Here's just a little somethin' I've been playing with. I started this o/s with the Meet the Mate contest in mind. I couldn't shave it down under 5k, however, and felt it didn't quite fit the theme. So instead, I fleshed it out and am posting now!

Thanks so much to Powered by 23 Kicks who pre-read my first attempts.

As always, feel free to PM me if you need an HEA? spoiler. Otherwise, anything goes!


Happenstance

Everyone seemed to know of him, but not many had actually met him.

I'd overheard other choir members talking during water breaks. Apparently, he was in his early twenties but already working on a doctorate in Music Composition. He held a Master's degree in Piano Performance and could play several other instruments almost as adeptly. A number of premier orchestras across the globe had invited him to play a feature piece, yet he always declined.

Rumor had it that Edward Cullen, musical savant, was very shy and socially awkward.

When James, our conductor, informed us that the spring concert program would include a piece that required four hands piano accompaniment, I cheered to find out that Angela Webber was tapped to play two of them. A Piano Performance major herself, my best friend certainly had the chops to handle any difficult passages.

Then James gleefully announced the identity of the musician who would be providing the other two hands.

Edward Cullen.

We reacted with gasps of surprise and excited whispers. How could it be that such a talented pianist had chosen to work with an amateur collegiate group over renowned professional ensembles?

The reason made sense when we learned it: his performance with us was merely a degree requirement. Still, we felt honored to assist him in fulfilling it.

Nothing could have prepared me for the reaction I had when he first stepped onto the stage. Based on the description of his personality, I imagined a gangly, bespectacled, unattractive eccentric.

Edward Cullen was anything but.

Although his gaze never lifted from the floor during James's introduction, Edward had an aura of quiet confidence about him. He wore simple, yet stylish clothing that spoke of money and good taste. His movements were graceful and deliberate, as if each was completed with a specific purpose in mind—one that contributed to some grand, overarching goal.

A similar observation could be made about his physical features. His nose, mouth, eyes, jaw—they were all attractive in their own right, but together, formed something exquisitely beautiful. His hair fascinated me, especially. It was a shade of light brown with glinting reddish-gold highlights that seemed to create the illusion of movement. Of course, the hair actually did move a lot. His locks were on the longer side, especially on top, and he often raised a hand to push them off his forehead.

I was captivated—wholly and unreservedly taken by not just his looks but everything about him. The way his long fingers danced over the black and white keys. The furrows that appeared in his brow during somber sections of music. The upward quirk of his lips during more playful passages. His thoughtful expression as the choir rehearsed problem areas and fine-tuned lyrical nuances.

After several weeks, Angela grew tired of my incessant quest to find out more about him.

"No, Bella, I don't know who his favorite composer is," she huffed. "You watch him all the time, so I'm sure you've seen that he and I hardly ever talk to each other. Why don't you just ask him yourself?"

I was a fairly social person who had dated a few times in the past. However, I'd never been the one to make the first move. And on a purely empirical level, Edward was heads and tails above any of my past guys in terms of both talent and physical attractiveness. I'd almost have said he was out of my league. Still, I felt a strong pull toward him that I couldn't deny. If I didn't take a chance and open myself to possible rejection, I knew I'd forever regret it.

With that in mind, as soon as the next rehearsal concluded, I rushed to the piano where Edward and Angela were gathering their music.

"Hey, Angela and, um, Edward," I blurted out. "You two sounded great today…er, as usual, I mean. You always sound great. But, I'm sure you know that." I tittered anxiously and shot a pleading glance at Angela.

She rolled her eyes at my unfortunate conversation attempt but went ahead with her part of the introduction.

"Uh, Edward, have you met my friend, Bella, yet?"

His expressive eyes flicked up to my face as a ghost of a grin played on his lips.

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," he said in the softest of voices. "Good to meet you…Bella."

His lips seemed to caress the syllables of my name. Barely suppressing a feverish giggle, I mumbled something about having an urge for coffee and then asked if anyone wanted to get a cup with me. When he answered in the affirmative, my racing heart thundered so loudly that I was sure he could hear it hammering in my chest.

Angela, like the good friend she was, made an excuse about having a lot of homework and quickly scampered out of the rehearsal hall. With her departure, Edward and I were the only two left on stage. Nervousness threatened to get the best of me, but my worries melted away when he held out his elbow and tilted his head in invitation. It was a strange gesture for someone his age to make, but I happily accepted it as a positive sign of his interest.

Barely a half hour had passed before I began wondering why Edward was labelled a social misfit. Maybe he wasn't the most talkative person I'd ever met, but when he did speak, his words came without hesitation and were always relevant. He asked numerous questions about my interests, my family, and even my childhood.

I felt very relaxed in his presence as we chatted with ease. He caught me off-guard and kept me laughing with droll, understated remarks that often took a moment to fully appreciate for their insight and complexity. Edward Cullen, it seemed, was a well-rounded man with interests that extended far beyond the world of music.

I did find it strange that he avoided sharing personal information about his background. When I was finally able to turn the conversation toward him, he cited a few biography-type facts I already knew and then drew attention to the late hour. It was obvious that he was putting an end to our time together. I felt the stinging pang of disappointment but tried not to let it show.

Edward insisted on escorting me to my dormitory. I walked as slowly as I could without being obvious about it. At one point, I glanced over to him and saw a knowing spark in his eye, one that suggested he realized what I was doing but found it acceptable—desirous, even. It gave me hope that my feelings of attraction weren't entirely one-sided.

We said our goodbyes outside the entrance to my building. As much as I wanted the night to end with a kiss, I knew we weren't there yet. He hadn't previously seemed nervous, but as we stared at each other under a flickering street lamp, I could see anxiety on his features, as if he was having some sort of intense internal debate.

Finally, just as I was about to stammer goodbye one last time and make a dash for the door, he reached out and brushed his fingertips down the side of my face.

"I had a wonderful time tonight," he murmured, his expression oddly wistful.

My ecstatic heart leaped up into my throat, and I thought surely I would float away. I waited for him to ask for a second meet-up but only heard silence for several awkward moments. Ignoring the fluttering in my stomach, I mustered the courage to suggest it myself.

He quickly agreed with a smile that seemed relieved. After setting a time and wishing me sweet dreams, he departed with a noticeable spring in his step. I couldn't help the silly grin on my lips that stayed long after he left.

Our rapport built slowly but steadily. Coffee dates transitioned to meals, then to longer outings like movies, concerts, museums, and sports games. Edward was ever eager to know everything about me but remained frustratingly tight-lipped about himself.

