The Black Balloon Contest
Title: The Book of Hearts
Pen name: AzureEyedI
To see other entries in the Black Balloon Contest, please visit the C2 page:
Disclaimer: SM owns everything Twilight touches.
Edward kissed the tip of Bella's nose, eliciting a gush of giggles and a half-hearted attempt at pushing him away.
"Knock it off, loverboy."
"Nope, not until you say yes". Then kissed her nose again, laughing at her weak protest.
Bella sighed and turned towards Edward as he perched over her on their bed. She slipped her pen in her copy of Byron: A Life Obsessed, marking her page, and wishing he'd just let her be.
He had been after her for an answer for the past week, and every time he brought up the subject she demurred, claiming she wasn't quite sure if the time was right.
Bella had all sorts of arguments ready against making up her mind. They were too young. They were broke. They had never lived outside of Washington. They'd never dated anyone else.
The moon could explode and the rivers could rise. The Stay Puft Marshmellow Man could rise and destroy the world, which meant cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria...
Well, maybe not the last part. But every time Edward would press her with a line like "Please, baby. We need to decide this before we start packing," she'd find some excuse to avoid making a decision on the question he had popped to her the week before.
They'd been sitting on the couch of their apartment in Seattle, watching Jimmy Kimmel after an evening playing trivia with Emmett and Rosalie at their favorite bar.
Edward and his twin were ridiculously competitive, especially when it came to pop culture of the late eighties and early nineties, especially Ghostbusters. The brothers would recite the entire damn film to each other, character voices and all, much to the annoyance of their respective fiancée and girlfriend. Neither Rosalie nor Bella understood "the genius that is Bill Murray" that their men revered.
After the last round was over, and Emmett was, once again, victorious with his knowledge of mid-1980's obscure British bands on the 4AD record label. He turned to his brother and swallowed his beer then cocked an eyebrow enquiring "So, brother mine. When ya gonna make an honest woman of this one?" He jerked his right thumb towards Bella receiving a jab in the ribs on his left from Rosalie as soon as the words left his mouth.
Bella ducked her head in embarrassment, hiding her reddening face under a waterfall of chestnut curls. "Oh Jesus, Emmett, thanks," she groaned.
But Edward just grinned that smirky, sloppy grin of his and said nothing as he slipped his left arm around Bella and pulled her into his side, squeezing her in support.
She never saw the answer he mouthed to his brother and Rosalie, neither of whom were quite drunk enough to blurt out his answer in surprise.
They'd been sitting on the couch, each nursing a Pyramid Hefeweizen, when Bella brought up Emmett's question.
"What is up with your brother and his interest in the status of our relationship?" she asked, taking a long pull on her beer, savoring the taste of fermented hops and wheat across her tongue.
"Oh, he's always been a nosy bugger. At least, as long as I've known him."
Edward put his beer down on the cork coaster to spare the oak table any watermarks, lowered the sound on the TV and turned towards a distracted Bella, clearing his throat to get her full attention.
He glanced down at her Notre Dame tee shirt, shaking his head. "Can you please go change that shirt? There is no way I'm going to ask you this if you're wearing something with that overrated school plastered on it."
"Huh? Change my shirt?"
"Please? For me?"
"Okay, okay, whatever." Bella grumpily stood up from the couch, cursing under her breath when she smacked her shin into the edge of the table.
When she returned, she was wearing a tee shirt advertising a salon in Cleveland they had visited over spring break when searching for an apartment together.
Edward grinned at her replacement shirt. "That's better, even if the owner was a snarky jerk. 'Londonium Moda'. Whatever..." He couldn't help but snort in derision at the memory.
"Edward. What's your question?" Bella furrowed her brow, more in annoyance with his assessment of the owner of the salon than anything else. He was the fussiest man on the planet when it came to his hair, which usually appeared to be styled by Hurricane Iniki. If anybody could tame it, they were God's gift to coiffure in Bella's book.
"This, Bella. This is my question." He replied, presenting her with a petite burgundy velvet box in the palm of his right hand.
And thats when Edward Anthony Masen Cullen got down on one knee and asked Isabella Marie Swan to marry him.
On the TV Jimmy Kimmel sat in a tree pretending to be a British actor who was bothered by various and sundry occurrences.
Bella Swan burst into tears.
They had three weeks of classes remaining until graduation. Edward was moving to Cleveland to start medical school in July at Case Western, and the plan was that Bella would join him and work at the med school's library once they'd settled in.
Following nearly two years of medical school would be his clinical rotations and then his residency, and who knew where that might be. With their luck they'd probably end up back in Forks. He'd be busy in the emergency department, working nights alongside his father, which she knew both he and Carlisle would love.
Nothing got the pair of them going like a session of discussing gunshot wounds, stabbings and the occasional bonk on the head from a kid falling off their bike. The two would spend hours discussing cases and dissecting how best to treat the patient.
These sessions invariably left both Bella and Esme bored enough to consider cleaning the grout in the bathtub. They'd roll their eyes at each other and shrug. But secretly they both enjoyed watching their men so inspired by the other.
Returning to Forks would mean living with one of their parents until they could afford a house of their own. Neither Bella nor Edward was too crazy about this situation, but they knew it could be worse. Besides, they'd be together, he loved her unconditionally and she loved him right back, and wasn't that what they both wanted?
At least, that's the way she'd heard it was supposed to be.
