What the hell?
I was frightened and I felt very alone, as I wracked my brain in a futile effort to remember just what had happened to me. What was not a mystery was the ache in my chest. I yearned for Edward. I wanted him with me and tears formed in my eyes at the strength of that need.
As if God had answered my unspoken prayer, I heard his voice whisper to me. I felt his hand stroke my hair. When I opened my eyes again, his beautiful face looked down at mine, tears of his own in his bright eyes. His hand gripped mine to his chest.
"Bella. Baby. Oh my God. Thank you." He bent his head and brought my hand to his lips. I felt his tears drip over my fingers and the scrape of his slight beard.
"Edward." My voice sounded foreign to my ears. I tried to lick my lips, but my mouth was a desert. Tears drifted down my cheeks and I sighed softly in relief. "You're here."
He raised his head to kiss my forehead, both of his hands now holding mine to his chest. "Now, where else would I be?"
"...A ruptured spleen, which resulted in internal bleeding—you lost quite a bit of blood; four broken ribs; your left arm is broken, of course; and, uh, we had to stitch up your head quite a bit. Seventeen stitches, to be exact. You'll notice you've been given a nice, new hair cut. And you've got a severe concussion. You've been away from us for five days, young lady."
I almost laughed at the doctor calling me a "young lady," but it was so much better than "ma'am" I decided to let it pass. Plus, I didn't have the energy.
"I've been in a coma for five days?" My voice was still scratchy, and barely audible.
"You have," he nodded, looking down at my file in front of him before looking up at me with a smile. "It's good to have you back."
Edward squeezed the hand that was between his and brought it to his lips. He stood at my side, next to the bed. The chair he'd been sitting in every time I awoke was next to him.
"You had us worried for a while there," the doctor continued. I'd already forgotten his name, though he'd introduced himself only a few minutes earlier.
"Why can't I remember anything? What happened?"
The doctor patted my foot as Edward again kissed my hand. "It's the concussion, Miss Swan. You were in quite a car accident. It may or may not come back to you, in time. But we can discuss your recovery later, when you're up to it." He squeezed my foot again. "For now, you need to rest."
"Haven't I been resting for five days?"
Both he and Edward chuckled. "You've been through major trauma, Miss Swan. Your body needs it."
In spite of my desire to know everything, I had to admit that the idea of more sleep was an attractive one.
By the time three more days had passed, I was not only feeling much better, I was bored, anxious and eager to get out of the hospital. Home. I just wanted to go home. I had been told, however, that it would still be a couple of days. I pouted about it all morning.
I was finally able to get out of bed, albeit gingerly and with assistance, and had seen myself in the mirror for the first time since the accident. I was not at all pleased, which may have played a part in my sour mood. Not only were both of my eyes black and blue, with lovely shades of yellow creeping in along the edges (the left more so than the right), the "haircut" Doctor Banner had referred to consisted of a large patch of hair on the left side of my head that had been shaved away in order to clear a path for the stitches. I knew it had been necessary, but it still bummed me out. I couldn't help the tears that slipped down my cheeks as I looked at my reflection. There was really no way for me to cover up the huge bald spot and I knew that I would have to essentially chop all of my hair off once I was up and around and feeling better. Like most women, I'd always had a fondness for my hair and felt, perhaps unjustly, that having long hair made me more attractive and feminine.
It was just one more thing James had taken from me.
I still didn't recollect the details of the actual accident, but I finally recalled what had led up to it. As a result, Edward was on the phone with the police, letting them know I was ready to give a statement, while I was crying in front of the mirror like a vain thirteen-year-old. I blew my nose, flushed the toilet and washed my right hand at the sink before opening the bathroom door. Edward was immediately at my side, helping me back to the bed.
"Okay?" he asked, a concerned look on his face.
"I'm fine." I took his outstretched hand as his other wrapped around my waist. "That was just more work than I anticipated." I tried to smile and hoped he took my words at face value. I didn't want him to know what an idiot I was being about my hair.
He helped me settle back onto the bed and I looked up at him, gratefully.
"They're sending an officer down here to see you," he said. "I was talking with Officer Clearwater, do you remember her?"
I nodded at him. It was good to double-check these things with me, lately.
"She said if James violated the restraining order and it led to this accident, he might get up to four years in prison."
The room swam a bit as I turned my head too quickly and I shut my eyes against it. Edward's hand fell to my shoulder.
"Jesus, really?" I asked, after the world stopped spinning.
"Well, yeah," he said, an edge to his voice. "And frankly, I hope it happens and I hope he gets a new girlfriend in the process—named Bubba."
I chuckled and settled farther down into the bed, quite tired all of a sudden. "I wouldn't argue with that at all." I shook my head, slowly this time. "This is all just so nuts. I mean ... I just never would have expected him to go off his rocker like that."
Edward sat in the chair he'd been sitting in for days now, at my side. I continued talking as I looked down at him. He looked almost as tired as I felt.
