Walk the Line
"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line."
- Johnny Cash
"You don't look well, Bella."
She looks up at the mirror as she washes her hands, and doesn't meet her friend's concerned glance over her shoulder. "I think I've got a bug."
"Ha. A bed bug, maybe."
Bella tugs on her frizzy braid and doesn't respond. Her friend, Rosalie, sighs loudly. They walk out of the bathroom together, and go back to the table, where Bella pushes her food around her plate and ignores the stares of her loud friends who laugh raucously, hoping she'll catch the infectiousness and join in. They haven't heard her laugh in a long time.
Bella used to laugh all the time. Loudly, with her whole face. Her eyes would crinkle, and teeth would gleam against any light in the room. It was one of her things, her laughter. One of her things that made people turn their heads to watch her. One of her things that would make guys in the room pass over prettier women to go talk to her. She never held back. She had a full heart, ready to love.
She just never expected love would feel like this.
Ten months ago, her old father got a new neighbor. That was something unheard of in such a small town, where people are born to die. No one ever willingly moved to a poor logging town that had seen better days. They didn't even have a Super Wal-Mart, and according to the people who make those sorts of rules, you just weren't an American town without a Super Wal-Mart.
One day, she got a frantic call from this new neighbor who had been out watering his girlfriend's hydrangeas. He had seen her father collapse on his way back from getting the mail, and while he was responsive, he had called an ambulance, anyway. He was sorry to call like this, but she was the only person in her father's cell phone listed with ICE next to her name.
"I'm not sure if it's an emergency," he had hedged, probably hearing her panic start up. "Really. He keeps insisting he's okay."
She drove the three hours down to Forks, Washington, anyway. When she arrived at the small hospital, her dad was waiting on her so he could be released.
"Stupid," he had told her as they drove back to his house. "I slipped and fell and knocked myself silly. Edward – "
"Yeah. He saw me and called you, plus the ambulance. Can't tell you how embarrassing it is to be the Chief of Police and have to be carted to the damn doctor."
"Dad," she had chided. "He did a good thing. You could have really hurt yourself."
"Bah," he had grunted.
When they arrived, there was a still-cooling cherry pie on the steps, and a Get Well Soon balloon tied to the banister. She looked over to the next porch, and a man was sitting on a porch swing, drinking a melting glass of iced tea. He had waved at her, and she had waved back.
It started with showing up at her dad's more often in a month than she had in a year. He was suspicious, but he was a quiet man. Just like he solved criminal cases, he stewed over his daughter's behavior, deep in thought, rather than barreling in with guns blazing.
He heard her special brand of laughter trailing through the open windows between the houses, and he wondered just what was so funny about Edward Cullen.
"I grew up here," he explained to her one afternoon over checkers and Bob Dylan records. "This house belonged to my grandfather, and he left it for me… for when I was done traveling, I guess. King me."
She grudgingly handed over one of her red checkers. "I don't remember seeing you in high school."
"Well, for starters," he had said, getting up for the pitcher of lemonade growing warm and damp on his counter, "I think I'm a little older than you."
"I don't look thirty-one?"
She bit the inside of her cheek. "If you were a gangster in Al Capone's time, you'd be Babyface Cullen."
"That's not a nice thing to say to someone." He refilled her glass, anyway. "Tell me something about you."
"Well, I'm not thirty-one. Not even close. In fact, I think us meeting here might be indecent."
"Really? Well, luckily there's a man of the law next door to keep me in line."
"Twenty-three," she whispered a couple of 'King Me's later.
He made a face at her. "You're right. Indecent." The way he smiled at her was, anyway.
Bella rolls along the stop-and-go traffic of downtown Seattle, elbow against the door supporting the hand on her face. She fiddles with the radio for a second before turning it off completely. When the street clears, she listens to the gears change as she revs up.
Her phone beeps, and because she's the daughter of a policeman, she waits until the next red light before she answers it.
We haven't talked in a long time. Why?
Because, she thinks, throwing her phone into the passenger seat.
I dunno. Been busy.
Ok. Coming to Forks anytime soon?
