All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
In September Edward Cullen told me he didn't want me anymore.
Then he left.
And he took everything ... photos, gifts, my best friend. My heart, my soul. My future.
He would leave me with no reminders ...
... as if I could ever forget.
I sleepwalked through October and dragged myself into November. Charlie threatened me with Jacksonville and my mother. My mother threatened me with counselling. I stuck a smile on my face and pretended to be a whole person.
But in December a Christmas tree pushed its way through the front door and everything changed.
It was a Friday afternoon after school and the knock at the door was unexpected. Even more unexpected was what met me when I answered.
Bushy green branches slowly curled around the door as it opened, as though they were taking a sneaky peak to see if anyone was home. I took a startled step back, pulling the door with me and the wider the opening the more green appeared, the branches becoming bolder now and pushing their way in.
"Yeah, it's me."
His voice came from somewhere beyond the green.
"What ... um ... ,"
"You'd better stand back, this thing is big."
Obediently, I moved out of the way as the narrow hall filled with foliage. Behind it was Jacob Black.
"I think I might have overestimated," he said, parting some of the branches so he could grin at me. "So ... where do you want this thing?"
His face was expectant. Obviously, I was supposed to know what was going on.
And that must have been obvious too, because Jacob's face fell slightly.
"Charlie didn't call you, did he?"
"No, I ... oh!" I jumped as the phone started ringing. "I guess ... that's probably him, right?"
I started towards the kitchen, wondering what exactly my father was up to, but the ringing stopped just as my hand touched the phone. I stared at it for a second, then turned back towards the living room. Jacob opened his mouth to speak and the phone rang again.
I snatched at it this time and was met with Charlie's voice on the other end. He sounded slightly sheepish when I asked if he knew anything about the unexpected Christmas tree.
"So, Jake beat me to it, huh?"
"Looks like it. So, what's the story?"
Charlie hesitated a little, then cleared his throat.
"Well, it's Christmas," he said firmly, almost a declaration. "I thought ... I don't usually do much in the way of trees or decorations, but I thought you might like to."
"And you seemed to get on okay with Jake at Thanksgiving, and last week when he came over with Billy ... I thought you wouldn't mind his help."
I gritted my teeth as I closed my eyes. It was easy to read between the lines. Charlie was trying so hard to distract me, to help me, to bring me out of myself. I swallowed and leant my head against the kitchen wall. "Yeah, Dad. That'll be great."
"Yeah?" He sounded almost surprised. "Good, that's ... good. Listen, don't worry about dinner, I'll grab a pizza and maybe you could ask Jake if he wants to stay."
I nodded, then realised he couldn't see.
We said goodbye, the phone was back on its hook and I needed a moment.
Charlie cared. My pain was killing him, but everything he did to try and help me was just another way of emphasising what was wrong.
Not that the wrong needed emphasising. It was everywhere.
I didn't go to school now, I went to school without him.
My room wasn't just my room anymore ... it was my room without him in it.
When I washed dishes ... I washed dishes without him flicking me with soapsuds.
There was no relief ... school, home, Forks, the Thriftway, driving past the hospital, Port Angeles, Charlie, my friends, Volvo commercials ...
He wasn't everywhere.
I dragged my arm over my face and tried to take a deep breath. Memories flickered, painful and raw, pulling at the loose threads of my barely-there composure, trying to unravel me. This was just going to be Christmas without him.
"But you never had a Christmas with him," I muttered, hugging myself. "So you have no reminders, no comparisons." I bit down hard on my lip. Maybe I could make this Christmas a new memory ... without him.
"Bella?" Jacob startled me as he walked into the kitchen. "Everything okay?"
I pulled my hair back behind my ears and nodded. "Yep. Fine."
He hesitated while I stared at the floor, trying to fix the smile back on my face as I wrapped my arms around myself again.
"Did Charlie ... do you want ... I can go ... ,"
I heard myself tell him it was okay, he should stay, we'd decorate the tree.
He didn't move or speak for a moment while my eyes stayed trained on my feet. There was mud on the tip of my left sneaker, I noticed.
