Sunflower Fanfiction and Mari are angels.
Stripped Desire – Epilogue
"All journeys eventually end in the same place, home."
Chris Geiger. ~
"There will be a lot of important people here that night, but you shouldn't be scared, okay?" I tell the twenty-five nervous girls sitting in front of me.
They all give me unsure nods.
"But we'll practice a whole lot, right?" Leah asks with her hand in the air.
I smile at her.
"Yes. We'll practice a whole lot," I say. "Starting right now."
They squeal in delight and stand to run toward the dressing room. I stay on the floor, reading the timetable for the dance recital. We have a lot of things to do.
I look at the time just when Alice and Rose make their way inside.
"We're not late," Alice says, holding her hands up.
"Yes, you are."
"Fine. We are."
They help me off the floor and kiss my cheek before showing me what made them late. They had stopped to buy treats for the girls.
"Oh, we won't start rehearsals today, I see." I shake my head and smile, knowing how much these girls will love eating some candy.
I would love to share this moment with Edward.
The girls jump and squeal in delight in the distance. I can see them running around Alice and Rose, leotards and tutus forgotten. I search my phone and take several pictures.
I get distracted by my cell phone background for a second. My heart swells when I see the smiling faces of my loved ones around me. The people in the frame all wear proud and excited expressions on their faces, as they try to hug me all at once, while looking toward the camera.
It's been almost a year since that night, and I still can't bring myself to change the picture. It's a reminder of my accomplishment—finally being able to perform a short solo in the last recital. Most of all, it's a reminder of all the good I have in my life.
Edward and I stand in the midst of the chaos, holding onto each other, looking blissfully unaware. I can almost spot the goose bumps on my skin. Even in a still shot, my body looks as if it's ready to be pulled towards him.
We look so in love.
I miss him so much.
"Are you sad, Miss Bella?" Carmen asks, holding her lollipop close to her chest. She's the youngest of our group, but she's the most observant.
I lower myself and pinch one of her cheeks. "I'm not sad, Carmellina. I'm just thankful."
"So, how are things?" he asks. His voice tries to go for nonchalance, but he fails every time. Even after our calls have become regular occurrences.
"Things are good, Dad," I say.
"Business is good, right?"
I make a humming sound.
"And," he starts, coughs, speaks again. "And the dance stuff?"
"Perfect," I say, smiling.
At least he tries.
Ever since that intense day three years ago, my relationship with my parents has been an unknown area. First, my weekly phone conversations with Mom ended. And then my clients, one by one started to disappear. It took me awhile to recover from feeling like a failure, but I did recover, and I started over.
Edward was a big part of making me believe in myself and getting back up. He still made me work for it, never letting me become dependent on him or our love.
"How's the love life?" my father asks, as if he knows where my thoughts are going. Or maybe because it's his typical next question.
"All good," I answer.
After a minute or two of awkward silence, conversation steers into trivial things—weather, news, politics…
"Your mom says hi," he says. I know she doesn't.
I know I'm dead to her.
I know that their marriage has never been the same, ever since he asked for my forgiveness and a chance to be a part of my life.
Knowing and living with these things is hard—painful even. But I don't dwell on them. They don't hold me back anymore.
"Isabella," he says, wanting to fix everything.
"Dad," I say, reminding him that he can't.
"We'll talk soon," I say, knowing we will and still finding it strange.
"Of course. Good night."
I'm pushing pencils, canvases, and papers out of the way in search of a coat. There are also cans of paint in the way and I have to squeeze myself inside the closet. I huff in annoyance when my hair gets in the way of my eyes, making me blind for a second in the obscure and cluttered small area.
After moving a few more things out of the way, I finally reach the sleeve of my coat and pull it off the hanger. By the time I manage to get out again, I'm a sweaty, panting mess.
Looking down to my bare legs, I spot a smear of blue paint on my thigh. Then, I take inventory of the coat and find several similar stains on the back.
I'm going to kill Edward.
Before I lose my rage, I search my phone and text him a picture. He replies with the picture of an entire chocolate cake and the caption: just for you.
I smile and don't reply.
The rest of the day goes by as any other. I clean things up and organize the mess I'm allowed to touch. He hates it when I try to make some sense out of his chaos.
After I'm done with my to-do list, I take a shower and start getting ready.
"Babe?" Edward's voice comes from the hallway.
"In here," I yell, trying to tie the bow of my dress the right way. I've been failing for ten minutes.
"Oh, look at you," he says when he sees me. He drops his bags on the floor and rests his body on the doorframe, crossing his arms over his chest to stare at me.
"I know," I say, wiping locks of hair from my face. "I'll be ready soon."
He shakes his head. "No. Wait. Don't move." He drops to his knees and starts searching for something in his bag.
"Edward," I warn.
"Just a rough sketch," he says, still looking through his bag.
"We're late," I say, looking to the clock on the TV. I can't believe this is a sentence that has become common in my vocabulary.
"A photograph then," he says when he finds his camera. "I can't not frame you like this."
"So beautiful," he says, taking several photos from different angles.
"You love it," he says, snapping more pictures.
"You love me."
"I do," I say, nodding.
He holds the camera down to lock his eyes on mine.
"I love you too, you know?"
"I kind of figured it out around the third collection you made for me—with me, of me."
He starts taking more pictures while walking closer. When he reaches me, he holds me at arm's length.
"As long as I love you, my art won't ever die," he says, kissing me.
I moan, every bit as needy for him as the first day. It takes us a moment to pull away. He licks my lower lip before finally letting go.
"And if it ever comes to that," he says. "I'm sure hating you will work just as well. You move me."
"I don't have to tell you that you changed my life, right?" I ask, pulling his hair playfully. He bites my wrist before kissing the tattooed word on my skin: Freedom.
"Tell me," he says, undoing the ugly bow on my dress.
"You changed my life," I say, taking his shirt off to kiss his chest, where his new tattoo takes place. I trace the lines of the small ballerina shoes with my tongue.
He groans, burying his face in my hair.
"I just saw you," he whispers. "The rest had always been there… underneath."
Edward pushes me away to look me in the eyes.
Soon, our clothes lie on the floor while Edward makes love to me with fervor.
Our passion has never diminished.
A light from the distance reflects off our wedding bands, reminding me that this is real.
That this blinding happiness is now my life.
I am his, and he is mine.
That night we met, Edward saw something that no one else had.
He looked through me, through the facade. I blossomed under his green gaze and became a better version of myself.
He stripped me bare.
He set me free.
Thank you for reading and for everything else.
There might be a few badly written EPOVs of earlier chapters. If there are, I might post them in a few weeks. Maybe.