A/N: This was written for a charity compilation that was unfortunately lost when Megaupload was shut down. Now it's come to live here. It felt good to write again.
The public is a fickle beast. One moment you are its darling and can do no wrong; the next, not only has it turned its back, but it kicked a layer of dust across your face as it walked away. I know both sides well. My name is Edward Cullen, and I used to be Somebody.
You may have heard my name, and it's possible you would know my face from the many magazines it once graced. That time is long over; other, more beautiful, younger faces now peek from glossy tabloid pages, and my name hasn't crossed anyone's lips but my own in years. I say it nearly every day, to strangers, and only rarely does a glimmer of recognition light their eyes. Usually it only receives a bored sort of nod, if there is any reaction at all. It used to bother me, but now I enjoy my anonymity and the sense of security that it brings. That helps a lot when you lay your soul bare in front of people as I do. I know they won't remember me tomorrow, so when my heart is still in shattered pieces at the end of the night, no one cares but me.
But I'm getting ahead of my story, or perhaps I should call it a 'cautionary tale', since it consists mainly of hard learned lessons, pain, and suffering. Yet it also holds great beauty, lofty dreams, and once, for a shining moment, the purest love. And for that – for her – I go on.
Eclipse. There was a time when the word was on every other tongue. Music aficionados raved in critical acclaim, praising the newest figures in the History of Rock and Roll. Their towering legend built itself on the libidinous screams of sweaty, happy fans. You remember them; everyone does. They were brilliant: musical geniuses, the likes of which the world not only had never seen, but could barely contain. What they created could hardly be called songs; the word was too weak for the passion that throbbed from the instruments and voices of the four young men who were Eclipse. Little did they know that when they chose their celestial muse, it would prove prophetic. Those who came before and many who clawed at their heels faded to nothing next to the raw ferocity of their music's power. And power they had, by the shitload.
I was part of that power, on lead guitar and vocals, one-quarter of the hottest and biggest thing since… well- there were a lot of great bands before us. Hell, who do you think we grew up listening to? Still, the critics lauded us to extremes, claiming we had "forever changed the face of music" and "re-set the bar of musical perfection". Everybody loved us, and those who hated us really just wanted to be us. It's a heady feeling, to be that admired and that much in demand. And no matter how grounded you try to stay, it gets under your skin, until one day you find yourself believing the hype, a very dangerous thing to do.
The first two albums were platinum-sellers, the arenas sold out in minutes, and we were on every short list we could have imagined. Leno, Letterman, Conan... all battled to be the first to score an appearance by the Band of the Century. Yeah, some media-tard stuck us with that moniker; thanks, Bozo. We thought it was funny at first, before we realized how much pressure it actually added. We had to live up to it. But the perks were excellent; if we wanted to do anything, go anywhere, with damn near anybody, all we had to do was mention it. Doors opened, carpets rolled out, celebrities were available to hang… even the most established superstar wasn't beyond rubbing shoulders with us. We were fucking golden.
And girls… I haven't even mentioned the groupies; there were literally thousands. Not that we actually slept with them all, though I think Mike had the most notches on whatever imaginary bedpost he was using to keep track. Mike was our drummer and my best friend since high school. He lived like he played: fast, hard, and with abandon. Nothing could touch the man when he was performing- his timing and innate sense of rhythmic complexity were flawless. Offstage, he was a joker, hiding his insecurities behind funny lines and stories. He was the first to let the fame get to him. He could have simply screwed the girls, and they'd have been happy to have the three minutes of his time, but he actually wanted them to like him, too. He'd throw parties, big ones, just to impress them, where the cocaine flowed as freely as the champagne.
That pissed Eric and Paul off to no end. Eric was on keyboards; driven, sensitive, and he could pull unexpected, yet perfect, harmonies out of nowhere. He had his share of honeys and enjoyed a well-mixed drink, but the hard-partying wasn't his style, and he made sure Mike knew what an ass he looked like every time he stumbled in after a wild night.
Paul was our agent. God knows how or why he put up with the bullshit from all of us as long as he did, but personally, I'm grateful. He was there from the beginning to the end, and when there was truly no one else, he came through.
Then there was Jasper, our bassist. Jazz could lay a bass line like no one I've ever heard. Funk, blues, hard rock, mellow ballads- you name it, he played it and made you wish you'd been there an hour earlier to hear more. Of the four of us, Jazz never spent a post-concert evening with more than one girl and was always the first and the most sober at breakfast the next morning. If I had to pick one word to describe him, it would have to be 'centered'. I'm relatively sure that he handled all the craziness much better than the rest of us.
We'd attended an awards show to collect "something else to clutter the mantle", as Eric called it, and there was a selection of after-parties from which to choose. Eric, Jazz, and I decided to go to the Vanity Fair one, not only because the food was usually better than others, but we'd heard some rumors that a few of our personal heroes would be there. We did, and it was truly a thrill to speak with Dylan, McCartney, Jagger, and Bono. Mike wanted to hit a few of the other parties to see if he could pick up some girls for a later private bash at his place. He did, but his night didn't end quite the way he'd envisioned.
Instead of a pleasant little pre-sex dip in his hot tub on a pleasant little cocaine high, Mike's heart seized from the three extra lines he'd just done, and he went under. The girls, also high, thought Mike was joking around, until he didn't move when he came back up. It was the coroner's choice whether to list it as an OD or a drowning; he opted for drowning, bless him. It certainly was easier for Mike's mom to take.
Jazz, Eric, and I tried to hold it together for one another, for the fans, and for the label, but in the end, we couldn't even do it for ourselves. Eric took off for South America with Jane, our tour manager, and most of the cash we had on hand. No one had even suspected they were in a relationship. I still wonder if Mike's death didn't trip some 'do or die' switch in Eric's brain that he'd been suppressing. Jazz initially offered to stick around and help me audition new members, but when my own collapse seemed imminent, he withdrew to try to maintain his sanity. I can't blame him; I was a fucking mess. Last I heard he was living in a yurt somewhere in New Mexico. I wish him nothing but the best.
Me, I fell apart. One day I was the pretty-boy front man for the Band of the Century who made girls faint from simply watching my fingers fly across my guitar. The next, our drummer, and my best friend, was dead, and so was our band. Eclipse was suddenly in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
I drifted, I drank; I fell hard. I woke up one day to Paul shoving me into a cold shower, demanding I get my shit together: I had a job. He'd initially fended off the sympathy offers, claiming at first that I was still in shock, then later, grieving, until they began to trickle off. He thought that if I was working, I would be healing, and healing was what I needed to be able to keep going. Unfortunately, the offer he grabbed was beyond ironic – it was a small part in a movie, and I would portray a disillusioned and troubled rock star. I laughed when he told me, thinking it would be a breeze; no acting required.
That was the problem, of course. It was my life, not a role, and I kept living the character I had become. I showed up late to set, if at all, and often whiskey-soaked. One day I punched a PA whose only crime was coming to my trailer and calling me to set. I was lucky my ass was just fired; the PA and the studio could have sued me, but I think even then, no one was willing to rub salt in the huge wounds I carried. My pain was terrible to witness, and I had no shame in sharing it with anyone who stood still long enough to see. Let me tell you, when the paparazzi tell you to slow down before you kill yourself, you should listen. I didn't.
