This one's coming out a little early. But I'm sure you all don't mind. ;)
Here's a long update about me, and what I've been upto, if you're not interested just skip on over to the good stuff! I won't hold it against you.
1. I was interviewed by the AMAZING content1 for Darkest Temptations, so if you want to check out what I have to say about SS and writing and stuff, here's that link: darksper (.) /2011/09/author-interview (.) html
2. I'm co-hosting a contest! It's called the Twilight of Craigslist Contest. It's two part. Ad and One-shot. We're in the AD submission part right now. So go check us out and write for us if you find a muse. DEW EET! You know you want to. www (.) fanfiction (.) net/u/3211840/
3. My entry from the Canon Tour, pre-Twilight round, is up on my profile. It's called The Wicked Wind Whispers and Moans. It did surprisingly well at the contest! It's not long, and it's a mystery. Let's see if you can guess who those eyes belong to! Also on that upload you'll see my recs for my favorite entries in the contest. So go check those out and leave some love! www (.) fanfiction (.) net/s/7387491/1/The_Wicked_Wind_Whispers_and_Moans
4. I'm also entering the Canon Tour, Twilight round, and those submissions are over around 22 Oct. So go check it out and read some AMAZING entries, because if the last batch is any standard, then the quality is totally top notch. It's anonymous. So maybe see if you can guess which one is mine. www (.) fanfiction (.) net/u/3041014
5. I'm also entering the Season of Discontent contest. The submissions start Oct 15. So head on over there and check them out. And see if you can eventually figure out which one mine is too, since that contest is anonymous too! But I'm quite proud of my entry. www (.) fanfiction (.) net/~seasonofourdiscontent
6. I started a four-part one-shot called Wind Beaten Tree. It's a Post-Eclipse, alternate Breaking Dawn tragedy. Check it out if you're so inclined. www (.) fanfiction (.) net/s/7360329/1/Wind_Beaten_Tree
ALSO. And this is the important one, I head up the fandom birthday calendar at a couple different places. BUT weekly on Twi Fic News (www . twificnews . com). So please go head over there and leave me your birthday so I can add you so that I don't leave anyone out. Or you could PM me. Or leave me your birthday in a review. Whatever you're most comfortable with!
Also, if you don't receive a review reply from me, it's because you have your PMs disabled. And to all my anonymous reviews that I can't reply to, THANK YOU. Really and truly.
P.S. I love my beta, PunkyBumpkin. She's the epitome of amazing in ALL aspects. Seriously you guys, this isn't a one person job. This story, or many of my other pieces, wouldn't be what they are without her. AND my newest beta, who I adore, Alotalittle, and am super excited to work with!
Now on to the story. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or any of its characters. No copyright infringement is intended.
It was exactly two days after I had gone to his office that I received both a phone call from his attorney, Marcus Durant, and a courier package requiring only my signature at the concierge desk, in that order. One at 9AM, the other at 10AM.
Marcus was who kept in contact with me once the ordeal had begun. For that I was thankful, considering how wholly unprepared I was to deal with Aro Arlovski, something made painfully obvious when I had visited his office all those days ago.
It was exactly four days after that I had an appointment to meet with Marcus in his office to sign the papers. Jasper read over them along with me. He felt the whole thing was foolish; he didn't support the choice I had made, coming clean to Aro. However, Jasper agreed that, given the situation, we needed to attack it from many different angles and not be idiotic enough to think that having only one plan would work in our favor. This would be our backup plan.
After all things considered with the measures Jasper went to, he was relatively shocked how easy the process had been up until that point for me. So was I.
But then again, it didn't slip any of our notices that I had just paid over three quarters of one hundred thousand dollars to a man to continue doing what I had been doing for the past four months. Something about it had not sat well with Jasper and me; somehow it felt "too good to be true," in the most revolting sense.
He had told me that he fired her, that she wasn't there. Felix had said the same thing, so the only real question was, where was she? I damn well knew that she couldn't get fired. Both Jasper and I feared what we would not voice out loud. That one could in fact get fired from there . . . in every sense of the word, terminated.
Now, by black and white on the contract, I had access to her outside of the club walls. I wondered where exactly that would be, and what exactly that would be like. Would we be watched? Would there be rules? What exactly did this all entail?
Jasper wondered the same things, and it was these questions that I armed myself with when I went to Marcus's office to sign in front of the notary. Thankfully, Marcus was only too helpful when it came to certain questions. It turned out Aro had no problem "renting" her—Bella—out to me. If he didn't sell girls, I don't know what the hell he called this. But, as it would appear, once they had my name down in ink, they were both more than willing to be more flexible to "my needs." Including having her—Bella—on my own time at outside locations of my choosing, once trust was established, of course, for another fee of twenty-five thousand. All of these things were just to get the privilege of time outside the club; I was still required to pay my regular fee per service. It was a trial period by limitations of the contract; if both parties were agreeable at the end of five years, new negotiations could commence.
I wouldn't sign for five years, there was no way, and so I bartered the term of agreement down to two years—Aro wouldn't see to any less—for a grand total of two hundred and thirty-five thousand.
There was not one single bit of this entire ordeal that wasn't repulsive. Worse was the contract itself; I wondered how something like this could even be legal and binding. But not once did it mention her—Bella; it was actually a somewhat standard corporate agreement contract between an intermediary, Aro, and a third party service—her. Aro was simply held accountable for his obligations as said intermediary in keeping to the limitations of the contract and that both parties oblige their duties. Both parties had stipulations, although the ones that Aro had presented were marked under her—Bella—since she was listed as the third-party service.
