"Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain."
― Mark Twain
It worked. It worked! It actually worked!
I have no idea what Emmett said to Edward, and I actually feel a bit bad about it if it's what led to Edward breaking down like that, but whatever happened between them, it went a long way to convincing Edward that he needs to put an end to his secret.
My heart aches for him—he's so broken right now after the fight and the change in his condition—to have to put himself under even more stress by telling everyone is just torture, but there seems to be no way around it.
I make the arrangements with everyone at school, but I ask them to come around four. I want to get there first and make sure Edward's … oh, hell, I don't know because I'm sure he's gonna be a wreck. I just want a few moments alone with him first.
When I walk into his room, my eyes zero in on his face, and he's ashen, his breathing slow but deliberate, and he's clutching Esme's hand as if his life depends on it.
"Bella!" Esme greets me, but Edward just gulps down a breath and closes his eyes—my arrival means everyone else will be here soon.
She smiles, but her eyes are watery and bright, and it nearly brings tears to my own. "Edward? Why don't I give you and Bella a few moments? I'll go wait in the hall for your friends."
Edward bites his lip, but he nods slowly, still not opening his eyes. His hand fists as soon as Esme lets it go, and even though he squeezes until his knuckles are white, he can't stop the tremors running down his arm.
I smile and nod at Esme, but as soon as she's clear, I grab that shaking hand and clutch it between my own, sitting as close to him as I can on the edge of his bed. He leans forward, and I pull him into my arms—he's shaking all over.
"I'mokay," he blurts out. "I'mokayI'mokayI'mokay."
I hold him tighter. "You are okay. And you're going to be okay, I promise."
He nods against my shoulder.
"Did they give you anything for anxiety?"
He nods again. "As much as they could."
My heart aches for him, and I want to ask him if he really wants to do this, but I know I can't. He needs to do this, and if I give him the out, he just might take it, and then he'd have to go through this all over again some other day.
So I just hold him, rubbing his back in gentle circles while he shudders against me.
"Edward, you're the bravest person I know. You're my hero for so many reasons, but this is the most important one. I'm so proud of you for facing your fear head on. You're amazing."
He snorts, and I feel his arms settle around me. "You make me sound like Superman just for barely holding my shit together."
"So? I'm afraid of heights, so I don't wanna leap tall buildings with you, but maybe this is your super power: Super Edward, the guy who holds his shit together."
Despite the hell I know he's in, Edward laughs, and my heart soars. God, I've missed that sound.
Just then, Esme pokes her head in the door.
"Edward, your friends are here," she says softly.
Edward inhales sharply, and his arms and shoulders tense around me. Before I even realize what's happening, he's scrambled off the bed. He bolts for the bathroom, slamming the door behind him, and soon the sounds of violent heaving can be heard through the door.
Esme enters the room and closes the door behind her, leaning on it as if she needs the support.
"He's been a mess all day despite all the drugs they're giving him. I've tried to distract him, but he's been lost in his head, and I know he's building this up to something so much worse than it is."
I nod because I know she's right. And I feel just as helpless as she does.
Just then, the bathroom door opens and an even paler Edward stumbles out, gazing at us wearily.
"I c-c-can't do this. I can't tell them, and they'll just stare at me …"
He sways a little, and Esme and I fly to either side of him, helping him back to his bed.
"What if someone else tells them, and then you can see them after?" Esme asks.
"I'll do it," I volunteer, smiling confidently at him. "I think they're more likely to ask me questions than your mom."
"It gets the job done, Edward. And you'll still have to face them after. It doesn't matter who says the words, as long as they know the truth."
He nods, but he doesn't lift his gaze from his blanket. I've never seen him look so defeated.
"I'm not Super Edward," he mutters, and although my heart twists in my chest, I still manage to get the words out.
"Oh, yes. Yes, you are."
"I'll stay here with you while Bella talks to them," Esme says, rubbing her hand gently up and down Edward's arm as she takes a seat beside him.
"It'll be fine. I promise," I reassure him as I head for the door. "They're your friends, and they're gonna show you how much they care about you."
