Carlisle picks me up from the airport late Saturday morning. I can't even remember the last twenty-four hours, but I'm expected to act a certain way now that I'm home, and that's what I'm going to do. I don't know how to do anything else anyway.
The moment Carlisle sees me, he draws me into a hug. It's the fatherly kind that almost gives me permission to break down.
But I don't.
I just squeeze him once, and then let go. After passing out after Tori's call, I've been able to keep it together. With Jasper's help, of course. He and Rose are the only reason that I even managed to get myself to the airport. I feel a little as if I've shut down the part of me that should be feeling.
I spent all of Friday - was that only yesterday - dealing with my affairs and talking to my lecturers. Classes are supposed to be winding down, though they're really getting worse. Our professors are just trying to jam everything into the last few weeks. It's all so much, and I -
I take a breath.
Just breathe, Edward. I can almost imagine my mom saying the words.
They've given me the option to defer my Spring exams, but I haven't yet decided. I'm trying to think about what would be best for my family at this point and fuck if I know what that is. They know better than I do, don't they?
Carlisle takes my tog bag from me, and then leads the way out of the airport. I don't really know what I feel being back in Seattle. If anything, the city doesn't feel different. I thought it would, seeing as my mom is gone. But nothing. The world is still going on as normal. It hasn't stopped. I doubt it's even hesitated.
It makes me irrationally angry for a moment, before I let out a tired breath. Hating the world, and being angry is just so fucking exhausting. And I'm exhausted.
When we get to Carlisle's car - which, one should know, is parked so close to the terminal that it's unreal - I let him handle putting my bag away while I climb into the passenger's seat and try my best not to let the situation get to me. Seattle is different to Chicago, in that I don't think I'll be able to hide.
I haven't cried yet, and I'm afraid that Carlisle is going to ask me if I have. I doubt I'll be able to lie to him. There's just something about Carlisle Cullen that you can't lie to. For the first time, I realise that I don't know all that much about him. I mean, sure, he's a doctor, and he's loving and caring, but I don't know him. I've never asked.
I mean, does he have children? Has he ever been marriedbefore? What made him decide to study medicine? Why oncology?
They're all questions that I can't ask him right now, even as he pulls out of the parking spot and gets us on our way, but I know I will one day. Because he's not going anywhere.
"Carlisle?" I croak suddenly, and the car swerves slightly. "Sorry," I mumble.
"That's okay," he says gently. "Just surprised me. What is it?"
I open my mouth, but I don't even know what to say. How do I ask him if he'll stay? Am I even allowed to? I suddenly feel as if I'm four years old.
"Edward?" he prompts.
I take a deep breath. "Were you with her?"
His grip on the steering wheel tightens, and I watch as his knuckles turn white. "I was selfish," he admits, and I frown. "I wanted to be the last person she saw. I wanted - " he stops, and I have to look away when he wipes at a stray tear. His tears will undoubtedly lead to mine, and I'm not ready.
It's a mission to get away from the airport, but I feel less tense the further we get from the mode of transport that may or may not take me back to Chicago after I've buried my mom.
It's been a lengthy silence by the time Carlisle speaks again. "We caught a nap, Edward," he says. "Thursday afternoon, I came over, took her in my arms, and we fell asleep."
I hear him swallow, which makes me glance at the radio. It's not on.
"Only, she didn't wake up," he finishes.
"So, it was peaceful?" I force out.
"She was in no pain, Edward."
"Because of Bree?"
He nods, but I'm sure there's more. I think we'll have a conversation about all of this at some point, but even I can tell that today isn't the day. It's too soon to hear the details of my mom's death.
"How are they?" I ask instead, as if it's an easier question to answer.
"We've been preparing for this for quite some time," he begins, his eyes firmly on the road. "Esme made sure we were prepared, which is why there is no shock."
I almost scoff. Fucking hell, I'm shocked.
"Tori hasn't said all that much," he informs me, and I can hear the worry in his voice. "I think she's talking to James about it. He's been good for her."
He sounds so much like a dad, I almost smile.
Still, I can't help the jealousy that I feel. Carlisle probably knows so much more about my family than I do, because he's been here. With them all. While I've been in Chicago, with my friends, living a life completely separate to my dying mother. I feel the guilt I should, but they told me I could go.
