Hello wonderful readers! Welcome to my newest fic. I'm glad you've found your way here. This will start a bit differently from my usual, but I hope that (if you are a returning reader) that you'll remember my track record in regards to our two beloved characters. If you are a new reader, thanks for giving this a shot and please have faith in me ;)
Thanks to Sweetthunder for her wonderful beta work and for BellaMadonna's pre-reading skillz and comma detection skillz!
See below for an important A/N regarding The Marksman! And if you haven't already, don't forget to check out my One Shot entry into the Age of Edward contest, A Love Not Forgotten.
Dislcaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. The plot and original story ideas are mine. Please do not copy or distribute this story with out my permission. Come Back To Me © 2010
Come Back To Me
"No, Mike, it doesn't matter if it sounds like the old television show. You still need an entry for it in the glossary." She was absolutely done listening to him go on and on about Battlestar Galactica.
"But that's going to push the final page count over by one," the slightly overweight, slightly balding, more than slightly annoying member of Bella's technical writing team complained.
"Just put the correct definition of galactose in the final draft, okay? I'm sure there will be other additions that will more than fill the additional page." Bella sighed and held out the sheaf of papers looking expectantly at the man, waiting for him to take his portion of the basic anatomy and physiology text book glossary he was assigned.
"Fine, but I'm not taking the heat when the chief hears that we've exceeded our page count again."
"Oh, don't worry about that, Mike," she replied sarcastically, "I wouldn't dream of letting the blame fall on you. I'll talk with Mr. Banner about it." She waved dismissively and turned back to her computer screen.
It seemed that no one cared about doing their job anymore. Even Bella was caring less and less, regardless of the promotion to team leader she'd just earned. Being in charge was highly overrated and the extra hours she was putting in didn't totally make up for the bump in salary.
Once Mike had slunk away, Bella rolled her shoulders and checked her email. She smiled when she saw that a message from Alice had just popped into her inbox. It just made her feel good to know someone was thinking of her just the second before. As she began reading the message, an email from her boss popped in and she immediately dreaded what she'd find in it. Shaking her head slightly she decided to put off the work email until later. It had been a while since she and Alice had chatted and Bella had been feeling more and more isolated from all of the goings on in Washington.
She tapped out a quick response promising a phone call in the near future. She wanted to hear all about her niece's latest accomplishments. She smiled as she clicked the send button and then got up to refill her stainless steel thermos at the water cooler.
Bella cringed inwardly as she approached Jessica Stanley and Lauren Mallory, two other members of her team. As soon as they noticed Bella approaching, the conversation came to an abrupt halt and they both shot simpering smiles in her direction before scurrying off back to their cubes.
Both women were beyond jealous of the fact that Bella had been promoted over them. They'd worked at Banner and Cope for several months longer than she had, and Bella was ninety nine percent positive that they were the one's who'd started the rumor about exactly how she'd been awarded the promotion. Just the thought of her sleeping with Mr. Banner to be promoted from junior technical writer to team lead caused a surge of bile to creep up the back of her throat and a shiver of disgust to roll down her spine. Meanwhile, Bella had no doubt that Jessica and probably Lauren, had both tried that exact method of persuasion when the position became available. Though she couldn't imagine why; this wasn't anything close to what might be considered a dream job.
Once her thermos was full, Bella returned to her small, windowless office. Waiting by her door was Bree, one of the office couriers. She was tiny and always wore her hair hanging in her face, her clothes were a little too baggy and she wouldn't ever make eye contact. But she did her job, she did it quickly, and Bella had noticed that she never fell in with office gossip and went out of her way to avoid Jessica. She felt a kind of sad protectiveness for the girl.
"Hi, Ms. Cullen. Sorry, Mr. Banner just gave these to me a few minutes ago. He said they're top priority and need to be finished yesterday."
Bella groaned at the ten inch stack of folders full of glossaries to be edited and checked over. She set the thermos down on her desk and took the teetering pile of work from Bree's arms. The young woman smiled apologetically to Bella and hurried away to her next assignment.
The clock on the wall in front of her desk showed four forty-five. Edward would be off shift at six, putting him home around six thirty. If she left right away, she could make it home in time to have dinner just about ready when Edward got in. So she finished up a few work emails, loaded the stack of files into her already overstuffed messenger bag, grabbed her purse and thermos, and headed out the door.
The bus ride from Hanover to Lebanon wasn't long, only twenty minutes, but it was time that Bella used to decompress from her day. She closed her eyes and rested her head on the glass trying to let all of the petty gossip and ridiculous office politicking roll off her back. She had enough going on at home that she really didn't need to bring work stress into the mix as well. Though that was exactly what stinking Doug Banner had done by sneaking a pile of work into her hands at the last minute.