I did learn that he had an older brother and sister, both of whom were married. His father practiced family medicine, and his mother was a philanthropist who dabbled in interior design. His parents came from old money, and although I tried to go Dutch on dates from the beginning, Edward was quite adamant about picking up the tabs. His insistence turned out to be necessary; I never could have afforded the VIP tickets, premium seating, and concierge service that Edward preferred.

As little as I discovered about his family, I knew even less of his past. Apparently, he'd moved a lot when he was younger and had attended several different schools in his lifetime. His quiet demeanor wasn't conducive to making friends, and as a result, there hadn't been many important people in his life outside his family. In a shy, embarrassed voice, he confessed that he'd never even had a serious girlfriend before.

I didn't do a very good job hiding my smile after hearing that interesting tidbit of information. I also couldn't stop myself from hoping, desperately, that I'd be the first.

If I could've designed an ideal boyfriend, he would have been very much like Edward. Sweet, thoughtful, intelligent, talented, passionate…handsome. We had amazing discussions about everything under the sun, from music to science to the latest entertainment news. He harbored a secret love for comic books and kept me up to date on the latest superhero developments. I shared my interest in politics and confessed the dream I had to one day run for public office.

For the most part, the time we spent together passed easily and quickly. I'd never connected so well with anyone in my life. But sometimes, I got the feeling that he was holding back, that he was hiding a secret from me. Apropos of nothing, he'd lapse into a still silence, as if his mind were miles away.

He also displayed odd behavior on occasion, glancing over his shoulder in the middle of a conversation as though he were concerned about someone noticing him. More than once, he dragged me into a seemingly random store without warning. Although we attended public events and went out regularly, there was a sense of wariness about him that wasn't present when we were alone. I wondered if he suffered from some sort of social anxiety but didn't know how to bring up the subject without offending him.

Such a condition could have explained why he seemed hesitant to show physical affection. Our first kiss finally happened about three weeks after the initial coffee "date." I'd sent just about every signal of readiness short of actually assaulting those beautiful lips myself. It was incredibly difficult to be patient and keep my hands to myself, but I didn't want to push him into something for which he wasn't ready.

As had become our custom, he walked me home after rehearsal one evening. I didn't have much homework and asked if he'd like to come in for a while. The sincere look of regret on his face caused me to shrug off my disappointment, but I didn't fool him at all.

Just as I was about to go inside for the night, he touched my arm and took a step toward me. He wore an expression that I'd never seen on him before, one of anxious resolve. My nerves tingled in excited anticipation when he looked at me with a deep longing that matched my own.

Slowly, his hand reached up, and his fingers caressed the side of my face, moving over my cheekbone and down my jaw.

The mere thought of what was to come caused a fire to race through my body, igniting everything in its path. A tilt of his head requested permission, and I showed eager acceptance by pressing closer into him. He sucked in a sharp breath through his nose, then haltingly lowered his head down to mine. I was practically quivering in my shoes by the time our mouths came together.

Letting him lead took an enormous amount of self-control, but the effort was well worth it. His lips pulled on mine, gently but insistently, as if he wanted to drink me in one sip at a time, savoring each mouthful, until I was completely consumed. Although relatively chaste in nature, his deliberate kisses left me breathless and more aroused than I'd ever been.

I nearly lost my mind at the first tentative touch of his tongue inside my mouth. He moved with careful strokes, probing, tasting, learning. I slid my hands up his chest and clutched onto his strong shoulders, not wanting to ever let go. Edward continued his slow, meticulous exploration, taking more of my willpower and sanity with every slide of his tongue. It was only after many minutes, when my hips arched toward him in desperation, that he pulled away.

"Bella," he whispered adoringly, holding my face in his hands.

At that moment, he could have asked me almost anything, and I would've said yes. He could've revealed his deepest, darkest secrets, and I would have accepted them as my own, without pause. An amazing new world had revealed itself to me, and I was drunk on the wine of discovery.

Edward placed another tender kiss on my lips and lowered his hands to my waist.

"You are so wonderful, so beautiful. I wish that…if only I could…" His words trailed off into a sigh.

"What? What do you wish?" My voice was low and husky. "Tell me."

But instead, he removed my hands from his shoulder and took a step back. I blinked up at him in confusion.

Something had shifted in his expression. It was a small change, but I'd seen it before. He wasn't going to answer my question. He had withdrawn to that shuttered space in his mind where I wasn't allowed entrance.

I struggled to mask my hurt when he said an abrupt goodnight, leaving me to wonder just what it was he couldn't tell me.

Perhaps I should've pushed the issue, but I didn't want to jeopardize our newfound intimacy. With one physical barrier overcome, Edward quickly made up for his previous kissing inexperience, embracing every opportunity to join his lips with mine. Any concerns I had were swept further out of my mind with each artful flick of his tongue.

Drenched in the excitement of blossoming romance, the semester seemed to speed by in a whirl of classes, homework, rehearsals, and Edward. Because his house was off-campus, we spent most of our time in my dorm room, studying both our course material and each other.

As much as I wanted it, however, he wouldn't invite me over to stay the night at his house. Yes, we'd made progress, but Edward was only comfortable with a very limited range of physicality. I found this extremely frustrating but was determined to let him progress at his own pace. After all, if the shoe were on the other figurative foot, I would expect the same from someone proclaiming to care about me.

Still, I loved spending time with him, even when we did nothing more than work on class assignments. I'd often accompany him to a practice room so that he had access to a piano while I studied. During my breaks, I loved watching him muse over a passage in his head, bring it to life through deft strokes over his fingers over the keys, and then furiously scribble out the resulting beauty on sheets of crisp composition paper.

Finals period proved stressful for us both. Edward spent long hours rehearsing with the orchestra that would be performing his dissertation symphony. I had several papers to write, including a junior thesis that was required for my degree. Edward and I saw each other only in passing except for the occasional study break. True, it was a busy time, but thoughts of him never strayed far from my mind. I looked forward to those brief moments of shared respite.

Edward, on the other hand, seemed distant when we met, almost cold. He didn't speak much and never smiled. I didn't understand the sudden change in his attitude. Was it simply a byproduct of academic stress? Had he encountered some sort of problem concerning the performance of his composition? A conflict with his advisor, perhaps? Or, was it an issue with…me?

Troubled, I asked him about his dismissive behavior, but only received more of the same. He muttered something about a hectic schedule and changed the subject. As much as the brush-off stung, however, I had neither the time nor the energy to engage in an argument.

His detachment peaked the night before his concert. I had decided not to bring up the subject again until we were both finished with school for the year, but my resolve broke when his goodbye kiss was nothing more than an absent peck on the forehead. I grabbed his hand before he could walk away.

"Hey, what's going on?" I asked, my voice thick with worry. "Did I do something to make you mad?"

