Entry #3 - AH
Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
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Title: A Dream for the Taking
Picture Prompt Number: 40
Rating: M (for adult themes)
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 7062
Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): "When a new day comes, so does a new dream that's available for the taking." Sometimes, life is most clearly seen through a child's eyes. A story of love, of loss, and of hope.
Warnings and Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight. All characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Story comes with the standard tissue warning.
A Dream For The Taking
The simple word fell readily from her lips, just as it had nearly every night for the previous three months. Each time his Blackberry chimed, a tiny piece of her heart broke. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. Yet she knew that, no matter how much she begged, there would be no changing what followed the phone call. It played out the same way each time.
He would rise from the bed and sigh regretfully while reaching for his pants, then his shirt, and finally, his coat. He would then take his wallet, which contained photos of his picture-perfect wife and daughter, and slide it into his pants pocket. And then, as a final blow, he would lean down and place a chaste kiss to her forehead. As soon as the door closed softly behind him, her stomach would clench into a knot just as the hot, bitter tears slid down her cheek.
But tonight, something was different. He didn't immediately stand to his feet; instead, he tossed the phone haphazardly onto the nightstand and closed his eyes while sinking back into the pillow. The chill of the room hit her bare skin where the sheet had fallen from her body, but that was the last thing on her mind while she stared at the man that had captured her heart in such a short time. She pondered how someone could appear to be so perfect, yet still be so mangled on the inside. His face was flawless, with a strong jaw and piercing green eyes that likely used to be full of life. These days, they were listless…unless he was with her. She was the only one that could bring a touch of light to his soul. His copper hair contrasted sharply with the white pillow, and she couldn't help but to run her fingers through it gently. Lovingly. Because deep down, as much as she tried to deny it, she loved him with all that she was worth. While she understood that acting on that love was out of the question, it didn't make the ache hurt any less.
The sky turned dim with approaching nightfall as she slipped into the corner bar, away from the hustle and bustle of the Friday night crowd that was beginning to gather on the sidewalks. She plopped onto her usual seat at the bar with a soft grunt, thankful to finally be off her feet after a long, trying shift at the hospital. Two patients had died under her care that day. It was a feeling that no nurse ever wanted to experience, but was a sad reality in her profession. Nevertheless, it didn't make the hurt any less palpable. And he could feel that hurt before he even sat down beside her.
"Two beers, please." She glanced over as a strikingly handsome man took the seat beside her, a smile etched on his face as he gazed at her. She raised a questioning brow, to which he shrugged in response. "You look like you could use a drink."
She saw the white gold wedding band on his finger. She also saw the way his hand trembled as he held it out for her to shake. She took it tentatively, though kept her eyes locked on his all the while. "Bella," she offered, her voice just above a whisper.
"Edward," he replied just as quietly. His voice was unsure. Nervous. Her heart pounded against her chest and her pulse echoed in her ears as he held his bottle up. "My wife cheated on me. With my brother."
She stared back at him, slightly stunned by the sudden admission of a complete stranger, but lifted her own bottle up. "Two of my favorite patients died today," she said. "One had four kids. One died with her husband of forty years crying by her side."
His eyes widened, but he exhaled heavily and clinked his bottle with hers. "Here's to shitty days." His lips turned upward into a tiny, cynical smirk before taking a gulp of the alcohol. "And to new friends."
They were working it out for their daughter. She was sick – very sick. While he wanted nothing more than to pack up his wife's belongings and kick her out onto the front lawn for the entire neighborhood to see, he couldn't bear to break his little girl's heart with news of her parents divorcing. But that night with Bella…that night changed everything. A one-night stand turned into casual meetings at the park during lunch hours. It progressed into brief phone calls made from his guest bathroom at midnight. And then, one night, he appeared on her doorstep, disheveled and visibly drunk. All she wanted to do was make his pain go away. All she wanted to do was hold him until his sobs subsided. That was three months ago today.
