How my Heart Behaves
Summary: Bella returns to Forks after an unexpected death.
A/N: This was my twilightsanta gift for shadowgirl573.
In most ways, Forks had been just like I'd left it. Not a spot of sunshine in the sky, with the clouds looming in, gathering for a storm. The air reeked of the impending downpour as I finally mustered the guts to push the door open and look on at the familiar sight in front of me. It was funny, real funny, how some things ceased to change. My house was one of them. The colors hadn't faded or chipped, and the windows were still clean but unclean at the same time, and past the curtains I could see into the living room.
I walked up the driveway, the sturdy cement awkward beneath my feet after the revving vibrations of my car, and the twenty minutes of straight turbulence on the plane. I felt as if the world should be spinning, just like it had before, but as I walked past the bushes and the ever-lush lawn I could see everything clearly, in its sharp neat lines. It made it all seem harsher somehow.
The click of the key resounded in my chest as I shifted the lock, taking a deep breath and stepping inside. The same. Everything was the same. The table, the carpet, the frames nailed up on the wall. I slowly closed the door behind me, feeling the contraction of my throat like screws tightening everywhere in my body as the gap between me and the outside world became smaller and smaller, the metal cold against my suddenly hot fingertips.
Cold. Metal. I swallowed hard as familiarity came rushing back to me in waves; like the tide, coming and going, but always crashing stronger than it had risen.
Forks wasn't the same – it could never be, not anymore. On the outside Forks was like revisiting an old picture I'd taken, but delving deeper, the picture was staggeringly different. Darker, more estranged. The thought had always lingered in my head, sometimes even pounding fists and making a scene: had I made it this way? The moment I stepped out of the town limits, gotten on a plane, and flown back to Florida – had the picture-perfect image I'd left behind somehow tattered? Had I set this entire town on fire?
I rubbed the back of my neck, trying to relax the stiffness of my body, kneading out all of the painful knots. Standing in the middle of the living room, I remembered the last time I'd stood here, in this exact spot; how much braver I'd been back then, and how much smaller the world had looked to me. But now, as I looked at everything that I'd once touched and arranged, it was empty, and bigger. Bigger now because it was empty.
- - - - - - - - - -
Renee flew in the next day. She'd come equipped with all of the materials and things we needed to set up and prepare, and when I picked her up from the airport, I first saw her from upstairs, sitting down on the bench with her luggage, with her hands shaking as she tried to look for her phone in her bag. After her hands began to shake too much for her to even open the clasp of her bag, she dug her face into her palms and I watched as her body began to shake, too. I couldn't hear her sobbing through the usual cacophony of the airport: the announcements, and the arrivals and departures. But somehow it was as if everything around us was passing in blurs, and I couldn't have torn my eyes away from her even if I'd wanted to. The world had just passed us by, and now we were left to cope.
- - - - - - - - -
The funeral service started at noon. Renee kept poking her head in and out of my room, asking for things like scissors and band aids – things that I knew she didn't need, and was just doing it to check up on me. Funny, because not too long ago it had been my job to take care of her, and make sure she was okay. But now it was as if she was afraid to leave me alone. She was afraid that I would regret going to Jackson with her after Phil's injury landed him in the hospital for months, that I would blame this on her, or worse: myself.
At eleven, I got dressed. I went downstairs to help Renee and the caterers before we both headed to the cemetery. The drive was a quiet one: tense, and awkward. Renee clumsily fumbled with her earrings, sometimes dropping them to her lap.
"How about some music?" she nervously tittered, her long fingers landing on the dial. She turned it on and some poppy, melodramatic tune came on. "See, Bella? That's more like it." Then she pressed her lips together in what I could only assume was meant to be a smile. I tried smiling back; hopefully I did a better job than she did.
The cemetery was green, and well kept. As we headed towards the area we passed by neatly aligned gravestones with angels and flowers laid down on the graves. Renee kept her head up, trying not to look at the graves, and I tried to do the same.
We were the first ones there, followed by the minister, just a few minutes later. Renee talked to the minister, stammering and speaking way too fast, her hands moving at a pace that would make anyone watching her dizzy. I kept to the side, looking out in the distance. The sun had made a surprise appearance, momentarily shattering the gloom, and the dew on the grass had soaked the leather of my shoes. My heels dug into the soft ground.
