After nearly nine days in the hospital, Dr. Martin decided to release Bella. He hadn't come in to tell us yet, but I'd heard him discussing Bella's status with another doctor earlier this morning.
Thank goodness. I was anxious to bring her home. Carlisle, Alice, Jasper and Emmett flew back to Forks soon after Bella's admission to the hospital. I insisted that I should stay here alone, and none of them argued. Now that she wasn't in danger, it seemed silly for all of us to crowd her hospital room.
At first, being at the hospital felt like high school. It was noisy, filled with panicked and painful thoughts, although of a more dire level. The first night here three people died; two from traffic accidents and one murder. I'd been listening to each of the doctors as they moved around the emergency room, so I knew that Bella was still alive. But every death reminded me of what almost happened, what I nearly did. Thankfully the rest of the week slowed down, and the only thoughts I paid attention to were the pleased updates by Dr. Martin as Bella continued to heal.
I relished the time alone with Bella. Watching her sleep filled me with a sense of peace, and I still couldn't believe she was here, safe, despite the horrors of the past few weeks.
When Bella was awake, we talked or held each other. I'd become an expert at leaping up from my position beside her on the tiny bed every time the nurse came to check on her. I hadn't been caught yet, although there had been a few close calls.
The nurse's voice filtered into my head from the desk down the hallway.
"Mrs. Dwyer? This is Regency Medical. No, there's nothing wrong. I was just calling because the doctors are ready to release Bella today. You can come pick her up anytime. Yes, thank you."
I smiled. I liked Renée. She was easy to gauge, and any early uncomfortable silences disappeared when I started asking her about Bella's life in Phoenix. Bella protested, but Renée loved her so much—it was hard for her not to share their happy moments together. When Bella was asleep, I could pepper Renée with questions, relishing the details, without Bella worrying about her mother divulging too much. I loved seeing Bella through her eyes, getting a glimpse of her life before she arrived in Forks.
Renée had been distracted the last few days, now that Bella was on the mend. She spent most of her time talking to Phil on the phone or packing boxes at her house. The fast approaching move to Florida meant that Renée still had many of the details to sort out. She felt guilty for her long absences, despite Bella's reassurances that she wasn't missing anything other watching her sleep and sit.
I worried about Charlie though. He blamed me for what had happened to Bella. I'd heard her protests on the phone with him a few days earlier. He must have said that I was nothing but trouble, because Bella leapt to my defense. I shook my head. I couldn't fault Charlie his anger; I understood it. I blamed myself more than he did. Despite apologizing profusely for her behavior on the night she left, Bella cried after she hung up, unable to forget the look on Charlie's face when she had repeated her mother's hurtful parting words. I assured her that he would forgive her—she was coming home soon.
It would take a while for him to warm up to me again, although I wouldn't classify our relationship prior to Bella's accident as warm.
I sighed as the door swung open and brought me back to the present.
"Is she awake?" The nurse walked to Bella's side. She looked over her shoulder to stare at my face. Even in the dim light, I'm sure my eyes were glowing gold.
God, that boy is beautiful. If my boyfriend had even half his dedication and a quarter of his looks…
"Not yet. I was letting her get a few more minutes of sleep," I replied.
I hope this girl knows how lucky she is. It seems like he's always by her side.
She glanced at Bella's face. "We'll have to wake her soon. She's being released this morning. Her mom should be on her way over now."
"Can she have five more minutes?"
"Five minutes. I'll come back with the doctor for one last visit."
"Thank you." I heard the door swish shut and the nurse ready herself to gossip about Bella's attractive, devoted boyfriend. Again. I ignored the hushed voices and laughter from the nurse's station and focused on Bella instead.
I'd spent nearly every moment of every day sitting in the plastic chair beside the bed or curled up with her, leaving only to hunt. It was harder to escape notice in Phoenix, and I had to drive further out of the city to find animals to eat. I'd only hunted a few times, trying to quench my thirst so I wouldn't be tempted in the hospital.