I worked at my expression until I was finally satisfied I had something resembling a smile, then I looked up and his eyes were hesitant, unsure. I cracked the smile a little wider and he smiled back, gingerly.
"Oh, and you should stay for pizza. Charlie's bringing it home." I put as much enthusiasm into my voice as I could and it must have sounded real because Jacob's smile became more confident.
"Okay, well, lets get started." He turned to head into the living room and I followed.
"So ... where?" Jacob stood, arms folded across his chest, looking around.
"Um, I don't know."
"How about the corner over there?"
I shook my head. "No, it'll cover part of the flat screen."
"Oh, yeah. No good."
"Maybe by the window?"
"It'll cut out some of the light."
I shrugged. "That's okay."
Jacob nodded and walked over to grab the tree and drag it in from the hall.
"Is this thing going to fit?" I didn't know how much help I was being but I was pushing and pulling as much as I could.
"Um, yeah, but only just, I think." He gave a nervous little laugh.
The leaves at the top were brushing against the ceiling as we stood it up. Jacob held it steady, I tightened the screws in the stand and then we stood back and looked.
"How did you even get this here?" I asked, realising I had no idea whether Jacob had driven or caught a lift. Surely he hadn't dragged it from La Push ... although looking at the tree now, maybe he had.
"My dad's truck," he said. "Well, what do you think?"
I stared at the tree a moment. It leant slightly to the left, the curtain was caught up at the back, some of the branches were bent at odd angles and it was already dropping needles.
And Jacob looked so proud, I gave him a soft smile.
"Yeah, it's good."
Decorations were a problem. Charlie had said he kept a box at the top of the hall closet, but by the look of them, and the layer of dust that held them together, I didn't think he had done the Christmas thing for a while.
There were some cracked baubles, tinsel that fell apart when I touched it and ten cardboard stars, each painted a different colour, all sprinkled with glitter and curling at the edges with age. I could sort of remember making them. I'd been five and Charlie and I had sat at the kitchen table, the same one he had now. There'd been newspaper spread out, a box of paints, small containers of glitter, cardboard, safety scissors and glue. He'd sat with me and painted his stars while I painted mine. He'd helped me with the glitter, pouring it in a small pile in the centre and then giving me a spoon to spread it around. Then he'd done the same with his own. We'd poked string through the tops and hung them all over the tree. I remembered thinking it was wonderful, and even though now, years later, I knew the Christmas craft would have been Renee's suggestion, Charlie's smiles had been his own.
I touched one of the stars and the memory warmed me in a way nothing else had in the last two months. Then I handed Jacob the box.
"Um, it's not much of a collection," I said. "I don't think Charlie's had a tree since I was five."
Jake nodded. "That's okay, we can make some decorations. We used to do it all the time when I was a kid."
He walked to the coffee table and bent down, sorting through the magazines that were stacked underneath.
"We could cut some of these up," he said, picking up a magazine and flicking through the pages.
"Not the Fishing Digests!" My voice was sharp and Jake looked up, surprised. "Charlie would kill us." I explained more gently.
Jake grinned. "Yeah, he probably would. What about these?"
"The National Geographics are fine, we can use those."
Jake nodded and grabbed a copy with Krakatoa erupting on the front.
"And what about these?" He smirked as he pulled out two copies of Seventeen. I grimaced. I'd forgotten about those.
"Those you can cut up," I said flatly and turned back to the tree.
They were the leftovers from Jessica's attempt to cheer me up with a surprise movie night. She'd arrived one Friday night, unannounced, bouncy and bubbly, armed with magazines, movies, a selection of nail polish and a bag of chocolates. It had been only two weeks afterhe left and though her gesture was kind her tolerance was low. It took just half an hour for her to get bored and realise that one evening of gossip and girl time wasn't going to fix me.
"Maybe you'd rather be alone," she'd sighed and packed up her nail polish and her copies of Fifty First Dates and The Wedding Planner and headed for the door. She'd turned back briefly for the chocolates.
"You can keep the magazines," she'd said.
So, all afternoon Jake and I made paper chains from winter fashion tips and easy first date conversation topics. We cut paper lanterns from fiery volcanos and mysterious European crop circles. I was mostly silent, just focusing on my task and listening while Jacob told stories about Christmases in La Push. They were funny stories and sometimes the smile on my face was genuine.