Are you mad at me?
Oh. Ok. Call me when you get home.
"Hey," he breathes into the phone, and she hates the relief in his voice. Like he cares so much whether she'd actually call. "Long time no talk."
"Mm." She throws her keys down on the table in the foyer and moves into her small kitchen. "What's up?"
"Nothing. It's raining. Hear it?" The phone crackles as he moves it away from his ear, and apparently, towards the open window.
"Sounds like it's pouring," she remarks. "You should close that window. You'll catch your death."
"Nah. I like spying on your dad too much. He's funny when he thinks he's alone."
"That's disgusting." She moves the phone to her other shoulder, balancing it between there and her ear.
"What's all that noise?"
"Come to Forks and cook for me. I've been eating TV dinners all week."
"Don't you have a girlfriend for that sort of thing?"
"Yeah, but she's out of town."
Bella laughs. "I get it. I'm the back up."
"Whoa. What's all that bitterness? You know you're my favorite girl."
"What bitterness? I was just kidding." Right.
"Oh. Well, okay."
There's silence over the two lines for about thirty seconds, when Bella sighs. "Hey, Edward? I'm going to let you go."
"Oh. All right."
"Charlie taught me a new card game. It's fun. I think you'd like it."
"I know all of Charlie's card games."
"Not this one. He just learned it at the station. There's a rookie there now, and he keeps teaching the old-timers new tricks."
"Anyway, I guess what I'm saying… you should come up this weekend. I'll teach it to you."
"Thanks for the offer, but I've already got plans."
He sighs deeply. "As always."
"What's with the bitterness?" she mocks. Just a little.
"Nothing. I just thought we were friends."
"Friends talk. See each other. Don't treat each other like this."
"I'm not treating you like anything."
"That's my point. I was just calling to say I miss you, but I guess that was pointless." He pauses, and she almost hangs up. "I'm sorry for that night. You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah. I know you're sorry. That's my point." And with that, she does hang up.
She leans against the counter, holding her phone to her forehead for a few moments.
Behind her, the tea kettle screams.
She checks her email later that night. Facebook notifications, an enticing offer for pills that will make her penis grow AT LEAST ONE INCH!, and one from Edward. The subject is a frown face.
She wants to delete it. She curses his ability to use emoticons affectively and opens it.
This email has been sitting in my drafts for a couple weeks. I keep coming to edit it, or to stare at the delete button for a few minutes. But after tonight, I have to send this.
I shouldn't have done what I did. I had no right to take advantage of you when you were just trying to comfort me. I've been living my life like a vagabond for so long, that when you finally start to grow roots in someone, they grow and grow until they have to reach out and wrap around them.
I've been with Kate for years. She's good people, as you know. You know her, which is another reason why I think you're so angry at me. What I did not only put you in a weird position with me, but with her. People always ask me why we've never married, because – as you used remind me, often – I'm not exactly getting any younger. I think it's because those roots I talked about earlier, I've been afraid of letting them expand, so I just wrapped them so tightly around myself, they wouldn't allow anyone in.
But, I guess you're like a lumberjack, with a big ax. You chopped through all of those roots, and before I knew it, they were growing out instead of in. I chose the lumberjack analogy because you look pretty in your flannel shirts.
This email makes no sense, which is why I didn't want to send it. I spent years in school around the world, getting my PhD in Psychology, but I'm reticent to analyze myself. I guess, if I were my own patient, I'd say I was too scared of what I'd find.
But I know I'd find you there.
I miss you. Don't shut me out anymore. Forgive me.
She cries at her computer desk for almost an hour. She's tried so hard to forget everything she fell in love with, but it's all here in this email. His earnestness, his quiet musings, the beauty in his heart that he tried so hard to keep from the world.
She sends an email to her supervisor and tells her that she won't be in the office the next morning. Without wiping her tears, without using the bathroom, without even grabbing a drink, she picks up her keys and points her car east.
It's almost midnight when she pulls up at his house. The porch light is on, and so is the den light, shining through the side window. She knocks quietly, fixing her bangs.