So I did.
"Riley keeps telling everyone that his Nana has gone to be with the angels," he continues. "It's what your mother told him. I suspect that she and Riley discussed several things when they were together. Secrets, as he says."
I close my eyes, feeling something that I wasn't sure I was going to feel: regret.
Fucking feelings. Fucking Seattle.
I should have come home. I should have spent her last months here, with her. I should have seen her every day, laughed with her. I should have been here. I should not have missed a single moment of her last days, weeks, months.
I run a rough hand through my hair in frustration, and Carlisle lets out a soft chuckle, forcing me to look at him with wide, curious eyes. What the fuck is so funny?
"You keep doing that, and you're going to end up bald," he says, and I just stare at him.
"Isn't that what your mother used to say?"
I just continue to stare.
"Are you staying?" I blurt out.
He frowns at me. "Am I staying where?"
I take a moment to compose myself but, when I speak, I still sound like a desperate child. "Are you going to leave us too?" I ask. "I mean, it makes sense that you would, because - "
He cuts me off. "Never. Never, Edward." He takes a breath. "I know that my promises and assurances mean nothing, but I will never willingly go. I won't leave you. You're all - well, you're my family."
I blink back tears. Of course, now would be the time I cry. "Carlisle?"
"No, just listen to me," he says, his grip shifting on the steering wheel. He's still not looking at me though, and it's probably for the best. "This world has dealt you all a horrible hand, and I'm sorry for that. I don't know if I can make it any better, but I vow not to make it any worse. I know that you all need me and, frankly, I need you all too. So, no, I'm not leaving. I'm staying." He lets out a huffed breath. "Whether you like it or not."
I can hear his slight amusement, and it gives me hope that maybe, somehow, we can all get through this. Together. It's cliché and childish, I know, but I can't help it. I want to hold onto this moment, and I want to believe him. Desperately.
"Thank you," I say.
"I don't know," I say, because I don't. I just want to tell him that I'm grateful; that I appreciate him. I can't remember having these types of conversations with my own father, and it makes me feel odd. For so much of my life, I looked up to my dad like nothing on God's Earth could touch him. And then he left, and I feel like every memory is now tainted by it. He left.
And now, so has my mom.
"Everything," I eventually say, and Carlisle risks a look my way. "For loving her. For making her happy. For being with her at the end, when I - " I stop short. When I what?
Carlisle reaches for my forearm and squeezes gently. "You couldn't," he says, as if he knows. And maybe he does, because I sure as hell don't. I couldn't. I couldn't be here and watch her die. Maybe my entire family could sense it. Maybe it's why they kept it from me for so long. Maybe it's why they said it was okay for me to go.
Because they knew I couldn't handle it.
They knew, all along, just how fucking weak I am.
Carlisle takes his hand back and the moment is lost. Or it's still there, and we're both choosing not to acknowledge it. Everything's too real; everything's too raw. I don't doubt that we'll revisit this conversation.
Really, I have half a mind to tell him about Bella. Maybe he'll have the insight I need not to feel like the entire floor just fell out from underneath me. I have questions, and I want answers, but I haven't touched my own phone since I received the phone call that changed everything. As far as I know, Bella doesn't even know about my mom, and I sure as hell am not going to be the one to tell her. I haven't told anyone. I'm sure I wouldn't be able to say the words out loud anyway.
The rest of the drive passes in relative silence. Carlisle asks if I've eaten, and I nod. It's a lie, of course, because he knows I don't eat when I fly. But I also kind of haven't eaten since -
Fuck, I can't even remember.
When we finally get to the house, Carlisle pulls into the driveway and we sit for a while, neither of us speaking.
"Whenever you're ready, Edward," he says after a while.
I turn my head to look at him. Surely, he must know that it's unlikely I'll ever be ready. "Where is she?" I ask.
It's enough to get me moving. I mean, logically, I know she's not here, but I need the confirmation. I trust that she's somewhere safe; somewhere comfortable. Without another word, I get out of the car and stretch. Much like the city of Seattle; the house doesn't look any different. Does it know? Does it know that the woman who made it is now gone forever?