It's not that I didn't try: I did, at first. I filled notebooks with lyrics, musical riffs, ideas, and concepts, and then just words when I was drunk or high. I'd try to make sense of it when I was sober, and if I did, what I'd written just sent me running for the bottle again. After a while, when the booze wasn't enough, the needle was. I ignored calls, refused visits from concerned friends, and even rejected advances from groupies who recognized me on the rare occasions I left my house. I barely talked to Paul, just a text a couple of times a month so he'd know I was still alive. I wasn't completely out of touch, though. My dealer could always get through. He'd been Mike's connection, and now he felt like the only link I had left to Mike. He understood; he got me, just like he got Mike, and in nearly every sense of the word.
I was a miserable recluse until I talked myself into anger at the world. Then I became a belligerent bastard. More than once, the authorities came to my house on the behest of my neighbors, who could no longer take the sound of things smashing amid my shrieks. I was arrested one night when I ventured outside, intent on showing the paparazzo at the end of my driveway just how far his telephoto lens would fit into his most intimate orifice. At the station, I called the only person I could think of in my heroin-fried state. Paul came to claim me, though why he was still bothering, I had no clue. Bail was posted, but instead of taking me to either of our homes, he checked me into a rehab center. I was still so messed up, I didn't care. A day or so later, when I had sobered enough for the cravings to begin, I did. Once I realized nobody was going to let me shoot up, not even a little, I lost it. Numerous days followed. I was restrained to my bed as my system detoxified, and I fought everyone, real and otherwise. Months of therapy, group and private, brought me back, not to whom I'd been at the peak of Eclipse, but to a person I could face in the mirror each day, minus the guilt for still being alive when Mike wasn't.
The judge had accepted my guilty plea and sentenced me to four months of probation after six weeks of rehab. I was there six months, and the judge considered the probation served. I was released to the world again on a fine fall morning. It should have said something to me then that there were no photographers at the courthouse to witness my newly sober freedom, but I'd assumed Paul or the lawyer had kept me off of their radar. It didn't occur to me that I was already such old news that my release didn't rate more than a footnote in the tawdriest of the gossip rags.
Paul took me to a celebratory lunch where he revealed he'd been working on some deals for me, small things, to get me back into the rhythm of working. I was touched and told him so, before I said I was releasing him from any more responsibility where I was concerned. He tried to talk me out of it, but I'd decided on my course of action in my final weeks at the center. We parted amicably enough, but I could see in his eyes that he expected to get a call before long, either from me, begging him to take me back, or from the morgue. I was determined he'd never get either, and as I walked away from the café, for the first time in almost a year, I felt hopeful.
I sold everything I had left that hadn't already gone towards my legal fees, rehab, and medical bills, keeping only a few clothes, a duffle to fit them in, and my favorite acoustic guitar. The money I got for my house and cars went into a bank account, as I knew I'd be living off it for a while, along with whatever residuals might come in from the albums once the lawyers got through picking over Eclipse's corpse. The last purchase I made in Los Angeles was a train ticket, one way, heading east.
I had no particular destination in mind, since one place was as good as the next. I relaxed as California memories fell behind me. As the miles rolled past my window, the rhythm of the rails beneath sang of a traveler: homeless, happy, free. I rode for days listening to that song, all the way to the east coast, where I purchased another ticket and headed north. A dozen or so hours in, the train made a stop, and I got off, sick at last of constant motion and the lie of the railway song. I was homeless and free but far from happy, and I knew that part was going to be up to me.
My first order of business was to find a hotel; nothing fancy, simply a place to sleep, bathe, and write. My second, transportation, as I wanted to go to places the railroad tracks didn't. On a used car lot, I found an old, beat up Volvo, once silver but now a faded, washed-out grey. It looked the way I felt, but it ran, the tires were good, and the A/C and heat worked. I didn't bother checking the radio; there was nothing on it I wanted to hear.
A sack full of burgers and a six-pack were next, and finally, a local newspaper. Within an hour, I had showered, dressed, and was perusing the entertainment section over a burger and beer at the tiny hotel room table. Jazz clubs, strip bars, techno, and country dance halls were passed over in favor of small bars and nightclubs that advertised the three words I'd begun to see in my dreams, 'open mic night'.
I didn't look at it as starting over; my goals no longer included 'rich and famous'. Instead, an idea planted back in rehab had taken root in my soul, insistently pushing forth until I could no longer ignore it. A song, THE song: the one that, no matter what path I took or how I ended up, would ensure that I wasn't remembered as nothing more than a footnote in the mangled tale of Eclipse.
I could hear it, or parts of it, in my head. Chords had begun to tease my brain as it cleared from the chemicals, slowly taking shape over the months that I worked on re-learning who I was and who I could be. It was still only phrases, but now I had time and a place to create, free from distraction. I planned to play every open mic I could find in order to work on it, in front of the only opinion I trusted to be honest – an audience. And play I did.
That was four years ago. Four years of late nights, cheap beer, and musical frustration as I searched from town to town for an elusive melody or for the inspiration that would lead me to it.
Open mic nights generally allow each artist two or three songs, sometimes more, if there are only a few brave enough to face the nameless beyond the lights. I'd play a couple of things I'd written early on and finish with the current version of what I'd begun to call 'Glory' in my head, though it never sounded anywhere near glorious. I felt obliged to indicate it was a work in progress, as at times, it wandered to plaintive, and others to anger, but never to the resolution I craved. Once or twice, feeling nostalgic, I did an Eclipse song, but that was a mistake. No one wanted to hear an acoustic 'take' on the Band of the Century, and it brought back too many painful memories; besides, it meant someone might realize who I was.
I'd been dumbfounded the first night I'd walked into a bar to sign up to play. I gave my name, the manager wrote it down, gave me a number, and told me where to wait. I stumbled on my way to the table, my thoughts whirling from the blank look she gave me. Not only hadn't my face been recognized, but my name hadn't, either. What kind of media-barren backwater had I found? It had been less than a year; how had we been forgotten so quickly?
In time, I learned to be grateful that the general public had a short memory. The few occasions I was recognized only ended with presumptuous questions and obnoxious stares. Those nights were the toughest to get through since rehab, but thankfully, I did.
Four years. Four years of searching, driving, and playing, crossing the country and back again. Four years free from heroin, though I can't claim sobriety. I refuse to touch anything stronger than beer, though. I know it's not worth it, though there are nights when I think I'd give an arm for a whiskey.
That night was one of those.
It was a Friday, a free night for me, since no bar manager in his right mind would hold open mic on a weekend. This night, like every Friday, was dedicated to sitting in the dark at someone else's show. I perused the flyers of upcoming bands at each bar I played during the week, choosing those that looked more promising than their cheap graphic art implied, and the occasional one I'd caught somewhere else, just to see how they were coming along. I'd watched countless musicians, hundreds of bands, all pouring out their hearts on stage, sweating and praying for their big break, to get where I had been so long ago.