She has to knock twice more before she hears the unlocking clacks behind the door. She holds her breath, and releases it loudly when Edward appears. He opens the screen door, his eyebrows in his hairline.
"Hi," she breathes. "Wow, I didn't realize how psychotic it was to answer your email in person until I got here."
He smiles at her, his surprise melting into warmth. He has his glasses on, and his hair is sticking up in every direction. His feet are bare, and his pajama pants have holes around the hems.
"Email does travel a lot faster than cars." He steps aside and welcomes her in. "Can I get you anything?"
"Anything caffeinated. And I really, really need to pee." She crosses her legs to punctuate this.
He points to the bathroom, even though she's used it thousands of times. As she washes her hands in his sink, she looks up at her reflection. There is color in her face again. What a difference twenty-four hours can make.
He hands her a Coke when she returns, and the popping of the can opening is loud in the silent kitchen.
"So," he says.
"Um. It's not raining anymore." She nervously takes a drink.
"Nope. Stopped a couple hours ago." He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. "Let's go sit."
She follows him into the den, and they both settle on opposite ends of the couch.
"I'm not mad at you because you kissed me," she blurts out before he can speak.
"Oh. No?" He rubs his eyebrows with his thumbs.
"I'm mad because I'm in love with you."
Silence. Then: "Oh. Oh."
"Yeah. So, there's that." She laughs nervously, and he gives a chuckle that sounds a bit like someone is strangling him and he's gasping for air. "If I were your patient, what would you tell me?"
He sets his glasses on the coffee table, and his eyes are so green. "Um. I guess I would say it's unhealthy to long for someone who's emotionally unavailable to you, and that you should stop seeing him and move on."
"Oh." Wow, what a punch to the gut.
"But," he amends, "since you're not a patient, I'd ask you to look around for a second and tell me what's different from the last time you were here."
She looks around as he asks, because it's so much easier than looking at him. Then it hits her. "That stupid yapping animal is gone!"
"Yeah, Kate's dog. Gone, and, um… so is she."
"I told her that I kissed you. And she, uh… she left."
"I'm sorry, Edward." Except she's really, really not.
He shrugs. "It was a couple months ago. I would have told you a lot sooner if… I had known." He scratches his head. "I really thought you were freaked out and disgusted. And thought we couldn't be friends anymore, because I obviously don't know what the word means."
"Oh. Um, no. That wasn't it."
"I wish you would have told me." His voice is soft.
"I couldn't. How hypocritical would that be? If you were still with Kate, it would be like encouraging you, after I stayed away because I realized things were getting… intense. And unfair to both of us."
She can hear the smile in his voice. "You were always the more adult one of the two of us."
She finally looks up. "Hey. Don't talk about my friend like that." She smoothes her hairs back. "So… what now?"
"I have no idea."
He smiles at her. "Okay."
They spend all night catching up. She wakes up on his couch the next morning with a quilt up to her chin.
The night Edward kissed Bella, he was crying. She walked in on him destroying a picture frame and stopped him from moving forward with two strong hands on his shoulders.
"What is it?" she demanded, shaking him. "Edward, look at me!"
"My dad," he finally choked out. "Alzheimer's."
"Jesus," she whispered, sitting him down on the couch. "Hey. Come here, okay?"
Even though it was sick, she relished having him against her like this. His arms wound around her waist tightly, and he rested his face on her chest, in that vague place between appropriate and inappropriate. She smoothed his hair back and shushed him every time he hiccoughed, and soon he was cursing, embarrassed and angry.
"Would you quit?" she raged, watching him pace back and forth. "I don't care. God. You're human. You're allowed to cry."
"Don't you understand? I'm a psychologist. I know exactly what's going to happen my father – fuck, I studied it exclusively in a graduate class. It's horrifying."
"You have every right to be angry."
"Good. I am. And don't use the shrink talk on me, Bella. God."
"Fine. You're being an asshole."
"I – " He whirled on her, and she watched the fight leave his eyes. "I'm sorry."
She looked at him for a moment, and then grabbed his hand. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
An hour later, armed with her dad's arsenal, they pulled up to the shooting range the local law enforcement used for practice.
