Falling for a Dark Soul @tufano79
Chapter 26

Disclaimer: None of this mine, nor do I claim to be Stephenie Meyer. I just like to dabble in the playground that she created with Bella, Edward and her Twilight characters. No copyright infringement is intended.

A lot of you had some great comments about the whole situation between Bella and Edward. Esme’s explanation helped. Would it have been better explained by Edward? Yes. But, he was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused and as a result, he was emotionally stunted and he couldn’t really explain his reasoning. Anyhow, we’ll hear from Grinchy in this next chapter.

Up next will be the Memorial Day BBQ and leading up closer to the drama … what will happen? Again, leave me your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

Chapter Twenty-Six

Bella

“Now, that is quite a vision,” purred James. “Nice ass, Swan.”

I turned around quickly, feeling the plastic tear into my arm. I scowled at him, holding my arm. “Really, perv?”

“I’m just making an observation,” he said, leaning against the door of the copy room.

“Do you know the definition of sexual harassment?” I snapped. “You have no right to make any comments about my body. We do not have that kind of rapport … any rapport, really. Why would you think that comment was appropriate?”

Edward and Emmett came over, as they were walking back from the cafeteria. “Is everything okay?” Emmett asked.

“It’s all good,” James shrugged. “Bella must be on the rag. How can you handle her, Cullen? She’s … a drama queen.”

“Excuse me?!” I snarled.

“James, that is highly inappropriate,” Edward said, his voice deadly calm.

“James, man, come with me,” Emmett sneered. “You’ve crossed a line. We told you that behavior would not be tolerated at MAC.” He grabbed James’ arm and tugged him out of the copy room. “Boss, can you get Bella’s statement?”

“Yeah,” Edward nodded, his eyes swirling with anger. When James was escorted out of the room, he relaxed and looked at me. “Do you want Rose to take your statement? She’s the head of HR.”

“If she could be in the room, just so that James can’t prove impropriety,” I muttered.

Edward gave me a stiff nod. “Are you done with the copier?”

I picked up my papers and followed him to his office. He called Rosalie. She came into the room, her eyes wide. “What’s up, Edward?”

“There was an incident with James,” Edward huffed out. “He crossed the line with Bella.”

“Okay,” Rose said, sitting down. “Do you want to fill out the form? Or me?”

“You, please,” Edward growled, stomping to the window and glaring outside.

“Bells, tell me what happened. Be specific,” Rose said, taking out a pad of paper. I told her and explained what he had said. “Alright, this is the first official statement made against him.”

“It is?” I asked.

“Unfortunately,” Rose grumbled. “He manages to eke under the radar, just coming up to the line, but never crossing it.”

“He made comments about my ass and said that I was on the rag,” I sneered, pointing to the door. “That’s sexual harassment!”

“It is. I agree with you, Bells,” Rose breathed, walking over to me. “But, we have to follow the procedures in our handbook. This is the first instance of sexual harassment and there were witnesses with Edward and Emmett, right?”

“We only heard the end of their argument,” Edward frowned. “Clearly, she was uncomfortable.”

“So, what’s going to happen? Is he fired?” I asked.

“No. This allegation will go into his file and he will be put on probation, with a week’s suspension,” Rose said, reading from her tablet. “We need to build a case against him.”

“Who else does he need to harass? What does he need to do? Fuck me on the conference table?” I barked. “He’s laser focused on me! He has a reputation of being a douche!”

“Rose, if you could the ball rolling on Bella’s statement,” Edward said coolly. “Get James in here in a half hour, too.”

“Sure, Edward,” Rose muttered. She walked over to me, hugging me. “We’ll get him, Bells. We just need to make sure we cover our own asses.” With a kiss to my cheek, she left me in Edward’s office.

I curled up on the couch, anger surging through me. I was trying not to cry, but tears were threatening to spill over. “When is James’ suspension going to start?”

“I’ll discuss that with James when I see him,” Edward answered, his voice still cold.

“Well, if he’s here. I’m working remotely. He … had no right to talk to me that way,” I cried. “I’m not some piece of ass …”

“Bella, you have every right to be pissed,” Edward breathed. “I understand your anger and I want nothing more than to fire him, but I can’t. I have to listen to his side of the story before …”

“I get that,” I scoffed. “Edward, you have a responsibility as the CEO of this company, but right now? I don’t want the CEO; I want my boyfriend.”

His hands clenched and he kept his back to me. “Bella, I have to stay impartial,” he choked out.

