Forgiveness Comes with a Bow

Short Summary: Not everyone's Christmas is full of twinkling lights and blissful happiness, but sometimes the season does bring out the extraordinary kindness in people.

Rating: T

http://www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/~brokenholidayrecordcontest

Song for inspiration: I Miss You Most at Christmastime by Mariah Carey

Edward,

It's Christmastime again.

I remember as a child anxiously waiting for the day after Thanksgiving to arrive. My mother deemed that day as the official start of Christmas and I knew that once the turkey was disposed of and the leftovers were put up, Dad would head to the basement to drag out all the decorations. I'd watch him as he'd shove the boxes up the stairs, one by one, since he adamantly refused any help from us "girls". Come to think of it, I think the first time he had ever had any kind of help was the first year you spent Christmas with us. Remember how mad he got when mom told him he was too old to do it by himself and she insisted on asking you for help? She has never let him live that down. She still calls him "old man".

Now it's me that has to fetch the decorations, only it's from the attic rather than the basement. After much goading from Alice to decorate the house, I climbed the stairs a few days after Thanksgiving and located the stack of Rubbermaid totes. Luckily, she unexpectedly arrived with Jasper about the time I was coming down the stairs trying to balance a tote and hold on to the rail. He was my savior that day. You know how clumsy I can be. There would have been an inevitable trip to the hospital had they not come to my rescue that day. Alice yelled at me for even going up there in the first place. One would think I was an invalid.

Since I couldn't bear the thought of looking for a tree alone this year, Jasper graciously brought one along and set it up for me. Alice turned on Christmas music and danced around as we wound the lights and garland, their energy with joy and happiness, mine with tender memories of past seasons. For the first time in days, I had cracked a smile at their silliness and everything seemed slightly normal. Unfortunately, I dropped the ornament we had bought our first Christmas together. It seemed like it was in slow motion as I watched it fall to the cherry floor and shatter, the glass shards scattering in a million pieces across the planks. Needless to say, I had a total breakdown and the light and cheerful mood they had strived too hard to create was broken and lying on the floor alongside the ornament.

The decorations downtown are up. The city finally got some new lights since Emmett became mayor earlier this year. Rosalie, with the help of your sister, of course, has decided the whole downtown area needs a makeover. She has started a campaign to "Make Forks Beautiful". Everyone seems to be on board from what I hear.

Carlisle and Esme's anniversary party was a few weeks ago. The Cullen women outdid themselves again. The party was centered around a winter theme. Walls and tables were adorned in blue, silver and iridescent white fabrics. Hundreds of candles were lit to give the room a romantic ambiance. A beautiful black grand piano was centered in the middle of the room and the pianist was good, but he wasn't you. I put on my best smile for the happy couple. After all this time, they are still so in love. In any other situation, it would be so promising.

So here I am, two weeks before Christmas, writing you this letter. I was hoping it might put some of my anxieties at ease. Every toy store ad I see reminds me of shopping with you for the child we sponsored every year but at this moment, that money still sits in the bank. Every Christmas tree I see reminds me of the times we spent decorating ours. Every piece of mistletoe I see hanging from various spots throughout stores and people's homes reminds me of the one you would place right above the front door so that you could claim a kiss every time we walked over the threshold.

I don't know why Christmastime is so hard since I made it okay through the other holidays.

The patriotic holidays were celebrated with picnics and fireworks, but, honestly, I don't remember them at all. I was still numb and in a bit of a haze when Independence Day rolled around. It hadn't let up much by Labor Day.

Halloween came and went. The pain had eased up significantly, but I still couldn't even bring myself to turn on the porch light and give out candy.

Thanksgiving was my first major holiday to get through. It wasn't too bad. It could've been because I was cooking all day with your mother. We kept each other distracted.

My only logical solution as to why I'm having such a hard time right now is that Christmas is a season, not just a day. It starts the day after its holiday predecessor and lasts until the New Year. There's not just one day to get through. So it's not just one day of the pitiful looks to endure. It's not just one day of family avoiding topics that might set off the water works. It is days. It is weeks. And it is hard.

Most nights, I come home from work and sit in front of the fireplace with the TV on just so I have sound in the house. The quirky, cheesy Christmas movies are on every channel. It's hard to escape them. Thankfully, there are enough reruns of House Hunters on HGTV to keep me preoccupied when I am actually focused on the TV.

My mother will constantly call asking me to go Christmas shopping and, while I have humored her a few times, I have found that with the internet, you don't even have to leave the sofa to buy Christmas presents. Even better, I can just order gift cards and have them sent to people in the mail. No stores. No wrapping. It's all just a click away. It works out nicely for me considering it's hard for me to fully function these days. I think everyone will get mail order steaks this year.

I saw Angela at the grocery store last Saturday. I haven't seen her or Ben since I went to that first class and discovered that I did not want to go back there alone after watching one too many happy couples cooing over each other. Even though she tries to be as pleasant and nonchalant as she can for my sake, it's obvious that she wants to the give me the standard look of pity. One would think that I would be glad to be spared of at least one look of sympathy, but I'm not. I'd rather her go ahead and get it out in the open. Rip off the band-aid.

