The characters and story of Twilight lived in Stephenie Meyer's head long before I came along and read it. They belong to her. This story however, has lived in my head long before you read it and it belongs to me. I don't intend any copyright infringement and you better not either.
Did I say that I need you?
Oh, did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn't I'm a fool you see
No one knows this more than me
As I come clean…
~~Just Breathe, Pearl Jam~~
There is a moment, I think, that every writer has experienced. The first page of the last chapter is open before you, completely blank except for that blinking black line, mocking you. Asking you, how do you begin to tell the end?
Because what is the end, really, but just another beginning. Nothing is ever tied up in the end with a neat little bow, perfectly packaged. Yet somehow, when you've written the story, there's that need to answer every question. To satisfy each moment. To not throw down a jumbled mess of ribbon and misshapen bows atop wrinkled paper, taped at the corners where it's already begun to tear.
So often I sit, staring atmy foe, that blinking cursor, wanting the end to just be the end. And in this moment, I'm thinking, they want me to impart wisdom to my peers?
Jasper had called and pussy-footed around the question in the typical Jasper way. He was so charming he had me agreeing before he'd even asked. And that was exactly how I found myself agreeing to lead a week long seminar and speak as the key-note at the conference. The conference that was the beginning of who I am now, while simultaneously being the means to so many ends.
Obviously I was flattered, and then terrified. I had spoken at other conferences before, lead seminars at a few writer's retreats, but this was by far the most high-profile. It was a honor, but given the history, it felt like a curse. Jasper had his assistant arrange my travel and I signed the agreement before I could even think no, let alone say it.
It was two in the morning of travel day. My flight was at six and a car would come to take me to the airport in a couple of hours. After a few kickboxing rounds with the pillows and an unfamiliar hotel bed, I gave up on sleep and sat down to work before the flight. The last chapters of my newest novel were due to my editor at the end of the week and all I had were three paragraphs that had been reread no less than thirty-four thousand times. But still I sat. Dutifully. Hands poised over the keyboard, eyes slightly glazed, thoughts loose, mind open. It was as though the keyboard was a Ouija planchette and my story the board. I was waiting for some mystical force to take over and give me the answers.
I pounded out four useless pages that I would delete later when I noticed the time and jumped from my seat. The car would be here in thirty minutes. An hour and a half after that I would be on the plane heading for the place I'd spent three years trying to forget. My stomach churned and I gulped green tea.
The nerves were pointless. I didn't expect him to be there. I had no reason to think he would. I never asked, but when I had argued with Jasper about going, he told me. He hasn't been back either. There was no chance of me running into him, exchanging awkward pleasantries and pretending to forget all the times I had been naked beneath him. Trying not to blush while I asked about his wife.
His wife. Even just the thought felt like swallowing concrete. Him belonging to someone else in a way he never belonged to me. Is this how he felt all those years? How did he bear it? How could I have asked him to?
After The Lion and the Lamb I'd reflected on what the true narrative of our story had been. I'd read his side of the tale, I lived with my own. But somehow I was left wishing I could see it as an outsider, a reader of our actual novel, so to speak.
The direct flight from the East Coast meant I could spread out in first class, toss back a valium-laced glass of champagne and wake up gaining three hours. A little travel magic was exactly what I needed in order to walk in there confident.
A suited chauffeur held my name on a sign and walked me out to a town car at the curb. A bottle of chilled Smart Water waited for me on the air conditioned seat. I smiled, thinking back to my first year. Sprinting down the sidewalk to the grubby free shuttle, nearly missing it if it wasn't for Garrett coming to my rescue.
My smile turned into a little laugh. Garrett Poetry. If someone had told me after that first ride that he would have ended up being one of my closest friends I never would have believed them. Not that I didn't instantly like him, it was almost impossible not to. He was the golden retriever of people. I'd seen him and Kate a few weeks ago in Argentina. They're living this whole crunchy, travel-the-world-with-your-kids-letting-the-adventure-be-their-school life. They write and blog and have a massively popular Instagram page filled with family yoga poses next to volcanoes and waterfalls and what not. And I couldn't be happier for them.