He blinked at me as if I was speaking an unknown language. "Of course not. Why would you think that?"

"I don't know what else to think. You've been different recently. It feels like you're pulling away…like you don't care as much about me…anymore…" I trailed off in a whisper as fear gripped my heart.

Edward appeared horrified at the thought. "That's the opposite of the truth!" he gasped, pulling me into a tight embrace. "I care about you more and more every day that goes by. In fact, I…I love you."

I tilted back my head to gape at him. "You love me?"

A glorious smile broke out over his face. "Yes, Bella, I love you. More than anything and everything."

It would have been so easy to return his words, but I had yet to receive an answer to my initial question.

"If I'm not the problem, then what is it?" I asked quietly. "Are you nervous about the concert?"

"A little, but…" He took a step back and pushed a hand through his hair, staring intently at me as if weighing heavy decisions.

Just as I opened my mouth to press him further, he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. When he looked at me again, all uncertainty was gone from his features.

"I'm sorry for the way I treated you," he said, his voice soft and full of remorse. "I was dealing with some…family issues…but I shouldn't have let them affect our relationship."

"Oh no! Is the situation serious?" I asked with concern. "Is there anything I can do?"

Edward's gaze shifted to a point over my shoulder, seemingly far off in the distance. "It's a very serious matter, but steps are already being taken to…remedy the problem. Thank you for offering, though."

I could hear pain beneath his calm tone and stepped forward to wrap my arms around him. "Well, no matter what, I'm here for you," I said, my lips moving against the shirt fabric across his chest.

"Bella," he whispered, letting out a shuddering breath and hugging me tightly. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too."

We stood together outside my door, our bodies pressed close. It wasn't easy to say goodnight, but we both needed to get some rest before the upcoming busy day. Edward would be busy with requisite pre-performance preparations, and I had to study for my last exam. Unfortunately, that meant I wouldn't be able to meet up him before the concert began.

"Good luck, although I know you won't need it," I said, blowing him a kiss as he walked away. "Tomorrow is going to be amazing!"

He pretended to catch the kiss and clasped it to his heart. "Yes, it is," he said with an odd note in his voice. "And it just may be amazing in more ways than one."

I wondered what he meant as he turned the corner and disappeared from sight. The question continued to tickle my mind throughout the night and the next day, right up until the concert's late afternoon start.

I couldn't wait to see him. The front row seats he'd gotten for Angela and me afforded the perfect opportunity to stare unhindered at the lean figure atop the podium.

And, oh, what a beautiful sight he made.

He'd chosen to conduct the orchestra himself, and Edward expressing his passion through sinuous movements of his body while clad in elegant black tails was an art form in itself.

The audience in the sold-out venue listened with rapt attention as his music took them on a unique emotional journey. I was tempted to lay my head back, close my eyes, and let the lyrical strains wash over me, but I didn't want to miss one moment of seeing my dashing boyfriend in his element.

My boyfriend.

I could barely believe such a remarkable person was mine.

After a standing ovation and two curtain calls, the hall lights came up. I bid a hasty goodbye to Angela, who'd been moved to near tears, and hurried backstage. Edward was occupied, receiving praise from important-looking people, but I didn't care. I pushed past the group and threw my arms around his neck.

His surprise lasted only an instant, and then he was laughing at my attempt to cover every inch of his face with kisses. It was a carefree sound—the kind I hadn't heard in weeks. To me, it was as beautiful a symphony as the one I'd just heard on stage.

More distinguished guests waited in the wings to offer their congratulations, but Edward dismissed them with a perfunctory nod. He practically pulled me off my feet in his impatience to escape the crowd.

He guided me to backstage door with his name on a piece of paper taped to it. As soon we entered his dressing room, he threw the door shut, pushed me against the wall, and kissed me deeply. It was an intense, fevered kiss with an urgency I'd never felt from him before. His hands slid down my thighs to grab the skirt of my dress and hitch it up to my waist. Before I had time to react, he lifted me up and thrust his hips forward to keep me from sliding down the wall.

And then I felt him.

Right there, between my legs.

Hard and eager.

It was the nearest we'd ever come to the act of sex. His covered erection would sometimes come in contact with my abdomen or hip when we kissed, but he averted my hands if they ever wandered too close. After a few thwarted attempts to explore, I took to heart the boundaries he wished me to respect.

But as he ground his hips into me in that tiny backstage room, it seemed his wishes had changed.

His mouth was everywhere: my lips, my neck, my shoulders, the swells of my breasts. His hands roamed underneath my dress from my thighs to my hips and back again. I let out a low moan as his thumbs traced over the satin between my legs.

For all his enthusiasm, he froze when I began to loosen his white bowtie. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from sighing in frustration. But a mischievous grin formed on his lips. He lowered me to the floor and stepped away. I watched with a raised eyebrow as he gathered up his personal effects and haphazardly stuffed them into a duffel bag.

"Let's go to my house," he said, smirking. "I think a bed will be more comfortable than this wall."

I stared at him in disbelief.

His car was parked a good ten minutes from the concert hall, and although I tried to hurry, my heels proved to be a detriment. The second time I stumbled, Edward stopped and had me climb onto his back.

I'm sure we made quite the picture: a giddy girl in a cocktail dress with shoes in hand, clinging to the back of a laughing young man in an expensive evening tailcoat.

Once we were safely ensconced in his bedroom, Edward had no qualms with me pulling of his bowtie—or the rest of his clothing. He seemed like a different person, one who was possessed by an uncontrollable craving for me.

Some of his trademark restraint did reappear when we finally lay naked in bed, but the deliberate pace only served to add intensity to his loving exploration of my body. I trembled beneath him as he trailed kisses down my neck and across the line of my collarbones. One of his hands skimmed my side, his fingers caressing every curve and dip.

"Bella," he murmured into my skin, "I've wanted you for so long. I shouldn't, but I do."

My body arched upward when his lips grazed over a sensitive nipple. "You have me," I gasped, reeling from the sensation. "You should…and you do. Please, Edward…have me. Take me."

He groaned at my words and dragged his mouth back up to mine. "Oh God…you're just so…but I can't…I need to…slowly…"

I could tell he was struggling to maintain control of his desire, but I longed to experience the fiery passion he kept so tightly restrained in my presence. I wanted him to remove the walls between us, to let me in, to give me all of his soul—as I had given him mine.

I slid my hands down his back and grabbed at his waist, trying to pull us closer together. He hesitated for just a moment, then pushed up on his arms to meet my entreating gaze.

"I love you so much. Now and always."

His eyes steady on mine, he nudged his hips forward. I moaned when the length of his erection slipped through my wetness, causing me to thrust against him in mindless desperation.

