Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
“Miss Rose, would you prefer to use the gold rimmed china or the silver?” Emily stood before me, carefully balancing a plate on each arm.
Looking back and forth at the plates, I thought for a moment before answering. “The gold please, Emily. Oh, and let’s have Riley cut some fresh flowers from the garden to place on the table.” I saw Jacob leave the room out of the corner of my eye and I knew that he was headed to the patio to seek out Riley. “Now, I guess we should set the dining room table…” I trailed off in thought, tapping my finger against my lip, my other hand resting on my hip. Edward’s parents were due in the afternoon and I wanted everything to be just so for them and, more importantly, for him.
“Miss Rose, I think that while the dining room is lovely, it’s also quite… formal. I know that Mister Cullen,” Edward’s head snapped up from the paper he was reading at the small table in the alcove near the kitchen and he gave her a teasing warning look, “that is to say, Mister Edward, and his parents are reuniting after quite some time. Perhaps it would be more comfortable for everyone to adjourn to the parlor rather than the dining room. It has such an intimate, casual feel.”
As Emily finished speaking, I snapped my fingers and started walking toward the parlor. She trailed after me and we left Edward, sitting with his paper and running his fingers through his hair, in our wake. “Of course, that makes perfect sense!” Pulling open the French doors to the parlor, the sunlight poured through the windows giving the room a warm and lovely feel, the breeze slightly ruffling the heavy lemon-colored curtains. My heels were muffled by the Persian rug that covered the hardwood floors and rounded out the room. Tea in the parlor would be lovely. “What else is there to do? I must be missing something.”
Jacob walked through the doors with the flowers Riley had already cut from the garden in a vase. As always, everyone was very efficient. I could see Emily taking a mental tally of her to-do list for the staff. “Emmett is ready to pick up Dr. and Mrs. Cullen at two o’clock. Sam is making up a plate of the cucumber finger sandwiches that Mister… Edward,” she forced herself to call him by his first name and I had to stifled a giggle, before she continued on, “enjoys so much. And of course,” she waved her hand around in the air, “I don’t think I need to mention he’s been baking cookies all morning.”
I took a deep breath in, smelling the sweet scent of vanilla and cinnamon that had filled the air of the house from the moment I had awakened. The windows were open wide, which dissipated the scent. It reminded me of holidays and of family; Jasper and I used to steal cookies off the cookie sheet, still piping hot from the oven. My home was the perfect place for a family and I hoped that it would host a happy reunion for Edward’s.
The morning flew by quickly and while the staff bustled around us, I returned to Edward’s side and sat next to him in comfortable silence, although he emitted a tension that came along with the fact that his parents would be arriving in only an hour. The past few days hadn’t been easy ones for him and put him out of his comfort zone. I knew it was difficult for him to swallow his pride and come to talk to me yesterday and now he was taking a giant step with his parents. I only hoped that he would keep his wits about him and listen to what Carlisle and Esme had to say. I knew that they needed him but I think that he needed them just as much.
I heard Emmett before I saw him, his voice echoing through the foyer as he spoke to Emily, asking of our whereabouts in the house. He walked into the room wearing his cap and uniform and I knew that he’d be heading to the Cullens in a matter of moments. Sensing Edward’s uneasiness, he clapped his hand down on Edward’s shoulder as he checked the address for his parent’s house. I was curious about his childhood home, seeing as I had never been there before. Dr. Cullen had an office downtown near La Bella, so I often saw him there or he would make house calls when necessary. Perhaps one day, sooner rather than later, I’d be able to visit their home, the place where Edward took that picture on his sixteenth birthday and where I’m sure many more pictures of him through the years hung on the walls. I couldn’t help but be curious, it was my nature.
Emmett headed off to retrieve the Cullens and I turned once more to Edward. It was apparent that he was becoming more and more nervous about their arrival, alternating between sitting at the table and rifling through the paper but never landing on one page and pacing back and forth near the hutch. I knew that words would do nothing to soothe him at this point. Instead, when he scooted his chair out for the hundredth time, I laid my hand on his shoulder, holding him in place. He looked at me, his eyes clouded with confusion, before I sat sideways on his lap. He started to speak and I raised a finger to his lips, saying, “Shhhh.”
And I held him, as he held me. We sat there and I comforted him without words. Without pretense. Just he and I wrapped within each other’s arms as we had the previous day.