"Third-party service shall make themselves available, under direct stipulation of said contract as agreed, to first party at first party's discretion, in accordance with terms agreed upon by third party (32b). It is the sole responsibility of second party to ensure compliance by both first and third party. If compliance cannot be reached, it is the sole responsibility of second party to ensure the following, but not limited to: commercial satisfaction of both first and third party; monetary reimbursement, and/or restitution of agreed terms (21d) of dissatisfied party; intermediary support of both first and third party; resolutions of any and all hindrance to contract that both first and third party can mutually agree upon via verbal or written consent."
The contract went on in much a similar fashion; specific times were negotiated, with an affidavit of if "third party" is available and complying, then I could request any time outside of negotiated times, for another fee. All fees were clearly listed in black and white; all "rules and stipulations" too. It literally covered every angle.
The contract had to be redrafted because of my switching from a five-year contract to a two-year one.
It was also quite clear in the contract that "third party" would retain previous employment, ensuring that it did not directly violate the terms of the contract, which of course it didn't. And my stomach lurched and my mouth filled with saliva as nausea overtook me. The entire thing was disgusting, more so that in the contract it sounded like she was a free agent.
When nothing could have been further from the truth.
I knew I was being played the second he spoke that afternoon that I walked into his office. A shallow part of me compared it to her, knowing that it wasn't anywhere near the same, but understanding just a bit of what it felt like to have been backed into a corner and "appearing" to have a choice, when in reality you had none at all. Nevertheless, what more could I do? Her life was on the line.
Thus, our backup plan came to fruition, and I signed.
By playing by their rules, earning liberties as I could, and at the end of the two years, I would pay whatever I could to get her out of there, along with her sister. This was, in all its glory, the foundation of the backup plan.
Neither Jasper nor I agreed on that timeline, nor were we blind enough not to see that it was, in theory and practice, a revolting one. But if all our outside efforts proved futile, then we would have been fools not to have this option in place. With that in mind, Jasper continued to work diligently on his original plan. If anything, this option did provide us with a secure way to obtain information from both sisters and to keep in constant communication with them.
What else could I do, in all honesty? I racked and racked my brain, trying to find something honorable or less demeaning, but there wasn't anything. The second Aro mentioned my parents and Tanya, I realized just how many people I had put into danger because of this, and just how late it was to turn back. I understood the ill-veiled threat on my family if I didn't agree to the contract I brought to his table. By going there I hadn't just exposed myself, and he made that blatantly obvious. For a man with shit for options, this seemed like the best one to keep everyone safe. The best place to hide, after all, was in plain sight.
Every single time I thought about the situation, any facet large or small, I felt sick to my stomach. Not just the nausea, but that someone had punched me directly in my gut and wrenched their fists and twisted and I could do nothing but throw up.
It was exactly twenty-six days after I had gone to his office that I received the phone call telling me the "good news": Aro was able to convince her to come back to work for him. Marcus was far more forthcoming with information than Aro had been.
Although, in all honesty, I didn't know which I preferred: forthcoming with information that was a lie or omitting information that was a lie. Which was the better option?
It was exactly twenty-eight days after I had gone to his office that I received a copy of the contract signed by all parties. I couldn't be certain if that was her signature, but he had kept her name: Isabella M. Swan.
When I talked to Jasper, he confirmed that it was her name. I wondered why they made no effort to hide it. Jasper's answer destroyed me, and I prayed that it wouldn't destroy her.
"She's eighteen now."
I had asked him what that meant; surely it couldn't mean anything different. She was still in this disgusting situation; she was still a young girl when this happened to her; she still wanted nothing to do with it. Not that it mattered now, though. Jasper said that her becoming of age changed everything. Now she could be arrested for prostitution, regardless of the "whys." Now she would be taken off the registry of missing and exploited children. Now she found herself in a situation where the world would look at it as her fault.
In his work, Jasper had spoken with countless women in temporary lockup in prison for an array of prostitution charges. He had said that most had a story. Some stories were similar to hers; the only difference was that these women were in their twenties, thirties, even forties. These women never got help when it was available to them, for whatever reason. And now they were society's rejects, where no one sympathized with their story anymore because it was their fault they were in this situation. It only mattered when you were a child, let alone ignoring the fact that these women were in fact children once. Now they were just prostitutes, nothing more and nothing less, charged with every single stigma that came with the title.
It was shocking how many of these women told Jasper the same thing: after they became of a certain age, they were more than likely let go. Not in some big fanfare production, just that they simply were discarded because they were no longer the freshest piece of meat around, because nothing ages youthful beauty like the weight of despair, drugs, and desolation. But by that point society had forgotten about them, they had forgotten about themselves, and this life that they were subjected to was all they knew. Most returned. It was a disgusting cycle, one that I knew nothing about, but one that I was learning more and more of each day.
We had to break the cycle for them. We just had to; there was no other option.
It was the thirty-second day that I found myself walking up the steps of a quaint house out east of the city. Outside appearances can be deceiving, like the come-hither smile of a frail dancer in a nightclub or the lush greens and red painted shutters of a "quaint" house. It was ten in the morning. I took the day off work. I couldn't wait any longer to see her; I needed to know that she was okay. There was this feeling, ever since he had told me that she wasn't there that day in his office, that rooted itself deep in the pit of my stomach and grew and decayed more inside of me each day. Aro wanted to wait five more days until I was allowed to see her, but I didn't care; and he was under contract to make it work, so he did.