"More," I whimpered. "I want you inside me. Please…"

"Yes…more…"

And then I felt him at my entrance, circling, probing, driving me mad with need. He sucked in a quick breath, held it, and slowly pushed inside.

The flood of sensation was incredible as I conformed to his shape.

Thick. Hard. Ready.

Stretching me and filling me and possessing me.

So good. So very, very good.

I cried out in utter ecstasy, my body tightening around him of its own accord. Edward clenched his eyes shut and gasped in response.

"I can't…I don't know if I'll be able to…"

I kissed him deeply, as though I could somehow prove the enormity of my love for him through the action.

"Don't worry about that. All I want is to be with you. Feeling you like this, it's what matters most to me." I looked away, feeling shy for the first time. "I, um…it probably won't take much anyway."

"You mean you're already…?" There was wonder in his voice.

"That's what you do to me," I murmured huskily, finding his eyes again. "That's what our love does to me." I wrapped my legs around the back of his thighs and pulled him in completely.

"Oh God!" His entire body jerked, and his arms nearly gave out. "You feel so good…"

I didn't expect our first time making love would be particularly remarkable. Edward had been so hesitant and cautious with every other "first" we'd shared. But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised when he rocked into me, thrusting smoothly, his hips rolling with ease. After all, I had seen him on the conductor's podium only hours before, moving with graceful purpose—rhythmic, flowing, and sure.

I had been telling the truth about my highly aroused state. The aching need had built for months, the pressure growing, the flame burning hotter. Now, each slow, deep stroke brought me so close to threshold of combustion that the need for release was almost painful. Edward stared as I writhed beneath him, his expression growing dark and wild.

"Please…" I begged in desperation. "I need…just like…yes…"

A sudden increase in pace stole my ability to form words. I dug my fingers into his back, countering him with frenzied thrusts of my own. I could feel him growing harder, thicker, sliding against me everywhere…everywhereand then…there.

I gasped, my muscles tightening around him in reply to the overwhelming surge. Wave after wave of the most perfect pleasure I'd ever experienced rippled through every part of my body.

Although caught up in a storm of sensation, I did not miss the sight of Edward jerking backward, his eyes clenched shut, his jaw slack. I felt him shudder and pulse deep inside me, spilling and coming apart. His cries of release blended together with mine to create their own unique harmony—one that resonated with my very soul.

He collapsed onto the bed, slipping out of me with a groan. Despite utter exhaustion, I managed pull my trembling body close to his and slide my arm over his chest. He pressed a soft kiss to my forehead.

We lay quietly for some time, not talking or moving…just simply being.

"I can't come up with the word to describe how much that meant to me…what you mean to me," Edward said at last, his voice thick with emotion. "You're my everything, Bella. There's no sacrifice I wouldn't make for you. I love you with all that I am."

I smiled happily as sleep tugged on the fringes of my consciousness. I was not able to do much more than return his sentiments and then snuggle into the blanket he pulled over us. Secure in the arms of the man I loved, I had never felt so perfectly sated, content, and whole.

I knew then that he was my soulmate, my other half, the one I wanted for the entirety of my life.

For the first time in our relationship, we spent the night together. In between periods of restful deep sleep, I rose just beneath the surface of wakefulness to revel in his presence as he caressed my body, kissed my face, and whispered his love. My most hopeful fantasies of making love with him couldn't compare to the actual event. I wished my tiredness wasn't preventing me from staying awake the entire night with him. This reality was better than any dream, and I didn't want to let go of it.

But when I opened my eyes the next morning, I learned just how quickly dreams could be dashed.

Edward was gone.

Gone from the bed, gone from the university, gone from my life.

Just…gone.

Only a note marked his departure.

Look after my heart. I've left it with you.

That morning, before understanding their true significance, I found the elegantly penned words to be romantic and sweet. I assumed that Edward had left to run an errand or fetch me breakfast in true romance-novel style. I stretched my pleasantly sore body and hugged the piece of paper to my chest.

The initial bliss turned to worry as minutes, and then hours, passed without any sign of him. It took a good amount of evidence for me to believe that he could so callously walk away, but I couldn't deny the truth when I discovered the empty driveway; when later phone calls went to a disconnected number; when I returned to his house the next day to find it empty; when Angela learned from one of her piano instructors that, although Edward had been awarded his doctorate, he never picked up his degree paperwork or left a forwarding address.

Contrary to what his note declared, Edward didn't leave his heart behind.

No, he shattered mine, instead.

I cried. I yelled. I lashed out my pain at anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in my path. I couldn't understand what had happened. Was it possible that I had missed signs of the impending heartbreak? Should I have been prepared that he would leave without explanation after expressing his devotion so ardently the night before?

Or had he lied about the depth of his feelings?

Angela supported me through it all with the loyalty and dedication of a true friend. She was there to take the brunt of my misplaced anger with understanding sympathy and keep me from sinking into a deep depression. She was there to wipe my tears and give me encouragement when the worst of my internal storm had finally passed.

She was there when he was not.

Despite a previously-arranged summer job with the university, I decided to go home to Forks and try forgetting that Edward Cullen ever existed. I wanted to erase him from my memory and move forward with my head held high.

But in the quiet town surrounded by the vast, ageless forest, the ache only intensified. Oh, I fought valiantly to keep him off my mind and out of my heart. I volunteered at the library, worked on a few improvement projects around the house, and caught up on town gossip. I read countless books, did voice exercises to maintain proficiency, even taught myself how to crochet.

None of it helped.

When I sang, my mind would recall the secret smiles he and I shared during choir rehearsal. When I read, I thought about our spirited discussions concerning literary themes of our favorite books and the authors' intents. Even watching mindless programs on television reminded me of his love of sports and superheroes.

Edward had left jagged scars on my soul that I feared would never fade.

My senior year started off no better than the previous one had ended. I clung to a childish, ridiculous hope that he would find me on campus or that we'd run into one another in town. My head was on a constant swivel, my eyes scanning the surroundings for flashes of reddish-brown.

But by Thanksgiving break, the truth had finally sunk in.

He was really, truly gone.

I vowed to get over him for good this time. I dove into my studies and got a jump start on reading material for classes I'd take the following semester. I spent time renewing friendships I'd neglected when dating Edward. I attended as many parties as possible, often drinking to excess and ending up with terrible hangovers afterward.

I didn't seek out the attention of other guys but didn't turn it away, either. I went out on a few dates that didn't amount to much and participated in a few drunken make-out sessions at parties. There was one person, Justin, who took a particular interest in me. He was nice enough—witty, athletic, cute—and although I didn't feel much more than friendship for him, I agreed to multiple dates simply because I couldn't think of a good reason to refuse.