I took a break from a press tour to visit them in the treehouse they were living in. Leaning back on a pile of pillows, overstuffed from Kate's homemade empanadas, I stared at the thatch ceiling and began to cry. I had been beguiling them with horrid tales of my life as a part-time dater,part-time mother. And right in the middle of a story about the date who tried to pay for our meal with lottery scratch-offs, yes for real, tears slid down my cheek. I pretended they were from laughter but Garrett saw right through me, just like he always did. He didn't ask, he'd heard the Edward story enough times, he just pulled me over to him and hugged me while Kate did some kind of voodoo magic to the pressure points on my feet.I woke up the next morning in the same spot feeling a little high and a little lighter on my feet.
I wished they could be here now, or even that I could be in the shuttle with him and Benito, their playful banter lulling me to sleep. Back then, Garrett yearned for adventure and now he was too busy living it to spend a week in conference rooms. Benito had given up writing children's literature and last I heard, he was teaching English at a prison in New Mexico and working on a screen play. I missed them both, I wanted them flanking me as we walked into the center. Protecting me from my own broken heart.
The car turned onto the long drive heading toward the conference center which was dotted by eucalyptus and pine trees. I could hear the ocean waves breaking on the rocks over the car engine. I had arrived.
I had to say, being at the conference as a lecturer and speaker felt quite different than it had as an attendee. Waiting on the curb for me was my teacher's assistant for the week. She had checked me in to both the conference and accommodations and had commandeered a cocktail to be placed in my hand the second I stepped foot out of the town car. I liked her immediately.
"Hi!" she said brightly, clutching her clipboard. "I'm Renata but everyone calls me Ren. I'm your T.A. And I'm thrilled," she said, with extra ls. "This week I am here to do anything you need and everything you don't want to!"
I snorted and knocked back the drink before placing the empty glass in her hand. She looked down in astonishment then back at me as I smiled sweetly. " Ren, I am thrilled to have you," I said, meaning it. But there's no way you can do the things I don't want to, I think. Like I really don't want to go in that lobby and remember the first time I laid eyes on Edward. Bumping into him like a clumsy idiot and then staring after him, gobsmacked.
I made a move toward the lobby as a golf cart pulled around and Ren put out her arm to stop me. "You're all checked in, I can take you to your room if you like."
Well, color me corrected. First thing I didn't want to do, bam, checked off the list. The cart rumbled down the lane and I marveled at how the place seemed unchanged. We passed the familiar cottages when a sudden wave hit me as we moved toward the area known as the English Garden.
"Ren," I said, digging my nails into her arm harder than I meant to, "what cottage am I in?"
She paused and looked at her clipboard, turning over a page and then back again. My heart thundered and I couldn't tell if I wanted her to say Bluebell or not. No. Definitely not, I decided.
"Scarlet Begonias," she said at last. "We had it down as your usual cabin? Oh, I hope that's right! We can probably change it if not." She moved to grab the walkie talkie clipped to her waist band and I breathed out and shook my head.
"No, no that's fine. It's perfect." The cart stopped in front of the cabin and the driver tookmy suitcase off the back. "Actually, it'd be more perfect if Zafri-"
"As I live and breathe!" Zafi's voice rang out across the porch as she pushed open the screen door. "Is that Bella Swan? The famous author? The New York Times Best Selling author? On my porch? No way, uh uh."
I ran like a kid just home from summer camp and threw my arms around her. I had no idea she would be here. We kept in touch, but not as often as I'd liked.
"Zafrina!" I said at last, with a mouthful of her curly twirly hair. "You're here."
"Where else would I be?" she said, as though I was crazy to think anything else.
Ren took my bag into the cabin and after a shower and a much needed change out of my "professional author" clothes, I went back to the porch. I sat next to Zafrina, tucking my bare feet under me and tugging on my old white t-shirt.
Zafrina took a long drag from the joint between her lips and squinted at me. "There's my Bella," she choked out, trying not to exhale and passing me the joint. "Damp hair, clean face. Faded shirt, ripped jeans. That's the girl I remember"
I winced and inhaled from the joint. At this rate I'd spend the week drunk and high. No complaints here. "What else do you remember, Zaf?"
"More than you'd want me to. How are you, my little deer?"
I knew my rehearsed customary answer wouldn't fly with her. No more than it'd gotten by Garrett and Kate in Argentina. I was with someone who could read my heart just as easily as one of my books.
"I made it farther than I thought I would, that's for sure."
