Disclaimer: The characters in this story do not belong to me.
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
(Lyrics - LeeAnn Womack)
"I danced today. I know it sounds silly since I've danced before and have done so for years, but I really danced today." I sighed and touched the smooth velvet petals of the roses around me.
"Do you remember when you made me try again? I'm sure you do. We looked ridiculous in our backless gowns and me in a giant leg cast, but we twirled around careless and free.
"You convinced me that it was okay, that I was allowed to keep dancing because my mom would want me to. It took me a few years, but today I finally did it. I auditioned. I know it is not only my mom who would want me to dance. Say hi to her for me, will ya?"
I closed my eyes and tilted my head to smell the ambrosia-scented breeze surrounding me.
"I miss you."
From the ripe old age of twelve months, I danced. I was clumsy as a baby foal when I walked across a flat surface, but when I danced, I was graceful.
My mother took it upon herself to enroll me in every free dance class available in Phoenix. She couldn't afford to pay for professional training, but I didn't mind. I didn't need rich and snobby training to make me feel better about myself. My shoes were ancient and my leotards were from goodwill, but it didn't matter what dancer wears. It's all about how they move.
When I was seventeen, I got the lead role in our production of Romeo and Juliet. I was humble but ecstatic. I accepted the part with a gracious smile and a hug, but the second I walked into the house I was dancing like a fool, squealing while jumping in circles with my mom.
Over the following weeks, I would practice around the house while she sewed my gown. The recital was days away, and I knew my part backwards and forwards, but that didn't stop me from dancing all throughout the house, day in and day out. My mother would smile and shake her head lovingly. She was proud. Always proud.
The morning of my recital was hectic to say the very least. The stitching in the side of my powder pink leotard had ripped. I am still ashamed to admit the hissy fit I threw over wanting a new one. My mother insisted that she could fix the stitching before we had to go, but I wouldn't hear of it. I was terrified it would rip again during the performance, and the audience would see me half-naked. It was an honest fear; I only wish I'd told my mother of that fear instead of screaming I wanted a "real leotard" instead of a homemade one.
With a small nod, she ushered me to the car. If we were going to make it to the store and back before we had to leave for the dance hall, we needed to hurry.
I can remember the blaring horn and the screeching metal. I remember blood and choking. I remember a hand grasping mine and pulling me back the way I came, retreating from the white-hot light back to reality.
"Isabella? Bella, baby, I need you to focus on me." The unknown voice penetrated into my subconscious pulling at the veil that was keeping me numb and oblivious. I fought back, desperate to stay suspended in limbo. I didn't know why I wanted to stay so badly, but something in the back of my mind was screaming at me. There was something in the real world I didn't want to face.
The voice kept pleading with me.
"Bella, it's me. Please wake up. I need you to be okay, my little girl. Please come back to me."
My little girl. Those words had me clawing away at the dark, trying to see the owner of the voice. I knew him.
A broken sob snapped my eyes open. I searched through the blurred room for any clues to alert me to my whereabouts. The first sound that gave me a hint was a persistent beeping echoing around the room. A sterile, white room. The smell of a latex oxygen mask filled my nose as I felt the surface I was lying on tremble.
I looked down to see a head of curly black hair, his face down on the linen beside me. He was crying. I reached out and touched his hair, not knowing how else to comfort this sobbing man.
He sat up immediately and our eyes connected. In that split second reality crashed into me.
"Dad?" I managed to say with a trembling lip.
"Daddy? Where's Mom?" I cried out, searching the room.
"Where is my mom?" I screamed this time. My dad didn't speak.
He sat on the bed with me and gathered me into his arms. I felt his lips on my hair whispering I would be okay. We would be okay.
I took that moment to take an inventory of my condition. Both of my legs were in casts, though one of them was only to mid-calf. The other went to mid-thigh. My stomach was wrapped tightly in white gauze indicating an injury. The pain medication I assumed they had me on had me numb.
Through my confusion, one memory stood clear in my mind. The headlights of the other car shone through my mother's side. I knew she was gone.
I had been placed in a medical coma for a week to heal.
I stayed at the hospital in Phoenix only long enough to ensure that I could be safely transferred. My father lived in Washington and wanted me in the local hospital, close to my new home.
I left Arizona by air the day after my mother's funeral. I didn't speak to anyone, only to the box that held my mother's remains. I told her goodbye, knowing I was also saying farewell to the life I'd known for the last seventeen years. I was off to live with my father. I'd spent every summer with him since I was four. I liked him well enough, but he just wasn't my mother.
I had internal injuries as well as a broken leg and ankle. The doctor informed me of my slim chance I would ever dance again. I certainly wasn't planning on it anyway.
Although I was on the mend, I was admitted into the hospital in Washington to keep an eye on my surgery sites, convalesce, and attend physical therapy. My ankle was practically healed, but my other leg still had a fair way to go.
