Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns it. I'm just playing.
In an instant Edward was at my side.
In an instant, we were both soaked to the bone, standing shoulder to shoulder.
Metal and glass held my limp and quaking limbs upright, but Edward's body - angled slightly in front of me - was rigid.
The woman whose face had haunted my dreams for years looked out at us from the dry shelter of the porch steps. The kickback of the downpour misted over her skin attractively, lending her a glow in the sudden, sharp darkness of the day.
There was a moment of silence, as we all took in the sudden deafening roar.
Another flash of lightening, a roll of thunder still a few miles off but moving closer.
"What are you doing here?" Edward's voice cut across the deluge sharply.
He was almost yelling to be heard over the rain. His irritation was plain, his voice demanding and unafraid. My eyes travelled over his body, the fiery electricity in his stance, and I had to fight the urge to cower behind him. To hide my eyes and press my face into his shoulder blades and let him drive back the monsters.
I turned my eyes to the woman on the porch, feeling so rigid.
Nessie took a step down, closer to the storm.
Closer to me.
"I'm here to see Bella," she replied simply. Her voice was also slightly raised, but so light, so hopeful.
I could see her eyes flickering back and forth between us.
I didn't want to imagine what she saw there.
Did I look as weak as I felt?
Edward's gaze shifted down to me and I met his eyes, my own face betraying my confusion, my bewilderment, my fear. I could feel every inch of my body, wet and shaking now.
Without a word he turned away from me and walked over to Nessie.
I counted his steps until he halted on the same stair where she stood motionless, towering over her.
Now they were shoulder to shoulder.
My stomach rolled.
Edward's shirt clung to his back, his shoulder blades, and I could only see half of his face as he leaned in slightly. Nessie's eyes left mine reluctantly to turn to him, and I let out a deep breath in relief almost as if she had been holding me trapped and had released me.
I could see Edward was trying to speak quietly, but I could still hear him.
Through the rain and thunder I could hear him.
"Do you know about her father?" he hissed. I saw his left hand tense and release, itching at his side, as if he was fighting the urge to grab her arm.
"Yes," she confirmed with a slight nod.
"Then you know this isn't the best time to do this." Edward's voice was all venom, all annoyed protectiveness.
"This may be the only chance I get."
I heard her reply and I suddenly felt sick.
Her words were quiet, humble, and so familiar.
Her eyes locked on mine once more and I saw the pleading in them.
Now is all I have.
There must have been something in my face, some inviting crumble, some visible weakening, because Nessie stepped forward. Even with Edward looming behind her, she moved towards me unafraid.
Edward's hand shot out then, finally.
Fingers wrapped around her bicep to halt her steps. I was startled by his movement, by the aggression in his features and in the tightening of his hand. I watched as she whipped around to face him.
Her eyes narrowed at him, not frightened in the least.
I struck me hard, like a blow to the head, that she had never had any reason to be frightened of him. They had know each other since they were kids, they had been friends, and there had been a time - however long ago - when she had worshipped him. Or loved him.
She knew him like I knew him.
She knew that he would never hurt her.
"Bella? Would you like me to leave?" I heard her ask gently across the front yard, her gaze remaining fixed on Edward with familiar annoyance, exasperation. Like he was an irritating brother.
"Yes," I breathed quietly, reflexively, after a beat.
I need you away from him.
She barely heard me, her brows furrowing slightly as she turned her full attention back to me. She scanned my face quickly before giving me a curt nod, not arguing or pleading.
At her acceptance, I watched Edward release her immediately.
As if he trusted her, as if he knew he could take her at her word.
Or as if he didn't want to be touching her.
Nessie rubbed her arm absently and with defeat written everywhere on the flawless lines of her face, she continued down the stairs and into the yard. With only a brief glance at me, she walked past.
She didn't seem to notice the rain.
And it had no affect on her beauty.
"Wait," I bit out sharply, before I could stop myself.
I wanted to clap my hands over my mouth, instead fisting them at my sides.
I was staring at Edward, though I knew she was at my back. I could feel her hesitate, waiting as I requested. I still didn't look at her. I continued to let my eyes wander across Edward's barely controlled expression of concern, the tensing of his shoulders.
I saw him - the fierceness of him and the protectiveness - and I felt real, true resolve.
I wouldn't be the victim anymore.
I wouldn't cower behind him.
This was my chance to earn the right to stand beside him.
