Pop the Question Contest Entry
Title: Why and What If
Word Count: 4101
Pairing: Edward & Bella
Summary: Edward Masen had plans. The problem was that life didn't care. A story about valuing what you're given and finding happiness out of the scraps.
Warnings: This story revolves around a life-threatening illness.
Why and What If
There is a fine line between life and death.
The line is invisible to the naked eye, but it's there. It never moves, its width never fluctuates, you cannot paint over it, and ultimately, it's the scariest fucking line in the universe.
I was twenty-seven-years-old when that line showed me its presence. I weighed two hundred pounds and was six foot three. I, Edward Masen, didn't eat anything with high fructose corn syrup; I knew what GMO was, ate veggies, took two different vitamin supplements daily, ran twenty-five miles a week, and had only gotten really sick once in my entire life and that culprit had been the flu. I knew what life was.
Well, I knew what life was then.
Sometimes it's the little things in life that make all the difference. Other times, it's major things that irrevocably change everything. Sometimes life altering events are quick and other times they crawl along invisibly. The point being—life happens.
On June eleventh, I was twenty-six-years-old. My life revolved around a sixty-hour work week doing graphic designing. I went out with my friends every weekend. Talked to my dad at least twice a week and repeated that cycle without a second thought.
When you're young, you feel like you have eternity ahead of you. Things like being sick, family, friends… you take all that shit for granted. I took life for granted.
That was my greatest mistake.
I'd had the pain for months. Between working nonstop, and making time for those relationships that months later didn't seem important at all, I ignored the pain in my lower abs. It got shelved behind the millions of other things that I considered to be a priority. Like going to so-and-so's party, obsessing over a project for a client. Stupid shit that is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of life.
To think that I almost didn't remember to tell the doctor that my abs had been sore for some time, the only reason I even went to the doctor was because I'd cut my hand on a rusted nail and needed a tetanus shot. The pain in my lower abs had been after thought.
On June nineteenth, seven days after my twenty-seventh birthday, everything changed.
On that mother-fucking day, I heard the two words I never expected to be told. "Testicular cancer."
I remember looking at the doctor and blinking. In that moment, it felt like time had frozen. Like I was Neo in the Matrix, and I was going to dodge the bullet coming at me. "Excuse me?" The words were high, so much higher than my usual tone, soaked and dripping with disbelief.
When the doctor repeated those six syllables, I couldn't believe it. I thought that maybe I'd hear a "pulled groin," or I mean, maybe even a "tear." But cancer? Cancer?
"You're shitting me," were the words that slipped out of my mouth.
A few scans and blood tests would later confirm my worst nightmare without a margin of doubt.
I had ball cancer.
I'd like to say that I took the news with a straight face and accepted my diagnosis, but I didn't. When I sat in that doctor's office with trembling hands and watery eyes; I asked myself a million questions, and they all started with the same word: why. It didn't matter that my chances were good. I didn't care that technology was advanced. I had cancer.
I'd just turned twenty-seven. I didn't smoke, the only drug I'd ever touched was weed, and that was years before. I only drank socially. Cancer? I had testicular cancer.
I was Neo, but I didn't escape the bullet.
That moment in the chair, with a stranger sitting five feet away from me, my life flashed before my eyes. All the things I wish I would have done differently filtered through my brain with fury. There was nothing I could have done to prevent this, but there were so many other things I regretted that filled my stomach with lead.
Sitting there, practically alone, scared, with tears that hadn't been shed in over a decade; it was the most miserable experience of my life.
No matter how many times I said it to myself and to others in the days and weeks that followed, it didn't make the situation any more real. It felt like I was living someone else's life. Or maybe even my own terrible dream. When I was young, I was terrified of spiders. After my mom died, I was scared my dad would die. That was the one and only thing I could clearly remember being terrified of. But the idea of something deadly growing under my skin, in the fiber of my cells, threatening the endless life I'd envisioned was inconceivable. I learned a different type of fear altogether then, and it was called "Stage II."
My mom died from breast cancer when I was thirteen. When I thought of cancer, I thought of my sweet mom and all the treatments she'd gone through to fight it. It didn't matter that she was going to leave me behind, leave a husband who thought she was the sun and the earth, and a life that held so much promise. Her illness didn't give a shit about any of that.
Death doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care what color your skin color is, how much money is in your bank account, who your family is, or where you grew up. Death doesn't give a flying fuck about what you have planned, or what you dream about. It is a cruel, greedy son-of-a-bitch that will fight you relentlessly until there's an undisputed winner.
