"Your love will triumph," a woman addressed me suddenly as I walked into the small carnival tent.
I was taken aback by her words as well as the strong shock of incense that attacked my lungs. I coughed a few times, though not meaning to be rude by it. I smiled politely at the woman. At first glance, her body seemed as though it would have been enfeebled. It was her charismatic character that lit the room with high energy, making her seem decades younger than she actually appeared to be otherwise. Angela, who was sitting next to Jessica, tapped the empty wooden stool next to her, offering me a seat. As I sat, the old gypsy dropped the palm of Jessica's hand in exchange for mine. Jessica looked between me and the old woman, shaking her head in confusion.
"What?" Jessica asked. "She doesn't even believe in love anymore. What about me? Will my love triumph?"
The old woman turned my hand over in hers, examining it very closely. Jessica huffed and sighed loudly. She was sparing no pains in being absolutely sure that the fortune teller knew she was not a satisfied customer.
"Look," she scowled at the woman, "I paid you to tell me my fortune. Not hers."
The old woman didn't even lift her head in recognition of Jessica's words. She gave no indication that she was aware of the stingy scoldings from her teenage client.
"What makes you say that?" Angela asked the woman curiously. "About her, um, triumph?"
"Isabella's hand shows me many things," she promptly replied to Angela's curiosity.
The skin around the old woman's eyes looked as though it was made of dry paint cracked with age, breaking violently against her vivid excitement.
"I have anticipated this moment," she said, tearing up a little then.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Ms. Swan," she replied, "I've seen you before."
"Yes," she nodded enthusiastically. "Decades ago."
"I'm only eighteen," I argued. "Just turned a few months ago."
"Yes," she agreed. "I know."
"You can't have seen me before. I think I would have remembered you. I've never even paid to have my fortune told before anyhow."
"That's right," Jessica stammered. "In fact, she hasn't even paid to have it told now. It's my hand that forked over the money."
I withdrew my hand from the old woman's to make way for Jessica's.
"Free of charge," the woman offered as she held direct eye-contact with me.
I was the first of the two of us to blink. She reached further across the small, round, cloth-covered table. She extended her long crooked, outstretched fingers and waited patiently. It was obvious to me that nothing was going to continue unless I played along with the palm reader's silly game.
"Okay," I said, placing my hand in hers willingly this time. "Tell me what you see then."
She closed her eyes and began to hum a haunting croon. My eyelids felt heavy all of a sudden. The crisp winter breeze that swirled into the tent from the snow-covered grounds faded away and a warm draft intruded. The incense that I had perceived as rather strong and vicious mere seconds ago dissipated entirely. The now warm air smelled of honey and lemonade over grass and cool waters: a stark contrast to the reality that we were in the middle of January.
"You will be with him," she sang as she swayed to the rhythm of her song.
The empty pit of despair that had lurched in my core for going on four months rescinded. Within half a heartbeat, all of the discomfort bowed down humbly and gave way to hope. I took in the deepest breath I ever had; never having before been aware of it really was to breathe.
"You see?" she asked. "You believe me. I can feel that you do. Everything around us has changed because of what you are now centering your expectations upon. Do not lose sight of this reality that can be yours. It is more than a mirage or an illusion, Isabella."
"What…" I whispered hungrily, "What… what will happen?" I asked. "What will make this possible? Will he come back?"
"You will find him before he finds you," she revealed.
"How?" I asked. "How can I find him? Where shall I look?"
"You will be drawn to him," she replied quickly.
"I already am," I admitted.
"You will not be… held back as you are now," she whispered. "You will be able to go where you cannot at this time go."
"Where is that?" I begged. "Where will I go?"
"It is more of…how you will go."
"How is that?"
"You will leave us, Bella. You will leave us but you will still be here. You will long for embraces but none will come. None will see you standing there, waiting… none but those who have the gift or who have your heart. Only they will find you."
"They?" I asked.
She nodded her head, indicating surety in this thing.
"When? When will we be together again?"
"Not long from now. You will linger, Bella. You will remain. You will not cross away from us. You never can because you will not desire to leave… to move on. You will find yourself waiting for him… he is your desire, and so he shall find you."
The grip she had on my hand softened, and I was saddened when I realized that she had already said all that she meant to say. Was there not more to reveal? Something more specific? A plan of sorts? A map? A how-to guide or a checklist? I was desperate for a more specific path. Surely she was not finished helping me feel this warmth that I had longed for all this time? There were so many more questions I needed the answers to. How exactly was I going to find Edward? How was he going to find me? Couldn't he find me now? Couldn't he just come back? He must have known I would wait for him forever. Wouldn't he already have known that he is my whole world?
"Can you not tell me more than this?" I pressed.
She glanced behind me, then away.
"It is better that I do not."
She let go of my hand, as I feared she would. The chill in the air returned and the thick fragrance of the incense stung my senses all over again.
Jessica immediately held her hand up. The woman reached into the ratty apron she donned and pulled out the twenty that Jessica had given her. Her hand never touched Jessica's as she pushed the money into it.
"I see nothing," the woman said flatly, giving Jessica's palm merely half a glance, if that.