“Wow,” I sniffled. “I … I’m going to go. I see where your priorities are.” I stood up and wiped my cheeks. “For one god damn minute, I need you and you turn back into the ultimate Grinch.”

“Bella,” he said, his voice pained. He looked at me and his eyes were distant. “I …”

“Don’t try to explain this away,” I cried. “I need some space, Edward. You heard him. You saw him … how he cornered me.” I shot up, walking to the door. “I’m taking the rest of the week, Mr. Cullen. Do not call me.”

“Bella,” he called. “Please!”

Edward

My stomach churned and my heart lurched. I’d never seen her so shattered. Her disappointment was apparent in her posture, her eyes and her voice. She was close to tears. I wanted nothing more than to take her into my arms, but I couldn’t be what she needed. Not at this particular moment …

I had to be the boss. I had to be fair. Impartial. I had to take what she said into account. I also had to listen to James, as much as I abhorred him. He had crossed the line with Bella. He was already treading a fine line, but this was beyond the pale.

Seeing Bella’s look of betrayal in her eyes, it made me sick. I shot up and stomped into the bathroom. I fell to my knees, emptying my stomach of my lunch. I gripped the edges of the toilet bowl, feeling disgusted with myself. I sat down heavily, trying to calm myself down. I could feel my emotions surging beneath my skin. I had hurt her, betrayed her. I was no better than the assholes who had hurt me.

Fuck, I was an asshole.

I didn’t deserve her.

She’ll never forgive me.

“Sit down, James,” said Emmett. His voice was tight, clearly angry with his employee. “Edward will be right back.”

I heard James mutter under his breath, but I couldn’t understand it. I took a few deep breaths, flushing the toilet and quickly brushing my teeth. I ground my teeth together, turning off my emotions and walking back into my office. “Emmett, do you have the incident report?”

“He said he’d only talk to you, but I did have him read the employee handbook. Specifically, the section going over sexual harassment,” Emmett growled.

I took the blank incident report from Emmett and I sat down. “Okay, Mr. Holden, tell me, in your own words, what transpired between you and Ms. Swan?” I asked.

“I needed to make a copy of a contract for one of our clients,” James began, leaning back on the couch. “Isabella was in the copy room, tearing apart the machine. I made a comment about her attire and she flew off the handle.”

I arched a brow at him, gripping my pen tightly. “Her attire?” I asked dubiously.

“Yep. I did not sexually harass her,” James scoffed. “She’s delusional.”

“You said that she was on the rag. How is that not sexual harassment?” Emmett snapped.

“Cullen would know,” James said, giving me an evil grin. “She is your girlfriend. Or, is she?”

“James, you are … deplorable,” I hissed. “You knew our expectations from the moment you walked into our offices. We knew that you had some difficulties with your last employer and it appears that you have not learned your lesson. Saying that another employee is ‘on the rag’ is not appropriate, nor is any commentary about their attire.”

“Aren’t you the king of double standards?” James yelled. “She’s your subordinate! And yet, you’re dating her!”

“Human resources is aware of our relationship and if you’d actually read what Emmett gave you, as long as we don’t flaunt our relationship, it’s okay. But, my relationship with Bella is not being contested. Your actions toward her are,” I explained, my voice sounding almost robotic. “James, with your actions and behaviors, you were clearly in the wrong here. Based off the statement that Bella gave and your subsequent reactions to …”

“This is bullshit,” James spat. “Complete bullshit.”

“No, what’s bullshit is you making another employee in my company feel unsafe and uncomfortable. You’re suspended for a week, without pay. In addition to that, your probationary period has reset. One more toe out of line, and you’re done,” I said. “You also need to write a letter of apology to Ms. Swan for your words.”

“What about Bella? What’s her punishment?” James asked.

Having me as her boyfriend. I’m a worthless piece of trash …

“She was the victim, Mr. Holden,” I replied. “You can take your punishment and come back. Or, you’re fired. No references and a personal letter to every advertising agency that you’re a sexual harassment cancer. You won’t be able to work in the field you built your reputation in. Your choice, James.”

“This is extortion,” James spat.

“No, it’s reality,” Emmett snarled back at him. “You read the contract and you agreed to our terms. You need this job, Holden. Without it, your condo in Trump Tower will go back to the bank and you’re living in your car. So, what’s your choice?”

“When can I come back?” James asked sullenly.

“You’re off the rest of this week and all of next week,” I said. “You can choose to work remotely, but you’re not going to be paid. You will also be held accountable for all of your work that needs to get done. Your team will not pick up your slack.”

“So, I have to do my work and not get paid? That’s fucking slavery!” James wailed.

