Behind Closed Doors – C13

DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.

-BCD-

Chapter 13: The State of the Union

I should know better by now not to read any of those gossip sites, but ever since I made news with Seth, I keep tabs on what’s being whispered about town. I don’t want to be caught off guard again.

Sighing, I try to figure out my next steps as I toss another used tissue in the direction of the trashcan. The front door opening jogs me from my current despair. I tighten my robe and hope my sickness will cover my red-rimmed eyes, which I’m certain are prominent.

“Bella! What are you doing home so early?” Angela pulls off her gloves, shakes off the snow, and hangs her winter coat in the closet.

“Emmett kicked me out and said I needed to stop infecting everyone.” I sniff.

“Oh, no. What have you got?” She pulls off her boots, placing them on a mat near the door.

“The crud. My throat is killing me. My head is pounding. My ears aren’t right. I alternate from a stuffy to a runny nose, depending on how I lay on the couch. It’s just a matter of time before I’m hacking up a lung.”

“Have you eaten anything?” Angela glances toward the kitchen at the mess I’ve left behind.

“I tried to eat some soup, but I can’t taste a thing.”

Angela comes over and puts her cool hand on my forehead. “Have you taken any medicine?

“A couple of ibuprofen. They are probably keeping my fever at bay, but I ache all over.”

Especially my heart, but I can’t tell her that.

She points toward the television, which I have on low. “Are you going to watch the State of the Union?”

“Of course. Isn’t it required viewing for everyone in D.C.?” I cough with a little wheeze.

“I doubt everyone will tune in, since President Clearwater’s approval ratings are already at an all-time high. Most people don’t need to be told things are good. They can see it happening in their communities.”

“Making things better for everyone is a slow process,” I remind her.

“So, what are you working on now?” Angela leans forward and taps a key on my laptop sitting on the coffee table in front of the couch.

My screensaver disappears instantly, and I’m not fast enough to close the screen before she sees the last website I was reading.

“This doesn’t look like your normal research. Since when do you read the gossip sites?”

“I don’t know, since they tried to create a fake relationship between Seth and me. You know. The best defense is a good offense. I’m just trying to stay prepared. D.C.’s Daily Chatter covers gossip around our area.”

“So, you haven’t read the latest post?”

“I may have scanned it.”

“Wow, Edward Masen is a hottie. Did you see the photos? It sounds like he’s a romantic too. Listen to this:

Has the host of This Week with Edward Masen been holding out on us? If our sources are correct, then brace yourself because this next story will leave you swooning. From sources close to Edward and his show, we have confirmed he’s having a behind-the-scenes romance with fellow co-worker, Lauren Mallory, who does hair and makeup for the show. Everything came to a head recently when he whisked her away before the New Year for a romantic weeklong stay at a mountain cottage retreat. The lovebirds are trying to keep everything hush-hush, but our sources explain they are inseparable when he isn’t on camera, and the time away only strengthened their bond. What woman would be able to resist that hunk of a man in front of a roaring fire? We don’t blame Lauren one bit. D.C.’s Daily Chatter reached out to Edward and his agent, Shelly Cope, for comment, but neither would confirm nor deny our story.’

Oh sweet Jesus. You should see these photos of him, Bella. There’s a couple of Lauren too, but none together. She’s pretty.”

I feel like I’m going to puke. “I saw them,” I whisper, and shrug my indifference, hoping Angela will move on to something else. I can’t mentally take another rehash of the post. I have it memorized.

Angela looks up as I shift on the couch. “Bella, you look like you’re going to be sick.”

My hand is trembling as I reach out to grab my tea, and end up spilling it everywhere. “Shit.”

“Stay put. I’ll clean it up.” Angela grabs some paper towels from the kitchen and returns to soak up what she can from the rug. “At least the carpet is dark and no one will see a stain. Maybe you should go curl up in bed and take a nap.”

I shake my head. “I’ve got to watch the President’s Address and finish my article before I can call it a night.”

“Okay. Do you want another blanket or anything? I can make you another cup of tea.”

“No, thanks.” I submerge deeper under the covers and stare blankly at the television screen.

“I’m going to go shower and find something to eat, then I’ll be back, but I’m not sure how long I can watch. Kate sent me home with extra reading to summarize for her by tomorrow. So, I need to finish that up before I can call it a night.”

“How is she liking being on the Supreme Court?” I wonder.

“I think she’s thankful she isn’t the only woman, but in my opinion, she’s tougher than the men. She was yelling at one of her fellow Justices the other day for some mix up, and ever since, he’s been stepping all over his dick to make it up to her.”

I chuckle. “She’s a force to be reckoned with; there’s no doubt.”

“I’m out.” Angela waves, heading toward the bathroom, as my phone vibrates with an incoming text.

