I don't own it . . . and most of the time, that makes me sad.
A year and a day.
I'd never really thought about the relativity of time before that year. I was not the kid who dreaded going back to school, who complained that those last few days of summer passed much faster than any others. I slept soundly every Christmas Eve, paid attention in class all the way through early June, and lived every second of every day in a consistent manner.
Desperate for some sort of regimentation. Grasping for every ounce of control while living with the uncontrollable. Of course, I was old enough to be out on my own, away from the influence of my mother and her cohorts before that little bit of Dr. Phil wisdom sunk in. By that time, my life was already set on the collision course my mother had been manipulating since my birth. By that time, I could already feel a tug towards my fate . . . my red thread . . . my Bella.
In the end, it had been three hundred and sixty seven days since I last saw her, one more day than necessary due to Caius' paranoia.
Five hundred twenty eight-thousand, four hundred and eighty minutes.
Thirty one million, seven hundred eight thousand, eight hundred seconds.
Every single one of them dragged infinitely during our time apart. Every day felt like a year, every week more like a decade. The only breaks from the agonizing emptiness in my chest were the few texts we were allowed to exchange. Ten texts per day, each more important than the last, the only communication allowed us for the past year. Caius was adamant that we not be anywhere near the other, that we barely communicate so as not to strengthen the gadái.
We didn't know until later how far he was really willing to go to keep us apart . . . forever.
"It's about four hours to Forks," Jasper said, fiddling with his phone as we walked toward the rental car. "We could stop for something to eat on the way. Maybe try to find a Waffle House."
I threw my bags into the trunk when Jasper opened it, the tension under my skin making my hands shake. A sit down meal, even with the guy who had become my most trusted friend, was simply not a possibility. Not when I could feel her energy, when the thread between us was pulled so damn taut.
"First, you have exactly three minutes to find a fast food place with a drive-thru before we get on the road," I said, my voice deeper and rougher than normal even to my own ears. Bella was close . . . closer than she'd been in over a year. I could literally feel our connection, dragging me westward, making it next to impossible to stand still any longer.
"Second," I said, stepping in front of him when he headed toward the driver's side of the car. "You're in the Pacific Northwest. I doubt there are Waffle Houses or Biscuit Worlds or Cracker Barrels all the way up here." I paused as a jet took off directly over us, the engine roaring with a fury matched only by the blood pounding through my veins.
"And third," I said once the sound of the jet faded. I held out my hand for the keys, grinning when I saw the confusion in his eyes. "I'm driving."
Jasper stared for an extended moment, probably feeling all the frustration and lust and anticipation rolling off my body in waves. Three hundred and sixty seven days was a fuck of a long time to be away from the woman you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, away from her love and her touch and her taste and her lips.
I was going to make up for every single solitary second . . . once I got his country ass in the car.
After what seemed like an hour, Jasper smirked and dropped the keys in my hand. "I almost feel sorry for sweet little Bella. Poor girl doesn't know what's coming."
I smiled as I slid into the driver's seat and started the engine.
There's something soothing about driving – the open road, the freedom to go off course if you choose – it always eased my mind and gave me time to think. And for the three hours and seventeen minutes it took me to drive from Seattle to Forks, every single thought centered on Bella.
Every mile that rolled under the wheels brought me that much closer to her, to everything I'd been missing for over a year. The smiles I loved more than I would ever admit, the way she sighed every time I grabbed her hand, how she always smelled like cookies. Even though I now knew the cookie smell was my gift latching onto hers, leeching it away from her, I still craved it.
The want I'd been feeling everyday for the past year had morphed into a desperate, aching need that rattled all the way down to my bones. Everything reminded me of her - the graceful arcs of pine branches made me think of the curve of her shoulder, the brown of their trunks a poor imitation of her eyes, the purple wildflowers a paler shade of the stripes in her hair.
I'd missed her an almost unbearable amount - and she had missed me just as much. I knew it, felt it. She was in pain because of our separation, but I was going to fix that in approximately four never-ending minutes.
"You're turning left at the next light, then it's a couple of blocks down," Jasper said as he typed on his phone. He smiled at the screen and licked his lip, then started typing again. There was no doubt in my mind who he was texting.
"How's Alice doing?" As much as I wanted to focus solely on Bella, I couldn't be that selfish. Jasper was doing me a huge favor by bringing me out here. Caius had refused to let Bella and me meet alone, and there was no way I wanted that prick James anywhere near me. I'd asked Jasper to accompany me, as much as I hated pulling him away from Alice when she was so close to the end of her pregnancy. I knew how hard a separation was for people in our . . . situations. The addition of a child into the mix made it that much more difficult. But Alice had stayed strong, encouraging Jasper when he said he was coming with me to this tiny town in the rain-soaked northwest corner of the country. And even though he would only be gone for twenty some hours, I felt ridiculously guilty for asking.
