ENTRY #87 - AH

Truly Anonymous Twilight One-Shot Picture & Prompt Contest

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Title: A Burning Man

Picture Prompt Number: 41

Paring: Edward & Bella

Rating: M

Word Count: 8,696

Summary: While Bella's life hangs in the balance, Edward tries his

best to hold on to his sanity. Sometimes you don't realize what you

had until it's almost too late. AH, Romance/Angst

Warnings and Disclaimer: All characters belong to SM. Story includes

mature themes, discussion of suicide, and character death (not Edward

or Bella).

Genre/Pairing/Theme: AH, ExB, Romance/Angst

A Burning Man

You came into my life like a gale-force hurricane wind; that day when you slammed into me in the cafeteria at school.

Senior year and you were so gorgeous then with your slightly freckled nose and shiny, long brown hair. God, Bella, you were so beautiful and strong, even then.

And yet I barely noticed you.

Because I was stupid.

Because I was blind.

I thought it was funny - the way you growled in frustration when I chuckled at how your thin white shirt was completely covered in the blueberry yogurt that I no longer held after we collided.

Your ears and cheeks flamed pink to red with embarrassment when you finally looked up at me.

It made me laugh harder, and that pissed you off further. You called me an asshole and stormed off.

We never spoke again until three years later.

~.~

I'm looking at you now, so frail with sickness, so small and broken in your giant hospital bed. And it's just not fucking fair.

Or maybe it is what's fair for me. My punishment for not treating you the way I should have.

I don't deserve you. I didn't deserve your love.

And you don't deserve to die.

Not like this.

This isn't right. This isn't the way things are supposed to happen. You just became a mother, and our tiny infant son needs his mother. He needs you. I need you.

"I need you, Bella," I plead in an agonized whisper, as if you can hear me. My voice is rough from sheer exhaustion and hurt. The only thing that hears my plea is the echoing silence of the sterile white room we're in and the constant beeping of the machine that's keeping you alive.

This is so fucked up.

~.~

You were slightly drunk - that night when I saw you again and decided I had to have you.

Everything seemed so right.

You remembered me and I recognized you, but I… I couldn't even remember your name.

You said we had several classes together at Forks High.

And yet I couldn't even remember your fucking name. And I sure-as-hell didn't remember you being in any of my classes. Not that I would've paid attention to anything back then. I was either drunk or high or just…in my own head.

You told me a lame joke. That's how it started up that night.

You slammed your beer bottle down next to mine on the bar and you told me the most ridiculous and worst joke I'd ever heard in my life. It wasn't even funny. But we laughed like fools and suddenly I was drunk from your very presence. What surprised me the most was that I hadn't even had more than a single beer in the entire time we'd talked. It was a first for me, and something that hadn't happened in a very long time.

Suddenly I craved more of you.

I didn't have to do much coaxing to get you to come back to my place. I could tell you were nervous by the way you incessantly chewed on the inside of your cheek then switched off to biting at your bottom lip.

So I tried to take things slow.

But, as I would learn in the months that followed, there was no going slow with you. Not for me, at least.

Just one kiss was never enough. One kiss always led to my hand under your shirt and your legs wrapped around me.

One kiss always turned into my face buried between your soft, supple thighs.

And eventually, one kiss was all it took to shatter me when I was deep inside you while you screamed my name.

I would never get enough of you. Your taste. Your smell. Your laugh. Your smile.

And yet… I always left you crying. Maybe not that first night. But eventually…

~.~

Another day has passed and I'm sitting in the same spot in your hospital room, waiting to hear the words that will save you. Your condition hasn't gotten any better, because it won't, but at least it hasn't gotten any worse. I don't really see how it can get any worse.

This is all my fault.

Why did you even bother with me, Bella? Why didn't you just walk away and find someone better?

Someone who would remember your birthday and what kind of candy you like.

Someone who would call you if he was going to be out late, so you wouldn't worry that he was out fucking some other girl or dead on the side of the road.

Someone who would tell you all the time how funny and sweet you are and how your smile makes everything that's shitty in this fucked up world turn to gold.

I realize now that you weren't nagging me or just trying to be a bitch. You just loved me more than I loved you. Or…I mean…you gave me more love than I gave you. God knows I've always loved you, even when you first slept in my bed.

But it's different now, baby. I know now that I was a selfish, immature bastard and that you are the best thing that's ever happened to me. I realize that I've treated you horribly and that you put up with way more bullshit than you should've.

In the six years we've dated on and off, I never got it. I always gave you just enough attention so that you wouldn't leave, but not enough to make you feel wanted and secure. I neglected you and made you feel bad, time and time again.

And now…I just want to go back. Take it all back and be the man you wanted me to be. The man you deserved. Not the prick that you got stuck with.

