The Underside of Earth - Chapter 9

Bella's POV

Edward and I once again find ourselves running through the rain to get to the car, hopping over puddles in the driveway to quickly escape the downpour surrounding us. As I settle into the leather seat I stare ahead of me, at the front of the Cullen's home. I'm doing my best to control my breathing that is coming in quick, yet heavy pants. Edward starts the car up and pushes a couple of buttons on the dash; cool air blasts me in the face and I slam myself to the back of the seat.

"Sorry," Edward mumbles. I shrug my shoulders in response, still refusing to look at him.

I feel his eyes on me and I wonder what he is thinking, I wonder if he heard any of the exchange between his mother and me. I don't know what to do with his eyes on me and the car not moving; my breathing resumes its frantic pace and I tightly grip the seat as if it will keep the anxiety attack at bay.

"Bella?" His soft voice whispers my name but I don't answer, afraid that my emotions will betray me.

I look down at my lap and suddenly feel his warm hand on my shoulder; it feels soothing, comfortable, like he has done it many times.

"Are you okay?"

Slowly, I turn to him, still looking down at my lap, hands still gripping the seat until I remember to let go. I rub my hand over my face, attempting to distract myself from the emotions that have built up. Scared, confused, lonely, desperate, sad, pain, love, loss, like. No no. Please not like. I don't want to like him. He saved me life, I must let him go before I kill him.

"Could you please take me home, Edward?" I ask. He says nothing for several moments and I wonder if I said it out loud or in my head. I almost hope I said it in my head, because I no longer recognize the sound of my own voice. I turn back to the front windshield, again staring at Edward's parent's home.

He either heard me, or takes the hint because he quickly shifts the car into gear and turns the car toward the lane and away from the house, toward my home. The drive doesn't take long, and Edward soon pulls up in my driveway. He shifts the car into gear and I think about what I should say to him. I know that I should say something; he came all this way to tell me what happened after I avoided him for weeks, and when I freaked out after hearing it all, he distracted me by taking me to see his folks. He really is a nice guy, and attractive as hell. It makes me wonder why someone like him would take the time and effort, to help me through all of this.

I look up at my house and sigh; it's dark and I forgot to leave the porch light on. I'm notorious for doing that kind of thing, it was one of the things that always drove Jake crazy. A pang of guilt and sorrow slams me in the chest and I feel a strong need for my bed.

"Thank you for coming all this way to talk to me, Edward, and filling me in on what happened that day. I'm truly sorry that I thrust all of this at you, but I hope you believe me when I say that I am incredibly thankful that you were there. I need you to know that I wasn't trying to kill myself. I could never do that." I don't think. I stop my rambling and pinch the bridge of my nose, a nervous habit. Before I say any other random mortifying thoughts, I quickly grab the handle of the door, push it open, and step out of Edward's car. Have I been rude to him? I lean down and stick my head back in the car. "I don't mean to sound bitchy or come off as ungrateful, but if I did, I apologize."

I glance back at my dark home. "Would you like to come in for tea or something? Or may need to get back, it's getting late," I say as I feel the embarrassment announce itself in my cheeks. "Nevermind, have a good night, Edward."

I quickly shut the car door and make my way up the walkway, pulling my keys from my pocket as I come to the front door. Behind me, I hear the purr of the engine cut off and turn around to see Edward walking up the foot path.

"Actually, a cup of tea would be perfect, if the offer still stands?" He offers me a small, unassuming smile. I nod and turn back to the door and unlock it; Edward follows me in.

Once inside, I begin to question why I invited him in. I fully intended on going straight to bed, but I let my mouth get away from me. At the same time, I know that if I go up to that bed and lay in it right now, sleep won't come. In fact, I don't think sleep will be coming to me for quite a while. No, it will be only nightmares that visit me for some time.

Edward clears his throat behind me and I wonder how long I've been standing in the dark house and deliberating inside of my head.

"Sorry," I whisper and quickly flick on the hall light. I remove my coat and hat before pulling the grate away from the fireplace in the living room. I reach for the wicker basket that holds kindling and retrieve the long match sticks from the table beside the mantle.

"I could do that for you, if you like," Edward offers.

I look up at him and give him a small smile in thanks. Edward beams back at me like I've just awarded him a prize and I feel a bit awkward and undeserving. Still, that smile does something to me, and as much as I don't want to admit to it, my like for him grows a small fraction. Damn it. I quickly hand him the match sticks and let him take over the fire-building chore and I move off into the kitchen but stop as I come to the doorway. I chance a glance back at him and already see him working to build the fire. My chest clenches at the site, the hole that opened up a year ago expands, yet contracts at the same time. It's both agonizing and a bit comforting to see a man sitting at the hearth again - building a fire for me. I turn back around and escape to the kitchen to make our tea as Edward completes the task I relinquished. I turn the gas burner to high on the stove and fetch my metal tea pot to fill with water, then put it on the stove.

"What kind of tea do you drink?" I holler from the kitchen.

"I don't care as long as it has caffeine," he replies.

