The Underside of Earth - Chapter 8
Esme POV

Just as I dump the fettuccine into the colander to drain, I hear a car pull up outside. I'm unable to contain the grin that creeps across my face.

They've come; this will please Carlisle so very much.

I let the pasta sit in the sink and go to the cupboard and fetch two more plates to put on the table. I add two forks, spoons, and napkins beside the plates, making room for Edward and Bella. I even bought new wine glasses earlier in the day in hopes that they would come and enjoy a glass of wine with us; I guess I can open the bottle now.

I return to the pasta, placing it back in the pan and give the sauce another stir before setting the heat to low. The window above the kitchen sink is sweating with dew from the pasta being drained, but I can still tell that it's pouring down rain outside.

"Carlisle?" I yell for him. He's still in the study, making notes for an upcoming procedure he will be doing. There will be a few students sitting in and he'll have to provide them with notes as well as answer forum questions after the surgery. This is only something he does a few times a year, but he enjoys it.

A few moments later he walks into the kitchen; my back is to him, but I feel his presence. I've always been aware of it - of him. I feel his chin come to rest on my shoulder.

"Yes, darling?"

The corner of my mouth pulls up and goose pimples raise on my skin as I feel his breath on the sensitive skin of my neck. This man still has the ability to move me in the smallest ways; I pray that Edward finds our happiness someday...soon.

"Would you be a dear and open the bottle of wine in the fridge for me? We have guests." I can't help the excitement from seeping into my voice.

"Guests? What guests?"

"Edward and Bella just pulled up, they should be in here any moment."

He looks toward the entryway. "I'll go get the door, it's pouring out there."

I nod and he walks away. A few minutes later I hear Edward's voice as well as a soft female voice. She sounds sweet, but sad.

While I have yet to meet Bella, I've heard about her many times - well - more about her father, but also of what she has gone through. Carlisle's never gone into great detail about what happened to her, just saying she was in an accident last year and that she suffered a great loss. He spoke, and still does speak of her father, though.

When Charlie first passed, Carlisle was a mess - which wasn't normal for Carlisle. Of course he deals with a great amount of death in his line of work and he has learned to swallow it, if somewhat bitterly. He gives the patients he loses their time of respect and then lets it go; if he didn't, he would've lost his mind a long time ago.

But it was different with Charlie; Carlisle had deep respect for him. He had raised Bella alone for so many years and was a good man; he took care of the community and was known for his humbleness. But if you were lucky enough to get to know him better, he showed you another side; he had quite a quirky sense of humor from what Carlisle tells me.

When Charlie passed, Carlisle had a really hard time letting it go. He had come to be pretty good friends with the Chief. Of course most of Carlisle's time was spent in the hospital, and Charlie was brought there quite often due to his line of work; it was only a matter of time before the two of them had become friends.

Carlisle returns to the kitchen and pulls out the bottle of wine to open.

"I asked Edward to show Bella around, she seems a bit nervous." His voice is quiet, contemplative. He completes his task quietly.

"I imagine tonight is very difficult for her. Perhaps we should try to keep the dinner discussion as light as possible?"

"I agree, Esme." He grabs my hand brushing his thumb across my knuckles. "Shall we eat then?"

"Yes, everything is ready. Would you call them?"

He nods his head and walks out of the kitchen. I hear him yell for Edward and Bella and then muffled chatter comes from the direction of the dining room.

We eat our evening meal in a comfortable chatter. The topics are light and comfortable. Edward and Bella eat lightly due to the fact that they ate a little before they came over. I'm relieved at this, because Bella looks horribly skinny. I ask Bella many questions about her work; I have a deep love of art. She tells me that it's been a while since she has worked on anything, but that she plans to start again soon; she is awaiting inspiration. When we are all finished and full we make our way into the den, where the piano sits.

I look to my son. "Edward?"

"Do I have to, Mom?" He looks a little sheepish.

