A Good Liar
The Canon Tour - New Moon round's 3rd overall placement! Thank you to everyone who participated and to Solareclipses!
The first time the Grim Reaper visited Edward, it was in the form of the Spanish influenza. The second time, Death had the lovely face of Bella Swan.
Through time, sorrow, and a long reflection, Bella came to a decision that would permanently alter Edward's existence. To understand how she, a mere human, could cause the death of an immortal creature, we must take a step back and allow Bella's story to be told.
Bella put down the pen and stifled a yawn. She'd been studying for the whole afternoon. The teacher had talked so much and so fast that she'd struggled to keep the pace while taking notes. After making them read Shakespeare's Antonius and Cleopatra, Mr. Berty had discussed the English translation of a Latin poem about Cleopatra's death. According to him, it was a masterpiece by Horace, and one of the most famous poems of Ancient literature.
For Rome, Cleopatra had been an opponent to be feared. If she'd succeeded in her mission to establish an Oriental Empire, the destiny of the entire Western world might have been altered. Octavian, who had led the army against her, had hated her fiercely. But once she was dead, the Romans had shown that they could be magnanimous, and through the poem, had acknowledged her nobility.
Requiescat in pace. Rest in peace. For the Ancients, after death there was no reason to keep up the hate. Once a person's life was extinguished, even one who had been hated wasn't remembered as an enemy, but simply as a fellow human being.
Bella checked her notes once again. She had a test in two days and needed good grades. She'd been above reproach for the past five months, never missing a day of school of work, never breaking curfew. Her grades were perfect, and she wanted them to stay that way. Otherwise, Charlie would send her...She shook her head, pushing away the unwanted thought, and resumed studying. She didn't want to be sent back to her mother; it was out of question.
Her attention was caught by the date of the poem. She was reflecting about words that had been written more than two thousand years ago. What was the world like back then?
This time she wasn't able to stop her course of thoughts soon enough. There was someone she knew who would see what the world would be like in two thousand years.
She imagined the centuries Edward would live as if they were a neverending path, stretching in front of him; he would go on, decades and millennia after her own death. Just the thought made her shudder.
Days were continuing to pile up. They had become weeks, and it had been almost five months since the last time she'd seen him. Someday, there would be no one on Earth who would remember her. Nobody human, that was. She was going to survive in Edward's memory, but she knew it would be only because of his impossibility to forget, not because he wanted to remember her. She supposed he would bury the memory of her under myriads of other days, until his distractions, like a thick veil of dust, would cover every moment they'd spent together.
Bella took a breath. She had to try twice before air could properly fill her lungs. It was always the same. Every time her mind betrayed her and made her remember him, she felt her heart slamming against her ribcage and feared that the pain would prevent her even from breathing.
Rest in peace. She wondered if she was ever going to be at peace again and remembered the nights when she'd fallen asleep in his arms, certain that no dream could be sweeter than the reality they were living.
He's been such a jerk. The way one of her schoolmates had defined Edward resurfaced in her thoughts. To the people she saw every day, Edward was nothing but the brooding guy who'd left her behind, making her pine for him. Since she'd been found in the woods, nearly comatose, the rumors in the small town hadn't stopped. Edward was judged and criticized by everyone who knew how his leaving had affected her. It seemed that people couldn't leave her or him in peace. Unless...
Bella had already surrendered to the awareness that she couldn't fit in any way into Edward's present or in his future. So she focused on his past and made her decision.
What would you think of it? she silently asked him. He'd vowed that they weren't going to meet again. He was never going to know what she would do, and why.
But she felt compelled to fix her reflections on a piece of paper. It was less than a message in a bottle. She had no need address her note, since she had the certainty that he would never see it anyway.
I'm losing you. Through our classmates, through the people in Forks, through Charlie's eyes...I see what they think of you, and I don't recognize you anymore. Yesterday I overheard Jessica and Mike talking about us. Or better, I should say "you" and "me." There's no "us." Not anymore. She said that I've lost more weight, that she's worried. I heard the word "bastard" coming out of Mike's mouth. I suppose you're the "Cullen" he was talking about. I wanted to punch him in the guts. What if, sooner or later, I'll believe them? I'm afraid I'll forget the way you laughed, the touch of your hands when you ruffled my hair, the first time you told me a joke. I don't want to end up hating you. I can't let myself do so.
On the following morning, she made up her mind, ready to put her resolution into practice.
In the evening, Edward Cullen would still be a mythological creature for her. But not a vampire, not anymore. This time, he would become a ghost.
Charlie averted his eyes from his plate only when it was emptied. "It was good, Bells," he mumbled, referring to the second helping of meat stew he'd just eaten. He eyed his daughter's plate, and the smile disappeared from his face. "Aren't you hungry?"