She had seen the pictures of Anabelle Cullen, but those pictures went hand-in-hand with having to see Rosalie Cullen, as well. She knew that Ana was the center of his world; she also knew that each day he spent with Rosalie made his world crumble a little more.
"What would happen?" he finally spoke after a long pause. His eyes, which held the slightest glint of hopefulness, shifted to gaze upon her face. "If I stayed? What would happen?"
She drew her bottom lip in between her teeth, her mind going a million miles per second as she attempted to formulate an answer. "Life," she whispered. "A life that would make you happy. That would make us happy. We could be happy together, Edward." Her voice cracked with her final words, a sound that reverberated in his ears.
He felt the familiar ache in his heart that always accompanied the acceptance that he needed to leave. It wasn't that he wanted to go; he would happily stay here with Bella for all of eternity, if that were possible. The only thing that made him rise from his place in her bed - always the left side, because she refused to sleep on the edge – was her. Ana. While he knew that Bella needed him, Ana needed him more. Despite the undeniable draw he felt to the beautiful woman beside him, whose hair was cascaded across her bare shoulders, he knew that he just couldn't stay. At least, not yet.
He diverted his eyes from hers, well aware of the tears that had started to stream down her cheeks. Seeing those tears would surely be his undoing. He knew this was difficult for her – it nearly killed him each time he walked through that door. "I can't," he said in little more than a whisper, knowing that was all the explanation she required. "She needs me."
"I know." Bella sniffled loudly, pulling her knees up to her chest and holding them there tightly. "But so do I." Deep down, she wanted nothing more than to throw herself onto her knees in front of him and beg him to stay. Beg him to look at her face – truly look at the desperation etched in her features – and tell her that this would all be okay. That this could work. That they could be happy. But Bella refused to stoop to that level because even though her soul ached for this man, her pride was too strong to resort to that level of begging. She had waited three months. She had officially become "the other woman." And that realization was worse than a swift kick to the gut.
So, Bella watched as he resumed his usual routine of gathering his clothes, picking up his wallet, and sliding on his shoes. She swallowed back the lump in her throat as his footsteps on the hardwood floor echoed throughout her tiny studio apartment. "My new job starts tomorrow," she said, her hoarse voice carrying just enough for him to hear. He came to a halt in front of the door, hanging his head as he listened to her continue. "It's a fresh start." She looked down at the crumpled sheets, evidence of the passion that had filled the room so strongly just a few short minutes ago. She would be content to live in those moments forever, but fate had a different plan of action. Apparently, fate wanted them to suffer. "I want you to be a part of that fresh start, Edward. If you can't be…" She squeezed her eyes closed and shook her head, not wanting to utter the remainder of her thoughts. "Then this is goodbye."
He knew that the words would come at some point, but he didn't see them coming tonight. She deserved all of him, but for now, that just wasn't possible; of that, both of them were fully aware. He felt his face scrunch with the struggle to hold in his tears. His pain. At this point, a fresh start sounded like a dream. A fantasy. Nights spent with Bella weren't some roll in the hay, and they most certainly weren't meaningless. They were the way his life was meant to be. Just as he opened his mouth to respond, his phone buzzed with what was no doubt a call questioning his whereabouts. It was what he needed to bring him back to his cruel reality: a life of obligation. A life lived with not himself in mind, but a fragile nine-year-old girl that needed her father tonight.
The silence throughout the room was deafening as his hand reached for the doorknob, and once it turned, the shattering of their hearts caused both of them to burst into tears. She wept into her pillow while he contained his sobs until he reached his car. Only then did he finally allow the dam to break.
The lights of the city blurred together as he sped down the streets. He didn't hear the music on the radio, nor did he hear the horns blaring when he raced through the red lights. All he heard was her softly spoken, "Goodbye." Goodbye. It wasn't fair. He hadn't asked for this. He hadn't asked for the condom to break and for his high school girlfriend to become pregnant. He hadn't asked for their parents to force them into a marriage that was doomed from the beginning. He most certainly hadn't asked for his daughter, who had quickly become the very reason for his existence, to be diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four.