A man I didn't recognize, with brown hair and a stare that matched the sharp lines of his face, answered the door. I was led inside to the living room of the house. There was a bar where the man told me to help myself; he went to a phone behind it and made a call. A top-shelf vodka swirled around in my ice-cold glass while I took in the room surrounding me. Much like the outside of the house, its appearance deceived: pale blue walls, wide couches and chairs that seemed comfortable, and paintings of various fall scenery. I wanted to throw up in the vodka I had no intention of drinking. What a cruel slap in the face of those that wouldn't be able to experience the beautiful fall.
After the phone call, the man asked me if I needed anything else. How very hospitable. When I told him no, he informed me that he'd be back shortly. I honestly couldn't say what passed through my mind while he left me alone to my devices. A million different things; nothing at all.
Every single nerve ending was shooting off; there wasn't an ounce of my body that wasn't anxious, whether it was because I was walking, quite literally, into the lion's den or because I would be seeing her for the very first time colored in the truth. I wondered if she would look different. How exactly does one look at someone the same after learning what they had?
I knew for a fact that answer wasn't a simple one for the very reason that I didn't even look at myself the same . . . but her . . . .
Not for the first time, I was plagued with the "what ifs."
Fate had been so very cruel to her, but I wondered what it would have been like if her life were different. Would we still have met? Would I have passed her by on the street and not chance a second glance? Would she still be the philosophical girl I had grown to know?
Each person has a monster within, something I had come to realize lately. For some it was greed, for others it was pride. Mine was my selfish nature, something that I was slowly coming to terms with and trying to conquer and vanquish. Often I wondered if I would ever be able to let it go, or if I would simply hide it well. A large part of me, that selfish monster, knew that the likelihood that we would have met if the circumstances weren't what they were was non-existent.
Something that did not sit well with me at all.
I hated that monster inside of me. It was the one that hurt Tanya, the same one that kept me from my parents and secluded me from everyone who ever cared enough about me to try. But now that monster wanted her—Bella—to have been in such a situation simply because he wanted her, and if this was the way to achieve it, then so is fate.
Nothing abhorred me more than admitting that monster was very much a part of me.
I'd been fighting demons for so long, it was only fitting that now—along with my subconscious—I was battling the real ones.
I knew where I needed to start to make this right, and it began with her. No matter how much it destroyed that part of me that did in fact thank the situation because I had her. It wasn't right. I'd never touch her again. Not like this . . . not ever that I could foresee. How could I? After all that I knew, after all that was said and done, after what I had done, what I had just signed and agreed to? Even if Jasper and I were able to get her and her sister out, it would be tainted. She would feel indebted to me—on some level. And I knew very well what it felt like to subconsciously be indebted to someone who freed you. Whether I wanted it to be or not, it would be an indirect form of control over her choices, and that was something I wanted nothing to do with.
I could only pray for her friendship; it was more than I ever deserved, and what I wanted more than anything. Once she was free, I would remove myself from the picture. It was the only way; everything about the situation was putrefying . . . and it would always be.
I knew that I would have to let her go; I would do all that I could to save her, but once that was achieved, I would have to let her go . . . and it would be a battle each and every day to rid myself of the monster because he needed to let her go.
But in the meantime, it didn't escape that dark part of my subconscious' notice that the backup plan indulged me in such a way that left that monster inside salivating.
When the man came down, he gave me a quick tour upstairs, so that I became acquainted with the spaces. Then he left me at a door with a number three off to the side on the wall with a small light under it. My hand shook as I reached for the knob.
I opened it at the same time that I stopped breathing, praying to anyone that would listen, for what exactly I didn't know, just . . . everything. She was sitting on the bed in the middle of the room, bare legs hanging off the edge, some small red shirt and skirt that hid little skin. Her eyes looked out, but I doubted she saw anything. I had never seen the look of utter defeat on someone until this very moment. Every single one of her frail features was swallowed by the rout she had come face to face with.
I closed the door behind us and reveled in the small fact that there was a lock on it. My mind screamed that locking it was wrong. Just how many men had been locked in with her?
I wanted to punch something when I realized how simple the answer was; I would no longer make a choice that didn't involve her.
"Should I lock the door?"
At this she looked up and her eyes finally acknowledged me. They widened slightly before closing, like the slamming of a door from the blazing sun, blinding and burning. She turned her head away from me, shaking it disdainfully before, "You did this."
It wasn't a question, and with that simple phrase, I knew that she hadn't been the one to sign that contract.
She was shaking her head lamentably, as if she could shake away the fact that I stood in front her. Running my hand through my hair, I wondered what I should do next. The foot of my shoe toed at the brown carpet. Energy burned throughout the space of the room, buzzing this way and that, causing me to jump at any little sound. It was entirely too thick. Fuck.
Vulnerability found my words, "Should . . . I lock the door?"
Exasperated, she answered. "Do whatever you want, Edward." An exhale that weighed entirely too much escaped me at her answer. I stood there watching her and wondering where I went wrong . . . again.
Now that I knew the situation, I couldn't begrudge her unwillingness . . . towards everything. However, it didn't help me in any way. I still had no idea what to do.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," she mumbled as she got up and locked the door. The slight limp didn't escape my notice. My jaw tensed and I ground my teeth as I watched her go back to the bed, that limp standing out like a bright red sign, as did the wince she tried to hide as she sat down, leaning more towards her left. That was when I saw her right hand.
You've got to be fucking kidding.
I was going to throw up again, the color falling from my face, like the black water and grime whirling down the drain. I went to the couch by the bed and sat, my elbows on my knees and head in my hands. I just . . . Can I do this . . . ? Can we do this . . . ? "I knew this wasn't going to be easy . . . but, shit, I didn't think this was going to be so hard."
Her condescending snort filled the room. "Don't take this the wrong way or anything, but you don't seem to think about hardly any of the choices you make."