I liked Jacob. He'd seen me at my worst, he'd been here that night Sam Uley found me in the woods and brought me home, but he didn't treat me with wary looks or awkward, loaded silences. As we cut and pasted he didn't push me to talk or share my own Christmas stories, he just let me be and somehow I felt a little lighter.
The tree actually looked pretty good when we'd finished and the decorations hid the fact that, despite several adjustments, it still leant slightly to the left.
"I want to put these on, too," I said, fishing out the old cardboard stars from Charlie's box of decorations. We each took a handful and scattered them over the tree, mixing the old in with the new.
"Here," Jacob said, handing me a star that was bright yellow. "For the top."
I smiled and took it from him, then titled my head up to look.
"I'm not going to reach," I said but Jake had already pulled the lounge chair over for me to stand on.
"Um, I don't know ... ," I frowned, visions of trips to the hospital with sprained or broken ankles danced in my head. "Why don't you do it?" I held out the star but Jake shook his head.
"Nope. Your tree, you do it." He held out his large hand and his dark eyes twinkled as he smiled. "I won't let you fall."
I took his hand tentatively. It was warm, warmer than anything I was used to. Memories tried to creep in, another hand, cold, icy - yet it had always seemed warm when it would wrap tenderly around mine.
I swallowed the memories down fast and focused back on the tree. Jake held my hand firmly as I balanced on the armrest and stretched up to put the old yellow star on the top. I wobbled a couple of times, but Jake's grip would tighten, helping me to steady myself again.
"Perfect," he said, grinning as I stepped down carefully and he replaced the chair, dusting my footprints from the upholstery. I gave him a shaky but genuine smile, just as Charlie's cruiser pulled into the driveway.
"Ready for the big reveal?" Jake joked as the front door opened and my father was preceded by the smell of pepperoni and cheese.
The tree was admired, the pizza was eaten, Jake told Charlie about the car he was restoring and Charlie kept an eye on me for signs of life. He seemed pleased when I joined in the conversation and took a second slice of the Italiana Special.
But after dinner, when Jake had gone home and Charlie had gone to bed, I headed back into the living room. I didn't bother putting the light on, I just sat in the dark and looked at the shadowed outline of the tree. Today had been a better day, but now, without the distraction of Jacob and Christmas craft my mind began to wander.
What would it have been like, our first Christmas together? Did the Cullens even celebrate Christmas? It had never been mentioned, but knowing Carlisle's background and his beliefs, and Alice's love for any type of celebration, I was sure they would.
Did they wait until Christmas morning to open gifts, or did they do it on Christmas Eve? I wondered if he liked to shake presents before he opened them, trying to guess what was inside. Did he rip the wrapping off his gifts or did he open them carefully, his long fingers pulling gently on the end of a ribbon, sliding under the edges of the paper. There'd be no paper cuts of course. Such things weren't a consideration when your skin was like marble and my eyes stung as I held back bitter tears.
I wondered where they were. Were they even in the country? Would he think of me on Christmas day? Would any of them think of me? I wondered if Alice could still see my future and if so, what did it look like? Was it as bleak as my life now? Was I still trying to make it through each day only to find the next one just the same? Images filled my mind and suddenly, for the first time in two months, I thought long-term.
And it wasn't good.
The thought of feeling this way, living with the loss and longing, trying to mask it with distractions every day for the rest of my life, was unbearable. The idea that this was all there was for me now was paralysing. My breath stuck in my chest and I gasped a few times, trying to free it.
And in six months I'd graduate ... what then? Should I move away to college? What if he came back and I was gone? Did I really still think that would happen? Or do I stay in Forks and ... do what? Keep working at Newton's store, shopping at the Thriftway and sleeping with my window open in case he did change his mind and came back for me. Was my only prospect for the future to be the mad old lady of Forks who hung around waiting for her lost love to return?
I knew the truth. He'd find me ... if he wanted me.
But he didn't want me. He'd said so.
I'd been a distraction.
