A huge, huge thank you to the girls at the Anything Goes Contest for being generally wonderful and for running such a great contest.
Thank you to those who read and reviewed and VOTED! for this story - I'm still amazed and awed at your sweet words.
Biggest thanks goes to GeekChic, who whipped this thing into shape with her beta extraordinaire skills, and who was a great sounding board as I was plugging my way through this. Any mistakes in this final post are mine, as I had a *very* small fiddle.
The Sum Of Us
"Bella, honey? Dinner's ready."
Sighing, I toss my pencil aside and shake my hand out. I ball it into a fist and stretch my fingers out, listening to the pops and clicks of my knuckles. With a groan, I reach over my head to stretch out my shoulders and arms, and it's only once I lift my head that I realize how late it is. The last time I looked up, the sun was streaming through my blinds, the light of a sunny afternoon washing through my bedroom. Now, it's dark, and the clock on my bedside table reads seven-thirty. I have no idea where the hours have gone.
Blinking as my eyes adjust, I reach over to turn my desk lamp off. The bedroom is dark, save for the glowing stars stuck still to my bedroom ceiling and a couple of faded glow-in-the-dark stickers on the mirror. I roll my head on my shoulders, loosening up the stiff muscles, and wiggle my toes, trying to get the blood moving again. I can't even think how long I've been sitting in this one spot, hunched over the open book.
The pencil sketches stare up at me, and as bleary-eyed as I am, already I'm dying to finish them. Instead, I flip my sketchpad closed and tuck it into a box between university textbooks and about a dozen other worn old sketchbooks.
Downstairs, my family is already sitting at the table, and as I take a seat between my dad and younger brother my stomach does a few flips as I realize this may well be the last dinner I have at this table for some time. Suddenly the idea of moving to the other side of the country isn't quite as exciting, and my chest tightens with a kind of achy fluttering, like excitement and fear and sadness all rolled into one.
"All packed up?" asks my Dad as his work-worn hand tear apart a bread roll.
"Mostly," I reply, silently congratulating myself on how smoothly I lie. He doesn't need to know I got caught up drawing and haven't packed a single thing for hours. "Just a few bits and pieces left."
Mom smiles as she passes me the mashed potatoes. "You have a smudge on your cheek," she whispers, gesturing to her cheekbone. I wipe the smear with one hand while taking the casserole dish with the other.
Even after all these years, nothing quite compares to a family dinner. Years of living away from home, from my mom's roast dinner, has given me a new appreciation for a home-cooked meal.
"You sleep okay last night?" asks Mom. "I heard you get up in the middle of the night again."
"Had to grab the blanket from the hallway cupboard," I mumble around a mouthful of vegetables.
"Cold?" spits my dad. "Bella, you left the heater on. Again. How could you be cold?"
Mom reaches over to pat my dad's hand. "It was the same with you and I, Charlie. I'd wake in the middle of a stinking hot Phoenix night, shivering because somebody"—she raises an eyebrow at him pointedly—"decided to go skinny dipping in the lake again."
My dad's moustache twitches as he hides a smile. "Yeah, well, your calls weren't always a ray of Phoenix sunshine either, you know." They share a knowing look full of you-know-what-I'm-talking-about, and then it's my mom who has to stifle a smile, her cheeks flushing.
Seth groans in disgust. "You guys are gross. I hope I never get a call, ever."
He dodges my mom's kisses as she leans over to grab him. "You'll change your mind in a few years," she says. "Just you wait."
With a shake of his head, Seth rolls his eyes and continues eating. Luckily for him, he's got a few years before he has to worry about it.
It begins the day we turn eighteen. Called The Connection, it's the tether between two people whose futures are intertwined. For my parents, it was music. One single six-note melody whispered into both set of ears. My father whistled the tune like a bad song stuck in his head one day as he walked into a Seattle gas station, and my mother, the girl behind the counter, hummed it right back, and the rest is history.
In the beginning, they're nothing but flashes—like remembering a dream in the middle of the day or inklings of a long-forgotten memory. But then the dreams start. Vivid but fleeting, like pieces of a movie reel fed into your brain out of order, the dreams are our biggest link to our other, our destiny.
Scientists claim it evolved as a way for the human race to ensure its survival. Conspiracy theorists claim it's the work of chemicals in our food. Religious leaders claim the work of divine intervention. The rest of us just call it life.
