Freedom in a Syringe
by Anton M.
Stepping into the house, Edward saw Lauren sit around their kitchen table, chatting with his father. Lauren played with her phone and twirled a piece of her hair around her finger, and for a good ten seconds, Edward simply stared at her, admitting to himself the feelings that emerged like a giant bubble from under the ocean in Bella's presence were left completely untouched with Lauren. He could appreciate their times together, but clearly they didn't work. Maybe they never had. Edward caught his father's eye, motioned at the living room, and took a deep breath. Carlisle excused himself and patted on Edward's back as he left them alone.
"Thanks for coming in such a short notice."
Lauren smiled when she finally stopped observing the ends of her hair, but the corners of her mouth dropped once she took in his expression.
Edward stepped closer and locked eyes with Lauren. "I think it's better if we break up."
"What?" asked Lauren. "What is this nonsense? We're perfect for each other, Edward. I love you."
"I'm sorry, Lauren. I really am. You're a nice girl, but I'm tired of being the only one making an effort in our relationship."
"But I — you're not serious, are you? You can't be." Lauren shook her head. "I thought guys liked chasing girls who were unattainable."
"There's a difference between making a guy work for it and not contacting your boyfriend for two whole months."
As the reality of Edward's words sunk in, Lauren jumped up and started tearing at her hair, demanding, "It's because of her, isn't it? I knew it!" Lauren threw her Blackberry at him. "You cheating bastard!"
"Bella has nothing to do with this," replied Edward, surprising himself by staying calm. "Leave her out of it."
"Oh, doesn't she? Doesn't she? Ever since you've been hanging out with that bitch, teaching her, you've been ignoring me! You could've ended things with me before you fell into her arms!" Lauren started screaming and ended with a voice only dogs could hear. "But you know what? I've been sleeping with Laurent for a month now, so I'm not the only one taking liberties!"
"I've never cheated on you," said Edward in a voice so cold Lauren stopped tearing at her hair. "Not once. Not with Bella, not with anyone." He straightened his back. "But I'm glad my suggestion has cleared the air."
"Edward…" cried Lauren, horrified by her own admission; she knew Edward had several flaws, but lying was not one of them. "I didn't mean it, I swear I didn't mean it. I've never…"
"Even if that were true, which I doubt, we're over. We don't work, Lauren. I was the only one who tried, I stopped calling and you didn't care. I was always the one to plan our dates, always there for you, always helping you, and I didn't mind. For a while, I didn't. But when were you there for me? My mother left, you were busy, I finished Bachelor's, you were busy. I needed you, I needed someone to talk to, you were busy. A relationship isn't supposed to be one-sided, and I wish I'd realized that sooner."
"I can change, Edward, I can! I'll put an effort. We can make it work! Please." One tear after another descended from her cheeks, and she sniffed. "Don't do this."
"It's too late. I'm not gonna post revenge on the Internet, but please don't go around calling Bella names. She's so much better than that, and so are you. Revenge will get you nowhere."
"So she has nothing to do with it, huh?" she bitterly retorted. "Really?"
"You've known me for three years, how many times have I lied to you? I can be too demanding, yes, and I am a perfectionist, I can even tell you when you look ugly on a bad-hair day, but a liar I am not," said Edward. "So no. She hasn't. Even if I had never met her, I would've probably eventually realized how distorted our relationship was."
Lauren slid onto a barstool, hid her face in her hands, and cried. Stammering, she asked, "So — so this is really the end?"
She sniffed, taking one Kleenex after the other as Edward sat down beside her, patiently waiting for her to finish crying. With a heavy heart, he explained, "I'm not trying to be a bastard. I'm not gonna hate you from now on. I want you to find a relationship where you feel that you need to put an effort into it. Maybe it was my fault, too. I shouldn't have been as easy. I shouldn't have just accepted that I had to be the only one to put myself out there. I should've realized it long ago."
"But you don't want to give me another chance?" hiccupped Lauren. "I can change! Please believe me."
"Please don't. I don't feel that way about you anymore. I can't. I'm sorry for what I'm doing, and I know I'm responsible for the dysfunctional relationship we had as much as you are, but no. It's time to move on."
Five minutes later, Lauren stopped hiccupping and gave Edward one final hug, muttering, "Maybe you're right."
"Should I expect swarm of revenge letters on Facebook?"
Lauren offered him a smile through her tear-stained face. "No. And I — I'm sorry I cheated on you. I didn't mean to, it just —"
"Do I need to get myself tested?"
