There was a hum of life in the warm air of the coffee shop. All around her friends and more than friends sat together, seeking refuge from the bitter cold of winter in hot drinks, sweet treats and a cranked up heater.
All except for me, she thought, tugging uncomfortably at the ends of her formal attire.
This isn't right, being dressed up, especially considering who I am meeting. We were never formal, just completely casual. That's who we are, right? Two completely casual people?
Were, a powerful voice corrected her strictly. You were two completely casual people, just like you were friends. I guess you changed that one, too.
She tried to control the spasm of pain that was sure to flash across her face as she argued with herself. "Speaking to voices inside my head?" she muttered darkly, "Looks like I just skipped over all the other symptoms of mania."
"Bella?" a voice pulled her out of her reverie. It bought a rush of memories flooding through her mind as she struggled to hold back the emotions that threatened to spill over; it made her heart dance and soul sing at the smooth and even tones of its tenor.
Stop, the commanding voice told her. The music was too high of a cost for you.
She swallowed back the pain and bitterness, standing from her seat and flashing him a weak smile. "Edward," she answered, working to make her voice sound light and happy rather than thick with sorrow.
The girl named Bella honestly didn't expect him to hug her – it was an act of affection she had received so rarely before – but it didn't mean there was no pain as he awkwardly extended his hand for her to shake. She did so halfheartedly, praying to whatever God that created this universe that he wouldn't notice how much hers was shaking. Despite the odd and unfamiliar greeting, his skin on hers still gave her tingles.
The two sat as a loud silence engulfed them. Both agreed to meet up in this coffee shop, but neither had a clue as to what to talk about. They just stayed there, avoiding one another's gaze like it could kill them and listening to the clanks and clatters of the bistro.
"How's college? You're a freshman, right?" Edward asked, knowing full well that's what grade level she would be in at this point. It was like high school all over again for them – the freshman and the sophomore.
"Yes, but I had enough credit to skip over to my sophomore year," she told him, a little bit of pride seeping into her tone, although she felt anguish as well. Secretly, she had hoped he would keep tabs on her – that is what she did to him, after all.
"You always were a smart one, Bella," he smiled, looking at the girl in front of him and searching desperately for signs of the one he used to know. It was so hard, though. She changed, had grown from the awkward stages of a teenager into a more mature adult. A glimmer caught his eye and he looked down to see what it was attracting the light; relief flooded through him as he realized it was her purity ring, the one she received so much hell for wearing in high school.
Glad to know some things never change, he thought.
"Academically, yes, but when it comes to life…" she trailed off. They both knew what it was she was implying.
"How have things been for you?" her voice cracked as she asked a question she swore she wouldn't. It had been an unspoken agreement over that email, that they would avoid any conversation about their fall out, one that she just went and broke.
Just like all your promises. Just like his trust, the voice chirped.
No reply was given. Bella looked into his eyes, searching his gaze, but nothing was revealed. His eyes, once warm and beautiful and inviting, had cooled down and held nothing for her. No emotion, no light, nothing. There was a chain on the door to his mind.
And you know exactly why, the hard voice turned mocking.
He wasn't ready, and never would be, to talk about it. What had happened had caused them to drift apart.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I don't think this was the best idea for us to meet up here," Xander looked away as he said this. No need to watch as the broken girl in front of him fell even farther to pieces.
He got up to leave when he heard a small but forceful, "Wait!"
Edward turned to stare at Bella expectantly, waiting for what it was that needed to be said. She returned the gaze, unsure of what exactly her next move would be.
Actions speak louder than words.
With purposeful strides, she closed the distance in between them, and in a bold moment of decision she did the most daring thing she'd ever done.
Square on the mouth, she kissed him.
Bella poured everything she had into that kiss. All the pain, the anger, the regret she held inside the past two and a half years; the love that she held for him, the love that never left, the desire to make him hers, the need for his touch – it was all present in this act of affection.
Edward's arms wrapped around her torso and they held her there in vices. He felt her long fingers tangle into his short hair, gripping at whatever she could hold. Their mouths moved in synchronization, almost as if it were a dance, as a melody in the background tugged elusively at strings of both their memories.
It was every kind of hell, their kiss, but they burned peacefully, finding solace in each other for the first time since it happened.
All too soon they pulled away, breathing heavily into each other's arms.
"I love you, Edward. I've never stopped," her voice melded with the silence. For the first time in years she felt close to whole.
There was a sharp intake of breath, and then Edward's gentle lips against her forehead. She closed her eyes to relish the feeling of completeness.
