Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns all things Twilight.

A/N: This is my entry for the "Picture Says It All" Contest. I am considering expanding it into a multi-chapter short story if there is enough interest.


The Long Way Home

October 9th, 2002

Bella,

The therapist here says I should write this even if I never send it. Believe me, I'm not planning on sending it. But writing feels surprisingly good.

Does it shock you that I'm actually listening to someone for once?

I'm sorry I missed your birthday, Bella. I wish I could have been there with you to celebrate. I thought of you all day.

I think of you everyday.

I sit, writing, trying to keep my cigarette from going out in the misting rain. There's the smell of wet dirt, the squelch and slap of mud as boots sink down into the soft earth.

I'm still getting acclimated to life here—and I don't mean dealing with the rain and the muddy fucking yard I'm forced out into every day for an hour and a half. No, and I don't even mean my lack of freedom, the constant surveillance under the watchful eyes of the guards, wary because they know they're understaffed. There's too many of us here…too many violent offenders, and I know the guards are nervous. There's tension when we're out here, when we're in the "dining hall": it curls and blooms like a fungus. The only one who doesn't seem affected is the big guard—McCarty. I think his first name is Emmett. He does evening shift and seems to be an okay guy—even gave me a pack of smokes the other day. Maybe he doesn't think I'm guilty.

The exercise yard is large but it's muddy as hell. It's been raining since I got here. But I've almost lost track of time. If it wasn't for the air, cool now, I wouldn't even know what season it was. Before it was sunny. Ironic how it was beautiful every day as I walked into the courtroom. A gorgeous summer day the last time I saw your face.

And it keeps raining.

I could deal with it all if I didn't miss you so fucking much. It's been two months and I haven't seen you. That's another way I keep track of the time. Like I said, getting used to this life isn't easy. Not when I used to see you every day, feel you every night. Even when we weren't together, I knew you were close, and that gave me some sort of comfort. Every day without you is a small nick in my skin—a bit of blood trickles, leaving its trail on my skin—and eventually there'll be nothing left to beat inside of me. But it's not your fault, love. I don't want you in a place like this and you know it. Please, don't come here.

There are gangs. The Manitoba Warriors and the Indian Posse are the big names on campus. Trying to steer clear of both groups while belonging to neither is tricky business. Sam Uley is one mean motherfucker—and the Warriors are known for their extreme unpredictability. Basically, you don't want to piss Uley off, and his second in command, Paul, is even worse. Jacob Black leads the Posse and they pretty much control the black-market smuggling, and I'm positive they have most of the guards in their pockets. It's a poor town, and most people will do anything for money. Even turn a blind eye to weapons, drugs.

Black's alright—and most prisoners who aren't in gangs pay him protection money, or they pay Sam. It's a gamble either way—there are no guarantees here.

I've tried to keep out of that shit but it's not easy. I'd probably pay someone, most likely Black, if I had the money. But I don't, so it's best not to think about it. The only thing I can do is keep my eyes open and hope I don't find myself on the wrong end of somebody's knife. Not that I can't hold my own in a fight—I've been doing it so long and I have the scars to prove it. But that was another life…I had a new life. Well, at least for a little while. You were my other life, and it's enough for me to know you keep living it.

Now I'm back in my cell and it's lockdown. There was a fight in the yard and someone got badly injured—it was fresh meat, someone like me. Someone without protection. And I realize that if I want to survive I have to make a choice.

There's no natural light. No window. There is a ceiling light but I don't control that. When it's lights out, it's lights out. It's better in the dark, the only light filters in from the small plexiglass panel on the door to my cell. This is the time I can rest, let my thoughts drift. But that also makes it the worst time.

It does no good to think of the what-ifs but my mind is unstoppable. Every evening, the last year of my life replays again and it's almost unbearable. And of course that night.

I don't blame you, Bella. I don't blame you. It was my fault.

I love you so fucking much it kills me. I'll be here for ten, fifteen years? And by then you'll have a new life. And I want you to, baby. I want you to be happy. Cause you never could be happy with me.

I know you'll never read this letter and I'm glad. It's the last thing I want you to read.

Please forget me, love. Imagine I never existed.

Edward.


November 18, 2002

Dear Edward.

Edward. I've written your name a million times. I've sent you letters, so many letters. But you won't answer me. You won't see me. Why?

I know why.

I've ruined you.

My husband. Every moment you thought I hated you I loved you more fiercely than the moment before. Even when you left me. Even when you were at your weakest. Even when I was. I don't think I knew this then, but I do now. I've never stopped loving you.

They sent back my letters, unopened. Or was it you? It must have been you. You don't want to hear from me, either. You won't grant me this one wish, even though you've sacrificed everything for me.

Today it's cool and there's the feeling of snow in the air. Alice was by earlier, even though I told her not to come. She worries about me and I have a feeling you send her. Is this true, or is it only wishful thinking on my part? I receive a perverse thrill knowing you care about me, even if you won't admit it.

You would've hated it today if you were here. Alice painted my toenails and insisted on doing my hair and my makeup even though we weren't even going out. Besides, I can barely see my feet, anyway, so what does it matter! She picked a crazy color and I couldn't even have stopped her even if I'd wanted to. We made popcorn and watched girlie movies, and I almost imagined you coming home from work, grumbling at us, and then retreating to the bedroom.

