Crippling hugs to Chrisska for beta'ing this mess, as well as OrdinaryVamp and Landdownunder for pre-reading. They really make a difference to the coherency. Special thanks also to Perrymaxed for her research-y type help with this chapter.
Suggested Listening:'Jigsaw Falling into Place' by Radiohead
"Edward!" My mother admonishes through gritted teeth. It's like she appeared out of thin fucking air! Approaching briskly, her heels clicking, she grabs and tugs my arm before I've even made it through the door. "Where have you been?" she whispers. "Where's Bella?" Mom peers anxiously over my shoulder before tutting loudly and physically moving me out of her way.
I try to avoid eye contact, patiently waiting for her to realize I'm alone.
"Edward," she warns. "Where is Bella?"
I close my eyes and roll my head back against my shoulders, clutching the car keys firmly in my hand.
"Well?" She persists, a stern mix of anger and panic lacing her tone.
I let my head roll forward, leaving it to hang there, but still refusing to open my eyes. "She's… I don't know. She's not here." I sigh, braving a look up.
"What do you mean she's not here?" I can't help but flinch, despite knowing full well what is coming.
I respond only with silence, legitimately feeling five years old again; caught with a sticky, chocolate-covered mouth.
"Edward! I asked you to do one thing!" Mom fumes, all the while trying to keep her volume down. "You knew her case worker was coming today!"
I have no idea why, but I feel like her hushed tone is much worse than if she were all out yelling.
"I don't fucking know where she is! Okay?" I snap, instantly regretting it. I don't need to look at my mother's face to know the hurt there. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I revoke hastily. "I really am, but honestly, I waited in the parking lot for fucking ages, mom! I searched the entire campus!"
And I did. For forty fucking minutes I searched high and low for Bella. I even looked in the girls' bath and locker rooms, which yielded nothing but old spanx and a coughing fit from all the skanky perfume.
"When did you see her last?" Mom asks, putting aside other emotions in favour of her maternal instincts.
I consider her question for a moment, and realize I haven't actually seen Bella since this morning at her locker. Lunch consisted of my usual, albeit frustrated, preoccupation with the res murder notes. I'm certain I didn't see her, and no doubt if I had, I would've paid at least a little attention. A glance or simple acknowledgment of her presence.
"This morning, when I gave her a ride," I answer honestly.
"That's it?" She asks in disbelief. "What about lunch? And you have a class with her, don't you?"
"Er…" I stall, not sure why I'm reluctant to rat Bella out. "She hasn't exactly-"
The phone echoes loudly in our ears, bouncing off the walls of our sparsely decorated lobby. I feel a welcome flood of relief; glad to be momentarily free of my mother's interrogation. She retrieves the phone from the small bureau behind her, but never removes her eyes from mine.
"Cullen residence." The greeting is sharper than usual. "Speaking." The person on the other end of the line talks for an extended period. She continues to eyeball me suspiciously, only grunting her responses.
I begin to fidget, the relief of my reprieve quickly wearing off when I sense the conversation coming to and end.
"Mmm-hmm" Mom nods, forgetting she's on the telephone. "Thank you, I appreciate your informing me, Mr. Banner."
I feel my throat close.
Fuck! Of all the shitty timing!
The phone clicks as mom places it back in the cradle. "That was your biology teacher, Mr. Banner," she begins, like I don't already know who he is. She turns fully toward me and folds her arms across her chest. Her tone is eerily calm now. "Were you going to tell me Isabella has yet to show up for his classes?" She doesn't give me chance to answer before she continues, "not one single class, Edward!"
Jesus, I just want to be done with this bullshit. Be done and upstairs in my room, away from all the unjustified hostility being directed toward me.
"It's not my fucking fault, okay!" I snap because I've had enough. The curse falls harsh, even on my own ears. "You brought her here!" I continue, "You and dad. You brought this stranger into our home, and it's entirely un-fucking-fair that I'm getting the blame for her!"
Mom just stares back at me with wide eyes; clearly shocked at my outburst. I admit I'm little shocked at myself too. Lizzy always used to say if I got anymore laid back I'd be asleep, yet here I am, yelling at my own fucking mother.
I take her silence as opportunity to vent some more pent up frustrations I hadn't fully realized.
"You didn't seriously expect this to work out, did you?" I spit. "That girl couldn't give a flying fuck that you bothered to take her in! Hell, you didn't even really do that, because she sleeps somewhere else every night!"
"That's quite enough, Edward." My father comes to stand behind mom, placing a supportive, yet domineering hand on her shoulder. "Go to your room."
I hesitate for a second, battling the feeling of injustice and my urge to defy them.
"Now." He commands, asserting his authority with a glare.
"Fine," I retort before turning and walking to the foot of the stairs, but I pause when a glimpse of movement catches the corner of my eye. To my left, perched awkwardly on the grey living room couch, is a woman in her mid-thirties clutching a manila folder and a notebook. It's obvious from the judgment crossing her face that she's the caseworker, and has heard at least some of our conversation.
