It takes us fourteen minutes to find Alice. She is standing in front of a window front, admiring something, and then she moves to take off like a bat out of hell when she sees me and Emmett running at her.
"Alice, please," I shout, but she keeps running and says nothing.
"It's different! It's not what you think," Emmett tries.
But she runs on and we keep running after her.
"Alice, it's life or death. I swear. Life or death," Emmett shouts and Alice stops dead in her tracks.
"Oh my god! Thank you," I blurt out and Alice looks past us and rummages through her purse, then pulls out a cell phone.
People look at her strangely as they pass by, then she puts the phone to her ear.
"What do you want?" she says into the receiver. "This better be important. It better not be the same bullshit."
Emmett and I both stare at her and it takes me a second to figure out that she's using the phone as a decoy to speak to us openly.
"I knew it, Alice!" Emmett says in relief, "I knew you're a good girl—"
"Spit it out," she says.
"I think… we think… Edward is going to do something stupid and awful," I say, not able to really say the words.
Alice's jaw clenches and she glares up at the sky.
"I'm not responsible for the actions of anyone else. Free will," she says.
"Alice, he could—"
"The ramblings of a crazy girl won't stop him!" Alice practically shouts.
"Just— can you get someone to stop him? Can't you call the police? Or anything?" Emmett asks.
"No. I just can't do any of that."
"Call in an anonymous tip," I say, desperate now.
"Then he'll do it tomorrow. Look. I'm sorry. Really. That's horrible. But I won't babysit a suicidal stranger for the rest of my life."
"Alice. Please," I beg.
"Life ends. Maybe I'm jaded for obvious reasons, but you can't control any of this. The dead cannot interfere with the living. It isn't up to you. You guys… just… forget you ever saw me. I can't help you. I'm sorry," Alice says, but now she's almost whispering into the phone. "I've been down this road before. I can't help. Please go."
"You have to at least try, Alice. How could you live with yourself if—"
"Exactly! How could I live with myself if I tried and failed? I won't be involved. He's… got his own mind and just… no."
I wring my hands and fingers together and don't even know what else to say and Emmett shifts and his expression flinches then he asks Alice the time and she flashes her phone toward him.
"Only nine more minutes," he says and Alice shoves her phone back into her purse and says she's sorry again.
And I stand still and watch her go.
"Maybe it's just meant to be like this," I whisper to Emmett. And maybe, just maybe… that's okay. The thing is- I know it's not right to want this.
I know that.
But how could I not want him with me?
"We have eight minutes. And you're not giving up," Emmett says.
"Emmett. I can't stand there and watch him hurt himself—"
"You sit by and watch him miss you every day! Jesus, Bella--"
"Let's go," I huff and we run, we take off back toward the house and I know I should be running like his life depends on it.
But I don't.
Silently and selfishly, I'm imagining him touching me and talking to me. I'm thinking about how close this could be and most of me can't wait.
We tear in the house and Edward… simply isn't there.
Emmett barrels to the bedroom and into the bathroom while I stand in the kitchen and notice a half-eaten frozen pizza in the trash.
The bottom isn't burnt.
He took it out too early.
We're too late.
Or maybe just late enough.
"He isn't here," Emmett says, heading for the door.
"We're too late," I simply say.
"No," Emmett says, like he doesn't believe it and then speaks to himself in a rush. "Where the hell would he have gone to?"
I don't move an inch and I am kind of waiting for Edward to walk in and see me.
Then I hear Emmett bellow my name from outside, from in front of the house.
I move to go and I wonder if he'll look… very bad. His body, I mean. I wonder if he'll be right there and then I'm running out the door toward Emmett's shouting.
All I see is Emmett and Emmett is pointing down the street, all the way to the corner.
And Edward is there, very much alive and standing right there. Right where a tree used to be, before Emmett and his big, stupid Jeep took it out last year.
One year to the day.
"Go," Emmett says and when I don't move he tells me to go again. "Bella. Go to him."
"What else can I do?" I ask Emmett.
"Whatever you've been doing all year. Just be there."
I nod and I go to him. I walk slow, conscious of heel-toe-heel-toe-heel-toe, just hoping he'll do whatever it is he's going to do before I get there.
But he doesn't. In fact, he isn't even moving. Well, his lips are moving. And then he says my name.
"Bella. I don't know why I feel guilty about this," he says and I have no idea what he's talking about. He takes a deep breath and puts both of his hands on top of his head, then drops them, limp and heavy at his sides.
"It isn't getting any better," he breathes out. "It just isn't. I keep thinking that you're out there somewhere, waiting on me and sad and unsure… and Bella. Some days I'm so pissed off at you for always having doubts. Because maybe I needed you to be sure, too. I mean, did I fail? Are you out there somewhere, doubting still? I can't… just maybe I could sleep through the damn night if just once you would've shown some kind of… certainty."
He stops for a second and kind of kicks at the ground, then shakes his head and starts again, and I'm suddenly flooded with guilt.
More intense and more gripping than ever in my mortality… I feel for him.
