020. Edward Cullen
You don't take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it. ~Author Unknown
I know the moment she enters the cafeteria. I have super-hero senses when it comes to Bella Swan; I always will. She thinks I just noticed her this spring at the party, but I remember every moment.
I remember the first day of school freshman year, when she came to school with her green backpack monogrammed with her initials: B.M.S. She blushed when I teased her about the similarities between her initials and P.M.S. I wondered what she would have done if I had just told her what I was actually thinking: that she should take off that silly kid's backpack, so I could fuck her on the dirty floor of the high school.
I remember how it took me a year to get the courage to ask her out on a date, and even then I had Alice do it for me. I was going to surprise her in the bookstore, with her favorite: double latte with peppermint and caramel. l had and a copy of Pride and Prejudice (which I had never read, but I looked up Spark Notes online). I was going to tell her, "Listen, Bella. You're really cute, and I know you may have heard some bad things about me, but here are the facts: I like you, and I'm taking you out."
I never got to say those things to Bella Swan though, because on that blustery October morning, Alice came by with her jangling, hippy beads and told me, "The wind has shifted."
And I said, "Stop with the Madam Trelawney bullshit, Alice."
"Wizard of Oz, Dumbo."
"Well if you're going to use the C word I'll just tell you."
I remember Alice said the word "cancer" like it was the real C word. I remember how I freaked out so bad; I grabbed Alice up and practically lifted her of the floor.
Alice just sighed and said, "No, you idiot. She doesn't have cancer, her mom does. She's moving back to Phoenix to be with her."
I remember how Bella came back a year later, and I asked Alice if she was sure that Bella hadn't been through chemo, because she damn well looked like it. But still, I had to laugh when I saw that she was reading Zombie Pride and Prejudice, because some things never change, even when they die a little.
I remember the day she started dating the boy with the motorcycle and long hair. I remember this especially well, because this was also the day I found a strange camera in my mailbox, the kind that still uses film. My mother was sure it was sent by a terrorist, my father thought it was from the government trying to spy on us. But I strung it around my neck, because I'd always wanted to take pictures of things.
I'd always wanted to take pictures of her.
I'd always wanted to take pictures of her, so that the next time she leaves I'd have something keep afterward. No, that's a lie. I wanted to take pictures, so I'd have an excuse to talk to her, to keep her from leaving.
The day I got the camera, was the day when I couldn't help but follow behind the bleachers and watch as she put her small hands against a Native-American boy's brown-cracked leather jacket. It was the day when she told Jacob Black she'd never been kissed before.
I still have the first picture I took with the camera; it's of her lips pressing gently up against his.
It was just a shutter click and a flash, and I fell in love with Bella Swan.
Lots of the minds hold stories about their lives, about their petty sins, tragedies, jokes and sex lives. There are lots of thoughts about sex-lives. But that first picture I took, the first time I saw into someone's mind, it was Bella's.
Bella was dancing on clouds in her brain. She was bounding through the sky, and somersaulting under cirrus clouds, naked, but I didn't want to fuck her; I mean not only fuck her. I wanted to be there, dancing with her. Because I remember when I was a little kid and the only things I cared about were the worlds I could invent. And yes, I had lost them along the way, but maybe Bella followed behind me and picked them up.
I wanted them back; I wanted her back—even though I never had her to begin with.
As the flash faded I heard one resounding thought from her brain.
"I thought after Mom died I'd never be happy again."
There was the kicker. The cause of her happiness wasn't me. It was the boy who looked like man, but grinned like a puppy dog.
For the rest of the year I ignored her, even as she started to talk to me, flirt with me. Because when you love someone you don't ruin their happiness, even if they want you to.
I was so good, polite, smiled. There was no way she would have ever known that I loved her. I took pictures of her sometimes, just to get my fix of her thoughts, but never more than once a month. I had to keep myself restrained. I knew that if I didn't, I would fill every wall of my room with her face, each photo a cue card for the memories of her thoughts.