We kissed and touched, and it was alright. What I felt, however, wasn't a fraction of the intensity I experienced with Edward. This discovery angered me. Rationally, I understood that I shouldn't expect to connect with someone else after such a relatively short time had passed, but my broken heart spoke louder than any sort of logic.

I agreed to go with Justin and a group of his swim team friends on a trip during spring break. There was far too much alcohol involved and far too little good sense. Justin and I had sex several times. It wasn't bad, but it didn't feel right. Nothing about us being together felt right. By the end of the week, I was ready to end any ideas he might have of a romantic relationship between us.

Justin accepted the news sadly and hoped that we would remain friends. We didn't have much in common, so I was fairly certain I wouldn't see much of him after our amiable parting.

But once again, reality proved me one hundred percent wrong.

A few weeks after break, I was knocking on his door, crying in his arms, telling him that I was pregnant.

Justin was a good man. Despite the scandal that having a child out of wedlock would cause, he promised to stand by me in every capacity and followed through in an admirable way. We had to keep the baby a secret from everyone until the end of the school year. After our graduation, he offered to look for a job around Forks to be near me during childbirth, but in the end, it made more sense for me to move in with him and his parents in New Hampshire.

From the moment she took her first breath, Elizabeth Anne Peterson was a wild child. Curious, determined, and passionate, she had definite ideas of how things were supposed to work, and woe to the world if they didn't pan out according to her design. Justin and his endlessly supportive parents were integral her upbringing, and their help was the reason I managed to stay relatively sane.

With their assistance, I even completed a Master of Education degree and secured a job teaching at a local high school. Justin stood by me throughout it all, while making no secret of his desire that we become more than just friends who happened to have a child together. Although I never stopped loving and longing for Edward, I chose to accept the truth of my situation instead of clinging to a fantasy that could never be.

I came to love Justin as both an incredible father to my daughter and a devoted friend who had proven he would always be there for me. Shortly after Lizzie turned three, we were married in a small but beautiful outdoor ceremony. Jared Michael Peterson was born nine months later.

In an existence that didn't promise happiness to anyone, I was fortunate. With a faithful, hardworking husband and two healthy children, I had no cause for complaint. We enjoyed a nice, middle-class life, free of tragedy or despair.

But there were times, usually during a rare moment of stillness, when I thought of the beautiful musician who had broken my heart. I wondered where he was, what he was doing…if he was happy. I wanted him to be. No matter how much pain he caused, I loved him too much to wish otherwise. Whatever his reason for leaving, I hoped it had turned out to be the right decision for him.

Once, on the first day of a new school year, I saw a sight in the campus parking lot that caught my attention. Amongst the plethora of hand-me-down and used cars, a gleaming white Volvo stood out in sharp contrast. Edward and I had walked or taken public transportation for most outings, but occasionally we left the city. His vehicle, a new import brand to the US at the time, had been a predecessor of the model in the school lot.

I shook my head in wry consternation. Twenty years had passed, and I still felt a flutter of longing in my stomach every time I spotted a white Volvo.

To make matters worse, I caught a glimpse of bronze in the sea of chattering students on my way back to the classroom. Deciding that my late-night reading habit was affecting my brain, I stopped by the teacher's lounge to grab a cup of coffee.

The bell rang just as I opened the door to my room. Drink in hand, I headed toward my desk and surveyed the new batch of students. When my gaze passed over one particular student, I tripped, nearly dropping the cup in the process.

I knew that face.

I knew the shape of the eyes, the color of the hair, the line of the jaw. I knew those features as well as I knew my own.

He held a paperback in front of him, thoroughly engrossed in the pages. His apparent indifference angered me. I wondered who he was and why he was sitting in my classroom. I wanted to run to him, shake him, demand answers. But it was neither the time nor the setting for such questions. I picked up my gradebook and sat on the corner of my desk.

When I took attendance and called out "Anthony Masen," the boy raised his hand and gave me a shy smile.

I had to look away.

Not once did I turn in his direction during the longest class I'd ever endured, either as a teacher or a student. The moment the bell rang again, however, I headed straight for his desk.

I didn't bother with preamble.

"Your last name might be Masen, but you sure as hell look a lot like an Edward Cullen I used to know in college," I said, my voice strained. "I assume you're…related?"

Anthony gaped at me with wide, guileless eyes, then glanced at the open door of the classroom. His shoulders slumped and his chin dropped to his chest. "He's…my father…was my father," he murmured. "He died. An unfortunate incident."

"Died? An unfortunate incident?" I choked out. "But how…w-why…when…?"

His head remained angled down, and I had to lean forward to hear his reply.

"It's a long story that involves his connection to a powerful Italian family—much like the Mafia, one might say. It was the reason he had to move so much—the reason I'll have to leave here soon."

"What do you mean?" I asked, my eyes narrowing angrily even as my throat tightened in fear.

Anthony Masen proved as much of an enigma as Edward, but he did provide a few answers to questions I'd had for years. According to him, Edward's family lived a double life—one that was to be kept secret at all costs. The Italians periodically checked on them, and if it was discovered that information had been leaked, intentionally or not, the consequences would be dire for all involved.

I remembered how strangely Edward had acted when we were in public, checking over his shoulder or hastily pulling me into buildings without apparent cause. The behavior did seem to support Anthony's story.

He continued, saying that Edward had indeed loved me—so much, in fact, that he left to keep me safe.

"But couldn't he have given me some clue about why?" I wondered aloud, my words trembling with anguish. "For twenty years, I've been trying to understand what happened. I thought maybe I'd done something wrong…or that I'd only imagined his feelings for me…"

"No!" Anthony exclaimed. "He loved you more than anything…more than his own life, even. He wrote everything down. I can bring them to you, and you'll see. It's all there, in his journals."

Tears blurred my vision as I shook my head. "I don't want to know. That would only make things worse."

He sighed, glancing at his watch. "This is the last thing in the world I want, but it's time for me to…go."

I swiped the back of my hand across my eyes. I didn't care that he had another class to attend; I wanted him to stay and tell me more about Edward. Anthony was the only part I had left of the brilliant pianist I'd known and loved.

Edward.

My Edward.

"I'm so sorry about what happened," Anthony murmured sadly. "My whole family is. It's hard to believe that in all the towns in this country, we'd end up in yours. I promise, if we'd have known, well…I'm sorry that I caused you to remember such an unpleasant period in your past. And I regret even more that we've put you in danger once again."

"Danger? But how? We just met an hour ago. You said that after Edward p-passed, your family changed their last name. I have a different name, too…" My voice shook at the significance of the statement, but I pushed my heartache aside. "How could the Italians realize so soon that I used to have ties to a Cullen—?"

