Edward and Bella sat on the bed—Bella with her back against the headboard, knees pulled up and arms wrapped around her legs, whilst Edward faced her, cross-legged, at the opposite end.

Resting her cheek on her knees, Bella was silent for so long, Edward wondered if she was going to say anything at all about her apparent meltdown.  He wanted to ask her what the hell had just happened, but knew he owed her the same courtesy she had afforded him when she refused to press him earlier that morning.  So, he sat and waited, giving her the time she needed.

Taking a deep breath, Bella lifted her head and looked directly at Edward.  Really looked at him.  He was so young, and he carried so much sorrow, so much hurt around with him.  And yet here he was, giving her comfort.  And such comfort it was, too.  Bella couldn’t ever recall feeling so safe, so at peace, as she had in Edward’s arms.  It was a remarkable sensation, and one which, if she was honest, she wanted to experience again. 

Their eyes remained locked across the short distance, making her feel stripped bare—not in a sexual way, but emotionally—and she knew that she wanted him to know about her… to know her.

She unwrapped one arm from around her knees and lifted her fingers to her bruised cheek.  The swelling had almost gone, but it was still a little tender, and she knew that it was taking on a decidedly Technicolor hue.

“My boyfriend—ex-boyfriend now—well, as I’m sure you’ve worked out for yourself, he hit me.  This…” she said, twirling her hand vaguely in the air beside her face,  “…wasn’t the first time, but it was the worst.  I’m pretty sure that, if I stayed with him, he’d eventually break me beyond repair.  So I ran.  What you saw earlier?  That was… shit, I’m not even quite sure what it was, but I think it was relief.  He’s out of my life, hopefully forever.”

She gave him a watery smile, knowing that he probably thought her pathetic for having stayed with a man who abused her.  She was pretty sure he’d be right. 

However, what Edward said next utterly confounded her expectations.

Eyes blazing green fire, and that amazing jaw clenched tightly, his voice was low… soft even, but no less full of ferocious intent.

“He’d better be out of your life because, if he ever comes near you again, I’ll fucking kill him,” he hissed.

Bella’s eyes widened in surprise.  There was so much in that brief statement that she needed to get her head around—not just the direct and unambiguous threat to Jake, but also, implicit in what he’d said, the suggestion that he would be remaining in her life long enough to follow through.

As she processed this radical idea, she knew that she would move heaven and earth to make sure that it was, indeed, the case.

Refocusing her attention on Edward, she noticed that he was looking down, plucking absently at the bedspread.

Releasing her legs, she put her hands down on the bed and shuffled across the mattress on her bottom.  When she was just a couple of feet from where Edward sat, she stopped and dipped her head in order to catch his eye.   

He looked up, regarding her with such intensity, she could feel his gaze heat her skin.  Nevertheless, she found it impossible to turn away. 

Tentatively, she raised her hand, holding it out for him to take.  With some difficulty, he dragged his eyes from hers and looked at her hand for a moment, before mirroring Bella’s gesture and taking hold of her fingers.

She smiled, feeling the warmth of his touch all the way up her arm, as if he were radiating heat.

“Thank you, Edward… for being here.  I…”  She paused, watching as he swept his thumb lightly across the back of her hand.  Then, as if they were symbiotically linked, they both looked up at the same time and exchanged shy smiles.  “Will you stay awhile?” she asked softly, and they both knew she wasn’t talking about right that moment.

His smile lit his face, and prompted an answering smile from Bella.

“I’ll stay until you tell me to go,” he replied.

Her face split into a wide grin.  “Well, in that case, we can start talking about my plans for the garden!”


Early evening found Edward in the kitchen, preparing dinner.  He and Bella had spent the morning and most of the afternoon clearing the back bedroom, filling boxes and taking them down to the basement.  By mutual agreement, they had decided they had talked enough for one morning, and had immediately got stuck into Bella’s project.  Tired but satisfied with their day’s work, they had called time just after five o’clock and gone to their rooms to wash off the dust and dirt. 

