A/N: Here is your fair warning. This is a story that has been stomping around in my head for a while. It will have happy parts and sad parts, but the important thing to note is that Edward is in hospice. So, if you want a guaranteed ending where they live forever together in happiness, I can't give it. For those who read, thank you and I hope you enjoy.
Big thanks to LyricalKris for beta-ing this and for holding my hand.
Excerpt from a journal:
Now that I am at the end, here where all unimportant things fall away, I know I must tell my story.
What follows is the account of how, after I lost my love and my life, I found them again and found me again in the most unexpected place.
This is the story of how I met the man that performed a miracle and saved my life.
Excerpt from Edward's journal - June 2, 2011
Today was the same as every other day, except for that one small, seemingly insignificant moment that changed everything.
I rose early and had breakfast with Miss Celie, sitting at the window and watching the sun dance through the leaves of the large maple outside. She had fruit as usual, and I teased her about trying to maintain her figure as usual. I then went to the art room, taking some paper and the charcoals with me outside to sketch for a few hours. After lunch, the volunteers arrived for the daily 'entertain the invalids' time.
In addition to the normal barrage of well-meaning, middle-aged house wives and the high school students beefing up their college applications, there was a gruff-looking, angry young man. Dressed in a leather jacket and looking like he wanted to be anywhere else, he walked around the room slowly, as if assessing the easiest means of escape. If it weren't for the imposing, security-looking man who joined him, I'm certain he would have kept to himself the entire time.
Instead, heapproached Miss Celie and I on the couch where we were discussing her newest knitting project.
And then the man spoke, his smooth, Southern accent filling me with a warmth I'd been missing. "Hello, ma'am. Can I join you and your grandson?"
I looked up to correct him and was instantly trapped by the most beautiful, crystal blue eyes I had ever seen. And that's the exact moment when everything went to hell.
I woke up with the alarm blaring in my ear, and I wondered why I was getting up so god-damned early on a Saturday, especially on Memorial Day weekend. Oh right, meeting Felix for breakfast. Joy.
Standing and stretching, I hauled on a pair of jeans from the floor and found a clean t-shirt in the cardboard moving boxes next to the closet. I pulled it over my head as I stumbled into the bathroom to take care of business. Gazing at myself in the mirror, I ran a hand along my day's worth of stubble and decided one more day wouldn't hurt anything. I tied my hair back at the base of my neck and brushed my teeth before deciding I was presentable enough for my current jailer.
Grabbing my leather jacket and my keys, I left my apartment, barely registering the warmth of the first summer sun on my shoulders as I walked to meet the next step in my life. The diner Felix chose was just around the corner, and I embraced the general quiet of a Saturday morning and tried to calm myself. This was my chance.
My last chance.
Felix waved from his booth as soon as I entered the door, but his bulk was hard to miss in the nearly empty restaurant. I nodded in return and joined him, asking the waitress for coffee before I turned my attention to the man sitting across from me.
His mouth smiled, but the rest of his face didn't show any joy, a seemingly permanent hardness to his eyes. "So, Jasper, how long have you been out?"
I wanted to be a hard-ass, I wanted to make some smart comment, because as my parole officer, he knew exactly when I'd been released. But I'd play this game. This was one I actually cared to win. "Four days."
"Getting settled in okay?"
"Yeah. I found an easy apartment and got my boxes out of storage yesterday." I shrugged, because I knew that wasn't really what he was asking, but I didn't spend so long in jail to forget what real life was like.
"Well, you've served your time now. You need to get a job, and then I'll be out of your hair."
I looked up at him, trying to see if he was joking. "Except for the community service I still have to do."
"Well, about that. This judge has been dealing out community service to all the gang bangers that come in front of him. It's nothing big; you've done it before."
I sighed. Yes, I'd picked up garbage along the side of the road quite a few times. Same old fucking thing. "Is there anything else besides picking up trash?"
Felix raised an eyebrow. "Why do you ask, son?"
