After a forced marriage filled with violence, Bella escapes from Edward with their unborn child. Almost four years later, Edward has found her and their daughter and he refuses to let them go.
"And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about."
- Haruki Murakami
One More Time
Saturday morning found Bella the same place she'd been for the past several Saturdays: in her therapist's office. At first, Bella had been reluctant to seek therapy. She'd only agreed to it because she'd wanted to retain physical custody of Alexis. She did see the benefit of it, but being expected to open up about issues that she'd buried so deep within herself made her feel naked and vulnerable. There were only a handful of people who knew Bella's story, and what they knew was only part of it. Speaking of that buried past, after all this time, was very much like unburdening, but after carrying the weight for so long, Bella felt a sense of loss at being rid of it. The pain and anger was all she knew. It was what she was accustomed to.
But Bella found, over time, it wasn't as bad she'd initially thought. Mrs. Baker, her therapist, had promised that they would go as slow as Bella needed and that she didn't have to talk about anything she didn't want to. Bella had kept to that idea, and while she'd divulged about her and Edward's violent relationship and her escape from Chicago, she'd kept quiet about certain things. There was only so much she could speak of. Some memories, like her captivity and Carlisle's illegal business, she preferred to keep buried deep within and never speak of again.
While Edward was often the main topic of their discussion, Bella found herself speaking of Alexis more and more lately. Even after all these years, Alexis was still an anomaly in Bella's life.
"It's not that I don't love her; it's more that she was never my wish. I never saw myself as a mother, and every time I look at her, it's like she's a puzzle piece that doesn't fit into the overall picture I have in my head," Bella explained.
"That overall picture you have, what is it of? What do you see in it?"
Bella shrugged. "The same thing I saw when I was just a school kid in Florida. Me achieving my dreams."
Mrs. Baker nodded in understanding. "Okay. If you could picture the picture that is your life now and look at it side by side with the picture of what you wanted, which of the two do you think you'd go for?"
Bella thought about it for a moment. She thought of the life she'd wanted, one that didn't include Alexis, and she thought of the life she had that did include Alexis.
"I would choose the life I have now," she said after a moment. "Because it includes Alexis, and I can't imagine a life where she doesn't exist."
"Is that the only reason?"
"That I could think of, yes."
Mrs. Baker got a thoughtful look on her face before she spoke. "What about the two Bellas? The Bella you were in Florida and the Bella you are in Forks? Which of these two would you rather be?"
Bella thought about it silently again. While she did, sometimes, yearn for the childish naivety that came with her school years, Bella couldn't help but remember just how much she'd learnt about herself these past several years. When she'd been living in Florida, she'd always had someone to rely on. She always had the path made for her. All that changed when Edward had taken her. She remembered how she'd once compared herself to a bird that had been kicked out of its nest and was expected to learn to fly while plummeting to the ground. She hadn't noticed that she had learned how to fly after all.
"I would choose the Bella I am now," she said, answering Mrs. Baker's question. "Maybe it's time I gave up that old dream," Bella said softly.
"Is that something you want?" Mrs. Baker asked gently.
"Yes." There was no waiver or hesitation in Bella's voice when she answered.
"Even though we can't always change our situation, we can change the way we react to it. If you want, there are several things you can do to help you let go of the things you no longer want to hold onto."
"Well, some clients might write down the qualities or personalities they want to get rid of on a piece of paper, and they would rip it up, signifying the end of their old habits. Others choose to get rid of old items they have that reminded them of their past or the person they were. To them, it signifies the shedding of old pain and embracing a new life."
"Like my wedding band?" Bella asked. In one of the initial sessions, Bella had mentioned to Mrs. Baker that, despite the years apart and the divorce, she still had the wedding band Edward had given to her on their wedding day. After the fire, when Bella had returned to the house to assess the damage and recover whatever items were still salvageable, she'd been shocked to find that the wedding band was still there. Her initial thought at seeing it was of shock and anger. She couldn't understand how everything else had fallen apart but that had survived. Even Alexis's stuffed bear had burned in the fire. Despite these feelings, she'd still kept it, and it was currently tucked in a drawer in her new bedroom.
