Thanks to shoefreak37, Alby Mangroves, and happymelt for helping me push through and write this chapter.
"Who is she?" Bella whispered.
Edward saw the flash in Bella's eyes, her gaze quickly moving from the photo to take in the room around them. She was seeing things from a different perspective, looking for the subtle touches of a woman in his home. There were none to be found; they'd all been boxed away, collecting dust in the attic.
He stepped closer and gently took the frame from Bella's hands. His finger moved to the glass, reverently tracing the lines and angles of Angela's face—the arch of her brows, the gentle slope of her nose, the bow of her lips. The photo had been cropped close, so that only their faces were visible in the frame. Edward's lips were pressed against Angela's temple, and she had her eyes closed, a sweet smile playing upon her lips.
They'd been so happy that day.
After getting engaged, they'd just wanted to get married as soon as possible. Edward would have marched right down to city hall and gotten married that very day, but he knew Angela deserved more. She wanted her father to walk her down the aisle, to marry in the church where he had been pastor for years, the church where she had grown up. And she wanted the big princess dress, even though it wasn't exactly fitting for the tiny church.
They shared their celebration with nearly a hundred of their closest family and friends, all crammed within the small sanctuary. It was hot and sticky that day, and Edward remembered feeling the sweat trickle down his back, the clammy feeling of his palms as he anxiously awaited his bride. Other men might have had doubts or struggles with cold feet, but Edward felt as though his toes were on fire. He couldn't stand still, waiting for the ceremony to begin, for Angela to be legally bound to him.
"We were so young," he mused, noticing the absence of the lines he had grown used to seeing in the mirror each day. Angela's face looked the same as it always would, perfectly preserved. He'd never get to see the effects that time would have on her body, never watch her dark hair turn to gray, never hold her wrinkled hand within his own.
He'd imagined them growing old together, raising their children and retiring to the suburbs. The vision of them sitting on the porch, rocking while their grandchildren played in the yard filtered into his mind; he could see himself old and wrinkled, but Angela remained the same, her face untouched by time. He'd never have any of those things he'd wished for—at least not with Angela.
"We thought nothing could touch us, that we had all the time in the world..." Edward trailed off, lost in the sea of memories from the day they wed: seeing Angela walking down the aisle, their first kiss as husband and wife, first dance. "She died three years ago."
"She's beautiful," Bella whispered, stepping closer to place her hand on Edward's forearm.
He closed his eyes to will back the tears, struggling to suck air into his lungs. Some days he felt okay, but there were other days when the pain still felt so fresh, as if she'd been gone for days instead of years.
Bella didn't offer any platitudes about how sorry she was, how everything would be okay, or how he'd get through it. She just moved closer and pressed her body against Edward's, her arms snaking around his waist, surrounding him in comfort. "What happened to her?"
They stood in silence for several moments, Edward trying to decide how much he was willing to share, how much he was ready to share. The memories were rushing back in a flood, little moments he'd forgotten or pushed to the back of his mind. With one last look at Angela's face, he disentangled himself from Bella's embrace, reaching to put the frame back on the shelf, gently tucking it back in between two of Angela's favorite books.
"Breakfast is getting cold," he said, turning to go back into the kitchen.
They sat side-by-side at the breakfast bar, the sound of forks scraping against plates the only sound in the room. Edward couldn't look at Bella. He didn't want to see the questions in her eyes, the sadness on her face. He hated that look—the look of sorrow and pity. He'd seen it on the faces of his friends and family since long before Angela passed away. It was one of the reasons he'd enjoyed his friendship with Bella so much. She treated him like a human being, not someone broken beyond repair. But knowing at least part of the truth, he was sure she'd be looking at him that same way too.
Turning in her direction, Edward realized that Bella had barely touched her food. She was just pushing it around with her fork, her hair hanging around her face and hiding her expressions from him. Edward reached out and tucked the wayward strands behind her ear, hoping that she'd look at him.
As their eyes met, she gave him a tentative smile. A flurry of emotions were visible in her eyes, but there was no pity, only compassion and kindness. The tightness Edward felt in his chest loosened just a fraction, and he felt guilt bubble up in his stomach. He should have known Bella would be different; she was unlike anyone else he had ever known.
Eventually, they tossed their cold eggs into the trash and Bella offered to clean-up. While she got the kitchen back into order, Edward moved back into the living room, slumping down onto the couch. It was still early in the morning, yet he already felt tired and weighed down. He placed his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands. Closing his eyes, he thought about Angela once more.
He remembered the belated honeymoon they'd taken for their five year anniversary. They had school and jobs they couldn't afford to miss, so taking one immediately after their wedding had been impossible, even when his parents offered to pay for it. Instead, they'd spent two nights in a downtown hotel, barely leaving the bed. The only time they got dressed—and even then, it was just a hastily thrown on robe—was to answer the door for room service.
For their first big milestone, Edward plotted and planned their escape for months. He was still knee deep in his residency, but he took on extra shifts in the previous months, switched around with other interns, and did everything he could to make sure he could have a week free. Angela had been working just as hard, finally moving her studio from their home and into a small storefront just a few blocks away. She deserved a comfortable vacation as well.