"I worked with him for months, Edward. Well, a few months anyway. I just had no clue."
"Well, I guess ... I mean, why would you?"
"I don't know." I sighed and held my hand out toward him. He took it in his.
"You look really tired, sweetie,” I said. “Why don't you go home and get some real rest instead of trying to sleep here all the time?"
He sighed and gave me a crooked smile. "Actually, I might just do that tonight. I noticed this afternoon that I'm ... Well, I'm not exactly fresh as a daisy."
I chuckled and squeezed his hand. "Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but..."
"Ha-ha," he said, sarcastically. He kissed my knuckles. "I can't wait 'til I can take you home with me, though."
"You and me both, baby." I yawned then and my eyes started to droop.
"Go to sleep, love. I'll wake you when the police show up, okay?"
"Okay." Not in the mood to put up a fight, I drifted off almost immediately.
"Jesus, Bella, you look like shit." Carlisle set down the huge bouquet of flowers he'd brought with him and kissed my forehead, despite my apparently abhorrent appearance.
"Gee, thanks, Carlisle. I love you, too."
He patted my shoulder. "Esme says she's sorry she couldn't be here. She's home with the kids. She can't stand to leave them with a babysitter yet." He grinned down at me, love apparent in his eyes as he spoke of his family. "She'll probably come by tomorrow and leave me with the little shits."
I grinned back at him. "The little shits? Tell me you don't call them that to their faces."
"Of course not." He looked appalled. "I wouldn't. They've probably been called much worse." He shook his head, his grin falling. "Repeatedly."
I had never really seen Carlisle touched by sadness the way he was at that moment. Pain was reflected in his eyes, in his stance.
He shrugged and tried to change the subject, but I reached out and squeezed his hand as he spoke.
"Anyway, they're here now. They're a fucking handful, I don't mind telling you." His smile returned to his face and mine reflected it. "But they're really great. We're having a lot of fun." He squeezed my hand in return and smiled down at me. "Anyway, the real question is, how are you?"
"I'm grumpy and I want to go home."
"Ah, so back to your usual self already?"
Edward laughed and I glared at him. His eyes sparkled back at me.
"Very funny," I said to Carlisle. "I am getting some good drugs, though, so really I shouldn't complain."
"And what about ... James?"
"They were going to put a warrant out for his arrest yesterday," Edward replied. "We don't know if they've picked him up yet."
"Well, if he's smart he would have hightailed it out of town already."
I chuckled, bitterly. "That's a big if there, Carlisle."
Carlisle looked down at our hands, which were still joined. He was quiet for a moment, before speaking somberly. "Listen, Bella... I can't tell you how sorry I am that all of this happened. You have to know that if we'd had any inkling of his nature–"
"Oh, stop it, Carlisle." I cut him off. "How could any of us have known? For Christ's sake, I didn't."
"Well, I just can't help but think our H.R. department should have seen something–"
I held up my good hand, again cutting him off. "Stop, Carlisle."
He smiled down at me.
"Anyway, let's talk about something else,” I said. “I haven't even asked Edward—what's going on at Con-Vert?"
There was an awkward silence as the two men exchanged a look.
"What is it?" I looked from one man to the next and back again.
Carlisle shifted on his feet. "Well..." he started.
Edward interrupted him. "I've been shit-canned."
My eyes went wide. "You—what?" I glared at Carlisle, anger swimming through my veins, about to surface.
Carlisle held his hands up in a defensive gesture and backed away a couple of steps. "It wasn't my idea, so please don't slap my pee-pee over this."
Part of me wanted to laugh at his choice of words, but I was too irate to do so. "What do you mean it wasn't your idea? Isn't Con-Vert your company?"
I could see that Carlisle was trying not to get angry, himself. "Of course it's–"
Edward cut him off, placing a calming hand on my arm. "Bella, please. It wasn't him. It was Eric Yorkie."
I continued to glare at Carlisle.
"I can't undermine the wishes of the V.P. of Sales, Bella. It's his department. He needs to run it. Besides..." He looked between us, almost shamefaced.
"It's okay, Carlisle. Really." Edward smiled softly at him.
"Besides, what?" I wasn't feeling as generous as Edward.
"I haven't been doing my job, Bella." Edward's kind eyes looked into mine. "I've been here. With you."
My mouth fell open again. That they would fire him for caring enough about his girlfriend to want to be by her side while she was in a coma seemed heartless in the extreme.
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
"It wasn't just that, Bella," Carlisle tried to explain, before my glare shut him down.
"Bella, I don't care." Edward rubbed my arm as he spoke softly.
"What are you–"
I was silenced by Edward's hand over my mouth. He had a grin on his face as I glared at him over his fingers.
"Please, Bella. Stop. You're in no condition to get mad right now."
My reply was muffled and he chuckled before he lifted his hand from my mouth. "Excuse me?"
"I said, I won't be mad if you take your fucking hand off my mouth."
Both he and Carlisle laughed, as I stared up at Edward, sourly.