Scenarios crashed through my mind, each sadder and more desperate than the last, and tears began to spill onto my cheeks. I would always want him, but I didn't want this.
Suddenly I felt more tired than I could ever remember feeling. I rubbed at the wetness on my face as I stayed, curled up on the sofa, in the dark, crying softly as a restless sleep crept up on me.
Over the next week I tried to make more of an effort, tried to have more better days. Tried to keep the Mad Old Lady from creeping up on me.
I ventured into Port Angeles for Christmas shopping. I tried to join in the conversation more at our table in the school cafeteria. My awkward willingness to be part of the world again brought surprised looks at first and I almost retreated, but Angela's warm smile kept me going.
And I was surprised when I started to feel angry with him. Angry that he'd played me along, angry that he'd let me believe he loved me, angry that I was like this now. And I realised I was angry with myself, too, because even though he'd broken me, I was still allowing myself to be broken. And the anger fueled my determination to find a way back from this ... somehow.
But at night I would shiver and freeze, snuggled beneath my blankets while the chill winter wind blew through the open window that I would never, ever close.
Christmas was quiet. Just Charlie and me and a roast dinner. I chose a complicated recipe so it kept me busy, focusing on the elaborate spiced stuffing so I wasn't wondering what he was doing.
New Year's Eve was busier. I went down to La Push with Charlie for a bonfire. Jake's friends were loud and fun and for a while I was laughing and smiling with them ... but silent tears rolled over my cheeks at midnight when Embry and Quil set off fireworks that reminded me of a night six months before ...
A massive burst of red, white and blue, the biggest yet, erupted above our heads.
"Oh! Did you see that one?" I cried out.
Cool lips pressed against my neck softly and I laughed.
"Edward are you even watching the fireworks?"
"I can do many things at once," he murmured and he kissed me again, just as another burst of colour illuminated the sky.
We were in Port Angeles, in the park by the water, surrounded by hundreds of people. Alice and Jasper were among them somewhere. Edward's arms were wrapped tight around my waist, my back pulled snugly against his chest. His chin rested on my shoulder and my head was tilted up as I watched the display of lights in the sky above me, timed to the music that came from speakers hung in the trees. I'd never been into fireworks much, but watching them with Edward was different. Everything with Edward was different. I heard him sigh softly as his arms squeezed me a little tighter. I moved to look at him but he quickly turned me back around.
"No, you'll miss the finale, watch!"
There was a final, enormous explosion and the oohs and aahs of the crowd were almost as loud as the skyrockets that had lit up the darkness. The music stopped and there was a moment of perfect silence as the last dying sparks spiraled downwards, sizzling as they hit the water and then fading away.
"Did you enjoy that?" Edward was grinning as the sky fell to black again and the crowds around us began to disperse.
I grinned back, nodding. "They were great, I loved the music."
"The music makes a big difference," he said softly. His eyes were smiling as he took my hands in his and walked backwards, pulling me with him so we were standing underneath a large tree, hidden in the deeper shadows offered by its heavy branches. His fingers squeezed mine, our eyes locked and my heart sped up as he lowered his face slowly so our lips gently touched.
Heat shot through me, my eyes closed and while our lips moved together he dropped one of my hands and I felt a single finger trail back and forth along my jaw, then move down my throat and along my collarbone. My hand was in his hair and on his neck and I sighed when his lips left mine and instead followed the path of his finger ... delicate little kisses, but each one like a firework of its own.
I'd forgotten about the crowd and let out a soft hum, angling my head back as I was pressed carefully between Edward and the tree. But suddenly he changed position, pulling away and straightening up, moving to rest his arm around my shoulders.
"Too much?" I asked, trying to get my breath back.
He shook his head. "I think we might have attracted some attention," he whispered and motioned towards an older couple who were walking past, arm in arm and smiling warmly at us. The man winked and while I blushed, somehow Edward managed to seem smug and embarrassed all at the same time.
"Lets go," he said and began slowly walking us back towards the car park. I was still a little breathless and he was still grinning, his eyes bright. I wrapped an arm around his waist and he squeezed his arm tighter around my shoulders.
"You like fireworks, don't you?" I said.
