DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
Chapter 26: The Prize
We’re sitting at the kitchen table watching Rose make tea when my calm evaporates, and I can’t hold inside my unanswered questions any longer.
“So… you and Alistair?” I start because there’s no easy way around this, and I figure we should dive right into the nitty-gritty.
“It’s not vat you think.”
“You’re pregnant. How can it not be what I think?” I shake my head, releasing her hand. “I’m not stupid, Hilda.”
I watch her carefully. “You were together.”
“Ve got clozer vile you vere… and it just happened. One time. Uh… maybe more. I…”
Fuck. Of course, it did.
“Please don’t explain.” I pause to collect myself, taking a shaky breath in before I continue. “I-I knew we were never exclusive, and I have no expectations for the future, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“But I am vorried, and I don’t vant you to be upzet. You aren’t ready for this.”
“How do you know what I’m ready for and what I’m not?” I raise my voice, barely keeping control. “I’m not as fragile as you may think. So, stop treating me like I’m some fucking precious doll that’s going to break under pressure. I’m fine.”
“You aren’t fine, Bella. I can zee it. I know you’re hurt and disappointed. Things haven’t been the zame zince…”
There’s a sudden banging on the door to our apartment, causing all of us to jump.
“Fuck! He’s here. Bella, I’m zorry.”
“Hilda!” Alistair continues.
She storms over to the door, opening it in a flourish and yells, “Vat? Halistair, I’m done talking to you! I’m trying to talk vith Bella.”
“I’m not done talking to ye.” Alistair fires back, furious and panting as if he’s run a marathon, trying to catch up with her. From the look of their standoff, he’s not about to end whatever discussion they were having before she got to our apartment.
I close my laptop, knowing they need privacy, and scan the floor for my shoes. I am eager to escape and could use some fresh air after these revelations. “Rose, I just remembered I have an errand to run. Do you think you would be willing to go with me?”
Her head is nodding vigorously as she turns off the kettle, sliding on her shoes, and grabbing her purse. “No problem. I need to pick up uh… something at the market while we’re out.”
We grab our jackets and are out the door, leaving Hilda and Alistair to their standoff, then hurry down the stairs and step out onto the sidewalk.
I look back at the door, pointing at our building. “Holy shit. We were right and those two—”
“We’ll be lucky if they don’t level our apartment while we’re gone.” She chuckles, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know.”
We walk in silence, and I wipe away a few tears trailing down my cheeks.
“There’s something bothering me, though.”
“Before I moved here, I mean, I know what Hilda said, but were they ever together?”
“No, and I’ve never heard either yell at each other or anyone else—ever. They are not easily ruffled.”
We link arms and walk in silence along the city block, browsing the windows and passing a local park. I’m lost in thought until my own insecurities creep to surface and I wonder what Rose’s take on the situation is. “Do you think Hilda was using me to make him jealous?”
“Bella, she… she was probably waiting for the right moment to tell you. Was everything good before we disappeared?”
“I thought so. I noticed nothing different the night of my birthday—actually, the opposite. We were better than ever, but since we’ve been back, something feels off between us. I tried to talk with her to see if she wanted to take a break.” I stare up at the sky, wondering where this leaves us with a baby on the way, but suspect major changes are in our future.
“Bella, everyone knows she cares for you.”
“And I care about her, but I will not stand in her way if she wants something else. No matter how difficult it may be to accept that it isn’t me. Her life is about to change, and Alistair doesn’t seem like the kind of man not to want to be involved with his child’s life.”
“Do you think she loves him?”
Rose glances away. “I-I don’t know, Bella. Did she ever say it to you?”
I shrug as doubts fill my head over everything I thought I knew about Hilda. “Not in so many words. I just…”
“Hang on. Someone is texting me.” Rose reaches for her phone, pulling it from her pocket.
“Maybe it’s Hilda, giving us the all-clear to return.”
“Nope. George. He’s at a bar nearby. Do you want to go? We can have a drink and give Hilda and Alistair more time alone.”
I look down at my casual clothes. “I’m not dressed to go out.”
“Who cares? It’s one drink, and George will be happy to see you. The more the merrier, and when was the last time you went out? You can’t sit at your computer around the clock never leaving the apartment.”