“Then, you’re fired,” I said coolly.

“No, wait. I’ll do it,” James grumped.

“Good. Now, get the hell out of my office,” I snapped. James huffed, clomping out of my office. “You, too, Emmett. I need to type this up and give it to Rosalie.”

“Are you okay, Edward? You look … I don’t know … like you’re about to jump out the window,” Emmett muttered.

Sounds about right.

No, keep it together. You can’t show weakness.

I turned and glared out the window, trying to keep my emotions under wraps. “I’ll be fine,” I whispered, trying to keep my voice from wavering. Unlikely.

“Edward, you have every right to be pissed off. What James did was abhorrent! I think it was a mistake hiring him,” Emmett grumbled.

“In order to get rid of him, we have to follow every procedure in our handbook, Emmett,” I muttered. “He might try to pull some bullshit, saying we were against him from the start. I’m also going to see if I can get more information from his previous employer and talk to our attorneys to see what our next step is. For now? I … I’m …”

“You can say it, Edward. You’re fucking pissed,” Emmett growled.

“You’re right. I’m pissed and Bella is … she hates me,” I hissed. I shook my head. “Emmett, I need to get this shit typed up and over to Rose.”

“Okay, man. If you want to talk …” he trailed off.

“Not now,” I said. Without further interaction, Emmett left and I leaned my cheek against the cool window. I could feel tears welling behind my closed eyes and my stomach continued to twist. I turned and slammed my fists into the wall next to the window. The dry wall crumbled and I eventually hit the steel framing. Pain radiated up my arms and it calmed my pulsating anger.

I managed to type out the report, emailing it to Rosalie. I shut down my computer, trying to get ahold of Bella. Unfortunately, after my first call was declined, my following calls were sent directly to voicemail. Unable to focus my attention on work, I left the office and went to pick up Sam. My anger surged beneath my skin and I needed some sort of release. When I got back to my condo, I left Sam there and I ran like my life depended on it.

I don’t know how long I ran, but when I got to the park, which was empty. It was raining and I was drenched to the bone. I leaned against the tree where I first met Bella and I screamed in anguish. I turned, taking my anger and disgust out on some poor, unsuspecting tree. My knuckles were shredded and my upper body was throbbing in agony. I fell to the ground, sobbing for what happened and hating myself for not being there for the woman I adored.

I shivered as the weather turned colder and the sun dipped below the horizon. I got up from the ground, dragging my exhausted body back to my condo. I tried calling Bella again, but it went straight to voicemail. Sam nudged my hand and I groaned. I looked down at the damage to my knuckles, grimacing at the raw, open cuts on my hands. “Come one, buddy. I think we need to go to visit Esme and Carlisle,” I said without emotion. I had never relied on my parents. I always kept them at arm’s length, but I needed them tonight.

I changed out of my rain-soaked workout gear and into a pair of sweats. I drove to my parents’ home and stood on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell. My mother opened the door, smiling widely until she saw me. “Edward,” she breathed. “What is it? What’s wrong? You look upset.”

“Mo-om,” I choked out. “I … I’m …”

“Oh, Edward,” she cried, pulling me into her arms. My knees gave out and I let my petite mother hold me as I practically hyperventilated on the foyer. “Carlisle! I need you!”

“Esme?” he replied, walking toward her. “Oh, God! Edward! What happened? Your hands!”

My mom released me from her hug and looked at my torn up knuckles. “What happened, sweet boy?”

We got up and my dad led me to his office, where he had a small medical clinic. While my dad tended to my hands, I told them about what had happened at work with James and how cold I was toward Bella. Self-hatred and anger seeped in every word I’d shared, abhorring the cruelty I showed to Bella and indifference toward James.

“Edward, it’s obvious that you’re upset and beating yourself up over what happened,” Carlisle said, wrapping my hands in gauze.

“You’re damn right, Dad,” I snapped. “I ignored her needs … I’m an asshole.”

“You are not an asshole, Edward,” Esme chided. “What happened today was horrible and this James character is a piece of work. But it’s not your fault, nor is it Bella’s.”

“She hates me,” I muttered.

“No, she doesn’t,” Esme argued.

“You didn’t see her face when she left, Mom. It was like I betrayed her for not … I don’t know,” I spat, my anger resurfacing.

“I’m going to blunt, Edward,” Carlisle said, leaning forward. “How acted in your office was more akin to how you’d acted prior to meeting Bella. You turned off your emotions in order to get through that incident and if you’d let your guard down, we’d probably be bailing you out of jail.”

“You’re right,” I sighed. “I wanted to rip his throat out.”

