The Black Balloon Contest
Title: Beside Quiet Waters
Your pen name: katinki
Characters: ExB
Disclaimer: SM owns Twilight. I own a box of tissues.

I could hear the rushing water, the ever-present churn and eddying currents. I could hear the rumbling crashing of waves, colliding with the jagged rocks below.

I settled on our favorite rock, a wide, flat piece of granite overlooking the cliffs. It was hard and cold, and the roughened edges always dug into my thighs. But I didn't mind because at least I could feel something. At least something permeated the haze.

Like any other day, it was foggy and gray, and the mist clung to my skin, leaving me cool and damp. It was strangely comforting. It felt… appropriate. Because warmth felt alien to me now. It reminded me too much of him.

At the thought of him, my stomach sank and I fought the urge to expel its contents. A deep, drowning misery threatened to overtake me, to leave me empty and still, unable to move or even think.

My eyes snapped shut, battling the nausea, fighting the dizzying spin. I swallowed the thick, salty lump in my throat and I curled my knees up against my chest, as if I could somehow physically hold myself together.

The ache, the absence of him. It shook me time and time again. Everywhere I looked, everything I heard, everything reminded me of him.

"You left me, Edward," I whispered to him, to myself, to God, to no one. "You swore you never would. You swore that you would always be with me.

"You lied to me."

I could almost see him. If I could be quiet enough and if I could just not move, I could see him behind my closed lids. I could see the tangled mop of bronze hair, the same hair I'd wound my fingers through so many times. I could see his blazing, bright eyes, a vibrant emerald hue. I could see his pale, muscular features, lines that I had traced and explored, dips and curves that I knew better than my own.

And his scent. I inhaled the salty air, but instead I smelled him. From the very first moment, I'd been drawn to him. He smelled like fresh detergent, clean skin, and just a hint of masculine cologne. How many times had I buried my face in his neck just so that I could breathe him in? How many shirts of his had I stolen, wanting to wrap myself in him?

I could almost feel him, his long, slender fingers ghosting down my arms. My skin pebbled and I trembled, remembering the way he cupped my cheeks and caressed my bare back. I could feel his lips peppering kisses, full of passion, of want and desire. I could even taste him.

My body fell at the sound of his voice. His velvet laugh was the most significant sound in my world, the sound I'd walk through fire to hear again. But it was so hard to recall, so hard to hear. It was nothing but a faint whisper in the wind.

"I have to go now," he breathed. "I'm sorry, Bella."

Hot, wet tears trailed down my face, dripping and falling, dotting the mottled granite. He was fading, the memories vanishing as time marched on. They were all I had left of him and they were leaving me, too.

"Damn you, Edward!" I cried. "You made me fall in love with you. You did this to me!"

It seemed so long ago that we met. In that tiny coffee shop where I always stopped, he was there that day. I was running late, hustling and running to my very first job. I rushed and stuttered my order, unaware that he was watching. I was ungraceful, bumbling, and nervous.

I spilled my coffee on my brand new dress. Embarrassed, I blushed bright pink and cursed like a sailor. But then, he was there with a pile of napkins and his lopsided smile.

Two days later, he bought me dinner.

I laughed as I'd never laughed before. He was funny and smart and so damned sexy in that suit. Hours upon hours, we sat together, drinking our wine and telling our stories.

It was so comfortable with him, as though we'd known each other for years rather than days. He was familiar yet foreign, an old, sweet soul living in Adonis's body. He was perfect, my ideal man. And I wanted him so, so badly, but I couldn't believe that he wanted to be with me.

At first, I didn't understand it; I didn't accept it. I fought the feelings tooth and nail, just knowing that he'd break my heart. I declined his offers and I tried to avoid him. Like an idiot, I ran from him.

But he just wouldn't go away. My house became a florist shop, and he called me without fail.

I'd been hurt before and I told him so. I told him to tread lightly, that I was scared, that I needed him to be patient.

He just smiled his crooked grin and laughed and said, "That's not a 'no'."

But he wooed me, oh yes, he wooed me. He was a man on a mission and somehow, for some unknown reason, I was that mission. Never relenting, he wore me down with kindness and persistence. He was irresistible, and I finally gave in.

He told me I was beautiful on our second date. I nearly wept and my chest swelled. Never before had anyone said anything like that to me. Yet he meant it; I saw it in his eyes. He looked at me with admiration, with adoration. He saw things in me that I didn't know existed. I thought he might be crazy.

He kissed me on our third date. He was gentle and imploring, politely asking if I minded. He was so old fashioned, but I liked him that way. His words were sincere and heartfelt, and I could feel the crackling want between us.

What started out sweet and soft raged into a burning fire. We had passion and chemistry, and I never wanted his lips to leave mine. Years before, I'd laughed when I heard people talk about lightning bolts and other such nonsense, but I learned that day that I'd been so very wrong.

He told me he loved me on our fourth date. I reeled from his declaration, begging him to take it back. It was too soon, too much. The frightened little girl in me wanted to run and hide. But like always, he just ignored my protests and told me again. And then again and again and again.

I told him that I loved him the very next day. And his expression nearly took me to my knees. It was one of pure, unbridled joy and elation, and I vowed to myself that day to do whatever was in my power to see that face once more.

When we finally made love, time seemed to stop and everything else faded away. It was only him and me.