Just as fierce, just as protective, just as strong.
This was my chance to get answers.
Now is all I have.
"It's okay," I whispered, towards Edward.
He hesitated slightly, eyes flickering over my shoulder to where Nessie was standing behind me, then back to my rigid body.
I smiled at him small, and nodded.
Without a word, his face turned expressionless, he turned and walked up the rest of the porch stairs and stepped into the house, the screen swinging shut behind him.
I took a deep breath and turned to face the woman at my back.
Nessie was waiting, silent and close to me, her face controlled expressionless and patient.
Rain was pouring down on both of us, unrelenting and chilling us to the bone.
I said nothing as I pushed myself off the truck and towards the shelter of the porch.
I could hear her following wordless and several steps behind me.
I halted at the front door and turned.
"I can't invite you in." My voice was firm resolve and utter helplessness.
Edward was in the house.
I needed her away from him.
In my mind, I knew that there was nothing to fear from her. Or from him. I knew he wouldn't do anything to hurt me, I knew that she wouldn't be responsible for my destruction twice, I knew that there was nothing between them. They hadn't seen each other in years.
Still, there was a part of me that was tormented by their history.
The way he could grab her arm so tight, the way she could look at him without fear.
They had a way of speaking, a way of knowing, a way of touching, that I would never understand. I could see it in the flash of a moment, where Edward was annoyed and Nessie was pleading, I could see it. Like siblings reunited and falling into easy rhythms.
It had been too painful to ever speak about with Edward, so I couldn't ever know their past.
What they had meant to each other.
How much had changed.
It was that part of me - the helpless, jealous part - that needed Nessie on the porch, against the backdrop of rain, while Edward stayed safely away.
"I understand," was Nessie's reply, though I could see she didn't.
"What do you want?" I asked her, folding my arms against the cold. My voice was surprisingly strong.
She sighed, sad and lovely.
"I want to make things right between us," she said quietly, sincerely. Her brown eyes, deep and rich, burned into my own. Their intensity was breathtaking and filled with an unnamed ache.
I had never seen her like this.
When I opened my mouth to tell her it was impossible, that things could never in a million years be right between us, I found myself thinking instead of Colorado and Edward's face.
And I breathed quietly: "How?"
Everything felt dangerous.
When I went out to the store, when I tried on clothes, when I ate lunch, when I walked down the street I felt like everyone was staring at me, that everyone could tell. It was all over my face, he was all over my body.
That woman has a secret.
It was dark and dirty and so, so right.
A secret that was fate.
I felt aware of my body, of the world around me, in every situation. The guilt was driving and delicious, the lust was a sickness. Love that was madness. I felt more alive than I had in years. I felt more alive than I had ever, ever in my life.
I was sleeping until now.
And nothing made me feel more alive than when I was laying in a bed, with Jacob's arms around me.
It started in hotels, until that wasn't enough. Not dangerous enough, not tempting enough, not intimate enough. Now we lay in my bed, in my home, in broad daylight. Edward was at work, but there's always that stirring, electric possibility that he could come home. He could catch us. There's nowhere here to hide, no darkness to shield him from the truth.
He'd know then that it had always been Jacob and I.
Edward had told me so many times that I was wrong, that Jacob didn't love me as much as he did.
I wanted to laugh in his face now.
Point and poke and make him cry out in surrender. Did Edward think he loved me? Still? He could never love me like this, with every inch of his body and soul. He ignored me all the time, and Jacob couldn't bear to stay away.
Leaning over me now, spent and sweaty, Jacob's nose skimmed along my jawline gently as he whispered words, hot breath against my skin.
"Do you know how much I want you?" he asked me, a deep whisper. "Do you know how much I give up for you?"
It was a taunt, free of the guilt Edward liked to use to trap me.
I responded by pulling Jacob's head down to mine, fisting black hair as lips tore against lips in a battle of dominance and lust. And love above all else.
"I've missed you so much," he said when his lips released mine, moving down to my neck.
I threw my head back against pillows – pillows Edward's money had bought – and shuddered with pleasure.
"Jacob and I are separated." Nessie spoke calmly, both her hands on the railing and her eyes looking away from me, out into the rain and thoughtful. "He doesn't know I'm here."
I couldn't take my eyes off her and they widened at her words.
I felt a jolt of some unnamed emotion light through me, passing quickly and speeding my heart.
