Disclaimer: All proper names belong to their respective owners, I own the rest of the words.
A/N: This is my entry for the "A Picture Says It All" contest, hosted by the amazing KhariZZmatiK and ShearEnvy, and was based on photo #11. Thank you ladies!
Huge thank you to Hev99 for allowing me to use her mad Beta skillz!
And massive thank yous and tackle hugs to Hev99, Nostalgicmiss and ethans mom for not letting me give up. I love you all!
Rain sheeted down all around me as I stared into the black abyss below. It was impossibly dark as I gingerly felt my way to the edge, while the roar of the waves as they crashed below on the rocks, screamed their promise to me that they would make it quick. I thought the hardest part was making the decision, but I was wrong. That was the easy part. Standing here on the edge of eternity, with my heart racing and my body gripped in fear... This was the hard part. It's not that I wanted to die. I just couldn't live in a world where he didn't exist.
"Suck it up, Cullen," I chastised myself. "You know this is the right thing to do."
Did I? Did I really know? Grief is normal, right? It's hard now, but will get easier. Stupid well wishers and mourners. What the hell did they know of my grief? Did they feel as if their hearts had been ripped from their chests by somebody's bare hands? Did they struggle to breathe or even move? Did they die too, only no one told their bodies? No... They knew nothing of my grief; they knew nothing of my love...
My hands and knees stung badly as the dirt and gravel on the bike path dug into my flesh. My brain had just received the pain signals, and had issued the tear order to my eyes, when I felt a foot on my back, forcing me flat onto my stomach with a thud. The foot remained, grinding into me and pinning me to the rough surface. I tried to squirm out of the hold, but every twist scraped my flesh across the sandpaper surface, removing it layer by layer.
"Ow! Let me go, Mike!" I screamed.
"Not until you say it. C'mon, Bella. You know what I want."
I stilled in defeat. Tears now ran unchecked down my dirt-covered cheeks. I knew what he wanted all right: my utter humiliation. This wasn't new. Mike Newton had been doing this to me since we were five years old, and all because I laughed when he spilled his applesauce down his shirt. I wasn't the only one to laugh, but for some reason only known to the always-rational Mike, I was the only one to pay. It had been five years, but apparently my sentence still wasn't up.
With a deep breath, I mumbled what he wanted to hear, each word doing its part to tear the scab off of my never-healed wound.
"I am scrawny, and ugly, and stupid. And Mike Newton is awesome," I managed to choke out to obtain my release, but it didn't come.
"Louder. So everyone can hear," he ordered.
My face flushed bright red and I groaned in pain as he dug his heel into my back. Closing my eyes, so that I at least didn't have to see the looks on the others' faces as I endured today's round of humiliation, I sucked in a breath and prepared to finish myself off. But before I could, the weight on my back was suddenly gone, and I could hear Mike's muffled "umph" as he hit the ground hard and slid over the gravel.
"I don't ever want to see you touch her again, or a little road rash will be the least of your problems," a harsh voice called from above me.
For a brief second fear flashed in Mike's eyes, before he stumbled to his feet and took off running across the playground towards the woods, glaring at the kids who were laughing. I watched, stunned, as Mike tripped over a log in his haste to scramble away from my rescuer, inciting even more laughter and more dirty looks.
"Are you okay?" Slowly, I turned my face to the now much softer voice and saw the outstretched hand of the most beautiful boy. The sun glowed like a halo around his head as I squinted into the light to see his face. His auburn hair was long on top, running wild, and yet perfect somehow as it framed deep emerald eyes. He looked on me with curiosity and concern, cocking his head to one side as he waited patiently for my answer. But I had no answer, so I simply reached up and took his hand, allowing him to pull me to my feet. He wiped the tears from my face and offered me the sweetest lopsided grin.
"I'm Edward, by the way."
"I'm Bella. Thank you, Edward."
The moment the name Edward left my lips it was etched into my heart. This boy that saved me from my bully, had also saved my soul and allowed me to flourish and grow out from under the beliefs that Mike had tried to instill. It was a couple of months before I learned that Edward's older (and totally over-grown) brother, Emmett, had been standing behind him that day, which went a long way in explaining Mike's easy surrender and panicked flight. But it had been Edward that shoved Mike off of me, even though he was smaller than Mike, and Emmett or no Emmett, that would forever make him my hero.