I wanted to tell them not to rush, to enjoy the rank dressing rooms, bad road food, and tawdry venues, because no matter how long it took them to reach the top, or how long they stayed, the fall was always faster and farther than they would expect. Instead, I sat nursing my beer, silently wishing them well.
There were two bands on the bill that Friday, neither of them local and both unknown to me. That they weren't touring together became apparent when the manager whispered to the bassist off to the side mid-song, and he passed the message to the lead that the headliners were a no-show. A broken-down van, it seemed, from what I made out by reading their lips, a trick I learned early in order to communicate in loud venues. I watched as the information spread throughout the band, wondering if they would simply toss out a couple of extra songs over their time, or if they would man up and take a whole second set. They opted for the extra songs, and I cringed when they launched into an Eclipse cover.
It was in the wrong key to begin with, transposed to fit their lead singer's voice better, I was certain, but wrong just the same. Up to that point, their gig had been fine, but with this one pared-down cover, their confident stage presence wavered, and I could see flop sweat beginning to bead. The crowd had been receptive, cheering and whistling topped by suggestive shouts from a group of girls toward the front. The cheers now turned to jeers, whistling to boos. One of the girls jumped off her stool and strode directly below the lead, planting herself in front of him, hands on curvy hips and head tossed back, her chestnut hair waving down below a turquoise beanie. She shouted at him as her friends giggled in tipsy embarrassment.
For several minutes, I watched in fascination as this firecracker exploded in the band's face, berating them for attempting the song when they obviously didn't have the ability to do it justice. One by one the musicians stopped playing, whether from agreement with her words or shame, I couldn't tell. The vocalist glared at his mutinous band, continuing to sing and play alone as they shook their heads. Finally he stopped, mid-verse, and leaned out angrily around his microphone.
"Why are you so fucking bent? It's just a damn Eclipse song. You think you could do it better?" he taunted. Her slim shoulders squared as she tossed her hair.
"No, I don't. But then, I'd never dare attempt it with him here," she spat back, and unease rippled through me.
"Him, who?" the vocalist eyed her warily.
"Him," and I swear she turned in slow motion to point directly at my table in the back. "Him. Edward Cullen. Of Eclipse."
I had no idea anyone had seen me, much less recognized me, and suddenly every gaze was locked on my dark, no-longer-secluded corner. Murmurs washed through the crowd as the lead shaded his eyes with his hand, peering beyond the lights in disbelief. I glanced around quickly, gauging the distance to the nearest exit and how many patrons I'd have to get past, but my flight was halted before I could move from my chair.
The firecracker stood in front of me, hands still on hips, her big brown eyes sparkling with mischief as a wry little smirk played across her full lips.
I was much more interested in the way her lips were twitching than in what she'd just said.
"Sorry?" I managed to croak before she rolled her eyes and tossed her hair. It tumbled across her shoulder, one lock straying behind to land in a perfect curl on her breast. I clutched my beer, grateful for the pilsner glass to hide my stare as I took a deep swig.
"Are you going to show them how it's supposed to be played or not?" she demanded, crossing her arms for emphasis, which only plumped her bosom more fully. I gave her a sharp look; she didn't seem to realize the effect her pose had on her figure, and I relaxed slightly.
"Not," I said into my beer, unsure if she heard. She did. Her head snapped back as one sassy hip popped out.
"Fine. Let them fuck it up. Guess we'll just have to dig out an old CD to hear it played right," she said sarcastically. As she turned to head back to her friends, she threw one more look at me over her shoulder, those eyes full of challenge.
My chair crashed to the floor as I stood, the hesitance in my gut twisting in response to her words. She watched as I tossed back my beer, her eyes big as I leaned in to whisper, "I have a bad feeling about this." She startled me by throwing her arms around my neck and planting an electric kiss on my cheek.
"For luck," she whispered back, and a grin lit her face when I laughed and winked at her before making my way to the stage. The crowd parted for me, the murmurs increasing in speculation and anticipation. My foot hit the first step and the lead excitedly thrust his guitar towards me. I took it with a nod, slipping the strap across my shoulder and giving the strings a tentative thrum as he stepped back. I fiddled with the tuning, forcing myself to focus on the instrument in my hands instead of the excitement building all around me. In my peripheral vision, I saw the other musicians settle back into playing position, alert and ready to follow my lead.
My lead. I hadn't in so long, I didn't know if I still remembered how, but I wasn't about to give myself time to reconsider. I hit the first chord, in the right key, and the crowd cheered. By the third, they were on their feet, and when the band crashed in, right on cue, the place exploded. Thank God for motor memory, because my fingers hadn't performed this particular song in years. The riffs were there, the music poured out, and I felt the power I hadn't known I'd missed. Every word, every note, rang through the room, blanketing the crowd with energy. They soaked it up greedily before returning it, multiplied in their roar of approval. Chills ran up my back and down my arms, tingling into my fingers and out through the strings. How could I have forgotten this feeling?
The band gamely kept up, and though none of them were the caliber of players Eclipse had been, I was grateful for the strength of their effort. I didn't make it easy on them either, ramping up my own performance as I rode the high surging from the audience. I glanced at each musician in turn, unable to hide my smile at the sheer joy on their faces. Every one wore an expression of ecstasy, recognizing that this was once-in-a-lifetime dream stuff. This was a night they would re-live forever, the one story they would never tire of telling, when they became part of the legacy of Eclipse.
The final note wailed and faded into a rolling shimmer of cymbals that hung momentarily suspended upon the hot smoky air. The crowd burst then, shaking the very building in a frenzy of applause, shouting and stomping. I grinned like a sweaty fool into the lights, barely feeling hands slapping my back and clasping my arms as the band thanked me before embracing one another in congratulations. They deserved it. They'd played like they never had before, and now they knew they could. There was wonder and envy in the lead's eyes as I handed back his guitar, thanking him for its use. He mutely shook his head and looked at the instrument he held as though it might suddenly grow arms and play itself. His band mates grabbed him up into their happy circle, and his stunned expression gave way to laughter.
I took advantage of their distraction and slipped backstage, past the dressing rooms to the small door that led outside. The damp Seattle air wrapped wisps of fog around me, chilling my skin after the close heat of the bar. I took a deep breath, gratefully sucking in the cool moisture before a fit of coughing hit me. I leaned heavily against the rough brick wall, using it to hold myself upright as I struggled to regain control. I was wiping tears and sweat from my eyes when I heard a crunch of gravel and the soft clearing of a throat. I glanced up to brown eyes full of concern.
"Are you okay?"
I nodded as a short laugh set off another minor wave of coughing. I straightened as it subsided, tipping my head back against the damp bricks.
"Thank you. That was… beyond amazing." The gratitude in her voice surprised me.
