A/N: This fanfiction is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Feel free to share it, but attribute the work to me, and don't attempt to use it for commercial purposes.
Thank you dellaterra, for all of your hard work betaing this. Also, thanks to smallandirritating for the support.
Written in Stone
People laugh when I tell them that I have one of the most depressing jobs in the world.
"What are you, a dentist?"
"No. I make gravestones."
They usually shut up right away, and then nod slowly, as if they understand. But really, they have no idea what it's like to sit there and carve someone's name so permanently onto a piece of stone, inscribing the official The End into the story of their life.
I work for a graveyard. It's not a funeral parlor; there are no dead bodies in the basement. There are, however, hundreds of them right outside my workshop window. I sit with my back to the window, leaning over my worktable, and carve out every letter, every number, with care. There are modern ways of doing this, of course. Machines that cut intricate designs into granite or marble. But our small town hasn't quite caught up yet.
While I work I try not to think…of them. I try to make myself numb to the fact that just days ago these people were alive, and now they're not. I think about my grocery list, or the football season. It's a challenge to myself to see how long I can avoid thinking about the person I'm making the headstone for.
But some things, I can't avoid. A name. A date. I can't escape these facts. I start with the date. I suppose it's like taking off a band-aid. Who is waiting for this headstone? An old man who lived his life to the end? A child whose life had only begun? It's the babies that are the hardest, and I always cry for them, no matter how hard I try not to. I cry for the mothers who carried them for months, I cry for the fathers who may not have held them at all. I cry for the siblings who will never know what could have been.
Once the date is done I move on to the inscription. Beloved Mother. Friend to all. Forever in our hearts. Some inscriptions are simple, no quote, no endearing words. I wonder about those. Is there nothing good to say about this person? Perhaps it was just too hard to think of something...enough…to sum up this person's life?
I always save the name for last. Sometimes I have to start over again, finding that I didn't leave room for the entire name. But I don't change the way I do things. I can't. If I need to, I just start over again. Because knowing the name of the person who died as I carve their stone is just too hard. It means I have a name to their story. Instead of beloved mother, it's now Cynthia – beloved mother, friend, forever in our hearts. And that just hurts too much.
Today the sun is rising in the sky, the birds chirping happily, completely ignorant of the task I must complete. In my calloused hands I hold up the work order outlining the details of the next stone. It's a rush order, which I find odd, because really, shouldn't these all be made in a hurry? No one wants their loved one's grave to sit unmarked, as if the person has been forgotten. This time though, the customer has paid extra – they need it right away.
I run my fingers over the smooth piece of stone. It's small, not meant to be upright, but to lay flat. A perfect rectangle with a simple carved border.
I finish the date first, just like I always do. February 1, 2007 – May 12, 2010. Three years old. I can feel the tears form, but I push them back, and think about my bills.
I follow with the inscription. Loved Deeply. Always Remembered. The words tear at my heart, and I feel raw as I carve. I try to think about the work I have to do on my truck this weekend.
I reach for the work order one more time, and finally I look at the name. What I see stops me cold.
My own name stares up at me from the piece of paper. For a moment, I am transported to some alternate universe where I'm looking down at myself, wondering what I will do next.
I take a deep breath, then another.
Of course it's a coincidence. This is not some sort of sign from the universe telling me that I will die soon. I don't believe in such things. There is not some master plan that has predetermined my life. Things are not written in stone. My life is what I make it - I firmly believe that.
And how could I believe otherwise? The idea that a child, like this one, Emmett, was meant to die young…I refuse to believe it.
I shake my head, and tell myself to move on, get this done. I can't, however, with just a first name. I pick up the work order, and then the office phone, and dial the number listed for Mr. Edward Cullen.
"Hello." A man answers. His voice sounds dead, not as if he just woke up, just…as if there isn't any life left in him. It's obvious that he's grieving. I take a deep breath before I speak.
"Hello, this is Forks Cemetery. I'm sorry to bother you, but we're making Emmett's gravestone."
I hear him catch his breath. "Yes?"
"The name we have is just…Emmett. There is no last name."
"That's right. Emmett," the voice answers shakily.
I pause, and I almost want to ask again. But he seems clear; he understands, and this is what he wants.
