Thanks to the usuals, ShearEnvy, bashfulfan, roglows and livie79. Love you all!
I also don't hear from Edward, and the radio silence from him is worse. It might mean he changed his mind about being friends. It means something… I know that much.
A few days pass and the one-year anniversary of Ben's death arrives. It's not that I didn't know it was coming, but the weight of it catches me off guard. I was moving forward. I was making amends and feeling all the things I think I'm supposed to feel. But today is on pause. There's nothing. No sound. No light. Nothing to say.
I'm up before my parents. I'm up before the birds start to chirp, not doing anything but sitting in bed, staring at the blank wall across from me in the dark. I still haven't hung up any pictures. They're in a box in my closet that I haven't opened since we moved.
Today isn't the day for that, though.
It's Saturday, which feels wrong. It should be a shittier day...a Tuesday or something. My parents want to go to the cemetery and I know I'll go along but I would rather do anything else. I hate that he's underground, even though he was cremated. I would have scattered his ashes if anyone would have asked me, but no one did.
I sit there, still, until the sun comes up. I listen to my parents walk down the stairs. I smell coffee and one of them turns on the shower. I don't move.
Finally, my mom opens my bedroom door.
Her eyes are red and her skin is already blotchy from crying. She doesn't say anything, though. She just stands there, as lost as I am today.
My eyes start to ache and I want so badly to be strong so my mom won't have to deal with my pain on top of her own but I'm not strong. I bring my knees up and rest my head on them, tears sliding down my legs.
"Baby." She sits with me and I try to cry silently but can't.
It's the only sound in the whole house.
I wear sunglasses and a black dress. It feels rehearsed somehow, the three of us standing here in a row. If Ben were here he would say he was bored. He would try to do a handstand on a headstone and my dad would yell at him.
Instead we just stare at the slab of marble and try to pretend there is some significance to this, when really, I feel more connected to my brother when I'm laughing with Alice or walking barefoot on the beach. I'm not sure he's here more than anywhere else.
I stare at the grass that's grown over the patch of dirt that was visible last time we were here. It's the saddest thing.
I turn and walk away.
I'm leaning against the car door when I spot Edward. He's in his SUV, parked across the lot. He's got his head down and he doesn't see me until I knock on the glass next to him. His head jerks up and he glances at me, wiping the tears off of his cheeks before he rolls down the window.
Neither of us say anything. We don't even look at each other. I don't want to see him cry and I'm sure he doesn't want me to.
"You want to get out of here?" he asks.
I look at my parents, still standing with their backs to us. My dad has his arm around my mom's waist. It's too far to yell. They might be there for a while anyway. I find a receipt in my purse and write them a note that I tuck under the windshield wiper of our car.
Left with Edward. Be home later. I love you.
When I climb into the passenger seat he smiles at me from behind sunglasses. I take a deep breath, smelling the cologne he keeps in the glove box. He still drives the same way, leaning back and to the side like a rapper in a video. Ben used to do that, too.
He doesn't tell me where we're going and I don't ask. He just drives, taking the curves just a little too fast on the cemetery roads.
Closing my eyes and leaning my head back, I finally see my brother. He's in the open windows and sunshine. He's in the squeal of Edward's tires as we turn onto the main road and in the charge of the engine when he speeds up to make a yellow light.
I look at Edward and he glances at me a few times, trying to keep his eyes on the road.
"I missed you," I say. I'm not even sure if I mean the last few days or the last year or what, but it doesn't matter.
He hesitates, but I don't mind. I know he'll say it. No matter what has happened between us, I know it's true.
"I missed you, too."
We smoke a joint while pulled over on a side street and then he buys me a hot fudge sundae at Dairy Queen. We sit at a table outside that has an umbrella. I take a bite right before he decides to start talking.
"Angela and I broke up." His cherry slushie turned his tongue bright red.
My heart thumps. "I'm sorry," I say, through a mouthful of ice cream.
Swallowing, I try to figure out what to say. Everything is going to sound insincere, because it kind of is. I wipe the corner of my mouth with my napkin. "I mean...I'm sorry."
"Really?" he asks.
I try to keep my expression neutral but I doubt I'm successful. "No."
I expect him to explain what happened, but he doesn't. It's probably for the best, but my mind catches on that gap in my knowledge just the same.
"I feel like we should do something," he says.
He shrugs, but after a few seconds he gets up and walks to the payphone at the edge of the parking lot. The conversation he has is brief and he walks back pulling his hat down with both hands, his face hidden until he sits. He chooses his words carefully.
"Sometimes Ben, Jas and I used to go up to my roof and hit golf balls."
