This is the very end, readers. Thanks for sticking around.
Chapter 17 (Present)
I can't sleep in this lonely bed I've made.
My mind won't shut off and my heart feels weak and uneasy. Rolling over for the countless time, I stare out the window. It's still dark out. I turn back around and keep tossing and turning until I'm practically dizzy.
As the blackness of night starts to burn off, sleep becomes less and less likely.
I need the rest. It's a really big day.
Even though it's way too early, I start to get ready. I run a comb through my hair, brush black through my lashes, swipe some pink on my lips. When I slip into my dress, I roll my eyes at how difficult it is to zip up without someone to help. After three attempts, I let it be.
I'm ready to go and it's nowhere near time to head out. I sit stiffly on the couch and wait. Time does me no favors as it ticks painstakingly by. I look around my apartment, search for something to keep me busy. It's not good for me to sit idle. I grab for an outdated magazine, flip through it just to be doing something.
I don't remember everything turning black. My eyes fly open.
I have thirty minutes to get to the hotel.
When I manage to get there—just on time—it's hectic. Crazy hectic. It's damn near impossible to find a minute to exhale, or inhale for that matter.
Alice and Jasper are doing it up big. The whole nine yards. And even though I think it's stupid, I get it, too. They've got a big love and they want to celebrate it in a big way. Still, by the first round of photographs, I could use a stiff drink.
I should be grateful for the constant movement. I don't have time to dwell on Edward. That he's here, right next to me. That he's...staring at me.
I don't stare back.
It's difficult, especially when it's just the four of us for a while: Jasper, Jake, Edward and me. We have to smile and pretend like the only history between us is of the savoring kind. The surge of energy that runs through me when Edward drapes an arm over my shoulder mid-pose nearly makes me jump. And again, when his hand lands on my waist and he draws me close to him during another photo. He's so unfazed. It's so unfair.
When the photographer needs to reload, I take a moment to myself, standing off in a corner.
I watch Alice in her big white dress, Jasper in his crisp gray suit. As always, they're huddled in their own little bubble. I smile at Jake talking up a pretty bridesmaid. I hope he gets lucky. It's a good day. But I still don't feel right, I think I might feel worse.
My heart is in my throat when I look over at Edward and find him still staring at me. I quickly turn away.
I don't understand why he's making this so difficult. He barely glanced at me at the bar, and today, he won't look away. He's acting like he's forgotten that we've loved each other. I feel a slight anger build in me, because I've done really well keeping myself in check. But with Edward touching me and watching me like he is...I start to unravel.
"Do you need some help?"
I jump a little and whirl around. My jaw drops open and my eyes are wide like wreaths.
"Your dress...it's not zipped up..." Edward says.
Of course. That's why he was staring at me. I'm so fucking stupid to think otherwise.
"Oh, yeah...could you..." I say as I turn, hiding the red on my cheeks.
He zips me up quickly. I try not to shiver when his fingers brush against my back as he clasps the hook at the top, but my skin rises completely against my will. I hope he doesn't notice. I'm pretty certain he does. He still stands behind me, even though he's finished.
"Thanks," I say. I don't know what else to do.
"You're welcome." His breath is so warm as it hits the back of my neck.
I'm afraid of feeling stupid again, so I turn around quickly to break the rising in my chest. Edward doesn't move, not even a tiny step back to get some space between us.
I look beyond him; search through the guests standing around, the ones just arriving. I know Tanya will be at the ceremony if she's not already here. I can't let myself forget that he has someone in his life. That he's happy. I have to stop reading in to the things he does or doesn't do.
The photographer calls us back.
I'm on the verge of tears. Giant, sloppy, happy tears. I hold them back with everything I've got. Jasper and Alice are in a really beautiful kind of love. When they promise each other forever, I'm certain they'll make it.
When I wipe a rogue tear away, Edward looks down at me. His stare is so much more intense in front of all these people. I keep my eyes glued on the ground. I can't look at him, and there's no way I can look out into the crowd. If I were to meet Tanya's stare, I think I'd freak the fuck out.
The officiant tells Jasper to kiss his wife, and when he does, the crowd goes wild.
The ceremony closes, but I still don't look around. I can't deal with Edward's eyes...if they're still on me.
At the reception, I sit by myself as everyone else mingles. I don't mind, but I guess there's something sad about being alone at a wedding. Jake tears himself away from his potential lay to check in on me. I want him to stop worrying, so I grab a glass of champagne, throw it back, and dance terribly to cheesy wedding music.
I'm mid-twirl when I nearly ram into Edward.