"That's not…" I trailed off quietly, unsure.
"It's not what you want?" she asked me quickly, glancing in my direction. Her words were sharp, but her eyes were still gentle and wary.
She was nervous.
I couldn't even begin to imagine about what.
Yes, I did want that. Over and over for so long.
No, I didn't want that. Never again.
I didn't respond.
I shook my head minutely, but she had already turned away from me.
I wondered if it was hard for her to look at me now, when I couldn't stop looking at her.
"I didn't do it for you," she continued after a moment, her voice a resigned sigh. I felt the weight of her words deep inside me, the deliberate way they were said. I didn't do it for you. She could say it and it wasn't a lie. I didn't do it because of you. That would have been the lie.
Her profile held a pained expression, sad through its forced composure. The rain just reaching the skin of her nose, her cheeks, her hands on the rail. And she, remaining motionless, was too deep in thought to pay the storm any attention.
"I'm glad." I replied, surprised at how firm my voice stayed. How steady.
How true my words were.
Her eyes flicked over to me for the second time, this time filled with surprise. Even more unsure, looking so off-kilter. The same expression she had worn when I had seen her on her wedding day. The same expression she had worn at a charity gala almost a year ago.
After a long moment, her gaze holding mine, she remarked, "You're so different, do you know that?"
I nodded slowly, solemnly. "I think so."
Silence stretched between us once more. I watched her hands gripping tightly at the wood beneath her fingers. I watched her eyes trail up and down, assessing me.
And I waited.
Waited for her to make the first move.
To feint in one direction or the other.
To throw her cards on the table or fold them and walk away.
Every time I had ever met her, I had dictated how our conversations went. I had yelled and raged, told her things to wound and maim, held her accountable for every sin that was her own or Jacob's or mine. I was a wild animal, every inch scorned and bleeding, whose only option for survival was attack. Strike an enemy where she stood.
I looked at her now and she was no enemy.
She was just the woman who had bled as much as I.
Then, her voice quiet, she spoke. "Bella, I'm sorry…for what we did to you. Both of us."
My heart jolted slightly in my chest at the apology.
Without thinking, I responded, "You don't get to speak for him." My words were surprisingly sharp.
Nessie blinked back at me.
"No, you're right. That's cowardly of me anyway," she nodded, her eyes flicking down for a moment. Then she was looking at me with no small measure of intensity and spoke clearly, with her chin raised. "I'm sorry for what I did."
My stomach rolled.
"You loved him," I whispered, my hands grasping slightly at the damp, heavy wet denim covering my thighs.
She gave a curt nod. "I did."
"Then I forgive you."
She blinked again, her mouth falling open slightly. "Just like that?"
I fought back a laugh.
It wasn't difficult.
As it was, I could feel my lips curling slightly into a humorless smile as I replied, "No, it hasn't been 'just like that'."
Nessie's slender, white throat contracted as she swallowed.
"No, I guess it hasn't."
"I love you, Bella." Jacob's mouth covered the expanse of my neck with kisses, with licks. His movements were slow, languid and sated, and his words were soft. "I never stopped loving you."
"I know that." My fingers danced along his arms, tracing patterns in the sweat.
"These past few weeks have been…amazing."
I looked up at the ceiling. "A revelation."
"Yes. That." He agreed without pause, against my collarbone.
"For me, too." I let my hands wander up to his beautiful charcoal black hair. "When will you tell her?"
There was a slight hesitation in his voice when he replied slowly, "I don't know."
"I want you to tell her soon."
"And you'll tell Edward?" He challenged, his hand smoothing down my skin until his fingers were brushing along my inner thigh.
I gasped. "I'll leave Edward."
"Don't you want some time to think about that?"
I shook my head quickly, my hair spilling across pillows. "What is there to think about?"
"Years of marriage." Jacob whispered in my ear.
It sounded like seduction.
"Those were just years spent waiting for you. I know that now." I replied immediately, pressing into his hand as it found me.
"You're so beautiful."
So was he.
"We should tell them this week." I wanted him to be mine again.
"Bella, I have kids to consider."
I laughed, I moaned. "You should have considered them when you tried to seduce me in a bathroom."
"It's complicated for me, Bella." He said, even as he pressed against my hip.
"Well, it's simple for me."
"I think…I think maybe we should just leave it for a while." He stuttered, his breath getting slightly ragged.
