(sorry for the false update, but I noticed a formatting issue that needed fixed)
Here it is, the final chapter. I have one outtake planned, but it will probably be sometime in December before it gets put up. It isn't written yet, and I need to finish the next chapter of Blood Play before I start working on anything else.
As always, all characters and recognizable plot belong to Stephenie Meyer. I own what little bit is left over.
Another weekend, and now an emotion is starting to make itself known. Irritation.
I have bared my soul, told the secrets I swore to take to my grave, and nothing has changed. I knew—I knew going into this that it wouldn't help anything. Yet somehow, I had managed to get sucked into almost hoping. Now I have to wonder…what was the damn point? Why did I put myself through that, if there was nothing to be gained?
Tuesday arrives, and I am early. I sit in the waiting room, knee bouncing, agitated and impatient. When I am finally called back, it is with quick, jerky movements that I enter the tidy little office and take a seat. "When does it get better?" I have barely made contact with the cool leather before the words are tumbling out.
"Hello, Edward. How did your weekend go?"
I don't answer; I simply stare impassively at him as my knee resumes its jerky movements. Esme would be aghast at my rudeness, but I don't have the time or inclination for basic pleasantries today.
With a deep sigh, my doctor sits back in his chair. He lifts his glasses up and rubs tiredly at his eyes for a moment, seeming to take a moment to gather himself before once again regarding me. "Edward, that's not really a question that I can give you an answer to. Grieving is a highly individual experience, and its severity and duration are affected by a great number of factors. It doesn't follow an exact timetable, and nobody can predict how long it will take to work through all the different stages—"
I have been shaking my head since partway through the second sentence, but he doesn't break off until I verbally interrupt him. "That's not what I mean. I'm not talking about the grief. I want to grieve. The pain, and the heartache, and even the constant nightmares…I can take all of that. I deserve all of that. But, I just…I want to be able to remember." I'm crying again, and I've only been here less than 5 minutes.
"You've mentioned before that every time you try to remember Bella, you see her face when she walked in on you that night."
"Yeah." I scrub at my cheeks with the heels of my hands, trying to erase the evidence of my weakness. I don't deserve to cry. Any pain I feel is of my own making, and I don't deserve the release that tears bring. Yet I can't seem to stop them from coming.
"I've tried everything. I can remember anything, as long as it's not her. Even times when she was there; if I'm not thinking about her in particular, then there's no problem. But the second she's involved, then everything disappears, and all I see is the way she looked the last time I saw her. I see her face, and her eyes, and I watch as she turns around and runs out of the room. Over and over again. And I've tried pushing past it, tried to force myself to think of something else, but that only makes it worse."
"How does it make it worse? What happens then?"
"As bad as it is seeing her hurt and crying, at least she's alive. If I try and push harder, then I see what she looked like in the pictures those bastards threw down in front of me. I see her broken, in a pool of blood, so still and lifeless. I see her falling, and breaking, and dying.
"She was the most beautiful thing I've ever known, and we had four and a half years together, and I can't even remember them! I can't remember what she looked like the first time I realized that I loved her. I can't remember the way it felt to hold her in my arms, or the smell of her hair, or the sound of her laugh. All I can remember is the way she looked when I broke her."
I'm not sure if I am making any sense by this point, or if he can even make out my words through the hands I have pressed over my face, through the sobs that are so powerful they shake my entire body. "I know it's all my fault, and that I deserve to suffer. But is it really so wrong to want to be able to remember her? Is that really to much to ask?"
He doesn't say anything for a long while, just sits there and lets me cry it out. Finally, I regain some semblance of control, and the shaking sobs ease their hold. When at last I am reduced to occasional snivels and whimpers, his somber voice reaches out to me again.
"I owe you an apology, Edward. I said something to you a couple of weeks ago, something that I believed to be true at the time, but that I now understand couldn't have been more wrong. I believed that you were using coping strategies, trying to avoid the pain that must come as a necessary part of the healing process. I told you that if you ever wanted to recover, then you would eventually have to let yourself feel that pain. I was wrong.
"You aren't avoiding pain, Edward; you're submersing yourself in it. You carry around a great deal of self-loathing, because you believe yourself to be to blame for your girlfriend's death. So you punish yourself, because you see your suffering as some sort of penance for your crimes. And until you can come to grips with that, until you can accept that what happened was nothing but a tragic series of circumstances and mistakes, this will not go away. You asked when it gets better; and while the answer to that is quite complex, at the same time it is really very simple. Until you can learn to forgive yourself, and realize that you are not to blame for what happened, it's not going to."