People were coming.
The first to arrive were Charlie's friends from the station: all of them, in funeral attire. It was the neatest I'd ever seen any of them dressed. Each of them offered their condolences to both Renee and I, and one of them, the one named Joe, already even started to tear up.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," Joe whispered to me, his voice cracking, as he hugged me. "I'm so sorry. I…I couldn't believe it, too, you know? It's just not fair. It's just not at all."
After them, soon everybody else came. Almost the entire town had emptied out to come to the funeral, tearfully hugging us and telling us that they were sorry he had to go. The entire time, I looked at their lips, or at their ear, or at their forehead. I couldn't look them in the eye. And somehow, I felt numb. I felt my heels sinking into the ground each time somebody's strange arms were wrapped around me, yet all I could feel was a painful emptiness in my chest.
Just then, as a woman who Charlie had saved from a near robbery was offering her condolences, I saw familiar figures in the distance. There was a strong-faced man in a wheelchair with an even stronger-looking boy behind him. And around him was his pact: each of their faces carved in stone, their dark faces sharp and rigid. As they walked quickly yet deliberately, all dressed in black suits, I couldn't help but feel anticipation. Finally, someone I used to know.
Billy was the first one who reached me, with Jacob at a close second, his large hands trying not to forcefully clutch the wheelchair handles too much. Billy looked at me, hard and long, before he finally spoke.
His voice was like rust, and the husky essence of the forest all blended together into a fine mist. It was deep and ground into the hollow of my bones.
"Hello again, Bella. We've missed you."
"I've missed you, too, Billy. Really."
"I'm sorry about your father. Charlie was a great man. He is going to be missed forever, I'm sure of it." And then Billy nodded at me, his eyes dark but meaningful with more emotion than I'd ever been used to seeing, before he waved Jacob off and wheeled himself away, heading towards Renee.
I looked up at Jacob, who didn't do so much as blink, his hands beside him. They clenched, and then unclenched, and then clenched again. Then, before I could open my mouth to say something, the rest of his pack had moved in. Embry came first, followed by Sam, Quil, Seth, and even Leah.
After they'd each hugged me firmly, my tiny body nearly lost in their bulky arms, they all left, gravitating towards the rest of the crowd and Renee. All that was left was Jacob, who was still staring hard at me – it was a look caught between a glare and sadness. Then, without a word, he took one step towards me and covered me with his arms, wrapping his arms around me so firmly that I was almost sure an imprint of his body would be left on mine. I could feel his heart beating underneath his chest, and the movement in his lungs as he breathed. I closed my eyes. Finally, some human contact.
He let go after a few moments, looking at me.
"I'm…" His words came out a little strangled, and his dark eyes pleaded at me. "I'm sorry about Charlie, Bella. And I'm sorry I was angry with you. I… you leaving was never something I wanted, and I'm ecstatic about you coming back, but not… I didn't want you coming back because ofthis." He sighed, before giving me a tiny, boyish smile. "You know, I rehearsed this for weeks. The guys know this. What a job well done, huh?"
I cracked a smile. It was almost strange how he still made me feel a little cheerful about things – even at my dad's funeral. Thinking about it, it was even a little morbid. "You could use some improvement, but an A for effort, anyway."
"You're still the same, Bella," he said. "You're still too nice."
Jacob chuckled quietly, his face lighting up for a second, before everything became serious again. He reached out, his hand catching a strand of hair that had gone out of place, before he let it loose again, his eyes watching its free movement as the wind passed.
"I've missed you. A lot," he confessed, heavily. "I thought about writing to you, or calling, and I almost did, lots of times…"
"It's okay, Jacob," I told him. "It's okay."
The funeral service started at exactly 12:10. The spotty sun prevailed, warming all of us just a little, as we stood solemnly, looking on at the dark mahogany coffin. Its sleek polish gleamed in the sunshine. Then, suddenly, halfway through the minister's speech, his Bible open in front of him, the sun was covered by a thick cloud. The sheen was gone on the coffin, and the gloom returned.
