How've you been? I'm sorry I haven't returned your calls. I've been busy with the house, and some other stuff (will explain), but mostly I've just felt too overwhelmed to talk.
David's birthday was hard, but it definitely could have been worse. I've reconnected with some of my friends here in Forks, so I didn't have to be alone. Someone even brought over a birthday cake for him.
The house is coming along fine. My contractors are amazing; you'd hardly recognize the place if you were here. Lots of painting and updating done. My real estate agent is also a real pro, and we're just about ready to list the place, if you can believe it. I won't have to stay in town while waiting for it to sell, either.
Okay, no more stalling, I need to tell you something and I NEED YOU NOT TO FREAK OUT. I was in an accident a couple of weeks ago.
SERIOUSLY STOP FREAKING OUT BECAUSE I KNOW YOU ARE – I'm okay.
I sort of ran into a mountain lion over at La Push when I was out there visiting David. I don't know if I startled it, or if it was hungry, or what, but it decided to attack me. (CALM DOWN – I AM FINE.) It knocked me down, clawed my arm and bit me on my shoulder. It was pretty scary, but I guess I was actually really lucky, because it didn't damage anything major. A hunter heard me scream and came running. He fired his gun to scare the animal away, and then he drove me to the hospital to get stitched up.
The first couple of days were rough, but I'm feeling a lot better now. I don't even need pain meds anymore other than Tylenol. (That's another reason I haven't been able to talk – I was HIGH) The local friends I mentioned actually stayed over here at Charlie's and helped me out when I first got out of the hospital, but I'm okay on my own now.
And, hey, now I know that, if I ever get drunk while out at sea hunting a man-eating shark, I'll have some cool scars to show off.
Kidding - They're actually not that impressive. Dr. Cullen stitched me up, and he did a really good job. I had the stitches out last week, and it's healing up really well.
Like I said, I'm physically fine. Sad about David, but, also… I don't know. I feel like the accident maybe woke me up a little. Since Charlie died, I've been staying home all the time. You probably knew that. Money was tight, but that wasn't the only reason. I just didn't WANT to do anything or go anywhere. I could barely deal with getting up and feeding myself and showering sometimes. And now, well, (seriously don't freak out) the honest truth is I could have died when I met Mr. Mountain Lion. I really WAS lucky, being rescued like that. I could have died, and, when I was lying there in the hospital, hopped up on Percocet, I realized I didn't want to die. And I didn't want to live the rest of my life just waiting to die, either. Maybe this is a normal thing to feel after a near-death experience (though I'm not sure if what happened to me counts as one; there wasn't a bright light or anything), or maybe it's the painkillers (ha ha), I don't know. But I want to give being alive another shot.
I told you that Charlie left me some money, right? Once I wrap things up here, I'm going to travel for a while. I'm not sure where I'm going first. I'm considering Alaska, or maybe the Yukon. I worked on some travel books for those places. Plus Charlie always wanted to go up there and never got the chance.
Good thing I never did let my passport expire, even when I was really broke. Seemed a little silly when I only had $10 in my checking account. Not so silly now!
Okay, I guess that's it for now. I love you, and I'll update you again when I know what my plans are.
"Well, that's a load of crap."
Bella gasped and jumped in her chair, knocking over the cup of coffee at her elbow. Alice stepped smoothly from behind Bella, rescuing her laptop computer from the flood of cold coffee spreading across the dining table.
"What - what?" Bella struggled to her feet, looking around for a dish towel.
Alice took a few steps away, Bella's laptop balanced on one forearm. She shook her head.
"I mean, lying about how you got hurt, and how badly - that's good. Great, in fact. I'm proud of you." She looked up at Bella and beamed. "But the rest of it... This part about a newfound zest for life or whatever?" She frowned. "Not even kind of. Am I right?"
"She can't be worrying about me. If she did, she might come looking."
And I can't bear the thought of doing that to her.
"She's going to do that anyhow. It's okay - we're good at not being found. But you might as well have told her that you were feeling low and needed to get away for a while. False cheerfulness is a bigger lie than you needed to tell."
"I don't want to hurt her. This year has been hell for me, but it hasn't been a good one for her, either. I know it might not convince her-"
"-but I need to try. I need to leave her with hope that I'm fine, that I'm happy."
"You're not, though, are you?"
"I don't know how to answer that, Alice."
"You're gloomy. Depressed. Discouraged. Insert the synonym of your choice, you're that. And just a few days ago, you were doing so well! All ready to sexually injure yourself."
Bella felt her face flush.
"So, what happened? You were better." Alice cocked her head to one side.