Bella pushed the stop-call button and exited the bus right in front of the apartment building that she and her husband had lived in for the last four years. It was a small but comfortable two bedroom place. The building had been well maintained and still managed to hold on to all of it's original charm and detail. The rooms were still heated with radiators, and the windows operated on wobbly pulley-style counterweights. The parquet wood floors were original, with a beautiful border around the edge, but some horrible person had decided to lay linoleum tile in the kitchen, in the 80's no less, so it was in really bad shape. But Bella didn't mind that much. Right now she was thankful it was early spring and the heat wasn't really necessary, nor was it warm enough that she needed to muscle the window open to get a breeze going.
Maybe in a month or so, she'd get Edward to put the window air conditioner in the living room, if he could spare the time. She had put in the bedroom air conditioner a few weeks before when she couldn't stand the hot muggy nights anymore and Edward couldn't seem to be bothered since he was either never home or his reptilian body temperature usually required a warming rock on his side of the bed. She tried to quell the bitter thoughts about his schedule. She knew the last year of his medical residency was going to be time consuming, but she hadn't been prepared for all of the extra shifts he was picking up. It seemed like every time she turned around, Dr. Garrett was asking him to cover a shift or stay a few hours later than he was supposed to. And because Dr. Garrett was the god of DHMC, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, he pretty much controlled the future of Edward's career. At least, that's what Edward always reminded her when she asked why he couldn't say no to the extra shift when she had gotten tickets to a movie, or reservations for dinner, or just some planned quality time.
Bella dumped her bags into the worn, overstuffed armchair, and headed into the kitchen to get dinner started. The meat had been marinating all day, so it was ready for the grill pan. She also prepared some minted green beans and got the par-boiled potatoes out of the fridge so she could finish them off in the oven. She tossed them in a bit of olive oil, smiling and humming as she sprinkled them with seasoning before dumping them into a baking dish. Bella loved to let her thoughts focus on the food, the smell of the ingredients, the ways she would combine them, even the different sounds they made when they were cooking. She tried to push out every thought of work and let her mind fill with the familiar and comforting scents of her kitchen.
The oven door was barely closed when her phone chimed with a new text message. She sighed, immediately deflated, knowing, before she even had a chance to get to the phone, that she'd be eating alone. Again.
"Sry. Garrett nds me to cvr 4 Crowley. B hm tmrw."
She erased the message and turned her phone off. Not that she thought he'd call; he usually didn't when he tacked on another twelve hours to a thirty six hour shift. It was cowardly. She knew he thought he was doing the best thing for them, but he didn't want to confront her with it. It's not like she wanted to fight about it either, she didn't like it at all. But he was negating her feelings and depriving her of a voice in their relationship when he did that to her. Once dinner was finished cooking, she served herself a plate and put the rest into containers and stowed them in the fridge, no longer able to take any pleasure in her carefully planned and prepared meal.
It was close to midnight when she finished the last of the files that Banner had given her. She had taken a break around nine to wash the dishes and put them in the drying rack. But now her neck was killing her from being hunched over the second-hand dining table that doubled as a desk. Carefully she returned the files to her bag and set it by the front door. She grabbed a dishrag from one of the two drawers in the kitchen and soaked it in hot water before wiping down the table. She didn't even realize that she'd begun to cry as she furiously rubbed at one of the gold specks in the blue Formica table top.
"Dang it!" She sobbed, chucking the dishrag into the sink, her shoulders shaking with sadness as she braced herself on the old butcher block counter. When had things gotten so difficult?
She climbed into bed having done the bare minimum: Brushing teeth, no flossing, wiping face down with wet washcloth. She didn't wear makeup anymore; there was no one to appreciate it anyways. Mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, she fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. Her alarm would go off in less than six hours.
At some point in the night Bella had kicked off her covers. She hated sleeping with hot feet, and Edward was constantly jacking up the thermostat, making it unbearably warm. Couldn't he just add a blanket if he was so cold? She climbed out of bed, roughly turned the dial on the thermostat back down to a reasonable temperature, and laid back down.
She vaguely recalled him sliding into bed sometime around four or five in the morning, but that was all. He hadn't woken her with a kiss or a reassuring, "I'm home, love." He'd stopped doing that months ago. She quickly silenced her alarm since she hadn't really been able to fall back asleep and went about quietly getting ready for work.
