Title: One More Christmas
Summary: Conceding defeat was never in Bella's plans, but things change during the fight for your life. She's counting down the days but has one last wish, which Dr. Pretty Eyes plans to fulfill. With a little of his Christmas magic, Bella may just find a reason to fight again.
Pairing: Edward and Bella
Word count: 10,976
. . . . .
Dying isn't easy.
I mean, it is. It's not like you have to really do anything physically, but the mental part? Hard. The not easy part. That's the part that tears you into pieces and chips away at your soul and actually makes the physical part easy because you lose the will to live and whatnot. It basically fucking sucks.
Like, a lot.
It's not easy and it feels like it takes forever, but not forever. The days pass quickly as if the little minute hand is on speed. Your clock is running down and it's counting down to zero fast. There's not enough time to do everything you've ever dreamed of, so . . . once you've done all you can, it suddenly feels like the clock has slowed down. The minute hand is now toking on a blunt and relaxing, letting you live out those last days in misery and pain.
It's been over a week since I was admitted this time.
Two weeks ago, a week went by in a blur, but not anymore. My days strapped to a bed on oxygen and monitors now seem longer. I'm waiting for that inevitable moment to take my last breath. I'm waiting for every test result to tell my doctor it's time to stop fighting a losing battle. I'd tell him that, but he has these beautiful green eyes that are so full of hope. It seems a shame to crush that hope.
If you asked him, he'd tell you I wasn't dying. He'd tell you I'm still fighting and with the right treatment, I could have more time. He'd tell you that because it's what he believes — or maybe because it's what he wants me to believe. He's a stubborn fella. He has that upbeat attitude still because he's young and still wants to save the world. The other doctors, though? The old ones who have seen people like me more times than they care to count? They'd tell you I was dying. They'd say that and then walk away like nothing happened.
They've done it before. A lot. They're a little jaded and kind of like sore losers who've lost this battle too many times, so they don't even try anymore. Of course they try — pretty sure they're legally obligated to — but they'd see the signs Dr. Pretty Eyes looks past.
They'd see I'm done fighting, but too scared to tell them to stop. I'd get a new doctor like that, but . . . I enjoy looking at and talking to Pretty Eyes too much. I might be dying, but I'm not dead yet.
And I still have a vagina, you know.
"Good morning, Bella."
I look up from the book I've been reading since four a.m. when I gave up sleeping, and he's in my room. He's walking to my window and opening the curtains.
I muster up a little smile as I close the book. "Morning, Dr. Cullen."
He looks back at me, showing off his pretty white teeth with a smile before sitting down next to my bed. He's got his tablet in his hands, which means new test results and he reads them to me. He tells me the actual numbers because he knows I want them. His smile is unwavering, even though the numbers suck. It's not like they've gotten worse, but . . . sucking is sucking, no matter how long they've sucked for.
"I want a Christmas tree," I say, looking at the blank space on the window seal. "One of those table ones, so what? Two feet? Three? And white and red balls with green lights. Oh, and that incredibly, gets-everywhere-and-spreads-like-herpes, sparkly garland. I mean, I want to be covered in sparkles before I've even wrapped it around the little tree twice."
He nods with a chuckle. "Little Christmas tree, white and red balls — those sparkly too, I'm assuming — and STI-like garland."
"And green lights."
"And green lights," he agrees. "I think that's manageable. Might be against protocol, but screw that. I'll get you a tree."
An actual smile curls on my dry, cracked lips. "What kind of topper?"
"What do you like? Angel or star?"
"We always had an angel when I was younger. It was my grandmother's, I think. God, it was old as hell, but . . . Dad and I always put it up. We'd break balls and replace them, lights would be tangled so we'd get new ones, and our ornaments were candy canes so different each year, but the angel remained the same. Every Christmas we'd pull it from a box and Dad would just look at it with a smile — some childhood memory like I'm experiencing now, I'm sure. I wish I had that angel."
"Do you know where it is?"
I shook my head. "I sold it at a garage sale before I sold our house. It hurt to even look at, so I didn't want it, but now I do. It was just homemade, like with a doily and wire wings. I probably have a picture of it on my iPad."
He reaches to my end table and his pristinely white lab coat shifts as he stretches. I can't see anything under the blue shirt, but I can imagine. It's all I kind of have left. I imagine my doctor naked. My nice, tree-buying, book-getting, grease-sneaking-in doctor. I mean, of course I do, because who wouldn't? He's a very fine specimen of a man.
Tall and lean with big, beautiful hands, but not monstrously big — big as in, on your hips, pulling you against him with just enough strength. His hair is almost red, but more bronze-ish and he has just the right amount of scruff. He must have perfected that level of scruff, so it should be named after him. The Edward Cullen scruff. It tickles, but isn't short enough to scratch.
He's just handsome.
Like, I may be dying but God blessed me with him as a little, "sorry about the cancer killing you, but look at this while it does," gift. He's a nice parting gift before leaving this world.
"Find that angel," he says, passing me my iPad.
I go into my pictures and search. I'd scanned them all before packing up my things to be donated and thrown away. I'm not sure why I thought of doing it, but something told me I needed to, and I'm glad I did. This taking forever, but not forever, dying has left me with some time on my hands, so reliving my childhood is nice. I'm sure I'll see my dad soon, but until that inevitable day, I could see him now in pictures.
"Ah, here you go," I say, zooming in on the screen for the angel atop our tree before passing it to him.
He looks it over, studying every detail before doing something. He's typing and I'm curious, but being tethered to a bed by tubing in my nose makes it hard to snoop. I need a longer leash, but I'll ask him for that tomorrow — if tomorrow comes.
I think it will.
I'm not entirely sure how close I am to death, but I think I've got another couple days in me. I kind of hope I do because I want one last Christmas. I'm totally okay with December twenty-sixth being my date of death. It seems like a good day to go, so I need to live another eight days.
"Do you think I have eight more days left?" I ask, tilting my head in curiosity. "Seriously. Don't say you can have weeks or blah blah blah. Be realistic."