"Leave what?" I demanded, bucking.
"I don't know if I want to change…my situation." He breathed the last words like they were sacred. Like he was talking about this moment, this situation.
I understood what he meant, though, even through the haze.
"I thought I was more than some affair to you."
"You are!" he insisted, almost yelling his affirmations. "Bella, of course you are."
I pressed my lips into his neck. "Then what's the problem?"
"I just need some time to think." He panted, his hand clasping at my knee to pull my leg around his waist. "You understand, right?"
"How did you know I was here?" I asked her quietly.
I was sitting now, my back up against the slatted wood of the house, my knees tucked up tight to my chest. Damp all over and watching her back as her shoulders tensed and sighed.
She didn't reply for a long moment, long enough that I knew she didn't want to.
"Jacob told me about your father," she finally told me, the reluctance in her voice obvious. The apology ever present and not needing to be said. She turned to face me then, her hands still holding the rail behind her to steady her. Or to hold her back. I wasn't sure which. "Just so the kids would know where he was."
The mention of her children had me swallowing a lump in my throat.
Had me thinking of a stone beneath a tree and my own ravaged, empty body.
She was still whole.
She was more than whole.
She was a mother.
"And you came all the way across the country to see me," I stated blankly, perplexed and almost amazed. Wondering, certainly, and still not understanding.
"I had to." She was biting her lip as she pushed herself away from the rail and the rain towards me.
My whole body tensed, but I remained still.
"Why?" I whispered, willing her silently to stay away.
She took another step, then another, then she was standing right in front of me, looking down at my huddled form.
"To tell you that I…understand," she swallowed on the last word, her throat bobbing and her voice weak.
"Understand what?" I wanted to know.
Suddenly, she was on her knees.
Kneeling in front of me, so close that I could feel the heat from her body and my own. Her eyes were hard on mine, intense and unwilling to let me move or even look away.
"Why you did what you did," she said calmly.
She could mean so many thousands of things.
Showing up at her wedding, trying to trap her new husband with a child.
Sleeping with her husband, stealing him away any chance I could get.
Choosing Edward as a sacrifice to my love, her oldest friend.
Breaking Edward or breaking Jacob.
I couldn't count the ways, and she said she could understand.
"Oh," was all I could manage.
Nessie seemed to sense my warring thoughts. She reached out one slender, white hand and placed it gently on my arm.
Her fingers brushed against my knee.
"You were the only one of us who was honest," she said the words like a benediction, words I had heard from Edward before her. "You were terrible and brutal and cruel, but you were always honest."
I took a deep, shuddering breath and wondered if I was crying. The rain on my face felt hot.
"You were so young," I whispered.
She still was.
So, so young.
"And full of childish notions," Nessie said with a nod, her voice harsh and self-deprecating. "You woke me up."
I finally tore my eyes away from hers, only to allow my gaze to fall down to her hand that was touching me.
I woke her up to cruel honesty, I woke Edward up to the truth about loving another person. I had used my pain only to spread it to others, rather than to heal any wrongs that had been done to me.
"I'm sorry. " I said suddenly. "For some things…"
Nessie nodded. "So am I. For some things."
It was today.
It had to be today.
I knew where she was. I knew I could get to her.
Without Edward finding out, without Jacob being there.
He wanted to leave her, of course he did. How many times had he told me he loved me? That he'd made a mistake? That he wanted more than just some affair?
But he was too afraid.
I could understand fear.
I would have to be his strength.
It would have to be me.
It was easy to get an invitation to the fundraiser of some Vanderbilt heir. When I had first moved to New York, I had made so many friends. Edward's job did not hurl us directly into the upper echelon of society, but hospitals were certainly popular with large charities. Doctors had their own niche.
Especially if they weren't real doctors, I thought to myself with a smile.
Edward's research was always of interest to charities "looking for a cure" to something or other.
There had been parties, I had made friends.
Now it was all too easy to beg an invitation to an event for the continued research on Alzheimer's.
The day was beautiful, warmer than usual for the beginning of January, and the sun was shining bright and glaring – cutting through the winter air – as I stepped into a cab on the corner of my block. The silk of my gown slid easily and smooth over the leather seats. I gave the driver the address of the Waldorf Astoria with a small smile.
The drive was quick, no traffic to impede my progress. The yellow cab cut down the streets swiftly, with the same calculated purpose that stewed in my chest.
