A/N: As always, a huge thanks to cejsmom for prereading and Kristina for working her beta magic!
Below you'll find the lyrics to the song that started it all - I actually wish I could make it required listening lol. City & Colour is completely amazing and if you don't know the song, go check it out. I promise you won't regret it ;)
Well I've seen a palace in London; I've seen a castle in Wales.
But I'd rather wake up beside you and breathe that old familiar smell.
I never thought you could leave me, I figured I was the one.
But I understand your sadness, so I guess I should just hold my tongue.
I know that we're taking chances; you told me life was a risk.
I just have one last question: will it be my heart, or will it be his?
- City & Colour, Comin' Home
When my eyes lock with Garrett's from across the room, I feel my breath catch in my throat. And when I notice the intensity of which he's watching me as I enter, I find myself frozen in the doorway for a moment. Only then does it really hit me – the reason why I'm here and the words I'm about to say, the ones that will forever change us both. I begin to force my feet forward, taking one small hesitant step, and then another and another until I'm close enough to reach out and brush my fingers along the fabric of his suit jacket. I take a deep breath and the smell of him fills me, comforts me.
"Hi," I breathe softly, my voice so small it sounds like it's drifting in through the vents above us.
He wraps his fingers around mine, his hands warm and soft. "Hey," he whispers back. He watches me, eyes full of unwavering adoration.
"You don't look all that surprised to see me," I note quietly, my lips twitching with the ghost of a smile. "Am I really that predictable?"
"No," he says softly, and he runs his fingers down the skin of my cheek. "Just the opposite, actually."
And I just look up at him, tears burning my eyes. I place my hand over top of his and pull it down, squeezing it as I hold it between us. He shivers, like I'm able to convey everything I'm feeling with just a single touch. And oh, how I hope he feels it. How I hope he knows.
"You're really sure about this?" he asks, his eyes searching my face for the slightest hint of hesitation.
"Yes." I look down as I gather myself, and when I look back up to meet his eyes I can feel the resolve swelling in my chest. "I'm sure."
I know what his eyes say. Not yet, he's pleading. Don't do this.
Let's live like this just a little bit longer.
But it's time to take that next step.
And he knows exactly what my eyes are saying too.
I'm so sorry.
Garrett lets out a long breath, and it's like he's struggling to hold on to the air around him, determined to keep the floor beneath his feet.
"So you're really choosing him, then?" he asks, and though he tries so hard to mask it, bitterness seeps into his voice.
I shake my head. "No, Garrett. I'm choosing me."
He frowns in disbelief. "He will never be good enough for you."
"And I'll never be good enough for you," I reply sadly.
He drops my hand and shakes his head. "Don't pretend like you're doing me a favor." His voice has a bite to it that I'm not used to hearing. He swallows hard and looks to the side, and I see the tears gathering in his eyes and I catch a glimpse of the pain he's trying so hard to disguise. And I can see again how he flounders, grasping onto the emptiness of the room again to keep him afloat. He glances toward the ceiling, as if to ensure it's still overhead.
"We could have had a good life together, you know," Garrett says, his eyes settling on mine.
I instinctively reach out for his hand, my fingers brushing nothing but air. "I know." My voice is soft.
He looks at me; he looks right through me. My stomach twists and wrings like a towel that has nothing more to give. I feel a jolting ache, realizing I've never really hurt Garrett before, not like this. And it's so much different with him. Edward has caused me a fair share of pain over the years, and it seems easier to break Edward's heart when he's already broken mine.
And yeah, there's still a small part of me that can still see myself marrying Garrett, because I know I would have been happy with him. I can see myself standing before our family and friends and vowing to love him for the rest of my life, because I know that a part of me will always love him. I can see myself becoming his wife, and the two of us being happy together. We would have lived out our lives in peaceful bliss, and I would have been content. But content isn't the word I want to think of when I look back on my marriage. It isn't the word I want to use to describe love to Masen one day. And then I think about last summer, after Edward's show, and how often I think about that night. I think about how I can simply close my eyes and see the way he looked at me I can feel the way his touch made me experience things I'd forgotten.
