A/N: I spent weeks trying to write a new chapter on my multi-chaptered fic, got stuck, then tried writing fluff, which was gross. Then, last week, in four hours, I wrote this oneshot. It's depressing and doesn't contain sex. What can I say? I'm an angsty, one-trick pony. Oh, and there's a meadow scene in here, so if you're sick of those, be warned.
Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I just like to be melodramatic and put her characters through hell.
Thanks to booksgalore, whom I suckered into betaing for me again.
We Were Nomads, Bathed in Concrete
Her funeral replays itself in his head like a movie. He remembers the wilting carnations, the vacant expression on her father's face, the metal coffin. In the blindness of his grief, he thought she deserved something better—vibrant orchids, a tomb of silk and mahogany, an army of loved ones honoring her memory. As soon as the thought ran through his head, he corrected himself. No—what she deserved was life, a chance to know a world outside this perpetually foggy, suffocating town.
That was four years ago. He got out. Of course, she never did.
On paper, his life now is ideal, a recent college grad with a bright future and proud parents. In the fall, he starts med school at Stanford, but at the moment he's in a summertime limbo, stuck back in Forks at his parents' empty house, face to face with a universe of her, the girl long gone but never forgotten.
Everywhere he turns, she's there. When he drives past the high school, he half expects to see her kicking the tire of her piece of shit truck. Yesterday, he picked lunch up at the diner and hoped against reality that she'd walk in and swipe a vanilla Coke from the back. He can feel her in the air as he gets closer to the cemetery, which he knows is ridiculous because it's been forty-eight months and six days and her spirit is likely doing what her body never could—venturing elsewhere.
Since high school graduation, he comes home every now and then, always ending up among rows and rows of gravestones and cheap floral arrangements. He tells no one his destination; his friends can't grasp what they saw as his frozen-in-time high school crush, his parents never understood his depression after her death. The day before her funeral, Edward Sr. insisted they not delay their visit to Dartmouth's campus simply because of the police chief's daughter's ill-timed demise. "You barely knew the girl, Edward. Surely, we can send flowers and still leave for Hanover in the morning." Edward nearly spat in his father's face. Aside from his son's GPA and SAT scores, the man knew nothing of Edward and vice versa. As for Bella, Edward had rarely spoken to her until those few, short months before she left forever. Still, he knew her better than the lines on the back of his hand.
She appeared out of nowhere junior year, this clumsy but stunning girl-woman fresh from Phoenix. She was shiny and new, a striking fox chased by the hounds, the bored, barely pubescent douchebags and dodge-ball enthusiasts flooding the halls of Forks High School. Edward had never been one of them. He found Bella beautiful and smart and perfect in a strategically flawed kind of way, but he only watched from afar. Up until his seventeenth birthday, he'd been short and speckled in acne. The summer before she moved to Forks, he'd sprouted up eight inches and discovered the magic of Clearasil, but his brain hadn't yet adjusted. In his head, he was still a five foot nothing virgin barely capable of asking a member of the opposite sex for the time, let alone a dinner and a movie.
He tried to ignore the pull of Bella Swan, expecting her to be vapid and fake as any sought-after seventeen-year-old girl would be. But then she asked to borrow a pen in Physics. Absently, she chewed on it during the lecture, and he was sure he was right about her. Just as he was about to label her a thieving, pen-sucking airhead, her eyes widened as she realized what she was doing. "Shit," she whispered and wiped the pen on her jeans.
When the bell rang, Bella stood up and cut off Edward's exit. "I'm so sorry. Jesus, um, this is embarrassing, but…Isuckedonyourpenwithoutthinkingandnowit'scoveredindrool." Her breaths were wild, frantic. "It's a habit. Totally gross, I know. But I'll bring you a new one tomorrow. I promise." She did this unconscious bouncing thing with her feet, and its effect travelled north. He fought to keep his eyes on hers.
"It's no big deal—"
"New pen. Tomorrow," she gasped before turning and darting out of the classroom.
True to her word, she brought him a new pen the next day. It was far superior to his plastic Bic.
She sat it on his desk without speaking.
"This is really nice," he told her softly. "Too nice."
Bella blushed and refused to look him in the eye. "It was just lying around. I have a couple of them. I, uh, I like to write, so..."
Later, he found out it was a Mont Blanc, valued upward of $300. He keeps it in his pocket now, holding it constantly but never using it to write.
From that day forward, he silently acknowledged he was hers, despite knowing the feeling wasn't mutual. Though she flashed him shy smiles in the hallway, she did so from under Mike Newton's arm.