I tried once to wander through the neighborhood after my last trip, too agitated to return to Bella's room. I'd inadvertently ended up near the rubble and ashes of the former dance studio. Despite the absence of the building, I could see a ghostly version of Bella, broken and dying on the floor, with James's teeth marks on her tender skin. It was all I could do to keep from exploding in rage. Even though I knew Bella was no longer in danger, I rushed back to the hospital in a panic. Sneaking in after visiting hours wasn't difficult. A flood of relief washed over me when I saw Bella sleeping. After that, I never strayed far from her room, even though my restlessness grew.
I flinched at the thought of Bella dead, her pale skin even whiter, just a shadow. I frowned. I would work harder to change Bella's mind. I still couldn't believe she wanted to become a monster like me. Why would she give up her human life, a life full of possibilities that would be eliminated if she became a vampire? I knew that she loved me, but a part of me also knew that I was the worst choice for her. The most dangerous choice. Even though I felt sure that I could resist hurting her, I knew that there were moments when my resolve faltered.
I cringed at the memory of my lips on her hand. The taste of her blood was beyond nirvana. It was beyond anything I could have imagined in my eighty years as a vampire.
Guilt crashed into me like a forceful wave. I closed my eyes as I tried to erase the horrible images from my head. There were too many seconds when I thought I wouldn't be able to stop. I remembered drinking a few beats too long, just to savor the taste, when I should have stopped much earlier. What if I hadn't been strong enough?
A low growl escaped my lips. Bella moaned lightly and turned toward me. I scanned her face, checking to see if she'd opened her eyes. Her eyelids remained shut, but the crease on her forehead returned. She must be having an unpleasant dream. I reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. Then I gently picked up her bandaged hand and kissed each of the fingertips as lightly as I could, careful not to push her fully out of sleep.
The bruises had faded to a dull yellow. She'd needed stitches on the cuts on her head after James had thrown her into the mirror, though any scars would be covered by her hair. My lip curled over my teeth in a snarl. I fought my fury as I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that James was dead. He could never hurt Bella again. I wished I could have been the one to tear him limb from limb. How I would have loved to destroy James, to rip him into pieces.
The rage roiled in my stomach. I was truly a fiend! Here was the most beautiful woman in the world, who gave me a love I didn't deserve. I had Bella, who trusted me with her life, who nearly died because of me.
If she had died…if I had killed her in that studio. I shuddered. I couldn't have lived with myself. I would have done whatever was necessary to make sure that my life ended as quickly as possible.
STOP! I screamed in my mind. I had to stop thinking about Bella in any way other than how she was now—breathing, warm, alive. I would do anything to keep her that way.
Bella shifted again, this time opening her eyes. It took a second for her to see me sitting next to her, with her hand in mine.
"Edward," she smiled. "I was just dreaming that you were gone. I'm so glad you're here."
"Where else would I be?"
Why did she have to be so stubborn? She deserved a normal boyfriend, who could give her a family, who could grow old with her. Why did she want me? Surely she realized she could find a man to love her who didn't have to struggle not to kill her.
I tried to conceal my thoughts, knowing how perceptive she could be. I must have been successful. She continued to grin.
"What day is it?" She sat up to stretch. The nurse had removed her IVs a few days earlier so there was nothing to restrict her movement other than the cast. Bella looked down at it and frowned, as if she'd forgotten it was there.
"It's Saturday. You're being released this morning."
"Really?" Her smile grew wider with relief. "We get to go home?"
"Yes. Renée is on her way." I paused. "Bella, are you sure you don't want to go to Florida with her? I hear there aren't any vampires in Jacksonville."
"Ha, ha." Bella dropped her eyes to my fingers clasped around the bandage on her hand. She turned serious. "Do you want me to leave Forks?"
"Of course not, Bella. You know I love you more than anything. I just wonder if you'd be better off away from me, so you wouldn't be in constant danger anymore."
"Edward, I've told you a hundred times. I love you." Bella placed her other hand on my chest, her face intense. "I don't care what I have to do to be with you. I don't want you to leave me. Ever."