I imagined more than that, too. I imagined when Alice left, I'd creep into our room and you'd be there lying on the bed, still in the trousers you wore to work, and your socks. (But with no shirt on. Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure that one out. Your body has always amazed me). I'd crawl up the bed and lay beside you; you'd be sleeping but I'd kiss your face and you'd wake up. And you'd smile at me the most brilliant smile. Your eyes are so green. I'd see myself in your eyes, the way you used to see me. Nothing else would happen. Just you, smiling at me. And that would be enough.

Of course my night ended much more ordinarily. I made a grilled cheese and burned it, but I was so tired I just scraped off the burned bits and ate it anyway. Do you remember when we first met and you couldn't believe that I didn't know how to cook? I was 19 and hadn't ever spent more than five minutes in a kitchen. You came for dinner and I made pasta, but it wasn't al dente enough for you. Lord, I didn't even know what al dente meant! But you ate it anyway, always a good sport. It wasn't until years later that you told me how you'd forced it down, not wanting to offend me. "Bella. Al dente—it's Italian for 'to the tooth." You pretentious bastard. Always so conscientious of my insecurities.

Do you hear me Edward? Do you know that I hate you?

I hate you. I hate you.

I hate you for doing what you did. Now I'm alone and there's no one to comfort me—not Alice, not Esme, not Rose. No one. I'm alone and I'd rather be where you are. Why did you take away the choice for me?

Why won't you answer my letters?

Every time I receive a bundle of them returned to me I hope that one, at least one of them, is opened. That you've heard at least some of what I've said.

But each time I'm disappointed.

I take back what I said. I love you so much I can't breathe. I can't be without you. I am you.

Please please write to me, even if it's only to say you're alive. All I need to know is that you exist, and after that, nothing.

-Yours, only,

Bella.


December 23rd, 2002

Bella,

I don't want to write this. But this is what I remember. This is my story. This is why I did what I did.

"Edward…." you say.

I feel sick, leaning against the car door with the window open even though it's raining. I don't want to throw up in your car…in our car. In the used car we bought together before I lost my job and ability to support you. Even then we didn't have a lot of money.

I can only barely make out what you're saying because the wind and rain is loud in my ears. And really I don't want to know. It's not a miracle you found me in James's bar, but I can't believe you're bothering. The waste of fucking time.

"Edward, roll the damn window up, please!" Now you're shouting at me. I shouldn't have gotten in the car. It'll do neither of us any good…even in my cloudy mind I know that. My body heaves and lurches as you turn the steering wheel. I wrap my hand around the small baggie in my pocket. I managed to snag some coke from James before you arrived, and I was thankful I'd have it later. I'd need it.

I do what you ask, fumbling with the manual control until the window is mostly up. I don't close it the whole way. I need the air.

"God, Edward. Would you look at yourself?" Your voice is disgusted. I shrug, I agree.

"Why did you come Bella?"

"I'm beginning to wonder the same thing," you mutter under your breath, but I can still hear you. You're doing your passive-aggressive thing but the words are meant for me. We've played this game for a long time.

But it wasn't always this way. Once it had been laughter and love and uncontrollable lust. Even now, after all we've been through, that spark is there. I can feel it under the surface, hiding under our anger, our fear. If we just gave it air it would flame again. But I can't bring myself to do it. I'm too far gone.

I loved you with everything I was, but I'm not anything anymore.

"Just let me out of the car, Bella. Pull over," I mumble, the taste of alcohol stale on my tongue.

"No." You are firm. "Not until you hear what I have to say."

"Well than say it, I don't have all night." I'm being rude and hurtful but I can't stop myself. This is what I've become.

"I don't want to say it out here. You're coming home and hearing me out. And then, if you want, you can leave again. I won't stop you." Your eyes flash brilliantly and I fall in love with you again. But I don't want to infect you with my sickness.

"I can't come home."

"Why? Why Edward? Is it because of the money? Because of my father? Because I don't care about any of that shit! You're going to kill yourself and I can't let that happen." You're getting worked up now, tears streaming down your face. I want to reach out and brush the tears away, but I clasp my grasping hand in my fist. You need a clean break from me. I can't keep torturing you like this. You're driving faster now and your breathing is heavy.

"It's not that. Bella. I can't be the man you need me to be. I'm so sorry."

You turn your head quickly and all I see are your beautiful eyes again. Again. You've always had the power to unman me, even in my darkest moments. I've tried to be the thing you needed—the stable man with the 9 to 5 job and the fucking white picket fence and all of that shit. But I've failed, slipped back into my old habits so easily it's almost a joke. I am weak.

"Well, Edward, maybe you can't, but I don't want to have to tell my child that his father drank himself to death."

"What?" I don't know what you're saying. It doesn't make sense. We don't have any kids.

"Or her. It's too early to tell," you whisper. The rain is letting up and I can see a slice of moon attempting to peak from between parting clouds.

"Impossible."

"It is fucking possible." You're angry. "And it's true. I'm pregnant, Edward."

