I had been waiting for this moment for four long years. Now that it was here, forceful and indignant in its uncertainty, I felt more than unprepared. The ocean air was cool and the breeze was light, both of which had nothing to do with the goosebumps that were rising on my flesh.
On the sand, sitting next to Angela, I watched Edward's figure. His back was turned to me, the moonlight reflecting off his bronze hair and the wind blowing his jacket behind him. What is he thinking? I knew he was staring with unhindered concentration at the water, but I had no idea where his thoughts were focused.
"I really can't believe high school is over," Angela sighed, squeezing my forearm. "You're going to L.A., I'm off to Portland, and Edward …" Though she didn't complete her sentence, I knew what she was about to say. Edward's going to disappear. Gone forever, lost, sucked into the oblivion of indecision.
"It IS sort of romantic, though, when you think about it," Angela continued. "Traveling the world alone, no inhibitions, nothing to hold him back." She paused, and I could feel her eyes on me, though I dared not meet them. I couldn't risk her seeing the tears that were on the verge of brimming over. "Very Kerouac. Did he tell you where he'd be going first?"
"Chicago," I whispered. "He has some family there, I guess. He's going to look them up."
"That's nice." She paused. She rubbed my arm again, the friction helping against the cold. "This will be good for you too, Bella. You need the space. I know he's very important to you, and I know you're going to miss him. But you're about to start a whole new chapter of your life, too! And I promise you, it will be worth it."
I sighed in response. Angela was so right and so wrong about many things. It was true: I did need the space. Obsessing over Edward Cullen's every movement, every breath and word and eye blink and hair sweep had taken over my existence in quite an impossible way. It wasn't as if he were completely unaware of me—we were friends, close friends even, but never anything more. In seventh grade we had decided to "go out"—which basically equated to holding hands in the cafeteria and trading Valentine's Day cards, but nothing more. We'd never even kissed. We both eventually came to the conclusion that we were better off as friends, and it had always stayed that way. And Edward had gotten over me.
But I had never gotten over him.
Where Angela was wrong: yes, I was going to start a "new chapter" in my life—college, moving away from home … but could I really reconcile that any of it was really worth it? Worth losing him? And it wasn't just the physicality of him—his very presence—it was almost more than all of that put together. I was losing love. I had no doubt in my mind that I would never find love again, or at least nothing close to as significant as my love for Edward. When his Volvo finally turned the corner to his travels, leaving behind Forks, leaving me, he would be taking something with him. He would be taking every piece of my heart.
"Hey," said a voice. I looked up and it was him. His face was controlled, still, perfect. He very rarely betrayed any of his inner emotions. I was another case entirely. I was sure he could read absolutely everything I was thinking … and none of it was good. Just the sound of his voice was enough to send me spiraling over the edge. Somehow though, I managed to give him a muffled "Hey" back.
"Take a walk with me," he requested, gesturing over to a life guard tower a few yards away. I nodded my head and got up to stand, but not without Angela giving my palm a final squeeze. Stay strong, her grip told me. I smiled back weakly in response. We both knew that was impossible.
We stayed silent as we walked, the only sounds the soothing crash of ocean waves and our footsteps rustling the sand. Edward clenched his hands tightly before him, and even in the darkness I could see the stretch of skin over his knuckles turning white. Without really thinking, I took his palm in mine, smoothing away the tightness with a soft rubbing of my fingers.
He did not seemed bothered by this. Instead, he looked up at me, raising his eyebrows gratefully, and we continued our walk in silence.
Once we arrived at the tower Edward began climbing up the ladder, and so I followed closely behind him. He settled in, leaning his back against the wood tower. I moved in beside him, wrapping my arms around my knees as to better protect myself from the cold.
"Guess you're going to get a taste of what real beaches look like," he said, staring at the water. "California … never thought that that's where you'd be headed."
"Me neither," I agreed. "It'll be nice not to be cold all the time … I guess."
"Are you cold right now?" he asked. I shivered in response. "Here …" he said, and moved closer to me, linking his left arm around my shoulder and wrapping his right around my knees. I was in the perfect position to bury my face in his shoulder, but I resisted the urge. Regardless, the smell of him was everywhere: honey, peppermint, vodka, and a slight hint of cigarette smoke. Of course, we both also reeked of bonfire, but that was beside the point. His smell was so infinitely distinct, nothing else really registered.
"And you," I said, "you're traveling the world. You're going places, Cullen. I always knew that about you."
"Ha," he laughed half-heartedly. "Hardly. All I know is that I'm driving to Chicago. Nothing else is set in stone. I just made up some bullshit about travel so everyone would get off my back about not going to college."
He looked down at me then, meeting my eyes with a surprising sadness. "Except for you," he murmured. "You never gave me a hard time. All these years, Bella, you've always just accepted me, no matter what I put you through. I know I haven't been easy to be friends with, and yet … here you are. Still here. What am I going to do without you?"