"God, no. It never happened before Laurent."
"But I guess — you don't hate me now, do you?" asked Lauren.
"I don't. We can still greet each other if we meet."
With one final wave, she stepped out of the kitchen, and a moment later, the front door opened and shut. Edward numbly made himself Arabica coffee as he pondered on the significance of what had just occurred. It felt surreal. He was single, and the end had actually been much gentler than he had feared; but in spite of her exaggerating nature, Lauren was not a random bitch. Edward wouldn't have stayed with her for three years if she were.
It still surprised Edward how little her admission about cheating on him bothered Edward. Sure, he felt let down and disappointed, but not nearly to the extent that he should have. It simply further convinced him that they were both drifting apart. Edward felt like his lack of anger had to do with the way Bella made a better person out of him; he calculated a little more before analyzing whether or not the situation was worth getting angry at. Edward no longer needed to feel guilty for his growing feelings for the ballerina.
But unfortunately, he had no reason to believe that Rosalie's words of her crush were true. Surely, he would know by now if they were.
As November came and went, it brought an official ending to the hurricane season, a weather sunny as ever, and for Edward, a cough that persisted throughout the first week of December. He'd respected Bella's wishes and demanded more from her than he ever had. She appeared to be content with that, and they continued to get along very well. And by 'very well,' Edward meant that nothing had changed, despite his obvious (to himself, at least) touchy-feely behavior with her. She appeared to be so completely oblivious that Edward thought she was simply trying to let him down easy.
Until one Thursday, at the ending of their practice, Bella stretched her legs and stared at Edward oddly before she questioned, "So how's your girlfriend?"
An innocent enough question made him see ghosts where there weren't any. "Why?"
"Just wondering. You've been really weird since that day you tried to let me get away with being mediocre."
Edward wanted to choke himself with his Kleenex. "Weird?"
"Yeah," agreed Bella. "I don't know. It's like you feel guilty about that and want to be extra nice to me."
Bella thought Edward's failed attempts to woo her were caused by guilt? He wanted to die.
"I don't feel guilty."
"Is there a problem with your girlfriend then? Your offer goes both ways, you know, so if you need to talk, I'm here."
"I left her."
Bella's eyes widened. She cleared her throat and averted her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
She was sorry? He certainly wasn't.
"It's been a month. No big deal."
"But why?" asked Bella in spite of herself. "I mean, she seemed like a nice girl. Very pretty."
"I'm not quite sure if you're paying me a compliment or trying to insult me."
"Was that a remark on my taste in women or on my superficiality?"
Bella chuckled. "Both, probably."
Edward mock-grimaced. "So anyone on your radar?"
No, he wasn't trying to fish for information. Not at all.
"You know, your doorstep swarming with guys and all that."
"Ah, you mean Mike?"
And just like that, Edward remembered a fact he had, apparently, completely wiped out from his memory. He grimaced. Of course she didn't take his attempts to woo her for what they were, she was taken.
It suddenly felt like his stomach had been cut off and replaced with polyvinyl acetate.
"Yeah. Is he treating you well? Because if he isn't, I could just —"
"— kill that bastard," finished Bella, snickering. "I remember."
Edward stopped caring if he was obvious.
"So he's good for you?"
"He's okay. Still as eager, but I… honestly, I don't think we're gonna last long."
Edward felt like such a bastard when he fished for information; he felt even worse that he wasn't feeling bad about Bella's lack of enthusiasm.
"If you think it's worth it, you'll get through anything. But remember, guys will only treat you badly if you let them."
"Where were you when he tried to convince me to have sex with him?" asked Bella so casually Edward actually flinched. "It's not like I was sure before, but it's just… I don't know."
"He what?" Polyvinyl acetate was immediately replaced by arsine. He felt hair at the back of his neck bristle.
Bella chuckled at his reaction. "Most men are fairly physical, I'm sure you're aware of that."
"No," said Bella simply, and Edward nearly wept from relief. "I'm not made of sugar. I don't melt at the first sight of rain."
Edward's mouth stretched into a grin but he found he couldn't chuckle because it quickly changed into coughing. "Ten points for the metaphor." He felt so much respect for the woman in front of him that he didn't know how to express it. Would 'I think I love you' be too sudden?
"Yeah, yeah, and you adore my blush and I am a phenomenal dancer," ironized Bella.
"I have nothing against your blush and your dancing is has improved immensely."
Bella laughed. "Nice try, Edward. You hate my blush."
