All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
The time always dragged when Edward was gone. I usually felt lost when the need to hunt called him away, but at least I understood. This time was different, though. This time he wasn't hunting.
Now, laying back on my bed I watched the moonlight stream through the open window as I went over the strange conversation in my head. Again. I'd expected him to come over, as usual, after my mid-week shift at Newton's. But he'd called instead; the ring of the phone replacing his familiar triple knock on the door.
I remembered not just what he said, but how he said it. He had seemed distracted and spoke quickly, not giving me a chance to ask questions. He'd said there was some urgent business concerning his estate in Chicago - he had to travel there immediately - Carlile was going with him - it should only take two or three days, he hoped - he'd be back as soon as he possibly could. Then he had paused.
"I'll miss you every moment," he'd whispered.
"Bella, I'm sorry." And he was gone.
The "sorry" worried me. It wasn't just a sorry for what was happening now, for leaving so abruptly. I was pretty sure it was a sorry for something still to come.
It was early. Charlie had already left to go fishing and I was lying on the bed reading, trying to decide between doing housework or going to see Alice again. I'd visited the Cullens each day since Edward had left. None of them knew exactly what the business was that had called him away and he hadn't made contact with anyone. Not even me. Alice had no clear visions, just an image of Edward in an unfamiliar house, nothing more. A now familiar knot tightened in my stomach and I tried to distract myself with my book again.
Edward knocked on my door at precisely 8.57am. I flew down the stairs, still in my pyjamas, stumbling on the last step and crashing against the bannisters.
"Bella!" His voice, anxious, came through the door and my heart swelled despite the pain in my ankle.
"I'm coming," I choked out as I tried to limp the last few steps. Before I moved any further the handle turned, the door opened and he was there. He was there.
"Eward.'' I could feel my cheeks stretching with my smile.
In a second he was beside me on the stairs, lifting me into his lap while he kissed my forehead and I wrapped my arms around him.
He pulled back a little. "Are you alright?" he asked searching my face, concerned. I gave him my most brilliant smile.
"I am now," and I squeezed my arms tighter.
"Bella," he breathed.
We were silent for a moment. Holding each other, my arms around his neck, his around my back, pulling me to his chest more tightly than he normally would, like he couldn't get me close enough. I wasn't complaining. My face was nestled in the crook of his neck and I inhaled deeply, taking in as much of his scent as I could. He buried his face in my hair and I knew he was doing the same, though the pleasure would bring him equal pain.
Finally, he spoke, pulling away from me and looking down to my feet.
"Just another bruise for the collection." I rubbed the offending joint absently. Very gently he reached down, putting his cold fingers against my skin and pressing softly. I didn't even wince.
"Doesn't seem too bad," he murmured as he turned my foot to the left, then right.
"It's not," I said. "I'd get up and walk around to show you, but I'm very happy where I am right now."
He smiled before burying his face in my hair again. I felt him inhale deeply and then very softly he whispered my name and that he loved me. It sounded sad and my stomach clenched. The feeling of rising panic which I'd be pushing back for the last few days, and which had disappeared as soon as he'd walked through the door, started to stir again. I moved to kiss him but he turned, just slightly, so my lips fell instead on the corner of his mouth. He nuzzled my neck instead, kissed me along my jaw, but didn't once put his lips to mine. The panic was gaining strength, but I was stronger. I pushed it back down, deep. I told myself that whatever the problem was, it wasn't me. It wasn't me.
"I'm glad you're back," I said. What an understatement.
He pulled his lips away from my neck and looked into my eyes. "I'm sorry I had to leave so suddenly. It was ... unavoidable."
I knew vampires didn't need sleep, but this morning Edward's eyes, his face, were weary. His pupils were dark, almost black. He obviously hadn't taken time to hunt. Clearly his business in Chicago had been serious. I wanted to ask, but part of me was scared. I felt sure it was more than just issues with the estate. My old insecurities began to creep through me. Was he going to leave again? Was he setting up a new life for himself in Chicago?