Peter is in the living room with Riley when we go through the front door, and my nephew jumps up at the sight of me. He runs straight towards me, and almost knocks me over with the force of his hug. He doesn't say anything though, which is a surprise. He just releases me and then rushes up the stairs as if he has to fetch something to give me, now that I'm here.
I can hear Carlisle behind me, but my eyes are on Peter. He looks defeated, bone-tired and sad. It's in his bones. This loss we've suffered; he feels it in every fibre of his being.
"Edward," he whispers, and then we're rushing towards each other. I wrap him in a hug so tightly that it hurts me. For once, I want to be the little brother. I need to be the little brother.
I don't know for how long we stay that way, just holding each other. I do know that, some time later, Tori emerges from somewhere and we have our first family hug without my mom.
It's not lost on any of us that we'll never have another one with her again.
When the first sight of daylight arrives on Sunday morning, I haven't slept at all. Tori forced me to try, but I've failed. Dismally. All I did is lie in bed and, every time I closed my eyes; I pictured her face. Her perfect, beautiful face; the face I remember before the cancer claimed her.
So, by morning, I'm grumpy, and terribly irritable, but Riley comes to my room early and crawls into bed with me. I pull him against my chest and he wriggles for a moment, before he settles down.
"Auntie Tori keeps crying," he whispers, which isn't really a whisper at all. "Nana didn't want us to cry. She said so."
I close my eyes tightly, trying desperately to keep hold of my emotions. I won't break; I won't let him see me break. He needs me to be stronger, but my heart is broken.
It's Charlotte who finds us. She's in a bit of a panic because, clearly when she went to check on Riley; he wasn't in his bed. Relief washes over her for a moment, before her face is showing her obvious concern. And then a bit of something else that I don't recognise.
Maybe she's worried that Riley chose to come to me instead of either of his parents. I can understand why she would be worried about that. In a few days, I'll be gone... and then what?
But will I actually go back to Chicago? Do I want to? What do I have left there anyway, when my family needs me here?
I can't actually see Riley's face, so I mouth my question to Charlotte: "Is he asleep?"
"Do you need me?"
She nods again.
It takes me almost a minute to extricate myself from Riley's grip. He moves around a bit but I manage to get out of bed without waking him. In silence, I follow Charlotte out of my room, through the corridor and down the stairs. I run a hand through my hair, trying to tame it, but it's no use. I suspect I'll be getting back into bed anyway, so I give up on making myself look presentable pretty quickly.
Once we get to the kitchen, Charlotte hugs me. It's unexpected, but I return it anyway.
"Is something wrong?" I ask softly.
"No," she says quickly. Too quickly.
It takes me a moment to figure it out, and I feel the sudden defeat take refuge within my body. "They know, don't they?"
"It's made the news circuit, yes," she tells me.
I scrub my face with both my hands. "I don't even want to know what my phone looks like right now," I say.
"Speaking of," she says, giving me a sympathetic look, before she reaches for something on the counter behind her and holds it out for me to take. It's a phone. My mom's phone, to be exact. I'd know it anywhere, with its bedazzled cover, and way too much purple.
"Tori asked me to give this to you," she says.
I hesitate, before I reach for the phone. I don't know why I feel as if it will burn me, but the metal actually feels cool in my hand.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" I ask.
"There's a note on there with instructions from T," she explains. "I didn't ask questions. She looks to be on quite the mission today."
"Where is she?"
"With James. Running errands."
I raise my eyebrows. "Errands?"
Any other day, and I might have made a joke about euphemisms. I mean, I'm under no illusions that my sister is probably sexually active, but our mom just -
I shake my head. It took me forever to get back into the swing of things after my dad died, so I'm convinced that I'm never going to have sex again, now that my mom is -
"Okay," I say to Charlotte, a slight frown on my face. "Do you need me for anything else?"
Her gaze meets mine. "Look after my baby," she says, and I nod.
I clutch the phone tight in my hand as I make my way back to my bedroom, my feet carrying me without my mind paying attention. Once I'm safely behind the door, I deposit the phone on my dresser, climb back into bed, pull Riley back against me, and don't move.
Riley sleeps until eleven o'clock. I don't know how he does it but, in that time, I really don't move. I don't want to move. It's comforting just lying here, where nothing but my silence is expected. It's a form of hiding, sure, but I don't think I'm capable of much else.