The smile fades as he sighs. "I think so. I hope so. From your test results I'd say so, but . . . things can change fast — realistically. Now, hopefully this round of treatment does what we want it to and gives you more time. The infection makes things difficult, but I've seen you fight off worse. If anyone can make it eight more days, it's you. You want another Christmas."
I look past him to the cloudy Chicago sky and nod. "I want more snow, too. I want a white Christmas and on Christmas Eve, I'd like to go out and let the snowflakes fall on my cheeks. Then I can die. Christmas and snow I need to hold on for."
"You can barely get out of bed to use the restroom, Bella," he says sadly. "Going outside . . . it might not happen right now."
"Well, I'll cross my afternoon jog off my schedule today, but I'm leaving the snowflakes on for Christmas Eve."
The conviction in my voice surprises even me. I've done the jumping out of a plane, the seeing London, the watching a sunrise on a beach, and watching a sunset on another beach, and now I want this, too. I'm greedy, I guess. If you can call a twenty-three year old greedy for wanting to live another week.
"Okay," he says as the smile returns. He lays my iPad back down and then pats my knee as he repeats, "Okay."
"O-kay," I tease.
"I see that," he says. "You've got a little glimmer of living on your face. Be careful or I might just think the antidepressants and counseling are helping."
He wags his finger with a smirk. "They might be."
"Nope. I've given up the will to live. This," I wave my hand over my face, "is just me wanting another Christmas. I'll probably die just after midnight."
"I'm working that night, so don't even try it."
"Don't you have other patients to annoy with hopefulness? Trying to die in peace, Dr. Cullen."
"For the thousandth time, it's Edward. The dying get the privilege of calling me by my first name. And yes, I do have other patients to take care of, but first you get to endure my torturous exam."
He pulls his stethoscope from his pocket and I groan. It's a fake groan. I actually like it when he touches me because he has warm hands and he rubs the end of the stethoscope between them. It's not all about the hands, though. I like when he's close. I'd like him to be close under different circumstances, but I take what I can get.
The pretty doctor smells good, okay?
. . . . .
My days are pretty boring. I sleep, read, watch TV, have poison pumped into my body, and eat what I can. Sometimes I have tests, but not today. The highlight of my day today is walking to the bathroom and sitting in the shower while a nurse helps me bathe. We don't make eye contact or talk. I'm sure she's a lovely person, but this is degrading enough without small talk.
Dying takes away all of your strength, and the meds to slow the dying don't help much. The morphine is fun, though. Dying gives me the right to have it whenever I want. I have a little button of magic juice and I push it a lot. Dying hurts and all so I need it, but I might take advantage of it too — just a little. It doesn't help with the strength thing and kind of makes it worse, but having a chick bathe me isn't so bad if it comes with magic juice.
After the degrading bath, I brush my hair out as I'm tethered back to the bed. Even though there's not much to brush and it takes forever because I break frequently, I like doing it. Brushing my hair and rubbing lotion on my skin are two of the only pleasures I have left — aside from a hot doctor, of course. I take my time and let the ritual last as long as possible. My mother did this for me before she died when I was four. The memories of her are vague, but the hair brushing is more vivid. I can't make out her face anymore in my mind and haven't been able to for years, but I can still smell her. She smelled like flowers, so that's the only kind of lotion I use. I haven't been able to match her exact scent, but I'm close with two types so I alternate them.
I'll see her soon, too.
Maybe I'll be four again and have both of my parents for eternity. Obviously no one knows what the afterlife holds, but that's what I hope for. That's my heaven. It's being little again with no fears besides monsters under my bed. Nothing will hurt and it'll be perfect. It'll be like the magic juice high, but better — oh so much better.
No car accidents.
No heart attacks.
And no cancer.
"Oh good, the ritual is over," Edward says, waltzing into my room as if he owns the place.
His father kind of does, but not him.
Had I not mentioned he's uber rich? And not doctor-rich, but actual rich — millions upon millions and a trust fund he's barely touched. His family comes from old money, but they're not waspish. They're actually lovely people, just like him.
So, I shouldn't be surprised to see Mrs. Cullen follow behind him into my room, but I am. She's the loveliest of the uber rich Cullens. Edward gets the kind of red hair and pretty green eyes from her, I think. Unless his silver fox of a father has the genes in there, too. I guess that's possible, but Dr. Daddy Hospital-Owner Cullen is blond with silver and has blue eyes. Edward for sure gets the height and nice big hands from him, though.
"Hello, Bella," Mrs. Cullen says with a smile that matches her son's. They both have boxes, and they set them down on the foot of my bed and bed table. "How are you feeling, sweetheart?"
She embraces me as if we're old friends and even kisses my cheek as I tell her, "Okay. Currently refreshed."
"Good." She pulls back and sighs, looking over the boxes. "So, Edward said you wanted a tree and gave very specific instructions. You see, shopping isn't this boy's field of expertise, but it's one of my many. Carlisle has okayed it and then some, so we'll be decorating this evening."
"I figured we better rush it since you now only have seven days left," Edward says.
It's now I realize he's not in his usual lab coat or scrubs. He's in jeans and his tie is missing since his crisp white shirt is unbuttoned. He was here this morning, but his day ended over an hour ago. He's here on his time. With his mother. To decorate my tree.
Supposedly a crush is only a crush for so long before it becomes love. I'm probably at that point with him, so it's a good thing I'm going to die soon. The fact that he's come to help fulfill my last wish on his own time only makes that crush-possibly-love stronger. I feel like I'm entitled to fall in love, though, so I don't feel bad. I've never been in love before, so it's nice I get to experience it before I go — even if it's not reciprocated.
"You guys really did this?" I ask with my own little smile. "You didn't have to."
Edward shrugs and Mrs. Cullen laughs softly. "I wanted to," he says. "Is something funny, Mom?"
Mrs. Cullen shakes her head. "No, not at all. I'm glad you wanted to do this — for whatever reason."
"Thank you both so much," I say. "This, um . . . means a lot to me. Can you extend my leash so I can help?"
Edward nods and fiddles with the tubing as I try to blink the tears away. I don't want him to see. I don't want anyone to. I wouldn't want one to fall on my cheek even if I were alone. I did my crying. I did a lot of it in the beginning after my diagnoses. I even cried when I lost all of my hair the first time, which is starting to happen again now that it's finally past my ears. Treatments suck, especially incredibly aggressive ones as a last ditch effort. Hair shouldn't matter so much, but it does.