I reach in my island drawer and pull out my stash of tea. I have quite a variety, because for some reason, whenever I am in that isle at the grocery store, I feel the need to buy more. I also keep a small jar of loose tea that I order from an online company. It's expensive, but incredibly good; I decide tonight is as good a night as any to indulge. After several minutes of fishing through my utensil drawer, I find my diffuser and fill it with the raspberry-vanilla tea. The teapot whistles it's readiness about a minute later and I remove it from the heat, turn the burner off, then pour a little bit of the water out in the sink.

When the tea is ready I pull two large, brown mugs from the cabinet and fill each of them to the brim. I leave and inch or so of room - in case I need to add...something to it. As I reach the living room I notice that Edward has not turned any other lights on. There is only the low light from the hallway and the glow of the growing fire he built. Edward's back is to me as he kneels at the fireplace, stocking the fire and rearranging the logs. I watch him for a minute, staying as quiet as possible as I stifle a giggle as I notice his crazy hair once again. Most of it is slightly matted to his head - from the torrential downpour that we ran through several times tonight - except for one rebellious strand. It sticks straight out from the side of head, just above his ear; I feel an irrational need to slick it down with the palm of my hand and my own saliva - something my mother used to do to Emmett when a comb and water or gel were not available. I want to smooth it down for him, or run my fingers through the rest of it to make it match the unruly strand.

Where did that come from?

I clear my throat to let Edward know that I'm re-entering the living room and set the two mugs of tea on the coffee table. Edward turns to me and smiles once again; I really wish he would stop smiling at me so that way of his.

"Um, I'm just going to get one more thing. I'll be right back." I quickly run back to the kitchen and pull my unopened bottle of whiskey from the cabinet. Yep, I need more alcohol. A hot toddy never hurt anyone.

I set the bottle of Irish whiskey on the table next to the mugs as Edward is, once again, looking at my painting above the hearth. When he turns back around, he looks down at the table, then back up to me, quirking an eyebrow in question.

"Ah, you don't have to have any of course, but, I think the alcohol was soaked up by all that food, and I'm feeling like another drink. You don't have to, because I know you have to drive - well of course you don't have to," I ramble on. I need to shut up, so I do...mid-sentence, or rambling.

Edward chuckles. "I think I could deal with a little bit and still manage to drive. I only have to make it out to my parents, so the drive isn't too much of a worry for me."

I uncap the bottle and pour some in my cup, then pass it to Edward. After that, we just talk. The whiskey loosens me up a little bit and I'm surprised at how easy it is to confide in Edward. We don't talk about many personal things that will move into dark territory for me, but I really enjoy our conversations. We started out sitting far apart from each other - me in Jake's chair and Edward on the floor - but as the night grows later and we both continue to spike our tea, we both end up sitting on the couch, facing each other. Edward has said something ridiculous and I am laughing so hard I'm crying, because I snorted, which made Edward laugh so hard that he snorted. And then it does it without my permission - my hand that is - moves to tousle the rest of Edward's hair to match that strand that has been bugging me all night. Before I realize what I'm doing, I've already done it and I see Edward's eyes change. I quickly pull my hand back but Edward is quick, and catches it in his own.

"Don't," he pleads. "It was an innocent move, and it's okay."

He knows me already. He has gone from being some random guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to a guy that I've laughed with, that I like, that I'm getting to know and want to know even more. Really, I don't want this, but I do...and don't.

I feel my heart begin to race as I internally berate myself and wonder what the fuck I am doing. I can't like Edward. I fucking can't. I'm married...well I was, am. I still am, because it's not like I fucking divorced Jake. He died. That doesn't make me not married. It makes me his fucking widow, and it also makes me the mother to...don't go there, Bella! If I go there, I will turn into a bawling puddle of goo in front of Edward, and he will have to save me yet again. I reach for my glass and empty it yet again. Edward notices and quickly refills it with the fresh pot of tea, but doesn't put any whiskey in. I grab the whiskey and take care of it myself and Edward simply nods, then quickly stands up.

"Do you have a computer? I want to show you something," he declares as he looks around the room. He has a wicked gleam in his eye and I wonder what he is up to.

I nod to the table by the chair where my laptop sits. Edward grabs it and brings it back to the couch with him and hands it to me. I don't ask but simply power it up and wait for everything to load. When the Internet page is up and running, I hand it back to him silently, but wonder what the hell he is going to show me.

Edward taps at the keys for a couple of minutes and I drink my hot toddy as I wait. I'm beginning to feel a good buzz - a really good buzz - which makes me worry about Edward, because he has been drinking as much as I have and he has to drive home. I think he may be camping on my couch tonight and I hate and love that I both love and hate that.
"Okay. Here it is. Now, believe it or not, it was my Mom that showed me this website. Shocking, I know. But this is some really funny shit." Edward was already giggling a little at the pictures on the page and he turned it to me. The website was called "The People of Wal-Mart." I groaned a little and rolled my eyes at him.

"Are you kidding me?" I ask him without really looking at anything except the title.
"Stop! Just give it a chance. Look at the pictures."