"I do not."
"Sure you don't."
"Good luck with that."
"Why won't you believe me?"
"Edward, were you not there next to me the first month you taught me? Every time something you did made me blush, you either huffed or grimaced or made a snappy remark about it."
Edward rubbed his neck, smiling awkwardly. "I'm sorry if I did. It doesn't bother me anymore."
Edward opened his mouth to say something, but shut it again and shrugged. Bella let a smile cover her lips.
"Where did you leave your — 'I'm big almighty Edward and will tell you everything straight to your face?'"
He got hesitant and cautious when he realized he liked a girl named Bella.
Bella shook her head a chuckled. "You've changed, you know."
Edward shrugged. "That's what people do."
The sunset started to come about at around half to six as the day of the performance creeped closer. A few unexpected chilly winds had Bella searching for scarves and a warmer jacket for Alice to take her older sister to see her performance. She was also going to take her mother, but when Renee struggled with the idea and refused to go, she left her daughter at a crossroads. Had Bella's mother been at a place to understand what this meant, she would've been elated and nothing, not even a knife in her head and a hundred degree fever would've kept her from going. Bella knew that. But she also understood she couldn't force her mother to go against her own will.
In the end, when it turned out that Renee was not so much opposed to the idea of going as she was to the idea of going on foot, a compromise was met. Jasper kindly offered to take Renee to the Academy so that Bella could go on foot with Alice. It was silly, she knew, insisting on walking to the Academy, but it was a tradition of sorts. She'd never actually been a part of the Christmas performance before, but up until two years ago, they'd been to see every single one of the Christmas performances. When she was a kid and Renee had minor parts in the performance, nothing stopped them from going on foot, and Alice was never left home alone.
They left their apartment building at half to seven, an hour and a half earlier because Bella had to warm up, get dressed and have make-up applied. Edward had promised to sit next to Alice and watch after her, which gave Bella all the more reason to gush over the man.
Chilliness hadn't ceased. Bella pulled on the wheelchair's brakes in front of Starbucks that was a ten-minute walk from the Academy to make sure that Alice wasn't cold. She wasn't; instead, she found it hilarious to grasp Bella's hat and throw it to the ground. It made her laugh. Bella smiled at her little older sister, picked up the hat and let her eyes linger on a hole in the pavement. For anyone else, this was just a hole, something to step or jump over; for Bella, it became a day-to-day hassle. If anyone were interested, she could map and describe the pattern of pavement holes in the entire city. The roadworks that were a simple inconvenience for walking people could become hazardous to those in wheelchairs.
Wrapped in her thoughts, Bella didn't immediately notice the three semi-drunken men who were sitting on a park bench until the words "a complete waste of social welfare" reached her ears. She immediately snapped her head in the men's direction and saw them observing her whilst making malevolent remarks. In Bella's experience, there were three types of people where the disabled were concerned. Firstly, the immediately recognizable people who had firsthand experience with the disabled who didn't hesitate to come and talk to them, who smiled at Alice and tried to make her happy — because Alice, too, could have bad days, times when she sobbed for no visible cause and Bella couldn't fully comprehend the reasons behind her huffish mood. Secondly, there were people with no experience but a kind (if a little awkward at first) attitude, and thirdly, people with no experience and no will to hide their ill-natured thoughts.
Experience and ill-natured thoughts didn't usually coincide because once people had an acquaintance, a friend or a family member struggling not to be defined by their disability, understanding and compassion carved a more tolerant mind. Sympathy met empathy. Something that only ever seemed to happen to "someone else out there" suddenly happened to you, or your friend, or a family member. Perspective altered.
"Hey, you — yes, you! Does your little… friend understand me, uh? Does she?"
Bella sighed, made sure to tighten Alice's scarf and continued her walk, deciding to ignore the men. But as the men stood and, slowly but surely, started to close up on them, Bella casually threw a glance over her shoulder. None of them could've been over their teenage years, and Bella didn't think they were to cause any harm. But just in case, she quickened her pace. When she reached a place with a few people walking around, Bella slowed down and decidedly halted to a stop next to a street light.
"You — you know, people like… like her are a complete waste of our money. There's no purpose to her. What the hell does she do all day?"
More than you, Bella wanted to answer, but kept her mouth shut.
Bella pointedly observed the other people to make them notice that they weren't alone, but unfortunately, there weren't too many people around. She turned around.
"Please leave us be. We've done nothing to you."
"Does she speak?"
"So she just, what, like, vegetates all day, every day?"
