Ugly Money and Stone Faces
My mother is buried in the Forks mud. We were in the wrong place when the earth began to shiver and shake on that fateful day in 1989. I spent days trapped between slabs of concrete. I have a bank account filled with ugly money to remind me. Ugly apology money given to me by the government. For spending two days in a smashed car next to my dead mother.
That was real. That was my story. The one that I decided I wasn't going to carry around with me anymore.
But scars don't leave. By definition.
I have always loved words. Words on paper. The beautiful ones. Even the ugly ones.
These are a different kind of words. They run across the bottom of the television screen in capital letters. Words and numbers.
I see them but I can't feel them.
Until I can. Until they crawl all over my skin and shatter my bones.
I watch the screen. I watch the words that can't be real. Because it is my story. Not her story. The words must be wrong.
I watch the running words until there are faces to go along with them. Newscasters with stone faces. But their eyes betray them. Their eyes give them away. The gravity of what has happened lingers there.
I'm trying to listen to what they are saying but I can't hear. I can't hear over the screaming.
I see the words in singular flashes.
Two thousand and ten.
Magnitude seven point zero.
My vision goes cloudy as I stare at the TV. I close my eyes and I picture her in her crib. Her little hands. Her wiggly body. Her hair that sits in tight curls against her head. Her big brown eyes that stare and stare.
Breathe. Just breathe.
I try to keep her this way. The way she looked last May when I was there. I try to hold this image of her. But it won't stay.
And the things I see. Nobody deserves to die that way. Nobody. Not thieves or liars. Not the greedy or the selfish. Not even my mother.
Certainly not an innocent child.
My throat is raw and aching. The screaming won't stop. It won't stop.
And it's coming from me.
Edward's name echoes in my ears. As if he could save her.
I know he's here. But I'm not sure where here is. I squeeze my eyes shut again and again. And when I open them, I'm in the living room. Our living room.
The air smells like copper. The jackhammers pound in my ears.
And I can't breathe.
I stare at the sturdy, motionless walls. Only mildly comforted that my eyes are telling me a different story than my ears. Until the walls and the furniture are falling to dust. In one swift motion, everything that is solid is nothing but sand.
Everything real is slipping though my fingertips.
There are no longer any walls, only the insides of a smashed car. Tangled metal and torn upholstery.
And I can smell it. Blood and cheap perfume.
But I can feel the living room carpet under my feet. Between my toes.
Breathe breathe breathe. The sound of his voice is the only thing tying me to this house.
Not the only thing.
My hands rest on my stomach. I am not nine years old.
And I can't breathe.
My mind is bouncing back and forth between the two of them. My babies.
One baby whose life is tenuous. In so many ways. I feel my heart racing away. Because she could be trapped. And maybe nobody is looking for her.
She could be dead.
I scream the thought away.
Another baby who deserves so much more than to be living inside this screaming body. This body that is falling to pieces.
And it hits me. I am responsible for another life. I alone am endangering the life that is growing inside of me.
And there's not enough air in the world.
I can't breathe.
And for every moment, however fleeting, that I've convinced myself that there might be something greater out there, a higher power, this is the moment when I know I'm wrong. That there is nothing. Because there is no way that God would shake the earth, crumble buildings and steal the lives of people who are already suffering the way that the people of Haiti are suffering.
Edward's voice lilts in and out, and his hands are everywhere.
I can't breathe.
My feet are tingling and my hands are tingling and I can't fucking breathe. I can't breathe.
I feel the earth slipping away.
I'm hyperventilating. I know this. But I can't stop it. And even the thought of the little one inside of me doesn't stop it.
The helplessness that I thought I had banished is everywhere. As my heart races away.
This is what it feels like. To have my whole life hanging in front of me. Out of my reach.
My hands are too cold. Or too hot. Edward's own hands wrap around mine. And I can feel it. His worry. And not just for me.
I'm trying to tell him. I can't breathe. But there are no words.
There is a steady pounding. Thud. Thud. Thud. It is the only sound louder than my beating heart.
My eyes focus on the front door.
I can feel Edward's reluctance to let go of me. But I can't listen to the pounding noise any longer. I ball my hands into fists. Giving him no choice.
I try to clear my vision. I blink the fog away.
A man stands on our doorstep. Not just a man. A police officer. A familiar face. From more than a decade ago.
The last time he stood there, in that very spot, he was the bearer of bad news.
When I was the girl who couldn't cry. Or feel. Or love.