But now it's too late isn't it?

Fuck, baby. Please don't leave me now. I'm not ready. It's not time.

Please, God. Just give me one more chance. I need her. Please don't take her away from me now. I'm not done loving her yet. I need her. Please.

~.~

The first time we fought, I thought for sure I'd broken my hand when I punched that brick wall. All you asked was for me to tell you where I was the night before - who I'd been with.

Your friend Angela had seen me out with my friends. That's what you told me when I wouldn't answer your question. Angela had seen me, so she had to have seen the group of girls that were with us.

Nothing happened, though. I swear it.

I thought of you the whole night.

But the fact that you even questioned me- pissed me off. I'd basically been alone all my life and I didn't want some little girl, pushing me, making me account for my whereabouts.

I should've just answered you, but…fuck. Instead I made things worse. I let my twenty-two-year-old temper get the better of me and cussed you out until you were just a sobbing, crumpled mess on the kitchen floor as I furiously slammed the door behind me.

You wouldn't return my calls for a month.

It nearly killed me.

Alice, being the good little sister to me, told me that I was just expressing misplaced anger for the way I was raised by my birth-mother and the way she…

Rosalie, being the blunt sister, told me I was simply being an immature asshole and that I didn't deserve you. I tend to agree with Rosalie, for once.

You always thought Rosalie hated you, but she actually took your side every time. You just didn't know it because I never confided it to you.

~.~

Our son is out in the waiting room, swaddled and sleeping in a blanket in Rosalie's arms.

I wish it was you holding our son, baby. But you're just too weak right now, so he'll just have to settle for his bitchy Aunt Rose. I'm sure your mother or Alice will take over when they get back from buying him more clothes. I want to tell your mother to stop with all the shopping, but I know she's only had a few weeks to adjust to finding out she's a grandmother, and if it makes her feel closer to him, to you, I'm all for it.

Things are starting to get better between me and your mother, believe it or not. I think she's finally warming up to the fact that I've changed, that I'm not the same person I was before. That all I want is to have you back with me and holding our son.

I wish you could see how much he's starting to look more like you. He has your same dark-brown hair, but it sticks up in every direction like mine. His lips are pink and pouty just like yours, but his eyes…well… they're starting to fade from blue to green. Guess you got your way on that one.

Fuck, I wish…how many times can I wish for this to all be some fucked up nightmare and that I'll wake up and you'll be back to normal again? Not with tubes sticking out of your arms and mouth. No bruises on your body or dark circles under your eyes.

Bella, why didn't you tell me sooner that you were sick? Before you got pregnant. Why the fuck did you hide your heart condition from me? If I'd known, I would've told you from the beginning that we shouldn't have kids! I would've made sure to use a condom. I would've made sure you were on the transplant list sooner! I would've…

Hell, I don't really know what I would've done. But if I'd known it would come to this… At least I could've done something.

But I had no warning. You kept this all from me. You knew you had a heart problem, you fucking knew it. For years you lived with it, but you said nothing. Your parents knew though, of course, and it makes sense now why you didn't tell them you were pregnant, and why you stopped talking to them as soon as you found out.

You knew that if they found out about the baby, they'd try to talk you out of it just like I did. I still remember the look of hatred in your eyes when we left the doctor's office that day. It was two weeks after my twenty-sixth birthday and neither one of us knew of the raging storm that was about to come.

I told you that day that we should get rid of it while it was still early, and that maybe we could adopt later on when we were older and more ready. You turned to me with eyes raging.

"How can you even say something like that?" you seethed, and for the first time, I was actually afraid of you and I took a step back. "I'm having this baby, Edward. With or without you, I'm having this baby. So you can either man up and be around, or you can just go. But whatever you choose, this baby is coming." And with that you stormed away and drove off, angrier and more determined than I'd ever seen you.

As I stare at the feint rise and fall of your chest, I'm angry. I'm fucking livid that this is what you've left me with.

You've given me no choice.

I have no say in this, just like I had no say in becoming a father. Though…I'd never take that back. Not now. And I'm glad that I came to my senses and went back to you. I love my son even more now, because he's all I'll have left of you when…

"I can't do this," I whisper to your sleeping body, swiping the tears away. "I can't do this without you, Bella. Please, baby. Come back to me. Hang on just a little longer until… they could find a heart tomorrow. You never know. Just please, please don't leave me."

The machine continues to beep and I kiss your cold little hand, twining our fingers together a little tighter before lowering my head back down to your stomach.

Just hold on a little longer, baby.