Bella didn't even realize she'd clenched her fist before a hit against the most provocative man's jaw made her cry out. Why didn't the men in movies never even flinch? Because that hurt like hell. But surprised as she was by her own reaction, Bella didn't stop to linger. She clutched the push handles, jogged toward a more crowded street and didn't stop before she was panting in front of the Academy. Her fist burned. Alice found her reflection on one of the windows fascinating and, oblivious as ever, leaned her head on the left and locked eyes with herself. A smile crept on her lips.
Bella found Edward sitting behind the performers' wardrobe, dressed in a fawn-worthy black tuxedo. He shoved a hand through his hair, and only as he raised his arm did Bella see that he had a large black scarf around his neck and the tiniest glimmer of sweat on his forehead.
Bella pushed Alice's wheelchair next to Edward and frowned. "Edward, are you sick?"
"Hi, Alice," he offered, touched Alice's nose with his index finger and smiled faintly. He coughed before looking up, "And Bella." Bella's stomach practiced somersaults when he smiled at them, all kind eyes and handsome appearance despite his apparent sickness. Bella checked the time and decided she could afford sitting for a moment, so she did.
"If you're sick, why'd you come?"
Edward coughed and adjusted his scarf. "I promised."
"But you don't look too good."
Edward smirked in spite of his obvious sickness. "I look ugly?"
Bella huffed a chuckle but insisted, "You don't have to stay. I'll find someone else to look after Alice. You need to rest."
"I need to see you dancing. I can rest later."
"Edward…" sighed Bella, observing him and noticing how truly exhausted he looked. "My dancing isn't important; your health is."
Edward smiled gently. "Your dancing is important to me, and my health can wait. Don't argue."
The door next to them opened. "Hi, Bella, I've been looking everywhere for —" Rosalie, already dressed in a sparkly pink tutu, faltered and stared at Bella's lap, "What the fuck happened to your hand?"
Edward's eyes snapped in the direction Rosalie was pointing at, and they both gaped at her. Bella let a disinterested glance confirm that blood was covering it before she offered Edward and Rosalie a timid smile, explaining nothing.
"Am I late?" she asked Rosalie.
"Not significantly, but what the fuck happened to your hand?" repeated Rosalie, letting Alice play with the edge of her tutu.
"Bella," drawled Edward, his tone of voice expressing his concern. He willed her to lock eyes with him, but she didn't.
"I'm fine, it just needs some washing," said Bella, pursing her lips. "I'm serious, though, Edward. I'll find someone else to be with Alice while I'm on stage. It won't be a problem, I'm sure."
"I'm not about to die," claimed Edward, not taking his eyes from Bella's hand. "But are you sure you're okay?"
Bella self-consciously smoothed over her jacket and sighed, finally looking at Edward. "I'll explain later," she said.
"Yes, and you'll explain now, too," insisted Rosalie, pulled her toward the wardrobe for performers and didn't let her do anything other than kiss Alice's forehead and offer Edward a wave.
"Good luck to both of you," said Edward semi-enthusiastically before his voice was muffled by coughing.
"We're too good for luck!" Rosalie yelled back and pulled the door closed.
Edward and Alice sat next to Renee, who had come here with a tall blonde man who'd introduced himself as Bella's friend. It was almost ridiculous the way, ever since Edward realized he liked Bella, he suddenly viewed every man as a possible suitor for her, judging and appraising them in a manner he would've laughed at before. He couldn't really help the unconscious thought, and the fact that she was taken didn't seem to constrain his imagination. Did she fascinate him because she was taken? But just as the thought occurred to him, Edward immediately dismissed it. Bella just… got him.
While having no illusions or intentions to initiate anything with Bella in a relationship, Edward was still determined to follow through with a precarious idea. He was going to tell her tonight. It could easily backfire because other than a little blushing in his presence and the fact that she thought he looked handsome (which, frankly, any girl could think of any guy without having romantic intentions), he had nothing to hold on to. She could ridicule him for all he knew.
But he did not know. He hadn't a clue.
Edward focused on the performance, watched as his sister made entrance at the beginning of Act II and smiled at her. She held her posture and focused on her steps and breathing almost unconsciously. She danced with an incredible amount of grace.
But what literally sucked all air out of him was the sight of Bella in a tight-fitting red costume, dancing along with a shorter guy whose lack of grace actually surpassed Bella's. He hadn't been lying; she had improved greatly, and not only overshadowed her previous skills but her Spanish Hot Chocolate co-dancers as well. She was, however, wearing red gloves that the two other girls were not wearing.
