Hello! This is my first story I've tried to write in a very, very, veeery long time, so fingers crossed someone enjoys reading it!
All characters belong to Stephanie Meyer.
The light in the room was dim with the curtains drawn, just a sliver of light from the hall illuminated across the floor. I could hear the patter of the rain against the window, an ordinary occurrence in Seattle. My parents were moving around downstairs, getting ready for the day ahead while I stayed hidden away up here, hoping that if I ignored that today was here that it would pass without any effort from me.
The photograph on the bedside table lay in the beam of light. It wasn't the only photograph put up around this room. They were all fairly old, as I hadn't lived here since I'd moved away to college over a decade ago. Photographs from when my sister, Alice, and I were children, our parents hugging on one of their anniversaries, a few class photos and the row of team photos spanning from my time in little league up to the varsity team in high school. But it wasn't any of these photos that held my unwavering gaze. It was one of the only framed photos around the room, and the only photograph I had kept close enough to look at every morning the summer before college. It had become one of my favourite pictures of the woman I loved. It had been our high school graduation day and it was taken after the ceremony as families had milled on the grounds on a rare sunny day. Our arms were wrapped around each other tightly, she had pulled my face down to hers as she threw the goofiest smile at the camera. Her long brown hair, caught in a breeze, swung around us. Her large, brown eyes obscured by a smile that was almost too big for her face.
As I held the frame, my thumb stroking over her heart shaped face, a knock interrupted and the door was pushed open to reveal Alice in the hall.
"Mom and dad are getting ready to go. Do you want to go with them, or we could go separately?" Alice asked with the ever present sympathy.
"No, I'm coming," I sighed as I placed the photograph back on the bedside table.
Following Alice down the stairs, I imagined what it would be like to climb them again when today was over with. I couldn't imagine my heart feeling much heavier, but I was sure it was possible.
My parents, Carlisle and Esme, stood coats in hand by the door, matching expressions of concern as they discussed something quietly.
"Are we ready?" Dad asked as Alice and I came to stand beside them.
"As we ever could be," Alice brushed off, grabbing her coat before she headed out to the car.
Dad turned to me. "How are you holding up, Son?" My father had been treating me like I was made of glass since I arrived a few days ago. He was constantly asking me questions like this. Or if I needed anything, or if I was comfortable. It's not like I grew up in this house and was perfectly able to do things for myself, like an adult who lives in an entirely different city. I knew my dad was just concerned, as any father would be under the circumstances, but it was starting to get on my nerves.
"I don't really know, Dad," I replied, my eyes fixed on the empty door Alice had left open. "I just want to get through this, and then come home."
I turned and took an umbrella from the stand by the door as I left to follow Alice out to the car. She didn't look away from her window as I opened the back door and buckled myself in.
"They're worried about you", she said without turning. "They think you're depressed and that when you go home to Chicago you're going to kill yourself" Alice always had a way of saying something in the bluntest way possible.
"That's a little dramatice, don't you think?" I scoffed. I was so tired of everyone walking on eggshells around me, but that didn't mean I appreciated Alices' lack of tact.
Turning toward me, her eyes held an intensity that made me know she was seriously concerned.
"It's only 'dramatic' if it's untrue. We all understand how hard this has been, Edward, but you haven't been yourself, or anywhere close to okay, for a while. We don't need you to be 'normal', but it would help ease everyone's mind if we weren't always wondering when you'll be going off the deep end."
I stared at her, unsure how to respond, until the front doors opened and our parents joined us, and she turned back to her window.
As the car made its way around the bends, the quiet beat of the wipers and the light hiss of the tires against the wet road lulled me into a daze. It had been a year since I had been in Seattle, yet I could picture the streets as we drove through town with my eyes closed and my head resting back against the headrest. My wife and I had grown up here together; our parents close friends from college. Because our mothers were dear friends, and as we were the same age, we had been forced to play together long before either of us could walk. That turned into childhood best friends, when I had to ignore the other boys teasing me for being best friends with a girl. In middle school, that friendship blossomed into a competitiveness that fueled us to be at the top of our classes the rest of the way through school. In high school, our bond took a different turn when she wanted us to be more than 'just friends', and who was I to argue?
As it turned out, I loved kissing her, and holding her hand, and how soft her skin was. I definitely liked that the other girls in school stopped making googly eyes at me, or constantly talking about what we were. I loved her laugh, and she made me laugh everyday. She drove me, pushed me, and inspired me. It's not every day that you fall in love with your best friend. How many people could say they had spent their entire life, from start to finish, with one person?