The hotel was beautiful, grand and stunning, and I thought there could be no better scene. I rode the gold shining elevator all the way up, with strangers in similar formal garb. All the dark and rich colors of winter in the city.
The weather meant that the event would be held in the rooftop gardens, beneath a heated canopy tent that screamed of shimmering wealth.
Of course it would be a rooftop.
After all, that's where dragons are slain.
I clutched my small jacket tighter as I walked out into the party. It had been so long since I had come to an event like this, I was momentarily blinded. Distracted by the colors of flowers that couldn't possibly grow at this time of year. Towers of food and hundreds of simpering titans milling around speaking to each other without hearing a single word.
The impossibility of it, the ridiculous excessive nature, felt perfect.
It didn't take me long to find her.
Her face starred in my nightmares so often, I had never forgotten those soft, beautiful features.
I couldn't wait to make them crumble.
I was doing this for Jacob, and for our love, but there was a large part of me that would delight in seeing her squirm.
For all that she had done.
Everything she had ruined.
I walked over to her slowly, as she stood laughing with a woman who might have been her friend. She was gesturing with her arms, her fingers linked lightly as she held a glass of champagne. I squared my shoulders, braced my body, lifted my chin. I felt every defense I had fall over me, every weapon locked onto her, as I strode up to her with unstoppable purpose.
"Hello, Mrs. Black."
My voice was cold to my own ears, foreign and a stranger.
Somehow, though, she seemed to recognize it.
I watched her entire body go rigid as she turned slowly to face me.
I wondered if she dreamed of me.
"Bella," she whispered, shock evident on her face as she looked me over. I watched as she struggled to compose herself, my own expression remaining completely blank.
The friend she had been talking to was looking curiously between us.
"It's so nice to see you again," she said at last, transforming before my eyes into the perfect picture of polite society. Locking away her fear, ducking behind her manners.
I cocked an eyebrow. "I wish I could say the same."
I felt my lips curl up slightly as she blanched, as she realized that our meeting here was no coincidence.
There would be no polite, false peace between us.
I had come for her blood.
She opened and closed her mouth several times, no sound escaping.
She didn't know the rules to the game I was playing.
Sensing her friend's distress, the other woman turned to me, holding out her hand politely.
"I don't believe we've met. I'm Kate," she said with a smile. "You know Nessie?"
I took Kate's hand lightly, warm, "Bella," I introduced. Then, with a glance towards the silent, traitorous woman at my side, I added, "I'm the woman who's been sleeping with Nessie's husband."
"E-Excuse me?" Kate stuttered, her face flushing suddenly and looking around somewhat wildly. As if she was waiting for the punchline.
I smiled with relief, with contentment, as I turned to lock eyes with Nessie.
She was paler than I'd ever seen her. Eyes filled with confusion, body completely still. I didn't even think she was breathing as I leaned towards her slightly.
There was a sudden, loud smash and I could feel shards of glass and the spray of expensive champagne hit my bare ankles.
I smiled at the sensation.
"It's over," I said to Jacob's shaking wife, my voice hard and unyielding.
It was over now.
And I had finally won.
"I should not have told you like that," I whispered, the memory tasting bitter in my mouth.
My chest clenched as I recalled my resolve, how I had believed that destroying the woman in front of me was going to fix everything wrong in my life. How I could think that hurting someone, that hate, was ever the answer.
My arms were crossed over my chest tightly, my knees pressed against them. Nessie was no longer touching me, but she was sitting at my side.
It was easier when I didn't have to look at her. I was harder with her so close.
She was silent for a long moment.
"No, you shouldn't have," she agreed, her words coming out so slowly. Then she added, dropping her face to look down at her hands, "But I was glad to know."
I let the word sink in for a moment. "Glad?"
Nessie nodded at my question, her lips tightening with determination that meant she had not been left unmarked by it.
"Better to face the truth head on," she explained.
I wondered how long or short, difficult or simple, it had been for her to understand that statement.
It had taken me years.
"Yes." I agreed.
"And I was glad it was you."
I sputtered, my eyes snapping over to hers. "What?"
She was looking back at me calmly.
"It wasn't just any woman. It wasn't because I was inadequate. It was because he never stopped loving you," she said softly, her eyes full and her words trembling. "I don't know if he can."
I laughed, a barking sound that was without humor.