~.~

Looking back now, I should've seen the signs. From what you've told me over the years, you never played sports in High School and you took Photo classes instead of PE. You always balked at going running with me and laughed off my offers to take you on a roller coaster or to go surfing. You never did anything extremely physical besides the wild sex we always had, but even then you seemed more out of breath than most girls I'd been with. I actually thought you might have asthma, but never asked.

Then there were all the medicines you used to take. You passed them off as allergy pills and vitamins and I never bothered to read the labels and ask Carlisle what they were. Maybe then my adopted father would've clued me in.

But I didn't bother, and I didn't ask.

~.~

"Any news?" a familiar female voice asks.

I look up from my post to see my adopted sister, Alice, and her husband, Jasper. They approach me cautiously as if coming up on a wild animal. That's my own fault really. I've lashed out at just about everyone during the months that we've been stuck in this god-forsaken hell hole of a hospital in Seattle. Carlisle assured me that the hospital in Forks was more than capable of handling a case like yours until a new heart could be found.

Still, I insisted that you needed the best care possible and that Fork's rinky-dink hospital wasn't good enough and that he didn't know what the fuck he was talking about, medical degree or no.

He'd also said that there was not much that could be done for you unless a donor heart could be found, and that the chances of finding you a match in time are dismal. He rattled off statistics like one in eight-hundred thousand and something about blood types, but I didn't listen.

I chose not to hear any of that.

"No. Nothing yet," I murmur.

Jasper and Alice take a seat on the other side of your bed and for a long time, we're silent.

None of us have anything left to say that hasn't already been said. They're sorry, they wish there was more they could do, how am I holding up, what did the doctor say, do I need anything… It's an endless loop of the same fucking questions and phrases from everyone that comes around us. Over and over and fucking over again like a broken record or a TV show on repeat.

But they've all mostly learned that I don't want to hear any of it now. All I want to hear is 'There's a heart for Bella" and that everything is going to be fine.

All I want to hear is your voice.

Minutes or hours go by, I don't know which anymore, and Jasper and Alice are leaving the room. Jasper stops to place a comforting hand on my shoulder while Alice bends down to whisper something in your ear.

My lip trembles as I fight back another wave of emotion. Never in my life have I cried so much until four months ago. Not since my mother left me in the indoor playground of a McDonald's in Chicago when I was three. That's the last time I felt loss as real as this. Although then, the emotions were a little different; fear, confusion, sadness, and just plain feeling unwanted.

This is different. Terror, desperation, sorrow, and guilt. That's what I feel deep in my bones.

When the door closes softly behind me, my shoulders slump and I finally let myself break down.

Again.

~.~

That first night we slept together, I was shocked to find that you were still in my bed when I woke up. And even more shocked that I didn't want you to leave.

You looked so damn cute the way your mouth stayed open a little bit while you slept.

The sun hadn't even come up before I traced my finger tips up your spine and down the length of your hip to your knee. You opened your sleepy eyes and smiled slightly. I hooked my fingers under your knee and hitched your leg over my hip before I took you again.

And again.

You made me pancakes for breakfast - burnt pancakes. But I ate them happily.

And when you left to go back to your own apartment, I was sad. Even though you promised I'd see you again.

~.~

It's late in the evening when I begrudgingly leave my bedside post to go down to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. I don't even know why I'm bothering to buy this plate of lasagna. I already know I won't eat it, and even if I force myself, it'll only just turn my stomach sour like everything else.

You'd probably be angry at how I've let myself waste away, but what else can I do, Bella? What else can I do? I'm nothing without you. Nothing.

My feet shuffle forward at a zombie's pace until I accidentally bump into a body in front of me. It's a much older woman with dark skin and salt and pepper hair tied back in a braid. She's wearing some kind of Native American necklace with feathers and turquoise stones and holding a cup of coffee with slightly shaking hands, a kind smile on her face.

"I'm sorry," I tell her. "I didn't…I wasn't watching where I was going."

She waves me off. "No harm done."

We pay the cashier and go our separate ways until I see her again later in the ICU waiting room. She's sitting all by herself, staring down at her untouched cup of coffee in her hands. For some reason, I feel compelled to go to her. And so I do.

She looks as ragged and worn out as I feel and I can only imagine how I look.

"You following me?" she jokes and I can't help but laugh. I nod my head toward the door to the patient rooms.

"My wife is in there." The voice that comes from my throat doesn't even sound like my own.

"Oh. I'm so sorry," she whispers and then, "So is my son." Before she can say anything more, she begins to sob, her body shuddering just enough to slosh the coffee slightly over the sides of her cup.

Wordlessly, I take the cup from her weathered, trembling hands and set it down on the table in front of us before I put a hand around her shoulders. And we sit like that for a long time. Silently, I wonder if my own mother felt like this after she left me to fend for myself.