I turn and walk from the room, trying to gather my thoughts and figure out how I'm going to tell Jasper, Ben, Alice, and Angela the news that will change their perception of Edward forever.
Shit. This wasn't the plan, but if I can bear the brunt of their reactions and spare Edward at least that much, I'll do it in a heartbeat.
They're clustered in the waiting room right down the hall. Angela and Ben are sitting together on one of the little couches, holding hands. The Gothlet is sitting on the other couch, but Jasper's pacing, his arms crossed, a worried look on his face. Jasper's been Edward's friend since elementary school—he's going to take this the hardest.
When I walk in, they all look at me expectantly, but Jasper is the first one to speak. "Something's wrong, isn't it? Why wouldn't Esme let us go right in to see Edward?"
I take a deep breath. "We'll all go see him in a minute, but I have to tell you some things first."
Jasper starts pacing again, and the other three look at me with fear in their eyes.
"He's okay—well, mostly, but he's had a secret for a while now, and he thinks it's time that you guys know." My eyes flick to Jasper, who stops mid-stride. "Jasper, go sit with Alice, please? You're making me even more nervous than I already am."
Jasper looks almost frantic with worry, but my eyes plead with him. With a huff, he gives in and plops down on the couch beside The Gothlet.
"What is it, Bella?" Ang says nervously.
I take another deep breath to steady myself, and then look at Jasper as I tell them. "Edward has epilepsy. He was diagnosed the summer before freshman year."
In my periphery, I see Ang and The Gothlet both cover their mouths with their hands, and Ben drop his gaze to the floor, but Jasper doesn't move.
"That's why he misses school so much," Ang says, dazed.
"Is that why he quit basketball?" Ben asks.
"When did you find out?" Jasper asks me through clenched teeth.
I close my eyes wearily. I knew Jasper wasn't going to take this well, for a lot of reasons.
"I found out before Edward and I started dating. He didn't tell me—I happened to be with him during the first seizure he ever had at school. He didn't want anyone to know about this, so I kept his secret for him. He still doesn't want anyone to know, but … he doesn't really have a choice now."
"What made him decide to tell us now?" The Gothlet asks, and as she does, she covers Jasper's hand with her own.
Now comes the hard part …
"Because things have … changed. For the last three years, Edward has always known ahead of time when he's going to have a seizure. There are … warning signs, and he would always just stay home. But during the fight, he hit his head and got a concussion, and after that, he had a really long seizure. Since then, his seizures have been out of control," I say tearfully, unable to keep my composure. I close my eyes and bite into my lower lip, trying to keep myself from crying.
Angela looks at me astutely for a moment, then gets up and puts her arms around me, pulling me down on the couch beside her. "Bella, this is not your fault."
"Of course, it's not!" The Gothlet chimes in, reaching over and putting her hand on my knee.
I don't say anything. The guilt still lingers—an aching hole in my chest—maybe it always will despite everyone trying to convince me otherwise. Besides, this conversation is supposed to be about Edward, not me. As I try to put myself back together, my eyes fall on Jasper, who's still staring straight ahead with a frustrated look on his face.
"What do you mean 'out of control'?" Ben asks gravely.
I sniffle a bit, but the thought that Edward's counting on me to get through this helps me focus. "I mean, he used to have a seizure every two or three weeks, and he always knew about them ahead of time. Now, he's having them every day, he doesn't get a warning anymore, and they have to stop them with medication. That's why he's still in the hospital. The concussion threw everything out of balance somehow, and they don't know if everything will go back to the way it was or not.
"That's part of why he wants you guys to know," I continue. It's easier now that I've gotten beyond the part I feel responsible for. "He won't be able to come back to school until he stops having seizures so often, and they're stopping on their own again. And there are other things you need to know before you see him, too.
"He doesn't remember the fight at all, and he's not completely back to normal yet. He slurs some of his words when he talks, and he takes more time to think before he answers questions.
"Seizures can have a lot of triggers, but Edward's biggest one is stress." Now I look at Jasper. "We need to try to keep him calm, so if you're mad at him for not telling you about this, Jasper, please don't yell at him today."