It was two weeks after my eighteenth birthday, and I was right here, sitting down to a family dinner, when I first felt it.
At first, I thought it was nothing, a trick of the light. It felt like something pushing against the side of my vision, just out of focus. Then, in the middle of a conversation about price rises at the local Stop-n-Save, it was like the noise in the room quieted, and all I could hear was a voice in my ear.
It was like my brain was skipping frequencies, when all of a sudden, I picked up his. My heart practically stopped in my chest, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt a flush of warmth deep in the pit of my stomach. It felt like I was home.
And it's not just the voice in your head, or the dreams. It's other things, too. Like sometimes, in the middle of a supermarket, I'll smell him. Clean, warm sheets and something deep and intimate that I can't name or even begin to describe. It's just a moment, like it's been caught on a phantom wind, and then it's gone. And at night, when I'm alone in my bed, teetering on the edge of sleep, I'll feel the weight of a body behind me, feel his body heat radiate against my back.
Those nights are the best. Those are the nights I sleep right through. The nights I don't are the ones I draw.
Until I turned eighteen, I couldn't draw a single thing. Stick figures were the extent of my artistic ability. To be honest, I still can't draw. Ask me to sketch a fruit bowl or a landscape, and you'll be sorely disappointed. Ask me to draw him, and it's like my hands are someone else's. These days, I could probably close my eyes and draw the shell of his right ear or his thumb and forefinger without hesitation. I have books full of him—the arch of a strong brow, the nape of his neck, the mole that's tucked right beneath his hairline.
But I know him only in parts—small pieces of a whole. Never in my dreams, nor in the glimpses of him that are fed to me, have I seen his face in its entirety. Even so, I know deep in my bones that should he walk into a crowded room, I'd know him in an instant.
For some, they wait their whole lives to meet the person on the other side of that connection—the other end of the line—while others wait just days. It's never the same for any couple. For me, it's been five years, almost to the day, since I first heard him. Five long years of waiting, but for now, I'm done waiting. I have to move forward and hope that fate works its magic to whatever end.
I've been offered a job at a veterinary clinic outside of New York, which begins in just four short weeks. I've got some of my things packed up, and I have a one-way flight to New York booked. Destiny is just going to have to work with me.
My last night in Forks, once I finally have my life packed up, I find myself sandwiched between my best girlfriends in our favorite bar. Of course, it's the only bar in town, but nevertheless, the crowd is always friendly, and the drinks are cheap. Beside me, Ange is frowning at her nachos, picking at the burnt ends of her corn chips. "I'm just sick of carrying her lazy ass, you know? I don't get paid enough to do her work and mine."
"You need to tell Peter what's going on," suggests Alice.
With a shrug, Ange pushes what's left of her dinner away. "I know, but I'm trying to put off having that conversation. It is his wife we're talking about."
Bree gives a sympathetic sigh. "So awkward."
"Anyway, there's some guy named Ben from the Seattle office coming up next week. I'll try to find some time to talk with him about it. Hopefully, he can—"
And just like that, the hairs on the back of my neck rise, and like light slicing through the mist, I hear his laughter cut through the noise of the bar. It feels like he's right beside me, like his voice is a soundtrack made specifically for me, for my ears alone. The sound of his laugh makes my lips curl up into a smile, and I'm dying to know what makes him laugh like that.
My eyes flicker to Alice and then to Bree and Ange, all three of whom are now looking at me.
Chuckling, I nod my head. The dreams, the flashes, the echoes of a voice in your head, they're like vibrations along the connection line, calls you're unable to answer, messages just for you. My friends understand, just as I do, that when you get these calls, there's nothing you can do but enjoy them. Alice squeezes my hand beneath the table, smiling, and as quickly as it appeared, the call is gone again, the noise of the bar tumbling back into my brain.
"Do you ever wonder if they're getting a call at the same time?" asks Bree, her lips tinted blue from the horrendous cheap cocktail she's drinking.
"What do you mean?"
Bree shuffles forward in her seat a little. "Okay, so like yesterday, I was at the baseball game with my brother. And I'm eating a hot dog with everything—mustard, pickles, onions, everything—when all of a sudden, mid-chew, all I can taste is toothpaste."
Alice screws her nose up with a look of distaste. "Ew."
"So I'm wondering, since I can taste his toothpaste, can he taste my hot dog?"
The three of us fall quiet, lost in thought. "I'm not sure what's worse," I say after a moment. "Toothpaste-flavored hot dog, or hot-dog-flavored toothpaste."
