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Chapter 1 I woke up to the sound of beeping machines and a nurse standing over me. She was finishing a dressing on my arm, placing the gauze after smearing some kind of ointment under it. She taped it securely with the 3M tape, it was always impossible to remove the residue, it lingered for weeks even after the tape was long gone. The nurse looked at me with pity in her eyes; they always looked at me the same – like they knew. “I’m glad you’re awake dear, I’ll let the doctor know. I think he wants to talk to you.” Her face was sad. My throat was dry. “Thank you. May I have some water, please?” “Sure, honey. Anything you need. My name is Angela. I’ll be your nurse. Just hit the button if you need anything else.” She poured some water from the Styrofoam pitcher next to the sink and handed me the cup. Angela was older than me. She was in her mid to late thirties with dark straight hair. She had a kind face. I breathed a sigh of relief when she left the room, I was glad to be alone because her eyes were probing. It was always the same, every time. It wasn’t really a room, just a privacy curtain that surrounded the bed, separating me from the people on either side. I was lucky to have a bed on the end. This gave me a wall to my left and a curtain to the right. There was a single chair next to the hospital bed and a tray table pushed against the wall. The chair had a bag filled with my belongings and my purse was on top of the tray table. I pulled the tray table closer so I could retrieve a small mirror from my purse. I wanted to look at my face, my eye felt a little puffy; I wanted to see the damage first hand. I dug to the bottom through the useless items and snagged the circular compact. I took a deep breath to prepare myself for the worst. I had a small bump on my head above my right eye; it was surrounded by a nasty bruise. The eye I thought was swollen was just a faint pink around the lid. It felt worse than it looked. I had been in the hospital before; this wasn’t as awful as I had ever had it. I assessed myself from head to toe, feeling the soreness in my ribs. I pushed a finger into my side; it was painful, but not broken. I saw the stitches when Angela was changing the dressing on my arm, just another scar to add to the dozens I had already collected. “Way to go Bella.” I murmured to myself.
I slouched back into the pillow and recounted the earlier incident that landed me in the hospital. I dissected every detail trying to figure out what I had done that pushed him over the edge. I was at home, like usual. I hardly left the house. I had dinner in the oven and was scanning over a manuscript the publishing company sent to me. I am a junior editor for a large publishing company based out of New York. We live in Chicago. All of my work is done through internet, mail and overnight courier. It was better that way. Then no one could ask questions and I could live a private life. I didn’t want people asking unnecessary questions. Mike came home from his job at the dealership. I could tell as soon as he walked in, he was in an unusual mood. I put on my mask when I heard the garage doors closing. I had perfected this façade to make my life easier. I put down the papers and tucked them away in the small desk in the corner. I walked into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on dinner so we could eat when he was finished changing. Mike never spoke to me until he was changed and at the table. I had learned a long time ago to not approach him until he had his “down time”. I placed two plates, two glasses and silver at the table. The food was finished in the oven and I moved it to the table, just a simple chicken casserole. Mike’s glass was filled with wine and I filled my glass with water, I didn’t like wine anymore. Everything seemed to be in order for dinner. Mike entered the kitchen and began his usual routine. He sat in his chair and asked about my day. I returned the exchange by listening about his day at work. He spoke of a new woman who worked in the customer service area. Her name was Tanya. He gushed about her for half of dinner. He told me she was a tall, skinny woman with strawberry blond hair. He described every detail of her face to me. A normal woman would be jealous to hear their boyfriend talking excessively about a hot girl at work, but I just looked down at my plate and listened. It wasn’t acceptable for me to have normal reactions. He was comparing her to me now. “Maybe you should join a gym, Is. It wouldn’t hurt you to tone up a bit.” I hated when he called me ‘Is’. It was his way of belittling me even more. I had always insisted he call me Bella, even when we first met. I introduced myself as such and corrected him when he would break out the pet name. After a while, I just ignored it. Again, I had learned my lesson not to speak out of turn. “Sure, if that will make you happy.” My voice was a low monotone.
And then he was yelling. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IF IT WILL MAKE ME HAPPY? I DO ALL OF THIS FOR YOU!” He gestured with his arms around the nice house. “I didn’t think…” I stuttered. “That’s right you didn’t think. You never think. I work hard to give you all of these nice things. You live in a nice house; you drive a nice car and wear nice clothes, there is food in the refrigerator. You wouldn’t have half of this if it wasn’t for me! Or did you forget how you lived before!” “I’m sorry, I…” “You should be sorry. Maybe you need to be reminded of your manners and the rules of this household.” I prepared myself for my punishment. He was right I had spoken out of turn and I knew what would be coming. I shouldn’t have provoked him. I stopped the rest of the images and pushed them deep inside the back of my memories. I didn’t want to relive the scene that landed me in the hospital again. I opened my eyes to the bright overhead lights on the ceiling and wondered how long I would have to stay in the hospital this time. It looked like it was only a few cuts and bruises, nothing that would keep me overnight, although I did hit my head hard enough to black out. I wondered if he was still here in the hospital or left me on their doorstep. I snapped from the depressing thoughts and listened to the sounds of the hospital emergency room. There was a beeping sound coming from the hall and the nurses were bustling around their desk talking about rooms and medications and doctors. “I don’t know about you, but that beeping is driving me crazy.” A sweet voice interrupted. I looked up to see a short spiky haired girl peeking into my small area. She looked to me about my age, 22 or 23. She was dressed in a hospital gown, the same as me and had a bruise on the side of her cheek and a sling around her left arm. “I keep telling them to turn it off, but sometimes these machines have a mind of their own.” She smiled gently at me. “I’m Alice, by the way. Alice Cullen. I’m your neighbor.” She jerked her head in the direction of the other bed. “Oh, I’m Bella.” “It’s nice to meet you Bella.” Alice had a kind face. I could see myself being good friends with her. It was too bad I couldn’t.
“Do you mind if I sit with you for a few minutes, my brother and fiancé went to the cafeteria to sneak me some food.” She winked. “Actually, I…Uh…” The words stuck in my throat I didn’t know if he was still here, how would I explain a stranger in my room? Alice saw the panic in my face. “Oh, don’t worry the guy that brought you in left, he was talking to the doctor for a bit, then he just…left. I overheard him say he’d be back in a few hours.” Relief washed over me and my muscles relaxed. “Thanks. You can stay if you like.” Usually I was apprehensive about talking with anyone, especially new people. But there was something so comforting about Alice. It was hard to say no to her. Her smile was warm and authentic. I could tell right away that she was an outgoing person, who else would walk up to a stranger in the hospital and start a conversation? “Bella, what do you do for a living?” Alice questioned innocently. “I work for a publishing company. I’m a junior editor for them.” “Wow, do you get to meet the authors and go to amazing parties?” “No, I work from home. The company is in New York.” “So you’re on vacation? You probably get to travel everywhere, huh?” “No, I live in Chicago.” Her face was confused. “It’s a long story.” “I love stories.” Alice prompted me to explain. “Well,” I began cautiously, “I interned for this company during college and I worked my way up through the ranks pretty quickly. I guess they saw some talent. I was moving to Chicago, but they didn’t want to lose me, so they kept me on. I do most of my work on the computer, but other things come by mail or courier.” I gave her the short version. I left out the parts about Mike; I hoped she wouldn’t ask why I moved to Chicago. “That sounds fascinating!” She said genuinely. “What about you? Do you live in Chicago?” I was also curious about this pixie-like stranger sitting next to me. “I was born here. Some jerk ran me off the road and I crashed into a stop sign. Ha-ha, I crashed into a stop sign; I didn’t realize how funny that was until now.” Her body rocked
with laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh with her; it was contagious. “Anyway, the airbag bruised me pretty good and I fractured my wrist.” She paused for a fraction of a second then changed the course of the conversation. “I run a design house in the city. I’m not world renowned like Gucci or Versace, but one day I will be. I’m a rising star.” She was confident without being conceited. I like Alice. “My whole family lives here. My mom and dad, my oldest brother Emmett and his wife Rosalie live just outside of town. My other older brother Edward and my fiancé Jasper and I live in the city. Not together just close by; we’re all pretty close. What about your family?” “My mom and dad are back in Washington State. I grew up in a small town called Forks. No brothers or sisters. I went to school in New York on a scholarship, and I told you the rest.” I left as many details out as possible. It was just common conversation, no need to tell her that I was in an abusive relationship and I couldn’t escape it. I wished I could trust someone enough to let them know I needed help. I was just too scared. I had always been independent. I moved across the country on my own to start school, which had to count for something. But now I was a fragile, weak, pathetic girl afraid to make a move without suffering the repercussions. Alice and I talked about movies and TV shows, our favorite foods. It was like having a best friend. I felt like I had known Alice all of my life. She was incredibly easy to talk to and she never asked any of the hard questions. The doctor had come into the room with another woman wearing black slacks with a black blazer over a white buttoned down shirt, a badge fastened to her belt. They wanted to speak with me about what happened. I could feel the panic rising in my stomach. I hated having to lie, I was terrible at it. Alice excused herself to her curtain to give me as much privacy as the thin piece of fabric would allow. “Miss Swan, I’m Doctor McCarthy, this is Detective Beth Cheney. I’ve had a chance to look over your admissions paperwork and I’m a little concerned. Can you tell me what happened to bring you here today?” Oh man, oh man, oh man. What was I going to say? I feigned memory loss. “I’m not exactly sure. I blacked out.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. I really did black out. I just left out the particulars about Mike knocking the plates off the table before he slammed me into the wall. I tried to move out of his way and ended up hitting the corner of the wall with my face. I guess that’s where the bump came from; I really didn’t
remember how I acquired the cut on my arm that led me to get stitches. Or the invisible bruises I felt on my ribs. “Miss Swan,” Detective Cheney spoke, “we’ve done some research and this isn’t the first time something like this has brought you to the hospital. We’re concerned you may need some help. If there’s something you want to tell us, we can help you. You don’t have to be afraid.” There was that word again “concerned”. She was tempting me with her suggestive words. How easy it would have been to just blurt everything out to her. To tell her I wanted to have a peaceful nights sleep without worrying about him. I wanted to confess that he was a monster who would turn his cruelty on and off as easily as turning the channel on the radio. I wanted to cry to her and say I wanted to leave a hundred times and each time I worked up the nerve, he reminded me of my worthlessness. I wanted to escape, but where would I go, who would ever want me after this; I was broken, damaged beyond repair. I was also scared of what would happen if and when he found me. It only took me a second to decide. “Everything is fine; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I lowered my eyes to my hands and made my voice as devoid of emotion as possible. “Here’s my card, Miss Swan. If you ever need anything or change your mind, please call me.” Her voice was urgent, but careful. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” I refused to take her card. If he found it, I would only suffer more. She placed the card on the tray table and left with the doctor. They didn’t force the issue any further. I picked up the card and placed it in the red biohazard box used for syringes. I was good at hiding things. Alice poked her head around behind the curtain; she had a worried look on her face. She quickly smoothed the creases from her face and sat beside me. I was physically and mentally exhausted at this point. I was tired of pretending and tired of lying. I just wanted to curl into a ball and forget everything and everyone. “I was thinking that we should go to lunch sometime. I really enjoy talking with you, Bella.” Her enthusiasm filled the room again. “I would like that.” My voice was hushed. I let a piece of my guard I had built up over the past two years crumble. There was just something about Alice that made me feel optimistic. “Where’s your phone?” She held her hand out to me. I gave her a cautious glance.
