A/N: You guys are so great. I love all your theories and questions, and I am giddy over every review. So thank you so much. A bit of a time jump here—which will happen several times over the next few chapters, just FYI. So read on, and enjoy! :)
Bella flipped the cover back on her notebook and clicked to dispense her lead. Ignoring the soft music being piped over the speakers in the corners, she tucked her head into her chest and closed her eyes, letting her memories wash over her.
Messy reddish-brown hair, almost the color of a new penny. Thick eyebrows over worried eyes. A nose, not too big or too small, but with just the right amount of a bump to make it imperfectly perfect. Full lips set in a frown. Strong, square jaw.
She pulled lower lip between her teeth and began to sketch. It wasn't hard for Bella to capture the image from her memories. She had a notebook full of them already—some in color, some in pencil, some in charcoal...but all of Edward. It was the one thing that kept her from going crazy, from letting the other memories of that day drag her into the abyss of depression.
Deep in concentration, Bella startled when a hand landed on her shoulder.
"Bella?" the receptionist said, and when Bella looked up, the woman looked concerned. "Are you all right? I've called your name three times, hon."
Bella felt her cheeks heat and quickly closed her notebook. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I...kind of lose track of where I am when I'm drawing."
The woman chuckled. "Better that than the video games and cell phones my kids are glued to." She shook her head, smiling when Bella did. "Anyway, Dr. Phelps is ready for you."
Bella clipped the pencil back to the notebook and stood. She followed behind the receptionist, who continued on to the front desk, leaving Bella to cross the rest of the waiting area for the open office door. She'd been seeing the psychologist for three months and knew the routine well after all that time.
"Bella," Linda greeted, smiling warmly. The pretty redhead, about Bella's mother's age, stood from behind her desk. She was a thin woman, with a smattering of freckles and an easy smile, and Bella had liked her instantly.
"Hi." Bella smiled shyly and sat down on the loveseat against the far wall of the small room.
As soon as she was settled, Linda sat in the chair across from her. "How was your week?"
Bella shrugged, fiddling with the notebook's metal spiral binding. "Okay." When Linda didn't say anything, Bella added, "The nightmares are still happening. I had one Tuesday night..." She shook her head, biting her lip.
Linda frowned, nodding. "Can you tell me about it?"
For a moment, Bella felt herself drift as darkness threatened to overwhelm her. Memories assaulted her, and she gripped the edge of the cushion as she began to tell the doctor about the nightmare.
"It always starts the same: I'm falling into darkness. Sometimes I can pull myself awake before it goes any further." Bella huffed a breath. "Not Tuesday..."
Darkness engulfed Bella so intense that it felt like it was crushing the life out of her. She tried to scream, but it was quickly swallowed by the dark. She was falling...falling...until she wasn't. She landed with a loud crash on something hard, and pain shot through her. When she opened her mouth to scream, nothing came out. All around her, she could hear others as they called out for help, begging someone to help them.
She recognized Sarah's voice, and then Ashley's, as they screamed in pain, calling for someone to find them. Bella tried to move, to get to them, but she couldn't. She was trapped, unable to move or speak, as her friends' cries got softer and softer, until finally, they quieted altogether. She screamed in her mind for them to wake up, to tell her they were okay, but got no reply.
Then she heard it...the groaning of concrete and metal as it gave way. Just before the debris crushed her, Bella woke up screaming, sweat drenching her night clothes and sheets.
"My mom came running into my room just a few seconds later," Bella said to finish the story. "She changed my sheets while I changed clothes, but I couldn't get back to sleep."
"Does that happen every time?" Linda asked. "Not being able to get back to sleep, I mean."
Bella shook her head.
Linda nodded and glanced down at the notepad in her lap. "And how are your days? Have you had any more panic attacks?"
"They're better." Bella flexed her fingers around her notebook, to assure herself that it was still there. "I'm not having nearly as many panic attacks as I was. When I start to panic, I think of my angel, Edward, and his voice telling me to breathe, like he did when I was trapped."
Frowning, Linda said, "Bella, we've been through this."
Knowing what was coming, Bella steeled her resolve.
"Edward isn't real," Linda continued. "Your mind made him up to help you cope—and that's okay. It was a hard time for you, physically and emotionally."