"Oh, my God," cackles Ange, her eyes wide. "Do you think he can taste it when I'm sucking Garrett's dick?"
Bree spits her cocktail all over the table, covering her mouth with a napkin as she coughs. "Hussy!"
"Ugh," says Alice. "Dick-flavored anything is definitely worse than hot-dog-flavored toothpaste."
The table erupts into laughter, earning a few looks from the table beside us.
Some people, like my best friend, Alice, save themselves for their partner. The idea of sex with someone other than your soulmate can be challenging, and for some, it feels entirely wrong. On the other hand, just because we know we have a destiny somewhere out there, it doesn't mean we can't live a little on the way there. Five years is a long time to wait, and let's be honest. Love and lust aren't always a packaged deal. So am I a saint? No. But I haven't given up hope just yet.
Alice sighs, licking some salt from the rim of her glass. "I still can't believe you're leaving," she whines. "You're such a dick."
"I can't believe you won't come with me."
"No!" yelps Ange, grabbing Alice's hand possessively. "Don't you dare take her. She's going to stay here and keep me sane in this bum fuck town."
"Hey!" Bree flicks a corn chip at Ange, laughing as it glances off her cheek.
"You're the bad influence, remember?" says Ange placatingly. "You're the reason I need Alice to keep me sane. And out of jail."
"You're welcome to visit," I remind Alice for the twentieth time. "It's New York, not a new planet."
"I know, I know. But what if he's here, Bella? What if you leave and he turns up? Or he passes through town, or he turns out to be Mike Newton's second cousin from Iowa who we've never met."
I laugh, and Alice groans dramatically. We've had this conversation over and over, and for me, it never changes. She knows this, but persistence is Alice's middle name.
Along with Trouble and Tequila.
"Al, fate has a plan for me. Whether I leave here or not, it's all part of that plan. Hell, if I decide to shave my head and call myself Larry, I have to have faith that it will still work out."
It's the taste of tequila in my mouth that wakes me. I hate tequila, always have, but as I lie there in bed, I can taste salt on my lips and tequila at the back of my throat. I reach for the bottle of water by my bed, but by the time I take a sip, the taste is gone.
My phone lights up, vibrating on my bedside table. Wiping sleep from my eyes, I blearily check the text message from Jasper before tossing it back. It's only ten-thirty, but after a week of night shift, my body clock is still completely out of sync.
Sighing, I slide back under the covers in an attempt to get back to sleep. I know it's a futile attempt, though. Apart from the noise of a party a few apartments down and a funky body clock, my brain is switched on. It's got me thinking about her. My fingers itch to draw her, to put down to paper the things I see when I close my eyes. The dip of her collarbone, the slope of her calf, the shadow of dark lashes against her cheekbone. I have page upon page of her, books of her, shelves of her, a brain goddamned near to bursting of her.
The only thing I don't have—is her.
My hands are constantly stained with charcoal, since it's the only thing I can use to get the shapes and colors of her right, and my ears constantly ring with her voice.
I'm almost asleep when I'm woken by her again.
It hits me like a punch to the chest. Heat and wanting and the core-deep flame of desire. It stays just long enough to leave my skin warm and my palms sweaty, and I have never wished more for another call in my life. I close my eyes tightly, willing a flash of something to come to me.
Of course it doesn't, and so I'm left alone in my cold bed with a raging hard-on.
It didn't take long to realize that as great as the sex was, and as easy and uncomplicated as it was to be able to have completely attachment-free sex, that connection was exactly what I was missing. It's like half-scratching an itch. It always left me wanting more.
It's been almost five years since I first heard her. I was sitting in my first lecture of the semester, when instead of listening to the professor talk about immunomodulators, suddenly I was hearing the sweetest voice I'd ever heard talk about how hot Ryan Gosling was in The Notebook. I looked around, expecting to see her sitting right beside me, but found nothing.
After that, I was getting calls almost every day. The smell of fir trees and damp earth, the taste of strawberry Pop Tarts, the rush of warm air over the back of my neck in the middle of the night. Within months, I was completely spun. Hooked.
And then, when the dreams started, I fell hard.
Yeah. I'm that guy. I'm the guy in love with a girl he's never met, whose name he doesn't know, or even what she looks like.
