Hey everybody! Long note, please read :)
Yep, it's me! I took a break, and I'm not really back, but I'm getting there. I hated that I hate to stop writing for a while. Your support has really helped me. Thanks for that. And thanks to Bob, Sherry, Aleea, SharkJumper, Crazykittehcat and Glin for reading multiple versions of this chapter. The last version is not beta'ed. All mistakes are mine.
If you are not willing to wait for updates, you are free to wait until this story is complete. Bitching on me won't make me write faster. As for my writing - your support is keeping me going. Thank you all so much for your patience. Torn is my heart and my soul. I want to give it my everything.
Oh and ps, Bella's kitten is indeed called Wisp after the fantastic story written by Cris.
On with the show. I reread the last chapter before I could get into this one - maybe that's not a bad idea for you :)
My head is reeling after everything that has happened in the past few days. I wasn't even done processing the newfound closeness I have with Edward. After having slept in his bed twice in a row I think I am finally becoming a bit more relaxed with him. And our day out was wonderful - even I can't deny that.
And now I have a tiny kitten in my arms, and Carlisle and Esme have just decided that I get to keep it.
I feel insanely protective over the kitten already. I didn't know that such an emotion could grow so quickly.
I can tell Alice is dying to hold the tiny animal too, but I don't want it to become even more frightened than it already is so I'm not offering. Alice seems to understand, since she doesn't ask. She keeps coming up to me though, wanting to pet the kitten, even though it seems to be scared of her. Alice doesn't seem to mind, and she's vibrating with enthusiasm, her eyes glittering.
"I've always wanted a pet," she whispers. "Lucky you."
Just as I'm about to tell her that it'll be her kitten, too, Esme speaks up.
"Does it need anything? Water, or milk maybe?" she asks. "Or at least something you can keep it warm in. Let me get something." She's up and back in a minute, a thick, fluffy towel in her hands. She helps me wrap it around the kitten, who seems perplexed.
"Let me call the vet for advice before we do anything," Carlisle says. "I don't know if it needs any special food."
As Alice bounces over to the stairs to call Edward, Rosalie and Emmett, Carlisle picks up the phone. In the chaos of the three others running down the stairs, I only get shards of the conversation he's having.
And then Edward is standing before me, closer than I would allow anyone but him, and he touches my arm, looking at me instead of at the kitten.
While Alice gushes to Rosalie and Emmett about the cat I found, Edward pulls me into a bubble like he usually does so effortlessly.
"Are you okay?" he asks quietly.
I nod and manage a smile as I hold up Wisp. "Found this in the woods. Couldn't leave him."
His gaze doesn't leave mine, and while part of me wonders what he is looking for, another part of me realizes that I don't mind him looking at me so much as I used to.
"And he's staying?" he asks.
"Yes, I think so."
Edward turns to his mother. "Really? He can stay?"
Esme nods with a smile.
"That's great, mom," Edward says as he goes over to her to give her a quick hug. "Thanks so much!"
And that's when I realize in the most painful way that I haven't even said 'thank you' to Carlisle and Esme for letting me keep the cat. Can I still do that? Or would that be too little, too late?
Turning back to me, Edward looks down at the kitten and a tender smile lights up his face. He reaches out carefully, stroking the kitten's tiny head.
"Wisp sounds like a good name," he tells me. "I could have used that one for you."
"Then I'd be done," I say, deliberately using the word we agreed on a while ago. I absolutely refuse to be called Wisp.
Edward throws his head back and laughs, startling the kitten and, frankly, all the others in the room. "I'll stick to Bruiser then," he says teasingly, and it's all I can do not to roll my eyes at him.
"All right," Carlisle says then, having just ended his phone call, "the vet has agreed to see the little monster. Let's go, Bella."
For a moment, the prospect of going alone somewhere with Carlisle makes it impossible for me to move. But the kitten needs care, and I've been on trips with Carlisle before, right? No big deal.
"Can I go with you?" Alice asks.
"It's 'may I go,' and no, I don't think that's necessary," Carlisle says calmly. "That kitten is stressed enough as it is. We'll be back soon."
