James had left me waiting for him on the bare floor so he could plug in his own mp3 player to his stereo. He put it on shuffle and walked back to me, having taken another shot before doing so.
"How many have you had?"
"How many what?"
His chuckle was lighthearted and I grinned back at him stupidly. No matter what I did, I could not wipe the ridiculous smile from my face. "Twenty five."
"Fu*k," I muttered. I'd only had one and a few sips of the other drink and here I was, wobbling as I stood. I wasn't even moving. Even for me, this was just sad. "I want another one."
He lifted his brow at me and crossed his arms. "Bella..."
"No. I'm serious. It's no fair that you can have that many and I'm only on one." His smirk was mocking.
"Fine, but you're not getting any more of the 151. That packs too much of a punch for you." I scowled at him but let him lead me into the kitchen, where he got out another clean shot glass and opened a bottle of coconut rum. I assumed it was what had been in my drink in the living room.
"This won't be so harsh. You probably won't even need a chaser for it."
"That's what the juice was. It's just something to help get the burn out of your mouth."
"Oh." He pushed the shot over to me and leaned on the island to watch me. I glared down at the little shot glass as if it was challenging me itself. I lifted it and took a quick sniff. It didn't smell so bad. I tilted my head back and downed it as quickly as possible. It went down smoothly, there wasn't a whole lot of burn but it certainly reminded me that it was alcohol. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I smiled over the island and James when I realized I hadn't needed a chaser.
There he was being right about everything again and looking as smug as ever. I made a soft "pfft" noise at him and motioned for him to hand me the bottle.
"Oh, no you don't. Don't get too eager on me. We'll keep you good and drunk, don't you worry." His smile dazzled me enough that I forgot what I had wanted to begin with. I swayed a bit where I stood and he chuckled. He looked down at the bottles in front of him and lifted a second bottle of 151 from the selection.
My eyes widened. I glanced back into the living room and realized that the other bottle was, in fact, empty. He opened the bottle and pulled off the flame arrester before he pressed it to his lips, lifting it so it was completely upside down and I watched, my jaw hanging open, as the liquid made the smooth transition from the bottle into his mouth. The entire bottle was gone in under a minute. I gaped. I couldn't help it. When he set the bottle down, he shot me a beautiful grin and I hated him for not reacting to the burning that had murdered my throat and stomach. I glowered. He laughed. He walked around the island to me and when he got close enough to touch that's exactly what I did. My hand went out to his chest before I really even knew it had moved and suddenly he was right up against me, gazing down into my face and I couldn't breathe. I shut my eyes and leaned in to rest my forehead against his collar bone but somewhere along the way, Edward's face made it into my head.
It took all of a second for me to crash down to my knees and sob uncontrollably into my hands. Everything suddenly hit me. Therapy. The mental institution looming just ahead. Day after tomorrow I'd be carted in there in a strait jacket so they could poke and prod my mind and tell me that Edward never existed because vampires don't exist. James was kneeling with me, his cool hands on the sides of my face, trying to coax me to look at him. I couldn't. My entire body shook with the sobs and I could do nothing except try to bring myself to breathe every few seconds. He was cooing my name at me gently, wiping my tears away with his hands but it didn't matter. They just kept coming. He was gone and back in a heartbeat, offering me some tissues and wiping my face with them himself when I couldn't lift my hands to use them.
"He's gone, James. And they're taking me away on Monday. I'll probably never get out of there. They'll probably lock me up in a room and forget about me. Charlie is letting them take me!" I wailed in-between hiccups and sobs and choking on the oxygen that did get past my lips. James's face went from concerned to furious.
"Who is taking you, Bella? What are you talking about?"
"HOWLEY! That fucking therapist told my dad I'm psychotic and they're signing me into an institution for help." I was just getting angry now and the tears were slowing, thankfully. I looked around the floor frantically for my duffle bag, which I hadn't moved at all, and found it a few feet away. My cigarettes lay atop it and I dove for them, landing on my back but having managed to grab them in the process. I stuffed one between my lips and tried to ignite the lighter with my shaking hands. James moved and helped me sit up, taking the lighter and lighting the cigarette for me.
I breathed in and immediately felt better. The tears slowed further. "I don't know what to do," I blurted. James sat down next to me and rested his back against the island. "I can't go, James. I'm not crazy. All they're going to do is make me think about him more and pump me with drugs and continue to tell everyone that I'm crazy for my memories. They're real. I don't care what Howley says, they aren't hallucinations. You're not a hallucination."
