Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended. Please, don't steal my stuff. It's not nice.

A/N: Grab some tissues... enough said. A Grand Canyon-sized thank you to loss4words for her help with BugWard's critter-licious vows. I'm just not that creative! ha ha SingleStrand, smexy4smarties, an littlevic are the best betas ever. That is all. ;)

Playlist selection: Crow and the Butterfly - by Shinedown

CHAPTER 9

Bella POV

Over the past few weeks, I have come to refer to that fateful graduation day as Hell. Not "the day from Hell", but simply Hell. So as of today, it's been exactly twenty three days since Hell. Like a recently sober addict, I count the days and minutes from that life-altering moment that changed everything I ever knew, but I know that I shouldn't. It makes me focus on that itch, that need, for my drug of choice that's no longer within my reach. One day at a time, they say.

But like an addict, my recovery is ongoing and some days are easier than others. Thankfully, today is one of those days.

On Edward's birthday, Angela manages to rescue me from my pity party and drags me out of the house for lunch at Applebee's and a quick run through Target for necessities. We have the music blaring some annoying pop song and the windows down, enjoying the warm rush of air as it blows through the car. Angela says she needs to stop by her mom's office to pick up something, so we head off toward downtown and pull into the parking garage. I don't really feel like going into the office building, so Ang says she'll be right back and heads toward the entrance door.

I'm snapping my bubble gum, listening to the radio, when I get a creepy chill down my spine. It's the same eerie feeling I had when Charlie's truck had the flat tire. I hear a deep growl and then notice a flash in the passenger door mirror. I whip my head around to see who's there.

No one.

I swing around in the other direction, looking for anyone who may be watching me. I only see a redheaded woman with a leather jacket walking into the entrance door at the other end of the garage. That's weird... it's the second of July...in Arizona. It's a bit hot for a leather jacket, isn't it?

"Ready to go?" Angela startles me as she opens the driver's side door and slides into the car.

"Yeah, uh, let's get outta here." I look around nervously, still trying to push away that unsettled feeling.

We arrive back at the house a little while later, and she helps me bring in my purchases from her trunk. A pink notice is stuck to the front door, and I glance at it quickly as we set the bags on the kitchen table.

Carrumba is squawking, wanting out of her cage. We've fallen into a routine lately, and it's past her afternoon jungle gym playtime. As I'm unlocking the cage door, Angela asks me about the pink notice.

"It says that someone must be present at the time of delivery. You have to call this number and tell them what time you'll be here." She points to a phone number at the bottom of the notice and places it on the kitchen table. She helps me unload the bags and then heads back home to prepare for her date with Ben later on.

As Carrumba is chowing down on her favorite - ham and cheese instant grits - for dinner, I make a call to the delivery company, confirming a time for them to arrive. I spend the rest of the evening just like the last twenty-two nights: soothing shower, comfortable pyjamas, and crying until I'm exhausted enough to finally fall asleep.

The next morning, my mom and I make a trip to the grocery store, needing ingredients for the annual neighborhood Fourth of July cookout tomorrow. With a lot of resistance from my parents and friends, I organized a small memorial service for the Masens before the cookout. They think that I should wait and hold a little ceremony next weekend or something. I disagree, feeling it will be the perfect date to do it, considering tomorrow would have been the day I married Edward - under our favorite gazebo in the park at the end of our street. Finally, they relented and Renee enlisted the help of Mrs. Weber, and together, they notified all of the people we invited to the wedding, informing them about the turn of events.

Now, instead of rows of white chairs, flowers, and a wedding cake, Pastor Weber will say a few prayers and then we will allow time for anyone who wants to share their favorite memories of the Masens to speak. I believe, deep in my heart, that Liz and Ed would appreciate the fact that people were celebrating their lives instead of mourning their deaths. They were always positive and happy people. Edward would have just been thrilled with the goddamn fireworks at the end of the day, hoping for a huge finale.

Renee has just left to go back to her house when the delivery man arrives. I sign for the parcel and bring it inside, eyeing the unusual packaging and warning labels reading "Live Specimen". What the fuck is this? I haul the box to the kitchen table and grab a knife from the utensil drawer. When I lift the lid off the box and read the instruction sheet on how to keep the three dozen creepy-crawlies in a temperate environment, I begin to get nervous. Please, God, don't let it be some man-eating tarantulas or mutant scorpions. As I peel the protective sheet from the creatures inside, I gasp loudly and collapse to the floor of the kitchen, clutching the Styrofoam lid tightly in my hands.