I tried finding her. Of course I did. I'm not stupid. But all I know of her are the pieces I'm given. I know the sound of her laughter, the smell of her shampoo, the taste of her mom's Christmas cake. I know the exact shape of each piece of the puzzle I'm handed. I just don't have the bigger picture yet.
For six months, I stared at a piece of paper with my name on it every night before I went to sleep, hoping that I could somehow communicate to her. Of course, my brain or fate or God or whatever you want to call it was having none of it.
And so I waited.
For five years. For five years, I've listened to that smoky voice of hers whisper to me at all hours, from the most inane to the most secret, the things I would never tell anyone. The fleeting dreams, snapshots of someone else's life interspersed between my own dreams. Like any good dream, they disappear the moment I open my eyes, the important details evaporating like steam and leaving me wanting once again.
Frustrated in more ways than one, I ease myself out of bed, wincing as my feet hit the cool hardwood floor. The apartment is dark and empty, but there are pizza boxes on the kitchen countertop and beer bottles in the sink—signs of life. Whatever Emmett and his friends got up to before they left to go out, I must have slept right through. The curtains in the living room are open, revealing the buildings below, and as I stand there in nothing but boxers and socks, I thank the Lord for ducted heating. Snow sparkles as it falls across the city, dusting the rooftops and trees, leaving a blanket of white below. I'm torn between wanting to enjoy its beauty and burying myself beneath my blankets for another twelve hours.
In the end, the latter wins. I grab a charcoal pencil and a fresh sketchbook and head back to bed in the hopes that if I get some of her down on paper that I might sleep.
"Come the fuck on!"
Emmett is at my bedroom door, waiting with all the patience of a three-year-old as I get changed so we can head over to a bar nearby.
"Will you keep your shit together? I'm coming." I grab a jacket and toss it on quickly. "What's got you so crazy?"
He's practically bouncing on his toes, he's so on edge. "Nothing. I don't know. What's wrong with you?"
I laugh as I grab my wallet and tuck it into my back pocket. "I thought you were going to stay away from Red Bull."
"Fuck off. Put your shoes on, and let's go."
The Chicago night air is chilled, the wind barrelling down the streets and right through my bones. The snow has stopped, but the streets are wet and slick, glowing under the city lights. It's my first Saturday night off in weeks, months even, and while I'm not as excited as Emmett is, I'm pretty amped to be out of my work scrubs and spending time with normal people.
"Where do you want to go?"
"How about that place over on Michigan?" Emmett suggests, breathing heavily into his gloved hands. "They do a mean burger, and I could kill a bacon cheeseburger."
My stomach grumbles in agreement, so we flag down a cab and head across town. The inside of the cab is warm, almost overly so—claustrophobic. The heaters are on full blast, the inside of the windows damp with condensation, and the air smells of body odor and artificial scent. My stomach turns again, and now I'm not sure if it's the hunger or something else.
"You okay?" asks Emmett from beside me, his eyes flickering down to my stomach, where my hand now sits gingerly. I nod, swallowing thickly as I open the window a little. The feeling seems to swell for a moment, like the worst case of butterflies ever. It rolls through me, chased by a crashing emptiness in my chest. As soon as I realize it's not me—it's her—it disappears again.
The cab pulls up, and I jump out almost immediately, sucking in a lungful of cold air. "I'm good," I say, taking another deep breath. "Just had a moment there."
You'd think I would have grown used to feeling like this, being hit with a barrage of emotions that aren't mine and then trying to deal with them. But the aftermath of something like that plays on my mind like a skipping record. Why? Why is she feeling like that? What's causing her this pain?
Still deep in my own thoughts, I push through the doors into the bar, the sound of it drowning out the noises in my head for a moment, pushing the worry to the back of my mind. "You want to sit at the bar or in the back somewhere?"
The place is packed, as it should be on a Friday night. But the food is always good and greasy, and the beer is cold, and hell if that's not exactly what I need.
I turn to see Emmett behind me a few paces, completely still, his eyes fixed across the room.
"You okay, man?"
Silent, he takes a step forward only to stop again. It's the most quiet I've seen him since we left.
Turning to look over my shoulder, I see a tall blonde stand from her seat across the bar. Even in the crowded room, you can't miss her. Eyes so blue I can see the color from across the room widen, and that mouth curls up into the kind of smile you see on the covers of magazines. She is strikingly beautiful and she's looking right by me. Right at Emmett.