“You do have a cell phone don’t you?” “Yes, of course I do.” Didn’t everyone in the modern world have a cell phone nowadays? “Well, let me see it.” She opened and closed her fingers in her waiting hand, signaling her impatience. I reached into my bag and grabbed to phone, I wasn’t sure why she needed it or what she was going to do with it, but I gave it to her anyway. She pushed buttons and flipped from screen to screen entering something into the phone. “There. I put my number in your contact list. I expect a call from you.” Her voice held an edge of authority. I knew I would call her, what I didn’t know was I was slowly beginning to move toward a decision that would change everything about my life. I was resolving to leave. The seed had been planted, by the doctor and the detective, by Alice and her kindness. It had all started working somewhere in the back of my mind. Maybe there was hope. Chapter 2 Alice’s company made the time fly by faster than I could have imagined. We continued to talk about trivial things. It was refreshing to talk honestly without censoring my likes and dislikes as I usually did. Footsteps echoed through the hallway, coming closer to my partitioned room. They made my stomach clench. I knew that time was going by quickly and I did not want Mike to return, but I knew he would show up sometime soon to take me with him. My muscles relaxed when I realized it was two sets of shoes walking together towards us. They stopped next door in Alice’s room. I heard a soft voice, “Where did she go?” “She’s probably in the bathroom or something.” A smooth voice responded. “I’m over here, guys.” Her voice was amused. The two men stepped closer to the curtain and opened it, immediately I saw the green eyes. There was warmth in his eyes that drew me in; I felt a strange pull when our eyes met. I released my gaze to look at the beautiful face before me, scanning every inch of it. His hair was reddish brown disarray on top of his head. His face must have been carved in the image of Adonis. He was tall and well-built - not beefy or bulging and definitely not frail or scrawny - he was somewhere in between; the perfect build. My assessment took only a few seconds and then I was stunned breathless when he flashed me a crooked smile.
“Are you harassing the other patients?” The velvet smooth voice belonged to him. “We were keeping each other company. This is Bella.” Her hand gestured to me. “Bella, this is Jasper and Edward.” I knew who was who from Alice’s earlier description. Jasper was stooped down next to her, delicately brushing his fingertips over the bruise on her face. “It’s nice to meet you Bella.” He extended his hand and I shook it once. Of course this was Jasper, her fiancé. You could see the love pouring from them. It made me jealous. Edward stood near the entrance to the room; it was barely large enough for the chair and bed. He waved and said, “Hello.” Again, flashing a small grin. “Hello.” My voice was timid and I kept my eyes low. I was too ashamed to make eye contact again. Although, every nerve in my body wanted to peek up into Edward’s eyes, I refused. “Alice, we’ve brought your contraband. The cafeteria was closed so we brought you a sub from down the street.” Jasper held a bag and I noticed the smell of food surrounding me. Even though I hadn’t eaten since lunch and it was almost ten, the smell didn’t appeal to me. “I’ll see you later Bella.” Alice’s voice was chipper. Jasper rose from his place beside her and lifted her into his arms, cradling her against his chest. “Jas, I can walk.” She spoke so matter-of-factly, but you could see it didn’t bother her to be taken care of by this man. She trusted him completely. “It was nice to meet you.” Japer spoke as her carried Alice through the part in the curtain. “Bye.” I could feel the emptiness building inside me again. Edward stood in the make-shift doorway and looked at me for a moment. He looked like he was deep in thought. I looked into his emerald eyes and was stunned once more by the power they had over me. We stared at each other for only seconds, but there was an unspoken conversation happening. It was like he could see through me, through all of my walls and lies and falsehoods. He saw me. “Nice meeting you.” I whispered
“Yeah, you too.” His eyes looked over me and then he walked away. I closed my eyes and laid my head back into the lumpy pillow letting a gush of breath escape my lungs. I found myself thinking about how careful Jasper had been with Alice, how he was protective of her. I once thought Mike was that way, but then he turned into a lunatic. Protector turned into control-freak and then dominator. Jasper didn’t strike me as that kind of guy; he was so gentle and loving to her. Witnessing that made me feel awful. I found it hard to cry anymore, the traitor tears that used to give me away had stopped long ago. I had trained myself to suppress them in order to hold back my emotions. But somehow a single tear had escaped and was falling down my cheek. I didn’t wipe it away, it was nice to feel a real human emotion and have a real human reaction. I let it slide along my jaw line to my chin before it fell from my face. I traced the trail gently with my finger remembering the feeling while simultaneously wiping away the evidence. I kept my eyes closed hoping…I don’t know what I was hoping. I wanted to leave the hospital, but I didn’t want to go home. It wasn’t even my home. It was Mike’s. Everything inside the house belonged to him; the furniture, the dishes, all of the contents were his. I had my clothes, my car and my bank account. I couldn’t believe I had let this go on as long as I did. I met Mike my last year of college. He didn’t attend school with me; he lived in the city in one of his parents apartments. He was so charming and gentleman-like. I didn’t date him right away but he was so persistent. He would send me flowers and wait for me after my classes to walk me home. He was relentless. All of my friends said I should go out with him because he seemed sweet, he was good-looking and he had money. None of that interested me but I gave him a shot and let him take me to dinner one night. He was courteous throughout dinner and the conversation was nice. I didn’t exactly have suitors knocking down my door so I continued to date him more for companionship than anything else. There was never a spark between us, no physical chemistry. Mike and I continued to see each other. We had dated for about six weeks. Graduation was just days away and I asked him over to my apartment to talk. It always seemed fairer to approach these kinds of things face to face. I wanted to let him know I thought we would make better friends than a couple. He flipped out when I told him I didn’t want to date him anymore. He got in my face and screamed at me. He said I wouldn’t ever be good enough for anyone else and yelled that no one would ever want me. He said I was lucky to have him and threw my dating history - or lack thereof – in my face. Everything he had said played on my insecurities. It made me doubt myself and ever finding a fairytale ending. It hurt me so badly but at the same time I believed it. His anger scared me but then he turned on his charm and convinced me that he loved me and he didn’t want to lose me. He begged to have another chance and promised that he would make me happy.