Riley wakes up slowly, and I watch his face. For that first moment, he's oblivious to what has happened, and then he remembers. I make a strangled sound in my throat at the pain suddenly etched across his face. It is so sudden; so unexpected, and I can't imagine this ever getting any better. It pierces my heart, and I feel my mom's loss all over again.
Riley snuggles against my chest and stays perfectly still for a moment, before he practically jumps out of bed. "I need to pee," he exclaims, before he's racing out of the room.
An unexpected laugh escapes from between my lips, and the sound is so foreign to me. I can't even remember the last time I laughed. For a while, I was convinced I would never laugh again, but trust my excitable nephew to bring one right out of me.
It takes me a while to get my day started. Charlotte forces me to eat something, before I retreat to my bedroom. I should at least get started on what Tori wants me to do before she gets back. I should be doing something.
I sit down at my desk and force myself to look at my mom's phone. Her Lock Screen is a picture of a baby Riley, and her Home Screen is a picture of my mom and Tori but I don't recognise where it's from, and isn't that just the crux of it all?
I haven't been here.
My mom's phone is so disorganized. She doesn't have any folders for her applications, and they aren't even in an order that makes any sense. To me, at least. It probably makes - made - sense to her.
Tori's note is quick and to the point. Basically, she's put me in charge of creating a Facebook Event, essentially providing details of my mother's funeral for those who we haven't been able to get the invitations to; a funeral that Esme Masen planned for herself. I mean, we definitely shouldn't have let her, because now she has us playing Elvis Presley. Seriously.
But, to do what Tori's asking, I have to use the Internet. I haven't visited the real world save for communicating with Jasper, since I arrived in Seattle. I know it's out there. I know there are people who are probably trying to get a hold of me, and I know that I should care. But I don't.
Because I'm sure that one of those people isn't Bella. And even if she were; it means nothing now. She's made herself perfectly clear.
So, well, after a lot of convincing, I just suck it up and log onto my Facebook. I've never made one of these Event things before but, if I claim to be intelligent enough to apply for medical school, then I should be able to figure this out, right? Right.
It's slow going as I fill in all the required details, trying to remain as detached as I possibly can. It's the only way I can get through it. If I imagine that this isn't my mom and this isn't her funeral, then I can will my fingers to type without feeling the weight of this very moment in my life.
For the Event, I need a picture of my mom, which takes me to her profile.
Which is a mistake. A big, fucking mistake.
When I said I haven't cried yet; that fucking changes, because there's been an outpouring of messages that I apparently missed, and I can't help myself. It's masochism at its finest. I have to read them. I have to.
Rita Smith: I'm going to be missing you a long time, my beautiful Esme.
Denise Flipkins: You were such a wonderful woman. Our first meeting was such a delight, and our friendship so very precious to me. You truly are an inspiration. Until we meet again, my darling. Always in my heart.
I scroll further down, reading and crying. I don't know why I'm doing this to myself, but I can't help it. Maybe, in some perverse way, knowing that other people, strangers essentially, are so broken over this makes me feel a little justified. I'm allowed to feel as if the world will never be bright again, right?
It all just reiterates the one important thing: Esme Masen was so very loved.
Patty During: My beautiful friend; walk, run, dance on the clouds. You are free. I will see you in every ladybird, and every piece of art. 'Til we meet again. X
Kathleen Murray: I wish now more than ever to go back to those days when we were young and foolish, just so I could live through it all with you again. My dear friend, you will be missed. I love you, Esme Platt. Forever in my heart.
There are so many. And it hurts.
In the end, it takes me almost two hours to get the Event set up and, moments after I publish it; my mom's phone is bombarded by notifications. I quickly put it on 'Silent' before I give myself a headache. Well, more of a headache. Crying hurts. Everything just fucking hurts. Inside and out.
For dinner, we have spaghetti bolognaise, but I can barely taste it. After I've forced as much as I can down, I help with the dishes before I retreat to my room.
Monday doesn't go any better. Or worse, I suppose. I spend most of it fielding online and telephonic questions about the funeral. By this point, I know what's going to happen on Saturday inside and out. There's no escaping it.
