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Chapter Nine: A Musical Interlude
I dropped Bella off at her house to tell Charlie the good news. She was still glowing with the triumph of getting the job, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to show her the appropriate enthusiasm. After parking her truck on the street in its usual spot, I opened Bella's door for her, helping her out of the truck (it was still difficult for her to get in and out of the truck with her heavy leg cast) and to her front door. She turned to me on her front step, and I couldn't resist taking Bella into my arms, holding her close and laying my cheek on the top of her head. Bella nestled closer, and we both stood there in the gray afternoon light, the summer sunshine suffused by the constant cloud cover. I wished our moment could last forever; I felt so happy there with Bella safe in my arms, protected by any and everything that conspired against her.
Sighing, Bella at last took a half step back, keeping her arms around my waist, then leaned up for a goodbye kiss. I bent my head and pressed my cold lips into the warm softness of her mouth, my arms tightening around her, bowing her body against mine, my hand caressing the back of her graceful neck under her thick curtain of dark hair. She released my body, wrapping her arms around my neck, burying her hands in my hair. Her lips became more insistent, parting beneath mine, her warm tongue lightly tracing my lips; she sighed into my mouth, her sweet breath enveloping my senses.
I couldn't resist and crushed her to me, taking care to hold her gently against my cold body. The kiss deepened, our tongues tangling together, cold with warm. Bella's heart pounded against my silent chest, seeming to bound out of her as her breathing came in quick, shallow gasps. I finally broke the kiss, my own breathing much faster than usual as well. Reluctantly I stepped back, looking at her with concern. Bella seemed pale and unsteady on her feet, and I quickly moved my hands under her forearms to support her as she swayed, blinking her eyes rapidly.
"Bella?" I questioned with concern.
She gulped air deeply into her lungs, her face turning from white to blush-pink as she took in large breaths. "I'm okay," she insisted.
"Ah, Bella," I said, burying my face in her hair as I held her close again for one last moment before releasing her, watching her to be sure she was steady on her feet now.
She was. A frown creased her forehead as she asked, "Won't you come in?"
I shook my head in negation. "No, I'll let you tell Charlie your news and I'll be back tonight after you've eaten dinner."
She reached up, pressing her lips to mine for a quick goodbye peck before turning to open her front door. I waited until she had closed the door behind her, giving me one last wistful glance before she shut the door.
I didn't want to hear Charlie's delight at Bella's news, so I walked across their lawn and into the forest that surrounded their small front yard until I was out of sight of any possible neighbors, then I ran toward home, ghosting between the trees much faster than even my car could drive to our house, only slowing as I reached our front porch.
I entered the house to find my family at their usual pursuits. Esme was upstairs, humming over a new set of plans in her office. Emmett and Jasper were watching a baseball game on the flatscreen, Rosalie tucked under Emmett's arm-HER mind was definitely not on the game; I quickly shut out her very personal plans following the last inning. Carlisle sat near them, his attention riveted on the book in his lap. Alice was upstairs, taking a critical look at her overflowing closet, planning her next shopping trip. I slipped in, knowing they heard me but no one greeted me as I moved quietly to my piano.
I hadn't played much since our return from Phoenix, but for some reason, I sought the solace of music this afternoon. I ran my fingers over the keys, checking the tuning; it was perfect. I started playing Bella's lullaby quietly to myself, focusing on the complicated music rather than the complicated thoughts that tossed my peace in every direction as I tried shutting out images of James torturing Bella...of my own struggles to stop drinking her blood...of Mike Newton's thrilled and admiring expression when Bella was hired today....
Abruptly I stopped playing, my hands at a standstill, hovering over the ivory keys in stress and indecision. Esme's hands on my shoulders surprised me; I started. No one sneaked up on me, but my mind had been roiling over the disturbing images of Bella in danger so deeply that I was unaware of her quiet steps behind me. Esme squeezed my shoulders gently in sympathy.
"Edward?" she questioned softly, "What is it?"
With my back still to her, my head was in my hands as grief and worry consumed me. Esme said nothing; she turned and sat beside me on the piano bench, turning me to face her, her arm around my shoulders in a comforting gesture.
I couldn't answer her question, but she knew how upset I have been since Phoenix.
"Will this work out?" I asked under my breath, more rhetorically than anything.
Esme pulled me against her, wrapping both arms around me now as agony seized me. "Edward, Edward," she whispered, "you love her. You'll find a way for this to work. You are the best and brightest of us all; you deserve happiness. You deserve having love in your life. I am so sorry that everything is so complicated."
Carlisle suddenly appeared in front of us, his hand on my shoulder as he faced the two of us on the piano bench. "Edward, I know this relationship is fraught with difficulties, but I believe that if anyone can walk the line here between the human world and ours, you can."
I shook my head at Carlisle's words of encouragement. "I don't know...." my voice was barely audible, even to the two vampires touching me. I thought back to the passionate kiss on her front steps a mere hour ago, and indecision engulfed me. "I don't know," I repeated helplessly. My desire for Bella was so...complex. How could I keep her safe yet still respond to her strong physical attraction for me, and mine for her...my desires for her body and for her blood? Our love seemed...improbable. Impossible.
"I should leave," I whispered.
"No!" Esme spoke low but fiercely. "Edward, no, please!"
Carlisle's reaction was less strong but more serious. "Do what you need to do, Son. We will miss you...you know that. But...." his voice trailed off.
At last I raised my eyes to look at him; Carlisle's gentle eyes gazed back at me, his sadness evident. "But?" I questioned.
"But I don't know if you CAN leave her now. It would break your heart...and hers."
I sighed. "I should have left months ago...when I first knew I loved her. But I didn't...I couldn't...and I don't know if I can leave now...." My head was in my hands again, and I sighed deeply.
I felt their unspoken thoughts-Esme's grief at my sorrow, my dilemma, her love for me and for Bella strong in her thoughts, her need for family unity clamant. Carlisle's torn thoughts, wanting Bella to be safe since he loved her as a daughter now, but his knowledge that tragedy lurked around every corner as Bella spent her time with me, with our family.
I was on my feet, unable to handle the depth of their thoughts a single moment longer. "I'll be in my room," I murmured, ghosting up the two flights of stairs and closing my door behind me.
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