Everything inside me told me I should run away from him, but my parents had always taught me to never give up on things so easily. I gave him a second chance. After graduation and throughout my full time job with the publishing company, the verbal abuse continued. He tried to control every aspect of my life and if I defied him he would assault me with words and break me down. During college I rented an off campus apartment with two other girls. It was small but cozy. The girls were a year behind me so it worked out well. Even after my graduation I shared the apartment. I didn’t have enough money to move out on my own and I didn’t want to live with Mike. He was bad enough during our time together; I didn’t want to be under his control around the clock. When my roommates were a month away from graduation, they dropped the bomb that they were moving out. I should have known this day would come. They had finished school and were moving back to their respective homes to find jobs. I was crushed. I loved my job. There was nothing like it in Forks or nearby. I couldn’t afford to live on my own in the city and commuting would kill me. I tried to keep my situation a secret from Mike, until I could figure something out, but he had a way of finding out these things. His controlling behavior was only directed at me and he wore a very careful mask around my friends. I was watchful to never tell them anything about the verbal abuse that took place behind closed doors. He always came off as polite and suave. When he found out about my living situation he insisted it was the perfect time to move in with him. I had agreed, reluctantly. I didn’t have any other options. There was a light at the end of the tunnel because Mike’s father had been talking about opening a branch of his car dealership in Chicago. He was kicking around the idea of putting Mike in charge. This was the break I was looking for; I would finally be rid of him. He knew I couldn’t leave my job. First of all, I was under contract for a year. Secondly, I loved it. The latter part he didn’t care about. I moved in with him thinking it would be very temporary. He promised I would have my own room. Our relationship wasn’t like that. I had insisted that I was waiting until marriage. It was the only one of my decisions he ever respected. I guess forcing himself on me sexually wasn’t on his list of things to do. Violence and verbally berating someone sure, that’s acceptable. I secretly was looking for a new roommate. I had planned to put an ad on the college housing bulletin board. I figured living with freshmen - even though I was four years older - would be better than Mike. I had everything all planned out, I even talked to my old landlord about the old apartment and it wasn’t rented yet, I just needed to find two other people to share expenses with.
Then another pitfall came. Mike had gone behind my back and spoke with my boss about a work at home job. Originally she wasn’t convinced, but then he persuaded her to let me go because he was moving to Chicago. She congratulated me one day and I had no idea what she was referring to until she explained. I was enraged. I stood up to him that night when I came home. I let all of the anger flow from me and accused him of tampering with my life and holding me back. I confessed that I didn’t want to be with him and I was leaving no matter what he said or did. I was prepared for the yelling and screaming, but what he did next shocked me. Mike slapped me across the face. I was stunned. He had struck me so hard I fell to the floor, holding me cheek. The tears fell like rain down my face, unstoppable. Then he lifted me by my hair and pushed me onto the couch. He calmly said I wasn’t going anywhere and if I ever spoke to him like that again I would find myself in much worse shape. I had never been so frightened in all my life. Directly after he hit me, he left the apartment. I sat and cried for hours, rocking myself on the couch and fearing the words he had spoken. How much farther would he dare to take this? What would he do to me? I moved away with him. I had never regretted anything more than the day I met Michael Newton. He was the world’s biggest liar, the world’s best actor and the scariest man I had ever known. The physical part grew worse; I had spoken out of turn a few times after that first day. I don’t know if I was testing his threat or if I was too stubborn to believe that anyone could be so cruel. Up until this day, I have been under Mike’s thumb for one year, nine months, and thirteen days. It was pathetic to count. I should have stopped a long time ago. It’s like a death row inmate counting how many days they’ve been in prison, does it really matter? There is no pardon. There is no escape. I was taken again from my recollection. This time it wasn’t as pleasant as Alice’s visit. Mike was standing at the curtain with a bouquet of red roses. I always hated roses. Every time he would hurt me he would show up with the same dozen red roses. The rose’s reminded me of him. They were beautiful to look at, they appealed to you and drew you in, but when you would get close enough to touch them they would cut you and make you bleed. His face was hidden behind the petals and thorny stems. He popped his head around and his face wore a huge smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Izzy.” “Thank you.” I forced a smile onto my face and spoke softly. Mike’s face was very pleasant. From a distance he looked like a nice guy. I knew better. He had sandy blond hair. When I met him it was spiked carefully toward the front of his hairline. Now he wore it longer. It barely touched his ears and was parted to the side.
He wasn’t wearing the same clothes as he wore at the house. I wonder if he changed before or after he brought me to the hospital. “I’m sorry, Is. You know I love you, right?” His voice was low and he pulled the chair close to me against the bed. “Please forgive me?” “I know you do.” It was the same practiced answer. “Great! I’m going to make it up to you since you’re little visit ruined my Valentine’s plans.” His voice was calm with a hint of mockery. “Next week, I’ve booked us a fantastic dinner. You’re bumps and bruises should be healed by next Friday, right?” He ran his finger over my eye and the bump above it. He wasn’t as gentle as Jasper had been with Alice. I winced slightly from the pressure. “Oh c’mon; I’m sure it looks worse than it feels.” Then another voice from Alice’s bed spoke. It was her brother. His voice was loud and irritated. “I can’t take this anymore, Alice. I’m going for a walk.” Mike whispered and jabbed his thumb toward the curtain. “I wonder what his problem is.” Then he started to chuckle. I knew what his problem was; it was the same as my problem. It was Mike. It irritated me that he could speak to me this way after what he had done. I took a slow measured breath to regain my composure. “I just want to go.” I wanted to finish that sentence differently. “Let me see what I can do. Don’t go anywhere.” It wasn’t exactly a threat but I saw the meaning behind the words. He spoke to the charge nurse, not Angela. Angela had put him off stating she would have to wait for the doctor the send me home. She saw through Mike. The charge nurse was more convinced of Mike’s sincerity and she phoned the doctor directly. He said there was no reason for me to stay any longer than I needed. I also understood the double meaning behind those words. Angela had begun filling out my discharge paperwork and I changed while Mike chatted with various nurses at the desk. I could hear him telling his normal stories that portrayed him as a hero or a nice witty guy. It made me cringe to hear him talking so convincingly to other women. I was finished changing and I heard Mike say, “Excuse me,” in his sarcastic voice.
“There’s really no excuse for you.” It was Edward’s smooth voice, with an edge of menace to it. “What’s your problem?” Mike turned on him. I gulped. I didn’t want my earlier activities to be exposed to Mike. I would suffer badly if he found out I was talking to Alice and had her in my room while he was away. It would be even worse if he knew I had spoken even a word to Jasper or Edward. Please please please please please, I begged silently. “I’m not the one with a problem.” “What do you mean by that?” Mike’s anger was showing. There was a pause before Edward spoke. “My apologies, excuse me.” I couldn’t be sure, because I couldn’t see either of their faces, but it sounded like Edward bowed his head when he spoke. I waited for him to disappear behind the curtain with Alice before I emerged from the fabric wall. I had laid the gown neatly on the bed and straightened the sheets and pillows before I left. I still had some blood and food on my jeans and thin sweater. “I’m ready.” I hung my bag over my shoulder. “It’s about time; I have to work in the morning.” And the hits just keep on coming. “I’m sorry.” It was a faint reply. We walked toward the exit but I realized I must have forgotten my coat. “I’ll be right there, I think I forgot something.” “Hurry up.” He huffed. “I’ll go start the car and pull around.” I walked into the curtained room and looked around for my jacket. It wasn’t there. I hoped he had it in his car; the weather in February was freezing, literally. I shivered at the thought of having to step into the night air without a barrier against it. I walked past Alice’s room and the curtain was open all the way. She mouthed ‘call me’ and held her hand up to her head like a phone. I nodded. Jasper gave me a worried look and Edward’s face was the one that broke my façade. His face was twisted in a combination of rage and emotional pain. He looked me straight in the eyes and his expression turned pleading. I couldn’t image how a group of people I had just met could look as though they care about me this much.
Chapter 3 The next few days passed without incident. Mike was nicer than usual. But then again, this was the cycle. Everything would be fine and then he would blow up again. Sometime it was weeks before the next time. Sometimes it was days. I was always guarded. I kept every incident filed away in my memory. I tried to catalog the experiences, thinking there was a pattern or a trigger. There wasn’t anything logical about Mike’s behavior. He was completely random. So I kept up my defenses. The bump on my head had reduced quite a bit, it was almost flat o my head now and all that was left was a yellowish green stain from the bruise. I ended up with a black eye. The redness had turned purple over night, but it too was fading. The stitches needed to come out after another week. I would probably remove them myself to avoid my doctor’s questions. I had been out of the hospital for 5 days and our dinner together was approaching. I didn’t really want to go out with the evidence of the last fight still on my face, but I couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t usually wear make-up; only when I needed to cover up the purple spots. I thought over calling Alice. I thought about her often. I flipped over the idea for a few days until I found the courage to call her for lunch. Mike was in business meeting all day and I knew there was no chance of him finding out about a lunch date with Alice. I had erased her number from my contacts list as soon as I came home from the hospital. I memorized it in the bath that night. I sang it over and over again until it was committed to memory. I picked up the phone and dialed her number before I chickened out. I chose to call from the house phone so it wouldn’t show up on the cell phone bill. “Hello.” Alice’s voice chimed. “Hi. Alice? This is Bella. We met at the hospital.” I was pathetic. “Oh, Bella, I’m so glad you called. How are you?” “Better, how are you?” “This sling on my arm is driving me crazy. I had to redesign it when I came home. That thing was so tacky. What have you been up to?” “Just working. I was wondering if you had any plans for lunch today.” So pathetic. “Nope. My schedule is completely open.” “Great,” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Where would you like to go?”
