The Indies First Time Writer Challenge One-Shot Contest

Title: Sand and Water

Pen name: LikeToRead22

Primary Players: Bella/Edward

Rating: T

Word Count: 11,035

Disclaimer: None of this is mine.

To see other entries in the "The Indies First Time Writer Challenge" contest, please visit the C2:

http://www[dot]fanfiction[dot]net/community/The_Indies_First_Time_Writer_Challenge/74097/


All alone I didn't like the feeling
All alone I sat and cried
All alone I had to find some meaning
In the center of the pain I felt inside

All alone I came into this world
All alone I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water and a million years gone by

~Beth Nielsen Chapman


January – The Truth

I remember very vividly the first time I truly considered what it would feel like to die. You'd probably think it was sometime during the six or so months I spent falling in love with an immortal vampire who thirsted after my blood. Maybe you'd think it was when my vampire boyfriend's enemy tried to make mince meat out of me for fun. Or, maybe you would think it was when my vampire soul mate told me he didn't love me and left me alone and devastated in the woods. But you'd be wrong. The first time I truly thought about what it would feel like to die was the first time I saw my mother lying in her hospital bed just a few weeks from death. Her face was gaunt and pale. The elasticity was gone from her skin and her voice wasn't much more than a rasp. I wondered where she would go when she was no longer here. I wondered if I'd ever find her again. But mostly, I wondered if she was scared, because I would have been. This is the memory that has recently plagued my waking hours.

"Bella?" Hearing my name brought me out of my thoughts as I raised my head to see my doctor entering my exam room. I hated sitting in exam rooms. There were never windows and the only things to look at were cheesy posters and some gross pictures of the human body.

"It looks like you're recovering nicely from the procedure. How are you feeling?"

I told her I felt fine and wondered when she was going to get to the real reason I'd come in today.

"We've received the results of your labs." The look on her face and pause in her tone was enough to tell me that her news wasn't good.

"Dr. Silva, please just tell me what you've learned," I managed to squeak out without losing my composure.

"The cancer spread to your lymph nodes before we discovered it, and has spread to enough organs that it's unlikely we'll be able to remove or successfully treat it. We can talk through all of your options, but I will not be recommending chemotherapy." She paused. "I'm sorry, Bella."

Her words hung like dust in stagnant air. Cancer. Just like my mother's. Why had I ignored my regular exams? Why hadn't I taken the precautions recommended by so many of my mother's doctors? My fear had ensured my death.

"Bella, can I call anyone for you?" Dr. Silva's words cut through my mental fog.

"Ah, I'm not sure." I thought about Angela. She was my roommate. I briefly wondered if you were you supposed to call roommates when you learned you were about to die. I thought about Jake. But calling an ex-boyfriend living half-way across the country didn't seem appropriate either. Edward left me when I was 18. My mother, Renee, died of breast cancer when I was a senior in high school. My father, Charlie, was killed in the line of duty when I was 21. Now, at 24, I wondered who I was supposed to call. I realized this was something I had to face on my own. I'd always been a bit of a loner, and my friends didn't need to shoulder this burden. They had lives of their own. I could do this alone.

"No," I finally responded. I wondered briefly why I felt so calm. "I'm here on my own. Can you tell me how long it will be before I..." I couldn't quite get the words out of my mouth before I started to choke.

Dr. Silva reached out her hand and grasped my forearm. "Bella dear, we don't know anything for sure. But my best estimate is that you'll feel reasonably healthy for about six months to a year. After that, I can't promise what will happen. I'm sorry. But I promise you that I'll help you fight this thing. Stick with me Bella. Stick with me and fight."

I left Dr. Silva's office and wandered downtown Chicago. I watched people shopping on Michigan Avenue, laughing and joking without a care in the world. I wondered how many of these people had faced death. It seemed that I'd seen an awful lot of it in my short life. The memories seemed to be bubbling up more today than usual. And, for the first time in years, I let myself remember him. I didn't allow it often at first because it hurt too much and later it just made me sad. The memory that popped into my head was, not surprisingly, the first time we had ever really discussed his death and immortality.

"Do you like being immortal?"

Edward and I were laying on the grass in our meadow and the sun was shining, reflecting off of his beautiful skin. We started going there several times a week once school ended. I held his head in my lap and he gazed up at me lovingly.

"What makes you ask that question?" He had a cautious look in his eyes.

"I don't want to talk about my immortality; I know we agreed to table that for a while. But I've been thinking about what it would be like to know that you're going to live forever. I mean, you can't get sick and you certainly aren't going to die in a car accident."

I watched to gauge his reaction to my question. Edward often got touchy when I asked questions about his being a vampire. I could tell he was taking my question seriously because his body grew unnaturally still. He was thinking enough about his answer to forget his human mannerisms.

"I don't think immortality is something to like or dislike for me. It just is. It's where I am now. I struggle to stay happy with my life just like you do; I've just been dealt a different hand. I'm dealing with a different reality." His eyes bore into mine, and I could see he was trying hard to determine what might be going through my mind.

"Do you wish you had died with your parents?" This was one of the questions I really wanted to ask him, and I was so nervous that I felt as though my voice was barely audible.

His eyes looked sad, and he was quiet for a long time. He sighed before he started to speak again.

"I don't see how I can wish that since I don't know with certainty where they are or where I would have gone if I'd died. I mean, I believe in God and in heaven but you can't be sure about that, can you? And now I have you. Had I died so many years ago, I never would have known the joy that is loving you." His smile was quiet and shy, but I could see the lingering sadness behind his eyes.

"I love you too, Edward."

My memories of Edward didn't ever fade. He thought I would forget.

He was wrong.


February -Denial

"Bella! Hurry up, we're going to be late!"

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" The tone of my voice suggested I was in a hurry, but I walked down the steps at a pace sure to infuriate my impatient roommate. She stood at the bottom of the stairs in a stance one could only describe as very Angela. One hand on her hip, foot tapping in time to her impatience and with a glare only a mother could love painted across her face.