Bella finished wiping up the spill and dropped the wet towel in the sink.
She went back to the table, sat down with a sigh.
"It was a good day, Alice. I have them sometimes. But... They're specks in an ocean. An ocean full of all these random pieces, and a lot of hurt. It doesn't go away just because I have a few good hours, a few days. It always comes back."
"So what do we do to fix this?" Alice asked, placing Bella's computer back onto the table in front of her and sitting in the other chair. "How can I help, with the ocean? I so want to see you happy again."
Bella started to laugh, but the sound ended in a sigh.
"Sometimes I want that, too," she said.
"Of course you do," Alice said. "Humans hate being sad."
Alice just stared at her.
"I... don't understand. You want to be sad?" she asked at last.
"Why don't you talk about it to Esme? I can't explain any better."
"Okay, Bella," Alice said, bending to touch her cheek. "I'll ask her. And I really am sorry that you're sad."
Bella smiled at her then, because she was sincerely touched, and because she didn't want Alice to worry. More selfishly, Bella just didn't want to talk about it further. Alice seemed to get the hint, because she let the subject drop. She asked a few questions about Bella's apartment and job, and then she took her leave.
Edward arrived home later that evening to find her quiet, curled on the couch under Charlie's afghan.
He knelt beside the couch and brushed her hair back from her face, kissed her cheek. He didn't ask her how she was.
"Rosalie brought the rest of your belongings from your apartment in Seattle," he said. "They're at my parents' house. We can put anything you don't want to bring into storage."
"We won't need storage," Bella said. "I don't want to keep all that. I just need a few things, and the rest of it can go."
"Are you sure?"
"Do you really think I'm going to need a secondhand Ikea couch anymore, or a bread maker?"
"No, I suppose not."
"The breadmaker," Bella said, laughing a little. "I haven't thought about that thing in so long. Jake and I got it as a wedding gift. I used it twice, I think. I should have let it go years ago."
"Want to go over to the house tomorrow? You can select what you want to keep, and Carlisle can check how you're healing."
She reached up, took his hand, laced her fingers into his. She brought his hand to her cheek, felt the cool smoothness of his skin shift subtly against hers with each breath in and out.
"Willie Nelson?" Edward asked, glancing at the record player.
"Yeah, best of."
"Come up here," she said. "Hold me."
In his arms, she let her mind drift and the time slip.
And I turned and ran as heaven fell around me
I stumbled through the darkness, my footsteps were unsure...
"He has so many sad songs," she said after a bit. "I never think of him as a sad singer... I don't know why not, though. It's almost all he does. I never really realized before. I guess because he seems like a happy person."
"No one is just one thing," Edward commented. "Internal contradiction is very, very human."
"Yes. And it's hard to say whether that's a good or a bad thing. Both, I guess. Another contradiction."
I live within a world that had no sunshine
When you left me darling my world came to an end...
"Do you want me to put a different one on?" Edward asked, when Bella's tears began to sink silently into the fabric of his shirt.
And there was darkness on the face of the earth...
More passing minutes, a melancholy guitar solo, hopeful strings, all wrapped in the soft hiss that reminded Bella of how old the record was, and how many times Charlie had sat in this room listening to it.
"Alice is worried about you," Edward said.
"Yeah, I got that impression."
"She was here?"
"Yes, said she needed some info for travel plans, but she could have gotten it over the phone, or from you. She's not subtle, anyway. I don't know why she bothers pretending at all."
"I hope she didn't bother you. I told her it wouldn't help."
"You're right. Nothing helps, when it feels like this."
"How... does it feel?" Edward asked hesitantly. "I don't want to push you, as I'm sure Alice did, but I do want to know how you're feeling."
Instead of answering his question, Bella asked, "How do you know? That Alice would push me that way?"
"Because that's what she does," Edward said, sighing. "She fixes things. Tries to fix people. She doesn't understand that it doesn't work that way."
"She did that with you, before." Bella remembered Edward's talk of persistent melancholy, how his aloneness had covered him in a constant shadow.
"Yes," he confirmed. "She finds other people's darker moods unsettling, and, I think, unnecessary. She can see so much of the big picture that she's blind to the small details of what motivates us, moves us."
"I guess I understand how she would find this unnecessary, but I don't feel that way. I need my grief as much as my joy right now. Maybe more."
"I know that. Alice may not be able to relate, but I can. Not to what you're feeling specifically, but to being in the grip of something painful that's larger than your own will. I do understand. I didn't want to feel better, either, because I thought getting better would separate me from true things I needed to remember."
"Like how I hadn't yet found you."