When Bella eventually came downstairs, Edward was busy in the kitchen.  However, when she went to help him, he’d told her in no uncertain terms to take herself off to the sitting room and watch the telly or read a book. 

“What?  Don’t be silly, Edward.  I can get the dinner.”

He put down the knife he’d been using to slice potatoes, went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of white wine.  “Absolutely not, I’m doing dinner, and you’re going to sit down and relax.  Now, take this glass of wine and let me get on.”  He scowled menacingly at Bella, making her laugh.

“Come on, Edward, you don’t have to do this.”

He sighed and put down the glass he’d been holding out to her.

“Bella, please, let me do this for you.  I promise I won’t poison you or burn the house down.  You liked my spaghetti Bolognese, didn’t you?”

He stood looking at her with such a cute puppy-dog look on his face, that she couldn’t say no to him—and the thought crossed her mind, fleetingly, that such a look might get her into trouble, if she wasn’t careful.

She held up her hands in surrender.  “Okay, okay, have it your own way.  I’ll go… but shout if you want me to do anything.”

She took the glass of wine he’d poured and left him to it.  Heading into the sitting room, she assumed she would need to build the fire up again, but it seemed Edward had taken care of that as well, and there was a veritable inferno blazing away in the grate.  Setting down her glass on the coffee table, she went to browse through the books on the shelves beside the fire.  Nothing grabbed her attention, so she went upstairs to get her laptop, bringing it down and setting it up on the bureau. 

Life at home with Jake over the last few months had not been conducive to her creativity, and her second book was just not working.  But maybe, now that she was free of his malign presence, she might be able to make something of what she’d written so far.  Retrieving her flash-drive from her bag, she fired up the computer and inserted the small plastic device.

Reading through the little she’d so far managed to produce, she realised that, although there was the kernel of a good idea, the writing was bland, formulaic and utterly uninspiring.  It simply wouldn’t do, and she knew her editor would be hugely disappointed if she sent this to him.

She sat back and took a moment to think about her characters and the plot, reading through her story outline, in the hope of gaining inspriration.  As she did, the words started to flow into her mind, almost too quickly for her to process them.  Immediately, she opened a new document and started typing, her fingers flying over the keyboard, as ideas, words, phrases and whole plot devices tumbled headlong into her head and, simultaneously, found their way onto the screen.

Bella smiled to herself, feeling empowered by this extraordinary and very welcome creative surge.  She had always loved to write, and had rarely found it onerous—at least, not until recently—but this was different.  It was as if her mind had taken off and was flying high above the landscape, giving her this perfect, panoramic view of everything she needed to see and describe.  Her fingers could barely keep up with her thoughts, as she rushed to give them substance and form. 

It was exhilarating, intoxicating, and utterly absorbing.

She lost complete track of time—she didn’t hear Edward call her from the kitchen; she didn’t hear when he came to the sitting room door; and she was completely oblivious as he stood watching her for several minutes, before quietly withdrawing to the kitchen, where he put the dinner on a low heat to keep it warm. 

He didn’t want to disturb Bella, but he had a strong compulsion to be near her, so he retrieved his book from his room and then collected his wine from the kitchen, creeping silently into the sitting room.  Bella didn’t look up, so he quickly settled himself into his favourite armchair and began to read.  He found the rapid click of the keyboard oddly soothing, and was suddenly overtaken by the simple, cosy domesticity of the moment.  It was something he’d only rarely—and fleetingly—experienced, and it warmed his heart, just as much as the fire warmed his skin.

In this way, they passed a comfortable hour, until, without warning, Bella’s stomach made a loud gurgling sound.

Edward dropped his book onto his lap and chuckled, which in turn elicited a cry of surprise from Bella, who swivelled round on her chair to look accusingly at him.

“Jesus Christ, Edward, where did you pop up from?!” she gasped, clutching at her heart.

Grinning, he stood up and walked over to her.

“I’ve been here for ages…” he bent to peer at the clock on her computer, “… about an hour, in fact.”

