"Bella?" I felt his lips on my cheek almost immediately following the sound of my name. It was unusual for him to wake me in the middle of the night and my eyes opened slowly to meet his. They were black.
"What's wrong?" A million scenarios ran through my head. Jacob was outside with news of Victoria. Charlie was hurt. He was leaving again. I then comprehended the soft strokes I felt on my wrist. Oh.
"Why don't you tell me?" He whispered it. He began to slowly pull my long sleeve up, but I grabbed his hand before he got very far. "Bella…"
"Please don't," I begged him. His eyes met mine and I realized that there wasn't much I could do to get out of this conversation.
"How did this happen, love?" He asked me calmly although I knew he knew the answer. Saying it out loud would just break is heart so I opted to plead the fifth. He seemed more hurt than angry at the fact that I was ignoring his questions. Keeping my injured wrist in one hand, he used the other to wipe a tear that I hadn't known had fallen from my cheek. "Please talk to me."
"I don't want to," my voice cracked.
"Why not?" His eyes penetrated mine.
"Because." It was the response of a six-year-old but it was all I could muster up. He didn't say anything, but instead continued to roll up my sleeve. If I hadn't been staring straight into his eyes, I would have missed the momentary shock that took over his normally calm features. He slowly bunched up the fabric to my shoulder, willing the scars to stop as he inched higher. They didn't. Before I realized what was happening, he took my other arm and repeated the process.
The first time I had done it, it was an accident. I was making dinner for Charlie and the knife slipped. I instantly felt guilty for bleeding – a habit that seemed unbreakable. Then the wound soon began to sting and I realized how much lighter this pain was compared to the constant ache in my chest. That night I had locked myself in the bathroom for hours, unable to drag the knife across my skin again. The next morning, however, the razor blade in the shower was calling my name. I help the sharp edge to my skin and heard his voice for the first time. Stop it Bella. I nearly slipped on the tile and bumped my head on the sink. I held the blade to my skin once more and smiled at how it sparkled when the light hit it just right. Slowly by surely I dragged it across my forearm, relishing in the hurt that I was in control of – that I had inflicted upon myself. His voice scolded me in my head with every drop of blood.
After that, it became easier and easier. Every night I would lock the bathroom door and mark myself with reminders that I was still alive. Every night I would hear his smooth voice yelling at me, begging me to stop. For Charlie. For Renee. For him. It surprised me that his voice never weakened like it had when I begun riding the motorcycle. It was clear as day every time. When I ran out of room on my forearms, I conceded to drag the blade across my upper arms as well as my thighs. I should have started on this flesh to begin with. It was easier to conceal – not that anyone ever noticed.
When we had returned from Italy, I promised myself two things. The first, I would stop intentionally hurting myself. The second, Edward could never find out that I had in the first place. The second promise was quite easy to keep. I simply wore long sleeves everyday – a perfectly normal thing to do when you lived in Forks, Washington. The first promise however was proving difficult. I was convinced that had Edward – and his intensified sense of smell that was particularly sensitive to blood – not been in the next room waiting for me every night, I would not have been able to stop.
And that brought me back to this moment. My secret had been revealed and Edward was waiting for an answer. His pained expression caused more tears to fall from my eyes. He didn't stop them this time, but instead leaned his forehead against mine.
"Bella. My sweet, sweet Bella," he whispered.
"I'm sorry," I managed to choke out.
"Tell me," he willed me to correct him – to prove his theory wrong. I wouldn't lie to him. "Bella… why would you do this to yourself?"
"You were gone." My voice cracked and I began to weep. He pulled me close to him and joined me with tearless sobs.
"No," he pleaded for it not to be true. "NO. Bella…"
"I'm sorry," I repeated. No amount of temporary relief these scars gave me was worth the shattered look on Edward's face right now.
"I'm sorry," he said back to me, unwilling to accept that I was at fault for my own stupid actions. "Please, Bella. Forgive me. I never meant… I never intended for you… Oh Bella…" He dropped his head to the crook of my neck and pressed his dry eyes against my skin as he continued to cry. I rolled down my sleeved and put my arms around him. He held me closer. After a few minutes he seemed to pull himself together. He twisted in my embrace and took one of my hands in his, rolling up my sleeves once again. Slowly and softy he pressed his lips over every bit of my raw flesh. I knew it couldn't have been easy for him with the blood so close to the surface of my skin, but he continued to plant kisses the entire way up my arm.