"Yes, like the wedding band," Mrs. Baker said, answering her question. "If you're ready, you can rid yourself of it and see it as ridding yourself of whatever past you no longer want to interfere with your future. The good thing is you get to choose what you want it to symbolise. What aspects of your life you want to hold to and let go of."
"That's a lot to take in." Bella could feel herself getting slightly overwhelmed with all the information she was receiving. Mrs. Baker could see that much by the look on Bella's face, so she suggested they end their session early that day.
It was a long drive home for Bella, which allowed her sufficient time to think about what Mrs. Baker had said. Her mind seemed to be going a hundred miles an hour and wasn't slowing down long enough for her to think. When she arrived at the house more than an hour later, she was still unsure about what she wanted. Renee was sitting on the bench swing outside when Bella walked up, and Bella could see the slight look of relief on her face. After everything that had happened, Renee always seemed to be on edge whenever Bella was gone. Life had taken on a new type of normal after the fire and divorce, and this new way of life was something they were both getting used to.
The house they were renting at the moment was larger than the previous one. The bench swing had come with the house, and it was an added feature that Alexis loved. Bella had been able to find a new job as an office administrator at a community hospital, which allowed her to put her degree to work while not being in close contact with blood. These new variations of normal that she constantly had to get used to were making Bella dizzy. If there was one thing she'd learnt, it was that these states of normal were only a temporary thing, and at some point, things were going to change, and she would have to, again, learn how to adapt or perish in that new normal.
Taking a seat beside Renee on the bench, Bella folded her legs beneath her so Renee would be the one pushing them back and forth. Sometimes it felt nice to just sit back and let other people do the work.
"How was your session?" Renee asked.
Other than Edward, Renee also seemed relieved that Bella was getting help. She knew there was a lot Bella was dealing with, and for her, if Bella wouldn't talk to Renee about it, she was happy Bella was talking to someone. Even if she couldn't help her daughter, it gave her some comfort to know there was someone out there who could.
"It was good. A lot of insight," Bella replied, knowing full well that Renee wouldn't understand what she was talking about. No matter how much Bella tried, she could never divulge to Renee what had happened, and Renee had never pushed her on it. They were both healing from everything, and it was an understanding between them that each day would be taken one step at a time. Though Bella knew Renee would always wonder the reason behind those lost years.
"Can I ask you something?" Bella asked.
"You know you can ask me anything."
Bella thought over her question carefully before she asked it. "Do you have any regrets?"
Renee looked at her, confused. That was not the question she had expected.
"I meant in your life," Bella explained. "Do you have any regrets?"
"Yes and no," Renee replied. At that moment, Bella couldn't help but notice how much older her mother looked. Bella wasn't the only one whom time had a large effect on. Both she and Renee had aged beyond their years. "There are some areas of my life I do wish I'd done differently, but at the same time I can't say I have regrets. I just see each as a learning experience. If I had to do it all over, I don't know if I would have done it differently. I've survived what I thought was hard. I can't say I would have survived if it had been any other way."
Bella nodded in understanding. It was an interesting way of looking at things.
"Is there a specific reason why you're asking this?"
"Yeah, I guess. I'm just having a hard time deciding what I want to do with some parts of my life."
"Is it that you don't know what to do or that you're afraid of what you want to do?" Renee asked.
"I guess it's more that I'm afraid of what I want," Bella admitted. "I'm afraid I shouldn't want it."
Bella didn't know how to answer that.
Renee took Bella's hand in hers before she spoke again. "I don't know exactly what it is you're referring to, so I can't give any specific advice, but the thing is, you have to remember that at the end of the day, it is your life. You don't have to feel any obligation to do anything or be a certain way for anyone. You know what is best for you. Once what you're doing isn't hurting anyone, and you are prepared to deal with whatever consequences arise, just do whatever you feel is best."
"I don't believe in myself enough to do that," Bella said, speaking so softly she wondered if Renee had even heard her.
"I believe in you." When Bella looked at Renee, she saw that Renee was smiling at her. "That's why I've never pressured you to tell me what happened. I know you. I know that you will do what is best for you and Alexis, and no matter what I trust your judgement. I will always wonder, but I trust you enough and love you enough to always have faith in your decisions."