I couldn't reply. What could I say? Oh, Edward, you'll surely move on, no doubt about it; find solace in the arms of a busty, plastic blonde who will distract you from any and all of your demons. While I move on in distance, but not in spirit. Sad, sad, pathetic little Bella.
"You'll be fine," I finally said. "You'll meet people … meet friends, and you'll have an amazing time out there, wherever you go." I hesitated for a moment, considering what I was about to say before I let myself say it.
"Remember, Edward," I whispered, "wherever you end up, no matter how far you go, I'll always be here for you."
He sighed and his arms wrapped tighter around me. The tears from my eyes were finally beginning to leak, and I fought against them no longer. So much we had shared: the best friend I'd ever had, and the only man I'd ever love, and now he was leaving. We both were.
"I know," he said, his warm breath against my hair. The tip of his nose nuzzled my forehead, sending a shock of electricity down my spine. Though we had been friends for years, we had never been physically close like this before. I relished the moment, sucking in deep breaths, as if I could forever memorize his scent.
"I know, that Bella," he continued. "I never deserved you. Not one bit of you. My only comfort now is that I know you'll find happiness out there. The big city … and my little Bella." He laughed loudly, a real laugh this time, vibrating against my chest. "I'm almost frightened for the masses in L.A., what with you in their midst. They'll be bowing at your feet in no time." He brushed a hand through my hair, bringing it to his face as if to smell it.
My head was spinning. I wondered where all of this was coming from. I knew Edward cared about me; hell, I knew he liked me, even, as I was the only person in school he had ever allowed himself to grow close to. Everyone else always kept their distance from the elusive, angst-ridden and dark Edward Cullen. I was the only person in Forks who had entered his house and lived to tell about it. I was the only person Edward chose to spend time with.
But this? All of this … was too much. What we had between us was always an unspoken thing. Neither of us had ever dared to offer our feelings into tangible sentences.
Edward shifted a bit beside me and pulled out a silver flask with a large letter "C" engraved in the middle. "Graduation present," he said, opening it and taking a large swig. "Wanna sip?"
"Edward, you know I don't drink."
"Bella, we just graduated high school. I'm traveling across the country tomorrow and you're leaving for Los Angeles. The least you can do is have a drink with me."
I sighed. "Fine. What is it?"
He grinned, my favorite crooked smile, and a devilish gleam was alight in his eyes. "Just vodka; nothing fancy. Enough to take the edge off of such a formidable occasion, though."
I lifted the flask to my lips slowly, my eyes locked on Edward's. His emerald eyes softened a bit, and the corners of his lips turned up slightly. "To our future," he whispered.
"To our future," I repeated, tipping my head back and taking a sip. The vodka was harsh and burned down my throat, but I welcomed it. It seemed to ease the lump of sadness that was already lodged in there, anyway.
"You leave tomorrow?" I said, taking one last sip before passing it back to him.
"Yeah. I figure it's time to finally visit my mother. And I've got that inheritance from my father waiting for me, which just went into effect when I turned eighteen." He scrunched his eyebrows, and his features hardened. "Lucky me.
"Anyway, my bags are already packed in the trunk of my car. I'm not taking much, really, so it didn't take long to fit everything in there. I wouldn't have come to this fucking bonfire in the first place, but I knew I had to say good-bye to you."
I averted my eyes, studying the patterns of the wood on the planks below us. "You could have said good-bye at the ceremony, Edward. I mean, I knew you were leaving. It's not a surprise."
His hand came out of nowhere, lifting my chin, forcing me to look him straight in the eyes. As usual, the shock of emerald always sent my head spinning, my resolve shifting.
"I would never do it like that, Bella. Never. I guess it's my fault that you don't realize how important you are to me. So let me tell it to you straight: you're the only friend I've ever had. You're the only person, outside of most of my family, that I've ever allowed myself to care about. And leaving you will be …. difficult, to say the least."
His hand dropped from my chin, and his head turned, facing the ocean again. "But I have to leave. It's important that I go. You understand, right?"
I nodded, my head spinning with all his declarations. Though I had always suspected as much, I never truly knew that Edward had felt that way about me. It wasn't romantic, of course, but it was enough. It would have been enough to give me hope through all my years of knowing him. Hope to try … and make him fall in love with me, too. But now it was too late. He was leaving, I was leaving, and what was between us would be left unfinished, unexplored.
"Yes, I understand."
I heard my name somewhere in the distance, and I lifted my head to see Angela calling and waving. "Oh, my ride. Angela is leaving, I think."
"Oh," he said. We both stood quickly. I stared at my best friend like she was an abomination. Now? We had to leave now? Did she had any idea what she was asking me to leave behind?
"I could give you a ride, if you want," he said. "I mean, I have nowhere else to go, and it's either stay here with you, or be on my way to Chicago …"
"I'll stay," I said very quickly. I pulled out my phone, texted Angela the new plans. After I saw her read my text, she looked at me with a huge grin and waved.