~.~

You were the only person I ever told about my mother's abandonment.

Of course Carlisle and Esme knew because they adopted me, but besides them, I've never told anyone else. The kids at school all got the story that my parents had died in a car accident. But you…I could never lie to you, so I didn't. When you took it upon yourself to look further into my past, you were able to find out more than even I ever wanted to know.

Carlisle was the one who told me little details about my mother when I was thirteen. He figured I should know her name and where she was from, and I guess he knew I would never go looking for her.

I guess that's why it shocked us all when – shortly after I turned twenty-two - you found out she'd killed herself shortly after leaving me there in the McDonald's. You found out because you went to Chicago to look for her after finding my birth father's name on my birth certificate. You flew there, all by yourself to talk to the man who also wanted nothing to do with me.

It turned out that he was married at the time he was with her, and she kept begging him for years to leave his wife. He told you that my mother wasn't right in the head and that if I ever wanted to call him some time, I was welcome to it. Instead you gave him my number and told him to call me.

And when there was no phone call, I lashed out at everyone, but mostly at you. I always regretted my harsh words to you, immediately after, but I kept on hurting you, and you stayed with me, regardless.

~.~

When the woman under my arm stops crying, she pushes away slightly and pats my arm. "First time I've cried in a week since the accident," she explains, swiping her leftover tears away.

"What happened to your son?"

She lets out a shaky, stuttered breath. "He was always such a daredevil, you know? Always taking risks and seeing how fast he could go at everything." I nod my head although I have no idea what she means. I don't even know her son's name or what he looks like. She sniffs back a tear and continues. "Last year he forged my signature on a release form so he could go sky-diving, the little shit," she laughs.

My eyebrows rise slightly.

"He's only seventeen," she explains and suddenly she's holding her hand out for me to shake. "I'm Sue, by the way. Sue Clearwater."

I take her hand and give it a weary shake. It's all I can offer at the moment. "Edward Cullen." I used to be Edward Masen. That's all I know because it's what's printed on my birth certificate. I'll never ever use that name again though.

But for now, I want to know more about this woman and her son. That's when I notice the gold band on her left ring finger, obscured by the numerous silver bands on the other fingers holding polished red and turquoise rocks. She's married. But where is her husband? He should be here with her. Maybe he's on his way.

"Tell me about your wife," she says, interrupting my thoughts. My heart stutters and the lump is back in my throat. You're never far from my mind, but this, here, this is hard to talk about, especially to a complete stranger. "What's her name?"

"B-Bella," I choke out. Christ, just saying your name aloud is causing my eyes to sting with unshed tears. I've never felt like crying so much in my entire life.

The kind woman, Sue, pats my hand as I grip my jeans at the knees until my knuckles turn white. I'm barely holding on, barely breathing, and so, I break. Broken and weary, I hunch over and begin to sob.

~.~

After you came back from Chicago, and after I mentally beat you up for longer than you should've dealt with, you never brought my mother or father up again. Instead, you tried harder to keep me happy, to cheer me up. And you made sure not to let me sulk on Mother's Day especially, taking me on trips and telling me more lame jokes. Anything to keep my mind off my past.

Still…

I drank. And drank. Then drank a little more.

I left you home alone at night, and yelled at you when you called me to ask where I was.

I talked to other women.

There were plenty of opportunities where I could have… I could have cheated on you, Bella. I could've slept in another woman's bed. It would've been so easy, to blame it on the liquor coursing through my veins and the self-hatred in my heart. But somehow, everywhere I looked, I only saw your face, and how you would've cried if you knew, if you found out what I'd done.

And so I didn't. There was never anything more than the intention, but it was there. And I hated myself even more for it.

I just don't get it, Bella. You were so goddamn beautiful, there were other men you could've had, any one of them. I gave you plenty of opportunities to leave, to be with someone better, but you never once flinched. You never strayed.

Why?

Why would you want someone as ugly and fucked up inside as me? So many times I've failed you, and yet you never left me.

I'll never understand.

But I will love you forever for it.

~.~

By the time my sobs grow quiet, Alice and your mother are entering the waiting room with your father close behind. He can't even look at me. I know he hates me for all I've put you through. I don't blame him.

Your mother gives me a forced smile and hands our son to me, but he's asleep so I don't rouse him. Polite introductions are made and soon conversation swirls around me like a quiet chaos. While everyone moves to their neutral corners, Sue stays by my side and gazes down at our son with a wistful smile.

"He must take after his Momma," she observes and reaches out to lightly touch his tiny fingertips. I nod. "Did she have childbirth complications? A hemorrhage or something?"

She's so blunt and to the point, just like you, Bella. I can't help but tell her everything. "She had a weakened heart and…I didn't...I didn't know…there wasn't…" Again I'm faltering.