And maybe I would have been happy enough with Garrett if I hadn't known Edward. If I hadn't known the power of true, all-encompassing love; if I didn't know how it takes weakness and not strength to turn your back and walk away from the one whose initials are carved into the depths of your soul. Maybe I would have been happy enough with Garrett if I didn't know true passion; if I didn't know how it feels to know someone who can turn blue skies bluer with just a crooked smile and whose innocent touch is the spark that lights your body alive from the deepest part of your heart.
I've always known that what Garrett and I have is different than what Edward and I shared when we were young. But I just always chalked it up to the difference between a mature relationship and your first love. And maybe I've tried to convince myself that I've simply grown up and grown out of such consuming, frenzied passion. That my heart didn't need to feel that way anymore.
But last Fall… we changed everything in that backstage dressing room.
And I knew exactly what I was doing when I walked away. I was closing that heavy steel door, the one that had always bridged the small gap between Edward and I, the one that had managed to wedge itself open through everything. I locked that door and handed Garrett the key.
And sometimes at night I still pound on that door until my fists bleed.
But Edward gave up, and Masen would cry because he missed his father. And I promised myself never, never ever would I go back. I'd give Masen a father who would never run, who would never throw himself so deeply into music that he'd forget the world spinning around him. I'd give Masen a father who would look after his mom, so that one day he didn't have to do it himself.
And then, like it always does, everything changed again with just a simple song.
"You're going to make someone really happy one day, Gare," I say. "And I'm really sorry that that someone is not going to be me. But when you find her – and I have no doubt in my mind that you will – you'll understand why I have to do this."
He shakes his head. "Maybe you're right, Bella," he says. "But maybe you're not. I just wish… I wish I could have been enough for you."
"Don't say that," I whisper as I finally grasp the warmth of his hand and hold it tightly in mine. "It's not that you're not enough – Gare, you're amazing, and you deserve so much better than what I can offer you."
"I would have taken anything you had to offer me," he says, his eyes burning with sincerity.
I shove my hands into the pockets of the jeans I've changed into and take a deep breath. I know he would have taken anything I could give him and given me everything in return. But that's not how this is supposed to work. I don't love him back like he deserves; he gives me his whole heart and I can only offer him the pieces of mine. And one day it will catch up with us. And when it does, the pain will be so much worse then than it will be right now to just let go.
"Gare…" I sigh. "I know you would have. But you shouldn't have to settle – it's not fair to either of us."
I watch his reaction, and I can practically see the battle going on in his head – the one where he was trying to decide whether to put up a fight or to let me go. I feel the ache in my chest intensify – the last thing I wanted to do was cause anyone pain, and now I've officially managed to hurt not one, but two people who have nestled themselves deep into my heart over the years.
"Maybe we rushed into all of this," I say sadly. "We were just both so scared when we found out about the MS, and this seemed like the only way to make it right. I don't doubt how much I love you. But…" My voice trails off and I bite my lip. Even though I can't say it out loud, it's enough.
"I wish that you didn't need him," Garrett says, his voice trembling. He's a mirror of me, with his hands shoved into the pockets of his pants as he begins pacing. "I've always tried so hard to fill that hole he left in your life, and I wish that what I could give you would be enough for you to forget about him."
"Garrett, Edward's the father of my son; he'll always be a part of my life."
Garrett stops and shakes his head. "Maybe he fathered Masen, but he's never been much of a father."
"I think it's up to me to decide how good or bad of a father Edward has been," I say fiercely. It feels so strange to be defending him, but Edward's mistakes are mine to forgive.
"Bella, he walked away when you were six months pregnant with his child. How can you possibly forgive someone who does that?"
I shake my head, frustrated. "You have to believe me when I say that this isn't about that. I don't know if I will ever be able to love him like I did, but it's not fair that I hold on to you while I figure it out."
He just shrugs. "You can say that as much as you want, but I don't believe you. It's always been about Edward."
"Well, what did you expect," I feel myself snap. "When you moved your things into his apartment? When you fell in love with his son and his ex-girlfriend? Did you think you could just slip into his life and we would all just forget about the one whose place you were taking?"
"He left!" Garrett cries. "You needed somebody and I loved you. And all I wanted was to be enough for you!"
"Well, you weren't," I say through clenched teeth, and I hate myself for saying it the moment the words pass my lips. But this is how it's going to go. Hurt him, wound him, make him hate me now so he'll hate me less when I walk out that door.
Hurt the one who has never done me any harm.