She clicks her pen.
I continue up the stairs, not stopping to feel guilty about any repercussions my parents might face from this particular visit. Honestly, it'd be better for everyone if Bella were removed from their care.
"Sorry about that Miss Warner. Let's move to the privacy of my office, shall we?" I hear dad mitigate as I climb the stairs.
I discard my bag haphazardly on the bed as I storm in to my room, barely resisting the urge to slam the door behind me to complete my temper tantrum.
Running both hands through my hair, I stand at the foot of the bed and contemplate the bag.
Grabbing the pack of smokes from the side pocket, I light one up without a second thought about opening the balcony door.
Pacing, inhaling. I try to reflect on what the hell just happened. My thoughts all lead to one word, and that word begins with the letter 'B'. I allow myself to fantasize for a moment; just picturing how I'll confront her when she finally shows her face again. The images range from unrestrained anger to bitter passive aggression. Experience tells me it'll be a while before she actually returns, and so I'm leaning toward the latter.
I relish the calming effect of the nicotine circulating my bloodstream as I try to gather my thoughts with little success. The smoke swarming in the air and the ash about to fall and burn the carpet prompt my movement out onto the balcony.
The fresh air hits, as does the sound of someone clearing their throat. I walk to the left and lean on my elbows against the steel balcony banister, brow furrowed as I follow the sound to a window below me.
It hits me instantly.
They're downstairs, right now, discussing Bella in all her glory.
The hell am I doing?
This is a ripe opportunity to get some dirt on Bella's shady ass. If I have any chance of getting rid of her at all I need to be prepared; have knowledge to back up my case.
Thank you, Law and Order.
Without further hesitation, I discard my cigarette over the edge of the balcony with a flick of my finger and thumb, heading quickly downstairs. I'm careful to slow and lighten my tread as I pass by dad's office on the second floor.
I make my way outside and around the side of the house, berating myself for not putting on a hoodie in this cold-ass weather, but time is of the essence. I see the cigarette I flicked earlier still smouldering on the gravel below my balcony, and turn to look up at the second story window. It's slightly ajar, and for once I'm thankful for my mother abusing the central heat.
"Record… delay… red tape…"
I can only pick up every other word of their conversation at this distance.
Shit. I scowl.
I spin on the heel of my sneakers, frantically looking around for anything I can use to give me height. Coming up short, I walk with a huff around to the porch and grab one of the steel chairs there with both hands. Raising it above my head, I tiptoe back to beneath the window.
Placing the chair down firmly, I climb upon it and tilt my head up as close as possible to the window opening.
"I see." I hear an unfamiliar female voice that I can only assume is the caseworker, Miss Warner. "And there have been no more issues with her medication, correct?" She continues.
Oh, god. I'm already breaking the law.
"No, she's entirely compliant, but you should be aware that I'll be reviewing her prescriptions once I look over the records." Dad is in full doctor-mode.
There's a beat of silence, before the woman tentatively asks, "You've discussed this with her psychiatrist?"
"As of yet, no. She's only attended two session and your office has been unable to provide the medical history required for such a decision, until present."
Ladies and gentlemen: my father, the passive aggressor.
"I understand." There's a prolonged silence in which I figure she's jotting down her notes. "And how have you found Bella to be on a personal level? In social interactions with yourselves and your family?"
"She's shy, but engaging and polite," Mom chimes in. I'd almost forgotten Mom was in the room with Dad's suffocating presence. "Emmett and Alice have taken a shining to her." I can hear the smile in her voice.
"And your other son, Edward?"
"Oh, he's having a little trouble warming up, but he was like that with the others, too. It's not a reflection on Bella, he's just very introverted."
Introverted? I scoff.
"I see. That's wonderful news- and a drastic improvement, I might add, considering her previous behaviour toward peers in foster and grou-"
"Well, Miss Warner," Dad interjects, "people reflect their surroundings. Bella understands she could have a home here. It's only natural that the positive change in her life be outwardly expressed."
"I fully agree, Dr. Cullen, but as you know, Isabella has deep-rooted trauma that cannot simply be fixed by a comfortable bed."
Touché, Miss Warner.
I thoroughly wish I could see the look on Dad's face right now. Their tit-for-tat use of formal names is only adding to the tension.
"I'm sure I don't have to remind you, as a member of the health profession yourself, that any inaccuracies or elaborations you report can only hinder her progress," Miss Warner adds.
"No, you don't, but as I'm sure you know, Bella is unlikely to make any progress at all whilst under the influence of heavy medication."
Even I can see he's deflecting, but she takes the bait anyway.
"The medication is required to prevent further violent outbursts and harm to others, Dr. Cullen. Whilst your sympathy toward her is well-deserved, your trust is not."
"If we don't trust her, she won't trust u-"
"Are you sure you wouldn't like something to drink, Miss Warner?" My mother interrupts, lamely trying to disperse the tension.