She nodded as though it made sense and patted my knee. "Just keep at it. Every step forward puts two behind you."
I smiled and marveled at her Zafrina way. From anyone else it would be corny schtick but from Zafrina it was the god damned oracle. "So who else is here, any of the old gang?"
She moved her head from side to side, neither a yes or a no. "Well, you know Garrett and Kate are a no, too busy with those two darling little girls and all their darling little blonde curls. And Benny. Bless his heart. Left us all to go into corrections and screenwriting, how he ended up there, I'll never understand. Let's see, Peter and Mary still come, and that insipid Tanya who is self-publishing on Amazon. But who am to judge, she's doing quite well."
I rolled my eyes as she continued. "I think that's it from your gang. Of course all the oldies still come. I think it's just an excuse for us to keep grabbing for our youth. We spend most the week telling everyone about all the sleepless nights and skinny dipping jacuzzi parties, before leaving all the festivities to fall asleep to Law and Order reruns while the kids try to one up us."
"Oh, come on now, somehow I know that's not true. Surely the "original sapphic vampire" still finds herself in trouble now and again?"
"How much fun we used to have dressing up! Will you come to the party this year?"
I took a drink from the mug of tea she offered and shook my head. I had told Jasper to tell them I would teach, I would speak. I would not socialize. Let them think me an asshole, I didn't care. He told me later he blamed it on the deadline for my new book and they understood. Zafrina said nothing as she held my gaze for a moment.
"And your girls? She asked.
"They are great." The girls I could talk about. "It took awhile for us to figure out what works for everyone and for them to understand it all. But they have turned into these little people. With their own ideas and thoughts and opinions. I love it."
"So they survived?" she asked, but in a way that it felt like she was also saying, just like I knew they could.
"Yes. It wasn't easy for awhile. It was probably just this year or so that things have felt normal. Our new normal, that is. I have a place in Forks and in Seattle. The Seattle house is for the ease of travel, and I'm writing there when I don't have the girls. When I'm not traveling I'm in Forks, period. And I'm there a lot. Jake has been great, he is so flexible. He even let me take them to Europe last summer at the end of a press tour. They loved it!"
"Well, aren't you the poster child for modern divorce?" Take it from Zafrina to get right to the meaty center.
I winced and screwed my eyes shut. "It kills me Zaf, to be perfectly honest. But at the end of the day we are all better for it. We truly are. Jake is such an incredible father now. I mean he always loved the girls and when he was there he shone so bright for them. But our marriage was making him not want to be there and he left them lacking. Now, I mean, he's super dad. You know how classes have "class moms?" Well he has been class dad three years running. And he goes to PTA meetings and coaches Sarah's soccer team."
I paused and took another drink. Truth be told, sometimes I envied Jake. I had gotten everything I ever wanted in my career but it meant I wasn't there to do all those things myself. All the things I didn't want to do when I could have. Be careful what you wish for indeed.
"And you, you're happy?" she asked.
I laughed and raked my hair through damp waves. "I'm not unhappy," I answered.
"That wasn't the question."
"Well what is happiness really? Is it a infinite feeling meant to describe an entire state of being or is it finite moments strung together with all the others?" I shook my head, not really knowing the answer, or even what I was trying to ask. "I'm at peace, I think. It is what it is."
"Don't give me that zen bullshit. You can be at peace, fine. Great even. With everything you've been through peace is maybe better than happiness. But don't give me that 'it is what it is' bullshit. People say that to mean they've accepted or come to terms with their shit. But to me, it sounds like what people say when they've given up playing a role in their own destiny. Because there are fifteen things you could get up and do right now that would make what it is, isn't."
"I guess you're right," I said after a moment. "Okay, I redo my answer. I'm at peace. I accept that my life is of my own doing and I appreciate every minute of it."
"More Eat Pray Love, but better." She stood up. "Now I already know your answer so I'm not going to beg you to come to to the welcome reception. I'll send your regrets and bring back good gossip." She leaned over and kissed my forehead before sauntering down the path to the main house.