And right now, I want to be that girl. That vacant girl.
But I'm not. This is real. And all of this is part of being real. Alive.
The policeman stands on the porch. In the uniform that hasn't changed. The way he looks at me, with those concerned eyes, makes me forget and remember and somehow calms me down. He knows us too. He remembers.
I can almost breathe.
Until I start to wonder what he's doing here. And I want to scream it. Why are you here?
I try to listen to his voice. I try to hear the words.
He's here out of courtesy. Protocol. For a dropped 911 call. He's not here because someone died.
But the reason for his presence doesn't change anything. It doesn't change what happened. An act of God. Whatever that means.
Breathe. Damn it. Breathe.
I don't hear the rest. I don't see the rest.
I'm in the ER. Edward's ER.
And when I can finally breathe again, when I can hear our baby's steady heartbeat, I feel like a failure. Like I've already failed as a mother. Like I've failed them both.
Some pregnant women are prone to hyperventilating. This is what they tell me.
This is how they explain it to me. Like it's nothing. Like I'm normal.
Edward doesn't leave my side. The way he looks at me makes my heart hurt. For putting him through this.
I'm calm. I breathe breathe breathe.
Until Carlisle walks through the door. The man who was once my father. The same man who has been a shadow of a father to my husband.
Edward doesn't speak. Doesn't ask him what he's doing here. He won't even look at him. He sits on the edge of my hospital bed, with his back to his father. His eyes don't leave me.
"I'm glad the baby is fine." The words come from Carlisle's lips. I watch his face. The same face that sat at our kitchen table on a Tuesday.
The rage emanates off of me. "Fuck you."
He stares at me with wide eyes. "Bella I only care about your..."
"You don't get to care now!"
I can see my words prickle all over his skin. And he's just a man. He's just a man who's managed to fuck up everything that matters. And I don't want to care.
It's the first time I've ever seen him defeated. His blue eyes are piercing. Raw with emotion. "I suppose that's fair, but it doesn't make it true."
"She doesn't need any more stress right now, Dad. Just go. Please."
Carlisle stands with his feet firmly planted in place. "I'm sorry. For so many things. I'm sorry."
I watch Edward's face. I watch the apology settle in.
Carlisle turns and walks slowly to the door, pausing with his hand on the handle. "For the record, I'm not going anywhere."
Gone from the room, but not from our lives, he means it. And I feel inexplicably lighter.
The nurse returns to do a sonogram. As a precaution.
She's calm and cheerful. Her flamingo pink lipstick is smeared on her two front teeth, and I want to shake her. Don't you know what's happening in the world right now?
Maybe she knows, maybe she doesn't. She's sturdy. She looks like the kind of woman that would never fall to pieces. The kind of woman that would never hyperventilate.
She slathers the cool, clear gel over my round little belly. And I breathe.
"Have you found out what you're having, Mrs. Cullen?"
I'm not used to that name. The one that belongs to Esme.
Edward answers for me. "No, Bella wants to be surprised. We decided to be surprised." I watch Edward's face instead of the monitor. His worry lines. His tired eyes. His wild hair.
I listen to the steady heartbeat. And breathing has never felt so good.
"Baby is awake, that's for sure." The nurse's voice is filled with smiles as she moves the device all over my belly.
I watch Edward's lips curl up as he watches our baby on the monitor. And I can see it on his face.
I turn to the black and white screen. Squinting, trying to discern what he sees. Or doesn't see.
And maybe I know too. Maybe I've known for a while. His fingers curl around mine. He squeezes my hand twice.
I turn back to him. "Maybe I want to know a little bit."
He almost smiles. "Are you sure?"
I can only nod.
He presses his lips right up to my ear. "She's a girl. And she's perfect."
The tears fall, loose and quiet.
They say that sorrow is necessary to truly appreciate joy. I used to believe that. I don't know what I believe anymore. I don't know what's real or true or certain. Maybe nothing.
But that can't be true. Because she is real. And ours.
Edward's lips trail all over my face. I and love and you.
And I try to stay present. I try to appreciate this moment. Because we won't get it back. And this is a moment I have control over.
The nurse leaves us be.
A girl. Edward's eyes are my eyes. Impossibly happy. Impossibly lost.
My eyes start to droop as I listen to the humming of the hospital.
My doctor wants to monitor the baby for a couple of hours before I can go home.
I can feel the bed shift moments before Edward places a warm kiss on my forehead. A second over my belly. A third over my heart. A third.
"Sleep for a bit."