Bella had to blink back tears from her eyes at Renee's words. "Thank you." Renee reached over and hugged her, and Bella found herself trusting her own judgement just a little bit more.
When they pulled away after a few moments, Renee looked up at the sky. "I promised I'd go down and help at the shelter for a few hours this afternoon; will it be alright if I left you?" Renee asked.
"Sure. There are a few things I have to do today anyway," Bella said.
Several minutes later, after Renee had gone inside to get ready, Bella went into her room and looked under her bed for the wooden box that held the wedding band. It was in the exact same spot in the box as it was the last time she'd seen it. Without thinking about it too much, Bella placed it in her pocket before heading out the door to her truck.
As she drove into La Push, Bella thought more and more about what Mrs. Baker had said. She thought about the ring in her pocket and what she wanted it to symbolise for her as she made the decision to let it go.
The beach was relatively empty when Bella arrived at. There were just a few surfers and families scattered about. After getting out of her truck, Bella walked barefooted down to the shore's edge. The water was cool as it passed over her feet. Taking the wedding band out of her pocket, Bella held it between her fingers for a few moments as she took in the designs for the first time in years. Looking back out at the wide expanse of ocean, Bella thought about the parts of her life she wanted to rid herself of and what she wanted to keep.
Whenever she thought about the long and difficult journey she had taken to arrive where she was today, Bella couldn't believe she had actually survived. She thought about her life in Florida before Edward and her life with Edward. She thought about everything that had happened in Chicago and everything that happened between Chicago and Forks. She thought about everything that had happened in Forks. She thought of the people she'd met, and all those that had helped her through her difficult journey. She knew she would never be able to fully repay them for all they had done, but she hoped they knew she appreciated it all no matter what. Even though the journey had been filled with enormous amounts of pain, she didn't want to fully remove it from her consciousness. She had to remember all the lessons she'd learned and inner-strength she'd discovered so as not to fall back into any old patterns. She thought about all the dreams and wishes she'd had for her life while living in Florida and how far her current life was from it. Thinking about it also brought out some of the anger she felt whenever she compared her dream life to her current life. Looking at the wedding band, Bella finally knew what she wanted it to symbolise.
Holding it tightly one last time, she thought about the life she'd wanted, and with an exhale of breath, she saw herself letting go of that life and instead embracing the one she had now. The one where she had a daughter whom she loved more than anything and where she'd gained a new appreciation for life. It was the one where she'd discovered her own inner strength. She thought about all the built up anger she'd had and how that stopped her from being the person she wanted to be. She wanted to let go of that anger and hatred, and for the first time, step fully into her current life.
Just like her decision to run out of the car and jump off that bridge in Chicago, Bella didn't even think too much of it as she pulled her arm back as far as it would go and then brought it forward, tossing the wedding band into the water.
It was so tiny when compared to the vast open sky and ocean that Bella was only able to watch it for a moment as it sailed through the air before it was gone. As she stared at the place where it had disappeared, she realised that Mrs. Baker was right. It did feel like she was letting go of the weight, and for the first time in a long time, she felt free.
The following Monday, after collecting Alexis from school, Bella sat with her in the car park of the hall where the graduation would be taking place, as they waited for the music teacher to arrive so the preschool class could begin rehearsal for their graduation. The teacher was already twenty minutes late, so Alexis was using this time to fill Bella in on what she'd done over the weekend. Amidst her detailed recap, Bella paused her for a moment to ask her something.
"Did your dad ask again what I was doing?" Bella asked.
"Yeah," Alexis replied with exasperation in her voice. It was something Bella asked her after every visit with Edward.
It didn't surprise Bella that Edward was asking Alexis about her personal life. It just surprised her that he thought he could get Alexis to keep quiet about it. Since she could talk, Alexis had always recapped every minuscule detail of her day to Bella, even if Bella had been there, and that hadn't changed one bit over the years.
From what Bella understood, Edward had begun asking Alexis about what Bella did after seeing her one night with a fellow co-worker. They'd been working late that night and had stopped off for a late dinner. He'd left before she could talk to him. It was just a friendly dinner, but she knew he would have been affected by what he'd seen. There was a time when her only desire was to hurt him like he'd hurt her, but that time was gone.