He'd really wanted to whisk her away to some foreign island; she'd always loved the beach. Angela was content, however, not to stray too far. She didn't want to lose a lot of time traveling, so they flew to California instead. They rented a convertible and explored the Napa Valley, touring wineries during the day and spending their nights in whatever quaint little bed and breakfast they happened upon.
Edward remembered her smile, the giggles that would escape her mouth as he sped down the highway, her hair whipping in the wind. She would hold his hand as he drove, though sometimes her fingers would stray. More than once, they pulled off on a deserted stretch of road, making use of the car's cramped back seat.
Rubbing his fingers across his eyes, Edward forced the memories away and turned on the tv, mindlessly flipping through the cable channels. When nothing caught his eye, he flipped it off in a huff, slamming the remote control down on the coffee table. He was annoyed with himself, angered by the stagnant state he'd allowed himself to exist in following Angela's death. He kept saying he wanted to move on, that he wanted to get his life back, but he'd done nothing to make that happen.
He didn't even notice Bella walk in until she was by his side. She sat so close their thighs were touching, her hand reaching out to rub his back in comfort. He leaned back and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, allowing her to curl into his side. She wrapped both arms around his waist and rested her head against his shoulder.
"My mom died when I was twelve," she whispered.
"That's pretty much the worst age for a girl not to have her mother. I was at this awkward, in-between stage and my dad just had no clue what to do with me. So he took me fishing, to baseball games, treated me like the son he never had."
Edward knew what she was doing. This was how she would gently urge him to open up, by sharing something personal about herself. He placed a kiss in her hair, urging her to continue.
"I pretended to be okay because I didn't want to upset my dad. I read a lot, tried to pretend my life was like the fantasies in my books. But in bed, when I was alone, I'd cry myself to sleep every night. I was sixteen before my dad realized there was something wrong. He wasn't a bad father—he was just too caught up in his own grief to notice mine."
Edward thought about the strength that Bella possessed. As an adult, he still relied on his parents in many ways, clung to them when things were difficult. He would have never gotten through college and medical school without their support, never survived the death of his wife. He couldn't imagine either of them not being in his life, but especially not both of them. Bella's father might have been present when she was growing up, but he obviously wasn't there for his daughter, wasn't attentive to her needs.
He wondered how she'd been able to overcome her grief; she was well-adjusted and happy. She didn't let her past consume her life, not like Edward had allowed Angela's death to consume his. He felt closer to her in that moment. Even though their situations were vastly different, there was still a common thread. They'd both known the pain of losing someone they loved.
"You don't hide so well, Edward. People notice. I noticed. I want to be your friend, but I don't know how to help."
"Just be here, be you," he whispered, pulling her tighter into his chest.
They sat there for a long time, just holding onto one another, listening to the clock on the wall tick down the seconds. When Bella finally pulled away, Edward realized that his shirt was wet and there were tears staining her cheeks.
"Sorry," she whispered, giving him a tight smile.
Edward reached forward and cupped her cheeks with his hands, using his thumbs to brush the tears away. Looking into Bella's eyes, he felt an odd tightening in his stomach—a feeling he hadn't experienced in years. It was completely unexpected, but not unwelcome. Her eyes conveyed her honesty and kindness, the gentle sweetness with which she handled his sadness. He licked his lips unconsciously, entertaining the images that filtered into his head.
What would it be like to kiss her?
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead, lingering there for just a few moments. Her skin was soft and smelled like lavender.
Brunch with his family was much the same as it always was, but Edward found himself more distracted than usual. As the chatter of conversation hummed around him, he was lost in his own head. He thought about Bella, about Angela, and the conflicting emotions that welled up deep within his gut. He still loved his wife—would always love his wife—but he knew that it was time. He wasn't sure how to start moving on, but he was determined to try.
His day with Bella had changed his mind about what he was capable of. He'd always assumed that Angela was it for him, that there could never be another. But that little twinge he'd felt while looking into Bella's eyes made him wonder...what if?
The sound of a chair scraping against the hardwood flooring of the restaurant pulled his attention from his thoughts, and Edward looked up to see his mother rising from her seat. She was moving to embrace a tall, willowy woman with tanned skin and bleached out hair. Edward noted the ease and familiarity between them, the hearty hugs that they exchanged. He knew where this was headed and immediately felt trapped, like an animal in a cage.
"Edward, this is Lauren, Mrs. Mallory's daughter. She just moved back into town. I think the two of you might have gone to high school together."
Edward gave a half-hearted smile and reached out to shake the woman's hand. Recognition dawned as he studied her face. They had gone to high school together, but Lauren wasn't the sort of girl that would have given him a second look during those years. She was pretty and popular, and if his memory was correct, she dated Mike Newton, the captain of the football team.
"Nice to see you again, Lauren," he said, trying to be polite. Though he knew what his mother was trying to do, and even though his heart wasn't in it, there was no reason to make Lauren feel uncomfortable. She couldn't have known that this was a setup. "What brings you back to the area?"
"Ummm...divorce. I just got back into town a couple of weeks ago. Things are a lot different. I hadn't been back in years."