"No need to get your nose out of joint," I said. "The "L" runs every 3 minutes and it's not like the guys are going to leave if we're a few minutes late."

I tried to sound frustrated, but really I couldn't hold back my smile. I loved my roommate. We met our junior year of high school when I first moved to Forks, WA to live with Charlie. Seven years later we were still best friends, despite Angela's penchant for timeliness, tidiness, and setting me up on horrible blind dates.

It was Angela's usual practice to tell me I was too particular and too wedded to the idea of a fairytale life with my own personal prince charming. Maybe she was right. But she didn't understand that I'd found my prince charming and my fairytale life, and that it ended when he left me in the woods alone. Of course Angela knew about Edward. Everyone knew about Edward and the months of depression I endured after he left me. What no one understood was that Edward had taken a piece of my soul with him that day. How did you explain to people that your ex-boyfriend was a vampire and that you loved him so much that you wanted to end your human life to spend eternity with him? You didn't. You locked away the secrets and continued on. What Angela didn't and couldn't understand was that it wasn't that I was wedded to the idea of the fairytale life; it was that I couldn't settle when I knew what I was missing. But today I'd decided to make a change or two.

"Beeellllaaaa! Wooo Hooo! Look at you babe." Angela finally stopped being infuriated long enough to take in my outfit: short, tight, black skirt, a low cut red shirt that hugged my curves and a beautiful new pair of black pumps. If she knew how to whistle, I'm sure she would have. "Bella, it's not like you to dress for one of my set ups. What gives?"

"Well, there's a first time for everything, right? Besides, I have a good feeling about this guy, John."

"Matt." Angela rolled her eyes.

"Right, Matt. It's time I turned over a new leaf and you're right, Angela, I shouldn't sit at home every night acting like a – what do you always say? That I'm acting like a 65 year old woman with saggy boobs and a jumbled mind? I've decided to embrace my inner Bella." I chuckled at the memory of her admonishments.

"I'm proud of you, Bella. I know that it's been a tough few months for you with your surgery and the cancer scare. I'm just glad to see that you've been able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start fresh." Her words stung a bit but I pushed the guilt to the back of my mind. I didn't know why I couldn't tell Ang about my biopsy, but I couldn't. I had to handle this on my own. I quickly squashed those thoughts. It was time for me to enjoy my life.

"Okay, what are we waiting for, Ang? There are drinks to be had and men to be wooed!"

As we walked up to the "L" platform, a train going the other direction was pulling into the station, making it difficult to hear. I took advantage of the noise to avoid more conversation about the new me and instead looked around at the diverse group of people waiting for the train. I loved Chicago for just this reason. There were millions of people all going about their lives in this city. They came from different backgrounds and experiences. There was something here for everyone and always someone to learn from.

As I panned the crowd I noticed an older woman struggling with some shopping bags. Arthritis had clearly claimed her hips and walking seemed taxing. I left Angela for a moment to see if I could help just as the woman dropped her things on the ground and fruit began rolling across the filthy floor.

"Here, let me help you." The woman was startled but quickly smiled at my offer.

"Why thank you dear. You're so kind." I picked up the bag she had dropped and returned the few groceries that had strewn across the platform.

"It's not a problem at all. Can I help you carry these things on the train? I'm headed south to the Chicago stop, I'd be happy to help you that far."

"Thank you dear, but I'll be fine. You've got things to do; you don't need spend your time helping an old woman like me."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "I'm not in a hurry." How did I explain to this woman that I had no time at all and yet nothing really to do? I looked past her as another memory assaulted me.

"You're the most selfless person I've ever met, Bella." His eyes danced in admiration as he leaned over to pick up another box.

I shrugged. "Dad said Mrs. Winters doesn't have any family around to help her move. It must be scary to have to give up your house and move into the nursing home. She's probably never going to be able to live on her own again and she's all alone." I slid another box into my truck.

"Seems the least I can do is offer to help her move some of her stuff. She used to bring cookies over to my Dad's when I came to visit. She was alone then too, and she was nice." Edward stopped for a moment and reached down to cup my cheek in his hand. His eyes seemed to be searching for something in mine.

"See what I mean, Bella? You're selfless and amazing and you'll never be alone. Not as long as I'm alive." His hand ghosted over my arm as he brought his other hand up to my face where his thumb rubbed gently over my cheek.

"Dear? Are you Okay?" I was pulled back by the woman's voice. "I do appreciate your offer, but I'll manage just fine. Your friend over there seems ready to go." She pointed back to Angela, who was giving me a little wave.

I turned to leave just as the northbound train left the station and our train arrived. In that split second, I caught a glimpse of bronze hair blowing in the wind. By the time the trains had cleared, it was gone. He was gone. And he'd been wrong.

I was very much alone.

*****************

As I predicted, we were only five minutes late meeting the guys for our "date." As we walked in, Matt and Ben stood to greet us. Ben kissed Angela in greeting while Matt shook my hand and pulled out my chair. Ben and Angela had been dating off and on since high school. When Ang and I decided to go to University of Chicago, Ben stayed back in the NW and went to UW. But after we all graduated Ben decided to move out here so they could be together again. I figured they'd probably be engaged by the end of the year.

Matt was pretty cute. His dark hair was cropped close to his scalp, a sure sign that he felt insecure about his slightly receding hairline. His smile was easy and kind, but there was no spark in his eyes. His eyes weren't the ones I remembered in my dreams. But Angela was right, it was time for me to stop living in my dreams.

We settled in with small talk as we waited for our food. I learned that Matt graduated two years ago from U of I and was working in sales at a well known brokerage firm. Boring. The four of us enjoyed dinner and a few drinks. After dinner, we went to a club and danced a bit. Matt flirted and I flirted back. He was funny. He walked me home and kissed my cheek goodnight.

When Matt called the next day, I agreed to another date of dinner and dancing. After our second dance he let the hand resting on the small of my back slide lower to ghost down over my hip.