"Alright then. It will be done later today," I say firmly. I resolve to stay as late as I need to, hoping that it will help this man bring some closure to his loss.
He thanks me quietly and hangs up, and I stand there for a minute, the dial tone in my ear and the name below me practically jumping off the page.
I remind myself that I have a job to do. I pick up my tools and begin, taking care with each letter as I go, trying not to think of this Emmett. But I can't help it. I picture a small version of myself, running around playing, happy…and then nothing. I picture other versions of Emmett as well, blonde and blue eyed, or maybe he was a redhead. I push the images away and think about my grocery list. Every attempt at distraction is unsuccessful, and the tears fall down my face onto the stone as I work. Three years old.
It's late when I finish, the sun already setting, but I need for this to be over. I look at the order again and see that the stone is not for the Forks graveyard. Occasionally, we make gravestones for other towns and I deliver them in the company truck. I don't recognize this address, but I see that it's not too far.
I'm tired and I want this day to be over with so that I can go home to my empty apartment. I'd rather be surrounded by loneliness than death. I carefully load the headstone into the back of the truck and cover it with a tarp. I climb in the cab and turn on the radio, fiddling with it until I realize that nothing will pull me out of this mood. I shut it off and drive in silence until I exit off the highway and follow the road, expecting to see a graveyard at the end. Instead, I see a small white house with shiny gold numbers on the front door. It has blue shutters and a small front yard. There is a silver Volvo parked out front.
This is most definitely not a graveyard, or a funeral parlor. I pull out the work order and double check the address. It's correct. But somewhere along the line a mistake has been made. There is no way I would be delivering a gravestone to someone's home.
I sigh, unsure of what to do. I really wanted to make this delivery today. Maybe whoever lives here can point me in the right direction. I walk up to the door and knock, and when it opens, I gasp. A man, about my age, stands in front of me. His eyes are sad - beyond sad, hopeless. Small pools of green despair, red rimmed with obvious tears. His lips look dry, as if he's dehydrated, and his hair is a chaotic mess of bronze. He looks...defeated. The amount of beauty in his face, mixed with the obvious pain, makes my heart ache for him.
"Hello, I'm from Forks Cemetery. I seem to be lost. Can you—"
"Yes," I say, and before I can continue, he steps out onto the porch.
"You're in the right place."
I give him an odd look, unsure of what to do.
"Where is it?" he asks.
"In the truck," I say, and lead him down the steps. I can't bring myself to ask why he's having it delivered here. I pull down the tailgate, carefully slide the stone toward the front, and then uncover it.
He looks it over, his eyes examining every word, and nods his approval.
"Out back," is all he says. Still confused, I hoist the stone onto the hand truck, and follow behind him as he leads the way. We end up in the backyard, and I really begin to feel uncomfortable. I hope like hell that he isn't some weirdo that wants to bury his kid in the backyard of his house. That can't be healthy. How will he ever move on?
He leads me to a small mound of dirt, pointing to it, as if it's not already obvious where the stone should lay. Uncomfortable as I may be with this, it is my job, so I move the stone to the head of the grave and place it firmly there. The stone settles into the grass and we look down at it from above.
I stand there awkwardly for a moment, able to think of only one thing to say.
He glances at me for a moment, as if he had forgotten I was even there, and sighs.
"I can't believe he's gone."
I nod and move to leave.
"I don't have anyone else," he continues, and I freeze. This man needs me. Well, he needs someone to talk to, so I stay.
"This wasn't supposed to happen."
I nod again, but it is becoming too much, and I want to leave him alone in his grief. I take another step.
"He was the best dog I could ask for."
I freeze, then slowly turn my body to face him.
He just looks at me, stunned. As if I'm the one who's being confusing.
"This is for...a dog?" I yell, and I feel my face getting hot. I think of the tears I've shed making this gravestone. The child I imagined whose life had ended way too early. But…a dog. All of that was over a pet.
He looks at me in shock, his eyes wide with hurt, but doesn't say a word. I have so many things I want to say to him, but the look in his eyes stops me. Instead I fight to gain control and turn around, stomping off to the truck. He doesn't come after me.