"That's because you haven't tried," Jessica whined. "You saw something for Bella."
"For your friend there was something special to see. For you I can merely guess and be correct. Let's give it a try, shall we?"
Jessica placed the money on the table and held her hand out again.
"That won't be necessary," the woman said. "I don't need to touch your hand to tell you that the boy with whom you are enamored will be impressed with the dress you've selected in your mind to wear to the dance tomorrow. I don't even need a pack of cards or a crystal ball to see that you and he will connect in some exclusive way. You will dance all night, flirt all week and maybe go out on a date or two. Shall I tell you if it will work out in the end?" Jessica's eyes were wide with anticipation. She had no clue that this woman had no intention of revealing anything to her. "Well, it won't," the woman snapped and Jessica blinked rapidly. "Believe me when I tell you that it never does."
The woman lifted Jessica's money and dropped it in her unsatisfied hand once more.
"Go now," she demanded coldly. "And remember, Isabella, how you felt. Remember that warm reverie that melted the snow outside and within, allowing you to feel softhearted again. Everything points to your reunion; though I feel compelled to warn you that things are not always as you expect them to be."
I stood to leave immediately, not even waiting for Angela or Jessica. A heavy lump in my throat developed from my neglecting the tears that perhaps I should have allowed to fall. But no. I was stronger than this. I would not allow myself to cry here. I had pushed them back for four months.
Bella Swan does not cry... even if she very badly wants to.
Everything about this situation was cruel. The ache in my heart returned tenfold. For a brief moment I was allowed to feel that burden lifted. I was vulnerable and stupid enough to let myself hope for Edward again. I just knew before I even left the house that tonight would be terrible. I would have been better off if I just stayed locked away in my room as I always had since he left me. The pain that came over me was nothing more than absolute proof that I was a stupid idiot who bought into some old fishwife's crap.
"Why did I come out?" The words just slipped through my teeth.
"Don't let it bug you too much," Angela said, sliding out of the tent and patting my arm. "She is paid to entertain. That's all she does. It is all anyone can do when it comes to stuff like this. No one can tell you if something is or isn't in your future, Bella."
"But the way I felt," I stuttered. "That woman was right about how I felt."
"She's an emotion reader," Angela said. "It's just like any old parlor trick. Don't get wrapped up in it. None of it's real."
"Yeah," I said, nodding my head half-heartedly as I mentally kicked myself in my own rear for letting myself get swallowed up by what some lady in a gypsy costume said.
I should not have listened to the hag, but I was desperate for someone or something to comfort me.
"Nothing can," I said.
"Nothing can what?" Angela asked.
Comfort me, I didn't say. Instead I just shook my head.
"Oh, Bella," she whispered, maybe sensing how much pain I was in.
She must not have been able to think of anything else to say. She just stood there as if waiting for me to speak. I blushed at how awkward the moment had become. I wanted to tell her how much I hurt. I had wanted to tell someone for four months now. But I couldn't. It wouldn't have been right to burden someone with my feelings. After all, there was nothing anyone could say or do that would make this ache less than what it was. Nothing, that is, except for Edward coming back to me.
I shrugged my shoulders, not really knowing what to say either. It wasn't her fault that her best attempt at showing me a good time tonight turned into such a massive failure. Fun small-town carnivals weren't really 'my thing' anyway.
"I don't know, Angela," I said to break the silence. "I just don't know anymore."
"Hey," she said, nudging me with her elbow, "You're going to be okay, Bella. You are going to be alright. You'll see."
"Yeah," I said, nodding and trying to smile. "I guess so."
"Well that was a bunch of weird crap," Jessica said, storming out of the woman's tent. "I offered to pay her double for some real info and she turns her old nose up at it! How about that? Not that I care what she has to say. To be honest, she was starting to creep me out with all this reading your hand and giving me back my money. I think she only means to scare us! Can you believe the nerve of her?"
"I was just telling Bella that no one can truly know anything about us anyway," Angela said. "She's just some carnival act who tours from town to town selling words you could probably find in the horoscope section of today's newspaper."
"Yeah?" Jessica asked. "She must have really met you before though, Bella, like she said. I mean, she must know your dad or something?"
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Well… she knew your name. Your whole name. Neither Angela or I said it in there. In fact, I didn't even know that your middle name is Marie."
Instead of the chill up my spine that I probably should have felt, there came that warm feeling of hope again.
"She's good," Angela admitted. "I'll give her that. But she must have figured it out somehow. That's all there can really be to it."
We walked around for awhile, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Winter Carnival that our small town was hosting this year. Several local music and theatre acts were performing and there were rides with lights and all of the usual junk food refreshments. The snow on the ground magnified the strange, twisting colorful lights that were strung from lamppost to lamppost along the streets. The grief was beginning to sink in again- the tears torn afresh. I felt unbalanced as the sounds of children's laughter echoed through the night air.
I didn't belong here.
Not here at the carnival.
Not by Edward's side.
I was beginning to realize that I didn't belong anywhere.
One part of me couldn't wait to get back home so I could crawl under my sheets and disappear from the world again. That was how I felt pretty much all of the time since he left. However, another part – a smaller part – forced my eyes to search around, to scan all of the faces in the crowd. Was he here somewhere? Was he watching me?