"I had a snack this afternoon," she replied lamely. The knot in her stomach, a reminder of what she was going to tell Charlie, had prevented her from taking more than a few forkfuls of food.
He left his seat, bringing his plate to the sink. "That boy..." he muttered under his breath.
She called him back. "Dad, can we talk?"
He sat back immediately and took in his daughter's features. For the umpteenth time, he blamed the Cullen boy for having stolen the color from his child. He noticed that Bella's eyes were glistening. It was odd. He'd seen her losing her smile, as if she'd unlearned how to be happy. He'd seen the light fade from her eyes, as if everything in her had become gray. But never, since Edward Cullen had left her, had she cried in front of him.
"What's happened?" he asked. He would have wanted his tone to be softer, but his concern didn't allow him to do so.
"It's about Edward..."
If Charlie could have growled, he would have done it then. He didn't want that name mentioned in his house. His fist landed on the table. He slackened the blow at the last moment, but not enough to prevent Bella from being startled by his outburst.
"What's the matter?" His voice went low, the words interspersed with a huff that resembled the one of a bull that had just had a red cloth waved in his face.
"I want to tell you the truth about Edward," Bella went on. "The reason why he left."
"Wasn't his family relocating?"
She nodded. "That's part of the truth."
"Go on." Different scenarios began to parade in his mind. Had one of the Cullen boys gotten himself in trouble? The doctor and his wife were good people, and their kids had never created any problems, but after all...the sight of his broken daughter told him what Edward Cullen could do.
Point of no return, Bella thought, as her words began to spill from her lips.
"You are a terrible actress." Edward had told her. "I'd say that career path is out for you." At the time, none of them could know that Bella was a bad liar – not due to her lack of abilities, but simply because, so far, she'd never had a strong enough reason for lying.
"Edward was ill," she confessed.
Charlie refrained from commenting. In his mind, the image of Edward – pale, always by himself, a good student but never involved in sports – mingled with the one of his father and of the excellent reputation Dr. Cullen had earned at the hospital.
Bella closed her eyes, replaying the little speech she'd prepared. When she spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper.
"They moved since Edward needed be treated in a big hospital. Dr. Cullen had a colleague who could help him. Or so he hoped." She choked on her breath before delivering the worst part of her lie. "Edward didn't want to keep in touch. His condition was worsening. He was scared. And then..."
Bella's first sob put Charlie on alert. "No..." he murmured, too low to be heard.
Charlie Swan had seen the worst in his job. He'd acclimated to the idea of death–as well as one could, he supposed. He could see a corpse without flinching, without giving too much thought to the idea that it could be him at any time.
But he would never get used to the death of a child. Whoever the kid was, whatever the cause of his death, when a young one died, he wasn't an experienced policeman anymore. He was just a parent who knew that someone else – a father like him, with the same worries and the same hopes – would have to deal with the loss of a child.
Bella's words tore through him and had the power to make everything still around them. "Edward died."
On her lips, the lie felt like bitter venom. But, like a medication, it brought her a sort of relief.
Finally, she could cry.
She sobbed in the warm refuge of her father's embrace.
For the first time since Edward had left, Bella slept without nightmares.
Small towns were notorious for the way news spreads around. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, Edward's story was reconstructed and discussed by the dutiful citizens of Forks. Once they'd gotten the key – it didn't matter that it was the wrong one – it seemed that it answered all the numerous questions that the Cullens' presence had elicited during the few years they'd spent in the town.
Slowly, Edward became human in the eyes of his former schoolmates. His apparent perfection had been like an ivory tower, separating him from his peers. But if he could be reached by a serious illness, if he was also mortal – his death being the definitive proof of that – the people who had admired, feared, and envied him could consider him one of them.
The pity for him seemed so genuine that even Bella was tempted to believe that he'd been forced to leave, that a terrible Fate – and not his will – had led him to that shadowy spot in the woods where he'd abandoned her.
Alone in her room, Bella wondered what her friends were doing. When they'd invited her to join them for an evening at a diner, and she'd refused, no one had insisted. Angela had given her arm a light squeeze, with the silent promise that, if Bella wanted to open up with her, she would offer her support.
At the diner, everyone tried to have fun, but the thought of Edward's passing and of Bella's grief loomed over them until they ended up talking about the Cullen boy.
"My father would like to organize a memorial service for him," Angela announced to her friends.
"The Cullens didn't seem like a religious family," Mike recalled.
"Sometimes Dr. Cullen attended services," Angela pointed out.
Jessica caressed Mike's hand lightly. He was there – warm and alive. There had been a time when she'd hoped, like any other girl in Forks, that Edward Cullen would notice her, that maybe he would give her a chance. Now she was relieved that she wasn't in Bella's shoes.