Because the universe was an asshole, my seminar was held in the same classroom Edward had strolled into and tipped my axis. I approached the door, hesitant at first, almost expecting to open it and find him leaning against the table, dressed in black and holding that bucket of Red Vines. When I did go inside twenty-five eager faces turned to me as I approached the table.I felt as self-conscious as I did back then, reading straight from the page, scared to look up and see their reactions. It only took half the session for the nerves to ferret away, when I realized they were more nervous than me. Especially a sweet kid named Makenna who managed to approach me after class and give me a stammering awe filled speech about how I was doing what she wanted to do and how she came to the conference because of me. I was smacked with dose of deja vu and my own sputtering speech to Elizabeth on the patio all those years ago.
Oh, how Elizabeth would laugh if she could see this now. Many years later, over many glasses of wine, we laughed until tears collected in the glasses of how naive and bright-eyed I was to meet her. The person I once idolized, the person who set me on the course who changed my life without even knowing it, would eventually become my mentor and one of my closest friends.
I never talked to her about Edward and she never talked about him either. I wondered for a long time if she knew. Not that Jasper would tell her, he was always the professional. But she knew I once knew Edward and at some point the absence of ever mentioning him began to feel intentional. However, when I called her and told her I had been offered a lecturing spot and the keynote address at the conference, she was thrilled and insisted I had to do it. If he had told her anything, it wasn't enough for her to realize just what she was encouraging.
Returning to the scene of the crime felt like what people who witnessed historical events experience returning to the location. I couldn't help noticing and pointing out the ways it had changed, the ways it hadn't. Walking down an unfamiliar hallway with Ren, I laughed and nearly said out loud, "see that ice machine? That's where I knew I had to have him." Not an appropriate share with a TA. At all. But around every corner there were little moments of Edward. That alcove off the reception desks where the payphones used to be, had I really been coming here so long there were once pay phones? I could clearly recall the first night at dinner, when I held my plate of steak and potatoes off to the side so I could fake air kiss Tanya without dripping on her half a salad. So much was exactly the same. Except me.
I came here all those years ago like Makenna. Fresh faced and full of hopes and dreams. I wanted to be a real live author! I wanted to write! I wanted to meet other writers! And I did all those things, and so much more. I was exactly who I wanted to be and exactly who I never knew I could be all at the same time. I was a prolific author making a living off writing, traveling the world and sharing my words. I was a single mother, co-parenting two beautiful children with my very best friend in the world. I was the daughter of two parents who are married to each other, yes, again, if you could believe it. Emily still didn't. I was a survivor of heartache and loss.
Remembering Edward now didn't bite my skin like it once did. His memory no longer caught in my throat while simultaneously piercing my heart. The anger had subsided, the hurt and snubbed feelings gave way a long time ago. But the wistful longing, the feeling that something was missing had never gone away. And it reared it's ugly head in the strangest of moments. Like when I was in a treehouse in Argentina telling stories with friends. Or making love with someone that wasn't him.
I thought coming here would be hard. Scratch that, I thought that it would be impossible. But instead, I'd found the week cathartic. I had come full circle. I could come here and confront it all. This was my life. This was my story. My actual story, not the little truths I hid in my fiction. I could live with my memories around every corner and leave them just where they were supposed to be.
So when I paused in the middle of my keynote address and glanced into the back of the crowd because I could feel his eyes on me, I was shaken. Obviously, it was the memory of him staring at me in this very room so many times before. But this was the first time while I was here that the memory was so real it took me a pause to find my place again. With my ears still ringing from the applause, and my hands still numb from too many too tight handshakes, I could still feel the weight of his gaze as long as I was in that room. As soon as I was able, I slipped away and out the side door to the patio. Our patio.
I closed my eyes and listened to the waves and let the sea breeze wash over me. I needed fresh air, I needed my thoughts, I needed to not feel his eyes on me. If there was any place here I could choose to hide from him, this was the wrong one. This patio was like a portal back. Back to Edward and Bella, where it all began, where it always ended. Just being here again, it was like the air had shifted and I could feel him with me. I could even smell him, as crazy as it sounded. That same clean musky and manly scent that reminded me of being home and being lost all at once.
"Bella," I heard him say.
I nearly cried out, my eyes still closed. What was I thinking coming out here? This was the one place I avoided all week, I should have known better. I opened my eyes and shook my head. Releasing a few spotty tears that blurred my vision. Blurred my vision enough that I thought I saw him standing there.
