Edward and I returned from Iceland last week, but it could have been last year, or last decade for that matter. Two weeks in his presence and the earth had become untethered to the fabric of time. He rushed me to the edges of the earth and bathed me in glowing pools as the heavens raced fiery flame above our heads. We balanced on rocks above sea and ice at the very spot where the earth had disintegrated and was reborn.
"How does this look to you?" I'd asked breathlessly as we stood on the brink.
Edward looked into my eyes instead of out over the horizon. "The earth was something to pass through, or something that passed me by, until you. You've tamed the monotony." He held the back of my head, lowering his mouth to mine. "You've made the universe something I'd care to lose."
Green and gray fire lit the heavens, sulfur rose from steaming pools, the briny ocean pounded ice and rock and its spray stung my skin.
I sigh and my skin tingles at the memory. As I glance around at my present: the dingy walls of my office, the industrial carpet on the floor, the never ending emails scrolling down the screen of my computer monitor, I want to curl into a ball and gladly remember. Better yet, I want to find my keys, go find my husband, and then find myself reflected back in his emerald eyes.
Returning to reality may have pulled me back to earth, but Edward is lighter these days. His somber mood has lifted. His eyes radiate peace whenever I meet his gaze. Somehow, every time he holds my hand he lets me let go. He's settled comfortably, gratefully, into the possibility of mortality while, for the first time ever, I earnestly wonder at the possibility of a life never-ending.
For the first time since I was six, I face the unknown. Edward calmly holds the key to my afterlife. Unburdened, I've found the will to really live.
Emily Young was due at the hospital three days from now. She came early, though, doubled over in indescribable pain.
I nod to the interventional radiologist as he's leaving her room.
"Give me a buzz?" he asks me quietly.
I shake Emily's husband's hand. She smiles weakly and invites me to sit on the corner of her hospital bed. She tries her best to act the hostess, as though this were her kitchen instead of a hospital room.
"How's you're pain?" I ask.
"Still there. Better." She works at ironing her bed sheet with her hands.
"We'll keep working on it," I assure. "I'll speak with the nurse about upping the morphine."
Her husband nods gratefully and clutches his wife's hand. But there is a space between Emily and I… a filmy barrier has descended and my words aren't hitting home with her as I'd hoped.
"What is it?" I ask.
Emily chances a glance at her husband before taking a shallow breath and looking me square in the eye. "I need someone to tell me."
"Tell you what?"
I don't keep information from my patients, but I've learned that they hear only what the heart and mind can digest. I sense that Emily has taken a step into deeper waters. I wait. Emily's husband holds his breath. We sit as time ticks by to the sound of a PCA pump and heart monitor.
"Dr. Meltzer was just talking," Emily begins quietly. "He said that we'll do this, for my liver, and then there's something else afterward."
"Absolutely," I agree. "There are many other therapies."
"So, I'll do one thing, and then another, and then another until there's nothing else. That's it, right?"
The air crackles as if the truth has brought life to the space between the three people present. I'm surprised. Patients carry within themselves the uncanny ability to focus on the immediate future. Like a rat in a maze, they hem and haw and focus on the decision right in front of them. They are too close to the situation at hand to notice the incremental shift in direction as they work their way through the puzzle. Degree by degree we are moved until we are turned one hundred and eighty degrees from where we began. Right there, at the beginning is the light. Right there, at the beginning and the end, that's when I see the look in the eye as my patients face where they came from.
In room two-twelve it is too soon. I talk to my patients as they make their own way, but it's often not until those last final turns that they are able to listen. Emily still has a long distance to travel, but she's seen the course.
"This isn't good, is it? It's in my bones and my liver, and now my lungs."
Emily is not reciting new information, but her eyes hold alarm and shake in their sockets. She has seen from on high. She understands.
"We'll go from one thing to the next, and then I'm going to die. Right?"
There's a spark, a quickening that lights the room. The air is charged like it is when Edward is present. I feel the ghosts hovering outside, held at bay by the mystery that yokes us to the living.
Emily's eyes meet mine. Tears brim, but stay within the confines of her eyes. I clutch her hand and she grips back. She pleads silently. I break one of my rules, and nod my head.
"Thank you," she whispers. "I was waiting to hear the truth."