Sometimes, Edward thought that she wasn't happy with Newton. She was quietly sweet, while Mike was as subtle as a steamroller. From across the cafeteria, Edward never once saw them laugh together, and on Valentine's Day, Mike bought Bella chocolates, despite her being allergic. Still, Edward never fashioned himself much of an improvement. Mike had the IQ of a potato, but he was a decent guy. And, according to Jessica Stanley, what he lacked in brain power he made up for in the sucking-face department. The logistics of hand and tongue placement freaked Edward out back then. Too late, he realized that sometimes the girl matters more than experience.
Senior year, his father told him he needed a job to build what he referred to as "moral fiber." Edward knew that this translated to filling in the blanks on his college applications to ensure passage into the Ivy League. But he didn't fight Edward Sr. on this one. Instead, he turned in one job application--for the diner--despite his disdain for grease vats and watching the dentured elderly dine on their early bird specials. He'd willingly go home smelling of fat and suffer through old lady McGillicutty eating an entire rotisserie chicken with her gums, and he'd do it with a shit-eating grin on his face because he'd be slaving away alongside Bella.
She was a waitress, he a busboy. At first, they said little to each other outside of awkward hellos and goodbyes and excuse mes. Eventually, they progressed to open smiles and how are yous. Then, the day she spilled mostaccioli all over the principal's wife, they became friends.
Edward found her crying in the back alley. "Hey," he whispered, hovering over her, knowing that his breath was tickling her neck but not really caring.
From her crouched position on the concrete, she stared up at him with watering, Bambi eyes. "God, how embarrassing was that?" She laughed, but he knew it wasn't real.
"I lost a t-ball game when I was six, and my dad called me a mistake in front of the entire team." Edward felt light saying it, because he suddenly figured out he could tell her anything. "Now that's embarrassing."
She frowned. "That's terrible."
"Maybe. But chilli on Mrs. Greene's muumuu is nothing compared to that."
Bella raised her brows before she choked out a laugh, this time with newfound authenticity. "My mom made brownies for a school bake sale once. She called them 'special,' and up until the superintendant called the cops, it was the most successful bake sale that elementary school had ever seen."
"Wow," he mouthed.
It became their thing. The "my parents are worse than yours" game. It took longer than paper, rock, scissors but proved more entertaining. When neither of them wanted to dig through the garbage for some forgetful kid's retainer or wipe grease splatters off the kitchen ceiling, Bella would shoot out something along the lines of, "My dad thinks my birthday's on Halloween. But, really, that was his and my mom's anniversary."
Edward smirked back, "My mom told me there was no Santa Claus."
"When I was four."
"On Christmas morning."
"Fine," she sighed, mocking frustration before heading to the sink and snapping on a pair of rubber gloves. "But tomorrow's the story of my father, a keg of Old Style, and Thanksgiving '01. Prepare yourself."
At the start of second semester, they started exchanging lingering hellos in the hallways at school. She was still with Newton, but Edward would take what he could get. He'd be the friend, the confidant, the guy who made her smile regardless of the day or the mood. Whatever she was offering, he was taking.
He kept that mind frame until the month before the senior prom. Lauren Mallory had found him in the crowd after the final basketball game of the season, thrust her chest and pom poms at him, and said, "You me? Prom?"
He'd told her he'd think about it. They'd dance, and maybe later she'd put out and spare him the humiliation of going off to college with the sexual experience of a monk. Lauren wasn't bad to look at, and two years earlier she wouldn't have given him the time of day. She'd be a trophy date, and his parents would frame a resulting photo in Waterford and set it on the mantle.
Five minutes later, he tracked Lauren down and told her no. Prom was archaic and guaranteed to be as thrilling as his only viewing of Das Boot in all its subtitled misery. But it wouldn't be as long as he went with Bella. He'd hold her on the dance floor to unimaginative Top 40 music, pin some heinous floral arrangement on her dress, and it would be the greatest night of his life, even if all he got at the end was a high five. She was probably already planning a limo ride and coordinating dress/corsage colors with Mike, but the seed had been placed and the dream took flight. Fuck it, Edward thought. He was tired of waiting. Graduation loomed ahead, and he had to know. What her kiss felt like, tasted like. Whether she preferred holding hands or linking arms or doing one of those stupid hands-in-each-other's-back-pockets exchanges. If she wanted him half as much as he wanted her.
He planned on asking her the next day. He arrived at work early, pacing the parking lot until the roar of her truck signaled that she was close. He took calming breaths and plastered a horrifyingly faux smile on his face. "Hey!" he shouted too loudly when she started to climb down from the cab.
