Unfortunately necessary disclaimer: I'm not Stephenie Meyer.
Gladly written dedication: This one is for my Twitter hubby, Conty (and yes, she is just as I describe her, lol), and my mini-me, Molly. Love you both. *international group snuggles*
Random recommendation: I suggest listening to Quietdrive's "Time After Time" cover while reading this... or at least while reading the middle portion. I was listening to it as I wrote this and listened again as I did the pre-post read-through, and it really does work perfectly... though you might have to put it on repeat. lol
"It just… it's not working, Bella, okay?"
"You're not even giving it a chance, Edward! Shit gets tough and you just bail!"
"That's not fair…"
"You're damn right it's not fair!" My face was wet with the tears I'd been crying for the past twenty minutes. My voice was hoarse from shouting and it cracked every time I tried to speak. I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. Sure, things weren't easy. Things had never been easy with us. But that was no reason to just give it all up.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it." He sighed heavily and lowered himself into his favorite place on my couch. After years of him sitting there every time he came over, I was sure the cushion had reformed itself to his shape. It had bent and changed to become exactly what he needed it to be, just like I had.
"You can't do this to me, Edward," I sobbed. "You can't do this to us."
"Bella…" He looked up at me and his face softened at the undoubtedly heartbroken expression on mine. He sighed again, a sound I'd become very familiar with over the past couple months, and ran his hands through his hair. "That's just it… There is no us anymore."
"Of course there is. There's always been an us, there always will be an us." We were inevitable. Everyone knew that. Our friends, our families, even strangers seemed to know it. It was just a given; we were just a given. Surely he knew that too.
"No, Bella." He sounded frustrated. Worse than frustrated, he sounded like he was dealing with an indignant toddler. He wasn't letting me down easy; he was patronizing the hell out of me and breaking my heart all at once.
He rose from the couch and walked slowly to where I was perched on the arm of the recliner he'd helped me pick out. "I'm sorry," he practically whispered, his voice full of sincerity. He cupped my cheek with his right hand, his thumb gently wiping the most recent tear from my cheek. The simple silver ring I'd given him almost a year ago burned cold against my skin and I swatted his hand away as memories of buying that gift flooded my brain.
I'd found it while wandering through an open-air market in Israel with my friend and temporary roommate, Constanza. We hadn't gone out with the intention of shopping, just getting out of the house, but what can I say? We're girls – we like to shop. Somewhere close by a talented musician had been playing some sort of stringed instrument that sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. I fell in love with the melody and let it carry me through the market. I could hear Conty laughing behind me as I giggled contentedly and danced on air from vendor to vendor.
"Jewelry for the pretty American girl?" a middle-aged salesman with dark hair and alluring eyes questioned as I danced by. His stand was covered in sparkling pieces of silver and gold. Gemstones of various sizes, shapes and colors glittered at me in the midday sun. The rainbows they threw off seemed to dance with me to the music. Each item was beautiful in its own right, but I found my eye was drawn surprisingly to one of the simplest pieces on the cart. A plain silver band stood out from the visual cacophony of color, an oasis of simplicity in a desert of intricacy. I reached out and ran a finger carefully across its glossy surface.
The vendor smiled at me. "The lady has good taste, but that is a men's ring."
"Oh, I know," I smiled back, lifting the band from its cushioned seat. The moment I held it in front of me I could see it on Edward's hand. My smile broadened at the image in my head.
"Thinking of getting it for Eddie?" I jumped at the sound of Conty's voice and she laughed as my heartbeat tried its damnedest to right itself.
"Yeah." I hated that damn nickname, but there was no getting her to stop using it. I think she relished the fact that Edward hated it even more than I did; it was no big secret that Conty wasn't his biggest fan.
"He'll love it. It's simple, just like him." See?
"Uncomplicated and elegant, just like him," I corrected.
"Whatever," she quipped before strolling off to look over the rest of the display.
"How much?" I asked the vendor.
"Normally three hundred…" My jaw dropped. I knew Israeli shekalim were worth only a fraction of a US dollar, but that still sounded ridiculous to me. I glanced at Conty just in time to see her shake her head and mouth "Eighty dollars". I raised an eyebrow at the vendor. There was no way in hell a band that simple was worth that much. "But for you, I may make an exception," he continued. "Two hundred."
I looked to Conty again. She looked wary, but raised her hand and shook it back and forth – maybe. "Fifty," she mouthed. She held fingers up, displaying numbers to me. One. Four. Zero.