We talked for another five minutes and decided on an Italian restaurant near her studio. She wasn’t too far from our house only about a twenty minute ride. I grabbed my keys and headed for the door. I was still driving my old Chevy truck from high school. It was a reliable truck. I had it shipped from Forks to Chicago when we moved. I didn’t have a use for it in New York. Everything was within walking distance or subway or taxi. I never had a need to go beyond the city my entire time I lived there. When I took a sightseeing trip with my friends we would drive their car. My truck was a part of me I never wanted to let go of; it reminded me of how my life used to be before Mike. Mike always liked to throw his car in my face because it was new and had things like power steering and power this and that. He said it was our car but I never drove it. He wouldn’t let me. I followed the directions to her studio. It was in a nice part of town. The building looked more like a warehouse. It was an historic building; the worn look gave it character. I liked it. There was a sign out front; Designs by Alice. The entrance to the shop had a large glass window and door leading into a design floor. The inside of the store was gorgeous. The floors were a dark refurbished wood. The racks were meticulously placed around the shop showcasing different dresses and clothing. A glass counter was near the back with a cash register on top. I browsed around the clothes looking at the designs and admiring the craftsmanship. I glanced at one of the price tags and did a double take. I refrained from touching anything else while I was in her store. The clothes were exquisite, but I probably couldn’t afford a button on the jeans. Alice appeared from behind the back wall. She practically danced across the floor to me. She embraced me in a hug and I laughed. It was just what I thought Alice would do. “It’s nice to see you, too.” I whispered into her hair. “What do you think?” She gestured around the room. “It’s amazing.” “We have a few minutes let me give you the tour.” Alice showed me the rest of the space behind the constructed walls that made her store. It was larger that I expected. She had rows and rows of textiles and fabrics on coordinating shelves. It looked like a fabric factory. Her design center was in the back with a row of desks. The board had hundreds of designs tacked to it. Some I recognized from the racks in the front and others were remarkable in their own right. I was bowled over by the things I saw in front of me, it was incredible.
“Wow, Alice this is…just…wow!” I couldn’t find the words to express what I was seeing. “I know. I’ve loved doing this since I could hold a needle and thread. I used to make Edward and Emmett model for me. It started with doll clothes and then progressed to people. I love every aspect of fashion and design. You should see my place.” Alice spoke with such fervor. I envied her. She seemed to have it all figured out and was living her dream. The only thing I was ever passionate about was books. I loved reading them and engrossing myself in the words on the page. I loved escaping reality and putting myself in the shoes of the women in the classic novels. It was exhilarating to live through their experiences. I felt the love and romance they lived with the men who courted them. It made my boring life much more tolerable. It took away the hopelessness with the idea that true love or the idea of a soul mate existed for someone. Alice continued the tour through the warehouse and led me up a staircase. “There’s more?” I was stunned. How much space did she need? “The downstairs is the shop, up here is the apartment.” At the top of the stairs was a hallway with a red double-door at the end. It was quiet despite the noise of the machines and the bustling of the people on the floor below. “The building came with a huge loft apartment, Jasper and I used to live up here, but we bought a house a few months ago and it’s been vacant ever since. I don’t have the heart to rent it to a stranger.” She reached under the door mat and retrieved a silver key. I was speechless for the umpteenth time today. The walls were the same brick as the exterior of the building, red and faded. Various pieces of artwork and shelving were on the walls. The floors were wooden but a darker stain than the floors in the showroom. The space was large and open. It had a great feel of comfort to it. It was fully furnished. It reminded me of the pictures of houses and apartments you saw in magazines, it was unique and modern. The entire wall to the south was covered in glass, you could see beyond the historic buildings to the architecture is the distance. I could only image what how the buildings would glow in the night. “This is great. Did you design this?” “Yes, it was just a big open room when I bought the building. Jasper and I built some of the walls to separate the rooms. Upstairs are the bedrooms.” “How many bedrooms are here?” Looking at the vast space in front of me, I couldn’t imagine there was more.
“There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs. There’s a half bath on the other side of the living room.” There was a wide metal staircase that led to the upstairs. The stairs were divided by a landing in between as they zigged then zagged in the opposite direction. Alice pointed out the Master bedroom; another room larger than I expected. I had never seen a space so immense before. The bedroom had a walk-in closet that could have easily been another bedroom. It was almost the size of my room at home. The master bathroom had a separate shower and garden bathtub with his and hers sinks. The entire room was white with silver accents and fixtures. The second bedroom was the only space in the loft that wasn’t furnished. “This was Jasper’s music room.” She chimed. “Jasper plays music?” “He likes to play the guitar in his spare time. It’s a hobby. He’s a psychologist by day and a musician during his free time.” She mused. I glanced down at my watch and saw how late it was getting. I needed to make sure I was home before Mike arrived. “Thank you for showing me your place Alice, it was…incredible.” “You are welcome anytime Bella. Let’s get to lunch.” The Italian restaurant was a block away from her store. It wasn’t anything fancy. There were only about twenty tables in the whole place. It looked like it had been a family business for two or three generations. Some of the pictures on the wall were of the original building, many years ago. Other pictures were of various families sitting at the tables. It was quaint and homey. The food was delicious and Alice and I engaged in another relaxed, easy conversation. She asked me about home. It was great to have a chance to talk about my mom and dad and my childhood home. We exchanged stories about first crushes and embarrassing moments. Before I knew it, lunch was over and it was time for me to go. I really didn’t want to leave; I was having fun for the first time in almost two years. Alice insisted on buying lunch. She had a way of getting exactly what she wanted. We talked as we took the short walk back to my truck. “Alice, we’ll have to do this again soon.”
“Agreed. I had a wonderful time. Call me soon and we’ll do it again.” She gave me a quick hug and bounced into the shop. I arrive home in plenty of time to prepare dinner and do a little work before it was ready. I thought a lot about my day. I wished I didn’t have to sneak around to have lunch with a friend, but it was safer in a world were nothing felt safe. I called to speak with my mother before dinner was ready. I hadn’t spoken with her in a few weeks, since the day of my last hospital visit. They didn’t know anything about Mike’s darker side. I had managed to keep it hidden from them. My mother could always sense sadness in my voice, but after so many deflections on the topic she just stopped asking what was wrong. She was always so perceptive about me and my feelings. I distanced myself from her and my father when things went from bad to worse with Mike. I didn’t want them to know how weak I had become. I used work for an excuse to not come home or call as often as I used to; it wasn’t worth the disappointment in their voices to tell them the truth. I told my mom about Alice. I avoided telling her how we met, but gushed on how great it was to have a friend in the city. Mike didn’t ever speak to my parents, so I knew my secret would be safe with her. The news helped to put some of my mother’s worries at ease. She wasn’t too keen on my moving to Chicago, but she accepted it, just like she accepted everything else in her life. Dinner went without a hitch. I kept my pleasant mood concealed. Mike wasn’t much of a talker this evening, so it played to my advantage. I didn’t want to lie about where I had gone today. I didn’t have a problem hiding to Mike. I had to conceal things to survive. Chapter 3 February had turned into March. Alice and I had lunch twice a week at the same Italian restaurant. We always had things to talk about and we were quickly becoming close friends. I had told her everything about my childhood and my parents. She had shared the stories of her family. Alice was like me in a lot of ways but opposite in many others. I was drawn to her inexplicable happiness and ability to always see the bright side in things. Her optimism was refreshing. Home life had been quiet for over a month. I went about my daily routine much the same as I did before my secret rendezvous’ with my new best friend. I was always home early enough to take care of dinner and I made sure the house was perfectly cleaned before I left. I was confident mike didn’t know anything about my excursions. The day before one of my weekly dates with Alice, Mike and I had a fight. Mike was taking some things out to the trash and I heard his phone ring from his jacket. I grabbed the cell phone to answer it, but whoever it was hung up as soon as they heard my voice.