“I want to do the same,” Carlisle snarled. “No one should have to deal with sexual harassment and it’s a shame that Bella was a victim to it.” He leaned forward, squeezing my shoulder. I flinched and he drew his hand away. “I’m sorry, Edward.”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m just on edge,” I responded tightly. The one person who could calm me down …

“Is this first real disagreement that you and Bella had?” Esme asked.

“We’ve had disagreements, but this is the first one where I had really act like her boss and not her boyfriend. I couldn’t give her what she desired, what she needed, because I had to deal with the asshat,” I snarled. I clenched my hands, making the fresh wounds burn. “I just hate what happened and I hate myself for …”

“Edward! Stop!” Esme snapped. “It’s not your fault, nor is it Bella’s. Maybe, I can over there.”

“I don’t think that’s wise, Es,” Carlisle argued. “She said that she didn’t want to see Edward. By extension, that may include you and me, as well.”

“She had her body objectified and she’s all alone. It’s not like she can talk to Katie about this,” Esme sighed. “She may need a mom.” She sat down next to me, looping her arm through mine. “My son needed me and I’m so happy that you trusted us enough to come to us with your problem, Edward. I love you and I want to be here for you. I also think that Bella needs someone, too. After I make dinner for both of you. Then, I’m going to visit Bella.”

“I still think that she may not want your interference,” Carlisle sighed.

“Me, too,” I agreed with my father.

“Well, thank goodness for free will,” Esme retorted with a snarky grin. “Come on, Edward. We’re about to have dinner, seafood alfredo with broccoli and linguine.” I nodded, following my parents into the kitchen. My mom set another place setting for me, making a plate for me. I picked at my food, not really tasting it. “Alright, Carlisle. You get to do the dishes since Edward’s hands are a mess. Edward, you stay here tonight.”

The look she gave me left no room for argument. She smiled and kissed my cheek. “It’ll be alright, Edward. I love you, sweetheart,” she whispered against my skin.

“I love you, too, Mom,” I whispered to her. I heard her gasp, but she didn’t say anything.

After she left, my dad sighed. “Your mom is stubborn. This is going to clap back on her.”

“I don’t think so, Dad,” I argued. “Bella may need a mom right now. Perhaps, she can also help her to understand a little bit about me.”

“Perhaps,” Carlisle agreed. “You should also consider talking to your therapist. The damage to your hands and your self-loathing, anger … it was reminiscent of when you first came to live with our family. Edward, I love you. You’re my son, forever and always. I want you happy …”

“Up until today, when I couldn’t be there for my girlfriend, I was. I couldn’t imagine being any happier,” I frowned. “What if we can’t get past this?”

“I think in time, you will be fine,” Carlisle said, leaning against the kitchen counter. “You will need to talk about this, of course, if you want to learn from this.” He looked at me, giving me a sympathetic smile. “I think you need to get some rest. I’ll take care of Sam for the night.”

“Okay, Dad,” I nodded. “And Dad?”

“Yes, son?”

I cleared my throat and walked to him. I felt my body tense, but I needed him to know. I wrapped my arms around his body. He tenderly hugged me in return. “I love you, Dad.”

“Oh, Edward … I love you more than words can ever describe,” he whispered, tightening his arms around me.

I took a breath, stepping back. “I know that you probably can’t help me, but can I get something to help me sleep?” I asked.

“I’ve got some Lorazepam,” he said, walking to his office. He gave me a pill and led me upstairs.

I thanked him, settling into the guest room. Before taking the medication, I sent an email to Rose, saying that I was taking a personal day. I also put in a call to my therapist, requesting an appointment. The last thing I did before going to sleep was to send Bella a text. I knew that she probably wouldn’t get until she turned her phone.

I’m sorry, Bella, for what happened today. I wanted nothing more than to hold you and make it all go away. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I love you, Bella. I always will … even if we can’t weather this storm ~ Edward

I frowned and felt my stomach lurch as I put the phone on the nightstand. I curled around a pillow, finding a stuffed animal in the sheets. I held the stuffed bear, with a green bow. It was left here by Katie. With a sigh, I tucked it into my arms as the sedative coursed through my veins, relaxing me and sending me into the dark abyss of slumber.

Too bad my sleep was anything but restful.

xx FFADS xx

The next morning, I had the anti-anxiety hangover. My head was throbbing and I was slow-moving. On top of that, my hands were killing me. I’d done some serious damage to them with my fight against a tree.

“You’re up,” Carlisle said, leaning against the door. Sam was sitting next to him with his tail wagging. “I just took this one for his morning constitutional.”