Bella pushed her glasses onto the crown of her head. Edward deftly plucked them off, neatly folded them shut and precisely set them down on her nightstand. She followed his fluid movements, still amazed at the attention to detail he paid to this simple act. Edward was always so controlled, so sure of himself.
She loved to tease him about his crusade for cleanliness and order. "Hey! Mr. OCD! Get a load of this," she'd call to him, dropping her wet bath towel on the floor of their bathroom and watching him cringe in horror.
"Bella! You know that bath towels need to be hung over the shower rod. It's unsanitary on the floor. Oh my God..." Shaking his head at her thoughtlessness as he snatched up the offending cloth.
"Oops! I forgot." She smirked at him, but not in a nasty way. He'd grin and pull her to him, squeezing her and kiss the top of her head in forgiveness.
There were worse things in life then to be obsessively tidy, she supposed.
"Give me one good reason why I should marry you, Edward Cullen."
Edward grinned and mussed Bella's hair, tucking an errant lock behind her right ear.
"I can give you a whole life's worth of reasons in one night, Snickerdoodle." He kissed her again.
A kiss beginning on her right cheek, ending its journey across her shower-warmed skin just at the corner of her mouth.
Bella sighed again, but this time more in amusement than in annoyance. "Edward. Please." Then brought up her right hand, brushing the hair out of his eyes, while pulling his mouth down towards her. All thoughts of picking up with Lord Byron where she'd left off were over.
"Please, what?" He murmured against her soft lips, teasing her with just the tip of his tongue, relishing her taste.
Bella cupped his face in her hands, gazing deep into his sea green eyes. She nuzzled his nose with the tip of hers, and whispered, "Please, Edward Cullen. Please make me your wife."
The look of surprise that morphed into the biggest grin she'd ever seen on his face would haunt her forever.
Graduation was over, and their apartment resembled a scene out of "Hoarders." Boxes, books and computer gear were strewn across the floor of their tiny front room while dishes and
cookware graced the counters in their closet of a kitchen. The place was a mess, except for one room.
The bathroom. That room was nearly pristine, thanks to Edward's near-obsessive cleaning efforts.
Their bedroom now held only their double futon, surrounded by clothing and a few miscellaneous books. Edward pulled Bella closer to him, spooning her the way he always did after they had made love, pulling the sheet over them to keep her warm.
"What do you think of...Felix?" He teased, rubbing her belly with the palm of his right hand, while twisting a lock of her hair into helixes and tendrils.
"Felix? Are you for real? Oh, God, Edward, please." She snorted, kicking him in the shin with her heel, but laughing as she did. "That name is horrible. We might as well name it Ebenezer, for all that's worth."
"Hey, now that's not a bad idea. We could call him Eben. He'd be the only Ebenezer in his class" he replied, placing her hand under his, and continuing his circular massage of her flesh.
"Well, as long as we're on choosing awful names for our baby, how about Eustasia for a girl? How's that grab ya?" Bella countered, rolling onto her back and nudging his hand to continue its soothing stroking.
"It doesn't. Why on earth would we name our baby after an inner ear drainage tube?" He laughed, kicking her back. "Okay, smarty pants. Here's one for ya: Icarus. Works either way. Like that one?"
They played this game every so often: "let's pick the most ridiculous name for our unborn baby," even though one wasn't in their plans until Edward had finished his residency. They'd lace their fingers together and rub Bella's belly, imagining it growing rounder and firmer with every passing month. They would speculate on the color of their offspring's eyes and hair. Hazel or sea green? Chocolate brown or bronze? Boy or girl? Never really desiring one more than the other. They just hoped some day they'd be joined by a being who would be created from bits of their best attributes, completing them.
Just like they'd heard it should be.
All their belongings were neatly packed and stored on the rental truck, save for their bath towels and the futon. Both Edward and Bella were excited about their move, even though Bella hated driving long distances, dreading her turn at the wheel of the U-Haul.
"Don't worry about it, Snickerdoodle. I'll drive over the passes. You can handle the flat stuff," he'd told her. "You know I'd never let you get hurt."
Bella hummed to herself as she ran her brush through her hair, thinking their impending journey. She heard Edward rummaging through the one box they had left in the front room, filled with their CDs and toiletries for the trip.
He sounded upset, as if he was desperately searching for something in particular that was purposefully eluding him. As his consternation grew, so did the volume and intensity of his muttering.
"Bella! Where's my damned toothbrush?"
"It's in the box. On top, where you left it in its case."
"No, it's not. It was there, now its gone. Where'd you put it?" The tone of his voice now accusatory and increasingly belligerent.
Bella poked her head around the doorframe. "Edward. What would I want with your toothbrush? It's right where you left it." Shook her head at him, her brow furrowed in frustration. "Really, what is your deal? Calm down, it's just a toothbrush. We'll find it." Then went back to her task.
"Goddamnit to hell," she heard him shoot back, ignoring his outburst. Huh, he must be more nervous about school than I thought. He's been grouchy all week.
As Bella turned to flip the light switch in the bathroom, she noticed his bath towel lying crumpled on the floor, shoved between the toilet and the sink. She picked it up and swung it over the shower rod, flicking off the dust and lint as she did.
He really must be distracted, leaving his towel on the floor.
Bella Swan joined her now smiling and waiting fiancé, grinning at him as he held out his right hand to her, pulling her into his embrace, and kissed him with all the love and hope she held in her heart for him.
The damp towel he'd left on the floor was forgotten.
It wasn't love at first sight for Bella and Edward.
It was more like loathe at first sight.