"Listen, Bella. I haven't been doing my job, at least not very well. And really, not for a while now. Not just since the accident. Even before. I've been ... distracted." Edward shrugged. "I deserved to lose my job."
My glare turned into a somber grimace as the meaning behind what he'd said sunk in fully.
"You mean ... I lost you your job."
"That's not what I meant at all." His shoulders hunched as he leaned against his hands, on the bed. "Look, Bella, let's just let this go, okay? I didn't do a good enough job and I got fired. It's my responsibility. No one else's."
He raised his eyes to look tiredly into mine and I stared back at him for a few moments. Tears threatened at my eyes. Finally, Carlisle interrupted our somber stare-down.
"I wrote him a letter of recommendation."
Both Edward and I looked over at him. Carlisle stood awkwardly in the corner, his hands in his pockets, like a ten-year-old caught with a pile of Playboys. I almost laughed, but I didn't have the energy. I felt miserable, knowing I was the distraction that cost Edward his job, regardless of his objection.
"I appreciate it, Carlisle," he said.
Carlisle shrugged, looking every bit as miserable as I felt.
Four days later, Edward drove me home — rather, he drove me to his apartment — in Rose's old car. She told us he could use it indefinitely, since I had wrecked the Volvo. Considering her often uncharitable opinion of the man, and her unnatural affection for the cars she owned, I found this to be the utmost in ironic hilarity. I also thought it might have been a way for her to reach out to him—a form of an apology, since I knew she would never say the actual words. That just wasn't in her make-up. But I got the feeling that she felt bad for never fully trusting him.
I'd insisted on looking at the photos of the wrecked Volvo. After I did so, I almost had a panic attack. It had been crushed in the accident. The front end folded in like an accordion and shoved the front seat into the back. I had no idea how I walked away from that accident in as good shape as I did. I reminded myself of that every time my head ached or my broken arm itched until I wanted to cut if off or I couldn't walk to the bathroom on my own. But the knowledge that I had come so close to losing everything — so close to death — weighed heavily on my mind.
It seemed to weigh on Edward's, as well. He was still his amusing, charming, extremely cocky self, but he was quieter than usual. I would often turn to him, while he was supposedly reading beside me or watching television in the chair beside my bed, to find him deep in thought, a far-off look in his eye. When he'd see I was watching him, he'd crack a smile or kiss my forehead or make a joke.
As the days passed, I could think of no place I'd rather recuperate than in Edward's bed, propped up on pillows. I still couldn't walk without assistance, my midsection was very tender and I was occasionally accosted by extreme bouts of dizziness, but I'd never been happier in my life. Edward waited on me hand and foot, spoiling me terribly. It was divine.
"You'd make a wonderful nurse," I said as he placed a fresh glass of ice water on the bedside table.
He smirked as he moved toward the other side of the bed. "Yeah, and I'd look damn good in one of those little white dresses." He sat down beside me, against his own pillow. "I do have great legs."
I tried to kick him and immediately regretted my decision when a jolt of pain shot up my left side.
"You dork," he said, still smirking. "See? It's karma. Try to kick the man who's taking care of you and God will strike you down."
I looked over at him and watched as his smirk settled into a smile and he reached for the remote control for the television.
"You mention God often," I said. "Do you believe in God?"
His eyebrows flew to his hairline. "Whoa. That's a serious question. Where did that come from?"
"I don't know.” I shrugged. “When else am I going to ask you such a question?"
He settled farther down on the bed and turned onto his side, so his eyes were level with mine. "I guess I do. I mean, I wasn't brought up going to church or anything, but ... Well, I sure did a lot of praying these past few weeks, I'll tell you that." He ran his fingers through the hair at my temple.
Emotion choked me and I couldn't speak. I looked into his eyes and took his hand in mine, turning it to kiss his palm before he cupped my face and ran his thumb over my cheekbone.
"Do you know that, even with half a head of hair, you are the most gorgeous woman I have ever laid eyes on?"
My eyebrows drew together. "Do you know that you are very adept at ruining perfectly lovely romantic exchanges?"
"I mean it.” He chuckled. “How do you manage to look so beautiful, even after what you've been through?"
"I think you're a bit blinded by love, Teddy." I smiled and took his hand in mine, kissing it again.
He bent suddenly, to kiss me on the lips. It was a soft kiss, but almost desperate with its emotion. As he pulled away only slightly, he held his hand again to my face and looked into my eyes.
"I thought I'd lost you," he whispered. "I mean, really lost you this time."
My hand covered his. "Edward, don't."
"When I think of what happened to you—that I should have been there with you. I should have protected you–"
"Edward, stop." I interrupted him. "There was no way to know what was going to happen."
"But I should have been there, Bella. If I'd been there, none of it would have happened."
"Or it might have been worse. Maybe he would have cracked you over the head with a tire iron. There's no way to know and beating yourself up now over what might have been is pointless."