I drive home quickly, and barge into my apartment, with its sparse furniture and white walls. My anger seems to bounce off them, returning to me tenfold. I pace the tiny space looking for a distraction and realize that there is none. Just white walls. And tonight, in my anger, it seems particularly empty. I feel more alone than usual.
I think of the tears that I wasted over a little boy that never even existed. I curse Edward Cullen over and over again. But as I lie awake in bed, all I can see are his green eyes, filled with nothing but grief. This man is in a great deal of pain, and I'm not sure how, but I just know that it runs deep. A lifetime of loss was in those eyes. They haunt me, and I barely sleep at all.
The next morning I'm exhausted, but I climb out of bed and throw on some clothes. There are other things I should be doing with my Saturday morning. Instead I climb in my truck, and before I know it, I'm at his door, knocking.
I hear his footsteps, but then he pauses, and for a moment I think that he's not going to open the door. I can hear the floorboards creaking under his weight on the other side, and I swear that I'm breathing so loudly he can probably hear it.
Finally, he opens the door and meets my eyes. It's obvious that he hasn't slept. His eyes are redder than before, his hair even more of a mess. He's wearing the same clothes. The amount of pain on his face is excruciating, and I am instantly glad that I came back here. I need to make this right.
"I'm sorry," I say quietly. "It doesn't matter if the gravestone is for your dog. What matters is that you loved him. And I'm sorry if I hurt you."
He nods, and looks down, and I turn around to leave. I've said my piece. I don't know if I've fixed the damage that I've done, but I don't think there is anything else I can do.
"Thank you..," he trails off, and then louder, "What's your name?"
I freeze. I've avoided this so far, but I don't see a way out now. I turn around slowly to face him. "My name is Emmett McCarty."
His eyes go wide and his jaw drops open. A flood of emotions washes over his face.
"Emmett." He says my name as if he's testing it out, as if he's never said it before. My feet are rooted to the ground, and I wait. "Emmett," he says again, this time with greater certainty. "Would you come inside for some coffee?"
His eyes are pleading with me as if his life depends on my staying. I can't say no. I can't do that to him, even if he is a stranger with an unreasonable attachment to his dog.
I nod, and he sags in relief. I follow him inside the house. It's a mess. There are dirty dishes everywhere, unopened mail, an overflowing trash can. Books have been pulled from the shelves and left on the floor. There must be ten mugs on the kitchen counter, each with the tea bag still in it. I wonder when he last slept.
He fumbles in the kitchen with the coffeepot, then yanks open the pantry door to reveal almost empty shelves. He finally turns around, embarrassed.
"Sorry, no coffee."
"Water is fine."
He pours water from a pitcher into two glasses, which look to be the last two clean dishes he has, and I follow him into the living room. There is a dog bed in the corner of the room, with several toys scattered around.
He sits on the couch and motions to me to join him. We sit there, not speaking, just staring at each other for I'm not sure how long. It's oddly comfortable. Finally, his exhaustion takes him, and his eyes drift closed.
I watch him for a while, his eyes as they flutter, his mouth open and taking deep breaths. He seems troubled, even in his sleep. I watch, and I wonder about his life, what else he has lost, until I feel my own eyes grow heavy and close.
When I wake, Edward's head is against my shoulder and his hand is fisting my shirt. The sun is much higher in the sky; we've been asleep for a while. I sit as still as I can, feeling his breath against my neck, and his chest as it rises and falls. I sit and think, trying to figure out why it is that I'm still here.
He lifts his head, his eyes meeting mine. He tightens his grip on my shirt, and he doesn't even have to ask. I'm staying.
It's an odd day. We don't acknowledge it at all, the fact that just this morning he didn't even know my name. We don't acknowledge that my name itself seems to be the reason he wants me to stay.
We clean up his house. He does the dishes and the laundry while I find some food in the freezer for us to eat. We return the books to the shelves and I put the dog bed in the garage. That night, as I'm putting fresh sheets on his bed, he comes up to me, and very gently, presses his lips against mine.
I kiss him back softly until he becomes more insistent and begins to undress me. I grab his hand, stopping him, but he pushes it off and continues. I don't stop him this time. I know that he needs this and, for some reason, I need to make him happy. I don't know why, or how, but I do.