She lingered a little too long in the shower and was running late when the evil, possessed toaster burned her toast again. She hurriedly grabbed a butter knife and scraped off the burnt parts into the sink, slathered the charred bread with jelly and rushed out the door, just barely making her bus. She rode the bus because it was free, and they were broke. With mind-boggling student loan payments, the high cost of living on the east coast, and Edward's car payment, they were barely making ends meet.
Her promotion was a big help since it included a one time bonus of five thousand dollars and a five percent salary increase, but that money went straight into a special account that Bella had set up a year ago. It was her dream account. One day, she was going to do something. Something that made her feel valued and accomplished. Something that spoke to the person that she was. Though she was having a hard time remembering the answer to that one transcendent question: Who am I? Apart from Edward's wife, or Charlie's daughter, or Team Leader at Banner and Cope. It was a question she'd been struggling with for some time. She felt like she knew it once, but somehow it had slipped her memory.
She'd told Edward about the account when she'd set it up, but he hadn't really paid much attention, and it had most likely completely fallen off his radar. Since she was primarily in charge of keeping the finances straight, she'd managed to put a little bit aside in her dream fund each month over the last year. Someday she would know how to use that money. Someday.
Edward stretched his arms and legs, shivering a bit at the chill in the air. He rolled his eyes when he realized that Bella had already left for work and had most likely turned the thermostat down to what would be comfortable for penguins.
He swung his legs out of bed and rested his elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands. The last two days had been hellish to say the least. Between back to back traumas and two other emergency surgeries, not to mention covering Crowley's last twelve hours, Edward was wiped out. Fortunately for him, he had two days off before his next shift. Maybe he'd finally be able to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
He glanced at the clock and tried to decide if two thirty in the afternoon was too late for breakfast. He opened the fridge, pulled out the milk, and poured himself a bowl of cereal. As he reached into the drawer for a spoon, he noticed the mess in the sink.
"Ah, for cryin' out loud." This wasn't the first time that she'd scraped her burnt toast in the sink. He thought they'd "discussed" it and come to an agreement. It's not like it took that long to rinse it down the drain. He hosed the black crumbs away and grumpily dug into his cereal, shaking his head and allowing his irritation to fester. After relaxing in front of the TV for an hour, he decided he ought to put in a few miles if he wanted to be ready for the qualifier. Running was the only thing that kept him sane during his college and med school days. It had become quite the passion and he'd started training for the Boston Marathon. His qualifying race was coming up in just a couple of months and he still needed to shave off a good thirteen minutes from his time if he wanted to do well in the big race.
With his shoes laced up and his music strapped on, he began the familiar eight mile route he'd mapped out several weeks ago. He opted for his "heavy" play list. It was chock full of music that not only propelled him forward physically, with a driving intensity, but also served to fuel his irritation towards his wife.
She was so picky and particular; it seemed like nothing he did was right. He was ashamed to admit it, but on more than one occasion, he'd agreed to take on an extra shift, or stay after his shift was done, until he was sure that Bella would either be asleep or already at work. He just didn't feel like dealing with the constant arguments.
He picked up his pace, allowing the burning of his lungs and chest to serve as some kind of masochistic punishment for being a jerk to his wife. It also kind of helped mask the pain of realizing that they hadn't always been like this. And it took his mind off of the difficulty of figuring out how they had become so distant.
They were the classic, textbook perfect couple. High school sweethearts, engaged right after graduation. They attended the same university and got married the summer before he started med school. They were coming up on five years of marriage and nearly ten years of being together.
Learning about Bella's endometriosis was a huge blow to their family plan, but he thought they'd overcome that bump in the road. She'd undergone some treatment's to relieve some of the symptoms, but her doctor, being realistic, was unable to give them much hope about her being able to conceive and carry a child to term.
The plan was to adopt as soon as he was done with his residency and could plan on more structured and reasonable hours. But she hardly ever talked about that anymore. She hardly talked about anything anymore. Her answers were short and sometimes even felt calculated and empty.
He pounded the pavement back to their apartment and up the stairs, stripping his sweaty shirt off as he walked down the short hall to the bathroom. He tossed the shirt in the general direction of the laundry hamper, doing the same with his shorts and socks, before slipping into the shower.
As he dried off, he could hear the TV going and the sounds of cooking coming from the kitchen. With his towel tucked around his waist, he sauntered into the kitchen and approached his wife from behind. It was subtle but he still noticed the stiffness of her posture as he wrapped one arm around her waist and kissed her on the cheek.
"Hey, babe. How was work?" he asked, trying to generate some conversation. Trying to feel close to her.
"Fine," she replied, continuing to toss vegetables and chicken together in the wok on the stove.
"Anything interesting happen?"
