Friday, July 28, 2017

Jack & Crush Chapter 20

I touch the things
You used to touch
Looking for echoes
Of your fingers

~ Iain S. Thomas


As early Spring moved along to the slightly warmer days of late April, I realized several things.
I was content with my art for the first time in my life. I was regularly selling pieces, and I no longer struggled to pay all of my bills at Trois Femmes or at home.

My mother was incredibly happy with Phil. She'd changed a bit herself, and stopped pushing me in the direction of Jake. Maybe because he'd been in jail for a couple months now, maybe because Phil was that good for her.

My friends really were my family. I could count on them for everything from lending an ear to running the bar. They helped to keep me occupied, but it wasn't pity I saw on their faces. It was love and support.

The last thing I'd realized was that my soldier had tilted my world on it's axis. Everything was different; the way I saw myself, the way I connected to others. The color of the sky was just as important to notice as saying hello to those I passed on my walk to work. I didn't take anything for granted. It was something I'd forgotten since my dad died. To take every moment as it came and love with all you have.

Now that we'd found out how good we could be together, it was immensely difficult to be separated. I could barely remember all the things that went wrong in the beginning, mostly because I wanted to focus on the good parts. Unfortunately, I was so fucking lonely when the others went home at night. I finally went back to my own house, simply because mom needed her time and space with her boyfriend.

It was nearing the end of May, and Edward had been gone for three months. We'd fallen into a routine with our communication, Skyping every four days and emails every other day. It had become something I could count on, set my schedule around. As routine as breathing.

Until the routine abruptly stopped. I was expecting a Skype call, hugging my tablet to my chest while I painted my toenails. When I glanced at the clock and he was thirty minutes late, I checked my internet connection and ringtone volume. Frowning, I tapped my fingers on the cover for another fifteen minutes before opening it up and calling him myself. There was no answer. I couldn't pinpoint exactly when the panic set in, I only know that I acted on it even as I tried to fight it.

For forty-eight hours, I called him every two hours. I couldn't sleep, so I even called him at night. He'd said nothing about a mission that would take him away long enough not to Skype. I was worried for him, but also worried that I was overreacting instead of coping and supporting him. Finally, I decided to call Esme.

"Hello, Mrs. Cullen, this is Bella. Uh, Edward's girlfriend." My hands clenched and unclenched the phone.

"Hello, sweetheart, what can I do for you?"

"I was hoping you'd heard from him. From Edward." It took herculean effort to keep the terror out of my voice.

"Why, yes. Haven't you?"

I dropped to the floor in my kitchen, the relief so strong it knocked me over. "It's been almost a week. We were scheduled for a video chat a few days ago, and I haven't gotten ahold of him."

"Oh." She was quiet for a moment, and I could hear papers shuffling on her end of the phone. "No," she murmured. "It's been ten days since we spoke."

I tried somewhat unsuccessfully to bite back the sob threatening to pull me under and drown me. "Is there- I don't know, protocol?" I didn't want to say the words out loud, making them real.

"There is a number I can call. Can you give me an hour? I'll call you back. I promise."

"Thanks, Mrs. Cullen," I whispered. My head dropped to my knees, and I sat there. I don't know how much time passed before I decided to call my mom. My words were jumbled, mixed with tears, and mostly unintelligible. She figured it out, enough to know I needed her presence.

I sat and waited, only concentrating on breathing in and out. I couldn't focus on the what ifs, or on the pain that waited just under the surface to cut me down.

Mom came in the door with Seth on her heels. He'd become almost like a son to her; his own mom was always too busy for him. He fixed things around her house, and she took him to lunch. It was very sweet, and made him feel more like a brother to me than ever.


I didn't know what to say, I could only shake my head. My hair had tangled from the numerous times I'd had my hands in it and my days-old makeup was smeared down my face.

"Oh, baby. No," she moaned, devastation marring her face. She didn't want me going through what she had.