I mean, who decides who gets sick and dies, and who doesn't? There are people who drive their own car into the grave. Whether it's through alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or bad eating habits, those people are behind the wheel of their destiny. It felt like I'd been kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car gagged and blindfolded. This wasn't my choice. This wasn't what I wanted and the unfairness of it was stifling.
Telling my dad that I was sick—my dad, the trauma surgeon had saved more lives than any angel ever could—was the second most surreal experience of my life. His eyes had filled with tears before he hugged me. He'd already lost his wife to Death. No matter how many times he'd fought Death for other people and won, my dad knew what my chances were. He knew that this was my battle.
If anything, that scared the shit out of me even more.
Having to go to work and tell my boss—who then told the fifteen other people in our office—was not what I expected at all. Jasper Whitlock, who had more piercings on his face than most women had on their entire body, gave me a hug before tearing up. He said, it "Wasn't fair."
I think I snickered. I wanted to tell him that I thought life wasn't fair, but I held back from it.
I wasn't close to any of my coworkers before I got sick. Jasper sent out a mass email to everyone stating that my hours were going to get significantly reduced when I started treatment. It wasn't like I was embarrassed to tell people that I had testicular cancer. I didn't care. Whether it was in my testicles or in my spine, it'd be the same fucking basic thing in a different color, like having a purple robe instead of a black one. A robe is a fucking robe regardless of what shade its dyed. "You can tell them," I'd told Jas. People that I'd only spoken to in passing for years, came up to me with their well wishes and sad eyes.
And then there was Bella.
Bella Swan who never really spoke to anyone, came up to me the day of the email after everyone had left and smiled at me from over the top of my drafting desk. We'd spoken once in the two years that she had been with the company. She was shy and kept to herself most of the time, and by most of the time, I meant all of the time. Then again, I was the same. My coworkers weren't my friends, I didn't see them after hours with the exception of Jasper every once in a while. But there she was, all five foot three inches of messy ponytail, lopsided purple headband, mismatched socks, and a little smile.
"Hi, Edward," she said in much louder voice than I thought she was capable of.
"Hi," I told her probably a little bit more gruffly than I should have. The day had seemed like one of the longest of my life. Between answering a million different questions and having to swallow more pitiful looks than I could handle, I was so fucking tired of dealing with everything. I couldn't help thinking to myself that this wasn't what I signed up for.
She stood there a second longer before crossing her arms over her chest, eyes darting across my desk. "My brother had testicular cancer, too," she spit out. "If you ever have any questions on things you can eat or what to expect, you can ask me." Bella swallowed and gave me gentle smile. "I won't tell anyone anything."
I just stared at her for a moment longer than was necessary, looking at the freckles across her cheeks and the small scar above her eyebrow. "Thanks, Bella."
At the sound of her name coming out of my mouth, she seemed to straighten up a bit before shrugging and smiling just a little again. "Good luck," she said in that same even voice that seemed so foreign coming out of normally quiet mouth.
Over the next couple of weeks, I didn't see her that often. I didn't see anyone besides my dad very often. The doctors had scheduled my operation soon after my diagnosis. The days before and after the surgery reminded me of the time that I'd dented my dad's car and instead of telling him, kept it to myself. I waited and waited for him to come and tear me a new one. Every time we'd be in the same room together, I'd just sit there, anticipation ravaging my insides, and wait for the moment he'd blow up. My nerves had killed me back then, and they killed me now.
I got more cards and balloons after the operation than I'd ever gotten in my entire life combined. My dad took time off from work. A handful of friends came to visit. Surprisingly, everyone from the office had pitched in some dough for a balloon bouquet, a card, and flowers that I later had donated to the children's wing of the hospital.
In the card, all of the familiar names I'd seen week after week melted into the white background of the handmade card. "Get Better Soon!" and "We Miss You!" messages and signatures dotted the stiff white paper. Bella Swan's "Good luck!" was followed by a smiley face and phone number under her signature.
Then there was the chemo. Once a week, poison was injected into my veins making me feel like absolute shit. It was the type of shit you got after eating too much spicy food times a billion. My one bout with flu a decade before was like a pinprick compared to the stab wound chemo represented.
My dad and every doctor I'd visited had warned me about the side effects from that type of therapy. Unfortunately, no amount of warnings can ever prepare you for it. No amount of positivity from my therapist could help me understand what was happening to me. That night, while sitting at home and asking myself why the fuck I'd gotten sick, I found that card from work on the desk I used to draw on before all of this mess. Its colorful cover mocked me until I opened it.
