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Seducing Ms Swan

Summary:
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...


Notes:
Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


17. Ghosts

Rating 3.7/5   Word Count 4907   Review this Chapter

Misguided ghosts
Traveling endlessly
The ones we trusted the most
Pushed us far away
And there's no one road
We should not be the same
I'm just a ghost
And still they echo me
They echo me in circles

I don’t remember much about the day and night after I broke up with Edward. I know that I didn’t sleep well, despite being drained beyond measure. The little sleep I had was permeated with nightmares in which I found myself lost and trapped in a never-ending forest, searching for something I could not find. A voice called to me, begging for my attention, but no matter how hard I tried I could not find its owner.

On several occasions when I feverishly woke up from these dreams, I was struck by the strange conviction that somebody had just left my room. It was bizarre and unfounded- every time I saw the door to be firmly closed- but an idea that I couldn’t shake, all the same. I found it strangely comforting, despite the fact I had no doubts as to who my night-time visitor was. Just as I had secretly welcomed his cold calls to my apartment, it consoled me to know that, now, he still cared enough to sit by my side at night. I know that it was irrational and totally contradicted the way I’d acted. After all, I had pushed Edward away. I had rejected his apology. Surely I had revoked my right to his attention?

But the fact was, although I wasn’t ready to embrace Edward’s love, nor was I ready to lose it. It was selfish, stupid, immature... but it was the truth. And it was partly because of all these conflicted emotions that I couldn’t bear to stay in Rochester for one more moment.

If my life had been a movie, I would’ve ended that scene with Edward and stood up, left the hospital and gotten on the first plane to Seattle with Jacob We would have landed and found Brady alive and well. There would’ve been no waiting around and certainly no unhappy ending.

But of course, it wasn’t that simple. It never is, not in real life.

I didn’t speak to Edward again, despite spotting him on a number of occasions. As I got my strength back and was allowed to venture out of my room unaccompanied, I began to get glimpses of him: at the end of corridors; two flights of stairs below me in the stairwell; entering a lift I had vacated half a minute before. Always close enough to see but too far away to speak to. Every time this happened, I felt my heart skip a beat and my throat dry up in fear of him approaching me, but he never did.

The doctors point blank refused to let me leave the hospital until they were sure I was back to full health, and despite my best efforts, no amount of pleading would persuade them otherwise. In the end, Jacob flew back and I promised him that I would follow as soon as I could. But as the days ticked past, I began to wonder whether I’d ever be able to leave.

Having to stay behind was becoming excruciating; seeing Edward, but knowing all that stood between us, was nearly impossible to bear.

So I made myself a constant nuisance to the medical staff, continually pestering them in the hope that I would be discharged a few days earlier. The time I didn’t spend thinking about Edward, I passed by wondering about when I would be able to join Jacob. The longer I stayed, the more I felt a gnawing, unshakeable worry that my time was running out as far as Brady was concerned. If Jacob had been right- if the end really was as soon as he predicted- then I knew that I couldn’t afford to stay in Rochester much longer.

As my anxiety built, so did the mountain of get-well cards and bouquets filling my room. I had been shocked at how many people had remembered me; there was barely a foot of my room untouched by cellophane or flowers. Most of the gifts were from people at work, but there were two from ‘anonymous senders’- an enormous stuffed bear with a card saying “you still owe me a game of Mega Mutant Zombies IV, little sis” and a pair of pretty blue sneakers with the message ”because injured people can’t wear heels”. The overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude that these last two gifts brought almost reduced me to tears. Words couldn’t describe how touched I was that, despite everything with Edward, the Cullens were still supporting me.

Aside from Emmett and Alices’ gifts, the other highlights included a pretty bunch of tulips from Patrick Delaney’s wife, Katie, and a ridiculously ostentatious, slightly tacky, bouquet of eye-wateringly acid pink roses from none other than Adam ‘my-precocious-junior’ Carter and friends. I had actually laughed out loud on reading the card, which had contained a quote of one of Darcy’s lines from Pride and Prejudice. It was nice to see that they had retained something from the class, no matter how inappropriately they applied their knowledge.
School had, luckily, been very understanding about the accident. When I had rung in four days ago, they had granted me a month’s sick leave almost automatically. The generosity would have shocked me, had it not been for my sneaking suspicion that they were eager to get me out of the way. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but it had really only been a week and a half since my huge, public argument with Edward at the parent/teacher conferences. With everything that had happened since- the accident had been the evening afterwards- I had all but forgotten the way he had yelled at me in a room full of my colleagues and, more damningly, parents and students. It was no wonder that the school was eager to give me time off; they were delighted at the chance to let me lie low whilst the controversy and gossip died down.