Just a reminder, I need your article by midnight.

You’ll have it.

Are you feeling any better?

No. Worse.

Don’t come in to work tomorrow. Stay there and work until your fever is gone.

Okay, Dad.

I’m flattered, but we both know only Charlie Swan can pull off that mustache.

Give Hercules a hug for me and tell him Auntie Bella misses him.

Will do. Get better.

I toss my phone back on the coffee table and let out another sigh at my sad state of affairs. I haven’t heard one peep from Edward about the latest online post. It breaks my heart to read about him having our week with someone else, even though I know it isn’t true. I’m positive this is Shelly’s handiwork, but it doesn’t make the hurt any less.

I doze off for a bit, but wake up when my phone starts vibrating with a phone call. The screen lights up, and I scramble out of the covers to answer the call.

“Hey, Dem,” I croak. My voice is raspy and I hope I don’t lose it.

“Bella! You sound like hell. Are you sick?”

“Yes. I must have fallen asleep.” I look at the clock, seeing it’s after 9:00 p.m.

“Oh, hell. I take the night off to watch the President’s Address and you’re sleeping through all the good stuff.”

“Shit. What have I missed?”

“I have no idea what they’re saying; it’s muted, but Seth is there, and let me tell you that boy is looking fine.”

“What happened to your older man?”

“Bella, you know I can’t be tied down by a single man. This butterfly needs to sample all the flowers.”

“So, it’s over?”

“More like a hiatus. Whenever he’s in town to visit family, he calls me up.”

“You’re like a booty call?”

“More or less. How’s your man?”

“Dem, I don’t know anymore. The highs are high and the lows are low. I’m feeling pretty low right now.”

“What did he do?”

“Well, nothing, I think.”

“I’m confused. Explain.”

“There’s some gossip floating around about him with someone else.”

“He’s two-timing you? Dump him immediately, Bella.”

“That’s just it. I don’t think he is, but he doesn’t deny a thing publicly. It’s all speculation, but I suspect someone close to him is trying to drive a wedge between us and push me out of the non-existent picture.”

“How do you get yourself in these situations?”

Angela emerges from the shower and heads for the kitchen. I hear her opening and closing the refrigerator. She pauses when she sees I’m on the phone, pointing toward her room that she’s going to go work in there.

I nod and focus on Demetri’s question. “I have no idea. I just don’t want to go down that road again like I did with Felix.”

“Oh, Lord, have mercy! Don’t get me started on Felix again. I want to wring your mother’s neck for that stunt at Thanksgiving.”

I chuckle. “I’m past it.”

“Are you? The Felix part? He’s a cheater, but not all men cheat, Bella.”

I let out a heavy sigh. “I hope so.”

“Good. Now, tell me how Daddy Carlisle is doing. I haven’t seen his handsome face in forever.”

“Daddy? He’s not married, nor does he have kids.”

“Then he’s available to be my sugar daddy.”

“Demetri!”

“Well?”

“He’s good. He just got back from a trip to Australia, working on human rights violations there. I need to talk with him soon.”

“Does he need an errand boy? I can fill that or any position he requests. I’ve been doing my yoga, and boy, does it pay off. Oh—” Demetri squeals. “Did you see that? They showed hunky Jacob. Has he split with the hag yet?”

I chuckle. “No. They are still together, publicly at least.”

“He needs to say good riddance to old news. Who’s the little sweet thing sitting next to him?”

I sit up and focus on the screen. “I don’t know. Maybe an intern from his office.”

“Well, she’s sitting a little too close in my opinion. I bet he’s dipping his wick there.”

“I doubt it. Jacob isn’t a cheater.”

“So, Leah is?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Bella, you can tell me. Who’s she with?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you suspect someone. Surely, Jacob has cried on your shoulder. You two are close.”

“Dem, I try to stay out of all the gossip.”

“You’re no fun.”

“I know. I’m sick too.”

“We better stop talking or you’ll lose your voice. Get better, babe. Put some honey in your tea. It will help your throat.”

“Okay. Love you. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Love you too, sweets.”

I end the call with Demetri feeling exhausted. I’ve barely heard any of the President’s speech and change to C-SPAN who should replay it in its entirety.

There’s no way I’ll stay awake in my current condition. I head to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom to try to find something to help keep me going at least until I can get my article finished.

-BCD-

Carlisle releases a deep sigh. “Bella, it’s worse than I thought, and the rest of the world has no clue what’s going on in Australia. The processing centers are abysmal with security issues and high rates of violence. The toilets are overflowing. Litter abounds everywhere, while graffiti covers the walls. People sleep like zombies slumped over on dirty mattresses, and the abuse of women and children is all too common.