I'm staring straight ahead and I realize my nails are digging into my legs, trying to hold myself together. My wife is pregnant. With my child. Somehow it occurs to me that the last time we'd had sex we hadn't used protection, not that we usually did. I couldn't bear the feeling of anything between us. I remember the last time before I walked out on you, so that you wouldn't drown with me, how you felt under my hands. I never wanted to stop.

I'm lost in my mind and at first I'm terrified. But then my mind conjures you, swollen with our child, my hands touching you, your belly. And the baby. A girl: it would look just like my girl. I swallow thickly.

"Edward, say something! Goddamm it!" And that's the last sound I hear before a sickening thud.

If I had never started using again. If I had never left you. If you had never found me that night. If I hadn't gotten in the car. If you hadn't been driving. If you hadn't been crying. If you hadn't told me then…If only I had told you how happy I was.

I don't remember the impact of the crash—just the thud. And then the car isn't moving and I smell smoke. It's dark and I fight to open my eyes, frantic to see if you're okay. I reach over to you and you're slumped over the steering wheel, a trickle of blood running down your forehead and I try to speak your name but I can't. The windshield is smashed and there's glass everywhere. The damn car is so old it doesn't have airbags, and I curse myself again. You need to be alright. You have to be alright. I touch your face but you don't respond. I realize I'm screaming your name.

I fumble the door open and make legs that don't want to move work. Somewhere in my mind it registers that our car has hit a telephone pole. I run to the driver's side and open it and there you are, my girl, still unmoving. I wrap my arms around you and tug you gently out of the car, knowing that I probably shouldn't move you but not able to bear the sight of you crumpled like that at the wheel. I lay you softly on the ground and wipe away the blood and kiss your face, thanking God you're breathing. You are beautiful, even when still and pale. And then I am screaming for help.

There are headlights far down the road and I run towards them. It's no longer raining and the moon is full. It shines on the surface of the road, reflecting in the wetness there…if it were any other night it might be beautiful, but now it is a sick joke.

It is then I see him. There is a body lying a few meters from our car. I can tell it's a man. He's unmoving, his neck at an unnatural angle, a bloodied and broken arm akimbo, wrenched back and out of its socket. I remember the thud. Now, with this sight comes the horror of realization. Even though I know it's useless, I take the man's pulse. Nothing.

And I'm numb.

They take you away in the ambulance and I want to go with you but they don't let me. The police question me. They find my cocaine. They ask who was driving the car and I tell them I was. They perform a breathalyzer and I'm well over the legal limit. They put me in a cell and won't let me see you.

The next day I'm sober again and there is a banging in my head. The asshole detective who detained me last night, Alec something or other, is back, and with him is a petite blonde girl who looks too young to be a cop. Her eyes tell a different story. They are cold.

I hear them say things about my driving record and the trouble I'm in and the name of the dead man. But all I care about is you. No one's told me how you are.

"My wife. Please."

Alec looks at me with a cocked eyebrow; he's a cynical bastard. But so am I.

"Your wife is in a coma, but she's stable. You're very lucky that she wasn't killed."

My heart hammers with relief and fear. I say the next words even though I don't want an answer. "The baby?"

The news I receive makes me want to fucking kiss him. The baby is okay. Not wearing a seatbelt has left you with a head injury, but it's saved our child. The sick irony.

When you wake up three days later, you tell them that you'd been driving, but no one believes you. And I'm glad. It's Alice who tells me this. She's been at your side since the accident. I make her promise to keep you away.

"She insists she was driving, Edward. Bella's never been a good liar. Please tell me the truth."

"I've already told you, Alice. It was me. I was driving and I killed that man. It was me."

When you come to visit I refuse to see you, even though I desperately want to. Desperately. My love. But I know you'll protest against what I'm doing. I see you in the courtroom but I won't meet your gaze. You think I no longer love you, but nothing is further from the truth. I plead the fifth and get 10 to 15 years for second-degree murder and possession of an illegal substance.

If there hadn't been a man crossing the street. If only I hadn't been using.

Bella.

The need to deaden my mind is strong, and there have been moments when I've considered my options. There is morphine available here and other, even more potent substances.

But even though the thought is tempting, I resist. For some reason I can't quite understand I no longer have any desire for drugs. It's another irony in my life that, now I no longer matter, that every hope I have is gone, I've made a choice to live. And without rehab. I just fucking stopped the day of the accident and I've been clean since. I want you to know this, even if you never see this letter. I stopped for you. For our child.

Except for the cigarettes…and, I confess, I smoke a lot of those. As many as I can get my hands on. I've developed a love of tobacco that's almost…but not quite…like my love for you. You'll like that analogy.

It's a driving need…a satiation. The feel of the smooth round filter under fingertips, the drag and pull into the lungs and then the long exhale, the curling blue acidic smoke.

I smoke long into the night, waiting. Waiting.

A couple of weeks ago they opened my door and shoved a kid in. He can't be more than 18, 19. When I asked him what the fuck he was doing here and what his name was, he told me it was Seth. But he won't tell me what he did.

But I found out anyway—the kid killed his parents.

It's surprising, more than anything else. He keeps to himself and seems polite, even deferential. It's like he's afraid of me and really there's no need. I'm not going to fuck with him and, after a while, he's started to understand.

We haven't exactly become friends but we talk…mostly about movies, books. He loves Star Wars and so do I (as you know). And then one night a couple of days ago he told me.