"No. Same old, same old." He waited for her to elaborate but nothing came.
"Well, I guess I'll just go get dressed," he said softly as he backed out of the kitchen. She glanced slightly over her shoulder, but not really at him, and nodded before returning her gaze to the stove.
And that's how most of their conversations went, and why he preferred to stay at work, where he could have real conversations about sports or politics or festering cysts. Anything was preferable to a cold shoulder and one sided conversations at home and everyone at work was so much more easy going and companionable. Edward chastised himself for thinking this, but he couldn't deny it. Right now, he loved his wife, but he liked his work buddies a whole lot more.
When he returned to the bedroom he noticed that his clothes had already been picked up and the nearly full hamper was gone. She'd probably bust his chops for that too.
They sat down on opposite sides of the table and ate their meal quietly. Wanting to hopefully stave off the impending argument about laundry, Edward offered an olive branch. "I'm sorry about my running clothes. I was going to pick them up when I got done in the shower."
"Mhmm, that's okay." She picked at the little bit of rice that stuck to the edge of her bowl before looking up and offering him a weak smile. Her eyes were tired and dull. The sparkle had gone out of them a while ago, and he was at a loss as to how to get that sparkle back. He'd always loved her eyes; they were like the window to her soul, but over the last two or three years, there seemed to be shutters that closed her off from him.
He was hoping that by his acknowledging that he'd been a slob, that maybe she'd mention something about the toast crap in the sink, but she didn't say anything. Instead she stood up and silently cleared the dishes and started to wash them. He followed after her and dried the dishes as she placed them in the rack.
When Bella opened her laptop and pulled out the bank statement, Edward knew that he'd probably lost her for the rest of the night. She was obsessive about making sure that every single penny was accounted for. And if things didn't add up, she'd go back and recalculate each transaction until she found the error. Sometimes it would take her hours to reconcile the checkbook. He didn't totally get what the big deal was.
He opened his own computer and transferred the information from his pedometer and heart rate monitor to a spreadsheet that he used to track his training regimen. He was analyzing some of the notes from his training journal and comparing it to the data on the spreadsheet when Bella spoke.
"We've got thirty eight bucks to last until the end of the month."
"But I need to get gas tomorrow, I'm running on fumes."
"We can't afford it, the fridge is almost bare."
"Jeez. Where does it go?" Edward complained. He rarely looked at any of the bills, he just knew that the apartment was close to sixteen hundred and his car-baby was close to seven hundred. He didn't pay attention to anything else.
Bella mumbled something under her breath, but Edward didn't catch it. She sighed as she closed her laptop and stretched. "I'm going to bed," she said as she put her work bag by the front door.
"Ok, I'll be there in a few minutes," he replied. He stared blankly at the screen, thinking how much it was going to suck having to either ride his old bike or take the bus to the medical center. When was all this money that he was supposed to make as a doctor going to start rolling in? Being poor really kind of sucked, especially when you grew up in a wealthy home.
Edward wasn't very tired since he'd woken up so late, so he stayed up and surfed around on the net, just wasting time until he felt like he might be able to crash. Finally about two hours after Bella had retired for the night Edward finally padded into their bedroom, making sure to bump up the thermostat on his way in.
As he slid into bed, he was about to turn over and face the outside like he'd grown accustomed to, but Bella had begun to murmur. It had been ages since he'd heard her nocturnal ramblings, so he lay on his side, propped up by his elbow and listened.
"Too hot," she mumbled, kicking at the covers around her feet until she'd plopped one foot on top of the duvet.
Edward smiled at her habit of always managing to end up with at least one foot out. She turned her head towards him and sighed. He lifted his hand and lightly ran his index finger over her cheek. She unconsciously turned toward his touch, but her brow was furrowed.
There used to be such an amazing tingle of electricity every time they touched. It was addictive and intoxicating, but now there was only a dull hum beneath his fingertips. How had their relationship gotten so off track? He was surprised when a lone tear trickled down her cheek and soaked into the pillow case.
The last words she uttered that night left Edward feeling cold and desperate.
"Can't do this anymore."
A/N: Just a reminder that today is the LAST day to vote for The Marksman at the Twilight All Human awards for "Best Ending". Please take a few minutes and head on over to http:/twilightallhumanawards(dot)webs(dot)com/voting(dot)htm or you can follow the link on my profile.
Not sure how long this story will be, I'm guessing around the 15-20 chapter mark. I will endeavor to keep updates fairly regular, but as always please be patient with me if real life bites me in the butt. Rest assured, though, that I do not abandon any of my stories!
Thanks to all!