He was quiet for a moment, looking down at the sheet beneath us. His thumb continued to run along my cheekbone and I held his wrist and watched his grief-stricken face, running my own thumb along his skin.
"I hated seeing you like that, Bella. In the hospital. Broken, busted up, unconscious. And I couldn't do anything to help you." He took a deep breath and looked back to my eyes. "I felt so ... impotent."
I couldn't help myself. I out a hand across my mouth as the giggles started to burst through. Edward's eyes were wide as he removed his hand from my face and gawked at me.
"I'm sorry," I said. "Really. I know you're being serious. I'm taking you seriously, really. It's just ... Well, you and the word impotent aren't exactly two things I think of in the same sentence."
He rolled his eyes and sat up a little straighter on the bed. He obviously didn’t see the humor in the situation. "Jesus, Bella. Now who's ruining the moment? What are you, twelve?"
"Well ... Only emotionally." I took deep breaths, trying to get the giggles under control. "I'm sorry. Really."
"It's okay," he grumbled.
"It's just—all the emotional stuff, lately. I don't know. I just feel the need to laugh sometimes."
"I know, Bella." He looked down at me. "It's okay."
"And you said impotent."
He rolled his eyes again, but I saw his grin and started to giggle again.
I settled down and we were quiet for several long moments, each of us lost in our own thoughts. There was a slight tension in the air and I felt bad that I had ruined our heartfelt moment. But I also had a lot on my mind and I'd always used humor to deflect serious emotion whenever possible.
Finally, I said the words that I knew he probably wouldn't want to hear, but that reflected what had been on my mind for a few days—the days since we'd heard that James had been arrested.
"Is it weird that I almost feel ... bad? I kind of feel sorry for him."
He knew who I was talking about, even though I hadn't mentioned his name, and I watched the tension gather in his jaw as he clenched his teeth together. After a moment, he exhaled suddenly and I watched his hand rub his thigh.
"I don't know. I guess it's not weird. But don't expect me to feel sorry for that fucker. At all."
"I won't," I said, softly.
We were quiet for another few moments and I was going to ask him to turn on the television, so we'd have some form of diversion, when he spoke again, smiling and obviously trying to lighten the mood.
"Hey, I didn't tell you."
I looked up at him, curiously.
"I got some good news while you were..." He waved his hand up and down my body. "Out of commission." He smiled at me as he shifted farther down onto the bed again, turning so that he lay on his side, his head on a pillow. "My doctor got all of my test results back."
I raised my eyebrows, smiling as I knew what was coming. "Oh?"
"I'm clean, baby."
My smiled grew wider as he leaned over to kiss the corner of my mouth. "Well, thank goodness. That is good news."
"It is.” His grin was almost evil. “We don't have to use those fuckin' condoms anymore."
"Yes. Too bad I can't have sex for a while." I didn't have the heart to tell him that we really should still use condoms for a few months and then get tested again.
"Ah, but when we do ... It's gonna be a party, baby!"
I knew he was looking for a new job, but I also knew he was doing so only halfheartedly. Even after I'd started feeling much better and could walk around without his assistance, he didn’t seem very serious about finding one. Headhunters called him. Sometimes he would listen politely, but give them noncommittal answers; sometimes he wouldn't bother returning their calls. And he rarely looked at job sites on the internet. I wanted to ask him what was going on, but I also didn't want to pressure him. I knew he would find a job when he felt he needed one. It was really his business, not mine.
He sat at his desk one day, his back to me as I sat in bed, as usual, and spoke to me over his shoulder.
"You said you've never been to Chicago, right?"
"Nope," I said, flipping a page in the magazine I was reading. I knew far too much about Brangelina these days.
"Would you like to go?" He turned around in his chair, looking at me.
"Well, sure, but I'm hardly in shape to–"
He rolled his eyes as he interrupted me. "I didn't mean like, tomorrow. I mean, you know, when you're up for it."
"Well, sure, okay." I peered at him over my glasses, figuring this was as good a time as any to broach the subject. "I guess we'll have to see what's going on with our job situation though, right?"
He sat quietly for several moments, not looking at me. When he spoke, he was solemn.
"You going back to Con-Vert?"
I sighed and put my magazine and glasses to the side. This was the question I'd been asking myself repeatedly. I had absolutely no desire to go back to Con-Vert. I had no desire to go back to the credit field at all, when I considered it. Something had happened during my brush with death, though it had really started weeks, if not months, before that. My work just didn't hold the same allure it once held.
Edward looked up at me when I finally spoke.
"I have no idea," I admitted.
"Huh." He smiled a bit and looked down at the floor again. "You don't wanna go back to work?"
"I just don't know, Edward." I sighed again. My good hand gripped the sheet that lay across my naked legs. "I just ... So much has happened. I think I just have too much to sort though ... I really don't have the mental capacity, much less the gumption, to worry about whether Wicked Comp is creditworthy and paying their bills on time, you know? I feel like ... I just don't contribute anything meaningful. To the world as a whole, you know?"