I wasn’t complaining. The unexpected time off meant I could visit Forks without fear of being fired, but I still wondered whether perhaps I should start looking for a new job. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to shake the ‘reputation’ my scenes with Edward had earned me. And even if I did, what would I do if he and I became an item again? It was all very well asking him to drop out of school, but that wouldn’t get rid of the fact Edward had been a student. My student.

Part of me wondered whether that was the last time I’d ever be able to use the word ‘my’ in relation to him.

So the days passed. Interminably, painfully, yet pass they did. And then, a week and a half after the crash, it happened. The doctors finally agreed to let me go. It appeared that my injuries, painful as they had been to obtain, were in reality fairly minor. Once I was out of the ‘danger zone’ and of sufficient strength to walk around on my own, there wasn’t a lot the doctors could do for me.

“There’s no cure for broken ribs,” Carlisle had told me. It was the day before my release and he had stopped by my room to give me the news of the medical staff’s decision. “You just need plenty of good quality rest in order to give your body time to heal.”

We were sitting together on the chairs in my room. I had to exert a severe amount of control on myself in order to stop myself from jumping for joy at his words. It was morning and one of the nurses had drawn the blinds, filling the room with dull, cloud-strangled light.

“So that’s it? I can go?” I almost didn’t want to believe it- it seemed too good to be true.

Carlisle nodded, amused at my obvious delight. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can go back to normal straight away. You need to rest. That means little physical activity, other than walking, and absolutely NO riding motorcycles.”

I shuddered at his words. He didn’t need to worry about that- I doubted I’d ever get on a bike again. There was one thing, however, that I really wanted to know. “Can I fly?”

He smiled slightly. “That would be an inadvisable thing to attempt even in full health, Bella.”

I rolled my eyes “You know what I mean.”

The smile faded and he looked at me seriously. “There’s no medical reason why you can’t board an aircraft, as long as you spend as much time sitting down as possible. I’d recommend getting a wheelchair to move through the terminal.”

I could sense a proviso in his tone. “But?”

Carlisle sighed. “But on a more personal level, I’m not sure whether speeding off to Forks the minute you’re discharged is the most sensible idea.”

He must have detected my skepticism on my face, because he hastened to continue. “I say this not as Edward’s father, Bella, but as your friend. What happens between you two is your business, and I’m not in the position to tell you what you can and can’t do. As a matter of fact, I think it’s better that you’ve given yourselves time apart to think and cool down. To use a cliché: Rome wasn’t built in a day. It would be ludicrous to expect everything to be perfect between you this soon after your fight. No, the reason I say this is because I’m not sure that you’re in the best state emotionally to go to Washington.” His eyes were full of concern as he said this. “You’ve been through so much in the past few weeks, and now you seem determined to subject yourself to some more heart-ache when you haven’t even recovered physically. I can’t help but wonder what the use of it all is, or what purpose it’ll serve in the long run. I’m worried about you.”

I didn’t know what to say. The love and concern in Carlisle’s voice had made it almost impossible for me to respond with anything even vaguely contradictory. I appreciated that he was worried about me. I could understand his reasons for it even. I had been through a lot recently; this was very soon after the accident to gallivant off to the other side of the country.

And yet there was a part of me which felt, as strongly as I had ever felt about anything, that Forks was where I needed to be now. I belonged there; as surely as my heart beat, I belonged there. I knew that whatever I was seeking- be it atonement, redemption or simply understanding of where my future was headed- could only be found in the small, sleepy town I had grown up in. If I was ever going to get over what happened to Brady, I had to see him. I had to.

But, I didn’t know how to explain this to Carlisle. I didn’t know how I could convey to him the depths of my guilt or the yearning I felt to somehow absolve it. He had heard a description of my feelings from Jasper, but no description could ever properly capture the sickening, wrenching sense of responsibility that plagued me at every turn. So I didn’t try.

“I know I’m making the right decision,” I said simply. “Thank you for being concerned; it means so much to me, really, but I can’t stay here. I have to go.” I hugged him, ignoring the way the movement caused my body to ache. “Thank you,” I repeated.

Carlisle looked at me, a look of resignation on his face. “I know I won’t be able to persuade you,” he said, finally, “but you should know, Bella, whatever you do, whatever happens in your life, you will always be a good person. You have a good heart. The only thing that remains is for you to believe it.” As he said this, he pressed something- an envelope- into my hand. “From Esme and me,” he said by way of explanation. “Think of it as a ‘get-well’ card.”

