The doctor sent him home with a packet outlining what to expect the day of and how to prepare for surgery. I don't think Edward looked at it once. They also gave him a prescription for steroids, to reduce the swelling in his brain. How do you prepare for something like this? I poured over the printed pages, multiple times, and it was no help. The language was careful, measured, positive but not overly optimistic. Realistic in setting expectations. I got no answers to the one question that had been playing in a loop endlessly in my mind, over and over. How is this happening?
Edward. My Edward. One week. I had him back for exactly one week.
We've barely left my room, my bed all weekend. He lays with his eyes closed on my lap, warm afternoon light streaming through my windows, filling my room with orange and gold. I watch him inhale, exhale. I run my fingers through his short copper hair. It's so soft. I trace the thin pink scar, a neat line maybe one inch long, slightly raised on his scalp. If only I could will it away. Pull this poison from his flesh and make him whole again. I would take it, I would absorb it into my own body if it meant that Edward would be spared this shit. Shit piled on top of shit. It's not fucking fair. The injustice makes my eyes bleed, makes me want to rip my hair out of from the root. How much more can one person endure? Keep enduring?
He's watching me through dark lashes. The green clear and brilliant in this light. He makes my breath catch, my heart stop, this man. I can't bear to look at him but I can't look away. I feel it like a knife in my chest, this ache, this joy, this hurt. How can he be so beautiful? It's impossible. I am too small, to weak, to hold all the emotions this man stirs in me. I am an inadequate vessel, flimsy and reckless and lost, and I am drowning in him. He takes my hand away from his scar and pulls it to his heart. Always slow and steady. I lean down and press a kiss to his full, pink lips.
Rose and Em sit on either side of me like a protective barrier. Carlisle and Esme have each other. She leaves the room and comes back twenty minutes later bearing a carrier of styrofoam cups of weak coffee. Her eyes are red and swollen, her pale skin blotchy, but she manages a weak smile that doesn't reach her eyes. And that's it for the Edward Cullen entourage.
Charlie's death took me by surprise. He was only fifty-two. I had never spent any time in hospitals; by the time I flew back he was already gone. My father was always an enigma to me. No, that isn't completely true. The one thing we shared was that we were always better off alone than with other people. So we lived in that shabby little yellow house, never saying much, not needing to.
We scattered his ashes, his best friend and me on the lake where he spent most weekends. I never saw them speak about more than baseball or whose turn it was to pick up a twelve pack, but I could tell Billy was a bit misty-eyed. He said Charlie would have liked it. I didn't know. I didn't know anything about Charlie beyond the superficial ways that all dads are alike. What kind of terrible daughter am I that I have no idea how my father wanted to spend the rest of his days. I felt like a sociopath for not feeling more.
I did eventually. A week later, on the brown line, during rush hour. My fellow commuters looked away, politely pretending not to notice the tears falling behind my dark glasses. It suddenly hit me that I was an orphan. Can you be an orphan at twenty-seven? There was no one left. That night, sleeping in that bed with my boyfriend, his heavy arm curled round my waist, I felt more alone than ever. The next day I broke up with him. It was easier then I thought it would be. I didn't need him. I never had him really. He was a bad habit, a crutch, an excuse to keep drifting. I was ready to burn my old life to the ground and start over. I packed my bags, put my stuff into storage and got myself a hotel room. The next day I called Esme.
In a beige room, with the smell of stale coffee permanently embedded in the air, I wait. I've got an old issue of Time magazine open in my lap, trying to read the same three sentences about stem cell research for the past half hour and absorbing nothing. The words pass through my mind like a sieve.
"I'm sorry Miss..."
"Swan. Bella Swan."
"Miss Swan, hospital policy allows only immediate family to stay the night in the patient's room."
"I understand that, but I need to stay with him. I need to be here when he wakes up. Can't we just say I'm...his sister? I promise I'll keep quiet."
The woman looks exhausted. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled back in a low messy bun and she looks like she's on hour fifteen of a sixteen hour shift. She probably has had a dozen versions of this conversation today alone, by people just as desperate and on the verge of a meltdown as I am. I know it's not her fault but I could really throttle her right now. I'm trying really hard to keep the rising panic and rage from my voice. I know it's fucking hospital policy. I read it in the fucking packet. But he needs me. I need to be there when he wakes up.
"Bella, what's going on?" Carlisle walks up, looking beyond the curtained entryway into Edward's room. He's asleep on the bed, a large white bandage attached to the side of his head.
"They're only letting immediate family stay the night."
Carlisle turns to the nurse, giving her a smile that communicates, "I understand you're just trying to do your job."
"Dr. Carlisle Cullen. I'm Edward's father. It's a pleasure to meet you..."
They don't shake hands.
"Lauren. Thank you for taking such good care of Edward. Bella's not immediate family yet, but she will be soon. She just got engaged to my son. Show her your ring dear."
We all three look down at my bare ring finger.
"It's at the jewelers. Getting resized," I say, too surprised to sound convincing.