"You know it has never been the same for me," his warm breath fanned against her skin as he pulled back, looking down at her.
And it was then she was completely broken.
Bella looked into his eyes once more, seeing a passage way to the intricacies of his mind. They had melted once again, allowing her to decipher his thoughts and feelings. She saw a man who was haunted and broken – was it I who did that to him? – who needed to be set free. But she also saw a light in him, the one that was always there, shining dimly, fighting against the darkness to not be put out. She saw someone who had a future, who would do great things in life – not someone who should be tied down by a broken girl.
The resolve hit her with full force.
Turning away, Bella gathered her belongings, knowing full well it's him she wants to be holding in her arms. On a whim, with her back still facing him, she placed an item near her coffee cup on the table, hoping he'd find it eventually.
Looking back at him once more, her heart crumbled. The words that followed wouldn't be able to haunt her.
"Goodbye, Edward," she all but whispered. It was so low he almost didn't hear it, but the words registered in his head. If he knew the double meaning behind them, he never let it show.
And so she walked out of the coffee shop, out of his life.
And hopefully out of his mind, she thought.
The wind and cold was unrepentant, but she didn't notice it biting at her cheeks. She didn't feel a thing. The world blurred passed her as tears filled her eyes and spilled over, freezing on her face. Despite her expression of pain and sorrow, there was no emotion inside of her. It was a beautiful emptiness, nothing like the void she felt when Edward left.
Her mind was made up. Nothing could stop her. Even her voice of reason was silenced, knowing that this girl was too far gone to be swayed.
All the memories played themselves back in her mind, starting in the beginning when she and Edward were bought together on a cold winter night much like this. It morphed into the spring when the ice was thawed, and the two were closer than ever, a duo that just could not be split. Temperatures rose, as did her feelings and dependency on him, and slowly the strong foundation of their friendship crumbled beneath her betrayal and lies. And in the fall…it all fell down.
Nine months. Nine months was all it took for Bella to gain and lose the best she never had.
She saw the results of their fall out once more, relived it as if it were actually happening. No one on the street knew what Bella was seeing, what was going through her head – she was off in her own world, watching herself on those long days and even longer nights. She saw the break downs and tears, the loss of reality; she saw the moment in which eight weeks and three days of keeping herself clean went to waste in her weakness; she saw the scars from the blade that carved her and Edward's lives apart; she saw the nights spent lying in bed, talking to air as she pretended it was him lying next to her, her last shreds of hope dissolving throughout her descent into insanity.
The memories she fought so hard to hold back no longer hurt. She allowed herself to find comfort in watching their story play back in her mind, but when it faded out of view – faded like the girl who lived it – she focused on his face. The way his smile lifted up his cheeks and crinkled his eyes, his prominent cheek bones and squared jaw, the eye brows and nose that met so perfectly… Bella had the urge to reach up into the air and trace the lines and contours that seemed so real at that moment. It was a familiar urge, one she felt many times before when around him, to just touch his face. She wanted to know he was real, that someone so perfectly imperfect and beautiful could really be gracing her presence with his.
But he's not here.
Her pace quickened at the thought and her apartment loomed into view. It was only a few hundred more feet until she met her destiny, and there was no turning back. A little bit of relief trickled into her heart at the prospect of it all being over soon. A swipe against the snowy fields of her skin, a swallow from an orange bottle washed down with a swig…
Yes, there would be an ending to this story very soon.
She walked up the steps, somehow managing to appear calm, and as she reached for her keys she uttered her last words, words that were carried by the wind.
They travelled through the air of the busy city, passing but never stopping by its inhabitants. It kept going until it reached a man in a little coffee shop nine blocks away. He was standing there, staring at the spot in which he was left, trying to understand the feelings tugging at his heart. A glimmering object caught his eye, purposefully set by an untouched cup of coffee. He picked it up and nearly screamed when he realized what it was.
In his hand he held the silver purity ring of Bella, slowly but surely losing its warmth from her skin. It finally clicked, her last words to him, and that final encounter replayed in his mind.
"Good bye, Edward."
He was rooted in place, tormented by his indecision and fear, watching helplessly as she walked out again and again. There was nothing he could do, she walked away, and he didn't go after her. He left her. He promised he'd never leave but he did. It was her fault, they both knew, for the fall out, but he didn't want for things to end like this.
His throat tightened around itself as tears stung at his eyes. The world darkened considerably as he finally understood what the past two and a half years must've been like for Bella.
Lashing against his soul and pounding throughout his head, Edward's thoughts echoed the last words of Bella:
Wisdom isn't worth the pain.