Not knowing how to reply, I simply nodded. And, after one last embrace, Carlisle left me alone. As the door shut, I found myself thinking over his words. You are a good person, he had said. But was I? How could I know?

I was still pondering this as I rose and moved slowly back to my bed. It was only when I was easing myself back onto the pillows that I remembered the card Carlisle had given me. Absentmindedly, I opened it.
It wasn’t a card at all.

It was a plane ticket. A return to Seattle.

And it had been paid for by a Mr. E. Cullen.

-----

It was raining when the plane touched down in Seattle; cold, icy rain which seemed to permeate the skin, freezing you to the bone. As I stood, shivering, outside the airport terminal, I wondered whether the weather was a bad omen.

After about half an hour, I saw an aging car pull up about ten feet away from where I stood, huddled under a shelter outside the arrivals bay. I looked over and spotted a familiar face.

"Embry," I smiled, taking a quick step forward to greet him… and then flinching at the sudden pain in my ribs and remembering what Carlisle had said about movement.

Embry flashed an uncertain smile at me. He looked tired. There were circles under his eyes and he seemed smaller than usual and somewhat diminished, as though he had withdrawn into himself. I suppose grief does that to you. I thought to myself, grimly.

"Hello Bella," he said quietly. "How's it going?" Did his voice sound different too? Or was I just imagining that- interpreting every slight inflection in the context of his sorrow?

Maybe his uncertainty was more a reaction to my appearance. I realized I must have looked a sight. My left arm was in a sling, supporting my now re-located shoulder and there were noticeable bruises on my uncovered skin and a long, deep scar peeking out of the hem of my sleeve on my right arm. I had burns on one of my cheeks and a small scar above my eyebrow. I didn’t blame Embry for being wary; I probably looked like I could collapse at any moment.

He walked forward to get my bag. Jacob had told me earlier on the phone that Embry had been delegated the task of collecting me from the airport, as he was 'the only one besides me and Sam who doesn't drive like a maniac'. It seemed that Embry was intent on carrying out this role as quickly as possible; he lifted my bag into the trunk with ease and slammed the door closed. He looked at me and I had the fleeting impression that he would have liked to physically place me in the car too, undoubtedly deciding that it would be quicker. I hastened towards the passenger door of his car, ignoring the pain it took to move, and let myself in.

By the time I had sat down, Embry was already in the driver's seat. Pulling the door shut behind him, he turned the ignition and the car sputtered into life. Our eyes met momentarily in the rearview mirror as he pulled away.

"So," he said, his eyes flicking away from mine and focusing on the car behind, "how are you feeling?"

"Oh, you know," I said shrugging, "fine. It was nothing too serious."

"Really?" Embry asked, turning his head to look at me, "You sure? From what Jacob said it sounded like you were pretty messed up by that bike."

I felt my face redden slightly. Somehow the idea of Jacob discussing my injuries with the rest of the pack made me feel ashamed- as though I had no right to be hurt when Brady's condition was so serious in comparison. "Jacob likes to exaggerate," was all I said.

"I dunno," Embry said, glancing over at me and looking me up and down "you look pretty bad, if you don’t mind my saying.” His eyes flicked from the scar on my right arm to the sling on my left. “And you've got a couple of broken ribs, right?" I nodded and he let out a low whistle. "That's pretty hardcore, Bella. I'm impressed you got on a plane." In those words I could feel some of the awkward stiffness that had gripped our initial meeting begin to melt away, replaced by the familiarity I was used to.

"I had to be here," I replied. "I couldn't stay in Rochester."

Embry nodded. "True."

We continued in silence for a few moments as he turned off the slip-road onto the highway that would take us to Forks. The only sounds were that of the rain against his windscreen and the hiss of the spray from the cars zooming past us.

"How is he?" I finally said. I was anxious as I said it, my heart rate speeding up a notch.

Embry didn't look at me this time; he kept his eyes fixed on the road. "No different. Still comatose; still unreceptive; still unlikely to recover."

My stomach dropped. It was stupid; it's not like I expected the response to be positive. "I'm sorry," I said.

Embry's brow furrowed. "Why are you apologizing?"

The question confused me. "Because of what you must all be going through," I said, "it must be so hard-"

Embry shook his head. "Bella, what we're going through is the same thing as you. It's just as bad for you as it is us. There's no need to apologize to anybody; we all know that you're just as cut up about this as any of the pack. I mean, you broke out of hospital just to be here.” He flashed another half smile at me, his brown eyes meeting mine in the mirror. “That’s dedication.”