I had been an inpatient at Forks Medical Center for three days when I met him. Thanks to some firm persuasion by the nursing staff, I started hobbling up and down the cold hallways of the hospital. Cheers and laughter from the far end piqued my curiosity. I hobbled closer.
I found a room that looked similar to the youth center I had attended as a child in Phoenix. There was an old tattered pool table in the back and several couches scattered around the room. A football game was on the TV, and kids of all ages were in the room enjoying various activities.
A small plaque hung outside the door titling the room:
FMC Pediatric Cancer Ward
My heart swelled and broke. On closer inspection, I noticed some of the children had bandanas, wigs, or hats on their heads. Despite the seemingly dim future many of them would endure, everyone had bright smiles on their faces.
I took in the scenes in front of me. Two girls sat in front of a window, playing with a paper fortuneteller. A candy striper was sitting on a beanbag reading a thick novel to a small group of people. Some of the older kids were on the couches, cheering at the teams on the television screen.
I wasn't sure how long I stood gaping before I felt someone standing next to me.
I looked up into the sharp, green eyes of a boy that looked to be about my age. His hair was a dark auburn, cropped close to his head.
"You can go in there, you know." He smiled and nodded toward the open room.
"I didn't...I mean...I don't stay down...Um..." I stuttered out, embarrassed at being caught staring.
"They're not contagious you know," he said with a smirk before walking into the room, leaving me in the doorway.
I hobbled as fast as I possibly could back to my room. Shortly after, Mrs. Cope, my daytime nurse, walked in.
"There you are, Bella. Did you have a nice walk?"
I snorted at the thought.
"Walk?" I asked, gesturing towards my crutches.
She smiled and tsked at me. "You know what I meant. You were gone for longer than usual. I was about to launch a search party," she joked while helping me back into my bed.
"I went down to the cancer ward. I didn't know you guys had such a set up down there." I tried to broach the subject carefully. I wanted to know more about it.
"Oh, it's nice isn't it? Carlisle Cullen donated the money for it a while ago. After his son was diagnosed, Mr. Cullen became pretty passionate about all of our patients in that wing."
Mrs. Cope spoke while busily working on my IV and monitors. I waited until the blood pressure cuff released its grip to speak again.
"Are they all….terminal?"
"Not all of them. Many of them come in for chemo treatments then are released shortly after. Mr. Cullen wanted a lounge area so they weren't stuck looking at the walls while they waited. You might even meet him sometime as he is here a lot. Even after…"
I mused over the vague information she'd given me after she left. My father, Charlie, came in at around six as usual. He was the Deputy Chief of Police in Forks, so he usually came in after his shift. This took a lot of persuasion on my part since he had not wanted to return to work while I was still hospitalized.
I could only take the pained expressions on his face for so long. Even though he and my mother divorced years ago, I knew how much he still loved her. Now he had to look at her features through me. Through the girl who was responsible for her death. His pain couldn't come close to the guilt I was keeping bottled up inside me.
Charlie had walked in that evening carrying a glorious looking Styrofoam box in his hands.
"Doc gave you the all clear for outside food. I didn't know what to get you so…"
He handed the box to me; it held an amazing looking chicken salad in it.
"Thanks, Dad, this is great," I said sincerely, digging into my food with zeal.
We were making progress.
The following day I found myself at the same doorway. I was about to turn around when the green-eyed boy caught my stare. He smiled and beckoned me in with a curl of his finger.
I obliged and made my way toward him.
"Ever played Rummy?" he asked while shuffling the cards through his long fingers.
I shook my head no and slowly sat down with my cast encased leg propped on a chair.
"I should teach you one day."
I smiled and agreed.
We sat in a small corner and talked. He told me about some of the other patients in the room. I didn't think they were too pleased with me hanging out in 'their room' by the odd looks I received from everyone who walked within earshot.
I was about to ask Edward if I should leave when Mrs. Cope appeared. She too gave me an odd look.
"Bella, your father is here." I smiled in acknowledgement to her.
I waved goodbye to Edward and made my way to the door.
"See you tomorrow?" he called out.
And he did. He saw me every day after that.
We learned about each other during our own healing processes. I learned he was the infamous son of Carlisle Cullen. He told me about his condition and his recent relapse that landed him back in his suite at the hospital. Or so he called it.
"So, you're sick again?" I asked timidly.
"My condition is incurable," he answered.
I nodded and looked down at my hands.
"I wish you weren't sick," I said back, feeling stupid the minute it came out. What a stupid thing to say, I wish you weren't sick. I'm sure he wished that, too.
"They all wish that. If wishes worked, would either of us be here?" His voice had turned cold. He didn't seem angry with me, just angry in general. I would be, too.
"Are you ever going talk to me about what happened?" he asked.