The music teacher arrived then, halting their conversation. While Alexis went into the hall to practice, Bella waited outside with the other parents. Parents were not allowed in while the class was practicing for Friday. Bella didn't really understand what the big deal was. It seemed a lot for a preschool graduation. The children were just going from one class to the other, but either way, Alexis was excited to show her parents what she'd learned, and Bella knew to sit patiently while she did so.
No matter how much time passed, some days Bella still couldn't believe she was involved in these parenting things. Sitting beside a door covered in children's drawings while waiting for her five-year-old to finish practicing for her preschool graduation was not a picture that fit anywhere into her dreams of her future life when she'd lived in Florida. It wasn't the life she'd imagined, but for the first time, Bella felt it was good enough.
While driving home a half hour later, Bella couldn't stop herself from looking at Alexis through the rearview mirror every few minutes. Alexis was too busy talking about the songs she'd learned and the class party that was coming up to notice Bella looking. Shortly after Alexis was born, Bella had found herself wondering what kind of life she could give to her daughter. Most nights had found her wide awake, terrified of what the next day would bring. Terrified of what new experience would make her feel inept for parenting. Oddly enough, the only thing that could pull her out of those thoughts was Alexis.
Despite all the books at the library that she'd read on parenthood, Bella found that they'd been lacking in several areas with regards to having your first child. For instance, they didn't tell you about the hopelessness you feel when your child has their first flu. Or that, despite what the television commercials might show, no medicine provides the instant relief the actors on screen portrayed. The books also didn't mention that when your child does get sick, you will stay up the entire night just to watch them breathe. It was Alexis's first flu that led to Bella being awake and filled with despair at three in the morning.
The seven months since Bella had brought Alexis home had been difficult. No matter how hard she worked or how hard she tried, Bella never seemed to be able to get ahead. Now with Alexis sick, she felt even more hopeless and insufficient. She also felt incredibly alone.
As she was about to finally drift off to sleep, Bella was jolted awake for what felt like the hundredth time by Alexis's cries. Alexis had been laid to sleep beside her, but that didn't seem to be enough. Picking her up, Bella tried laying her across her chest to help calm her, but that didn't work either. Finally, she stood while picking Alexis up and began walking back and forth, hoping to soothe her. Alexis just continued to cry.
It was moments like this when Bella felt vulnerable and weak. It took everything in her to not cry along with her daughter. She didn't know how to do this parenting thing. For a moment, she began to feel that it was her fault and she'd made a mistake backing out of the adoption. Surely Alexis's potential adoptive parents would have done a much better job. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Bella was well aware that she was suffering from some sort of postpartum depression, but reason and logic ceased to exist in her present state. Only the here and now mattered, and the here and now consisted of a crying baby and her feeling at the end of her rope.
Prior to everything that had happened, Bella had never been a person to believe in regrets. She never saw the purpose with of it. With all the decisions she'd made, she saw it as doing the best she could with what she was given. "Feci quod potui, faciant meliora potentes," one of her teachers use to say. Now Bella wondered if Alexis would have been better off with a proper family. Sitting there all alone, she couldn't remember what had possessed her to take on the care of a child when she couldn't even care for herself.
Bella had been so wrapped up in her own self contempt that she hadn't realised the crying had stopped. When she looked down, Bella saw that Alexis had stopped crying and was staring at her through sleepy eyes. The day Alexis had been born, Bella had thanked her rarely lucky stars that Alexis's eyes were dark, an indication they would likely turn brown. She didn't need a reminder of the green eyes that infiltrated her sleep to infiltrate into her consciousness as well. Even without the same colour eyes, Alexis still looked a little like Edward.
"Some nights," Bella said softly to Alexis, "I wonder why I kept you. It's not that I don't love you, because despite everything, I do. I swear to you I do love you, but I just wonder how selfish of a person I could be that I stopped you from going to a family that could have taken care of you better. Instead I chose to keep you for myself." Bella let out a tired sigh. She didn't bother sitting down, because she knew the second she did that Alexis would start crying again.
