Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to SMeyer
A/N: Thank you to Spanglemaker9 and Cher for their amazing support. I am extremely lucky to call them both friend.
To the readers, I thank you for your patience.
Edward sat across from me in a white, wicker lawn chair while resting his elbows on his knees. I watched as he traced the condensation on his glass of lemonade, shyly glancing at me through his lowered lashes.
Mrs. Cullen had quickly left us as soon as our glasses had been poured, remarking how she forgot something that needed her attention in the house. Of course I knew that was a polite way of giving Edward and me some privacy, but that didn't mean we would be without a chaperone. I could feel eyes watching us from the tall windows of the grand house, looming behind me, most likely Mrs. Cullen. After all, I was unmarried.
Edward ran a finger around the lip of his glass one time before he lifted it to take a sip of his drink. My eyes followed his movements, finding each step mesmerizing as the tall glass touched his mouth and the sweetened, cloudy liquid passed between his lips. Now that I was here, I didn't know how to begin. All those things that I imagined us talking about seemed so frivolous, I thought as I observed him.
I glanced up, thinking that I should start with an apology, but found myself being studied just as intently, which struck me dumb.
Some delicious thrill ran through my body. I didn't know what it meant, this feeling of wanting to be sick, and at the same time feeling as if I had the ability to soar through the clouds like the birds in the cobalt sky above us.
A slow smile spread across Edward's face as he continued to match my studious gaze. A connection that I had felt towards him in our past few meetings grew within its small cocoon inside of me. This warmth of protection I felt towards him was more than I had ever felt for anyone else I had met, and I still didn't know a lot about him.
Knowing that I had to say something, anything as I was the one who had sought him, I blurted the first thing that came to mind:
"Have you read anything by Mark Twain?"
Edward lowered his glass, revealing a pleased smile.
"Yes…yes, I have. I'm reading The Prince and the Pauper."
Relived that I managed to say the right thing, I leaned towards him and continued to ask him question after question about the book, which led to more questions about other safe topics. In turn, he asked me questions about my life. When I started with brief answers, he'd questioned me more, wanting details, such as the exact view from my bedroom window to the color ink I used to write my letters. Did I prefer apricot preserves or butter for my toast in the morning? How did I take my tea?
All little details, perhaps silly to most, except that the look on his face and his demeanor told me that it meant something to him, that I held his interest. Encouraged, I continued with my descriptions until conversation turned towards my plans with my aunt. A veil of melancholy lowered over his features, which brought a halt to my words.
Silently, Edward leaned back in his chair, looking dejected. I couldn't help but feel responsible for his mood as it was my words that created his unhappiness.
Thinking over what I had said, a thought came to mind. Something that made me nervous to ask, but something that might answer some of the more burning questions I had about Edward's life.
"Edward…do you ever leave this place?"
"I…sometimes, but not that far," he responded in a quiet voice, looking down at his now empty glass with disgust.
"I've never seen you in town…" I commented but stopped as Edward seemed to retreat even further into himself.
The depressive tension in his body was palatable from where I sat. I reached out to touch his hand, but he flinched backwards out of reach.
"Please don't touch me!"
Remembering myself, I sat back and clasped my hands in my lap. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean, that was forward of me. I'm sorry," I apologized, worried that I had truly upset him and would be promptly asked to leave and never welcomed back.
"No…no, don't," he said shaking his head, looking at me with such sadness. "We can't touch…I can't touch you. I would hurt you and I don't think I could bare that."
"How?" I asked him, wanting to know his truth.
He took a deep breath and then returned his gaze to mine. I tried to show him that I was sincere. Edward shrugged his shoulders once and then quietly rose from his chair asking me to follow him with an acquiescent look. I quickly got up and followed his tall form into the larger area of the garden towards the small glass building.
Edward said nothing as his long strides caused me to run after him, which posed as a challenge in my skirts. He reached the structure that looked as if it was stuffed with leaves from the outside and unlocked the door, pulling it towards him almost violently. He stared intently at the ground practically vibrating with darker emotions, waiting for me to approach and precede him into the building,
I wanted to touch him in reassurance, to offer him comfort for what he was feeling. It hurt me to see him filled with such self-hatred.