Carlisle joins us for dinner, but it doesn't make any of us any more vocal than the previous night. I walk him out when he excuses himself much earlier than even I know is usual. Maybe it's something about the house. It must be nice to be able to leave.
"Will you come by my office tomorrow?" he asks, even though it isn't much of a question. "There's something that I need to give you."
His tone is grave, and I can only wonder what is he wants to give me that he can't give me at the house. I spend large chunks of my time until I'm sitting in front of him the next day wondering what it could be.
Never in my life did I think that this elusive thing he wants to give me would be a cheque; a cheque equivalent to the debt I owe, courtesy of my student loans. To the dollar.
I just stare at the little slip of paper before I stare at him.
"What is this?" I ask.
"I want you to pay off your student loans," he tells me, his voice taking on a professional quality.
I open my mouth to tell him no, but he continues before I can get another word out.
"I know what you're going to say," he says, somewhat knowingly. "And, believe me, I've already had ever argument you can think up with your mother." He drops his gaze for a moment. "This isn't charity, Edward. It isn't even a gift. What this is, is a better deal that having the banks own you, as you say."
"It's a loan of sorts," he says. "From me. We decided that it's safer for you and your family this way. More security. Less pressure."
I just stare at him.
"No," I say.
He looks surprised, and I don't really blame him. Even I'm surprised.
"Not for me," I say. "It should be for Tori."
At the sound of this, he shifts in his seat. "Tori is taken care of, Edward."
I blink in confusion. What?
He waits a beat before he shifts a manila folder to the centre of his desk and opens it. I listen as he explains how exactly my mom has been preparing for the end of her life, ever since she was first diagnosed. If I'm being honest, I'm not sure how I feel about all of this.
"She set up funds for all three of you, scraping together everything she could for investment accounts," he explains. "For college, mainly. But, when she got sick, your father used what was left of your brother's as well as yours for the medical expenses, because you were both old enough for him to have access to. Tori's was, essentially, still locked."
I don't think I'll ever stop frowning.
"What I'm saying is that Tori is taken care of, Edward," he finishes. "Now, please, let me take care of you."
I don't know if I'm fully understanding everything he's telling me because there's one thing burning in the back of my brain. "Why?"
"Why would you do this?" I ask. "Why would you do anything?"
"No," I say, shaking my head. I need to know. "Why? We're not your responsibility. I mean, you don't have to do anything. You can just leave. You can, so why won't you? Don't you see? Don't you see how toxic we are? You should go, Carlisle. You should get as far away from us as you can."
I suck in a deep breath. "People keep leaving," I eventually say. "Just do us all a favour and do it now."
He leans forward. "I already told you that I'm not going anywhere," he says strongly. "Now, why don't you tell me what's really going on?"
What's really going on. Fuck if I know.
I let out a long breath, before I suck it back in. A moment later, I tell him about Bella. I tell him about how lost and alone I suddenly feel, but I've got to be this beacon for my family because I'm sure that, if I fall apart, we all will.
Maybe that's why my family's done everything they can to make sure I don't fall apart.
Carlisle just listens to me. He says very little, the widening of his eyes the only reaction I see. When I've pretty much exhausted myself, he asks me a question that makes the world stop spinning.
"You said that Bella was sick before she ended it with you," he says conversationally. "Is there any chance that she could be pregnant?"
Needless to say, I leave his office feeling a bit worse than when I arrived. Nothing was resolved about the money, and I think he recognised that I'm not in the right space to be making such big decisions about my life and my future.
I spend my Wednesday trying to call Bella, but her number is clearly disconnected. I spent most of the previous night thinking back on Bella's cycle, trying to track whether it's possible. I mean, I like to think that she would tell me. I know she would. I email her.
And then I phone Rose. Just the sound of her voice is enough to calm me enough to ask her if it's possible. Unlikely, she says, and I believe her. I don't want to believe anything else.
Really, it's actually surprising that it takes my family so long to ask about Bella, but it comes on Wednesday evening, just as we're having one of our quiet dinners. Charlotte brings her up by asking if she's coming to the funeral and my answering 'I don't know' doesn't really go down well.