Alexis made a slight coo in Bella's arms, and Bella held her just a little bit firmer at the sound. Holding her carefully in one hand, Bella passed her fingertips gently over Alexis's nose and cheek. Although Bella saw her every day, it was still weird. She and Edward were parents. They had a child. No matter how she spun that sentence or rearranged the words, it still felt foreign in her mind. But Alexis was real. The feel of Alexis's body against hers reminded Bella of why she ran. Why she had made it this far, and why she had to keep going. In her mind, there was no other viable option.
She also remembered why she'd chosen to keep her. Regardless of how she came to be, Alexis would always take up a large portion of Bella's heart. Whenever she thought of being separated from her daughter, Bella felt an emptiness she guessed was similar to having a limb removed. The thought left her feeling hollow. During the past year and half, it had been Alexis who'd kept her going. She'd found the courage to leave when she'd found out she was pregnant. She'd found the courage to put one foot in front the other every day during the last few months of her pregnancy, and she'd found the strength to meet all of the difficulties of a single parent when Alexis had been born. It was Alexis who had gotten her through each difficult and trying moment in her life, and it was Alexis who would continue to give her the courage and strength to keep moving.
Alexis had just fallen asleep when Bella felt the ocean of hopelessness recede for now. Blinking back the tears that had begun to form in her eyes, Bella pressed her lips gently to Alexis's forehead. For the first time in a while, she found herself believing that they would be okay. It would be a long road, and it would be difficult, but eventually, they would be okay.
"Lexi, you can't pull it anymore. It will rip," Bella said for what felt like the hundredth time. She couldn't understand why the preschool had insisted on dressing five-years-olds in tiny graduation gowns. It had only been fifteen minutes since Alexis had put it on and already she was complaining that it was itching.
"Where's Daddy?" Alexis asked again.
"I don't know," Bella replied, catching Alexis's hand just as she was about to pull at the gown again.
"He promised he'd be here, and it's starting soon," Alexis complained.
"And he will," Bella assured her, but she wasn't sure. On Alexis's insistence, she'd called Edward's phone that morning to make sure he was in Forks, but she hadn't gotten an answer. Then she'd tried again as they were driving to the hall where the ceremony would be taking place. He hadn't answered then either.
"But what if he misses it?" Alexis asked, her eyes scanning the crowd of parents standing with the children. Renee was already seated outside.
"Don't worry. Judging by the amount of video cameras outside it will be taped from at least fifty different angles. I'm sure he'll get a copy." When Alexis looked up, Bella could see the worry in her eyes. Having her entire family there seemed to mean a lot to her.
"He will be here," Bella told her, more firmly this time.
"Okay, parents, I'm going to have ask you all to head out to your seats so we can start," one of the parent volunteers called.
"Are you nervous?" Bella asked Alexis, trying to distract her from her panic.
"No." There was sadness in her voice.
Bella reached forward and gave Alexis a hug. "It will be okay," she whispered to her.
Alexis smiled slightly as Bella gave her one last kiss on the cheek before she quickly left with the other parents. Upon returning to her seat, she felt slightly crestfallen that Edward wasn't beside Renee. She'd hoped that he would have arrived while she was at the back with Alexis.
"Nothing?" Renee asked as Bella sat beside her.
Bella shook her head.
Looking up at the stage, Bella saw Alexis's teacher make her way to the podium. It was while she was going through the standard greetings and welcomes that Bella heard a familiar voice coming up beside her. She turned just in time to see Edward sit beside her.
"Just in time," she whispered to him.
He was slightly out of breath when he answered. "I was held up in Chicago on business, and then my flight was delayed."
"Did you see her?"
"No, I didn't get a chance to. Was she mad?"
Bella just gave him a look, which he understood right away.
After a few more minutes, music began playing through the hall, and the line of children emerged. Dressed in the exact same red gown, to Bella, they all looked alike so she wasn't sure where Alexis was. It wasn't until the students were sitting on the stage that she was able to distinguish her daughter from the others. Alexis was doing a sweep of the crowd for her family, and when she spotted them, with Edward beside Bella, she smiled.
Bella had to admit that even though she didn't really understand the whole reason behind the big celebration, the graduation was nice in its own way. Alexis and her classmates seemed particularly thrilled and proud of their accomplishments, even if the only requirement had been for them to write their own names.