There it was again, the flutter in her chest, the touch of vertigo, the heat.
"And you don't mind?" she asked when she could trust her voice, "That I can't be all-the-way happy? At least, not yet?"
"As we are, Bella. Remember?"
"Yes. As we are."
She was quiet for few minutes, and he didn't speak as she struggled to make words of what she felt.
"I think it's just because things are changing," she said at last. "Sometimes, when I'm missing him, it feels like he's slowly dissolving, and I can't stop it, but I want to. So I try to stay very, very still to keep from making him disappear any faster. To keep the parts of my life connected to him from disappearing."
"Like your grief?"
"Yes... and my apartment."
"Really?" Edward said, surprised.
"Yeah. I know it isn't rational. I don't care about the place, at all, except it was in that bathroom that I took that pregnancy test. I still remember how lightheaded I felt when the second line appeared... how I'd had to sit down on the edge of the tub to keep from landing on the floor. I remember how cold the tub was against my bare legs. David is gone, but that moment, that test, is still real. I can see it and touch it. And the bathroom is real, and I threw up in there about a hundred times, and that was David, too. The corner of carpet, behind the closet door, where my hospital bag sat packed for two months..." She swallowed hard. "It's just so hard to let go of the things that connect me to him. I'm so worried I'm going to lose even more of him."
"If there were any way we could keep the apartment without leaving a paper trail, I would make that happen -"
"No, I don't want that. I know it's time to let it go. I'm just scared."
"Bella, whatever you need..."
The record ended, and they lay without speaking, listening to the wind in the pines.
The night Bella had first gone to the Cullens' house to meet with Jasper, the place had intimidated her. The size of it, the wealth displayed there, and the indefinable, not-quite-right feeling of the house had been more than a little overwhelming, however warm and unassuming the Cullens themselves were. Without the Cullens' possessions to fill it, the house was haunting in a different way. The empty walls stretched up to shadowy ceilings in a way that made her feel small and a little cold. The afternoon sun shot through the naked windows, casting shadows and squares of brightness that were blunt and strange. She looked around for boxes, but there was nothing left that she could see.
"You really are all ready to go," she said, feeling a little dizzy. Edward put an arm around her, steadying her.
"We move a lot," Carlisle said as he strode into the foyer, smiling. The collar on his shirt was open, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. "We have a pretty good system by now." He clapped Edward on the shoulder before turning to Bella. "Not everything is gone, though. I've set up my office to examine you if you're ready."
Carlisle made an "after you" gesture toward the long hallway to their left. Bella started down the way he indicated. She paused at the doorway to a large room to the right, and she saw that the house wasn't entirely empty after all. There was a single object left in the room, Edward's piano, covered with a white canvas dropcloth.
"You're leaving it?"
He took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze.
"I'm afraid so. It's unlikely that where we go next will be an appropriate place for an instrument this size. We'll donate this one, to the school if they can take it, and I'll find a smaller one once we're resettled."
Carlisle waited ahead of them, but Bella lingered.
"That was the first moment I really saw you," she said.
"And what did you see?" Edward asked.
"You terrified me," she admitted.
"So the song did not have the effect Alice intended."
"I don't know about that," Bella said. "Alice wanted me to know the truth. And she knew that would mean scaring me, at least a little."
"You may be right. Alice certainly isn't known for her patience."
Edward squeezed her hand, and Bella let him lead her down the hall after Carlisle.
She found Carlisle's office was mostly empty, but there was still a desk (nearly bare); a rolling stool; and a padded exam table. There were a few cardboard boxes on the floor, and she saw the familiar wrappings of medical supplies in them.
"Wow," Bella said. "You just keep this stuff around? All the time?"
"Of course not," Carlisle said, patting the table. "I've only had this for ten years or so."
"Ten years," Bella said as she lay back on the table and set about unbuttoning her shirt. "Right." That would have been right around the time they'd first come across her.
The buttons were too tricky with one hand, so she let Edward help. And she watched him as she did, feeling her chest tighten and her face redden.
"Preparing was all we could do," Carlisle said from where he stood by his desk, politely not watching Edward open Bella's shirt, then her bra. "We may have overdone it... but we're using it now, aren't we?"
When Edward had finished with her clothes, Carlisle turned to Bella. He bent over her and examined the lines, still bright red, running over her skin.
"Hmm, these aren't fading as much as I'd hoped. Is there pain?"
"No, not anymore. I get pins and needles in my arm sometimes, but the cuts don't hurt at all."
"Hmm," Carlisle said again, frowning. "I'd like to tell you that these scars will disappear when you go through your Change, but I'm not so sure anymore. We have little experience with injuries from wolves; they may not be so readily healed by our venom."