I shook my head, dropping it down to my knees momentarily, pressing my eyes hard against bone, trying to summon the words.
Finally, I looked back up to her.
"I have so much to hate you for, and you me," I told her, without apology, without a single waver. "There were ways I wished to harm you, to destroy you, for years and years. There was a time I would have loved to hear you say that to me, and I would have spit it back in your face. But all I can say to you now is…you don't know anything about it."
I watched as Nessie closed her eyes, causing a few lovely tears to spill over. They mingled with the rainwater that had brushed against her skin through the storm.
"I know more than you think," she said, her voice was so quiet and almost a sob.
For a moment, I wondered.
I wondered what life had been like for her. I had thought for so long that she had won the prize. That, until that day on the rooftop, she had beaten me out for the most sublime happiness in the world. But I knew now that Jacob was no ideal, not a perfect man, and her life couldn't have been anything like I imagined.
And I had imagined it often.
Had my specter haunted her in the same way?
I sniffed, fingers pressing hard into my ribs to steady myself as I turned my steely gaze on her. She may know the woman that I was, she may know Jacob and her own life may have been as full of pain and longing as my own had been, but she had no idea what had happened to me in Hartsel, Colorado.
She had no idea what Edward had done for me, to me.
"You listen to me, Renesmee Black," I snapped, my voice steady and without anger. Firm and demanding her attention. Her eyes flicked up to meet mine. I took a deep breath and continued, "There are words for the things we did to you, for dirty affairs hidden in the dark. But Jacob married you, he made his family with you. And maybe it didn't work out in the end, but those choices matter."
I paused, fighting back my own tears as Edward's face appeared in my mind.
"Choosing the person you want to be with, it means something."
I was sitting on the porch, smoking a cigarette.
I never smoked cigarettes.
I could feel him walking towards me before I looked up and saw him. When his eyes met mine we both broke out into wide grins.
I squealed slightly and scrambled to my feet with a characteristic lack of grace. "Jake!"
I flung myself off the remaining two stairs under where I had been seated and when he caught me easily I wrapped my arms around his neck. My lips crashed against his, hard and brief, before I pulled back and looked at him. My heart was already racing.
His smile was blinding as he looked back at me.
"Should we go inside?" he grinned, his voice low and slightly raspy. I felt one of his hands trail down my side down to my thigh and I automatically lifted it to hitch around his hip. Without waiting for an invitation, he scooped me up so that I was entwined around him completely.
I felt his chest rumbling with laughter.
I nodded eagerly at his question and bent down to meet his lips again. This time the kiss was softer, gentler. We took our time.
For a little while.
Then the lust began to override the affection. His mouth broke from mine to trail down my neck, and I felt my hips unconsciously roll against him. He groaned and then his mouth was at my ear and he was whispering that he loved me.
As he carried me inside, I nipped at his shoulder.
He carried me all the way up the stairs and into the bedroom with practiced ease.
We were so good at this, we were so good together.
When he tossed me gently on the mattress, peeling off his jacket with a smirk on his beautiful face, I couldn't wait any longer.
I propped myself up on my elbows. "I have some good news, Jake."
"Oh, really?" he asked with a smile, his hands pulling off his shirt quickly before coming to rest on either side of me, his bare muscled arms surrounding me like a cage as his mouth found my neck.
"I went to the Waldorf hotel today," I moaned, practically humming with excitement.
This was the day my life would really start.
"Oh?" he mumbled, not really paying attention. One of his hands was on my thigh now. "Why's that?"
I grinned and lay back, surrendering to him as he pushed me against the duvet.
"Nessie was there."
Jacob froze in place, his lips not moving anymore. His hands completely still.
I squirmed a little, knowing that he would be shocked.
I expected it.
"I told her, Jake," I whispered into his ear. Then I bucked my hips up. "We're free."
I waited for what seemed like an eternity, all the while planting soft kisses on his neck and shoulder.
When my hands ran through his hair, Jacob reared up and away from me.
He stood over me, next to the bed, and I could no longer read the expression on his face.
He was looking at me like I was a stranger.
My heart began to beat a little faster in my chest, this time not from excitement. Not from lust.
Calling his name seemed to snap him out of it.
He was suddenly scanning the floor quickly, then he was pulling his shirt back on.
Pulling his jacket back on.
"I have to go," he said quietly, quickly.
He wasn't looking at me.
I sat up, nervous.
