This is a little look into Oldward's mind before he met Bella. It's a companion piece to Bella's Chapter 1, showing us a little bit of what he was up to in the years before their story begins. Suggested listening is "Fred Jones Part 2" by Ben Folds.
As always, SM owns, antiaol betas, bmango prereads. And I write.
On some level, I knew that they were waiting for me to go.
I heard them shuffling in the hallway; I felt their whispers in the movement of the hairs on the back of my neck and in the bones of my aching hands. Sometimes, I even saw their shadows, black silhouettes against frosted glass.
But still I lingered. As I always had.
And perhaps as I always would.
It was my last story, and I drew it out for far longer than I should have. Just one more time, I let my unsteady script mix in crimson lines against the crisp type of virgin pages, imagining the words before me being shaped, however subtly, by my hands.
When the last comma had been placed and the final summary written, I sighed, tugging at my glasses and rubbing my hand across my face.
And when I closed the book, it was figurative and literal.
With tired hands, I let the pages drift closed.
And with a tired heart, I let the longest chapter of my life close, too.
My cane tapped quietly against the floor, my fingers almost white with tension and regret around its wooden handle as I made my way to the door. Sighing, I threw it open.
And to the ghosts and vultures beyond, and to myself, I whispered, "It's time."
It would have been my fortieth anniversary, the day that I retired. Instead of poring over manuscripts, though, I spent it placing those marked-up pages into boxes, the musty scent of books and time drifting around me in clouds that reminded me of a life I had all but asked to pass me by.
From time to time, I glanced around me, trying to take in the sight of the office I'd been haunting for decades, the ghosts of my presence on everything. And yet I was nowhere to be found.
For so long, I had helped others find their words, my bookshelves full of the stories I had coaxed out of overflowing hands and mouths.
And yet there were no stories of my own.
Not that I'd ever thought there would be.
Not in a long, long time.
When the last box had been taped and my desk cleared, I turned one more time around the barren walls and empty shelves, my fingers sliding roughly over dark wood.
I turned off the light then, and limping heavily, I walked away.
My car was loaded down with manuscripts and memories as I sailed away, the twists and turns of the road feeling more severe than usual, and the weightless sensation of going over a hill too quickly made me feel strange and free - right up until the moment the wheels reconnected with the road. With the windows open, I breathed deeply, wanting to laugh and feeling something too bitter and big inside my chest and pushing against my eyes.
Every chance I had, I looked up, marveling all over again that the trees and the road could zip by so quickly while the sky stayed eerily still.
It was the sky that held my attention as I drove, pushing harder and faster than I should, considering I had nothing to be and nowhere to go. There was blackness everywhere, punctuated only by a web of lonely stars that seemed farther away from me than ever.
I saw myself driving into an infinite expanse, empty and cold.
And it wasn't the first time I wondered where I fit amidst its depths.
A fifteen minute drive turned into an hour-long ramble down darkened roads I hadn't been down in years.
But I still ended up back at the same twisted path I always did.
The one that led to her door.
My door, now.
With a tiredness I couldn't name lingering in all my creaking bones, I stepped out of the car and stood once more before the house I'd built for Rose and I, thinking it would be full of family and happiness and tiny voices ringing excitedly in my ears.
Instead, it was empty, filled only with bitterness and with lonely years.
Sometimes, at night, I swore I could hear her in its walls, the echoes of her laughter ringing endlessly, but followed always by the memory of tears. And screams.
And the finality of a door slamming closed.
In those walls, my silence lingered too, twisting and festering over so many years spent pacing those hallways alone.
Silent smiles in the face of her laughter and silent pain in the wake of her tirades.
And silent living in all the years since she'd finally gone.
We'd planned so many things for this moment – for the day I'd finally put down my glasses and my pen.
It wasn't until I walked inside and set down my cane, though, that I realized I'd never made any plans of my own.
The first day that I didn't go to work, I stared at my coffee pot in nothing but a robe and boxers for an hour.
And I stared at a blank page until the fibers in the paper started to move.
When my brother called to ask me how I had enjoyed my time to myself, I mumbled and hemmed and hawed, as always.
And I hung up without telling him how lost I was.
On the second, I went for a walk, my stiff knee complaining with every step.
Passing my neighbor's house, I watched him stooping to hug his grown daughter and smiling at his grandson. I remembered the day he and his wife had moved in and Rose's smile after she'd come back from bringing them a casserole.
"I think they might be good friends, for us," she'd said. "And for our little ones. Hopefully."
As it turned out, of course, they'd been neither.
Turning back toward my house, I remembered her face falling when she'd found out she was barren. I remembered all the words that had welled up in us – hers hurled in angry daggers, and mine restrained.
And yet we'd still managed to hurt each other equally.
On the third day, I opened the door to Rose's and my old bedroom. But I only looked around it for a minute before I closed it again.
I met my old friend Carlisle for lunch about a week into what had evolved into an endless string of days, my unfettered, feckless time streaming out before me.
And inside the vastness of it all, I felt so small.
We made small talk for a while, my voice feeling rustier than usual and sounding strange to my own ears after a week without it. He asked questions about the office, and I told him what little I knew. In the year since he had retired, he'd come to me for all the latest on what had been happening there in his absence, and I'd always tried to fill him in.
I was just starting to wonder what we would talk about – and if we would even still bother to meet – now that I had no connection to the place where we had spent so many years, when his tone abruptly changed.
"When's the last time you left the house, Edward?"