"Oh, these balls are perfect, Mrs. Cullen," I say, opening up the packaging and admiring the glittering red and white balls. I pick one up and hold it up to the light to watch it sparkle.
She smiles. "I'm glad you like them. And no more Mrs. Cullen unless you're talking about my evil mother-in-law. Esme, dear."
"I'm telling Dad you called Nana evil," Edward laughs as he sets up the three foot tall tree in my window.
"He's called her worse," she says, rolling her eyes as she passes me a package of hooks.
They're not the usual, flimsy ones, either. These are silver and curl on both ends with the bottom one looking like a swirl. I put the ribbon attached to my first ball on it and can't help but wonder why they're going to all this trouble. I'm sure it's probably pity, but I let my mind pretend it's more — it's compassion and love, as if I were family.
While Esme and I put hooks on the balls, Edward fluffs out the little tree and starts the lights. He doesn't need but one strand, but he takes his time and redoes it a few times until it's perfect to him — and me. As we work we talk. I hear about their family and Christmas plans. Alice, the youngest Cullen child and only girl, is coming home from France for the holiday. She's studying abroad this semester and they tell me how much she loves Paris. I hear about the magnificent museums and the dreams she has. It brings a smile to my face because she's doing what she truly loves. A little jealously flares too; I wish I'd gotten the chance to follow my dreams, but I'm mostly just happy to hear stories.
The next topic is Emmett, the oldest of the three. He's a lawyer for the hospital, but the discussion is focused on his two-month-old son. This is baby Seth's first Christmas and I get to see the photos of him on Santa's lap — or technically, in Santa's arms. He's cute and less alien-potato-looking from the last pictures Edward had shown me. He's chunky and all smiles, and I'm told it was like he was born smiling.
I enjoy hearing the stories. For a little while, I kind of forget we're decorating my room for my last Christmas. Esme didn't stop at just getting a tree. There's a wreath over my bathroom door and snowflake stickers on my windows and door, looking out to the ICU hallway. She's even changed my hospital-issue comforter to a red one and given me a pair of flannel Christmas pajamas. The room feels all joyful and happy and whatnot, and I want to live in this moment forever.
Sadly, it ends all too soon when the side-effects of my treatment rear their ugly heads. One minute we're happy and laughing, and the next I'm throwing up and dizzy, and I kind of wish I had died in that happy, joyful moment. Esme is nurturing while Edward is clinical. I get the good antiemetic in my IV from him and a caress over my brow from Esme. I'm shivering, and she tucks the new comforter and my blankets around me.
All my days end like this as of late. The shitty side-effects wipe out the little energy I have and I'm soon falling asleep. They're still here, though. Her touch remains on my brow and I feel my hand covered by his as I drift off, letting the morphine and antiemetic do their jobs.
. . . . .
The closer I get to Christmas, the less sure I am that I'll make it. My lung is a little too full of fluid the day after my tree goes up, and Edward ever so kindly shoves a tube in my back to drain it. My hair is shedding as if I were a dog and I'm constantly cold. Esme brings a heated blanket when I have four days left and sits with me. She asks about my parents and I relive some happy memories while fighting to breathe.
Lung cancer is evil.
It's always evil, but feels a little more so to me. I never smoked. I was never around smoke. Nothing caused it aside from stupid cells being stupid and my body being shitty. We thought we almost had it beat earlier this year, but the thing about cancer is that it likes to spread. The story of how I went from fighting with everything I had to being ready to throw in the towel is a long and boring one. I'm not ready — not really. I want to fight and be optimistic like Edward, but I can only handle so much.
His last ditch treatment probably won't work. Maybe if I hadn't gotten an infection, which spurred this hospital stay, it could have, but I don't see it happening. Maybe I'll get longer than until Christmas, but right now I feel drained. Right now I'm ready to sign a Do Not Resuscitate and stop this treatment.
I'm even working up the courage to tell my nurse, but then he comes in. He sees my tears today and I don't even have the strength to be ashamed that I broke that promise to myself.
"Tomorrow's Christmas Eve," he tells me, taking my hand and sitting on my bed. "Stay with me, okay? Cry it out, but don't give up just yet. The infection is clearing. We still have a chance."
His voice is soft as his thumb caress the back of my hand. "It hurts," I cry.
He reaches behind my back as I lay on my side facing him. I see the button in his hand and I nod, asking him to press it for me. The pain doesn't fade much, like it usually does. Each breath hurts and before inhaling each time, I tell myself not to.
Just give up, I think.
"You can do this," he says.
It's your decision. Give up.
"I've got a surprise for you tomorrow, so you don't get to let go yet."
I can't anymore. I want it over with.
"Please, my strong, brave girl."
I'm ready to throw in the towel and let go, but I can't. I can't leave this world yet. I'm not ready.
"I need your faith," I sniffle, trying to hold his fingers.
"I've got enough for both of us." He smiles, leaning in close to me. "You can do this. I believe in miracles and you."
I'm able to meet his gaze for just a moment before the dizziness wins out. His eyes hold sadness, but he's still smiling. I'm not sure what I've done to make him believe in me. I tell him I'm going to die over and over, my results tell him I'm going to die, but something is making him believe, and knowing he does gives me strength.
I keep breathing, and though each breath is a fight, I find myself doing it for him as he encourages me. He stays with me until I fall asleep and when I wake up in a dark room, I see he's still here.
It makes me believe in myself, too.
. . . . .
"This seems like an incredibly bad idea and something you'd strongly discourage," I say as Edward helps me into a wheelchair.
"Under different circumstances with different people, I would most certainly discourage this," he chuckles. "But, I figure if two doctors and a nurse can't keep you alive for a night, we need to reevaluate our career choices."
He's taking me to his parents' house for Christmas. He's discharging me and lugging medications, oxygen, and supplies to their house so I can spend Christmas with them. I don't know why and I should probably ask, but I'm not going to. The idea makes me happy and I suddenly feel a hundred times better than I did last night. I feel . . . alive again. This might just be my last good day, but I don't think about it. My mind is solely on how good I feel and making it last.