"It's best if you don't say that name while we're here—and perhaps not until we've been gone for a while."

"Gone?" I whispered in horror. "Because of me, you have to move again?"

He averted his gaze to the floor. "Yes."

"How soon?"

"Immediately."

"No!" I said loudly, not caring who heard. "Not yet. There's so much more I want to know about Edward, and I never did get a chance to meet his family…your family. Can't you stay a little while longer? You'll be leaving for college anyway after this year is over. Please…"

"I'm sorry, but it's too risky," Anthony replied, his voice full of remorse. "It's not just you who would be in danger. The Italians are ruthless. They would think nothing of killing your loved ones—your husband, your children, your friends, anyone they thought might be connected to you."

"But…but I can't…not again…"

Anthony cautiously stretched out an arm and took my hand in his.

"I know it might not make sense to you now, or ever," he murmured, "but Edward made the greatest sacrifice of his life to keep you safe: he gave up you. My family and I won't allow that to have been in vain. We have to go."

I stared down at the familiar curve of his hand and the long fingers I used to know so well. I could barely make sense of what was happening. It felt like I'd lost Edward all over again.

I took a deep breath and tried to get a handle on my frantic dismay.

"Do you play any instruments?" I asked quietly. "Piano, maybe?"

"No." His voice was just as soft as mine. "Music was his passion."

Anthony Masen walked out of my classroom and didn't return to school the next day.

On my desk, however, I found five leather-bound books.

Journals.


"Do you still have 'em?"

"The journals? Yes, I have them, and no, you can't read them."

"Aw, c'mon, Grams. Let me have a peek. I'll get them after you croak, anyway."

"You brat," I laugh weakly, stopping to cough into a handkerchief. "Just like your mama. But the answer's still no. You're just going to have to wait for a few more weeks. Or maybe I'll hang on longer to spite you."

"Oh, Gramma, you know I love you, right?" Sophie's eyes fill with tears as she leans forward to hug me. "Cancer sucks."

"Don't I know it." Being mindful of the various tubes crossing my body, I squeeze her back with all the strength I can muster from my frail, failing body. "So are you ready to tell me why you asked about Edward? It's been years since you wanted to hear that tale—not since you were a little girl."

"Hey, it's a good story, one about a lost love and all that. And since I'm a lot older, I have a different perspective. For instance, when I was a kid, I never thought to ask if Grampa knew about this Edward guy." She smirks. "So, did he?"

"He knew enough. But I had no reason to go into it, and he had no reason to want me to. Your grandpa was a wonderful man. I loved him very much."

"Mm-hmm, good, good." Sophie's expression turns impish. "So anywaaaay, I met a guy in one of my Psych seminars."

"Oh, do tell. Is he cute? Good in bed?"

"Grams! Old age has turned you into such a perv." There's a slight blush on her cheeks. "Yes, he's devastatingly cute, but no, I haven't slept with him. It's not for lack of trying, though. Unfortunately for me and the rest of the straight female population, he's gay."

"Okay, so why are you telling me about him?"

"Well, funny thing, I found out that Edward is named after his granddad."

"Oh?" I manage to keep my expression neutral, but just barely.

Sophie shoots me a sly grin. "Yeah, see, I asked him about it because the names Edward and Masen seemed familiar to me."

"Edward…Masen. You know a young man named Edward Masen." My heart is beating much harder than it probably should.

"Yeah, weird, huh?" she says, still smiling coyly. "We got to talking about our families, and the next thing I know, he's asking to meet you."

"Edward Masen…wants to meet…me?"

"You alright there, Grams?" Sophie giggles. "Been hittin' that morphine button pretty hard, huh?"

"Sophia Marie Cartwright, behave yourself." My attempt to tease her is half-hearted at best; I'm too busy trying to slow my racing mind.

"You're right. Where are my manners?" she gasps theatrically. "Edward's been waiting in the hall this whole time! I'll send him in right away."

Before I have a chance to respond, my granddaughter hops up from her chair and skips to the door of my room.

"Have a nice chat, Grams. I'll see you in a bit!"

Without a backward glance, she's out the door.

And Edward Masen steps in.

We stare at each other for several long minutes, neither of us moving or saying a word. I'm so completely overwhelmed that, finally, all I can do is cough out a dry laugh.

"So…you're gay now?"

The smile stretching across his face is so beautiful I want to cry.

"Well, I'm not really gay. But I have a lot of classes with girls. It's easier this way," he says with an embarrassed shrug, crossing the room and sitting in the chair Sophie had vacated.

"One would think you'd want to take advantage of a situation like that." I hope the raspy quality of my voice masks the pain in it. Over the years, I've realized it's better not to imagine how his life might be playing out without me in it.

"No, never," he says earnestly, grasping my hand with both of his. "It's only been you, and it will only ever be you."

We stare, trying to look past time to see the people we once were, to see the love we once shared. Then he raises an eyebrow, a curious expression on his face.

"That was a quite an interesting version of our story that you told Sophie." He sighs and hangs his head. "For example, you left out the part where you called Anthony every curse word in existence and then went on to make up your own. Rightfully so, of course. I also liked how you took my backstory a step further and made Edward and Anthony appear to be two different people. It was a nice touch."

"Well, I didn't feel like explaining how I fell in love with a mythical creature," I mutter. "I don't want psych meds added to the fruit salad of pills I'm already gett—"

My throat closes as a sudden pain tears through my body and folds me in half. I clutch my abdomen and brace against the agonizing spasms.

Edward's eyes widen at the strain showing on my face. "What's wrong? Should I call someone?"

"No, just…give me…a sec…" I blow out a slow gust of air and slowly uncurl my body. "Welcome to the exciting world of terminal illness. Although, relatively speaking, that one wasn't so bad."

"Oh, Bella," he whispers. "I hate to see you in pain."

A flash of anger burns through me. "Well, you could always leave," I snarl. "Isn't that your modus operandi when life gets difficult?"

He gapes at me in devastated shock. My words might as well have been a wrecking ball. For all his physical strength and durability, I've never seen Edward look so utterly destroyed.

"I was trying to keep you safe," he murmurs brokenly. "I gave you my journals to explain everything…"

"Twenty years after the fact! And if you hadn't accidentally ended up in my classroom, I might never have known!"

"Alice saw that if I told you about the Volturi, they would somehow find out. I would be punished and then forgiven, but you…they would've killed you. I couldn't let that happen, even if it meant leaving without explanation." He sighs. "I'd struggled over whether to go as soon as Alice informed me of her vision, but finals period was just beginning. I didn't want your studies to suffer and waited to depart until the last possible moment. With the majority of your requirements fulfilled, I hoped it would be easier for you to finish the semester."