The music slips into a soft ballad, and I think about making a run for the exit.
"Dance with me?" He holds out his hand. He looks semi-nervous.
I take it immediately. I don't even think about whether it's a good move or a bad one, until I've already grabbed for it. I don't think about Tanya, until it's too late to take it back. I want whatever he's willing to give me, whether I'm afraid or not. Whether I'm ready or not.
When my hand falls in place with his and he wraps his arm around my back...god, it feels good. I'm careful not to let myself get too comfortable. I don't forget that I don't belong here in his arms—that it's a special time and place. Edward isn't mine to keep. I try to remember that.
My eyes search for her, the one he belongs to. I figure it's better to bite the bullet on my own terms.
"She's not here," he says with a small sigh.
My eyes shoot back to him, startled.
"Where is she?" I ask.
He takes a steady breath before answering. "My guess would be on a flight back to Baltimore."
An unavoidable silence follows. My mind is a mess and it takes me a while to find the words to clear it up.
He shrugs. "Weddings do funny things to people, I guess."
I wait for him to finish. It takes me a minute to figure out that he's done. And it takes longer than it should to sink in. There are a hundred million thoughts and feelings swirling through me.
"Are you okay?" I need to know he's okay. I feel like I might burst if he isn't, even though I know I can't do anything about it.
He bows his head before slowly nodding. And it occurs to me to ask another question. I don't know where it comes from, but I want to know.
He stares down at me quietly. He almost stops dancing, and I'm almost uncomfortable under the way he's looking at me.
His lips break upwards into a small smile, like he's proud or something.
"I hope so," he finally answers.
The music changes to a tune even slower and softer. When Edward lets the hand he was holding go, I think our time is over. But he slips that hand around my hip, then around my back, and pulls me to him. My arms wrap around his neck. We're closer than we should be.
His eyes wander across my face...not searching, just looking.
My cheeks start to feel hot.
"Yeah...I've been working on it for a little while now..."
"I don't know this...you very well."
"I'm still getting to know this me..."
He chuckles a little. "Yeah? How do you like her?"
"She's okay. Pretty good, I guess."
"So I hear," he says with an easy nod.
I smile a little. I like that he's been asking. He holds me tighter. I don't want to hold him any tighter, because I know it's going to be really hard to let go when the time comes, and I've already accepted that the time will come.
I do anyway.
"When do you fly back?" I ask.
"Day after tomorrow."
I want to tell him that I'll miss him, that I'd like to keep in touch, be friends.
The slow song stops and we stop, too. I was right, it's so hard to let go. When he drops his arms, it feels cold in the spots where he touched me. It feels cold everywhere.
He thanks me for the dance, then walks away. He keeps his distance after that. I can't tell if it's on purpose, or if he's just popular. People want to talk to him. They want to flirt and drink with him. Edward's sweet, dancing with anyone who asks—from the bombshell blonde, to Jasper's great grandmother, to the tiny flower girl.
I lose track of him after a while. The celebration grows, with no signs of slowing down. When things get too wild, and I can't accept another drink or dance or bad line, I find some peace out in the lobby.
I find Edward.
He's got his room key in hand.
"Are you leaving?" I ask.
"It's getting pretty crazy in there. I'm gonna head to my room for a bit. I'll...see you later."
He turns to walk away. I want to ask him to stay.
After a few steps, he stops.
"Come with me?" he asks, his back still turned.
The ride up to his suite is quiet. He keeps a fair distance away from me and I don't attempt to get any closer to him.
When we get in, I plant myself against a wall and watch Edward as he takes off his coat. I try to get my heart to settle down as he loosens, then yanks off his tie. I have to look away when he unbuttons his cuffs and rolls his sleeves up.
The room is warm. I need to move.
It feels odd, but I take a seat on the bed. Edward watches me the entire time. I want to ask him why.
"Edward...what happened with Tanya?" I ask instead.
He keeps on with his silence as he heads to the minibar, pouring himself a strong drink. He takes a long, generous sip.
"When she first told me she loved me, I told her I loved her too."
I'm shocked at how painful those words are. I can't believe how much it hurts. It's supposed to hurt less at this point.
"When she asked if she should come to the wedding, I told her I wanted her here, maybe even needed her here."
"Edward..." It's the tiniest whisper. So low, I barely hear it myself. I had no intention of saying a word. But I needed to stop him. I'm not ready to hear about love with another woman.
"I was saying what I thought I should be saying. That's how it works, right? You meet a nice girl, you like her, she likes you...you fall in love, you want each other around all the time..."