Would I find him somehow, like the woman said?
And would he find me?
"Do you guys want to ride anything? I have a ton of tickets?" Jessica offered.
Angela seemed excited about the idea. I didn't want to bog them down.
"You two go ahead," I insisted. "I'll catch up with you later."
"Promise?" Angela asked.
There was something wise in her… as if she just knew that something wasn't right about this situation. But, as she said herself, no one could know what our futures actually were. I don't think anyone would have anticipated what mine was going to be this night.
"Yeah," I nodded.
I truly believed that I would see her again. However, I felt that she would not be able to see me. That turned out to be true.
"You two have fun," I continued.
I waved them away from me, and then turned to walk away. I made a left at the corner. All of the main roads were blocked off for the carnival. As soon as the strands of lights no longer reached above me, and I was sure that no one was around, I allowed myself to cry.
I walked for so long. All the while I could hear the music and laughter behind me.
I never turned to look back. I didn't have the heart to. I just moved forward, into the darkness and away from the light.
A couple of hours had passed; I was sure of it. My toes were numb and my fingers were in pain from trying to curl them. The tips weren't getting enough blood, both from the intense cold and from my body just being worn out from the constant movement through the deep snow.
I looked below me, realizing I had finally come to the edge.
I couldn't see the waters churning, but I could definitely hear them. I knew from their sound that they were extremely violent tonight. The moon wasn't out; it was covered by clouds. I could still see the stars, but they meant little to me anymore. They didn't have the ability to fill me with wonder the way they once could.
I must have already made up my mind because I knew what was coming. There was no doubt about it… no second-guessing. This was it.
I didn't close my eyes as I walked forward. I didn't gasp in fear as I felt the lack of steady earth beneath my feet. I didn't feel colder than I already had when my frail body hit the waters, or as I went limp and was caught up in a strong current. I didn't try to fight, either by kicking my legs, thrashing my arms, or thinking about how I wanted to live. I knew I didn't anymore. I had known that since he left. Only now was I getting around to doing anything about it.
My eyes were still open.
They were open when my lungs filled with salty water and when all of the air forced its way out of me. They were open when my shoulders jerked out of instinct. They were open when my back was beaten against jagged rocks deep beneath the surface and when the strength of the current let up, allowing my remains to wash to the shore. They were open in the morning when the sun rose over the cliff and when the search dogs barked. They were open when my father saw me on my back in the sand, when he fell to his knees and sobbed in despair. They were open when they put me in the bag and when they moved me to a cold steel table. They were open when they washed my hair and dressed me.
And when they closed my eyes and lay me in my casket, I could still see. I could see all around me. I was aware of everyone and everything. I followed the casket to the church. I followed it to the grave. I listened to the minister's words and the lamenting of my friends and schoolmates. My mother and father sat side by side. It was the first time I had seen them together since my mother left when I was four. This is what brought them face to face for the first time in fourteen years. I could see my casket lowered into the ground. People began to leave, but my parents stayed put.
Hours passed and finally my father and mother left my grave. When the sun went down, dirt was set over the casket to fill in the small, shabby hole where my body would remain… though I moved about elsewhere.
I sat on my headstone and waited. I watched as flowers were brought.
Mike and Tyler.
Charlie. He brought them every week, usually on a Sunday. He would sit on the bench beside my grave and I sat next to him; though, he didn't know it. He swallowed a couple beers each time, numbing the pain that rose to his surface as he cried each visit. He would always ask questions, and I would always answer him… though he did not perceive as much.
In April the snow began to melt. It was the third Tuesday of the month that a rare visitor entered through the gate of the little graveyard.
"Oh, Bella! It's true. I had hoped not," said the tiny voice. "There was nothing I could have done. I couldn't get to you in time. You made up your mind so quickly. Forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive, Alice," I urged. "It's not your fault."
Indeed, this wasn't her fault. Surely she couldn't be blaming herself for this?
"It is," she argued. "It is my fault. I should have come back, even without my family. Even without Edward. Or I should have said goodbye. But I didn't even give you that much. You didn't get to know how well loved you are by us all… by me."
"I get to know now," I said.
She sat on Charlie's bench. I sat beside her.
"I wish I could tell you how much you mean to me," she whimpered.
"Tell me," I offered. "I am listening."
"I always felt as though we were sisters. I always loved you like one; though I was too stupid to show you. I deserted you and now you are in a grave."
"My body is," I admitted. "But I am sitting here beside you, Alice."
She stood up all of a sudden, and gasped.
"Or…" she said, walking around the bench in a wide circle, "Are you?"
I stood up too, and walked beside her. She held her hand out, as if trying to feel something with her outstretched fingers. Out of instinct, I lifted my hand out in front of me. Alice moved her palm around, coming closer and closer to me until her hand aligned perfectly with mine.
"Bella?" she asked.
"Yes," I whispered, "I am here."
A/N: Linger: to remain or stay on in a place longer than is usual or expected, as if from reluctance to leave; to remain alive; continue or persist, although gradually dying, ceasing, disappearing, etc.; to dwell in contemplation