Hurt the one who could never even imagine breaking my heart.
Hurt the one who has always, always been there for me.
He looks like he's been socked in the stomach, his eyes widen and he almost gasps before his face hardens again in anger.
"I should have known all along," he seethes. "And maybe everyone here will think I'm the fool, but Bella, I know better. I know who the true fool is. And you're crazy if you think walking out of here is going to change anything for him. You're a fool if you think he's really ever going to come home." He spits out the words, his face turned up in disgust. "He's an addict. He gets his fix on the stage, and I know you see it on his face – every second he spends up there just gets him higher." And then he almost looks guilty when he says, "Bella, he loves the music more than he loves you."
Tears cloud my eyes and I shake my head because he's wrong wrong wrong.
"And if you think that hurting me is going to make it easier for you to walk away, then fine. Go ahead." He spreads his arms wide and takes a step back, challenging me. "But walking away is only hard because you know you're making the wrong choice."
I wrap my arms around myself as I continue to shake my head.
I wipe away the tears the moment they hit my cheeks. But looking up at Garrett through blurred vision almost seems right because I feel as if I'm looking at the face of a stranger. I've never encountered this side of him before. Hell, I've only seen him angry a handful of times and it's never been directed toward me. And every instinct tells me to leave. To protect myself and walk away. And I'm almost gone, I almost move to flee when his words stop me in my tracks.
"So you can dish it out, but you can't take it, huh?" he scoffs, but his voice grows softer as he releases his final blow. "Heaven forbid anyone hurt poor, abandoned Bella."
I swear there's an audible crack in the air as everything shifts.
My eyes narrow at the stranger facing me and feel the strength swell in my chest. It's the same strength I first felt the moment my baby boy was placed into my arms for the very first time. The moment I realized I did this. The moment I looked up and only saw who was missing and realized I can love him enough for two of us. It's the strength I felt when my baby was six weeks old and his father came to see him for the first time, when Edward scared us so bad. It grew as I looked into eyes I hardly recognized and realized I can protect us from anything. Even this. It's the empowering feeling of independence that got me through a year of no contact, no phone calls, no visits. It was a strength that told me, You. Can. Do. This. It's a strength that enabled me to let go, to let someone else in.
And it's the same strength that fled the moment I heard the doctor utter the diagnosis. All it took was two simple words to change not only the way I lived my life, but it altered the person I had been; the person I would become.
The strength was gone and suddenly I couldn't even lift myself from my chair without his hands to help me. So when Garrett got on one knee and asked, I said yes, because I forgot the strength and independence and determination I once had. I forgot that once, I could take on the world.
Suddenly I was only strong enough to make it through one day at a time. I was only determined to make sure I never had to go it alone. And I was convinced I needed him. I needed someone that would be there, right in front of me. Always.
I was weak and I hid in the shadows and stopped dreaming and somehow I ended up here.
"Hurt me, Garrett," I whisper fiercely. "I can take it."
He almost laughs, because he's seen the person I've become.
I've put myself in a bubble since the day I found out. No stress, I'd plead and I'd distance myself from everything hard and ugly. I'd agree because I didn't want to argue. I'd sit at home when I really wanted to be out. I made excuses and I told myself he's good for me. He's safe. And the one time I did take a risk, I paid the price of an attack and an arm that was all but useless and I promised myself never again. But today I'm tired of safe, I'm tired of the bubble. I'm breaking all the rules.
"Tell me," I say louder, standing taller. "Tell me I'll end up alone. Tell me he'll never love me like he loves the spotlight. Tell me I'm sad and I'm damaged and I'm a burden. Say it."
"Tell me you believe you're the only one who will take care of me. Tell me!"
Finally, he spits it out. "You're not the same girl he thinks you are – you've lost your fire. I see him all over your face. I always have. He's in your eyes and your heart and it doesn't matter that you love him more than you love me because you're too weak to walk away from me. You need me."
"I don't," I say.
"You will," he vows.
I narrow my eyes. "Why?" I ask him. "Why are you so determined to love someone who will never love you back completely?"
He shakes his head sadly. "Why are you?"
I swallow his words, but I don't reply because if he knows how wrong he is, it'll break him. Because all these years… Garrett has so busy watching me when Edward is around, that he doesn't see it. He doesn't see the look in Edward's eye when we say good-bye, or the way he squeezes me just a little tighter every time we hug, or how his touch lingers whenever we're close.