When it was finished, Bella stood outside the hall with Renee while Edward went to collect Alexis. As other parents began to emerge with their children, Bella looked back towards the inside of the hall, looking for any sign of Edward and Alexis. She gave an exasperated sigh when she saw that Esme was talking to Edward. Bella hadn't spoken to Esme since that time in Seattle, when she'd apologised for how she'd treated Bella. From what Alexis had told her, she and Edward had seen Esme around town, and when they did, Esme would say 'hello' to them. It didn't surprise Bella to see Esme there tonight. Her relationship with her ex-mother-in-law had not improved, and Bella was in no rush to change that even though her feelings for Esme had warped themselves from anger to numbness.
A few minutes later, Alexis ran out ahead of Edward and into Bella's arms.
"Congratulations," Bella said.
"Did you see me?" Alexis asked Bella as a tearful Renee pulled Alexis into a hug.
"Yes, we did. You and your classmates sang beautifully," Renee said. Alexis smiled with pride.
As a treat for Alexis graduating preschool, she got to choose how to spend the evening. She chose to have takeout dinner, from her favourite restaurant, at Bella's house and watch a movie with Edward, Bella and Renee. Not wanting to deprive her of her special day, Bella and Edward obliged. Regardless of how they felt about each other, Alexis would always come first.
It was almost ten at night when, after watching three replays of the movie and eating two cups of ice cream, Alexis had finally crashed for the night on the couch. Renee had snuck out of the room two shows ago when Alexis wasn't looking.
"Is she asleep?" Bella asked Edward. She couldn't see Alexis's face from where she sat.
"Yes," Edward said, shifting Alexis slightly so Bella could see.
"Finally," Bella said, the relief evident in her voice. "I don't know how much more of those singing bugs I could stand."
Edward chuckled. "If she were awake, she would tell you that they are fairies."
"Fairies, bugs. Same thing to me."
Bella watched as Edward carefully untangled himself from where Alexis had fallen asleep on his chest.
"Seeing as she still has a slight cold, I don't think I should take her outside tonight. Will it be alright if I took her tomorrow morning instead?" Edward asked her.
Bella left him for a moment to carry the empty bowls into the kitchen. When she returned, she saw Edward looking at Alexis with a small smile on his face.
"She looks so innocent when she's asleep."
Bella had to hold back a laugh. "They all do. It's when she's awake that is the problem."
Looking up at Bella, Edward said, "She reminds me so much of you."
"We both sing off key?"
Edward laughed. "No. You're both strong-willed and stubborn."
Then Edward smiled. "You're both also the most determined, courageous and devoted people I know."
"Nice save." Bella thought it would be odd standing around joking with Edward, but she found that it was an easy situation for her to adapt to. They always used to joke around when they'd first met in Florida, and she found that despite all that had happened, she was still able to fall into that moment.
"Do you need any help carrying her into her room?" Edward asked.
"No, I'm okay."
"Okay. I better go then."
"I'll walk you out," Bella said.
After making sure that Alexis wouldn't roll off the couch, Bella followed Edward to the front door. Then standing within the doorframe, she watched him take a few steps away before he turned and looked at her.
She watched him take a deep breath before speaking. "I just want to say, I'm really glad you were able to rebuild a life for yourself and for Alexis."
The sincerity in his voice made her smile. "Thank you," she replied.
As she watched him go, Bella debated with herself whether or not to voice what she was thinking. She realised that right then and there might be the right time to speak what she so badly wanted to say to him. She remembered what Renee had said about regrets and making decisions, and she knew then and there what she wanted.
"Wait," Bella called before he got into his car. "Can we talk for a moment?"
"Sure." There was an uncertainty in his voice.
Edward followed Bella to the swing seat underneath the tree and sat beside her.
"Have you heard any updates on Rosalie?" Bella asked.
Edward shook his head sadly. "She's still much the same. Esme is flying back out to Chicago tonight to stay with her."
"The baby?" Bella asked, though a part of her already knew the answer.
Edward just shook his head. Bella understood.
"Why is Esme staying with her?" she asked, not wanting to dwell on the other subject too long.
"It doesn't seem like Rosalie has any family left, or at least we haven't been able to find them. Also, I think Esme really wants to atone for her sins. She blames herself for what happened to Rosalie and to you."