He swallows hard, eyes wide and slightly glazed. I've seen that look, watched it happen to my older sister, to strangers and now, to my best friend.
It's Emmett's her.
The bar continues around them, so many people used to sights like this. Like magnets, they move toward each other—hesitant, shy, but so brimming with love it's hard to watch.
"Hey, big guy," she says quietly, her hand reaching out for his.
He slips his huge hand into her smaller one, his entire being relaxing as their hands touch.
And that's my cue to leave.
"Call me as soon as you land."
"I will. I promise."
"Does your phone have battery?"
"Switch it off so you don't waste it."
"And don't talk to weird men. I heard another story about a woman getting mugged in New York just last week. She—"
Alice frowns, letting out a puff of steamy air. "Sorry."
Seattle is cold and rainy. Alice, in her gloves, scarf, and parka, huddles into my side as we trudge toward the terminal. I'd asked her not to come, not to make the drive all this way, but ever the one to ignore my requests, she did so anyway. I would never tell her, but I'm so glad she came. I've been a mess of nerves and anxiety all weekend, wondering if I'm doing the right thing. It's one thing to move a few towns over; it's another to move right across the country. But I'm in too deep now, with an apartment waiting for me and a job lined up—so there's no turning back.
"This is where I leave you," says Alice, eying the boarding gates with disdain, as if she can set them alight with just her gaze.
Doing my best to keep my emotions at bay, I tug my woolen cap down farther over my ears. "I guess so."
Alice scowls at me, her expression a mix of anger and sadness, and if she was anyone else, I'd find it strange. But I've known her long enough to see right through it. Ignoring the tears pushing at the backs of my eyes, I grab her and pull her into a fierce hug, the tears starting the minute she throws her arms around me, holding me tightly.
"I'm so excited for you, you asshole."
Chuckling through the tears that are now dripping onto her shoulder, I pull back to smile at her. "I'm going to miss you so much."
Alice's face crumbles, but she pushes me away, waving me toward the gate. "Go, before I drag you back to the car by your hair."
Still wiping the tears from my cheeks, I rush through check-in, and thankfully, the flight begins to board twenty minutes after I get to the gate, leaving me next to no time to freak out.
No. That happens when I'm buckled in and taxiing down the runway.
Not even my sketchpad and a pencil can stop the insane tempo of my heartbeat and the gut-churning nerves that roil through my stomach. I slam the book closed and try to focus instead on not running all the way back home.
"You all right over there, champ?"
Turning my head, I come face to face with the guy in 12B. He smiles somewhat nervously at me and then down at my hands, where they're locked in a death-grip around the arm rest. "Deep breaths," he says, patting my arm gently. "You know, you're more likely to be struck by lightning or eaten by a shark than to die in a plane crash."
"Oh, yeah? What about getting struck by lightning in a plane?"
His brows pull together. "Potentially more likely, although still less likely than being eaten by a shark on a plane."
We both laugh, and my hands relax their grip. "Thank you," I say after a moment, stretching out my fingers. "I needed that."
12B smiles again, a dimple marking one side of his mouth. "Glad I could help. You a nervous flyer?"
The signal to unbuckle seat belts flickers on, and the two of us reshuffle to get comfortable. "No," I reply, pulling off my cap. "I'm a nervous wreck; the flying has nothing to do with it."
He chuckles, easing himself into a more comfortable position. "So the idea of being eaten by a shark on a plane that's been struck by lightning doesn't frighten you at all?"
"Not at all."
"Good to know. The name's Riley."
I shake his outstretched hand. "Nice to meet you, Riley. I'm Bella."
It turns out that 12B, Riley Biers, is the perfect flying mate. On his way home from a work conference, he's chatty and funny and knows just how to sweet-talk the steward into giving us a few extra tiny bottles of vodka.
"I wish," he laments at the mention of a boyfriend.
"You haven't met him yet?"
"Oh, I've met him. I work with him."
"That's great!" Riley rolls his eyes. "Right? I mean, you both have the Connection, right?"
He nods. "Eric Taylor is the goddamn love of my life—literally, my soul mate. But he's also the CEO of a multinational and so deep in the closet he's practically in Narnia."
"Oh." I have to cover my laugh because while the analogy is funny, the situation he's in really is sad. "That's awful."
Riley shrugs like it's no big deal, and suddenly, my five years seems like a small price to pay.
"Life goes on," he says with a sigh. "There are plenty more gay fish in the sea."