I leaned over to kiss her gently on the lips. She tried to hold me longer, but I pulled away. I really should have hunted last night; my restlessness made it harder to control myself. Bella groaned as I unclasped her hand from my shirt. I chuckled as she sat back in the bed, resigned that kissing time was over for now.
I studied her face, listening to the rapid beats of her heart. How could she not see how beautiful she was? Words eluded me when I tried to explain the strength of my love for Bella. She was not just my girlfriend, my partner; she was my world. How could I keep her safe, yet ensure that she remained human? How could I stay with her for the duration of her mortal life? Maybe… No, that was ridiculous. Or was it? My thoughts raced. Bella believed she loved me more than I loved her. What if I could give her physical evidence of my commitment to our life together? Would she consent to that version of forever?
She noticed the battle ensuing behind my eyes and tilted her head quizzically. "What's going on in that brain of yours?"
"Nothing." I straightened. "Here comes, Renée."
Renée's voice echoed in the hallway. "Yes, honey, I reserved the truck. When does your flight come in?" She paused to greet Dr. Martin. "No, it's the doctor. I'm at the hospital. I'll call you later, okay? Love you."
I tried to remove my hand, but Bella squeezed her fingers tighter. She winced. "Tell me what you're thinking."
"Careful," I warned. "I'll talk to you about it later, okay?"
Together Renée and Dr. Martin walked through the doorway.
"Bella! Guess what? You get to leave the hospital, honey!" Renée rushed to the bed. "Oh, hi, Edward! Phil says hello."
Ignoring the disappointment in Bella's face when I removed my hand from hers, I moved to the foot of the bed to make room for Renée. "Hi, Renée."
Her kind eyes met mine.
I'm so glad that Bella found such a good boyfriend.
"That's great," Bella agreed.
Renée grinned at Bella as she wrapped her arms gingerly around her in a hug. She carried a plastic bag in her hand, which she put down beside Bella on the bed.
"How are you feeling today, Bella?"
"I'm okay, Dr. Martin. Excited to go home." Bella tried to move from under the sheets.
"Here, let me help you." Renée pulled the covers away and shifted Bella so that both legs were hanging off the bed.
"Wow, that cast is heavy. I keep forgetting." Bella looked first at me, then the doctor. Frustration darkened her eyes.
She'd been up and moving around briefly for the past few days, getting used to the crutches. It was difficult to watch her struggle, when I could have easily carried her down the hall. I knew that defeated the purpose, but I wanted so badly to make amends for the danger I'd put her in. Bella suffered enough damage to herself without me adding to it, and I knew I would never forget how close she came to vanishing from my life.
Dr. Martin laughed. "It will take some getting used to. I saw you walking in the hallway yesterday. You seem pretty comfortable with the crutches. Have you broken your leg before?"
Both Bella and Renée chuckled. "Bella here is a bit accident prone." Renée rested her hand on Bella's shoulder. "Miraculously, this is the first bone she's broken."
"Really?" I raised my eyebrows. That surprised me.
"I've used crutches before. I sprained my ankle about three years ago while helping mom in the basement." Bella met Renée's eyes. "And again later that summer in the backyard." Blood filled her cheeks and made her glorious face even sweeter.
"In the backyard?" I suppressed a smile.
A low chuckle escaped from my throat.
Bella glared at me, before relaxing again. "I can handle the crutches."
Renée shook her head. It's such a shame those dancing lessons didn't help Bella in the grace department. My adorable, klutzy daughter.
The reminder of the studio forced my smile into a hard line.
"Well, I want you to take it easy, Bella. You'll have to keep the cast on for at least six more weeks but you're free to go home now."
"Six weeks? Ugh. That's all I need—another thing to make me slower and clumsier." Her shoulders slumped in resignation.
Six weeks in a cast is better than dead. Bella didn't understand how lucky she was to be alive. Renée's thoughts echoed mine. She turned to the doctor, standing beside me.
"Thank you, Dr. Martin."
"Yes, thank you." I repeated.
"Oh, Bella!" Renée lifted the bag. "I brought some clothes for you. The ones you were wearing were covered in so much …" I heard the agony in her voice as horrific images of Bella bleeding and unconscious swam in her brain.