Before long, Emily appeared in the doorway to announce that Emmett had returned with Edward’s parents. Standing up, I snapped the radio off which quickly silenced “As Time Goes By.” I hastily smoothed my dress and fluffed my hair before turning to Edward.
“Rosie, I don’t know if I can…”
It hurt me to see him acting this way, because it wasn’t him. His actions and words betrayed the man I’d come to know over the past eight months. This was obviously the one difficult part in his life which might have been amusing, considering that he had to deal with far worse while at work on a daily basis. But this was something that caused him personal pain and I would do anything I could to help him through it.
“I know you can, Edward.”
I smoothed his shirt and picked a piece of lint off his shoulder before leaning in and giving him a reassuring kiss on his lips. My forehead rested his for a moment and I did my best to comfort him with my presence and my thoughts.
Jacob announced Dr. and Mrs. Cullen’s arrival and, hand in hand, Edward and I walked into the front foyer of my home. He gripped my hand tighter for a moment and I squeezed back, letting him know that I was there beside him, come what may. He walked forward to them and I stayed rooted in my spot. He needed this moment and I could see from the look in his parent’s eyes, theyneeded this moment; they had for quite some time.
I watched as Mrs. Cullen hesitated for a moment until I heard Edward choke out the word, “Mom.” In a flash, she rushed toward him and threw her arms around his neck. She whispered words into his ear before pulling back and holding him at arms length while her eyes frantically took in every detail, as though he might disappear. The hand adorned with a wedding ring was brought up to his hair and her fingers smoothed a lock of his unruly hair back and off of his face. The moment was theirs alone and I felt like an intruder watching them. I focused my attention on Dr. Cullen.
He stood near the door, unmoving and his stance uncomfortable. He reminded me of the first time that Edward had come to the estate, looking around and taking everything in. However, I knew that he was not truly taking in the foyer’s architecture as he pretended. It was apparent that his nerves were frayed, both from the reason he had called me in the first place and, I assumed, because he wasn’t sure of the response he’d receive from Edward. Mrs. Cullen turned to him, her hand still resting on Edward’s arm and she reached for Dr. Cullen with her hand.
“Carlisle? Come say hello.”
Edward hesitated for only a moment and he turned his head to look back at me. I gave him an encouraging smile and he turned back, reaching his right hand out toward his father. “Dad…”
Dr. Cullen ran a hand through his hair, a look of embarrassment and relief flashing on his face, before reaching out to grasp Edward’s outstretched hand. They shook hands for a moment before Dr. Cullen pulled him into his body and clasped the other arm around Edward in a tight hug. Mrs. Cullen’s teary eyes caught mine and she mouthed the words thank you to me.
After a moment, I could see that Edward was starting to pull back and attempting to make the reunion a bit more comfortable. I clasped my hands together and decided to speak up. “Let’s not hover in doorways. Please, Dr. and Mrs. Cullen, won’t you join us in the parlor?”
Dr. and Mrs. Cullen walked hand in hand, while Edward walked next to them, his arm hugged around his mom. It was clear to me that this was how they had walked before, it looked comfortable and natural. Once in the parlor, Edward moved to my side, holding me lightly by the elbow, and we exchanged formalities with one another. Smiling warmly at each other, I was a bit surprised when I was pulled into hugs from both and invited to call them Carlisle and Esme. They settled on the couch together, Esme sitting in the middle with Edward and Carlisle flanking her on both sides. I couldn’t help but notice how Carlisle’s arm rested on the back of the couch, as though he was protectively wrapping it around both Edward and Esme. Esme kept a gentle hand resting on Edward’s, her eyes nearly never strayed from him, unless she was speaking to me or one of the staff. I sat on the plum-colored chair next to them and put myself to work. Emily brought in the tea that had just been made while Edward and his parents caught up with idle chit-chat. I knew that whatever Carlisle wanted to speak to Edward about would come with time.
Watching Edward interact with his parents after so long brought tears to my eyes. My eyes darted between the three of them and the picture of my family hanging in the parlor. My heart contracted painfully in my chest and I needed to excuse myself from the room. I’d give them some time to re-establish familial roles. Stopping in the powder room, I took a moment to dab the pools of moisture that had gathered at the corners of my eyes and splash my face with cool water. I retreated up the steps and found myself once more in my father’s study. Checking the small clock that sat on the desk, I saw that while I had left the reunion in haste, my timing was perfect. Sinking down into the desk chair, I picked up the receiver and dialed the number I had committed to memory a few months ago.