When the lights were turned on, the entire cast reappeared and bowed to the standing and overly enthusiastic audience. Edward stood, and in spite of feeling a little weak from the sickness, he grinned at his sister, who had finally noticed her older brother. Bella also caught sight of Edward, locked eyes with him and offered him a smile so genuine Edward thought he'd be the luckiest bastard in the universe if she would only reciprocate.
"You were incredible," complemented Edward and coughed into his scarf before sliding his arms around Bella's silk-covered waist to envelop her into a tight hug. He could almost feel her blush and smiled to himself.
"Incredibly ungraceful, you mean," muttered Bella into his chest.
He inhaled the awfully artificial scent of her hair before he pulled back, but he couldn't help but let his hand linger on her back. "When I say you were incredible, I mean you were incredible. Own it."
Bella snickered. "Thank you. Did Alice and mom behave themselves?"
Edward felt cold sweat on his back. He shut his eyes for a second, but smiled. "They thought you captured the essence of Spanish Hot Chocolate perfectly."
Bella held on to Edward's waist as she cocked back her head and laughed. "Did they now?"
She looked stunning laughing like that, but he somehow felt awkward saying it. Where was his courage now? The idea of laying his feeling out there for Bella to digest didn't overpower the chance to spend time with her. He wanted to go somewhere and show her how corny he could be and yet he didn't. He was afraid of the outcome.
Edward swayed, felt tingling in his fingers and immediately knew he was going to have a seizure; but as he didn't want to ruin Bella's performance, he suggested, "You could go and see them."
"But I thought —" started Bella, frowning. "I thought you were able to give us a lift home, weren't you?"
"Of course," answered Edward. "I'm not gonna leave you here, I'll just go for a sec. I'll — I'll be right back."
It wasn't until Bella looked up at his pale form that she understood what he was trying to do; she touched his hands and felt how cold they were, noticed the hesitancy of his gaze and the trembling of his lip. He let go of Bella and leaned on the wall, swaying slightly.
"Shit, you're gonna —"
She couldn't even finish her sentence before he collapsed. Immediately, a concerned crowd gathered around them. Bella firmly disallowed suggestions to call the ambulance, explained that Edward had epilepsy, and started the process all over again as more people gathered around them. It was one thing to make sure Edward didn't harm himself in an empty room, it was completely different to focus on Edward's convulsions and count seconds with a curious audience.
But when Edward's convulsions exceeded five-minutes, Bella hesitated. He'd never had seizures as long as this one, she'd never seen him convulse so violently with so much foam coming from his mouth. Bella's stomach flipped.
Something was wrong.
When Bella raised her eyes to insist that someone called the ambulance, she caught Rosalie's eyes, and Edward's sister simply nodded and borrowed a mobile phone from the man next to her. Bella bit her lip, holding Edward's head in her lap as she continued to count seconds. She shut her eyes. Why hadn't it ended yet? Had he tried to experiment what would happen if he stopped taking his medications? But he'd told her he wouldn't do that anymore. Was there something else, something worse? Was a seizure as long as this one a sign of something more serious?
"Ambulance is on the way."
Bella's throat tightened. Rosalie crouched next to her, calmly instructed her on how best to hold Edward's head and offered assuring words. Bella could barely hear her. What if something serious happened to him and he couldn't get help quickly enough because she'd prohibited calling the ambulance at first?
He was still having convulsions seven minutes later when the ambulance arrived. Bella was almost panicking by that time and didn't know what to do or how to follow when Rosalie placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and whispered, "Tell them you're his girlfriend. I'll take your mom and Alice home if you give me the keys."
Rosalie was crushed into a hug before a set of keys landed in her palm. "You're the best."
"I'll be there later, okay?"
Bella nodded and followed the stretcher out of the building.
A beep was followed by an obscure clatter and the chopped sound of gunfire. A sniff, a beep, the same sound of gunfire, and Edward was fairly sure he'd entered some twisted version of Hell. He was unable to see the source for the peculiar sound. Slowly but determinedly, Edward blinked, and as his eyes focused on a bare, dimly lit room, he made out a female figure in a red dress who'd curled up next to the window with a mobile in her hands. She occasionally wiped her cheeks, blew her nose and continued to push the buttons with unexpected violence. It was dark outside.
Edward felt like his muscles had been squeezed through a meat grinder, never before had they felt as numb and limp as they did now.