The same day, I saw Victoria Hunter at the gas station. She recognized me immediately and ran the other way. I so wish some people would redirect their compassion and empathy from me to her. I'm sure she needs it worse than I do. I've had my fill of it all.

I miss you, Edward. I miss your laugh. I miss your cocky little smile. I miss your voice whispering in my ear, making me want you at the most inopportune times. I miss your strong arms holding me at night. I miss your ability to make me laugh when I really want to slap you.

I can't wait to see that smile again and hear your beautiful laugh. I find myself entertaining wild ideas but have to stop and remind myself that it's not all about me any longer.

Instead, I focus on the good memories. Alice bought some scrapbooking supplies to preoccupy me so I've been slowly sifting through pictures. I found the set from our whirlwind visit to Vegas. Of course, those were tucked away but I picked out the best one and displayed it next to the professional picture Esme and Alice had insisted on us taking at the reception they threw together for us when we returned. Remember how upset they were that we eloped? I still giggle when I recall the look of shock on their faces. That was a priceless moment.

I'm having dinner tonight with your family. We do that at least once a week. I'm still very much involved in their lives as they are in mine. Sometimes I struggle with myself, trying to find a reason not to go, knowing that the piano that sits in the great room is just waiting, taunting me with its memories of your hands flying across the ivory keys with ease and grace. I shut my eyes when I'm in the room, hoping that if I listen close enough, I'll hear my lullaby. I'm always sadly disappointed when there is no sound but my own heartbeat in my ears.

I can only hope that my vivid dreams that I seem to have lately will never cease. They comfort me, console me and alleviate the heartache. I need to get myself together before I am forced to do so and that time is coming very, very soon. And when it does, I hope that I am faced with the same beautiful green eyes and wild red hair that I know so well.

Until we meet again…

Forever yours,

Bella

I tri-folded the ecru colored parchment paper, placed it in an envelope and scrawled his name across it. The chime of the grandfather clock across the room rang out, signaling that it was time for me to go if I wanted to make the routine stop on my way to the Cullen's.

I heaved myself off the sofa and tucked the envelope in my bag before I slid into my boots and walked out the door. I climbed in my newly acquired Volvo SUV that accommodated my upcoming needs and set out to my destination.

Twenty minutes later, after a quick stop to see Mrs. Cope in her little shop of fragrant creations, I parked along the curb of the desolate winding road and climbed out of my vehicle. I was almost sorry to be disturbing the unscathed thick blanket of snow that covered the ground.

Crossing in front of the car, I headed up the path, looking back to admire the tracks that I had made in the even layer, disturbing its peace and untouched beauty.

I looked around and saw the various poinsettias placed strategically around the field of stone, commemorating many other missed Christmastime companions. I wasn't the only one who was probably wallowing in my own sadness, but it certainly felt like it at times.

When I came upon the three foot, upright granite slab, I stopped about ten yards away. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, simply staring at the letters and numbers. A gust of wind brought me out of my reverie and I turned to walk the few feet to the bench I had occupied so many times in the past several months. It was my second home, a place where I could think and reflect, usually without any disturbance.

I heard the small purr of an engine pull up and most likely come to a stop behind my car. There was only one other person who seemed to be here anywhere near as much as me. I didn't turn to greet her with my eyes as I heard her footsteps in the snow. I simply stayed in my position waiting for her to come to me.

Almost as if she had the same pull that he had held for me, I felt her before I saw her. And when she sat down next her me, her tiny body molding into my side, we rested in silence, simply being each other's rock. We understood each other's pain and never tried to compare the two. Who's to say that losing one's twin isn't as bad as losing one's husband? If I would have been able to step away from my own grief long enough, I'm sure I would have been able to feel her's too.

"The trial starts after the New Year, you know."

Alice's voice was calm and serene, much different than what my vocal chords would have carried out had I spoken the same words. I was still a little bitter.

"I know," I replied simply.

"I guess it's good you'll be a little preoccupied. I guess we all will be. Maybe it's best if all of us aren't able to go. No one wants to relive those memories."

"You're probably right. I'd like to talk to his wife, though. I don't want her to think that I hold her responsible. I saw her out the other day and she ran the other way. It was like she was afraid I was going to scream at her."

"I think she's just having a hard time, Bella. Can you imagine how people treat her? Being the wife of the man who shot one of the town's most beloved pediatricians in cold blood during a convenience store robbery? They treat her like she has the plague, regardless of the fact that they had been living apart for three years and the divorce papers had been drafted already. Not to mention she has two children and no job. And no one will help her. No one will even give her a second glance."

"But you will."

The voice I heard caught me off guard and my body jerked around, knowing he wasn't standing there, but still, it sounded so real.

"Are you ok, Bella?" Alice's eyes were wide and her hand went directly to the enormous mound that was still growing hour by hour under my tent of a shirt.

"Yes, Alice. I'm fine. I just thought I heard something." Just then, the snow began to fall again, lightly floating through the crisp air. I closed my eyes and tilted my head toward the sky, letting the tiny flakes drift over me and settle on my coat. And I heard it again.