Bella glanced down at her watch, her eyes widening with surprise when she saw that it had gone eight o’clock.

“Oh my God, why didn’t you tell me?  No wonder I’m hungry!”

“You were so engrossed and typing like a fiend, I didn’t want to disturb you.  But it sounds like you’re ready to eat, so I’ll go and dish it up.  Do you want to eat in the dining room or the kitchen?”

“Oh, uh, the kitchen’s fine, it’ll be warmer—what did you make?  It won’t be ruined, will it?  You should have said something, Edward; you must be starving.”  She felt terrible for keeping him waiting.

He laughed, shaking his head.  “Bella, I’ve gone days without eating in the past, one extra hour is not going to kill me, especially after that giant breakfast you cooked this morning.”

Bella stared up at him, her heart breaking a little.  “You’ve gone without food for days?  Oh, Edward, that’s… God, I don’t know what to say… that’s just awful.”  Without thinking, she reached out and took hold of his hand, squeezing it gently.  “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

He frowned.  “It’s no big deal, Bella, please don’t feel sorry for me… I…”  He sighed and lifted his gaze to the wall above her head.  “Come on, let’s have dinner before it spoils.”

He pulled his hand from hers and walked out to the kitchen, leaving Bella sitting at her desk, cursing herself for being an idiot.  After a few minutes, she shook her head in resignation and turned back to save her work, before picking up her wine glass and following Edward into the kitchen.

Walking in, she found him setting two plates of food on the table, which was set with placemats and cutlery. 

“Oh, my God, Edward, it smells fantastic in here,” she gasped.

He looked up at her and grinned, their awkward moment in the sitting room seemingly forgotten.

“Sit down, I’ll just get the veg.  It’s a little overcooked, but I think it’ll be okay.”

She walked over to the table and pulled out her chair, gazing in wonder at the food in front of her.  As she sat down, Edward came back over with a large dish of broccoli and carrots, glistening with butter, which he set down next to another dish of what looked like baked sliced potatoes.

Opening the fridge, he grabbed the bottle of wine and refreshed their glasses, then sat down opposite Bella.

“Tuck in, then.  It’s nothing special, just chicken breasts in a mustard and white wine sauce, with Dauphinoise potatoes and vegetables.  The broccoli’s a bit overdone, but the rest of it’s okay, I think.”

“It all looks—and smells—amazing.  It’s just… wow!”  She reached for the vegetables, helping herself to both, and then scooped a large spoonful of the creamy potatoes onto her plate.

Cutting a piece of chicken, she gathered up some of the potatoes and put the food in her mouth.  As soon as she started to chew, she closed her eyes in near ecstasy and let out a loud, almost wanton moan.

Opposite her, Edward just stared, his mouth dropping open slightly, as he spread his legs to accommodate the bulge which had suddenly developed in his jeans.

Bella opened her eyes and smiled.  “Oh God, Edward, this is absolutely fantastic.  Where the hell did you learn to cook like this?”  She wasted no time in shovelling more of the delicious food into her mouth.

Broken out of his reverie, and doing his best to ignore the ache between his legs, Edward looked down at his plate and then back up at Bella.

“Uh, well, I’m glad you like it.  It’s nothing special.  I, uh, used all the cream, so I hope you didn’t buy it for something in particular.  Sorry, I should have asked first.”

“Are you kidding me?!  If you cook stuff like this with it, you can use anything and everything you find in this house.  And you didn’t answer my question.  Who taught you to cook like this?  Was it your mum?”

He shook his head, staring now at his food.  “Could we maybe eat dinner and talk after?” he asked in a soft, hesitant voice.  He glanced up at her and the look on his face was so vulnerable… so haunted, that Bella couldn’t find it in her heart to press him further.

“Of course, let’s eat.  This is way too good to let it spoil.”  She smiled encouragingly at him, and resumed eating.  A moment later, he followed suit. 