"One hundred forty," I told the vendor in the most serious and business-like voice I could muster.
"That is less than half its worth!" he argued. Conty shook her head behind him and gave me a thumbs-up.
"One hundred forty or no sale," I warned.
"One hundred seventy," the vendor bartered tersely.
"One hundred even." Conty hopped up and down behind him as I haggled. I had no idea how much one hundred shekalim was in American money, but judging by her reaction, I'd made a good choice.
"I should know not to haggle with an American woman," the vendor laughed. I smirked victoriously at him. "If the lady says one hundred forty, then it is one hundred forty. Sold." I counted out bills from my pocket, wary of carrying a purse since mine had been stolen on my last trip overseas, and handed the man several banknotes, totaling our agreed upon price. "A pleasure to do business with you, miss," the salesman smiled at me as he handed me a small pouch containing my purchase.
"And with you," I smiled back.
The ring had seemed perfect in the market, but as I lay in bed that night listening to my iPod and analyzing my purchase, I found myself wondering if Conty had had a point. Maybe the ring was more simple than it was uncomplicated. After all, it was just a silver band… plain and simple, nothing special about it. Just as I was beginning to ponder the refund policies of Israeli open-air merchants, a familiar tune started. Of course, being that it was my iPod and I'd put all the songs on there in the first place, they were all familiar. This one, however, held special meaning for me. It was the song I'd come to think of as Edward's and my unofficial song as a couple. We'd never bothered to choose one specifically but someone had once told me that all couples had "a song", so I'd taken it upon myself to choose one for us. It wasn't a standard couple song by any means, but from the moment our friend Molly had introduced me to a local band's cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" it had been ours. No matter what craziness Edward and I went through, what judgments and problems and self-created obstacles we faced, we always made it out together. For as long as I could remember, if I felt lost, he was there, being my North Star. He was my rock and I was his. And the irony of the fact that I was, in fact, lying in bed, thinking of Edward, just as the first line of the song said wasn't entirely lost on me either.
"If you're lost, you can look and you will find me, time after time," I whispered along with the singer. "If you fall, I will catch you, I'll be waiting, time after time."
Then it hit me. An engraving. Something personalized and meaningful. It would make the ring more special than just something I'd picked up at the Israeli equivalent of a flea market. I put the song on repeat and fell asleep listening to it with a smile on my face.
In the morning, I begged Conty to help me find somewhere to have the ring engraved. It cost me almost as much to have three simple words carved into it as it did to buy the thing in the first place, but it was worth every cent in my mind. Two hours and one of the strangest meals I'd ever had later – what can I say? I love the country, but I'm too picky for the food – I had a shiny silver band that read "זמן אחרי זמן" – "sman ajare sman" – along the inside.
"'Time after time'?" Conty questioned me after we'd picked the ring up from the engravers. "You know that makes no sense in Hebrew, right?"
"It doesn't have to," I replied. "It has to make sense to me."
"Then why not have it done in English?"
"Hebrew is prettier."
"No argument here," she laughed.
Two weeks, a surprisingly tearful goodbye with Conty, and over twenty-six hours of flying and international layovers later, I was greeted in Seattle by an elated Edward. I ran to him, thoughtlessly abandoning my luggage by the security checkpoint. It felt like time stopped the moment his arms were around me again.
"I missed you so much!" I cried into his shoulder.
"Never leave me again," he returned. It wasn't a command or even a request; it was a plea. He all but begged me to stay by him as he held me so tightly I thought he might snap me in two.
"Never," I sniffled before planting my lips on his and kissing him like we'd never kissed before. I needed him like I needed food or water or even the air I was sacrificing to show him how much I needed him.
A throat cleared behind me and I pried myself away from the love of my life just enough to recognize a TSA uniform. "Uh, ma'am, I understand you're happy to be home, but you can't just leave your luggage out in the middle of the walkway like that," a blonde woman who looked to be in her early to mid forties informed me, pointing to my discarded suitcase. "They'll… well, they'll blow it up," she laughed. "And I'm sure you've got some real nice souvenirs and presents in that bag, now don't ya?"
"Omigod, yes!" I shouted and ran to get my bag. Edward's almost musical laughter followed me across the tiles and it certainly didn't die down any as I walked back to him, wheeling my suitcase behind me. "You shouldn't laugh at your girlfriend," I reprimanded before giving him an uncharacteristically chaste peck on the lips.
"And why shouldn't I when she does such adorable things that laughter is clearly warranted?" he retorted, wrapping his arms around my waist and smiling down at me.