While I agree, I also can't help but feel sorry for someone who would most likely have to hear the man he loves whisper in his ear and flash through his mind for the rest of his life, all the while knowing he can't do anything about it. It's heartbreaking.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Due to inclement weather over New York, we are being advised by air traffic control to make a detour to Chicago. We apologize for the inconvenience but will keep you informed as the situation changes. Thank you."
Cracking open the last two bottles of vodka, Riley hands me one. "Well, shit. Looks like you're stuck with me a little longer."
As it turns out, a little longer is twenty-four hours. Bad weather over most of the eastern seaboard means grounded flights and airports full of stranded people all over.
"We could find a hotel. Split a room?"
Riley looks at me like I've grown an extra head. "Or we could check our bags into storage and hit the city for a night on the town."
"I don't know…"
"Bella! It's nine o'clock on a Saturday night, it's the middle of winter, and I need something tall, dark, and handsome to keep me warm for a few hours. Are you in or not?"
I glance around at the emptying terminals and at the few who look like they'll brave the stay—sprawled out on the floor and in chairs. It looks uncomfortable and incredibly boring.
Half an hour later, we're braving the cold Chicago weather in search of a good place to warm up. Riley, having flown through the city a few times for work, suggests a place across town. "It's just across the street there," he says. "Best burgers in the city and great cocktails."
Tugging my sleeves over my frozen hands, I smile, kind of nervous that I'm in an unfamiliar city with a stranger but also excited because this is exactly the reason I left Forks to begin with. "Let's go!"
"Careful," he says, taking my elbow gently as we cross the street. "The roads are icy."
No sooner has he said this than the sounds of screeching tires and a blaring horn roar through the night air, and I turn just in time to see a bright yellow cab sliding sideways toward me. With no time to even raise my arms, I take a few hurried steps back, but it's too late.
The cab's back end hits me, and everything goes black.
"Have another drink, you pussy!"
Laughing good-naturedly, I shake my head. "I wish I could, but I'm on call."
"You won't get called in," says Emmett like a drunk, shitty fortune teller. "Not in this weather."
I open my mouth to reply but am interrupted by my phone vibrating in my jacket pocket. "You were saying?"
Stepping outside into the cold, I hunker down to take the call. The breeze picks up, and the scent of lavender body lotion and cinnamon gum comes with it for a moment. Out of instinct, I look around, seeking out I don't even know what. The jigsaw piece that ties it all together, maybe. But as usual, there's nothing, and her scent is followed by nothing but a blast of cold winter air.
"I know it's your night off," says Kate when I answer the phone, sounding anything but apologetic. "But we're getting slammed, and we've got a couple MVA's on their way in. We could really use your help."
There is a huge part of me that wants to say no. The same part that wants to go back inside, drink his weight in beer, and maybe take the cute redhead behind the bar home. But I don't. Because a residency at Midwestern is a dream come true, and I'm a total schmuck.
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
I contemplate going back inside to say goodbye but figure it's better to make a clean break. Emmett will barely notice I'm gone anyway, he's only got eyes for Rosalie tonight.
The traffic is bad, so it takes me a little longer than usual to get to the hospital. When I walk through the front doors, my heart almost stops dead when I see what's waiting for me.
When Kate said we were getting slammed, she wasn't exaggerating. Triage is packed to overflowing, and emergency is full, with beds in hallways and people everywhere. I barely have time to change, simply throwing a scrub shirt on over my own before running right back to the emergency room.
The minute I hit the ER, I don't stop. There are concussions and contusions from people who have fallen on the ice. There are the elderly sick with pneumonia, the homeless with frostbite, plus the never ending run-of-the-mill Saturday night emergency room patients. On top of this, two major motor vehicle accidents crash through the doors moments after I do. The first, a family who hit a patch of ice and then lamp post, the second a girl hit by a cab. The place is absolute bedlam.
"Edward!" shouts Dr. Gerandy from across the room as I suture up a head wound. "I need you with that girl from the MVA before you do anything else. I need an assessment and obs, stat."
"Got it." Passing the suture kit to the nurse, I run from the ER to the ambulance bay. The medic meets me at the door as the gurney is wheeled in, surrounded by people.
"Female, twenty-three, one hundred twenty pounds. Minor head wounds, possible concussion, fractured femur and ribs on the right side, possible internal bleeding, although we won't know until a scan is done."
I flip through the chart as the nurses wheel the gurney ahead of me. "Is she conscious?"
