Chapter Twenty Five: Selfless
"Thank you, Edward."
Thank you? "What could you possibly have to thank me for, Bella?"
"For making everything beautiful."
"You made everything beautiful. And I ruined it. Destroyed it… and us..."
"Destroyed is a strong word, Edward. And not one that will ever describe us in any way. You made a little bit of a mess, that's all. And when you realized that you had, and how wrong it was for us, you cleaned it up. And that is what thank you is for."
I don't miss the gentle clearing of Charlie's throat the second I open my mouth to respond to my wife's gracious take on my recent actions and behavior. And, though I don't agree with it, I don't argue it. Or with her. Not now.
And I don't take all of the credit. "I had help."
She smiles at that, and then at her father, and then at me again. Always at me…
And then settles herself on the couch with a contented sigh.
And with a, I think pride-filled, "Thank you for that, too."
"Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything else? Another blanket? More pillows? Something different to drink? How about–"
"You could get me my husband."
"I'm here, Bella, I promise. And I never won't be again."
"I'm going to hold you to that."
"And I'll kiss the ground under your feet everyday for the rest of my life because you will, but I swear you don't have to. I'll never again try to be anywhere else."
"You don't have to swear anything to me, Edward. I know when your heart is in your words. I heard years worth of them before I heard any other kind."
"I'm sorry, Bella. I'm so sorry…"
"I know you are."
"I just wanted you to have everything. And nothing less than. And–"
"Do you still?"
"Yes. I do. But not that way that I thought was giving it to you. Would give it to you…"
"Good, because that way could never. Because everything… my everything… begins and ends with you. And I want you to know that again, like you used to. And be proud of it. And revel in it. And even be cocky about it, again, like you used to."
"I don't know if I can do that, Bella. I might not ever be able to give that part of me back to you."
He doesn't mean it in a literal physical sense. I know that. Even though the 'literal' hurts and haunts him…
And hurt us for a while… because it haunted the kind of 'complete' life he wants us to share but thinks we can't… because of what he thinks he can't...
But I can't help but think, that for him, the literal and the non are hopelessly intertwined. And while that was once no problem at all, and something I embraced, and certainly let him embrace… "I'm not asking you to be, or give me, something you're not, Edward. I'm just asking you to be you. The man who stole my heart, even though I tried to lock it away, and hide it from you."
"You hid it in plain sight, Bella. And even though figuring out how to get it open was the greatest struggle of my at that point life, reaching out and snatching it away from you... wasn't."
That's much better, baby…
"Because, I think, no matter what you told yourself, or me, you wanted me to."
Much, MUCH better. "Do you know what I want you to do now?"
"No. I wish I did."
"I want you to relax. To let yourself. And not think at all, about anything, but how you could best do that. And where. Where you'd be the most comfortable. And cocky, even, if you were so inclined to be. Naturally, I mean."
I glance away from him, my eyes settling on his favorite leather chair, that he so often sat in like the cocky king of this castle that he was, with his queen in his lap, or at his feet, or on her knees between them… embracing completely everything that he was…
But he doesn't follow them. With his own or any other part of himself. And when he moves, it isn't to that favorite chair. He wheels the one he's miserably uncomfortable in into the best position to get out of it and onto the couch next to me.
No matter what else we are or are feeling…
Means exactly the same thing to both of us.
I spent every conscious moment last night agonizing because Bella wasn't beside me. Because I couldn't touch her, or smell her, except on her pillows, and because I couldn't see her next to me. Looking at me with her beautiful deep brown love-filled eyes, or resting them behind her silky closed lids.
I prayed for another moment like this with her, the lifetime of them that I never doubted she wanted to give me.
And those prayers were answered. She's next to me. I can see her and smell her and feel her in all of her wondrous perfection…
But with those answered prayers in my arms is something else. Something that's painful and hard to embrace.
Bella fell asleep while we were still sitting on the couch. And the fact that she did is killing me.
A year ago that wouldn't have been the case. It wouldn't have killed me or caused me any pain at all. It would have made me smile. And I would have lifted her into my arms with that smile on my face and carried her still sleeping up the climbing towards heaven stairs and to our bed.
But I can't do that now. Even though the bed we share now is down here instead of up there, near instead of far, for me… I still can't.
I can't let her relax. Or be comfortable. Because I can't lift her into my arms and carry her anywhere. They're strong enough… but they're not all I need to do it. And no matter how hard I've prayed for what I do need, need and want back… those prayers weren't answered.
And that's killing me. "Bella… wake up, sweetheart."
I didn't sleep much again last night… even though I had everything...
Because a man who loses a priceless treasure and then has it given back to him–watches it all but run back to him–doesn't want to close his eyes when he can see it anywhere near him. He doesn't want his arms to fall slack under the weight of slumber when they can revel consciously in and under the weight of its very pricelessness.
That man wants to see and feel it all, and never stop doing either, even for function-necessary sleep.
Bella reclaimed her favorite pillow. Laid her head on my chest and her heart in my hands the second I stopped moving. And did it with another gracious Thank you that I didn't deserve. Because losing that priceless treasure was in every way my fault. And she knows it was. Knows that I was careless, knows that I was stupid, and knows that I was wrong to be both. And still be, no matter how many times and how many ways she told me I was and to stop.
