Pick A Pic Challenge Entry
Title:
The Man in the Mirror
Penname:
Soft Ragoo
Banner: #59
Rating/Disclaimer: T ( :0 How did that happen AGAIN?)
I own no rights to the characters Stephenie Meyer created – I just like twisting them into my own versions in different settings.
Summary: Bella has experienced loss. She's experienced emptiness. Is she now experiencing insanity or love?

To see all the stories that are a part of this contest, please visit: www . fanfiction-challenges . blogspot . com Please check it out – there are some awesome one-shots and really great banners. And vote from January 8th-15th. :)


The Man in the Mirror

What is life without a soul?

Without a heart?

Where do you turn when both have been stolen?

The three questions I pose to myself daily. I've yet to give myself a valid response.

My therapist tells me it's not crazy to talk to myself – if I'm seeking for answers that no one can give, I have to look within. Therein lies the issue… for within, lies nothing.

"Bella? Are you with me?"

Drawn out of my inner world, I turned my eyes to Angela, my therapist. She smiled warmly at me. She understood that I sometimes went… someplace else. At least, I think she understood. "I'm sorry. You were asking me a question…"

She set down her notebook and leaned forward to address me. Her glasses slid down her nose and I resisted the urge to lean in and fix them for her. They didn't seem to bother her in the least but they drove me to distraction. "Forget what we were talking about. Tell me, are you still having those nightmares?"

I shook my head, rabidly. "They're not nightmares!"

Nodding, she looked over at her notes, purely out of habit. She knew my case by memory. "You still feel as though they are memories of things you don't consciously recall."

Staring back, just as intently, I pulled out my own notebook and pen. "Session 31 – Angela has come to the conclusion that I am delusional." I recited the words aloud as I wrote. "Yet, she still refuses hypnosis – though surely, that would give us both some peace of mind. Beginning to question Angela's sanity." I clicked my pen to retract the tip and returned my gaze to her. She was smiling. One corner of my mouth lifted – my own attempt at a smile. She took my remarks as they were intended. I had a sarcastic tongue when I was being true to myself.

"Okay, let's just say that hypnosis would be our last option. For now, let's go over what you do know. What does your conscious mind recall about those last days?"

I rolled my eyes as my thumb started tapping out a click-click rhythm with the pen in my hand. "I didn't want to go to the cabin. We never should have gone there."

Angela crossed her legs and sat back, hands folded neatly in her lap. "Bella, you know you can't change what happened. It was an accident. You're not clairvoyant – there was no way you'd know both of your parents would be lost."

"And the man we hit…"

Angela paused and took a deep steadying breath. "There was no man involved in the accident, Bella. The investigation proved it was a mechanical malfunction. The car hit a tree, not a person."

"I saw him, Angela! I know there is no physical proof, but I'm not crazy. I. Saw. Him."

"What would he have been doing up on the mountain? In the middle of the night… why would he be walking along that road? Do you have any thoughts about that?"

With a loud, inappropriate snort, I gave one last click and slammed the pen down. "I would love to know. I always wake up before he answers me."

Her eyebrow lifted with interest. Wonderful. I had managed to exhibit another disturbing attribute. "You speak to him in your dreams? And he speaks back? Are these memories?"

Okay. Maybe she didn't understand me as well as I thought. I shrugged and closed down. "They're just dreams."

I'd had a recurring dream as a child – our house got flooded in that one and everything I loved was carried away in the flood water. Mom said it was a manifestation of trauma – apparently I'd been freaked out while visiting an aunt and my cousins over-flowed the toilet. I hardly saw the relation between the two, but I was still weary of toilets.

My current dreams were different. The only thing recurring in them was the man from the night of the accident. Initially, they were recalled memories of the accident; I'll admit that. After I was released from the hospital however, they changed. He wasn't a stranger in those dreams and it was like… we were forming a relationship. Weird, I know, but I found comfort in them. I wasn't alone.