He didn't even know how he made it home, but soon he was blazing into the house with a fire that could only be the result of a man in agony. Rosalie sat perched on the sofa, her legs crossed primly while flipping through the late-night infomercials. If she noticed the tear-stains that remained on his flushed face, she didn't mention it. His head snapped up when he heard a wail come from the room just down the hall.
"About time you got here," Rosalie quipped. "She had a nightmare. She's been crying for you for over an hour now."
His eyes widened and his muscles tensed with fury as he moved through the room. "And you just left her to cry by herself?"
Rosalie shrugged nonchalantly and kept her gaze focused on the bright screen. "She only wants you these days. You know that."
Can't say I blame her, Edward thought to himself before knocking softly on the young girl's door. He pushed it open and stepped inside, closing it securely behind him. Her dolphin nightlight cast a soft glow over the room, making her angelic face visible from his place at the doorway. He smiled and stuffed his hands into his pockets as he crossed the room. "Hey, Princess. I heard you had a bad dream."
Anabelle sniffled and nodded, her lower lip still quivering as she sat upright in bed. Edward's heart fell at the sight, but he maintained his calm exterior for her sake. He sat on the edge of her bed, waiting for her to scoot over to allow him room to place his legs alongside hers, as was their routine whenever she awoke in the middle of the night. Most of his friends claimed that the only way a kid would get past this "nightmare phase," as they called it, was to let them deal with the dreams on their own. There was no way in hell that Edward would allow his daughter to scream out in fear without coming to her side. A father's job was to protect his child, and damn if he wouldn't do that until the day she breathed her last breath.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" he asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pressing a kiss to her head. He used to brush away her pale blond bangs to give her a kiss. Thanks to the years of radiation and chemotherapy, hair was no longer a barrier.
"No," she replied, leaning into his side. "I just wanted you. What took so long?"
He stiffened at that, knowing good and well that he couldn't divulge that information. Instead, he simply replied, "I was out. I'm sorry, Ana. I'm here now."
She snuggled closer, and he reached down to pull up the blanket that had gathered at her feet. "I'm so sleepy, Daddy," she murmured, her eyes fluttering closed. "Will you tell me a story?"
He swallowed thickly, emotion filling him at the weakness of her voice. It wasn't a weakness that was due to lack of rest, but more from the disease that was mercilessly eating away at his precious, innocent child. A child that hadn't done a damn thing to deserve any of this. He cleared his throat, forcing back the tears that threatened his eyes yet again. "All right," he replied with as much brightness as he could muster. "How about I tell you the story of..." He trailed off, scrambling to think of something before his eyes fell on the book resting on Ana's nightstand. He quirked an eyebrow at My Sister the Vampire, but proceeded. "The story of a vampire and the princess that he fell in love with."
She giggled, a sound that was music to his ears. "Daddy, vampires and princesses don't fall in love."
"Well, these two did," he insisted, only making her laugh more. "Everyone is capable of falling in love - even vampires. You see, this vampire-"
"What was his name?" she interrupted.
Edward concealed a victorious smile. "We'll call him...Masen. Masen was a vampire that roamed the earth for centuries, looking for just the right girl to call his own. He wanted someone that loved him for who he was, even though he was considered dangerous."
"Was he dangerous?" she asked. "I mean, he was a vampire. They drink blood!"
"Sort of," he acquiesced. "But he only drank blood from mean people that tried to hurt others." He paused, still somewhat uncomfortable with talking to his nine-year-old about vampires, for Christ's sake. But when he glanced down, he could see her eyelids growing heavier by the second, a sign that the story seemed to be doing the trick. Anything to make her happy. "So, one day, he came upon the kingdom of...Volterra. There, he met the beautiful princess, whose name was..." He took in a deep breath at the first name that came to his mind. "Her name was Isabella. And boy, was she beautiful, Ana."
"What'd she look like?" Ana mumbled.