"Thank you, Mrs. Cullen, I'm fine. Lets move on to a positive, shall we? I see Isabella has gained weight?"
"Hmm-hm, five pounds! She has quite the appetite!" Mom readily agrees, but I can only laugh at her assertion. Yes, Bella is a total greedy fuck at the dinner table, but anyone with an ounce of sense can see it's because she's rushing to be somewhere else. Not because she wants to make 'progress'.
"It's a side-affect of the medication."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
My attention is drawn away from the meeting slash argument by the sound of footsteps along the drive.
I do a mental role call; Alice is at Jasper's, Emmett is at football practice, mom and dad are obviously upstairs. It can only be Bella… or a salesman.
I don't actually know which one I'm hoping for.
With this in mind, I hop down from the chair quickly and peer around the corner, fully aware of how fucking stupid I look. I spy Bella casually strolling toward the house.
She has her hands shoved in the pockets of her grey hoodie, but her bare legs are still exposed and I can't help but feel her pain as she shivers against the chill. Although I'm thrown a little off kilter by her coming back so soon, I'm more confused by what she does next.
When she reaches the foot of the porch stairs Bella shakes her hands out at the wrist, taking a deep breath. The sullen expression I'm so used to seeing grace her face is suddenly morphed into a sweet smile. She nods her head to herself and hops three times on the balls of her feet, reminiscent of a boxer hyping themselves up for a fight.
Before I can confront her, she jogs up the stairs and disappears inside the house.
I scramble back to the chair, desperate to see how this charade will play out.
"…walk, it was nice out." I hear the tail end of Bella's reply through the window opening. It's a reply to what I can only assume was a variation on "You're late. Where the fuck have you been?"
"Isabella, it's so nice to see you again. You look well," Miss Warner says. "How are you settling in?"
"Great. The Cullens are wonderful people."
"And how is school?" Miss Warner dives straight in.
"Great. I'm enjoying meeting all the new people." My mouth involuntarily drops open. It's like she's an entirely different person. Clearly Bella isn't aware that Mr. Banner already busted her.
"Well, that's good a note to end on, since I'm afraid we've overrun our appointment. Thank you, Dr and Mrs Cullen." I assume they're shaking hands in the silence that follows. "And I hope to see you present for our next meeting, Isabella," she adds in a lower tone. Playful, yet authoritative.
"Yes, of course," Bella replies smoothly.
I jump from my perch on the chair and quickly dart back inside, leaving it behind. I take the stairs two at a time, desperate to beat their exit from the office. I manage to make it, and when I reach my room, I slip inside and lean against the doorframe as casually as possible in my heightened state. While I wait, I think about how deceitful I've just realized Bella actually is.
A shark in the pool.
After a few long minutes I finally hear it- the sound of feet ascending the stairs.
I see Bella begin to pass into her own room.
Oh no, you fucking don't!
I grab her roughly by the wrist and yank her into my room, slamming the door shut behind us. She takes a moment to get her bearings before pushing away from my chest dramatically.
"Where the fuck were you?" I yell, cutting her off.
"I waited. I looked for you after school. Where were you?"
"Calm the fuck down, man! What's wrong with you?" She asks with wide eyes.
"You are what's wrong! You and your little disappearing acts! Do you have any idea how much shit you put me in?"
"Really? That's it?" She scoffs. "I waited for you by the car, Edward. You never showed so I just made my own way back."
"It doesn't take two fucking hours to walk back from school, Bella!" I retort.
"I took a detour."
"A detour where?"
"It doesn't fucking matter. Look, I'm sorry for upsetting the delicate balance of your life, but I have bigger shit to deal with." She turns her back on me, reaching for the door handle.
It incenses me.
Her casual dismissal is infuriating and I abruptly stop her exit by slamming my hand against the wood above her shoulder.
"Where were you?" I ask again, leaning in and lowering my tone to almost a whisper as I speak directly into her ear.
I can't help but notice how nice her hair smells again.
"It's none off your fucking business."
"It's my business when I'm getting blamed for the irresponsible shit you do." I insist.
"So? What? You're gonna get grounded for a week? Big fucking deal." Bella taunts, turning and leaning her back against the door. She splays her hands against the wood, smirking. "I'll be out of your life soon enough, Edward, so stop getting your panties in such a fucking bunch and just bide your time, okay?"
"Bide my time?"
"Yeah, a few months… give or take."
"I can't put up with your shit that long."
"Well boo for you, because you don't have a choice," she asserts, tilting her jaw up defiantly.
I'm stumped for a witty retort as I realize the position we're in is kind of precarious for our supposed brother-sister relationship. My eyes fall to her lips again.
"Are you done?" She smirks condescendingly.
I choose to bite my tongue rather than utter something I might regret.
I step backwards, removing my palm from the door and my face from its close proximity to hers. Anger pulses through my veins as I watch her turn and exit the room, quickly disappearing inside her own across the hall.
I take a deep breath.
That's it. I'm so over this bullshit.
~ X ~
Thank you for reading! :)