"Are —" He cleared his throat. "Are you crying?"
Bella's head snapped up, the frown between her eyes smoothed over, and before Edward could register her moving, she had fallen into his arms. "You're alive."
Hesitating, Edward put a cold hand around her waist and squeezed weakly. She had pulled her hair out of the bun and the artificial scent overwhelmed him. He missed her natural scent.
"Er, am I not supposed to?"
"You're crying. Why are you crying?"
"I had an union-chopping marathon with Rose," answered Bella, rolling her eyes and blinking tears away. She wanted to stay longer, to lay down, feel his body next to hers and take care of him, but she didn't. She withdrew and blushed when Edward observed her face. "Rosalie's bringing coffee, and, um, Lauren is in the waiting room." Bella bit her lip at the mention of his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, averted her eyes and forced herself to get over the urge to comfort Edward. She felt embarrassed to have shown her fragility concerning him.
"They're really worried. I'll, um, go and let them know you're awake."
Before she could turn around to take her phone with her, Edward clutched weakly at her hand. "Don't go yet." The earnest way he said it and the tenderness of his expression convinced Bella to stay, so instead of going, she slid a chair closer to his bed and sat down. She swallowed and flushed further when Edward looked at her like she was the only thing on his mind, which she knew not to be true.
Edward absent-mindedly didn't let go of her hand as he asked, "Why'm I at the hospital?"
"You had a really violent seizure. I thought you… I've never seen you —" Bella faltered. "It was intense. I didn't let them call an ambulance at first, but then your convulsions wouldn't stop and I thought… I thought you were going to — it was my fault."
"Don't say that." His expression softened, but it took a moment for him to digest her words. He was rubbing her palm. "For how long?"
"Probably a half an hour," answered Bella and cautiously asked, "Did you do anything to induce it?"
"But why did you…? I've never seen you have a seizure that serious."
Edward inhaled, let the breath out unhurriedly and locked eyes with Bella. "I don't know."
Though not content with his answer, she nodded. "They took a blood sample to do some tests. Your dad's here, too, somewhere. I should let him know you're awake."
A frail smile played on his lips. "Scared of being alone with me, huh?"
The honest answer was yes, because while it wasn't easy for Bella to control her emotions around him when he was in a vertical position; it was even more difficult with him in a hospital ward, looking both emotionally and physically vulnerable. She didn't have a suit of armor against his tender eyes and soft touch.
Bella squeezed his cool hand. "They're worried; they have the right to know you're awake."
"How come you're allowed to be in here?"
Bella blushed. "Connections."
"Connections?" repeated Edward, surprised.
"Your dad," replied Bella, avoiding his eyes as she realized how stupid her actions were. "I'm sorry. Does it bother you I was in here?" She panicked slightly and drew back her hand. "I was just so concerned. I didn't realize."
"Are you insane? Of course I don't mind."
Bella pursed her lips, embarrassed. "And you're not just being polite?"
Edward coughed a chuckle. "Because I'm famous for being 'just polite.'"
Bella laughed, and again, it puzzled Edward why it took him so long to realize how beautiful Bella was. Having thought that, Edward reached out to encase Bella's hand in his, but a knock on the door and the immediate opening of it prevented him from pouring his heart out to Bella. When an unknown Doctor came in with Edward's father, Bella offered Edward an apologetic smile, greeted the men and left the room.
Rosalie sat on the other end of the corridor, one jean-clad leg over the other and two coffee cups in her hands. She glanced at her friend.
"You kinda look like a fallen angel," she commented, "Very poetic." Bella smoothed over her ballet clothes as she mumbled an embarrassed thanks, took one of the coffee cups and sat down next to Rosalie.
"Is he alright?"
"Yeah," replied Bella and took the coffee with a timid smile. "He's awake. Where's Lauren?"
"I think you scared her off."
Bella cringed. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to, I was just so worried —"
Rosalie chuckled. "Relax, you didn't really scare her off. She just went to find a snack."
After a minute of silent sitting, while Bella warmed her hands with the coffee and Rosalie thoughtfully eyed her friend, Rose said, "I told him, you know."
"Told him what?" asked Bella, taking a gulp from her coffee.
"That you'd had a crush on him for over a year."
In an urge not to spit out her hot coffee, Bella burned her throat and gasped for breath. "What? Why? How do you even know about that?"
"You're not a terribly difficult person to figure out."
"I'm almost certain you did not just mean to insult me."