I'm not sure what drove me to pick up my phone and text message Bella, but I did.
Hi was the brilliant thing I'd thought to send her.
Less than a minute later, at eleven-fifteen at night, my phone chimed.
Yeah, busy? I suddenly felt like a huge douche-bag, thinking she might have been asleep, but thirty seconds later, I got a response.
Nope :-) What's up?
I really didn't know why I texted her, really. Maybe it was my loneliness or my frustration toward the situation that made me reach out to her. I had friends. Friends that called me once a week to see how I was doing before inviting me to some bullshit club that I was too tired to go to. Friends that had started skipping around the outline of my existence the more sick that I got.
Anger at the unfairness of it all washed over me then. The same word that had taken precedence over every other in my vocabulary came out: why.
Is your brother still alive? I found myself texting her in response, instead of answering her question.
He sure is. Alive and kicking with two kids and a wife that looks like an SI model. Start chemo already?
Some reassurance wafted over me at the knowledge that her brother had the same kind of cancer I did and was still going at it. With kids. I'd never really even thought about kids until the doctor had reassured me that I'd still be able to have them even after surgery. I could remember my dad telling me growing up, "You can't appreciate things until you don't have them anymore." The man was wiser than I ever gave him credit for.
There was a pause of a couple minutes between messages before my phone chimed again. Is someone taking care of you?
No. Home alone. I wondered why she was asking if someone was taking care of me. Maybe she knew how terrible I'd feel after chemo.
With Macaulay Culkin? :P
That was a terrible joke. I'm sorry. I meant to say that you shouldn't be alone right now.
My fingers stuttered over the keyboard, trying to think of a response while fighting off the urge to smile at her awful attempt at humor. I went through about five different messages before settling on one that didn't make me sound as pathetic as I felt, and didn't seem flirtatious.
I'm not. I'm texting you, aren't I?
That you are. Good point.
I'm home alone, too.
The messages came in back to back, and over the course of the next two hours, Bella and I texted back and forth over the most casual things she could think of, mainly revolving about office gossip she was bringing me up to speed on. Even though Bella didn't talk to our fellow colleagues, the girl listened and knew everything going on. Hearing about Eleazar and Carmen's secret affair was enough to tear my thoughts away from the death seeping through my veins.
We didn't text message each other over the next week until the day of my second chemo session.
Are you busy? I sent her.
Two minutes later, she responded. Not anymore. Chemo today?
Over the course of the next two weeks, when I would text message her on the days of my therapy, she always confirmed that I'd gotten my treatment before asking how it went. She never pried for too much information, or sent me loose words. She texted me about everything and nothing. What movie she was watching at home. Different things I could eat that wouldn't upset my stomach. Crappy jokes that made me snort. A couple of times, she sent me pictures of random things she'd seen throughout the week. Those nights became our nights. Hours filled with a brand of randomness that appeased me in a way that television couldn't.
I didn't know her birthday, her favorite color, or even what her favorite food was. I didn't know if she liked dogs more than cats either, but Bella had turned into a friend. A friend that didn't pity me or treat me like my illness didn't exist.
Then, I started losing my hair. Spots on my body, on my head… everywhere. There was a spot on my scalp the size of a silver dollar that was missing hair clear as day.
I text messaged the only person I could think of. Bella. It was three days before our usual conversation, but I didn't care.
My hair is falling out.
Five minutes later, she responded. Have you decided what you want to do about it?
She knew that I'd been prepared. My therapist had told me about different options for dealing with it. Bandanas, hats, wigs. I'd known from the beginning that there was no way in fuck I was going down that route. I wasn't extremely fond of my hair. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd combed it. But just like my balls and life in general, the auburn hair on my head was under-appreciated until I faced the chance of losing it.
And yet, my fingers still trembled a little when I texted her back. I want to shave it.
I have clippers. She responded.
And I've shaved my dog's coat a few times…
I'd grown used to the idea that there were a lot of things I couldn't and would never be able to control in my life. This disease was one of them, but my hair wasn't. Not that it made the decision any easier. So many weeks and so many more months were going to rest on the cancer's choices. The hair loss just made it more real, but I wanted to take possession of my life back.
1007 Upton Court
I hope you have a steady hand was the last message I finally sent Bella.
Thirty minutes later, my doorbell rang, and I didn't even bother looking in the peephole. Opening up the door, the person I'd spoken to twice in person was standing on the other side, gripping a black case in her hand and a soft smile on one cheek.
That night, laughing through a handful of bad passes and half-assed apologies, Bella shaved my hair off. She gave me a hug afterward when I stood in the mirror with glassy eyes.