I grimaced as I tried to push her thoughts out of my head. I'd relived those last moments in the dance studio a thousand times. It was fair penance for endangering Bella. However Renée didn't deserve any haunting visions of her only daughter.
I was glad Renée would never know how bad it really was. Her worst nightmares had nothing on reality.
Renée hid her worry. "You didn't leave many clothes at the house. I didn't know how much you brought with you, so I hope they're okay."
Dr. Martin turned to leave. "Take care, Bella. No more breaking windows with your head."
Bella and I exchanged looks while Renée cringed. "Come on, Bella. Let's get you home."
"Mom, are you coming to the airport with us? I thought you were going to stay in Phoenix for a while."
"No, I'm going back to the house. Phil's coming in tomorrow morning, and I still have a lot to do." Boxes, moving trucks and Phil's face filled Renée's head. Again, she felt guilty for choosing her own errands over taking Bella to the airport, but that didn't change her decision. I saw no malice in it. It was just Renée. "Wait…Edward? Do you need me to bring you to the hotel to pick up your bags?"
"No thanks, Renée. They're already in the rental car." A thought occurred to me. I looked over my shoulder at the door. "I'll be right back."
Bella stared after me, puzzled. I walked to the nurse's station. "Is it okay if I use this? My girlfriend is leaving."
The nurse looked up from the desk and momentarily lost her train of thought as she gazed in my eyes. "Sure, just put it by the entrance when you're done."
"Thank you," my reply syrupy sweet.
As I returned to Bella's room, I heard Renée ask, "You ready to walk, sweetie?"
I pushed open the door. "That won't be necessary just yet." Bella's mouth fell open when she saw the wheelchair in my hands.
"Edward! Absolutely not!" Her eyes narrowed and her lips moved into a pout.
Renée laughed. "Come on, Bella. He's trying to be sweet."
"He's trying to be obnoxious."
"Humor me," I pleaded. "Please."
Bella exhaled sharply and when she realized I wouldn't relent, she reluctantly nodded. Renée helped lift Bella onto her feet. She wobbled slightly, and I rushed to her other side. She rolled her eyes as I steadied her, and protested again as we lowered her into the chair.
"Hush," I whispered, lightly kissing her cheek.
A few moments later, Bella sat uncomfortably as I pushed her to the hospital entrance.
"This is so unnecessary." Embarrassment flushed her cheeks as she struggled out of the chair.
"Just relax. You'll be sick of your crutches soon enough. It's just a few more steps."
Bella grumbled under her breath and crossed her arms across her chest. I bent down to kiss the top of her head.
When we reached the entrance, Renée stopped in front of Bella. "I guess this is goodbye for now. I can't believe you're going back to Forks."
I'm sure Edward has something to do with her decision. She'd really miss him if she moved to Florida with us.
"Sorry, mom. I know it's hard to believe, but it is my home now."
Ah, the power of teenage love. Renée grabbed Bella's undamaged hand.
"I'll get the car," I said. "Stay here, okay?" I crossed the street toward the parking lot, looking over my shoulder.
Renée handed Bella the crutches. The corners of Bella's mouth turned down as she stood and pushed them under her arms.
Renée reached out to stroke Bella's cheek. Please be careful, Bella. I love you too much to lose you.
As I continued to the car, I knew I couldn't stay away from Bella. Despite the danger caused by her involvement with me, I was too weak to fight my love for her anymore. I decided it, right then. I would ask Bella to marry me. My mother's ring would look perfectly on her hand, and Bella couldn't complain that I'd spent money on it. Bella had my heart and every minute separated from her was torture. If we were married, keeping her safe would be so much easier. It would also allow me to be stay with Bella for her entire life, if I could only convince her to stay human. My body vibrated with excitement. I wasn't sure when I would ask, but the thought of Bella saying "yes" made my chest ache with happiness. I opened the car door, throwing one last look toward Bella before I moved into the driver's seat. Not today, but someday, Bella would be my wife.