She was happy in the pictures I took of her. Happy with Jacob Black. Still, I dreamed about giving the photographs to her, but it was hard to think of something more stalker-pervy than going up to a girl and handing her a portfolio of photos you took of her without her consent.
Anyway, even if Bella were single, what would I have done? I knew how to make a girl come so hard she forgot her own name, but I didn't know how to pick out the right kind of flowers or what to say in bed afterward. I always pretended to fall asleep after sex so I wouldn't have to talk to the girl. I found it hard to believe you could even have sex and connection at the same time.
Life would have been better for Bella Swan, if she hadn't tried to seduce me at Lauren Mallory's party. Bella had come dressed as a swan, which wasn't really a native animal of Forks, but when you've got legs like Bella had, costume accuracy seemed secondary.
I was dressed like a lion, because there were too many grizzly bears and wild cats, and because I had copper-hair that kind of looked like a mane when I didn't brush it. I don't know how Bella managed to corner me at the party, or even why. Things were going great with Jacob. He was in love with her; I had the pictures and thoughts to prove it.
It wasn't until she sat down next to me on the mattress, placing her hand just centimeters away from mine, that I noticed she had feathers in her hair. It reminded me of the clouds in her mind. There she was, my Bella, biting that lower lip, looking at me like she wanted me to devour her. I held back, because when you're in love that's what you do, isn't it? I certainly didn't hold back with the girls I didn't give two shits about.
But when then she took one the feathers from her hair and tickled the edge of my nose with it, I knew Bella Swan was getting fucked that night.
"Doesn't the lion fall in love with the swan?" she teased with a little frown. I wished I had my camera. I wished I could of known what made her sad.
"I think it's the lamb."
Her breath was so warm against my neck. She was so there. I loved her thoughts, but man her touch made me hard as fuck, and that was almost as good.
"Yeah, Edward, but a lamb isn't sexy, wouldn't have gotten your attention."
"Anything you do would have gotten my attention."
We fucked on the bed. We fucked on the floor. We fucked in the dirt of the backyard, as the cops searched in the haystacks of beer bottles for the college kids who had emptied them. We fucked and moaned underneath the crooning sirens.
When we were done, I brought her back to the house. She had fallen asleep on the wet grass, her white dress stained green. And God, I swear even though her cheeks were smudged with mud and she smelled like sweat and come, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Pretty as a picture, Bella was. So I took one. I tip-toed down the stairway, running my finger-tips along the banister, because after touching Bella, every tactile sensation seemed newly framed by the experience of tweaking her nipples or stroking her skin.
I carried my camera close to my chest, not bothering with the flash as I set it up near her face. I would remember the soft parting of her lips as she whispered inaudibly in her dreams. The picture would come out in shadows.
A click of the shutter and I knew the name Bella was whispering. Jacob Black.
Three phone calls, two texts since that night. I delete them all without looking at them, because I know if I do, I will never be able to let her go.
I don't turn to look at her as she moves between the cafeterias. I don't have to. I know how she moves on her brown heels, a little unsteady, the way her eyes aren't focused on anything, because she's thinking.
I can guess what she's thinking. I've seen the worlds her mind has created, the lush rainforests of dreams and fears. She has medicine for me in that mind of her. Deep wonders I'll never discover, because I was not there first.
"Edward." As she leans against the partition in front of me, the hem of her blue and white polka dotted dress slides up just enough to reveal the inward curve of the outside of her thigh. I can still smell the morning dew on her skin.
"Edward." She bites her lip. "We need to talk."
It is a battle I will never win, to focus on the words Bella says, when I've had her body and her dreams straight up. The ticker on the camera reads two shots left.
"About what?" I ask.
"About what?" she repeats, disbelieving. "God, never mind. I'm sorry I was so deluded." I can't see that she's crying, but the symptoms of it are in her words.
"Wait." I remove the camera from around my neck.
"No, Edward. I'm done waiting for you." She pushes off the partition and moves towards the sea of table and students.