I remember hearing about that. They broke a window in Edward's pool house once.
"Jas is going to try to get Rose to come over."
"Does she know I'm with you?"
"Yeah, she knows."
"And we're going to hit golf balls off the roof?"
He gives me a half-smile.
"Because I have really, really bad aim."
His grin widens. "I remember that."
"Shut up." I don't mean it, though.
We throw out our cups and get back in his truck. He puts on a song that has no significance to me but when it's over he plays it again. I wonder what made this song special, but it's no more my business than my memories are his, so I don't ask.
His house looks the same. He leads me into the kitchen and grabs a few beers, leading me up to the third floor, then to a ladder that leads up through the roof. It's not what I expected. It's small and seems like it's probably made for maintenance. One side just drops off. No railing. There's a bucket of golf balls and a club propped up next to the edge.
"Are you scared of heights?" he asks. He clearly isn't. He stands with his back to the open space. He could take two steps backward and...
"I don't know. I think so." My throat feels tight and it's several minutes before my heart slows. It helps that he sits next to me in one of a few chairs lined up on one side.
By the time we hear footsteps on the ladder, I've relaxed for the most part. You can see everything from up here. Our old school...my old house. You can see the bridge and parts of the west side, too. It feels like I'm on a cloud looking down at my whole life.
Rose doesn't smile at me, but she doesn't give me that blank stare from the other day, either. She says 'hey' before she turns to Edward.
"Jas said you broke up with Angela."
I raise my eyebrows. He didn't tell me that. He just said they broke up, not that he was the one to do it.
He avoids both of our gazes and nods. Rose glances at me and gives me a hint of a smile.
I'll take it.
Jasper pulls himself up behind her. He's got a bottle in his hand, which doesn't shock me. Dropping into a chair, he sits back, pulling the cork out of the bottle and tossing it off of the roof.
"Jas," Rose starts.
"No, it's right," Edward says. "That's what we did."
"Everyone has to take a drink," Jasper says, and it's like the song in the car. I don't know the significance, but to Jasper, passing that bottle means something today.
He holds the bottle out to Edward, who takes a swig and hands it to Rose. She follows suit, staring out at the horizon, before handing it to me.
I hesitate and Jasper turns, his voice serious. "Everyone has to."
I take the drink, shuddering at the taste. He takes the bottle out of my hand and sits back again.
Rose sits on the other side of me and none of us move for a while, all four of us taking in the view. Jasper stands, grabbing the golf club. He sets the ball in a divot in the roofing. I watch him adjust his posture, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He swings back but stops before he hits the ball, adjusting his stance again.
Edward smirks. "It's like golfing with Grandpa Hale."
"Fuck you," Jasper mumbles. He doesn't go any faster, though. There's another thirty seconds of adjustment before he swings back and hits the ball.
Edward stands to watch the trajectory. "You didn't even get close, you pussy."
"By all means, show me how it's done." Jasper holds the golf club out in challenge. They exchange the club for the bottle and Edward mimics Jasper getting ready to swing.
"Prick," Jasper says, swigging off the bottle.
For a second the two of them are like they used to be and it makes my chest ache. Rose looks like she feels about the same.
I stare at her. She's wearing another cut-up band t-shirt and her hair is longer than I've ever seen it. She turns to look at me and I'm about to apologize for barging in on her the other day but she interrupts me.
"I'm sorry about the other day," she says, keeping her voice low.
"It's okay. You just feel how you feel. I get that."
"What about you?" she asks. "How do you feel?"
No one has asked me that yet today. I think about it. "It's not the worst day. It's pretty bad..." I look at Edward and then reiterate, "but it's not the worst."
She follows my gaze and half-smiles.
"Can I ask you something?" I ask.
"Don't you hate Angela?"
I don't disguise my shock well.
"If Ben were here...I would hate her guts. But he's not." She looks down. "She's just another person who loved him and lost him, like me."
I eye her. "You think she loved him?"
"We talked about it once." She pauses, her eyes seeing a different scene. "You can't fake that."
Hearing her say that makes me feel worse. The things I said to her are that much harsher if that's true. I didn't known that then, though, and I was wrapped up in a grief so deep that I could hardly breathe.
Rose touches my shoulder.
"Don't do that," she says.
"Don't beat yourself up about what you said to her. She's lucky it was you and not me. You just got to her first. And if I'm being honest, I'm happy Edward broke up with her. Them ending up together never made sense to me...but a lot of things that happened since Ben died haven't made sense to me."
Edward hits the ball and Jasper openly laughs at him, pointing at where it landed. Edward pretends to swing the club at Jasper's shin.