My head tilted towards her in my hands. She attempted a shrug, and this time the wince wasn't easily hidden. "What's wrong with your shoulder? What happened to your hand?"
The scream built from deep inside of me, curling in my lungs and throat and heart and mind; that when it finally left my lips it was only a pathetic gush of air. "Please . . . don't . . . don't shut me out. I know everything . . . about you, about this place, about Alice. I can only imagine the things that were done to you while you were 'away.' So don't hide anything from me, please."
Cold eyes searched for mine as I looked up at her through my hands, but the bit from her words were colder. "What do you want me to say exactly?"
"I don't know, but don't lie."
She pulled up one of her legs on the bed, not using her right hand at all; my eyes centered on it. The last three digits, from what I could see under the bandage, were swollen and discolored, and they were disjointed. My voice caught in my throat as I stared at it. She caught the line of my vision and pulled it into her lap before bringing her other hand over it. Abruptly she spoke, hoping to divert my attention. "I've never lied to you, Edward."
Her hypocrisy pulled a sarcastic snort from me, my eyebrows rising in challenge. "Really?"
"Yes, really"—I should have known better by now than to challenger her—"just because I omitted things because I wasn't able to tell you doesn't mean I lied to you. Don't take that from me; I know I've never lied to you."
"What about when you told me you didn't want me to come and see you?"
So softly it was almost a whisper, she said words that hurt more than I would have thought: "I didn't want you to come and see me."
I chose to ignore that comment for many reasons. "What happened to your hand?" The long, drawn-out silence was answer enough. But I had to keep trying; she had never been easy to get information out of, and there was no doubt this would be equally as challenging. "Let me look at it." I rose quickly, emphasizing my stance on the subject. From where I was standing, I had a clear look at the shoulder that had caused her to wince; the area was inflamed and I could feel the heat from where I was standing. "Your shoulder too."
"Why?" She scooted further away on the bed. "What are you doing here? Are you going to pretend to be my white knight now? You're wasting your time. I don't need you. Find a way to save Alice; that's all the matters." I placed my hand, palm up, in front of her, letting her silently know I wouldn't be deterred. It took over five minutes of my standing in that position before she placed her injured hand in mine with an exasperated grunt and indecipherable curse. My clinical eyes took in the injury; the warmth was undeniable as I delicately held her hand. Her wrist had been worked on recently—there were obvious attempts to reset the bones and sutures—but the location and probable length without treatment would lead to limited mobility. Whoever did the work did their best, however.
Gently, I placed her hand back in her lap and turned toward her left shoulder. Of their own volition, my fingers caressed softly across her shoulder, around one of the multiple scars. It appeared that only two were open wounds, one that required sutures, and this was the one that was obviously infected. Desperately, I tried to find a voice that didn't shake.
More than anything I wanted to place a tender kiss on each mark, attempt to erase their existence, even their memory. My throat burned and my fingers trembled; she noticed and abruptly pulled away from my touch.
Her annoyed sigh brought my focus back. "It's infected. Are you on antibiotics?"
"Yes, the doctor that's taking care of me has told me the same thing. It's fine." There wasn't an ounce of her body that hid its exasperation, from her tightening face to her clenching jaw and narrowing eyes. "What do you want, Edward?"
But it was her voice that marked me. I had wanted this so badly, and I didn't even know what the fuck this was. My hope had been that . . . God, I don't know . . . but not this. Scolded, with my tail between my legs in more ways than one, I returned to the couch by the bed and brooded. In a soft voice, I answered honestly, "You."
"And I hear you paid quite a bit to make that happen." My eyes immediately shot up. There was no fucking reason for her to be a bitch about it. Fuck. The second that thought crossed my mind, I wanted to scream. She had every right to be a bitch about it, didn't she? I wondered if we'd ever be normal again. If we'd ever be us, because this—this—wasn't her, and we both knew it. I just didn't understand why.
The break in my words, my voice, my soul, gave her the opening she was looking for. And I recognized her attempts to push me away again. Ever the pot and the kettle that we were.
"I'm not your wife, Edward. I'm not your family. I'm nothing to you. You have to stop pretending to care for me or for my safety or whatever it is you're trying to do here."
I was done with pushing away, though, and I needed her to be done with it too. It was my heart that answered her attempts at closing me off, and it said the only thing it ever could to her. "You're wrong," I whispered, barely enough so she could hear it. She rolled her eyes and looked up at me. "You're everything to me."
Those deep brown eyes that looked up at me finally looked at me, and for the first time I saw them for the open books that they were. From cover to cover, I read her story, and there wasn't even a paragraph of happiness in that tale. That knowledge broke me. She knew it too, then, just what I saw there. Her body pulled into itself as best it could, her eyes welling up with tears, her shoulders quivering. There was so much spoken between our stare that went unsaid, but all of it heard . . . known.
My hand left my knee and reached out for her, but she pulled back. Never breaking her stare, I got up, and a heart-wrenching sob escaped her. Slowly I turned toward the bed; her sob increased until she was shaking so much that the bed creaked. I fell to my knees on the carpet next to the bed, her one leg hanging off the edge close. Our eyes never left each other—it was as if neither of us even blinked or could look away—and water fell from her eyes like rivers. She pulled her leg up and pushed away. I rose on my knees. Her crying became wailing, and my chest clenched. Never leaving her stare, even though hers finally closed off from mine, as if she couldn't take the honesty in the silent exchange any longer, I knew she could still feel me there. Her good hand swiped at her eyes and her nose, but her cries weren't ceasing. My eyes welled soon enough, and my soul screamed for everything she had to put up with.