"Yes, I do."
"I guess you've seen lots."
He shrugged. "Some."
"Some?" I scoffed and he chuckled.
"I suppose I've seen my share of New Years Eve's and Fourth of July's." He paused for a moment. "But none as good as these."
"Oh come on, Edward!" Alice and Jasper appeared suddenly. I'd almost forgotten they were with us. "What about Sydney in 2000? They were incredible!"
Edward shook his head, smiling again, and we stopped walking, letting the crowd thin out around us a little. "They were, but these were still better."
He sounded very certain as he smiled down at me. I waited for him to elaborate but he said no more.
"I'd like to hear about Sydney," I said, curious. Edward opened his mouth to speak but Alice got there first, dropping Jasper's hand so she could use hers to emphasise her words.
"We were chasing the millennium and Sydney was where we started. They had this amazing ... ,"
"You were what?"
Jasper smiled at Alice as he took over the story.
"Alice wanted to have as many new millenniums as possible, so we tried to follow midnight around the world."
"And I had nothing else to do so I tagged along." Edward shrugged a shoulder.
Tagged along? He made it sound so lonely.
"So you followed midnight ... is that even possible?"
Alice nodded. "Yes, but it's tricky ... flight schedules, airport curfews. We managed two New Years, though ... Sydney and Los Angeles. If we'd had more time to plan we might have been able to manage another one, maybe two, but most of the flights we needed were already booked up, and we couldn't find a private jet that was available." She paused. "I suppose it was short notice."
"How late did you decide to do it?"
"December thirtieth," she beamed.
I looked at Edward and he shrugged as we all started walking again.
"Maybe we should just buy our own jet," Alice mused and Edward rolled his eyes. "Oh, like that thought hasn't occurred to you, too, Edward," she said smoothly, arching an eyebrow at him.
"Good night, Alice," he said with a grin and she grinned back, giving a little wave as she and Jasper fell back into the crowd.
"So, are you going to tell me about Sydney?" I asked.
He kissed the top of my head and I drew closer to him, hugging him tighter. It was a warm night so I was able to nestle longer without shivering.
"The fireworks were held over the harbour, there was an elaborate light show on the water and they made the harbour bridge and the opera house part of the display. For the finale the word Eternity was written in fireworks along the bridge. It was very spectacular."
It sounded spectacular. "But, you say these ones tonight were still better?"
He nodded. "These were still better."
I didn't get it. Tonight's were great, but there was no light show or bridge or writing.
He hesitated a little, then bent his head, putting his lips to my ear. When he whispered I was surprised at how shy he sounded.
"Because in Sydney I didn't have a girlfriend to share it with."
The tears spilled faster and I dragged my sleeve over my face roughly. Had that really been a lie? A distraction? A novelty? It hadn't felt like it.
I chewed on my lip until I tasted blood and wondered where Edward was now. Was he chasing the new year again? Or maybe he was partying somewhere, Rio, London, Paris, New York. Had he bought a jet? Was he dancing in a conga line? Celebrating in a crowd somewhere, singing Auld Lang Syne? Was he watching fireworks with someone new? I tried to find the anger that I'd embraced a couple of weeks earlier, I needed it now, but somehow, despite the pain that tore through me at the thought of him with someone else, I just hoped he was happy.
Suddenly I wanted to go home. I wanted to just climb in the cruiser and leave and go home and not be here where people were hugging and kissing and happy and singing. I wanted to go home and then ... do what? Stare out my window? Hope that he'd feel sentimental and maybe call me? Try to sleep and hope I didn't have nightmares? Yeah, like that would happen. I could almost set the clock by my nightmares.
My resolve to make more of a real effort was rapidly crumbling and I stared at my feet scuffing the dirt. The Mad Old Lady of Forks was looming hard on the horizon, I could see her beckoning.
"You okay, Bella?"
Jacob's voice brought me back. I swallowed and nodded quickly.
I took a breath and gave him a smile. My lips got it right but my eyes gave me away and I could see Jake didn't believe me. He gave my arm a squeeze.
"So, Happy New Year," he said quietly and I nodded.
"Happy New Year."
"Did you like the fireworks?"