I chuckled and raised my head to look down at her. In the mist-diffused streetlight, she looked smaller somehow, almost delicate. Soft tendrils escaping from beneath her beanie curled around her face from the damp. I wanted to tug it from her head and run my hands through her hair, which puzzled me. Yes, it had been years since I was with anyone, but I hadn't been looking, either. Rehab and therapy had revealed things about me that didn't fit with a person who ought to be in a relationship, and my wandering had taken care of the rest. I functioned well alone. So why was I suddenly so drawn to this girl?
"How did you know?" I asked.
She shrugged and shifted slightly. "I caught you at the open mic and recognized you. I… I wanted to speak to you then, but my friends didn't believe it was you. 'Why would Edward Cullen be playing an open mic?', right?" She blushed, laughing shyly as she nervously shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans.
I smiled in agreement while shaking my head over the performance I had just given. I'd spent four years coasting under the radar, only to allow myself to be outed in a most public way with a single word from a girl I didn't even know. A pretty girl who had kissed my cheek and quoted Star Wars back at me. I was suddenly wary, and pulled out a cigarette to calm my nerves.
"Please… don't. Don't smoke. It's not good for you," she finished lamely as I eyed her with the unlit stick between my lips. I took it out to ask her name.
"Bella." Of course: a beautiful girl named 'beauty'.
"Well, Bella," I said, putting the filter back in my mouth and watching her over my hands as they cupped the lighter, "thanks for the concern, but I'm not all that worried that I'm going to die from cancer."
The lighter flared, and through the cloud of smoke from my first puff, I saw her step forward. Her fingers reached up to my face, and I froze. Slowly they stroked down my cheek and ghosted across my lips before she slid them to the back of my neck and pulled my face to hers.
Her lips were soft, tasting of beer and some kind of fruity gloss. I kept mine closed, though it took supreme effort to do so with the electricity humming through them from hers. She stepped back, letting her hand trail down my arm, gently removing the cigarette from my fingers and dropping it to squash it beneath her boot heel. Her dark eyes met mine, and something I couldn't identify flashed in them.
"You may not be, but I am, and I'd hate for anything awful like that to happen to you," she said, and I felt my chest tighten at the sincerity of her tone.
Shrill voices and shrieks spilled from the corner of the building as her friends spotted us, waving her over with loud whispers. She glanced at them then looked back at me with a grave expression.
"I'm serious, you know. At the very least, it's bad for your voice, and yours is too beautiful to ruin."
Speechless, I could only watch her walk away to her friends. She glanced back once as she turned the corner of the building. After she was out of sight, of course, several witty replies entered my head, but I was more upset at the fact that I neglected to get her number or even a last name. I spent the rest of the night in my room, wired from the unfamiliar post-performance high, thinking of brown eyes, and wishing I had whiskey to wash away the sleeplessness.
I'd intended to leave Seattle in a day or two, since I'd run through all the open mic nights the city had to offer in the past three months, but something told me to hang around. I didn't exactly have an itinerary for my wanderings, so I stayed. Word travelled quickly that I'd appeared from nowhere to grace a local stage before disappearing again into the night. Speculation ran high and wild: it wasn't really me, but an imitator, planted in the crowd as a publicity stunt by the band, by the venue, by my long lost label. Or it really was me, and I was making a comeback with a new album and a world tour to be announced any day.
I was news, and the story of Eclipse was once again a headline in the entertainment media. That knowledge only brought concern for my hard won privacy and a call from Paul. He'd heard the rumors and wanted to know what I thought I was doing. I told him the truth, and before I knew it, I'd told him everything about the last four years, from the seminal idea of 'Glory' to the girl who had given me away. It felt good to talk to someone who knew me, and I realized what a hermit I'd become. He refused to advise me, saying only that following my heart seemed to be working well for me and that I might want to pay more attention to what it was telling me. He rang off only after making me promise to keep in better touch.
I spent my nights roaming the city, bundled in my coat and gloves, cautiously avoiding places with live music in fear of another occurrence of recognition and the certain frenzy it would produce. I remained indoors during the day, sleeping when I could and writing when my eyes refused to stay shut any longer. I'd begun another journal, or rather, two. In one, I documented bits of my wandering, stories from the road, and countless hotel rooms. The second I filled with other words: lyrics, thoughts, and the occasional stream of consciousness rambling. Unlike my drug-induced writing from my dark period, these didn't disturb me upon re-reading. Instead, they prompted further entries, more coherent and poetic. That they seemed to revolve around longing, searching, and a girl with brown eyes was not lost on me, but I let it be. Whether it was something about Seattle or her in particular, I felt as though I was at the edge of a precipice. If I'd only wait long enough for the Universe to get around to it, one tiny push would send me hurtling into destiny.
I didn't have to wait long.
I'd taken to wandering the waterfront near Pike's Place before the Market area closed at night and it was too cold to remain. The reflection of the lights and the sound of the water soothed me, even though it meant I risked detection by the crowds of people intent on a good night out. Occasionally, I'd watch couples strolling arm in arm, heads together as they murmured endearments. The feeling this drew from me was foreign, and it took several bouts of it for me to realize it was envy. I explored that in my journal as well, abandoning it abruptly when the empty ache it caused refused to leave my body like the ink from my pen.
My sixth month of residence was ushered in by a warm front. The city was under its usual haze of cool clouds when I fell asleep, only to be awakened in late afternoon by bright light streaming through the blinds. My spirits lifted immediately when the weather report promised only a small temperature drop for the evening, and I decided not to wait for dark.
The sun was just beginning to blaze a spectacular show across the western sky when I left the hotel. I hurried to my usual spot at the Market where I began my nightly walk, anxious to see my first sunset in months; one that proved to be stunningly memorable. It was talked about for weeks afterward, but not by me. I missed most of it.
I wove through the crowd that had gathered for the incredible display of color, keeping my light hoodie drawn over my head. I was still wary of being recognized, but I needn't have worried; all eyes were on the sight unfolding over the Sound. I found a lamp post in a slightly less populated spot and leaned against it, lighting a cigarette and relaxing somewhat as I enjoyed Nature doing her thing. Not five minutes later, a shiver crawled up my spine; I felt that I was being watched. I tried to identify where the person was without being obvious, but in a moment, such caution was unnecessary. My gaze was caught by a pair of deep brown eyes, and from that moment, I saw nothing else.
She stood not thirty feet away, facing me with her back to the water, framed by the sun's rosy golden glow. How I had missed seeing her beanie was anybody's guess, because I had been looking for that particular shade of turquoise every time I'd ventured outside my room. She seemed to sense my wariness of the crowd and came towards me slowly, allowing me the security of my lamp post. Once she was in front of me, she moved as if to shield me from any curious glances, though she was a good foot shorter than I. She frowned at my cigarette, and I smiled. Each one I'd lit since that first night had reminded me of her, yet instead of making me want to give them up, I'd only smoked more for the memory they brought of her lips on mine.
"You haven't quit."
I shook my head and gripped the post behind me, not trusting my hand to keep from reaching out to make sure she was really there.