I shook my head some more, but it only made my temples throb. "I don't know. I don't know."

Seth sat right on the floor with me, wrapping his somewhat gangly arms around my trembling body. "What do you know?"

"He didn't call." I swallowed. "He didn't, and he was going to." Some kind of strangled sound worked it's way up my throat, as I coughed up the fear and uncertainty.

"How long ago, Bella?" My mother knelt by me, handing me a glass of water.

I trembled violently, my head shaking again on it's own accord. "Two days," I whispered. I looked up into the concern and doubt in her eyes. "Today is the third." I sat unseeing as they absorbed my words.

The phone still in my hand rang shrilly, scaring the shit out of me. I dropped it, and the batteries popped out of the back, flying everywhere. I screamed, wailed as a mother for her lost child. Seth grabbed the batteries as they skittered, and my mom held out the phone for him to replace them.

We waited silently, willing the phone to ring again. Mom mumbled something that sounded like a prayer, and Seth squeezed my free hand between both of his.

I hit the talk button two seconds after it rang again. "Esme?" I sobbed.

"It's me, Bella. Oh, honey, calm down. It'll be okay." She tried to soothe me, but the ringing in my ears drowned her out.

"I'm going to be sick," I choked out, pushing up off the floor and retching in the sink. My mother took the phone I'd dropped in her lap, and I distantly heard her speaking.

"That's such a relief. Yes, I'll tell her. Thank you, Mrs. Cullen. Okay, Esme, then."

I was slumped over the old farmhouse sink, holding the edge for support. My legs were giving out, so I simply sank to the ground again.

"Bella." It was Mom's voice. She sounded far away, like talking in a tin can on a string. "Bella, he's okay. Did you hear me?"

It wouldn't register. I waited for the relief to come, but all I felt was cold. She grabbed my chin and forced my eyes to meet hers. "Promise, Mommy?" I whispered.

I saw the tears in her eyes before one dripped onto my hand. "I promise. Now, he's hurt, I won't lie. But he'll be okay. They'd meant to call Esme today, but hadn't done it yet. He's in Germany in the hospital."

"Can I-" My voice was stuck somewhere in my esophagus. I tried to swallow. "When can I talk to him?"

"He's only been awake for a few hours, he's been sedated following surgery. Esme said they'd have him call when he woke up in the morning, which should be this evening, our time."

There was a brief knock on my back door before Jasper stuck his head in. "Can we come in?"

Something about his face made me need to reassure him. "He's fine. Well, not fine, he's hurt. He will be fine."

He came to sit with me, holding my hand like Seth. Alice sat in a chair; I imagined it would be uncomfortable for her on the floor.

"Do you know what happened?" he asked me. I shook my head for the hundredth time that day, but Renée spoke up.

"I spoke to Esme. She said he'd been shot on his secondary mission. It isn't pretty, and he's been sedated, but they removed the bullets."

"Jesus, bullets?" He rubbed his eyes, and I could see the worry etched beneath his fingertips.

"He's going to call in the morning, his time. He's in Germany," I offered.

Jasper looked at his watch. "So you probably have a few hours."

"Why don't you get a shower, Iz? Maybe you'll feel better. I'll go with you," Alice suggested.

I reluctantly went along, letting her help me through the motions until I got in under the spray. The hot water did feel good on my cold bones, and I wrapped myself in warm pajamas and a robe when I was done. Someone, most likely Mom, made a pot of coffee and some canned soup, but I couldn't make myself eat.

I sat at the table, staring at my cell phone, the portable phone, and the Skype app open on my tablet. I didn't know how he would contact me, but I needed to be prepared. I must've dozed, because the Skype notification woke me.

I was aware of the house becoming still and silent as I answered the call. When Edward's face filled the screen, I let out a terrible sob. He was pale, bruised, and his face was thinner than when I'd last seen it. It was the most glorious sight in the world.

"That's an awful lot of missed calls, my beautiful girl."

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