She managed half a wave before her face crumpled and her shoulders slumped.
"God, Bella, are—"
"No. No, I'm not." Her voice was dead, as were his hopes of making tonight a game changer.
He took her hand, as the friend, not the almost lover. They headed back toward alley, which smelled like rotting vegetables but felt like home because it was the only place they were ever alone. "We don't have to talk," he whispered as they slid separately down the familiar brick wall.
Bella turned her head toward him. "My mom's here. She came…back."
"I thought she was from Phoenix?"
"She grew up here. She fucked my dad here, got knocked up with me here. She's from Forks, she hides in Phoenix."
Edward remembered the endless tales of Bella's mother, the drugs, the booze, the divorces. He'd never admit it to Bella, but, without fail, she was the true victor of the my-parents-are-worse-than-yours game.
She sighed, and her entire body shook. Edward was amazed that she wasn't crying. She wept over spilt marinara but took her dysfunctional parents' emotional bombs like a champ.
"She showed up on our doorstep last night, blasted out of her mind. My dad says he can fix her. But, really, she'll break him. He'll start drinking again, 'for fun,' and they'll be disgusting and all over each other for awhile. Eventually, she'll leave. He'll start drinking for real. And, then it gets…not so fun."
Bella snapped her mouth shut, suddenly embarrassed, and started to stand. Without thinking, Edward grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into his lap. They'd never touched that much, that close. It was nonsexual but intimate and not exactly platonic. She fell apart then, and he suspected it was the first time anyone ever let her vent with total abandon.
"Do you need…a place to go?" He would have hid her in his garage or under his bed if he had to. His parents wouldn't keep him from protecting her.
Against his chest, her head shook back and forth. "Mike's mom--she told me I could stay with them."
Mike. Suddenly, Newton went from a generic, fleeting boyfriendish obstacle to something serious. Edward didn't need to protect her; she'd entrusted that job to another.
"I'm glad you have somewhere safe," he mumbled.
She didn't respond. She also didn't climb off his lap. Her fists balled in his t-shirt, and he closed his eyes and wished the circumstances were anything but what they were. They sat in silence for countless minutes, not caring they were already late for work. When their bodies separated, she took part of him with her. It hurt like hell, but he didn't mind.
Edward skipped his senior prom in favor of a trip to a Mariner's game. He never remembers who won.
Bella and Mike went to prom together. She wore a blue strapless dress. Edward only knew that because Bella and Mike's prom photo adorned the top of her casket. It was the most recent of her, and someone had the sense to know that cutting half of it off to focus only on the smiling girl in taffeta with bodiless arms encircling her waist might look a bit odd.
Bella and Edward spoke for the last time two days before graduation. Both worked an early Saturday shift, and she looked less pained than she had weeks ago in their alley. They left together, despite the fact the diner was short-staffed. The manager bitched at them as they swiped BLTs from the kitchen, but it didn't stop Bella from running back to fill her Styrofoam cup with fountain Coke and vanilla syrup. When Edward urged her out the door, she laughed and spilled soda down her blouse.
Outside, the sun shone overhead. In the middle of the parking lot, Bella stretched her pale arms to the sky. "We're almost out of here, Edward."
"We are," he smiled. He liked the 'we.' It was as if they were escaping together. Even then, even before...everything, that fantasy was bittersweet, and he decided not to dwell on the never was, never could be. "You know, I don't know where you're going after graduation." He hadn't asked her earlier, for he knew whatever the answer, it wasn't with him.
She shrugged. "No idea yet. I'm waiting on last-minute scholarship news from U Dub. Otherwise, I'm going to have to stick close by so I can live at home."
His face fell. "Bella—"
"She's not coming back, Edward. At least not for awhile. Dad's not a mess this round, so I'll be fine." Her face perked up, and he hated that she felt as if she had to put on a show for him. "So, fingers crossed for U Dub. You're going east, right?"
"Don't sound so excited." Her smile was gentle, and he loathed New England for its Bellalessness.
"No, it's just…it's a lot of money to spend on something I'm not sure I want."
She'd been leaning up against her truck, but suddenly she stood straight. "You have plans for this afternoon?"
He did. "Nope. I'm free as a bird."
Bella grinned. "Get in the truck, birdie. I want to show you something."
She wasn't shy anymore, at least not with him. During the drive, she fiddled with the radio dial and deemed certain songs "puke worthy" and others "the greatest of all time." Years later, he still remembers every last one of them, the good and the bad, the lyrical vomit and the musical genius.