“Thanks for taking care of him, Dad,” I murmured. “Is Mom here?”

“No. She said she was going to spend the night with Bella. She called shortly after you passed out. Bella did need a mom and I think your mother is going to love up on her today. It’s my job to take care of you. Starting with your hands,” he said, releasing Sam from his leash. My dog hopped up onto the bed, snuggling next to me.

I pet behind Sam’s ears and he kissed my nose. I chuckled emotionlessly. “Let me shower first and then you can take care of this mess,” I said. He nodded, leaving the bedroom. I nuzzled Sam’s head and I went into the shower. Unwrapping my hands, I grimaced when I saw the deep cuts and bruised knuckles. I could barely do anything in my shower. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I dressed in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I walked downstairs, taking the proffered cup of coffee from my father. While I sipped the deliciousness that was Colombian roast, my dad examined my hands. “Better or worse today?” he asked.

“Worse,” I answered. “Stiff.”

“Are you certain you don’t want me to take you in to get an x-ray?” he pressed.

“I deserve this,” I argued. “My penance.”

“Edward, you do not deserve this. You didn’t deserve anything you had to deal with as a child,” he muttered. “Let me help you.”

“I know what a break feels like. This is just my stupidity,” I shrugged. “Not a break.”

He sighed, cleaning the scrapes and open cuts before putting some anti-bacterial salve onto the wounds. He wrapped my hands with some fresh gauze. “Stay again tonight, Edward. I think by tomorrow you can take care of your hands without my assistance,” he explained. “I’m also going to drive you to see your therapist.”

“I can go on my own, Dad,” I argued.

“I heard you last night, son,” he whispered. “Your nightmares came back and I could hear you screaming, crying.” My face flamed as I looked down at the table. I hadn’t had a nightmare since I’d met Bella. However, with what happened with James, my insecurities and repressed memories came rushing back with a vengeance. “Edward, don’t … I can see your shame and embarrassment.”

“I’m sorry if I kept you up,” I choked out, clenching my eyes closed. “Why is this hitting me so hard, Dad? Why am I such a mess?”

“Because the person you love the most was hurt, inadvertently, by your actions,” he explained gently. “You wanted to protect her. However, you were put in a difficult position because of your job.” He leaned forward and squeezed my shoulder. “Come on, son. Let me take you out for breakfast before your appointment.”

“Still can’t cook?” I quipped.

“I’ve lived fifty-six years without learning how to cook. I can microwave and I can order takeout. What else do I need?” he smirked. “There’s a greasy spoon with our name on it.”

He drove us to a diner near my therapist’s office. We spent the better part of an hour talking about what had happened at the office and how to better handle a situation, should it arise again. After breakfast, my therapist reiterated my father’s sentiments. We also talked about my anger management problem. It was decided that I see his partner, a psychiatrist. She had an opening and we were able to figure out some medications to help with my anxieties. We also left it open for me start a mood stabilizer. I didn’t want to be put on an anti-depressant until after we attempted some traditional therapies. However, an anti-anxiety medication was deemed necessary due to the injuries on my hands.

Once we were done with my appointment, my dad drove me to condo so I can get my laptop. By the time we got back to my parents’ place, my mother was home. She smiled at me, gesturing me to follow her. I gulped and we walked up to the deck. It was sunny outside. Spring had finally taken hold in Chicago. “How are your hands, Edward?” she asked, reaching over and rubbing her thumb over my gauze gloves.

“Okay, I guess,” I shrugged. “Dad redressed them for me. He said that he wants to check them again and give them time to air out before I get some work done.”

“Are you going in?” she pressed.

“No, I’m going to check emails and verify that James is staying home, adjusting to his suspension. I also need to type up an official letter in his file,” I grumbled. “Um, how’s Bella?”

“She’s better. She was shattered after what happened, but I did explain what happened and why you shut down,” she said. “She’s still upset, and needs some time. She also feels like she overreacted.”

“I think we both overreacted,” I sighed, sitting back and pulling up my feet on the chaise. “Does she hate me?”

“No, sweetheart. At first, she felt like you betrayed her, but since our discussion, she’s torn. She hates herself. Or at least, that’s what she said. Bella explained that she needs to come to grips with her reaction before she can face you,” Esme said, shifting closer to me and sliding her arm around my shoulders. “She’s pissed off at what James did to her, belittling her appearance and making her feel like an object. Your lack of empathy toward her amplified what he did. However, her temper flared and she snapped before she could truly understand what happened.”