But he had come back, and he was here, holding me and telling me he loved me. With my shaken confidence back in place I took a deep breath.
"So, how was Chicago. Business all sorted out?"
Edward looked away and shrugged slightly.
"Not really," his reply was flat and he gave no more information - getting blood from a stone I thought wryly. I decided I needed to be direct.
"What's wrong, Edward?" my voice was soft. I took my hands from around his neck and cupped his beautiful face. I thought of the vague vision Alice had seen. "Is there a problem with your house?"
He gave a quick, hard laugh.
"No. No, my house is fine. I have excellent tennants, the property is well-managed. I'd say that as far as my house is concerned, all is well." There was a bitter undercurrent to his tone. My hands dropped to my lap.
"That's good. So then, tell me the part that isn't well."
He raised an eyebrow. Then, swiftly he stood up, still holding me in his arms. Carefully he set me down on my feet.
I nodded, not taking my eyes from his face as he looked down at my feet.
"Edward, you're changing the subject."
"You're right," he said and brought his gaze up to mine. "I am changing the subject." He sighed and I waited. After a moment he spoke again.
"How about you go and get dressed and then we'll go out. I'll tell you all about it."
My stomach clenched, preparing for what was coming. But then he smiled, so maybe it wasn't all bad, whatever it was.
"Sounds good, I'll only be a sec." I reached up to kiss him but he deflected me expertly, planting his lips lightly on my nose. He laughed at my scowl and went to wait for me in the lounge room.
I threw on some jeans and a shirt, combed my hair into a pony tail, shoved my feet into sneakers and ran downstairs. He was standing by the open front door.
"Where's the Volvo?" I asked looking at the empty street outside my house.
"I thought perhaps we could take your truck, today," he said taking my hand as we walked down the front path. "But I get to drive." he added.
I shrugged. "Okay, but don't try to push it past it's limits."
"I'll try to behave," he smiled as I tossed him my keys.
"So what did you get up to while I was gone?" he asked.
Music played quietly on the radio, Edward held my hand on the seat between us. I shrugged.
"I didn't do much, except miss you."
"Believe me, I know that feeling," he almost whispered.
I smiled as he squeezed my hand.
"I went over more wedding arrangements with Alice," I said. Did he just frown? "And she was glad you weren't around to distract me. I worked Friday at Newton's." I shrugged again. "That's about it, really."
The fact that Alice could see that the wedding was still on had been a relief.
Edward took us just out of town and down a narrow side road. We'd never come here before. It was edged with forest, there were no buildings. After a short distance, not far from the main road, he pulled over. Squeezing my hand he looked into my eyes. An expression flashed across his face that I couldn't make out. It almost seemed like, fear?
"You are so beautiful, Bella," he whispered as his long fingers tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear. His hand lingered there for a moment, barely touching the skin of my neck, while his eyes melted into mine. A shiver of pleasure ran through me before he pulled his hand away. He took a deep breath.
"Come for a walk with me?"
Suddenly my heart sank and it felt like a hole was tearing open in my chest. I remembered the last time he'd asked me to go for a walk like this. I felt my breathing stop and I could feel the colour draining from my face. He was going to leave me and my whole body shuddered.
Immediately, he understood. Horror flashed across his face and his eyes blazed as he grabbed my hands hard in his.
"No Bella, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving. I'll be here for as long as you want me." His voice was hard and certain, his eyes holding mine.
Relief flooded through me. He wasn't going anywhere. But there was something going on. I took a deep breath and tried a smile. Edward smiled back, his eyes calming as he did so. I lent over and kissed him gently on the lips and this time he didn't turn away. The kiss was soft and tender and I could feel the love in it. Too soon he pulled back and I sighed. A second later he was opening my door and helping me out. He didn't put me on his back as I was expecting, but instead held my hand as we walked a short way into the trees. There was a small clearing and Edward motioned for me to sit on a fallen tree which lay there, ready to act as a mossy bench. Although the forest was thick around us I could still make out my truck by the roadside.