"May I?" she asks, opening her arms. I oblige and hand him to her. "Oh he is just gorgeous," she coos. "What's his name?"

I rub my hand at the back of my neck. "We hadn't agreed on a name yet. I mean, before she…" Sue nods and continues to cradle our son.

Suddenly your mom and dad are telling Alice that they're going in to visit you. They always talk to Alice or my mother instead of telling me. I'm pretty sure your dad would rather swallow bleach than have a conversation with me, but I understand.

Alice asks if I want her to take the baby with her down to the cafeteria, but I shake my head. I haven't spent much time with him lately, and as hard as it is, I know he needs to be near me. I feel it, somehow. I know he needs you too, baby, and I wish…I wish…

"Seth was our miracle baby," Sue tells me with a proud smile, still gazing down at the tiny face in the blanket your mother made. "Harry and I tried for so long to get pregnant, and wouldn't you know, as soon as we stopped trying so hard, there he was."

"Harry is your husband?"

Her smile falters just enough that I know what she's about to say. "Was. He died two years ago from a massive heart attack." Her brows furrow for a moment and it makes me wonder if she's remembering her life with the man she obviously loved.

"I'm sorry. I- I didn't mean to upset you."

She doesn't say that I haven't or that it's okay, she just stares down at our son and starts spewing forth information that I hadn't even asked for.

"We were married for twenty-three years," she smiles. "Got married right out of High School. My mother adored Harry and my father…well, my father wasn't exactly his greatest fan, but it didn't matter. I loved Harry to the ends of the Earth and there was nothing that was ever going to change my feelings."

She looks over at me suddenly and we lock eyes. Green to dark, ebony. I feel the love she had for him, deep in her soul before she looks away again. "When Seth was born I had just turned forty. And from the day he came into the world, he was determined to do everything in a hurry," she laughs, though I suspect this is leading somewhere dreadful.

I see her swallow hard before she hands the baby back over to me. He makes a grunting noise and his eyes flutter open for just a few seconds before he snuggles back into a peaceful sleep.

"They…they want me to take him off life support," she tells me, her voice fractured with pain. She wrings her hands together. "The doctors told me he's…brain-dead…and that there's no chance of him ever waking up."

I want to change the subject. Hearing this poor woman's tale is like piercing a dagger in the shredded hole that already exists in my chest and turning the blade slowly.

But she doesn't stop, so I listen. "He told me he was going cliff jumping and I didn't think anything of it because, I mean…he's been sky-diving for Heaven's sake, and…anyway…from what his friends said, he just…he didn't jump out far enough and the tide wasn't high enough." She takes a deep breath and fiddles with one of her many rings. "They said he landed head first and I- I just can't believe it, you know? It's like I just…It's like that's not my little boy in there, you know?"

I do. I know exactly what she means, and so I nod and place a comforting hand over hers before giving it a reassuring squeeze.

Alice is suddenly back and just in time because the baby is starting to fuss. She takes him from me before I can even protest, telling me he probably needs his diaper changed. I feel like I should know this, but I'm clueless. I'm sorry, Bella. I should be doing better at this for you – for him.

Sue decides that's her cue to leave. "I'm going to go see my boy," she tells me, swiping a stray tear from under her eye. "Are you going to go in and see your wife? The visiting hours will be over soon…"

"Yeah," I tell her, because I don't feel like explaining how the hospital staff already knows I'm not to be fucked with on the subject of visitation. They gave up fighting me long ago.

And so I follow her through the electric sliding door and down the hallway where I will touch your hand again soon.

You have to make it through this, baby. I'll die without you. I won't survive this. I won't.

~.~

We had only been dating for two months when I finally took you to bed. Do you remember that, baby? How you tormented me with your teasing and flirting for weeks and days on end? I knew you were trying to make me suffer just a little because you knew you held all the cards.

You knew I was leaving it entirely up to you to set the pace. Well…at first.

But that's all it took. One taste and you were hooked. As was I.

I still remember that day. It was Mother's Day and you could tell I was in a funk, though you didn't know why because I hadn't told you yet.

You dragged me away from my chair in the library and shoved me into your truck before driving us to the fair in Seattle. It was drizzling slightly but you didn't care.

And we had so much fun that day. You refused to get on the roller coaster, but agreed to the Ferris wheel and the bumper cars. You licked the stray cotton candy off the corner of my mouth and looked genuinely excited when I won you that cheap-ass four-dollar necklace from the baseball pitching booth.

You still have that necklace and I can't understand why. It's not like I haven't offered so many times to buy you a real one, one with diamonds that doesn't turn your skin green.

But you won't part with it.

Why are you so stubborn, baby?