When Bella Swan entered the biology lab room literally tripping as she dumped her books and bag on the scarred lab table, Edward Cullen snorted at her and shook his head at her clumsiness. This did nothing for Bella's already lowered self-esteem and her heightened sense of awareness.
Jesus, the next thing you know, I'll be in his lap, she thought to herself, her embarrassed face flushed bright red in response to her lack of coordination.
"Sorry," she muttered out of the side of her mouth.
She forced herself to hide behind her curtain of hair, steadily keeping her eyes focused on their instructor. Not really paying attention to his words, which sounded more like a babbling stream to her, Bella purposefully ignored Edward.
Oh God. I just want to go back to Phoenix. This was a big mistake...
Edward kept sneaking glances at his new lab partner, wondering who in the hell she thought she was while ignoring her apology.
What a klutz. Jesus, I hope she's better at Bio than she is at walking. Otherwise I'm screwed.
What Edward mistook for aloofness and snobbery was in reality awkwardness and shyness. And what Bella mistook for bravado and mockery was really Edward's insecurity and his confused attraction to the gentle, scared soul beside him.
So there they sat for the next three weeks, barely acknowledging the other, while at the same time biting their respective lips and hoping the other would make the first move. Both tried to ignore the growing attraction they had felt for each other.
It would take a careening van to bring them together.
After Edward had shoved Bella out of the path of Tyler Crowley's out-of-control van in the school parking lot that overcast October afternoon, everything changed between them.
They became inseparable.
From a first date at an Italian diner in Port Angeles through the rest of their junior and senior years of high school, they were a couple even thought Bella's father Charlie initially didn't approve of his daughter dating Edward. He found it difficult to separate Charlie Swan, Chief of Police from Charlie Swan, Father, where his only child was concerned.
Charlie always assumed the worst in people; it was what he dealt with everyday. And he'd be damned if he'd let anyone hurt his daughter, no matter how fervently she argued against his doubts of Edward's true intentions towards her.
But by the time his daughter graduated from high school, Charlie had grudgingly accepted the fact that Edward was going to be a part of their small family for good. He had to admit that seeing Bella so happy when she was with Edward or spoke of him did dissuade him from sitting Edward down and having a come to Jesus chat, about Bella.
Charlie wouldn't be too happy to learn that Bella and Edward first made love under his roof while he slept, snoring away down the hall.
They'd returned from Prom, and one thing led to another; from a goodnight kiss in the doorway that traveled to the couch, then tip-toed up the creaking stairs, finally culminating in their shared surrender of their virginity under the warm patchwork quilt that covered her bed.
Yeah, he probably wouldn't have been too happy to learn about that.
"Damn, this is tasty."
Bella took another bit of her Blue Ox, glancing over at Edward, who grinned at her response to the burger he'd insisted on buying her.
"It's good, huh?"
"Jesus, Edward, this is so good its sinful." Bella smacked her lips dramatically in appreciation of the greasy goodness of the swiss cheese oozing between her fingers.
Edward laughed, throwing his head back and letting his delight in her response roll over them. Bella had driven the first leg of their journey and this stop in Post Falls, just over the Idaho border, was a welcome relief for her.
She'd been amazed how the topography of Washington metamorphosed the farther east they drove from the temperate climate of Seattle, through the arid valley of central Washington and across the high sierra around Moses Lake. They gasped in surprise as they drove down the hill on I-90 into Spokane, a city larger than she'd expected and built on hills, just as Seattle was.
"I never in a million years thought I'd see sculptures of wild horses in the middle of nowhere," Bella mused, flicking away the remnants of her burger with a paper napkin, made limp by the mid-day heat.
"Yeah, I still remember the first time I saw those. Dad stopped so Emmett and I could run around them. Emmett tried to climb into the basket." Edward laughed again. "Dad wasn't too happy about that. Emmett always found a way to get into trouble."
Bella laughed along with her beloved, pushing the truck keys across the table towards him.
"So he was the bad twin, and you were the good twin?"
Edward shook his head, smirking. "Naw, more like he was the mischievous twin, and I was the cautious twin. If there was something to be explored, he led the way. I always held back a bit, analyzed whatever we were going to do."
Well, that hasn't changed much, Bella thought to herself, picking up her tray. "I'm going to hit the restroom. Be right back."
When she'd returned, shaking the last remaining droplets of water from her hands, Edward was no longer in the small fast food joint.
But from the agitated voices outside, she knew exactly where he'd gone.
"I didn't drive over six frickin' hours to get hit!"
Edward's angered response was apparently due to being pelted with a wayward water balloon had the Cub Scout responsible in tears.
"Jesus Christ, kid. What the hell were you thinking? I got another six hours of driving ahead of me!" He was waving his arms around, pointing at the wet splotches on his tee shirt and cargo shorts.
"I, I'm sorry, sir. It was an accident." The seven-year old boy's eyes were streaming frustrated and scared tears down his wind-reddened face.
Bella stood by the door of the restaurant, not believing the scene unfolding before her. Edward would normally laugh and compliment the boy on his aim, and forget about the errant missile. But this?
This was the behavior of a totally different person. Someone she didn't like, didn't recognize. What was his problem? Edward was usually so placid, so controlled. This was totally out of character for him.
By the time she'd calmed Edward down and apologized to the annoyed Cub Master and the still-crying boy for his outburst, Edward had retreated to the driver's side of the truck, his furious eyes smoldering behind his Way-Farers, arms crossed defensively in front of him, pouting.