I stayed silent.
"Whenever you're ready," he spoke again, reaching across the table to take my hand in his.
I was vague about my past, still uncomfortable about telling my story. I couldn't even think about my mother in front of Charlie without practically hyperventilating.
Therapists were assigned to me; they saw me every day before my physical therapy appointment. They assured me I was getting better. I just think I am getting better at hiding my emotions.
I would be going home soon. My leg was healing and would be put into a smaller cast the soon.
I was about to go on my usual afternoon walk to meet with Edward when my dad walked in looking somber. His trembling hands held a shoebox.
"What's that?" I asked, sitting back onto my bed. I had a feeling I should be sitting for whatever he needed to say.
"It's a few of your belongings. Things that were in the car."
He looked at me with fear in his eyes when I held my hand out for the box. I couldn't recall what I'd had with me that day that would be so hard to see.
I didn't remember my gym bag had been in the trunk.
Inside the shoebox was my leotard, the rip still in place along the seam, a pair of leg warmers, and my ballet shoes. There were a couple of other odds and ends like hair pins and moleskins. I didn't pay them any mind. Instead, I picked up the powder pink leotard and held it to my chest.
Deep breaths. Don't move too much, you'll break Bella. Close your eyes. No, don't show Charlie.
My stern mental coaching was no use. On a deep inhale, I choked on the baseball-sized lump in my throat. On the exhale, I was sobbing.
Charlie came to me in a flash, gathering me up in his arms. It was the first time I'd cried in front of him since the day I woke up in Phoenix. "It's okay Bella... shhh."
I shook my head violently and pushed him away.
"No! It's not okay! It will never be okay. Don't you understand that?" I clutched the leotard and shook it towards him.
"This is why she died! I was a selfish brat. I killed her!"
Pain flashed across my father's face, turning the guilt knife in my chest. He understood then I was to blame.
I buried my head into the fabric in my hands and sobbed harder. I could barely catch my breath, but I didn't care.
Let me pass out from lack of oxygen to escape this moment. I'd gladly take the silence.
I didn't expect to feel strong arms pulling me into an embrace. My father was crying with me, holding me hard and close.
"Don't ever say that again, Isabella. This is not your fault; none of this is your fault!"
It only took those words. I'd like to say I was instantly better after hearing my father say I wasn't at fault, but it wasn't quite that easy.
I did, however, feel something lift from me- like my dad was personally lifting the heaviness from my chest, one block at a time.
I clung to him for hours that night, telling him all I remembered. Laughing with him, recounting the good memories I had of my mom and crying at the thought of her not seeing me graduate, get married, or have children of my own.
I didn't see why therapists are paid so much. My dad made a bigger breakthrough than any of them.
Charlie left late that night after much persuading from me. He promised to leave work early the next day to spend more time with me.
Despite the exhausting emotional breakdown that was my day, I couldn't sleep.
I was curled up in a fetal position, toying with the ribbon on my ballet shoes, when I heard the door creak open. Looking up, I found Edward's concerned eyes looking back at me.
I lay my head down and started playing with the ribbon again.
"My mother died in the accident that did this to me. We were getting my costume for my dance recital. I was Juliet."
I was sure I had managed to dehydrate myself from crying, because in my admission to Edward I had no tears left to shed.
"I told my dad today I blamed myself." I held up my hand to stop the words I knew were about to fall from his lips.
"I know, poor little victim taking the blame for her mom's death. I'm not aiming for pity here, Edward, but hell, how can I be completely blameless? Sure, I can yell and scream about the asshole that was driving drunk at four o'clock in the afternoon. But he's dead, too!"
Edward kept his mouth shut, thankfully letting me finish my vent. I'd only known him for a few weeks, but he already knew me so well. He knows all of me now.
"You dance?" Edward said, picking up the other slipper.
"What?" I was taken aback by the sudden topic change.
"Hang on…" he spoke over his shoulder, sprinting out of the room.
I barely had time to imagine what he could possibly be up to before he came sprinting back into the room.
Closing the door behind him, he slowed down and walked to the side of my bed.
"Dance with me," he said, holding out his hand.
"What?" I asked again, still confused at his motives.
"Quit questioning me and just trust me. Dance with me." He spoke sternly this time, a smile pulling at his lips.
I placed my hand in his and let him help me out of the bed.
I saw the device that had him running out of the room, a small silver iPod. He was fumbling with the buttons for a minute before he nodded toward the machine, obviously pleased with himself at his selection.
He placed one of the small black buds in my ear and the other in his. Taking a bow before me, Edward took me into his arms and began to sway. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end then my body shivered. He had an interesting effect on me.
The music was soft, beautiful. I was never very good at knowing what was what when it came to classical, but I appreciated the lyrical lullaby floating into my ears.
"Who is this?" I whispered in his ear.