Jasper glares at me, but his face crumples a bit as he looks down. "Why the hell didn't he tell me?" he says angrily, getting up from the couch and striding across the room.
"I don't know why he didn't tell you, specifically. But he made the choice long ago not to tell anyone outside his family, and they stood by that choice. He just wants to be normal—like everybody else—and this makes him very different. He's really … nervous about you guys knowing—about how you'll react. That's why I'm telling you and not him. He didn't think he could handle the stress of telling you, and his mom and I didn't think so either. So please, please go easy on him when you see him. You can't imagine how hard this is for him after all the time he's kept it secret."
Jasper purses his lips and blows out a frustrated breath as he looks at me. "I don't want to make things harder for him. I am pissed, but … I'll keep it to myself for now."
"Thank you," I tell him, and I really mean it. "Do you guys want to go see him now?"
They all nod and stand up with me. I walk to the door but stop before going out into the hall. "I should also warn you he still looks pretty bad from the beating he took. I saw him the night it happened, so he actually looks a little better to me, but since you guys haven't seen him, it might be a bit of a shock."
Jasper and Ben nod, but the girls look at me wide-eyed. I hope they won't react, but honestly, it's hard for me not to react when I see him, and I've been coming here every day.
I walk in first, and Edward looks at me tentatively. His mom has moved over to the couch, but he glances at her as if he wishes she were still sitting beside him. I grin at him warmly and nod my head, trying to reassure him it'll be all right.
His face falls as the others file in behind me, and I know without looking what I'll see on their faces. I wince as I walk over to stand beside him, but I grip his hand and turn to face it with him anyway.
Angela and The Gothlet's eyes are wide as saucers, and each has a hand over their mouth. Ben's lips are pursed into a tight line, and the skin around his eyes is scrunched angrily. Jasper … Jasper's eyes are pure sadness and shock, and as I gaze at him, he looks away.
"I look p-p-pretty bad, don't I?" Edward asks uncomfortably. "I looked a few days ago, but I doubt it's g-g-gotten much better."
Angela recovers first, crossing the distance to his bed with a gentle smile on her face. "Edward, I'm so sorry this happened to you," she says, touching his arm.
He looks down. "It's okay. I'll heal up from the fight, and I've b-b-been having … s-s-seizures for years now, so I'm used to it."
"How are you feeling?" The Gothlet asks, coming forward to stand beside me.
"Tired. And I alm-m-most always have a headache. But I'm having fewer s-s-seizures and my sp-p-peech is much better."
The Gothlet's eyebrows rise, but instead of freaking out, Edward just takes it in stride.
"The first time I woke up after the big s-s-seizure, I couldn't talk at all. I knew what I wanted to s-s-say, I just couldn't figure out how to m-m-make the words."
"Damn," Ben says, shaking his head. "Was it scary?"
"Terrifying," Edward replies.
"Does it … hurt? When you have a seizure?" Ben asks, gazing at Edward, openly curious.
I flinch a bit as he asks the question because I know it will make Edward uncomfortable but also because I'd never asked it. I think I've been afraid to.
Edward looks down again at first, but then he forces himself to meet Ben's eyes. "No, I'm not aware of it at all—well, I know right b-b-beforehand and then after, but during the s-s-seizure, I kind of black out, and then when I wake up I'm p-p-pretty out of it and really sleepy."
Edward's eyes scan the room, taking in everyone's reaction, I'm guessing, but his gaze lingers on Jasper, who's still standing by the door.
"Jazz?" Edward asks, and I know everyone in the room can hear the questions he's not asking.
Jasper closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly, clearly trying to hold his temper, and Edward starts to shake a little bit. I start to walk toward Jasper to ask him to leave the room, but Edward catches my arm and holds it.
Suddenly, Jasper fixes Edward with a piercing look, the hurt plain on his face. "Why didn't you tell me? We've been friends our whole lives. I don't … understand," he finishes, looking away.
Edward closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Jazz, I'm s-s-sorry. I didn't want anyone to know who didn't absolutely have to. It was … easier to deal with when n-n-no one knew."