They were over and I hadn't noticed any of it.
"Yeah," I nodded. "They were good."
I sighed and stared at the fading bonfire, ignoring all the hugging and kissing that was going on around us. Jake crouched down and grabbed a stick, poking at the embers.
"Yeah, um, so, this year my big thing will be finally getting my own transport," he said. "What about you?"
I crouched down beside him, focusing on the embers, pushing fireworks and millenniums and mad old ladies out of my mind.
"I already have my own transport."
He rolled his eyes and I smiled a little.
"I mean what's your big thing for this year? Everyone has something."
I picked up a stick of my own and started poking, too. What was my big thing?
"I guess I'm graduating. I'll ... I'll probably go away to college in the Fall." My voice dropped as I realised I'd just given myself a plan for the future. It was vague, but it was something. The Mad Old Lady took a step back.
Jacob frowned a little as he absorbed my news.
"I guess you will." He stared at me for a moment. "That makes you so old," he grinned and I whacked him on the arm.
"Enough of the old, thank you."
He kept grinning as he threw his stick into the fire and stood up, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"So, let me know when you want to take the Christmas tree down. I'll come and take it away."
I stood up, too.
"You don't have to. Charlie and I can ... ,"
"Nah, it's okay. It gets quiet around here just after New Years. It'll give me something to do."
He gave me another smile and I smiled back.
It was a little after twelve thirty when we got home. The phone was ringing as Charlie opened the front door. He ran down the hall to the kitchen, grabbed at the phone but was too late.
"Missed it." He hung it up and rubbed his hand over his head. "Probably your mom," he said through a yawn.
"Well, I'm going to bed. You?"
"Yeah, bed," I sighed and trudged up the stairs behind him. At his door he stopped and seemed to hesitate before he spoke.
"You seemed to have an okay time tonight."
"Um, yeah. It was good."
He nodded, gave me a smile, then leant over and kissed the top of my head.
"Happy New Year, Bells."
I threw myself down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, just as my phone vibrated in my pocket.
Her Happy New Year text winked at me from the tiny screen. Yeah, it would have been her on the phone downstairs.
I sent back a message of my own then tossed the phone on the bedside table and went to lean out my window.
I ran my fingers over the sill.
There were some slight scuff marks where his shoes had rubbed against the paint - the result of a quick getaway one morning to avoid Charlie. My fingers stroked them. It was something I did often.
It was like the desk in Biology. I spent every lesson sitting on his side, my fingers feeling the grooves and gouges underneath where his hand had clawed at the wood that first day ... the day he'd wanted to kill me.
He hadn't been able to erase everything.
"You did exist," I whispered, touching the scuff marks again and then looking out into the dark.
Music was thumping from a party further up the street. The night air was cold and a shiver went through me and for a moment I thought about closing the window. He wasn't coming back, and at least I'd be warm. My hands reached up and I started to pull down the pane of glass, but halfway I stopped.
Maybe tomorrow night I'd close it. I hugged myself as the curtain blew around me.
Jacob came the next afternoon to take the tree away. I'd carefully packed away our decorations, the branches were bare and browning now and the carpet was littered with pine needles.
Jake held the tree steady while I unscrewed the stand.
"Okay, lift it up," I said but Jake lifted too quickly, with too much force. There was a loud crack as the top of the tree broke through the ceiling and we were showered in a drift of plaster dust.
"Jeez, Bella, I'm sorry! Charlie's gonna kill me, isn't he?" Jake panicked.
"How bad is it? Pull it out and lets see."
"I'll fix it, I promise."
"Just pull it out Jake. But gently."
Very slowly Jacob started to pull the tree down. More dust and a chunk of plaster came away, it sat stuck in the branches like an alternative decoration.
"I'll grab the vacuum cleaner," I said and hurried to the hall closet. The debris on the floor was only going to make the hole in the ceiling seem worse.
I heard some scuffling sounds from the living room as I untangled the power cord and hauled the vacuum cleaner across the hall.
"If you can get the tree outside I'll start cleaning up. At least then ... ,"
"It's stuck," Jake grimaced, tugging on the branches. "The last bit's stuck."