He walked back into the house and saw me with his phone still in my hand. “What are you doing with my phone?” His voice was furious. “It rang and I thought I would get it for you.” It was an innocent answer. He walked straight to me and grabbed me by the arm that held the phone. I flinched away from him, and expecting him to slap my face. “You are not to EVER touch my phone, do we understand each other?” His fingers were wrapped around my forearm and were squeezing tightly. He didn’t need to raise his voice again to get the point across. His low hiss was menacing enough. “Y-Y-yes, I understand…ouch.” The pressure increased. It felt like my arm was count in a vice. “Good. Now drop it.” His opposite hand was placed under mine waiting for his phone. I dropped it immediately and he released my arm. I breathed deeply, trying to control the building tears as the throbbing started. The next day my arm was bruised in the shape of his fingers. The weather was still cold enough to wear long sleeves. Thank goodness he didn’t hit me in the face. I couldn’t imagine having to explain to Alice why I was wearing sunglasses inside. Lunch was as wonderful as ever, until I reached across the table for the bill and my bruise was exposed on my arm. Alice grabbed my hand and pulled up the rest of the sleeve exposing the entire hand-shaped bruise. “Bella, what the hell happened to you? Who did this?” Her voice was severe. I tugged my hand free of hers and slid my shirt over the mark. “It’s nothing Alice.” “Nothing? It sure looks like something to me! It looks like someone’s hand print.” Alice was like my mom, she always guessed right. “Please just let it go.” I spoke in my most pleading voice. “Bella, what’s going on?” “I’m fine.” “That is not fine.” “Alice, leave it alone.” I whined.
“I want you to talk to me. You can trust me Bella. I consider you my best friend. Please, just talk to me.” “I-I can’t.” I had contemplated it a hundred times. I wanted to tell Alice, but what could she do what could anyone do? I knew what he would do if I left him. “You can’t what?” She pushed. “I can’t do this!” I blurted. I threw some money on the table and walked from the restaurant. I was wrong to seek a friend. I should have realized that they would ask questions one day. It was only a matter of time before Alice was curious about a cancelled lunch date or why I didn’t want her to call me. Up until now she had never asked any questions about Mike or that day in the hospital, today’s questions were not what I was expecting. “Bella, wait.” She was slipping her coat on. The March weather was cold and wet. I turned to face her but didn’t speak. I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew I should have kept walking, but I didn’t want to lose Alice as a friend. She was right, we were best friends. “Bella, I think I know what’s going on. I can help you, but you need to talk to me.” “You can’t.” I whispered. “Bella, if he’s hurting you, you need help. Nobody should treat you like that.” I just shook my head to clear her words. “I haven’t asked you anything about this guy, because, I didn’t want to intrude, but this is out of control. I heard the way he talked to you in the hospital. I thought he was just a jerk, but if he’s hitting you Bella, you need to get away.” She broke my resolve and the tears started to fall. I began to think back to all the times he had hurt me physically and emotionally. She placed her arms around my waist and I let her support some of my weight as we walked to my truck. “I really should go.” My voice broke. “I think you should stay.” She could tell her words were working. Bella, I’m here to listen. You can trust me.” Everything came crashing down on me. Every moment of my time with Mike and all of the distance I had created from my family; the great friendship that was blossoming between me and Alice. Something inside me snapped and I was crying hysterically.
Alice reached to grab the keys from my hand and opened the truck, helping me inside. I leaned against the steering wheel and sobbed. Alice opened the passenger side and slid inside. “I don’t know what to say.” I sobbed. “Just say whatever’s on your mind.” Alice sat quietly by my side. I couldn’t answer I was trapped inside my own mind. I didn’t want to go back there, but I didn’t know where else to go. I couldn’t go home to Forks. I would have to explain everything to my mom and dad. It was too shameful. I struggled with myself whether or not to let Alice into my problems. “I’m so lost.” It was all that I would allow to be said. I sat inside my truck with Alice by my side and cried for over twenty minutes. Alice didn’t say a word she just sat close to me and rubbed my back. The tears that had been forced down resurfaced. They flooded my face until I physically could not cry anymore. I still wanted to sob but my eyes were dry. It felt good to let it all out. It felt good to let it go. I knew the time was escaping me. I still felt an urge to go back to that house and continue my normal routine. I needed to do a lot of thinking and figure this out. The one thing Mike could never do was stop my thoughts. I could keep those locked inside me forever and he would never find that piece of me. “Alice, I really need to go.” My voice was thick with the tears I had cried. “You don’t have to go anywhere.” “I need to get back.” I knew what I wanted, I wanted to leave; but the fear was holding me prisoner. “Please be careful Bella.” She gave me a hug. “If you need anything, no matter what time of day, you call me.” Her voice was serious. “Thank you, for being my friend.” She exited the truck into the rain and walked quickly into her building. I did have a lot of heavy choices to make. Things that had been weighing down on me for so long had resurfaced. I was confused and frustrated with myself for being so careless around Alice. I needed to pull myself together and accept this life once and for all.
I picked up Mike’s favorite take-out on the way home. I didn’t have enough time to cook a full meal. I didn’t feel very well anyway. I hid my resent emotional break as illness. I place the bags of food on the counter and went to my room to change into my ratty sweats. I washed my face with a warm rag, the red splotches from my hysterics had almost disappeared; and then I pulled my hair into a high ponytail. I returned to the kitchen to plate the food. Mike would be home any minute. I placed the oven on warm and set the plates inside so the food wouldn’t get cold. I curled up on the couch and tried to relax myself. I closed my eyes and erased all the thoughts in my head. I heard the garage door opening and Mike pulling his car inside. It was time to put on the mask. He had shown up with his trademark red roses and misunderstood my last minute dinner for thoughtfulness and forgiveness. He promised to make it up to me, again. I followed my normal pattern of feigning forgiveness. I skipped the next lunch date with Alice. Mike had made an unannounced early visit home and I couldn’t escape his company long enough to phone Alice and cancel our plans. He took off early to take me to dinner. “Is, make sure you wear something nice. I’m taking you to an upscale dinner tonight.” He shouted up the stairs. “Ok.” I looked through my closet trying to understand his definition of something nice. I settled on a simple black wrap dress. It was the only dress I owned that had long enough sleeves to cover the bruise that still lingered on my lower arm. It was flattering to my figure. The wrap around gave it a V neckline that hugged my torso; the length was just below my knees. It was very comfortable too. I wore a simple pair of black peep-toe heels. I let my hair down. Allowing the natural soft curls to frame my face and accent my chocolate eyes. I couldn’t stand to wear much make-up so I just dabbed a bit of tinted lip gloss on my lips and grabbed my purse from my chair. I felt good in the dress, it wasn’t too often that I allowed myself to peek in the mirror and feel good at my reflection. I had a small smile on my face when I reached the steps. He was standing at the bottom, ready to call up to me. When he looked at me his face was full of disappointment. “I guess that’ll do. Let’s go I have reservations.” He rushed me to put on my coat. I didn’t know what I expected from him. Maybe a compliment; you look nice or wow. He deflated my ego and my face fell into my normal emotionless expression.
There wasn’t much conversation in the car from me, Mike rambled about work and that his father would be visiting soon to do a formal inspection. He complained that his father didn’t trust him to handle one dealership and it insulted him to be treated like an imbecile. The restaurant was about 45 minutes away from our place. He let the valet park the car and the gentleman at the curb opened my door for me. He smiled when I exited the car. Mike was two steps ahead of me; he didn’t even bother to wait as he entered the restaurant. The girl at the coat check counter was a cute 18 year old girl. She had blond hair and was very friendly to Mike as she took our coats. My eyes couldn’t ignore the obvious exchange happening between them. It was demoralizing to watch him flirt with any beautiful girl he met, especially in front of me. Why couldn’t he just let me go, then he could go after someone else. He clearly didn’t care enough for me to even contain his flirtatious nature in front of me. I groaned internally. The restaurant was beautiful. It was the kind of establishment that required men to wear a suit coat. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful. I thought to myself, I would enjoy this place if I wasn’t with Mike. The food was delicious and the staff was exceptionally friendly. I was so full by the time dessert was ordered I could barely eat a bite of the cake Mike wanted to share. He insisted I take at least one bite and gave me a menacing grin. I sliced my fork through the cake and it met some resistance. I dug through the crumbles to find a ring in the center of the cake. I was stunned. He dug the marquis cut diamond ring from the chocolate and wiped it clean with the cloth napkin. Mike scooted his chair from the table and began to drop to one knee. People at the surrounding tables were watching my face. I could feel the flush spread across my cheeks. I was mortified; people were staring at me and I didn’t want him or this to be happening. “Issy, I love you. Marry me.” It was a demand not a question. My hands involuntarily covered my face. I peeked through my fingers at Mike waiting for my answer. I knew I should say no; every fiber of my being was screaming it at me. But the fear answered him. “Yes.” It was the same answer I had given a hundred times when he asked if I forgave him. It was second nature to oblige Mike with the answer he expected. He pushed the ring onto the appropriate finger and swept me up into a hug. He planted a huge kiss on my lips and everyone in the restaurant started applauding. I was embarrassed beyond belief; terrified at the mystery of what I would have to endure for the rest of my life.