"Well, the judge said I had to change my ways, change my friends, change everything, or I'd just be back before him again and he wouldn't be so...lenient." I felt my shoulders tighten as I remembered his words. Like 18 months jail time and six months community service was lenient for something I didn't even do. I shook myself; this argument made no difference two years ago, and it definitely wouldn't help now. "I'm sure I'll see guys on those details that I know, that know me."
I recognized when he understood what I was getting at. "You'd like something where you're less likely to run into the old crowd."
I nodded even though it wasn't a question and waited.
He leaned back in his booth, his hard gaze never leaving my face. "I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you, sir."
At that he smiled. "I'm beginning to like you, Jasper."
I returned the smile because things were actually starting to look up.
Next time I heard from Felix was three days later. "I got you a gig on Thursday, volunteering at Trinity Hospice Center."
I couldn't stop my incredulous response. "A hospice? Like old people?"
"Yeah. Old, sick people waiting to die. You got a problem with that?" There was a hard edge to Felix's voice, and I was suddenly happy we were only talking on the phone. I had a feeling his whole face matched this time.
"No. No, sir. Just wasn't expecting that."
"Well, I pulled some strings to get you in this program. You fuck it up, and I will not have a problem putting you on trash duty or worse."
I didn't want to know what could be worse, and I refused to go back to jail ever again. So I thanked Felix and promised that I would be at the hospice Thursday at noon for my orientation. He promised to meet me there.
In all actuality, it wasn't what I had imagined. I pictured an old folks' home: sterile, smelly and white linoleum everywhere. But this was... comfortable. Instead of a place old people were shoved when the family could no longer deal with them, this felt welcoming and almost like coming home.
Felix entered a few moments after I did and he still had his hard expression in place. "Well?"
"This is... different. Not what I was expecting."
He looked me up and down and seemed to be somewhat satisfied. "Come on then. Angela will be giving the instructional today, and then we'll go visit the patients."
Felix led the way to a small conference room where there were already a few people gathered: mostly middle-aged women in homemade sweaters and knitting bags tucked under their arms. The other half of the volunteers were younger, possibly high school or college aged kids trying to make their university or med school applications look better. They stood to one side, sipping punch with their Sunday best clothes and practiced fake smiles.
I noticed one of them give me a curious look, but then was distracted by a young woman in a typical nurse's uniform of colorful scrubs approaching us. Felix introduced Angela to me, and she gave him a curious look before shaking her head.
"Another one, Felix?" she asked, giving him a quick wink and me a warm smile. She then offered her hand. "Welcome to Trinity, Jasper. I have to get started, but you guys feel free to take a seat anywhere."
Although I was now even more unsure about this situation, I returned her smile and her handshake. She left us to address the room, and we took seats as she began laying down the rules for volunteering at the hospice. I took the opportunity to look around the room, receiving more than a few judgemental glares from the conservatively-dressed moms, like my long hair and leather jacket didn't belong in a place like this. Like I didn't belong.
Felix nudged my elbow, and I returned my attention to the nurse who was adding to the list of do's and don't's . Be helpful. Listen. Wait for the patient to volunteer information about their illness. Do not speak about death unless they want to.
How dense did she think we were? These rules seemed like common sense to me, but the kids and the moms were nodding along. Before long, she asked if there were any questions and then led us into the large common area where the patients that were mobile tended to gather for the day.
We entered the space as a group, but the other people soon dispersed through the room, talking and sitting with various patients.
I could still feel their unforgiving stares, and I shrugged my shoulders as if I could shake it off. But I was angry. Angry at them for making my feel this way, angry at myself for being in this situation and angry at the system for taking away all my choices.
"Remember the alternative," Felix said at my side. "Don't let them bother you. Go mingle." And then he walked away, going to sit near the wall with an elderly man and a chessboard.
I was alone.
Scanning the room, I saw the other volunteers still casting me surreptitious glances, but most of them were becoming more interested in the patients. There was an older woman sitting and knitting on a couch with a younger man. The couch faced one of the large windows overlooking the lake and the sun was forming a large pool of light where they both sat.
Something about her body language, or her hair style, or the way she laughed reminded me instantly of my Nana, and I couldn't stop my feet from carrying me over to them. She obviously already had company, but I wanted to at least say hello. Perhaps I could chat with her next time.