I didn't want to hear how Seth's mom held him down while his father beat him. I didn't want to hear how they locked him in his bedroom with no food for a week. The kid's parents are monsters. Were monsters. And I curse the legal system that put Seth here but didn't help him when he was young. I curse a lot of things.

But I also celebrate things. The fact that our baby will have a sweet mama—a good life. I am thankful for a lot of things.

I love you.

Edward.


December 25th, 2002

Edward,

I'm at your parent's house today but nothing is the same. This Christmas is worse than last year, and I never thought I'd be able to say that.

The family is all in the living room; Alice has convinced everyone to play charades. I've retreated to the far corner and am sitting in my favorite armchair—you know, the red velvet one. They're drinking mulled wine and Jasper's getting a little rowdy. I don't mind not drinking; you know I never did much. Even Carlisle is playing! You'd be surprised; he's actually quite good! Or maybe I'm the only one who's surprised—he is your father, after all, and I realize I don't know if you've ever played with him. This is new to me, but it might not be to you.

I've tried to keep holiday cheer but there is an absence here—you. But you're also a presence. Sometimes when I turn around I think I see you. I can almost convince myself you're upstairs sleeping. Esme knows, I think. She just came by and handed me a steaming cup of hot cider, non-alcoholic, of course.

Shall I tell you about the baby? My stomach is huge. You'd never recognize me! It's hard to describe what it feels like to be pregnant—there's fullness, pressure—but it's not static. It moves and shifts and I can feel the baby swimming. Is it a boy or a girl? I've decided to wait to find out. Alice knows though. She was with me the day of the sonogram; the doctor asked if I wanted to know the sex of the baby and I shook my head. But you know your sister. She wants to be prepared with the right colored clothes and toys—as if I care about any of that—but she's been on multiple top-secret shopping trips. It was an indulgence I could allow her for all the help she's been for me.

Every time I get my letters back, I cry and she comforts me. She says that you love me and that it's too painful for you to read them. But what about my pain, Edward? How can you deny me my voice? How can you refuse my apology?

You've taken the blame for my crime and I can never forgive myself. Never. Not for killing that innocent man, not for losing you.

Even though I never saw his body, I imagine it. I know he had children, a wife. They haunt me, as you do, and I will never be the same again. And you're the only one I can talk to, the only one who knows.

But why, why, would you do something so foolish Edward? When you had a history of DUI and no license. And you knew you had drugs. I might have gotten off with minimal punishment—maybe manslaughter. Maybe I would've escaped any prison time at all. We could have worked it out together.

When I woke up I begged for you. I told them it was me but they didn't believe me—it was all too easy to believe it was you, and that I was confessing out of grief. The mad ramblings of an injured pregnant woman. My belly was just starting to swell and I cradled it and I cried. I couldn't believe our child had survived. How did I deserve that after everything? Our miracle child. The way I see it, God refused to punish the innocent. I had committed crimes, so had you, but our child is pure.

Did you to it as penance, Edward, for the pain you caused me? I'm not foolish enough to deny that you caused me pain. We had become toxic for each other. That day in the courtroom at your sentencing you wouldn't look at me. You don't know what that did to me. I felt I'd lost you forever.

Have I, Edward?

Alice told me something the other day. She said you wanted me to move on, find someone else. She spoke of separation and divorce and I'm ashamed to say I yelled at her. I cried and ruined her shirt with my tears. Will you take this choice away from me too? Do I have a say?

Alice says you're not using anymore, that you've been sober since the accident. I want to believe her.

I'm making my own choice, Edward. I'm waiting for you. I'll always be waiting for you.

And when our baby is born—only three weeks to go (!)—she'll know who her daddy is, what a good man you are.

But, you ask, how do I know it's a girl? I just do.

I love you always. Do you feel the same?

Bella.


January 30, 2003

Bella,

I've written you every day but I've torn up the letters. Most of them. I've kept a few and I don't know why-maybe because I believe someday I'll give them to you? I'm going to send at least this one.

Alice came yesterday and brought a picture of our daughter. Elizabeth. You named her after my birth mother, Bella. She has hair! And her eyes. They're so deep. I can't stop staring at the picture—she is my light, my hope—as you are. I've attached it to Seth's bunk above my pillow so she's the last thing I see before I sleep and the first thing when I wake up.

My sister said your labor was difficult and that you cried for me. That they had to cut you and that your recovery has been slow. This kills me, angel. I wish I could take the pain for you. I'm so proud of you. I'm so sorry I wasn't there.

I'm afraid Alice isn't exactly pleased with me. She told me how you reacted to the idea of divorce, glaring at me in that fiercely protective way she has. You don't want it, she says. You still want me?

Alice insists that I see you. She says you're hurt I haven't read your letters, that I'm killing you with my silence. She says I'm a fool. That much is definitely true.

How can I explain the unexplainable? I thought that by cutting off ties with you you'd hate me, you'd move on. Even though it makes me sick to think of you with another man, anyone else touching you. I didn't want you to wait, wasting the rest of your youth.

And there's something else, I confess. I still fear you'll meet someone and leave me—so maybe I was distancing myself from you on purpose. To save myself when that happens. That's what my therapist says and I guess she's probably right. (Yes, you've read that correctly!)