"I feel the need to apologize in advance if I die in your parents' home," I say, tucking my blanket around my legs as he puts a duffle bag in my lap. "They both realize that could happen, right? And if they try to sell the house, I think they have to disclose if someone died there. I could be bringing down their property value."
"You won't die in their house," he says, fixing the beanie on my head and making sure I'm a bundled up. "Now, let's go. You can come back here and die the day after tomorrow."
"I'll try to make it," I giggle.
Leaving the hospital seems ludicrous, but the moment I'm outside and breathe in the fresh, cool air I feel even more energized. I'm still getting oxygen from the lovely tubing under my nose, but I can feel the real air, too. I can smell it. It smells like winter and looks like Christmas as he pushes me toward an awaiting SUV. A small girl with black hair grins and waves, and I realize I've seen her before in pictures.
She looks like I feel on the inside — happy, healthy, and bouncing on her heels. As soon as we get close, she meets us and introduces herself to me.
"It's good to finally meet you, Bella," she says. "I feel like I know you from how much Edward talks about you! Oh, and Mom! The two of them have painted quite the picture you now have to live up to."
She winks and Edward clears his throat. "Door, Alice," he says.
As soon as she has it open and takes my duffle, Edward's arms are under my knees and around my back, lifting me from the wheelchair to place me in the SUV. I think it's his. It looks like him. It's black but shiny, and a Volvo — a total Dr. Cullen car. I'm put upfront and the seat heater is already on, warming up my ass. I've never used a seat heater before and I like it. It should have been on the bucket list.
Edward gets in the driver's seat, confirming my suspicions of who owns the vehicle as Alice slides into the back. Her head is between our seats, chatting up a storm as we pull away from the hospital. I thought I'd never leave this place once I entered this time, but I've been proven wrong thanks to Edward.
It's nice to be wrong sometimes.
I take in the sights of the city as we drive. I've lived here for a few years, but seeing it today feels new for some reason — like my eyes are wide open for the first time. It's beautiful. Christmas decorations are everywhere and there's a little snow on the ground from a few days ago, too. If this is the last time I see Chicago, it's left me with a beautiful image.
"How do you feel?" Edward asks, glancing over at me as we stop at a light.
I smile, and my hand is suddenly over his without thinking. I'm touching him this time, and it's not at all clinical, and he should probably pull away, but he doesn't. "I'm good," I say. "Really good. Thank you for doing this. I still don't understand why, though"
The light changes and he looks away before speaking. "You deserve to have an actual Christmas. That's why. Everyone deserves to have their last wish fulfilled, and I knew it'd make you happy."
"But spending it with you and your family? Isn't that a little . . . odd?"
I know what I'm asking and I'm sure he does too, from the silence in the car. Sometimes I wonder if my crush is reciprocated. He's close to me — closer than I've ever seen him with another patient. It could all be pity and guilt that he can't save me, but I don't know. The wonder is there, but I can't actually straight-out ask him. At least I won't have to wonder forever, I suppose.
"Maybe," he finally says. "But I don't trust anyone else to fulfill your wish like I can, so there. Everyone loved the idea and I've already broken you out of prison, so no going back now."
His head turns and I see the wink. We're not going to actually discuss this, but that's cool with me. Maybe I'll just spend the next twenty-four hours imagining we did and he feels the same. That seems like a pretty good idea, if you ask me.
. . . . .
The Cullens live outside of the suburbs. I expect Edward to pull into any one of the multiple extravagant neighborhoods we pass, but he doesn't. He keeps going and then turns down a road about ten minutes from the last development. There's nothing at first aside from trees, but once those break, I see it.
I see a large, lit up house in a clearing. It's dark outside, but the house is all windows and like a sparkly beacon in the night. There are wreaths and Christmas lights galore, and I can't help but wonder if Esme has won some kind of decorating award. She probably has, from the look of her home.
"Did you grow up here?" I ask with my eyes wide open.
Edward chuckles. "No, we lived in one of those suburbs closer to the city, but once Emmett and I moved out, Mom decided it was time to have her dream home. So, they built this."
"I grew up in it," Alice says from behind me. "I'm pretty sure my weed stash is still hidden if you'd like to partake later."
The speed in which Edward's head whips around borders superhuman, but Alice just shrugs and giggles. He's about to say something and kind of looks confused, but then he's laughing too. I'm not entirely sure if Alice is kidding or not, but I go for it. I'm counting down to death, so what do I have to lose?
"Mary Jane has helped my pain and nausea pretty damn well," I say. "I'm game."
"Sweet!" Alice cheers. "You know you want to join, Eddie."
"I'm a doctor and I get drug tested, so I'm good," he says. "You two can have fun later, once Mom and Dad go to bed and Rosalie puts Seth down. Don't tell Emmett or he'll probably smoke it all like he used to do to me."
The more I learn about this family, the more I like them — especially Alice. She's just a little younger than me, whereas Edward has about ten years on me. She seems fun and carefree, and exactly the kind of person I'd once gravitated too. As odd as it sounds, I'm looking forward to my last Christmas since it'll be spent with them.
Once Edward parks in the garage, I'm greeted by Esme and Dr. Silver Fox. They help me out of the SUV and onto my feet until Edward can come support me. The walking thing has only gotten harder, so I expect to see the wheelchair, but it's just him with his strong, lovely arms around me. I don't miss the wheelchair.
"Thank you letting me join your family this Christmas," I say as we slowly make our way into the house.
It's even more beautiful from the inside, and I'm in awe. I could say the beauty takes my breath away, but that's mostly the shitty, cancerous lungs. Good thing Alice is pulling my oxygen on a cart beside us.
"We're happy to have you," Dr. Silver Fox says as I'm settled on the couch. "If you need or want anything at all, just let us know. Is it too cold?"
Again, I don't know why I'm surprised by how lovely these people are, but I am. It's probably not-cold in here to a normal, not-actively-dying person, but I'm freezing. I'm sure he'd turn up the heat — I mean, he looks about ready to dart to a thermostat — but I shake my head.