If the guys had paid attention to the dark street outside the diner, they would have noticed the shadow of a tall man, rushing away and disappearing into the woods.
For more than four months, Edward had deluded himself. He'd thought he could be strong enough to keep his promise to Bella. But he'd failed.
At last, the thought that he would come back – that he was going back to her in a matter of a few days – had become as necessary for him as sunlight was for a plant. He was sure that, at any moment, he would show up at her window. The hell he'd put himself on in his last day in Forks wasn't without an exit.
He would ask for Bella's forgiveness – the words had already formed so many times in his mind. He would explain, he would tell her that he'd lied...then he would beg her to take him back.
There were days when his hopes were marred by fears, though. He'd steadied himself, imagining that things could have changed for her. Bella could have moved on; she could have even left Forks and gone back to her mother. But those fears were like dark clouds. They came and passed away. The image in his heart was stronger than the clouds: whenever he envisioned the different paths Bella could have taken, he also saw himself joining her, taking her hand back in his.
Finally, the day came. He'd reached a point when he was struggling to make it through a single hour. No more. Soon, so soon, he would be in her life again.
But Edward's hopes shattered when he reached Forks.
He was particularly attuned to pick up his name in people's thoughts. At first, he couldn't understand why so many were thinking or talking about him. He didn't want to meet any of them. Bella would be the first to see that he was back. So he resolved to lurk in the darkness, following the musings of the people of Forks.
What they showed him was far beyond what even he – a brilliant, supernatural creature – could have foreseen.
Through the minds he listened to, he worked backwards, reconstructing what people believed about him, how the news had spread, and who had been the source. He had to know. He had to discover what had lead Bella – he was almost going to say his Bella – to fake his death.
His hands trembled – the sign of his new fragility – as he cracked her window open. When he'd left her, it had been as if he were closing a door. He'd promised that he wouldn't ever go back and put his hand on that telltale doorknob. But he hadn't considered that someone – that Bella – could have wanted to lock him out.
He looked at the homework on her desk. He quickly read an essay she'd been working on during the evening. She's brilliant, he thought, a hint of smile on his face. He was proud of her. Since that long-ago day when they'd become lab partners in biology, he'd noticed how smart and challenging she could be; at the same time, he'd learned how unaware she was of that. She could be anything she wanted to become. And yet... memories from the prom came to his mind. She would have chosen him over everything else. She'd thought that becoming like him would have been a special event. "You thought that would be a black tie occasion, did you?" he'd teased.
Who was the one who deserved to be mocked now?
He'd tried to stay away from her, and what were the consequences? He'd thought that he was leaving for her sake, that he was letting her live her human life, but the minds he had read in Forks had showed him how he'd managed only to make her suffer. Like a coward, he had run away from those who were thinking about how badly Bella had coped with his leaving. If she ever welcomed him back in her life, would she still ask him to change her? And what would his answer be this time?
He glanced over at her sleeping form. She was brilliant, and she was so many other things ... beautiful, and caring, and insightful and ... he had to stop. Otherwise, nothing would have prevented him from approaching her and brushing her lips with his own.
What happened to you? he silently asked her. She'd lost weight. On her face, even when she was sleeping, he could see the signs of an ingrained tension, as if she were trying to conceal pain. She was hurting, and it was his fault.
He spotted a crumpled piece of paper on the desk and began to read.
I'm losing you...
Here was the answer.
That was the reason why she'd lied, telling everyone that he was dead. Even after he'd hurt her so deeply, had she tried to protect him? Had she lied to make people stop blaming him?
Or did her decision mean that he really was dead to her? She would have had every right to do so.
He sat on the rocking chair, his face buried in his hands. Memories of the time he'd feared he was going to lose her for good suffocated him. But even then, when James had attacked her and she'd been nearly killed, he'd made contingency plans. He'd considered his self-destruction, as he could not and would not survive without her if she had died. But what would he do now? In her world, in her daily life, he'd become the one who didn't exist anymore.
He could jump from the windowsill and let her go on with her life. Or he could stay and talk to her.
Like a beacon of light, a soft voice called to him when he was drowning in his thoughts.
He stilled in his seat and looked at her. "I'm back," he murmured.
"But you can't be." Her voice was thick, her eyes still heavy with sleep. She blinked, as if she was struggling to see him better in the darkness. But she closed her eyes again, lingering between sleeping and waking. "You're dead."
He cringed. "I am, if that's what you want."
He could slip away into the night, and Bella would likely think that their encounter had just been a strange dream.
Or he could stay and talk to her.
It was his turn to decide.
And so he did.
This is not the end...stay tuned!
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