So Alice isn't coming, and even I don't miss how she wanted to come along just to make me more at ease.
But maybe it's better this way. After all this time, I have no reason anymore to distrust Carlisle. I can just go with him and everything will be all right. Surely, it will.
My brain cramps as I try to force myself to accept my logic, but I move first one foot and then the other, and then we're walking to the garage.
Of course, my evil mind whispers, this might be just a simple trick to get rid of the kitten at the vet. But even if that is the case, I think with resignation, I will survive it. It wouldn't be the first time I lost something I cared about, and if the kitten has to go anyway, better now than later.
"So stressed," Carlisle murmurs when he turns off the driveway, setting course for the town. "Still so afraid, Bella?" When I don't reply, he smiles without humor. "And still not talking to me, I see. That's okay."
Or maybe this is not a vile trick. Maybe he really is just trying to be nice. I look at him from the corner of my eye, and regard the sure way he drives. Both hands on the wheel, seatbelt firmly in place.
Could he really be that father figure I have only known in books?
Apparently unaware of my inner musings, Carlisle tells me about the vet we are going to see during our short drive there. He's known the man, Alex, for years and even though the family never had any pets, he trusts the vet's skills implicitly.
I listen to his voice, realizing he's filling the silence more than actually trying to teach me anything.
For the first time, I feel a pang of regret that it is so hard for me to connect with Carlisle on any level. It's so hard to overcome the blind fear I have for adult men, even after he held me in the rocking chair and let me cry. I look out the window when I think back to that day, not so very long ago, and a blush flames on my cheeks. To have let myself go so badly…
And yet, I think as I sneak a look at him again, he never judged me, or acted differently around me after that day. If anything, he's more concerned, warmer, gentler.
If only I weren't so stupidly scared.
I can't stop the sigh that escapes me, but don't correct Carlisle when he interprets it incorrectly.
"Don't worry," he says. "From what Alex told me, the kitten could be as old as four weeks already. It has a good chance of surviving."
I nod without meeting his gaze, and focus on trying to keep the kitten warm in my cupped hands. I read somewhere once that it's better to impart your own body heat than try to wrap the too cold animal in a blanket, since they won't be able to generate any warmth themselves.
The vet, Alex as Carlisle called him, comes walking out of the clinic when we get out of the car. The vet is a big man, both in height and posture. He reminds me of Stefan so much that I step back and recoil involuntarily.
Carlisle looks at me searchingly, his jaw tight. Is he upset that I am uncomfortable around his friend? But I can't help it. I'm always ill at ease around men, especially strange men.
I swallow thickly, trying to push away the first tendrils of panic that uncurl in my chest.
"Alex is a very competent vet," Carlisle tells me, I suppose for my benefit. "He's saved a lot of poor animals, haven't you, Alex?"
"Certainly," the other man says. His voice is low and deep - not like Stefan's at all. And his eyes are kind as his gaze drifts down to the little life I am holding in my arms.
"You're Bella, right?" the man asks. "Carlisle told me about you. I'm Alex. And who have we got here?"
I can't speak. There is no way, no way at all I am going to be able to produce any kind of sound. Carlisle waits for me to make a move, but I look at him, helpless.
"She found the kitten on our driveway," he says, looking at me as if he is asking permission to speak for me.
The look in his eyes, I don't recognize at first.
And it's then I realize with a stinging clarity that Carlisle's tight jaw has nothing to do with him being upset with me because I'm scared of his friend, but because I'm scared in general and he doesn't want to see me like that.
It's a strange and sudden shift in my mind, and it makes me look at Carlisle in a whole new light. He's concerned for me, not for the way I come across to others. I'm so stunned by this epiphany, I know I must look like a complete idiot. But Carlisle looks at me and I see a light in his gaze that I haven't seen before, and suddenly I remember how good it felt to be held by him, and to be able to let go.
And I know he knows what I am thinking right now, and it doesn't even feel wrong.
But God, this is really not the time to process every thought that stumbles through my mind right now.
As I try to pull myself together, Carlisle refocuses first. I almost miss what he says tot he vet.
"Its family was dead. She named him Wisp."