We make love that night. I wouldn't call it that if it wasn't, but for some reason I can't explain…it is. So much more than sex, more than just a fuck with a stranger. The feelings I've grown for this man in just one day are so strong. I need to comfort him, protect him. It's an overwhelming truth. And the feel of his body against mine…it's staggering. And when I'm inside him…I feel as if the world might end just from how right it feels.
That night he falls asleep in my arms, his fingers threaded through mine. I kiss his hair and pull him closer, then close my eyes.
We quickly fall into a routine. We spend our days working and our nights together. Edward is a photographer, with an office and darkroom in the back of the house. He most enjoys taking pictures of the forest and wildlife, but he makes his money shooting weddings and family reunions. His talent amazes me, the way that he captures each moment so perfectly, but he shrugs it off like it's nothing.
Not a night goes by that I don't stay at Edward's. My belongings gradually make their way to his place; every day it's more and more until one day I see his closet doors opened wide, his clothes pushed to one side, the other side holding only empty hangers. Again, he doesn't have to ask. I cancel my lease and move the rest of my things in.
Months pass, and devastated, grieving Edward is gone. Now he smiles and laughs. We spend our weekends hiking, stopping so he can take pictures of the mountains and trees. We work on the house. We plan a trip to Texas to visit my mother. Our life is happy, secure.
Although…there are times when I can feel him pulling away from me. He will hardly speak for hours at a time, and is completely lost in his own thoughts. One day while we're doing dishes together, I see him staring out into the yard with a distant look on his face. He looks sad, and a little lost. I ask him if he misses Emmett, and if he would like to get another dog.
He looks at me as if I've lost my mind. "Why would I want another dog?"
It hurts a little, as if I'm a replacement for Emmett, but I don't push it. He's happy now, most of the time; that's what matters to me.
So I leave it alone. I leave him to his moods until they begin to last days instead of hours, until the mystery becomes too great. Maybe if I knew more I could help.
One evening we're sitting by the fireplace and I'm pretending to read while he retouches some photos of a happy couple cutting their wedding cake.
"Tell me about your parents," I say firmly. It's not a question. I need to know more.
"What do you want to know?" he asks innocently, as if he's told me all there is when really he's revealed nothing.
I simply raise my brows, letting him know that he's not fooling me. He sighs, shuts his laptop, and turns to face me.
"I never knew my father. My mother, Liz, would never tell me about him, no matter how hard I begged. She would only say that his name was Edward, and that he is dead and it's all there is to know." He has a brave face on but I can see the pain in his eyes. His beautiful green eyes are always the way to see how he's really feeling, regardless of the expression on his face. I lean forward and take his hand in mine, squeezing it softly.
"My mother...was a psychic." He pauses, looking for my reaction, but I say nothing. I really don't know what to say. "She mostly saw people face to face, but when money was tight she would sign up with one of those phone services and do readings in the middle of the night."
I nod, not quite sure what to do with this information. I think of Edward's office, his dark room, even the kitchen, all organized perfectly since the day I first helped him clean up. He is methodical with his photographs, his equipment. Nothing about Edward screams 'son of a loony psychic' at all. I think back on our conversations, trying to remember if I had ever mentioned my disbelief in fate, in the idea that our lives are predetermined. I realized that I had – several times.
No wonder he never told me any of this.
"And she could…see…the future?" I ask, treading lightly, not wanting him to stop.
"Yes," he says as he stares at the floor. "She said that she was more gifted than most, but if anyone wanted to, they could see what was going to happen as long as they knew what to look for. She always said that there were signs everywhere; you only had to know where to look and how to read them. She said that most people didn't believe, and if they did, they usually saw what they wanted to. She said that it takes a true open mind to see things right, to see what's coming."
I keep quiet, not sure what to say. I don't have to ask if he believed her. It's all quite obvious now.
"She knew when she was going to die." He whispers the words so softly that I can barely hear them. A chill runs through me, and I hope that he doesn't feel it. "Just over three years ago. She made a will. She left me a letter. Then her car was hit by a semi truck on her way home."
I close my eyes because for just a second I can't stand to see the pain in his own. I open them and there are tears in his.