“So, anyway, I’m sorry I kept you waiting for dinner, but, honest to God, Edward, it was incredible.  I’ve been struggling for months with my second book… you know, the ‘difficult second album’ thing.  I wasn’t even intending to write anything, but I just decided to look through what I’d written so far, and, well, it was just total bollocks,* but then I started getting ideas and it just… oh God, Edward, it just poured out of me.”

She looked up at him, grinning with delight as she chewed on a piece of chicken, and he couldn’t help but return her smile.  It was great to see her so enthusiastic—she’d obviously been through a lot, and he wasn’t surprised she’d been unable to write, but now she was here in this beautiful place, and it had obviously unleashed her creative juices.

And then he thought about other juices that might be unleashed, and could barely suppress an audible groan. 

Fortunately, Bella didn’t seem to notice, scraping the last of her food onto her fork and transferring it to her mouth.  As her lips closed around the tines, she gave another soft moan of satisfaction, and grinned at Edward.

With difficulty, he pulled his gaze away from her pouty lips and put his cutlery down.

“Finished?” she asked, before standing up and stacking their two plates one on top of the other.  “Okay, let’s get these into the dishwasher, wash up the pans and make some coffee.”

Edward was beyond glad that Bella was taking the lead with clearing up, as there was no way he could stand up just yet.

Twenty minutes later, Bella carried a tray into the sitting room, on which was a large cafetiere* of coffee, two mugs and a plate of thick, round, butter shortbread biscuits.  Edward followed behind with a bottle of Baileys, which Bella insisted was much better in coffee than cream.

After building the fire back up, they settled down in front of it and she poured the coffee into two bone china mugs, then added the creamy liqueur.  Handing one to Edward, who had taken what had become his usual spot on the chair by the fire, Bella got comfortable on the sofa, and picked up a biscuit.

“Bloody hell, this is really good,” Edward exclaimed, after he took his first sip.

“Baileys was made for coffee, if you ask me,” she chuckled, taking a large slug of her own drink.

For a while, they sat in relative silence—just the crackle of the fire, accompanied by the sound of them sipping their drinks and the crunch of biscuits.

After about five minutes, Edward looked up and drew in a heavy breath, causing Bella to glance over at him expectantly.

“So, I, uh, promised myself that if you let me stay, I would tell you… uh…”  He trailed off, and reached over to set his cup down on the old naval chest which served as a TV stand.

Bella lowered her cup and rested it on her thigh.  “You don’t have to tell me, Edward, not if you really don’t want to.”

“No, I do… I mean, I owe you that much, Bella.  It’s just so hard to talk about.  I haven’t… well, I’ve never really told anyone about… what happened.”

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and rubbing his face with both hands.  When he lowered them, clasping them in front of him, Bella noticed a new, somewhat steely determination in his eyes.

“The truth is, my mum’s dead… she was murdered… and I watched it happen and did nothing.  I just… well, I just fucking ran.  I’m a fucking coward, Bella, and the guy who killed her is still out there—fuck…”

Once again he put his hands over his face, but this time it was to try and hold back the sob which exploded out of him.  Shoulders shaking, he slid off the chair and onto his knees, weeping.

Bella leapt up from the sofa and quickly made her way around the coffee table, pushing it back and dropping to her knees in front of Edward.  Without hesitation, she wrapped her arms around his shaking body, offering him exactly the same comfort he’d given her that very morning.

She had no words for him—nothing in her life up to this point had equipped her for dealing with such an extraordinary situation, and she couldn’t bear to trot out the usual platitudes in the face of such a horrifying revelation.

So, she simply held him, rubbing his back and stroking his hair, just as she’d done last night.  She could feel his warm breath on her skin as he nuzzled his face into her neck and, just like the previous night, she mentally chastised herself for thinking lascivious thoughts at such a time.

His sobbing now under control, a real calmness settled over him, much like when Bella had held him in the early hours of the morning.  However, when Bella attempted to pull away, he initially tightened his hold, desperate to prolong the moment.

“Edward?  Hey, come on, sweetie, let a girl breathe,” she joked, trying to lighten the moment.  She felt him relax his death grip, and moved back, although she kept her hands on his shoulders.