Between the chemo, the therapy visits, and the days I felt like complete and utter diarrhea, Bella squeezed into my life. Bella and her soft voice and warm food and sweet smiles.
She was kind and patient. She made me laugh when she knew I needed it. She came over unannounced and would sit on the other side of my sofa, watching movies on the days I felt like I was closer to death than I was to life.
Bella became my tether to life.
At some point along the way, she became the person who started picking me up after my hospital visits. Bella was the friend I never knew I needed or wanted. It was her and her unobtrusive ways that grounded me and told me that I wasn't the first person in the world to have cancer and survive, and that I wouldn't be the last.
And eventually, after what felt like I'd lived an entire lifetime all over again, the cancer was gone. I wasn't arrogant enough to think that it was me who had beat it. That it wasn't just me who had faced death in the face for so many months and karate-chopped it away. It was Bella and her quiet, goofy strength that had gotten me through the hard times. We'd beaten it.
It was with that thought, as Bella and my dad sat with me getting the confirmation that there weren't any more of Death's cells in my body, that I accepted the uncertain, priceless life that I had left, and the person who had been there for a stranger months before. That appreciation that I had for everything I'd come close to losing seemed to reignite itself then.
I loved her. That fact was my truth. I loved my best friend.
Kissing her in the middle of the doctor's office with my oncologist and dad a few feet away wasn't where I'd envisioned my last first kiss happening. But then again, there were so many other things that I'd never imagined happening either. It kind of seemed like the story of my life. I wasn't going to complain though.
In the months after all of my treatments stopped, life had kept going and warping its strange shape. Friends that had been in and out of my life before I got sick were suddenly nonexistent. My dad and I started spending more time together. I loved Bella in a way that I never thought I could love anyone. A love that I didn't even think existed. Because I knew, after everything I'd gone through, to value something good in my life when I had the chance.
Life is unpredictable, and it wasn't perfect. I could get sick again. I could get hit by a car. I could fall asleep and never wake up. Life had no guarantees.
The one and only thing that I knew I could never lose. The one thing that was burned so deep within me, nothing—no disease or Death and its ghastly fingers—could ever take away from me. It was what gave me life again.
The morning of my one-year anniversary of being "cancer free," I woke up with a start. The alarm hadn't even gone off, and I was wide-awake, thinking. It wasn't the first time I'd dreamed about getting sick again. Even though I tried not to let that ugly feeling live in my stomach, it was hard to ignore what could happen in the future. It was a fucking sign, I thought. I'd been planning on asking her for months before that, but I hadn't. I put it off. But I was done putting things off.
Bella was on her side, facing away from me. On its own accord, my hand reached out to grab her arm and tug on it until she woke up. Rolling over and yawning, she eyed me through heavy-lidded eyes.
"Everything okay?" she half whispered, half yawned.
"I could die tomorrow," was the first thing I spit out.
Her eyes widened before she shot up in bed. "What?"
Realizing that I was probably scaring the shit out of her, I grabbed her hand and shook my head. "I'm not sick or anything, but I'm just saying. I could die tomorrow. You could die tomorrow. How do we know how much time we have left?" the words left my mouth in one breath.
Bella blinked at me like she was trying to process the shit rambling out of my mouth.
"Why the fuck are we wasting time?" I asked her, earning narrowed brown eyes in return. "I love you more than this whole goddamn world," I rambled. I'd never told Bella any of this. She knew that I loved her, I told her every day, but suddenly it felt like time wasn't on my side. That time and life would never be on my side. What if the cancer came back? What if everything and anything happened?
The what ifs in life were eating away at me.
I didn't want a fucking what if. I'd dealt with one "what if" in my life and there were no promises I wouldn't get another one at some point. Or God forbid, Bella got a what if.
"Marry me," I told her. "Like tomorrow. Marry me. I don't want to waste anymore time. What if God changes his mind about giving me another chance? Life is so fucking short. What if—"
Bella made a loud groaning noise before slapping her hand over my mouth. "Edward, stop." When I raised my eyebrows at her, she smiled and pulled her hand off me. Her eyes were wide and glassy. "You're serious?"
"Yeah." I kissed forehead. "You. Me. Every day. I'm going to love you forever anyway, Bella. Even after this body gives out on me, I just don't want to waste more time. Marry me."
She put her hand on the uneven scruff called my facial hair, and then wrapped her arms around my shoulders, burying her face in my neck. Her one word answer made up for the two words that I'd heard so long before. "Yes."