Bella climbed into the truck's cab, shooting Edward a look that demanded an answer, but was hesitant as well.
"What was that all about? He's just a little kid, it was an accident."
"I didn't appreciate getting wet."
"Since when did you care about that?"
"Since we have another six hours ahead of us, that's since when." He turned over the engine, and glanced over at his perplexed fiancé. "This subject is closed, Bella." Then steered the truck onto Seltice Boulevard, heading back towards I-90.
Bella rested her head against the doorframe of the truck and pushed her shades down, hiding the anger and confusion in her eyes. Distractedly watching the landscape unfold before her into mountain passes and what she supposed the Wild West really looked like, as long as it had Flying J rest stops along the route.
They didn't speak again until they'd reached Bozeman. When they did it was in forced, polite tones. Bella was still so appalled at his behavior while Edward argued that he saw nothing wrong in his response.
Just before she clicked off the bedside lamp she watched as Edward pulled the rough sheets of the Hotel 6 bed over his head, shutting her out. Neither kissing her goodnight, nor snuggling with her like he usually did.
Bella lay on the hard mattress next to Edward, listening to the steady cadence of his breath as he slumbered. Wondering apprehensively if this was a side of Edward she'd never glimpsed or recognized before.
She hated this new part of him more with every intake of air he took, before finally surrending to her exhaustion.
Looking back, Bella would recall that the second half of their drive to Cleveland as being full of laughs, bad puns and shared head banging to "Bohemian Rhapsody" as they passed the exit for the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, screaming out the final lyrics to the endless blue sky.
They giggled like a pair of stoners when an elderly man driving a Grand Marquis with Ohio plates yelled at them to "Quit acting like a pair of bozos and pay attention to the road" when they accidentally swerved into his lane.
When Bella eased the truck into the space left open by their new landlord, all thoughts of Edward's angry reaction to the water balloon had disappeared.
The building was a classic1920s-era Tudor, complete with leaded glass windows, built-in china cabinets and original oak flooring that would creak and moan under their feet as the weather changed. They had both gasped in surprise that past spring when they first beheld the exterior, hoping the interior matched its graceful outer splendor.
The grinned at each other as they unpacked the truck, carrying in boxes full of clothing and books, their TV and sound system. Bella squirmed in Edward's arms when he insisted on carrying her over the threshold of their flat, once the last box was unloaded, and the truck was locked up for the night.
"Let's leave the unpacking for tomorrow, Bella. We need to break this place in," he murmured into her mouth, closing the door behind him with the back of his right heel.
"Damn skippy, Cullen," Bella breathed back into his mouth, flipping the deadbolt behind them and kicking her legs slowly over his bent right arm, spurring him towards their futon thrown haphazardly on the warm oak floor of their bedroom.
When Edward started school that July, his moods began swinging from exhilaration to disheartenment depending on the amount of studying he had in front of him that day. Bella shrugged it off by telling herself that it was all part of medical school, and that he'd figure out a way to adjust to it.
In the meantime, her promised position at the medical school's library fell through. Edward consoled her by ruffling her mahogany tresses, kissing her on the tip of her nose. He soothed her concerns on their unexpected lack of income with his whispered "No worries, Snickerdoodle. We'll find something for you to do around here, closer to home. Besides, we'll put less miles on the Volvo."
When she hugged him back, she noticed him faintly pulling away from the contact their bodies made. Edward had never done that before, but as she watched him settle back into his chair at their kitchen table to hit the books again, she wrote it off to the stress of him being fed information through a fire hose, rather than through a sippy cup.
He'd been so preoccupied lately with his studies that he was becoming distant, at times ignoring her completely. There were moments when Bella felt as if she were a cyclone of vapor in the room, swirling in confusion at his lack of attention. And it wasn't just Bella he had started to ignore.
Edward wouldn't bother showering for days at a time, acquiescing only when she badgered him enough to elicit a snapped "Alright, already!" from him as he stomped into the bathroom, slamming and locking the door behind him, then opening it enough to hurl his filthy, stinking clothes out into the hallway, leaving her to deal with their stench.
The worse part for Bella was that their sex life, which had always been such an integral part of their relationship, ceased to exist. She began to wonder if there was another woman in his life. Maybe someone he had met in class, someone that he'd kept hidden from her, despite his repeated denials of infidelity when she questioned him about her suspicions.
Bella approached him one evening while he sat on their futon, absorbed in one of his textbooks. She cleared her throat to get his attention three times, finally resorting to snapping in frustration "Edward. Hello?" Finally he glanced up at her.
She slowly untied the short, red satin robe he'd bought her for Valentines Day the previous year, lowering her eyes in what she thought was a seductive manner and approached him.
"Like what you see, baby?" she purred, opening her robe like the wings of a new-born butterfly, exposing her ivory skin, soft and moist from her shower.
Edward's eyes traveled up her body from her toes, lingered at her breasts for a brief second, then came to rest on her face. He blinked once then turned his attention back to his book.
Bella slept on the couch that night, sobbing herself to sleep.
When she peeked at him as he left the next morning, Edward never turned his head towards her, dressed in the same clothes he had apparently slept in and ignoring her anguished plea of "Edward, please baby, what is going on with you?"
What had started out with a blissful and languid afternoon of lovemaking back in July was quickly developing into something that Bella Swan didn't want to think about.
The beginning of their end.