I've changed my mind. I'll be whatever you need me to be. I'll read your letters. I'll do anything. You take the lead and I'll follow. Please come see me if you want. But I'll understand if you don't. I've nothing to offer you anymore. But never doubt that I'll only ever be,

Your Edward.


February 14th 2003.

Edward,

I got your letter.

Our baby was born on January 21st. Alice wasn't lying; my recovery has been slow and painful. Elizabeth wasn't turning right and they had to do a caesarean. They numbed me but I still felt the cut. God, it hurt so fucking much, but once I saw her all the pain went away.

She looks like you.

I don't know what to say to your confession—that you thought by denying me contact that you were somehow freeing me. Thank you for being honest and admitting that you were preserving yourself, too. It seems therapy is going well for you, and I'm happy that you have that outlet.

I've been seeing someone as well—a therapist, silly—and it's helping a little. I was incredibly depressed for a long time—even before the accident. I see that now. But I didn't then and maybe that's one more reason our relationship wasn't working. Now that I'm not pregnant any more they have me on an antidepressant and I've noticed an improvement. It's difficult though, since I wanted to breastfeed. But I suppose it's more important for me to be a strong mother for Elizabeth.

It's Valentine's Day, and I know we always said it was a cheesy Hallmark holiday, but I still wanted to send you this card. You promised me you'd read it.

The truth is I don't know how we move forward now. So much has been lost in the past months, years, sometimes I feel like I don't know you anymore.

But don't take this as a refusal. I want to know you again.

I want to see you, Edward. Alice says she'll take me once I'm stronger—maybe in a few weeks. I'm going to bring all of the letters you sent back and I want you to read them. But I have one stipulation: I want to read yours too. I don't care how raw or painful they might be; whatever you're trying to protect me from, it's not working. I need to know all of you. Only then, maybe then we can move forward.

Bella.


February 17th, 2003

Bella,

Please come. I'll give you my letters. Anything I have.

Love always,

Edward.

March 20, 2003

Edward,

I saw you yesterday. I still can't believe it.

I stayed up all night reading your letters. Yes, they were painful. Especially your account of the accident—it brought it all back to me in a way that was alarming. The horror and the pain you felt can't be erased. Your description of the body on the ground…I did that, Edward. I did that. And you asked me to forget you'd ever existed. Those words were daggers. I couldn't live in a world where you didn't exist.

But I don't regret reading them and you shouldn't regret writing them or giving them to me. For one thing, reading let me know that you are still the man I once knew. I felt you slipping away and these letters give me hope. Seth seems like a good kid despite the horrible things he's done. I'm glad you're "rooming" with someone like him. It scares me, though—all of the gangs, the drugs—but I have to learn to trust you again.

I hope you read my letters and feel the same way.

I'm so sorry about what happened between us before the accident, Edward. You felt useless and I was less than understanding. I'm not excusing you, but I understand I'm partly responsible. Not for you using again, but for not being there, not listening when you'd lost your job and you felt you weren't living up to expectations. It's true. I wanted you to be my strong man; I didn't like to think of you as weak and vulnerable. And your addiction made you that way. And it did make me think less of you.

I need to tell you about that night, so you'll know how it was for me.

You've been gone for two months. Two months. Every day I go to work and come home to our empty house. Even after all this time I can't bring myself to go through your things and pack them into boxes. I leave your sneakers by the front door—still laced up. Your habit of kicking them off without untying them drives me crazy.

But I miss it.

I'm not sleeping and I'm feeling sick during the day. Sometimes you call at night and I hang up. You never say anything, but I know it's you. I know you're probably drunk or high somewhere and I don't want to know where you are or who you're with.

I speak with Alice and she's so angry with you, but she's your sister. She loves you. I think maybe I do under all my hurt.

She comes over and we sit on the sofa. She's brought pizza for dinner but I'm not hungry. I feel sick.

She has something else with her and it shocks me; when I see it I know what it means.

I know I'm pregnant before I even pee on the stick. I'm too scared to be happy, even though I am. A horrible thought occurs to me: even if you die, I'll still have this piece of you.

"Go find him, Bella," she looks at me pleadingly. "If anything will change him, it's this. Give it one more shot."

I don't want to do it, I don't want to hope. I've been too disappointed by you for too long, but I know she's right. At least you deserve to know the truth; then, whatever happens, I'll at least have a clean conscience, knowing I gave you one last chance.

I'm surprisingly calm as I get into the car. I know where you are, more than likely. At O'Rileys with that bastard James—the one you knew in college, the one who you used to use with and who I thought you were through with. Fitting he would have opened a bar.

When I pull up into the lot I can feel you in there. It's a dingy place, the clientele unsavory. I see you at the bar, slumped over a glass that's half-full of whiskey, the bottle uncorked, mostly finished. In this moment you don't look beautiful, you look sick and sad. Your clothes are rumpled and you don't look like you've been sleeping either. But at that moment I realize I'm in better shape than you. You turn to me and your eyes are unfocused. Though I don't expect you to be happy to see me, you smile and you reach out. And then you are beautiful again.

James is sneering at me from down the bar but I ignore him. He's a hideous man with a black soul and I need to get my baby away from here.