"She knew. She left me the house. But more importantly, she left me that letter." He sighs and moves in closer to me. "She told me that I would be okay because someone would come into my life that I needed. Someone that needed me as much as I needed him."
I brace myself, scared, but knowing all the same what is coming.
"She told me that I would have Emmett." He looks right at me as he says it, as if this is the ultimate confession. And in a way it is, because it explains so much. I was right. My name. That's why he invited me inside that day.
He closes his eyes, as if he's going all in. And as scared as I am of his confessions, I need to know.
"A week later, I found him. Well, I thought I did anyway. I found Emmett on First Beach on a day that I went to shoot the tide pools. He was tiny, just a puppy. He was just…sitting there. He didn't look lost; he just looked like he had been waiting for me to come for him. I called all the animal shelters and I looked for posters on telephone poles. No one claimed him so I knew that he was mine. And I wasn't…alone."
He sighs and looks up at me, his eyes begging me to understand. "But then he died. He always slept inside with me, but one night he got out….and a wolf got to him. His howling woke me up. I was too late."
That look returned to his eyes, the one from the day I first saw him. Grief.
"Are you saying that Emmett was who your mother saw?" Despite not believing in fate, not believing in his mother's "abilities", I wanted him to say that it was me, and not a dog that she thought would complete his life.
"I think," he says slowly, as if he's spent an immeasurable amount of time considering this, "that it was both. She knew that losing Emmett would bring you into my life. She always knew."
"Edward," I sigh, and run my fingers through my hair. He stares at me, waiting. I see a bit of hope in his eyes. I want so badly to tell him what he wants to hear. Your mother was right. The signs must have been everywhere. But I can't lie. "You know that I don't believe in fate."
He nods. "I know."
I reach out and cup his face in my hand. "But that doesn't mean that I don't believe in you. And me. In us."
He nods, his eyes not meeting mine. I look down to meet his instead.
"I love you, Edward," I say as I seal my words with a kiss.
It takes a while for things to go back to normal. Edward seems confused, frustrated, and a bit embarrassed over his confession. I try to make up for the disappointment, and plan a weekend away for the two of us. We drive to Seattle and stay in a nice hotel. We go to a photography exhibit and eat at a fancy restaurant.
The night before we leave we make love on the balcony overlooking the city lights.
"Emmett," he whispers as I hold his back to my chest, slowly moving in and out of him. When I don't answer he repeats, "Emmett."
"Yes," I moan into his neck, both in pleasure and as a reply.
"Promise me," he says firmly, as he leans back tighter against me.
"Promise what, Edward?" I ask as I reach down to take him in my hand, my movements matching the thrusts of my hips, now faster, deeper.
"Promise me—" he moans, and gasps for air. "That we'll never be apart. That I will always have you."
"Edward," I pant out his name, on the verge of losing control, wondering how he could ever think that I would leave him. "I promise," I whisper, lightheaded, my heart racing. "I will never leave you."
He erupts immediately, fiercely, as if that's all that he needed to hear, his cock twitching and his body shaking. I follow in seconds, moaning his name into his back, pulling him as close as I can, and I know that I will never, ever want anyone else.
Time passes, and Edward changes. It's so subtle that I don't notice it at first. For a while I think I see what I want to see: that Edward is happy with me, with my reassurance that I won't leave him. That he is my future.
But after a while, there are things that I can't ignore. The way that his eyes roam everywhere, the way that he mumbles to himself. The bit of madness that has crept into his eyes as he searches…searches…for what, I have no idea.
He takes his camera with him everywhere and takes pictures of unusual things. An electric pole, a gas station, clocks, calendars, and the sky. All odd things that never seemed to catch his interest before. I see him examining the pictures for hours, as if there's something hidden that he just can't see.
I ask him, over and over again…what are you looking for?
He shrugs me off, telling me that I wouldn't understand.
One day I'm home from work early and the house is quiet. I find Edward in his office, standing in front of his desk, his back to me. His desk is covered in photos, some inscribed with circles of red. There is a notebook that is almost full, falling apart. "Signs," he mutters to himself. "Which are the signs?"
