If There Were No Monsters and No Magic

"If the world was the way it was supposed to be, if there were no monsters and no magic…"

—Jacob Black, Eclipse

Baseball ruins lives.

It's not that I minded moving to a new school seven hundred miles away from Phoenix solely for the sake of Phil's career, but I certainly minded the school itself. How could they expect me to fulfill all of my graduation requirements in eight months? Two more gym classes—which could be roughly translated to Pure Torture—two art or drama classes, and sixty hours of community service. At least my English requirements had been met by the tenth grade.

It was the community service that really dragged at me. I don't mean to say that I objected to helping out my fellow man, but six hours every Saturday was crippling. I could read a book in six hours. I could spend some time talking to Charlie or keeping an eye on Renee. I could do a lot of things in six hours.

Instead I got dressed as though it were another school day and drove down to the Red Fern Nursing Home to spend some time with the oldest and most depressing members of my community. Again, that wasn't meant to be harsh or mean—just bitter. Suffering and sickness are not on my fetish list.

I reported to Dr. Wick, who handed me off to Nurse Cora. She gave me a tour, showing me the baths, the game room, the lounge, the library, and some of the rooms themselves. The library was surprisingly well stocked. I wondered, a little sullenly, if the books were large-print.

"Since you're only here for a ten-week cycle, ah—"

"Bella."

"That's right. Sorry, dear…Since you're only here for a ten-week cycle we'll be pairing you up with one of our more active and lonelier residents. He doesn't have any family, so we thought that we'd make sure he had a few hours of company ever week. You won't have to do too much—Edward's amazingly self-sufficient for his age. Just be his friend."

Huh. Sounded fantastic. Just be his friend—I'm sure we had so much in common.

"He's probably in the library," continued Cora, oblivious to my doubtful expression as we headed back along the route we'd just finished. "He loves to read. In fact, he owns most of the library—it was his donation that paid for the room and most of the books."

Okay, maybe we had one thing in common. "Will I have to read to him?" I asked.

Cora shrugged. "Maybe, if he asks, though I doubt he will. He's very proud—be careful when you reference his age. Sometimes he's touchy about it."

"How old is he?" I wondered, morbidly curious.

Cora laughed. "One hundred and four—our oldest resident, yet one of our healthiest. I'm sure you'll come to love him. He's very sharp, and he knows more stories than the Bible."

I smiled to hide my nervousness. One hundred and four? I'd never met anyone even close to his age.

"Here we are," said Cora, opening the door to the library again. This time I looked around for people, not books. I didn't see anyone, but Cora, unfazed, continued on through the aisles of books to the back left corner.

There was indeed somebody sitting there.

He was old, of course. His hair was bone-white, but still thick, and neatly trimmed to a manageable length; his cheeks were clean-shaven. The skin on his neck and arms was loose, spotted here and there with age. He wasn't in a wheelchair, but a cane was propped up against the wall next to his chair.

"Edward?" murmured Cora. He glanced up; the thick carpets had stifled our approach, and he looked mildly surprised. Behind his glasses gleamed the greenest eyes I had ever seen.

"This is Bella, Edward." I smiled shyly, blushing. "She's a volunteer. We're going to force her on you for the next few weeks." I blushed hotter.

Edward appraised me seriously. "Is she one of those wild kids—the kind that skulks around doing hundreds of hours of community service because they smeared cat blood on somebody's door?"

I almost choked on my own tongue. I didn't know whether to laugh or not. Cora did, though; she chuckled and shook her head. "It was actually her own blood. That's why the courts recommended she come here—they thought that the presence of the old and dying would calm her down a bit. She's been diagnosed with some pretty serious psychological illnesses. Undisclosed, of course, or else we'd share them with you."

Edward laughed. "I think we're scaring her, Cora."

Cora glanced at my beet-red face and flashed me a repentant smile. "Sorry, Bella."

I shrugged.

"Why don't you sit down…Bella, is it?" Edward indicated the chair next to him, and I sat down quickly. The armchair wasn't too soft, most likely to make sure its elderly inhabitants didn't have too much trouble getting up from it, and was angled towards Edward's. I shifted awkwardly.

Cora flashed us a bright smile and left, just like that. I struggled to hide my frown.

"I don't need a babysitter, you know." Edward's voice startled me, and I jerked my eyes up to his, chagrined. "You can just grab a book and read if you want."