"Another blanket wouldn't hurt, but I'm okay. You have a beautiful home, and I really, really am thankful you've allowed me in."
He smiles like every other Cullen does — all genuine and warm. He even gets the blanket for me and spreads it over my legs himself before adding a little pat on my hand, too. He's nice. He hasn't told me to call him Carlisle, but I'm going to. He doesn't look very Dr. Hospital-Owner right now, so Carlisle fits best anyway.
The five of us sit in the living room, just chatting for a while. Their tree is ginormous and gorgeous, but I can't help but notice that, just like my little one, it's missing a topper. It might be tall, but their ceilings are taller and there's plenty of room. So it's odd but I don't focus on it. I focus on the conversations flowing around me — family catching up, learning about them, and telling them about me. It feels right in a way I can't describe, and for a second I wonder if this all-is-perfect feeling is what happens right before dying. A few minutes pass and I'm not dead, so I guess it's not.
All-perfect is a nice feeling and I relish it.
"Tea, hot chocolate, or soda?" Edward asks.
My brow quirks as I smile. "I can have soda? Like, with real caffeine?"
"Yes," he laughs. "You can have anything tonight."
I have to stop myself from asking if his body is included in that deal, but at least I get an actual Coke out of it. It tastes so good, too. You see, they tell sick people not to eat or drink badly when they're sick. I followed all those guidelines and rules to try to beat this, but since it's not working, what's the point of sticking with it? Tonight I want Coke and grease and everything unhealthy, and considering I already have a bag of those yummy chocolate truffles in my lap, Edward seems down with this plan.
"Oh, that's Emmett and Rose!" Esme says as we hear a car pull up. "I'm going to help them with Seth and then I'll finish up dinner."
I want to offer to help, but I know I'd be more of a hinder in the kitchen. I feel like I should help, though. They've invited me into their home and are treating me like one of their own. For a dying orphan, that's a pretty huge deal. I've had no one for so long that this little pretend-family time means more to me than words could ever say. It'll be over come tomorrow evening, but at least I won't have to be sad about that for long.
So, I don't even think about it ending.
"Do you want to see your room?" Edward asks. "First, though, I need to warn you that my mother is insane."
I quirk my brow. "She seems quite lovely."
"Yes, lovely as can be, but crazy and obsessive." He chuckles as Carlisle and Alice do the same.
"She just . . . commits," Carlisle says with a smirk. "There's no such thing as easy or bare minimum to her, so I think what Edward means is to expect extravagance."
"Like my hospital room?"
Edward nods. "Yeah, but . . . more. Let's go."
He helps me off the sofa and then sweeps me off my feet. Like, a legit sweeping motion, and I can't help but giggle as I wrap an arm around his neck. He's much better than my wheelchair, to be honest. If another privilege of dying is being carried around by my hot doctor, death doesn't look so terrible.
Kidding, of course. Dying still sucks, even in his arms.
He takes me up the beautiful staircase adored with lights and garland. The house looks like it's straight out of a Christmas movie, and I love it. If Esme is called crazy for going all out like this, so be it. She's an awesome crazy person.
"My room is right across the hall and Alice is beside you," Edward says, heading through a doorway.
I'm gawking as we step inside the room. The bed looks like heaven, with beautiful fluffy comforters and pillows galore. It looks like a cloud and I have no doubt it feels like one, too. The rest of the room is red and cream colored, matching the bedding. It's a gorgeous guest room with elegant decor. Edward places me on the bed next to a fluffy robe and gift basket. I guess it's for me because, I mean, who else would it be for? But I don't touch it yet.
It's too pretty to touch.
I can see lotions and fuzzy socks and chocolate — my favorite kind. Edward must have spilled the beans. I think it has a blanket and maybe pajamas too, but I can't tell.
"Is this the extravagance you mentioned?" I ask, playing with the sparkly red bow that holds the plastic around the basket.
"Mostly," he says. "She has more stuff around the room, but I think this is most of it. Mom likes to shower people with gifts. It's one of her favorite things in the world, actually. I'm not sure if it's the shopping she likes best or the actual giving, but they certainly go hand-in-hand."
"She didn't have to get me anything," I say, shaking my head. "Just being out of the hospital is enough. Actually, it's more than enough. Being here means more than anything to me."
He nods as he sits on the edge of the bed with me. He picks the basket up and puts it between us, pulling the sparkly red bow for me. "Well, then just think of this as a bonus."
"I can never repay you or give you all gifts. I mean, I could — I didn't spend every dime I have on my bucket list — but I don't have anything to give you."
"I had you locked up in a hospital room, so excuse me for not being surprised you didn't bring gifts." He smirks. "That's not what's important. This basket is just Mom's way of showing she cares. She adores you, so just open it and tell her thank you when we go back downstairs. That'll mean more to her than a gift in return."
I smile, trying to hold back my emotions. I kind of feeling like crying over a gift basket. It's more than the basket, but that's what's bringing tears to my eyes right now as I try to blink them away.
"Do you understand what this means to me?" I ask, looking up to meet the pretty, but now sad eyes. "I've had no one since my dad died, and before that it was just the two of us for so long. Being alone sucks, but I always told myself I'd get through it. You know, told myself someday I'd have a family again — people who cared and loved me. The cancer . . . it changed everything. My dreams went from that to just surviving, but even surviving . . . it won't happen."
"It could," he says as I shake my head.
"It probably won't, but what I mean is . . . you've given me that dream back — if only for a night."
"I care for you, Bella. I have since the first time I met you. I believe your first words to me were something along the lines of, 'how do I not die?' From that moment, I knew you were more than just a patient. You were alone and barely able to drink when you were hit with your diagnosis — barely an adult, yet facing a life-threatening cancer without fear. Just seeing you, wanting to fight no matter what, told me how brave you were. You wanted to live, and really, that's what matters most in a fight for your life — wanting it."
I sniffle and know I have snot on my nasal tubing. I remember wanting to live. I even remember telling him that. I was so ready to fight this, but once I heard I'd lost and the cancer was spreading, I'd lost my faith. I'd lost my will.
"I don't want to die," I confess as I cry. "This is my last Christmas and I don't want it to be my last. This is amazing and wonderful, and I don't want it to end. But I'm tired, Edward. I'm tired of fighting what I can't beat. I'm tired of being alone and having no reason to fight."