I wanted to tell her why, that every filter tasted of beer and cherries, and that if she'd only let me taste her lips again, I'd never light another. Instead, I said they helped me focus, which was also true. She watched me take another drag before she held out her hand for it. I laughed and crushed it out against my post, my heart thrilling at the smile she gave me for doing so.
"Do you live here now?" she asked, and I wondered if that was true. I'd certainly remained in this place longer than any other except L.A.
"I suppose I do. I hadn't really thought about it," I answered and was puzzled when she laughed.
"You suppose? Don't you know where you live?" The amusement in her eyes was lovely to see, and it took me a moment to come up with an answer.
"I do. I live in a hotel, and one is very much like another. This one happens to be in Seattle."
The amusement was immediately replaced by curiosity. "Why do you live in a hotel? Why not an apartment or a house?"
"Hotels are easier. No maintenance, and there's always another one in the next town," I shrugged.
Her face fell, and I knew I'd blundered.
"You are leaving, then?" It was no more than a whisper, but it hit me like a train. I couldn't take the look in her eyes, and I grabbed both of her hands in mine, heedless of what the consequences might be. Something surged between us, and I pulled her closer. My hesitation fell away, replaced by a desperate urgency.
"I'm not. Not now. I've only just found you again, Bella; I'm not going anywhere. Not until you tell me to go."
Astonishment, then cautious hope filled her gaze.
"You… remembered my name," she said, followed by a nervous giggle. It was adorable, and I had to laugh at the relief I felt that she hadn't run away screaming.
"How could I forget? I've thought of you every day." I released one of her hands so I could play with a lock of hair that curled temptingly on her shoulder. Her eyes searched mine for a moment before she gently pulled it from my fingers. I watched as she carefully folded her hand with mine and held them to her chest. I could feel her heart pounding beneath them and knew my pulse was racing just as quickly from the multitude of emotions crashing through me.
"Have you eaten? Dinner, I mean," I asked, suddenly very aware that the crowd had dispersed, the sunset long over. She shook her head and then glanced over her shoulder towards the water. I looked up to see two girls standing by the rail, trying hard not to watch us and failing miserably. Her friends from the bar, I surmised, and she confirmed it a minute later when I was introduced to Rose and Alice.
At first glance, blonde Rose belonged in a bikini, draped suggestively across a motorcycle in the pages of an auto shop calendar. That is, until she opened her mouth and revealed an intelligent and shrewd mind inside that killer body. Alice was smaller and dark-haired, with a vivacious personality and an infectious giggle. They were both obviously extremely protective of Bella, a trait which made me like them immediately. It was equally obvious that Bella was quite able to take care of herself and others.
We ordered pizzas at the Alibi Room, chosen by Bella for the dark interior to give me some privacy. Her concern for my comfort and ease of mind was endearing. Our waiter kept giving me looks as though he was trying to decide if I was who he thought, rushing the service at other tables to come back to check on us too frequently and lingering nearby. After his fourth visit to refill our barely touched water glasses, Bella turned to him, and I saw the firecracker pop.
"You know, good service is one thing, but hovering is just fucking creepy. If we need something, we're perfectly capable of flagging you down. And maybe if you'd spend some time actually waiting on your other tables, you'd get a better tip from all of them. As of right now, I'm not leaving you shit."
Thankfully, he took the hint, leaving us all laughing at Bella's brass. This girl was amazing, and I might have kissed her for it if we'd been alone.
We stayed, the four of us, talking and laughing, until they cleared the place out to close at two. I walked them to their car and made sure I got her number this time. Rose and Alice got in the car as Bella pulled my head down to whisper in my ear.
"I'll bet you haven't even thought about having one in hours. Keep seeing me and you'll forget you ever smoked at all." Her lips brushed my cheek, and I turned to kiss her, but she placed one slim finger over my mouth. "Maybe next time. Call me, and who knows? You might get lucky."
She winked at me through the window as they drove off, leaving me stunned yet again. The evening replayed in my mind as I drove back to my hotel, her parting words making me smile. Get lucky? I already had, simply by meeting her again.
I did call, and I did keep seeing her. How could I not? Seattle in spring was a city of moods, but Bella made every one brighter. She pulled me back into the daylight, always mindful of my desire to remain unnoticed, and I began to sleep at night like a normal person. I smoked less and less, my mind too occupied with her to recognize my body's need for nicotine. If my day wasn't spent with her, I was writing like a fiend, inspired by her and the things she showed me. And she could always tell when I'd been working on 'Glory', because it still wasn't right. I would become so cranky that even I wouldn't want to be around me. She refused to let me wallow, however, dragging me with her to a museum or art exhibit she had to attend for class, and making me laugh at her scathing and often crude critiques of the artwork before us. And as she brought me more to life, her own all-out frenzy calmed, and we balanced each other.
She made me do all the touristy things I hadn't bothered with because I'd been too busy hiding. I didn't try to kiss her again, letting her lead things the way she wanted them to go, and I was perfectly content to simply be in her presence. I almost slipped the day she took me to the top of the Space Needle. Up there with the city spread out below us, the urge to take her into my arms and taste her lips was nearly overpowering. Instead, I wrapped my arms around her and rested my cheek against her head, enjoying the scratchy cotton of her kerchief against my skin.
Bella had a million hats, or at least it seemed so. She hated having her hair in her eyes, she said, and she looked adorable in every one, from a wide brimmed straw she wore to the zoo, kerchiefs, ball caps, to her favorite beanie, which I learned she had in several colors. I teased her about them, saying that if I ever saw her without a hat, she would be as good as naked. She teased me back, insisting she wore them even in the shower, so she supposed I would never see her naked. She laughed when I blushed, knowing my imagination had just gone into overdrive.
It wasn't that I didn't want to kiss her, and more; I did, and badly. But it was like trying to capture a butterfly on the wind. Bella was in constant motion, barely standing still long enough for a hug, much less a longer romantic moment. Kisses on the cheek were the norm, and I didn't refuse them or the lingering heat they left behind. I figured that when she was ready, she'd kiss me again. After all, hadn't she done just that the night we met?
She wouldn't let me pick her up from her apartment; instead, she met me at restaurants or had Rose drop her off at the hotel where I met her in the lobby. As she valued her privacy regarding her residence, she thought she understood my reluctance to have anyone in my room. In actuality, I was protecting her. I was afraid that if I once got her behind closed doors, I would lose all control where she was concerned.
We took the Volvo on weekend trips to the Washington coast and wandered along beaches of colorful pebbles. I brought my guitar and played for her as we sat on sea-bleached logs, making up silly songs just to hear her laugh. At night, we went to our separate motel rooms, and I lay on my bed, wishing there were no walls between us.
On one such midsummer trip, we drove to the beach for a picnic. The day was perfect, sunny, and the sky a brilliant blue. She wore her big straw hat, and as we unpacked our lunch, she stopped to remove her over shirt, revealing a halter top that exposed her whole back. It was a lot more of her skin than I was used to seeing, and I wondered if she'd worn it on purpose to provoke me. She asked me to put sun block on her back, and twisting her hair to the side of her neck, she turned around.