And then I saw it. The anger he had been feeling immediately became fury. The transition was instantaneous. But this time he wasn't mad at me, he was mad for me. He was defensive of me, and it pissed him off that they were telling me he wasn't real.
I had gotten Bella to calm down slowly, only after fleshing out the only plan we could. We were now sitting just off the porch on a blanket in the sand, she was curled into my side with my arm around her. I couldn't wrap my head around what they were doing to her. They really left us with no choice. I tilted my head to rest against the top of hers. It was twilight now, and the previously cloudy sky had broken open to reveal a fantastic sunset. I sighed into her hair. I was still drunk and the smell of her hair made me feel warm somehow. I knew she was drunk, she'd insisted I continue to feed her shots every half hour. She nuzzled into me quietly and I felt a gentle fluttering in my chest.
"Gah, Bella. I really want to just be with you." There it was, out in the open because I'd blurted it in my stupid drunkenness and now I couldn't take it back and I hated myself for it and she was going to pull away and I would end up not sleeping but laying on the couch all night and I was making myself sick. I needed to stop thinking.
"I wouldn't mind that." Her voice was soft, barely audible even for me. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Was she serious? There's no way she could be serious. She couldn't be serious.
"Are you serious?"
And that is how the rest of the night was spent. I periodically kissed her head and she would smirk up at me like she knew the strange power she had over me. It didn't stop me from doing it again, though. It didn't even make me consider it. Eventually, Bella fell asleep and began to shiver as the breeze picked up. I lifted her into my arms and carried her inside, grumbling to myself about the stupid wall and my temper. I laid her on the bed and pulled the blankets up around her before heading out into the living room to clear off the table and put the glasses in the dishwasher. I tossed the paper plates and put the remaining pizza away in the fridge along with the fruit salad. Not after swiping a grape, first.
Strange as it was, I enjoyed human food. I knew it offered me nothing, but I suppose that's how humans saw junk food. It was simply something I had the ability to continue enjoying, and so I did. When you have a gift, you may as well use it.
I bent down in front of the island, opposite the stools, and pressed a tiny button on the underside of the counter. The door popped open and I started putting the liquor bottles onto the shelves. It wasn't some secret stash or anything, it was just where I had always kept my liquor and it seemed the best place to do so. No need to leave it out in the open when you had a convenient cabinet for it. I kept the wine out and headed for the pantry. I removed the wine rack I kept in there and carried it out into the living room, setting it beside the stereo system, the same way I always did when I had a few bottles of wine. It was a nice rack, really. Black wrought iron and about three feet high with a glass piece on top for a make-shift table. I began carrying the bottles in and setting them in the sections. Once I was finished, I returned to the kitchen and broke down the boxes that had been used for the ridiculous amount of liquor I had purchased and left them outside on the back porch. I cleaned up quickly, wiping down the tables and counter tops and gathering the few dishes and things Bella had used to make the pizza. Everything went in the dishwasher.
Once all the cleaning was done, I shut off the stereo and turned off the lights in the house, locking the doors and heading back to the bedroom. I closed the curtains and crawled into bed with Bella, even though I certainly wouldn't be sleeping. I wrapped myself around her and held her against me.
There was something magnificent about the way she smelled. It kept me sniffing her hair and neck all night, never once getting bored. She rolled over in her sleep, groaning and facing me. I fell back to lie on my back so she could curl up on my shoulder, which she did, and watched her sleep for the rest of the night. She fidgeted a few more times but nothing that actually involved changing positions again. My mind kept wandering back to the plan we would be enacting tomorrow. I didn't want to wake her up in a few hours, but I was going to have to if we were to get back to her house in her beat-up truck. I was beginning to resent that thing, it was only the cause of a longer than necessary trip. I debated ways to get it to her house without us having to use it.
This was California, after all. So I grabbed my cell phone from my pocket and sent a single text message to someone I knew well. He would pick up the truck, now, and drive it back to Forks. He would drop it off in town somewhere, didn't really matter where, and would wait for me to meet him there whenever I decided to show up. It would cost me, but what else was new?
I wouldn't have to wake Bella up early. I could just run her home. She wouldn't have a twenty hour car ride to debate how miserable the next few days were going to be. I could let her relax and perhaps even forget about the coming few days for a while. An hour later I heard David let himself into my house, grab the truck keys from Bella's duffle bag and turn around and leave the house. He locked up behind him and I heard him start the truck and head down the road.