I'm just about to put her chart down and get to work when a scream echoes across the ER. Dr. Gerandy appears at my side, grabbing the charts from my hands and pushing me back out into the ER. "Go!"
Hours later, after the adrenaline has well and truly worn off, I find myself at the nurses' station, looking for a sugar fix to get me through the last few hours. The nurses are always good for a Gummi Bear or ten.
"Can you believe that?" says Jane quietly, her back turned to me. "Taken out by a car and only a few broken bones. It's a goddamn miracle she survived."
"You girls still talking about that MVA?" I ask, peering over her desk, searching for her secret stash.
Jane swivels in her chair, waggling a pen at me. "You have no idea, Edward. This girl was almost sandwiched between a wall and the rear end of a car. If she hadn't stepped back in time, she would've been a goner." She opens a drawer at her hip and pulls a bag of bears out, tossing them at me. "Instead, she's got some broken bones and one hell of a story to tell her future children."
"You are a goddess," I sigh, tearing into the bag and shoving a handful of Gummi Bears into my mouth. "So is this miracle awake yet?"
Irina and Jane both shake their heads, and I can't help but laugh a little as Irina makes a cross over her chest. "She's got a guardian angel, that girl."
I make a mental note to stop by and see this girl before I leave. It's not every day the ER gets its very own miracle.
By the time the emergency room has calmed somewhat, it's almost eight in the morning, and exhausted doesn't even begin to describe the way I feel.
"Edward?" Jane stands behind me, exhaustion plain on her features. "Jasper is ready for hand-over if you are."
Scrubbing a hand over my face, I nod wearily. "Tell him I'll meet him in the ER in fifteen."
My eyelids feel like lead weights, and I'm so tired I think I'm bordering on delusional.
"Man, you look like shit."
It's the first thing Jasper says to me when he sees me, and if I had enough energy, I'd play back with something witty. However, right now, I have just about enough energy to blink and breathe and not much else. I manage a smile, although I don't know how honest it is. "Nice to see you too, Dr. Hale."
A resident in my position not that long ago, Jasper gets it. Looking well-rested and chipper, he pats me on the back gently, chuckling quietly. "Okay, let's get this done so you can go home. When's your next shift?"
"Tonight at eight."
Jasper hisses through his teeth. "Ouch."
We run through the hand-over as quickly as possible. Although, after last night, that still takes close to an hour.
"Last, but not least," I say with a sigh. "The miracle herself, the angel, the luckiest woman ever to walk to the streets of Chicago—Isabella Swan."
I hear the curtain beside my bed pull back with a whoosh, and as easy as it would be to pretend I'm asleep, I'd really like to speak with the doctor. I have no doubt I'll miss my connecting flight to New York, so I'd like to at least call my parents to let them know I'm okay. But I'm just so tired and sore, and the idea of sleeping—even pretending to do so—almost wins. It's not until someone clears their throat quietly that I peel my eyes open. I blink a few times, wincing at the bright lights above me.
The hair on my body stands on end at the sound of his voice. My vision clears, the veil of sleep slipping away, and then there he is. Bronze hair I never seemed to get quite right, green eyes I never had a matching pencil for, a smile I've thought of every day for eight years beaming right at me. It's him. Suddenly, the pain wracking my body evaporates, and all I can feel is it singing for him like a tuning fork. I smile gingerly, my voice raspy with sleep. "Hi."
The doctor beside him looks between the two of us, grinning before he steps away slowly. "I'll catch up with you later."
He's much taller than I'd ever imagined he would be, and handsome enough that I'm immediately upset that I'm wearing a hospital gown and paper underwear for our first meeting. Still, he's right here, looking at me like he's afraid he's dreaming, and all I want to do is touch him to make sure he's real.
Reaching up with my good hand, I touch the purplish skin beneath his eyes. "You look exhausted."
He grins a little, and my heart catches at the sight of it. Years of sketching it have done it no justice. "Rough night," he says, tired eyes sparkling.
A laugh rushes out of my nose, and I wince as the right side of my ribcage smarts. "Tell me about it."
Shaking his head, he looks me over with furrowed brows as he takes in the patches of raw skin and bruises. "How did I not know about this? I didn't… I didn't feel anything."
"Probably a good thing," I say, managing another smile. "It kinda hurt."
"Can…" He looks uncertain for a moment, gesturing to the bed. "Can I sit?"