Beside me, Edward leant forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He clasped my left hand between both of his in the space between his knees. I waited for him to begin. After a moment of silence and a deep breath he spoke, always looking at the ground while he rubbed his thumbs over my hand.
"On Wednesday afternoon I received a message from the lawyers who manage my estate. Someone was trying to contact me."
He stopped now and just stared at the ground, still stroking my hand with his thumb. I reached around with my other hand and cupped his face. He closed his eyes and sighed, nuzzling into my palm. It was almost as though my touch eased some sort of pain. But then he turned his head away, breaking the contact.
I put my hand back in my lap. "Who was it, Edward?" I was curious. Not many people outside of Forks actually knew the Cullens existed. He sighed again, but this time it was different. Not a sigh of comfort or relief. This was a sigh of resignation.
"Before I tell you that, first I need to explain something from my human time."
He squeezed my hand tighter between his and turned to look at me. I felt shock go through me. His eyes were frightened. So very frightened. I wanted to throw my arms around him and tell him whatever it was didn't matter. If it was causing him this much pain then don't tell me. But I had the feeling that wouldn't help. He had to tell me, and he needed me to listen and understand. And I would. Whatever it was.
"Bella, before I tell you, please know that I love you. You, and only you. Ever. I've never loved anyone else." He paused. "I never will." The fear in his eyes was overtaken by a sadness so deep I felt the shock all over again.
I managed a smile, though my heart was hammering. "Same here," I said quietly and he smiled back weakly before looking again at the ground.
He took a breath and dropped his bomb.
"In 1918 my father arranged my engagement to the daughter of a prominent Chicago lawyer."
Did I hear that right?
He looked at me quickly. I realised I'd stopped breathing and forced myself to start again. He looked away once more, his grip on my hand tightening, as though to keep me from running away. I swallowed.
"Engagement? You mean, like, our engagement? Engaged to be married, engagement?" My voice was high with shock. He nodded slowly.
"Her name was Lucy Catterall. Our families had known each other for some years and back in that time it was not unknown for such arrangements to be made. In fact it was quite common." He stopped again, giving me time to let it all sink in I supposed.
"You agreed to it?"
"Not at first. My only goal then was to become a soldier. I wasn't far off 18 and all I wanted was to go to war."
He stopped again and looked at me.
"Bella?" I realised I'd stopped breathing again and quickly took a breath, it's sharpness rasping in my throat.
"Did you love her?" I managed to whisper after a second.
"No!" He almost shouted the word. Then, more quietly, "No, I've only ever loved you, remember?" He smiled slightly. I nodded. "She was ... a 'suitable match' was how my father phrased it. Our families were friends, we moved in the same social circles. In those days, that was enough." He sighed. "No, I didn't love her and I'm quite sure she didn't love me."
"Then, how could you agree ..." I trailed off.
"I did argue with my parents about it." The corner of his mouth twitched up in a hint of a smile. "I said that if and when I married, it would be for love, and with someone of my own choosing." He looked at me and his smile grew and his frightened eyes softened, before he turned back to look at the ground again. "But my father scoffed at my romanticism. In the end, I struck a deal with him. I would marry Lucy, but only after I'd returned from the war. My mother was upset. I think she had hoped that the engagement would re-direct my attention away from fighting ... and I'd stay home."
Edward was silent, letting me digest all this new information, but his hands were still tight on mine. I realised I had to look at this rationally. It was before, waaaay before, I was born. This girl, Lucy, wouldn't even be alive now. Would she? I tried a few deep breaths. Edward was waiting for me to speak.
"Is she still alive?"
He shook his head. "No. She died in 1982."
"Why didn't you tell me this before, Edward?"
He let out a huge sigh.
"In all honesty, Bella, until last Wednesday I hadn't thought about Lucy Catterall in more than eighty years." He paused and when he spoke again, his voice was soft and full of a new emotion.