Perhaps that's why I wasn't freaked out the first time I saw him outside of a dream. Unable to sleep, I went to the bathroom to get my sleeping pills from the medicine cabinet. There was a full moon shining in through the window so I didn't bother turning on the light. It would only hurt my eyes. I took my pill and splashed some water on my face while it was running cold. When I looked up from the sink, there he was… he wasn't watching me, he was just there – leaning against the wall in the mirror. My first reaction was to turn around and see if he was there behind me. After all, I'm not insane; I'm aware that a mirror is simply a reflection. I was alone.

I stood staring at him for endless minutes. I closed my eyes to see if he was an image in my mind but he'd disappear; open, there he was in the mirror. He appeared to be lost in thought… sad thoughts. He looked trapped. When I reached my hand out to touch his arm, he stood up straight and walked across the mirror slowly with his hands deep in his pockets and his head down. And he was gone.

~ 0 ~

Weeks passed and he was nowhere to be seen – my dreams had stopped and he wasn't in my mirror. Angela was pleased that I was no longer plagued by what she referred to as nightmares, and I refrained from mentioning that night he was in my bathroom. I began to think I'd been sleepwalking. Sessions were cut back to bi-weekly. I was doing better, apparently. I couldn't help but wonder why I missed an image of a man I didn't even know as much as I missed my dead parents if I was actually doing better.

I agreed to go out with some friends from work one Friday night. I cut myself off after two drinks since alcohol didn't really mix with my medication. It's not so fun watching co-workers get blitzed when you're not going drink for drink so I excused myself and took a taxi home.

I poured a glass of cranberry juice, taking it to the bathroom with me to get my pills. As my foot hit the ceramic tiles in the bathroom, I cursed as I slipped – practically did the splits before I angrily yanked off my heels even while knocking my glass of juice off the sink. "Graceful Swan…" I muttered to myself as I mopped up the juice so that I could begin picking up shards of the broken glass. I almost managed to get it cleaned up without injury, but I stepped on the tiniest of splinters just as I was finishing up.

"Dammit!" I did a one-legged dance as I tried to extract the splinter from my toe only to end up flat on my ass. "Perfect. Survive a car wreck, but get taken out by a splinter in the big toe," I groaned as I examined it closer. The light was blocked by the sink and the bit of glass had embedded itself practically invisibly. Pulling myself up, I sat on the counter where the light was better and went at it with tweezers. "Gotcha now, sucker!" I gloated as I extracted it easily with proper lighting and the right tool. There wasn't even any blood.

Giggling over my one-woman show, and grateful that I was alone for it for once, I slumped against the wall, still sitting on the counter with my foot in the sink. It was then I discovered that I wasn't alone. "You're back," I said aloud.

"You're hurt. Did you get all the glass out?"

I smiled at the familiar form in the mirror opposite me. "I did, thank you. Your eyes are green. I never noticed that in my dreams."

He smiled back. "It's always dark in your dreams. I hope this is a sign that you're coming out of your darkest days as well. You have a beautiful smile. I like seeing this side of you."

"I like seeing any side of you." I felt my cheeks grow hot. I'm flirting with a man in my mirror! New level of insanity here, Swan! But damn, he is cute… "You were sad the last time I saw you. Why?"

"If you were watching someone you cared about hurting, wouldn't you be sad?" He turned his brilliant green eyes on me and I was melting. "You have too much to offer to keep to yourself the way you do. You can overcome your grief, Bella. It's time to live again."

"You know my name…" I whispered, staring in awe at the intensity of his gaze.

"I know your heart as well," he replied. The corner of his mouth lifted in a crooked smile that suited him perfectly. "It's beautiful, too."

"You're flirting with me," I teased, eliciting a soft laugh from him. It suited him too.

"Sorry… it's pretty bad form to hit on a woman in her own bathroom, right? I forget that while I know you, you know nothing about me. I'll take it easy on you for now."

We chatted, the man in the mirror and me, joked around and talked about random things for more than an hour. I slept without medical aid that night… and the following after another chat. It became a nightly event. He was so easy to talk to; like free therapy.

"I'm keeping you awake," he commented after I yawned.

I smirked at him in the mirror. "You've been keeping me awake for months. I prefer this version of you, though. You never answered my questions in my dreams."