After twenty minutes or so on the 101, they pulled to the edge of the forest. On foot, she dragged him through trees and mud, up hills, and through small valleys until they reached a large meadow. "I come here to think," she hedged, suddenly shy all over again. "I like to…Well, it's nice here."
"Spit it out, Swan." He nudged her side where her blouse was still damp from the Coke, careful not to let his touch linger.
"I talk to myself a lot, okay?" She couldn't quite pull off exasperation, as her cheeks flushed scarlet. "Out loud. And here, I know no one can hear me."
"But I can hear you."
"You don't count."
"Ouch." He meant her to think he was joking, even though he wasn't.
Bella looked him straight in the eye. "I meant that as a compliment."
He knew exactly where she was coming from. He could tell her anything, too. Save one exception.
They sat down, flattening overgrowth and crossing their legs beneath them.
"Tell me why you don't want to go to Dartmouth." He never expressly revealed to her the school's name, and it warmed him from the inside that she'd checked up on him. "What do you want to do with yourself, Edward Masen?"
"I think I'm going to be a doctor. My dad set up an internship thing this summer at the hospital."
"So, like a candy striper with testosterone? Are you going to wear one of those red and white smocks?"
"Cute," he pulled at a wisp of hair escaping her ponytail. "If I'm lucky, I get to follow the new doctor around."
"Dr. Cullen," she supplied. "He's cool. He stitched me up last month when I cut my hand on some glass."
"But you don't want to do it."
"I'd rather be at the diner." He stared too long without speaking.
"Better food," she supplied, saving them from the heavy silence. "So…you're going to be around this summer? At work?"
"Yeah, I think so. Dad's not thrilled, but he never is, so no real loss there."
"Then off to Dartmouth?"
Edward groaned and reclined onto his back. "That's the plan."
"You know, you're going to be a great high school guidance counselor someday, Bella. Or maybe an interrogator for the CIA."
"Maybe." She collapsed back on the ground, next to Edward. He damned the space between them and scooted closer. Five inches or so away from her arm, he stopped, spotting a dark bruise behind her ear, on her neck. She wasn't the type to use a curling iron. He prayed fate would allow him the opportunity to someday punch Mike Newton in the balls.
When she started to speak again, he shifted his focus to her mouth. "I have no clue what I'm supposed to do with myself. Like, if I could do anything, anything at all, I'd still have no answer."
"I'd see the world." His response was a yearbook cliché and he'd never thought of it before, but it was the absolute truth. "I'd travel around everywhere and learn new languages and never feel like I missed out on anything." He felt excited in a nonBella way for the first time in months. "And maybe I'd learn to play music in some crazy village in the middle of nowhere where you learn by ear instead of with sheet music."
Her eyes danced as she watched Edward come alive. He wanted to point at her smile like a proud five year old and announce, "I did that."
She crossed her arms behind her head, her face relaxed as if dreaming with her eyes open. "I change my answer. I want that. I want to travel. I've never been east of the Mississippi, and I want a bunch of stamps in my passport." She laughed, and it rang through the empty meadow. "I mean, after I get a passport, that is."
They ate their almost-forgotten sandwiches and talked a bit more before Bella struggled to her feet and held out a hand to pull Edward up behind her. "I'm supposed to go to a movie tonight," she apologized.
She didn't add the "with Mike," but it wasn't necessary. The hickey on her neck told him more than he needed to know. "Yeah, I've got something, too."
The sun ducked behind a cloud, and the drive back to the diner to pick up Edward's car was much darker than the ride in the opposite direction. When they arrived at their destination, he turned to her. "Get the passport, Bella. You never know."
"I will," she smiled. "I have to come visit you in buttfucking Egypt so I can hear you play your ukulele."
"Guitar," he insisted.
"Whatever. Save me a cot in your hut, okay?"
"For you, anything."
And that was it. He shut the door and waved. No goodbye, no last touch, no confession.
He'd forever remember the stain on her yellow shirt, the fuzzy dice hanging from her rearview mirror, the red in her hair from the sudden reappearance of the sun. A pop song he despised even back then played quietly on the radio. Now, every time he hears it, whether it be in his own car, at the gym, or in a bar, his stomach churns violently and all he can think is that he'd play the ukulele in the middle of a war zone for eternity to get back that last minute with her in the parking lot.