He leaned in then to whisper in my ear, "Is there somewhere quieter I could take you so we could get to know each other better?"

Did he really just use that line? He did. But this was the new Bella. I accepted his thinly veiled advance and we retired to his place for the night. He wasn't my prince charming, but my prince charming was gone. Matt could be my here and now.


March 2009 – Anger

"What do you want from me?" I was incredulous. "First you tell me, 'Go out, Bella. Live a little, Bella.' But then when I do, all I get from you is, 'What were you thinking, Bella? This isn't you, Bella. You're turning into a slut, Bella.'" I rolled my eyes and scrunched my nose as I mocked her voice.

Angela looked as if I'd slapped her. Clearly my impression of a snotty 7-year-old had been effective in delivering my mood.

"Bella, I have never called you a slut. All I did was ask why the sudden change. You have to admit that Matt isn't really your type. Yet, you've been 'dating' him for 5 weeks now and sleeping at his place more often than you sleep here. This just isn't you!"

"But I thought this is who you wanted me to be, Angela. 'Give up on your fairytales, Bella. Live in the present and not in your books, Bella.'" The snotty voice was getting easier the more I practiced. It felt good to be a snot. It felt good to yell. Who the hell did she think she was, continually pushing me at men only to get huffy when I actually started to date one?

"Bella," Angela's voice got softer and the fight seemed to leave her body entirely. "I'm just worried about you. You don't seem like yourself these days. Signing up for self-defense classes, sleeping with men you've just met. Heck, this is the first time we've ever really had a fight. What's going on?"

She gave me a pleading look as she paused. I had no plans to respond. When she realized that, she continued. "Did someone hurt you? If something is going on with you, you should tell me. Is this about the cancer scare you had a while back? I know that shook you, but at least you're going to be okay. Maybe you should talk to someone." Her words hung in the air and her eyes were begging.

Her words stung, and the guilt I felt for lying to my best friend bubbled up like bile in my throat. She didn't know and she wouldn't understand and she had the nerve to stand there happy and healthy with a wonderful boyfriend and judge me?

I had to leave.

"Ang, I'm not talking to you about this anymore. I have to go out." With that, I turned and left my best friend standing there with tears in her eyes.

*****************

I sat at the top of the hill looking down at the markers, remembrances of real lives lost through the passage of time and cruel twists of fate. The marker at my feet wasn't any different from the rest. It was newer than some and older than others. It wasn't even hers. Hers was thousands of miles away. She couldn't even manage to stay close enough to me in death for me to yell at her properly. I didn't bring flowers for her today. Today I was angry.

"How dare you?" I said it quietly through clenched teeth. "How dare you sentence me to your fate? It was your job to protect me, to love me and to teach me. Instead you left me. You left me, and now your parting gift, your cursed genes, robbed me of my life." I started to laugh then as I looked up through my tears at the sunshine reflecting off a silver cross at the top of a nearby hill. My choice of words was ironic. They were Edward's words. How perfect that I would think of Edward as I stood in a cemetery trying to come to grips with my own death. He always said he wouldn't rob me of my life. Little did he know I'd already been robbed. He was too late.

My control was slipping and my voice started to shake as it grew louder and stronger. The tears ran down my face. "I'm only 24 years old, Renee. You got to live to 38. That's fourteen more years than you gave me. You got to fall in love, get married and have a baby." I started to laugh again. She'd had a baby. "Why did you have a baby? You could have spared me this if you just hadn't had me. How dare you tease me with a life of my own? It would have been better if you'd never had me."

I felt like a petulant child yelling that life wasn't fair, but I couldn't help myself. I kicked some dirt on the stone and turned to walk down the hill. Halfway down, I turned and went back. I leaned over and carefully brushed away the dirt and grass. I apologized quietly to the person buried beneath the gravestone I used as a proxy for my mother's. As I looked up, I caught a glimpse of movement over the next hill. Once again, I thought I saw bronze hair blowing in the wind. But, it couldn't be. The sun was out and he'd been gone for years. I stood and walked back to the "L" and home to apologize to my roommate.


April 2009 – Bargaining

I returned from the gym just before dinner to find Angela standing in the kitchen staring at the fridge.

"What is all of this crap in the refrigerator? I mean really, Bella. There are enough fruits and vegetables in here to feed an entire farm. Asparagus, apples, beets, sprouts, and is that kale? Since when did you eat liverwort?" Angela was downright glaring at me now. I didn't respond.

"Nothing? You've got nothing to say? I don't know what's gotten into you lately. You sleep all the time, you look terrible, and you sleep around with boring men."

"Hey, wait just one minute. You set me up with him, you can't pin that on me." I had to interrupt. I couldn't let her blame me for the whole Matt debacle.

"Yes, Bella, I set you up for one date with a guy Ben said was nice. I didn't tell you to spend six weeks of your life humping him like nobody's business." She had me there. The humping part that preceded the bad, "it's me not you" conversation we'd had last week was definitely all my fault.

"Bella." She sighed and her shoulders slumped. "You have to talk to me. Why are you buying your weight in health food and spending all of your waking time either at the gym or hiding in your room? Why are you sleeping with guys you barely know? Why are we fighting all the time? Please, tell me what's going on." She looked so sad that I couldn't deny her any longer. I realized I was just about to have the first conversation about my illness with someone other than my doctor.

"You're right, Ang. We should talk. Can we sit? This isn't really a by-the-fridge conversation." I motioned to the living room.

We both walked into the living room. I immediately sat in the middle of the couch and Angela seemed a bit undecided. She eventually chose the chair that sat opposite so we were looking directly at each other across our beat up coffee table. All of a sudden, I felt the weight of the world crash down on my shoulders. Once I vocalized this, there would be no going back. I would no longer be nutty, best friend, Bella. I would be transformed instantly into dying Bella. For the first time, I was about to make this real.