"If I pull too hard it's going to make the hole bigger!"
"Then pull gently!"
"I'm trying to pull gently!" His teeth were clenched tight and he was frowning hard.
I crossed the floor and reached up to help him, fisting my hands in the branches.
"Like this." I tugged and wriggled and was rewarded with more dust and more plaster crumbs.
"Maybe we should cut it off at the ceiling!" Jake said suddenly and I considered the idea for a moment, then shook my head.
"No. One more try, okay?"
He sighed. "Okay."
"One, two, three!"
We tugged together and there was a soft crack, the tree gave way, more plaster fell and something pointy hit me on the head.
I let go of the tree, stumbling over the footstool and landing, smack, on my backside on the floor.
"Bella, you okay?" Jake called from the other side of the room where he was pinned beneath the now horizontal tree.
"Yeah," I muttered, looking around, trying to find what had hit me and I realised I wasn't just sitting in a pile of plaster now.
Somehow I was also surrounded by the debris of my birthday.
I stared dumbly at the CD in its case, the photograph, and the box that I knew held two plane tickets to Florida, all lying scattered around me. And while my mind couldn't make sense of what I was seeing, my heart closed down and wouldn't let me try.
I touched one finger to the sore spot on my forehead, and another finger to the point of the CD case, connecting the cause with the effect, as if somehow, maybe that would help me make sense of things.
But Jake was scrambling out from under the tree and I quickly leant over and shoved my birthday presents under the sofa, out of sight. I couldn't think about them now, about what this might mean. I still had a broken ceiling and a room full dead foliage to deal with.
At last the tree was gone. The living room had been cleaned and tidied. My Dad took his broken ceiling surprisingly well and had agreed to let Jake come back the next day with Sam to repair the hole. Dinner had been cooked and eaten and while Charlie took a trip to the bathroom before settling down to watch a basketball game, I grabbed the things from under the sofa and, not looking at them, hurried to my room.
I was still kind of numb as I sat in my rocking chair staring at the things lined up on my bed. My heart and my mind were starting to disagree about what to do with this little discovery. They debated between themselves for a while but my mind won. So with my heart safely in lock-down, I took a deep breath and began to think, not feel.
The items had obviously been hidden in the cavity between my bedroom floor and the living room ceiling, but why? I leant forward and tentatively touched the corner of the photo. After a moment and a couple of attempts I picked it up. It was the two of us, standing by the fireplace. And it hurt to look at him. He was so beautiful, more so than memories could capture. But his face was so serious, his eyes flat. This was the night before he left me. The numbness started to fade and I felt my chest tighten, my heart was rattling the chains, trying to get out. I put the photo down quickly, turning it face down, unable to look at him any longer.
I reached for the long, narrow box and opened it. Two plane tickets to Florida, one for each of us, to visit my mother. I wondered what Renee would have thought of him as I closed the lid and put the box back on the bed.
I picked up the CD next, tilting it, letting the light from the lamp catch rainbows on its silver surface. But I didn't put it on to play. I didn't know what hearing it would do to me so I put it back on the bed, too. Its melody was burned into my soul anyway.
I realised then that one of the photos was still missing. The one of him in the kitchen, smiling. It had disappeared along with everything else two months ago, and I wondered where it was now, and what that meant.
I continued to stare, but I still didn't have any answers. Maybe he just hadn't had time to get rid of them that day ... but I shook my head at that thought. He had superhuman speed. He could have stashed them in his car in no more than a few seconds. Or just shoved them in the pockets of his coat.
No, he'd wanted to leave them here.
When he'd been so insistent that he'd never bother me again, that it would be like he'd never existed, why would he leave something of himself behind? Was it because he hoped one day I'd find them?
It didn't make sense.
I chewed on my lip, considering, and for the first time in two months I actually encouraged myself to think about him, hoping I'd find the answer in a memory somewhere.
Conversations ran through my head. Declarations of love, laughter, jokes, concerns, silly arguments.
And then I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.
A conversation in the school cafeteria. He'd struggled as he'd spoken, as though he found the thought difficult.