She needed this, and I would wait . . . I would always wait, however long it took. "Bella . . . ."
Her gulping cry shook me, and time crawled by as her body let go of everything . . . everything. When it could no longer sustain her, she fell to her side on the bed, curled into herself, her cries drowning out in her deep breathing.
I picked myself up and went back to the couch. It was almost so silent that I hadn't heard her, but I had. And it destroyed me, as much as it was apparent that it destroyed her.
"Why couldn't you just let them kill me?"
"I'm so sorry. I had no idea that my going to see Aro caused this. But . . . that you could think . . . you think I regret saving you . . . that I could ever . . . that simply isn't the case, and won't ever be. I am sorry for everything, and I do mean everything, Bella. But that I was the cause for your continued existence, well, then it seems I finally have done something right. The only thing in my life that I could ever actually be proud of."
I wasn't aware of how much time had passed since her breakdown, but I was in no position to leave her. Not for her sake, nor for mine. I found myself wondering if I'd ever be able to leave her side at all. Each time it was getting harder.
Instead, I just spoke to her. Sometimes she would grunt a reply, other times she remained silent, but when she edged closer to the bed and looked up into my eyes, inches away from her face, I felt whole in a way that I hadn't in so long. Those eyes were mirrors of my own, in many ways like they always had been.
She didn't want me to leave either.
So I did the one thing I hadn't really ever done with anyone else, but it felt right, and I couldn't stop it even if I wanted to: I talked freely.
"We're not so different, Bella, it appears." My hand wove through her hair as gently as possible as I continued running my fingers through it. I was hesitant to try it at first, but her soft sigh was the encouragement I needed to know that she welcomed my comfort. It was the only part of her I dared touch, since I couldn't keep my fingers away.
When I was younger and she was mad at me, it was the only way I could even begin to get in her good graces. She would lay her head close to my legs on the couch, and I would run my fingers through her curly auburn hair. If she had forgiven me, she would rest her head on my lap completely; if not, I continued running my hands through her hair as I talked to her until she did.
I didn't expect Bella to forgive me; there was so much left unsaid, but I hoped that at least the gesture was soothing—in some way. It was when I was younger for her, paying penance for the damage I'd reaped.
Bella wasn't talking much, but like her she didn't shy away from my touch and eventually laid her head down on the pillow closer to the edge of the bed. I sat on the couch pushed up against the bed while she rested. I didn't know if it was in complete confidence that she rested her head or simply because it was too much work to try to hold it up.
I saw the swollen hands, puffy face and fading bruises. Not to mention the wrapping under her chest along her ribs. It had been a month since I had seen her; I was told she was "unavailable" and I now knew why. However, it was a cut above her shoulder that worried me the most. It was inflamed and hot to the touch, no doubt infected and wasn't healing correctly. When she did speak, her voice was hoarse and her cough was congested.
My eyes did their best to ignore the limp and scarred hand that made its way to her face. I again found myself wanting to ask her what exactly happened, but I knew she wouldn't tell me. She probably wouldn't ever tell me. I would, however, keep an eye on that infection; the last thing she needed was for it to get in her bloodstream. She said she was on antibiotics, and I prayed that she was right. My thoughts found purchase on who exactly was the medical professional that treated her. What code of ethics were they working under? How could they allow such a thing to continue?
It disgusted me that I would even be grouped with such a person by profession.
Her soft sigh brought me out of my clinical state, and just to keep her with me longer, I continued talking, those deep brown eyes looking up at mine. I hadn't realized I stopped talking.
"Sorry." She just nodded. "What was I saying?"
A light smile found itself on my face for her . . . they'd always be hers now. "Am I talking too much?"
"No. I like when you talk to me." My hand caressed her head over her hair, and I looked into her eyes before she closed them and nuzzled deeper into the pillow.
"I don't mean that our lives have been the same; that's obviously not true. But . . . I do mean that I think—I feel—as though I understand you better than you might believe. Not what you've been through, but why."
Tears fell softly from her closed eyes, wetting the pillow below her. I wanted so badly to wipe them away, but I let her have her time—this time—whatever she needed. I did the only thing I could: I kept talking and running my fingers through her hair.
"Did you know that I only see my parents once a year? It's surprising and completely ridiculous considering that I live in the same city as them. Part of me knows the biggest reason my mom pushed for the wedding was for an excuse to see me more, and in the hope that somehow it would bridge the family divide. It wouldn't, though, but I didn't have the heart to tell her that. I had already hurt her so much.
"It's my fault that I don't see them enough, nobody else's. I don't want to see them. It's not because I don't care about them or resent them for anything. Or that I had some horrible childhood. It isn't anything like that. I had an amazing childhood. My parents are the most compassionate and understanding people in the world.
"The truth of the matter is, Bella, that I'm a very selfish creature. I've constantly put my needs and problems above others, ignoring all that I've caused because I simply couldn't see past myself. It's something I'm hoping to change, but whether or not I do change for the future, my actions in the past can't ever be altered. And that, more than anything, had been my reasoning all along. I'm only now seeing how weak it was.
"I emulated my father: his little protégé. I was small for my age as a child, and my mother might have been a little overprotective, so I never was involved in sports or anything like that. Instead, I spent all my time following my father around, always at his heels and dreaming of a day when I could be just like him. When I would be strong and tall and loved and respected. I would be just as smart as he was, and I would have everything too.
"But more than that, it was my mother who taught me that not everyone was as blessed as I was. She organized and ran many charity events and programs. My mother would never let me know the word spoiled—which was rather contradictory of her because she spoiled me in every way she could. There was never a bake sale at school that passed that she wasn't involved in. Or when I became obsessed with learning the piano after watching one of the men play at a mall for a crowd and they all looked at him with loving eyes, she indulged my every whim.