"You can help her, Bella. Forgive."

The sound of his voice, one that I spent hours trying to memorize by watching old home movies, was the greatest comfort that I had felt in months. I knew my head was messing with me and I couldn't imagine what Irina would say when I told her about this during our next session, but I reveled in the moment, content and happy with the possibility that he might be standing there next to me, just invisible to my eyes.

I knew what he, or my conscience, was telling me to do and in a split second decision, I decided to go with it. I just needed help.

"Alice, will you help me do something after dinner tonight?"

"Absolutely. You know I'll help you with whatever you need. What do you have in mind?"

I laid out my plan to her as tears formed in her eyes. She heartily agreed and planned on recruiting Jasper for help.

"Let's get you and that little guy to mom's so you can get warm and we can talk about it some more, ok?"

I nodded and she helped heave me up from the bench. After I took the letter out of my pocket, I placed it, along with the single red rose I had gotten from Mrs. Cope, in the small vase at the base of the headstone. I kissed my fingertips and touched his name before rising and walking back down the path to the cars and headed over to the Cullen's.

Several hours later, Alice, Jasper and I pulled up my car in front of a small, almost dilapidated house. In the sedan behind us, Rosalie, Emmett, Esme and Carlisle waited for my signal. I got out, waddled up the rickety steps and lightly knocked on the door. A face with shocking red hair and wide, piercing blue eyes appeared before me. I gave her a tentative smile as the tears formed and spilled down her face.

"Mrs. Cullen, what are you doing here?"

"Please, call me Bella. Is it ok if I call you Victoria, Mrs. Hunter?" She was momentarily stunned before she answered.

"Yes, of course. I'm sorry, please come in. You shouldn't be out in the cold." She stepped back so I could walk through.

"Before I do, I need you to know that I brought along my crew and they are coming in with me."

Her face fell and I could see the shame crossing her face.

"Of course. I know you wouldn't want to be here alone with me."

I tried to give my warmest smile and placed my hand on hers.

"You misunderstand. See, normally every year, Edward and I would sponsor a child that isn't fortunate enough to have a Christmas. This year, I hadn't planned on doing so, since…Well, I'm sure you understand why." She nodded solemnly.

"But then I was at the cemetery today and I heard him speak to me." Her eyebrows rose a tad and I could see the concern for my sanity cross her face.

"I'm not crazy, I promise. Anyway, it occurred to me that it was selfish for me to refrain from doing something that would make a child's Christmas dream come true simply because I was wallowing in my own self pity." Her mouth dropped open as realization crossed her face.

"I know you are having a hard time, Victoria. I would like to help you and your children with Christmas. Now we have two cars full of presents and decorations that I would like to present you with and even help you put out if you'll have us all in."

Tears streamed down her beautiful, but worn and tired, face. She nodded her agreement since her sobbing rendered her speechless. I waved my arm at the others and the Cullen army, minus one missing soldier, descended on the house with their arms full of Christmas ammunition.

The small tree was put up and decorated. Since Alice and Esme tackled it, it looked more like it belonged in a Bloomingdale's store than the tiny house, but nonetheless, it was beautiful and cheerful. Dozens of presents were placed under the tree and a few more were snuck in to Victoria's closet so they could be used for Santa's gifts.

The small pantry in the kitchen was busting at the seams by the time Emmett finished stocking it and the small living area was overcome with Christmas cheer. Amazingly enough, we managed to get all of this done without waking the boys, Alec and Aaron, who were asleep in the next room.

"The boys will think Santa came early. Just tell them the elves snuck in and had some fun," I laughed. My depression from earlier in the day was replaced with the joy of imagining their faces in the morning when they saw the tree and wrapped gifts.

"No," Victoria said. "I won't tell them that." She turned to face me and grasped my hands in hers. "I'll tell them an angel came."

I smiled through my tears and leaned over to hug her.

"You do that, because in all honesty, an angel sent me here."

The crew gathered up the garbage and Carlisle spoke quietly with Victoria. He was sending out his handy man after the holidays to take care of some necessary repairs to the house. He also made arrangements for her to come by in the next week about an opening they had in the cafeteria.

After everyone said their goodbyes and headed out the door, I took a moment to say the remaining things I had on my mind.

"Victoria, I know you in some way blame yourself for what happened back in June." She nodded and looked away.

"You are right. I feel like I have cheated you and taken away so much. I feel like if I hadn't pushed him to do better with his life, this wouldn't have happened. If we hadn't needed money for food and diapers, I would have never called him and he would have never been desperate enough to turn to robbery. If we hadn't…" Her tears came back and she ducked her head so I took my chance.

"I know about the guilt because I've been through it. So many times I have been angry with myself and asked 'what if I hadn't craved that ice cream?' But it was not our fault and you need to understand that I do not blame you at all. But I also understand that sometimes people need firm proof of forgiveness. I'm not really sure of any other way to make sure you completely believe me. So this," I gestured around the room, "is my forgiveness. For you and your family from me and my family." I reached in and hugged her one last time.

"It just came with a bow."