I laughed and closed my eyes tight again and shook my head. I was going to have to cancel my appointments next week, at this point I was headed for a nice long stay at an in-patient treatment facility. When I opened them, he was still standing there, studying me. And I realized, to my absolute shame, shock and horror, he wasn't a mirage. He was real. Edward was real and standing right in front of me.
My mouth slacked open and I glanced over my shoulder behind me. Looking for what, I didn't know. I bit my lip as he took a step toward me.
"Bella?" he asked.
"Sorry, I-" I started and faltered. "I mean, Hi. How are you?"
He smiled his same sexy lopsided smile. "Hi, how are you?" he repeated. "I've been out here for half an hour trying to figure out what to say to you if I had the chance and you go with, hi, how are you?"
"Well, give me a minute!" I stammered. "I didn't have the benefit of half an hour to prepare. Up until half a second ago I thought I was going crazy."
He cocked his head, quizzically and then dazzled me once again with a smile. "Going crazy?"
"Were you- you were here before?" When I was speaking, I didn't imagine that?"
His smile dropped a little and he held out his hands, a sign of peace. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to notice, I didn't want to interrupt- or distract you- or- I don't know. Bother you. I just wanted-"
"Wanted what?" I interrupted suddenly filled with an emotion I couldn't name.
"To see you," he finally answered. "To see you now. As you are." He raked his fingers through his terminally messy hair and pulled at his jaw. "And you are sight, Bella. Look at you. Fucking the big cheese and all."
I laughed and looked down at my professional-author-who-speaks-at-conferences pant-suit. "This? This is just spit and polish."
He was leaning toward me as we spoke, I wasn't imagining it. And I was shyly angling myself toward him. I wanted him to look at me now, admire the person I had become. You see this? You tried to break this, and it didn't work. I'm fine. Fucking perfect, to be honest.
I squinted up at him in the bright light of the afternoon. The morning clouds had parted and the sun sparkled off the water. He laughed, self-consciously, and wrapped his arms around himself. His feet shuffled a little while his boot poked at some imaginary rock on the ground, kicking it about. He's guarded, I thought. He's protecting himself.
"Spit and polish, 'til it shines. You shined today, Blu- uh -, Bella. Seriously, I couldn't help but be proud, even though I probably don't have a right to. You were amazing, they loved you. I always knew, well I always knew you would do great things, but to see it is something else."
I flushed under his flattery and suddenly I was back in that first week in his class asking him what he thought of my work while he praised me with a silent hand to his heart.
"Thank you, I mean, you're one to talk. You've done fantastically well for yourself, even better than when we…" My voice trailed off.
"Than when we… yeah. Bella, I've been meaning to, I've been wanting to say something about all that."
I held up my hand to stop him. "There's no need, really. I'm going to save us both the trouble. It was a lifetime ago. Or at least it feels that way to me. We were different people then. What I felt then, it's different now. I understand, I think. I mean where you were coming from with The Lion and the Lamb."
He frowned a little and then nodded. "It was so stupid of me to think-I'm sorry. That's what I want to say. No explanations. No excuses. I'm sorry."
"Thank you," I said and I meant it. "It's all in the past. You didn't have to come here just to say that. Oh, I mean, not that you did. Come here. Just to say that. I mean I'm sure you had your reasons." God I felt like an idiot. I was trying to keep it light and breezy. Devil may care, and honey I'm wearing horns. And then there I go an insinuate I'm the only reason he's here.
"You're the only reason I'm here."
"Oh?" I asked.
"Yes. Jasper. He meddled. He told me you'd be here. He told me to get my head out of my ass and if nothing else, make my amends."
"Jasper? He told you. So you just drove up here from LA to say you're sorry?"
"Uh-huh. But down, not up. I drove down. From San Francisco."
"San Francisco?" I asked. "Wow, that's quite a change from LA. How does that work with Rose's movie business?"
"Rose?" Edward looked truly befuddled. "Rose?" he said again. "I thought you knew. Rose is in LA. We aren't- she isn't-"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't know you divorced." My head was spinning at the news. It was like my thoughts weren't sure where to land first. Edward is here, in front of you. For real. He's sorry. He's not with Rose. I was like a base runner caught between two players volleying the ball.
"Divorced? Wait, what? We never got married."
"Yes you did!" I exclaimed, "this one time, right after, well a few months after, we, um last spoke, I called Jasper and his assistant told me, 'he's in St. Maarten for his brother in law's wedding.'"