"Of course I didn't," said Rosalie with a smile. "I just thought he'd treat you with a little more understanding if he knew."
Bella put away her coffee, raised one leg over the other, leaned on her elbows and hid her face in her hands. "So that's why he's being all weird. I wanna die. Any sort of comprehensible conversation between us has just died in the vine."
Edward's sister chuckled. "Don't be such a drama-queen. It's not so bad."
"Rose, you told your older brother who's spent most of his time ignoring me or being irritated by my blushing that I've liked him for a long time. Please tell me that won't make things between us awkward."
Unregretful, Rosalie quoted, "'That won't make things between us awkward.'"
In spite of her mortification, Bella snorted a laugh. "Exactly what I was going for."
Rosalie and Bella had just finished their coffee and thrown away the carton cups when the door of Edward's room opened and a nurse was called. The two girls were joined by a third when they approached the ward and watched Edward have another violent seizure. They backed away as a few nurses entered the room, and for over a half an hour, the girls listened to the voices and shouts coming from Edward's room. Bella felt so empty she was almost nauseated; she barely even noticed Carlisle approaching them before he was standing in front of them. She'd met him before a couple of times, but she'd never thought of how old he could've been. He seemed to have aged since the last time she saw him.
"Do any of you know if he had a jacket? Or which antibiotics he's taking? How long he's taken them?"
"He's taking antibiotics?" Bella nearly squeaked.
"Not one of you knew?" asked Carlisle, searching the girls faces. "He has pneumonia. We can't treat it unless we know what he's taking."
Two girls silently shook their heads, but one nodded and sighed. "I knew."
"Do you remember its name?" asked Carlisle.
"I — I'm not sure. I think it was a blue and red package. M or N-something. That's all I remember. Sorry."
"Would you be able to recognize it?"
Hesitating, Lauren nodded. "I can try."
"Come with me," said Carlisle before he locked eyes with his daughter. "Could you go and check if it's in his room?"
"Carlisle," muttered Bella before he could leave. "Do you know what's causing these long seizures?"
"But is it, like," Bella felt a lump in her throat. "Is it possible to die from seizures?"
"There's a condition called SUDEP, Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, but it's extremely rare. Don't worry yet. He's a tough one. We'll figure it out. He'll be fine."
Bella pursed her lips and blinked rapidly.
Bella sat alone with her thoughts for almost an hour, listened to the doctor whose name she couldn't recall tell her that they'd tripled valproic acid's dosage and were doing everything they could to stop Edward's seizures. Bella merely nodded mutely. She'd exchanged text messages with Jasper to make sure things were alright at home, but she felt jittery. It became difficult to focus on anything in particular.
She breathed a sigh of relief as Lauren and Rosalie simultaneously appeared from behind the corner; with Lauren's help, Carlisle was able to find and bring Meronem at the same time Rosalie returned with extra clothes for Bella. She hadn't been able to find Edward's antibiotics.
But after the comfort of finding his antibiotics and giving them to Edward, he had a third violent seizure, and Bella started to doubt the rarity of SUDEP. Carlisle assured her that she had no reason to sit here because she couldn't do anything, but Bella knew she couldn't just leave.
Just like Rosalie and Lauren, she cursorily flipped through the magazines, walked through the corridors, visited the 24/7 Starbucks and waited. She could do nothing but.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, almost three hours after switching Edward's antibiotics from meropenem to another, a more widely used antibiotic, Edward's sleep was no longer interrupted by powerful seizures. Bella, Lauren and Rosalie had agreed to doze off in turns, but as Carlisle gently awoke them to announce the great news and assured them they could go home, not one of them did. Lauren asked if she could visit Edward first so that she could return to her little sister and Rosalie and Bella agreed.
Still sleepy, Bella absent-mindedly observed Lauren's back as she entered the ward.
"I left Mike."
"How'd he take it?"
"Quite well, actually." Bella shrugged, still staring at the door that led to Edward's ward. "Did they get back together?" she muttered, determined to seem casual.
"I honestly don't know," replied Rosalie, cautiously eyed Bella and sighed. "But why else did she…"
Rosalie watched her friend, hunching and avoiding her eyes. Although Rosalie had brought extra clothes for Bella, she hadn't changed yet, but she'd combed off some of the unyielding hairspray. She was one of the strongest persons Rosalie knew, but Bella's unexpected fragility struck her. Suddenly, in a very non-Rosalie manner, she enveloped Bella into tight hug and apologized, "I'm sorry."
Taken aback, Bella frowned. "For what?"