"When we go through the transformation, our human memories fade. We have to work to keep the things we want to remember. I still have some fairly clear memories of my human time; my mother playing the piano, going to baseball games with my father, but those were things I wanted to remember. They meant something to me. Other memories fade and disappear. It's a very great effort to try and bring them up if the need ever arises."
I nodded. "What was she like?"
Edward frowned, his face screwed up in concentration.
"She was small, blonde. She giggled a lot." He shrugged. "She was pleasant. I don't remember there being much depth. Beyond the normal social niceties I don't think I had more than one or two conversations with her." His eyes flickered to me briefly as he said this, before looking away again. He shifted slightly where he sat.
I looked at my hand in his and my eyes focussed on the diamond ring on my third finger. My heart clenched.
"Did she wear this ring?"
"No. My mother still wore it then." He stroked the stones with his thumb and frowned. "I don't even know if Lucy had a ring. My father would have organised it if there was one."
I nodded and then another question came to me.
"Did you propose to her?" my mind swam with the memory of Edward on one knee before me, asking me to be his wife.
"No. It was a negotiation between the families. I never asked her that question." His velvet voice was firm. More softly he added, "You are the only woman I've asked to be my wife."
I nodded again.
"So did this happen long before you became ill?"
He shook his head.
"No, only about a month before. There was the agreement. A dinner was planned - I suppose you could call it an engagement party ..." he shifted again, fidgetting where he sat. "Lots of Chicago's society were invited. I don't remember much about the actual party, but I do remember sitting at a long table and being bored." Suddenly he gave a short laugh. "They served chicken."
"Chicken. That was the main course. I'd never liked it and I remember thinking that it was just another sign that the whole engagement was wrong."
I smiled at his sudden memory and then a thought popped into my head.
"Do you like chicken now?"
He gave a slight shudder and shook his head. "Didn't like it then, don't like it now."
"Why?" Chicken was a favourite of mine.
"I can't remember specifically why I didn't like it as a human, but now, the blood is thin and watery and you'd have to eat a whole barnyard full to be anywhere near satisfied. A single chicken would be like eating a tic-tac."
"And besides that, the feathers get stuck in the teeth." He flashed me a smile and I laughed.
Okay, so even though this was a total shock finding out I was not Edward's first fiancee, it didn't seem so bad. It was a long time ago. He hadn't loved her. They never actually married, heck, he'd never even proposed" I was starting to feel sorry for him, that he'd been forced to endure an engagement to someone he didn't love.
"So chicken and a boring engagement party - not a good sign, I agree." I smiled at him but he didn't smile back and his mood shifted sharply. He fidgeted again beside me.
"It didn't stay boring for long," he said softly and looked away.
Okay, my more generous feelings started to slip. Something happened at the engagement party. And then something clicked in my brain.
"You kissed her?
Edward gave an awkward shrug and I took a deep breath. Think rationally, Bella.
"Well, I suppose if you were ... engaged, that was to be expected." Probably a chaste kiss on the cheek, a quick peck on the lips at most.
"So, give me all the details then," I laughed. I don't know why I was trying to make light of it when inside my heart was twisting in knots.
He sighed again. "I don't remember much of the party really. Like I said, I've not thought about this for eighty years. It was not a human memory I tried to hold onto. What I have remembered has been through great effort and ... pain."
He released one of his hands from around mine and ran it through his hair, returning it immediately to clasp around my hand again.
"After dinner Lucy asked me if we could speak privately. I followed her upstairs and was surprised when she took me to her room. I suggested we find somewhere else to talk because it wouldn't be right for me to be in her bedroom. I think she laughed and called me old fashioned."
So, even in 1918 Edward was old fashioned.
"I followed her inside and she shut the door behind me and put the key ... down inside the front of her dress. She would have been wearing a corset, it wasn't going to come out easily."
My breathing hitched.