I freeze, and that's when it hits me, when I know. Edward is afraid of dying. Again, it makes perfect sense; the obvious is right there in front of me. He thinks he will die young like his father, or tragically, like his mother. Damn it, even his dog was taken from him in a terrible way. This whole time he has been searching for signs, for clues about his fate.
I am breathing heavily but Edward doesn't notice. He is too far gone in the mystery. "Edward," I finally whisper, and he whips around, his eyes wild, and I think he is just as scared as I am.
I open my mouth and I want so badly to say something that will take the fear out of his eyes. Everything in me wants to take his hand and tell him that I understand, that I won't let him die.
But I love Edward. More than anything or anyone ever, I love him. And I want him, always. I can't play into these ideas that will only drive him crazy. So I have to tell him the truth.
I walk over to him, half behind him, and lean over to point to a picture of a gas station, its windows filled with neon signs. "This," I say softly as I bring my other arm around him, pulling him closer, "doesn't mean anything. There's nothing here to find."
He's shaking, and I wonder if he's eaten at all today.
"This," I point to his notebook, where his usually perfect letters are an unreadable scrawl, "is not the answer."
His eyes drop further and he leans into me, exhausted. I wrap my other arm around him and pull him close, placing soft kisses on his neck. "And this," I take a deep breathe, filling my lungs with his scent, "is real."
He nods quietly and I lead him from the room, hoping that he's leaving it all behind as well.
I would like to think that he believes me, but I can tell that he doesn't. I repeat myself many times, in every way I can that I think he might understand. I tell him that sometimes the universe is just a fucked-up place and sometimes people turn nothing into something. I tell him that there are no signs, that our destiny is not predetermined. The most difficult part is when I tell him that if his mother were really psychic, she wouldn't have left the house that day. She never would have gotten into her car. I tell him all of this but I know that he doesn't believe me.
He nods and smiles warily but his eyes give him away. Behind every look I see the fear. I stop fooling myself into thinking that everything is okay because it obviously isn't. Edward tosses and turns in his sleep every night, his hand always fiercely gripping my shirt or my hand. As if he needs me to protect him, even in his dreams.
One morning my alarm goes off, and I reach over to silence it. Edward stirs as well, and I roll over slowly so I don't wake him. His fingers tense around my hand, telling me that he's awake.
"Shhh. Go back to sleep."
He doesn't say anything, just looks up at me sleepily, and then raises his lips to meet mine. I lean over and deepen the kiss, my tongue greedy despite not wanting to wake him. His fingers tangle in my hair, and he sits up, then moves to push me back into the bed. He straddles me, now wide awake.
We're already naked. It was warm the night before and we both slept in the nude. He grinds his ass into my stomach and I don't need to look to know that his cock is standing straight up, begging for attention.
Edward moans and I grip his ass, spreading his cheeks, and rub hard my own hard cock up and down between them. He breaks the kiss, and I frown, until I see that he's leaning over to the nightstand to grab our lube and a condom. My head says that I should be getting ready for work; my cock twitches, distracted, and so ready for him.
Edward reaches down to takes my hand in his, gently kissing two of my fingers before popping the lid off the bottle and spreading lube over them. I move them in him, slowly at first, and faster as his moans become louder. I keep going until I'm sure that he's relaxed enough, and then I slide the condom on and slowly push into him.
"Emmett," he sighs as he looks down at me, his knees pushing him up and down over my cock. The sight of him like this…first thing in the morning, scruff on his face, hair a mess, and the way that he looks down at me…it's too much for me to handle. I want more, more of him. I'm not sure I will ever have enough.
"Faster," I beg.
"Slower," he says.
He's in control here, setting a languid pace, and for a moment I wonder if he's trying to kill me with this need, this torture. Every pass takes him over every inch of my cock, from base to tip, and I want so badly to grip his hips and thrust into him. He stares down into my eyes and licks his lips, determined, it seems, to remain in control.
His hands run up and down over my chest, his soft fingertips brushing against my nipples and down my sides. Every movement he makes pushes me closer to my climax. Every breath he takes makes me lose my own.
He doesn't answer with words but he picks up his pace and I moan out loud in pleasure. His breaths are faster and, for a moment, I wonder if he is going to pass out. His hips stop moving and he falls forward, his hands on either side of me, somehow still holding him up.