"Easier for me?" I repeat, both incredulous and outraged. "Easy? There was nothing easy about moving on after I woke up from the best night of my life to a cryptic goodbye note!" I scoff bitterly. "Well, at least you gave me a nice parting gift. Or was it pity sex?"

"Bella…" My name is a horrified whisper on his lips. "You know it wasn't like that. Not at all. I can't believe you would think such a thing."

"Why not? Do you have any idea just how much you hurt me?"

Edward's hands reach up to grab two fistfuls of hair. "But it was for the best! You told me…you told Anthony…that you had a good life…you said you were happy with your husband! And what about your beautiful children, your grandchildren…? Volturi aside, I wasn't able to give you any of that. If you stayed with me, you would have lost your chance for a normal human existence."

His chin drops to his chest as his hands slide down to scrub at his face. "If you did read my journals, then you know I was selfish enough to wish for such a precious gift: that you would willingly sacrifice those opportunities and instead choose me. I even dared to long for an eternity with you, despite the inevitable forfeiture of your soul. But the moment I entertained that thought, Alice saw a future in which your life ended at the hands of the Volturi.

"I made the only choice I could, and time has proven it to be the correct one. Consider how wonderful your life turned out. Leaving was the right thing for me to do."

I grant him the courtesy of following his suggestion. I think about Elizabeth and Jared, their families, my dear grandchildren, the cherished moments spent in their loving company…

"No," I say, resolutely putting their images out of my mind. "It's impossible to compare that existence with one I never had—one I was never given the choice to have. You acted on your own without even telling me what was at stake!

"The first time you disappeared, it was to save me from a danger I didn't know existed. You once said that Alice's visions aren't absolute. You can't be certain that I would've died. After all, how could she see possible outcomes of decisions I was never given an opportunity to make? And even if my destiny was set, maybe I would've rather died by their hands knowing that you loved me as much as I loved you, rather than face all those years of pain and doubt! Did you consider that?"

I have to stop talking as another sharp pain rips through my abdomen. Edward jumps to his feet, staring helplessly, his arms reaching out to me in desperation. I shake my head at him and depress the button to deliver a dose of morphine from the PCA pump beside my bed.

Grief-stricken, Edward watches me breathe through the pain until it subsides. He's still standing frozen in place when I'm able to lift my head and meet his anxious gaze.

"It's fine," I rasp. "The worst is over." I gesture for him to sit back down.

"Oh, Bella…" he murmurs, his blank gaze fixed somewhere near the foot of my bed. "I'm sorry. I'm just so sor—"

"Why are you here?" I interrupt quietly. "Why now? Were you trying to find me, or did Alice see something…?"

When his eyes flick to my face, I see anguish, shame, and regret. Decades of uncertainty show in his expression, belying his youthful complexion with the appearance of aged weariness.

"When I left you that first time, I asked Alice not to look. I promised myself that I'd stay away from you completely, because I wouldn't have been strong enough to watch your life unfold from a distance without…interfering. Becoming friends with Sophie was as much an improbable coincidence as 'Anthony' ending up in your high school classroom. But this time, I just…I couldn't make myself leave. And when she told me about your condition…I know it was selfish and weak of me to come here, to see you again, but I…I…oh, Bella…"

His body hunches over as he muffles broken sobs with his hands.

I heave a sigh born of both frustration and sadness. In the process of reading his journals several times over the years, I've come to accept that Edward truly believed he was acting in my best interest. I've learned about his battle with a depression more severe than the one I'd experienced, his daily struggle to keep from searching me out, his occasional longing for death as a way of ending his misery. The consummate love he felt for me is as plain to see as the thousands of words etched in perfect penmanship across the bound pages.

But while I understand his reasons, it's been much more difficult to let go of my anger, to forgive him for breaking my heart so completely. Even now, with his tormented grief laid bare in front of me, I don't want to release my tight hold on the resentment that has been a heavy companion for so long.

I don't want to.

But…I do.

I let it all go.

Because it's Edward.

Edward.

My caring, sweet, beautiful man who, no matter how misguided I believe his intentions were, stayed true to his course at the expense of his own happiness and well-being.

The one who caught my eye, challenged my mind, captured my heart, and made my body sing like no one else ever did.

A person I loved more than life itself.

A person I still love.

My soulmate.

My Edward.

Even as I cursed his decisions, I'd dreamed of reconciliation for almost forty years. It was my hidden fantasy—a secret garden that, when life weighed down my spirit, I would sometimes visit in hopes of being whole again. Whole in a way I felt only with Edward.

The time I have left in this life is short, and I wonder if I can experience that completeness once more before the end. I can't let an opportunity pass without seizing it; I have to try. I can't let him leave again without making the most of every moment we have together.

Hesitant, anxious...even afraid…I reach out and touch his shoulder. The gesture seems to surprise him: every muscle in his body becomes rigid and his voiceless cry cuts off mid-breath. He closes his eyes as I move my trembling fingertips over his back in slow, uneven strokes.

Though so much time has passed, my hand remembers every line and curve. I can feel the cool flesh under his shirt—firm and hard, yet strangely yielding to the weak pressure I exert. Tears of bittersweet relief gather in my eyes as I savor the blessed sensation of our contact.

He shifts closer to me when my arm tires from the strain of holding it out. Resting my elbow on a pillow, I trace along the ridge of his cheekbone, over his closed eyelid, down his nose, across his lips. It always amazed me how something hard as marble could feel so soft. My hand lingers there, brushing over pale pink, marveling at the smooth perfection.

I pause in my journey of rediscovery when his mouth moves beneath my touch.

"Please, Bella…I know I don't deserve it, but…can you ever forgive me?"

The last stubborn vestiges of anger and betrayal I'd harbored melt away from the warm spark of hope in my chest.

"I already have."

It's not until the words are spoken aloud that I realize how true they are.

His eyes snap open to find mine, startled gratitude and wonder in their amber depths.

"You…have?"

At my slight nod, he bows his head and gently clasps my hand in his, pressing tender kisses and overjoyed words of thankfulness onto its lined surface. I release a soft sigh and relax into the raised mattress. My longstanding burden gone, I feel lighter and more content than I have in years. Many, many years.

"Bella," he says quietly, "I'd like to spend as much time with you as possible. Would you…would you consider coming to stay with me?"

"A day trip?" I shake my head, wistful. "I don't think it's possible for me at this point."

"No, not just a visit. I want to bring you to my home, take care of you, be by your side until…when…" His voice cracks in an uncharacteristic manner.