At first my eyes wouldn't process what I was seeing, because I couldn't imagine Bella remaining still long enough for a small tattoo, much less the full back piece in front of me. I smoothed the lotion over her creamy skin, feeling her shiver at my initial touch and then relax into my hands as I massaged her muscles. The electricity that always hummed between us buzzed through my fingertips as they traced the letters between her shoulder blades and the detailed feathers that curved down along her ribs and back towards her spine.
"How long have you had this?" I asked, surprised at the jealousy I felt towards an unknown artist who had obviously spent hours with her, marking her naked skin.
"About a year. Do you have any ink?" she queried, and the heat rose in my face at the thought of her touching the tattoo over my heart the way I was touching her back.
"Yes, I have one, but it's nothing on this scale. This is beautiful." My hands moved to her shoulders, holding her still as my restraint wavered, and I let my lips brush her neck.
"You are beautiful," I murmured, my lips tingling from the slight contact, and she turned her head to look at me.
I hesitated, but the need in her eyes drew me in. I took her into my arms, turned her towards me, and gently pressed my lips to hers. It was sweet and chaste, but the fire it sent coursing through my veins was nothing of the sort. I felt her hands tangling in my hair, and a low moan escaped as her lips parted. I pulled away reluctantly, and she blinked up at me, confused.
"Why did you stop?" she said breathily, and I hated myself for having done so.
"A few seconds more, and I wouldn't have been able to," I answered honestly. "I somehow doubt you would be happy with me if I had kept going. We are in public, after all."
She smiled, blushing, and laid her head on my shoulder, the brim of her hat tickling my chin. We sat like that for several minutes, simply holding each other, until my leg cramped, and I had to move. The moment was over, and the rest of the afternoon passed as innocently as it began.
Some dynamic had shifted, though. There was more touching, more hand holding, and more quiet moments with our arms wrapped around each other. There were also more of those sweet kisses, but I always pulled back before they could pass the point of no return. She wanted more; she told me so, but I didn't trust myself. I was frightened by how desperately I wanted her, and if I didn't keep a firm control on my desire, who knew what might happen.
The days grew shorter and we hung out with Rose and Alice, the four of us taking turns picking movies to see. The three of them attended the University of Washington, and it was sometimes an effort to get together, but they were Bella's best friends; I couldn't in good conscience monopolize her time. Besides, I liked them, and they tolerated me, or so they teased. Separately, they each thanked me for being in Bella's life, insisting that she had been on a bit of a wild tear before we met, and that my calming influence on her was a great relief to them. I didn't question them. I was too grateful to be allowed within their tight circle.
I found myself writing more now that Bella was back in school. The bits and pieces of 'Glory' I'd begun with had gone through a tremendous metamorphosis in the past several months, and I was finally happy with the melody. Now I just needed the words. I pored through my idea journal, rejecting everything as trite or just plain crap. What I'd written about Bella before I found her again was nothing like the girl I had come to know. The poetry was maudlin at best, and definitely not worthy of the melody I had so painstakingly crafted.
I began lyric after lyric, and at the end of each day, I crossed out line after line, frustrated by writer's block that I couldn't seem to get past. I started walking again to get out of the room and away from the journal, hoping that the crisp air would jog open some mental window and blow in some new ideas. Evenings I spent with Bella, at least, those she was free. Her classes took a great deal of her time and energy. She often looked tired when I met her for dinner, and I noticed her appetite was suffering, as well. I thought she felt thinner in my arms, but when I voiced my concern, she only scoffed at me, insisting she was fine and that she'd eaten a large meal earlier in the day.
There came a week in October when I didn't see her at all. First she had homework, and then she was studying for exams. Another night she had a migraine, something else that she'd begun to suffer from that worried me. I hoped she would be feeling well enough to meet me for our regular Friday date. But when Friday night came and she didn't answer her phone, I panicked and called Alice.
"Edward? What's up?"
"Alice, have you heard from Bella? She isn't answering her phone and we have a date tonight. I'm worried."
The silence from her end of the line sent a chill through me.
"Edward, would you meet me? The Starbucks on South Jackson. We need to talk."
I don't even know how I got there. I just remember ordering something hot that I couldn't drink, using it instead to try to warm my hands that were as cold as the dread that clutched my heart.
Alice walked in, and right then I knew something was horribly wrong, because Alice didn't walk, she bounced. She ordered something complicated, and then shot uncomfortable glances in my direction while she waited for it. When she finally slid into the seat across from me, she fussed with her cup and napkin before slumping back to stare at me.
"She's gone, Edward. She went home."
I knew from our talks that Bella grew up in Phoenix with her mother, who had passed away several years before. She'd spoken a few times of going back, but vaguely enough that I thought she must have friends there she wanted to visit.
"Phoenix? Why? I would have gone with her. She knew that."
Alice took a sip of her drink, and when she looked back at me, I saw stark pity in her eyes.
"She never told you, did she?"
"What? What didn't she tell me?"
Visions of my Bella with an undisclosed husband and children flashed across my eyes, and I shivered. A moment later, I would have been grateful for the husband.
"There's no easy way to say this. Bella has cancer, Edward. She's gone back to Phoenix because the Seattle winters are too cold and damp."
I reached out to her, silently begging her to stop; it wasn't, couldn't, be true, my hand trembling violently as I tried to find words. Alice grasped it, bringing it down to the table as she leaned forward.
"It was in remission for a while, and she almost made it to her five years clear when it came back. She went into the Cancer Center not long after we saw you that first night you played. You have no idea how much it meant to her that you played that Eclipse song for her. And that day we saw you again, she had just been released from the hospital after her last surgery. Her doctor got all he could, but it was still spreading, though slowly. We'd gone with her to watch that amazing sunset, knowing she wouldn't have many more, and there you were. You were like her personal miracle; an angel to watch over her these last few months."
I couldn't see, I wasn't sure I could speak, and God knows, I didn't want to hear it. But I had to know.
"When did she leave?"
"Tuesday. The Cancer Center wanted to transfer her to a facility in Phoenix before the weather got too bad here." Her eyes widened, and she sat back, her hand over her mouth.
"That's why you thought you had a date. She let you think she was still here. Stupid…" I wasn't sure if Alice meant Bella's actions or me, but there were more answers I needed.
"She's not coming back, is she?"
Alice's eyes were too bright, and her smile twisted in an unhappy way. "No, she's not. The facility she's in is a hospice. Rose is there with her right now. I'm going down tomorrow to take a few days so Rose can finish her exams. We're swapping off until…" Her pretty little face struggled to retain its composure but it crumpled, and I dropped to my knees next to her, letting her cry into my shoulder.
When her sobs abated somewhat, and we'd both dabbed napkins ineffectively at our faces, I held her hands.
"I'm coming with you. Bella's the only reason I even stayed in Seattle. I have nothing here now." She nodded, and we made plans for me to pick her up in the morning.