Bella knew there was no point in arguing. Linda hadn't believed her the first time Bella had told her about Edward, and she knew that nothing she said would sway the doctor. Instead of commenting, she just picked at the corner of the notebook.
"I see you're still drawing," Linda prompted. "Is it helping?"
"It is," Bella answered, trying to find words to explain why. "It..." She shrugged. "It helps."
Linda smiled. "Good. Now, let's talk about how things are going at school. Are you feeling any better about it?"
Bella fidgeted in her seat as she thought of how to answer. "I hate being there. I'm still the new girl, and I'm...here, but Sarah and Ashley, who were friends with most everyone at school since kindergarten, aren't. I know they hate me because of that."
"Has anyone said that?"
Shaking her head, Bella answered, "No, but I know they're thinking it."
"As we talked about last time, survivor's guilt is common for people who've directly lived through a trauma like you did. You need to remember that you were injured—badly—and nearly died yourself. I know you don't have casts on anymore, but you're still dealing with some breathing issues, and your leg still aches sometimes, right?"
At Bella's nod, the doctor continued. "Yes, compared to Sarah and Ashley, you were lucky." When Bella started to protest, the doctor silenced her with a look. "You were lucky, Bella. Had rescuers not found you when they did, you would've died."
"Edward..." Bella's voice trailed off when the doctor raised an eyebrow.
"Time's just about up, Bella. Remember, it's only been three months, so be patient, okay? You're getting better. You'll continue to get better, and eventually, you'll realize the truth: You're strong enough to face this without leaning on a made-up memory."
He's not made-up, Bella thought, but she kept her mouth shut, aside from telling Linda goodbye.
It took her only minutes to set up her next appointment with the receptionist, and on her way down the hall to meet her mom in the lobby, Bella thought once more about Edward.
He's real. Linda is wrong. Everyone's wrong. The connection I felt to him, how safe he made me feel... It was real, and I know it.
She clutched her notebook tight against her chest and stepped into the lobby, sighing when she spotted her mom. Ever since that day in September, she felt anxious in public buildings, especially without her mother by her side. Like everything but the nightmares, it had been getting better, but therapy days made everything worse, including the panic attacks.
Her mom smiled and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "How'd it go?"
"Fine." Bella didn't say anything more, even though she knew her mom wanted more details than fine.
Frowning, her mom sighed. "Let's go home."
Bella felt the tightness in her chest ease a bit as they walked through the door and out into the cold winter's day.
Edward flipped slowly through the pages of his notebook, looking at the images he'd drawn of Bella's face. His mate. Even after three months, the thought of her still sent a pang through his chest. He never would've thought he could feel the way he was about a human—and a fifteen-year-old girl at that. He'd worried about that part until he'd spoken to Carmen, who'd asked him a simple question:
"What are your feelings about the girl?"
Edward sighed. "I love her."
Shaking her head, his friend said, "Explain further."
"The moment I looked in her eyes, I knew I would do anything to protect her, like she became my whole world."
Carmen nodded. "And if I said you had to kiss her today?"
This time, Edward grimaced. "I can't, Carmen. She's just...she's just a young girl."
Smiling, Carmen patted his cheek. "There you go, Edward. You love her, yes, but not in a sexual way. Don't you see? If you'd met her a few years from now, sure. Could it grow into that if you were together now? Sure. But for now, you as her mate mean you want to keep her safe—which is what you did. She's home with her parents, alive and healthy, and that's because of you. You did what a mate is supposed to do. Don't worry so much."
Carmen had been right about Bella. She was alive and healthy—he'd asked Carlisle to keep an eye on her until she was released from the hospital, and he had. So Edward knew Bella was where she was supposed to be, and that thought comforted him...at least a little.
But he was still without his mate. Every part of his being itched to go to her. His instincts were screaming at him that only he could protect her like she needed. But his mind was at war with itself, because while he wanted to go to her, he also knew that she was better off if he stayed far, far away from her. His world was not one that she belonged in. As much as he wanted her by his side, he would not be the one responsible for taking her humanity and everything that went with it.
Edward looked at the last picture he'd drawn and saw everything he remembered reflected back at him: cute little up-turned nose; cupid's bow upper lip; eyes—deep brown pools in real life—filled with fear and pain... He suddenly knew what he wanted—needed—to draw.