"But why?" Jasper presses. "I could have helped you. I could have … understood. I could have not taken the mickey out of you when you quit playing basketball!" he exclaims, raising his voice in anger.
Edward remains calm, but I can see the pain in his eyes. "You would have treated m-m-me differently. I didn't want that."
"I wouldn't have," Jasper retorts, a fierce look on his face.
"Yes, you would … you will. Everyone does," Edward says vehemently. "Do you have any idea what it's like to have p-p-people watching you all the time, treating you like a fucking time bomb? Being careful what they do and s-s-say around you so they don't g-g-get you too upset? I've had to p-p-put up with that from my family for two and a half years n-n-now and from every teacher at school."
Everyone looks at him incredulously.
"Yeah, all the teachers know," he affirms. "They have to because if s-s-something happened at school, I'd be dependent on them to help me. I'm always dependent on s-s-someone, and it sucks. Now imagine if everyone at school knew about this. What do you think that would b-b-be like?"
Jasper looks down, but he's not ready to give up yet. "I'm not everyone."
"No, you're not, but after w-w-watching how everything changed after I was diagnosed, I decided I didn't w-w-want anyone else to know. At school, I c-c-could escape from it—I could feel n-n-normal, but at home, I had to deal with it. It was just easier for me this way."
"What will you do now? Bella said something changed and you don't know ahead of time when you're going to have a seizure anymore," Ang asks. Fuck. Why does she have to be so damn perceptive?
Edward's jaw flexes, and he closes his eyes as he takes slow, even breaths. He takes his time to answer, but I'm so proud of him when he does.
"Well, I'm just g-g-going to have to take my chances now. Go back to s-s-school and hope for the best."
"How can we help?" Jasper asks, finally moving toward Edward.
If it weren't such a serious moment, the look on Edward's face would be comical. "You want to help?"
"Of course, we do!" The Gothlet exclaims, taking Jasper's hand. "At least one of us is in class with you even when Bella isn't; we could help you if you need to leave the room. Or, if something happens and people are staring at you, I'll stab them with Ivan!"
The Gothlet's eyes have an eerie glow, and I'm so mesmerized by them I startle when I hear laughter—Edward's laughter.
"I don't think that'll be necessary, Alice, but thanks for offering to risk p-p-prison time for me."
Alice just grins sweetly, dropping her chin to her chest and looking through her eyelashes as she winks at him. God, that girl is so damn scary!
"Who the fuck is Ivan?" I hear Ben whisper to Angela, and I can't contain my snort. I'll have to fill them both in on Alice's pet switchblade later.
"But seriously, Edward. We'd really like to help," Angela says, putting her hand on his forearm.
Edward closes his eyes, but instead of freaking out, he takes a deep breath and covers Ang's hand with his own.
I'm so proud of him in this moment I think I might burst with it.
After that, the tension seems to dissolve and everyone starts chatting as if we're not in a hospital room. Edward even manages to smile a few times when The Gothlet teases him about all those "vacation days" he's taken.
Suddenly, I hear Edward suck in a ragged breath, and his arm tenses under my hand. His eyes are closed—and he begins trembling. The room goes silent, but I can hear an alarm sounding down the hallway. Everyone's eyes are drawn to Edward.
"Seizure?" I whisper softly to him, and he nods his head jerkily.
"Esme?" I say a little louder, and I lift my hand from Edward's arm to step back.
"S-s-stay," he stutters out, reaching a shaking hand out for me blindly.
"I'm right here. I'll stay," I tell him, moving back to the side of the bed and taking his hand in mine.
Esme's hand squeezes my shoulder. "Are you okay to stay with him while I see everyone out? The nurse will be here in just a minute."
I nod, my eyes widening a little. I look over at my friends and see the fear and pity on their faces, and that's enough to snap me out of it. "We'll be fine," I tell Esme confidently.
"Guys, I'll talk to you tomorrow," I say to Ang, Ben, The Gothlet, and Jasper as Esme shepherds them out, and then I turn my attention back to Edward. His eyes are still closed—I guess that's so our friends wouldn't see the terror there, as I did that day in the classroom. That or it's his way of wishing them away since I'm sure he's not ready for them to see this. He lays his head back against the mattress, and I rub his hand gently between mine, letting him know I'm still with him.