I ask if he is okay and he simply nods, his arms shaking. I gently pull him down against me, and he lets me, finally surrendering. My hips move quickly, picking up where he left off, chasing our deliverance from this torture.
Faster. I move faster and faster, his hands in my hair, his hot breath on my neck.
Finally, I feel his cock twitch, and I hear his cry, and I know that he's coming between us.
"Edward," I whisper, the softness of my voice a sharp contrast to the wild thrusts of my hips, the noise of the mattress springs, the hold Edward has on my hair. I come hard, and the release is immense. I feel like I've been chasing it for hours.
Edward remains collapsed in my arms, and I hold onto him for longer than I should.
"I've got to go," I whisper into his ear, and he shakes his head. "I have to work. And so do you. Don't you have the family reunion to shoot today?"
"Yes," he says reluctantly, and glances at the clock, then looks at me hopefully. "Call in sick. Come and work with me today."
I look at him, and feel his hand grasp mine. He looks so lost, scared. I know there are reasons he wants me to stay, reasons he won't say out loud.
"I could use the help," he says meekly, in one last attempt to change my mind.
I don't want to leave, but I should, for several reasons. Because I hate lying about being sick. Because I don't believe that something bad will happen to Edward. Because I don't want to feed his fears that something will. I have so many reasons not to stay, and only one reason not to go: Edward. Love and Reason are at war and, as he sighs in defeat against my chest, Love wins.
A week later he tries again, with more excuses as to why I shouldn't go. I think it creeps him out that I'm going to work in a graveyard, surrounded by death. Maybe he thinks it's another sign. I give in. Again. I stay home with him and he works on his portfolio while I manage the business expenses. It's nice to be home with him, and he seems more relaxed than he has in days.
But the next time, Reason wins. I need to go to work. I have a job to do, with families waiting for the final words to mark the end of their loved one's lives.
When I come home Edward races to the door, still in his pajamas. Obviously, Reason has lost here. I don't ask if he worked at all today; I know that he hasn't. He collides into me and his lips frantically seek out mine. I kiss him back and, in that moment, wrapped in Edward's desperation and his relief, I wonder why I even left.
"It's okay," I murmur against his lips. "You're okay."
His hands pull at my shirt and struggle with my jeans. "I need you."
I help him with my clothes, and then with his, and make love to him on the living room floor. I tell him that it's okay, and that I love him. I repeat the words over and over again, trying to convince him of their truth, and hope that it's enough.
Our trip to visit my mother arrives, but Edward can't go. He's booked a last-minute job, and the money is too good to pass up. I hate that he's not meeting my mother, but with Edward, I'm in it for life. There will be another time. I just hope that he'll be alright all alone.
The first day is fine. He seems distracted when we speak, but I think he might be okay. The next day he doesn't answer his phone. By the end of the third I change my flight, apologize to my mother, and go home.
I find him sitting on the living room floor, surrounded by our pictures. Every picture that we've ever taken together is spread out around him, and his eyes roam over them all, his mind trying to make the pieces fit.
"Edward," I say gently as I walk up to the circle of photographs. "Look at me."
He looks up and I see trails of dried tears on his face, new ones pooling in his eyes. "I don't see it, Emmett. I just don't see it," he whispers desperately.
I crouch down in front of him, reaching over to cup his face in my hand.
"What don't you see, Edward?"
"The signs, Emmett. The signs that will help me figure out how to stop it."
"Stop what?" I know what his fears are, but I haven't heard him say it. Not out loud. I need to hear it.
"Everyone dies, Emmett. Everyone I love dies. But there are signs, and if I can see them, if I can figure it out, maybe I can stop it."
The truth dawns on me slowly at first, and then suddenly, everything slips into place. Edward isn't afraid of his own death—he's afraid of mine. All the searching, the endless pictures, the sleepless nights—it's because of me. To save me.
I can't move, and for once it's Edward who's giving me an odd look. Finally, I can speak.
"Edward," I say firmly. "Nothing will tell you when or how I will die, because no one knows. The universe doesn't know, Edward. It didn't take your parents away from you, it didn't take Emmett away from you, and it won't take me away."