"I- I don't mind the scars," Bella lied. "But do you still think my arm will be fixed, when I Change?" She tried, and failed, to keep the desperate note from her voice.
"I think so," Carlisle said. "The nerves were damaged from impact; they weren't severed by Jacob's claws themselves. And we've seen much more extensive paralysis reversed with the Change."
Bella looked at Edward, and he tried to smile, but it was a poor attempt. She thought he might be trying not to seem angry.
"Nothing worth worrying about now," Carlisle said, catching sight of Edward himself. " What will be, will be. And, overall, you've recovered well." He helped her sit up.
"So, uh, no more special precautions then? No more... activity limitations?" she asked, keeping her eyes on her shirt as Edward rebuttoned it for her. His hands faltered briefly when he heard her question.
"You can resume normal activities," Carlisle said without a trace of embarrassment. "But you are still human, so a certain amount of caution is always going to be required, if we're talking about what I think we're talking about." He paused. "Of course, it would be safer if you and Edward waited until after your change."
"As I said," Edward said softly.
"Right, safer," Bell pressed, ignoring him. "Does that mean it's impossible now?"
"No, not impossible," Carlisle conceded. "It's not unheard of, you know, a vampire and a human being together that way."
"It's not?" Edward asked, bewildered. "You never said-"
"Until she chose you, me dwelling on such information would have been irrelevant at best and, at worst, cruel," Carlisle said. "But I have heard stories, male vampires bragging about their conquests with human women. It is, of course, dangerous, but I suspect the danger is a great deal less when there's a true mating bond rather than a moment of mere lust."
"The women," Bella said. "Did a lot of them die?"
"Some did," Carlisle said, and Edward flinched. "But I didn't get the impression that the vampires they were with were too concerned about preventing such a thing. The challenge was in the woman giving herself to them freely. It didn't matter much to them if they drained her when the act was done."
Silence hung in the room for a long moment.
"Are there any stories about pairings... like ours?" Edward asked.
"Not specifically, not that I know of," Carlisle said. "But if a vampire having sex with a human for sport could keep himself from killing her - and others have - then I do think it's possible that you could do the same, if you're both sure that's the choice you want to make."
Bella and Edward exchanged a glance, and she reached for him, taking his hand.
"It is what we want," Bella said. "I know he won't hurt me."
"What should I know? How can I protect her, if we..." Edward fumbled the words. "Are there things I should know?"
"I think you already know everything you need to," Carlisle replied, not looking the least embarrassed. "Use your common sense, Edward. Be aware of how you use your strength and speed. Never go to her when you thirst. And, of course, be very, very careful with your teeth."
"Of course," Edward muttered. He seemed to be sliding deep into thought.
"For now," Carlisle said, changing the subject, "Bella should go take a look in the garage. Your things from Seattle are there."
Bella was both grateful for the information Carlisle had given them and relieved to be moving onto something else. Carlisle would never not feel like Edward's father to her, and talking about sex with a parental figure just wasn't an entirely comfortable thing to do. But she thought the conversation had been helpful, so she was grateful they'd had it.
She went to the garage and, as she'd predicted, found very few things she wanted to hold onto. She kept some of her clothes and shoes (although she hardly needed them now that Alice had stocked her closet) along with her photographs and keepsakes. There was so little left once all the housewares and furnishings and random clutter had been sorted out. When all was said and done, Bella had maybe three smallish boxes labeled "keep." Edward stacked them in the Cullens' empty living room; they'd go with the very last of the Cullens' belongings, not long before the Cullens themselves left the place for decades, if not for good.
"What is it?" Edward asked, watching Bella's face as she looked at the little stack that represented all her worldly possessions going forward.
"I'm just feeling very aware of how little I'm bringing into this, how little I have to give you."
She didn't see him move. One moment he was brushing dust off his jeans, and the next he was holding her, kissing her, his hands in her hair and up and down her back.
"Do you have any idea," he said breathlessly, "how ridiculous you sound to me when you say that?"
She kissed him then, not caring that his family was in the backyard pretending not to hear them, or that he'd just called her ridiculous.
"Please," she whispered against his mouth. "Please mean it."
"I mean it," he said into her hair. "You know that I do."
She pulled back and he let her take that space, enough that she could see his eyes.
"I know," she said, incredulous to find she meant it. "I know that you do."
She clung to him, trusting and terrified, so hard her muscles trembled, and he held her carefully, as close as she needed, for as long as she needed, giving her the only words that mattered.
"I mean it. I love you. I want you. You're what I need. I mean it."