“Sorry,” he whispered, his voice hoarse from crying. 

“Hey, none of that,” Bella responded softly, slipping one hand up to the back of his neck, where she gently stroked the skin there with her thumb.  Her heart broke for him, as she took in his red-rimmed and sorrowful eyes. 

“Do you want to talk about it, sweetie?  You don’t have to if you don’t want to—at least, not right now—but I’m guessing you’re going to have to talk about it with someone, because it’s clearly eating you alive.  Are you sure that that’s what you saw?”

He nodded, but didn’t answer at first.

“Look, my knees are killing me… let’s get another drink and sit on the sofa.”  Bella let go of Edward and pushed herself up.  She quickly went to the kitchen, grabbed the wine from the fridge and two clean glasses, before heading back to the sitting room.  When she found Edward in the exact same position, she put down the bottle and glasses and held her hand out to him.

At first, she wasn’t sure if he’d noticed, but then he raised his eyes to look at her outstretched arm, and then panned up to meet her gaze.  He could see no judgement there, no disbelief… only compassion and warmth.

He finally took her hand, allowing her to pull him to his feet and guide him to the sofa.  She poured the wine and sat down, patting the space beside her until he joined her.  Picking up his glass from the table, Bella handed it to him, taking a sip of her own drink and urging him to do the same.

“Okay, that’s better.  Now, do you feel like telling me what happened?  You don’t have to go into detail, but I’d like to know.  Maybe I can help.  At the very least, you’ll probably feel better if you can just share it with me—I think this has been far too great a burden for you to have carried around for so long, especially since you were just a kid when it happened.”

She reached out and put her hand on his forearm, hoping it would give him courage, as well as comfort.

Edward sat mute, neither moving nor acknowledging Bella’s statement.  In fact, so long did he remain silent and unmoving, staring sightlessly into his drink, that she wondered if he’d heard her at all, or even felt her touch.

“Edward?”  She moved her hand down his arm and gently eased the glass out of his vice-like grip, which threatened to snap the stem.  In the end, he relinquished it without a fight, and she put it on the table, along with her own.  She then sat back and took both his hands in hers, giving them a little squeeze.

And it was this which finally seemed to break the spell.

He looked up at her at last, his eyes a little wild and full of such pain it made her hitch her breath.  She could feel a lump rising in her throat, and fought against the strong urge to cry, wanting to be strong for him.

“She was such a stupid bitch!” he exclaimed suddenly, his voice rasping and full of bitterness.  As Bella reeled back in surprise, he pulled his hands free and leapt to his feet, striding around the coffee table and pacing back and forth on the other side.  With his hands buried in his thick, multi-coloured hair, his face was a mixture of anger and pain.

“You wanna know how old she was when she had me?  Fifteen… fucking fifteen!  And you know what?  She didn’t even know who my dad was.  She was a stupid fucking slut, who got knocked up at fifteen, was an alcoholic at sixteen, and fucked any man who would give her the time of day.  How the fuck she didn’t have more kids than me, I’ll never know, but she was pregnant when she died, by a piece of shit guy who beat the crap out of her every other day.  But even when he broke her jaw and cracked her ribs, she wouldn’t tell him to piss off, and then she let herself get knocked up by him, and he fucking killed her.”

Edward’s voice broke as he finished his rant, and now he just stood still at the end of the couch.  He was breathing hard, his arms hanging by his side and his fists clenched.

Bella stared at him, not sure what to say.  This was not what she had expected at all, and she was utterly taken aback by his anger.

“Wh-what happened?” she ventured, wondering if he would tell her, or whether he would shut down after such an emotional outburst.

His shoulders slumped and he dropped down onto the opposite end of the sofa, resting his elbows on his knees and burying his face in his hands.  After a long moment, he dropped his hands and clasped them in front of him, turning his head to look back at Bella.

He started speaking again, but, in a complete volte-face, this time his voice was stripped of all emotion.