"I'm in love with you," he says. "I'm always going to be in love with you. And you know what? I don't regret it. All that time, you were so fucking worried about the fall from this thing. From us. And you know… it did fall. We fell. It all went so fucking wrong. And it was still the best thing that will ever happen to me, despite the nightmare that is now. And I hope, more than anything, I hope that somewhere, you feel the same way."
"I do," I whisper in reply.
We're apart now.
My greatest fear has come to fruition.
And still, I wouldn't trade the last four years of my life for anything—
Pain like this is worth love like that.
His face turns to the sky, and his eyes open and he stares at the rising sun and I don't know what he'll do next, but suddenly I want for him.
I need him to go to all the places we said we would. I need him to laugh with his whole body, like he used to. I need him to go to ball games and eat burned pizza and drink Bombay and sleep through the night and put that brilliant mind to good work— and so I'm letting him go.
Because what's between us is so strong. So strong I still have it in me, even though I don't even have a body. So strong that even though he can't see me or hear me, he still knows my thoughts.
So strong that it can't possibly ever really be over.
I knew it then in that instant.
I can let him go because we can't be broken.
He— we— would find a way. Always.
"But I gotta go, baby," he whispers. "I can't stay anymore. I can't live our life without you. I don't know what I'm doing. Maybe London? I don't know. But I know I'll have you again someday. In the meantime, that'll have to be enough," he shrugs, and then he tosses something on the ground with a light thud and a crinkle.
It's a smooshed chocolate cupcake wrapped in cellophane.
"There's your last promise, Bella," he says. "I'll find a way. Always."
"I know," I say, soft and sure and we stand there, quiet together until he kind of kicks the cupcake and his mouth turns up at one corner, no doubt remembering the very first promise cupcake.
Then Edward turns to go, scratching at the back of his neck and closing his dark-circled eyes.
"She knows," a voice says, and Edward kind of jumps at the sound of a voice and I turn to see Alice standing there.
She looks at me briefly, then turns her gaze back to Edward.
"She knows it," Alice repeats quietly and Edward opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again, and nods at Alice.
"Thank you, Alice," I whisper, but she's already walking away.
Edward pulls his keys from his back pocket and starts walking back toward our house. I stay at his side and one last time; I let myself pretend I'm really right there with him… and I know that the next time I see him, it won't be pretend.
He doesn't go back in the house; he simply gets in his car, but right before he shuts the door, he speaks.
"Bye, Bell," he whispers and the car starts.
"I'll see you later," I say and then, he's gone.
And I don't follow him.
I stand in that deserted driveway, a walk up to a life that doesn't exist for anyone anymore for a bit, and then finally Emmett reappears.
"Wanna get out of here?" he asks gently.
"Yeah. You said something about a better place?" I grin slowly.
"Come on, I'll show you how to use a crosswalk," Emmett says, and we head out to see about a better place.
I'm fine now.
That sounds bad, but I know you understand. I've taken up music again, aren't you proud? I was strumming some tune in a café here in Seattle, and do you remember when we joked about starting our own grunge band and how you wanted to stalk Chris Cornell? Anyway, there I was, singing out a nonsense poem you once howled at me while I was watching my Saints trounce the Giants (God, I was never so irritated with you as I was during Monday Night Football). So, for the first time in years, your words flowed from my mouth and I must've had some kind of smile on my face because I got several numbers scrawled on dollar tips that day.
So I came here to write you this one final letter.
Tomorrow, I go home to bury my Father. He wanted to be interred in the family mausoleum, so I'm going to drop off all of these letters to you after the service. I've been hanging on to them all these years, and the other day I just woke up and realized I didn't need them anymore. You were the one to hold on to tokens of our relationship, not me. But I can't bring myself to throw them out, and I figured it's more fitting that you be the one to hold onto them.
In many ways, I'm sad that I no longer feel that hopeless desperation. Sometimes I sit here chain-smoking (and I've switched from Reds, but dammit, I still hear your voice berating me in that caring but obnoxious tone, worrying for the state of my lungs and hollering shit you know nothing about like "squamous-cell carcinoma" and "metasteses") and I almost miss the loneliness, miss that empty shell that I was back home. Because that empty shell could only be filled by you, and you're no longer here. You poked a hole in me, and the stuff I shovel in to fill the emptiness just sort of spills out. Sometimes the hole gets clogged, but then I'll catch an 80s movie on TV and hear your hyena laugh, or I'll see a girl wearing flip-flops in the rain or I'll hear Stevie Nicks and it'll be like Dran-o, unclogging the hole and I'm emptying while filling with the warmth of these ghostly memories of Isabella.
So know that I've not forgotten you. I made a promise, and despite my current life, I'm keeping it.
I will always, always keep my promise.
Thank you for teaching me to not doubt that which is true.
Because our love was and is true, Bella.
I'll see you, one day. I love you.
Time isn't really a concept, anymore. So, I can't really imagine how much time it took him. I didn't keep up with him, that is- I didn't watch him anymore, so I can't say what he was up to during that time, either.
I didn't have to stick to his side. He'd made a promise to find a way— to always, somehow find a way to be together, forever- eventually.
He kept his promise.
* * * *