"Er…"

He rolled his eyes, something I'd never seen anyone over the age of eighteen do. "You don't need to feel guilty or embarrassed. Just pick out a book and sit down. Or are you not a reader?"

I shook my head. "I love reading," I mumbled. Despite his command I blushed as I stood and reentered the rows of books. It took me a minute or two to regain my composure and begin to try to find a book worth reading. Luckily the library was well-organized, clearly divided into fiction and non-fiction, the former following the classic alphabetical format and the latter the familiar Dewey Decimal system. There was only a single shelf of large-print books.

I chose Wuthering Heights. I hadn't read it in a while, and the memory of its vivid emotions attracted me. I slunk back over to Edward's side and sat down, opening the novel to the first page. Poor miserable Heathcliff, so vengeful and lonely…

"Wuthering Heights?" Edward asked.

I glanced up. One eyebrow was raised in a dubious and strangely disarming expression.

"It's one of my favorites," I explained, almost defensively.

"Why?"

I smiled despite myself. "It's just such a wonderful book…the play of emotions, the inevitability of the love, how you learn to trust Lockwood and regret how everything seems to conspire to keep Cathy and Heathcliff apart…"

"It's a hate story," he protested bluntly.

I shook my head again, stubbornly. I hadn't come here to have my opinions on the classics challenged! "It's a love story," I argued. "The book's about love. Everything is done for love."

"Except for all the revenge, which is mostly done out of hate," said Edward dryly.

"Wouldn't you want to fight back if somebody stole away the one person you loved most in life?" I challenged, then stopped abruptly. I flushed a deep, brilliant red, humiliated. I didn't even know this man!

He was silent, but not in a way that made me think he was mad. For a long moment he appraised me, his green eyes penetrating. I avoided his gaze. Finally, he laughed. "You're right, I guess. It all depends on perspective, doesn't it? You're very young and I'm very old. I wish I saw everything in terms of love."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I cleared my throat awkwardly and asked what he was reading instead.

He flipped the cover up to show me. It was the second volume of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

"Seriously?"

He laughed. "Seriously. It's very dry, of course, but you can't deny its brilliance, especially in the context of the era it was written in. Or maybe you can—I suppose it depends on your perspective."

He was teasing me. I smiled back at him shyly. "Why are you reading it, though?"

He shrugged. "Why not? I like to understand how people think, why they follow a certain course of action. I would bet you do, too, or you wouldn't reread Wuthering Heights."

That was true enough to be eerie. It wasn't so much that I liked to understand how people thought as that I liked to know how their thoughts related to my own—the difference and similarities, what specifically made each of us unique.

"I'm right, aren't I?"

I couldn't help it; I grinned. "You shouldn't be smug about wisdom you've had a lifetime to gain."

He laughed. "I like you," he declared. "You're interesting. I hope that judge gave you hundreds and hundreds of hours."

"Just sixty, I'm afraid."

"Well, maybe you should go smear some more blood on whichever house you hit last time." His grin carved deep creases into his cheeks, making him look kindly in a grandfatherly sort of way. I decided that I liked him, too. He was—different.

----------------

It was in this way that I came to know Edward Masen, the oldest resident of the Red Fern Nursing Home. Edward was—complex. He could be bitter and sullen; he could be hilarious and kind; he could comfort you or make you feel awful. Though never deliberately hurtful, I came to understand that life had been hurtful to him, and that the things he sometimes said while lost in his own memories were not meant to cause me pain.

An only child, he had been orphaned at the age of seventeen. Having nearly died of the Spanish influenza, the same disease that so callously stole his parents, he remained weak and sickly for nearly two years afterwards. Penniless, he had worked days in a factory while taking university courses at night. He was a respectable lawyer by the time he was twenty-six, but had lost his money in the first wave of the Great Depression in 1929.

He'd joined the army in 1934 and had been sent overseas during the Second World War. He'd served as a pilot; he showed me a faded black and white photograph of a tall, laughing, handsome young man standing in front of a surprisingly small plane, a helmet under his right arm. He was an ace; he'd shot down seventeen enemy planes, though he clearly didn't relish the memory.

He never did marry. When I asked why not, he shrugged, his face forlorn.