Garrett only saw what he wanted to and, hell, we're all guilty of that.
And the abrupt silence surrounds us, breaks us down and devours the hostility and bitterness in long gulps. But as the anger fades it's replaced by a wave of sadness and heartache that settles in like the stillness in the air after a summer storm.
I watch as Garrett shakes his head slowly in disappointment, and when I see the hurt that's swimming in his eyes I know I've never hated myself more.
In our time together, he's been nothing short of perfect. He's warmth and comfort and safety and absolutely everything I need. He would have been so, so good for me. But he's not what I want, and I'm tired of lying to myself. And maybe the only thing I really know for sure is that my heart belongs to one beautiful little boy.
After Masen came into my life, I realized very quickly that it was up to me to protect him; to protect us, to keep us safe, because that was what mattered. And I thought that protecting us meant keeping Edward at a distance – not letting him back in, not giving him another chance to hurt us. I never realized that being with Garrett was just another way of protecting us – he'd never hurt me or Mase, he'd be there, we'd be safe.
But it's like this: if Garrett is the smile on Masen's face, then Edward is the light and happiness behind the smile.
"Bella," Garrett's voice cracks and he swallows hard before he tries again. "Bella, what changed? Yesterday you were ready to become my wife. What changed between then and now?"
I let out a long breath, because it's not an easy question to answer.
Maybe a lot of things changed; maybe nothing.
It wasn't the hair, the dress, or the make-up. It wasn't staring into the mirror and seeing a stranger looking back at me. It wasn't the taste of whiskey on my breath and the way it brought me back, or that small moment when I told my father I was going out to get some air. It wasn't that feeling of not knowing which direction to run, or the pounding of my heart when I saw the small box on the bench. It wasn't the way I jumped when I heard his voice. It wasn't anything Edward said, or didn't say. It wasn't the pain of walking away from him for a second time and realizing I could never do it again. It wasn't Charlie's story about my mom or anything Rose said to me. It wasn't the moment I realized that I knew – I knew I would be walking out of this church today alone. It wasn't watching the years I spent convincing myself otherwise crumbled before my eyes, or seeing the wall I built to protect our hearts laying in ruins at our feet.
It wasn't any of those things; it was all of them.
"Nothing changed," I say, emphasizing the word, the hardest truth. "I was never ready for this."
A shadow clouds his face and I know what he's thinking.
"It hasn't been a lie," I promise him. "I loved you, Garrett – and I still do. And if I owe you anything for everything you've done for me, it's walking away today instead of becoming your wife."
He laughs, but he's not amused.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I'm sorry that you don't believe that this isn't just about him. I'm sorry that it took me until right now to figure this all out and I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you. But I'm not sorry for not marrying you, because it would have been a mistake and I know that one day you'll understand."
"Bella, the thing is… you seem to know what's best for everyone but yourself. And I just don't know what to do. Do you want me to fight harder for you? Is that… is that what you want?" And he just looks so damn lost that my heart breaks just a little bit more.
"Gare, you shouldn't have to fight for this."
His face falls and he whispers, "I'm sorry," and I don't get how he can possibly be the one apologizing. "We shouldn't be… You shouldn't be like this. The stress, Bella."
I almost laugh, but I let out a long breath instead. Because I won't tell him the truth. I won't tell him that the only stress is the realization that we got this close. That I let it get this far. That in the long run, a marriage would have caused me more stress than this is right now.
"You don't have to worry about me," I tell him.
He just looks up at me, and his face says, yes I do.
"Not anymore," I say gently.
He only flinches and looks down, staring at his empty hands.
I feel my breath catch in my chest as my throat tightens, and wish it didn't hurt so much to witness a grown man cry.
"You know, I never thought I would be this person," I confess, my voice hardly a whisper. I wipe away the tears as I say, "I never imagined I'd walk out of my own wedding."
I can see Garrett struggling to swallow. "You don't become that person until you walk out those doors, Bella."
"Garrett…" I plead. "You'd honestly still want to marry me? After this?"