"Ang, I wasn't entirely honest with you at the end of last year when I told you that things came out clean on my cancer scan." I looked up to meet her eyes to see if she saw yet where I was going with this. I watched as the realization dawned on her face.

"The doctor found some abnormal cells that were tested and found to be malignant." I felt like a recorded message spouting out the technical description of the end of my life. But I wouldn't get through it any other way. "They ran a bunch more tests." I waved my hands to show her it didn't really matter what the details were.

"The upshot is that they didn't catch it soon enough, and the cancer has spread through my entire body. There's nothing they can do. My doctor and I decided together to forgo the chemotherapy so I could live my last few months in peace instead of puking my guts out and losing my hair."

She was quiet, but her expression was filled with sympathy and pain.

"And the food in the fridge?" she asked cautiously.

"I don't know," I sighed. I guess I thought maybe if I ate a bit better and took good care of myself for once I could make this all go away. Or at least maybe I could eke out a few more weeks. Pretty stupid, eh?"

"How long do the doctors say you have?"

"Probably only a few more months now. They've been keeping me on a pretty good round of meds to keep me comfortable. I'm tired a lot of the time, but I don't feel too bad yet."

"Am I the first person you've told?"

"Yes," I admitted. Angela knew me well. She knew I was alone but also that it was out of choice and she respected that.

Angela moved from her chair to sit next to me on the couch. She pulled me to her and let me lay with my head in her lap.

"You know I'll take care of you, right?" It sounded more like a statement than a question.

"I don't want to be a burden, Ang."

"That's not an issue, and this isn't up for discussion." I sighed and was silently grateful for her friendship. We were quiet for a long time before she spoke again.

"Bella? I know we don't ever talk much about what happened in high school." I looked up at her to see where she might be going with this. She looked cautious.

"I mean, I don't know much about what happened with you and Edward other than the fact that he broke your heart, but I do know that he cared for you. Have you considered contacting him and telling him about this?"

My ears started to ring and my heart pounded in my chest. I was sure Angela could tell.

"Ang, I'm not even sure where I would start to look for him and I don't know what he'd say. He didn't want me then, why would that be different now?" I was amazed at how easily I could talk about this. For years just the sound of his name sent me into panic attacks. I guess facing down death changed my perspective on things.

"Okay, Bella, I won't push, but I know how close you guys were and I think that maybe he'd want to know."

Did he already know? I chuckled bitterly. For the first time in years I thought about Alice. She must know. Had she told Edward? It was probably better not to know. I was relieved that Ang dropped it, and I fell asleep as she held me.


May - Depression

The conversation with Angela was the straw the broke the camel's back; the drop of water that started the flood of emotion I could no longer restrain. I slid into a depression that consumed me. I slept, I ate, and I worked. I had to work because I needed my health insurance. But, beyond this I couldn't see the point. This world wasn't for me anymore. This world was for people with plans, dreams and a future. I had none of these things. My father would never walk me down the aisle, I'd never celebrate my thirtieth birthday and I'd never feel the loving arms of my vampire again. The world lost its color, and I lost my interest in the world. Thankfully, Angela respected my need for privacy and she gave me some space to grieve.


June – Acceptance

Angela came into my room and flipped on the light.

"Time to get up, Bella." She stood there with her hands on her hips and a look on her face that said, "Do Not Mess With Me."

I squinted against the harsh light and started to pull the covers up over my face.

"What do you want, Ang?"

"It's Saturday and it's beautiful outside. We're going for a bike ride along the lake, come on." She walked to the window and opened the blinds then went to my dresser and pulled shorts and a t-shirt out of a drawer and threw them at me.

"I know, I know, you're dying. I get that. But you're not dead yet, so get a move on. And bring a sweatshirt; it'll be cooler by the lake." She walked out of my room and shut the door.

When I walked outside, I realized Ang had taken both of our bikes for a spring tune up and they were waiting, clean and shiny for us to ride. She had a backpack on her back with water bottles and, I guessed, some lunch. Without a word, she handed me my own backpack, threw her leg over the bike and motioned me to follow as she took off down the street.

Chicago was a completely different city depending on the season. Most people knew Chicago was windy, snowy, and cold in the winter. What most people didn't think about was how beautiful it was in the summer. The park along the lake was always teeming with young people running, walking, and throwing Frisbees. We biked down to our favorite spot and spread out the small blanket Ang had put in my pack. We sat and watched the people go by. For the first time in months I almost felt normal.

"Thanks, Ang. I needed this." I looked at her and was rewarded with a smile.

"I've missed you, Bella. I told you I wouldn't treat you like you were dying. I think I'd like to add a condition to that deal. I won't treat you like you're dying if you don't act like you are." I nodded slowly.

"I've been bad, I know. I'm sorry. I feel like I've been on a roller coaster these last few months, and I know I haven't been myself. But I've been feeling better these last few days. I think maybe I'm turning a corner, like I'm starting to accept this now."

"I'm glad to hear that, Bella, and you shouldn't feel sorry." She paused as if wondering what to say next. "This is a lot for anyone to take on. I won't pretend to have any idea what you're feeling, but I am here to help if you need to talk about it." I considered her words. We were both quiet for a while as we finished our lunch.

As we biked back home, I realized that it was time for me to snap out of my funk and try to face these next months with a better attitude. Ang was right. If I spent all of my time acting like a dying woman then I might as well already be dead.

"Hey Bella!" Ang yelled at me from up ahead. "Let's stop and check out this new cafe. Ben says they've got their own bakery and they make great scones." I nodded in agreement and we rode onto the sidewalk and locked up our bikes before going inside.

I sat at a table with a built in chess board and started lining up the pieces while Ang got us something to drink. Two friends sitting in a coffee shop laughing and playing chess on a Saturday afternoon. This was good. This was normal.

"Bella?" After finishing her coffee, Angela broke the silence. "I have something else I want to talk to you about."

"Yeah? What is it?"