He chuckled and rose to join me on the bed. As he sat next to me, a deep breath left his lungs slowly and he settled against the headboard, one leg folded under the other. "I know exactly how you feel."
"You're not really looking for a job, are you?"
He shrugged. "Not really, no. I just..."
I reached out and put my hand on his knee. "I know, Edward."
He looked down at my hand for a moment before putting his over it, curling his fingers around my palm. "I'm considering going back to school."
"What?" My eyebrows raised as I looked at him in pleasant surprise. "Really? For what?"
"I think..." He exhaled heavily again, as if his admission was difficult for him. "I think I might want to teach."
"Really? Teach what?" I squeezed his knee slightly, hoping to transmit my support of his decision through my touch.
He chuckled and spread his hand flat atop mine. "That's the million dollar question, really. I guess I could go with my major, but I'm not sure I want to force the theories of Rousseau and Kant on young, unsuspecting minds." He chuckled, again.
The shock I felt was surely written all over my face. Luckily, he wasn't looking at me. "What do you mean? What was your major in school?"
"What?" My jaw dropped. "How in the world did you end up in sales after majoring in Philosophy?"
He gazed down at me, his amusement apparent in his eyes. "You're not really going to talk to me about my chosen profession not being congruent with my major in school, are you Miss B.A. in English?"
I smiled, embarrassed. "Well ... I mean, no, but ... Philosophy? Really? I just had no idea." I was surprised, but also impressed.
He bent down to kiss my lips, lightly.
"Anyway, I don't have to work. Honestly, I could live quite comfortably for the rest of my life without ever doing anything productive or meaningful." He looked down at me with a wry grin. "But I never did want to be like my mother when I grew up."
He hadn't told me much about his parents, but something in his tone made me want to reach out and hug him. I settled for squeezing his knee again. He gripped my hand in his and smiled as he looked down at it.
"Why the change?" I asked.
He sighed, heavily. "I just ... I can't do this shit anymore. I know I'm good at it, but ... All the stupid golf games, the hundred dollar lunches, the nights out drinking with middle-aged men, trying to schmooze. What the fuck is the point?"
I had no answer to his question, since I couldn't see the point, myself. Instead, we remained silent for some time. When I realized he wasn't going to say anything more on the subject, I asked: "Where do you want to go to school?"
He lifted my hand and kissed it lightly before dropping it again to his knee and holding it there. "I'd like to go back to Northwestern."
I thought my heart would stop beating and I barely got a word out of my mouth. "Oh."
"It depends on what I decide to study, of course, but..."
"But you love Chicago." I finished for him, though I could hardly speak with my heart in my throat. The notion of Edward moving so far away, of losing him, was overwhelming. We had only just found each other again and we'd been through so much together.
"Bella..." He turned toward me and put a hand on my thigh. "I'm not going anywhere without you."
I knew there were tears in my eyes. I wanted to be supportive of him and his desire to do something new, but I selfishly wanted him to be with me, always. "But you want to go back to Chicago."
He moved closer, reaching across me with his hand and gingerly gripping my hip. "But I want you to come with me Bella."
He bent toward me and spoke with his lips against my temple. "I want you to come with me."
I stared straight ahead. His words were barely sinking in. It was all too much to think about, too much to consider.
"I didn't even know how to talk to you about this,” he continued. “But now you ... I mean, if you don't want to go back to work, maybe..." He pulled away to look down at my face. His eyes held such hope as he held my face in his hand. I had no idea how to respond.
"We don't have to decide anything right now, baby," he said. "You still have a while left before you'll be ready to do anything. And I need to figure out what the hell I want to do, really. And before we decide to go anywhere — if we decide to go anywhere — it will be someplace we both want to go, okay?" He kissed my lips softly. "Bella, I just got you back, baby. I'm not letting you go again."
I stared at him through my tears, too overwhelmed to know what to say except, "Okay."
Edward smiled, his own eyes wet with emotion. "Okay?"
I simply nodded in his hand.
I heard the shower running as I awoke the next morning. Moving slowly, I sat up in the bed and gingerly dropped my feet to the floor, careful not to jar my still-tender left side. Too many mornings I'd almost forgotten about my injuries and rushed to get out of bed, regretting my overzealous movements for a few hours.
I was jealous of Edward's shower. Though I was cleared to wash what was left of my hair about a week prior, I was still unable to submerge my torso in water and that, combined with the cast on my left arm, meant that a wet sponge had become my best friend.
Even with Edward assisting me in my nightly sponge bath, it was far from an ideal situation. I couldn't wait until I was able to take a long, hot shower.
I dragged myself slowly to the bathroom so I could begin my morning routine and knocked lightly on the door before I entered. What I found upon opening the door wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it was a bit startling.
And extremely hot.