Mike took care of the check while I excused myself to the ladies room. I felt faint; I needed a few moments to collect myself before the car ride home. What would he expect from me now? He would surely want me to move into his bedroom with him. I had managed to convince him that I needed my own room because of my no sex before marriage rule, but now all bets were off. I was a virgin and did not want to give another piece of myself to him. It was only a matter of time. If I was lucky maybe he would insist on putting the wedding off for a few years. I could figure something out by then, right? The panic was taking over. The walls seemed to be closing in around me; there really was NO WAY OUT! Pull it together Bella. You can’t go to pieces here. I took deep calming breaths to slow my heart and collect myself. I would tuck this away too. I would push it far inside until I could be alone to mourn for the last piece of myself being given to him. The damage wasn’t too bad on my face. I captured the fear before it allowed me to cry, I mostly hyperventilated. The reflection in the mirror was pale, all color gone from my face. I was a ghost of myself. One more calming breath was all I took before I left this sanctuary to face what was beyond the doors. The car ride home was very quiet; Mike had turned n the radio and was singing happily along to the songs. I was feeling claustrophobic again. The weight of the ring on my finger was like a boulder, it was dragging me down. I was unconsciously looking – staring – at the spun gold on my finger. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry – I would have never chosen this cut for myself, it was not me. I had never considered what style of diamond I would want to be given as an engagement ring, but I just felt so repulsed by this marquis cut. Everything about it was wrong; it showed how little Mike really knew about me and how little he cared to get to know me. Mike broke the silence between us. “I knew you’d love it.” He smiled. “It’s a beautiful ring.” I stated. “It cost me a pretty penny, too. Make sure you don’t lose it or something. It’s a good thing I bought insurance on it.” I raised my head from the ring and gazed out the window. “My mother is so excited; she is going to take care of the preparations. We’ll be going to New York in two weeks to finalize the planning. You’ll get your final fitting and see the location.” I was shocked. “When are we getting married, exactly?” “In a month.”
What? This was impossible. “How did you plan a wedding so fast?” “Mother’s been planning for about 4 months now. She took care of picking out the color scheme and the flowers, even your dress. She’s been very busy.” My emotions were overwhelming. I didn’t even have time to hide them form Mike, I was too angry to care. “So, you’ve known you were going to propose to me for four months and you’ve already planned everything behind my back?” “I knew you would say ‘yes’.” I saw red. “Didn’t you think I would have wanted to chose my own dress or have any input on my wedding?” My voice was louder than I usually spoke to Mike. I didn’t care I was so livid. “You are so ungrateful. My mother has been working around the clock to give you the wedding of your dreams and you’re crying about a dress? What does it matter? We’re doing this my way. You’ll wear what I say you’ll wear and my wedding will be exactly the way I want it to be.” Mike was talking through his teeth. He continued. “You could have never had anything like this if we left it up to your parents. They probably couldn’t afford the napkins and tablecloths.” He laughed. That pushed me over the edge. “Don’t you EVER talk that way about my mother and father!” I gave him the most hated stare I could muster. I didn’t care if he hit me or belittled me, I would not let him drag my parents down that road. My parents were good, hard-working people. They loved me for anything I was, and never judged me. My father and mother taught me right from wrong and they both gave me all the love in their hearts. I would never let anyone tear down my family; no matter what. The car started to slow on the highway and Mike pulled over onto the shoulder. “If you think you’re parents are so great, have them pick you up. Get out.” “You can’t be serious.” He reached across my seat and opened the door, then unhooked my seat belt. “I’m dead serious, get the hell out of my car.” Mike threw my bag onto the road. I slid out of my seat into the freezing night air and stared back at him from the wet pavement. He slammed the door shut and rolled down the window.
“Maybe the walk home will give you a different perspective.” He smiled and drove away. Chapter 4 I stood in the cold wet air. It was at least 15 miles from the house and it was late. How the hell was I going to make it home? My body shivered in the night air. I began to walk and think, about everything. I thought about the abuse. The physical and emotional spew he had thrown at me time and time again. I thought about his house and how I hated it. Anger was bubbling up and overtaking me. I should have been crying my eyes out but instead I harnessed the resentment I wouldn’t allow myself to feel and let it guide me as I walked off the highway and toward a diner. I remembered the way he had to have everything his way, right down to the way the towels were folded. I re-traced tonight’s events. The criticism about the way I was dressed; the snide comments; the proposal ha; making me walk in the freezing cold after I defended my parents. He had gone too far. I thought about the ring weighing me down, I took it off and put it in my purse. As I tucked it inside I felt my cell phone. Instinctively I grabbed it and dialed the only number I had memorized. I sat sipping my hot chocolate in the tiny diner off the highway. The warm air felt nice. I was sitting there for about twenty minutes when I saw him enter the diner and look around. He walked up to me and slid across from me in the booth. “Are you ok?” “I will be.” I said with confidence. He ordered a coffee and we sat in silence. I didn’t know what to say to this virtual stranger. I barely uttered two words to him at the hospital, but the fact that he would come all the way here to pick me up was so…nice. I broke the silence. “I’m sorry you had to come here.” “Not a problem, Alice’s shows are not really my thing. I go for moral support.” He smiled a crooked smile at me. I hadn’t noticed what he was wearing. He had a dark pair of slacks on with a dark blue button down shirt; black shoes and black jacket. He looked like he just stepped off the runway. I must’ve looked terrible in comparison to this gorgeous man sitting across from me. He asked a lot of the same questions as Alice had to keep the conversation going. I answered to take the pressure of thinking away. It was easy to talk with Edward. His voice was soothing and I liked looking at him. I felt at ease just like when I was with Alice.
We had finished our warming beverages and he offered his hand as he rose from the table. I wasn’t used to being treated like a lady. I hesitated, but took it. Something in his eyes told me I could trust him. He helped me into my coat and walked with me to the door. He walked a few steps ahead and opened the door for me. I was floored that he was treating me so nicely. I was so used to Mike going ahead of me and he never held a door for me or offered to help me in any way. Edward gestured for me to step out to the right. “I’m over here.” He opened the passenger side door to a shiny Volvo. It was a nice car. Inside it had leather interior and smelled wonderful. The leather smell mixed with a sweet odor I didn’t recognize, maybe vanilla and...sunshine? I couldn’t pinpoint it but it was luscious. Edward opened his door and sat next to me. He started the car and the wonderful smell swirled as the fan blew hot air throughout the car. Edward continued with the conversation, never asking why I was dressed the way I was and in the middle of nowhere. “Bella, what kind of music do you like?” “I like a little bit of everything. I haven’t really listened to the radio in a while to know what’s current.” I confessed. “What about you?” “I like a little bit of everything, too.” He smiled. “Alice told me you used to live in Washington.” “That’s where I grew up; my parents still live in Forks.” “I’ve been to Seattle a few times on business, it’s very wet there.” I laughed. “Yes it is.” I found myself having a great time talking with him. He made me forget all of my problems and it helped me relax. I was so lost in my time with Edward that I hadn’t given any thought as to where we were going. He didn’t know where I lived and I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to ever go back there. The cold air on my face as I walked through the night had made my decision final. I just didn’t know what I was going to do now. I was homeless and all of my limited belongings were stuck in that house. My body started to tighten at the stress of it all and
my smile faded into a blank stare. I looked out the window and worried how I was going to make it. Edward sensed the change in the atmosphere and said. “Everything will be ok now.” Slowly I turned to him with tears welling in my eyes and whispered, “You can’t know that.” His hand lifted from the steering wheel and gently touched my shoulder. He didn’t say anything but I felt the reassurance flowing through him. We sat silently again, I was considering calling my parents to explain everything, but what could they do. It would cost a fortune to move back to Forks, and then what were my options; I wouldn’t have a job, I would be living at home again. Pathetic. Edward pulled up a familiar street. I saw Alice’s shop and looked questioningly at him. “Alice told me to bring you here. She’ll be here in the morning.” He parked on a side alley and got out. Again, he opened the door for me and offered his hand to help me from the car. Edward was turning out to be the kind of gentleman I wished I could have met. If only things were different. I’m sure he had a girlfriend, someone who he treated like a princess. We reached the apartment through a side entrance and a brightly lit stairwell. Edward had a key on his key ring and held the door for me to enter. He flipped on the light switch to reveal the amazing loft I had seen before. I walked straight to the window that covered almost an entire wall. It was beautiful at night; more breathtaking than I had imagined. “Alice said to get you settled here. She wanted me to let you know you can stay as long as you like.” Edward was standing beside me staring with me into the city lights. I felt my knees get weak. I turned to brace my back against the wall and slid to the floor, my feet extended in front of me. My head slouched into my hands and I sobbed. All of it came crashing down on me like the force of a large meteor hitting the Earth. The crying wouldn’t stop. I felt like a fool for going to pieces in front of a man I didn’t really know. He sat next to me placing his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into his embrace. “Ssshhh.” He rocked me back and forth and the motion helped to calm me slightly. He was warm and smelled magnificent. I recognized the scent from the car, but it was a hundred times more potent and intoxicating.