But you are. You're stubborn and smart and fucking beautiful and I love you. So much.

I knew I loved you when I held you in my arms that night. You thought I was asleep after I told you about my birth mother, but I wasn't. I watched you sleep and thought about how lucky I was to have you in my life.

But then I wondered if you would betray me too. If you would leave me without warning just like she had.

Maybe that's why I treated you so badly after that. Maybe I was trying to push you away before you had a chance to leave.

I'm so sorry, baby. I'm so fucking sorry.

So sorry.

~.~

I'm at your bedside again when Carlisle enters the room, startling me awake. We've been waiting to hear if you've been moved up any further on the transplant list, but I can tell from the grim look on his face that you haven't.

This fucking sucks, babe. I understand that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who need hearts just like you do, but I can't help but be selfish and not care about the rest of them. I only care about you, only you, Bella.

Do you know that I even asked the doctors if I was a match? I know, baby. I know you would flip your shit, and that it was a stupid fucked-up idea, but I don't care. The baby needs you more than me anyway.

It doesn't matter though. I'm not a match and even if I was, Esme nearly kicked my ass to China when she found out what I was trying to do. I know she loves me like a real mother should, but I've never seen her come unglued like that. I don't like hurting her like that and I'll never do it again.

Carlisle says that there are some artificial hearts that have been successful in a small handful of patients, but nothing that will be truly dependable for at least another few years. I can't take that chance on you, baby, and the cardiologist said he wouldn't either.

So, I'm left here with no options, no choices but to wait.

I just hope you can hold on a little longer.

~.~

That first night we slept together was the best night of my life. The feel of you under me, your skin as soft as porcelain, and your hot breath in my ear as you came…I'll never forget.

The way you looked at me that night in the soft glow of your tiny bedroom in your apartment, no one has ever looked at me like that.

And afterward, I spilled my soul to you.

"I think I was three when she left me there in the McDonald's," I told you as we lay naked in the twisted sheets, your body sprawled across mine and your leg over my hip. "I remember the sad look in her eyes when she ordered our food and how she didn't eat any of hers. She…she told me to go play in the playground after I was done eating and I didn't think anything of it."

You ran your fingers through my hair while I talked and it was the most relaxing and comforting thing I'd ever felt.

"It was so crowded in the place and I remember playing for the longest time and getting mad because there was this little girl who wouldn't get out of the way of the slide entrance so I could slide down. I pushed her out of the way finally and when I got to the bottom I noticed my mom wasn't at our table anymore."

You snuggled closer, held me tighter. It seemed like you already knew what I was about to say.

"I ran all throughout the restaurant looking for her. I…nobody even noticed she'd left me there. I just remember calling out for her and the crowd of onlookers. There was this old lady who kept shushing me and she smelled like musty books and gardenias. To this day I hate the smell of gardenias."

It surprised me when I felt your hot tears on my shoulder. I couldn't understand why you were crying when it wasn't you who it'd happened to, but in that moment, I knew I loved you.

I moved some hair out of your eyes and wiped your tears away with my thumb.

"She didn't deserve you," you told me, your voice thick with tears. "She should've stayed there with you. You can't just leave a child like that. Didn't anyone call the police?"

After wiping away more of your tears, I explained, "They did call the cops, baby. That's how they found out my name and then from there, my mom's name. They took me back to my apartment building and when she didn't answer the door…" You gasped in a breath, preparing yourself. "They went to the landlord and got him to open the door. She…she was in the bedroom, but they didn't let me see. I know she was dead, but they didn't let me in. Carlisle told me when I was older that she'd hung herself."

You let out a stuttered breath and furrowed your brows deeper before placing a sweet kiss on my lips. "She had to have been sick in the head," you assured me. "There's no way she would've left you like that if she wasn't."

"For years, even after Carlisle and Esme adopted me a couple years later, I wondered what I'd done wrong to make her not want me."

"No, no, no. You didn't do anything wrong, I'm sure of it. She was just sick, that's all. She had to be desperate and dire to do that. I can't even…I'm so sorry."

I sighed. "Doesn't matter. She's dead and I'm not." And just like that, I had shut it off. I was good at that. In the orphanage I'd learned to shut off, to not care, not feel. You had to be tough to survive in that environment, and I'd learned that very well.

You seemed confused when I suddenly pulled you back down and hovered over your body, but you didn't protest. Silently, I asked and without words you gave. And I took. Again and again I took.

~.~

I wish you would at least wake up, baby. I know your body is worn-out from everything it's been through, but I all I want is to hear your sweet voice and look into your eyes. If I can just see your eyes, I know everything will be okay.