A few moments later, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A group had entered from the back just moments after the sun had disappeared, and their shocking porcelain skin had instantly grabbed my attention. I only saw them for a moment before the crowd had covered them, but I felt my stillborn heart jump. I was shocked at its reaction, though it was beyond me why. I tried to look through the crowd for them, but it was no use. Everybody was huddled too close together. I clamped my jaw together, turning my eyes back to the priest. I could feel somebody watching me from behind.
The service ended, and all around me I heard sniffles. People had their handkerchiefs out, dabbing their eyes, and I could see Renee next to me, trembling. I could see the expression on her face, and without thinking, I put my arms around her, and she cried. As I held her close, I stroked her hair, and looking past her, I saw them. As the crowd began shifting, like wind sweeping grains in a field, they suddenly appeared. All of them, and each of them, standing in the very back, dressed in black; the contrast of their smooth, stark-white skin against the dark colors made them even more ethereal-looking. Different.
My eyes immediately landed on him, and my heart contracted, as if it was getting sucked inwards, and my hold tightened on Renee. His eyes were exactly on me, golden but dark, his face serious yet unreadable. His hands were clenched into airtight fists, and the way he stood, so rigid, made my intake of air increase. I wanted to look away but couldn't, and at the same time, I didn't want to – not for years, not for as long as I could stand here, in this place. My feet could grow roots and I would not notice. I'd gone too long without it. I'd gone back to sunshine, hearty sunshine, and it did not fill me like the way his eyes did.
I remembered thinking it was unfair. How a very person (who could not even be considered a human being, and was void of any warmth) could intoxicate another to the point that everything else seemed bleak, and empty. Wrong.
I drew back from Renee, not breaking eye contact with him, before I switched my eyes back to her. Her face was red, with her mascara running, her face sticky and streaked with tears. She looked at me, blinking back her tears, and I hoped that she wouldn't be able to see that I was shaken.
"We should start heading back," I told her gently. Then I handed her my handkerchief – dry, and unused. She took it, dabbing her eyes, nodding.
And then she went ahead, escorted by Charlie's friends from the station, and I stood there, staring at the spot Renee had just stood. A soft breeze passed, causing the dark material of my dress to ripple, and I took in a sharp breath, looking up – suddenly, they were all there. In front of me. Esme stepped forward first, wrapping me in her cold, slender arms, whispering sweet words to me.
"Oh, Bella, we've missed you more than you can possibly imagine," she said in my ear.
"She's right, you know," Emmett grinned. "It's been dreadfully unexciting."
"We're sorry about your father, Bella," Carlisle said, his voice grave and deep. "He was a good man – one of the best I've ever known. It's… it's always a shame to lose someone like that."
My mouth twisted, but I couldn't tell what it was trying to do. "Well, it comes with the job, doesn't it? It's just common sense." Somehow, this came off curt, and sharp – the words had just come tumbling out, and they rang in my ears even after I'd said them. The entire Cullen family stood still, looking at me. Esme's sweet face frowned with sadness and sympathy.
"That doesn't mean it's justified," Alice said softly, looking at me with sad eyes. She stepped up and hugged me, and I was afraid to hug her back; as if I did, I just might break her, she was so tiny, and fragile.
Funny, I wondered how they must see me right now.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. When I heard, I… I'm just so sorry." I thought I heard tears in her voice but I knew there were none.
Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie came forward to extend their condolences as well, and when they were all done (except one), they all began to head in the direction of the others, huddled up in a group. I remembered the times I looked at them and they looked like they were gliding. I looked now, and I couldn't see it anymore.
Edward was left. It took him a while to get closer to me, but after a few moments, he did, in one long and smooth step. I looked at his face and everything in my body suddenly began to kick in again – doing things they weren't supposed to, sporadically contracting. I let out a breath and it wobbled out of my lips.
Something flickered through his marble mask. Sadness. Guilt.
"Bella," he said, and the single word was so deep and profound that it shook me. Suddenly, standing in front of him, everything around me spilled out of its boundaries, the borders of reality, blurring together into something hideous and indistinguishable. I could no longer see his face. Somewhere around me, reaching through the delicate shell clasped around my ears, I heard sobbing. Echoing. Distant, but it felt so near.
And then I realized that it was me.
