Sunday – August 28, 2005 – Forks, Washington
The night starts with a clatter, a shatter of glass. Thin shards – shrapnel – jut from Bella's bare leg, and blood trickles out around the pieces, runs warmly down her shin in thin, intersecting lines. She barely notices, though – although, she feels it – because she's too hurried to be bothered with the remains of cheap perfume soaking into her bedroom's hardwood floor. She'll pull the pink-tinted glass from her skin later, the perfume will evaporate before she returns; all of it will be forgotten in time. For now, she shoulders her bag and exhales sharply, sets her hat askew just so, and carries on. They're waiting for her; she'll let her leg bleed.
"It's late," her father tells her as her shoes thud against the staircase, as if she's still a child – and one that needs looking after, at that. She's long since been grown, blossomed, and she clocks in at twenty-two, a point her mouth opens to remind him of when she finds him bent over the kitchen table. He forgets the twenty on nights like this one, when her hair is in wild curls and her makeup-rimmed eyes hold mystery. Before she can speak, though, he remembers. "Right. Well, you be safe, and call if you need anything."
"I'll make you pancakes in the morning." She kisses him on his cheek, and walks over to the far wall to flip on the overhead light. He stops squinting at the newspaper in his hand and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes show from smiling, instead of strain. "Leave me the crossword."
"Seventeen across is subterfuge," he laughs, and Bella plugs her ears with the tips of her fingers, la-la-la's loud and dramatic. He's given her "seventeen across" every day since she started doing the puzzles in pen at age seventeen; his answers are always ten letters, and they're wrong. It's their game and they play it, and they both smile each time. "I'll leave the porch light on."
"I'll try to make it home before sunrise to need it."
On the porch, Bella settles her hat again and tucks a curl behind her ear, lights a cigarette and checks the time on her wristwatch. Then, she goes, runs, and the smoke from her mouth trails behind her. Her boots are lovely, soft leather and entirely impractical, and her toes cramp before she reaches Nottingham. There, she stalls, lets the heel of one boot crush out her cigarette on the pavement as she pulls off the other. She flexes her toes, leaning on the stop sign for balance, and rights her shoes once more. She walks the rest of the way, a mile or so over dirt and through trees, and knows she's late because of it.
Her friends – Mike, Angela, Ben, and Eric – tell her so, with animatedly tapping toes and the checking of imaginary watches, when she reaches the river. In this place, time doesn't exist or weigh down, and they all know it, but she's one of the last of them to arrive. She joins them on the makeshift dock, the one they built parallel to the shoreline, and takes a beer from the cooler, twists the cap off on her forearm, like Eric taught her to, and sits on Mike's knee. He twirls his fingers in the ends of her mahogany hair, as she drinks quickly in a bid to catch up and listens to Angela fret about sinning in the eyes of God – Ben's arm across her shoulders, his thumb grazing her breast – while Eric builds a fire. Bella smiles around the lip of her beer bottle and looks to the glinting stars, her back resting against Mike's chest.
She closes her eyes and lets the warmth surround her and keep her – a fire, a body, memories folding themselves into the recesses of her mind. It feels like the end of every summer before and the beginning of everything, and she hopes that time holds still, steady, and that the cold won't come. It does, though, in time, because all of the begging and willing and wishing can't keep this moment alive. It crackles and burns for what it is, a simple span of time, but eventually, like the fire before her, it fades and dies. She knows its ashes will remain, though, and they'll await her at the riverside for the summer next – even if she won't return to find them.
"This is the end of an era," Bella says absently, her voice quiet, but everyone hears. No one tells her she's wrong, either; this is the end. They'll have jobs in the city; they'll wed and move on. Their childhood – though, fledgling for a while – will come to a close with this night, and they raise their bottles and keep their tears at bay. "To us," she says, clinking the neck of her beer across Mike's. "To what was."
"No—to what will be," Angela counters, leaving Ben and crossing the creaking planks to knock her bottle against Bella's. "To endless possibilities."
"To a fucking amazing finale," Jessica hollers from the break in the trees, then runs to them. She's the hugging kind, always with open arms that lasso and bind, and she folds them around each of them in kind. At long last, they encircle Bella and with her chin on Jessica's shoulder, she sees the man that lingers in Jessica's wake. The ends of rich auburn hair curling out from beneath a pitch-colored hat, translucent eyes in a color she can't place, and long, lean limbs attached to a modest frame. He's too much and nothing at all, and Bella looks away before she sees him smile at her. This night is about Jessica's warm arms, and the others; it is not a time to feel anything but a keen twinge of nostalgia. She savors Jessica's affection, until Jessica releases her and says, "That's Edward. Someone give him a beer."
"Party-crasher," Ben smiles, as if he's calling the stranger by his name, and hands him a bottle of lager. "Good to know you; I'm Ben."