"Go inside," he ordered in a low voice, waving his hand towards the open doorway.
Instead of pressing him, I did as he asked and stepped through the wooden frame into the warm room.
There were long tables against each glass-paneled wall filled with plants, flowers, and fruits that I had never seen before. I slowly walked along the narrow pathway between the tables to get a better look at some of them, especially the flowers. I came upon one that had unique petals that spread outwards like a child's drawing of a star with brown spots all over it. As I drew closer, I heard the door shut and jumped in fright.
"Don't touch that!"
Turning, I saw Edward leaning against the door several feet away, watching me.
"Why did you bring me here? What does this place have to do with you?" I asked, immediately feeling the moist heat press on me.
"This is what I am," he said.
"I don't understand."
"My mother and father tried to have children for a long time, but were unable to. Father was, still is a brilliant doctor and tried to find ways of bringing a healthy child to term. After my mother's fifth loss, she became very sick. Father treated her with all that modern medicine had to offer, but nothing worked. Instead he turned to a friend of his that was a botanist that suggested making teas that involved the use of different flowers and roots. It was one of those teas that helped her."
I listened to his voice as it started at a mere whisper and built with emotions from anger to worry. Everything that he told me was important, but it didn't complete the answer I was seeking. I opened my mouth to question, but was stopped as he continued.
"Father left the hospital where he was working and went to study with the botanist that had helped Mother. They had spent a few years together, my father as an assistant, working with plants, discovering their many uses from healing properties to the most deadly of poisons. They created methods of healing physical wounds and illnesses that had stumped doctors for years. When they tried to share their findings, they were rejected. The medical board at his hospital told him that his research was that of a mad man."
An image of Edward's face came to memory from the last time we saw each other. His answer was cryptic when I had asked him what he was. I realized he wasn't trying to be, but answered in the only way that he knew how without giving in to his sadness.
"I'm sorry," was all I could offer in the face of the deep pain that he radiated.
He shook his head in refusal of my apology. "No…this wasn't your fault. People are scared of what they do not understand. My father's work was not of a man without his senses, but of a man who believed that there could be more than one way to heal the sick. But still…I'm sure there are those that think what he did was ungodly and he got what he deserved in the form of his son."
"What? How can you think that?" I exclaimed, seeing that he believed in that theory.
Edward raised his hand in request for my silence.
"My parents and the botanist left the East and moved to this area of the West to get away from the people who condemned them, to start anew. They settled here in this place and added onto it, including the wall around the garden about twenty-one years ago. The botanist stayed with my parents for a few months before departing to the Orient, as he wanted to explore different plants. Father almost left with him, but found that my mother was pregnant. Mother was determined to have a healthy baby, and with Father's knowledge of plants, he helped to supplement her needs with different teas and foods. She was able to carry the baby to term. When the baby, when I was born, they were happy. Father thought that he beat the traditional method of medicine and had the ultimate proof that botany had its place within it, but it wasn't long before my parents noticed that something was wrong with me."
"Your touch?" I tentatively asked.
He nodded his head but kept his eyes averted. "Yes. I was told that a maid was bathing me when I was about one year, and I burned her- nothing as bad as Michael Newton's, but definite burns. Father worked on a cure for me and was able to control it for awhile with special tonics, but as I got older, it progressed…soon, no one could touch me without getting hurt. Everyone I touched would burn and know only pain..." he trailed off, seemingly ending his story.
I waited to see if he would continue, but mostly I waited to see if I would wake from this strange story that felt like it belonged in a book of fairy tales. When neither happened, I stepped forward towards Edward who refused to look at me. As I came closer with slow steps as if I were approaching a wild animal, he opened the door and moved against the wood table, pressing his body as far away from me as possible. I stopped at the open doorway and watched his tormented features, half in shadow from the large plants next to him, waiting for an acknowledgement.