With some effort, I slide across enough to give him room to sit beside me. Every part of my brain knows that this should feel strange, that he's a stranger, but I've been seeing this man in my dreams for the last five years. There is nothing I want more than to have him close. Thankfully, the idea that he's real, and that he's finally here, is still enough to quiet the logical part of my brain.
The bed shifts as he settles beside me, green eyes roaming every inch of my face, laying me bare with his burning gaze. Shaking his head, he brushes his thumb over the length of my cheekbone so softly I barely feel it. "I could have drawn you every day for the rest of my life and never gotten it right."
Smiling, I lean into his hand, my skin warming head to toe at his touch. It feels comfortable and new and perfect—and wonderful. I sigh, and my body hums in appreciation, my mind reeling at the one million ways this might never have happened and at the crazy turn of events that led to it.
"I'm Edward, by the way," he says with a chuckle. "Edward Cullen."
"It's nice to finally meet you, Edward. I'm Bella. Although, you probably already know that."
He stays well into the day, unable to leave, and me unable to let him go even though it's clear that he's exhausted. In the end, somewhere along the way, he succumbs to sleep, his head resting on the bed beside me, my hand tucked into both of his. I doze lightly, unable to sleep. The cracked ribs make it hard to breathe, and the broken leg prevents me from getting comfortable enough. But in reality, there's nothing I'd rather do less right now than sleep.
With his head resting on his arms, Edward sleeps heavily, and I've never wished for a pencil and paper so much in my life. Instead, I trace a feather-light finger over the angles of a face I know so well, reveling in the fact that I can finally get them exactly right. I'm so lost in him, entranced by the dip of muscle at the corner of his jaw, that it's not until he sighs that I notice he's awake again.
His eyes slide shut a few more times while he dozes, his lips turning up at the corners as I pull my fingers through the hair above his ear.
It's me that drifts off next, pulled under by lingering sedatives and exhaustion. For the first time in years, I sleep without dreaming, and it's deep and dark and restful.
Minutes or hours later, I have no idea, something stirs me in my sleep, like something tugging at a memory, pulling it to the surface.
The sun is setting, casting the room in a hazy gold glow, and there he is. Still there. Right beside me.
The sound of scratching, of charcoal on paper, is the only sound in the room, and I'm dying to see what he's drawing. I watch him for a moment, heavy set brow pulled low over his eyes as he focuses on the sketchpad in his hands. "Any good?"
Green eyes find mine, his face lights up, and I swear the sunlight streaming in through the window has nothing on him.
"Not as good as the real thing, that's for sure."
I grin, trying to keep the butterflies at bay. "Show me."
Edward blushes, the tips of his ears stained pink, but turns the book to show me anyway.
The girl in the picture is beautiful, all dark lines and soft features, and she's so pretty that it makes me blush to think that he sees me this way. I try to shift myself into a sitting position, but the pain in my ribs is so much I can barely do more than lift my head. In a heartbeat, Edward is there, hands cradling my head and lower back gently as he eases me up, positioning the pillows for comfort.
This close, with his lips and mouth and those damn eyes so near to me, my head is clouded with his scent, with his presence, with him. The humming in my body sings in my ears, as if my whole being is calling to him.
Like he can hear my soul calling for his, Edward pulls back just a little, enough for me to see the gold that flecks his irises—something I'd completely missed. Fire lights the space behind his eyes until they're so bright I almost look away.
His soft hand brushes my hair from my face, and he leans in slowly. So slowly. Too slowly.
I know he's hesitating, given that I'm bandaged like a mummy and incapacitated, but now that he's this close, the humming in my body feels like it's screaming. My body feels as though it's vibrating with the need to feel his lips on mine, to seal the connection.
Pressing forward as much as I can, I finish the thought for him.
The moment his lips touch mine, it feels like everything in the world is right. A space right in the center of my chest I never knew existed fills with heat and light and all at once, I feel complete. The feeling of rightness is so bone-deep that I know in an instant that I'll never kiss another man for as long as I live.
He feels it too, his shoulders relaxing under my touch, his body melting into mine as much as he can without causing me discomfort. I don't know how long we stay like that. Hours, days, forever—I don't know, and I don't care. Suddenly, I feel like my future just opened up in front of me, cracked open like the earth split in two.
The Connection sings between us, like two pieces of a whole put right again. No more visions, no more dreams, no more waiting.
Just the future.