But she won't punish me for any of it. Not intentionally, anyway. Her tears that soaked my t-shirt within minutes of her head settling on it weren't meant to punish. They weren't meant to do anything to me at all. They were merely proof of how much I truly mean to her. How deep her love for me really is. And how deeply hurt she was that I tried to throw it back at her unappreciated, or away the same.
My wife cried in my arms simply because I let her be in them again. Simply because they wrapped around her and held her instead of pushed her away from me. And simply because they're mine.
She cried and she cried and she cried…
And it anything but simply broke me.
"Good morning," Bella whispers, as her fingertips do the same over my cheeks.
"Good morning," I tell her, and gently sweep her hair back and away from her beautiful face.
It isn't our first interaction of this day…
There were others before it. Silent ones.
I knew the moment she woke up… the second… because the very second she did she pressed herself against me, into me, and my heart again, for the mere fact that she could. And because she needed to feel that solidity. Acknowledge it, and its importance to her. My importance to her. That, if I was blind, I couldn't have not seen in her eyes and on her face when she lifted them both to where I could see them.
I was already looking at her… the pure magnificence of all of her… no matter what parts of her I couldn't see… but seeing what she was to me reflected back at me… even though I'd seen it thousands of times before… it was as powerful as the first time I ever did. As powerful and a million times more.
And she knew it. Saw it on my face with absolute clarity. And smiled at me with… with… well, there are no words for what was in that smile, or what it was to me. None at all that would do it justice, or the honor she bestowed upon me by giving it to me.
I merely stared at her after that. Stared with awe and humility, stared with shame and regret, praying that she'd see them all in my eyes. And the love I'd tried to hide from her for months… the in hers for me pride… that sent tears down her cheeks again, because she did see it all. Tears that I caught in my hands instead of letting them fall to my shirt again. So that they'd never dry up, and would instead seep into me, through my skin and into my blood, becoming a part of what I need to live and couldn't for a single moment live without.
"You look tired," she says now, the corners of her mouth turning downward as her fingertips move upward to ghost over the skin under my eyes. "I hope that isn't because of me."
"I'm okay, Bella," I tell her. "So much better than okay. And that is because of you."
"Don't give me all of the credit, Edward, you earned some of it. A lot of it, if so much better is how you feel."
"Ceasing to act like a fool isn't earning anything, Bella. And hurting you so dangerously… after every other way that I had already… and stopping only after I did so badly…
"God, Bella, don't tell me I earned anything. Don't tell me I deserve this so much better that I feel. Or the right to look at you, or to touch you, or to be blessed by your forgiveness, that I know you give with your whole heart… your whole extraordinary heart… that I–"
"Earned a long time ago. And can't unearn from me, or ever return to me."
"I don't want to return it to you. Knowing I don't deserve to keep it isn't the same as wanting to give it back to you or ever let it go at all. I'm not that selfless, Bella. I tried to be, but–"
She puts her fingers to my lips, telling me without a word from her own that she doesn't want to go backwards. Doesn't want me to carry her there, where everything hurt and nothing felt good.
And I listen this time. I hear what she needs me to. And then feel, because she sits up on her knees and lifts my hand, and, after kissing my open palm, lays it over her heart. Her extraordinary heart… that I feel beating for me...
Fighting for, and for us…
So strong and so effortlessly so…
"I love you, Edward. You got your way. Your selfish way. Because that way…
"Is the one I couldn't resist giving you. And couldn't not give you. Because giving it to you… letting you have it… knowing you'd never let it go once you did…
"Was letting myself have everything. That, I feel I should point out, this one time and this one time only… I never did a thing to earn."
Edward hasn't stopped smiling at me since I turned the 'undeserved and unearned' tables on him.
Because, no matter what recent truths of his own he's struggling with accepting, and letting us move through and past, so that they aren't true anymore at all, I took him back to my first.
And one that not even he, at his most selfless, could argue with or deny.
All of the effort he once put forth… all of the change he willingly underwent… all of the newly-and-shockingly-capable-of sweetness he threw my way… and promises of a lifetime of if I'd only accept it from him…
Everything he gave me every single day until I gave in…
Was far more than I deserved. And everything I'd done anything and everything but earn from him.
I gave him nothing. And certainly no reason for him to give, or want to give, me anything. I wasn't kind or sweet to him. And if I was anything, I was the epitome of the opposite of both. I was cynical and untrusting. I was snarky and cruel. And, though by no means unaffected by his charms, or his many gifts of sweetness, I was blatantly unappreciative. To him.
He had no reason to love me. And, once he knew without a doubt that he couldn't in any way easily 'have' me, in a physical sense or otherwise, no reason to even waste his time wanting me.
I didn't deserve any of it. And sure as hell didn't earn it. And he knows it.
All of that changed, of course… and I gave him everything I could and would continue to forever… and did and would with honor… and all of the selfless love I had inside of me...
But it's not how we started.
So, this morning, when we were about to embark on a fresh of sorts…
I reminded him.
And of how he never held it against me.
And after finally getting to hold everything he fought for in his hands…
He did nothing but nurture and treasure it. With his whole selfless heart.
I know it's short... but this is the right place to stop. Standing strong on the first solid stepping stone of their fresh start of sorts path. I hope you get that, even if you don't like it.
And thank you for your continued patience with me. And loyalty to. xo