Edward was, as I'd anticipated, in the shower. His head was bowed underneath the spray of water emanating from the shower head and water streamed down his sculpted torso. I swallowed hard as I watched his muscles move beautifully under the skin of his back. He had one hand placed against the wall and he leaned against it. His other hand was wrapped firmly around his cock.
He was too engrossed in what he was doing to have noticed my quiet entry into the room. And while I immediately felt like a freaky pervert, intruding on his privacy, I could not tear myself away from the scene. My eyes were transfixed by his movements, my mouth open slightly. My heart started beating faster as parts of my body that had been dormant for several weeks suddenly sprung to life.
His hand worked through soap suds, up and down his cock. He would twist his wrist slightly when he reached the head and soft sounds would leave his lips periodically. The muscles of his arm were taut and moved beneath his skin. It was the most sensual, beautiful site I had ever seen.
He threw his head back, his mouth open, as his hand started to move faster. I wanted so much to join him. Instead, my feet wouldn't move at all. I stood staring, gaping at him, heat beneath my skin and wetness pooling between my legs. I watched as, finally, his eyebrows drew together and the hand against the wall curled in on itself in a fist. He groaned loudly as he came against the wall in a stream.
I gasped softly and backed up a foot, right into the wall. At hearing me, Edward looked up, surprise on his face.
I uttered a small squeak and scampered out of the bathroom, embarrassed beyond measure. My good hand flew to my face, which was hot from the steam of his shower and the heat of what I'd witnessed. I sat down on the edge of the bed as I heard the water shut off.
Edward walked out shortly thereafter, a towel around his hips and a grin on his face. He sat beside me on the bed and put a hand on my knee.
"Edward, I'm so sorry," I said, looking up at him. "I'm sorry I intruded on your ... private time."
I swallowed and knew I was blushing as his grin just got bigger.
He chuckled. "Why are you sorry?"
"Well, I mean—like I said ... didn't you expect to be alone — you know — with yourself?"
He flat-out laughed, then. "Bella..." He reached to put his arm around me, hugging me to his side, gently. "I really don't mind if you see me jerking off. In fact, had I known you were there, it would have been a lot more fun."
I swallowed again and smiled shyly at him. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Besides ... Well, I love to see you touch yourself."
Heat flushed my face and I looked down at my hands, folded in my lap. When he spoke again, he seemed a bit shy, also.
"I mean, did it—do anything for you? Seeing me like that?"
I didn't really understand why I was blushing so badly. Edward and I had been intimate in almost every way possible. Sex was our favorite (and sometimes only) form of communication and connection. Why am I all of a sudden so shy about this?
"Yes," I almost whispered. "A lot."
He nudged me and squeezed my side, gingerly. "Well, then, see? It's all good, baby."
I smiled as he kissed my temple. "Okay."
"Okay. Now go do your thing in the bathroom."
When I came out, after brushing my teeth and whatnot, Edward was laying on the bed. He reached his hand out toward me.
"Come snuggle with me, baby. We didn't have any snuggle time this morning."
I smiled as I settled in next to him on the bed. I lay on my uninjured right side and he spooned behind me, careful not to put the weight of his arm on any of my injuries. I couldn't wait for the day when we would be free to snuggle any way we desired.
Before long, I felt his warm breath on my neck as he kissed and nibbled at it, making me sigh and giggle.
"I love you, Bella," he whispered in my ear.
"I love you too, Teddy."
He continued to kiss me and, after the morning's visual, my body couldn't help but respond. I moaned softly as his tongue ran behind my ear and he bit down, softly sucking the sensitive flesh between his lips.
"Edward? What are you–"
My breath caught in my throat as he drifted his hand up my side and cupped my breast. I groaned before I put my own hand on top of his, stopping him.
"Edward, you know I can't do anything."
He nibbled at my earlobe and he whispered against me. "I know, baby. But that doesn't mean I can't make you come."
I groaned again as his teeth returned to the flesh behind my ear before he nudged me onto my back and looked down at my face, a devilish glint in his eye.
"Orgasms are healthy."
I felt a blush rush over my skin as I lowered my eyelashes. I didn't know that I was ready for this. I was still very sore but, more importantly, I felt self-conscious. I knew I looked horrible and it had been a long time since I'd even felt clean. All I could think was that a sponge bath is just not the same as a shower.
"Edward, I don't know..."
He pulled away, still hovering over me, and ran his finger along my cheek. When I looked up into his eyes, his were filled with concern. "You don't want to?"
My breath came in a quick exhale and I smiled shyly. "Oh, Edward, I want nothing more. I just ... I just think–"
"Ssh..." He bent his head to kiss my lips, lightly. "We'll take it slow, baby. If you're uncomfortable, I'll stop."
"Yeah, sure," I said, though my voice was already getting breathy and my heart had begun to pound in my chest. "That's what Joey Patrick said when I was sixteen. I didn't fall for it then, either."
Edward's fingers lifted my Beastie Boys T-shirt (actually, it was his shirt; I was just wearing it), skimming over the barely healed incision marks below my rib cage. "Is this okay?" he asked. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"
I shook my head slightly. My eyes were wide as I stared into his. "No. I mean, it doesn't hurt."