He grasped his pencil lightly and made quick work of the shape of Bella's face, slightly full with youth, with high cheekbones. He added her lips, upturned into the smile she'd graced him with a few times during their hours together. Instead of the scared, hurting eyes he'd drawn for the last three months, he thought of her when she'd smiled through the pain, how there'd been a light there that was missing when she wasn't smiling. He wanted to capture that fleeting expression to remind himself that she was more than the fear and hurt in all his previous images.
When he finally set his pencil down, he took in the drawing, his eyes flitting over every part of it. Bella was smiling, and her eyes... He'd captured them exact to his memories. She looked happy, alive...as if she knew she had a future to look forward to, a family.
He thought of the picture he'd drawn on Bella's cast. His Little Bird, so fragile, yet not. Thanks to the many nights he'd had without sleeping, Edward had known the perfect bird to draw. Swallows meant protection, warmth...home. Everything he wanted for Bella. If he had his way, he'd have that tattooed on his body as a constant reminder of his mate.
For a moment, he wondered if that were possible. He knew regular needles wouldn't work—they wouldn't pierce his marble skin. He'd heard of vampires in Europe experimenting with things like titanium needles and the like, but he hadn't heard about the outcome of those. Maybe he could try that with some ven—
His phone rang before he could finish his thought.
"It won't work, Edward," she said before he could even say hello.
"The titanium needle. You would heal before any venom had a chance to work."
Deflated, Edward nodded, even though she couldn't see him. "Okay. Thanks, Alice." He started to hang up the phone, but Alice's voice stopped him.
"Wait, Edward," she rushed to say.
"I'm sending you a text with a phone number."
Again, he waited, and she continued, as he'd known she would.
"It's a handheld laser that will be strong enough to sear the skin, like a brand."
Edward immediately began picturing himself firing a laser at his chest, above his heart.
Alice gasped. "Water. You'll need to use plenty of water...and go low and slow."
He chuckled wryly. "I guess I don't need to ask what'll happen if I don't?"
Alice hummed. "Probably not."
"Thanks, Ali." He waited until his sister replied before clicking off the call and swiping to open her text message and immediately dialing the number.
Edward hissed, clenching his jaw so tightly that he was afraid he might shatter his teeth, and slapped a handful of snow to his chest to stop the burning before running a venom and ink-covered finger across the scarred skin to give it color. The metal-based ink helped keep the venom from dissolving it like it would have regular ink.
"Not much more," Garrett said, sounding amused. Better him than me, he thought, smirking when Edward's eyes rose to meet his.
"Just get on it," he growled at the other man. He liked Garrett, despite the man's snarky attitude, and was thankful when he'd volunteered to help.
A few minutes later, Garrett set the laser down as Edward slapped another handful of snow to his chest and ran his finger through the mixture and across the line on his skin one last time.
"How's it feel?"
"Like I threw myself in the fire." Edward gritted his teeth as the burning feeling slowly eased. "Better."
Garrett reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small make-up compact. "Borrowed this from Kate." You can either use it to powder that pale face or check out my handiwork. Your choice.
Edward took the mirror with a roll of his eyes—Garrett reminded him so much of Emmett, which made him want to smile—and popped it open, lowering until he could see the entire thing.
Garrett had done a phenomenal job copying the image Edward had drawn out for him. The small swallow looked like it was floating in the wind, its wings spread. The image had been burned into his skin. Edward's venom mixed with the ink gave it some color and had helped seal it all up, leaving a scar that looked like a cross between a tattoo and a vampire's bite.
It was exactly what Edward had wanted. His Little Bird flying free, without a care in the world.
A/N: So time is moving on. Bella's in counseling, but she's still adamant about Edward being real, and she can't stop drawing him. Edward... *sigh* The tattoo... I couldn't NOT do it somehow. Mimi Holmes helped me come up with the laser idea. To see a manip that Bethany did of Edward's tattoo, check out my site (link is on my profile), Facebook, or Twitter.
Don't forget to check out drotuno's Masen Manor. It's brilliant, with an Edward you'll want to climb like a tree. ;)
Next update for ALitD is next Wednesday, so please, leave me a review and let me know what you thought! I love each and every word of them! Mwah! – Jenny