A nurse bustles into the room about ten seconds later and lowers Edward's bed so he's lying flat. Then Edward goes rigid for a few seconds and starts to convulse. "Stand back," the nurse says gently, but I realize as I bump the wall that I was already backing away. I shake myself and step closer again, forcing myself to watch. It's heartbreaking to see Edward's body so out of his control, but since his seizures no longer come with a warning, I need to know how to handle this.
I want to ask the nurse questions, but I hold my breath for most of the almost five minutes that Edward shakes, and when he begins gasping for breath, so do I. The nurse moves next to him and gently rolls him onto his side, tucking one hand under his cheek and lifting his chin, and bending one of his legs over the other so his weight keeps him on his side.
"Is—is that what you're supposed to do for him?" I whisper, and she looks over at me kindly.
"Yes, honey. Let him be during the seizure unless you need to stop his head from hitting something. Then after, position him like this to recover and make sure he's breathing. This is the best way to keep his airway open."
I nod slowly.
"You can touch him now. He'll probably wake up in a few minutes, but he'll be a bit confused. Just reassure him, and buzz me if you need anything," she says as she turns to leave the room.
I walk slowly over to him and run my hand over his copper-brown hair. He looks so … peaceful after all the violence I just witnessed. It's hard to reconcile that something so scary-looking can happen to him, and then he can lay here like a little boy, curled up in sleep. I run my hand over his hair again. This time his eyes open, and I stroke his forehead softly. His eyes meet mine but with no recognition, so I continue stroking and whisper to him that everything's okay and he's safe. After a moment, he closes his eyes again, but I continue, and I feel him angle his head into my hand.
We stay like that for a few moments, and the next time he opens his eyes, I can tell he recognizes me because a lazy smile spreads across his face. "Hey there," I say softly.
"Hey," he whispers, blinking slowly.
I can't help but smile at him. I missed him so much over the last few weeks, and I'm so happy to have him back. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine … I think …" he answers, his eyes drooping closed. Suddenly, they pop open again. "I'm s-s-sorry, Bella. What were we talking about? I'm so tired …"
"Just rest, Edward. We weren't talking about anything just now. You had a seizure a few minutes ago—that's why you're tired."
"I did?" he asks innocently, his green eyes questioning.
"Yes, you did. But everything's fine now, and I'll stay with you. Why don't you try to sleep for a bit?"
"Okay," he mumbles, as his eyes again drift shut. I breathe a sigh of relief, not realizing until then that I've been tense, waiting for Edward to act normally.
"You did it, Super Edward," I whisper, leaning down to kiss his cheek, and he smiles in his sleep as if he heard me.
A motion in the corner of the room catches my eye, and I jump a little as Esme walks over to me. I have no idea how long she's been there.
"You did wonderfully, Bella," she says, putting her hand on my shoulder. "That's exactly how you need to talk to him—calm and reassuring. He'll likely sleep for a few hours at least—maybe even until the morning.
"I'm glad he asked you to stay," she continues. "It says a lot about how comfortable he is with you—he's never let anyone other than me, Carlisle, or Emmett take care of him through a seizure. And if things are going to be … different … now," her voice shakes as she says the words, "he may need you to help him alone sometime."
"Does it get easier?" I ask her, feeling worn out from the effort of just keeping it together through the seizure and being there for him after through his confusion.
"You get used to it," she replies. "But I wouldn't call it easy. It's never easy watching someone you love deal with an illness."
But as I gaze at Edward sleeping beside me, I realize that it doesn't matter—easy or hard, I'm in this forever with him or for as long as he'll have me.
"That seizure stopped on its own," Esme murmurs thoughtfully, and I can't help the smile that spreads across my face. Edward's one step closer to going home.
A/N: Super Edward indeed. I'm so proud of him! The next chapter will likely be delayed a week—I leave for the beach tomorrow and I'm not finished with it yet. I'll get it posted as soon as I can, though!