"Did you go the cemetery today?" she asks.
"Yeah my parents wanted me to go. But...I didn't feel any closer to him. It was just depressing."
"Right? It feels so wrong to think about him and look at a headstone like that somehow represents who he was."
I stare at her. She didn't come to the interment. I'm kind of surprised she visited his grave.
She sees the question on my face. "I went through a phase where I went every day. Then they made me start showing up to class again, so whatever. My therapist thought it was keeping me from moving on."
I laugh in the way that those who have truly lost laugh. Because moving on isn't an option until your heart decides it is and anyone who tells you different hasn't lived through that agony.
"What made you come today? I honestly didn't think you would," I ask.
She looks me over, slowly moving her gaze over my features. "I almost didn't. It sort of hurts to look at you. You look so much like him."
Jasper glances at us and looks away quickly. Edward looks at the ground. There's no privacy on this little roof, though. I know they're listening.
"Maybe that's why it was so hard when you moved, because being near you feels like being with him...just a little bit. Your laugh...even just the way you smile."
Edward nods in agreement, but doesn't look up.
"I'm sorry I just left," I say quietly. Edward doesn't respond, but he and I already did this part. Jasper meets my eyes and nods, accepting my apology.
I look at Rose, her cheeks red and eyes puffy. Mine probably look the same. She sighs. Her eyes travel over my face again and I know she's seeing him in my cheekbones, in my brown eyes.
"You're not going to try to kiss me, are you?" I ask.
She smiles, then she starts to laugh. Really laugh. The kind that is so good that it can't be contained. The kind that you think about later and it makes you smile. It's contagious and I join in, doubled over in my chair. The boys watch, grinning, and it's the lightest I've felt in a year.
We take turns hitting balls off the roof. When I accidentally hit a window on the pool house I gasp, putting a hand over my mouth, but when I turn around Rose is grinning. Edward and Jasper stand, yelling and clapping.
It turns out that was point of the game all along.
I just didn't know it.
Rose hugs me before they leave. Jasper doesn't but it would be the most awkward hug in the whole world if he did so I settle for the nod he gives me and I nod back. It feels right.
When they're gone Edward and I are left standing across the shiny marble counter from each other in his kitchen. It's quiet. If his mom is home you wouldn't know it.
The empty bottle is sitting on the counter. I didn't drink much of it.
"You're drunk," I say.
He doesn't deny it.
"I should call my parents to pick me up."
"Don't," he says. "Stay."
My stomach flips.
"We don't have to do anything," he says. "I just…"
I freeze up at the mention of 'doing' anything with him. The fact that he even thought to say it makes my heart pound in my chest. I know I'm going to say yes, but I also know I need to call my parents.
He looks up, blinking like he didn't think I would say yes. For a second he flashes me a grin that makes me doubt his honorable intentions, but it fades.
"I'm going to call them, though. I don't want them to worry."
"You can use my line," he says. He walks around the counter and waits for me to follow. I wait a beat, but I do. We walk through his big, empty house, up the theatrical staircase and down the long, thickly carpeted hallway to his room.
He lays on his bed and I stand next to it, looking down at him after I dial. My mom answers on the second ring.
"I wish you would have called earlier," she says, after I say hello. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm okay. You?"
She sounds exhausted, but she says she's alright. I ask about my dad and she says he's already asleep.
"Where are you?" she asks.
I consider lying, but it seems stupid. "I'm at Edward's. He had too much to drink so I'm going to stay over."
I put my knee up on the bed, balancing while I wind the phone cord around my wrist. He brushes my leg with the back of his hand.
There's silence on the other end of the line.
She sighs. "I'm assuming they have a guest room."
"Just this once, Bella," she says, warning in her tone.
"I love you."
"I love you, too. I'm sorry about today. I mean...I don't know what I mean. I'm just sad."
"I'm sad too, mom."
She sighs into the receiver and we say goodnight. He and I stare at each other after I hang up the phone. I reach over and switch off the light.
He makes a place for me right next to him, his arm coming around to rest on my waist. I lay my cheek on his chest and close my eyes, closer to sleep than I expected.
"What are we doing?" I ask him.
It takes him a long time to answer. My eyes drift shut. "I don't know."
"It feels good."
He smiles. I don't even have to look. I can feel it.
I think over the day. Somehow, it feels like Ben was there, hitting golf balls and drinking rum out of the bottle right along with us. Tomorrow I'll ask Edward if he felt that way, too.
I can tell when he's asleep. I listen to his heart beating, his steady breathing in and out.
Then I say my last goodnight, silently, to my brother.
I hope he hears it.
Thank you for reading!