We had moved to Chicago eight years ago, right after we got married. There's something special about the first place you live as a married couple. Our apartment was tiny, and the heating didn't work if it got too cold outside, but it was ours and we loved it. We had a regular bar we went to with our friends, and a favourite whole-in-the-wall burger place that served meals so cheap you had to wonder what they were made of. When she graduated law school and started working too, we got to make a new home in a new apartment with a doorman, and find new favourite restaurants, like the Thai restaurant we went to on date nights. Chicago had been a long way from our families, but we were together so we were always at home.
I had loved it there, but it no longer felt the same these days. The world had dimmed since my wife had died suddenly a year ago, and with it had my enjoyment of almost everything in my life. One moment everything was completely normal, the next moment she was gone.
As the car pulled to a stop, I realised we had spent the entire ride in complete silence. We weren't usually a family that found it hard to communicate with each other. The quiet had felt oppressive since I'd arrived two days before and I knew that something was bubbling just under the surface of my parents' concern. It was obviously something they wanted to postpone, and I didn't have the energy these days to bring it up or fight about it.
Before I could follow as they all got out of the car, Alice quickly squeezed my arm and offered a brief smile before she too turned to open her door.
"I think we're meeting them there," my mother said as I came to join them by the front of the car. She led the way through the gates of the cemetery and began trailing up the path between the headstones.
We walked through the grounds, weaving our way through the headstones. I kept my eyes cast down as we passed other mourners.
My mind was flitting through memories of my wife. Her heart shaped face, her clear bright skin with the slight blush that came easily. She had cut her hair shorter a year or so before she died, though she had let it grow back just a little until it touched her shoulders. It used to fling about if she turned her head too quickly, and we had an inside joke where she would dramatically swing her hair and act surprised or shocked, just to make me laugh. I remembered her full, pink lips and her large eyes of the warmest, deepest brown. The apples of her cheeks used to squeeze her eyes closed in an expression of pure joy when she laughed. She used to laugh in a way that filled the room. I held on to those moments, every single one, though they cut at my heart to remember.
My parents came to a stop, forcing me to once again look up at everyone gathered at the headstone of my late wife. I hadn't been here since the day we buried her, and I'd left Seattle as soon after the wake as I could.
"How are you today, Eleazar?" Mom asked as she held her hand out to Carmen pulling her into a hug. "You look lovely" Esme whispered in her ear.
My father-in-law was holding an old bouquet of white lilies that had obviously been from a previous visit. White lilies had been her favourite. Her parents had given her a bouquet on every birthday, and she'd carried them down the aisle at their wedding. There was a new, larger bouquet resting against the base now.
Maria Francesca Cullen (ne. Di Nali)
9/13/1989 - 7/23/2018 (age 28)
Loving daughter, wife friend.
A beautiful person, inside out.
It even hurt to see her name. To see her life summed up so succinctly into four lines. She had been so much more than just what could be fit on a headstone. How could someone's whole life be condensed to what can fit on a cold slab of marble that sits in the middle of the most depressing place that I could ever imagine?
"How are you, hon?" Carmen asked me, drawing me into a hug. I tried not to remain stiff as I leaned into her, blinking back tears as I forced my eyes away from Marias' headstone.
"I'm ok" was all I could squeeze out of my tight throat.
Eleazar nodded toward me, understanding written on his face. He had never been too much of a demonstrative person, but he always seemed to know what people kept to themselves. I'm sure this was what made him such a good lawyer, but I didn't like the way his look pierced me as he deciphered my words and actions.
"Shall we begin?" He asked as he turned to look at each of us. He bent to drop the old flowers on the grass by a bag, pulling out plastic wine glasses and handing them to each of us.
"I wish we had been able to bring proper glasses, but the cemetery has some pretty strict rules," Carmen apologised as Eleazar began to pour red wine out for each of us.
With glasses filled, he turned back to the headstone and raised his into the air. We followed him, holding ours out to toast.
"To our darling Bella Maria. A year without you has been a lifetime. Possa tu trovare la pace finché non ci uniamo a te. Saluti!" Eleazar finished as he took a sip of his wine.
"Saluti!" The others echoed, as we all took a sip from our own cups.