No. No, no, no.

Post-Hell day number twenty-four, I wake up in tears. I don't remember much of the dream I had, but it centered around Edward - as they usually do. He was running through a forest, being pelted by cold, heavy rain drops, and he was smiling. He was happy. Maybe it was a message sent from Heaven, reassuring me that he's at peace, that it's time to stop crying over losing him. I've been so wrapped up in my own despair and heartbreak, that I never considered whether he was content wherever he is. A part of me is crushed by the thought of Edward blissfully existing somewhere in the universe without me.

The more I think about this, the more I cry. My eyelids are swollen, and my head is stuffy and throbbing. I decide to take a hot shower, needing the steam to open my pores and flush out all my heartache. As I step out of the foggy bathroom, I hear my cell phone blaring from the bedroom. Renee asks if I can come help her this morning with preparing the food for the picnic later this afternoon. Getting dressed, I slip on a pair of Edward's gym shorts and a basketball jersey, knowing I'll change into something more appropriate for the memorial service from my old closet at my parents' house.

After the food is prepared and wrapped securely with foil or plastic wrap, Renee shoos me out of the kitchen to get dressed for the service. As I climb the stairs to my old room, I take a deep cleansing breath, knowing I need to corral my emotions today. I enter the bedroom and head straight to the closet, searching for the particular outfit I want to wear. The doorbell rings as I'm changing into a strapless bra. I peek out the curtain, noticing a small delivery van. Figuring it's someone for the cookout, I turn back to my closet and pull the white eyelet sundress over my head. I spend several moments styling my hair and putting on a small amount of makeup. I dig around my jewelry box, searching for the perfect accessories for my outfit, but when I glance down at the ring on my left hand, I decide that that is the perfect choice. It's from Edward. I also haven't taken off the infinity necklace since Angela clasped it around my neck. I know technically it's not, but I consider it a gift from Liz and Ed.

I glance up into my vanity mirror, giving myself a watery smile, knowing I'm wearing something that represents each of the Masens. With a shaky breath, I walk over to the window again and rest my forehead against the glass. I stare out toward the front yard, seeing nothing and everything at the same time. He was my whole life - my past, present, and future - but now he's gone forever. A heart-wrenching sob erupts from my chest as I realize there's not a single memory or a hope for the future that didn't involve Edward in some way.

My eyes focus on a florist delivery truck as it pulls against the curb to unload several bouquets of flowers. It triggers memories of getting in trouble for trampling through Liz's flowerbeds when we were seven years old, of the wrist corsage he gave me for homecoming last year, and the daisy he placed in my locker when I was mad at him for skipping school without me during our freshman year. More sentimental images begin to flood my brain: our visits to the botanical gardens, vampire plants, butterflies, and our first kiss.

So many memories.

The bedroom door creaks as it opens, and I realize I'm crumpled on the floor beneath my window. Tears are streaming like a lava flow, carrying away the remnants of my makeup with them. I wipe under my eyes as Renee peeks around my door.

"Bella, honey," she calls as she steps across the room and kneels beside me on the floor. "It's time to go. The service won't be very long, and then you can come right back home, okay?"

With my body feeling slightly numb, I barely register that I'm being lifted to my bed and my shoes are being slid onto my feet. I gaze blankly up at my mother's offered hand to stand and pull her into a tight hug.

I collapse against her shoulder, my voice, raspy and withered with emotion, "He's gone, Mom...they're all gone."

Renee keeps busy, setting up her dishes for the cookout on one of the picnic tables next to the gazebo. I place my small offering of potato chip cookies next to the other desserts and quickly step away before I break down again. Last night, I managed to ruin the first two batches that I made because I cried uncontrollably and couldn't focus on the measurements. I've made these damn cookies for years, and know the recipe by heart, but my head just couldn't pull it from my memory.