Edward felt a warmth come over him as he thought about her, the woman who had stolen his heart over the past three months. The woman who still held his heart in her hands. "She had long, dark brown hair and deep brown eyes. Her skin was pale - almost porcelain-like. You know, like your dolls?" Ana nodded. "And her laugh was contagious. She was always laughing about something, it seemed. She was just so happy, and Masen was instantly in love. She was his soul mate...even if sometimes, he didn't believe he had a soul to begin with."
"A soul mate?"
"A soul mate is someone that calls to your heart," he explained, hoping this wasn't flying right over the little girl's head. "Someone whose words mean more than anyone else's. Someone you would move the earth for."
"So," Ana drawled, "it's someone that you love a lot?"
"Exactly," he agreed. "And Princess Isabella was able to love him, even though she knew what he was." His eyes glazed over with tears, which he promptly blinked away. "She knew that he did things that were wrong - very wrong - but she loved him anyway. And they lived happily ever after."
"I like that story," Ana said, shifting so that she could lie flat on her back. "Much better than your last one."
"You weren't a fan of the princess and the elf?" She laughed and shook her head, and he took a moment to commit the image of her smiling face to memory. He pulled the covers up to her chest, being sure to tuck her in tightly, just the way she preferred to sleep. She grinned up at him, and the frightened girl was long gone. As long as her dad was by her side, all was right with her world.
"I love you, Daddy."
He smiled tightly, handing her Bear-Bear before pressing one more kiss to her forehead. "And I love you. Goodnight, sweet Princess. For when the new day comes-"
"So does a new dream, available for the taking," she finished.
"That's right." He watched as she snuggled Bear-Bear to her chest and closed her eyes, and he stayed until her breathing began to steady. When he was sure that she had drifted back to sleep, he rose from the bed as gently as he could and made his way out of the room, closing the door behind him. Rosalie was still on the sofa, but he noticed that she had gotten up at some point to retrieve her pillow and a blanket. He rolled his eyes, but thanked God that she wouldn't be in their bed tonight. It would only serve as a reminder of who wasn't by his side. With a sigh, he turned to head into their room, but came to a halt when Rosalie cleared her throat.
"How was she?" she asked, her voice cold as ice.
Edward shrugged, kicking off his loafers and placing them in the entryway. "All right now, I guess. She's sleeping, anyway."
Rosalie scoffed, which made him finally look in her direction. Her face was impassive, but he knew that his wife was a master of concealing any sort of emotion. "I was talking about your whore."
Edward's blood boiled as he took one step toward her, then another. She wasn't phased in the least; in fact, she welcomed a fight at any given opportunity these days. She wasn't happy, and he wasn't happy, so what did they have to lose anymore? Edward had always been raised to never lift his fist to a woman, but Rosalie had tested his limits more times than he cared to admit. He hovered over her as she stared straight up at him, her lips curled into a smirk as she knew he wouldn't do a thing. He never did.
He swallowed back the words that wanted to pour from his lips, years of harbored hurt and bitterness that desperately needed to be spoken. His fist tightened at his sides as he glared at her, his jaw setting in pure rage at her blatant disrespect for Bella. "Bella is doing just fine," he answered through clenched teeth. "Fuck my brother lately?"
She rose to her feet, her face barely an inch from his as she sneered. "Last night, actually," she whispered, bringing her lips to brush against his ever-so-lightly. "And damn, if he wasn't amazing. I see who got the balls in your family, that's for sure."
His fist shook, but he held in the fury while his breathing only intensified. "You have no idea how badly I wish I could throw your ass out of this house," he retorted.
"Then fucking do it," she snapped. "Be my guest. I'd love to hear you explain that one to our daughter."
"She's the only reason you're still standing here, and not holed up in some one-bedroom shack with Emmett."
"I'd rather live in a run-down shack than here with you," she countered snidely. "Your brother is the only one that's ever treated me like a person. Like someone that's worth loving."
The pitiful whimper from the other side of the room caught both their attention, making them snap their heads to the side. Anabelle stood in the doorway to her room, hunched over as she held onto the door frame tightly. "Mommy? I hurt."