Wandering around their neighborhood in late August, Bella slipped into the Caribou Coffee shop on Detroit Avenue. Between the smell of the brewing coffee beans and the dust motes hanging in the muted sunbeams streaming from the freshly washed windows, she found herself relaxing for the first time since they'd arrived.
One conversation with the manager led to another, and within a week she'd found herself tying on a black apron with an embroidered logo on the bib, learning the ropes of mixing Americanos and Lattes.
Even though the pay wasn't what she might have made at Case, it did get her out of the increasingly stifling environment of their flat. It allowed her to think about Edward and their life together while doing the most mundane of chores between her shifts at the cash till.
She'd been mulling over the idea that maybe she should return to Forks and go work for Charlie at the police station or at the county courthouse. That maybe she and Edward needed a break from each other, give him some space to concentrate on school.
Bella twisted the antique garnet engagement ring around her left ring finger while she ran the espresso machine late one Friday evening in September, wondering which Edward would greet her the next morning.
And speculating if he'd acknowledge her presence next to him at all, which was occurring more frequently than she'd like to admit.
It wasn't just one incident, she'd later realize, but the culmination of them as a whole. Incidents that she wrote off to "the stress of medical school" and especially the notion that disturbed her the most "Maybe he doesn't love me like I thought he did".
But the catalyst came from the most unlikely of sources.
"Bonjour, Bella!" Laurent's hearty greeting always managed to bring a grin to Bella's otherwise serious face. And on this cool November day, it was no different.
They'd first met at a new student mixer on campus. Laurent stood out from the groups of preening and posturing first year med students gathered at Mather Courtyard thanks to his long, obsidian-hued dreads and eyes the color of Russian amber.
Both Edward and Bella were immediately drawn to him, especially after his observation about how their colleagues reminded him of "chickens scratching at the same speck of grain" while trying to one-up each other.
"Laurent! Hey, buddy! The usual?" Bella smiled back, already punching his order into queue.
"Oui, merci." Bella could listen to Laurent's lilting Guadeloupian accent all day. Just hearing his voice brought forth images of lush jungles, azure blue waters and fish spanning every hue of the spectrum.
As Bella set down the steaming paper cup of his native coffee on the counter, she noticed the slight frown working its way across his brow.
"What? Something wrong with your coffee?"
Laurent handed Bella his debit card, biting his lip at the same time, waging an internal battle that he appeared to be losing.
"Bella." Laurent looked her straight in the eye, then glancing around at the otherwise quiet and empty shop. "Is there somewhere we can talk? In private?"
"Uh, sure." Bella slipped out from behind the counter. As she joined Laurent at the green-stained table, she folded her hands patiently, waiting for him to begin.
"Bella. I don't know the right words in English, so please bear with me." Laurent shifted his cup from palm to palm.
"Yeah, sure." Now her brow was knotted in puzzlement.
"Bella, I know that you and Edward are very close, no?"
"Of course. We live together, don't we?" she laughed, flashing her engagement ring at him. But her laugh was mirthless and empty.
"So you know his schedule, when he's in class, yes?"
Bella sighed, more in irritation than anything else. She didn't have all day, and needed to get back to work. Her engagement ring unconsciously starting its orbit around her ring finger.
"Yes. Laurent, can we cut to the chase here?"
He pulled his head back in surprise at her gruff manner, then gulped and soldiered on.
"Bella. Is Edward ill? He hasn't been to class for a while."
"What? What are you talking about? He leaves every morning to go over to Case, even on the weekends. You know, to study." Or does he? The thought crept into her mind. Bella squirmed in the hard wooden chair. "Laurent. How long has it been since he's been in class?"
Laurent bit his lower lip, shaking his head then sweeping his dreads away from his face, looking Bella Swan straight in the eye.
"Not since late September."
Bella gasped, and then the questions began flooding out of her mouth with the force of the Quileute River during the spring thaw.
When they were finished talking, Bella fled the shop, leaving her companion alone at the small table, cradling his distressed face in his warm, soft hands.
Bella arrived back at the flat to find Edward sitting at the kitchen table where he hadn't moved since she left him that morning, staring at the pages of a textbook, and grunting at her hesitant "Bye, baby."
The page he'd been reading that morning unturned. His notebook, full of scribbles and sketches, untouched.
Edward sat at the retro kitchen table Carlisle and Esme had gifted them with in the middle of an animated conversation with some unseen entity. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought Emmett had surprised them with a visit, Edward's side of the conversation was that easy, that comfortable.
Bella peered around the leaded glass cabinet that marked the line between the kitchen and table, and started in surprise when she saw...noone. She twisted her head towards Edward, completely bewildered.
"Who are you talking to, baby?"
He didn't turn towards her at first. But after further prompting she was greeted by Edward's face and eyes, now both flat and blank.
Unfocused. As if she weren't even in the room.
Finally, after several minutes of silence, Edward spoke.
"Jacob? Who's Jacob?"
"Bella. Don't be rude. He's sitting right there." Edward motioned towards the chair across the kitchen table with his chin, frowning at her response.
"I don't see anyone there," Bella cautiously whispered, her arms criss-crossed against her belly and chest, trying to stem the rising panic she felt growing in her gut. She slowly backed herself out of the cramped, enclosed space, not wanting to become trapped if something went awry
Edward turned his flat, empty eyes back towards her seeing but not seeing her standing stock-still against the chipped enamel sink, then flinched at something only he heard, grimacing as if he was being chastised, twisting his head back towards the empty chair.