Back in the outpatient clinic I run from exam room to exam room. I have my own physical exam to get to and I've finally agreed to let Edward come with me to see Doctor Banner. I have to face surgery and a failing liver, and for the first time I don't want to face it alone. I want my husband there to hold my hand. I want to come down off of that pedestal I've been stuck on and finally work my way through the maze. I want to see what is right in front of me instead of the grand design. Edward is what is in front of me. Together we can finally both enjoy the walk, even though the destination is inevitable.
Eric Yorkie sits in a wheelchair in room five fifty-two. His skin is thin and dry and small flecks of it bespeckle his shoulders and float to the floor as he reaches for my hand. His eyes are alive, bright and quavering in a skull that is all too visible. His false teeth are too large for his mouth. He smiles.
His parents sit quietly on the edge of their seats.
"How's the pain?" I ask as I lift his shirt to inspect his swollen belly.
"It's gone," he rasps.
He nods in a loose way. Any stray observer could see that Eric's head is too heavy for him to easily support.
"You said liver failure would be easy, Doc." He tries to laugh, but the sound is dry, like sandpaper on tree bark.
I hold his hand. Our eyes meet. "Those weren't my exact words, and you know it."
"But I knew what you meant, Doc. It's just like you said."
His other hand holds mine.
"I want to know which meds I should take, you know... now."
Eric's meaning is clear. He's declined hospice because he is dedicated to living. He's wanted to live from the moment he walked into the office a year and a half ago. He did everything we recommended, from chemotherapy regimens to lifestyle modification, to complementary protocols. Sometimes he would go too far, limiting his diet, adopting punishing exercise regimens. He grew fit, he ate well, he worked full time as a police officer and doted on his niece and nephews. He'd never married. He was thirty-two.
He had an unwavering belief that he would beat his cancer. He worked at it. And he did beat his cancer. His final scans showed no evidence of disease. Unfortunately, the liver that the cancer left in its wake was little more than a ball of scar tissue. Brian was dying of liver failure, instead of colon cancer.
Now, at the end, he sees where he's going, even if he can't bring himself to say it.
"Meds?" he asks again.
I work to keep dry eyes. His mother is not as successful and finds cause to leave the room. I go step by step through the med list with Eric and his father, leaving only what is necessary for palliative care.
"What's next, Doc?" he asks when we're done reviewing the changes. He reaches for my hands again. There is silence. I break another one of my rules.
"Let's have you back here in two weeks," a say very quietly.
The mood in the room immediately lightens. We all feel it. His father smiles and jumps up to find his wife. I've given permission for Eric to live another two weeks. I hold hands. I clasp shoulders. I carefully hug. I write prescriptions for Oxycodone and Oxycontin, enough for another month.
There are sincere smiles as we part ways, but I'll never see Eric Yorkie again.
I leave work with tears in my eyes. I cry silently the entire way to Doctor Banner's office. Edward meets me in the parking lot and I sob in his arms.
"You must be the lucky man."
Doctor Banner greets Edward with a handshake, a fraternal clap on the back and a warm smile.
"I'd say." Edward's arm hugs my shoulders. He kisses my temple. I'm pleasantly embarrassed.
"I was worried when our schedulers couldn't get a hold of you, Bella."
"I… we had to leave town for a while. I know this surgery has to happen, and I know I've been accepting of everything along the way… but now?" Edward clutches my hand. I don't want to cry again. "I'm back, though. I'll be a good patient again."
"Bella, please. We can talk surgery, but there's something else that I needed to speak to you about. Kalydeco."
"Excuse me?" Edward asks.
"Your genes, Bella. We tested you back in eighty-nine. We thought it might go somewhere."
My mind scrambles to make the leap from sentiment to science. "CFTR?" I ask.
Doctor Banner nods excitedly.
"You've got to be kidding?" I ask. "A drug? Finally?"
Doctor Banner is beaming.
"It works?" I ask.
"It sped through the approval process. Bella, do you know what this could mean?"
I can't catch my breath. Tears come again. "Edward!"
My husband regards Doctor Banner and I quietly. The tears that slip down his face are colored with sorrow. I throw my arms around his neck.
"It means it could be alright, Edward. It means it might be alright."
In the car on the way back home, I babble. I talk of quitting my job. I talk of leaving death and the dying behind. I have been liberated. I've finally found a way, a drug, a lifeline and I've been securely fastened to the ground underneath my feet. I don't want perspective. I want to travel, I want to make love, I want to enjoy my life and my family. I want things to get complicated and messy. I'll tender my resignation. Maybe someday, far in the future, I'll go back to being a doctor. There could be a time far into the future!