Forgetting whatever it was that had them so eaten with anger just seconds before, the two rushed across the short distance to their daughter. Edward caught her just as her knees gave out, her eyes closing the moment she landed in his arms. It was almost as if she was a dead weight, lying limply in his grasp. His frantic eyes met Rosalie's, who appeared to go into a state of panic as she rushed back to grab her phone. He looked down at Ana, whose skin was far too pale. Her mouth was parted open slightly, her labored breaths the only sound that could be heard in the room. It was as if the earth stood still as he held his daughter, and when he heard his wife finally connect with the 911 operator, he was jolted back to reality. Blood pulsed in his ears as he picked the girl up in his arms and rushed across the room, not even bothering with shoes before running out the front door to his car.
"Wait for the ambulance!" he heard Rosalie scream from the porch. He ignored her and carefully placed the unresponsive girl into his backseat.
"Get her bear!" he yelled over his shoulder towards the house. "Hang in there, Princess," he choked out before closing the door and sliding into the driver's seat. "Daddy's gonna make everything okay." He had to make it okay.
It had been the longest night in all his life. He had watched his little girl go through hell in back in the five short years since her diagnosis. There had been chemo, there had been radiation, there had even been a bone marrow transplant that put her in remission for some time. But last year, the god damn parasite returned, eating away at the precious child more earnestly that before. She had been quite the trooper, offering anyone and everyone a smile when they came to check on her. He knew what went on behind those closed doors, though. He was there for the nights of vomiting in the bathroom. He was there for the days she couldn't move an inch out of her bed. Even then, he had never seen her look more lifeless than she had when he hurried her into the emergency room in his bare feet the night before. He couldn't even remember feeling his heart beat when they took her from him in a flash of movements.
Edward stirred as the sunlight poured through the window, squinting at the brightly-lit room when his eyes opened. He wasn't sure of the time; all he knew was that he maybe slept for an hour or two, tops. His joints were stiff as he repositioned himself in the chair that sat at his daughter's bedside, thankful that he was at least provided with that. The hospital staff had offered a cot, but he'd declined in knowing that he wouldn't sleep nearly enough to validate the effort.
"Good morning, Mr. Cullen." The familiar voice that met his ears made him think he had to be dreaming, but once his eyes landed upon none other than Bella Swan, he froze in place. She stood on the opposite side of his daughter's bed, checking the bag of IV fluid that was beginning to run low. She didn't meet his gaze, but rather kept her attention focused on the task at hand.
His mouth opened, then closed a few times as he struggled to find words to say. She was dressed in scrubs that were covered in Disney princesses, and if his daughter were awake, she would surely be squealing with delight. Alas, as he glanced at her sleeping form, he knew that she hadn't woken once since their arrival hours before. When he looked back to Bella, she was staring back at him intently. She looked different here. Professional. Despite that, he still saw the same soft-hearted woman that he had come to know. Come to love.
"New job?" he finally managed to say.
She nodded, diverting her gaze to her paperwork as she made a note. "Mm-hmm," she answered. "First morning."
All he could do was stare. She was radiant, even with her hair pulled into a braid and no make-up covering her face. "Bel-"
"Her vitals are good," Bella interrupted him, her expression blank as she glanced up. "I'll get a new bag of fluid ordered for her ASAP. The doctor should be in soon." She bit down on her bottom lip as she took in the man before her, a man that was so similar to the one who had appeared on her doorstep months before. He was full of pain. Anguish. His daughter was dying; the appropriate tests hadn't been run just yet, but she knew it, and so did he - the torment in his eyes made that clear. More than anything, she only wanted to hold him, to let him know that she was here. She wanted him to know how sorry she was for whispering that damn goodbye, a memory that had kept her crying throughout the night. Judging by the band he still wore on that oh-so-important finger, she knew none of that was possible. And that killed her inside.
"You know, Belle is my favorite Disney princess ever."