Lauren's not buying it. She looks from my purposely blank expression to Carlisle's smiling handsome face and shakes her head.
"Visiting hours end at 9. Only one family member is allowed to stay overnight."
She waves her hand toward the open door and walks away.
The room is warm with the smell of plastic, harsh fluorescent lights lending a yellow pallor over everything. The screens beside his bed beep and hum. It's almost soothing, like a orchestra of crickets at night. He's got one narrow window, a sliver of moon just barely visible. Less than three weeks until the next one.
There isn't even a real door, just a thin curtain so that hospital personnel can come in and out easily to check on him. Anybody could walk in anytime. Edward will hate it here. I pull a chair up to his bed, and clasp his dry, limp hand in my own. They shaved the side of his head. The surgeon cut him, right where the pink scar is now. The doctors have questioned Edward again and again about it. How did he get it? Where did he get it? He doesn't remember anything. After a while I forget Carlisle is still in the room, until he adjusts the blanket on Edward with surprising tenderness.
"Thanks." I say.
"No problem. I hope you don't mind..."
Engaged. I can't even think about that. For now, I just want more time with him. As much time as possible.
We sit in silence, our thoughts punctuated only by the reassuring beat of his heart monitor.
"Where is Esme?"
"Rosalie and Emmett took her home. Are you going to be okay here? You don't have to spend the night. I can stay with him."
"I want to."
He nods. His eyes are different from Edward's. Blue, not green, but he has a way of looking that reminds me of his son. Carlisle's earlier question had etched itself into my heart, amplifying every fear, every doubt I'd had since the beginning. I know he didn't mean to be cruel when he asked. But Edward spent twenty years in silence and then...there was me. It was a fact. Edward's behavior couldn't be more out of character. I can't know what the truth is. If the change in him was a conscious decision to break from the past, to stop living the same mistakes again and again, or if it wasn't Edward at all. Someone that looked and felt and acted the way I wanted my Edward to act, but was nothing more than a shadow, a clump of malignant cells on a computer monitor.
"How long before he wakes up?"
"He's heavily sedated. Probably not until tomorrow morning."
"And then what?"
"We wait. A few more days, and then we'll do more tests."
And after that, maybe radiation. I know all this. I've read an endless stream of articles on brain tumors and their treatment for the past three days. But that's for a regular patient. Edward is different. It's what I'm counting on, it's the last shred of hope that I cling to.
"What do you think?"
"I think...Dr. Cope is a gifted surgeon, one of the best in the Midwest. The operation went smoothly today. We just need to give Edward's body time to heal itself."
"But it wasn't before. He just kept getting sicker and sicker."
"Glioblastomas have immunosuppressive qualities. That, coupled with the fact that he was trying to regenerate delicate brain tissue...it takes a lot of energy to fight back. It's like coming back from a gunshot wound." His hand rests on Edward's shoulder, right where I shot him so many months ago. "But instead of muscle and bone, he's growing neurons."
I don't care if it's a lie. I need Carlisle to tell me it will be okay. That he will come out of this. That he will get better somehow. I'm silently pleading to him. I see his eyes flicker quickly to the window, and then back at me. I'm suddenly struck with the realization that Carlisle has lived this before. He's lived this for twenty years now, every month, every moon. Wishing in vain that his son would be spared the agony of transformation and powerless to stop it. He can't lie because he knows there's no point.
"Bella, did you know we are born with all the neurons we will ever have? One hundred billion neurons. We can't grow new ones. There have been studies done on neurogenesis, but we're years away from being able to grow new brain cells. But Edward...his body, his existence...it defies all logic. The laws of nature as we know them, they don't apply here."
I swallow. In his own careful, cautious way, Carlisle has given me hope. Even after decades of disappointment, he still manages to find faith, because it's Edward. Edward is different. He has to be.
Our grumpy nurse walks by, catching my eye and raises her watch to me. Visiting hours are over. Carlisle stands, shrugging on his trench coat.
"Are you sure you want to stay Bella?"
I try to stay awake as long as I can, but days of fitful sleep and worry have drained the life out of me and I drift. I am stirred awake by curtains drawn, quiet footsteps, checking in on him every few hours, but the steps fade away and I am immersed back into a cold fog, the smell of blood and fire and ash, yellow eyes, his hair a silvery grey in the moonlight.
When I wake for the last time, the room is blue with early morning light. It's that precise moment just before the sunrise. For a moment I forget where I am, but the steady beat from his heart monitor brings me back to Earth. My body aches from sleeping at such an odd angle, sitting by the bed, my cheek pressed against Edward's hand. I rub my sore neck, slowly unfurling myself, letting my muscles stretch as far as they will go.
There is a stutter, a frantic quickening in the beat and I turn to the monitor in alarm. I need to, should I call someone? A nurse, a doctor, where is that call button? I shoot up, ready to run from the room when a hand clamps around my wrist.
Green eyes stare back at me. I sink back down, gathering both of his hands in my own and I kiss his fingers. His heart is still going but I sit with him. I don't let go until it slows.
"You're still here."
"I'm still here."