His next shift at the diner was the next day, the day before graduation. Bella was supposed to be waiting tables alongside him, but she never showed. Four hours later, a search party led by her too-sober father found her truck and skid marks on the side of the road, north of town. The passenger door was open, and a trail of blood led into the woods. Small-town gossips like to make up details, focusing on her shredded remains and closed casket, the alcoholic father and the mother who didn't come to the funeral. At first, some insisted it was a wild animal until similar killings started in Seattle a week or so later. "She was the first, but not the last," old ladies would mutter over coffee at the diner. Edward heard them and shook quietly until he could force the cold emptiness to return. He lasted a week and a half until he couldn't look at any square inch of the place without hearing her voice or seeing her stumble over her own two feet. He quit without giving two weeks' notice and locked himself in his bedroom for the rest of the summer after promising his parents he'd go pre-med at Dartmouth in the fall.
They found her killer eight months later. Some sick fuck the press compared to Jack the Ripper. He mostly killed whores and runaways. No one knew why he detoured to Forks. His dastardly deeds made news across the country. Edward didn't watch television until a year after the trial ended--guilty or innocent, justice couldn't bring her back to life.
He stayed in Hanover for two years before he forced himself to return to Forks his sophomore year. By then, his bedroom became a home gym, and upon his return, he thanked his parents silently for making the house a stranger. She'd never visited here, but any familiarity with the love-struck boy he once was and the world he inhabited wasn't welcome.
Friends from high school insisted he come out to a bar that first trip back home. They mingled with the townies at Duke's, and Edward downed three shots of Jaeger when he spotted Mike Newton near the jukebox. He'd wanted to leave, but Newton stopped him at the door. They ended up sharing a few beers, out of some misplaced notion that surviving high school together united graduates for life. All the while, Edward told himself he could do it, that he could move on from the girl he never even had. Newton had officially had her, and he was still forging on.
At some point, Mike ordered a fresh pitcher, and somehow her name came up. Newton never could hold his liquor, and soon he was crying like a baby into his Miller Lite, a sight straight out of some grating country music song. Edward had reached his limit. As he stood to leave, his hopes of letting her go went to shit.
Mike sniffled, took a chug, and exhaled, "She dumped me, the night before she...you know. In the middle of a fucking movie, man. I keep thinking that if…"
Edward didn't want to hear the rest. He'd stopped thinking of the what ifs long ago. What if he'd told her he was crazy about her? What if he'd offered her a ride to work that morning? What if he'd snatched her up and spent his tuition money on passports and two one-way tickets to Timbuktu? One small change, one minor decision and she'd be with him now, bitching about the University of Washington's English program or the mosquitoes in Africa.
Newton and his wealth of information eroded Edward's sanity further than he thought possible. From that night on, Edward knew she felt the same about him as he did her. No longer was Edward an insecure kid; he could spot the obvious. Those last few months, everytime his eyes found her, she'd been staring right back. She searched him out at school and spent her mornings in front of his locker, not Mike's. It wasn't a coincidence that they'd spent a lazy, perfect afternoon in the meadow and then later on she split from Mike. That summer would have belonged to them, and by the time freshman orientation rolled around, he would have discovered new parts of her. Formerly hidden patches of skin. Her favorite song. How old she was when she got her first kiss.
Fate robbed him of her, and after talking to Newton, he knew more of what he lost.
He left Mike mid-babble at the bar. Drunk, he stumbled out the door and down the street for countless blocks until his feet left pavement for grass. That was the first time he visited her grave.
Today is the last.
He brings her flowers, just like always. He never knew what she liked best, but he imagines orchids or tulips. They don't take themselves too seriously as far as flowers go, and even when her life was total shit, neither did she.
He crouches down on the grass and runs his fingers through the blades. He wants to talk to her, like he always does on these visits, but this time it's more urgent; he knows he won't be back for awhile after med school snatches away his waking hours. "I met a girl last week," he tells her. "You'd hate her. I do, too, actually, but I keep trying to get back on the horse. She's not funny, Bella; her jokes are all of the knock-knock variety. Her favorite movie is The Wedding Planner. She eats fried rice with a spoon and smacks her lips after each fucking bite. And she's the best one I've gone out with in over a year."
A few weeds are creeping up the base of the gravestone. He pulls at them as he continues, "The one I told you about last Christmas wasn't that great either. She was brunette, but the mousy kind, not the type with red highlights in her hair. Every time she opened her mouth, she'd say these passive-aggressive little digs about men and I wanted to go to the restroom and never come back. And she wore Chanel No. 5, the same shit my mom wears so I kept thinking she was going to tell me to sit up straight and eat my vegetables. Well, that or order scotch and pass out under the table." He exhales and notices a couple far in the distance, walking the aisles between the grave markers. Edward suddenly feels annoyed; they're eavesdropping on a private conversation and he wants to tell them to mind their own business and leave him alone with the love of his life.