Back in my room, for the first time, I was glad I'd never brought Bella here. There were no memories to cloud the corners or make the bed feel emptier than it already did. I hadn't accumulated anything other than journals, so packing took very little time. Clothes and journals in the duffle, guitar in the case; the space that had been my home for a year once again assumed the guise of an ordinary hotel room. As I drove off to get Alice the next morning, I wondered if I would miss it.
We decided to split the drive, allowing us to cover the 1400-plus miles in just over 24 hours. When I was driving and Alice was awake, we talked about Bella, about Alice, about me and Eclipse. When she drove, I sat in the back seat and played my guitar, taking requests. She had a pretty good voice, and we spent a couple of entertaining hours through Idaho working out harmonies to theme songs from old TV shows. I even wrote a whole new lyric for By the Time I Get to Phoenix, because it seemed like the thing to do. It gets punchy out there on the road, and there comes a point when everything is too damn funny. We hit that right around Las Vegas, which only seemed fitting. When we turned onto I-17, we freshened up at a gas station in an attempt to remove the road funk and changed into clean clothes. The last 25 miles were the longest.
We arrived at the hospice just before noon on Sunday. Rose came out to meet us, not at all surprised to see me there, and I wondered if Alice told her I was coming. She gave us a quick update: It was a good day so far, and Bella was out on the grounds, soaking up some sun. I asked Rose if Bella was expecting me, and she shook her head before pointing me towards the path I should take.
I'd never heard of a hospice laid out like this before. The facility was set up for families, and each resident had an independent cottage, complete with not only a kitchen and living area, but medical equipment for emergencies. A central office, staffed by medical personnel, also functioned as a clubhouse of sorts, an area where all could meet and socialize. Paths wound past the cottages, which were set well apart from each other for privacy. Small cactus gardens with benches were placed along the paths as rest stops, if a resident became tired while walking. It was attractively laid out, but the beauty was lost on me, anxious as I was to see Bella again.
She was sitting sideways with her feet up on one of the benches, one hand on an open book in her lap, the other propping up her head with her elbow on the back of the bench, her ever present beanie the color of the wide Arizona sky. At first I thought she was reading, but as I came closer, I saw that her eyes were shut, and she seemed to be sleeping. Her face looked thinner than I remembered, and a pang of fear shot through me. I walked faster, the gravel of the path crunching beneath my feet. She opened her eyes at the sound and stared at me as I approached.
"Why are you here?"
I chuckled humorlessly. "I could ask you the same, only I know why, now. You should have told me."
She shifted on the bench, drawing her knees up towards her body in a protective manner. I didn't know if she meant it as an invitation to sit, but I took it anyway. She closed her book, her hands moving restlessly over the cover, eyes down.
"It wasn't your business." She said it so softly, I wasn't sure if she meant for me to hear.
"Of course it's my business. Everything about you and your welfare is my business, Bella. You know that." I was frustrated by her calm, used as I was to her sassy liveliness.
She shook her head and looked up at me. "No, I don't know that. I know you reappeared in my life on one of the worst days I ever had and made me smile again. You stayed and kept me company; you entertained me and gave me something to look forward to every day… You made me care about someone other than myself for a while, and that was a great gift. But I always knew I would end up here, and this part wasn't your concern."
I stared at her, hardly comprehending her words as tears stung my eyes. "Bella, how is it not my concern? You turned my life upside down. I was frozen before you, drifting like an ice floe on a river, searching for a fucking song to make me immortal. You thawed me out and brought me back to life. You gave me a reason to live." My tears began to overflow, and she grew angry.
"See? This, this right here is why I didn't tell you I was leaving. I didn't want to hurt you."
"How could you think that leaving me wouldn't hurt me? Bella, I love you. I need to be with you."
It was her turn to stare at me. "You… what?"
I pulled her legs across my lap so I could take her hands in mine. "I love you. I know I should have said it sooner, but I thought you knew."
The spark I'd missed flashed in her eyes. "Why the hell would you fall in love with me when you knew that I was sick? That's the stupidest thing I ever heard."
"I didn't know that you were sick. How would I know when you never told me? You're not making sense," I exclaimed, confused.
"I did tell you. I told you that first night at the bar. You said you weren't worried about dying from cancer, and I told you that I was."
It was a good thing I was already sitting, because I suddenly felt faint as a cold chill dropped through me. She had told me, only I'd misinterpreted her words as concern for my health. When I could think again, I apologized.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize that was what you meant. I thought you meant you were worried that I would get… Regardless, I do love you, and that's one reason I had to come, to be with you, and I'm not leaving. I won't let you go through this alone."
"Are you sure? This won't be pretty or romantic. It will be ugly and painful, for both of us. Can you handle that? Can you handle this?" she demanded, holding my gaze as she reached up to pull off her beanie.
The chestnut tresses slid down her shoulder to dangle from her fingers with the cap, but my eyes never left hers. She snorted in frustration, bending her head to force me to look at the thin patchy places where little hair grew. When she looked up again, I continued to stare firmly into her eyes, though my heart ached that I would never feel her hair between my fingers.
"This is me, Edward. This is who I am. Now you know everything."
"And I still love you, not your hair," I answered.
She looked at me and tilted her head. "Have you ever been in love?"
It was an odd question, but not surprising. "No, I haven't. I've never let anyone close enough before."
She gave a short, hard laugh and pulled her legs from my lap, rising to stand over me. "Well, that's obvious, because you sure don't act like people do when they're in love. You never showed me. Every kiss you ever gave me was innocent, and you always pulled back from those. Why? Why wouldn't you show me? Even when I asked for more, you refused. You wouldn't even let me show you that I love you."
I sat there, speechless, unable to formulate a simple sentence.
She shook her head, hands on her hips. "You see what I mean? Declarations of love are usually followed by a kiss, a passionate one. You won't even give me that, yet you say you love me."
I took a deep breath and let it out again before reaching up to take her hands. I drew her back down beside me and looked into the dark eyes I loved so dearly.
"I said that telling you I love you was one reason I had to come. There is another. There's something I should have told you long ago, but I just… I didn't know how. I was waiting for the right time, I guess, but it never came, and the longer we were together, the harder it was to say." I kissed the back of her hand and held it to my cheek, praying my next words wouldn't send her running, even as I knew they would hurt her.
"You know that after Mike died and Eclipse fell apart, so did I. I did a lot of stupid things, risky things, because I was angry, at the world, at God, at Mike for dying, at myself for still being alive when he wasn't. I drank and I got into some heavy drugs, often at the same time, and I didn't particularly care what happened to me. There's some days of it that even now, I don't remember where I was or with whom, or even what I did. It wasn't until I was in rehab, my system finally clean, that I learned I was HIV positive, most likely from using dirty needles."
She gasped, and her eyes flew wide. I waited for her to pull away from me, tainted as I was. Instead, she turned the hand I held to my face and cupped my cheek, stroking it with her fingers. Sorrow filled her eyes, then with an expression of determination, she raised her other hand to the back of my head, and pulled my face to hers. I was hesitant, but she only gripped my hair more tightly as she spoke against my lips.
"Kiss me, Edward. It doesn't matter. It never did, and I've waited so long."