"That my brother's such a jerk to you."
Bella huffed out a breath. "He's not. Not really. He's actually been very considerate lately."
"Then I'm sorry he doesn't like you like that."
"It's totally your fault."
Rose chuckled and retreated when happy but awkward-looking Lauren left Edward's ward and stopped in front of them.
"Um, I didn't mean to wake him, but he did. He's drowsy, but he insisted that you go and see him, Bella." She shifted in her spot. "So yeah. I think I'll go home now, make pancakes for my sister and sleep through the entire day." She smiled and waved. "See you sometime."
By his deep, even breathing, she concluded that he'd fallen asleep again, so Bella shut the door as silently as she could and tiptoed to his bed. She observed the bottle of valproic acid with a syringe next to it and silently sat down. As if on cue, Edward blinked a few times and focused his eyes on her.
"Why are you still here?" His voice, although hoarse, felt wonderful to hear, but the frankness of his words scared Bella a bit. She rubbed her bandaged wrist and wriggled under his gaze.
"But I—I thought," she stuttered. "Didn't you want to see me?"
"I did, but that didn't answer my question."
Bella shrugged, avoiding his eyes. "I wanted to make sure you were alright."
"Carlisle seems to think so."
"Then I probably am." A smile crept on his lips as he observed her. "I don't think I've told you this before, but I think you're beautiful."
Bella pursed her lips. "You don't have to."
"You don't have to," she repeated, the ever-cursed blush appearing in her cheeks. "Rosalie told me that she, you know, told you that I crushed over you for a while. It sort of makes sense now that you act all weird sometimes and treat me like you care. But I want you to know, you don't have to be so kind to me as if you cared that way. I'm sure it's awkward enough without adding fuel to the fire."
A bit of the light in Edward's eyes faded, but he attempted to show he was humored. "So you, it's like a past thing now, huh?"
"Yeah," lied Bella, desperate for things to return to normal between them, without Edward feeling bad or obliged to attempt to feel something. "I'm sorry I made you feel awkward, but I don't want you to feel you must be all nice to me and stuff."
"You think I was being nice to you because I felt guilty not feeling anything?"
"Well, yeah," agreed Bella, self-consciously running her hands through her hair. It smelled strange. "Why else? I'm not delusional. You're, what, six years older than me? How appealing it must be to be drooled after by a kid."
"You're not a kid."
"You know what I mean."
"Bella, if you're not mature for your age, I don't know who is."
"But that doesn't change the facts, does it?" asked Bella semi-rhetorically, wondering if she could take the truth about his relationship with Lauren but knowing that, in order to make it completely clear to herself, she had to. "Did you and Lauren get back together? She left in a very good mood today."
Still disheartened by her words, Edward sighed. "No."
"Why? I thought…"
"We made peace with who we want to be with, and she seemed to accept my choice. She was happy for me."
"Oh." Bella lowered her head, biting her lip. Pretending to be cool and dismissive about the issue proved ineffective, but she had to try. "Who's the lucky girl?"
Bella let out a laugh, half-bitter and half-amused. "You're so good at sarcasm you could tell me you're the newest Dalai Lama and I'd believe you."
"I'm far from sarcasm, Bella."
Bella took a breath, held it, and locked eyes with Edward. Tired of the argument, she exhaled. "Please, Edward, I'm serious. Don't feel bad that you can't return my feelings. I won't become your stalker if you tell me the truth."
Edward, catching the tense in her sentence, let a hint of a smile cover his lips. "That's quite disappointing, you know."
"I'm — what?"
He struggled to sit up, but when he did, he coughed a little and smiled. Hesitantly, Edward motioned at his side and when a confused Bella sat next to him, Edward's smile widened.
"What did I tell you about hunching?"
Bella pursed her lips and straightened her shoulders. She felt goose-bumps cover her skin when Edward stared at her like that, like he couldn't get enough of her.
"I'd like to try something."
Edward placed a gentle hand on her neck and hesitantly let his lips cover hers. It was gentle and fierce and all too wonderful, and when Bella eagerly responded, Edward smiled under her lips, but it soon vanished and he drew back with pain in his eyes.
"That was stupid of me."
Still dizzy from the kiss, Bella paled and blinked. "Pardon?"
"Highway to pneumonia, that's what that was."
Bella laughed, pulled her legs to the bed and let Edward wrap a hand around her shoulders.
"Do you believe in miracles?"
"I don't think my believing or not believing in them will prevent them from happening."