Finding the other half of my soul was something I would never regret, but it definitely made being apart extra painful.
"She's hanging in," he replied, looking out the passenger window. "Just impatient to see . . . Little Rose."
I could only grunt my response. This entire situation, this year of separation, had been hard on all of us. Jasper and Alice had acted as intermediaries - defying Caius by flying back and forth across the country, keeping Bella and I informed about the other as much as they could. It was because of Jasper I knew Bella had attended Rose's funeral in Texas, the only time she'd been allowed outside of Washington State. It was because of Jasper I knew just how much guilt Bella felt for her friend's death, for not realizing the fading scent surrounding her meant her very life was ebbing away. For not knowing the aneurysm was growing.
Alice had felt the guilt as well, had cried on my shoulder as she questioned her precognition. She'd wondered why she hadn't known Rose was in so much danger until it was too late. She and Jasper had taken off for a month after that, just disappeared together to grieve and come to grips with their loss. And while I had missed them and the connection to Bella they brought, I'd understood their need for privacy.
The time after Rose's death had been hard on everyone, but we all came through. As soon as Jasper and Alice found out their little peanut was going to be a girl, they chose to name her after his beloved sister as a way of honoring her memory. Esme and Carlisle had moved down to Caius' ranch to help take care of the business while Mrs. Whitlock moved up to be with her husband. I never met her, even though she lived on the same property as I did - Caius wouldn't risk the life of his wife, of her gift, by allowing her close to me. From what Jasper told me, her power of emotional manipulation was ridiculously strong.
Bella and I had texted and sent messages through our friends, supporting one another, grieving together while completely alone. We made it through the death, the guilt, the anger, and the loss as a unit, as a team. There was only one event that caused us to stop talking . . . only one subject that had managed to wedge itself between us, to separate us.
Or rather, the fact that we could never have any. Knowing we could never marry, never take those vows in front of our family and friends, was difficult enough for us to process. But we'd dealt with the knowledge together after Tanya had explained how the simple act of being married would awaken the curse once again. Her explanation, all gleaned from Emmett's notes and research, had finally made us understand exactly why they had chosen to handfast us . . . and why Caius demanded we stay apart for those three hundred and sixty seven days. When all was said and done, when any chance of ever marrying was officially taken off the table, Bella and I had dealt with the sadness and the loss of something neither of us had ever really had time to want.
But the day I texted her that we could never have kids - that I refused to risk my offspring's life the way mine had been risked, that the Masen curse would die with me - was the day that lead to a two week silence from my heart. Fourteen days - no texts, no messages through Jasper or Alice. Her final text before radio silence had ripped through my heart like a knife, leaving me desperate to comfort her.
You've just taken something precious from me & my heart hurts. I need time to figure out where we go from here. ~B
And then nothing for fourteen of the longest days of my very existence. I had raged and sobbed and begged, but Caius refused to let me go to her, wouldn't even allow me to call her. I had retreated to my room, vowing not to come out until she responded. But it wasn't a text from her that had broken my seclusion - hell it wasn't even her really. It was Alice. My cousin-turned-sister. She had opened my door one day and sat on the edge of my bed. Before I could even tell her to get out, she very quietly told me how hurt Bella was, how sad and heartbroken, how she was grieving the loss of children she would never know but had always somehow imagined being in her life, and how much she still loved me.
Then Alice told me how James had tried to take advantage of Bella's weakness, had promised her a life filled with vows and little feet, play dates and ballet recitals. How he offered himself to her . . . to give her that life.
And how Bella had broken his nose when he'd tried to kiss her.
Two hours later, Caius came into my room with my phone, seven texts from Bella lighting up the screen. Our grieving apparently over, we took advantage that day, using our allotted ten-per-day from the missed days to renew our love, to understand our loss together, and to reconnect to the most important person in each of our lives.
To recommit that nothing and no one would ever come between us.
"It's that little white house on the right," Jasper said, pointing out the window at a quaint Cape Cod style home as he interrupted my musings. It wasn't much - just a little starter home in a slightly shabby neighborhood - but it looked warm and inviting. It looked as if someone happy lived there, as if children would play in the yard, and a dog would bark at the people walking by.
It looked more like a home than anything I'd ever lived in.
I turned into the driveway but didn't move to put the car in park. I just stared at the porch, the windows, the flower boxes. This house looked like somewhere Bella and I could be happy. Away from the people who knew our secrets. We could move here, live here, grow old here . . . together. We could truly begin living here, in the house bequeathed to her.
The father she'd never known and his hurtful mother had just given us one of the greatest gifts imaginable - they'd given us a chance at a future together.
"You planning on stepping out of the car, man?" Jasper asked, his voice quiet. I licked my bottom lip and took a deep breath before putting the car in park. She was here - I could feel her inside that pretty little house. I could feel her anticipation, her nerves . . . her love. And as afraid as I was, as nervous about what could possibly happen if the gadái was able to take control of us again, I knew I needed to see her.