I approached cautiously, but the young man noticed, his body stiffening and his eyes lowering even as I rounded the arm of the couch to introduce myself. The older woman turned welcoming brown eyes to me, and I felt emboldened for the first time in a long time, as if my Nana were there to encourage me.
And remind me of my manners.
"Hello, ma'am. My name is Jasper. Can I join you and your grandson?"
The man regarded me with curious and startled green eyes that looked older than his young face.
She just laughed and motioned me closer. "I'm Miss Celie and this is Edward. And of course you can join us, but he's not related."
"My apologies," I answered, smiling at the ease of talking to this woman and settling myself on the arm of the couch. "What are you working on?"
She lifted up a powder blue bundle of yarn and a half finished... something. "Just a new blanket for my youngest grandchild. Pretty soon they'll all be too big to use such things."
"I still have the one my Nana knitted for me," I told her, and she smiled widely.
"Well, aren't you just a nice boy."
Edward snorted, and I glanced over at him, realizing that I had been rudely interrupting or ignoring him, and I should remedy it immediately. If only to get him to look at me again.
"And you, Edward. How long are you visiting then?"
At that statement, he did look at me again, but this time with such anger in his eyes that I flinched. Obviously I'd said something wrong, but I had no idea what. With one last look at me and a quick kiss on Miss Celie's cheek and apology to her, he left quickly, almost running over some of the patients on his way out the door.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but what did I say?"
She sighed and patted the spot on the couch that Edward just vacated. "He's just a bit sensitive about being here is all. But nothing you can do about that."
"Well, I can understand that being around people who are ill can be unsettling. But why is he so angry?"
She patted my hand and then turned her head to the window. I noticed that Edward was now sitting outside beneath a large elm tree. A book of some sort was propped against his bent knee, and he was scribbling furiously on its pages.
"What you have to understand is that Edward isn't visiting me or anyone here." She turned her gaze to me, her dark brown eyes serious but sad. "He's a patient here, too."
"A patient? He's dying?" I asked incredulously. How could someone so young and so beautiful be that sick?
"This is not my story to tell, my dear." She sighed and looked back out the window.
Edward had leaned his head back on the tree, and his eyes were closed. The sun filtering through the leaves danced across him, making him almost sparkle in the light like some ethereal creature. I couldn't have stopped watching if I wanted; he captivated me as no one else had.
Without shifting my gaze, I addressed the woman beside me. "I think I need to know his story, to know him."
"Then I suggest you return here and give him another chance." She chuckled then, a low throaty sound. "But be patient with him, Jasper. Very, very patient."
We passed the next hour sipping tea and chatting about her grandchildren and her passion for gardening. Eventually Felix joined us and said that it was time to leave.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Celie, and I hope to see you again."
I held out my hand and she grasped it with both of her warm, wrinkled ones. "I sure do hope so. And mind what I said about patience."
"Yes, ma'am." I squeezed her hands once and let go, following Felix toward the entrance. We both waved at a smiling Angela and then we were outside, blinking in the bright sunshine.
"Everything go okay?" he asked as we walked to the parking lot.
"Better than expected actually," I said with a genuine smile.
He chuckled and unlocked his car door. "I'm glad to hear that. So I can expect to see you here next Tuesday?"
"Sure, Felix. I'll see you then." I pulled on my helmet and swung my leg over my motorcycle, settling into the seat.
"See you, kid. Stay out of trouble."
I turned the key and gave him a thumbs up before I pushed back from the curb and drove away.
The entire ride home thoughts of the bronze-haired Edward filled my head. I didn't understand how he could be there at the hospice as a patient, although I did understand his anger. I would have felt angry too if I'd been cheated out of my life, if I was dying before I'd had a chance to live.
By the time I pulled into my apartment parking space, I had determined two things. One, I would return to the hospice and thank Felix for giving me this opportunity. After just one day, I saw this as a possibility, not just as a way to fulfill my required service, but as something worth doing, which was more than I could say of my typical activities.
And two, if it was the last thing I did, I would get Edward to talk to me.