Slouching back against the wall, he smiled affectionately at me. "What would you like to know?"

I drew a blank. All the questions I'd asked that had gone unanswered, had temporarily left me. I tittered at my senseless mind. "What's your name?"

He threw his head back and laughed. It sounded musical. "That's the best you've got?"

"For now… yeah."

"Edward. My name is Edward and you, Bella Swan, should get your rest."

"You'll be back, right?"

"Would you like me to come back?"

I nodded fervently.

"Then I'll be wherever you need me to be. Goodnight, lovely lady. Sleep well."

~ 0 ~

My guardian angel, otherwise known as Edward, kept his word. He was not only visible in my bathroom mirror, but in the mirror at work, in reflections of store fronts, the glare on my computer screen… he was all around me and I was beginning to feel alive again. Even Angela commented on my improved spirits during one of our sessions.

"Bella…" she cooed. "I'd almost think you've got a special guy in your life."

Snickering as I slipped on my jacket, I rolled my eyes at her. "Just my guardian angel."

Angela slid her glasses down to peer at me over them. "Can you send one my way?"

"I'll ask… but Edward's all mine."

"Edward? You know your angel by name?"

"Sure! Doesn't everyone?" I laughed.

"Bella, why don't you have a seat…"

Shit! I thought the session was over. I thought this little side rapport was just me and Angela… friends. After months of keeping Edward to myself, I'd gone and let the cat out of the bag.

"Tell me about Edward." Angela had her professional smile back on. The one that was meant to be soothing, friendly, comfortable… Right now it made me cringe. "Bella, is this the man from your dreams? Have you named him?"

I sighed and rubbed my hands over my face in frustration. Here we go… "Yes. He's the same man from my dreams. The same man from the road on the mountain that night. I didn't name him – he told me his name. I haven't gotten more details about that night but I'm at a place where I don't need to know. I want to move on from it – stop reliving the accident night after night and going through days like a drugged-out zombie. Angela, please understand… I'm not crazy. He's real. And he's my angel."

Miracle of miracles, she let me walk out. I was sure a straightjacket was being ordered in my size, however. I'd have to be more careful and remember that Angela was, first and foremost, my therapist. Edward was waiting for me when I got home.

"Hey beautiful! How was your day?"

I huffed as I leaned against the wall. "Well, my therapist thinks I'm nuts because of you."

He frowned and tilted his head towards me. "I'm sorry about that. Should I leave?"

"No!" I reached for him and my hand connected with nothing but mirrored glass. Resting my head against it, I broke into hysterics. "No, Edward. I need you to stay and keep me sane."

"You are sane, Bella," he confirmed in a silky voice. "It's your heart that's damaged, not your mind. Once you get past your grief, you won't have a need for me. And I don't believe there's anyone else in our mirror who will harass you." He walked around animatedly seeking a companion as I giggled. "I swear to you… once you heal, you'll be better than ever and I'll let you get on with living. Now, why don't you go get your ice cream and we'll talk it out. I'll wait for you."

Snickering, I went for the freezer. This too, had become a routine… eating ice cream from the container while I talked to my man in the mirror. He must have sampled every flavour ever created because he had a comment no matter which I brought in.

"Why are you here Edward?" I asked softly when I returned. His remarks about eventually leaving had left me teary-eyed. He always knew what I needed – how could I be well without him?

"Because you need me to be. Because I listen and don't judge. Because I know you're meant to be on this Earth for many years to come and you will live them out happily. Just trust in me to know you better than you know yourself right now."

"Were you there? The night of the accident… Edward, I know I saw you that night. Please tell me the truth. Why were you there on the road? What were you doing?"

His eyes never wavered from mine as he replied, "I was there for you."

Snorting, I turned and leaned against the sink, my nose inches from the mirror. "You wanted us to kill you? You planned to have my parents die in a blazing wreck? That makes no sense!"

His eyes widened as he mirrored my position. "The car didn't kill me, Bella. I was there to save you from your parents' fate. You haven't been listening to me… you weren't meant to die that night. I got you out of the car before it exploded. There was nothing I could have done for your parents; they were already gone, but you… I had to save you."