Everyone seemed to be leaving all at once, and I watched as the rest of my classmates dissipated into the night, the remnants of bonfire and smoke settling in their wake. Edward and I remained quiet as we watched the exit of our peers—voices calling out in drunken excitement, girlish laughter and the rumble of car engines starting.
Soon, we were alone, and more alone than we ever had been before. The ocean waves lapped in an almost haunting succession, and the half moon shone dimly against the ripples of water.
"Here," Edward said, thrusting the flask into my hands. "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."
A few moments later Edward was back at the top of the ladder, a huge bundle of blankets shielding his face. He threw them down in front of me, an accomplished grin wide on his face. "I just remembered I had these. Here: let me wrap you up."
Sitting beside me, Edward wrapped the blankets around the two of us. The new closeness was exhilarating; waves of his bronze hair swiped softly against my check; his long fingers curled around my waist, pulling me closer.
"That's better, right?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper. All I could do was nod in response. I was sure he could hear my thundering heartbeat, regardless of the crashing ocean waves or the subtle whip of wind. The cold also was no longer a distraction: between the blankets with Edward, the heat was everywhere, the heat was smoldering.
"I'm just not ready to leave yet, I guess," he murmured. "That's okay, right? You don't have to go home anytime soon?"
"No—I want to stay here. I promise."
"Good," he said. His hand appeared from under a tuck of blanket and began softly caressing the length of my jaw. Electric shots sparked wherever his fingers moved, as my heartbeat continued to hitch higher and higher with each stroke of skin. I wondered if it were possible to explode from mere physical contact.
Only in my less guarded moments had I ever let myself dare to imagine what being intimate with Edward would be like. I had never dated throughout high school, and he … well, he tried to hide all of his sexual excursions from me. Of course, I always managed to find out. Any girl who managed to make it with Edward Cullen wouldn't dare keep something like that a secret.
However, when I did imagine being close to Edward, it was always something reminiscent of what was happening now. Soft movements. Gentle touches. Whispered words.
My heart sped again as I realized how pressing time was, how quickly it would crush us with its impending momentum.
All we had was this moment. Right here. Right now. I was not going to let it go to waste. I had to put everything, all I had, out there, so he could see. Let him see me, see what we could be, together. Maybe, if he realized what he'd be leaving behind, I could convince him to stay. To come with me.
"Edward," I began with a shuddering intake of breath, "I think I haven't said everything I needed to say, either. Our friendship … being a part of your life … well, it's been the most important thing to me. Ever. I can't imagine not having you in my life. And to think of you, thousands of miles away, and no way of knowing where you're going …" My tears were falling steadily now, dripping over Edward's knuckles that were still touching my jaw and cascading down, down, down.
"Bella, my Bella," he whispered, pulling me into a tight hug. I buried my face in his chest, drenching his shirt with my tears. "You'll always be with me. I promise. I could never forget you, never let you go, my beautiful brown eyed angel. My savior. Did you know that I've often thought of you as that? I'm sorry I never told you, but I guess I was embarrassed. But you were, and you are the guiding light that has helped me survive these last four years." He paused.
"But you're moving on. And I have to move on, too. This moment, and all the time we spent together will be enough. Remembering you this way: hopeful, wide eyed, beautiful, is how I always want to think of you. How I will always carry you in my heart."
My mind was whirling with the intensity of his words. I couldn't hold back. If all we had was this moment, then it needed to really mean something. It needed to be what I would carry in my heart, forever. One last shot at fate.
I moved my head upwards, my nose brushing his chin. His eyes shifted, meeting mine, and it was as if we both knew: now or never.
He took the sides of my face in both of his palms and bent his mouth slowly, carefully, to gently meet mine. I trembled at the jolt of electricity the feel of his lips sent through me, how I felt it everywhere, in places I had barely considered before. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him closer, and with a shudder, he moved into me deeply, his mouth settling with perfect intensity against my own.
Our lips moved quickly, intently. I gripped his bottom lip between my teeth and sucked gently, yet with distinct resolve. He moaned and his arms were tighter around my body. His mouth moved, and his teeth and lips were everywhere: my chin, my jaw, my ears, my eyes.
We were both moaning, pulling each other as close together as possible, skin everywhere, hands everywhere. Only the ocean was witness to it—this, my moment, our moment—and its only response was the soothing, rhythmic lap of waves.
We kissed and cuddled and held each other as long as the night permitted. But somewhere in between, somehow, sleep won out. I fell asleep.
When I woke, Edward was no longer with me. He'd left his blankets, and a note, in his perfect, scrawling script:
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
When I left, I wanted to take the note with me, but I let the wind have it. And it did—it carried it away, my heart, gone, traveling somewhere, lost and buried inside of Edward's.