God. Stop. Please stop.
"Last night she asked me if I could see us being together forever..." He lets his words drift off. I don't realize that I've shut my eyes, until they're startled open by his hand on mine. He's taken a knee in front of me and I can see that he's not trying to be cruel or anything. He's being honest. "I said no. Without even hesitating...I just said no. I felt like shit for being so blunt...but it just hit me. I couldn't ever see a future with her."
"I don't understand. You seemed so...happy."
"I was..." he clears his throat. "I am..." He sort of laughs. "Is that fucked-up?"
I'm not sure if it is or it isn't.
"It's not that I don't care about her. I think I was in love, or at least, something pretty damn close. But not being with her wouldn't end me or anything." He chuckles. "Not like with you. Never like with you."
I feel bad for feeling good that he didn't love Tanya the way he loved me. I'm not sure if it's okay to be selfish in this way.
He startles me, and my eyes flutter shut when he reaches out his hand, brushing his fingers against my cheek as he tucks my hair behind my ear.
"What do you want, Bella?"
I wasn't expecting that question.
I know what I should say. I should say that I want him to be happy, that I am okay and that as long as he's happy, I will stay that way. It wouldn't be a lie if I said that, it would be the absolute truth.
But there are other truths that should be said out loud. He's asking what I want, and I think that today, in this moment, it might be okay to give the selfish truth.
"I want you. Still. Whether you want me or not. Whether I have hope or don't have it. I'm always going to want you. A million men could come and go from my life, and at the end of it all...you. Always. Even though I've given you up, I still want you. I don't know if that makes any sense at all."
I meet his stare, straight on. I don't want to hide.
"I get it," he says quietly.
"I'm sorry it took so much time and...destruction for me to get here. But I'm here."
He bows his head and runs a hand over his face.
"You don't have to do anything with that," I say quickly. "I just want you to know that I'm better...because of you."
He looks up at me, and I can't tell if he's happy or sad, but he's staring at me like I've said something that changes everything. And it happens so quickly, his lips on mine, his hands in my hair, then on my neck, his body pressing mine flat onto the mattress. We kiss until I'm dizzy and he's breathless. We kiss like we'd never stopped.
"That should feel wrong..." he whispers in a long sigh. He pulls back a little, his hands still warm against my neck. "Why doesn't it ever feel wrong..."
He kisses me again, like he's testing it out one last time, before rolling off of me, and sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I can't ever go back to that place with you, Bella. I won't."
I understand what he means. I'm glad he says it. I won't take us there.
"We should probably get back," he says.
I get up, straighten myself out. When I get to the door, I'm not sure if I should wait for him.
"I'll be down in a minute."
I shut the door gently behind me.
The reception is still at full blast. As I weave through the crowds, I get stuck in conversations I don't want to be a part of, and pose for pictures I'd rather not take. When I make it back to my table, it's empty.
But not for long.
Jake takes a seat to my right, before Jasper flops down to my left.
And when I look up, I see Edward, headed our way.
He's got his eyes on me.
There's a swelling in my heart, and I don't tell it to quit.
There are folks that need thanking. There's simply no way around it.
My beta, Amerymarie. Thank you so much for taking time out of your life to help me with this little story of mine. It's amazing to me that someone would offer their time and energy to a stranger. Thank you.
HadleyHemmingway. We met near the end, but I just wanted to send a quick thank you for your support and encouragement. You're part of the reason I got off my butt to finish this thing :)
SunFlower3759, other pre-readers, pimpers, lurkers, readers, reviewers- Thank you so much for following this story, for being a part of it, for encouraging me with your kind reviews. Thank you especially to the readers who gave me a small glimpse into your own lives by sharing the way you were able to relate to BxE's relationship/pain.
Also, I have a very special place in my heart to those who have been kind and patient with Bella. I know she's a tough one to love, or to even understand. Thank you for forgiving her for her (major and plentiful) shortcomings.
And last, but the absolute furthest thing from least: Susan, Jen, and Kim. I cannot express how much you three have meant to me. I can't imagine not having your support and friendship through this process, but also, life in general ;) Without you guys, HMD wouldn't have ever finished. With you guys, HMD is better than I could have ever imagined/hoped. Thank you for always being honest. I value your input immensely. I never, in a million bazillion years, ever thought I would forge friendships in this fandom. I guess in a way, I was right. I don't consider you guys friends that are strictly a part of this world. I could say thank you a thousand times, in a trillion different ways, and it won't be enough. Even so, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you 3.