And then he realizes just how insane he has become.
He never even kissed the girl, but no one else will ever compare to her. He considers that he puts her on a pedestal, that given a few dates, he would have discovered she wasn't half as great as she appeared to be. But ultimately, he knows that's bullshit. She was too shy at times, ate like a slob, and held grudges against customers who left crappy tips. She was a mess, but she was meant to be his mess and he hers.
Some psycho currently locked up in maximum security stole that from him, and try as he might, Edward can't recapture the potential, the what could have been. To the outside world, he lives his life--he eats, he sleeps, he breathes. He does well in school, he dates, he's got plenty of acquaintances who keep him busy with poker games and nights at the local pub. Edward does everything he's supposed to, but it's never what he wants.
He's not completely sold on medical school; it's the easy route and he sees no viable alternatives. Nothing ignites passion in Edward. No career path calls to him, and no living woman has a lasting hope of pleasing him. Both his days and nights are dreamless. He doesn't want to see the world anymore because it only reminds him that she cannot. They'd realized that dream together that day in the meadow, and without her, the magic of exploring new places has been diluted.
He wonders if he'd be happier had he not known what is was like to feel so alive. He kicks the ground and damns the day he met her. They'd never had enough for him to treasure their time together. It's childish, but he feels like the memory of Bella is a constant punishment, fate's way of dangling true happiness in front of his face and then snatching it away. "I want to forget you," he whispers to the sky, knowing someone like her is above him now in death just like she was in life.
The couple meandering along the gravesites has moved closer, telling Edward this is not the place for this moment.
He wants a goodbye, a real one. The cemetery represents death, demise, so he needs somewhere else, a place where she lived and breathed. He knows exactly the spot--he needs the meadow. Within seconds, he's behind the wheel of his car, heading toward the forest on the outskirts of town.
He breaks branches obstructing his path with jerking, outstretched arms. The walk is longer than he remembers, but Edward is on a mission. He's tried to let go before, but his heart was never in it. It's different now, he wants to forget, to bury her for good.
The grass grows high, the blades whip in the wind against his jeans. It's going to rain soon, but he doesn't care. This has to happen today. He wants to start med school anew. He wants to be the man everyone thinks he is--whole and happy.
He reaches the middle of the meadow. It feels different than he expected. It's not sunny or remotely similar to that day four years ago. The trees seem closer. It's too cold for May. He sits down on a fallen tree and gathers weeds in his fist. He doesn't have a plan for this. The gist of this crazy hike into the past is to say goodbye, but he doesn't really have anything physical of her to let go, aside from this muddy, overgrown clearing. Edward takes a breath and imagines she's right in front of him.
"Leave me alone," he growls into the wind. This is what crazy assholes do, he chides himself. But he knows that's what he is--some hapless loser holding onto the past, talking to himself in the middle of the woods. He keeps going. "You're dead, and I'm not. You left, and I stayed. We were friends, but that's it. We weren't in love. Christ, you never even held my hand. If the situation were reversed, I'd just be that poor kid you knew in high school who died too young. You'd forget me, except when you'd dig through your yearbook and catch a glimpse of my picture, and even then, you'd just feel bad for a second and then go back to making fun of everyone's hair and wondering whatever happened to your lab partner from Biology. You wouldn't be sitting here, missing me years later. You wouldn't be alone. Maybe you'd be married with kids or have some foreign boyfriend you met backpacking across Europe. Which is fine. Because you were normal. Normal people move on, even when they had an actual relationship instead of some stupid high school crush."
Edward's eyes sting. He's so tired of crying over her but takes comfort in knowing this will be the last time. His voice cracks as he allows himself to unhinge. "Why can't I be normal? I should have a girlfriend, one that lives and breathes and lets me fuck her six ways from Sunday. I feel like some sort of stalker, except I'm worse than some pervert who breathes into the receiver and hides in the bushes outside your bedroom. Because you're dead, Bella. I don't know why I can't walk away from you. I want to, I really fucking want to."
The trees do not answer him, though he half expects them to. He's shouting now, and he finally understands why she liked it here so much; he can scream bloody murder and know that she--wherever she is--may be the only one who can hear him. "No one understands me. I'm always pretending with them. Thing is, I wouldn't know how fake it all is had I never known you. You made me real, honest and genuine. I liked that version of me, and now I can't get it back." He rises to his feet and tugs at the ends of his hair with trembling fingers. "So here's what I'm going to do. Pretend. Forever. Eventually, it'll stop being fake and start feeling real. It's beats the hell out of mourning some dead girl I'll never see again. I'll become a surgeon, buy a nice house in San Francisco and an Aston Martin. I'll marry some girl, and she'll be stunning and kind and we'll have good-looking kids who'll play soccer and kick ass at math and science. That's what I'm meant to do. And I hate you for ever making me think there was any other choice."