Tori is the first to question me.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I mean that I don't know," I repeat. "All I know is that Jasper's getting here Friday afternoon, and then Emmett and Rose are catching an early flight on Saturday." I don't mention that we decided that, if one of us is going to stay and hold the fort back in Chicago; it should be Alice. Thankfully, she never asked for any of us to voice our reasons. She is the only one of us who never actually met my mom, though I'm sure that Jasper told my mom a lot about her.
"But what about Bella?" Tori presses.
I look up at Carlisle for some help and, mercifully, he obliges. The following questions are even worse, and I deflect as best I can. I really don't want to talk about the girl who dumped me some three days before my mom died. So I merely excuse myself, take my uneaten food to the kitchen, before retreating to my bedroom.
It takes me an absurdly long time to fall asleep, only to wake up early. I roll out of be, get ready, and then get down to business as soon as I've had my coffee that I hide from Charlotte. I make calls to various people, ensuring that all the arrangements are finalised. I feel equal parts useful and ridiculous checking that the white doves are ready, and that the caterers have made sure that there are no olives in any of the food.
Nobody can ever say that Esme Masen didn't have flare.
When I've crossed off the last thing on my to-do list, I feel sort of empty. Useless even. If I don't have anything to do, I'll just obsess over Bella, or over the fact that we're burying my mother in two days time.
I contemplate taking a nap, but I'm a little too wired for that.
I consider going for a run.
So I decide on a walk. Well, I plan to, until I come across Tori's slightly ajar door. Through the crack, I can see her sitting at her desk, staring forward, at nothing. She's still not being her usual vocal self, and I'm at a loss as to how to help. What can I do? How can I bear her pain for her?
I step forward and softly knock on her door, pushing it open in the process. "Hey," I say.
She waits a beat before she looks at me, offering me a small smile as her greeting.
My heart aches at the sight.
I dig in my pocket, before I move forward to hand her my mom's phone, but she shakes her head at the sight of it. She clearly doesn't want it.
"You should keep it," she says, her voice soft. "You need it more than I do."
I don't know what that means, but I think she's trying to tell me something without actually saying it. Whatever it is, I figure that Tori gave me my mom's phone for a reason other than to send invitations to her contact list. There's something more, which is the reason I go looking when I return to my bedroom, my walk forgotten.
I sit down at my desk and unlock the phone. The battery's almost dead, so I plug it into my wall charger and open my mom's photos. She has an absurd amount, with most of the more recent ones being of Riley. I go through them all, all the way back to before my dad died. I can't actually remember the last time I willingly looked at a picture of him. I think that a part of me almost forgot what he looked like.
Tori has his eyes, and Peter has his nose and chin. I have his hair and his loyalty. At least, that's what my mom used to say.
True to form, my mom also has pictures of pictures. Peter's first day of school. My first steps. Tori and my mom in the hospital. It amazes me how much of a mom she really is - was. It's a look back at her life, and I have to wipe at my eyes from time to time.
I fall asleep to my mom's smiling face, and dream about the trip to Bali that my dad promised her.
When I wake up - much later than usual - I waste time getting dressed for a day I intend to spend hidden. At my desk, with my mom's phone in my hand, I move on to her messages. Maybe I shouldn't, but she has a few from the bank, which I take a note of, and some from people who didn't yet know that she would never again be able to reply.
Now the entire country knows.
Which means that Bella knows.
As soon as I think of her, my eyes catch sight of her name, and I can't help myself. I mean, I should feel bad, but I don't. I've lost two people this week, and how could I ever pass up the opportunity? I'm only human and, really, I'm a deeply flawed individual.
The first message I see is the last, and I frown.
Bella: It's done.
It's from Monday, just hours after she decided to tell me that she didn't want me anymore, and it confuses the hell out of me. What's done? Did my mom know what Bella was going to do?
Before I get myself all worked up, I start scrolling upwards, trying to get to the beginning. I don't anticipate having to swipe along the screen for so long. How much did my mom and Bella talk? Jesus.
When I finally get to the start, I set the phone down and think about it for a moment. I don't know what I'm about to read, but I think I'll regret it if I don't. Maybe I'll regret it if I do?
Without another thought, I lift the phone and start to read.
Bella: Hello, Esme. It's Bella. I hope you don't mind, but I kind of stole your number out of Edward's phone.