“Rose, you know I’m trying to get this article done.”
“I do, but Bella, I need a break from processing photos. I know a break would do you good too. Let’s get your mind off Hilda or your article for a while. We’ll pop in and say hi, nothing big.”
“Okay. One drink. That’s it.”
“Edward!” I gasp as I spread my legs wider and lower myself until he’s filling me inch by delicious inch.
“Oh, Bella. You’re perfect.”
I tilt my hips as his hands cup my breasts, squeezing them in time with my movements.
“That’s it. Ride me, love.”
“Ummm, so good.” I brace my hands against the headboard. “You feel different.”
“It’s the condom.”
“Why do we need to use them again?”
“You quit getting the shot.” He chuckles as his hands move to my ass. “And you don’t want babies. Remember? You said it over and over.”
“Right, no babies. You promised I won’t end up like Hilda.”
“You’re definitely not like Hilda. Faster.” He pants, pushing and pulling me off his cock.
“How many condoms do we have?”
“It’s a new box. We bought it on our way home.” His mouth seeks my breast and his tongue toys with my pierced nipples, first one then the other.
“We did?” I moan. “God, that feels good.”
“Yes, love. We’ll use as many as you want.”
I sit up immediately, panicking when I don’t feel her next to me. “Rose?” My hands search the bed frantically, but she isn’t there, and fear blooms deep in my chest as my breathing increases. “Rose?”
Oh, God. I’m alone. She’s gone. They’ve taken her somewhere.
I look around carefully, wondering if Z is here watching me sleep, as she is never far from my side and can be deathly quiet when necessary. When I don’t see her in the room, I suspect I’m alone, but know better than letting my guard down. I’m in a sparsely furnished bedroom, but I have no idea where we are.
A quick peek under the covers confirms my lack of clothing. I peer over the side of the bed, hoping to find my clothes in the low light, but don’t see them. I notice some little squares on the floor next to the bed. I reach down, pick one up, and hold it closer to my face.
It’s an empty condom wrapper.
I examine a few more, but thankfully, they are unopened. Leaning back against the pillows, I pull the covers up to my chin, and blink slowly as my eyes adjust to the early morning light, filtering in the room from the small window.
There’s a noise, and I notice the door is open slightly. It sounds like someone is moving around, and I hold out one last hope. “Rose?”
If it isn’t Rose or Z, then I wonder who’s out there, but make no move to investigate as my eyes search the room, looking for any type of weapon. Maybe I can stun whoever it is and find a neighbor to help me get out of here and figure out how to get back to Berlin.
Before I can make a move, the door opens wider, and a figure appears in the doorway.
“Hey, love. You’re awake.”
I know that voice as my eyes focus on a man wearing only boxers. “George?”
“Did you want some coffee?” He holds up a mug. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how you like it. We can share.”
“George?” I eye him skeptically, wondering if he is working with Z or where she is.
He moves closer to the bed, and I panic sitting up, scooting backward until I’m pressed against the headboard, still clutching the covers tightly.
“Stay right there. Don’t come any closer,” I warn.
“Bella? What’s wrong?”
“Where’s Z? Or-or Rose?”
“At your flat.”
“But you know Z. Were you two working together all this time?”
“Bella, I have no idea who you are talking about. I’m not working with anyone.”
I look around the room, trying to piece together my situation. “Where are we?”
“At my flat.”
“We came here…”
“Last night, or I guess early this morning. It was your idea. I was walking you and Rose home from the pub, but when we got there, Hilda and Alistair were—”
The flash of Alistair’s naked ass comes to mind when we walked through the door.
I hold up my hand, stopping his explanation as I recall seeing the two of them nakedly entwined on the couch. “They were still there. Together. I remember.”
“Rose went to her room, but you said you couldn’t stay there and begged me to bring you here.”
“Did we—never mind from the looks of the floor, I have my answer.”
He walks around the bed, then sits on the edge next to me, turning on a lamp and setting the mug on the nightstand. “You have regrets.”
As my eyes adjust to the brighter light, I can see the disappointment settling on George’s features.
“I didn’t say that. I can only remember bits and pieces.” I lie, but with what I’m remembering, I thought I was dreaming again, and George was someone else. Edward. But I can’t tell him that because it will crush him.