"Edward. Come home."

"Angel," you say, and your voice is hoarse, "my angel."

I feel uncomfortable standing there and I don't know what to say; you reach weakly but you're unsteady and you almost fall off of your chair.

"Edward, let's go."

"I'll go anywhere with you," you mumble. Your hand reaches into your pocket and you pull out a few crumpled bills and slap them on the bar. They're only dollar bills, probably three or four of them. You stand up and pull me to you, and I stiffen immediately. I'm not comfortable being this intimate with you, not after all that's happened. And you're drunk. You reek of stale booze and unwashed clothes and I want to cry.

"You came for me," you slur.

"Edward, please," I can't take this now, not in the bar. We make our way outside and I am immediately refreshed by the clean rain.

"I'm a bad man, angel. You shouldn't have come here." I help you into the car and you roll down the window, which annoys me because I hate getting the upholstery wet.

"I need to talk to you."

"But you don't talk when I call you."

"You're drunk."

"I'm drunk now, too."

"But this is important."

You are silent for a while and we start to drive. I think maybe we'll go home and I'll put you to bed so we can talk in the morning.

"Do you still love me, angel?" Your words catch me off guard and I don't know how to answer. Of course I do. No, I don't. Yes. I don't love the man you've become, but I love you. Or were you ever the man I thought you were?

I doubt you.

"Edward…" I say. Now you're leaning out the window and the rain is really coming in. Something in me snaps. "Edward, roll the damn window up, please!" I shout but I didn't really mean to. I know I haven't answered your question and you know it too. You do as I ask but your movements are the movements of a man not in control of his own body. "God, Edward. Would you look at yourself?"

"Why did you come Bella?" you ask. I hate the sadness in your voice, but I'm angry, angry at this whole situation.

"I'm beginning to wonder the same thing." I'm being a bitch and I can't seem to stop myself. I want to take your head in my lap and run my hands through your hair. I want to strike you. I want to beg you to stay with me forever.

"Just let me out of the car, Bella. Pull over." I've wounded you. But no, this is not how I wanted this night to go. I refuse.

"No. Not until you hear what I have to say."

"Well than say it, I don't have all night." This statement is ridiculous given the situation, but it's your way of closing yourself off. It's probably my fault.

"I don't want to say it out here. You're coming home and hearing me out. And then, if you want, you can leave again. I won't stop you."

"I can't come home."

Your words fill me with dread. I need you. I need the man I married. I can't do this alone. I start crying frustrated tears. "Why? Why Edward? Is it because of the money? Because of my father? Because I don't care about any of that shit! You're going to kill yourself and I can't let that happen."

"It's not that. Bella. I can't be the man you need me to be. I'm so sorry."

You sag against the door and I decide to just come out with it.

"Well, Edward, maybe you can't, but I don't want to have to tell my child that his father drank himself to death."

"What?" The word is tinged with doubt and confusion.

"Or her. It's too early to tell," I say.

"Impossible."

I take this as a rejection. It fills me with rage. "It is fucking possible. And it's true. I'm pregnant, Edward."

You sit staring, your face sheet-white. You don't want me. You don't want the baby. You're going to continue on this path and I can't stop you.

"Edward, say something! Goddamm it!"

I hear nothing after that. But I dream, horrible, shattering nightmares. I am being held down in inky blackness and I'm searching for you, but you're gone, far, far away. I scream silently in the darkness for three days.

Then I wake. And the only thing that greets me is an awful reality. My dreams have been made real, and I am alone.

Forgive me, Edward, and forgive me for telling you this. I had so much anger. I know that I wasn't the support you needed then. But I need to tell you, so you know how it was for me. I have told you now and I want to move forward.

Seeing you yesterday and not being able to touch you was almost unbearable and I cried the whole way home. Don't refuse my visits now because of this; I just want us to be honest with one another.

I confess I was having doubts but seeing you erased them all. You looked so beautiful. I'm so in love with you Edward.

Can we maybe start speaking on the phone? I have to go now—it's baby dinnertime. Did I tell you her hair is lightening a little now? There's red in it!

Elizabeth and I are yours.

B.


March 25, 2003

My Bella.

I love to call you that. I love thinking of you as mine again. Being able to say it to you and know you're reading it.

Thank you for coming to see me, Bella. I'm sorry I couldn't touch you, just the glass that separated us. But when I did touch that, and you put your hand up on the other side…I swear I felt something. It could have just been me, but I felt you.

When you left I read all of your letters until lights out; then I read the rest the following day. I feel exactly the same as you expressed in your last letter…yes, they were painful, but necessary. How can I forgive myself for putting you through so much suffering? I know that part of my problem is martyrdom. I berate myself for not living up to other people's expectations, and then I fail even more thoroughly. That's what happened with the drugs, well, part of it anyway.

You ask if I took the blame for the accident as penance—in some ways, maybe I did. But I don't think this was unjust. I still think—even if you don't—that the accident was as much my fault as yours. You would know the reasons why if you've read my letter. I understand that you were upset with me for not taking your feelings or desires into account when I made my decision. I'm sorry if you felt like you had no say. But I'm conflicted. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I'd do anything to protect you and the baby. I know this is probably not what you want to hear. But now, if it happened again, I'd make the same choice. Can you forgive me for that?