"It's not that I wanted to marry so much as I wanted to find someone I wanted to marry. I never met the right person, I suppose. So many women, and not one I ever wanted to spend my life with."

What could I possibly say to that? I wanted to comfort him, but words failed me. Instead I took his wrinkled, spotted hand and squeezed gently, trying to convey my sympathy. He looked up with his ancient green eyes—eyes that had seen so much more than I probably ever would—and smiled.

After the war he drifted for a while. He worked for a year as a lawyer again, but quit, discontent. He traveled to Europe and spent nine years wandering its tightly knit, heartbreakingly divided countries, learning their languages and customs. He was fluent in French, Italian, and German, and proficient in Swedish and Greek.

He returned to America just in time for the Vietnam War, a crazy time which, he confessed, he found to be largely bemusing. He became involved in the Civil Rights movement, dredging up his rusty lawyer skills in order to provide legal advice to various African Americans.

He laughed when I asked him where he was when JFK was assassinated. "I was at a rally. It was starting to get nasty, actually…Then some man climbed up a fence and yelled that Kennedy had been assassinated. Nobody believed him, but a half hour later I heard it again. I was shocked. It's one thing to try to teach new generations about him, but nobody but somebody who lived in his time can truly understand the kind of impact he had. He was a hero, a true American hero—he gave hope to so many. That's why nobody could believe it when he got killed—it was unthinkable that anybody would try to kill off that kind of brilliance."

As I often was when he spoke, I was deeply moved by his speech. He was right; I couldn't understand it—not just what it must have felt like to hear that John Kennedy had been assassinated, but also what his other myriad of experience had been like or felt like. That realization made me feel tiny, utterly insignificant in the face of the universe that stretched so far both behind and ahead of me.

Edward had been present at Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous I have a Dream speech. He informed me that the speech itself had not been incredibly memorable—it was long and slow, he said—but that the power of the Dr.'s presence, his courage and faith in his fellow man, was overwhelming.

"It's humbling to be in the presence of a man like that," he said. "To know and understand how small your impact on the world is in comparison to the true greats."

"You have an impact on me," I told him truthfully. It was May of my senior year, and I was into my four hundredth hour of community service. I came for Edward, and not because I felt sorry for his loneliness. Edward was a fascinating individual.

"For that," he said, smiling softly, "I am truly grateful."

The state had committed Edward to Red Fern eight years ago. Reasonably wealthy from a lifetime of much work and little spending, he had resigned himself to his new life by building a library and dedicating himself to the one pursuit that had never caused him pain—learning. And that was where I came in.

I told him about myself, too. My stories all seemed one-dimensional and trivial in comparison to his, but he listened to each with bright eyes and asked interested questions. I told him about Renee's childishness, her divorce from Charlie, her emotional delicacy and love of the much-younger Phil. I told him about my clumsiness and social inadequacy, my crippling shyness, how I cried when I was very angry, and even, once I was very sure of Edward's friendship, my tentative dreams of one day becoming a writer.

We didn't do too much besides talk, and the location rarely changed from the library. A few times we went for lunch together, or visited a museum, but the nursery staff shied away from letting me drive Edward anywhere. Cora told me it was only allowed because the management knew that there was nobody who would sue them if Edward was injured or killed. The revelation made me so furious that I could barely function for two days, and I began visiting him a little more often.

When I left for Forks for the summer I was genuinely sad to leave Edward. We had spent innumerable hours together; he had become my closest friend and greatest confidante. I was his, too, which made me feel truly honored. Edward was a much better person than I could ever be, though he didn't seem to know that. His presence in my life was a gift, and the better I understood that the more I feared for his mortality. I was terrified to leave him for two months.

Cora and I exchanged email addresses. She promised to tell me if his health faltered in any way.

It was in that summer that I met Jacob Black. Jake, my soul mate—as sappy as that might sound—and true love. We were hopelessly mismatched: he was two years younger than me, entering his junior year in high school while I was preparing myself for my freshman year of university. Yet we were undeniably in love, inseparable, blissfully happy in each other's company. He made me laugh. A couple of times he made me cry, but I forgave him quickly.

It tore at me to leave him, though I was glad that I'd be near Edward again; my university was only a half-hour drive away, partly because I didn't want to leave Renee alone and partly because I didn't want to leave him. Though we'd written over the summer, I could tell how much his motor control had deteriorated in the space of just six weeks. As his handwriting spiraled from elegant to shaky and finally almost unreadable, I began to cry over his letters. Cora told me that he was beginning to develop cataracts, that he was sleeping longer hours and had increasingly less energy. In late August he suffered a minor stroke.