"Wisp? Well, it sure is just a wisp of a thing," Alex says. "Let's go inside and see what we can do."
He holds open the door for me, but I can't have them behind me. I don't want men walking behind me, so I wait, looking up at them both. After an awkward moment, the vet goes in first, followed by Carlisle. I close the ranks, feeling nauseated at the thought of being in a deserted clinic with two grown men. Epiphany or not.
But this is about the kitten, I tell myself, and the kitten needs help. So I will do this. I can do this. I will have to.
The exam room is brightly lit and decorated with all sorts of colorful posters and trinkets that oddly don't seem out of place, and which put me on ease slightly.
Alex has me place the kitten on the towel on the metal table and I stand back as he does a quick examination of the animal. He talks me through it, apparently not really phased by my silence.
Wisp, he says, is a girl. He's not sure about the breed yet, but he suspects she might be a British Shorthair. When she's old enough, we can have her spayed, especially if we want her to be able to roam the woods around the house freely.
An injection, some salve for the eyes and ears, pills for deworming and an anti-flea treatment later, the vet is done and I'm allowed to scoop a now very tired kitten back up in my arms.
But it isn't over yet. The vet gets out a pile of things from a medicine cabinet; something to clean the kitten's ears, more salve for the eyes, with specific instruction as to how to use it, and special shampoo to wash the kitten with if she doesn't show signs of keeping herself clean.
And then, of course, there is special food for Wisp. The vet estimates her at about four weeks old, which means I can alternate between kitten formula and solid food. He praises me for not having given her cow's milk. Apparently that wouldn't have been a good idea.
I look away at his compliment, as usual ill at ease.
In the tiny shop that is attached to the vet clinic, a litter box and stuff to fill it with are put on the counter, along with a tiny scratching post and, after some deliberation, a kitten-safe crate. The crate is big enough to hold a bed, a litter box, and some room for Wisp to play.
"You can keep her in here at night," the vet says. "Or when you have to leave her unsupervised. I strongly advise you to spend as much time close to her as possible. Kittens are very sociable and need attention, especially this little traumatized thing. She needs to get used to humans."
I almost miss the smirk Carlisle tries to suppress. If he were Edward, I would have rolled my eyes. The irony of the vet's words isn't lost to me either, after all.
But I nod solemnly, already wondering if I can leave Wisp out of the crate at night as well. It seems so cruel to lock her up. I know too well how it feels.
"Try to keep her in one room at first. Give her time to explore her surroundings. If she keeps close to the litter box, she will be house trained quicker. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to give me a call."
He gives me a brochure with general information on taking care of a cat and then starts adding up the money for the treatment, meds and stuff we're taking home. I feel the blood draining from my face when I see the total amount. Carlisle, unaware, pays without blinking and then starts loading everything into his car.
I hold Wisp and walk outside quickly, annoyed that I can't help Carlisle but wildly relieved that I am no longer in a room with two men, one of them a stranger.
"She'll be all right," I suddenly hear the vet say behind me.
I jerk so violently in shock that I almost drop the kitten, and when I look up at the man, I know the fear must be clear in my eyes. Carlisle is inside - I am alone with this man.
"You're okay," he says soothingly, holding up his hands as if in surrender. "No need to be frightened."
I hold Wisp close to my chest, so tightly I worry I might be hurting her, and take an involuntary step backwards.
The vet cocks his head a little and meets my gaze. Like a stunned deer, I can't look away.
"God," he whispers. He seems… aghast?
At that moment, Carlisle comes back outside with the last of the things. He looks from the vet to me, and the silence is loaded.
"Take care, kiddo," Alex finally says, and I know he isn't just talking about the kitten.
I nod once, my neck feeling stiff, and on Carlisle's nudge I go sit in the car. When I glance out the window back at Carlisle and the vet, Alex, I know they're talking about me. But there is no malevolence in their gazes. Carlisle wears that look of compassion I've come to recognize in his features, and the vet simply smiles in what I perceive as an understanding way. When he looks my way, he holds my gaze, and he even winks at me.
A few moments later, Carlisle joins me in the car and he starts the engine.