I gaped at him in the mirror. Why hadn't I asked this talkative form of Edward about that night earlier?

"You don't remember, do you?"

I shook my head. "I remember the car swerving… the road was wet, slippery… I saw you at the side of the road – just standing there. The car was out of control. There was a thump and then screaming and a crash… there was an odour… and heat… and you were there." My mind reeled with my new memory. "You were there! Edward, we didn't hit you! I saw you afterwards! I saw you! Why did you leave?"

"The paramedics were taking care of you. My job was done for the time being."

Over the next weeks, I felt more secure in myself – and my sanity – than I ever had. I wasn't imagining Edward on the side of the road; he was there. I decided not to hide my conversations with him from Angela anymore. After all, he was part of my healing process just as she was.

Huge mistake.

I left her office doubting everything, including my own existence. If he wasn't real, then I wasn't. Someone saved me from the burning car – if it wasn't Edward, then I simply would not be here. Am I a ghost? Edward said that I wasn't done on Earth… maybe I'm here to be someone else's angel. He's my spirit guide into being… well, a spirit. Okay. THAT is lunacy.

"Edward." I called out to him the minute I entered my apartment. Not weird. Not crazy.

"Yes, beautiful lady?"

My heart melted when I saw his wistful smile and passionate eyes. "Are you real?" I asked him in a whisper.

He half-closed one eye as he pondered my question. Then he leaned forward on the sink, as I often did, peering straight through the glass. "What do you think? Am I real to you?"

"More real than anything else for the past year."

"Bella, I'm as real as you need me to be. Listen, sometimes we all could use a person who just believes in us. I'm that person for you. I believe you, Bella. I believe in you. And you need that more than anything at this moment. Am I right?"

I nodded as a tear streamed down my cheek.

"I wish I could hold you." The man in the mirror looked at me with a deep sadness in his eyes. For me? Or for himself…

"I wish you could too." I closed my eyes and leaned against the cold glass of the mirror. If I feel him, then I really have gone insane…

I felt nothing but my tears dripping on my bent knee and my hot breath bouncing off the mirror. And then I felt a warmth spread through me as I accepted that I was simply a sad, but sane woman with a guardian angel called Edward who believed in me. A knock at the door interrupted my warm fuzzy and I huffed as I climbed down from the sink. "Be back in a minute Edward." I turned to smile at him, but he was gone.

~ 0 ~

Nothing makes a person feel colder and more alone than being locked up. In the past year, I'd lost both parents. Fact. I had also felt like I'd lost my heart – I felt nothing… not the immense sadness everyone speaks of when experiencing such a devastating loss. I didn't feel survivor's guilt either. Just a void. I supposed that was because my soul went with them. I was merely a shell.

This feeling returned when Edward was taken from me. In the months that I had spent talking to him, I had begun to feel again. He believed in me so it was much easier to believe in myself. Without him, I had nothing to cling to. And as each day passed in the hospital under observation, I began to believe that I was insane. Inside the void shell was a raging nutcase who hallucinated a figment of my own demented imagination. Edward was not real. I had no guardian angel. I had no one.

The doctors were much happier with me in this state. Yes, I'm insane! This is progress! It bought me my ticket back into the real world. What a load of horse shit… they didn't fix me… they've filled my hollow shell with doubt and a deep loathing for the way my mind works. I sighed and shoved the door to the public washroom open as I passed by. With no access to mirrors for the past month, I had no clue what I looked like anymore. I didn't see the 'beautiful lady' looking back at me; I saw a sad, lost soul with dark circles under her eyes and limp hair.

I bent at the waist and shook my long hair out before tying it up. Digging in my bag, I extracted a small makeup kit and did a quick job on my face before standing back to evaluate myself once more. Better. Not great, but an improvement. As I went to drop the makeup in my bag, it fell to the floor, scattering everywhere. "Well, my grace is intact, if nothing else," I muttered as I gathered it all up. "Oh my god!" I gasped when I stood up. Edward was in the mirror. The makeup fell from my hands once more.

"Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to startle you! Here, let me help you with that." Edward disappeared from the mirror but I heard movement near me.

Oh my god… I've gone completely round the bend… I gulped as he stood and handed the items to me.

"I'm really very sorry. I didn't realize anyone would be in here. There's never anyone in here. If you're okay, I'll leave you alone now." He paused only a few seconds before he turned to walk out.

He's leaving… Is that what I want? What I need? "Wait!"

He stopped, turning only his head to look back at me. Slowly that familiar crooked grin emerged and everything I knew to be real stood right in front of me. "You've been released?"

"Does it show?" I laughed nervously. "Do I look like I've been locked up in the crazy ward?"

His smile softened as he turned around fully. "No. You look like you need fresh air and sun and laughter. That's all you need right now. And I need to get back to work. My shift's almost over and I'm behind. I only came in here to check on a toilet that overflowed earlier. Sorry to have disturbed you."

He's leaving! "Wait! Sorry… I don't mean to keep you… you work here?"

Holding up his hospital ID badge he nodded. "Looks more impressive than it is, really. I do maintenance work. I'm basically a janitor." He laughed nervously and I felt more relaxed.

He is real… he is REAL! My imagination wouldn't have given him this job. "A job is a job, right? I do maintenance of a sort too – cleaning up paperwork instead of…"

"Toilets," he chuckled, drawing another laugh from me. "I hope I don't sound like a pervert – walking into the ladies room like this with what I'm about to say – but you're really beautiful when you laugh. It suits you. I hope you do it more often now."

Such an Edward thing to say… "I don't know that I'll have much reason to laugh after you walk out." Oh my god! I just flirted back – at the REAL Edward!

His adorable smile was in all its glory. "Going with that… because I'm thinking that you don't get a perv vibe from me as of yet… I've been watching you." He stopped suddenly and his mouth hung open as his eyes widened. "I don't mean watching you, really. More that I've seen you from time to time over the past year. Here. At the hospital. I'm honestly not a creepy stalker guy. I don't know you from anywhere but here… I don't even know your name… but what I'm trying to say is that I know you're capable of smiling more. I've seen it. For a couple of months there, you looked really happy. All I'm saying is that I hope you get there again, somehow."

This Edward looked just like the man in the mirror that I knew so well, but he acted differently. He was much more timid; unsure of himself. At the same time, he said things that reminded me so much of my manifestation. Had I seen him here too, without realizing it? I must have. And then I put his face on my imaginary friend. That had to be it. Could I be happy again? Even without Edward? "I don't know if I'll get back to the place I was then." Unwanted tears welled in my eyes as my voice faltered.

"You will," he said softly. "I really hope you do. And uh… I'd like to say I hope you're done here for good, but then I'd never see you again."

I wiped at my eyes and sniffled even while grinning. "I can always come hang out in the ladies room. You can watch me over my shoulder… scare the life out of me…"

"Anytime," he grinned and started to turn away again. Once more, he stopped at the door. "Okay, I think this is the only chance I'll have and I know it seems weird meeting this way but I've got to take a chance… would you like to go out sometime?"

My heart raced in my chest. "When does your shift end?"

His eyes were the exact colour of the man in the mirror and they glistened with excitement. "Half an hour."

"I'll wait for you," I stated firmly. This is so weird… I'm agreeing to a date with a man I met in a public washroom. This is not Edward. He's a stranger, not Edward…

"That would be amazing. We could go for ice cream?"

Okay… is someone fucking with me? Is there a camera somewhere? Or am I truly insane and beyond help… "Ice cream would be great." I chewed on my lip, unsure of whether to come out and ask him if he was my guardian angel. "It's Edward, right?"

I saw him suck in a breath and his eyes locked on mine. "No," he said in a whisper. "I'm Anthony."

Relief flooded over me… he's REAL! "Bella." I smiled widely as I held my hand out to shake. "I'm so glad we met. Do you believe in clairvoyance? I think I saw you coming into my life."

~ 0 ~

"There's a great place around the corner. It's best not to get into a car with a stranger from the washroom," he grinned as we walked. "Bella, can I ask you something?"