"There wasn't a home that could have been happier. Norman Rockwell type stuff."
My voice hardened. "And I ruined all of that."
"Even if at first it wasn't my intention . . . but the way I coped with the damage I had done made it all the worse. I know how badly I've hurt my mother. She calls me, almost every day. Sometimes it's something trivial, telling me who she ran into at the store, and other times I can hear the pain and longing in her voice. But I'm such a coward that I ignore the phone call and usually delete the message before it finishes. Sometimes she asks how I'm doing and what I have been doing. She tells me that she misses me and that she loves me.
"It kills her. And what I've done to her kills my father. I can't imagine what it must be like to have your own child push you away when you've done nothing wrong at all. It eats at me and each day it gets worse and worse, and it becomes harder and harder to hear her voice, to see her, because I know that I did that to her. To know that the smile she wears is fake and that I alone have the power to put a real one on her face, but I don't. God, I don't even know what kind of person that makes me. I wish I weren't this person. Bella, more than anything I wish I could be the son she deserves.
"Yet, even then, knowing all of this, I can't face them. I don't deserve their love and forgiveness. I took the most important thing from them."
A deep sigh, one not just rooted well in my lungs but under years and years of weight, filled the room. I couldn't even look at her anymore. She might have silently cried herself to sleep at this point, but I kept talking. Why, I wasn't quite sure, but once I had started, it was like a purge.
And I found that running my hands through her hair was also soothing me.
"I know what it's like to give your life to someone else. To have another person be your only motivation for everything. To love that person beyond compare and completely die when you've failed them or even feel like you've failed them.
"I'm not saying that that is how you feel. But I guess I'm saying that that is how I feel. Which is sort of something I've never really said out loud to anyone. And you may not want to tell me anything about yourself. You may not forgive me for what I've done and for what has been done to you. I don't know what to do about that, Bella. God, you may even hate that I know your name because you sure as hell didn't tell me it. I'm just . . . I guess . . . I'm saying I know what it's like to do whatever you can to care for your sister.
"I have a sister."
My throat caved. It had been so long since I said those words out loud, only to take them back because they weren't entirely true, and it was all my fault. "Huh . . . it's . . . well, she's dead now. And it was my fault. She's been gone for a while . . . I . . . I really loved her. She was my twin. She was everyone's favorite.
"Did you know it was my thirtieth birthday a few months ago? I mean, I'm not just bringing it up to state the glaring age difference between us, but because that day is a very hard one to get through. For all of us. It was in June. She would have turned thirty too obviously. We were going to go into med school together, to be just like Dad. We were going to work in obstetrics and gynecology. That was her idea; I was okay with it, though. She wanted to bring life into this world, and whatever she did, I usually did, or vice versa.
"That's what fucked us over, you know." I laughed darkly about something that wasn't funny at all, but truly did fuck us over. "That she always wanted to do what I did too.
"I wonder all the time what she would be like now. She'd still be beautiful, of course; she was the perfect mixture of my mom and dad, whereas I came out more like my dad. We had the same hair color; hers was only a touch lighter, redder. She had my mom's heart-shaped face. Her hazel eyes were a mix between my mom's blue ones and my dad's green; they changed colors often and each one was striking. Her favorite were the days where they were bright blue. God, they were pretty fucking beautiful. She wasn't as tall as me, but she wasn't as short as my mom either. I wonder if she would have gotten taller. Would she be married yet? Would she have children?
"Some days I miss her so fucking much that it cripples me. I can't breathe, I can't walk, I can't function . . . I can't do anything but think about everything that she hasn't experienced. College was the worst because we were supposed to do that together. She was my other half in every sense. You know how they say that twins are one part of the same soul? With us, it was true.
"She used to love to sing. I learned how to play instruments just for her, so that I could play and she could sing. Some of my favorite memories are of her singing and me sitting at a piano. It's been years since I've even looked at a piano. I destroyed the one at our house that same day we found out what happened to her, after the police finished questioning me and left."
On a near silent afterthought, I added, "I don't ever want to see a fucking piano again if I can avoid it," before taking a long, deep breath. I still couldn't look at her, but her breathing wasn't even, so I knew she was awake. The intensity of her stare was like the sun on the side of my face, and it was a struggle not to turn into it. But I was too afraid that once I did, I'd stop speaking, and since I had already started, I let the purge continue—the boulder on my chest wouldn't alleviate and pushed at it tightly. My whole body felt submerged under unforeseeable weight.
My eyes caught another fucking autumn field painting, and I found myself thinking about the falsity of things that can't be.
"I owe so much to Tanya. But Jasper was right when he said that it was never about who Tanya was exactly, it was just that she filled that void . . . as best as anyone could. She was the feminine counterpart I needed because I'd lost mine. And for that . . . I'll always care so very deeply for Tanya. She found me when I needed more than anything to be found. College was just so hard for me; every little thing that happened hurt because I knew she was missing it. I'd see a flyer on a board or a pole and I'd wonder if it would have been something she would have wanted to do. The worst was when I went to class and saw two seats open together; it was like God was reminding me of just how alone I was.
"I knew she would have been in that seat. She would have waved me over. I would have made some scene out of looking for another seat because, really, who was that attached to their sister. But in the end I'd end up where she was. I always did. She would shove her shoulder into mine when I finally situated myself next to her. I would roll my eyes, and she'd snort-laugh in that horrible way that embarrassed her but she couldn't help it. She'd lean over to whisper something to me, but it would be more like a yell. She couldn't whisper to save her life. And our day, every day, would have carried on much like this. She'd write the notes, I'd copy them, and we would just go on. We would fight, we would smile, we would yell, we would laugh. We would go on taking for granted the most important thing in our lives because we didn't know any better.