"Sorry, sorry. She won't do it again. I promise." Then dropping his head as if he were embarrassed by her ignorance of their unseen visitor.
Bella gulped as she bit her lower lip, willing the tears brimming in her eyes to cease, desperately wishing this were a bad dream. The room was silent, save for the steady hum of the refrigerator, oblivious to the nightmare unfolding before it.
"Edward, " Bella ventured one more time. "Who are you talking to?"
Edward looked over at Bella and smiled. Except this wasn't the broad smile with a hint of a smirk at the corner she was used to, that she loved.
This smile was tight. Forced.
"Jacob, I'd like to introduce you to Isabella, my fiancée."
He sat at the Formica-topped table, anxiously waiting for her response. When her acknowledgment didn't come quickly enough, Edward growled at Bella, startling her. Clutching her throat with her right hand, Bella broke her scared silence, twisting her head back towards their invisible visitor.
"Oh, uh, hello, uh, Jacob." Bella stuttered to the chair, tucked neatly under the table as usual.
This seemed to satisfy Edward, who turned back towards the table, nodding his head as if in agreement.
"Oh, yes, of course. Isabella, I'd like to introduce you to Jacob."
There was no sound from the chair, but Edward smiled at hearing something only he could understand.
Outside, the roar of the elementary school bus as it passed their building broke the stillness of the kitchen. The refrigerator continued its never-ending hum.
"Edward. Who is Jacob?"
Edward nodded his head again at the empty and silent chair, pulled himself up and holding one hand towards the chair and the other to Bella, dully replied.
"Bella, he's right there. I find it hard to believe you can't see him. He's over six feel tall. He's a Quileute. You remember. From the rez?"
Bella shook her unbelieving head in denial.
"No, Edward. I'm sorry, but I don't. Who is he?"
"The Controller. He tells me what to do. His name is Jacob."
"Oh." Bella looked up at the dead eyes of her beloved, finally realizing that something was terribly wrong, that this wasn't some odd reaction to the stress of school. That the man she was sure she loved beyond all reason had vanished, only to be replaced by a stranger in unwashed clothes, now happily chatting away with a malevolent ghost.
Bella mumbled an excuse to Edward and Jacob as she slowly inched her way towards the door, pulling her phone from her jacket and hitting the speed dial for 9-1-1.
By the time she'd made it to the safety of the garage and had reached Carlisle, she was frantic.
While in the cozy, womb-like confines of the kitchen, Edward and Jacob continued their discussion of Edward joining the CIA to combat the evil forces of the Pope and the IRS.
I. Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type
II. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
"Akhenaten. Yeah, he was Tut's dad. Not that other guy." The giant standing at the nurse's station smiled in glee, dancing on the balls of his feet.
"Wow, I had no idea that was his dad. So he really was the son of Amun, huh?" The equally smiling nurse shot back, leaning back in her chair, glancing over at the Wikipedia entry on her screen.
The giant stood even straighter, and bowed to the still smiling nurse. Bella had never seen anything like this before in her life.
"I bow in respect to your knowledge, madam," the giant responded.
"Yeah, yeah, that and a dollar will get you a cup of that lousy coffee downstairs, James." The nurse laughed, standing when she noticed Bella inching towards the counter. "Hello, who are you here to see?"
The giant turned towards Bella, causing her to instinctively jump back in self-preservation, her sudden movement caused the giant to step back as well.
"Its okay, James. She's alright. She's not one of the Nubians." He relaxed at her gentle words then shuffled off towards the other end of the day room.
"Nubians?" Bella ventured, finally finding her voice as her eyes swept across the brightly painted room, searching for Edward.
"Yeah. Nubians. James is quite interested in King Tut. The Nubians were his enemies at one time." The nurse following Bella's eyes as they continued their journey across the knots of patients scattered throughout the room with her own. "You must be Bella. He's over by the far left window, where the light is best."
Bella uttered a surprised and embarrassed "Oh!" then seemed unable to move, rooted to the comfort and safety of her spot at the nurse's station. "How'd you know that?"
"Know what? About the Nubians?"
Bella shifted her weight back to her right hip. "Yeah, the Nubians."
The nurse leaned across the counter, winked at Bella conspiratorially and murmured "History Channel."
Bella stared at her then burst into laughter, the tension broken.
"First time on a unit?"
"Is this your first time on a Psych unit? It's okay to be scared. God knows I was." The nurse had moved around the counter, and now stood next to Bella, surveying the room and leaned her left elbow against the Formica countertop.
"Oh, uh, yeah. Is it that obvious?" Bella answered, suddenly conscious of her nervousness and unease of being in the ward.
The nurse laughed and held out her right hand to Bella, who gratefully accepted it. "Oh, just a bit. I'm Tanya. Tanya Denali. I'm the charge nurse today. It's so nice to finally meet you, Bella. Edward talks about you a lot."
"Oh my God, yes. At least, now he does." Tanya noticed Bella's confused look, waiting for her to release her hand. Bella started and reluctantly took her hand back from Tanya's.
"What do you mean, now he does?" Bella ventured, her gaze bouncing between Tanya's face and Edward, seated at a table by himself playing Solitaire and moving the cards before him with great precision.
"Has no one discussed his progress with you, Bella?" Tanya had gently taken Bella's left elbow in her fingers, deftly moving her closer to Edward, who suddenly ceased his movements, waiting for them to approach.
"No, not this week at least. His doctor has really only spoken with Carlisle," Bella whispered. She never noticed that she was leaning into Tanya's sure and steady hand, allowing her to lead her to the chair across from Edward.