Suddenly there was heat spreading all over me, and my hands and everything around me was trembling: the entire world was shaking along with me. The ground ricketed from side to side, and the sky was tilting. My knees buckled, but I did not fall. I didn't even realize how his arms had anchored themselves to my waist, leaning me against him.
He was shaking, too.
He was firm as ever; so broad that I wasn't willing to see past him. He was hard but it was what I needed, something steady, something that I could latch onto and it would never break. His lips were against my hair, breathing fast, his arms so securely wound that I knew I could never slip through, no matter what happened. The ground could fall underneath me and I would not fall.
I had always been good at crying, but the fact that Charlie was gone, forever, had been something too profound for me. Somehow, my tears hadn't been of easy access. Receiving the phone call that Charlie had been accidentally killed on duty – I hadn't shed a tear. Standing in front of the preacher – not a tear. Standing in my old, empty house – nothing. But now? When nobody was around, except Edward, who I'd somehow impossibly left behind, the tears came freely. It was overwhelming. Soon, I was crying so hard that I could not even understand myself. I kept hearing words, his words, so tangled with everything that I only realized later on what he was saying: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
I felt my fingers, grabbing onto him, and his fingers did the same.
- - - - - - - - - - -
"How did you hear about it?"
"I got a phone call," I told him, as we walked through the empty cemetery. "In Jackson. It was from Joe, he sounded… bad. That was how I knew." I paused, licking my lips. They tasted like salt. "It's funny, but you just kind of know. From the first word. You just know."
"I wanted to call you," he said, his voice low and quiet. From the way he was speaking, I could tell he was trying his best to be careful, carefully selecting his words, making sure it didn't come off too loud, or harsh. "We all did, when we heard. But we weren't sure if you… wanted to hear from us."
I didn't say anything, and instead we walked past the graves. There were rows and rows of them. I tried not to see them, but there was one in particular that I noticed: an angel, towering above us, looking up towards the sky. Her wings were extended, and it was a majestic thing.
"How does it feel?" he asked me, sincerely. "To be back?"
"I don't know," I told him, honestly, struggling with my response. My words came out awkward, and fumbled. I felt like a ball of yarn, with my fingers caught in the string, unable to free myself. "Strange. But good, I guess."
"How was Jackson?"
He had a lot of questions. This was good. This kept me preoccupied.
"Boring," I confessed. "There was a lot of sun, but… it wasn't the same. Mostly, I just took of Renee while Phil was out, and went to college. It was bad for a while, but it gets better. You just have to try to look at the brighter side of things, and soon, you start to convince yourself it was the right thing to do, and it doesn't seem so bad anymore."
Just then, Edward stopped, grabbing my hand. My skin tingled with familiarity as his stony fingers held onto mine, and I looked at him.
"Bella," he sighed, looking pained. Then he swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down his throat, and it was obvious he was struggling with this, too. He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off.
"I take it you're not coming back to the house," I said, and my voice sounded steady. Blank. Empty.
He looked down. "Not now."
I nodded, and I coolly retrieved my hand. I tried to hide the way they shook a little, tightly clenching my hand beside me. I could feel the edges of my nails biting into the soft casing of my palm. "It was nice seeing you again, Edward. Thank you for coming, and please thank your family for me, too."
And then I turned, my breaths suddenly becoming short and ragged. I tried to walk away but my heels dug into the ground, and the faster I walked, the deeper they sank.
"I went after you, Bella."
I stopped, my breath ceasing in my throat.
"I went to Jackson, just a day after you did." His voice, smooth and silky as I'd always remembered it to be, was pained and hoarse. "I risked it all. Alice wanted to come, but Carlisle wouldn't let her. Carlisle wouldn't even let me, but I went, anyway." He paused, and I thought I could almost hear him breathe. Breathing – it wasn't even required for him. I guess old habits die hard. "You have to know, Bella. I tried. And I risked my life. I would do it all again if I had to."
It became blurry again. I blinked them back. "All I asked," I whispered, "was for you to protect him."
"I'm sorry." He was in pain. I heard it everywhere around me, resounding, bouncing towards me, where it hit me squarely in the chest. Right there, where it was already sore. Broken. "I'm so sorry, Bella. After you left, Alice tried to look for Charlie, but her bond to him left when you did. We kept an eye of him, all of us; we took turns. But what happened… it wasn't…" He swallowed. "It's our fault. I know."