I nodded, trying to understand what my mom was saying. I had shut down in order to get through my meeting with James. I couldn’t be Bella’s Edward. I had to be the asshole and that was a mistake. Hindsight, as they say, twenty-twenty.

“I can see the hamster wheel turning, Edward,” Esme breathed. “This was a perfect storm of bullshit.”

I snorted. “You never swear.”

“I swear when it’s necessary. What happened yesterday was not your fault, nor Bella’s. It fell all on James and his uncaring, disgusting words,” Esme said. “But it was bullshit. I hope that you gave James a piece of your mind.”

“I had maintain my professional façade,” I grumbled. “What I wanted to do was murder him and dance over his fucking corpse. That wasn’t exactly a viable option. So, I took away his paycheck for a week, but demanded he work … remotely.”

“Is that legal?”

“I told him that he was suspended, but he still had to maintain his productivity. His team should not have to be punished for his inability to act appropriately in an office setting,” I smirked. “He’s also on probation and one more toe out of line and he’s out.”

“Good,” Esme smirked evilly. “Hopefully, he’ll make that poor decision soon and you can hire someone who is a better suited for your company. Now, tell me about you. I focused on Bella last night. I want to provide my son with some comfort and love … How are you?”

I spent the afternoon talking to my mom. It was the longest conversation we’d had in our entire relationship. It also gave me some solace and understanding to hear a woman’s take on what had happened. As weird as it sounded, the situation that happened between me and Bella had become the impetus to encourage a deeper relationship with my parents. I’d turned to them when I was lost, trusting them with my emotions and my healing.

I also told both of them that I loved them.

It only took twenty fucking years.

We went inside when the sun dipped behind the buildings. My mom gave the tightest hug. For the first time in my life, I didn’t freak out and I wanted to feel her arms around me. I clung to her, relishing in her physical comfort. After our hug, my mom asked if she could make my favorite meal. I sheepishly nodded and she encouraged me to take a nap. With another hug, I decided to take her up on that. I stripped out of my jeans and hoodie, curling up under the covers. Sam hopped up onto the bed, his tail thumping on the mattress. “You think you’re cute,” I sighed. “You get away with it when you’re with Little One. Now, you think it’s okay to do it with me?”

Sam gave me a low woof, putting his head on my hand. I tickled under his chin and smiled. “You can stay, Sam. Such a good boy.” He licked my nose before plopping his head back down onto the mattress. I barely took a breath before I fell asleep, exhausted from the emotions of the day and lack of sleep from the night before.

I woke up a few hours later to my phone vibrating on the nightstand, along with the salivating aroma of my mom’s braised pork chops. I swiped it, seeing a message from Emmett.

I saw that you weren’t in today. I hope that everything’s alright. I know that yesterday sucked for both you and Bella. Anyhow, I just wanted to let you know that James did NOT come in. He did work, but it wasn’t up to his usual work. I’m going to keep track of what he’s doing and submit a report to Rose upon his return. If we could meet to discuss the possibility of me finding a new graphic designer? Would tomorrow work? ~ Emmett

I tapped out my response. I have a meeting in the morning, but I’m available tomorrow afternoon, after lunch. Thank you for letting me know. I was going to follow up on the incident from yesterday, but … you’re right. Yesterday did suck for both me and Bella. Anyhow, let me know if meeting after lunch will work for you. See you tomorrow ~ Edward

I got dressed, sliding my phone into hoodie pocket, and removed my bandages, grimacing at the damage to my hands. With a shake of my head, I got Sam out of the bed and went downstairs. My dad checked my injuries, telling me to keep the bandages.

When dinner was done, I did some work and replied to emails. As I was doing that, my phone vibrated again on the table. It was charging on my computer. My heart jumped when I saw Bella’s name, but sad when I noticed she texted me.

Edward ~ I’m sorry for my reaction yesterday. I’m still just trying to come to grips with what happened, but your mom helped me understand why you acted how you did. I love you and always will. I just need some more time. I just wanted you to know that I’m so sorry for my harsh reaction. I hope you can, in time, forgive me. I’ll call you tomorrow ~ Bella

I picked up my phone, holding it with shaking hands. It took me a few moments to respond, without sounding too disappointed in the text and not a phone call.

Angel, take all the time you need. When you’re ready, we can talk about what happened and I can apologize for my behavior, as well. I was afraid you’d hate me …

I don’t hate you, Edward. I hate myself at the moment ~ Bella

Join the club :-( ~ Edward

Aren’t we a pair? Sigh … ~ Bella

The dots at the bottomed danced as she continued typing. I held onto my phone like a talisman.