As she turns my eyes are drawn to the indent in the back of her knees. I marvel at how the skin there looks so soft and vulnerable. I want to kiss it. I want to kiss every part of her. "Please."
"For what, so you just can ignore me again? I'm not some toy." Her brown eyes are glazed with tears, until gravity pushes them down her face.
"You have no idea, do you?" I whisper. Her fingers tense; It reminds me of the pressure of them on my cock. "Do you know what you do to me, Bella? What I would do to make you happy?"
Her face floods with red, and this is the first time I've seen her really angry. As much as I hate it, I also love it, because her eyes narrow and I can imagine her making that face as she comes, trailing her nails down my back and screaming my name.
"Just once, just one fucking time, I wish everyone would say exactly what they wanted to say," she spits out. "I wish you would just tell me what you're thinking."
I can't help but think back on the pictures I took today, the stories, the secrets. Some of them were inconsequential, many sad. But all of them were beautiful in their own way. I am in all of their minds at once, Aro dancing around Siobhan peering down at tide pools, Tanya slipping the bracelet into Alice's locker, Alice twirling the bracelet around her wrist as she waits for the Forks Police Department to let her off hold. Jasper marching off to the football field with a helmet of flowers and lipstick smudges on his cheeks. Mr. Winthorpe, James, holding that little bird in his hands, nursing it back to health, looking at it with love even as he let it fly away. And Emmett laughing at Rosalie, and Rosalie clutching the shirt to her chest inhaling, and Angela going to the salon to get the little glimpses of the dreams she'll never have.
They'll never know that someone's listening, that someone heard their lives. I can never tell them, never let them know exactly how un-alone they are. But I can tell her.
"Bella, I am in love with you."
"You don't have to make up feelings just to explain things or try and sneak your way—"
"I'm not," I say.
Her eyes say prove it
So I do.
"Take this." I place her hands around the camera. When she tries to pull back from my touch I don't let her.
"Edward, I don't-"
"This is the last thing I'll ever ask of you, Bella, I promise."
This is it—one last action, one last declaration. Once I sling the strap around her neck, I turn around and move towards the stool, and sit down on it, feet apart, staring straight at her.
"Take my picture."
"Just click the shutter and then you can go back to Jacob Black."
Her finger presses down on the button.
I summon every thought I've had about Bella, our occasional witty banter in the lunch-line freshman year, the texture of her hair, the way the light catches her face as she sits, head cocked, listening to Mr. Banner drone on about Shakespeare as if she actually cares, how I felt when I first saw her struggling with her locker combination, the slickness of the inside of her thighs with every thrust, the quiet hush as I brought the camera to her face in the dark, the curve of her breasts. How feel about her now. How I'll always feel, and why that feeling means I have to leave her.
I expected to feel something, but I don't. I would almost think it didn't work, but Bella's eyes widen so large there's no mistaking it has.
After a moment, she sets the camera down, and just looks at me. I'm glad I don't have the camera, because I know if I did I would take a picture. And I couldn't bear to hear her thoughts of how I'm pervert and wow, even the stud, Cullen, is a loser at heart.
"I broke up with him," she says in a quite voice, "I broke up with Jacob; not just because of you, but because we weren't working." Her waist is so tiny, her chest so hollow looking as she bends over— sobbing.
I want so badly to go over to her and take her in my arms, but I know what I said. I'm not going to ask anything, to do anything to Bella every again—even help her. "I'm sorry, I never meant to come between—"
"Edward, I can't say what I need to say."
Would I never have closure?
"So here," she holds out the camera in front of her, hands shaking from the weight of it.
I take it from her hand, our fingers almost touching, turn and walk back towards the lights and equipment, and begin packing up.
"What are you doing?" Bella asks.
"Leaving, getting ready to go."
"I gave you the camera so I could take a picture of me. So you could know."