I couldn’t conjure the strength within me to smile back. I was worried that my lips would tremble, giving my emotional weakness away. Embry must have recognized this, for his grin faded, replaced with an expression that was somewhere between worried and frustrated.

“I’m telling you, Bella, you need to stop thinking this was your fault.” He spoke with an emphatic tone that was uncharacteristic- Embry was usually the quiet, understanding one. It was more like Quil or Paul to make assertive statements. “Nobody blames you; everybody understands how bad you feel about what happened. Your guilt isn’t going to make it better. Do you understand that?”

"Yeah," I lied. It was easier than contradicting him.

Embry muttered something under his breath and I knew he was unconvinced. I pretended I hadn't heard him. I looked down at my feet. I could feel Embry’s eyes flicking to my face- feel his unspoken words hanging between us in the confined space of the car, expanding like small yet suffocating bubbles. I suddenly became very aware of how loud our silence was, punctuated by the sound of our breathing, the wipers and the rain hammering down on the windscreen outside.

After a couple of minutes, Embry let out a low frustrated sigh. He stabbed his fist at the controls on his radio, and music filled the car. He hummed along quietly as we drove, and I was left to wonder whether I’d ever see myself as everybody else did- guiltless.

-----

It was about five thirty by the time we pulled up at Forks Hospital. Embry hadn't suggested stopping by Charlie's house first, and I hadn't prompted him. I wanted to see Brady. I couldn't think of anything else. I was sure, somehow, that seeing him would make anything better. Afterwards, I would wonder how on earth I could have been so naive, because it didn't make anything better- not a single thing. Once I had greeted the other members of the pack and followed Jacob into the ward, I realized how stupid I'd been. How could I have thought that a plane flight would solve all my problems? How could I have secretly hoped, deep down, that coming home would somehow provide a miracle cure? The sight of Brady lying in the bed, comatose and inert, practically corpse-like in his pale thinness rid me of all the illusions I had tried so hard to believe in. They shattered like glass around me as I tried my very best not to cry.

And I knew, in that moment, that there was no way out this time. There would be nobody to come in and save the day; nobody to fight off the enemy or slam into it, knocking it off course because unlike a vampire or a speeding truck, this adversary was truly unstoppable.

I couldn't bear it; I couldn't function.

But I had to. Maybe, in a way, this was my punishment.

Because no matter what anybody said or did, one fact remained; death was coming for Brady.

-----

In the end, I guess you could say it was ironic, really, the way it actually happened.

-----

It was four weeks after I arrived in Forks, as February had just begun to thaw into March, and I was standing in the bakery aisle of Thriftway. I was with Carole, whose stomach had begun to noticeably swell. We’d gone out to the store in order to grab some provisions for the pack (or ‘boys’ as she endearingly referred to them) who were all still taking turns to stand vigil by Brady’s bedside. As we threw enough food to feed an entire football team for two weeks- but would, in reality, only last the pack a couple of days- into our carts, I was suggesting names to Carole.

“Abby?”

“My aunt’s called Abby,” she replied. “Don’t like her.” She grimaced and I laughed. There was something about this woman; even when it seemed like everything in the world was going wrong, she could make me smile. I continually marveled at how Jacob had managed to find such a perfect match for him; they were both sunnier than Arizona in August.

“Rachel?”

Carole shook her head. “We can’t have two Rachels in the family, it’ll get confusing. How about Emily?”

I wrinkled my nose, instantly reminded of Emily DeMarco from my 12th grade english class- the same Emily who had interrupted my ‘moment’ with Edward all those weeks ago. I couldn’t use that as an excuse, however, so I hastily found another. “You see Emily Uley just as much as Rachel,” I reminded her, “so it’d be equally confusing.”

“Yeah, but I like Emily Uley,” Carole quipped. I gasped in mock horror and she giggled. “You know I’m joking. I love my sisters-in-law.” She motioned at the loaves of bread to my left. I leaned over, grabbing four, pleased at the way I didn’t feel any pain.

By that time I had, for the best part, recovered from my injuries, save for the occasional twinge from my ribs and pain in my arm. The sling was becoming more of a habit than a necessity and although my bruises had yet to completely fade and I still had to regularly apply ointment to my burns, there was nothing particularly the matter with me. I was well enough, at least, for Jacob to have no qualms about letting me go out on errands with his pregnant wife.

“How about John, if one of them is a boy?” Carole suggested, as we turned onto the soft drinks aisle.