I took a deep breath and unlatched my seat belt. "Yeah. I just-"
I didn't get to finish my sentence, couldn't even finish the thought, because in that moment, the most beautiful woman in the world threw open the green front door and stepped out onto the porch. Our eyes met, and the rest of the world disappeared. All there was, all that existed, was her, me, and a fuckton of static in the air between us. Power flowed over me, rippling like a tidal pool as the waters receded. The gifts the gadái had come into contact with before our separation came barreling through our connection - empathy, truth auras, precognition, telekinesis. They washed over me, diving into the deepest parts of my psyche, looking for anything to grab hold of. I struggled against the onslaught, fighting off the invasion as I continued to stare at my girl.
She looked tired but beautiful. Her hair was longer, her clothes looser as if she'd lost weight, but her eyes were bright and her smile was breathtaking. By the look on her face, she didn't feel the gadái the way I did, and for that I was glad. I would take this burden on for her. I would happily battle against the power trying to consume me every day for the rest of my life if it meant I could spend those days with her . . . if I could see that smile on her face every morning and know I put it there.
I'd never lose the power the Masen lineage gave me - knew this 'gift' would be with me forever. Caius had tried to convince me to leave Bella because of it - because he knew the threat of the gadái taking over would always be there. But I was too selfish. I wanted her with me, in my life, every day of our forever. I just had to be stronger than the gadái. And so for one year and one day I worked to control the various gifts that tried to overpower my will. I struggled and strained, fought and grappled in my own private hell. Some days I lost - fuck, most days I lost - but in the end, when I was boarding that plane with Jasper to take me to the woman who made every battle worthwhile, I knew I would win.
I had to win. Bella's life was much too precious to risk.
The next thing I knew, I was stepping onto her painted porch, the electricity between us sparking and crackling in the air. I didn't remember getting out of the car or walking across the lawn, couldn't recall anything other than her face, her eyes, her smile, and the overwhelming desire I had to just fall into her and never come back out. She was my world, my everything.
And she was only a foot away from me.
The gadái gave one final push at the walls I'd erected around my mind, but I refused to drop them. No matter how hard it tried, no matter how many times it attempted to needle its way in, I wouldn't allow it. I would win. I had to. Bella had faith in me - faith that I could handle this, that we could handle it. I couldn't let her down. So with my own faith stretched so thin there were holes in my very soul, I gave the gadái one final mental shove.
And as the power faded, as the gadái lost its hold on me and retreated to the darkest corners of my mind to await another battle, my mother's power of precognition gave me one final gift . . . one last enticement. Scenes from mine and Bella's future together rolled through my head - laughing on the couch, planting a little garden on a sunny day, passing papers back and forth across a kitchen table. Nothing profound, but those moments were perfect - comfortable and happy. They were everything I wanted with her. But if I gave into the power trying to seduce me, those moments would disappear. I just had to resist the temptation of knowing . . .
"Hi," she said, her voice so soft and sweet as it interrupted my inner confrontation. I inhaled deeply and grinned, basking in the scent of cookies and home that surrounded her, surrounded us. I shifted closer, leaving barely an inch between us. I could almost feel the heat of her burning me, setting me aflame. Every inch of my body was stiff and pulsing, demanding contact . . . needing to touch her, feel her, taste her . . . but that would all have to wait. Three hundred and sixty seven days was a long time, and right now, I needed to remind her of how we could be, what we meant to one another . . . the depth and strength of our relationship. The pure power that could come from our love. The physical stuff, the licking and biting and stroking and touching, would all come later.
"Hi." I was grinning like a damn teenager picking up his high school prom date, but I couldn't help myself. She was beautiful, she was amazing, and she was standing right the fuck in front of me for the first time in over a year. And somewhere deep down I knew that moment, those first hi's and smiles, would forever be remembered between the two of us as the beginning of our life together. Not the night in Trion, not the carnival or the carnie camp . . . but a little white house with a green door and flowerboxes under the windows. This was our true beginning. This was our future.
This was our start. No doubts.
"So there's a little carnival over by the hardware store," I murmured, never moving my eyes away from hers. I smiled wider as she exhaled a shaky breath, knowing with one hundred percent certainty that she felt the exact same sense of completion that I did. Our threads were finally woven together, two becoming one, stronger than the sum of its parts. Shifting forward, I closed that last step, tangling my fingers with hers as she smiled up at me with a look filled with love and devotion.
"C'mon, Bella. Lemme buy you a funnel cake."
How did you come up with the idea for this story?
This entire journey began when I drove past a little grass lot by a church that had just hosted a carnival. The tire tracks from the carnies' trailers got me thinking . . . and then 'We Run' by Sugarland came on my iPod, and the relationship between Esme and Edward was born. The rest developed over time.
Will there be a sequel?
Nope, though I talk a lot about writing the Renee/Phil love story. Maybe someday…