“Cook County Jail,” a monotone voice answered on the line.
I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat that formed every time I heard that flat voice on the other side of the phone line. It was nearly three in the afternoon and prisoners were allowed calls from two until five. “Prisoner 218446, Jasper Hale, please.” My finger wound around the phone cord as I waited to hear my brother’s voice on the phone. It took a few minutes longer than normal for him to answer, and I wondered if everything was okay. Despite everything that had happened with our father, he was still my brother and I couldn’t hold a grudge against him, no matter the circumstance. The more I had spoken to him after everything that happened, the more I realized just what sort of situation he had gotten himself into with the Chicago mobsters. It wasn’t an excuse but it was something that I had been thinking about and weighing the options more and more recently. Forgive and forget. I had forgiven him but how could we go on to forgetwhen he lived behind prison walls.
“Hello?” Jasper’s voice pulled me from my thoughts.
“Jasper, it’s me.” My voice broke a little when I spoke even though I tried to hide it.
“Rosalie,” his voice sounded tinny and distant yet laced with concern when he asked, “is everything okay?”
As we walked into the foyer, it became obvious to me that there was no way in hell I’d have been able to do this without Rose beside me. I was inclined to think that if I had picked up the phone and called them a year ago, it wouldn’t have resulted in a meeting so soon. I wasn’t fool enough to think that concepts like fate and destiny were realistic, but I had to admit the timing of my meeting Rose was freakishly perfect. I took a deep breath, hoping the calming effect of her perfume would seep into every cell in my body. Her strength flowed into me from her fingertips interlaced with mine. I squeezed her hand, grateful for the strength she was unknowingly feeding me. I knew as soon as her hand was out of my grasp, all my strength would fucking abandon me, like the coward that I was.
She released my hand and I knew I was going to have to do this alone. I continued forward and stopped a few feet in front of them. My urge to hug my mother was hard to repress but I managed as I took in her face; I hadn’t seen her in ten years. The crows feet at her eyes had deepened slightly and she seemed a smidgen shorter than she had been before. Maybe I grew since…I wondered, and then was appalled that the last time I saw my mom, I was still growing. Her hazel eyes sparkled with that vigor for life I remembered well, but it could have just been the joy of reunion. My gnawing conscious whispered to me that, most likely, I had killed that spark and her eyes had been sad and brokenhearted over the last decade.
Way to fucking go, Cullen.
“Mom…?” I said, my voice hoarse with the grating sound of remorse and guilt.
She rushed forward and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Welcome home,” she whispered in my ear, and even though we weren’t standing in the foyer of our home, home had always been wherever she was. My mother’s embrace would always be home, corny and ridiculously sentimental as that was. She pulled away and her eyes drank me in as she reached up and tried to fix that stubborn cowlick in my hair. She used to always do that, and as a kid it seemed like an anesthetic to me. Nothing could soothe my scrapes and bruises like her gentle maternal touch. All her love for me was plain in her joyful eyes as she looked me over, her critical motherly gaze inspecting me to make sure I was properly fed and clothed. Her forgiveness of me was plain in her eyes too, and only a mother would be so loyal to their child, so ready to let go of past grievances and pain and start anew. My mother was a saint, she always had been.
I glanced at my father, who honestly looked just as uncomfortable as I felt. Suddenly, the distance between us was ridiculously pointless and wasteful, but that didn’t help me to take that first step forward. I watched him looking nervously around the foyer and noted that he hadn’t lost the handsomeness of his long gone youth. His skin was a little more weathered than I remembered. Probably from his favorite hobby, sailing his Kat on Lake Michigan. His hands fidgeted and betrayed his nervousness, he didn’t have his trusty medical bag to fiddle with like he was used to having while facing tough situations. Usually those situations involved telling a patient bad news, never anything that hit him so close to home, that was so personal. His eyes met mine, and there was no anger or resentment in them. I exhaled heavily, as long as I didn’t see either of those things, I knew we could work through this, together.
My mother was the first to speak. “Carlisle? Come say hello.” She urged. She took my hand in hers and reached toward him with her other. He had always been her rock, and I’m sure my leaving had only forced him to be stronger for her, unable to be vulnerable. So much burden.
Fucking fix it. Now, Cullen.
“Dad…” I said and put out my hand out to him, and really hoped no one noticed it was shaking. He ran a hand through his hair, then took my hand and shook it. After a moment, he pulled me in for a hug.