The rest of the conversation was stilted and awkward, though Rosalie jumped right in and tried to pick up the slack. It made sense. She and Lauren seemed similar in many ways. Edward tried to follow what was being said, but he found his thoughts drifting once more.
He thought about the nights he and Bella had spent together, the platonic embraces and cuddling they'd engaged in. Without thoughts of Angela to cloud his memories, he considered how it felt to have Bella's head resting upon his chest, her legs intertwined with his. He thought about his arms around her waist, his hands resting on the small of her back. Edward relished the comfort he felt with Bella near, the sense of peace she brought into his stormy existence.
He didn't even realize the meal was over and everyone was leaving until he felt his father's hand on his shoulder.
"How about we go for a walk?"
Edward walked slowly and shuffled his feet along the concrete, like a sullen teen that was about to be grounded. Talks with his father rarely ended well. He was expecting pressure and accusations, disappointment and awkwardness. Edward was surprised by the first words that came from his father's mouth.
"I'm worried about you, son."
They settled onto a bench in the center of the local park, situated near the fountain. Edward stared straight ahead, watching the water trickling down, unsure how to take his father's confession. Though Carlisle had often expressed concern over him, Edward had never noticed such worry etched onto his face. Maybe that look had always been there and he'd just been too consumed with his grief to see it, but looking at his father, he couldn't simply brush Carlisle's concerns away as he always had. There was no reason to lie and say he was fine; everyone knew it wasn't true.
"Things...aren't good," Edward finally managed to choke out. "I mean, sometimes I feel okay, but most of the time, I just...don't. And I don't know how to not feel that way."
"Have you thought about talking to someone? A professional?"
It was a topic that had been broached before, but one Edward had always been hesitant to accept. He didn't want to hash out his life for someone to analyze and pick apart. He didn't want to be forced to talk about the ache in his chest, the pain of losing his wife. Other people lost their partners and got through it without therapy or medication; why couldn't he do the same?
He wanted to shrug off the possibility, dismiss his father's suggestion. But then he remembered Bella, and he knew he needed to be honest. Things would never get better if he wasn't honest with his family, his friends, but most importantly himself.
"Yes. No. I don't know. Maybe."
"I have some phone numbers, some different professionals you could give a try."
"That's probably...yeah. I–I had a panic attack. I haven't felt like that in so long. I went to see my friend and I didn't realize she was a photographer and I just couldn't control my reaction. I shouldn't feel like that after this long, right?"
"Edward, there's no timetable for your grief, no right or wrong way to deal with it. The problem is that you haven't been dealing with it at all, just avoiding. You have to want to feel better, to try."
Exhaling a loud breath, Edward slumped over, resting his elbows on his knees. His pushed against his eyelids with the palms of his hands until he saw stars, still struggling with this decision. It felt like a make-or-break moment and he knew that whatever he chose would determine his future.
"Okay. I'll try."
With those three words, he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He knew this was the first step in a long road, but he felt resolute and determined. It was time.
Carlisle reached over and clapped him on the back and then squeezed his neck. It was as close to showing affection as the two men had gotten in a long time. "Come on. I should have that list of numbers in the car."
The waiting room was bland and boring, everything colored in complimentary shades of beige. The metal legs of the chair squeaked against the worn linoleum as Edward fidgeted in his chair. He chewed on his lip, ran his fingers through his hair, and thumbed through the outdated magazines laying on the table. The only other occupant of the small room was an elderly gentleman who seemed more than annoyed by Edward's constant motion; he would stare at Edward every time he made a noise.
Finally, a petite woman in dress slacks and a dark-colored shirt emerged from behind the wooden door.
Edward stood and wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs before following her through the door and down the hallway. The room he was brought to was still bland, but it emitted a little more warmth than the waiting area. The walls and floors were still nearly the same shade, but there was some darker wood to break up the monotony. Edward took a seat facing the window, watching the clouds roll past as he waited for the doctor to appear.
Therapy had been suggested by Angela when she was beginning to decline. Edward had scoffed and told her that he didn't need help, that he was coping just fine. He knew she could see right through him, but he refused to acknowledge what he saw as his weakness. When she passed away, his parents had once again made mention of it, but he blew them off as well. He told his father he feared the ramifications it might have on his career; he should have been more concerned about the problems it would cause in his everyday life.
The doctor finally entered, a portly man with a receding hairline and a suit that had seen better days. His shoes were scuffed, and Edward could smell the scent of pipe tobacco as he passed, making his way to a worn leather chair positioned behind the desk. Edward could feel the tension radiating through his body as the man started up his recorder and opened the folder on his desk; the doctor was ready for the session to begin.
A/N: Writer's block is still an issue for me, so no promises on how soon the next chapter will be out, but I'm trying. Providing that I don't go crazy and make a huge leap from my outline, this chapter will mark the halfway point. A huge thank to those of you that are hanging in there with me and still reading.
I didn't get to answer reviews for the last chapter. For that, I apologize. I think that's the first time since I started writing that I haven't answered all the reviews for a chapter. I promise responses this time (and teasers if it doesn't take me two months to write the chapter). :)