"Because if you do, she might not give you the presents she got you in Israel."
"You got me presents?" His face lit up like a kid's on Christmas morning.
"Mhmm," I nodded.
"Can I have them now or do I have to wait until I get you home?" He raised a suggestive eyebrow and I whacked him playfully on the arm.
"You can have one of them now, if you want."
"Oh, I want," he said with that gorgeous crooked smile of his that always betrayed his true thoughts, even when his voice didn't.
"I meant the present, Edward." My eyes rolled at him of their own accord, eliciting another hearty laugh from the man of my dreams.
"Okay, okay. The present then."
I knelt down and dug through my suitcase until I found the little pouch from the open-air market. I debated over delivery for a moment before deciding it would be best to give it to him still in the pouch. He always seemed to enjoy unwrapping gifts more than simply receiving them.
After I zipped my suitcase back up, he reached a hand down to help me stand – that was my man, always the gentleman – and I took it, all too happy to be able to touch him again. Once I was standing face to face with him again, I turned his hand over in mine and placed the pouch in it.
"Awww, honey! You got me a bag!" he said, mockingly. My man was also always a smartass. I narrowed my eyes at him ever so slightly, eliciting a chuckle and another kiss from him. "I'm kidding," he laughed as he opened the pouch and emptied its contents into his palm. He held the ring in front of him and squinted at the inscription. "Uh, baby, I can't read Hebrew…"
"It says 'sman ajare sman'," I clarified. Okay, not so much clarified as enunciated.
"Did you translate it, or did Conty? 'Cause I don't wanna wear a ring that says 'I'm a douchebag' in a language I don't understand, even if I do love the woman who gave it to me."
I couldn't help but laugh at that. Like I said, it was no secret Conty wasn't Edward's biggest fan. "I translated it. And I double-checked it with the engraver. It says 'time after time'."
"Like the Cyndi Lauper song?" Sometimes I'd swear we shared a hive mind or something with the way he knew me.
"Like the Cyndi Lauper song." No matter how well he knew me, I expected to have to explain my inscription choice. It wasn't as though I'd made it common knowledge that I thought of that as our song.
"If you're lost, you can look and you will find me," he sang, staring into my eyes.
"Time after time." I barely got the words out before his lips claimed mine again. He kissed me with a passion I hadn't even realized he had in him. It made me weak in the knees. Usually that's a metaphor, a turn of phrase, but I've never been the most well-balanced of people to begin with. Just as I felt myself literally starting to collapse, Edward's arm shifted and he pulled me back up to him and held me steady.
"If you fall, I will catch you, I'll be waiting," he laughed.
"Time after time," I finished, laughing right along with him.
"I guess I deserved that." Edward's sorrow-filled voice brought me back to the present day and time. I couldn't bring myself to look at him. I just stared at the floor in the opposite direction of where his hand still lingered in the air as new tears covered the spot where I could still feel the ring's burn.
"Get out, Edward," I whispered. I had wanted to say it clearly and forcefully, but I couldn't make my voice go any louder than a pathetic, teary whisper.
"Bella…" I used to love the way my name fell from his lips. Now it felt almost like he was cursing me by using it. I flinched at the sound.
"I said GET OUT!!!!" I bellowed at the top of my lungs as a fresh round of sobs overtook me. I couldn't believe after all he'd put me through he still had the audacity to even start that sentence.
In the overwhelming silence, I could practically feel him nod before he headed for the door. The doorknob jostled slightly when he touched it and my heart broke a little more at the reality of our situation. He'd really said all that. He'd really ended it. He was really leaving.
The door creaked open slightly and he stopped in the doorway. "I'll always love you, Isabella Swan," he said softly but clearly. My swollen and bloodshot eyes darted up to his face. He looked so sincere; I was sure I looked just as incredulous. Before I knew what I was doing, my fingers wrapped themselves around the antiqued silver photo frame on my side table. Edward shut the door behind him just as my favorite picture of us – a black and white one his sister, Alice, had taken of us smiling together on the beach near our favorite get-away spot – smashed against it. Shattered glass sprayed the ground around the door and my beloved photo hit the floor at the same moment I did.
FYI: I want to continue this as I originally intended, but I just haven't been able to get it flowing. So! Don't be surprised if some time from now there's a sequel (erm, many chapter sequel, lol), but try not to be terribly disappointed if there never is.
Do me a favor and feed my review addiction. I'm hurtin' from taking so long to update my other things. Don't leave me hangin'. *shakes from withdrawals* :P