"So, until I can forgive myself, this is what my life is going to be like? The nightmares, and the flashbacks, and the inability to remember anything good? Is that what you're saying?"
"Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. I realize that it won't be easy—Edward? Where are you going?"
I turn around slightly and glance back at him, my hand on the knob of the door that now stands half-opened behind me. "Never mind, then. I can see that it's impossible. Thank you so much for your help." I close the door softly behind me, and I don't look back.
As the weeks pass, I slowly come to realize that my time spent with the good doctor wasn't the waste I had suspected it to be. It didn't help in the ways that Alice had intended, nor did it accomplish what I had briefly hoped it might. Yet still, for all its failings, it did bring several things to light that I might otherwise never have understood.
The more I think on the matter, the more I realize the doctor was correct in his analysis of my psyche. I am punishing myself, purposefully inflicting as much pain as possible on my mind and heart—both consciously and unconsciously. I also believe his assessment that unless I can forgive myself, the unconscious punishment will continue unabated. That is where his opinion and mine part ways, however. He thinks that I need to learn to forgive myself; I know that will never happen. I don't want forgiveness. I don't deserve it, and I refuse to grant it.
I will not absolve my Bella's murderer of his guilt, but it is time to stop making everybody else suffer along with me. They need for me to start living again; to give the appearance of moving on, and picking up the pieces of my life. So that is what I do.
When registration opens for classes for winter semester, I am one of the first in line. Medical school is still my goal, although my former passion is nowhere to be found. But I go through the motions, and I do it well. I spend more time with my family, and even make a good attempt at rebuilding my relationship with Jasper. We will never be as close as we once were, but it feels good to have him as a friend again.
Slowly, as the months drag on, the pictures begin to come down one by one. It starts in the bathroom, when the putty finally loses its battle with the boiling steam in the shower stall, and—even though it is one of the hardest things I have ever done—I don't replace it. The bathroom mirror is next; I walk in one day to find a scrap of laminated paper lying facedown on the counter, and after a moment's hesitation I toss it into the trash. The mirror remains unadorned after that. The rest follow, until finally everything is once again as it was before the world ended. The picture on my nightstand stays where it belongs now, instead of being toted around the apartment like some sort of talisman. Although sometimes, before slipping under the covers for the night, I pick it up and trace the outline of her face.
Graduation comes and goes, and the time when I must leave the only home we ever shared grows near. I am moving across the country for med school, and have no justifiable reason to keep the apartment. All of her things, all the artifacts of our too-short life together, are still here, and I know I will never be able to leave it like this. So I go through the rooms, and I pack up everything that I can't bear to part with. Then I call Alice in to deal with the rest. By the time she finishes, the apartment is bare—almost sterile—bearing almost no resemblance to the happy home we created. When the time comes, I leave with barely a backward glance. I do spare a moment to gaze through the glass door leading out to the balcony as I make a final walk-through, but I don't go out. I haven't stepped through that door since the last time we sat together and gazed at the night, and I won't now.
Medical school is difficult, but I welcome the hard work and grueling hours. I graduate at the top of my class, and my family all flies in for a graduation celebration. The mood is happy and light, and I wear the smiling mask with ease for most of the night. Sometime after midnight, I find myself alone in a quiet corner, holding a glass of champagne I have yet to take a sip of. I think myself alone, and let the smile slip from my face as I stare down into the bubbles that fizz and pop against the delicate crystal.
I feel a presence beside me, and glance up as my father nears and claps his hand on my shoulder. He doesn't look at my face, but something tells me that he has clued into my mood. Carlisle has always been almost eerily observant; combined with his compassion and dedication, it is one of the things that make him such an exceptional doctor. We stand silently for a while, just looking out over the crowd assembled to celebrate my emergence from the sheltered walls of the schoolroom and into the real world of adulthood.
"She would have been so proud of you right now." His voice is quiet, and I can hear the faded edges of grief in it. She was his daughter, just as much as I am his son, and I know that he still feels her loss deeply. We all do.
"I mean it, son." He continues. "She thought the sun rose and set in your honor; that you hung the moon and the stars and kept the Earth spinning on its axis. She always believed you would be something great, and she was right. She would be so happy to see this, to see you moving forward and doing everything you both dreamed you would. She would want to know that you were moving on with your life, and that you held onto your dreams. We're all so proud of you."
With one last squeeze of his hand on my shoulder, he walks away, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
That night marks a change. For the last 4 years, I have been living for my family. Putting on a front of normality and acceptance, but failing to actually move forward. My father's little speech changes that.