"I got a call the other day from an old friend of yours." My skin broke out in goose bumps as I looked over to her. Suddenly this whole day started to feel orchestrated. A casual call from a friend didn't warrant a bike ride and an intervention. She would have mentioned a call from a "casual" friend back at the apartment.

"Who, Angela?" She looked at me with a mixture of fear, love, apprehension and happiness in her eyes. She knew I was on to her.

"Edward Cullen." My stomach flipped and I felt the color drain from my face.

"What did he want? How did he even get your number?"

"He called my parents. Look, that isn't the point. He was calling me to try to find you. He said he found out what happened to your parents and he wanted to get in touch with you to see how you were doing."

Hah! Did she really believe the timing of his call was a coincidence? Yeah, she probably did. She didn't know about Alice. I looked at her carefully and she suddenly looked down into her lap, focusing on her nail polish.

"You told him, didn't you?" I realized it wasn't fair to blame her for telling Edward something he clearly already knew, but I was angry that they were doing an end run around me.

"I just don't think you should be going through this alone."

"I'm not alone," I almost shrieked. "I have you and Ben."

"It's not the same, Bella, and you know it. You deserve a little happy." I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand at the same time I noticed Angela was packing up her things. That's when it clicked. I started to look around frantically.

"He's here?" I seethed through my teeth. Angela met my eyes with an apologetic smile as she stood and took her empty coffee mug to the counter. She picked up her backpack and paused, putting her hand on my shoulder.

"Just talk to him, Bella." And with that, she walked out the door and was gone.

For just a second, I thought about running. Maybe I could get away before he realized it was time for his grand entrance. Who was I kidding? I noticed then the back room for overflow customers. He was standing in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb. He looked the same. His hair was unruly and it looked as though he'd been pulling on it all day. His white polo and khakis were neatly pressed. He looked like he was trying to make a good impression. This stood in stark contrast to my shorts and sweatshirt. His hands were in his pockets and his body language told me that he was nervous. Maybe he was afraid I'd make a break for the sunlight. He seemed to make up his mind about something and then pushed himself off the door and weaved his way through the tables to where I sat.

"Hello, Bella." His voice sent a shiver up my spine and I struggled to keep my hands from shaking. I put them in my lap and focused on keeping my eyes steady on his. "May I sit down?" His tone was almost formal as he looked for my acceptance.

"Yeah, sure." I waved my hand back and forth toward the chair Angela had just vacated.

"I'm not really sure I have much choice now, do I?"

He sat down keeping a comfortable distance between us. I'd never seen Edward looking so unsure of himself. He was always so confident. Right now he looked more 17 year old boy than 100 year old vampire.

"You always have a choice, Bella. I won't force you to talk to me."

The reality of what was happening started to sink in and I felt my palms getting sweaty. My heart was pounding and I hated that he knew it. I didn't want him to have that kind of control over me. On one hand, talking to him seemed perfectly natural as if I'd just seen him yesterday and on the other hand I felt like my world was crashing in. For months after he left I entertained fantasies about what it would be like to talk to him again. None of them felt like this. I reigned in my emotions and willed myself to look into his eyes. I was surprised when I saw only sadness there.

"Why now?" I asked.

"Do you really need to ask?"

"Alice?"

"Yeah."

"Has she been watching me all along?"

"No. I asked her not to."

"Mmmm." That was all I could muster. I felt tears pricking at my eyes. I wasn't sure yet how I felt about him being here and I wasn't willing to give him the upper hand by breaking down.

"Why did you go to Angela? Why didn't you just call me?"

"Would you have answered?"

"No, probably not."

"That's why I didn't call. To be honest, I've been watching you for a while now; from a distance, of course. But this last month you haven't been out of your apartment much, and I was worried you were getting worse." Ah, so I wasn't crazy. I had seen him.

"Why does it matter to you?" I started to feel the anger rising in my belly. I cut him off before he could respond. "What right do you have to follow me? You don't have a right to any part of my life. You gave up that right when you left me." I looked around to make sure no one was listening to us.

Edward was quiet and looking down at the floor. When he looked up at me there was an intensity in his eyes I'd never seen before. Edward had always been serious, a brooder, but he looked different now. The uncertainty had left his face and he looked determined.

"I know I've betrayed your trust and hurt you in ways I didn't think imaginable, Bella. But there are a lot of things I'd like to tell you now if you'll allow me." There was no denying the sincerity of his words and I found that I didn't have the energy to feel angry or to feel anything really. I just felt drained.

Edward looked at me expectantly and I nodded my approval.

"Where should I even start?" he seemed to be asking himself as he shook his head. I snapped.

"You mean Alice didn't tell you what you should say first? Didn't she tell you how this would all turn out?" My voice was unexpectedly biting. I found that as my time dwindled, my patience for beating around the bush did as well. I just wanted him to spit it out. I looked at him again and realized I'd never seen him look so scared. "Just start at the beginning," I offered.

"When I met you, Bella, my world was turned upside down. My life had purpose again. You asked me once whether I wished I had died with my parents. I held back in my answer to you. If someone had asked me that same question before I met you, I probably would have answered yes. I was lost. But then I met you and for the first time, I felt like I had a path. You showed me the way. You showed me that I could be happy and good." He ran his hands through his hair nervously.

"Then, within six months, you had two run-ins with death. Run-ins caused by my presence in your life."

"But Edward, you had nothing to do with Tyler's van." He put his hand up to stop me.

"First, I wasn't talking about that. I was talking about James and about Jasper's, well, the whole Jasper thing on your birthday. Second, I'm going to ask that you let me finish without interruption here. This is very difficult for me." He looked pleadingly at me and I found myself waving him on again.

"After your birthday, I started to realize just how horribly selfish I had been by bringing you into my life. I wanted you so badly and you gave your love so freely. I had convinced myself we could work it out. But, I was wrong. For goodness sakes, Bella, you weren't even safe in my own house." His voice started to rise as his frustration mounted. He paused and seemed to visibly calm himself before he continued. I realized that this was really hard for him.