Edward paces the length of the entire meadow until he's sobbing. He reaches the exact spot where he laid next to her so long ago. His breathing slows as he squats. He recalls her hair and her smile, the way she'd scrunch up her face when she was frustrated and how she smelled like grapefruit. He misses her voice and all the different ways she could laugh. He wants to relive every sentence they shared, and this is how he knows he needs to leave Forks, pack for Stanford, and find somewhere new to call home. Into the dense air, he mumbles, "I should have kissed you. That should have been our goodbye."
He stands and narrows his eyes to an opening in the trees, where he needs to make his exit. He'll never come back here again, he vows. He'll leave his yearbook containing the only photos of her that he owns in his parents' attic. He'll forget and learn to be all right.
"You're better than this."
The voice isn't his. It's high and lilting, but he's heard another incarnation of it before. He spins around.
She stands at the forest's edge, surrounded by tree branches rustling in the wind.
It's her, but it isn't. Her hair is long, as it always was, yet her skin is pale and flawless and all wrong. He's too far away to know for certain, but her eyes are a different kind of warm. She looks not a day over eighteen, a frozen version of the girl he remembers.
Edward is a man of science and logic. He sleeps plenty and hasn't had a drop, a snort, or a puff of anything scandalous in recent memory. He's well aware that this thing, this being before him isn't an apparition. After minutes of stunned silence, he finds his voice. "What the fuck are you?"
She twists her answer. "You know who I am."
"I know who you aren't."
She takes a step forward, and despite still being a good fifteen feet away, Edward backs up. She speaks slowly, as if her voice can shatter him. "The blood was real, it was mine. But the casket was closed, Edward. There was no body."
Bile rises in his throat. Edward's next words are too high, too shaky. "There was, they said--"
"Rumors. They found bits and pieces of what they thought was me. One of my teeth was pulled out and left behind. That was enough, my dad was losing his mind and he didn't press for more, just as Alice said he wouldn't."
He doesn't know who "they" or this Alice are, and he doesn't care. "You're not...alive."
"I'm not, no." Her eyes are on the ground.
Edward thinks she's ashamed, possibly sad. He reminds himself again that he doesn't care. The Bella he knew is dead, and whatever or whoever this is standing before him, it's not her.
With obvious effort, she takes a breath and forces her stare to his. "But I'm not dead either."
Edward feels dizzy. "You are to me," he says, because he needs her to be. Hope has never existed for them, and he can't afford for it to now. He said his goodbye. Finally. And in time, he'll prove to himself that he meant it.
Her face scrunches up then, and suddenly she seems too familiar. "You never went anywhere. You don't know how to play the guitar. You take out nice girls, and they should make you happy but you won't let them." She swallows. "And I'm supposed to say how disappointed I am in you for wasting your life. I should yell at you for giving up and settling for things you never wanted."
She moves closer. This time, Edward stays still. "There was a...man. He stood in the middle of the road stopped my truck with one hand that morning. He dragged me from the passenger seat as if I weighed nothing. I remember him biting my neck. When I woke up, my body felt like it was on fire. Someone found me--Dr. Cullen, you remember him, don't you? He saved me the best that he could. He and his family chased off the man who attacked me. Then, they made me like them." The blood has drained from Edward's face. She uses his silence to her advantage. "I guess the cops pinned the deaths on some human wackjob who'd done his fair share of killing girls in Seattle. I hid in Alaska for awhile. The Cullens kept me from doing anything stupid. It's hard at first to be around...people. After two years, I got better, so I left. I had to. I didn't remember everything, Edward. But I remembered you."
Her face is frantic, much like that day she drooled on his pen. He doesn't want this familiarity; it's too much after all this time. "I looked for you," she tells him. "I had to know you were okay. I thought seeing you once would be enough." She reaches out her hand. Her fingers brush against his sleeve, and he stares at them with wide, disbelieving eyes. "It wasn't. I followed you. Always. Everyday. You looked terrible, and I waited for it to fade. You'd go on dates sometimes, and I tried to wish the best for you. I really did. But...I hated those girls. They were better for you than I was, than I am now. Especially the red head, the Elementary Education major--"
"Annie," he supplies dully, shock replacing the former sharpness of his senses.