"You've been so quiet." I glance at my husband as we're stopped at a red light. Edward appears mournful.
"What is it?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "I love you," he murmurs.
"I know. I love you too!"
I stretch across the console and place a kiss on his lips. He makes a sound like I've punched him in the gut instead.
"What's the matter?" I ask, searching his eyes. "I've just had the best news ever. No more -"
The blinding light and the pain isn't as shocking as the silence that comes a mere instant after screeching tires, shattering glass and metal on metal.
There are two rooms in the unit at the hospital where I used to work, back to back, both occupied by families. Both patients are young men, both are gravely ill. One will die. One will not… yet.
That outcome is not in the lab results or the scans. It is not in the stage or gravity of disease. It is in the room. It is in the mind of attending physicians and astute nurses. It is in the objective air. It is something I've learned to breathe. It is something I've learned to navigate. It is.
"Which one?" Edward asks in a whisper.
I know, but cannot say.
Both families have hung attentive on my every word. Both families have searched my face. I've talked of I.V. drugs and bilirubin levels. We've spoken of interventional procedures and the color of skin on a barely animate bodies. My steady voice would belie the ache in my chest.
"Which one?" he asks.
I won't say. I won't make the choice.
In the hospital, Edward's chair is empty. Instead he is next to me in the bed. He holds my hand. He pushes hair from my face.
"You need to take some time for yourself. Let me sit," I hear my sister say. Her voice brings a smile to my face.
"You can sit, but I won't cede my time," Edward breathes.
"Edward, you need a break."
"No. This is my life now." I feel Edward's hand clutching tighter. Rose places her hand over Edward's, and rests her head on his shoulder. Her smile is sad.
"She thought you were hot, you know."
I feel Edward's fingers trace my cheekbone."
"So did my mom," Rose continues.
Edward smiles. "I loved her from the very first night we…"
Rose coughs. I think I smile.
"I love you," I try to whisper. I am at peace.
His finger rests on the tip of my nose. "She is the only thing that holds meaning in my world, Rosalie. I can't leave."
"I'm so happy she had you."
"To think I could have missed her."
"Some things are just fated."
"Don't you think love – this – doesn't it make you believe in something bigger?"
"There's nothing bigger than what I feel for her." Edward's finger whispers over my dry lips. I try to kiss. "Anyone that believes in something bigger has never really loved."
Rose sighs. There are tears in her eyes.
"Don't cry for me," I try to say, but no one hears.
I blink and there is darkness. I float and feel Edward's fingers holding firm.
"We didn't have time for anything," I try to say.
Rose calls for my mother. I open my eyes and Edward is there. His face radiates concern and love… but his eyes are at peace. They are wet.
"I love you," I try to say again.
"My world," he whispers and kisses my nose, presses his forehead against mine. His tears wet my face. His breath bathes me and I am lighter, freer than I have ever been before.
I blink again and watch light break through being – watch it burst through the space around me, around my husband and my love, and in a silent second I realize that I've been wrong my entire life; the veil doesn't descend when a person dies. When you die the veil is lifted. When the veil is lifted there is a light.
At the end I feel his lips. There is a decision there, one I trust him to make.
I am a story. He is my god.
He gave me everything I was afraid to hope for: love, desire, and uncertainty about my end. I feel so grateful that he found me, although I suppose that in the end he finds us all. My story is different only in the fact that I loved him and he loved me right back.
A/N: So there it is… Nic the Fic Whisperer once called this fanfic suicide. Maybe…
I want to say thanks, though. This was not a story as much as a way to work through my thoughts and feelings as I was confronted with death on a daily basis. Ironically, I probably have the job that I do because I couldn't come to terms with the idea that I'm mortal. I fell as hard as I did for Twilight Edward for the same reason. This un-story is the most personal thing I've probably ever put to virtual paper – so, thank you for indulging me.
Sorry this last chapter has taken so long to post.
On a much, much lighter side… I've been writing a new fic as I kept putting this sad chapter off. It's thankfully AH, and very, very much different from this life and death thing I've been immersed in. I'm several chapters in, so keep an eye out if you care to. It's called Shame.
Also, sincere congratulations to Fiction Freak95 for Blind Spot being named Fic of the Year over at the Lemonade Stand! It's much deserved. Go read it if you haven't already.
See you sometime soon. I don't think I could really ever quit this fanfic thing if I tried.