I squeeze his hand as my mouth forms a resigned smile. "Dying is a sad, messy business, Edward. It's not noble and romantic like in the movies."

"None of that matters to me. I would do anything for you."

I regard him for a moment, my easy mood still prevalent. "Hmm. Maybe it's not such a bad idea. We could consider it a penance of sorts."

"Hardly. It would be my honor."

Edward continues with a laundry list of reasons for going to live, and eventually die, in his home. I let him ramble on, but my decision had been made the moment he presented the offer. I can think of no better way to spend the remainder of my time than with him.

It takes only two days for him to settle me into a room at the Cullens' house—one that's completely outfitted with all the hospital-grade equipment he deemed necessary. I meet his family for the first time and am overwhelmed by their gracious hospitality and warmth.

Many in my own family are suspicious about the possible motives of this seemingly over-devoted young man. I concoct a story about Edward carrying out his grandfather's last wishes and leave it at that. Their concerns are allayed after a few visits to the house, anyway. It's nearly impossible to resist the full-strength Cullen charm, and they can see that I'm receiving the best care possible.

My days pass in a haze of pain, poetry, and promises. Edward allows others to assist only with duties that would take him from my side. He attends to my needs with utmost devotion, never once flinching from even the most unpleasant tasks.

We don't bemoan lost time together or contemplate what-ifs. He reads my favorite books aloud, and I share memories of my past. He waits with intense yet patient anticipation to collect every word that passes across my dry, pallid lips.

"I remember when Jared told me he wanted to take piano lessons. I just about had a stroke," I chuckle during one of my more coherent periods. "He was in first grade at the time and adored his music teacher. I tried to talk him into a different instrument—the violin, guitar, drums, anything—but he was determined to play a duet on the piano with his beloved Ms. Mallory.

"I bought him a keyboard so that he could wear headphones when he practiced, but there was no getting around the fact that I had a piano player in my life again." I smile fondly. "He took lessons for years and got pretty good. Nowhere near your caliber, though."

The corner of Edward's mouth tugs upward. "It's hardly a fair comparison. I'm sure Jared would be just as accomplished after decades of practice with extra abilities at his disposal." He strokes his thumb over the back of my hand. "But the advantages I gained pale in comparison to the cost."

"It's a price you've already paid, though. Might as well enjoy your talent. Don't you miss playing?"

He tries to maintain an even expression, but I can see his struggle. "Not as much as I missed you."

"I'm here now, Edward." I look down at my lap in a fit of shyness. "Would you…could you play for me again?"

He doesn't hesitate. "Always."

My bed is wheeled into the living room and situated next to the bench where Edward takes a seat. He pulls in a deep breath, looks into my eyes, and presses his fingers to the keys.

One of the railings of my bed touches the piano's glossy black wood casing, and I can feel the vibrations of the music as well as hear it. Suddenly, I'm back in a cramped practice room, taking a break from my studies as the one I love labors over his latest composition.

The emotional scars on my heart fade and disappear as the hours slip by. Reality entwines with memories and an impossible past that never was. Swimming deep in my dreamlike state, I am only dimly aware when I speak aloud the rhetorical questions in my mind.

"Is it possible? Would you want me for the rest of eternity? I've just gotten you back, and I'm not ready for this to end…"

At some point, he answers. I'm not sure if it is seconds later or hours. Time has lost its meaning to me, while concurrently meaning everything.

"I want you for longer than eternity and would do anything to have that. But it's…it's too late, my love. The changing process would be too much for your weakened heart." His voice has become nothing more than a whisper.

I think my response is a grim, drug-influenced chuckle. "It's probably for the best. Intriguing idea, though."

He doesn't reply, but the infinite remorse in his eyes speaks louder than words.

My battle with disease has been long and tiring. As my body begins to shut down, I come to terms with the finality of death. My family visits often, spending as much time as they can by my side. Edward forces himself outside the room to allow them the illusion of privacy; I know he keeps constant watch over me through their thoughts.

Moments of lucidity come fewer and farther apart. The pain dulls to a faint roar as feeling retreats inward from my extremities. When I struggle to open my eyes one sunny morning, I know my time has arrived.

A beam of light through the window reflects off Edward's skin, casting columns of color about the room. It's breathtakingly beautiful, just like him.

I give his hand a feeble squeeze.

Silent and unmoving, he stares at me, somehow reading the truth in my tranquil expression. His pitch black eyes widen in shock. Then, as if all his energy has drained out of him, he collapses over the mattress and buries his face in the comforter lying across my legs.

"No, Bella, no…please…I can't…I just can't…"

It takes all of my concentration to lift my hand and settle it atop the disheveled mess of bronze I've always adored. Edward lets out a choked sob, the sound muffled by layers of cotton and goose down.

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry, love…I had no idea what it must have been like for you. I was so selfish. Leaving you—not once, but twice—it nearly broke me. But now that I'm the one being left behind, I can see how much worse it is. God, it's so much worse." His shoulders heave as he gasps in anguish. "How do I go on from this? It's not possible. I would give anything to change what I did…to make a different choice. I was a goddamned fool to give up on us, and now, when I finally understand, it's too late. Our time is over. Oh, Bella, why did I have to be too late?"

Although the sun in rising in the sky, it's getting harder for me to see. I move my hand down to touch his face.

"You will go on," I rasp, breath rattling in my chest. "This isn't goodbye, you know. We'll find each other again."

He lifts up his head, those haunted eyes full of grief. "Wh-what do you mean? How…?"

My voice is barely louder than a whisper, but it is strong with conviction. "Edward, my love, you often lamented the loss of your humanity, but I know you're not without a soul. I know this because my soul recognizes its mate. You are its other half.

"Three times in this life, we've met. Three unique and unlikely times, our paths have crossed. I don't believe that was mere happenstance. There's a larger force at work, and I have no doubt that we are meant to be together. No matter what happens in life…or death…our souls will find each other. I won't say goodbye now because I know that, one day, you and I will meet again."

Edward places a tender kiss in the palm of my hand and then carefully brings it to rest over his silent heart. His eyes are bright with tears that can never fall.

"I love you so much, Bella. I-I'll try to be patient until that time comes."

He smooths away the wisps of hair from my forehead and leans forward to brush his cool lips over mine. When dusky twilight finally swallows his image and all sound fades away, I seek comfort inside my soul—in the warm, unending pulse of our love.

With a faint smile, I close my eyes for the last time and dream of us.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-


I'd never planned on writing more, but since posting, I've had several requests for a continuation of their story. I can't say when I'll get to it due to my other WIPS, but I've got a plot bunny waiting at the farm for a second chapter! I'm thinking it will be in EPOV. Please put this story on alert if you're interested. :^)