I'm in the waiting area again because they had to run some blood tests on you, and take an x-ray to make sure you don't have pneumonia again. I'm all alone in the cold, stark waiting room when Sue Clearwater comes in, swiping at her eyes. I can tell she's just come from visiting her son and my chest aches for her.

I wish there was something that could be done for her son, but according to her, it's only a matter of time before she will have to let him go.

She sits down next to me and places a hand on my upper arm.

"Any news on a donor?" she asks. In our many conversations over the last few days, I've explained everything to her about your situation, every detail that I can think of. I don't know why I've told her so much, but it feels good to talk to her, cathartic.

"No," I mutter. "They said we're not even close to the top of the list." She gives me a tight smile and simply nods. I rub my hand over my face, pathetically trying to wipe the exhaustion and misery away.

Sue pats my arm. "I'm sure something will happen for you, kiddo."

"Thanks." I give her a forced smile, because I don't want to hurt her feelings with what I'm really thinking – that nothing is going to happen, the situation is hopeless. Or at least that's how it feels. "How are you holding up?"

She shrugs and wrings her hands together in her lap. The dark circles under her eyes seem lighter for some reason. Or maybe I'm imagining things. "I know this might sound strange to you," she starts, "but…I think I can…let him go soon. Not today, but soon. My son wouldn't want to stay hooked up to those machines like that. It's not any way to live and he wouldn't want that."

"That makes perfect sense," I tell her.

"I just wish I could tell him one last time how much I love him. I need to know that he knows."

I square my shoulders to her and place my hand on hers. "You sound like a great mom, I'm sure he knows."

She looks deep into my eyes and breaks down into shuddering sobs. When she brings her hands to cover her eyes, I can't take it anymore. I lean over and pull her to my chest, wondering what it must feel like to have a mother who loves you as much as this woman clearly loves her son.

We stay like that for a long time until he tears eventually subside.

"Thank you," she tells me, sniffing back her residual tears. "I really needed to get that out."

"I know what you mean." I give her a half smile and she returns the favor.

~.~

You made me a birthday cake every year we were together, and even the one year when we weren't anymore. I still don't know why you did that and to be honest, I was afraid to eat the fucking thing that year for fear that you'd poisoned me for all the shit I'd put you through.

If I were you, that's exactly what I would've done.

But you didn't.

Instead, you came to my apartment and politely handed me the cake and a card before walking away. I remember wanting to chase after you, to hold you and kiss you, but thinking better of it since you'd asked for time to think. You promised we weren't over, but I couldn't help the sinking feeling that we were.

I was sure you were finished with me until I read the card where you told me you would always love me no matter what, but that you weren't going to put up with my shit anymore either.

I should've just let you go then. But my love for you wouldn't let me. There was no fucking way.

~.~

There's a shift in the air today. It's early morning and something is different but I can't place just what that something is. When I enter your room today, everything looks exactly the same. You look the same; tiny, pale, fragile, and helpless. But there's something…I don't know what it is but I feel it.

Suddenly the door to your room bursts open and your father is rushing in, still in his police uniform. He looks happier than I've ever seen him, even though I swear there is more gray than black in his hair now, and he obviously hasn't shaved in a few days.

"Charlie, what's–"

"They have one! They have a heart for Bella!" He's trying to catch his breath at the same time that I feel mine leaving my body. My heart is pumping double-time. I almost can't hear what he's saying over the sound of my own heartbeat. "Your dad- I just got off my shift and came over and- He's talking to the other doctors right now, but he said they can probably do the surgery as early as tonight! Can you believe it? They finally found a heart for my baby!"

I blink at him repeatedly, desperately trying to let the news sink in and be real. Your dad runs over and kisses your pale, hollow cheek and repeats everything he's just told me to you.

Can this really be happening?

A surge of relief and happiness floods through my veins even though I'm still having a hard time believing it's finally true. My pleas and prayers have finally been answered. A tiny part of my brain is replaying my conversation with Carlisle from weeks earlier.

"There are risks and complications, Edward. You have to be prepared for that. The life expectancy of a donor heart is generally only fifteen years, at most. Some have lived longer, but not many. Then there's also the possibility that her body may reject it, even with medication."

But, I don't believe in any of that shit, Bella. You're not general or ordinary. You're strong and I know, I know, this will work. With this new heart, you'll live. You'll be just like that guy I read about who got a new heart and then later on climbed Mt. Everest. That's how extraordinary and tough you are, baby.

"I gotta go call Renee," your dad tells me and flies out of the room.

I stand, take your face into my hands and kiss your lips.

"It's time, baby. You're getting a new heart and from here on out, everything's going to be different. I'm gonna spoil you so much, baby. You don't even know."

I'm breathless with excitement. The only thing that will top this day is the day you wake up with your new heart. That will be one of the best days of my life.