The warmth of his hand spread over my breast and I bit my lip, trying not to squirm beneath him as he pinched my nipple between his fingers.
"I just want to make you feel good, baby." He bent his head, to put his lips where his hand was.
"Oh, Jesus ... You're doing a good job."
He chuckled. "Yeah?"
I couldn't really answer him coherently. Instead, a bit of garbled nonsense came from my throat as fire streamed from his lips, through my flesh and straight to my core.
"Is this okay?" he asked, his hand moving across my hips gingerly.
"Yes." My voice was a whisper. His touch brought shivers to my skin.
He brushed his hand between my legs, making my flesh twitch and tingle beneath his fingers. Something that sounded suspiciously like a whimper came from my throat. He gripped my thigh lightly, urging it to move aside and for me to open myself to his touch as he bent his lips to my neck and whispered against my skin.
"Is this okay, baby?"
I gasped as his fingers snuck beneath the boy shorts I wore and slipped through my wetness. His voice faltered, his own breath coming in a soft gasp.
"Oh, Bella ... Is this okay?"
"Jesus, yes." My eyes closed, almost of their own accord, as I lost myself in the movement of his fingers.
"God, I love you, baby."
He laced the fingers of one hand through my hair as his lips fell again to my throat and left a heated and wet trail down my collar bone. He bit at my flesh through my T-shirt and finally attached his mouth again to my nipple as his fingers continued to move beneath my panties, making me groan and gasp beneath him. It had been so long. I was so hungry for his touch that I knew I wouldn't last long. I lifted a leg in invitation and he slipped a finger inside me, curling it as I'd taught him to do what seemed like so long ago. His palm pressed against my clit and moved in a circular motion and, as he slipped a second finger inside, I gripped his hair in my right hand, tensing and calling his name as my climax washed through me.
He kissed me, deeply, his fingers slowing their movements as I drifted back to coherency. When he withdrew them entirely, he looked down into my eyes.
"Everything okay?" he asked.
I smiled up at him and put my good hand to his face. "Oh, yeah."
Three weeks later, I was in good enough shape to return to work. Jessica and the girls in my department threw a small party for the occasion, decorating my office with balloons and a bouquet of flowers and buying a chocolate cake with the words "Welcome Back, Bosswoman" on top. Angela, Jasper, Carlisle and a few others came to the department to participate. Even Jack Berber was there, though I was convinced he came only for the cake. I was quite touched.
When things settled down and I'd settled in, I called Jessica in to talk things over with her.
"How are you feeling?" she asked as she settled into the seat across from my desk.
"Good, thanks. I'm almost a hundred percent now."
"Well, thank goodness," she said. "I was uneasy here without you. I can't believe all that stuff with James."
I shook my head, smiling. "I know, right? I guess you never can tell with some people."
"It makes me nervous," she said, also shaking her head. "Like, I want a psychological profile on any guy I date, now."
"Might not be a bad idea." I chuckled.
She looked at me, shyly. "And you and Edward? You're good?"
I couldn't help but smile. "We are ... more than good, Jess. I couldn't be happier, really."
Her smile reflected mine. "That's awesome, Bella. I'm happy for you. Um ... I'm seeing someone new, too."
"Really? When did this happen?"
She shrugged. "A few weeks ago. A bunch of us went out for drinks after work and I met him there. He owns Newt's Bar and Serious 'Que."
"You're dating—Newt?" I raised my eyebrows.
She chuckled and blushed. "Yeah. His name is Mike Newton."
"Oh. Wow. I just forgot his real name, obviously. Well, that's great, Jess."
She nodded. "Yeah. I like him a lot."
We talked a little about how they met and dates they'd been on before I got down to business.
"Jessica, I need to tell you something."
She looked at me, obviously already wary. I took a deep breath. This was far more difficult than I'd anticipated.
"I'm going to be leaving Con-Vert."
She gasped and her eyes went wide. "What? Bella, how—I mean, why would you do this?"
"I have to Jess. It's just ... my heart's not in it anymore."
She sat heavily back in her chair, a glum look on her face. "So when are you leaving?"
"I'm going to give Carlisle my two weeks' notice after we're done here."
"Well, shit." She looked quickly up at me. "Sorry. But this stinks. Now they'll have to find someone new to bring in here and who knows what they'll be like? They'll probably hire some man."
"Well ... That's part of why I wanted to talk to you about this."
She looked dejectedly at me.
"Jess, I want to recommend you as my replacement."
Her jaw dropped open. "What?"
I held up a hand in front of me. "I know it's a big step"
She nodded her head so rapidly I thought she might give herself whiplash.
"But I also know you can do this, Jessica. You've been doing a great job in my absence."
"Well, yeah, but that's when I knew you were coming back. I knew you'd be here to clean up my mess and if I had any questions later."