My therapist says I need to forgive myself before others can. It seems like a load of shit but she's probably right—she usually is. So I'm working on it. There's not much to do here except for think, really, and so I'm doing a lot of it.

I'm not ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. I read your letter. Hearing how you felt that night, when you found out you were pregnant and the state I was in…there are no words, angel. I hate the man that I was, but I'm working on not being that man anymore. I don't remember you coming to the bar. Your memory of me is startling and sad and I'm sorry you had to see me like that. There are so many things I wish I could take back, change, reverse. But the thing I regret the most is not being there for you in the hospital, when you were in the dark and wanting me. I wanted you too.

Bella, forgive yourself. Please don't ask for mine—you already have it. And don't try and do anything rash, like try and come forward as the responsible party in all of this. I know how you think and I'm on to you. Don't use these letters to incriminate yourself. Promise me.

How about a lighter subject?

I wish I could've seen you when you were pregnant…really, fully pregnant. I'm sure you were so beautiful. Do you have pictures? Will you send me one? I'll put it on the bunk above next to Elizabeth so I can see you both. Please? (Don't deny me this, angel).

Poor child has red hair; well, at least your beautiful brown hair will temper it into a nice auburn? I hope to God, for Lizzie's sake, it's not as wild as mine.

What does she smell like? What does it feel like to hold her?

Yes. We can speak on the phone. I can make one phone call per week, on Sundays, and that I'll reserve only for you. It, like everything else I am, is

Yours. E.


April 1st, 2003

My love,

Lizzie? Is that what we'll call her? Okay. I like it. I realize I made the decision to name her without your consent, so nicknames will officially be your terrain!

She smells like powder and baby…freshness (except when she poops!) And she feels like softness and warmth and cuddle. I know "cuddle" is a verb, but that's what she feels like!

I'm bringing her the next time I come, and there's nothing you can do to stop me.

Alice says it might be possible to arrange a personal visit, where you could actually be in the room with us. The thought fills me with such happiness and hope I'm afraid. I don't want to get my hopes up only to be disappointed.

I look forward to speaking with you tonight, Edward. I can barely stand it. So, since by the time you get this letter everything in it will be old news, I'll save the rest I have to say for our conversation. But here is the picture your requested. Please don't laugh! Yes, I am wearing your shirt—none of mine fit me by the time I was this huge and Alice bought me all of these ridiculous "hip pregnant lady" clothes, but honestly, I wasn't much interested in how I looked. I could barely get out of the damn chair!

I'm sorry I'm scowling, but she caught me by surprise. Until this point, I'd eluded capture on film, and so this is the only "fully pregnant" Bella picture in existence. I wish she'd at least had the decency to wait till I put that carton of ice cream down!

Edward, I feel so much lighter now that things are more open between us. I'm so grateful that we can be more honest, even about the difficult things. That's important, but I think it's equally important to think about the good, don't you?

Happy and waiting for you.

Love,

B.


June 3rd 2003

Bella,

It's been months since we've written and, while I love our weekly phone calls and I know you're far too busy to send me long letters, I felt something was missing. I was really starting to love our correspondence.

And then I had to get down in words how I felt about seeing you and Lizzie yesterday, even if my expression doesn't do it justice. Thus, the letter.

I knew Emmett McCarty was a good guy. When I walked into that room I felt sure they'd never let me touch you, never let me hold the baby, but when he took those handcuffs off and my hands were free, I couldn't get to you fast enough. I wanted to hold you so tightly but of course you had Lizzie and I didn't want to hurt her. But you clung to me and the feeling of you in my arms was just about the best thing I could imagine. God, Bella, it made me miss you even more and I didn't think that was possible.

You've gotten thinner. You smell the same. Your eyes had circles under them but you looked happy. I was so fucking happy.

Do you know I've never held a baby before yesterday? And she was mine, mine. And the feel of her, just as you described. Like "cuddle." She looked at me with those brown eyes and she was just a reflection of you. She didn't make a peep, just staring at me. And then you looked at me and I could really see you, for the first time in years, I could see you. None of it mattered anymore. Am I rambling and repeating myself and not making sense? Well so be it. I could see you, baby. I fucking love you so much.

I couldn't even be embarrassed that Emmett was standing right there watching us. It was perfection.

Hurry back to me love.

Edward.


June 20, 2003

Happy Birthday, Edward. You're 28 today. I can't believe it.

I love you,

B.


August 15, 2003

Edward,

It's been a year. I can't believe it's been a year. It's another one of those horrible ironies that they took you away the day after our wedding anniversary.

Every day I re-read the letter you sent in June, after we'd come to see you for the first time. You expressed my feelings exactly. Seeing you and Lizzie together, all three of us a family. It was too much.

I loved the way you held her as if she might shatter at any moment, the wonder in your eyes. Were you afraid? I think maybe just a little. But I understand. In that moment she became real for you. It must be like how I felt the first time I held her.

I loved the way you held me. I feel your body against me when I close my eyes.

We're coming to see you again in a few days and I can hardly wait. I don't have much time to write now, but I wanted to let you know you're always in my thoughts.