"Alex wishes you all the best," he says as he looks over his shoulder to back out of the parking lot.
Even if I had been able to reply, I wouldn't have known what to say. I'm quite convinced that the vet was genuinely nice. Even more so, he was nice to me.
Maybe not all men are evil.
It's hard to conceive.
It takes me until Carlisle turns into the garage under the house to force out the words I really, really want to say.
"Thank you." It's nearly incomprehensible, my voice is so distorted from stress, but Carlisle has heard me.
He looks at me, and it's not hard to see the elation in his eyes. He smiles kindly, proudly. "You're very welcome, Bella. I really hope this will help you perk up a little."
I nod in acquiescence, but his words only register once he has gotten out of the car. Has he noticed I've been feeling down lately? Even though I try to go through the motions of life, do things that entertain me, spend time with Edward and the others, there is an underlying sadness tugging at me that I can't seem to get rid of.
Maybe I'm less conspicuous than I think.
I get out of the car, looking at the pile of things in the trunk.
"How about you drop Wisp off with Alice for a moment so you can set everything up in your room?" Carlisle offers. "I'm pretty sure Alice wouldn't mind," he adds with a wink.
I nod again and go into the house, finding Alice all but vibrating with excitement on the couch. All the others are there as well, waiting for us it seems.
"Is he going to be all right?" Esme asks. "What did the vet say?"
I hand over the kitten to Alice first, who is cooing and looks so happy that for a moment I truly consider giving the kitten to her.
"She'll be all right. We have special food and meds and..." I trail off, uncomfortable. "Um, it was really expensive. I'm so sorry."
"No apologies," Esme says. "Do you need help getting anything from the car?"
I shake my head and leave for the garage again, feeling elated by everything I have come to realize over the past few days, but at the same time desperately guilty for the amount of money Carlisle just spent for me.
It doesn't take long to set everything up in my bedroom. It's not the most convenient place to keep the cat, we all realize, but the ground floor of the house, even though divided in several areas, has no separate rooms, except from the library. We all agree that it wouldn't be the best idea to keep Wisp there, either. She's very scared after all. As a stray she's not used to people and it's clear the house and its inhabitants are overwhelming her.
Just like I was when I first got here.
So, my bedroom it is, or at least for now. I decide to place the litter box in my bathroom. It's out of the way there and I won't be sleeping too close to it then. And with the bathroom door open, the kitten's world suddenly gets bigger, too.
Downstairs, we feed Wisp some kitten formula and everybody takes turns fussing with her until she's about to fall asleep on her feet. It's clear everybody is in favor of Wisp staying, and even Alice understands that the kitten will sleep in my room every night.
When it's time for bed, I take Wisp upstairs with me and place her in the open crate. She doesn't even wake up. She's sleeping soundly now, but I wonder how long that will last. I also hope she will find the litter box that's just around the other side of the bathroom door.
As I strip in the dark and pull on my multi-layered pajamas, I have to wonder if this whole stray-kitten-endeavor isn't going to be more than I can handle. It's a big responsibility to bear. Carlisle and Esme seem to be confident I will be able to pull it off even if I am not quite so sure. But battling with that worry is the all consuming need I feel to take care of this helpless little thing, to show it love and warmth and give it a safe haven. The first weeks of its life can't have been easy, after all.
Besides, Wisp is an excellent distraction from the churning turmoil of emotions I've been working very hard to suppress.
Exhausted from the long day, I fall asleep almost right away, only to wake up in the middle of the night to soft scratching sounds. Turning on my night light, I see a very startled Wisp looking up in my direction. I lower my hand from the bed to the ground, and the kitten deliberates for a long moment before she bounces over to me and sniffs at my hand, then wanders off again. I watch her explore her surroundings for a good half hour, then I drift off into sleep again.
The first few days fly by. Everybody wants to play with or simply look at Wisp while she explores. She's naturally shy of people, but when you pick her up - if you can catch or find her - she lets herself be petted easily. I am vividly aware that the others seem to respect my authority over her. They come to me with questions or suggestions, and it feels strange to be the go-to person so suddenly. It's not like I have all the answers, even though I have been reading every bit of information I could find online.