"Go? Go where?" I wanted to know, confusion lacing my tone.
"I have to fix this!" his voice was loud, a shout, and his eyes met mine. I didn't like what I saw in them. Desperation, fear, anger. Was he angry with me? This was what we had always wanted.
"What are you talking about?" I demanded, stumbling to my feet. "It's done."
Jacob took a step towards me then, frustration all over his face. I couldn't understand it. He loved me, he wanted to be with me, he wanted me instead of her.
"Bella, you…" he began. Then he stopped and shook his head as if there was no use explaining. As if I was a child who didn't understand the way of the world.
Maybe I was.
Without another word, without a single farewell glance, Jacob turned around and walked out the my apartment.
He slammed the door behind him.
"In the end, though, he only wanted you," Nessie whispered, her hands twisting over her legs.
I shook my head, gritting my teeth. "You're wrong."
She turned to look at me, her eyebrows raised as if I was being foolish.
Missing the obvious.
"He didn't come here for Charlie, Bella."
I sighed, my heart beating uncomfortably. "I know."
There was silence for a moment before she asked, "Do you still love him?"
"It's all right if you do," she said quickly, as if to reassure me. There was pain in her eyes, but there was also resolve. "Jacob and I…I don't know if we ever really loved each other."
I felt my stomach drop.
"Please don't say that to me," I begged reflexively, feeling a heaviness in my throat.
"I know what I felt, Bella, and that was love," she said, shaking her head. "But I've had a lot of time to think about this. And I think that Jacob married me so quickly because he didn't just want to be a clichéd scumbag, he wanted it all to mean something. And I…I wanted to skip over the time it would take to make real love possible."
There was some echo in her words that called Edward's face to my mind once more.
My own wedding, or his.
He always said he loved me and I had never understood it. How it had happened so quickly, how he was ever so sure. I used to think it was because he was foolish, until Colorado, when I began to think it was because he was selfless and kind and his love was true.
He had spent years trying to convince me that it was and I had only just started to believe him.
I had never considered the reality of what Nessie was handing to me now, open-faced and sad-eyed. How he idealized me had always been clear, but what if that's all there ever was? What if he had loved me just because he was impatient? Because he had his ideal and I somehow fit? Because he was stubborn and loyal and hopelessly, painfully romantic?
When I had married him, his reasons hadn't mattered to me.
Now they seemed like they were the only things that mattered in the entire world.
What if our marriage had been only proof of what he felt, not to me, but to himself?
And what did it mean now? Now when he wanted a divorce?
This doesn't have to be the end.
Could I really believe that?
Could I ever truly earn his love?
His real love?
I was just like Jacob, marrying someone so I wouldn't be a cliche.
I was just like Nessie, holding onto an ideal of love so tightly that I never learned what it could actually be.
I was just like Edward, breaking and fighting and longing for something just out of reach.
Had it ever existed?
Had I ever loved Jacob?
Had Edward ever loved me?
"It's all right if you don't love him, too," Nessie said softly, her voice wavering slightly at my silence.
I turned my attention back to her slowly.
My mind weighed on every implication of what that would mean for her, if I no longer loved Jacob.
If I never had.
What it would mean for me.
For my entire life.
Then everything I had ever done, everything I had ever believed about love, everything I had fought for and every life destroyed, was all for nothing. Nessie and her children, his children, made to suffer without reason. No consolation of noble love or fate to hold her together.
And if I did want Jacob? Was that worse?
Then everything Edward and I had been through, every change and moment of clarity in Colorado, had no meaning.
Silence descended on us for a long moment as we sat, side by side and soaking wet, on the porch of my childhood home. We were quiet, a shelter, almost close enough that our arms would touch as we watched the storm rage all around us.
The rain was heavy in waves and bolts of light illuminated our faces for brief seconds. We sat, without words, and understood slowly what had happened in this moment where we had spoken. We had faced guilt and innocence, our own and each other's, and found a place of peace.
Over four years and this was the moment when I could finally let Renesmee Black go.
There were still miles left to walk, there was still so much unresolved. Jacob lingering throughout this town, my father waiting in a hospital bed, my mother looming in the distance. And that protective, stupid, beautiful man hidden away from the storm, inside my house.
Slowly, I pushed myself to my feet.
My clothes were clinging to every inch of my body, I felt naked as I smiled so gently at the woman who was looking up at me with wide eyes. She seemed to helpless in that moment, in every moment I had ever met her.