I sighed and looked at her for a moment before I spoke again. "Listen, Jess. This is just my recommendation. It doesn't mean they'll give you the job and it doesn’t mean you have to accept it, if they do. But I know you can do this."
She started to object again and I held up my hand.
"Go home tonight, think about it, talk it over with the new boyfriend. We'll talk again tomorrow. If you don't want the job, I'll keep my mouth shut."
She finally closed her mouth and stared at me for a moment. "Okay," she finally said. She rose and started toward the door, turning back to me before she made it.
"You really think I can do this job?" she asked.
"I know you can."
Carlisle didn't seem at all surprised when I walked into his office with my letter of resignation in hand. He simply sighed and sat back in his seat, smiling sadly at me. We were quiet for what seemed like hours. I didn't trust myself to speak without bursting into tears. I loved him like a foul-mouthed older brother and he'd always been tremendously supportive of me, as well as fair.
Finally, he took a drink from the cup of coffee in front of him before he spoke. "If you leave and I never hear from you again, Esme will have my balls. So you'd better stay in touch."
The dreaded tears did form at my eyes as I choked out an answer. "Carlisle, don't be an idiot. Of course I'll stay in touch."
"So what are you going to do?"
I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. "Honestly, I have no idea." I smiled at him. "I just need a break."
"Well, hell, Bella, why don't you just take a leave of absence, then? I'm sure we can work around that."
I looked at him sadly, shaking my head. "I'm done, Carlisle. I'm done with credit, done with the bullshit. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I know I need ... something different."
He sighed again and nodded. "I know. I mean, I figured as much. But Bella—it's not because of Edward, is it?"
"No. Not at all. I know why you had to fire him ... Well, maybe not, but the truth is, he doesn't want to work here anyway, so I'm okay with that now. This is all about me—about what I need to do for me."
"You just don't know what that is, yet."
"Exactly." I chuckled.
"Okay well, once you figure that out, you let me know. And if there's anything I can do, I'm always here for you, you know that, right?"
The tears returned to my eyes. "I know."
He hugged me before I left his office and the tears fell with a vengeance.
The next two weeks flew by in a haze. I was flooded with visitors to my office. Angela came in with tears and a cherry pie. Jasper came in to hug me and wish me luck, mainly in handling Edward. Even Jack Berber came by to shake my hand and wish me well. That made me smile.
Jessica was given my job on a trial, probationary basis, for ninety days. Her work would then be evaluated, to see if she would be offered the position permanently. I assured her I would make myself available to her whenever she had questions or just wanted to vent (after all, what else did I have to do?), which made her feel a little less nervous about the whole thing.
On my last day at Con-Vert, they threw me a party. A bunch of us went out to lunch, drank too much and ate too much sushi. There was a cake when we returned and then I packed up what was left in my desk and waited for Edward to pick me up and take me home. Even though I was back on my feet, I hadn't bought a new car. The prospect of doing so, and actually driving around in one, left me a bit jittery.
I was also still essentially living with Edward. I hadn't decided yet what to do with my house. It made me sad to consider selling it, but the thought of renting it out to strangers also held little appeal. So for the time being, I visited it about once a week and made sure nothing was falling apart and it hadn't been broken into.
My phone rang at about 3:30 and I was greeted by Edward's silken tones when I answered.
"You think they'll let you out of jail early today, sweet tits?"
I smiled at his adopted nickname for me. For some reason, I found it far less annoying coming from him than it ever had coming from Rosalie.
"What are they going to do? Fire me?"
"Meet me out front in five minutes."
And so, five minutes later, Jasper and I stood in the parking lot, each with a box in our hands. Jessica and Angela stood beside us and we chatted until I heard a familiar sound in the parking lot.
I turned and my jaw fell open at the site before me. Driving toward us was an old pickup truck. Not just any old truck—Charlie's truck. My truck. Only it had been painted a beautiful, bright and shiny red. Not only had all the damage James left behind been repaired, not only did it have a new windshield, all the old dents were gone. As it drew closer, I saw that it had all new upholstery on the inside.
Edward stopped in front of us and got out of the truck, a huge smile on his face.
"Hey there, baby," he said. "Need a lift?"
Jasper laughed next to me as I stood, staring.
"What did you–? Edward?"
He walked over to me and took the box out of my hands, placing it in the bed of the truck before he turned back to me and put his arms around my waist.
"I knew you wanted your truck back, baby. So I got it back for you."
"You didn't just get it back for me." I finally tore my eyes away from Charlie's truck and looked at him, tears in my eyes. "How did you do this?"
"It's no big deal.” He shrugged. “I just took it to a body shop."
He opened the passenger door for me, to show me the beautiful new, leather interior and the new stereo he'd had installed.
"It is big deal," I said, in awe. "Edward, you–" I swallowed, but could not keep more tears from drifting down my cheeks. I threw my arms around his neck, not caring who at Con-Vert was watching or what they might think.
"You pimped my ride!"