"Oh, well, she wasn't the shy type, then?"
Edward shook his head slowly.
"Apparently not. I asked her to unlock the door. She told me I had to get the key."
I really didn't like the way this was going. Nor did Edward, by the look of anguish on his face. I could tell this next part was going to hurt as he took a breath to continue.
"Suddenly she was all over me, grabbing at me. I tried to push her off without hurting her. She said she wanted to consumate our relationship, or words to that effect. She didn't want to wait until I came back from the war - if I came back, as she put it. I told her I wouldn't compromise her reputation, especially if there was a possibility I wouldn't be back to marry her."
I could feel the blood draining from my face, again. My breathing sped up and I felt heat and a clammy film of sweat start forming on the back of my neck. The blood was pounding in my ears, almost drowning out Edward's voice. His hands were clasped tightly around mine but he was still looking at the ground.
"Lucy began to cry. I didn't know what to do and I was worried someone would hear her. She kept saying 'please Edward,' again and again and ... her hands were all over me." He stopped and let out a groan, pulling a hand through his hair again. "My heart and mind certainly weren't hers, but my human, teenage body betrayed me."
I could feel my heart pumping harder. I knew Edward could hear it. His already anguished expression went up a notch. I took a deep breath. We were both torturing ourselves - him in telling me this, me in trying to second-guess what was coming next.
"Just tell me what happened Edward."
He exhaled sharply.
"I gave in to her request."
The bottom fell out of my world. Everything started spinning and I felt darkness creeping over me. I knew I was about to faint and took a couple of deep, steadying breaths to try and hold it at bay. It worked. Edward was frozen beside me. I knew he was staring at me, but I was focused on my hand between his. Slowly, I pulled my hand from his grip. He didn't try to stop me. I looked at my ring for a moment then folded my hands in my lap. I wanted to get up and run but I didn't trust my legs just yet. So, I decided to sit there, quietly, with dignity, while I tried to get back my grip on the world. Breathe. In, out, in out. Just keep breathing.
His voice was a croak.
"You had sex with her, then?" My voice was flat.
He groaned again and without looking directly at him I could see he'd buried his head in his hands.
"I, sort of, well, ... not exactly."
"What does that mean? Not exactly?" My voice was hard and sharp now. I knew I was torturing him further, but I had to know the truth. What did not exactly mean?
"It was all ... very awkward. We didn't undress. Lucy lifted her skirts, somehow she'd already undone most of the buttons on my trousers. There was lots of fumbling."
His head hung down, his fists were clenched in tight balls on his knees.
"Things had barely progressed when Lucy suddenly stiffened and cried out. She told me to stop, it was hurting her. I was hurting her." He shuddered at the memory.
"Of course I stopped immediately. I asked if she was alright and she told me yes. She was crying a little and I didn't know what to do. Then she started giggling, said perhaps she wasn't ready after all. She hadn't realised it would hurt so much. Then she adjusted her skirts and retrieved the key. She handed it to me and while I hurried to unlock the door she asked me not to mention it to anyone. I assured her I wouldn't." He let out another deep breath. "I was out of that room and down the stairs faster than any vampire. I decided that night that I couldn't go through with the marriage. I knew it would be wrong to marry Lucy."
It was quiet between us for a long time. My mind, strangely, had gone blank. Like it couldn't process what I'd heard. Absently I started fiddling with my ring, sliding it on and off my finger. Edward's hand reached out and took mine, softly.
"No Bella, please don't take it off," he whispered.
I shook myself, hadn't realised that was how he'd interpreted the action.
"I'm not leaving you, Edward," I said softly. "But I just need to get used to all this."
I took a deep breath. I needed to be clear in what I said. Of course I still loved him, that would never change, but this was pretty huge.