Edward felt his lips turn up into a smile for the first time since arriving at the hospital two days ago. Holding a small Styrofoam cup of cheap coffee in one hand and orange juice in the other, he paused just outside Anabelle's door and peeked into the room. She was awake for the day, though her eyes couldn't fully open due to the pain she felt despite the massive doses of medication she was receiving. Being unable to see his daughter's bright green eyes was a cruel reminder of why they were here in the first place. He watched as Bella perched onto the side of his daughter's bed and reached out to pat her hand gently. Since she woke up the day before, Anabelle had developed an immediate attachment to "Nurse Belle," as she called her. "Belle," Anabelle had said, "because she looks like the princess from Beauty and the Beast." Well, Edward couldn't argue with her there. He only wished that Bella would speak to him for more than five minutes at a time. Of course, that was quite difficult, given that Rosalie was in and out all throughout the day.
"You look like her, you know," Bella replied, just barely loud enough for Edward to hear from his hiding place. "Actually, you know what? You're even more beautiful than Belle. By a long shot."
"You really think so?" His daughter's weak voice was painful to hear, but there was still a touch of her that was still present in her words. A touch of her sun. Of her warmth.
Bella took a hold of the girl's fragile hand, then squeezed it lightly as she smiled. "I know so."
Anabelle coughed, a strangled sound that made Edward wince and turn his head, the sight of his daughter suffering tearing him apart inside. Bella merely took in a deep breath as she continued to squeeze her hand, reassuring her that she was not alone. "Do you need something to drink?" Bella offered.
The child shook her head, letting loose another hacking cough. Edward started to move into the room, but his daughter's voice stopped him in his tracks. "Do you know what my dad always tells me?"
"What's that?" Bella asked.
Anabelle shifted, attempting to find some sort of comfort in the stiff bed while holding her beloved stuffed bear tightly to her side. "He tells me that with every new day, a new dream comes that's there for the taking." She paused. "Do you think that's true, Nurse Belle?"
Edward's heart lurched, and his tightened grip on the cups in his hands made the liquid slosh over the side. He flinched at the hot coffee that poured onto his skin, but he couldn't find it in him to care as he watched the two girls he loved the most continue their musings. The little girl loved her mother, but never had he seen her speak so sincerely to anyone but him...until now.
Bella pondered the question for a moment, truly considering it before responding, "Yes. Yes, I do." She drew in a breath as her eyes travelled over Anabelle's face, which had become solemn. "Do you have a dream for today, Anabelle?"
The small girl nodded, her lips falling into a frown. "I don't want to hurt anymore."
Edward's lower lip trembled as he stepped away from the glass and tossed the two cups into the trash can. Squeezing his eyes closed, he collapsed onto the chair outside the room, weeping quietly into his hands while the girls, his girls, continued their conversation.
Bella gazed down at the child, a girl that she had only met recently, but had grown to care for so deeply. Up until this week, she had spent her days caring for elderly patients that ailed from terminal illnesses. She was transferred to the pediatric ward due to a shortage in staff, and when informed of this, Bella thought that the switch may be for the best. It was difficult watching the elderly pass on to the next life, but she had no clue how gut-wrenching it would be to witness a child's final days. Most would assume that she would regret the decision upon meeting her first terminal child, but instead, she felt blessed. Because although Anabelle Cullen's body was weak, although her body was failing her, she was the most inspiring person that Bella had ever had the pleasure of meeting. And she knew that was likely due to the man that had spent nearly every minute of the past two days by his daughter's side.
Bella sniffled, attempting to hold back her tears so as to not put off the young girl. Instead, she offered her a smile as she asked, "Do you need more medicine, sweetheart? Are you in pain right now?"
Anabelle shook her head. "No. The medicine doesn't work. Not anymore. I just want to stop hurting."
"I know, sweet girl," Bella whispered. "I know."
The room was quiet. Dark. Still. He gazed down at his daughter as she slept, taking a moment to re-situate her thick blanket before sitting in the bedside chair. He glanced at the clock, rubbing a hand over his tired, bloodshot eyes when he saw that it was nearly midnight. She had been sleeping for most of the day. She had slept for most of the week, come to think of it.