The numbness Bella felt with regard to Esme caused her not to respond to what Edward had said. It seemed they were all looking to atone for their sins one way or another.
"I feel bad that I didn't do anything to save her," Edward said suddenly. "Maybe if I had, none of this would have happened."
Bella had begun shaking her head before Edward had finished. "You can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved, and you shouldn't anyway. You can give them options, and let them know you will always be there, like Alice had told Rosalie before she left, but at the end of the day, everyone has a right to live their life how they see fit. Don't get me wrong, I wish it never would have ended like that for Rosalie, but the thing is, it was her decision. What could you have done? Forced her to leave? What after that? Odds are she would have fought you and wanted to return to Emmett anyway."
Bella saw that her words resonated deep with Edward, but he still held some grief in his eyes. To him, it went further than that. It was like seeing his story with Esme all over again.
Looking over the trees that stood just beyond the property, Bella thought through her next words carefully before she spoke them. "I know we haven't spoken about things other than Alexis in a while, and I just want to say thank you for having the courage to file for divorce first. I know that it wasn't something easy for you to do. That divorce was something we both needed. Though I admit, I was a bit surprised when I got the papers."
"Were you angry that I'd filed for divorce?" Edward asked, fear in his voice.
"No, no. I swear to you, I wasn't. I was glad you did it." He seemed reassured by her words. She paused for a second before continuing. "I'd actually sent away for the divorce papers several months before, to file them on you, but I'd just never had the courage."
"Oh," Edward replied. Bella could see the hurt on his face, and for the first time in a long while, she understood why he was hurt. Even though the proof had been there, Bella had never fully believed that Edward had loved her. She never could bridge the two. She couldn't understand how he could love her and hurt her as much as he had. The love she'd grown up knowing was different than what Edward had shown her. She'd believed that when you loved someone, you never purposefully hurt them. That was why she could never make the connection, but for Edward, he'd loved her in the only way he knew how— through violence. It was only when he'd come to Forks that he began to love her in new ways. Through patience and understanding.
"The divorce was something we both needed," Bella told him. "It's a chance for both of us to shed that old skin and start afresh. It's a chance for me to let go of my past anger and a chance for you to let go of the old you." Edward smiled at her words.
"Does that mean you're not angry at me anymore?"
Bella looked up at the dark sky for a moment. If there was one thing she liked about Washington State, it was that on clear nights you saw the stars a lot better than you did in Florida or Chicago. Even rainy, in-the-middle-of-nowhere Forks had something good about it. "I was angry. I was angry at you for so long, and even though I said I didn't, I did hate you. I hated you so much for what you did. I hated you for hurting me despite how much I loved you, and I hated what my life had become. I was angry that everything I'd dreamt for and wished for and planned for hadn't come true. Last year, when I'd said that I would give our relationship another go, that I would give you another chance, I knew deep down I was lying. It was as though a part of me wanted to move on while another part was still holding onto the past. I wasn't willing to put both feet into the pool. I preferred to hold onto my anger, because it was safe. I knew anger. It was easier to be angry at you and not run the risk of being hurt. I didn't want things to go back to the way they were before."
"I don't want things to go back to the way they were before either," Edward said quickly. "I want you to make our relationship hard for me, because it is what I deserve. I know I need to earn your trust. To earn a spot back in your life. I need to show you every day that I have changed. I want you to make me work for the rest of our lives to make it up to you."
"Don't worry; I intend to," she assured him. Then she sighed.
"But the things is, since shedding the past, I've had time to think long and hard about what I want. And you know what?" Bella looked him in the eyes then, and even as she said the words, she could hear the truth and conviction in them. "I forgive you."
Edward seemed to stop breathing in front of her. She could see the shock and slight disbelief on his face, and that didn't surprise her. After the whirlwind relationship they'd had, he'd probably stopped believing she would ever forgive him.
"I'll never forget what happened, but I can't carry that anger in me anymore. I don't want to."
"How long have you felt like this?" Edward asked, disbelief still on his face.
"For a while. The divorce has given me a chance to gain a different perspective. A chance to look back and think stuff over."