"You know . . . I still can't say her name. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it just hurts too much. I don't deserve to say her name, not after everything I've done to her. It's my fault that she's not here today. Not indirectly or some bullshit like that . . . no, it literally is my fault.
"I left her because of another one of our stupid fights; they were progressing a lot our senior year of high school. I didn't agree with her choices, mostly concerning this guy on the baseball team with me. His name was James. His mother was on many of the same committees as my mom. So it wasn't like we didn't know him or his family. But he wasn't the same person his parents, or mine, or even she saw. I didn't like her interest in him. Not one bit.
"He created this huge rift between us. It was slowly starting to dawn on me that she was putting someone other than me first. But that it was him really fucking pissed me off.
"One day, March 17th—isn't it fucking disgusting how the date will never be something you can forget? It's like God puts this huge thumbtack on the calendar of your life and says 'here, here is where you fucked up your life because of some stupid choice that you made.'" I didn't need to feel the nod of her head under the hair I was still running my fingers through—though I did. There was no doubt that she knew what I was saying, what I had gone through, better than anyone else.
"He had this party at his place after our game. It was our senior year, one of the last games of the season, and we just all wanted to let loose. I didn't invite her, but it turned out James had. She was so excited. We went to his party together, of course. I was never a big drinker . . . then . . . and so I told her I would be her designated driver, because she had really wanted to let go. Something I had never had a problem with. I would always take care of her.
"It was a great party. Jasper was on the team too and he had arrived sometime during the middle of it. I spent a good portion of the night with him that I lost track of her. Late into the night, excusing myself from Jasper's company, I went to search for her."
The lower tremble of my voice didn't escape my notice as I remembered exactly where I found her, the picture, like so many from that night, seared into my memory. "I found her, topless, fucking topless in James's room making out with him on his bed.
"I saw red; there really isn't any other way to explain it. I was going to kick his fucking ass. With guns blazing, I stormed in there and pulled him off of my sister. I threw her top at her, disgusted she had found herself in this type of situation. I had always been very old-fashioned when it came to sex; add that on top of the fact that it was my sister and with James. I was out for his blood that night.
"But of course she had to intervene, saying that she wanted it. If I thought I was seeing red before, those words were the beginning of the end. Even now I can still hear the high-pitched taunt to her voice: 'and what if I liked it?'She was drunk, that was just . . . that was it; she was drunk and had no idea what she was doing or wanted. I told her as much—repeatedly.
"Soon we were yelling back and forth and shoving each other. We got so caught up in our fight that somehow James slipped out of the room.
"She reprimanded me for trying to control every facet of her life. Which wasn't what I was trying to do at all. But when she was careless with her decisions, I had to intervene, on her behalf. I only wanted what was best for her. And so we fought back and forth . . . the start of our worst fight ever. She really was drunk, and that didn't help her stubborn tendencies. Neither of us backed down. I was livid; she was seething. I told her to get her shit together, that we were leaving.
"She refused. Enraged, I told her 'fine.' It didn't matter, that I was going to be leaving. When her emotions changed abruptly from blood-red anger to pleading sadness, I should have known. I should have put my temper aside and taken care of her because she was obviously far more intoxicated that even I had assumed. But I didn't.
"She begged me not to leave her alone. You know . . . she fucking begged me not to leave her, that I was her ride, that she wanted me to stay, that she was sorry, that she didn't want to get in trouble when I went home without her. She had a million and two reasons why I needed to stay. But I was just so mad at her, I told her I wouldn't stay unless she promised to drop this shit she was doing with James. Which she wouldn't. And again, her emotions whiplashed back at me and another fight broke out between us. She threw things and I accused her of libidinous behavior. She slapped me, I shoved her, and we kept at it, back and forth. That night I had said things to her that I wish I could take back with every fucking ounce of my soul . . . but I won't ever be able to.
"The last thing I said to her as I stormed out of that room was: 'Do whatever the fuck you want. Don't come crying to me when this blows up in your face because I won't fucking care what happens to you.'"
Somewhere along the lines of the story, tears began to slowly make their descent on my face, but I didn't wipe them. I just kept replaying the memories of that night, over and over in my head. The red that stained her cheeks from her anger; the slight smell of peppermint and alcohol on her breath; the way her auburn curls swayed as she hurled things at me. The adrenaline I felt curving along my body; the way my hand shook as I forced it into the wall; the tears that ran down her face because she couldn't help crying when she was truly pissed; but worst of all was the echo in my ears of the last thing I said to her.
Disgusted, I continued. "I left her there, tears on her cheeks, fury in her eyes, and way too much alcohol in her system to make conducive decisions. I knew she was too drunk to get home; I knew she'd need me. I didn't care. I wanted to teach her a lesson. I had hoped that tomorrow when she would be curled over the toilet, she would recognize that I was right.
"I had no idea that, for her, tomorrow would never come.
"I don't know what exactly happened at that party after I left. Jasper left with me to talk me off the cliff. Or from slashing all of James's tires. All I knew was that she hadn't come home at all. In the morning my mom woke me up and asked me where she was.
"It turned out I didn't even need to answer because within a matter of minutes the front door rang. My father answered and his cry reverberated through every wall of the house. My mom and I ran down the stairs. He was on the marble floor of the foyer, his eyes watering, his body shaking, and I knew.