"It's only a matter of time." The doctors' words played in his head on repeat as he watched her chest rise and fall with steady breaths. "All we can do is make her comfortable." He settled against the back of the chair, biting on his fist to fight back the urge to scream, to cry, to collapse. His heart and soul was in the bed in front of him, and all he could do was wait for her to die. In what world was this right? In what world does a parent have to bury a child? The universe was a cruel, heartless son of a bitch.
Anabelle stirred and let out a sigh, and Edward jumped to his feet when he saw her eyes flutter open. He grabbed a hold of her hand, kneeling at her bedside so his face was level with hers. "Daddy?" she said softly.
"I'm here, Ana," he responded, his thumb rubbing across her knuckles. "I'm right here."
Edward took in a sharp breath and counted to five in order to compose himself. He would never forgive Rosalie for her whereabouts this evening. "Mommy went to stay with Uncle Emmett for tonight," he replied, keeping his voice as even as possible. "She'll be back first thing in the morning. The doctor said we can take you home." His voice cracked on the final word as he remembered his earlier conversation with Dr. Hannigan. If there was only a "matter of time," then his daughter would be spending it at home, where she belonged.
Anabelle sighed again, turning her head just enough so she could see her dad. Her dad had always been right beside her, no matter what. He was the best. "I have a new dream for today. Do you wanna hear it?"
"But sweetheart, it's not-" He glanced back to the clock, swallowing thickly when he realized that it was now just past midnight. It was, in fact, a new day. "Of course I want to hear it," he replied, focusing his attention back on her.
"I want you to be happy," she whispered. When he began to protest, she interrupted, "You're the one that says kids are never taken seriously enough. I see everything, even when you try to hide it." His mouth snapped closed. "You're the best dad ever. You should be happy."
Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes as he brought her hand to his lips, kissing it gently before placing it back onto the bed. "If that's your dream," he said hoarsely, "then I'll make it happen."
She nodded as best she could, then closed her eyes as she sank back into her pillow. "Can you tell me a story, Daddy?"
He let out a shaky breath as he used his free hand to tuck Bear-Bear into her side. "What kind of story do you want tonight?" he asked. "Princesses?"
He hung his head, unable to hold back the flood of tears any longer. His body shook as he contained the sobs that so desperately tried to escape, but he held it together for her sake. "There once was a little angel," he began, barely able to speak through his thick emotion.
"What's the angel's name?" she murmured.
"What do you want it to be?"
She was silent for a moment, and her next word tore his heart into a thousand pieces. "Anabelle."
Time stood still as Edward allowed the tears to flow down his face, the drops falling onto the hand that gripped his daughter's firmly. "There once was a little girl named An...Anabelle," he finally managed to choke out. "She was so, so loved. Her mom and dad loved her..." He paused, squeezing his eyes closed briefly. "They loved her so very much," he whispered fervently. "But God...God needed her, you see. And her mom and dad wanted to hold onto her forever. They wanted to hold her in their arms for as long as she'd let them."
"But God needed her more," Anabelle mumbled, and for a moment, Edward wondered if she was speaking to herself. "Was she beautiful?"
For the first time in nine years, Edward allowed himself to cry openly in front of his daughter. Within seconds, his cheeks were soaked in tears that refused to cease. His throat grew tight as he tried to speak, but words were the last thing on his mind. He remembered the tiny infant that was thrust into his arms, whose cries stopped upon their first meeting. He was nothing but a terrified teenager up until that moment; then, however, he realized that he held his entire world in his arms. He remembered the long nights he spent rocking a teething toddler, who only rested when her daddy was singing her to sleep. He remembered the first day of kindergarten, when she stopped to flash him a toothy smile before running into her classroom. But none...none of those memories compared to now. To watching his sweet, innocent little girl so readily accept a fate that was nothing less than cruel.
"Oh yes," he whispered, memorizing every inch of her perfect face. "She was...she was the most beautiful angel that heaven had ever seen."