“I’m sorry.” I blubbered. “What exactly do you have to be sorry for?” “For everything.” I felt his hands smooth my hair away from my face. I peeked up at his and saw his emerald eyes looking at me. I quickly averted my eyes and sat away from him. “I’m a very good listener, if you want to talk about anything.” The reassurance in his tone made me want to trust him. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.” I uttered. “Why don’t you start wherever you feel comfortable.” “It’s a long story.” I wanted to open up, but I didn’t want to admit all of my secrets that I guarded so well. “I’m not leaving anytime soon.” “I don’t want to burden you with my problems.” “If I can help you in any way, I will. I told you, I’m a good listener.” He smiled that crooked smile I was beginning to grow fond of. I looked down at the floor and started with the very beginning. Okay here goes nothing. “I met this guy Mike in college, my senior year…” It took me an hour to go through the short version of the story. I left out most of the serious incidents involving a broken wrist and stitches to my mouth. I included the night I met him and Alice in the hospital. I admitted my fear and I cried at various points in the story as I relived the events. His eyes were wide and he took in every word I told him, he didn’t interrupt and the words flowed from my mouth like a dam had been broken. It was so easy to tell him everything. He just sat and listened, letting me get it all out. I concluded my story with tonight’s events. “And here I am.” I breathed a sigh of relief. The weight had been lifted from me. I felt like I could finally breathe a little easier. I still felt the shame and kept my eyes on my hands as I fiddled with the hem of my dress. I didn’t expect him to say anything, what could he say? I just confessed my deepest secrets to a stranger; a gorgeous stranger who was chivalrous and smelled great. He was Alice’s brother and she sent him, so she trusted him and I trusted Alice.
The silence went on for a few minutes and I peeked up to see his face. I worried he was disgusted by me. I didn’t expect to see Edward’s face in the state it was. He was shocked, and then I saw worry color his expression before it settled on calm. “I’m sorry, Bella.” “You don’t have to apologize for anything. I should be apologizing to you for interrupting your evening and making you listen to all of my troubles.” My eyes were on my hem again. “You haven’t interrupted anything. Alice was going to come get you herself, but I volunteered. And I also volunteered to be a good listener for you.” “Thank you.” I stared into his bejeweled eyes to convey my gratitude. I could tell it was getting late but I wasn’t sure what time it really was. I should have been drained by the events of this evening, but my mind wouldn’t rest. I pulled my phone from my purse to check the time; to my surprise I saw 27 missed calls. As I held my phone in astonishment it vibrated again. The number on the display screen was his. I stopped breathing. Edward looked at the terror on my face and took the phone from my hand. “You don’t need to worry yourself with this.” He tossed the phone onto the end table. We were still sitting on the floor by the back window. “I think I need to stretch.” I pushed my hands against the floor to stand, but Edward’s hand was two steps ahead of me. He was already in front of me offering to help. I gladly accepted. “I guess you should get going, huh.” It was nice to have someone here with me; I wasn’t sure what would happen once I was alone. “I’m not in a rush.” It was like he knew I was afraid to be left alone. “Do you want to watch a movie? I know where Alice keeps her DVD’s.” “Sure, that sounds great.” Edward stayed with me all night. We watched The Breakfast Club; it turns out it was one of his favorites too. I always loved that movie. I stretched out on the smaller of the two couches, letting his long lean body lay on the larger one. The phone vibrated every 5 minutes for about an hour until I decided to block the number. I didn’t want a reminder of him pulling me back every time I had a chance to clear me head. I wasn’t sure what time I fell asleep, it was some time after the guy fell through the ceiling. To say I slept was overstating things. I tossed and turned on the comfortable
couch. My mind was restless. I wasn’t sure what my next step was and that uncertainty was stuck in the forefront of my mind. I awakened to the smell of coffee and fresh bagels. The aroma pulled me from the couch and into the kitchen. Waiting on the island table was a plate of freshly made bagels and four cups with lids. Edward was in the same clothes as last night and smiled when he saw me approach. “Morning sunshine.” The familiar grin appeared on his face. “Good morning. Who brought breakfast?” “I did. The couch was nice but not as nice as my bed. I’m a morning person anyway. I brought a variety and some different cream cheeses. Hot chocolate?” He held one of the covered cups up for me. “Ooohh, thank you.” I was surprised he noticed what I was drinking last night. “Do you have any blueberry?” “Yes ma’am.” He grabbed a spotted bagel from the top and placed it on a paper plate for me. I broke open the bagel and it was still warm. “What time is it?” “Almost eight. Why?” “How did you manage to get fresh bagels this late in the day?” “I know a guy.” He laughed. I gave a little laugh too; he was as contagious as his sister. Speaking of… Alice unlocked the door and walked straight over to me. She embraced me in her arms and wouldn’t let go. I had the hot beverage in one hand and a mouthful of bagel. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry I didn’t come. I was worried when you missed our lunch, afraid I had overstepped a boundary or something. Bella, I’m so sorry, are you okay?” I couldn’t answer her because of the bagel I was still chewing and because she wouldn’t let me get a word out. “Yes, I’m okay, or at least I think I will be.” Almost two weeks had gone by and I was still at Alice’s old place. She set me up with some clothes and food. I was so grateful for Alice. She never asked for anything in return, she insisted on helping. Starting over was difficult, but I was slowly feeling the freedom from Mike and that made me happy. I was getting into my own routine. I was
still afraid he would find me; it nagged me when I was alone. Since Alice worked downstairs, she and I had lunch everyday in the loft. I figured I should call my boss and my mother. My mom was relieved to hear from me she said Mike had called in the middle of the night. “He said he proposed, honey, and you ran off. He said he was worried because you wouldn’t answer his calls. What happened?” I had to laugh; he was lying to paint himself as the victim. I wanted to tell her the truth but it wasn’t the time. I calmed her and said I was staying with friends and she could reach me on my cell phone. I also asked her to not tell Mike about our conversation. “I don’t want him knowing where I am mom. It’s over and I never want to see him again. Some day I’ll tell you the whole story, just not right now.” Next I called my boss; I needed to have my work sent to the new address. She didn’t ask as many invasive questions as my mother did. I gave them both the same explanation. I told her I had left Mike and it was complicated. She let it go and said she wouldn’t have any new manuscripts for me for a month. She said I should take it easy, get settled and complete any work I was already working on. Crap. I realized I needed to get my stuff from the house. He had my laptop, my manuscripts, my clothes, my truck. All of the little possessions that were important had been left behind. “Alice, I need to get my things, but I can’t go there alone. What should I do?” “You could call the police, they’ll…” I interrupted. “I don’t want the police involved. It’s embarrassing enough that you and Edward know. I’d like to keep it as private as possible.” “Hmm. The guys will go with you.” I had heard about Emmett, but we hadn’t officially met yet. “I’ll just ask them to help you move. Em’s always down for helping move, he likes to ‘exercise his muscles.’ He’s a show-off.” Alice spoke so fondly of any member of her family. I felt like I knew them all for years. Alice was constantly telling me about her parents and siblings. I had found out that Carlisle is a well-known surgeon. Esme dabbles in design and refurbishing historic houses, as a hobby. Emmett played college football, but decided against going pro because he wanted a career to last a lifetime, so he’s a personal trainer; he works with most of the professional athletes in the area during their respective off season. Rosalie, his wife, comes from big money. She uses her social status to organize fundraisers for child related causes, like children’s medical research or playgrounds, or collecting books and clothes for under-privileged children. Alice said you wouldn’t be able to guess by looking at her that she’s such a philanthropist because
she looks like a runway model. You know what they say, Never judge a book by its cover. She never got into detail about Edward; she always said “you’ll have to ask him.” “Have I said ‘thank you’ yet.” I smiled at her. “Only a hundred times and they are not necessary, that’s what friends do; we help.” More days passed and I was going stir crazy. Besides Alice and once Jasper, I hadn’t seen any other people or been outdoors. It was maddening. I needed to get over this fear to move on with my life. You are not under his control anymore, you need to accept that. I took baby steps, first by going to the grocery store two blocks away. It was a small convenience store with the most basic of provisions. It was the middle of March but the air was still very cold. I wandered through the store for a bit, and then began the walk back to the loft. Alice was waiting when I returned. “You’re coming with me tonight.” She announced. “Where am I going?” I hesitated. “We’re going to have dinner with my family at my mom and dad’s place. This way you can meet everyone.” “Who will be there?” I hadn’t seen Edward since the night he picked me up from the diner. I couldn’t believe I had spoken so honestly to him about my situation. It was mortifying. I wonder if people will begin to look at me differently. Alice didn’t, and it seemed like Edward wouldn’t either. I just didn’t want everyone to know. “All the Cullen’s’ plus you.” “Ok, I’ll go.” “Edward will pick you up at six. Dress casual.” She called back as she exited the door. “Why is Edward picking me up?” Why couldn’t I ride with Alice? “He only lives a few blocks away. I need to go home and meet Jas. See you tonight.” “Bye.” It was barely audible. I was a nervous wreck. I was meeting a family of new people who may or may not know about my circumstances. Edward was picking me up. That thought set my stomach flipping. I would be alone with Edward for a real conversation, not an oh poor helpless me talk. Why was I reacting this way, I barely knew the guy. Sure he was drop dead gorgeous, charming, acted like a gentleman and smelled so…wait this is Alice’s brother. I needed to get control of these thoughts. Edward was an acquaintance. I had only met
him twice; really spoken to him once and he had never come to see me since that first morning, so he thought along those same lines. I couldn’t let my guard down. I needed to protect myself and keep the walls firmly in place. I did not want to be vulnerable again. --He was a bit earlier than I expected. I was finishing drying my hair and heard a knock on the door. Quickly, I threw on a thin robe and ran down the steps, stubbing my toe in the process. I hobbled the rest of the way to the door while the throbbing continued. I was taken aback by his appearance. He looked fresh from the cover of a magazine. His hair was its normal tousled self; he wore dark jeans with black shoes and a pale grey button down shirt with a black leather jacket. My voice caught in my throat and I was thrown into a daze by his striking appearance. “Can I come in?” He asked. “I’m sorry.” I moved to the side so he could come in, blushing from my lack of manners. “You really don’t have to keep apologizing to me, Bella. There’s nothing to be sorry about.” His tone was joking. “Sorry, I mean okay.” I was still standing at the door. His chuckle snapped me back into reality. I closed the door and made a bee-line for the stairs. “I should be ready in a few minutes.” I called from the top. “No need to rush, I know Alice told you six, I’m a bit early.” His smile made my skin feel warmer. I had planned to wear jeans anyway, but Edward looked so well-dressed that I questioned my original outfit. I decided he would probably look good in anything, so I donned a warm, long sleeved white cotton fitted shirt and a camouflage green cardigan. It was casual and very comfy. I went into the bathroom to finish the little bit of makeup I was planning on wearing, just some gloss and a little mascara. Brushed my teeth and combed any knots from my wavy hair. Giving myself a final look in the mirror, I decided that this was as good as I was going to ever get. I pulled a pair of brown boots from the closet and walked down the stairs. I couldn’t risk Edward seeing me trip in the low heeled boots.