What have I done?
“Bella, love, I have no regrets, and I don’t care what brought you here. I’m only happy you’re here. You are welcome to stay as long as you like.”
“George, I have no idea what… I thought… I thought I was b-back with Rose—or that you were connected to Z… and why can’t my brain accept I’m not there anymore and she’s dead? Fuck, I’m a mess.”
“Bella, love. Let me help you.” He opens his arms, but I’m hesitant to accept his comfort, and when I don’t move closer, George drops his arms in resignation.
“Trust me, with relationships, you should think twice. You’re better off without me. Hilda is—”
“With Alistair. I know.”
I shake my head. “Everyone knows but me.”
“He helped get her back on her feet after she was shot and you were gone. She feels guilty you were ever taken.” George reaches over and holds my hands in his. “Bella, I’ll be whatever you need—friend… confidant… roommate… lover…”
I clear my throat. “Maybe I should be alone for a while, you know? Focus on completing my article. Carlisle keeps pushing me to finish. Rose has her photos almost ready for publishing, and I’m so far behind.”
“I can help—whatever you need. You can work from here,” he offers.
“Thank you, but I need to do this on my own.”
“Last night, you said you needed me.” He sighs deeply with frustration as his shoulders sag. “Why is it you only want me after a visit to the pub?”
“That’s not true.”
“Isn’t it?” His eyes are full of hurt. “I can be so much more than a shag, Bella.”
I reach up and cup his jaw, rubbing my hand over his scruff. “You know I care about you. We’re good friends.”
“Bella,” he whispers. “I want you to want me.” He takes my hand, kissing inside the wrist and looking back into my eyes with a hopeful determination.
“George.” I squeeze his hand, trying to find the right words, but for once words fail me as I break his heart. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
He leans in, leaving a kiss on my forehead. “I know. Unfortunately, I know.”
My four-part article about the refugee crisis has drawn a huge response, as Carlisle suspected it would. The Post featured it on their website at the end of December, creating a nonstop buzz throughout January. I’m thrilled to be acknowledged by my peers and credited by the public for creating front-page news, but also excited I met the end of the year deadline to be considered for a Pulitzer.
While I’ve been focusing on other stories around Germany for the past couple of months, the buzz over my refugee article never seems to die. I’m planning two more stories, following up with those I met in the camps, if I can locate them again. I also have plans to interview anyone willing to talk while I’m there.
All of these plans require a return trip to Greece, which is something that leaves me nervous and unsettled. I am hesitant to go alone and have been struggling with working through my issues about returning to the area.
Carlisle wants me to write about my experience of being kidnapped. He says it would be a way to gain control over the situation by acknowledging what happened even if I never share it with anyone. While I know he’s probably right, I don’t think I’m ready to dig into those feelings just yet. I know I’m stronger mentally, but some days my emotions are all over the map.
I have other worries too, like the physical risks to my safety, especially now that I’m on everyone’s radar with my own words. After sharing many of my fears with Rose, she’s volunteered to accompany me on the return trip.
I don’t know what I would do without her support over these past few months. She’s been by my side every step of the way, including the day Hilda moved out of our apartment, which was tough for me. But I know it’s for the best, since she and Alistair are now engaged to be married with plans to build a life together. When I asked Rose what she thought of their engagement, I could tell she had her doubts but didn’t want to voice them. I feel the same, but know it’s time for me to move on.
Binyamin is in Greece and I’m hopeful he can join us for part of our trip too. It’s late April, and I am positively jubilant over his latest news as I listen to his excited voice.
“Bella, can you believe it? It’s finally happened after years of not knowing anything. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“This is an incredible day, Binyamin. Where are they?”
“They are in Athens, as we thought. I saw them briefly.” He sighs heavily into the phone. “They are both thin, but in fair health.”
I beam with pride at the reuniting of Binyamin with his mother and sister.
“I plan to stay here for another week.”
My phone vibrates with a text from Rose, and I skim the message while I have Binyamin on speaker.
Bella, do you have a new email? Check your inbox. Now.
“Hey, I hate to cut this short, but I’ve got to go. Rose is texting me about something.”