"Please. Just one or two?" I know he will. I know he wants to, but doesn't want come off as a show off. I often ask him to play after supper when he's visiting and miss the days when he was still at home with us and played every day.

He nods his head and moves to sit on the bench at the piano. I watch Bella watch him.
"Play one of yours, Edward." He nods and begins to play. I think Bella's jaw practically leaps off of her face.

I lean close to her, placing my hand on her shoulder. "Edward has played since he was four years old, and has been composing since he was twelve." I'm not bragging, but I won't say I'm not proud. His playing makes the most stoic person want to weep and laugh all at once.

"He's amazing. I mean, I don't think I've ever heard anything so beautiful. It's almost haunting really, in some parts anyway," she whispers back to me, like she doesn't dare mar the sound in the room.

I reach my hand down to hers where it dangles at her side and squeeze it. "He wrote it the night he came home from meeting you."

She squeezes my hand back at that, just quickly, and then releases it. I motion for her to have a seat in the chair by the fireplace.

Edward plays two more songs, and then we talk for quite a while. I notice that the time is growing late and I excuse myself to the kitchen to clean things up.
"Esme, may I help you clean up?"

I jump a little. "Oh! Bella, you startled me a bit. Thank you, but you're our guest. Besides, I only have to load the dishwasher and hand-wash a few larger pans."

"Well, the men are talking shop, I don't really fit into that conversation well. Would you mind if I just sit at the island then?"

"I wouldn't mind that at all, actually. I'd love it."

I wash dishes as we talk. She speaks of her brother a little bit, and I can tell that she respects him very much. Without me noticing, she somehow sidles herself up beside me and begins drying what I've washed. She seems comfortable like this, so I let her be. I direct her where to put things away when she asks.

I hand her a dripping metal pot to dry as I begin on the cutlery.

"Where does this one go?" She holds the dry stock pot in her hand.

"Oh, that one I keep above the range. There's a little step ladder through the laundry room. Do you want me to grab it?"

"No, I can get it." She walks through the door and comes back with the step stool, placing it in front of the range. She climbs up and opens the cupboard door; I hand her the pot to make sure she will not lose her balance and fall. She lifts her arms up a bit to put the pot on the shelf.

And then I see it, just as her shirt rises up a little from the movement of her arms. I see the faint line of a scar on her abdomen. I'm unable to see just how big it is from the angle, and I don't want to gawk at her either.

"It's from the accident." She looks at me, with the easiness of our last conversation gone.

"What is dear?" She catches me off guard and I feel bad that I had been staring.

"My scar. You made a noise. You saw my scar, right?" she asks me as she climbs down the step stool.

"I'm sorry; I'm so rude. I didn't mean to stare, I just, didn't realize. Carlisle only told me there was an accident, you know, confidentiality and all that."

She nods her head, then looks at me a little shyly. She pulls her shirt up just a bit and reveals the scar I had only glimpsed. It's actually quite large, and in a semi-circle around her belly button.

She traces it with her finger, "It's from a piece of glass from the passenger side window. It would've just sliced me open, a flesh wound, but then I shot forward into the dash and put pressure on it, which made it actually puncture my abdomen. I believe Carlisle tried to close it up as quickly as possible to stop the bleeding and protect …" she stopped her course of words. "That's why the stitching is puckered."

She walks back to the sink and begins washing the rest of the utensils. I let her and pick up the towel she'd been drying with, reversing our roles. We stand there in silence, doing the dishes, and her scar keeps flashing in my mind. Carlisle's words from last year replay over and over in my head, his anguish was so heavy. He had wanted to tell me more, but I wouldn't let him, afraid that too much would be said and I would blurt it out in front of the wrong people and get him into trouble.

And then it just kind of hits me. "Protect what, Bella?" She drops whatever she was washing, and it makes a muddled clank at the bottom of the sink.

I stare at the side of her face as she looks out the kitchen window into the darkness. Her chest rises and falls a little quicker and her lip quivers, just once.

I barely hear her.

"Them." Is all she says.