She had never been a dragon.
Never an enemy.
Only a fool, same as me.
I held my hand out to her, watching her reaction as she took in the gesture.
She seemed surprised, shocked even, but not afraid.
After only a moment, she placed her delicate cold hand in mine and allowed me to pull her to her feet.
"Thank you for coming here," I whispered, finally breaking the silence.
Nessie swallowed and nodded lightly, faintly. "You don't have to thank me."
I squeezed her hand briefly, before releasing her.
I watched as her hand dropped back to her side, fingers flexing against her thigh slightly.
"Take care of yourself, Bella," she said, understanding that this was the end.
Her eyes glanced briefly towards the front door of the house and I got a sudden feeling that she had meant to say something else. As I looked at her face, at her teeth worrying her bottom lip, I wondered if she had wanted to say goodbye to Edward. Or to say other things to Edward.
I still didn't want her in there.
I felt nothing of anger or hate or resentment anymore. I was no longer afraid of her, of her influence. I knew now that we were the same. Everything I was used to feeling, every emotion called to mind by her name, everything dark and desperate within me, was gone.
But I still didn't want her near him.
She looked like she understood. "Goodbye."
And as I watched her step off that porch and into the wall of rain pouring down, I knew that I would never see that woman again.
My eyes followed her form as she walked away, until everything was grey and she had disappeared into the stormy afternoon.
I didn't wonder where she was going.
The moment I was alone, I turned to open the front door of the house, my hand sliding and slipping on the handle. I was soaking wet, dripping onto the wood and carpet as I stepped inside, but I didn't care. I didn't look for anything to dry myself. Instead, I walked straight into the kitchen where there was a light burning.
My eyes were met with the sight of Edward, pacing with hands shoved into wet pockets, leaving a trail of water on the tiled floor, hair dripping and in lovely disarray. His entire body was tense with worry, his face marred with a scowl. I hesitated for a moment as I watched him, feeling everything within me soften.
He must have heard me, or seen me out of the corner of his eye, because he suddenly halted.
His gaze snapped up to meet mine.
I couldn't read his face, as blank and motionless as the rest of his body. The tension, the scowl, the agitated pacing of a caged lion, all disappeared when he turned to stone at the sight of me.
I offered him a small smile.
"She's gone," I told him quietly, then.
My left hand lifted to rub at my right forearm nervously, unconsciously.
He took a step towards me, his expression still carefully controlled. It was almost as if he wasn't sure which emotion he was meant to feel: concern or anger. Would he need to comfort me? Pick up some of the shattered pieces Nessie had left behind her? Or would he have to out into the storm and yell at her himself? Chase her into the torrent?
He looked like he was waiting for some cue from me.
"Are you alright?" he asked finally, his voice neutral.
I swallowed and gave him one firm nod. "Yes."
I saw him breathe out slowly, some of the tension draining from his body and he took another step towards me. His brow was furrowed now. "What did she want?"
"The same thing I want," I shrugged.
I watched, surprised, as Edward's face drained of color.
Pale and tight-lipped I saw his brow smooth and his hands clench down by his sides.
I realized almost immediately what was wrong.
He thinks I'm talking about wanting Jacob.
I took three steps forward, so that Edward and I were standing only inches apart. Slowly, so he could see what I was doing, giving him a chance to move, I placed my hand lightly on his cheek.
He flinched slightly, but didn't pull away.
He wasn't breathing.
"She wanted to make things right with me. And I with her," I told him, my voice little more than a whisper. My thumb pressed and stroked his jaw, urging him to believe me through the expression of incredulity I saw cross his features.
"You forgave her," he breathed, his eyes wide.
I nodded. "And asked for her forgiveness."
Edward was silent, staring at me like he had never seen me before.
"This place, Edward. Being here in Forks, being here now…it's strange," I told him, attempting to explain. "It makes me feel like a completely different person, and the same person I've always been. Like maybe I don't have to lose everything I was to start over." I paused. Then, quietly, and with significance: "Every second chance I'm given here, I'm going to take."
Edward still said nothing, but I saw his lips part infinitesimally.
A look in his eyes that made me so warm, I couldn't feel my freezing, wet clothes anymore.
"Come on," I said at last, my hand dropping from his face and running down his arm to grip his hand. "I want to go see my dad."