You'll be surprised, Edward, in just a couple of months Lizzie's grown so much! She's like a little person now, not a baby at all. She's so aware of everything. She's sitting up and reaching for things. She's eating baby food but she doesn't like anything with meat in it…really, it seems like the only thing she likes is fruit. I know I've already told you this on the phone but somehow it seems like writing it preserves it, you know? It's more permanent. I want to leave this record for you, for us, so we'll remember when all of this is over. Let it all be over.

Love,

B.


September 13th, 2003

Bella,

It's your birthday today. Happy 27th! I hope it's happy. I'm sorry I missed it last year. (I know, I've said that before).

I can't buy you anything, but I have a surprise all the same.

I've been working with my therapist and she thinks I might be able to get time off my sentence for good behavior. I don't want to get your hopes up, or mine, but just knowing that it's a possibility is enough to keep me going. Knowing that I might be released before our daughter is a teenager who doesn't even know me.

When I get depressed I remember the kiss you gave me on your last visit. Emmett turned away and I felt your tongue in my mouth and I couldn't believe your taste. It was over all too quickly but, I must confess, the memory of your lips provided me with much-needed release later that evening…

Is it okay for me to tell you this? That I dream of your body on mine and the feeling of being inside of you? That I touch my cock and think of you touching me? I hope it is. I need you so much Bella. God I need you.

I'm a little embarrassed to be writing this down, but I want to remember. You've gotten me through my darkest days.

Love you,

Edward.


September 17th, 2003

Edward,

Are you kidding me? You have no idea how reading your letter made me feel…it was hardly dirty at all (hint...feel free to write dirtier letters) but I got myself off on it, thinking of you touching yourself. If it's wrong then it's wrong, but it doesn't feel wrong to me.

Do you like that? To know that it's only your hands on my body that I dream about? That I get wet just at the thought of you, like when we first met? That when I cum on my fingers I dream of your touch?

I am going to ravish you the first time I have a chance, and that's a promise. Do you think it's possible to die from sexual frustration? I want to feel you deep inside me and make another baby with you.

Do you want that too?

The news of a possible early release…I have mixed feelings. I don't want to hope and yet the hope is now there, in my chest, in every step I take—I don't want the hope. But I do. Thank you for giving it to me on my birthday (pun intended).

See, even after all this I think we can joke. I can't wait to talk to you tonight, but I'm sending this letter anyway. And I think you'll like the picture I've included wink wink. Yes, Alice helped me pick out the lingerie and take the photo…yes, it was a little weird. Please PLEASE don't hang this one in your room. This is not something I want Seth to see.

Lizzie sends kisses and cuddles.

Much love,

B.

P.S. Do you think Emmett is single? I can't help feeling he'd be just perfect for Rosalie. Would it be weird for you to find out?


September 23, 2003

Bella,

Are you trying to kill me?

That picture. Let's just say it's been thoroughly defiled. My sweet sexy girl, what you do to me.

In answer to all of your questions: YES.

Loved talking with you the other night. Twenty minutes isn't long enough.

Love,

Edward.

P.S. Yes, McCarty is single, my devious little matchmaker.


Four years later.


November 16th, 2007

Bella,

I can't believe I can write this. I can't believe it's true.

I just had word from the parole office that I'm up to be interviewed in December. December.

I wish I could call you right this minute but we just talked on yesterday, and, ironically, this letter will get to you before the next time we speak. I want you to be prepared though, baby. It might not go through. We need to be realistic here. But God, to be with you and Lizzie again, and maybe in time for her fifth birthday? The hope is already there, bursting out of me.

Alice sent me a letter and she's mad that I use all of my phone calls for you and Lizzie, but really, how can she blame me? How could I go a week without talking to my daughter? I really feel like she knows me, Bella, and that's all because of you. Thank you so much for keeping her in my life. No matter what happens in December, I know you'll be there.

Love,

Edward.


December 6th, 2007

Edward,

God, I'm so fucking nervous. I can't even sit and write. The anticipation is killing me. In four days we'll know our fate.

As you requested, I haven't said anything to anyone, even Esme or Alice (and of course, especially not Lizzie!) She loves you so much. Once you're home I don't know if you'll be able to pry her off with a crowbar…all I hear is "daddy this" and "daddy that;" I'm starting to feel a little jealous! (I kid).

She's doing really well in kindergarten—she's so smart, Edward, just like you. The kids drew pictures of families the other day and I've enclosed Lizzie's picture of us here. Notice how she's drawn us all at our house, and not at the prison? I think it's a sign, Edward, even though I don't believe in signs. I hope this brings you good luck.

I've been thinking about the past five years, how much we've changed, how much we've stayed the same.

I thought of something crazy. What would have happened if the accident never occurred? Would we still be together right now? Would you still be on drugs?

I don't like to think about "what-if's" anymore. I live my life day to day for you and for our daughter. Whatever happens, I'll be here for you. Even if I have to wait another five years.

So, until I hear from you. You told me during our last conversation that if things go well, they'll most likely let you call me. I'll be waiting by the phone at 4:00. Good luck, baby. Whatever happens.

Bella.


December 10th, 2007

Bella,

I'm coming home.

I know we just spoke on the phone but I had to write this down, in keeping with tradition.

I'm coming home for you, baby.

I love you.

Edward.