Edward and I were instantly inseparable, and six months after the Mike incident, Emmett took to calling us peanut butter and jelly, or PB&J for short. He said that it was because we were both good on our own, but together we were "magic". I guess for a twelve-year-old boy that couldn't go twenty minutes without eating, it was a major compliment. It also stuck, and was adopted by both of our families. It didn't bother me though. Anything that linked me to Edward was perfectly fine with me.
Edward and Emmett were waiting for me outside of the DMV office while I took my driving test. It was one of the most nerve-racking things I had ever done, and I couldn't contain the smile on my face as I walked out the doors as Washington's newest driver. Edward and Emmett seemed to be arguing about something as I approached, but as soon as they saw me and my stupid big grin, they both returned my smile. Edward threw his arms around me and twirled us a couple of times, making me squeal and Emmett stick his finger in his mouth, mock gagging himself.
"Congratulations, baby," Edward said in my ear as we turned. When he finally set me down, I saw Emmett nudge Edward on the shoulder and nod towards me, to which Edward rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation.
"For the last time, Em, I am not asking her that. What are we? Kindergartners?"
"You're such a stiff, PB. Fine. I'll ask her... Hey, J? I'll show you mine if you show me yours," Emmett said while waggling his eyebrows and snickering, before whipping out his wallet and revealing his license. I couldn't help but laugh at his antics, ridiculous as they were, and proudly showed him my hot off the press, ticket to freedom.
"Lookin' good, J."
"Emmett, seriously, when are you going to stop with the whole PB & J thing? No one else has called us that in forever." I grinned and elbowed him lightly in the ribs.
"Hmm... Would you prefer Mac and Cheese? I definitely know which one of you is Cheese," Emmett laughed.
"Hey!" Edward began to protest before I stepped back in, chuckling.
"Okay, okay. We'll stick with PB & J. What is it with you and food anyway?"
"What?" Emmett shrugged innocently. "I'm hungry."
Shaking my head and smiling at him, I felt such a surge of affection. Since that day on the playground, Emmett had been just as much my big brother as he was Edward's, and I loved him dearly. He was such a goofball most of the time, and yet had a heart of pure gold. I have actually seen him literally give someone the shirt off his back. It was this generous nature, or flat-out stupidity, that had him holding out the keys of his Jeep to me.
"Tell you what. In honor of your achievement in satisfactory vehicular management, you drive me home, and then you and PB here can take it for a spin on your own."
"Really? You're the best, Em," I squealed, snatching the keys out of his hand and giving him a peck on the cheek, before bouncing into the driver's seat. I could hear him chuckling as he climbed in the back, allowing Edward the front.
"Huh," Emmett mused. "I've never been back here when the car's been moving before. Well, besides rockin'." He waggled his eyebrows at us and we both groaned at the TMI. Thankfully, we reached their house before Emmett could launch into too many details of what the poor car interior had witnessed.
"Have fun," he said as he crawled out. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"So, the sky's the limit then?" I smirked at him.
He just laughed his booming guffaw and went in the house, as Edward and I drove off alone. Neither one of us had a car yet, so this was a rare thing, and we were determined to make the most of it. We drove all over, just enjoying the scenery and each other's easy company, before we finally pulled off by the cliffs. It was getting dark out, the sounds of the crashing waves below becoming more ominous and angry sounding as the wind picked up.
"Looks like a storm is blowing in," I said, peering up into the churning, gray sky.
"I'll check for a flashlight." Edward popped open the glove compartment, but instead of a flashlight, found a different kind of illumination. He quirked an eyebrow at me as he held up the small foil packet. We had come close a few times, but had never actually had sex before. It just never seemed right somehow, but that night, something changed. Maybe I was still high from getting my license, or maybe it was because I loved him more than my own life, or maybe it was the way his smile made me feel weightless and gooey. I didn't really know. I just knew that I was his and he was mine, and nothing else seemed to matter.
"You sure?" he asked as we settled into the back seat.