“All right, Bella, but I couldn’t wait to share the good news with you and Rose. You’ll tell her for me?”
Another text box appears.
I’m not kidding. Stop everything and read your damn email.
“Absolutely, keep me updated, and stay as long as you need. I’m positive Alistair will understand.”
“I’ll call him next,” Binyamin says. “I’m excited to tell him, as well.”
“Congratulations, Binyamin. I can’t wait to meet them.”
“Thanks again, Bella. I’ve told them all about you and Rose.”
“We will be back in Greece next month. If you’re still there, then we can make plans to visit or meet with them on our own. I want to hear their stories and have them share their experiences.”
“Okay. I’ll let them know.”
“I’ll talk to you soon. Take care.”
I end my call and open my mail app, seeing two new emails in the inbox. I click on the forwarded one from Rose, reading rapidly and staring in disbelief.
My phone vibrates with an incoming call as Rose’s picture fills the screen. “Holy shit!”
“Did you read it?” Rose asks, breathless with excitement.
“Yes, I read it. Congratulations, Rose.”
“Did you get one too?”
“Me? I don’t know. I saw your forwarded email, but there’s something else. Hang on.”
I put her call on hold and go back to my mail app, then click on the other new email in my inbox. I can barely comprehend what I see as I’m reading, and focus on three words over and over: Pulitzer Prize Winner.
I skip the details about the luncheon ceremony and arrangements. When I make it to the end, I go back to Rose. “Rose—”
“You got one too, didn’t you?”
“Yes!” I gasp as a warm flush of euphoria fills me from head to toe.
“Woohoo! I knew it. Bella, this is incredible. We need to celebrate and I’m not taking no for an answer. We did it!”
“I can’t believe this, Rose.”
“I need to call my parents.”
“Oh, God—Carlisle. He probably already knows, but I still need to call him.”
“I can’t wait to meet him, Bella… in New York. We need to reschedule our trip to Greece because we’re headed back home for a visit. I’ll make all the arrangements. I want you to meet my parents, and we can stay at my family home out on Long Island while we’re there. You’ll love it.”
“Oh, Rose. This is incredible. Thank you. I can’t wait to meet your parents. I should call Emmett too. I’m sure he won’t mind flying from D.C. to help us celebrate.”
“Hilda won’t be able to go, since she’s in her last trimester. Alistair will barely let her out of his sight, but the ten-hour flight would be more than she should attempt. We can have a dinner or something and include everyone here. I’m on my way home. I’ll see you when I get there.”
“Okay, see you soon.”
Once I end my call with Rose, I go back to my email to reread it again, hoping the reality will finally sink in of what we’ve accomplished. I’m excited, but still shocked at the surreal news that we are both winners.
I’m going back to New York.
Over a year ago, I spent one of my worst and best days there. I cringe, thinking about my meeting with Alec and the swirling shitstorm of a day I had. I was completely unprofessional and failed to remain unbiased during our meeting. My personal opinions clouded my judgment when I was questioning him about the tax cuts spearheaded by Senator Volturi, which got me nowhere. Carlisle let me have it when I shared how it went later. But remaining objective about issues is a struggle for any journalist, and I’m no different.
I also remember the overwhelming relief I felt when I opened my hotel door and found a snow covered Edward holding a bouquet of Valentine’s Day roses on the other side.
It’s tough to know I’ll be geographically close to him again, as two hundred miles between D.C. and New York is a lot closer than over four thousand from D.C. to Berlin. We’ve been apart for almost a year, and I wonder how the past months have been for him. Part of me wishes I could pick up the phone and say, “Hey, can you believe this? I finally did it. I had this really shitty thing happen, but look what I did with it.”
Another part of me just misses the hell out of him—his cocky smile and that hearty laugh.
I’m not sure if I can be friends with him like Angela always suggests, but I’m confident that if I ever see him again, I won’t turn tail and run, which for me feels like progress.
A/N: Huge thank yous to LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, purpleC305, and Midnight Cougar for their help with this story. xx
Rose and Bella are leaving for New York in a month, and there will be an unexpected visitor waiting at the ceremony for Bella’s arrival. We will get her side to their reunion and more next chapter.