And this is what brings me out of my unexpected funk. Edward clicks from page to page and at one point I'm laughing so hard I have to excuse myself to go to the restroom, fearing that I may piss myself. When I get back, Edward has a fresh mug of tea and whiskey, which solidifies that he will be sleeping on my couch tonight...whether he wants to or not.

We look at the ridiculous pictures of the People of Wal-Mart for a little while longer, until I am no longer able to stifle my yawns. I'm not the only one who is tired, as Edward too, can't stop yawning.

"I should probably head ou…," Edward says as he stands up, but stumbles a little. I interrupt him.

"Oh no you don't. You're sleeping on my couch tonight. No arguments, so shut up in advance," I warn.

"I won't argue, I agree. I just didn't want to put you in an awkward position."
I stand up from the couch, swaying ever-so-slightly, and grab our empty mugs and the now almost-empty bottle of whiskey, and deposit them in the sink. On the way out, I flip the kitchen light off, as well as the hallway light and quickly run upstairs to grab a pillow and a couple of blankets for Edward. When I come back down he is working to put the fire out and I place his temporary bedding at the end of the couch.

"So, um...I need to say something, and I'm not sure where to start. Ah, thank you. Thank you for everything, Edward. I was really dreading this, and I'm sure you figured that out, but really, it wasn't horrible. I know that I owe you my life and I want to thank you for saving me that day. Thank you for coming here tonight and tell me what happened, and thank you for taking me to your parents. And thank you for also distracting me this evening, because I know that if you hadn't come in for the tea...and whiskey, my night would have been much worse. So, just, um...thank you for everything. I feel lucky to have met you."

I quickly turn to run up the stairs, a bit embarrassed by my confession, but he calls to me before I am even half turned.

"Bella, wait."

I turn back toward him but keep my focus on the carpet. I wish I could be much more drunk in this moment. Edward walks to me and stands just two feet in front of me, maybe less, on the verge of entering my personal space. I don't know what he is thinking, or planning to do, but I pray to God he doesn't to want I want and don't want him to do. Kiss me. Please don't kiss me.

"Look at me please?" he requests.

I take a deep breath and look up at him and see that he has a soft, endearing smile on his face. Not predatory, not wanting, but comforting. His arms come out and around me and he pulls me to him, hugging me. I don't know what to do at first, shocked by his touch and his closeness. I feel his chin rest on the top of my head and I kind of expect that he will say something, but he doesn't. I slowly raise my arms up to go around his waist and truthfully, I can't deny that this feels good. No, this feels incredible, but it also scares the shit out of me. He holds me a bit longer and then pulls me away from him a small fraction and looks me in the eyes searching for something - what, I don't know. He leans in and pecks me on the forehead, then drops his arms. I'm stunned.

"If you hear movement up in your bathroom, it will just be me, so don't worry," he says as he fluffs out his blankets.

I nod at him, go lock the front door, then climb the stairs to my bed. What a weird fucking day. I rush through my night routine in a hurry, worrying that Edward may need the bathroom and within five minutes, I'm laying underneath my covers. I worry that sleep won't come easily, after our discussion this afternoon, but I yawn and feel the heaviness in my eyelids. I know sleep will come quickly tonight...and it does.


Bzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzz. I sit up in bed, hearing a humming/buzzing sound. I think I've heard it before, but from where, I can't be sure. My stomach feels weird again, maybe I need to go to the restroom.

I pull the covers off of me and get out of bed but then the weirdness in my stomach becomes uncomfortable, like a tugging sensation. I know I've felt this before. I don't like this feeling. I walk from my bedroom and intend to go to the bathroom, but I miss the doorway and can't stop, I can't turn around. I keep walking until I am in front of the closed doorway of their room. The tugging is getting stronger and stronger and I feel like I could throw up.

My hand reaches up and out, twists the knob, and the door opens. I look down at my long t-shirt as the tugging sensation gets stronger and see something poking against the fabric, moving it. Slowly, I reach down and grip the hem of the shirt, which rests at my thighs, and slowly pull it up. I pull it above my panties, above my waist line and up to my diaphragm and I see them. Thousands of them. Black beetles pouring out of me, out of my stomach. I feel each and every one of their tiny legs gripping and pinching at my skin as they ripple like waves out of the gaping hole in my abdomen. The call of the swarm roars in my ears and I open my mouth to scream but no sound comes out.

I cry and try to scream for Jake, and this time, sound comes out, but it isn't Jake's name that comes out, but Edward's. I scream and all of a sudden, everything goes quiet. Two of the beetles flutter up with open, black wings and cry out to me. At the same time, they click out ma-ma at me and it's in two varying tones, one low and one high. I raise my hand to cup them, then fall to the floor.


I wake up screaming on the floor of the nursery. Edward cradles me in his arms, shushing me and trying his best to calm me down. I push my fists against him, at first scared and confused, but then I melt into his embrace. We sit there, with him rocking me for some time, the irony in that is almost comical, but I'm in no mood for funny. I sigh into his chest and slowly, he picks me up from the floor, carries me back to my room and lays me down on my bed, covering me back up.

"Bella," he says. It comes out choked.

"Please don't leave me alone, Edward."
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