"You have a reason," he says, taking my hands in his. "I don't want you to die. I can't imagine never hearing your sarcasm again, or never walking in on you so entranced while reading that you don't even notice me, so I just watch you. I'm way too close to you and I have been for a long time. At some point you went from being my patient to being my friend, and now . . . Do you want to know why my family was so eager to have you here? Why my mother is going so overboard for you?"
I nod. "Yeah, I've been trying to figure that out, actually. You act like this is nothing to you, yet it's everything to me."
"It's because I care for you." He smiles, squeezing my hands. "I care for you more than words can express. Before I go into your room or when I see you at the office, I have to remind myself I'm your doctor. But I haven't felt that way in a long time."
"You're kind of my best friend," I say.
His brow seems to twitch, but then he nods. "You're definitely mine. I'm here for you, okay? Every step of the way, and not just as your doctor. You're not alone anymore."
I'm really a complete mess — tears and snot and blood from my cracked lips because of smiling. I'm a complete and utter disaster and not the hot mess kind. But he's still looking at me with those pretty, compassionate eyes. He's wiping my tears and then his arms are around me. I just let his embrace engulf me and rest my head against his chest.
He holds me and I don't feel alone. I don't feel like I'm doing this all by myself and that no one will care when I die. He'll care. He'll miss me. That's one of the most terrifying things about dying. Will anyone even care? Will I be missed? I always thought the answer was no, but not anymore. Someone will remember that I existed. I won't leave this world as if I were never here, and that brings me a little peace.
And gives me a little fight.
"Thank you," I whisper, lifting my head to kiss his cheek. "Thank you for caring."
"Sweet girl, I've always cared," he says, brushing the little bit of hair that has fallen from my hat out of my eyes. "Let's go downstairs, okay?"
"Don't I have to put on the pink fuzzy socks inside of this basket?" I point and he chuckles, nodding as he pulls the plastic away.
I instantly grab the fluffy, soft, cute socks and he takes them from me. He's on his knees in front of the bed, pulling off my cute lamb slippers and hospital socks before putting the fuzzy ones on. They're as warm as they look and softer than I imagined. They're absolutely perfect and I wiggle my toes as I grin.
"Very fuzzy," he says, sliding my slippers over them. "How about we take this chocolate and these candy canes and go downstairs?"
"But I have chocolate down there."
He shakes his head. "Emmett's in this house, so they're surely gone by now."
"He's that bad?"
"Like a damn vacuum," he laughs. "Everything in sight. It just goes in his mouth and is never seen again. Trust me. Leave no food unattended."
. . . . .
There's a baby in my arms. He's all cute and smiley and has a Santa Claus hat on. He likes me. He's been in my arms since we came downstairs and shows no signs of wanting to be with anyone else. Rosalie says it's okay and takes pictures of us. Apparently little Seth is a people person, so she's used to others holding him.
Edward's next to me, doing most of the baby supporting, but he doesn't seem to mind. We both laugh as Seth does cute things. I've never really been around kids, but this is nice. He's probably the cutest thing I've ever seen and I'm absolutely enamored of him.
"Do you want to feed him?" Rosalie asks, bringing us a bottle.
My hand is out and I'm nodding, even though I have no clue what feeding a baby entails. If it means I get a little more time with this fella, I'll figure it out.
"Would you show me how?" I ask.
She smiles and nods, kneeling before us. She's the nurse Edward mentioned. She's so nurturing that I'm not at all surprised that's her career. I'm sure she's an incredible nurse and I'm kind of sad I was never her patient. Don't get me wrong, my nurses have been great, but she seems like super-nurse and a really amazing mother, too.
She shows me what to do as if it's the easiest thing in the world. It kind of is because I'm just holding a bottle, but the angling and making sure the kid isn't choking make it not easy. I'm so afraid he's going to choke because it seems like he's drinking fast, but Emmett says that's normal. He's apparently just like his dad, according to the family.
"Dinner's ready," Esme says, coming back into the living room. She sees the baby in my arms and awws. "Isn't he the happiest baby in the world?"
I nod. If you could bottle his happiness and sell it, we'd have world peace. He hasn't cried or even made an upset grunt since I've met him. All he does is smile and try to grab things. He really likes the little balls attached to my hat, let's just say.
"He's so sweet," I say. "His little dimples are going to break hearts."
"Looks just like his daddy," Rosalie says. "But cuter, of course. Do you want me to finish up?"
I nod and Edward helps pass the little guy off for me. Rosalie sways and feeds him as Edward helps me up. I manage to walk with his help to the dining room and the meal before us is a feast. Esme and Alice look incredibly proud as I take it all in. I thought meals like this only existed in magazines, but I was wrong.
I actually feel kind of hungry, which hasn't happened in quite some time.
Edward pulls a chair out for me and helps me sit before taking the one next to me. The whole family eventually is settled and Rosalie sits with Seth against her chest. There's talk about Alice's time in France and I hang on her every word — even the ones I don't understand. I spent time in London during my bucket list tour but didn't make it to Paris, and from how she describes it, I really wish I had.
"Where are you from originally, Bella?" Carlisle asks, looking toward me from the head of table.
"Washington State," I say. "I'm from a little town called Forks on the Olympic peninsula."
"Beautiful country out there. The boys and I go camping from time to time, and I'd love to make a trip west."
I nod. "It's gorgeous, really. I highly recommend seeing it at least once. The forest is beautiful and there are great spots to fish, too. My dad and I used to when I was little. He hunted, but I was more the catch and release type, so I stuck with just fishing."
"I think we should go next summer, you guys." He looks at both Emmett and Edward who nod.
I wonder what next summer will be like for a split second before I remember I won't see it. I'll never see another spring, summer, or autumn. I love watching the leaves change, and I didn't take enough time to appreciate it this last fall. I should have read outside more and gone for walks. I should have gone back home one last time, too.
"If you go, there's a reservation called La Push that you should visit," I say with tears in my eyes. "The beach is incredible."