“Manus and Nauru are full of refugees stuck in legal limbo. Asylum seekers aren’t clear to enter the country, but they can’t return home either. Some have been there for five years. The mental illness and medical neglect are unbelievable. There are children as young as ten years old committing suicide because of the conditions.

“Political authorities and the leading public figures only see them as 2,000 refugees. They are relegated to being prisoners without character, identity, or humanity. They portray them as objects without the capacity to think or feel. Objects without families left behind—their partners and children. So many husbands and fathers, escaping from countries like Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan. If they returned home, it would mean certain death.”

“Carlisle, why does this keep happening?”

“I have no answer for you, Bella. I believe leaders originally thought if they let them experience hell, then they will leave, but they can’t leave. They are stuck in this political gridlock. They arrived on boats, escaping persecution in their home countries, only to be sent to the islands with indefinite detention, having no time limits or future. Goodness, the stress and trauma to all of them, Bella.” I can hear the anguish and despair in his voice.

“Is there any hope?”

“A tiny sliver, but most have given up on the system. The process to resettle them in the U.S. and other countries is slow. I’m going to a meeting at the UN next week. I have no idea how to intervene for these people. We have to protect them. Even when they are allowed freedom of movement, they refuse, as they are aware of the abuse by locals on the islands. One man shared how a local came after him with a machete, while another had been a target for robberies. His fourth since moving to the transitional centers after the main detention center on Manus was closed.”

“This is devastating, Carlisle.”

“I know. I’m not my normal ray of sunshine.”

I chuckle. “I’m not much better.”

“I read your article about neglecting our children here in America. It was fantastic. There’s a reason why children at our borders are being treated the same way as low-income families. You nailed it—a lack of compassion. Let me find your article. I want to get the numbers right.” I hear him shuffling through papers. “There it is. Three million American children live in extreme poverty. Three million, Bella. Have you set up a meeting with the Secretary of Education, Esme Platt?”

“No.”

“You should. You can’t just stop with the article. You need to push for changes. She needs to read your article and keep the Senate from making tax cuts to early childhood programs that make a huge difference, like parent coaching, high-quality pre-kindergarten, lead-poisoning interventions, social worker visits, and mentoring.”

“Do you know Secretary Platt?”

“No, but I’ve heard great things. You should schedule a meeting with her and Volturi.”

“Which one?”

“The senator from New York—Marcus. He’s spearheading the tax cuts. Do a follow-up article and get quotes from both. Make them accountable for their actions or inactions and get things heading in the right direction. Push them out of their comfort zones, Bella. Remember, the pen is mightier than the sword.”

“Okay. Marcus is always a little evasive outside the Senate chamber, but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Follow him to New York if need be. Whatever it takes to shut this down. You’re fighting for three million children, and if you don’t, who will?”

Carlisle is always great at firing me up and pushing me in ways I won’t push myself.

“I’ll do it.”

“Good. I can’t wait to read your follow up article. Enough figuring out how to save the world—how’s everything else? Dating anyone new?”

I let out a sigh and evade his question. “Same as always. I’ve been sick, but I’m hoping it’s mostly behind me for now. Emmett banned me from coming into work for a while, but it’s nice to be back at my desk again.”

“I bet he didn’t let you off the hook with your deadlines—did he?”

“No, not a chance. He has a dog now.”

“Well, I feel sorry for the dog. What kind is it?”

“A Chihuahua, he’s named Hercules.”

Carlisle laughs. “Of course. Only Emmett. I’ve got to go. Take care, Bella, and let me know if you need anything.”

“Okay thanks, Carlisle. Talk with you soon.”

I end my call and notice several unanswered text messages from Edward arrived during my call with Carlisle. It’s a little after 7:00 p.m. and his messages are recent.

How about dinner and a sleepover?

I can pick up something, and we can meet at my place.

If you’re busy, I’ll understand.

I quickly type out a reply.

I’m still kind of sick.

I’m not afraid of your bugs.

I’m hacking.

I have medicine.

I look down at my purse full of essential toiletries and wonder if I should stop by my apartment and get clothes for tomorrow or just wait and do it in the morning. I’ve started carrying some basics with me in case Edward invites me over on nights like tonight. It’s only ten minutes from his apartment to my work. So, I would rather make the trip to grab clothes tonight, than rush around extra early in the morning.

I need to pick up some clothes for tomorrow.

Then get going. I’ll see you soon.

A/N: Huge thank yous to LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, purpleC305, and Midnight Cougar for their help with this story. xx

This week’s chapter isn’t an easy one. For Bella, her insecurities are back in full force, and we all know who is responsible for that gossip article. It’s becoming a little more difficult for Bella to keep everything to herself. Angela has unknowingly found a red flag while Demetri is right there with his unwavering support.