The Art of Breathing
Summary: Edward is a single father trying to protect his son from the past and a future that could shatter their lives. Car trouble on a stormy night brings them to a cabin in the woods and the doorstep of the enigmatic Bella.
Warning: This is rated M. It contains adult themes including sex and violence. Please note this includes the possibility of sexual assault. No dramatic situation in this story will be exploited for mere shock value, it will always be justified within the storyline. I encourage anyone who finds any of the above difficult or offensive to not read. There is no cutting or drug use. Thanks.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters that may appear in this story. Everything else is my original work. It may not be copied, reproduced or distributed in any format (internet, print, media) without my express written consent. Copyright midstormynight © 2009.
Thank you to Project Team Beta.
It was cold and raining like a bitch, sheeting the roads in black ice. There was a resounding drip coming from a crack in the windshield, pooling water on the dashboard.
I cursed myself inwardly. Asshole. Because, just like so many other things, it should have been fixed months ago. Eventually, the water would freeze, melt, warp the dashboard, soak through to the odometer and screw up all the gauges. That would lead to needing it fixed or buying a new car, whichever was cheaper, and neither were a possibility.
I crinkled out of my worn leather jacket, pulled off my ratty green v-neck and crammed it under the drip. I sighed, watching the damn drops bubble and cascade off the cheap acrylic blend. My moth-holed t-shirt would have been better, but there was no way I was giving it up now that I wouldn't have my sweater. I folded myself back into my leather, for the first time in four years resenting its lack of a lining.
I had the defroster on high. Its wheezing drone threatened to stall the car, but I refused to turn it off. We needed that sound; it lulled us in our unbalanced sense of security. The deafening silence between us had become too much. We hadn't spoken or touched in days. She stopped looking at me the second she heard me make the arrangements.
The day had quickly become our worst in weeks. Not because of the shit weather or the booming silence, but because this was going to happen.
She stayed in bed long after the alarm, burrowed under the quilt, a small hole for breathing, granting no other access to me or the outside world. She ignored my gentle prodding -- pulling the blinds, a cup of coffee on the nightstand, her clothes laid neatly on the chair across from the bed.
I gave her an extra hour then took the quilt away.
The violation sent her scurrying to the headboard, knees and arms skittering from the confines of a faded and frayed Sex Pistols tee, surrendering nothing but a piercing glare.
This was the woman I loved, the mother of my child, yet at that moment I couldn't help likening her movements to a cockroach caught in a flood of overhead light. She was a shadow of her former self; spawn of the parasite that savagely fed on us, favoring the sweet, leaving behind the bitter fragile shell that had become our life.
Our marriage was a skipping record, stuck in a jagged rut, unable to progress and too damaged to listen to. We were no longer capable of picking up the needle and dropping it on the next track. Too much had happened.
We spent the next five hours simply staring each other down, neither of us gaining ground. I welcomed the stalemate. It felt good just to have her see me, even if her eyes steeled with resentment.
Sometime around noon, she made the decision to silently dress. She peeled my tattered thrift store find from her body, baring her ample curves.
It had been eight months and the plush footprint of childbirth still clung to her gaunt, delicate features. Her hand unconsciously ghosted over one breast, leaving it flexing for sensation as she continued to the other. Spindly fingers scooped underneath its robust curve to palm the weight and her insomnious eyes briefly lidded to gauge its motherly fullness.
I marveled at her actions. The moment was pure, unabashed and so damned honest. Beautiful. I basked in what that simple tick in time could afford her – me – us… US.
All too soon her hand dropped from the breast, accentuating a flop back into its newfound sag. A volatile frown tugged at her lips as she eyed her once taut body's betrayal with disgust.
She quietly shimmied into her too-tight jeans, but not before allowing me to see her love for me deaden. I pushed it aside, not permitting myself to feel remorse -- This had to be done.
It was another two hours of wordless jockeying before she got in the car. The drive was thick with contempt and tension. She hated me for bringing her there, and I hated doing it, but we needed to deal with this.
I rationalized and justified a million times, and almost turned the car around just as many, but I didn't because we had to do this.
I stared past the peeling faux leather steering wheel to the temperature gauge, watching its slow ascent, knowing the car was on the brink of over-heating. It seemed strange in such cold weather, but the Volvo was old and tired, had a few rust spots, the crack in the windshield and was seemingly an inch away from the scrap yard.