"I laid there watching you sleep the night of your birthday, wondering what I should do. I saw three options. I could change you into a vampire; I could leave you human and try to keep you safe living amongst my kind; or I could leave and let you live a normal human life. I decided then that the best thing I could do for you was to leave."

"But, you didn't even…" He held up his hand abruptly to cut me off.

"Please, Bella. Please let me finish this. Then I promise I will let you speak your piece." He paused before continuing. "So, I considered the options. You were perfect and beautiful. How could I kill the one thing in the world I loved the most? Turning you was not an option. Jasper's outburst made me realize that keeping you safe from our kind wasn't nearly as simple as I thought. Even if I could keep you safe from my family, there would always be the potential threat of the Volturi finding out about your knowledge of us. I realized then I had to leave you, to keep you safe." He looked up at me and was quiet long enough that I felt like I'd been given permission to finally speak.

"So, let me get this straight…you left for me?" I couldn't help the incredulous tone that crept into my voice. "And you did this leaving – for me – without asking me if it was what I wanted? And you did it because you loved me?"

"Yes." He paused and seemed to shrug. "I know it sounds ridiculous now. But, the truth is that love and relationships were all so new to me then. I felt out of control and I was rash. That's not a justification, Bella. It's an explanation. I know I was wrong. But the point is that I still love you. I never stopped loving you. Not a day has gone by when I haven't pictured your face or listened to your laugh in my memory." His shoulders slumped and shook. I realized then that if he were able to cry, he would be sobbing.

In that moment it felt like my heart stopped and everything around me froze. I felt my eyes close. Edward's revelations were too much. With four simple words he'd shattered the reality I'd been living in for six years. He seemed to realize how difficult this was and he remained quiet while I struggled to get wrap my arms around what he'd said.

I worked to keep my voice steady as I opened my eyes again. "Okay, Edward, now you've told me why you left. Why did you come back?"

"I don't want you to be alone. Alice really hasn't been watching you and that was at my request. But she saw a vision of you, well, sick." I wondered briefly if she'd really seen me sick or just dead.

"She told me, and I started to look for you. That's when I realized what had happened to Renee and Charlie. I had to find you and see if you were okay. I figured that if I found you living a full life with a new love, I would quietly leave and let you go. But you weren't. You were sad and angry and alone. I couldn't let that go. I thought maybe I could provide you with some company in these next few months." He looked up at me expectantly. His eyebrows were raised in question and his mouth held half a smile.

"Edward, it's not going to be pretty. I'm still feeling pretty good now, but Dr. Silva says I've about run out of happy days."

"I figured as much." He looked back into my eyes with the intensity I'd seen when he first arrived. "But, I want to be here for you, Bella. Please let me help you." He was begging.

I sighed. I couldn't do this now. I'd hit my limit. I had to take a step back to process. "Okay, Edward. I've listened, but now I have to go home. You've dumped an awful lot on me today. To be honest, if I weren't so emotionally numb already I don't think I would have been able to sit here and hear you out. You've got to give me some time."

"I understand. I'd offer to walk you home but, well, the sun." He pointed toward the window and I thought I heard him mumble a sorry. He looked up and continued. "Listen, Bella. I know you need some time. Let me give you my cell number and you can call me if and when you'd like to see me again. I will respect your wishes and will not contact you again if you don't call me first."

I could see the pain and his eyes, which I presumed was caused by the idea of me not calling. I knew it was hard for him to leave the option of seeing each other again entirely up to me.

"Okay. That would be nice, Edward." We stood and he walked me to the door. I couldn't help but think about the ways that Edward seemed to have changed. The Edward I remembered never would have been able to give me the control over whether we spoke again and he wouldn't have been so honest about his sneaking around and going behind my back.

As I watched him punching his number into my phone, I briefly wondered if he would try to kiss me. No, Edward's gentlemanly habits were too ingrained for him to make a forward move without my obvious invitation. I was a bit relieved that I didn't have to worry about that kind of drama. Instead, after handing back my phone, Edward merely put his hand on my shoulder, running his thumb along my collarbone lightly. He looked almost as drained as I felt and I wondered how difficult it had been for him to admit all of this to me today.

His parting words were simple. He thanked me for listening and told me to take care of myself. He didn't ask for my number. The message was clear. It was up to me.

I knew I would call.


July – Hope

"Edward, what were you thinking?" I couldn't help but laugh as I watched Edward try to wrap his cold hands around three different tubs of ice cream that were melting all over my bedroom floor.

"You said you wanted ice cream, but you didn't feel like going out. So, I brought the ice cream to you." He looked up at me with an expression on his face that suggested what he'd said was the most logical thing in the world. I had to laugh at the simplicity of the sentiment. It might have worked if I hadn't been holed up in my un-air-conditioned apartment in Chicago in July.

I'd laughed more in the last three weeks since Edward had reappeared in my life than I'd laughed in years. It felt good. Maybe I should have punished him more for leaving me. Maybe I should have made him grovel and beg. But frankly, life's too short. Especially mine. Forgiveness took on an entirely different meaning once my doctor started telling me it was time to start blowing off my Mastercard bill. After two days of thinking and stewing over our conversation in the park, I called him to ask if I could take him to a movie. He was ecstatic.

Angela walked around our apartment looking like the cat that ate the canary; when she was in our apartment, that is. She seemed to be spending more time than usual at Ben's. I suspected she was giving us some space.

My energy had waned dramatically over the last three weeks. While at first Edward and I spent time exploring the city and doing all of the crazy touristy things, Edward spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out how to bring the city to me. I was spending more and more time in bed and, unfortunately, more and more time under the influence of various pain killers. This ice cream debacle was just the latest example of Edward's plan to keep me busy.

"Edward, that's more ice cream than I could ever possibly eat. Maybe you should take those tubs to the freezer and then dish out a bowl or two for me to try. That might work better than letting it drip all over my floor." My tone was steady, but my eyes were laughing. He looked hilarious standing there with ice cream melting all over his clothes.