Wisp needs to be fed three times a day, which thankfully means I don't have to get up in the night to give her food. I am awake a lot, however, since Wisp uses the quiet night to explore her surroundings. I don't mind. I'm used to having little sleep, anyway.
I clean her eyes and ears and feed her and bond with her so quickly it almost scares me. I never thought I could ever love at all, let alone come to care as deeply for something as I do now for Wisp. The unconditional aspect of it baffles me. With the others in this house, with Edward, I still feel like I have to be on my guard. But with Wisp, this fear is nonexistent.
The kitten seems to see me as her person, too. While the others sometimes spend more time with her playing than I do, simply because I don't dare telling them no, it's my room she sleeps in at night, and it's my lap she curls up on sometimes when she's ready for a nap. She sleeps a lot.
She purrs. You can barely hear it, but she does. It's the most amazing sound.
I bathe her on the third day, since I'm not really confident she's cleaning herself enough. Maybe she needs a nudge, so I take her to my bathroom and wash her under lukewarm water in the sink.
While I'm trying to keep a flailing - and wailing - kitten under the slow stream of lukewarm water, Edward comes checking in on me. He is ready with a towel when I turn off the tap, and with infinite care, he dries off Wisp, who is now crying pitifully.
Poor thing. Guess she's not one of the rare cats that love water.
Edward takes the kitten over to my bed and he lies down, placing Wisp on his stomach. She looks only half her size with her fur sticking to her skin, and her big, yellow eyes are looking from Edward to me, seemingly appalled at the treatment she just got.
Edward chuckles and keeps rubbing Wisp with the towel in an attempt to get her dry.
"Come here," Edward says when he sees me standing in the doorway of the bathroom. "I feel a distance between us," he adds in an overly dramatic voice.
I smile at his antics and walk over to the bed. He is right though. After our two nights together, Wisp suddenly was here and I've been consumed with caring for her. Edward has been close, but hasn't asked to sleep in my room. I hope he understands though.
Wisp pointedly turns her back to me the moment I sit down, clearly upset with the bath I gave her. I grin and pet her behind her ears.
"Do you mind?" I ask, not looking away from the kitten.
"Well, since you're asking, I'd rather you pet me, but…" Edward replies dryly.
This makes me look at him. "I mean the kitten. I haven't had much attention for you over the past few days."
Edward's face turns serious and he sits up to be closer to me. "If that would bother me, I wouldn't be the man I want to become." He leans in and after hesitating for a moment as if to ask for permission, presses a kiss to my lips. My stomach jolts at the contact, and after he pulls back, I need a moment before I can open my eyes. When I do, his face is still close, and his eyes are smiling at me.
"Don't worry about Wisp," he says. "I've never seen you happier as in the past few days."
For some reason, this makes my chest ache, and he laughs tenderly at what must be my very forlorn look. He wraps his arms around me and kisses my forehead. On impulse, I hug him back, and he hums his approval.
That's when I realize that I have been taking more than I have given, not just in the hose in general, but with Edward too. The problem is, I don't know how I can give affection, other than to react to what I am offered.
Someday soon, when I'm more certain, I will try to talk to Edward about this.
He lies back, looking at Wisp and stroking her head with a finger.
"Hey, I made a list of colleges to apply to," Edward says after a while, looking up at me. "Want to do it together?"
I nod. "Do you think Jasper and Alice want to join?"
"I think Alice already knows where she wants to go, and Jasper will follow her," Edward says. "And we can go anywhere."
"You don't want to stay close to them?"
Edward smiles, and the way he looks at me creates butterflies in my stomach. "It's inevitable that we'll be far away from each other. I want to go to Dartmouth, and Alice doesn't."
"Where does Alice want to go?"
"California College of Arts."
I frown. "Isn't that a private institution?"
"Yep. Ever noticed Alice and Jasper both have no car?"
I cock my head, and Edward explains. "Of course there were other reasons why it never really happened, but Alice now is using this as an argument to get mom and dad to pay for her education."
"Cunning," I say under my breath, and Edward grins.
"Alice is nothing if not manipulative. But she's a sweetheart."