We'd been parked curbside going on three hours. I was still convincing myself it was the right thing to do yet I couldn't look her in the eye. I certainly couldn't make her go. Hell, I didn't even want to go.
So we sat, windows fogged, listening to the endless whimper of the struggling defroster. I waited, we both did, enduring nails on a chalkboard as our hearts silently broke with every passing second. Soon the engine would overheat, forcing us out of the car and a step closer to maybe getting us through that damned door.
'Maybe.' I loathed that word. We'd banked our dreams on it, the epitome of hope, full of possibility. Except lately it had dealt the cruelest of uncertainties. 'Maybe' meant no guarantee, instability. It was fickle and had made us its bitch.
'Maybe' if we ignore it.
'Maybe' just once.
'Maybe' it's not so bad.
'Maybe' it will get better.
'Maybe' things will change.
'Maybe' we can forget.
'Maybe' we can pretend.
'Maybe' we don't need to think.
'Maybe' we don't need to feel.
'Maybe' we'll survive.
'Maybe' we won't.
'Maybe' HE won't.
That one word was at the crux of everything. Our world had fallen off axis, and somewhere along the line, I had allowed the loss of gravity to feel comfortable, the norm. No one had paid more of a price than him, our son… No more. He was suffocating under our 'maybes,' and that was not going to fucking continue.
With that smarting revelation, I made the final decision. She could hate, punch, stab me for all I cared we were doing this. She was doing this!
By the time he was released from the hospital this shit would be sorted out. No more ignoring. No more dismissing. No more excusing. Most of all, no more forgiving what could not, would not, be forgiven again.
I felt her suddenly tense as I removed the key from the ignition. She knew what was coming and refused to meet my eyes as I gently spoke.
"Baby, we need to do this now. We've put it off long enough. It's time."
I didn't wait for a response. I didn't want to hear one. It took every fiber of my being to force myself from the car and leave her sitting alone.
My heart pounded against my chest, its chaotic thump drowning out all other sound. I strode around to her door, already numb to the pelting rain. I was desperate for her to make the same decision.
A thin canvas of fog had crept up the passenger side window. I saw her, perhaps more clearly now through the hazy glass than I had in months. There was utter contempt, pain and sheer panic etched in her pale features. Even in profile, her once bountiful beauty brimmed with acidic despair.
I choked back the bile burning my throat and opened the door. I fought the urge to wrap her in my arms, whisper apologies and once more ignore reality. Instead, I held out a shaky hand for her to take.
She ignored it, fixating on the lyrical streaks of fog upon the cracked windshield. That's when I knew she would never get out. Her soul was limp, and I helped push it there.
A searing pain shot through my chest as I realized she was slipping away before my eyes. This had to happen now or not at all. I had to get her out of the car and through that door or we'd lose her for good. She'd retreat and never look back.
I knelt down, tentatively brushing her cheek with the back of my fingers, her head wilted into my caress, melting the barrier between us. She slowly shifted her entire body to fall into the security of my chest. Finally, she had found home again.
A cold sweat chased across my brow with the thought of what was to come. We had reconciled like this before. Too many times we'd come back from complete destruction, only to repeat the same mistakes. Not this time. I took a heavy breath and found my voice, "I love you. Always. Now walk through that door with me."
She flinched, pulling back. Her brow tightly knitted, pained eyes searching mine for the understanding that wasn't going to come. Instead, I offered her more encouragement. "For me… For Matthew—"
She let out a rabid shriek, "Don't you say his name!"
Her hand grasped hold of the open car door before I could register what she was doing. The door swung hard and fast toward me.
A searing pain sliced up the length of my spine and split wide behind my eyes. An explosion of dark spots threatened my vision. The crushing weight of the door knocked me senseless into the car frame before slackening. My stunned body crumpled onto the icy wet pavement.
I barely registered her sobs. "I'm sorry. Oh, God – I can't do this!"
The ground bowed and flexed beneath as I clawed to my hands and knees. I reached for her hand, pleading. I couldn't catch my breath. She was doing this. She was leaving him. Me. Us.
Her trembling hands smothered the gasping sobs as she shook her head. "I can't. Forgive me." She sidestepped me, running full-tilt into the dark sleeting rain.