Bella rises from Mike's knee and walks down their dock until it ends, sits beside the plank where she carved their initials with a butter knife so many summers before. She runs her pointer finger over the letters and watches the way the moon plays on the water snaking beneath her feet. She reflects, as it does, on how the people twenty feet off build her, held her together, and she cries without noticing the tears falling upon her knees. They seep down, drift, and mix with the dried blood on her skin, and that runs too.
"You're bleeding," says a voice she cannot place, and that alone gives him away. Edward, with his pretty hair and long legs and no last name, sits beside her. His face conveys concern that she can't see, for her eyes are shut tight. He frowns at her, anyway, and asks, "Are you alright?"
"I'm scared," she tells him honestly, finding it easier to admit that notion to a stranger, than to her closest confidants. "I don't know what I'll do without them."
"I meant your leg, but that's—I'm sorry."
"I know what you meant." Bella swallows thickly and wipes her running makeup from beneath her eyes, wipes her hands on her black dress. She shifts on the wood and crosses her legs toward Edward, briefly regards the frown on his face until she can't take the pity there any longer. She heaves out a breath and stares back into the river. "I just—I'm the strong one and, tonight, it's hard to be that way. I just had to get that out."
"What exactly have I walked into here?"
"It's the end of summer—we do this every summer, have since high school. But, well, it's come to an end." Bella drinks the last of the beer in her bottle and throws it over her shoulder onto the bank. Edward offers her his and she refuses, but he presses it into her hand. "Thanks." She takes a swallow and nods at him, nods over in the direction of the fire and her friends. "This – what you've walked into – is two days before Ben and Angela marry, a week before Jessica moves to Los Angeles, and ten days prior to Mike and Eric starting graduate school."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"A name is a good start," Edward tells her with a smile.
"Oh, Jesus. Look at me, dumping all of my ridiculous baggage all over you and, shit—I'm Bella." She sets their beer down between them on the unlevel wood and wipes her hand on her dress to rid the condensation before extending it to him. He shakes it, and shakes his head, and she likes his smile. "You're Edward."
"Well, Edward, I'm sure Jessica didn't bring you here to be my therapist, so—"
"I don't mind."
"Well, I do. Let's get back."
When they return, Eric steals her hat and Mike gives her a beer, and she sits between Angela's knees on the dock. Edward smiles at Jessica and talks to Ben, and soon he's strumming a guitar, writing the soundtrack for their last evening along the river. She looks at him every now and again, when his voice warms her like the beer and memories do, and she wants to know his last name, how he ended up here. Instead, she moves to sit by his side and leans her head against his shoulder. He's new in the company of old, but he fits, and she doesn't remember where she used to lay her head or how they had these nights without his voice.
Edward sets his guitar aside and no one, save for Bella, notices when the music stops – they're all in the river, their clothes on the dock, and she would be, too, if she weren't so dazed by his sound, his warmth. He moves closer then, hotter, and she lets herself be taken and pulled into his lap. He wraps his arms around her shoulders, she traces over the sparse hairs on his knuckles, and it's the only part of the night that feels right to her, that doesn't feel somber.
"Who are you?" he asks, his lips in her hair. "Tell me everything that they know. Make me one of them."
And, she does. She starts with the basics – name, age, favorites – and moves on to family – her absentee mother and her close relationship with her father. From there, she talks of life goals and big dreams, and circles back around to her childhood and to the people she's saying goodbye to. She tells him why she isn't leaving, why she doesn't feel bad about staying, how her place is in Forks carrying on her grandmother's legacy in the small antique shop in the middle of town. She wanted this life, but she wanted them in it, and she can't abandon what she's worked for on a whim, on a pile of memories. She talks for hours, until her friends have long since fallen asleep on the dock and Edward knows her framework.
Then, Edward tells her the most basic fact about himself – "I, um, I travel—I'm a musician." – and Bella's stomach clenches. "I leave in a few hours—for Portland," he tells her quietly, as if he knows how the words have spread their fingers wide and twisted her insides. "I'm always leaving."
"Why doesn't anyone stay?"
"Because then we'd have nothing to come back to." Without preamble or much thought, he kisses the side of her neck and breathes her in. She leans her back further against him, and tilts her head to capture his lips. They taste bittersweet, much like the whole of the night has been, but they're warm and a memory and she's clinging to all that she has. She kisses him hard, her fingers inching up beneath his knit hat to intertwine with his hair, and twists to straddle his lap as the sun rises.
Everyone awakens with the light and leaves, not disturbing the tangled almost-strangers beside the still-burning fire; they let her have this, because they know she's not as strong as she seems. And when Bella and Edward pull apart at last, they notice their absence, and he wipes her tears. She nods and kisses him again.
"Let me come back to you," he breathes and his words hit her lips as they form a smile. "I want to come back to you."
The night and her childhood end at his words, at the way she kisses the mouth from where they came, and the fire dies, but a spark remains.
Since I'm about to wrap Porcelain Heart, I figured I'd toss another bit of insanity into the mix.
Reviews & comments are always welcome, even if you just want to bitch at me for starting something new or how clichéd it is for Edward to be a musician.