Tanya frowned, then rubbed Bella's upper arm as she helped her down into the seat. "When you're done visiting, come see me. We can go into my office and I'll bring you up to speed. Edward, you are one lucky guy; Bella lives up to her name."
Before Bella could respond, Tanya was gone, leaving her alone with Edward.
She sat across the battered table from him, watching as he slowly and deliberately gathered the deck of cards into a neat pile between them. He'd always been so careful with cards, treating them as if they were sacred objects. At least that part of him is still around, she thought.
Her left thumb kept spinning her engagement ring around her finger in trepidation of what his response, if any, would be to her. Bella took a deep breath, and just as she was about to open her mouth...
"Hello, Snickerdoodle. I've missed you."
After three more weeks on the unit, Edward had stabilized to the point where Bella was allowed daily visits. Even better was that Edward could leave the unit under her supervision for a few hours, as long as they remained on hospital property.
Neither of them cared that the mid-January northern winds whipping off Lake Erie nearly froze their breath before it could leave their noses. Or that their fingers were numb and raw from where it flew over the bared flesh of their fingers entwined with the others. They were together again, even if this version of "together" was so alien and foreign from their norm.
"So, Snickerdoodle. Doc says I might be discharged next week." Edward took another drag of his Winston Gold, exhaling away from Bella, lifting his face to the pale afternoon sun, enjoying the warmth of its rays on his pale skin.
As much as she detested his new habit, she never mentioned it. Tanya had explained the whole nicotine/Schizophrenia relationship to her, and she'd accepted this new side of Edward. Guess I'll be doing laundry every day now and investing in Minty Fresh Listerine.
"Really? Do you think you're ready?" she countered. As relieved as she was to hear this, a part of her still believed he wasn't quite there yet.
He still heard Jacob in his head from time to time, but according to both him and his Psychiatrist, Doctor Caius, Jacob's domineering voice had been reduced to what Edward referred to as "a mouse fart." But as far as Bella was concerned, until Jacob was completely obliterated from his mind they were still a party of three, rather than two.
Tossing his spent smoke on the frozen pathway, Edward crushed it out with the toe of his boot, squeezing Bella's hand. He smiled down at her, his eyes nearly back to where they'd begun – green and open and full of life.
"As ready as I can be, I suppose."
"Well, then I guess we'll just take this one step at time, baby."
As they returned to the warmth of the lobby, Bella squeezed his hand again, silently sending a message to the omnipotent voice in her beloved's mind. Go away. Leave him. Let him be
Edward returned the pressure on his palm to her, gazing down at her and thinking the same, repeating it to himself like a mantra, calming himself and decelerating the thoughts careening around his brain.
Go away. Go away. Fly away like Icarus to the sun.
Leave me be.
"See those two over there in the corner? They're really crazy."
Edward was in the most expansive mood Bella had seen him in for weeks. Tomorrow he was being discharged to both hers and Carlisle's care, and they were returning to Forks where they'd live in his parents' house.
Just as she'd always feared they would.
"Edward! That's not nice!" Bella admonished him, throwing her cards on the table.
Edward shrugged his shoulders, shooting her his lopsided grin. "Hey, I've been living in a nuthouse overlooking Lake Erie for nearly three months. I know crazy when I see it. Trust me."
Bella had been on the unit every day over the past three weeks, her presence no longer a novelty to the patients who came and went through the unit. She had overcome her initial fears, now able to ignore James, the unit's armchair authority on the Book of Hearts. He was obsessed with the ancient scrolls, which stated that the heart was the seat of the body and controlled all it's functions, including the brain.
James had cornered both she and Tanya one afternoon while Edward was at a therapy session. He was intent upon impressing upon them both his theory that when the heart was ill, the mind followed. "If a person lost the love they felt for another, then the mind would surely rebel against that, no?" he reasoned. When he asked Tanya for some Sharpies and paper to diagram his idea, she suggested that maybe he might want to see if Bella was interested in a nice game of checkers, instead.
Despite her initial misgivings about his impassioned ravings, she had begun to think that maybe the ancient Egyptians were right after all. In spite of the raging waters in his mind, Edward's heart appeared to have returned to her. How could she leave him now? she mused. That would be cruel.
"Well, you see the guy with the wavy blond hair?"
"Yeah? What about him?"
Edward leaned forward, his eyes sparkling just has they did before Jacob came into their lives. "His name is Jasper. He claims he can control moods and emotions."
Bella couldn't help but snort. "Oh, really? How convenient for him."
He continued to smile at her. "That's not all. He also claims to have been in the Civil War on the Confederate side, which is where all those scars came from."
Bella delicately twisted her body around as if she were gazing around the room in an attempt to catch a stolen glimpse of Jasper's self-inflicted damage. She leaned towards Edward, lowering her voice to match his. "What about the girl, the one with the short black hair?"
Edward snickered softly under his breath. "Oh, Alice? She claims to be clairvoyant. But you know the best part?"
Bella leaned closer to him, their foreheads nearly touching. "No. What, baby?"
"You see that other guy with them? Aro, the one with the black hair pulled back into a pony tail?"
"Yeah. What about him?"
"He claims to be a vampire, and that the other two are in his coven or something. And that they live in Italy, and are vegetarians." Edward sat up straighter, smirking and waiting for Bella's reaction.
She gazed up at him in amusement, her smile lighting up her face. "Vegetarian vampires. What do they eat? Eggplant?"