Edward's hand is on my thigh, offering comfort. I'm sad I'll never see that place again, but I hope they go. Maybe I can ask Edward to find Billy Black and tell him I said goodbye. I'd lost contact with him and everyone else after Dad died and I moved, but he was like an uncle to me. I should have checked on him one last time, too.
"We'll go," Edward says and I know he wants to tell me I'll come too, but he refrains.
He doesn't want to make a promise he can't keep, and me seeing another summer isn't likely. So, I put on a smile and nod. "Good."
The conversation moves away from me and I'm thankful. I nearly started crying at the dinner table over my ham, and no one should have to witness that. Edward has, but I won't do that to him again and certainly not to his wonderful family, either.
Dinner is incredible and I manage to eat some ham and green beans. They had bacon in them, which totally fulfilled my wish of grease. They were absolutely delicious and if it hadn't been for barely having an appetite, I could have eaten more. Emmett seemed to do it for me, though, at least. I lived vicariously through him.
Seth is down for the count after dinner, so while Rosalie puts him to bed, the rest of us head back to the living room to wind down. I'm tired but not nearly as tired as I have been. Being around people has lifted my spirits and I kind of feel good. Still oxygen deprived, but decent enough.
Once we're all settled and Rosalie is back, Edward disappears. She takes his spot beside me and asks questions. I'm distracted enough so that when Edward does come back, I miss the box in his hands until it's in my lap.
It's wrapped in fancy gold and red paper and looks too pretty to touch. I hesitate and Edward says, "Open it."
He wants me to tear up the pretty and it makes me sad to, but I do. There's a white box underneath and I pull the lid. Moving tissue paper aside, I finally see what's inside and I'm speechless.
"This is my angel," I say. "This is . . . Oh my god, it's my angel."
"Not exactly, but close," Edward says with a grin. "I sent the picture of yours to a friend and she made it for me. It's too big for your little tree, but I think it'll look good on this one."
I look across the room to see Esme nod with her own grin. "We saved a spot for it," she says.
I pick up the beautiful angel and smile. It's so much the one I remember that it takes me back. I hear my giggles and Dad's laugh. I hear his cursing at the ladder and sense my worry over him falling. It's like I'm a kid again just by looking at it. These are good memories and I revel in them. There are no tears in my eyes as I just admire it for a few minutes. Eventually I pass it off to Edward and Emmett has a ladder ready.
Edward climbs shakily, and I'm a little worried we'll be going back to the hospital. At least it won't be for me, though. Amazingly, he gets to the top without falling and my angel is put in place. It looks so perfect atop their tree.
"It's amazing," I say. "It looks so similar. I can't believe you had it made."
He sits back down beside me once Rosalie moves and sighs happily. "Did I surprise you?"
"Yeah," I scoff. "God, it's gorgeous, isn't it? It's not fancy, but it's so pretty up there."
"It's the perfect, finishing touch," Esme says. "Now, who wants pie?"
Hands go up and we all laugh. Edward tells me the Cullens like their pie, and I'm sure it's because Esme made it. Her dinner was delicious and though I'm stuffed, I want pie, too.
It's probably like, the best pie ever.
. . . . .
Pie and snacks and conversation turn the evening into night. We're all caught up in a conversation when Alice suddenly squeals. It's loud and ear piercing and then she's out of her seat, nose pressed to the massive window facing the backyard.
"It's snowing!" she says. "Holy shit, it's coming down fast!"
I want to see it more than anything in the world, so I'm trying to get up before Edward realizes. I fail kind of spectacularly, but he figures out what I want and helps me up and over to the window. Someone turns off all the big lights and we can see the big, fluffy flakes coming down quickly. The deck is already covered and I wonder how long this has been going on. It's gorgeous, and turning everything sparkly white and fresh.
"A white Christmas," I whisper with a smile.
Edward couldn't fulfill this wish, but someone did. We'll call it Mother Nature, but I'm thinking a little more . . . spiritual.
"Can we go out?" I ask, turning my head toward Edward as he holds me up.
"It's freezing out," he sighs. "You're already cold, so maybe we shouldn't."
I don't use the dying card to get what I want often. I mean, I try not to, but I'm dying and it's kind of a perk. I curl my lips down into a pout and bat my eyelashes. It's a total cliché move, but I don't care. I want to feel the snow on my skin one more time.
"Please?" I beg. "We don't have to stay out long."
"Take her out, Edward," Carlisle says with a smile. "She can easily fit into Alice's clothes, so bundle her up and let her have this experience."
I kind of want to high five Daddy C when he winks at me. It totally works, and before I know it I'm bundled up more than an Eskimo. I have two winter coats on — Alice's, then Esme's — a pair of snow pants over my pajama ones, and the warmest boots you can imagine. I'm actually kind of hot for the first time in forever as we get ready to head out. I can't move on my own either, but who needs to when you have a hot guy willing to carry you around?
"We're not staying out long," Edward says. "Play in the snow like a five year old for a few minutes and then let's come back in."
I nod even though I have no intentions of making this quick. I'm going to enjoy every second of it and make it last as long as possible. The moment we're outside and the cold air hits my face, I take the deepest breath I can muster up.
Christmas totally has a scent and this is it. The air is fresh and the snowflakes are beautiful. Edward takes me down the steps of the deck and puts me down for a moment to clear the bottom one off for us to sit. I bury my feet in the snow and laugh as I look up.
I close my eyes and let the fluffy snowflakes fall on my cheeks and nose. They're freezing, obviously, but I pay no mind to the burning cold. I just enjoy it.
"You look like a kid, seeing her first snow," Edward says, grinning as I turn my head toward him. "Happiness looks beautiful on you, Bella."
I nod. "I'm so happy. Don't you love this?"
He shrugs. "Snow is kind of nice on Christmas, but mostly annoying to me. As long as you're happy, I'm happy. It's pretty damn cold, though."
He shivers and I laugh, telling him to toughen up. I have no intentions of moving from this spot for quite some time, so he needs to adjust.
As I'm looking off to the woods, I feel his eyes on me. His hand is wrapped around mine and I feel all cozy and nice as the snow falls over us. This is bliss. Like, actual one-of-the-happiest-moments-of-my-life bliss.