Esme: Hello, Bella :) I don't mind at all. It's actually great to hear from you. Edward's always so cryptic and concise whenever I ask about you. Doesn't he know that I'd like to get to know the girl hes so enamoured with?
Bella: I don't know if I should be worried or not :)
Bella: I just wanted to tell you that we're doing our best to look after him over here. Jasper, Emmet, Rose, and even Alice. The five of us are taking care of him as best we can. Just wanted you to know, because it bothers him that you worry so much, and I'm trying to ease both mother and son here.
As mad as I am - at least, I think I'm mad - I can't help my slight smile. I had no idea that Bella and my mom talked about this kind of thing. The conversation kind of ends there, and I suspect that my mom must have phoned Bella. She does that. Did that.
I scroll through more of their messages. They exchanged recipes and even a few memes. My mom asked about her, as if she were trying to figure Bella out. I absently wonder if she succeeded, because I clearly didn't. Well, I thought I had, but I was wrong.
Esme: Bella, honey, do you remember the name of that band that Edward likes? The one with the weird name.
Bella: I'm afraid that doesn't really narrow it down for me. He likes a lot of weird music.
Esme: This is true. It's the band whose music he likes to play.
Esme: On the piano.
Bella: Oh. I've never heard him play before.
And now she probably never will.
Esme: He's wonderful at it, and that's not just the bias of a very proud mother. There's something just so peaceful about him when he sits at his piano, and plays the music of his heart.
Esme: I dare say though, the music in him has been conflicted. His father was always such a supporter of that part of him, and I think he's avoiding it because of Garrett.
Bella: The way he avoids listening to Elvis, and eating Hawaiian pizza?
Esme: Exactly. Though, between you and me, I've always hated Hawaiian. Who ever thought that putting pineapple on pizza was a good idea?
Bella: Hahaha if ever there was doubt that Edward's your son - that just proves it!
It comes as no surprise to me that they spent most of their time talking about me. I was the link between them, but everything is different now. Everything.
As I scroll, I encounter messages where my mom asked after my health and my mental state. Bella, as always, was blunt with her honesty. I don't know what it is about all of this that puts me on edge. Were they all just watching, waiting for the cracks in my shell to grow?
Esme: Seeing as we have now officially met, I feel as if there are things I can now tell you.
Bella: Anything, Esme.
Esme: My son is a gentle creature. He carries the great big world on his shoulders and bears it all without complaint. He's always been my baby boy; my knight in shining armour. He's kind, so caring and loving, and I'm afraid his nature is going to end up hurting him.
Wait. Wait. What? What is this?
Esme: When he was seven, Garrett and I took him and Peter to an arcade, just for an outing. Edward spent the afternoon winning himself tickets, that he would eventually get to exchange for a toy at the end. He had quite the collection by the time I took him to the counter. Something like four hundred tickets. He was spoiled for choice.
Esme: Further down the counter, being helped by someone else was a little boy, younger than Edward, who clearly didn't understand the concept of the tickets, because he wanted something that required more tickets that he had. I watched my own little boy observe this for a moment, before his eyes settled on me. He'd made the decision before he even asked for my permission. A moment later, the other little boy had the toy he wanted, and my little one looked awfully satisfied with his lollipop and plastic whistle.
Esme: He's a giver, you see? It started young. He just gives and gives, expecting nothing in return. He gives of his time, and his heart; almost desperate at times. So, I've worried about him the most. The world is already an ugly place, and I worry about the beautiful soul within him.
Esme: Which is also why I have to admit that I was worried about what you would do to him. I confess that, for a moment, I thought you would be bad for him. He trusts easily, wears his heart on his sleeve, and I was worried about what you would bring into his life. If he would be able to handle what it meant to be with you; if he should even have to handle it. I worried if he would be in danger, or if he was going to have to be protected, because my family cannot handle another loss. We'll break beyond repair if anything were ever to happen to him. So I was worried.
Esme: And then I figured it out. You brought love into his life.
Bella: I love him very much, Esme.
Bella: Also, that little story may or may not have made me love him even more.
Esme: I know you do, sweetheart. And he loves you. Which is why you have the greatest responsibility of all of us. Something that you have to be willing to bear.
Bella: I am.