He shakes his head, and I can see all hope of that future finally fade from his eyes. "I just wish you wanted to, Bells. I was just so ready to do this today. And maybe part of this falls on me too, because I only saw what I wanted to. I ignored the light in your face whenever he was around and I ignored that smile you had whenever you talked to him or even just talked about him… I ignored it because I knew he couldn't give you what I could. But I guess it turns out I had it all backwards this whole time."
"Gare, I'm sorry," I say, looking into his eyes and hoping he can see how sincere I truly am. Wondering how many times I have to apologize until this starts to hurt just a little less. "I don't know how this would have ended up had we decided we didn't need a wedding. But marriage just seemed so final… I guess everything I've been trying so hard to forget, everything I've been trying not to feel just came to the surface. Maybe you were living with us and you were a huge part of our lives, but nothing seemed official until I had the ring on my finger… until I showed up to the church today. Until I put on that dress and looked in the mirror and found myself staring at someone I didn't even recognize. And Gare, I can't… I just can't."
He sighs. "Ironic, isn't it? That had we not decided to do this… we might still be together."
"It's for the best," I try and convince him, or maybe me, I don't know. Because it's so hard to believe that something that hurts so much can be so right.
Garrett nods slowly, like maybe he's getting it. Like maybe he finally hears me. Like maybe this is the exact moment he's giving up.
"Was he here?" he asks, and his voice sounds strung out like the longest notes of a mournful song.
I glance up, but I don't even have to answer. I'm not sure what gives it away, but I know it's a flash of something Garrett sees whenever I'm with Edward.
"Of course he was," he sighs, his fingers raking through his dark curls. "You're not the only one who heard that song, you know. And Bella, deep down you've been waiting for him this entire time. Just like he always knew you would."
"I told him to leave," I say, lifting my chin, like it really makes a difference right now. "I told him to leave and I got up and walked away. So don't think that he's sitting out there in the getaway car – don't think I'm running out of here and into his arms."
His eyes are wide and sad as he says, "Yeah, but Bella… when it comes down to it, you still went to find him."
Tears fall from my eyes but I can only shrug because, yeah, I did.
He paces a bit again, chewing on his lip. "It's just frustrating how this is so easy for him," he mutters. "All he has to do is show up here. All he has to do is leak some bullshit story to the papers-"
I frown in confusion. "What story?"
Garrett stops and watches me carefully. The look on his face, I don't get it. "You didn't see the paper?" he asks in disbelief, blowing out a slow breath.
Suddenly my heart is pound, pound, pounding. I cross my arms over my chest as if to muffle the sound. "I saw it. I saw his picture but I didn't read anything. I thought it was just coverage of the show…" My voice trails off and I look up at him, desperate for answers.
He laughs, kind of. I'm not even certain he actually believes me. "What did it say?" I ask.
"He didn't tell you?" he scoffs. "Wasn't that why he showed up?"
"No. Garrett, I don't… I honestly don't know what you're talking about."
He blows out another long breath and rocks back on his heels. "Huh," he says, like maybe this is somehow amusing to him. "I just assumed that's why you changed your mind…" His voice trails off, like he's begun to question everything that's just be said.
I shake my head. "What did it say?" I demand again, but yeah maybe I know. Maybe he already tried to tell me. And maybe I just didn't believe him.
He raises his eyebrows and gestures towards the door dismissively. "I think you should find out for yourself," he says.
I hesitate – like I haven't been begging him to let me go this entire time. "Gare—"
"Just go, Bella," he says more forcefully this time, but his shoulders sag with his words. When I don't budge, he doesn't say anything for a moment, his eyes searching my face for some kind of sign that this is all just some kind of mistake. And we stand there, hardly breathing, until finally he reaches out and pulls me into his chest. Tears are free-falling down my face when he leans down and pressed his lips to the top of my head. And I realize I was wrong last summer when I walked out of Edward's dressing room after his show – that wasn't a goodbye kiss at all.
This is goodbye.
"Garrett – I'm so sorry," I gasp, wondering just how many apologies are going to make this all okay. But he just holds up his hand and waves me towards the door. I realize what he's doing – he's fighting to keep it together, for me. Every bit of my being tells me to stay – tells me that I can't leave him like this. I owe him, I owe him this. But when he finally chokes out, "Just go, Bella," I turn on my heel and leave yet another man that I love falling to pieces as I walk away.
A/N: thank you thank you for reading. xoxo