"You're beautiful," he says and I whip my head toward him.
"You're just flattering me," I tease.
He shakes his head. "No, I'm not. You're beautiful and I'm so grateful that I get to spend this time with you. We've been through hell together, you know? You more so, but I've been right by your side and I'll never leave it."
"This is a pretty nice moment, so I'm not thinking about the hellish ones. You've given me the greatest gift in the world — your time."
"You can have every moment of my time."
"It won't be much, though," I sigh.
His arm wraps around me, pulling me close into him. I'm kind of pissed at all the layers I'm wearing because I want to feel this. Knowing is good enough, I guess, but I like it when he touches me. I like it even more right now. I'm dying and there's no changing that, but knowing he'll be by my side helps ease that pain — if only a little.
"I'm so scared," I confess. "I have no idea what comes next and the thought terrifies me. I want more time to see and do more things. It's not fair. I'm only twenty-three and my time is limited to days or maybe weeks."
"It's not fair," he agrees, holding me closer. "It's not fucking fair."
"I fucking hate cancer. Will you really be by my side?"
He nods without hesitation. "I'll take time off and be there as long as you'll have me. You're not going through this alone anymore. I won't let you because I love you."
His words barely register in my mind before his lips are against mine. We're both kind of crying as we move our lips together like it's the most natural thing in the world. It is. It's right and makes my toes tingle. He's kissing me and it's better than the dreams I've had of it.
His gloved hand is against my cheek and I'm holding onto him. I don't want him to pull away, but I know he will soon. I try to turn my mind off of what comes next and just enjoy it. I'm kissing Dr. Pretty Eyes. Technically, he's kissing me. And he loves me.
The lovely, perfect, toe-tingling kiss distracted me from his words. He loves me. Obviously, he's an idiot.
"You can't love me," I say, breaking away and creasing my brow.
He just smirks and chuckles. "Well, I do. I love you, Bella. I love your fight, your strength, your bravery, and even your sarcastic and dark humor. I love everything about you and I have for some time. I can't just stop."
"Dying, Edward! Loving a dying person is the stupidest thing ever."
"Nothing will change my feelings. I may not have a lot of time to show you that I love you, so I'm not wasting another second. You love me, too."
I roll my eyes, but he's right. I mean, of course he's right. Loving him is nothing new to me, but telling him? That's pretty frightening. He should probably distance himself from me because I don't want to hurt him, but from the look in his eyes, I know it's too late for that.
It's too late to lie or hide.
"Of course I love you," I say as he grins. "This is really, really awful timing, though."
"But it's not too late."
No, it's not. Even if I only have a day left, a day of loving Edward and knowing he loves me is enough. Falling in love wasn't on my bucket list, but it's happened. I don't know why and I'm not going to question it.
"It's not too late," I agree, smiling with tears in my eyes.
I'm about to make a kind of declaration of love like he did, but his phone interrupts us. He manages to fish it out of his pocket and takes one look at the screen before starting to stand.
"I will be right back and then I'm taking your freezing ass inside," he says.
I giggle and nod. "Fine. I'll just enjoy my last few minutes of snow alone."
He walks away and I hear him answer as Dr. Cullen before he's out of earshot. He has an important job — I mean, I would know, after all — but I hope he doesn't have to leave. We're supposed to have the rest of my short life together, and I'm quite looking forward to it.
While he's gone, I play with the fallen snow around me. I manage to build a little, very awkward looking snowman. He's just three snowballs without a face or arms, but he's mine. I decide his name is Mr. Snow Face. My very last snowman, no matter how pitiful, deserves a name, after all.
I still can't get over how beautiful the Cullens' property is, and the sparkling snow just completes the perfect Christmas scene. Edward fulfilled my last wish and then some. In fact, he made it better than I ever could have imagined and I'll never be able to thank him enough.
He made a dying girl's wish come true, so he deserves like, sainthood or something. I'm not entirely sure how that works, but I'm going to write a letter to someone. He's an amazing and special man, and one of the best I've ever known. Cancer fucking sucks, but at least I've gotten to know him because of it.
I've gotten to fall in love.
"Bella," Edward says, sitting back down beside me.
I didn't hear him at all — too immersed in my own thoughts — and I'm surprised to see the look on his face. He looks . . . shocked.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
His lips slowly curl into a smile and I'm confused. "I asked a radiologist friend of mine to look at your scans from this morning. I didn't expect him to get back to me tonight, but that was him."
I can't be hopeful, but his smile makes me want to be.
"It's working. Your tumors . . . they've shrunk."
"That's impossible, Edward," I sigh. "He's wrong because that's . . . it's not possible. The cancer has spread too much."
He's grinning and I want him to stop. "You're far from remission, but it's completely possible for the treatment to work. It has, Bella! This is the most progress we've seen in months! Look at me." He cups my face in his gloved hands, forcing our eyes to meet. "You could beat this."
I'm speechless. His words are echoing in my head and I'm trying wrap my mind around them. Nothing's worked. Every treatment has literally done nothing to help me, but this last ditch effort one has? I don't know how to believe it. I've resigned myself to believing I'm going to die. I've accepted it and given up, but now I might live longer?
"How much time do I have?" I ask.
He chuckles softly. "No more talk of time. If this treatment continues to work — and I think it might — you could beat it all together. This is the break we've been waiting for — the one I've been telling you could happen."
I stare into his pretty green eyes as it hits me. "I might not die!" I scream.
He's laughing harder now and nodding fervently. "Yes! Bella, this is incredible."
"Holy shit! Edward, I can't . . . I don't know what to say or think or do. How is this possible? What do we do now?"
"We continue the treatment," he says. "We'll have to find you a new oncologist, but for tonight, we just celebrate. You and me, Bella. We're going to beat this. I love you so much."
This time it's my lips against his. I didn't even realize I had the strength to attack his face, but apparently I do. I've slipped him tongue, even. My emotions are everywhere, but my focus is him. He's saved my life.
"I love you, too," I say. "I'm sorry that your short commitment to me has now been extended."
He smirks and pecks my lips softly. "Sweet girl, I'll gladly spend forever with you. Now, let's go find some mistletoe and continue this in a warmer place."
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