... I care the most, because if I can do it ... if leaving is the right thing to do, then I'll hurt myself to keep from hurting you, to keep you safe ...
It all fell into place. I groaned as I slid from the rocking chair and sank to the floor, resting my head on the edge of the bed while I hugged myself and a new pain ripped through me.
It had been a lie.
Not about loving me, about leaving me.
He'd left to protect me.
From his world, from him.
And slowly, my mind put out a toe to test the water, and then it unlocked my heart and let it out.
He still loved me.
My heart started to pound and my breaths were sharp and shallow. Tears spilled onto my cheeks and ran down my face.
He still loved me.
I began to shake, almost too scared to believe. This new truth was a fragile, delicate thing. I had to embrace it slowly, gently, in case it broke and shattered and I was left with the emptiness again. I'd been so long in the dark, I was squinting now against the light.
I hugged my new truth, letting it grow and strengthen. Letting it fill me up, I checked it for flaws and impossibilities, but could find none.
He loves me.
And now, the truth became solid and real and sure as I remembered new things, things I'd been too distracted to see before.
The press of his lips against my forehead as he'd said goodbye - how they'd lingered.
He loves me.
The flicker in his eyes as he'd pulled away. I'd been so distraught I hadn't understood it at the time but I understood now. It was the moment his heart had broken.
"Oh, Edward." My tears flowed faster.
But as I remembered that look, something new was growing along with the truth and it surprised me as it began to take hold.
Because now I realised that wherever he was, he wasn't dancing or singing or having a good time. He would be in agony, and he'd brought it on himself.
The anger grew stronger, matching the truth now, almost eclipsing it.
The anger became fury as I realised just exactly what he'd done ... to me, to us, to himself. And the fury needed to have its moment. I snatched up my hairbrush from the nightstand and threw it at the door, following it with my English book and then my left sneaker.
"Bella! What's going on?"
Charlie's voice and the sounds of his footsteps on the stairs just managed to save my right sneaker from the same fate as its mate. I took a quick, deep breath and swallowed as I hurried to the door and opened it. Charlie was half way up the stairs.
"Nothing Dad, just rearranging some things. Sorry, I'll be quieter."
He frowned a little but nodded. "Okay then."
I smiled and he turned around and went back downstairs.
My anger had abated slightly, but not enough. I was practically growling as I prowled around the room.
"Idiot! Stupid over-thinking vampire!" I spat and snatched the photo off the bed. "Why didn't you talk to me? We were in this together."
His beautiful eyes stared, flat and empty, out of the photo.
"You'd already decided, hadn't you? It was already killing you, wasn't it? Aargh!" I threw the photo down and pulled at my hair.
I stormed and raged, alternately sobbing and snarling and then slowly the anger started to fade and sorrow filled me. Not the sorrow I'd felt for the last two months. This was new, it was all for him this time, not me, and now I was sobbing again. Because all this time I'd been suffering, he would have been suffering, too - and still would be.
I picked up the photo, tracing his face with my fingers, and I knew I had to find him.
If it took the rest of my life ... I had to find him.
Without thinking at all about what I was doing or what I was going to say, I grabbed my cell phone, sat on the floor and dialed the number I never thought I'd ring again.
My sobs slowed to gulps and my heart raced at the thought of hearing his voice.
I knew he would pick up within two rings, he always did. Unless the phone was off and then it was four rings and voice mail. There'd be no message, just a beep.
I waited as I heard the first ring, my leg jiggling up and down.
The second ring.
Oh! He was about to answer. I was about to hear his voice.
My hands were shaking, I was beyond nervous, beyond excited, and I wondered frantically what I was going to say. I love you and I know you love me, please come home? Or maybe, hey Edward, want to explain my birthday presents under the floor?
Okay, it was probably going to voicemail. He could be hunting. Should I leave a message? Maybe not, perhaps I should try again, wait until I could speak to him properly.
I swallowed, and prepared for the beep. Maybe I could just ask him to call me.
An automated message.
... the number you have dialed is no longer in use ... the number you have dialed is no longer in use ...
My phone went the same way as my sneaker.
A/N: Thanks for reading.
Quote in italics from Twilight - copyright Stephenie Meyer