I want to argue but we've been here for hours and I'm tired. So very tired.
Nurses come in and out of the room. Fussing over me. And I have a feeling that it has less to do with me and more to do with the fact that I'm Dr. Cullen's wife. I don't mind. Let them fuss.
Edward is on his phone.
I let sleep take me away.
I'm in an airport. I walk up to the gate. Without a ticket. Without taking my shoes off. And this is how I know it's a dream, but I don't care. Because I need to know who I'm waiting for. I need to know.
I shuffle from foot to foot. Uncomfortable and heavy. When I look down, I can't see my feet. My shoes. My hands rest on my swollen belly.
I watch the gate and I wait.
People start to file out, weary and loaded with carry ons.
I don't know who I'm waiting for. But my heart knows. It's flying away.
I see his hair over the crowd. His unruly hair that is only him. But there is someone else. In his arms. Someone small. And dark. And beautiful.
And then I'm running. My entire body is weightless. As my feet fly over the ground.
Until they're in my arms.
It's a good dream. An impossible one. A cruel one.
I'm ready to wake up now. I'm ready to wake up.
But dreams don't work that way.
I want to will it to be true. I want to will it away.
The rest is black. Grey. White. Blinding light.
Minutes. Hours. I don't know.
I lie still. Eyes closed.
I'm awake. But I'm not ready to open my eyes and face what's out there.
It takes me a moment to remember. Everything that has happened.
I can hear Edward's voice. Carlisle's too. They're shouting in whispers. Arguing. But not with each other. They're irritating the shit out of my doctor, who by the sound of it, thinks I'm fine to go home.
Let them argue. I don't know if I can go home. I don't know if I can walk through that door and stand in that living room.
I don't know if she's okay.
I'm afraid of what knowing will do to me.
My doctor leaves the room, leaving the two of them to commiserate and unfairly question her competency.
I watch them. It's a relief to see Edward and Carlisle speaking to one another. To see them as a united front. Even if they are being overly cautious. Overprotective.
Carlisle's eyes settle on mine, and he quietly slips out of the room.
Edward is back at my side. His hands taking inventory.
I run my thumb over the crease between his eyes. He closes them. Holding his breath.
"Edward, what is it?"
He lets out a slow breath. "I was so afraid."
I'm still afraid.
And he is too. I can see it, even with his eyes closed.
"Take me home?"
His lashes flutter before he looks up at me. Wide eyed and searching.
And so we go home. It's late. We sit in the driveway.
"Bella, it's bad. It's really bad."
"And it could be a while before we hear anything."
I don't want to accept this. I don't have a choice.
We walk through the front door and there is only one room I want to be in right now.
He follows me up the stairs. Up to the little room. The room with two cribs. And walls that are too yellow for two little girls.
And it doesn't matter if this is more than I deserve. Because it's what she deserves.
This impossible life.
I sit in the chair in the corner. He brushes the hair from my face.
"Come to bed, Bella."
"I just need a minute."
He blinks twice. "Alright."
I sit in the dark room.
Eyes closed. I just breathe.
Until he's scooping me up. Trying not to wake me. Tucking me in to our bed.
Draped in heavy quilts, I have never felt this desperate.
I paw at him until he's holding me tight. His warm lips run over my face.
He covers my hands as I try to undress him. "Bella, sleep."
Of all of the things I need right now, sleep is at the bottom of the list. The very bottom.
I undress myself. Without any help.
He watches me. And I don't know what he's looking for. And if he's wondering if I'm okay, I'm not. And if he's being honest with himself, neither is he.
I feel selfish for being in this warm bed and this warm house and thinking that we are the ones who aren't okay.
And I have never needed him more.
I let the blankets fall as I sit up in our bed. Searching his tired eyes. Searching for something that will save me. Save her. Save us.
He takes in my naked body. A shiver runs up my spine. His hands don't wander. I just want him to touch me. I need to feel those hands.
He tries to pull the blankets up over me. But I don't let him.
On my knees, I straddle his fully clothed hips, my hands finding purchase on his naked chest.
My growing belly keeping me upright. Keeping me front flattening my body to his and smothering him with kisses.
He remains still as I rub against him.
His eyes are fire. His hands grip my hips. Digging into my flesh. And just when I think he's giving me what I want, he's lifting me off of him.
I turn away, lying on my side.
But I don't have time to wallow. Because he's right there. Every inch of the hot skin against my back. I can feel his heavy breaths, his heaving chest.