“They’d been arguing the night before.  Mum and Paul.  He was a big bastard—he’d hit me before and laid me out.  I was fifteen and your archetypal seven stone weakling*… short and skinny and completely shit-scared of guys like Paul.  Christ, he was just the last in a long line of bullies and benefits scroungers.*  Anyway, she’d told him she was pregnant, and he wanted her to get rid of it.  They were screaming at each other and I just had to get out of there.  I went over to my mate Mike’s house—he was used to me hanging out there when Mum got into it with Paul.  I knew I should stay, but… I don’t know, I guess part of me was scared for myself, but another part…”

He took a deep breath and stared into the fire for a moment, before turning back and gazing intently at Bella.

“Part of me was angry with her.  Like… oh, fuck, I don’t know… like she’d brought it on herself and deserved to suffer.”

He looked away again, but not before Bella recognised the look in his eyes—shame, embarrassment… guilt.  She knew because she’d seen the same emotions when she’d looked in the mirror after Jake had hit her, even though, on an intellectual level, she knew she shouldn’t feel any of those things.

“It’s okay, Edward, I do understand.  Go on,” she said encouragingly.  She slid his wine across the table towards him.

He sighed, and ran a hand nervously through his hair again.

“I couldn’t sleep… I felt guilty about leaving Mum on her own with that bastard.  And Mike was snoring like a fucking pneumatic drill, so I just got up and decided to go home.  It must have been about two o’clock in the morning, and all the lights were off.  I crept upstairs, not wanting to wake them, but I needn’t have worried.  I could fucking hear them from halfway up, going at it like fucking rabbits… like they hadn’t been screaming blue murder just a few hours earlier.  Christ Almighty, I just could never understand how she could do that; it made me sick to my stomach.

“So I just went to bed.  I doubt they heard me come in, and luckily, they finished soon after that, so I didn’t have to stick my earphones in for long.

“Then, the next morning I didn’t wake up until late, and probably only then because of the shouting.  Jesus, they were fucking relentless.  I know Mum pushed his buttons—I have no idea why, when it generally ended up with her getting punched in the face, the stupid cow.  But this was… different.  It was just… God, it was horrible.  They were literally screaming at each other, and all I wanted to do was just get out of there.  But then I heard Mum on the landing, and the shouting got much louder, so I thought, I’ll wait until they go downstairs and then slip out the front door.”

He paused, glancing up at Bella, then back at his hands, clasped tightly in front of him.  He leaned forward and grabbed his wine, draining the glass, before putting it back down.  Without a word, Bella refilled their glasses, emptying the bottle, before looking at him expectantly.

Edward picked up his glass and took a couple of sips, then set it back down on the table.  He leaned back and let his head rest for a moment against the wing of the sofa, the crackle of the fire filling the silence.  Again, he sat forward and took a deep breath.

“They were on the landing, like I said.  I was in my room, staying quiet—which was pointless, as they probably wouldn’t have heard me even if I’d blasted out The White Stripes at full volume.

“But then… fuck...”  He took another breath, shaking his head.  “Then, I heard Mum scream… but not like screaming at him, just this high-pitched shriek, and then a really loud thudding noise that just went on and on, and then… nothing; well, just for a couple of seconds, and then I heard more thumping down the stairs, but this time, much more like someone running down.  So I opened my door and looked out.  I couldn’t really see anything, so I went out on the landing and could see Paul at the bottom of the stairs, peering down at Mum, who was kind of… crumpled below him.  And then… Jesus…” 

He gripped his hair, and stared at Bella, his eyes wide with horror and despair. 

She couldn’t bear to be so far away from him in that moment, so she shuffled across the couch and put an arm around his shoulders.

“Tell me, Edward.  You’ve done so well, you’re nearly there.  Once it’s out, it can’t hurt you anymore.”  She wasn’t sure she believed that, but she suspected Edward needed to hear it.

Slipping his arms around her waist, he leaned his head against her shoulder and sighed.  He still felt terrible, but her touch was like salve for his soul, and everything seemed easier when she held him.