"I played piano every day for eight years straight. My mother was beside herself with pride when I would sit down and play for her. I still play, now and then. The last thing I played for an audience was at my mother's funeral. Aneurysm..."
Edward held me close and kept swaying during his own admission. I knew by the sound of his voice it wasn't an easy thing to say, but he was tearing open his own wounds for me. Forget flowers and chocolate; this was the most heartbreakingly sweet gesture I'd ever experienced.
"I look at my piano for months after that. Every glance, I saw my mother sitting at the bench waiting for me. But, one day I sat down. It hurt at first, but after a while, it made me feel closer. I knew how much it would hurt her to know I wasn't playing anymore. So, I played."
Edward didn't need to say the exact words to tell me what he meant. My mother was gone; she would never come back. Instead of celebrating her life, I was looking for blame in her death. I could see her in my mind, shaking her head at me with that condescending smile.
Isabella Marie, you quit your sulking and get better. That's not a request young lady.
Her voice rang clearly in my mind.
I looked up at Edward again, this time meeting his gaze.
"Thank you," I whispered.
Edward bent me backwards, supporting my weight in a dip. I let my head fall back; my hair grazed the ceramic floor.
When he brought me back up, our faces were centimeters apart. I felt his words on my lips.
I inclined toward him, greedily taking his lips on my own. I expected him to reel back in disgust. Instead, he wrapped his arms tightly around my waist and inhaled the kiss. It was more innocent than any of the other kisses I'd experienced in my short life, but it held more meaning than I thought possible. My body erupted in goose bumps.
Edward stayed with me that night. We talked into the small hours of the night; the night nurse oddly absent during our rebellious sleepover.
I drifted off sometime in the early morning hours, Edward's arm platonically draped across my waist.
We both woke up a few hours later. Edward snuck out before we could be discovered. I was curious why my usual night nurse never came. At the very least, I never heard her. I would assume she would have made quite a scene if she'd seen us.
Edward appeared behind my wheelchair at the hospital entrance.
"I didn't think I'd get see you before I left," I said, smiling at his presence.
"Bella, you'll always have me," he said, moving my hair behind my shoulder.
Charlie was getting the cruiser, much to my dismay. He had yet to meet Edward and would always have an oddly concerned look on his face whenever I mentioned him.
Edward told me goodbye and turned to walk back into the hospital.
He stopped suddenly and came back to me.
"Am I allowed to love you?" he asked in a soft whisper, kissing the skin just before my ear.
"Isabella Swan, you're up."
Those words had an instant impact on my heart. I'd spent two years in rehabilitation training, and it all came down to this. What in the hell was I thinking?
You were thinking you made a promise.
The familiar velvet voice played in the back of my mind.
I walked into the small ballet studio where the auditions were being held. It was nothing in comparison to the Julliard-sized auditoriums I imagined myself in by this age, but it was an audition nonetheless. Half of my doctors had said I wouldn't lose my limp for at least another year or so. I practically skipped into the room.
The lights were dimmed, and I held my chin to my chest waiting to begin. My cue sounded in the lyrical lullaby I had come to know very well in the past few years.
Funny to call it that, since he had referred to it as my song the day he asked me to dance.
It took me months to find a copy.
I flowed flawlessly through my routine, as flawless as I've ever been anyway. I almost stumbled once, but I imagined cool hands holding me in place. The cold faced judges neither smiled nor frowned when I was done. I was given a short thank you and a nod. As long as they weren't laughing, I'd take it.
My chances of making it were slim, but at least I got my first audition over and done. With the end of this day, I needed to see him.
I pull my car onto the familiar beaten path. The trees are heavy in bloom, raining petals on the shaded road.
I never really liked spring before I moved. Spring just meant the return of the heat in Phoenix, but here in Washington, it was something magical to see.
I knew this road like the back of my hand. One day, maybe I'd try to drive it with my eyes closed, just to see if I could actually do it.
I make my way through the blossoms into the clear meadow. One stone stands alone in the center. I took my usual spot next to it and began talking to the marked marble.
Edward Anthony Cullen
Son, Brother, Angel.
No words would ever be truer.
Edward died two years before I met him. Edward saved me in every way possible. He pulled my soul from the fiery wreckage before I was ever taken to Forks. He saved me from my guilt, my anguish. He loved me when I felt no one should.
I didn't really need to visit him here to talk to him, but it helped. If anyone else in the world had the privilege of meeting their angel, I wondered if they ever felt this connected to them. Did they accept they were just some higher being, or did they understand they were once human like us all?
I learned of his fate when I finally did meet Mr. Cullen. He told me about the death of his son when I asked to see him. I think he knew Edward was somewhere with wings. You'd think I would be broken-hearted; hearing the boy I loved was dead. Instead, I found peace. My life is in the hands of him.
Edward Cullen is my guardian angel.