Esme: I'm dying, Bella. He refuses to acknowledge the truth of it, and I fear for him. I fear for the fact that he doesn't, and I fear for the moment that he does. When I'm gone, he's going to be sad for a long while. He'll be angry too, and he'll try to shield you and everyone else from his pain. He'll want to carry everyone else's; in an attempt to ease it. He won't succeed.
Bella: I'll get him through it.
Esme: He will try to be strong. He'll hold it all in for as long as possible, but you have to be there when he breaks. You have to, or I'm afraid he won't survive.
Bella: I'll get him through it. I promise.
If I weren't already so emotional, I might even laugh. Where is she now?
I have this sudden, inexplicable desire to prove them both wrong. I'm going to be fine. I don't need Bella to get me through it. I won't go so far as to say that I don't need anyone, because I do.
I scroll through messages, absently noticing how sporadic Bella's replying becomes. It's around the time that D.C. started to happen.
When I get to the dates that I want, my breath hitches in my throat. It's just days before she arrived at my bedroom door and told me that she didn't want me.
Esme: My sweet Bella, what's the matter?
Bella: Something has happened.
Esme: Oh, Darling, what is it? Must I call you?
Bella: I mean, no, I don't think that I could say the words out loud anyway. It's better this way.
Esme: What is? Bella, tell me what's wrong.
Bella: I love your son.
Esme: I know you do, sweetheart. I've known it for a long time now. Anyone can see that.
Bella: That's the problem.
Esme: I don't understand.
You and I both, Mum.
Bella: You said it yourself; he already shoulders so much. He carries the weight of the world on his strong shoulders, and the last thing I've ever wanted was to add to it. I never wanted him to look at me as if I were a burden.
Esme: You know he doesn't. Where is all of this coming from?
There is a large gap in replies, based on the times of the messages, and I feel my heart rate pick up. For some reason, I just know that I'm going to learn part of the reason why my girlfriend decided that breaking my heart was the thing to do, just days before my mother took my heart with her.
Bella: I wish that there was an easier way to tell you this, but there isn't. I haven't told Edward, because this truly is the last thing he needs. I mean, it could even be nothing, but the amount of things that have happened already prove that starting anything with anyone while my father was president was always going to be a bad idea.
Bella: But I love him. I love him so much, Esme.
Esme: I don't understand what you're trying to tell me, Bella. Are you in danger? Is Edward?
Bella: Yes, and yes.
That word says so much, and I can only imagine what was going through her head in that moment.
Bella: I know what I want to do, and what I have to do.
Esme: But the question remains, what are you going to do?
Bella: What am I going to do?
There's another lengthy gap in the time between the two messages, and I can only assume that my mom put a lot of thought into her next message.
Which is only two words long.
Esme: Leave him.
I blink. I must not have read right. From Bella's response, she must have gone through the same thing.
Esme: Leave him, Bella.
Esme: You're talking to me about this, instead of him, because we both already know what you're going to do. You promised you would get him through what's to come and, if you can't do that; then you have to leave him.
What the fuck? No. No. What?
Bella: But. But I can't.
Bella: I love him.
Esme: I know you do, but I also believe that you already know what you're going to do, and you just need me to agree with you. You want my permission to break his heart before I do. The threat is too much. It's why you're so worried. Something could happen, and then what? What happens to you? What happens to my family; my poor, broken family, if Edward is gone? We're barely holding it together as it is, and they'll fall apart completely if something happens to him.
Esme: So, yes, leave him, Bella. His heart is too kind and his love is too pure for what we're both doing to him. If you can't be who he needs right now, then let him get through this with those who are.
There's another long gap in responses, and my heart is beating much faster in my chest.
Bella: He'll never forgive me.
Esme: I suspect he'll never forgive me either. The same way he's never forgiven his father.
Bella: I tried, Esme. I tried so hard to be what he needed. All I wanted was for us to have a normal, happy relationship. But I swore I would protect him from my life. I promised myself that I wouldn't drag him into the nasty world of politics.
Bella: You are right.
Bella: I'm sorry.
Esme: As am I, my sweet Bella. As am I.
And then, eventually, we're back to the final message, sent on that fateful Monday; the day that everything truly started to spiral out of control.
Bella: It's done.
What the fuck did you two do?