The sun shone brightly. The scent of the flowers filled the air. But for Edward Cullen, none of that mattered as the crowd dispersed from the grave site. He watched as his wife walked away, having no shame as she hooked her arm through his brother's. Despite the depravity of it all, he couldn't find it in him to care. Not anymore.
He took in a breath of the fresh air, wondering how such beautiful weather could accompany such a mournful day. His daughter was gone. His world had vanished. And all that was left...was him.
"It was beautiful."
The soft, tentative voice spoke from behind him, and for a fleeting moment, Edward believed he was imagining things. He turned around, only to have his gaze land upon a woman he thought to be out of his life forever. She was dressed for the occasion, wearing a simple black dress as her hair fell down her back. Simple, but lovely as ever.
"You came," was the only thing he could think to say.
A hint of a smile ghosted her lips as she nodded, taking a small step towards him. "Anabelle was a special girl," she replied. "She was..." She trailed off, unable to come up with a single word that could possibly describe her.
"Everything," Edward finished with a wistful smile.
"Everything," Bella agreed.
A mere foot separated the two of them, but to Edward, it felt like an ocean. It had been days since they had seen one another, but for Edward, it was as if the clock had stopped at 12:42 on Valentine's Day. He had no concept of time, or anything really. He knew that he had to have made it through the last few days somehow - likely thanks to a mother that couldn't bear to see her son in such agony. And while the very depths of his soul yearned to be with Bella, ached to hold her in his arms...he truly didn't know how to be anymore. That devastated him because if there was one thing he did know, it was that she was made for him, and he for her. If only they hadn't had to meet under such unfortunate circumstances. If only he hadn't just lost his very reason for breathing.
Bella moved first, taking a final step closer before holding her hand out for his. He eyed it for a moment, unsure of just what to do. Bella waited patiently, knowing that this wasn't something he could dive into. This wasn't something that would be instantaneous. But, for now, she would be what he needed. She would be a friend, she would be a shoulder to cry on, she would be a sounding board. Then maybe, someday, she would be more. Because to Bella, Edward was her rock. He was the one that had held her to the earth for months. Now, however, he needed a rock. And when his warm hand slipped into hers, she held onto it for all it was worth. Because he was worth waiting for. She would move mountains if it meant they had their chance at life.
They started towards the remaining two cars parked next to the site, a knowing silence falling between them. There was no need for words; for now, they were simply together. Just a few short days ago, they both believed that their hearts were broken beyond repair. Now, the other's presence was all it took for their hearts to slowly, but surely, begin to mend. After all, they each had a promise to keep.
"Do you have a new dream today, Anabelle?" Bella asked brightly when she walked into the little girl's room on Valentine's Day. While her condition was rapidly deteriorating, coming into the child's room had quickly become the highlight of Bella's days. She was always so happy and upbeat, despite her current situation, that Bella was simply in awe of her.
Anabelle smiled - it was weak, but it was there. "I do," she replied as Bella took her usual seat on the edge of her bed. "Today is Valentine's Day, right?" Bella nodded. "Well, since it's Valentine's Day, my dream is for my daddy to find his soul mate."
Bella couldn't help but chuckle lightly, though her heart skipped a beat at the girl's words and the thought of Edward finding happiness with someone other than her. She had accepted the fact that they may never be with one another again; not after what she said to him just a few nights before. She was sure that her words had disintegrated anything that could have, or even should have, been. Nevertheless, she smiled down at Anabelle. "Now, what do you know about soul mates, Princess Anabelle?"
The young girl sighed, a fond look coming upon her face as she gazed up at the ceiling. "A soul mate is someone that calls to your heart," she replied, remembering her dad's story. "It's someone that you love a lot." She looked back to Bella. "My daddy deserves the best," she continued. "He deserves a princess. He deserves you." Her eyes shined, truly shined, for the first time since Bella had met her. "Can you make it happen, Nurse Belle? Will you make my dad happy?"
Bella gazed at the girl, utterly amazed at the wisdom and insight that went far beyond her years. "That's your dream?" she whispered, to which Anabelle nodded. "Then I'll do my best to make it happen, sweet girl."