"How come you never told me before tonight?" he asked. Slowly, Bella could see that he was starting to believe her.
"I assumed by now you'd moved on. Alexis told me about your dates."
Edward looked at her, confusion all over his face. "How?"
"You shouldn't have phone conversations in front of her. She's her own little gossip column that remembers everything she hears. Except when I ask her to clean her room. That she forgets the moment I say it."
Reaching one hand out, Edward pressed his fingertips gently across the back of Bella's hand, and then down her fingers until he reached just by the tips of hers. She in turn raised her fingers until just their fingertips were pressing together. Bella felt a slight thrill and rush at the feeling. It was the first time they'd touched in a long time.
"I never moved on from you," Edward said. "I've come to the conclusion that it isn't even possible. In the last few months I tried to, but I can't."
"Maybe that is a reason why we aren't meant to be together," Bella said softly.
"Maybe it is a reason why we are. Two puzzle pieces that only fit with each other."
She smiled at his analogy.
"Where does that leave us?" he asked, after a quiet moment.
"Me forgiving you isn't the most important thing," she said.
"You forgiving yourself." She entwined her fingers with his then, and the feel of his hand in hers somehow felt familiar to her.
"You sound like my therapist." He sounded slightly breathless. She didn't know if it was because of what they were saying or the fact that they were actually touching each other.
"Actually, I sound like mine."
Edward sighed as his thumb began rubbing circles slowly on her hand. "I have a lot to forgive myself for. Some days when I think of it, when I think of the long journey it took to get here, I'm disgusted by my actions, and I see myself as the worst kind of sinner. If I were placed in Dante's Inferno, I would have a spot among Judas, Cassius and Brutus. Forgiving myself for all the pain that I caused you, I know I should do it for you, but I just can't see it."
Bella shook her head. "Forgiving yourself is not for me; it's for you."
"Maybe one day," Edward said.
Bella knew better than to push him. Just like her learning to forgive him, Edward forgiving himself was something he had to do on his own.
"So where does that leave us?" Edward asked after a silent moment.
Bella couldn't help the sadness that swept over her as she answered. "I can't deny that I feel something for you. It's the only explanation I have as to why, against my better judgement, I still put up with you. I don't fight you being a part of Alexis's and my life. Despite everything that happened, I do still love you, Edward. I've always loved you."
From beside her, she heard Edward take a ragged breath. She looked at him carefully then and was shocked to see that he looked close to tears. Like a sinner being told his past sins had been forgiven by providence, Edward looked like he'd been delivered.
"So how about we give our relationship just one more go?" he suggested. "One last chance, and if it doesn't work out, then we content ourselves with just being friends, but this time, you give me a full chance. A full chance to prove to you that I will never hurt you again. We let ourselves try, and if in the end, you decide it isn't what you want, then we let it go."
Bella thought about this proposition for a few quiet moments. She did like the sound of it. One last chance to test and see if a relationship with Edward was what she wanted. Doing this, while no longer holding onto her anger, meant she would see their relationship with clear eyes for the first time in more than six years. It meant using the knowledge and caution she'd gained within those years and combining it with the love they'd had before everything went wrong. The opportunity seemed too much for her to pass up.
"One more time?" she asked.
"One more time."
Well that's it. We've finally come to the end. I guess this is the part where I post a long sentimental thank you note.
Firstly, thank you to everyone who inspired this story. I hope you never find it, and if you do, I apologise in advance.
Secondly, to Jennej, kitchmill, everyone at Project Team Beta and all the betas I've worked with during the past 2.5 years. Thank you for all of your help and support. Thank you as well to wime09 for your prereading skills. But seriously, if you post another picture of David Luiz crying, I will never forgive you.
Lastly, to everyone who has read this story. Whether you liked it, hated it, thought I handled the subject matter well or thought I should be ashamed for writing it. Whether you were there from the very beginning or only just found it. No matter what, thank you for giving this story a chance. When I first started writing it, I never imagined anyone would be interested, and I understand how important readers are to a story.
There is no way I would have been able to finish this story with out all of you, so thank you.
You can find me on Twitter at XxMementoMorix
Now, in the words of Ethel Barrymore,
'That's all there is. There isn't anymore.'