"Am I crazy?" I responded before he asked. Better to get it overwith. I shrugged and sighed simultaneously. "Well, you spend a lot of time around nutcases, right? What do you make of someone hallucinating… not just seeing people who aren't there, but conversing with them. No… not them… just him. One guy. The same hallucination… all the time. I didn't just talk to him, he spoke back. We formed a relationship. He got me through…" I paused as I struggled to hold back a sob. Not now… focus on happy things… "I've had a rough year. I fell in love with an imaginary friend who got me through the loss of my parents. I totally saw him as being as real as you. Only he wasn't solid. Just a reflection. That's the extent of my craziness. Still want to get ice cream with me?"

He stared at me with amazement.

"I've freaked you out. Okay. Look, you don't have to go through with this…"

"I'm sorry about your parents," he stated quietly.

That's all he took from that verbal ejaculate? "Thanks…"

"I was only going to ask you why you thought my name was Edward back there."

"Oh!" Oh jeez! The poor man… "Um… well…"

"Is that your friend's name?" he asked with hesitation. "I'm right, aren't I? You know what's odd? I'm a twin…"

"Don't tell me your brother's name is Edward…" Oh. My. God… The whole world is playing a joke on me. That has to be it.

Anthony's crooked grin – Edward's crooked grin – caught my eye as he held the door open for me. "It would have been, yeah. He died at birth. And the funny thing is… I don't think you're crazy Bella. I think we all need a way to get through difficult times. Whatever your brain put out there for you to grasp onto worked… didn't it? Did you feel better when you believed he was real?"

"I felt more alive than I've ever felt," I confessed quietly. We took a table to continue talking – ice cream forgotten for the moment.

"I feel whole when I talk to Edward," he confessed with a cheeky grin. "Yes, I do it too. So if you're crazy, then so am I. The thing is, at least I'm feeling then… Much of my life has been spent feeling empty. It's almost like when my twin died, he took our shared soul with him. Left me with the broken heart. God… I've never said this to anyone!" He laughed softly and his emerald eyes gleamed as he looked at me. "You're really easy to talk to, Bella."

"What's your favourite ice cream?"

Laughing at my sudden change of subject, he shrugged. "I'm still seeking a favourite. My intent is to try every flavour ever created and then make an educated decision. I figure I'm almost there."

Unbelievable… "Anthony, what if I told you I think you still share a soul – only it's you who has it and Edward is lingering through your soul?"

His eyes widened with interest. "I like the sound of that – go on."

"What if Edward is actually part of you? Or you, him? I think your souls were meant to be as one."

Watching him lower his eyes, I was afraid I'd hurt him somehow. Then he spoke in a soft, low voice. "Can I tell you something? There have been times throughout my life when… when I feel lost or whatever… and it's like… he comes to me. I feel whole then. I think of him as my guardian angel."

My breath caught on his words and I hung on them.

"Whether he's part of me, or just watching over me… I don't know. But I have a feeling – a very strong feeling – that he has orchestrated this meeting. I feel him now. And he's telling me to have the strawberry cheesecake ice cream."

My grin widened. "What is he telling you I should have?"

He lifted his chin, eyes closed while he thought about that… or listened to his angel. "He's telling me, beautiful lady, that you should have me."

I had never believed in the supernatural or even fate until I met Anthony/Edward. I took a leap of faith that day in the ice cream parlour… this man; the man who was a mirror image of the man in my mirror was either the biggest con artist ever to walk the Earth or he contained the soul of the man who saved me from my own void. My insanity made me sane; or my guardian angel brought me the love of my life. I chose to believe in my angel. I chose to allow myself to feel – to live – and to fall in love with the man who shared my angel with me.


A/N ~ My second entry in the Pick A Pic challenge, but also a challenge to myself to actually do a ONE-shot – a complete story short enough to not require multiple chapters, or hours of cutting. Yay! Mission accomplished. *does happy dance* If anyone would care to join me, I'm in the one in the corner flailing her arms and jumping. I look dangerous, but I'm not… honestly.
And, as always, thanks for reading. XX ~ SR