There are several women helping Renee with the food organization, and Mr. Samuels is manning the grill - as he does every year. I scurry away into the gazebo and notice as Charlie situates a few sympathy flower arrangements near the archways. The scent of the flowers reminds me of a funeral parlor, and my eyes immediately well with tears. Taking a deep, calming breath, I distract myself by arranging a collection of picture frames sitting on a covered card table next to the makeshift podium/stage area. It never occurred to me to have their family portrait blown up and displayed for the entire neighborhood to see instead of these four-by-six photos. But these were pictures of them living life - Ed and Edward fishing, Liz covered in dirt smudges and pointing her gardening spade at whoever was taking the picture. There's even one of Edward and me running through the sprinkler in his backyard when we were six years old. A tear escapes and begins its journey down my cheek, but I wipe it away quickly, not wanting to break down before the service.

Several of the families from the neighborhood start to arrive and gather around the gazebo, giving their condolences to my parents and me. I try so hard to keep it together, but each I'm so sorry for your loss and What a tragedy; they were a nice family just tears open my heart more and more.

Finally, Pastor Weber calls everyone's attention and thanks them for attending our impromptu memorial service. He gives a short, uplifting sermon and finishes with a prayer. He turns the floor over to anyone who wishes to share a favorite memory they have about the Masens. For a few moments, no one steps up to say anything, and I start to get nervous, thinking that scheduling this for today was a stupid idea.

Thankfully, Mrs. Doblesmith clears her throat and describes the first time she ever met Liz at the Garden Club. After her, a few more people stand up and reminisce with us about their connections. One gentleman had worked with Ed and my dad on the police force, another woman was a long-standing client at Liz's salon, and two sophomores mention that Edward was always nice to them at school.

After a dozen or so people took the stage and voiced their memories, Renee nods at Charlie and they pull me to join them them as they make their way toward the podium. Charlie clears his throat and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. He begins to read a letter to the Masens, written by him and Renee. It details their close friendship that can only be described as an extended family. Both of my parents take a turn reading the letter, retelling their favorite memories. In closing, Renee is clutching onto Charlie's shirt, sobbing quietly. Charlie actually sheds a rare tear; it cascades down his face as he hugs my mom and me tightly. There are several sniffles in the crowd, and once my dad releases me, I know it's my chance to say what I need to say.

I hand my parents each a Styrofoam box, and ask them not to open them until I tell them to. They nod and stand on either side of me, offering their silent support. I look out at all the friends and neighbors that have gathered to remember Liz, Ed, and Edward, and suddenly I'm not sure if I can go through with this. My eyes start to water and I glance down at the paper in my hands; the words are blurry, and a tear drop lands in the middle of the page, smearing some of the ink. I gaze back up and meet the eyes of Angela and Peter. Their glistening eyes and encouraging smiles push me through my anxiety, and I swallow the lump in my throat before I begin my speech.

"Uh, hi, everyone. Thanks for coming to the memorial service for the Masens." My voice is shaky and my chin quivers with every word. "Most of you wouldn't be here if you weren't friends with them, so then you probably know what today would have been had they not been taken away from us so soon." I looked around briefly, noticing several nods.

"Edward's and my wedding day." There were a few quiet gasps, and Renee began to rub her hand up and down my back, relaxing and encouraging me at the same time. I offer her a small, flimsy smile, and then I turn back to my audience. You need to do this, Bella, I tell myself.

"I found something written by Edward that I would like to share with you all. You would have heard it today, regardless if you were attending his memorial service or his wedding." Looking down at the wrinkled piece of paper in my hands, I remember reading his first attempts at writing his wedding vows. They were poetic and beautiful, and so not Edward. When I came across the last entry in his notebook, I knew this passage would have been what he recited to me today. I clear my throat again, and dive right into reading the words I have nearly memorized from reading constantly over the last two days.

"My Dearest Bella-Bug,

I'm not sure I have the words to express the feelings and emotions running through me right now. I am going to try my hardest to convey the depth of my love for you,

but always know, that there will never be the correct words for it. It's that immense. I am telling you in the only way I know how to express how much I love and adore you.

Bella... You and I started out as caterpillars, vulnerable and needing shelter from the outside world. Our mothers did their nesting side-by-side as we grew inside of them. Already, before we had met, we knew each other. We loved each other through our mother's love, in their friendship, their sisterhood.

In our infancy, Bella, we played together and grew quickly. Our skin stretched, our legs grew; we became awkward in our adolescence…and yet, we grew closer and closer. I pretended to be grossed out by girls, and you by boys, at some point. I was never grossed out by you. How can you be grossed out by your other half? By the person that makes you feel most complete in this world? It's always been you; we were meant for each other.