I adjusted my glasses and shrugged. "I'm out of it now, aren't I?"
"And it's still the same house, isn't it?"
I nodded but didn't reply.
"You can't do this to yourself," Carlisle said quietly. "As someone who's been through it, believe me when I tell you it will drive you mad if you don't find some occupation. Especially in that house."
"A house is a house," I mumbled.
"No, Edward." He paused until I met his eyes. "No, it's not."
After our lunch I went back to that house that hadn't felt like home in so many years. For a while, I just stared at its facade from the street and tried to remember the hope I had felt the first time I had looked at it like this - an awkward newlywed trying desperately to satisfy the woman who had always seemed to want more from me than what I was.
A not-quite young man who hadn't even known why he was trying so hard to satisfy a woman he'd rarely felt more than a passing affection and attraction toward.
I spent the night at my desk, doodling aimlessly and failing to write, thinking about my failure of a marriage and my failure to accomplish anything outside of my career. When I woke up, it was with my face pressed to the surface of that still-blank page, my glasses and my pen discarded by my side.
The next morning, I called Carlisle, and in a stilted voice, I asked him about the retirement community he and his wife had moved to when they'd decided their house was too big for just the two of them.
Three days later, I called a realtor about putting Rose's and my house on the market.
Because, for the first time in thirty years, I finally understood that there were some things in life that weren't worth holding onto.
Especially when they'd hurt as much as they had when they'd been mine.
On my sixty-fifth birthday, I found myself packing once again, marveling that a man as resistant as I was to change could end up doing this so many times in the space of so few years.
With tired hands, I sorted through what little Rose had left me of our lives together, marveling that it was still more than I had managed to accumulate in the decades I'd spent without her. Most of it was too tainted by memories of spite, and I found myself discarding and donating, hoping the bitterness that had followed me all my life wouldn't haunt whoever came to own the items next.
And when all was said and done, I had barely enough possessions to fill my car.
After the movers had taken the furniture away, I stared at blank white walls, knowing full well that my story wasn't written on them, either. I said goodbye to a bedroom I hadn't slept in since she'd left, to an office where my words had always failed to come.
And to a nursery I'd only had a chance to paint a soft, pale yellow before the breath of hope had died, stillborn, beyond its walls.
My brother must have been drinking coffee when I called him to tell him I had a new phone number, because he nearly choked, and in the background I heard quiet cursing.
"Seriously?" Jasper asked when he finally found his voice again.
I stared around at the new walls, fighting against the unfamiliar ghost of a smile as I noticed how my bookshelves and my couch looked less lonely in the smaller space.
A space that only looked like me.
I answered wryly, "Does this sound like something I would joke about?"
After hanging up, I walked stiffly down to Carlisle's apartment, blushing slightly when his Esme reached up to hug me, welcoming me to their home.
With nothing else in the world to do, and with nothing but time, Carlisle and I played chess all afternoon, falling into silent communication that reminded me of our decades as colleagues, and, now, as friends. We took our dinner early in the complex's dining room, where I met more of their friends, eating uncomfortably and trying to avoid the leering eyes of more widows than I could count.
The sun was just beginning to set as we were finishing, and I pushed away from the table as smoothly as I could, patting my pockets for my cigarettes and mumbling my goodbyes.
Out in the garden, I paced around relentlessly until my knee was sore and aching, my fingers twisting numbly around the handle of my cane. But there was a restlessness in my bones, a certain something that needed open air and space and something new to breathe.
Eventually I ended up standing in the shadow of an arching willow tree, staring off into the lingering plumes of red and blue across the horizon, watching nighttime settle dimly over another day. My hands shook slightly when I leaned my cane against my leg, lighting a cigarette and letting the scent of smoke and the taste of solitude wash over me.
Rose had always hated that I smoked. Banished to my office or to the garden behind our house, I had indulged in them alone, always coming back into the house feeling guilty as her face fell, enduring the scent of them when she would deign to kiss or touch me.
In our final days, my lonely cigarettes had become my solace, my excuse to go out for some air and for some quiet when her screams were still echoing after me.
And now, just like those memories of resentment, my Marlboros were simply a part of me.
In the soft light of twilight, I drew another long drag of smoke into my lungs, expelling it the way I wished that I could expel the ghosts that still haunted me.
But I couldn't.
I didn't know how long I stood there, even after the last cigarette in the pack was gone. Staring out into the blackness, though, I didn't feel like moving.
And it struck me all of a sudden that it felt like I was there for a reason.
With the last rays of lonely light sinking slowly beyond the horizon, I felt a creeping sense of calm stealing over me, a strange notion filling my head that of all the places in the universe, I was supposed to be here.
And for some reason, it didn't even bother me that I didn't know why.
Every night thereafter, I returned to that spot, staring and smoking and watching the last strands of light filter gently through leaves, and then when the weather grew colder, through the skeletal silhouette of the now-bare trees. And every time, I was possessed by the same calm, and by a quiet in my mind that was foreign to me.
For three years, I watched the cycling changes of the world dying and being reborn around me, even as my own life seemed to be frozen in time, a ragged exhale just on the cusp of being released.
My fingers curled and my head buzzed, feeling creeping back into long-dormant parts of me as all of my will bent toward waiting. Waiting for something.
And for the first time in decades, I felt the faint sliver of hope in my chest, thinking that maybe, just maybe, there might also be something waiting for me.
So … what else would you like to see from Oldward's POV?