"I've never shot a gun," Edward protested as she climbed out of her truck.
"Good. Then you don't know how gratifying it is to just shoot the shit out of something. It's like your heartbeat counts the seconds between the bullets firing."
He was dubious, but she gave him a quick lesson in handling a firearm, and soon he was shooting her dad's .38 special like a pro. Well, not really a pro – he never once hit the bull's-eye – but he was enjoying himself.
By the time they got back to his house, he was smiling and cracking jokes. He was back to himself – at least she thought he was, until he reached for her shoulders and pulled her in for a kiss.
She didn't realize she was in love with him until that moment, but it hit her so hard it bowled her backwards. She fell against his counter, and he kept going until she came against his fingers twenty minutes later.
She rested her sweaty forehead against his heaving chest until they heard the keys in the door.
She couldn't even look at Kate as she ran out of the house. She was almost relieved that she had arrived, because she would have slept with him. Besides, the woman he had chosen to comfort him for better or worse, practically, was home. She probably had the right words and touches, and wouldn't have to take him to a shooting range to get through to him.
She didn't know until months later, over a game of cards after an email and a long drive that he never told Kate about his father's diagnosis.
"As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness, I have no proof that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line."
"Why don't you tell me some of your sickest cases, and I'll try to guess who they are."
Edward scoffs over the phone. She can almost feel his offense. "I can't do that."
"Come on, just a couple. You don't have to tell me if I'm right."
"I could lose my license to practice."
"I wouldn't tell."
"Fine." He sighs. "Well, there's one that's really sad."
She leans against the back of her couch, running her hand over the kitten purring in her lap. She adopted him recently, on a whim. "Go ahead."
"There's this girl."
"She's in love with this guy who's just… he's just, really, really crazy about her."
"This doesn't sound sad."
"Oh, it is. Just listen."
"Get to the good part!"
"She won't let him kiss her."
She screeches into the phone. "Shut up, Edward!"
"It's tragic. He walks around with blue balls all the time."
"You're an asshole."
She wakes up in the middle of the night on his couch. Rain is beating against the roof, and she can't stop thinking about how warm his body probably is underneath his down comforter.
She isn't exactly sure why she keeps rebuffing his not-so-subtle attempts to ease her into a relationship. She guesses it has something to do with how she's felt all these months. She didn't fall easily into love – she crashed, hard, against a rough surface, without anyone picking her back up and telling her it was okay. Sure, now, he's pretty forthcoming with his feelings – how he's felt all along, really – but it doesn't help entirely.
She stretches herself off the couch, and before she loses her nerve, she pads her way up the stairs. When his door creaks as she opens it, she catches a glimpse of his bare back before he rolls towards the noise. He fumbles for his glasses and slides them up his nose.
"Bella?" His voice is rough. "Everything okay?"
She casually strolls over to his bed, like her heart isn't about to fall out of her mouth. "I'm cold," she states, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Okay." He lifts the corner of his covers. She slides in, and with a lot of fake groaning and protests, she ends up against his warm chest.
She can hear the soft swishes of his heart, and she's never felt closer to it.
When he wakes up the next morning, he stirs her into wakefulness. She watches through sleepy eyes as he stumbles towards the shower. She watches with more alert eyes as he dresses in his three-piece suit – who wears a vest anymore? Edward, apparently – and when he bends down, he kisses her forehead.
"I love you," he whispers against her hair.
"Love you," she murmurs back, already settling back into sheets.
When he gets home from work that day, she greets him with a kiss that leaves dinner cold on the table for hours.
And as he's tracing the shadows the curtains make on her skin the next sunrise, he's taught her a thing or two about forgiveness. It's easier when there's laughter. When there's enough love to fill a small bedroom, to spill out the window and meet the sun.
And sometimes, it's better together.
so, this was really nothing. Just something to help with writer's block. It's choppy and silly and has no real point, but I missed you all, and I missed Microsoft word.
Let me know what you think of this? xoxo
Johnny Cash wrote and sang "I walk the line." If you haven't heard it, you're a silly, silly person.