He flinched as I said his name, looking as if he wished me far away from here. My heart skipped with dread in my chest from his rejection. I took another step out of the small greenhouse and onto the grass, meaning to give him what he wanted.
Except, I stopped.
My heart knew of something magical and perfectly right in this place. I didn't want to have to leave it or Edward.
"I can see that you don't want me here, but please let me say this, and I will go," I said, unable to look at him for fear that I would freeze. "I don't think you are to blame for anything. I don't think your mother regrets having you in her life…I don't regret having you in my life. My life feels like a map that I'm supposed to follow, laid out for me by my mother, my father, and the rest of this town. The only hope I had that things might be different would be to continue my education, but even that has limitations. W-with you here, in the little time we've spent together, I felt like I mattered as a person and not some expectation of all the others."
At this I heard Edward gasp in surprise, but I ignored it, needing to finish.
"Even when I saw what happened to Michael, I knew that you didn't do it out of malice. I knew that it wasn't something that defined you as a person. I could see that you were more. I don't care about your condition. I don't think of you as some poison or a punishment for your father's work. I think of you as my friend, my only true friend."
I couldn't continue to talk or properly take breath with the violence of my sobs. My heart was free of its words that had been entrapped within it, but it was also breaking into thousands of pieces. I leaned against the door frame to catch my breath, as my corset was constricting my body and making me feel faint. If it wasn't for such a restriction, I don't think I would have been around to hear Edward as he revealed another part of himself.
"Years ago, Father was expecting a package that was being delivered at the post office in town. I begged him to let me go with him. Of course, I stayed in the carriage when we arrived in town. It was a good thing, too, as I had been privy to the sight of the beautiful girl that came skipping along the side of the road, coming into town. She was all ruffles and bows and happiness. She was singing, but I couldn't tell you what the song was about as it was her that caught my attention. I always thought my mother was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen, but this girl was breathtaking."
Keeping my back to him, I stood listening completely transfixed to his story, his voice, him as he talked about his fascination with a girl. A surge of jealousy entered my veins, not liking that he could be speaking about another, but hope drifted inside me, too. There were moments when I wasn't being watched by the town that I gave into my dreams, skipped down the road and sang…could I be that girl that Edward was describing?
Oh, please let me be that girl.
"…she stopped skipping and singing as soon as she came close to the first building on Main Street. The joy left her face, her song stopped, and her movements became stiff. I remember feeling that she knew something of what I felt as I watched her continue to walk, passing the carriage and into the Sheriff's office. I felt that she knew what it meant to have to hide what you really were in order to belong in the world."
I turned around to find Edward facing me, standing a few steps away from me, and holding onto the wooden table behind him as if restraining himself from some violent action. His eyes were downcast, as if afraid to look at me.
"I do know," I whispered.
"I know," he whispered back. "Every time I saw you, I knew that you understood what it meant to have to hide; to live only a half-life and to be alone."
He tentatively raised his eyes to mine, shielding nothing of his thoughts or emotions. His heart was all there for me to see.
"I saw you and dreamt of us, together and happy."
Tears flowed steadily down my cheeks, burning the already sensitive skin, reminding me that I was present here and now. My heart felt like it was going to fly out of my chest it was beating so hard with happiness. Edward stood before me as if he were stripped bare with no hidden agenda ready to use against me to do his selfish will as I had grown up with in the Swan household. No one had ever given me such a gift of honesty or choice.
"I don't want you to go, but if this is too much," Edward gestured towards himself and then the plants around him, wet trails flowing down his cheeks. "I will understand. This life is not easy…but if you say yes, I'll do anything to make you happy."
"Thank you…thank you, Edward," I told him with a smile. His words gave me joy, and I couldn't help but laugh with the lightness of it that I felt in every inch of my body.
His expression was hopeful as he saw my reaction. I stepped towards him and placed my hand near his arm, wanting so badly to touch him.
His brows drew up in confusion as he looked down at me, standing motionless as if he dare not take a breath. "Why?" he asked.
"Because…you know me," I whispered, placing my hand on the soft, striped cloth that covered his arm.