"That she is," I say. I let Edward pull me down on the bed and after some maneuvering, he manages to make me settle with my head on his chest. It's a first, and I'm afraid my head will be too heavy for him. His hand caresses my hair though, and gradually, I relax.
God. I missed this.
Parched for some affection, I can't stop myself from wrapping my arm around his waist, pressing myself closer to him.
Wisp is all for us lying together, since it creates a nook in between our bodies she can settle into. Playing with the label of the towel, she's oblivious to her audience.
"So, Dartmouth?" I ask after a while.
"Yep. My grades are good enough. I… I actually already filled out the application."
"Good, that's good," I say, but panic makes my voice tight. What if I don't get in there? While before, I never thought I was going to go to any university at all, the idea of going anywhere with Edward has cemented itself in my mind quickly. The idea of now going somewhere he is not, makes my chest tighten.
"What?" Edward asks, clearly picking up on my distress. "Bella?"
"Nothing," I say. "I'll apply there, too, but I'm not sure I can get in."
Edward lifts his head so he can better look at me. "Excuse me? You do realize you have better grades than I do, right?"
"Hardly," I say, avoiding his gaze. "But you have ambition. You know what you want. I don't."
"Then you should think about that," he replies simply. He's not asking me why I have no real dreams for the future, and I'm glad. "Didn't you say once you wanted to write?"
"I don't think that's a sensible dream," I reply.
Edward shrugs, his shoulders moving underneath me. Wisp stops playing mid-pounce and I watch as her eyes droop before they fall closed.
"Dreams aren't meant to be sensible. Alice wanting to be a fashion designer isn't very sensible either."
"Alice is getting a business degree, too," I counter. "Sounds pretty sensible to me."
"So what if you could dream freely," Edward says, his fingertips stroking my upper arm over my clothes. The movement is so casual that I miss at first how wonderful it is that it doesn't freak me out. Wanting to reciprocate, I tentatively wrap my arm around his waist, my thumb drawing careful circles against his hoodie.
Edward hugs me tighter for a moment, and then continues talking as if my reaching out isn't monumental. "What if anything was possible. What would you do?"
His words trigger the memory of an idea I had a while ago, but I dismiss it right away.
"I don't think I can become a psychologist," I start, but Edward holds up his hand.
"Dreaming freely never starts with 'I don't.'"
"All right. I do think I can't become a psychologist."
He kisses the top of my head. "Har, har."
I smile. My body feels deliciously heavy against his, and it feels great to be so relaxed with him.
"But really, I have no idea."
I can sense Edward's disbelief.
"You just need to figure out what you're good at," he says. "You're good at languages, right?"
"Quite the translator I'd make, since I'm so comfortable speaking around strangers."
"Don't beat yourself up like that," Edward says quietly. "You're good at math, too. Would you like to do anything with numbers?"
"I don't think that would make me happy. There's no challenge in numbers."
And I still have that letter from my Trig teacher about advanced classes. Crap.
"Accountants would disagree with you. As would tax shelterers," Edward says dryly.
I chew on my lip, and pet Wisp for a moment. She wakes up from my touch and paws at me, her tiny claws not doing any harm. "I don't think it's for me. But I could do it if nothing else occurs to me, perhaps."
"It will come to you," Edward says reassuringly. "You can always specialize later on, you know."
"If I get in."
"I'm sure you will."
I shake my head, my muscles already tightening again. "Like I said, you have ambition. What can I tell the board about myself that will make me stand out?"
"That you're a fighter," Edward says immediately. "That you never give up. That you have amazing observation skills. That you're smart and witty. A fast learner. A great teacher… need I go on?"
A teacher… "I couldn't teach."
"I thought we had established this conversation wasn't about what you can't do."
"It's easier to start with what I know," I murmur. "And then move on from there."
"You know what you can do," Edward says, pulling me closer. "You just have to learn to trust yourself a little more."
"What if no university will accept me?"
"I fail to come up with any form of universe in which that could happen. Why wouldn't you be accepted?"
I can't say the words. I can't tell him I still feel tainted, unworthy of any place in the world. No matter how wonderful things feel with Edward, the rest of the world is tearing at me, making me feel my shortcomings every turn I take, everywhere I look.