As our bodies grew and matured, our relationship began to change. We metamorphosed from an innocent friendship, into courtship, then into love. This is the next step in our life cycle, Bella-Bug, to forever change our lives, and to let our wings spread, and take flight! I am so honored and excited to have you at my side for this day and for the rest of our lives together. You are my butterfly, and your beauty, inside and out, brings me to my knees.

So, Isabella Marie Swan, I take you to be my wife from this time onward, to join with you and to share all that is to come, to be your faithful husband, to give and to receive, to speak and to listen, to inspire and to be inspired. From this day forward, you shall not walk alone. My heart will be your shelter and my arms will be your home. As I have given you my hand to hold, I give you my life to keep. This is my commitment to you - made in love, kept in faith, and cherished for eternity."

I take a deep, cleansing breath and chance a glance at my audience, noticing several people blotting their eyes. Renee sniffles next to me and tries to pull me into a hug, but I know that I will lose the weak grip on my emotions if I don't finish my speech. I shake my head at her quickly and continue on...

"My Dearest Edward,

When was it that we fell in love? When we were seventeen or fourteen, maybe ten? I don't know 'cause the truth is I can't picture a time that I wasn't in love with you. I always knew you were the one that could look into my eyes and see my soul. I would have never questioned your commitment to us, and I know there's nothing we wouldn't have been able to work through. And I would have accepted you as my husband and as my best friend above all others. It's a miracle to find the kind of peace and happiness that you had given me, and in honor of that miracle, I pledge before our family and friends to continue to love, cherish, and honor you forever.

I know you aren't here to place a ring on my finger, kiss my lips, or call me your wife today, but I know wherever you are, that you love me and are watching over me. I promise to live the rest of my life with the passion you would have, and to keep your memory alive through everything I do.

So, Edward Anthony Masen, from this day forward, I shall not walk alone. Your heart will always be my shelter and your arms will always be my home. As I have given you my heart to hold, I give you my life to keep. This is my commitment to you - made in love, kept in faith, and cherished for eternity. I will love you forever, until my last day."

As my voice cracks on the last phrase, I peer up to my audience again. Not one single dry eye in sight. Angela and Peter, Pastor and Mrs. Weber, Mr. and Mrs. Corbin, and even old, crotchety Mr. Patricks is wiping his eyes. Renee and Charlie have tears streaming down their faces. The brick wall containing my emotions is starting to crumble, so I push through with the final part of my declaration to Edward.

"There is a Native American saying that if you whisper your wish to a butterfly, and set it free, it will carry your wish to Heaven and it will be granted." I carefully lift the lid off the box of a dozen sleeping Monarch butterflies. Edward had ordered these to be set free for our wedding, but instead, in a fucked up twist of fate, I'm releasing them at his memorial service. Gently, I cradle the precious creature in my hands and hold it against my lips. I quietly whisper my wish to it, place a soft kiss to the butterfly's wings, and raise my hand up and watch it take flight. It flutters around my head and then escapes from under the roof of the gazebo, out into the world. Renee lifts the lid from her box and does the same, as does Charlie. I turn to Angela and Peter, offering them each a sleeping butterfly. Other close friends of the Masens step up to claim a butterfly, whisper their wish to it and set them off toward Heaven.

The chaotic swirl of black and orange wings, flitting around us, reminds me of our first date at the botanical gardens, and my eyes well up with tears. Pastor Weber approaches me and asks if he could recite a poem that he feels would be very fitting for the service. I nod and take a step back to allow him the podium. He deep voice echoes under the wood canopy of the gazebo as he reads from his worn tablet in his hands.

"As you release this butterfly in honor of me,
know that I'm with you and will always be.
Hold a hand, say a prayer,
close your eyes and see me there.
Although you may feel a bit torn apart,
please know that I'll be forever in your heart.
Now fly away butterfly as high as you can go,
I'm right there with you more than you know."

Charlie and Renee wrap me into a tight hug and I finally let the tears fall. Suddenly, this is too much, too final, and I need to get out of here. I need to get back home. Renee begs me to stay and eat something, assuring me that I need a good meal and some fellowship with our friends and neighbors at a time like this. I stay for about three minutes and a dozen hugs from people, before I am itching to escape. I excuse myself from the small congregation of people, and try to cross the soccer field quickly, but I'm stopped by Peter.