He shakes his head in disbelief, and I know that my words are lost on him. "No, no," he cries, his hand moving to shift through the pictures again. "It's got to be here somewhere. If I figure it out, I can stop it, and you'll never leave me."
I reach out and grab his hand, then bring it my lips. I whisper the words softly, reverently. "I'll never leave you regardless."
He nods and I help him pick up the pictures and put them away, hoping once again that I've gotten through to him.
"Not today, Edward."
"It's a big shoot. I can't carry all the equipment down to the beach by myself…" He looks at me, but I don't meet his eyes. If I do, I'll give in. I grab my bag and head for the front door, not even stopping for a kiss good-bye.
"Emmett, stay with me."
I freeze, my hand on the door. He has never before asked me to stay. Never out loud. Not that first day, or the day I moved in, or any other day when I stayed home with him.
"Please, Emmett." His voice is shaking. It's worse today, I can tell. I turn around and head over to him, and see that his eyes are pooling with tears.
He sighs in relief when I reach him, and he takes my hand, squeezing it tight.
I squeeze it back and then let go. "I can't, Edward. Not today," I say as I lean over and kiss him quickly. His eyes are wide and a tear runs down his cheek.
I turn around and leave as fast as I can. If I don't do it now, I'll never make it out the door.
All day my thoughts are on him. I can't even focus on the mundane things I normally do to keep my mind off those who have passed away. All I can think about is Edward and how I can stop his fears. By the end of the day both my body and my mind are exhausted. I climb in my truck to leave and notice that my gas tank is nearly empty. I'm almost at the gas station when I look at the clock. It changes, adding another minute to the time. I know that it's another minute that Edward has spent at home, worrying about me, probably pacing the halls. Just then my phone rings, and Edward is begging me to come home.
Tomorrow. I will get gas tomorrow, I decide. I do another u-turn and head home.
I've barely opened the door when Edward attacks me. He runs his hands frantically over my body, as if to make sure I'm still in one piece. I kiss him, hard, and tell him over and over again that I'm all right.
This time we make it to the bedroom. I want him to be comfortable; I want him to feel safe. I try to take my time, to make him feel less desperate. Finally, when we're both spent, and Edward is calm, hunger pulls us out of the room.
I turn on the stove, and he turns on the local news. That's when we see it. The gas station—the very one I go to—is up in flames. I watch in horror as the anchor reports that an electric pole had fallen over, right onto a truck refilling the tanks. There is nothing left of the building, and the carcasses of a few cars can be seen on the outskirts of the disaster.
My stomach sinks, and I realize that it could have been me. It was almost me.
Edward's jaw drops, but he doesn't say anything. Our eyes are glued to the screen. I think of his pictures, his notes. That photo I saw on his desk of the gas station. The desperation in his voice when he asked me to stay. His phone call. Coincidence? Shaken, I try to make dinner. I try not to dwell on what Edward thinks he saw, and what he thought was going to happen today.
It's impossible though, not to think of the what if. What if I decided to fill up my tank. What if I ignored Edward's call. What if I died today?
I've never been scared of death before, not even after I started my job and had to think about death every day. I'm not even scared of death now, when I so narrowly missed it today. It's what I'll leave behind that scares me. It's the thought of Edward all alone. He wouldn't survive without me. It's not even a question. He needs me.
I try to pretend that I'm okay. I pull out the ingredients for dinner and try to look busy. But I'm not used to keeping things from him. It's obvious I'm not fooling him because he comes over and wraps his arms around my waist and kisses me softly. Calming me. I love you he whispers, and just holds me. I let him. For once it's me who needs him.
I abandon dinner, and pull him back to our room. We spend the night in bed, not saying much, just holding each other close. Tonight it's me who grabs his hand and his shirt. It's me who clings to him as if I won't have him tomorrow. It's me who is scared.
Eventually, Edward falls asleep. I watch him by the light of the moon pouring in the window. His breaths are deep, his body heavy against mine. He rests easy, more at peace than I've seen him in months.
But I can't sleep. Not now, with the images of the night still fresh in my mind. Not now, with so many questions unanswered. Not now. Because for the first time…I'm not sure what to believe.