He worshipped me in ways I'd never known, never even considered. He coaxed my body to heights it'd never experienced before. His touch was like a branding iron, binding me to him, claiming my body, my heart, and my soul.

One of my favorite sights was his face all scrunched up and taut, signaling his release. My favorite sound in all the world was him calling out my name.

The desire never waned or lessened; instead it strengthened over time. At night, in the morning, hiding in a closet at his parents' place, it didn't matter. I could never get enough of him. I would never want anything but him.

Eight months later, he asked me for my hand and gave me his ring.

Looking back, his intent was so obvious. He had hinted and joked and whispered in the night. But me being me, I was surprised. My breath caught and my heart pounded. I couldn't even respond. The feelings coursing through me paralyzed my body. I could only cry and furiously nod.

Like months before, he just smiled his crooked grin and laughed and said, "That's not a 'no'."

We wed in the spring. It was a small ceremony, just like I'd wanted. He even managed to rein in his sister's extravagant tendencies. Of course, he lost some hair over that skirmish. But it was my dream wedding: a few close friends, a simple dress, a flowered meadow, and him. In truth, I'd have married him any way that I could have him. He was all that really mattered.

Our life and our home were warm and happy. We parted each day with words and a kiss. We learned to cook and made silly cakes. We planted a garden and we painted some walls. And being the newlyweds we were, we made love on every flat surface available.

Like any married couple, we fought on occasion. But our spats were really so rare and always about unimportant details. Neither of us could stand to be angry for long; only once did we go to bed not speaking. And when we made our peace? It was like a soothing balm, with each kiss pleading soft apologies.

Two years later, disaster struck. It was a doubly bad year. For in January, my father died, and with him, a piece of me passed away. But in August, I learned the meaning of true and pure agony. Five months along, I lost our child, a boy, my Edward, the third. And I shattered.

But he lifted me up and carried me home. He held me and suffered my anguished blows. Lying together in our bed, I watched the tears spill down his cheeks. He whispered he loved me and that we would heal, that I would be happy once more. And eventually, I believed him.

Unlike some, our grief bound us more tightly; it made us stronger. We promised to try again, or if not, to adopt. We'd always planned that route anyway, to give an unwanted or abandoned child life and love. We had more than enough to spare.

So, we went on with our lives, waiting for the right moment.

For our anniversary, he took me to Bermuda. It was beautiful and it was serene. On the beach, under a pale new moon, he held my hand and kissed my palm. He told me he loved me so many times. We decided it was time to try once more.

But we ran out of time.

The wind whipped across the bluff, and I huddled into my jacket. The rock beneath me felt like ice, hard, unyielding, and rough. I was cold and wet, and the tears just wouldn't stop. My body shook with violent sobs. I felt like I was splitting in two, like the invisible, gaping wound in my chest had just pulled apart.

Slowly, I rose. My feet were numb and my legs felt wobbly and unsure.

"Enough," I whispered, my voice lost in the thundering of the toppling waves. "I can't do this anymore, Edward. I can't, I just can't stand it."

He died on a Tuesday. He was away on business, riding in a cab. The driver didn't even see the other truck coming.

He fought to live, fought to stay alive long enough for me to reach him. At least God granted me that. At least I was there to hold his hand and tell him how much I loved him.

But what did he do? He comforted me. He told me his dreams for me and how much he would miss me. He made me promise to do what I could not do.

And then, he left.

I walked to the edge and took a wary peek down. I was so high up. Surely, this will do it, I thought.

He taught me to dance. He taught me to love. He taught me what it was like to give yourself over to another wholly, completely, and irrevocably. He was my everything. And I was his. When he left this world, I died along with him. There was no point in anything else.

He whispered softly in my mind, "No, Bella. Please don't. You promised me that you would live and move on."

I glared at the heavens and I screamed and screamed and screamed again.

"Edward, then what do I do? I don't know how to move on. I can't feel anymore. I'm so scared and I'm so alone.

"I'm so scared that one day I'll forget, that I won't be able to feel you, to see you, or to hear you. I'm so scared that everything we had will be gone.

"I hurt," I sobbed. "So fucking much. It's like I can't breathe without you. Nothing makes sense and nothing feels right.

"And I'm so goddamned tired. So, so tired. I'm tired of it all. I just want to sleep and never wake up, because when I do, you'll still be gone.

"What do you want from me?" I cried. "What do I do? I want to move on, but I can't. I want to breathe again. But the absence of you is everywhere I look. I feel so empty inside. I want to die... I only want to be with you."

"Shh! Please, Bella, please don't say that. It will pass, and you will heal. You've done it before," he breathed.

I could almost feel his warm breath on my neck.

"Stay with me," I begged.

"You know I can't. But you must move on. Try, for me, please."

I clutched my sides and screamed again, "You left! You left me after you swore you wouldn't.

"What do I do? Tell me, God, please! Tell me what to do!"

I looked down once more. Inexplicably, the waves had died and the wind had stilled. Shards of sunlight pierced the fog, and I could feel its warmth.

The water below looked almost calm and it was almost quiet. I closed my eyes and I could see him again.

And it was then that I could really hear him. When all else fell away and time ceased, I could hear him, as clearly as if he were right there, holding me up and barring my way.

His velvet voice whispered in my ear, "Be happy, my love."