"I can understand what you've told me. Obviously it was years before I was even born. But that first day together, when you asked me about my experiences, well, I was expecting you to have had some. But you implied that you hadn't. And again, that night we made our deal, when you asked me to marry you, you told me your virtue was all you had left. That you were as pure as I was in that respect." I could feel the anger building. I took a deep, deep breath. "You let me believe that there had never been anyone else. You lied to me Edward and that has hurt me much more than the truth ever could."
Tears should have been streaming down his face. His shoulders shook.
"I suppose to me it was the truth,"he whispered. "When you came into my life Bella, you blinded me to everything that had come before. I could barely remember my own name when I met you. And I meant it when I said I hadn't thought of Lucy since I was turned. My friendship with her didn't even register in mind as a vampire." He paused. "In reality, Bella, there never has been anyone but you."
I was quiet, so he kept talking.
"I didn't love Lucy. I didn't even feel lust for her. I hadn't thought of her in eighty years. What happened was a purely physical response to her touching me. In truth, I can barely believe I did what I did." He shuddered before he spoke again.
"You told me that love and lust went together for you, and I told you that it was the same for me. And that's true. And when we made our deal, I wasn't thinking of what happened with Lucy. In my mind, that wouldn't have counted. And I think, as the attempt had been so unsuccessful, we were both, technically, still virgins. In my heart, it wasn't a lie."
I nodded. I could see how he would think that.
"Did you end the engagement then?"
"I tried. I went to discuss it with my father the next day, but he was caught up with business. The following day he fell ill with the influenza. My mother and I fell ill soon after."
"And what happened to Lucy?"
"As soon as the epidemic struck her parents moved away to New York. After I was turned Carlile helped me sort out my affairs so I could inherit my parents' estate and he learned that Lucy had been married to a lawyer in New York only two months after I fell ill. I let that human memory go and never thought about her again."
I nodded and let out a deep breath I hadn't even realised I was holding.
"Is there anything else I should know, Edward?"
His immediate reply came as a shock. I stared at him, my mouth hanging open. What more could there be?
"What," I mouthed, feeling the panic again. He didn't pause, he said it straight out, like if he didn't say it now, he never would.
"In February 1919, Lucy Catterall bore my son."
Everything was going dark. I felt myself swaying where I sat on the log. Any second now I was going to lose consciousness and fall face first into the dirt. Except Edward would catch me. Edward would never let me be hurt. Not physically anyway. There was silence all around. I took a very deep breath and squared my shoulders. Carefully I stood up. I could see Edward was readying himself to catch me, should I fall or faint. I felt like I'd received a hard blow to my chest. As if my heart was actually, physically bruised.
"Liar," my voice was quiet but so hard.
"No" I've told you everything, Bella." He scrambled to his feet, the most ungraceful I'd ever seen him.
"You said barely anything happened. That ... she... was still a virgin. That you both were""
"That's right," his voice was choked. "I didn't know what I was doing, neither did she. It was beyond embarrassing."
"Well clearly something worked, Edward, because she had your child""
I began advancing on him and he was backing away. I was actually surprised when he stumbled and fell backwards over the fallen tree stump. He lay on his back in the dirt, legs over the log, looking at me, his expression tortured.
I stood over him, breathing hard.
"So explain how Lucy got pregnant if nothing really happened." I snapped.
Edward's words were hurried.
"Remember the sex education classes in sophmore year?"
"What? Yes, but ... " and it came back to me. The embarrassing lessons that seemed to drag on for so long. Mrs Dalton explaining about contraception and the unreliability of the withdrawal method. How full penetration wasn't necessary for pregnancy to occur. How sperm could leak out without a guy having to 'finish', so to speak. How hundreds of virgins gave birth to babies each year.
"Oh. So you're saying it was like that. You didn't, um, ... finish."
From his spot on the ground Edward shook his head. "Barely started." he said quietly.
I nodded, the edge of my anger dulling, just slightly. Edward sat up, cautiously, then stood and moved towards me. Shame had now joined the fear in his eyes.
"I'm so very sorry, Bella."
He was close, but made no move to touch me. We just stood, facing each other.