Swallowing thickly, I nodded. "I mean, it's not exactly how I always pictured it," I said, gesturing around the car that had more experience than I did. "But I'm sure of you." I started to smile at him, but was cut off by his lips crashing down on mine.
It was a night that I would both like to forget and remember forever. I'd like to forget how inept we were. We knew technically what went where, but accomplishing it was awkward, sticky and painful. However, I will never forget the love in Edward's eyes and how he kissed away my tears. Despite our fumbling, he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world, and for that reason alone it would always be perfect.
I looked up into those same adoring eyes as he slid smoothly into me on our wedding night. We had come a long way, but I still felt just as special as I had six years prior, when we explored one another fully for the first time.
"I love you, Mrs. Cullen," he said reverently as he worshipped me with his body. "I always have."
"You're my everything," I whispered through my joyful tears. I've heard people talk about happiness before, but I didn't ever fully understand...until then. I had everything I could ever want in life, right there in my arms.
I didn't want him to go on that business trip. It was going to be our third wedding anniversary the following Monday, and I had been hoping we could get away for the weekend. But now he wouldn't get home until Saturday afternoon, and we wouldn't have enough time to leave town ourselves.
"Why don't you just come with me? We could stay an extra day and celebrate there," he reasoned while kissing my neck and fogging over my brain.
"Mmmm... Stop." I shrugged him off. "No fair, using your charms to try and change my mind. You know I'm helping your mom with that charity thing on Friday." I tried to pout at him. I really was disappointed, but I just couldn't be mad at him. I had been putty in his hands since the last time Mike Newton dared to lay a hand on me, and this day was no exception. He pulled me into his arms and I melted into his embrace, breathing in his smell and reveling in the sound of his strong, steady heartbeat.
"I'm sorry, love," he said quietly. "But I have to go finish this deal while the client is finally agreeing to the terms. I promise I will make it up to you. How about, when I get back, we drive out to the cliffs and recreate some magic," he chuckled.
But he never came back, and with a shaky hand I wrote my note:
Peanut Butter can stand on its own, but Jelly is useless alone.
The place of our first, shall be my last.
Lightning flashed, allowing me a brief glimpse of my goal, spiking my heart rate. Rain ran heavily down my face, mixing seamlessly with my tears as my body shuddered in both cold and fear. I was afraid, but only of the thought that this wouldn't work. I had to be with him and this was the only way I knew how. I had already screwed up. I should have been with him. If I had gone, he would be alive and well, and walking the streets of Atlanta with me, celebrating our anniversary. But I didn't go, and he boarded a doomed flight in an effort to come back to me.
"No survivors," the news reporter so callously said.
No survivors. There was no surviving without him. There would be one more no survivor tonight.
With a deep breath and a final resolve, I closed my eyes and leaned forward to let the wind take me.
The screeching of the tires jolted my eyes open in panic. No one can find me. I have to do this. But before I could go any further I heard something impossible rising above the howling wind and rain.
Could it be? No. It's not possible. Edward?
Blinking hard against the pouring rain, I watched the car skid to a stop, the door being thrown open.
"Bella!" he called again, his voice sounding panicked as he ran towards me.
It was him. I didn't know how, but it was. My sun had returned, and his gravitational pull had my feet moving forward before I even realized. One step...two steps...and then I was running.
"Edward!" I screamed as I crashed into him, leaping and wrapping my arms and legs around him as tightly as I could. "How?...What?..." I stammered, as the impossibility of him standing here overwhelmed my mind. I never thought I would feel his arms around me again, and the sheer joy of it broke me completely.
"Shhh...baby, it's okay. I'm here," he soothed as I squeezed with everything I had and sobbed into his shoulder. "I am so sorry. I should never have left. But would you please tell me what the hell you think you were doing?" His words were so desperate.
"I thought...I couldn't..." I was beginning to hyperventilate, my words clipped and short. Seeing my distress, Edward began carrying me back toward the car, stopping in the front where the beams of light sliced through the darkness and allowed us to see one another. Setting me down, he tenderly placed his hands on each side of my face and looked intently into my eyes with all the intensity of the storm that raged around us.