I sat next to Edward on the couch and slid into the boots, my hair fell into a curtain around my face. “Do you mind if we make a stop on the way?” I brushed my hair behind my ear and looked toward Edward. His eyes were appraising me. It made the warmth flush my cheeks again. He focused on me and said, “Sure. Where did you want to stop?” “I wanted to pick up something for your mom and dad.” He arched an eyebrow at me. “My mom always told me to bring something for the host or hostess. She said it was polite, good manners and it could serve as a good ice breaker.” “That’s very refined of you Miss Swan.” “Could you help me choose something? I’ve never actually been to someone’s house to implement this advice, so I’m not really sure what to bring.” “Well, that would be cheating.” He joked. “But, since it’s you, I’ll help.” He placed a finger to his chin, pretending to think. “Anything chocolate will do.”
Edward Cullen Bella was the most interesting girl I had even met. Since the moment I saw her in the hospital, something about her chocolate eyes had me; there was a softness to her. Most of the other women I dated were shallow and easy to read, but Bella was different. I wasn’t an idiot, I could see by the look on her face that she was hiding something, something deep, a secret she didn’t want revealed. At first I thought it was shyness, but then I saw deeper into her circumstances. It didn’t occur to me that she was alone, without a family member or friend to sit with her when she looked like hell. It didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t shyness keeping her from meeting anyone’s eyes for too long. None of this had made sense until this guy walked into her private curtain with a bouquet of roses. The way he spoke to her angered me more than it should have. Their hushed voices weren’t too low for us to hear. I couldn’t believe he was the one who had done this to her. How could any man lift a finger and hurt a woman? Then to hear his cutting remarks over and over; I couldn’t listen to it any more.
I wanted to hit him as hard as he had clearly hit her. I contemplated it when I bumped into him. I told myself not to get involved. I calmed myself hoping that she would have the good sense to find her own way, besides, I could check up on her through Alice. I asked Alice about her frequently. I was attached to this girl I had only shared a few words with in a hospital, I didn’t know her but I needed to hear that she was okay. Alice spoke of her fondly and reassured me. But there was this nagging in the back of my mind that wanted to find her and rescue her from this so-called man. When she called during Alice’s showing, I jumped at the chance to pick her up. I didn’t need an explanation; I just wanted to see her again. She was sitting alone in a diner hunched over her cup, staring into its contents. I would never forget her and the way she looked. The bruises and bumps had healed and her face was clear, it was the color of porcelain. I stepped closer and saw her clothed in a gorgeous dress that wrapped snugly around her figure; her legs crossed under the table. Alice had instructed me not to ask any questions. “Bella will talk when she’s ready and when she feels its right. She’ll just need a good listener.” Her words rang in my ears. I tried to keep the conversation as common as possible. I didn’t want to scare her off, but I wanted to know more about her. Alice had also told me to take Bella to the loft above the store. When I saw Bella slump against the wall, my heart nearly shattered. Who could have had such an influence over this amazing girl to break her down to this? I listened as I promised Alice and Bella I would. I listened to the ridiculous things she had to go through. I listened to things that sickened me. I was so angry. I would find this Mike and one day he would feel the pain he put Bella through; he would suffer. I had to comfort her, despite the anger that pulsed through me at what I had heard; I needed to be there for her. I made myself another promise, to help Bella in any way possible. I would be her friend and help her regain herself. She deserved that and more. My work had me unavailable the next few weeks; I wanted to check up on Bella to make sure she was adjusting without any problems. I was torn between doing what I thought was the right thing and what I knew was the right thing. I wanted to go to her badly, visit, call but reasoning won out. I didn’t want to scare her off. It would only be a matter of time before she would need to face her demons head on; I wanted to be there for her during that time. I was going crazy, talking myself into staying away until she was ready for me as a friend. We had dinner plans with my mom and dad. I was relieved that Alice invited Bella to join us, I knew my family would like her as much as Alice and I already did; her personality was infectious. Alice didn’t have to twist my arm to pick her up; I had a feeling Alice knew I would happily agree.
I was ready too early; I paced back and forth in my apartment until I couldn’t wait any longer. Bella wouldn’t mind if I was a bit early. Her face was shocked when she answered in her robe; I guess she did mind that I was early. I glanced around at the loft as she dressed, noticing little touches that were hers. Even the aroma was hers; it was sweet like mixing strawberries and freesia. She was breathtaking as she descended the stairs. I retraced all the times I had seen Bella in my head; hospital gown, black dress, robe, and now the casual jeans and sweater that defined her curves. I would catalog this with the rest of my memories for her. ----I parked in the front of my favorite pastry shop called Bittersweet. My parents had been coming here for years to buy our birthday cakes or anything for a special occasion. The smell of fresh cakes wafted through the air outside. I knew the smell inside was even more delicious. Usually they required you order something in advance, but the lady at the counter directed her to a case of their most popular cakes. Bella studied the case and chose a banana cake with milk chocolate mousse and milk chocolate butter cream frosting. I smiled as she carried it to the lady at the counter. “You chose wisely.” “Did I get it right?” She asked nervously. “That’s mom’s favorite. You will definitely score points for the cake, amongst other things.” I encouraged her. The ride to mom and dad’s was easy. I was surprised at how much about my family she knew. Alice must have given her the specifics. Bella looked at ease, comfortable. I liked how she acted natural. It seemed like she was able to relax more than before, everyday a little more that before. When we pulled into the neighborhood her eyes grew wide and she let out a low whistle. “These houses are unbelievable.” “I don’t even think you can call them houses, they’re ridiculously large.” “Is this where you grew up?” She wondered. “Yes. Don’t worry; we’re not at all as pretentious as the houses would have you believe.” “I think I already figured that out.” She blushed. I enjoyed the slight pink that would color her face from time to time; this was the third time today I was blessed with its presence.
I had known that we would be the last to arrive; Alice had planned it this way. As I helped Bella from the car, she was hesitant about taking my hand. She looked frightened. “Don’t be nervous, they’re not going to eat you.” “Ha ha very funny.” She fit in effortlessly. Esme was so happy to finally meet her after hearing Alice gush non-stop. She seemed to find a commonality with everyone in the house. I heard her carry on a conversation with each member of my family and the evening went completely smooth. It was all over too quickly, I missed having a chance to see my family on a regular basis. We all agreed that we should make a concentrated effort to get together more regularly. Esme pulled me aside before we left and whispered, “I really like Bella, she’s something special.” “Yes she is.” I mused.
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