Look, I just wanted to let you know that I’m so sorry. I’m still an emotional wreck. After your mom left, and I took Katie to preschool and daycare, I went to see my therapist to get another perspective. To be honest, I’m just drained. Katie’s asleep and I’m probably going to do the same.

Get some rest, angel. I’m not going anywhere. I just hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for what happened yesterday. I shouldn’t have been so … cold. You have every reason to be upset with me and there’s nothing to forgive for your reaction. I deserved it and more ~ Edward

We have a lot to talk about, Grinch (and I mean that affectionately). Just not over text and not tonight. I love you and I’ll talk to you tomorrow ~ Bella

I love you, too. Sleep well, angel ~ Edward

She sent me an emoji and our conversation ended. I felt a bit more at ease after texting with her. It wasn’t the same as talking to her, but it was better than nothing. With a small smile, I went back to answering emails. Regardless of the drama, I had slacked off in my work and I couldn’t ignore what needed to be done.

Back to the grind.

xx FFADS xx

The next day I went to work and caught up on everything I missed from the day before. I also submitted my final report to Rose for James’ file. I was waiting for Emmett to come in when Alice came into my office. Her face was pinched and I prepared for her ire. However, her expression softened when she saw my hands. I quickly hid them under my desk. “What can I do for you, Alice?”

“I was going to rip you a new asshole, but it appears that you did that yourself,” she muttered. “What happened?”

“Did Bella tell you?” I asked.

“No, not really. She was really upset, but she wouldn’t talk about it before she left or when I dropped off Katie after work,” Alice explained. “I just hated to see her so … broken.”

“Alice, I appreciate your loyalty to Bella. I’m grateful she has you, but what happened between us was not something between employer and employee. It was a relationship issue,” I explained. “So, as much as you want to rip me a new asshole, it’s not your place since it’s not a MAC issue.”

“You’re right,” she agreed. “Have you spoken to her?”

“By text, last night,” I said. “Look, I have a lot of stuff I need to get done since I was off yesterday.”

“Are you okay?”

I shrugged, allowing some of my exhaustion to appear on my face. “I don’t know and probably won’t know until Bella and I have a conversation. A real conversation,” I answered.

“Okay,” she nodded. “I’m sorry for coming in here, guns blazing. I have a meeting with Victoria. Bella was supposed to take care of it, but …” She stood up and smoothed her shirt. “I’ll see you later, Edward.”

“Bye, Alice,” I replied.

She left and about ten minutes later, Emmett came into my office. He reported on James’ progress and it was seemingly better. After some discussion, we decided to table the possibility of hiring a new graphic designer. I hated to do that, but we had to follow the rule book.

Emmett left and I worked until my cell phone rang. I gulped when I saw Bella’s name. I slid my finger across the screen, holding the phone to my ear. “Hello?” I said.

“Hey, Edward,” she murmured. “You sound as good as I do.”

“I can imagine,” I chuckled emotionlessly.

“Um, Cynthia is taking Katie, along with her girls, to some movie and offered to keep her overnight. If you want to come over, we can finally put this behind us and move forward,” she said. “Give us a chance to … I don’t know … scream at each other, rage, cry or whatever.”

“Okay,” I frowned. “What time do you want me there?”

“I’m picking up Katie in a little bit and Cynthia is stopping by around five,” Bella explained. “So, any time after then?”

“I’ll be there,” I said. “Love you, Bella.”

“Love you, too, Edward,” she murmured.

The rest of the afternoon dragged something awful as I finished out my day. Thankfully, I got caught up with my work and I didn’t feel so guilty about taking the previous day off. When I left, I swung by a local flower shop, picking a lovely bouquet of white and cream flowers for Bella. I was almost tempted to pick up some food, too, but decided against it since I wasn’t sure how this conversation was going to go.

Parking the car around the corner since there was no parking on her street, I walked to her brownstone. Shifting on my feet, I rang the doorbell. Bella opened the door. She was dressed in a pair of yoga pants and one of my pilfered shirts. I handed the bouquet of flowers with a sheepish grin.

“You didn’t need to get me flowers,” she murmured, stepping aside and letting me in. “If anyone needed to get flowers … it’s you.”

“As much as I like flowers, I think I’ll just give them to you,” I chuckled.

“I’ll put these into some water,” she muttered, walking into the kitchen and searching for a vase. She found one, but it was on a high shelf. Presumably, put up there by me. Stepping behind her, I plucked it from the shelf and she gasped. “Edward … your hands …”

I handed her the vase, stepping back and finding the floor to be very interesting. “I felt awful about what happened and I was upset at how I hurt you. This was my temper exploding and my penance.”