Edward hugs me closer still and buries his face in my hair. "If I could give you anything, any gift in the world, I'd give you confidence," he says.
Like the first time he said this to me, there's nothing I can think of to reply to that.
"I think you'll have to give up on that one," I finally say. "I don't think that part is ever going to get better."
Edward exhales, thinking. Then he gets up so suddenly he startles Wisp awake. The kitten crawls over to me immediately, seeking warmth.
"Where are you going?" I ask, confused.
"Back in a minute," he says.
He looks so purposeful I don't ask any further, and I pet Wisp's soft, soft fur as I wait to see what he is going to do.
Not much later, I hear shuffling sounds outside my room. Edward opens the door and I see Alice and him carrying Alice's big standing mirror. They bring the life-sized thing inside.
Alice looks over at me, smiling knowingly. "Keep it as long as you like," she says. Then she's off again, which strikes me as uncharacteristic for her.
Edward closes the door and sets up the mirror in an empty corner. Then he holds out his hand to me in invitation.
Suspecting I'm not going to like what he is going to do, I get off the bed and walk over to him. He shifts me so I am facing the full-length mirror, and he steps up behind me, looking at me through the mirror. I look at him, trying to ignore my own reflection.
"Look at yourself," he says. "What do you see?"
My eyes flit over my mirror image, but then I look away again. I shrug. "A whole lot of nothing special. Can we not do this? I don't like looking at myself."
"I've noticed," he says. "How come?"
"I'm ugly," I say to my feet. "Certainly not worth looking at."
Edward wraps his arms around me from behind, anchoring me against his body. "I beg to differ."
"It's the truth," I persist.
"Do you want to know what I see when I look at myself?"
I look up at his reflection. "A perfect face and a perfect person."
He chuckles, his eyes sparkling. "I see a too high forehead, a too thin frame, impossible hair, and a mind that always thinks way too much."
"That's not true," I say quietly. "You have nothing to worry about."
"I could say the same to you," he retorts easily.
"That's different. You're altogether perfect and certainly too good for me."
"Is that what you worry about? That I'm too good for you?"
I blush. "Yes."
"But if I'm so perfect in your eyes, how could I fall for anybody less than perfect?"
My mouth opens, but I have no reply.
"If you see it differently, you're basically calling me a liar," Edward continues. "Are you?"
I shake my head. "But maybe you don't see things very clearly."
He hugs me closer. "You know what? I think I see things perfectly well. And I see who you really are. Not the contorted view others have forced you to see yourself through. Think about that."
I look at my own reflection, at the face I know so well. My eyes, brown and too big in my too thin face. My hair, brown but dull because I'm still not eating properly. My chin too sharp, my lower lip slightly fuller than the upper. And behind me, I see Edward, with a perfect straight nose, strong eyebrows, honest eyes and hair I want to run my fingers through.
Can anybody really see something else when they look at me?
Edward moves his hands, pulling my shoulders back so I am standing up straight, and he tilts my chin up. From an insecure, hunched figure I suddenly look more confident than ever.
"There you go," Edward says. "You deserve to be here. No matter what anybody else ever told you. Don't let one black spot get you down completely. Right now, I am willing to bet there are more people around you who love you unconditionally than there ever have been bad people in your life."
I exhale an glance at myself, but then my shoulders sag. I hate looking at myself. Hate it. I turn in Edward's embrace, hoping to hide from my own reflection. Edward chuckles and wraps his arms around me easily.
"Of course, now I have an excellent view of your ass," he says jokingly.
My blush flares and I hide my face against his chest, not sure if I should turn back or not.
"Look at yourself," he says encouragingly after a while. "You're worth being looked at."
He coaxes me to turn back to the mirror, and with gentle nudges makes me straighten up my stance. "See what a difference it makes?"
By standing taller, in a way I feel stronger, too.
"You're right," I whisper, even though I don't really sound convinced.
Edward hugs me from behind. "I usually am," he says with a wink. "How nice of you to see that finally."
I will not abandon this story. I just won't be able to update every two weeks. Patience!