“I heard Mum groaning.  I thought Paul was going to help her.  I was just about to shout down to him to call an ambulance, but before I could, he… he bent over her and grabbed her by the hair and…”

He swallowed, his breathing becoming shallow and rapid.  Bella held him tight, stroking his hair.

When he spoke again, his voice was barely more than a croaking whisper.

“He… he grabbed her hair and pulled her head up… she was lying face down, and… he just smashed her forehead into the bottom step… like, really hard…” 

“Oh, God, Edward.  Oh, my poor baby,” Bella crooned, rocking him gently.

“I… I just shot back from the bannister… Fuck, Bella, I was terrified.  I didn’t know what to do.  I just crept back into my room and climbed out the window.  I was scared shitless.  I climbed down the drainpipe, which I would never normally have risked, but I thought he’d kill me too.” 

He was crying openly now, and Bella could do nothing but hold him.

His voice almost gone, he carried on.  “I’m such a fucking coward, Bella.  I just left her there with that… that bastard!

“Shhhh… you couldn’t do anything, Edward, you were just a boy.  He might have done the same to you, and then what good would that have done?”

“I tried to help.  I w-went to the phone box on the corner and called the police and an ambulance.  I didn’t give my name.  I just watched from the corner when they arrived.  I thought they’d bring him out in handcuffs, but after what felt like an hour of waiting, they just brought my mum out on a stretcher, and that… that fucker got in with her and they all left.”

“What did you do?  You didn’t go back there did you?”

“I went to Mike’s, but he’d gone out.  His mum let me hang out, and then the police came looking for me—someone must have told them I spent time there.  They said Mum was dead, that she’d fallen downstairs.  I asked them where Paul was, and they said they’d brought him home.”

He pulled away from Bella then, and gaped at her, a look of incredulity on his face.

“Do you know what they said, Bella?  They said, ‘you should go home, kid, your dad’s in a terrible state and he needs you.’  Can you believe that?”

He got up and started pacing again.

“What did you do?”

“I told them, that fucker’s not my dad, and he wasn’t married to my mum.  I was going to tell them that he pushed her downstairs, but then I realised that would mean he’d know I was in the house, that I saw him do it.  And if the police didn’t believe me, or they didn’t have any evidence, then he’d be free to fucking come after me too.”

He stopped pacing and stared intently at Bella, his eyes begging her to understand. 

“He obviously told them she fell and they must have believed him, because they were there at Mike’s, telling me that murdering shithead was broken-hearted… Christ, Bella, what was I supposed to do?”

He gripped his hair with both hands, his face so wracked with guilt and fear and desperation, that Bella was compelled to go to him.  Standing up, she walked over to where he stood, reaching up to gently pull his hands away from his beleaguered hair and holding them clasped against her chest.

“Edward, please, you don’t have to convince me.  I understand you were scared… I totally get that.  Don’t beat yourself up about this.  You were just a boy, and that man was a violent psychopath, who would have no more compunction about hurting you—or worse—than he did your mother.”

Keeping his hands pressed to her bosom with one hand, she lifted the other and slid her fingers into his hair, pushing it gently away from his face. 

“He’s the one to blame for what happened to your mum, not you—never forget that, and never think otherwise.”

He extracted one of his hands to capture hers where it skimmed through his hair, and placed it against his own chest.  Looking down at her, he felt a lump in his throat but swallowed it back and forced himself to speak.

“Why are you so good to me?  What did I do to deserve such kindness?”

* Clarifications:-

Bollocks – Anglo-Saxon word for testicles; used as a general swear word, or as a noun to indicate that something is rubbish.

Cafetiere – Heat-resistant glass jug with metal filter/plunger inside the lid. 

Seven stone weakling – An expression which came from the American body builder, Charles Atlas.  There are 14lbs to a stone, so a 7st weakling would weigh 98lbs. 

Benefits scrounger – Someone who screws the welfare system to get as much money as possible without even trying to find work.