"Maybe I should just put these in the sink and wipe my hands all over your face?" His tone was light and suggestive. I scoffed. That seemed to strengthen his resolve. Seconds later the ice cream was gone and Edward was crawling onto my bed, pinning me beneath his sticky, chocolaty, caramel covered hands. I squealed and squirmed, but it did no good. Suddenly he stopped and we both seemed to realize at the same time that he was hovering over me with my legs pinned and my hands held in his. Our faces were only inches apart. His eyes darkened and his face flashed a myriad of emotions.

"Kiss me, Edward," I said. "Please."

He leaned in carefully and took my bottom lip into his. My entire body relaxed as his lips slowly caressed mine. I felt tears streaming down my face and Edward must have too because he stopped abruptly.

"Bella, what's wrong?" His hand let go of mine and brushed the hair off of my face. "What have I done?" I almost laughed as his sticky hands got caught in my hair.

"Nothing, Edward. Everything, Edward. I feel happy. I love you." His whole body relaxed and he smiled.

"I love you too, Bella. More than you could ever know."

My insides melted as he lowered his body down next to mine and held me in his arms. We laid there for hours just holding each other and whispering to one another. Edward tried once to get up to clean himself up, but I wouldn't let him. Eventually I fell asleep his in arms.

*****************

"What are you thinking about, Edward?" I rolled over to get a better look at him as he lay next to me on the bed. He was getting that stone look about him, which told me that he was deep in thought. It'd been four weeks since Edward had returned. I was almost completely confined to my bed now but he didn't seem to mind. We spent our time talking about the things we'd done in the past six years. I loved it every minute of it. Edward would get himself all riled up telling me of the places he'd visited when he traveled the world. He showed me pictures and brought the places alive in my mind. I felt like my missing piece had returned and I was constantly pushing away my fears of losing him again.

"I'm just wondering how you do it," he replied.

"Do what?"

"How you face all of this. Death. Are you afraid?" His face was questioning. He had no idea how I would answer this. Edward never ceased to amaze me. There were times when he seemed so sure of himself and other times when he seemed so naïve. I realized in this moment that while he might have the advantage of years, travel, education and, well, mind reading; Edward didn't have any experience with human struggles and fears. In this area, he was lost and now he seemed curious.

I thought about Edward's question. Was I afraid?

"Edward, I'm not going to lie to you. The last several years of my life haven't been a real piece of cake." He hung his head a bit when he realized that I was talking, in part, about him.

"I'm not saying that to make you feel guilty. But you have to realize that picking myself up off the floor after you left, and after Renee died, and after Charlie died; all of those experiences in one way or another prepared me for this.

"You're so much stronger than I am." He said quietly, as if he were ashamed.

"Edward, I'm glad you haven't had to be strong in this way. It's not something I'd wish on anyone. But, you shouldn't feel sorry for me. I'm ready to face this." He nodded and sighed. I could tell he was satisfied with my answers for now so I took the opportunity to change the subject.

"So, Edward, how is your family."

"They're good," he answered carefully.

"Have you talked with them since you've been here?"

"Yes," he said. "I've talked to Carlisle several times. I've been keeping him updated on your condition and the medications you've been taking. He says your doctors have been doing everything possible for you. He cares about you too, Bella." He added this last part sheepishly as if he were embarrassed for not trusting my doctors.

"Bella, along those lines, there's something I want to talk to you about. It's something that Carlisle mentioned, actually." He shifted on the bed so he could see me better.

"Our guess is that soon your doctors are going to want to put you in the hospital and keep you there. You're going to be in increasing amounts of pain and it's going to become more important that you're continuously monitored. I know you've become attached to Chicago and that Angela and Ben are here. But Carlisle has offered to create a bed for you at our home in New York where you could spend your last days. He has the tools and expertise to keep you comfortable and you wouldn't have to spend any time in a hospital. It's something to think about, anyway."

"What do you want, Edward?" To hear that Carlisle and his family would open their home to me was more comforting than I could have imagined, but I really wanted to hear what Edward wanted.

He looked at me, his eyes full of emotion. "I want to spend every minute of every day with you, Isabella Swan. I want to hold you and love you and do absolutely everything within my power to make you smile in the coming months."

"How does the rest of your family feel about Carlisle's offer?" I had to admit that I wondered why Alice or the others hadn't called or come to visit. I thought we were close all those years ago and their unexpected and complete disappearance from my life still stung.

"Of course I've talked to Alice everyday as well. She and the rest of the family have been begging to come see you, but I have been telling them to stay away." Now he looked downright sheepish. "I'm sorry. Maybe you would have liked to see them. I should have asked but I haven't been willing to share you. We have such little time left." He said these words so quietly I almost didn't catch them. His shoulders hunched again in the way I now knew meant he was trying to cry.

I reached my hands out to his to comfort him. "Please don't, Edward. I don't want to waste our time together being sad." He looked up at me searching my eyes for something he couldn't find.

"But, I just got you back. How can you be so strong?" he whispered. I watched him carefully and wondered if now was the time to bring up the thoughts I'd been having. What was I waiting for?

"You could take me with you," I whispered back. For a split second he looked confused. As understanding started to dawn on his face I saw the multitude of emotions I expected start to take over. Anger. Fear. Love. Excitement. Guilt. Always the guilt.

"You can't mean…" His voice trailed off.

"We should at least talk about it, Edward." I thought about stopping here, but decided to just barrel through all of the things I'd been thinking. I wanted it all out on the table.

"I love you. You love me. And you have to admit that many of the arguments you made against changing me six years ago are moot. There is no human happily ever after for me now. There will be no human husband loving me or kids running around a Christmas tree, learning to ride bikes, and climbing trees in the suburbs. My human life is almost over. The question is whether we want to start a new life from this one. I've thought a lot about this. I am willing. You should think about it too."

I watched him carefully, wondering how he would react. We sat in silence for nearly five minutes as he sat there with his head in his hands not even looking at me. I'd never seen him at such a loss for words and I was beginning to fear that this had been a very bad idea.