"Please, Bella… tell me this is it. Tell me there aren't more." I cast my eyes downward and he squeezed his shut in frustration. "Where else?" He whispered. I didn't answer and he took a deep breath in, allowing himself to smell where the blood had dried over my skin. Silently his hands moved to the top of my drawstring pajama pants. He began to tug them down and I lifted my backside up, making it easier for him to get them all the way off. I had never been this bare around him before and my breath quickened slightly. He looked deep into my eyes before allowing his gaze to move south towards my naked legs – somewhere he had never allowed himself to look before. His fingers softly rubbed my most recent wounds before ducking down and kissing them like he had the ones on my arms. The situation was surprisingly un-sexual considering how close his mouth was to my womanhood. He closed his eyes and brought himself to be at eye level with me.
"Edward…" I spoke softly.
"Is that it?"
"You promised me you wouldn't do anything reckless."
"For Charlie's sake," I reminded him.
"Does Charlie know?"
"No. And don't tell him." The words came out harsher than I intended them to, but I would not take them back. Charlie would not know about this. Edward didn't respond at first. He just continued to stare at the physical proof of what he now knew he had put me through during his absence.
"It's morbidly ironic," he said suddenly, his eyes dark eyes burning into my damaged skin.
"What is?" I breathed back, willing him to look at me.
"How easily you bled for me." What was I to say to that? "Promise me again, Bella. Promise me you won't do anything like this ever again."
"Do you mean it this time?" I didn't blame him for asking.
"I love you, Bella. So much. It kills me to know the pain I've caused you." His thumb was gently stroking the scars on my thigh. "I really feel as though you should tell your father."
"May I inform him of your new habit?"
"It's not new. I haven't done it since we got back from Italy."
"Because you no longer felt the urge?" He was hopeful, but I had a feeling he knew the real reason. My silence must have confirmed his theories. "Or was it because of our recently constant close proximity to each other and my uncanny ability to detect blood?"
"Both?" I offered him.
"Bella, my love," he whispered close to my ear. "I am going nowhere. I am here to stay."
"I want to believe you." My arms ached as I remembered.
"Then believe me. I am telling you the truth."
"Okay." I wrapped my arms around him, allowing his cool exterior to soothe the pain.
"You don't mean that."
"I trust you." At least I wanted to.
"Isabella Marie Swan, look me in the eye," he demanded. I reluctantly followed his orders.
"I love you too much to ever leave you again. For any reason. Not to mention I do value my sanity somewhat," he added lightly.
"I won't do it again," I promised. "These will heal and it'll be as though they never existed." I had said the words without realizing at first why they sounded so familiar. When I remembered, I only allowed myself to feel guilty for a split second. In a sick way, it actually felt kind of right explaining it to him that way. Using the same words he had used with me. It was only further proof that for us there was no such thing as forgetting. And as much as time can make the visible scars go away, there will always be that ache beneath the surface – a reminder of what happened, meant to be a part of us forever.
"You've changed, my beautiful girl," he said softly, holding me closer to him. "It's gift – and a curse I suppose, – a human's ability to change. No longer are you the innocent and naïve girl I left behind. You've grown up quite a bit – despite your one childish antic."
"I never wanted to grow up," I told him, bitterness dripping in my tone.
"And I long for the capability to grow old with you every day."
"Do you wish I was still innocent and naïve?" I asked him slowly, unsure of how much I wanted his true answer. He softly traced the scars on my arms as his soft voice spoke words I knew were genuine.
"Only of certain things."
"I never meant to hurt you," I told him truthfully.
"Nor I you," his voice was soft and heavy; it was full of regret. Regret for what though? For leaving or for coming back? Had he known that I was not hurt after jumping off the cliff, he would have never tried to end his existence. I would have never had to go to Italy to bring him back, and he could have gone on with his life according to his plan: staying away from me. For a moment I let myself question why he had even stayed back in the first place. "What's on your mind, love? I can almost see the nerve ends buzzing."
"I don't want you to feel like you're here out of obligation," I said softly.
"Bella. I hope you don't really think that," he sighed, resting his hand on my cheek.
"Sometimes I wonder," I admitted.
"Wonder no longer, my Bella. I am here to stay; not because I feel some magnetic pull to take care of you – though I do feel that – but because I loveyou and I want to be with you always. I hope you feel the same way about me."
"Of course I do. I want to be with you forever." My eyes closed and I leaned into his touch.
"Every single day of forever," he promised. "Now sleep, Bella, love. I'll always be here when you wake up."