I didn't want Edward to die. A part of me lived with him—if he died, that part would too.

I flew back home a week earlier than I had intended to. Though it tore at me to leave Jake, Edward needed me.

"So, Bella," he said happily on my first visit upon my return, "who did you meet over the summer?"

I stared at him, shocked; I'd never written about Jake, preferring to save the news until I saw Edward again in person. He laughed. "It's written all over you, sweetheart. I'm happy for you. This way your perspective will never sour."

I grinned. "His name is Jacob. I don't know when I'll see him next—probably Thanksgiving. The flights are going to bankrupt me, but I can't live without him."

He smiled and winked, and I noticed that the green in his eyes was a little dulled, a result of the cataracts. Though he could no longer read we were in the library, probably an attempt on his part to ease my concern. He looked smaller, too—more shrunken. Every now and then his breathing hitched and shuddered dangerously before steadying. My heart ached, causing me a physical pain in the vicinity of my chest.

"If you ever need money, I'm a living bank account with your name on it."

"I can't do that," I said automatically.

"Nonsense. What else do I do with my money? It's been sitting around gaining interest for fifty years—I might as well do something with it now, while I still can."

I ignored that final comment, mostly out of cowardice, but he continued to bring up his mortality as the months past. Finally, in January, I snapped. "Don't talk like that," I growled at him, suddenly furious.

He seemed almost glad that I was confronting him. "Bella."

I refused to look at him, turning my head away childishly. I did not want to discuss his death.

"Bella."

I sighed and lifted my head to glare at him.

"I'm going to die. It's a fact of life—of my life, specifically. I'm a hundred and five now. The only reason I have to argue against dying is you. I don't want to hurt you, Bella, but it's inevitable. I'm not immortal. Sometimes I wish I'd died of the flu all those years ago…"

"You don't mean that."

Edward sighed. "No, I don't," he admitted. "Life wouldn't be life without all the pain. Remember that, Bella—don't ever forget it. Pain is good. Don't be masochistic about it, but appreciate it. It makes the good things seem so much sweeter."

I was crying. He reached out, his hand trembling weakly, and wiped away my tears. "Don't cry. You're eighteen, Bella. You'll forget me. You have a whole life ahead of you to fill up with memories that will crowd me out of your head."

I glared at him. "I could never forget you!"

He cocked his head to one side, giving me a familiar long look. "Maybe not," he finally conceded. "But you should, you know."

I rolled my eyes at him, but sobered quickly. "I'll always miss you…when you're gone." I tried unsuccessfully to choke back my tears. "You're the best person I know. My best friend."

"Thank you," he whispered.

-----------------

Edward died in March. Jake flew in and held me for six hours while I cried uncontrollably. I was right—a part of me did die with him.

He was buried in a state cemetery. Almost no one was there: just me, Cora, Jake, and a few members of the nursing staff. Renee came for me, not him. The attendance struck me deeply—how could so few people recognize what a wonderful, magnificent human being Edward had been?

He left me with an aching heart, forty thousand dollars and a copy of Wuthering Heights signed by Emily Bronte that he'd gotten from God knows where. Cora gave me his personal effects—the photo of him with his plane, and three others that had survived the years.

I half-expected a letter, something kindly and a little cliché that I could keep with me forever. But there was nothing. Just memories—of him, of his memories, of the stories he'd collected from strangers in foreign places.

When I get swept up in my own memories, Jake helps me, comforting me and offering understanding. He keeps my perspective from souring. Sometimes, in the most perfect of moments—late at night, perhaps, in those sweet moments of physical entanglement and emotional bliss immediately after lovemaking, or in the simpler hours spent walking and joking together—I ache for Edward never having known true love.

I know that he is in heaven.

-----------------

I've been away from FanFiction for a long time, but this is an idea I've been toying with ever since I first read that scene where Bella imagines what life would have been like if Edward had never been bitten, "if there were no monsters and no magic," so to speak (Eclipse, page 599). But I believe that even if that had been the case, Edward and Bella would still have found each other in some way. Even if he's a hundred and four when they do.