She pressed her mouth against mine, and I relented, tasting her for the first time. She was sweet and soft, and I couldn't get enough, letting my hands wrap around her waist to pull her closer. We were breathless and giddy when we finally broke apart, giggling at nothing.
She stood again, pulling me up with her, and I folded her into my arms. We gazed into one another's eyes, unable to stop smiling until our lips met again. We slowly made our way up the path to her cottage, stopping now and again for another kiss that only fueled the fire that had been smoldering all along. No one was inside when we arrived. A note on the table from Rose said that she and Alice had gone to pick up groceries and some dinner for the four of us.
She headed towards the bedroom, and I shook my head, chuckling at her persistence.
"They'll be back soon. We don't have time…"
She cut me off with another heated kiss, tugging me with her through the doorway. I heard the door close as she took a breath, and I opened my eyes to see her smiling.
"We have time. We have all the time in the world. We have the rest of our lives."
We undressed slowly, and my breath caught in my throat as she traced Mike's name on my chest with one fingertip before she kissed it. I turned her around to unhook her bra and remembered the first time she'd let me see her wings on the beach, finally understanding the CARPE DIEM that bridged them across her shoulders.
We lay together, caressing and kissing, finally free to share how we felt. After a while, I covered her, and she gave herself to me, and I knew that I would never find a greater joy than right there in her arms.
We'd showered and dressed before Rose and Alice returned. We endured their curious looks at first, and then the smug glances when they caught the secret smiles between us. Rose dug out some beer, and dinner became a celebration, with toasts to life and love and friends. The evening was spent as we often had, the four of us talking together around a table, but this time there were no more secrets. She held my hand tightly as I told Alice and Rose, who cried and hugged me before cursing me out for being an idiot. I laughed and agreed with them.
She fought it, but she couldn't hide a yawn, and I immediately rose, intending to put her to bed before coming back to do the dishes. Instead, Alice cleared the table as Rose set about opening up the sofa bed, both of them loudly telling us to 'have a good night' and 'sleep well'. Since they insisted, we left them, and did our best to follow their directions.
Rose flew back to Seattle on Monday. She left us detailed written instructions regarding Bella's medicine, appointments, and the hospice aide's schedule, along with phone numbers for the pharmacy and on-call service. After another week, Alice also went back to school, promising that she and Rose would be down every chance they could.
We settled into a routine of meals, naps, and walks; outings when she felt up to them and quiet days when she didn't. Those days, she often asked me to play for her, and it was then that the words I'd tried so hard to find came to me all on their own. I played it for her, pouring it out with all the love I felt. It made her cry, but she smiled through the tears, agreeing with me that this was the song that the world would remember.
She insisted I make arrangements to record it as soon as possible, and to please her, I called Paul. I played it for him over the phone, and his reaction was better than I expected. He told me he'd call me back and an hour later, he did, with the number of a Phoenix recording studio and a producer who was elated to work with me. He asked if I had written anything else, and when I admitted I had, he insisted I record those, too.
She wore her beanie when she went with me the day I recorded 'Glory', watching with large dark eyes from the booth as I laid the tracks down one by one. I was so used to seeing her that I reacted badly to the startled looks the engineer gave her, calming down only after the producer pulled him aside to explain, and he apologized.
Paul could hardly contain his excitement when he heard the master tapes. When he called a few days later, he had news. On the strength of 'Glory' and the promise of a new album, he'd arranged a comeback concert for me at the Hollywood Bowl in a few months. I'd play with the best studio musicians he could find, and we'd perform a few Eclipse songs to round out the show. I initially fought him on those, concerned that Eric and Jazz would be angry and hurt that I would use our collaborations to push my music forward that way. A couple of emails later, I realized Paul was more in touch with my old mates than I had been, and they both gave their blessings to the project, wishing me well.
I desperately wanted Bella at the show, but we both knew how unlikely it would be. She spent most days on the sofa, tucked under quilts, as I wrote out instrumental arrangements for the other musicians. I still played for her every time she asked, tucking her under my arm between the guitar and my chest where she fit only too well. That's where she was one afternoon, her head on my shoulder, when she asked me to play 'Glory', again. I kissed her temple and laughed.
"Aren't you sick of it yet?"
"No, it's my favorite. I love it. And I love you."
"I love you, too. Here you go, 'Glory': take one million and fifty-nine." I began to play, and as I sang, she seemed to snuggle closer, letting out a little sigh of contentment. A moment later, I knew, but she'd asked me to play it, so I had to finish, though the words were choked through my tears. I held her long after, kissing her thin cheek and telling her how much I would miss her.
There's not much left to tell. I had Paul change the show to a charity concert for cancer. Within minutes of ticket availability, it sold out. The Bowl happened to have the next night open, and a second charity show was quickly arranged; it also sold out. I stood backstage the first night, looking out at the crowd and wondering what the hell I was doing as my nerves wracked my body. I had a sudden desire for a cigarette, odd because I hadn't smoked since Seattle, and as I turned to see if any of the crew would let me bum one, I heard it.
I whirled around, but no one was nearby. I took another step away from the stage.
"Carpe Diem, baby. I love you."
I laughed, startling a stagehand who was putting on his headset as he took his position at the side of the stage. I shook my head and then nodded at him as I settled my guitar firmly on my shoulder. He gave me the thumbs-up signal, and I stepped out into the light. The new words between my shoulders tingled as the crowd roared, and I gave them all her 'Glory'.
It debuted at number one, and both the single and the album broke records for longest time at the top of the charts. There were Grammys, AMAs, and glowing praise from critics who were ecstatic over the prospect of a new era of music from a member of Eclipse. They seemed surprised when the one album was all they got. The resurgence of Eclipse's catalog followed, as new fans delved into the older stuff, riding the wave of nostalgia that connected it to me.
'Glory' has been used in numerous commercials and movies, and still gets plenty of radio airplay. In the end, the residuals paid not only all of her medical bills, but enabled the Glory Foundation to independently fund the Bella Swan Cancer Research Center in Phoenix.
That was ten years ago. I'm writing this from my old hotel room back to Seattle. It turned out that I did miss it. I went back to playing open mics, just to keep my fingers and voice limber. I still don't smoke, I do have the occasional beer, and I never play 'Glory'. The first and last live public performances were the charity concerts, and I didn't want to play it after those. But I do still play, and there are fewer and fewer who remember my name. Alice and Rose drop in on me occasionally, but they don't stay long. None of us can stand the obviously empty space between us.
Now and then I go back to the beach she took me to on the Pacific coast, with the eerie bleached driftwood logs and multi-colored stones. It was a place she loved, and it's where I scattered her ashes. It's where I want mine scattered, and from what the doctors tell me, it won't be long. I've asked Paul to make sure to get word to Jazz when I'm gone. I'd like it if the two of them, and Alice and Rose, would make sure I get back to Bella.
A/N: Thanks go to my wonderful MamaLaura for her beta skills, and those friends, who pre-read it, laughed, cried and threw things, but still thought it was good enough.