Edward shrugged. "Who knows? You can't make this stuff up." He reshuffled the cards and started dealing. "In this place, who knows what's real and what isn't?" He frowned at his cards then smiled back at Bella. "All I know, Snickerdoodle, is that I'm ready to go home."
Then he leaned across the table, and for the first time in months, Edward kissed his fiancée on the lips.
Leaving her breathless and exhilarated.
And scared to death.
"So, he takes the Risperdal every morning and evening, the Clozaril at four in the afternoon, and the Lexapro at bedtime. Got it."
Bella, Carlisle and Tanya were reviewing Edward's discharge instructions. Edward sat next to Bella, his left arm thrown casually across her shoulders, as if they were discussing a buying a house rather than his still fragile but strengthening mental health.
"As long as Edward continues his medication and outpatient therapy, he should be able to lead as normal a life as possible" Tanya replied, shuffling through Edward's chart and pulling out forms for both he and Carlisle to sign.
Bella scrunched up her brows at Tanya, leaning forward, away from Edward's arm. "Tanya, what do you mean '"as normal as possible?" As long as he takes his drugs, he'll be back to the way he was before all this," she waved her hand around her, "right?" Her eyes flew around the table from Tanya to Carlisle to Edward, seeking theirs in agreement.
Carlisle sat up in his chair, glancing away from her, suddenly uncomfortable. Edward gazed up at an invisible spot on the ceiling. Only Tanya kept her eyes locked on Bella's confused face, then folded Bella's trembling hands in hers and began rubbing her thumb over Bella's, comforting her.
"Bella. Did I not explain this well enough to you?"
"Explain? Explain what? He's going to be normal again, right? This was just a hiccup, right? 'Cause of all that stress from school?" Bella's eyes glistened with the awful realization of what she'd been denying to herself the past three months.
"Bella, honey," Tanya's stroking thumb continued across Bella's flesh, "This is his new normal."
Bella Swan burst into tears.
"Loamy. That's a perfect term to describe this smell. You always were good with words, Bella."
Edward and Bella had their arms up to their elbows in a mix of egg shells, used coffee grounds and the remnants of the previous summer's leaves; mixing them together into a rich pile of compost for their vegetable garden.
"Yeah, well, that a dollar will get you a cup of that awful coffee down at the hospital," she replied, playfully flicking a leaf at his head.
"That's Tanya's line, cheater," he said laughing "and another wonderful name for a girl."
"Dream on, buddy." Bella replied, breaking a clump of grass apart and breathing in the scent of the prior year's autumn, an autumn that seemed so long ago. As if it belonged to two different people.
Which, she supposed, they both were now.
Bella brushed the damp compost from her arms, flicking off bits of eggshell from her fingertips. "I'm thirsty and, uh, I gotta go. Want anything?"
"Some water would be nice. What time is it?" She could hear the slight tone of unease that always popped up around this time of day. Even with a few slight changes to his meds, Edward still had a bit of anxiety remaining. Four in the afternoon they'd deemed "C time," which managed to tamper down his fears.
"No worries. I'll bring it back with me." Bella Cullen then reached up on her toes and kissed her husband before turning back towards the house they shared with her in-laws.
Edward leaned against his shovel, watching as his wife half-walked, half-wobbled back to the house, resting her right hand against the small of her back. He smiled to himself that their baby had managed to dodge the bullet he had been born with.
Then turned back to his chore, ignoring Jacob's softly snickering voice in his head.
"Leave me alone, Jacob."
You don't have the guts, Cullen...
"You're not real. Go away." Edward raked the leaves into a larger pile, readying them for the compost.
You'd never do it. She'd stop you....
Edward ignored Jacob's voice, increasing in volume in his head. He turned towards the house, silently willing Bella to return, to tell Jacob to leave. Whenever she stepped in, the maleficent voice would grumble but retreat, leaving him to his peace.
"Not real. Go away, Icarus. Fly away into the sun."
What? She tells you what to do? What are you? You're not a real man...
"Jacob. Not real. You're not real..."
Edward looked back again towards the house, up at their bedroom window, then exchanged the rake for the shovel.
You'll never be the man your father is...
Purposefully ignoring Jacob, Edward lifted the sodden leaves on the shovelhead, hefting them up and over his shoulder where they silently landed in the compost pile.
You couldn't handle med school...what a loser you are...worthless...worthless...
"Jacob. Shut the hell up." Edward shot another glance up at their bedroom window then followed the straight angles of the house upward, towards the widow's walk high on the roof.
And now you're going to be a father? What kind of father are you going to be? A worthless one, that's what kind...worthless...
Another shovelful of leaves landed in the pile, but with less force then the previous one did.
Yeah, Cullen, you're a real piece of work...you'll never be a real man...you don't have the guts...
The shovel landed noiselessly in the saturated compost pile, sinking into its loamy richness, while Jacob cackled in triumph.
Icarus... I'm Icarus... flying up to the sun... it feels so warm on my face, so warm so free... I'm Icarus... the wind racing through my feathers of wax. It sounds like my Bella...my Bella screaming...
Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair.
A/N: Dedicated to J, M and D and all who live with the voices.
Recorded accounts of Schizophrenia symptoms date as far back as 2000 BC in the Book of Hearts, part of the ancient Papyrus Ebers. This is the most extensive surviving record of ancient Egyptian medicine.
Thanks to my wonderful betas for their love and tears - Reagan O'Connor, shalu and especially Betti Gefecht.