His fingertips trail down my arm, covering me in goose bumps. As he quickly rids himself of his sleep pants.
His knee slides between my legs. Making his intentions clear.
And his hands are everywhere. And his lips are everywhere.
When I turn my head to kiss him, he's right there. Teasing me with his hips. And as I taste his lips, his tongue, he's filling me.
And when I gasp into his mouth, he stills. "Are you uncomfortable?"
"No." No, no, no.
For the longest time he doesn't move. And neither do I.
As our hands come together, fingers intertwined, he sets the pace. He tortures me with his body and his words. Whispering into my ear, gently sucking the skin along my neck.
It's almost too much.
I hold his hand tight, my other hand fisting the bed sheets.
I breathe. Heavy and shallow.
"Let go, Bella."
Let go. As if the sound of his voice can will it into reality.
"I don't know how." And it's true.
I just want to feel. Or maybe I want to be numb. I want both.
Heat radiates from my skin. From his mouth. "I can't ever lose you." And I know it's true.
Reverent hands roam my body. Making everything white hot. Like wildfire.
And for that blissful moment when I'm standing at the edge, on tip toes, poised to fall over, I forget everything. Everything.
Until I'm falling. Falling so fast.
Lost to the world.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
And it's good, so good. As he lets go too. Mine and fierce and aching.
Until everything is rushing back. Staring me in the face. Making my body shake for entirely different reasons.
Burying me under a pile of rubble.
He gives me three kisses. One. Two. Three.
And I want to beg him not to move.
Don't ever let go. And he knows.
His strong arms and legs wrapping me up. And I don't know which one of us needs it more. We stay like this. Tangled and white hot.
Until it's no longer Tuesday.
The days pass slowly. Without word. I don't leave the house. I check my phone a hundred times a day.
It's worse, far worse than I ever imagined it could be. The devastation. The despair. People sleeping in the streets. The aftershocks continue to terrorize the people who live there. The ones who survived.
They are estimating that hundreds of thousands of people are dead. I have no concept of what hundreds of thousands of people look like.
But if I could trade them for one life, I would do it. The guilt of this thought weighs on my chest. Makes me wonder about the content of my character.
I watch the news. For days.
I sit on the couch in the living room with the remote in my hand. Edward is watching me. I can feel it. I can't look at him. Because maybe he can see the thoughts that sit behind my eyes.
"You need to stop watching this."
He covers the remote with his hand and I let him. I let him take it from me. I look away as he turns it off.
I stare at the cold glass of the window, blurring the stars that sit beyond it. So far beyond that I can see things that may no longer exist.
I don't pretend to understand the science behind the stars. Light years. Plasma held together by gravity.
Edward told me once that stars burn out, die, long before they disappear from our night sky. It seems tragic that something that exists for millions, perhaps billions of years would die out at all.
But not as tragic as a baby girl who was never given a chance. To live.
Edward and I sit in silence on the couch. For too long.
I close my eyes. I tell myself not to go there. But hundreds of thousands of people are dead. And when I close my eyes, I see them.
"I think I need to talk to someone." I don't even recognize the sound of my own voice.
I can hear the tap of the remote as he sets it on the coffee table. His hand tangles with mine. "Okay."
I make dinner. I do the only normal thing I can think of.
Edward's on the phone with his father. They've been speaking several times a day. I think.
I hear heavy footsteps coming down the stairs. I turn just in time to see Edward barreling into the kitchen.
And the look on his face. Is enough to ruin me. Forever and ever.
Those hands on my stone face. I try to remember if I've ever seen him cry.
His voice is shaky and thick with emotion. And I know what he's going to say. But I need to hear it. I need to hear the words.
And when I hear them, when they fall from his lips, I think my heart might give out.
"She's fine. She's alive and she's fine."
Happy tears streak down his face.
And in this moment, it doesn't matter if she's ours. It doesn't matter, the country or the crib. All that matters is that she is one of the lucky ones.
To Susan, you're the prettiest beta around. I apologize for giving you carpel tunnel. That fragment alert on Word is persistent. One day I'll agree to finish a sentence.
To Kimberley, thanks for reading this at 5:00 am. Is it dawn yet?
I was overwhelmed by the response to the last chapter. Like really fucking overwhelmed. Also, I have mad respect for authors who do regular review replies.
Many of you figured out what was happening and I love that you read so closely. I love that you care so much about these characters.
I f-word love you guys, okay? *winks at Nic*
See you in a couple of weeks.