Oh good God in Heaven.

I take her wet hands out of the water and grasp them in mine. I want to pull her to me like my daughter, but I've been down a road close to hers. I look into her eyes and see the panic there. I just nod my head, I understand. She's close to tears, but I don't want to put her into that kind of awkward situation and have her face Edward with red rimmed eyes.

"Can I tell you something, Bella?"

She nods her head and I pull her to the island, guiding her to a bar stool. I go back to the fridge and pull out two bottles of beer, open them, and go to sit beside her at the island.

She pulls a long drink from her bottle and takes a deep, shaky breath.

I take a drink, then begin. "Before I met Carlisle, I was married to another man." I feel her eyes on me, but I continue. "We were high school sweethearts, and were married shortly after graduation. I had intended on going to college the following year, but I got pregnant. I was excited, but at the same time, not. I wanted to go to college first, it was important to me. My husband, Danny, said that I could go later, but that I didn't really need to. That made me mad. It felt like he was trying to control me, and he was using our unborn child to do so. I decided to look into some courses at the community college. I worked during the day to help pay the bills, so I was only able to take night courses, which didn't really bother me. I didn't tell Danny right away. I knew he wanted me to stay home and would be angry with me for a while, but a week before my classes were to begin, I knew I had to talk to him about it. I made a really nice meal that night, and after supper, I told him." I pause and take a drink of my beer. Bella does the same.

"Then he hit me. And he hit me again, and again. I ran up the stairs and into the first door, the bathroom. There was no phone so I figured I would just stay in there until he calmed down. I couldn't crawl out the window as it was too small for me to fit through, and it was on the second story anyway. But he began banging at the door, and the next thing I knew, he had broken through the door. He swore at me and called me ugly things. He grabbed me by my hair and threw me down the staircase. Our neighbor called the police and I was taken to the hospital …which is where I met Carlisle."

"You know …" I pause, looking for the strength to say the next few words. "I lost the baby. I wasn't incredibly far along, about twelve weeks. I was still in the first trimester and barely showing. Carlisle was my doctor, and when he told me, he was shaking. He was barely able to hold back the tears, but he did. He didn't even know me, yet he had all this compassion and sorrow for me. I told him it would be okay, although I didn't really believe it myself."

I look at our hands that are still joined, and I take hers in both of mine. "I hope you don't find me a sick or mean person when I say this, Bella, but it's important to my story. Of course I was sad that the child had died, but I couldn't find it in myself to really be sick about it. It's true that I hadn't been excited about the child, and I hadn't really felt any connection to it. Does that make me a horrible person? I don't know, but the truth is, I wouldn't change any of it. Not a single moment. It brought me to what I have now, and what I have now is absolutely perfect in every way."

At that moment, a throat cleared behind me. Edward stood there with a look of confusion on his face. I'm not sure how much he heard of my story, although he already knows it. We don't hide things in this family, but I'm sure that if he did hear, he will be confused behind my reasoning for telling her.

I finish off my beer and stand up, as does Bella. I pull her into a hug. "If you ever need to talk, you know where I live," I whisper to her quietly.

She nods her head and walks over to Edward just as Carlisle enters the room.

"It was so nice to see you again, Carlisle. My dad talked about you often, he considered you a good friend."

I look to Carlisle and see him swallow thickly. He nods his head. "Thank you, Bella, and it was very nice seeing you again as well. You are welcome in our home any time."
She nods her head and Edward gently pushes her toward the foyer by placing his hand on the small of her back. His gentleness melts my heart a little bit more.

I make my way toward Carlisle as I hear the door click shut behind them. My arms go around his torso and my head to his broad chest. I feel the warmth of his arms around my shoulders and he rests his head on mine.

"That poor woman. She has been through so much. She's strong; I could see in her eyes that she wants to try again, but she's so frightened. I hope she tries again."

I feel Carlisle nod his head.

"Let's go to bed. It has been a very long day."

"I love you, Carlisle."

"And I love you, Esme."
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