I look at the ticker. One. One picture left. What horrible things would there be about me in her brain, what anger what bitterness? The truth was, at the end of the day, I was a coward. "I can't."
"Edward, I did one thing for you, no questions asked, even though I had no idea what it was you were asking. . . the least you can do is return the favor."
"Fine." I bring the camera up.
"Closer," she says.
I take a step closer. A thought occurs to me. It's possible to trigger the flash without actually taking a picture. If I do that she'll never have to know the difference.
"Three, two, one—"
There's none of Bella's mind, no click of the shutter.
She springs from the stool, towards me and grabs half of the camera in one hand, holding it above us. And as her finger clicks down on the button, her lips press into mine.
Illumination, all around my brain, or hers—I can't tell the difference anymore. I see myself in that light, as she sees me: golden boy, eyes wide and more topaz than brown. In her mind I am so beautiful that it hurts to look at myself.
There she is next to me, dressed as a swan, feathers sprouting from her hair, but I'm not even looking at her, ignoring her.
The smell of books and papers as I whisper to her in the library about Michael Jackson and how it was sad he died, because The Break of Dawn was possibly the best sex song ever written.
How she slapped me in the arm, not just because she thought George Michaels was the best sex song writer ever, but because she was worried if she didn't that she would end up kissing me.
She knew she couldn't kiss me and lose me.
The cadence of my voice, as I whisper her name, the soft cascade of syllables.
How far away and blurry I look as she watches me from behind her locker talking with Alice, asking her to ask her out.
The giddy excitement as she cycles between outfits trying to figure out what color I like. She knew about the date all along.
The crackling static through which she hears her mother's voice.
The click of the ropes as they lower her mother's coffin into the ground.
The salty sting of tears lodged in her throat. The sensation of heaving sobs. The feel of a warm hand in hers—Jacob's. The end of the loneliness. How anything was better than the emptiness, even being with someone she didn't love with her whole heart.
Sneaking glances at me from behind the shelves in the library, around corners. She was always watching me, just like I was her.
The feeling of her heart breaking, as I ignored her. The desperation as she turned herself into something she wasn't just for the hope of getting my attention.
The thrill as she clutched her legs around mine. The beauty of the electricity that jolted between us, that bonded us together.
The guilt at the fact that all her life she had derided people like Tanya Denali who fucked in odd places and with odd people and didn't care who they hurt in the first place. Didn't care if they even got hurt themselves. She was not like that. Except after cheating on her boyfriend with the guy she really loved, she guess she kind of was.
And the fear, the fear after her phone lay silent by her bed. The fear that it meant nothing to me. Dark canyons of it, snaking around islands of light and hope in her brain. Earthquakes and growing, gaping chasms.
The dignity as she sat Jacob down in the corner of Starbucks and explained to him, that it was over. That he deserved better than someone who didn't love him. The way he rolled his shoulders back and didn't cry, but his hands shook and he spilled a little coffee.
Finally me, standing there telling her the words she wanted to hear for so long. The relief of it underlined by the bitterness that had built up in the veins of her heart like plaque or bits of bone. The sharp blade of it, slowly, slowly, dragging across her skin.
Then joy. So much joy, as I feel her feeling my thoughts. A circle. Each of our minds folded in on each other. I have never felt so happy before in my life; her joy at loving me, my joy at loving her.
Both of our thoughts and secrets are the same. We are the same.
Bella Swan's mind is a beautiful place, and if I could I would live there forever. But people aren't meant to live forever. And if you know the story just by flashing a camera, well then, you'll never have to tell it, will you? You'll never have to say exactly what you want to say.
So after the flash dies, I take the camera from her hands and toss it to the ground. The lens cracks first, and the back panel opens with a click, the film popping out in streams.
"Edward!" she cries.
I silence her with a kiss so hard she will never doubt that I love her. When we finally we surface, to the jeers and cat-calls of the few remaining students in the corners of the cafeteria, I say it.
"Bella, I love you."
It is exactly what I want to say.
I will want to say it forever.