And as I looked up, I saw another angel – a different one. A stone angel towering above me, crouched down, with its face crumpled in despair. And as I searched for its wings, I realized that they had been cut off.
- - - - - - - - - -
He came when I was already in bed. It was such a familiar sight, one that I'd seen over and over again before, but now it was odd. I saw his silhouette beside my curtains, ghostly from the milky moonlight, inhuman and impeccable, and I looked away. He walked in tentatively, settling at the foot of my bed.
"How do you feel?" he asked, his voice nearly a whisper.
"Better." I sighed silently. I played with the edge of my blanket. I could hear it: my heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. Quickening. I bet he heard it, too.
My chest felt heavy from the things I'd let fester; Renee had tried talking to me about Charlie numerous times, but she always ended up crying before I did. And somehow, the words felt too muddled – I couldn't pick them apart. Every time I tried to say them, they tasted bile and sour, and tangled – too complex. But this was different. Somehow, it just was.
"Before, I'd been confused," I confessed. Slowly I felt a weight lift off – just a little. "I couldn't cry, you know? Not when they told me he was dead, not when I'd seen him in the coffin, and not when the preacher had been talking. I didn't know if I'd just gotten stronger, or if I'd just gone numb."
He took the fact that I was speaking as permission to get closer, sitting down beside me. Neither of us spoke after I did; yet we both contemplated the distance between us. How small it was compared to the distance we'd had to endure just days ago; yet how big it was compared to how close we wanted to be. But things had changed; we were both tentative now.
Everything had changed.
"It's not your fault," I whispered, wracked with guilt from our last meeting. "I'm sorry I blamed you."
"You had the right to," he said, and I could hear the self-blame in his voice, too. He was torn up over Charlie's death almost as much as I was.
"No, I don't," I said, shaking my head. "I don't. It's not your fault at all. Don't think that, Edward. It's not true."
He was silent, and I could almost make out his jaw clenching in the darkness. He was so close I could almost feel his arm brush up against mine. I'd never been so far from him, not even when I'd first met him.
"Alice tried hard, to see him. But it was impossible. She'd even visited him every week, bringing him food, and talking to him so she could try to get it back. But she couldn't. You left, and suddenly she was lost." He paused. "We all were."
"I was selfish," he continued. "I wanted you here. I didn't want you to leave, and it's so damn hypocritical, I know – after all of those times I'd tried convincing you that leaving would be the best thing. Now it's been a year and I don't know, Bella. I can't stand it, don't you see?" His hand was on my shoulder, and the cover slipped off of my body. I shivered. "It was… it was…" He was grasping for the word. There was so much pain I found myself fighting back tears again. "Torture. I wanted to go back into hiding. I told you I would never leave you again after what happened in Italy, but I just didn't expect that… that you, would end up leaving me."
"I didn't want to," I whispered brokenly. "But I had to. For Renee. I was always going to come back, Edward. You have to have known that."
"I didn't know," he said. "I-I couldn'tthink."
"I couldn't either," I admitted. It was a hard thing, being caught in between two people you loved that needed you. It had torn me up in ways I could never have imagined.
I felt his hand on mine, and suddenly he was close again. I shuddered, and I could feel my heart croon inside of my chest. I felt his lips softly graze my forehead, then my cheeks, and my nose, and down my jaw. I closed my eyes, feeling his icy hands sliding down my bare arms, leaving goosebumps in their wake. There was something different, much different about this now. His kisses were fervent, much more than ever before, and his hands uncharacteristically quivered as they roamed everywhere, tracing my form. He whispered three words to me as, for the first time in a long time, the line he'd tried so hard to draw out between us was blurred. His hands slipped under my shirt and touched my skin, releasing pure electricity, and his name tumbled out with my breath, my fingers tangling in his hair. He hid my moans with his mouth, and I closed my eyes. I closed my eyes, and this time I could not see death. The closer we got, the more his coldness enveloped me and the harder and quicker his breaths hit my skin, the intensity making me sweat despite his chills… it began to blur away, turning it into a distant figment for now.
I was home. It was different, and it had definitely changed, but I was home.
Reviews are appreciated!