"I fucking knew. I felt it there in my chest the second I saw my dad on the floor like that. That feeling, that gut-wrenching, turn your chest inside out, you can't breathe the same again feeling found me then and hasn't left since. I don't even remember how my mom reacted; everything after that was in a blur, and I just wanted to get in my car and drive to James's house and pick her up. Prove that that shit was a lie, that they were fucking lying. There was no way she was hurt. It just, it couldn't . . . . I wanted to get her back.
"I had to. But two police officers blocked the door and held me back." My throat burned while the tears continued their path. That morning . . . that morning . . . I hated that morning. My fingers got caught in her hair and I wanted to yank through the knot, but instead I just curled a fist around it, so tight that my fingernails dug into my flesh. When I realized what I was doing, I let go immediately and turned my head back to that stupid painting.
I stared at the painting for a very long time without speaking, letting the memories eat me alive. It was a small, strong hand on my shoulder that turned my head back. My burning eyes met hers and just stayed there.
There was so much in that deep brown stare that I needed, that I didn't even recognize but allowed to flood me. "I loved her."
She nodded softly, her hand squeezing my shoulder gently. When I let my head fall onto her hand on my shoulder, she allowed it, her stare holding mine like a mother her newborn—cradled close to her heart in a protective embrace.
I didn't want to overwhelm her. Her comforting me, when it should be the other way around, troubled me, yet I yearned for it so much. I didn't want to push, not now, not too far. So I lifted my head off the shoulder and offered her a small smile in thanks. She removed her hand and I missed it immediately.
After another long pause, where I tried to regain some semblance of composure, I continued telling her what happened that morning. "Since I was one of the last people to see her alive, the police wanted to speak to me. Since I was a minor, my parents had to be present. As I told the police everything, my mom stared on with hollow eyes, and my dad just stared at where his hands held hers. I knew they weren't saying out loud what everyone was thinking. 'Why did you leave her?'
"Three days later the medical examiner released the official autopsy report; the cause was determined to be asphyxiation on her own emesis. The time of death was determined to be at three in the morning, two hours after I had left her. If I had only stayed there two fucking hours more . . . . Her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. I don't know if she continued drinking or not after I left; I don't know if she was that bad when I left her and I just chose to ignore it like I had everything else that night. She was found on her back in the guest bedroom at James's home.
"If I had stayed with her, she could have slept it off in that room and I would have laid her on her side. Or we could have gone home together and she wouldn't have drunk more if she had. Or if she did pass out at home, I could have put her on her side there. I would have watched on her, taken care of was just so much I should have done, but didn't.
"I should have fucking taken care of her," I said, shaking my head because I hadn't. A sigh left me because now I wouldn't ever get the chance to again. It reminded me of . . . .
"Do you remember that time when you asked me, the first time we 'really' met, why I stayed with you to make sure you didn't hurt yourself? That time you nodded out?" I looked at her; she was back to lying on the pillow softly, her eyes meeting mine. She nodded.
"Yeah, that time. I . . . I just couldn't leave someone like that again." I looked away before quietly adding, "Not ever again."
The creak in the bed told me that she was shifting around. It was when I felt the warmth of her hand reach for mine that was making another lap through my hair that I turned toward her. She shifted slightly on the bed before reaching out to grab my hand from her hair.
I dropped my hand immediately, giving it to her. She brought it with her under the cover and held it to her chest, cocooned inside her own. The nurturing gesture brought another round of small tears to my eyes and burning to my throat.
I waited for her to tell me that it wasn't my fault, what everyone had always told me. But she surprised me yet again, like she always had, in the way that we knew each other on a very different plane than others could comprehend.
"Do you . . . do you think she forgives you?"
In a burning rasp my breath left. "I don't know . . . . Do you?—think she's forgiven me?"
She squeezed our hands. "I hope so." A small stream ran from my face as I nodded. In a broken whisper she bared her soul. "Do you think she forgives me?"
I found breathing so very hard to do in that moment. "I hope so." She nodded softly as she pulled her uninjured hand from our grasp to wipe away her tears.
Every ounce of me wanted to go to her, to pull her body into mine and comfort her the only way I could, to just hold her until everything in the world was right again. I wondered back to what Jasper had always told me about Tanya, that she was my subconscious way of filling the void that my sister had left. That I did love Tanya, but in that respect. I knew now just how right he was. Because once Tanya had left me, the void was glaring at me with newfound ferocity. For a small second, I wondered if Bella was my subconscious way of trying to fill the void again.
Realization overcame me when I found myself not wanting to fill it. It was there for a reason, for one I finally acknowledged and opened. I revealed that void to her, for exactly what it was. With Bella it was never about filling a void; it was about rebuilding around the holes, bridging them so that they were able to be conquered. And I wanted nothing more than to help her bridge hers.
I knew, from what Jasper had told me, about her choice that led both her sister and her to this life. Honestly, at that age, under the massive amount of grief that had stricken them, I don't know how anyone could hold either accountable for any of their actions. But it was obvious this was her void. It plagued her, and I would fight with everything I had for her void to not grow and consume her. That we could bridge it together; it was the least I could do.
And I hoped with everything I had that her sister would forgive her, but only time would tell. Again, I found myself wondering just how much time we had on our side. Because it seemed that all we had left was hope.
But for the very first time, in a long time, as I clutched her hand in a warmth and tenderness that yearned for so much more, with just as much fervor as she had held to mine, I started to feel like it might just be enough.
I've always loved in Twilight, and Midnight Sun moreso, that Edward's saving Bella was the greatest thing he had ever done, as he perceived, in his existence. And I knew I always wanted to play on that.
So this chapter's question:
Can hope really be enough?
Also, WHEN IS YOUR BIRTHDAY!
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