~.~

I won't take back the day I married you. There's no way.

I might not have been ready to be a husband, but I wanted to be. There was nothing I wanted more than to call you 'Mrs. Cullen' and tell people that you were my wife. Everyone thought we were too young, including our families, but we didn't care.

So we rebelled and eloped in a small ceremony in Seattle. Just you and I, and the Justice of the Peace. You wore a simple cream-colored, strapless dress with your hair curled and pulled back. If I close my eyes, I can see it perfectly clear.

I wore a blue button-up shirt and a pair of black slacks that you helped me pick out that morning.

Everything was perfect, and the sun was actually shining – a rare occurrence for where we lived.

And when we finished saying our vows, you looked at me in a way I'd never seen before – like you'd just seen the moon and stars for the first time. I felt the same way, baby. You looked so gorgeous that it was hard to breathe when I looked down at you that day.

~.~

Thirteen hours and seven cups of coffee later, your surgery is finished. The doctor says it was a successful transplant procedure, but that you're not through the woods just yet. There's still the possibility of rejection and infection, among other things. All we can do now is wait.

Everyone is on edge as we pace the waiting area.

No one wants to eat or breathe easy until we know something.

It's another few hours before I'm allowed to go see you, and when I finally enter your room, I'm not prepared for what I see.

Your face is swollen and now there's a tube down your throat. The nurse warned me and assured me it's only temporary until tomorrow, but I'm scared. I don't like seeing you like this, baby.

I sit down next to you and hold your hand. It's then that I notice your skin is warmer. When I look at your face again I can't believe I didn't notice the return of color in your cheeks. You have color again, baby. It gives me hope, and I can't help but smile.

"I love you so much, Bella," I say and kiss the top of your hand. Your mother and father come in a minute later and I decide to let them have some time with you.

When I reach the waiting room, a red-headed nurse hands me an envelope with my name scrawled across the front. She smiles politely and scurries away, probably afraid to speak to me any further after the reputation I've no doubt earned around here.

Curiosity piques and I slide the envelope open. It's a single note card with some leaves stamped across the top.

Dear Edward,

I've never been good at this type of thing, but I'll try my best. I can't thank you enough for the kind words and understanding, and I thank you for sharing your story with me. It takes a strong man to admit when he's made mistakes, and an even stronger man to correct those mistakes and move forward. To make his life better.

Make Bella's life better and you will find your true happiness. I hope that my gift, my son's gift will be enough to save your wife. Give her every ounce of love you have in you and she will live the best life possible.

One last thing – spoil that gorgeous little baby boy of yours, every chance you get. We never know how long we have on this earth.

~ Sue and Seth Clearwater.

My heart skips a beat. Could it be possible that she gave us…

I immediately rush back into the ICU and push past a small group to find the room where I thought I might find Sue. But when I reach the room that belongs to her son, it's completely empty. There's only an empty bed with clean, pressed sheets.

~.~

There was one night where we lay naked together, talking into the early hours of the morning. I asked you a question.

"What would you do if we were stranded on a deserted island and we each only had one coconut?"

I don't even know why the hell I felt the need to ask you. It was just some stupid thing some of my idiot friends were joking about. They said that most girls would say that they would steal the man's coconut and force him to go spear-fishing. I don't know. We were drunk and it seemed like a funny question.

Your answer shocked me.

"I'd give you my coconut and pray for more food."

~.~

It's been a couple days since your surgery and I'm in the middle of a hazy dream when something prickles my scalp.

Soft fingers running through my hair. It's so relaxing that it's tempting me to fall deeper into sleep. The fingers continue and my eyes flutter open to find that I'm in your hospital room with my head in your lap, looking at your toes as they wriggle slowly under the blankets.

I sit up and blink repeatedly. Your face is still a little puffy and your eyes look tired, but they're open and you're watching me with the hint of a smile on your lips. You blink, slow and groggy and I'm on my feet. I kiss you over and over again, lips, cheeks, and lips again. The breathing tube was taken out last night and I can't believe this is finally happening.

It doesn't matter what the statistics are because I know you'll live longer than what they expect. As I tell you repeatedly how much I love you, I'm already thinking of how soon I can take you home. You're smiling and trying to rasp out words when I tell you about Sue and Seth and the miracle they gave us.

You cry when I talk about our son and I assure you that we will all be together again. I hope you don't mind if we name him Seth, and when I ask you, it seems you've had the same idea.

Days later, things are going better than the doctors expected, but I already knew they would. This is what's meant to be. We are meant to be, Bella.

I love you with all that I am. And instead of just telling you once in a while, I tell you every day. But I don't just plan to tell you, I'll show you. Every day, I'll show you.

Every day.