"We miss you, baby. Everyday" Carmen added softly. Tears moved slowly down her face, and she made no move to wipe them away. They would just be replaced as soon as she would.
Mom, Dad and Alice quietly shared their own toasts, adding thoughts and memories of Maria as I stood there frozen. My heart felt like it was suffering a muscle cramp, and there was a ball so tight in my throat I feared I might actually stop breathing. It felt like if I moved I would crumble. Like some ancient statue that had been eroded by harsh wind and rain. Face a smooth, emotionless facsimile of a humans', and limbs breaking apart.
Once the last of their words were said, we all stood still in silence. Some staring down at the headstone which marked the final resting place of someone we all loved. Some eyes closed, lost in memory as they finished their wine. Maybe we were all ancient statues today.
"Would you like to say anything, Darling," my mother asked quietly. Unfortunately, we were all so quiet that everyone heard her question.
I tried to swallow the lump constricting my windpipe. Taking a large drink from my glass, finishing it one mouthful and clearing my throat. I knelt down, bringing my eyes level with Marias' headstone.
"Hi, Beautiful. I…" The words caught and my mind went blank. What could I possibly say to her grave that would make any of this seem better? "You've taken my heart with you" I whispered, before standing and walking back along the grassy path to the car.
This past year had made no sense to me. How could she just be gone? We had gone to bed a happy, healthy couple, but only one of us woke up. The coroner said it was a brain aneurysm that ruptured during the night. Extremely unusual for someone so young, they had said. They had even insinuated that these sorts of injuries were usually a result of violence, but as Marias' body had shown no signs of abuse it was most likely just a medical anomaly. My father had always said coroners weren't known for their tact.
Maria had been one of the most passionate and alive people I had ever met. She had always known what she wanted, and she went after it. She had known she wanted to be a lawyer, just like her father, since was seven years old. She decided when we were thirteen we were both going to go to Dartmouth, where our parents had all met and fallen in love. She was the one that decided we were supposed to be more than friends, and already had a whole argument ready when I had tried to tell her it wasn't a good idea. She never let anything hold her back or hold her down. Not jerks at law school, or jerks in her law firm, or even the jerk who attacked her and her client after she had one the case against him. She got right back up because she knew the direction her life was going to go in, and no one was going to stop her.
And then she was just gone.
I had to stop at the car as Dad had the keys, thankful it wasn't raining at the moment. I had known my parents were worried about me even before Alice had said anything. I could hear it through the phone when I talked to them while back in Chicago. They could hear how flat my voice was, and knew I didn't go out or see people anymore. I worked from home, communicating with associates via phone or email. I never went out to eat, preferring take out on my couch to the noisy bustle of a bar or restaurant. I knew I worried them, but I was just so tired all the time, and everywhere I looked I saw Maria.
I could see everyone as they crested the last hill and made their way towards the car park. Alice, a few paces ahead, came straight over to me.
"If you don't feel like going to the restaurant, then I'm happy to go home with you" she said with sad eyes.
I could tell she wanted me to go out with everyone to eat, but I also knew I didn't have much more energy left in me today.
"Thanks, Ally," I smiled down at her. "I'll go say goodbye."
Walking over to my parents and their long time friends, my surrogate parents and in-laws, I saw the same sadness in their eyes that I saw in Alices'. Were they all waiting for me to 'go off the deep end', as she had put it? I also saw understanding and resignation, which did assuage some of the guilt that had been building since I saw Marias' parents.
"I hope you can forgive me, but I don't think I have it in me to eat anything today" I said as an excuse, drawing Carmen then Eleazar into a hug.
"You don't need to apologize, Edward. We understand how hard today is," came Eleazar's deep voice with his now light Italian accent, as he patted me on the back. Holding me at arms length he looked me right in the eye.
"You need to take better care of yourself. What would we all do if something happened to you too?"
This drew me up short. Though it was irrational, part of me had wondered if Eleazar and Carmen held any animosity for me. Afterall, it had been my job as a composer that had kept us in Chicago after Maria had graduated from Northwestern. And it was their daughter that had died and not me.
I could only give him a tight "I will" around the ball that sprang back into my throat and a slight nod, before turning back to join Alice in the car. She was already behind the wheel, and started the car as I buckled myself in and gave a small wave to the others as they headed towards the Di Nali's car.
Possa tu trovare la pace finché non ci uniamo a te = May you find peace until we join you.