"Baby, listen to me." His words were gentle and yet very firm. "I love you so much. Nothing will ever change that, but you scared me tonight. Please promise me that no matter what happens in life, you will keep living. You have my heart and soul, and I need that to go on. The world needs you, Bella. Our family needs you. Promise me you will never even think about doing something like this again. Promise me," he ordered, before wrapping his arms around me and pulling me securely to his chest, making me whole.
"I p-p-promise," I stuttered out. The rain was now stinging like pin pricks all over my body as the cold finally began to register painfully.
"I love you...always," he said fervently in my ear as he slowly lowered us to the ground, holding me tightly as I continued to cry. As we got lower I became blinded by the headlight of the car. It hurt my eyes, but at the same time completely consumed me. In a strange way I began to feel warm, and as I struggled against the light there was suddenly a different face above me. Same green eyes, but everything else was wrong. A soft beeping sound began to accelerate as I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and tried again. The face was still wrong. What's going on?
"It's ok, J. Try to stay calm."
"Emmett?" I rasped out, groaning as I tried to sit up, only to be put right back down by a combination of strong hands and a shooting pain in my head.
"Whoa there, no ya don't. You gave us one hell of a scare. If we hadn't found you when we did..." He trailed off, furrowing his eyebrows and looking away.
"I don't understand. Where's Edward?" I asked, but I knew the answer as soon as I saw the pained look on Emmett's face. The knot in the pit of my stomach tightened as I murmured with shaky breath, "He's really gone, isn't he?"
Emmett nodded awkwardly as he fought to keep his emotions under control. I watched his eyebrows pinch together as he pulled in a deep breath and blew it out slowly, puffing out his cheeks. "I'm so sorry, J."
"Please don't call me that," I whispered brokenly, as the tears started to run. "I'm nothing without him."
Fear and pain flashed through Emmett's eyes, before his face crumpled and lowered. His voice was so small and broken, that had I not seen his lips move, I wouldn't have believed it was him talking. "That's not true. Please don't say that. I can't... I can't lose my sister too."
Pain stabbed through my chest as loneliness clawed its way through my body, slashing and mutilating everything in its path, making it hard to breathe. I had lost him once, and now I had lost him again; the pain simply too much to bear.
"I don't know how to live without him."
His head shot up, and he looked at me with a strangely familiar intensity. "You have to try," he said in a much more determined voice. "If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for him."
Emmett held out a small, black and white picture of a little blob.
"What is that?"
"That, is Edward's legacy."
I gasped as my mind quickly pieced everything together. In that moment I instantly understood everything Edward had said to me. How I had his heart and soul, and how our family needed me. Instinctively, my hands came to rest on my belly as I continued to stare at the blurry image. Fresh tears pricked my eyes as the reality of the situation came crashing down on me. Part of Edward was alive inside of me, and I loved that little peanut in the picture already, more than my own life, but... "How am I going to do this alone?"
"You will never be alone. Do you hear me? Never. I will be there for you and Goober every step of the way. I know it's not the same, but I promise you he will know his father, and never lack for love or attention."
Emmett's declaration was comforting and inspiring, swelling my chest with overwhelming emotion as my mind raced to find comprehension of an incomprehensible situation. But it also raised a question that even through my grief I could not shake.
"Yeah," he said with a sad smile. "Haven't you ever seen that stuff? Somebody got smart and mixed peanut butter and jelly in the same jar. Basically, they bottled magic, and called it Goober."
"It's perfect," I whispered through a torrent of emotion.
True to his word, Emmett stood by us. He loved my son as his own, but could always be heard saying the phrase, "Hey, Goober. Did I ever tell you about the time your dad..." Though it was always bittersweet to see them together, I adored watching them interact with such exuberance that it was sometimes difficult to tell which one was the child.
Looking out the back window, I smiled as Emmett lifted my squirmy four year old up and helped him shove a carrot into the face of our newest snowman, and sighed in contentment. I never thought that I would survive the initial loneliness, but I did. The life inside me that swelled and then burst forth with hope and love needed me just as much as I needed him, and I clung to him and my remaining family until I could find the courage to stand on my own and be what he truly deserved. I owed him that, just as I owed it to Edward. It would be years before I would tell my son, with the messy brown hair and the bright emerald eyes, how his father had visited me and saved us both. It was enough for now, that I was healing. It was enough for now, that I lived.