"Bella!" he yells as he jogs to meet up with me. "Where are you going?"

I look at him with tears streaming down my cheeks and snot bubbling from my nose. "I-I can't, Pete. I just... can't." I wave him off and continue my path towards my home. He stops in the middle of the field, his face full of pity for me, and I just can't take anymore of that. Not right now. Not today of all days.

I start to move faster, approaching the parking lot of the park, dodging cars and I speed up my steps. By the time I hit the start of my street, I'm in a full run. Running as if the Devil was chasing me. I can't seem to get to the Masens' quick enough. The tears are flowing like a ruptured dam and my vision blurs, but I turn into the familiar driveway and sprint the last few feet until I'm inside the garage, wrenching open the kitchen door. I take a few steps inside and slump against the refrigerator, releasing a few pent up sobs. This isn't where I want to be. I don't want to be in the god damned kitchen! I want to be in my bed, clutching my pillow, and wailing into the empty room, letting loose all the pain and heartache I've been only showing smidgens of over the last few weeks. I need to scream and cry and throw things. This isn't fair! He shouldn't have been taken away from me! He was stolen from me!

Turning for the stairs, I climb up to the room, stripping off my sundress along the way. My mind is so muddy and my vision so cloudy that my body moves automatically. I'm naked before I wrap my body with the soft, silky material and crumple on the floor next to the bed - legs so weak that I can't even stand to fling myself across the mattress. I cry and scream, and punch the side of the bed. Yelling that I hate the world, I hate the shitty future I have without Edward, and I hate Edward for leaving me. I know it's not his fault he's gone, but now I've reached the anger part of the grieving process. I'm angry that he went on that camping trip with his parents without me; angry that I never got to tell him goodbye; angry that my life feels meaningless without him; angry that I was supposed to become his wife today, but that I won't be.

Time seems to pass slowly, but as the sun shines from the opposite angle across the room, I realize it's later in the afternoon. Renee's voice is floating up from downstairs, frantic and worried. "Bella? Are you up there?"

"Mom?" My voice is thick and froggy.

"Bella? Oh, Bella, sweetheart! I've been looking for you for over a hour!" She wraps her hand under my arm and helps me to stand. "I thought you'd be at the Masens', honey."

I look at her, momentarily confused, until I hear her gasp.

"Baby, your dress. C'mon, you're going to ruin it."

Does she really think I give a shit about my useless wedding dress? I don't care if it's soiled with mascara smears and smudges from being dragged across the floor. The damn dress shop won't take it back, and I'm never going to need to wear it. She tries to pull the bodice down, but I'm gripping the top tightly with my fingers, stepping away from her, ready to run again.

"Stop it, Mom! Just leave me alone, please!" I turn and bolt down the stairs, nearly trampling Charlie in the kitchen, and I make a bee-line for the Masens' house. The crinoline under the skirt of the dress catches on a fucking garden ornament in Liz's garden, and I trip, landing hard on my hands and knees in the middle of the driveway. My palm and knee are stinging from being scraped against the concrete, but I manage to get to the front door, barging in and locking it behind me. I collapse against the back of the door, still gripping the lock.

"Hel-lo?"

Carrumba.

"Hel-lo?"

"Hi, Carrumba," I mumble. She stops climbing around inside her cage, silently listening for me to speak again. "I'm sorry if I scared you." I pull myself up to stand, and make my way through the living room and into the kitchen. My mouth is parched.

As I'm pouring a glass of ice water, the most melodic, most beautiful sound calls out to me, and I instantly think I'm delusional. It's Edward's voice.

"Bel-la."

I listen silently, hoping I will hear it again.

"Bel-la, Bel-la, Bel-la," Carrumba sings.

It's a miracle. I lift my face towards the sky and silently thank God, or my little butterfly, for granting my wish today... to hear Edward's voice call my name again.


A/N: WHEW! This chapter was so hard to write. I cried through half of it! ha ha Well, you can put the tissues away for a while, my friends... things are going to be moving right along in the next several chapters. Thanks so much for sticking with me.

The poem recited by Pastor Weber is a real poem written by Jill Haley for a butterfly release.