"I didn't marry Rose," he said. "Emmett did."
"Emmett?!" The base runner fell over and collapsed.
Edward chuckled, "yeah that was pretty much what we thought too." His face turned serious and he pulled at his beard again. " I, uh, broke things off with Rose after that time in Seattle. She was more than halfway out the door as it was. After the trial she spent a lot of time in New York and she and Emmett 'bonded' as she put it. He was her first love, you never get over that."
"No, you don't," I said, "but still, I can't believe it. All this time. I thought you married her, why didn't you- you should have-"
"What? Called you up and told you? You made things pretty clear, Bella. And my decision to end it with Rose, I told you before. It wasn't to be with you. I mean it wasn't just to be with you. It was the right thing to do. We made each other miserable more than we made each other happy. So I ended it because it was right. And I didn't tell you because I couldn't let that influence any decisions you made in your own life. You weren't ready to leave Jake. I understood."
"But you could have told me after…" I faltered. He wouldn't have known to.
"After what?" he asked.
"After Jake and I split up, " I said and uncrossed my arms, throwing them in the air.
It was Edward's turn to feel as confused as me. "You and Jake split? When? How? Why? I mean I know why but what lead to it finally?"
"Actually, no you don't know why. You think you do, like I did, but I was so wrong about so much. Okay, the when, a few months after I read The Lion and the Lamb. A little over three years ago? How, amicably. We went down without a fight. It was hard on the girls. Harder on me than I ever anticipated but it's...worked out, I guess."
"Bella, I'm sorry. I know it's not what you wanted. So he's, with Leah now, then?"
I shook my head, "No, if you can believe it. There never was a Leah. I mean there was but not like I thought. He was having what pop culture now calls "an emotional affair" with her but it was never physical. They dated after we split, briefly. But she lost interest. I guess when you're not breaking up someone's marriage, it's not as thrilling."
Edward winced and I continued, "I don't know. I felt bad for him but I was relieved. She wasn't the kind of person I wanted my girls around much. He's been with Lauren, remember her? From the nursing home? She sent you to get my karaoke gear? God that was ages ago. Anyway, he's been with her for over a year now. She is really sweet. I'm happy for him."
"Wow. I mean. Wow. That's a lot of crazy fucked up shit right there."
"Oh, you haven't heard the half of it," I said, thinking of the old Grandma Clearwater and her magical gourds part of the story. "Another time."
"Another time?" This time he took a step toward me, his hand out as though he might touch my arm. But he dropped it and stopped just in front of me. "There's going to be another time?"
I had said it without thinking. It was one of those things you said in conversation to avoid something you didn't want to talk about. But his hopeful eyes were searching mine now and could feel his labored breath as he asked. My voice shook as I raised my chin to meet his gaze.
After all of these years, all the mistakes we swore we weren't making, the promises we broke to each other and to Jake and Rose. The time we took for granted and the time we had lost, it didn't seem possible. Yet here we were, Edward and Bella, right back where we started but with less baggage. Or more, depending on how you looked at it. But now, we'd finally come clean.
"Bluebell, tell me there is going to be another time," he pleaded.
The sound of his voice had been ethereal up to this moment, almost unreal, like I was watching a movie rather than living the moment. But when he said it, when he called me by his name for me, the camera circled and I felt it. I was here and he was here and there was no one else. The bubble.
"There's going to be another time," I said.
"Same time, next year?" he asked.
I let out something between a cry and a sob. Our parting words, right here, our first year. So many years ago.
"All the time. All the years," I answered as he wrapped his arms around me.
This was our beginning, but this time, there wouldn't be an end. No more goodbyes. We could just breathe. We could just be. Edward and Bella.
There really are no words to thank you all for sticking with me all this time. For everyone who didn't lose hope, who squealed when they got this alert, who loved this story and these characters as much as I did, thank you. I never imagined it could take me this long to get here but the road I traveled had so many twists and turns. As I said, my life began to imitate my art and I found myself at the end of the marriage and the beginning of a career and new life with two wee ones in tow. Would have been great if I could have become a best selling author like Bella too, ha ha. But in all honesty, every kind word you all have shared in your reviews have made me feel like one.
I love you all for loving Tangled Up in Blue.