I considered the name. “I like John,” I nodded, reaching out to pick up a bottle of Cola. “It’s, you know, classic. Can’t go wrong with John.”

“You think? You don’t think it’s too ‘aging-academic-with-a-widening-middle-spread’?”

I snorted, almost choking on my gum. Carole started to giggle too, and pretty soon the aisle was full of the sound of our laughter.

And then, all of a sudden, Carole’s phone rang and everything changed.

I immediately froze, my hand suspended in mid air, holding the bottle by the neck. I watched, barely breathing, as Carole immediately darted for her bag, producing her cell phone in a matter of seconds.

“Hello?” she said, breathlessly. The expression on her face was suddenly worried, the ghost of our shared hilarity quickly dying from her eyes.

The condensation from the Cola bottle in my hand was dripping in rivulets over my palm, but I ignored it, all my attention focused on Carole’s face, waiting for the sign that would tell me the news. The atmosphere around us had suddenly changed completely. Gone was the easy humor, gone the comfortable friendliness. They had been replaced by cold, sharp dread.

Ever since I had gotten to Forks the ritual had been the same. Anytime that I wasn’t at the hospital, no matter where I was or who I happened to be with at the time, the sound of a phone ringing would spark the same reaction. Time would stop and everyone would pause, waiting for whoever had answered the call to shake his head or offer some signal that told us ‘no, not this time’. It had gotten to the point where none of us could even hear a phone ring without feeling physically sick. I doubted I would ever forget how Paul had threatened to murder the unfortunate telesales guy who had called three days before, beginning his pitch with the ill-fated words: ‘bad news… you could be paying too much for your insurance!’. The threat of it being that moment was ever-present and despite brief respites of amusement like the one Carole and I had just enjoyed, we were almost always on our guard.

So I stood in silence in the aisle, waiting for Carole to signal that it was just another false alarm. I convinced myself that the reassurance would come, that it had to, and tried to ignore the feeling of hysteria I felt rising in my throat. In an attempt to act calm, I began shakily loading bottles into the cart in front of me.

But then I heard her curse.

And, just like that, all my pretences crumbled into dust.

I heard Carole promise that we’d be there right away. I heard the beep as she closed the phone and the sound of her voice trembling as she spoke to me.

“Bella,” she began. And it was then, as I looked into her green eyes that were brimming with apprehension and emotion that I knew. I knew that this wasn’t just another false alarm.

I felt the Cola fall from my hands, crashing onto the floor and exploding in a fizzy jet all over the floor, but the noise of it fizzing and bubbling wasn’t enough to block out Carole’s words- her verdict.

“It’s Brady, Bella. He’s… dead.”

-----

Like I said, ironic.

I'd been terrified that, when Brady died, I would be on the other side of the country, trapped inside a hospital bed.

And then it quietly happened on a mild, unassuming afternoon while I was ten miles away buying Coca Cola.

-----

Later, they would tell me he hadn't felt any pain. Jacob would assure us, through tear-filled eyes that Brady had passed quietly and gently, simply fading away. There was grief- of course there was- but, astonishingly to me, the pack seemed to agree that it was the best thing that could have happened; that it provided closure and freedom and that Brady was in a better place. They consoled each other through their sorrow, crying and embracing as though contact could help expel the poison. There was even a hint of a smile on some of their lips. He's free now; he can't be hurt anymore. Everybody seemed to agree that things could only improve from here.

Everybody but me

I didn't feel free. I didn't feel anything, but guilt and pain and sorrow. It wasn't until past midnight, when the cleaners practically threw me out of the ward, that I made it home to Charlie's house, where I found my father sitting in the living room, bleary eyes fixed on some old re-run sitcom on TV. When I entered he looked up at me and started to his feet.

"Bella…"

I didn't reply.

"I heard the news. Billy called."

Again no reply.

"You okay?"

I shook my head, unable to find my voice. I was shaking, my throat tight, and tears were already creeping from my eyes, blurring my vision.

"Oh, Bells." Charlie crossed the room at took me in his arms. "Oh, honey, it'll be okay."

And then he said the words which I had been dreading. "At least he's at peace now."

I felt my heart crack, and I began to cry in earnest.

Because something inside of me couldn't help but respond: 'But what about me?'

Brady might have been at peace, but I, Bella Swan, most definitely was not. I had come to Forks seeking some kind of redemption, yet all it had given me was more sorrow.

I was haunted by ghosts, called to by unexplained voices, tormented by echoes. I wanted an escape; I wanted out.

Outside, on the breath of the wind, I heard a wolf howl.