Bella’s face crumpled and she put the vase and flowers down, running to me. Her arms were thrown around my neck as she cried. I slid my arms around her waist as my knees buckled. I cradled her in my embrace as I felt tears fall onto my cheeks. “I’m sorry, Bella. I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “I should have …”

“No, I shouldn’t have been such a bitch,” she sobbed.

I pulled back, wiping her tears away. “Please, angel,” I breathed. “I was the one who was wrong. I should have taken your feelings into consideration. I was so focused on punishing James and not murdering him that I shut down.”

“And this is the result of you shutting down,” she frowned, picking up my bruised and battered hands, kissing my knuckles. “Why? Why would you do this?”

“Because I hurt you,” I said simply. “I was so angry at myself … it was either beat the shit out of James or beat the shit out of a tree. The tree seemed like a logical choice and less likely to press charges.”

“Not funny, Edward,” she snapped. “I should have reacted less like a girlfriend and more like an employee. Would you have hugged me or whatever if it were Rose, or Alice, or Sue?”

“More than likely not,” I answered. “It could have been misconstrued as continued sexual harassment.”

“Right,” she sighed. “Why are we on the floor?”

“I have no idea,” I snorted. I stood up, bringing Bella with me.

“Okay, let me put these flowers in some water and … are you hungry?” she asked. I nodded as my stomach gave a nasty snarl. “I’ll order some pizza and we can talk some more.”

After she put the flowers in the water and ordered some pizza, we sat down on the couch. We talked about what happened with James and how we could, if in a similar situation, handle things better. After eating dinner, words of apology were shared and we cuddled with each other. I was finally able to give her the comfort I wanted to that afternoon. As we sat on the couch, our bodies intertwined, she sighed. “Do you forgive me for being such a bitch?”

“Do you forgive me for being a grinch?” I countered.

“Always,” she breathed.

“There’s nothing to forgive. It was an untenable situation and hopefully, we won’t be placed in a situation like that again,” I murmured, brushing her curls away from her face. “But, I think we have the tools to successfully navigate it if we do.”

“We just need to talk to each other,” she said, yawning.

“I should go, angel. You’re exhausted,” I said, kissing her forehead.

“No, stay,” she begged. “I sleep better with you.”

“Sam’s at home and I didn’t want to assume that we’d be … or … I don’t know,” I babbled, kissing her forehead.

“Well, shit,” she grumbled. “You can always get Sam and come back?”

“Tempting, angel,” I said, gliding my fingers along her cheek.

“You’re going to leave,” she pouted. I nodded. “Okay, I’ll let you go, if you come with me and Katie to the zoo for her field trip next Friday. I volunteered to chaperone. I’d rather have another adult with me. Someone I can trust. They tried to partner me with Senna, who hates my guts.”

“Spending the day with you, the Little One and a bunch other little ankle biters? Sounds like a dream come true,” I deadpanned.

“Edward,” she huffed. “Please?”

“Okay, okay,” I smiled, kissing her. “Are we okay?”

“We’re okay, Edward,” she whispered, kissing my bruised hands before brushing her lips with mine. “Love you …”

“Love you more,” I breathed, hugging her to my body and hating that I was forcing myself to leave.

“You can stay,” she giggled.

“I’m going. Perhaps, tomorrow, we can do something with Katie?” I asked, standing up and giving her a sweet smile.

“We’d both like that,” she responded, sliding her arms around my waist. “Call me when you get home?”

I nodded and kissed her again, wrenching myself from her arms. As I walked to my car, I knew that going home was the wise decision. We were both too emotionally wrecked and we needed time to heal. I also needed time to serve my penance … to be punished for hurting her.

Bella did not need forgiveness. She had every right to be upset.

She also said that she forgave me.

I just didn’t forgive myself and probably wouldn’t for some time.

If ever …

A/N: I had every intention of getting to the zoo trip and the Memorial Day barbecue, but this chapter got away from me, to be honest. So, that’s coming up with the next chapter.

Edward needed a lot help in this chapter. His insecurities and self-loathing came out in full force. He’s been making some great strides, but he is, at the heart of it all, a shattered human who is finally healing after years of abuse as a child and teenager. He opened his heart to Bella, but when he hit a bump in the road? He just shut down.

Was it right? No. Was it his usual coping mechanism? Yes.

Bella didn’t help, either. However, she had her own reasons for reacting. She had been harassed by the douche-canoe.

Anyhow, thank you for reading and reviewing. See you on the flipside!

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