That moment was one I’ll never forget, my whole life long. The liberating sensation of my self-made shell of guilt and loneliness began to crack. Just crack, but that felt fucking wonderful. His hand still held mine, tightly, like he didn’t want to let go. His other arm around wrapped around my shoulder held me in a tight, brief hug. It wasn’t the awkward stiff hugs that fathers and sons typically share. This was laced with his joy in that moment, his relief. I was fucking happy he was here for me to hug too.
I pulled away, and Rosie spoke up. “Let’s not hover in doorways. Please, Dr. and Mrs. Cullen, won’t you join us in the parlor?”
Once in the parlor, my parents greeted Rose and thanked her for inviting them. She returned their greeting warmly, and we sat down on the couch. My mother sat between my father and I, and Rose chose a chair beside us. We talked of nothing important…well, nothing that was important to me. They both asked questions like how I had been and where I lived. I answered them as best I could without making mom’s brow pucker in concern. She gushed about the articles in the paper about me, and she claimed she’d have to get another scrapbook soon because she was running out of blank pages. I smiled rather adoringly, I knew there weren’t that many articles. I asked them similar questions. How had their health been? Did they still have that stray cat mom had taken in on that bitter cold night when I was seventeen? We all knew the things we really needed to talk about were bubbling right below the surface. It was just that none of us were quite sure how, or where, to begin. So I could have fucking kissed Emily when she wheeled in the tea table.
After Rose served the tea and sandwiches, she excused herself and I appreciated the gesture. Yet, I wanted her there, and not because I selfishly needed her quiet strength to keep me still and calm. I wanted her to be included in this conversation, because she was a part of me; I was a package deal now. I watched her exit the room gracefully, and the pain in her eyes was unnoticeable to everyone aside from myself. Seeing the three of us sitting together, a family again, would be understandably hard for her after losing both her father and her brother. However broken the Cullens were, we were together now. She thought she didn’t have that anymore, but she was wrong. The Cullens would take her in.
As Rose disappeared from my sight, my mother caught my eye and smiled at me.
“She’s very beautiful, Edward.”
I nodded in full agreement. “Yes, she is, mom. On the inside too,” I said earnestly and sipped my tea.
“That’s wonderful, son. The Hales have been patients of mine for many years and I’ve always known them to be the best sort of people,” Dad offered genuinely and nibbled on one of Sam’s cucumber sandwich sensations.
“Are you proposing?” Mom asked eagerly, leaning toward me as she did. My eyes rolled of their own accord.
“No, mom,” I pronounced, and I could feel heat creeping into my cheeks. What the hell? I never blushed. I shook my head. This wasn’t why we were here. Although I’m sure in mom’s opinion, my love life was the much more pressing matter at hand. However, walking on eggshells was annoying the fuck out of me. I took a deep breath and decided to dive in. That first layer of ice between us had melted and that made it a little easier.
I leaned forward and put my cup and saucer on the coffee table. “There are some things I need to say to you both,” I began and leaned back into the sofa. Mom started to say something but I stopped her and took her hand.
“Mom, this is important for me to say.” She relaxed and gave my hand a gentle squeeze, nodding for me to continue.
“The thing I regret most, is the time we’ve lost. We can’t get the last ten years back, and that’s because of my being headstrong, and not listening to you, dad,” I said and looked at him. He smiled softly and shook his head.
“Son, perhaps if I hadn’t been so insistent that you follow in my footsteps, I wouldn’t have driven you away,” he said, softly regretful.
“I don’t see it that way,” I admitted. It was true, I had long since realized that most of this was my doing, my mistake.
“You were a teenager; it’s expected for you to act that way. I was the adult, and I forgot who my son was. I should have trusted your choices, Edward. You seem happy, and that is all I wanted.”
“I am happy.” Especially now. Mom squeezed my hand. That brought my back to the other thing I wanted to say.
“Mom, I hate to think about how much I’ve made you worry all this time.”
“Don’t be silly, the Chicago Tribune is as good as -” she tried to tease, trying to hide her hurt from me. I stopped her again.
“I’m so sorry, mom,” I whispered remorsefully. Her eyes met mine and her lip quivered. She reached into her handbag and pulled out her handkerchief to dab at her eyes. Then she leaned forward and pecked me softly on the cheek.
It was the kiss of my absolution.