"Edward," I whispered. "Please say something."

He looked up at me then and the anguish on his face was staggering. "Bella, you have to know that my most selfish dream has always been to have you standing beside me as my partner for eternity. But, how can I feel good about this when you'd be giving up everything while I gave up nothing? I didn't return to you to try to convince you to give up your life for me. Please know that wasn't my intention."

"Edward, stop. Please don't do this to yourself. There is nothing to feel guilty about here. This is why we need to discuss this. I don't think you returned because you wanted me to become a vampire. I don't."

My words seemed to calm him somewhat. His expression changed then and he seemed more in control, like he'd reached a decision.

"Bella, we should talk about this. And, you need to know that the fact that you're dying does not make this decision a no-brainer." Despite the seriousness of our conversation I had to snort. I never thought I would hear Edward Cullen say "no-brainer."

"I'm serious, Bella. This is your decision and you need to know what you're getting yourself into. If you decide you want this, I want you to understand completely what you've agreed to. Okay?"

"That seems fair. You know you've changed, Edward." He looked surprised.

"You have. You've matured. The old Edward would never have even agreed to have this conversation. The old Edward would have dismissed me because he thought he knew better. He never would have accepted that it was my decision. I like the new Edward."

He chuckled. "Only took a 110 years, I guess." He thought for a moment. "You've changed too, Bella. You're more confident and even more independent. I marvel at how you've handled all of the changes in your life."

"I didn't have much choice, Edward."

"No, I suppose not. Can I ask you another question?" I nodded. "Why were you asking about my family?"

"I was trying to get a sense for how they feel about me. You all left me so many years ago. You've told me why you left. I wasn't sure about them."

"You could have asked me," he said. "They left because I asked them to. They didn't like it and they thought I was making a mistake. They were right. But ultimately, they acquiesced." He looked at me then with a face full of guilt. "But, they didn't know that I lied to you. I never admitted to them that I told you I didn't love you. If I had told them that, they never would have let me leave."

So many mistakes. So much time lost. I wanted to get angry. I wanted to throw things. Little good it would do now. Instead, I just thanked Edward for being honest.

I watched him carefully as the emotion of our statements dragged him under. I knew he loved me. But I also knew it would take him time to work through the idea of changing me now. I found it amazing that he hadn't even seemed to consider it. Regardless, we needed to spend more time talking about this. I hoped we had the time.

"Stay here with me Edward. Please?" I'd asked him this every night for the last week and he'd never said no. I hoped that wouldn't change now.

"Where else am I gonna go?" He smiled and gently kissed my forehead as he lay down next to me and held me as I fell asleep.


August – Firsts

There are times in your life that you always remember. Your first day of school. Your first kiss. Your first love. The first time you drive a car. The first time you read a book on your own. All of these firsts flood my mind as my body regresses and I can no longer do anything on my own. The pain increases and my mobility decreases. Parts of me want to cry, scream and give up all at the same time. It's times like this when you learn who you really are. Strong, weak, scared, loving, kind. I believe our true nature is revealed when we have nothing else left.

Edward was the only thing that kept me going. After several discussions we decided I would go to his family's home in New York and Carlisle would oversee my care. Carlisle made arrangements to transfer my medical records to his practice and Edward made arrangements to move all of my important belongings to their home.

We'd also continued to discuss my becoming a vampire. Edward spent hours telling me about his life. He insisted this was my choice and that I needed to know everything so that my decision could be informed. He was very cute when he started talking about vampire habits in his serious "teacher" voice. I loved him more and more each day.

Angela and I spent a few nights together just talking and remembering before I left. I asked her to contact the people in Forks after I had passed and to tell them that I died happy and at peace. I told her that I had asked Edward not to have a service for me and she accepted my wishes. I also told her I would be cremated and not laid to rest in any particular place. With Charlie in Forks and Renee in Phoenix, I felt like a woman without a real home. I didn't tell her that I still hoped my real home would always be with Edward.

I awoke in a large bed in a beautiful room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the woods in upstate New York. Edward was sitting up beside me on the bed reading a book.

"Edward, do you ever leave?" I asked.

"No, I don't," he chuckled. "Why would I want to leave? I have the best view in the whole house." His smile was sad but it warmed my soul. His tone turned serious. "How are you feeling, love?"

"I'm tired," I said.

"You should be. That was a long trip for you. You must be hungry. Can you eat? You should try to eat some of this food Esme made for you."

I looked at him for a long time. My silence was his cue that our conversation was about to take a serious turn.

"I don't want to eat anymore, Edward. I don't want to hurt. I don't want to sleep. I don't want to need to breathe. I want to run again and I want to have to stay inside when it's sunny. Most importantly, I want to spend eternity with you. I love you and I'm ready, Edward. Are you?"

Edward carefully put his book on the nightstand and reached over to brush the hair out of my face. He looked beautiful. His face was calm with a slight smile that was a perfect mixture of content and sadness. In his eyes was a look of determination.

"Are you sure?" he asked quietly. His eyes probing mine for some sign of uncertainty. It wasn't there.

"Yes. I've never been more sure of anything in my life. You've brought happiness and hope back into my life. You make me whole. What do you want? Are you sure?"

"More than you could ever know. I love you more than my own life."

He took one more, long look into my eyes and gently kissed me. His lips moved to my jaw and he kissed his way down to my neck.


a/n: Thank you so much for reading! I hope you'll hit the little review button and tell me what you think.

HUGE thanks to Jennde and staceygirl aka jackbauer for helping me flesh out this idea; for providing much needed beta work; and for being so supportive. This story wouldn't have made it this far without their help. Any errors were added by me after they were finished.

And, a big thank you to the ladies sponsoring the Indies First Writers Challenge. It was a good nudge for me to actually put some of these ideas down on paper. So, go check out the other stories in the Indies First Time Writer Challenge and cast a vote!