"She was pretty. And sweet."
Something inside him snaps. He buries his head in his hands. He doesn't want to believe, and he doesn't want to say the words he spits out next. "She wasn't you."
She lets out a soft but strangled laugh. "God, how I hated her." He hears relief in her voice. With it, he also detects pain.
"I didn't know why you were so lost. I couldn't believe that you missed me, that you still thought of me after so much time. I never told you, you never said--I didn't know...I hoped, but I never knew until you started going to my grave."
"You heard me?" Edward looks up from his hands. "The things I'd say?"
"Why didn't you say something back?" His jaw tightens. "Why did you let me suffer for years when...if..."
"I'm not the same anymore. I'm not good for you." She sounds as if she's crying, but he sees no tears in her eyes. "I can't be what you need me to be. I can't give you a future or a family or anything that matters."
Edward wants to throw up. Nothing makes sense. She's here, an odd, alternative version of her, but he's pretty sure it's still her. Yet something tells him she's temporary and untouchable. "Why are you here? What do you want?" he asks.
"You need to say goodbye." She looks up at him, her neck straining because they stand so close. "Do it properly. Say it to my face, and I'll stop following you. Take your life back."
He's always needed to know everything--why the earth spins, how a heart beats, who invented the atomic bomb--but he doesn't need to know why she's here. He only knows that she is standing right in front of him. Good or evil, it's Bella and he's wasted enough time. He leans forward, and her eyes widen. She opens her mouth, protest written all over her face, but he doesn't stop. Nor does she run. He finds her lips and in them the only answer he needs.
They are cold, hard, and initially immobile. His breath fans her face. She is frozen under his hands, but Edward is determined to melt her. He moves his hands up her arms to her neck and molds her body to his. A groan erupts from her mouth before she crumbles, touching him softly with careful fingers. She kisses him back. It doesn't last long enough.
Bella slowly moves back. "We have to stop."
"No." He kisses her again. And again.
"This isn't safe." Despite her words, she doesn't leave his arms.
"I don't care."
"I do," she whispers into his chest. "Too much. You have to go."
"Goodbye, this is supposed to be goodbye." Her body is gone from his before he knows what's happening. She's strong, fast. He realizes he can't catch her.
She's standing back at her spot among the trees. "It's for the best, Edward. I can't ask you--"
"You aren't meant for this, Edward."
"And you were?"
"I was dying--they saved me." She shakes her head, as if convincing herself.
"I am dying, Bella. Save me."
Bella turns her back. Her fists contract. "This is forever. There's no death, no aging. There's temptation like you've never known. Edward, once you change, you can't escape."
He closes his eyes and breathes deep. "The only thing I've ever wanted to escape is this--this place, this life. And I only ever wanted to do it with you."
"Yes, it is."
Edward's voice is hard and strong. Finally, he's the man he's always needed to be for her. She walks toward him, giving him time to walk away. He moves forward instead, meeting her half way in their meadow. He doesn't know exactly what she is, but for the most part, she's still Bella. He's yearned for this since that afternoon at the diner, when some state trooper stopped in for coffee and told the waitress they'd found "that girl" dead near the river. Edward crawled back in the alley—their alley—and remembered her jokes, her button nose, the smell of the interior of her truck. It took him until the day of her funeral to admit to himself that was dead. He sat there in a sweltering church, praying wherever she was, she was happy.
Now he knows she wasn't, that her feelings mirrored his. He'll undo that—he'll spent every day of forever making up for what both thought they'd lost. Her face tells him that she's worried, that she's asking too much of him. He grins at her, for this is everything but a sacrifice.
This time, when they kiss, she's isn't careful. It won't matter--if she breaks him, she'll be the one to fix him.
When their bodies finally part from the kiss, his jaw is sore. She's one hell of a kisser, he thinks, loving that he finally knows this for certain.
She warns him things will hurt worse once they find her family in Alaska. He doesn't mind. He'll pay any price to claim her and the escape they were meant to share. He'll suffer for her, die for her, in order to be reborn into a life where he learns guitar, travels the world, and gets the girl.
End Notes: Again, this was a oneshot, so it's complete and won't spawn into an 80-chapter mess. Speaking of which, IVO, my very own 35-chapter mess, is not abandoned and will hopefully update sometime this century.
One last thing, check out www(dot)adifferentforest(dot)com. It's a new Twilight fansite that features fantastic discussion on fanfic and a shit-ton more, from the movies to the books. I have an author's forum over there, so come say hi!
As always, thanks for reading.