Because he is wrong. She would not be proud of me right now. She would not be happy with the way I go through the motions of living, the way I have no passion for anything anymore. She always wanted me to do what I loved, what I was passionate about. Whether that meant a career spent playing the piano in smoke-filled bars and clubs, or the sleep-deprivation and uncertain personal life that went with being a surgeon. She always said that I had the ability to make the world a better place, whether through saving lives through medicine, or healing souls through music. She believed in me, no matter what.
And there's so little that I can give her now. I can't forgive myself, even though I know that she would absolve me in a moment. I can't be happy, even though it was all she ever wanted for me. But this…this, I can do. I didn't save her, and nothing I can ever do will change that fact. But I can save others. That's what I've been working toward all this time, after all—even though it stopped being my motivation the moment a knock on the door awakened me at 3:00 one morning. And my family's circumstances, the wealth that I always took for granted and that she always eschewed, puts me in a fairly unique position to use that medical degree I so carelessly acquired. I'm not ready yet; I know that. There is still internship, and residency, and all that other necessary groundwork to lay. But for the first time in 4 years, I feel like I have a purpose.
The next morning, as my family all gathers together for a final breakfast before going our separate ways again, I tell them my plans. Most of them are supportive—Alice is especially enthusiastic—and a few voice reservations, but my mind is made up. Carlisle meets my eyes from across the table, and I see his acceptance and approval. He understands who I am doing this for, although he will never know why. He supports any decision I make, and I know he will support me in this, as well.
5 years later, amid hugs and I love you's and tearful goodbyes, I board the plane that is the first leg of my journey.
"Uncle Edward, you made it!" A tiny body launches itself at me, and slender arms wrap around my neck almost tightly enough to choke off my air supply.
"Of course I did, silly girl. You didn't honestly think I would miss my favorite niece's wedding, did you?" I chuckle as I press a kiss to the top of her head. A giggle greets my words, and the blonde firecracker in my arms pulls back enough to take a mock-surreptitious look around.
"Shhhh. You don't want Charlotte to hear you call me that, do you? After all, we wouldn't want the ice-queen to topple off her throne."
"Be nice, Brianna," I try to scold, although I'm sure the smile on my face negates any bite the words might hold. "Besides, Char got her chance at being favorite when she got married. It's your turn, now. Speaking of which, where are your parents hiding at?"
The day goes by in a flurry of hugs and I love you's and tearful hello's. I don't get to see my family often, and catching up on their lives takes quite a bit of time. Dinner is a large and festive occasion, with Bree and her Fiancé, Riley, as the guests of honor. Tomorrow night is the rehearsal dinner, but tonight is for catching up. Bree is her usual effervescent self, the very image of her mother except for the blonde curls she inherited from Jasper. Peter, Char's husband, is thinking about volunteering for a stint with Doctors Without Borders, and his questions keep me occupied for a good part of the meal.
This is the first time I have been back to the house I grew up in since Dad's funeral 2 years ago, and the occasion is bittersweet as the happy atmosphere battles with the somber memories of the last time I was here. I catch Em's eye across the table, and his sad smile lets me know that I am not alone in wishing Mom and Dad could be here for their youngest granddaughter's wedding.
After dinner everybody breaks up and goes their own way; there is still lots to be done, and the big event is only 2 days away. I'm glad I was able to get here a couple of days ahead of time, so that I can get my head into the right place. Weddings are difficult for me.
Finally, the hour grows late, and those of us who are staying in the house head off to our beds for the night. I am sleeping in my childhood bedroom, and take a moment to center myself before opening the door and stepping inside. Twenty minutes later I am showered, shaved, and ready to slip between the sheets. Before turning off the bedside light, I sit on the edge of the bed and pick something up off the nightstand.
I stare for several minutes at the picture in my hands—just an ordinary 5x7 in a simple silver frame. Her face smiles out at me; chocolate eyes bright with happiness, wavy sable hair flowing past her shoulders, pink lips curved up and ever so slightly parted. I know that she is wearing a dark blue dress that bares her shoulders, and that I am standing next to her in a black tuxedo. I know that one of her legs is in a walking cast, and that our arms are wrapped around each other. I know these things because this picture from our junior prom has sat next to whatever bed I am sleeping in for the last 40 years, but I don't see them right now. All I see is her face, happy and in love.
With one last brush of my fingertip over the fragile curve of her jaw line, I gently place the picture back on the nightstand before turning the light off and sliding into bed. I take one last long look at her sitting next to my bed before I close my eyes and focus on the blackness, pushing all thoughts out of my head and willing myself to sleep.
I dream of her.
I always do.