A/N: So much love and thanks to my beta LifeInkognito and my pre-readers gjficfan, Lfcpam, Micki Martini, and Firedancer07.
SM owns Twilight.
A STREET WITH NO END
"Who are you?"
The question echoes around me. Through me. It's straightforward. Yet so complex. It holds power in its simplicity.
As I stand in front of this fragmented man, I don't know how to respond. I have a split second to answer a question that needs to be thought through. Analyzed. Because how I answer this simple question can shred this man even more than he already is. Reduce him to a pile of ash.
"Well?" he prompts, as a flash of annoyance crosses his exhausted, anguish-ridden face. I have to make a decision. Right now. I'm out of time.
I clear my throat. "Yeah, I'm Dr. Cullen. Edward Cullen. I work here at the hospital." My hand extends towards him.
His furrowed brow relaxes. He nods once in acknowledgment. But as his hand reaches towards mine, I see his eyes drop to my clothing. Inspecting it. His brow furrows again.
"I'm off today, but I was working here yesterday," I say in quick explanation as I grip his hand.
"Oh," he says as his shoulders straighten and I see him work to put the pieces together. "Oh," he repeats again. But the word is spoken with different inflection. It carries understanding. "Thank you," he breathes. His voice is so sincere. Earnest. Heartfelt.
My body bristles. This is wrong. Very wrong.
His gratitude cuts me.
Filets me. And leaves me bleeding.
And I instantly regret my words. I didn't lie. Everything I said held truth. But I omitted the most important element. And I cannot accept what this man offers. I cannot stand here and watch his face as he looks at me like I'm a savior. Like I did something heroic for this woman that he obviously loves so deeply.
"I'm Charlie. Charlie Swan. I'm Bella's dad."
I'm hemorrhaging as the cut opens wider. Deepens. The pain twists, bending at an unnatural angle.
"I was driving the other car."
"I am to blame."
"I caused her injuries."
"I… I killed your son."
The words prepare themselves and rest gently on the tip of my tongue, waiting. Ready to be grasped by me and spoken. My mind practices them in anticipation. But I grapple with myself. I want so desperately to speak those words. But something stops me. Holds me back. I can't say them yet. So they remain there, on my tongue. Patiently silent and still waiting.
"Is she gonna be okay?" he asks as he steps closer to me. "I talked to the nurse out there, but she didn't have much information. She said the doc would be in later. Is she gonna wake up? When is she gonna wake up?" Desperation leaks through his vocal chords as his voice breaks on the last word. His knees buckle and I lunge for him, grabbing him by the arm, holding the weight of his body with my own. I help him down into the chair that I was previously sitting in and kneel beside him.
"Are you okay?" I ask as I carefully look him over, trying to decide if I should go get whoever is on call at the moment to take a look at him.
"Yeah," he mumbles with his head down as he scrubs at his eyes and sniffs.
"Do you have any medical conditions?"
He shakes his head.
"Are you lightheaded? Feeling any dizziness? Weakness?"
He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and clears his throat. "No. No, I'm fine," he says, his voice gruff. His eyes stay averted.
"Do you want something to drink? When was the last time you ate?"
He looks up at me, frowning. "Uh…" he hesitates, scratching his chin.
"I'll go get you something, okay? I'll be right back."
He nods. I step out of the room and make my way down the hallway. I grab him some crackers and a Sprite and slip back into the room.
"Here. Try this," I say as I hand it to him. He mumbles his thanks, and I sit down next to him.
He eats. I watch Bella. The silence in the room is comfortable.
"It's been a rough morning," he finally says, breaking the quiet. Our eyes meet for a moment before he looks back down at the can of Sprite he's holding. "I…" he begins before he stops and clears his throat. "My son… he was also in the accident. I…" His upper lip, covered in a thick moustache begins quivering. I lean forward in my chair and stare down at my hands to give him a moment.
There's silence again. But it's not comfortable this time. It's thick and I can practically feel its presence leaning heavily on my shoulders.
"I had to go, this morning, and…" he continues. I keep my eyes on my hands; there's a bulky uncomfortable constricting sensation developing in my throat that won't go away. I'm weakening. And about to disintegrate. Because he doesn't have to speak the words. I know what they are.
His voice is a whisper, thick and heavily laden with emotion. "… identify the b-body," he stutters, stumbling on the last word before he falls apart.
The emotion that bubbles up inside of me turns into an angry stormy ocean of white-capped waves. The current pulls me under and I'm drowning. My throat squeezes shut as I work furiously to not break down and weep with this man beside me. It's impossible for me to speak so I grab the Kleenex box and hand it to him. Then I lay my hand on his shoulder and grip it. I blink the moisture from my eyes and try to focus on a spot on the wall to distract myself.
"Sorry," he mumbles as he shakes his head and uses a couple of the Kleenex. My throat is too tight to allow me to speak so I squeeze his shoulder gently before I sit back down.
I watch Bella. The silence is comfortable again. Bit by bit the painful compressing sensation in my throat loosens. I glance at Charlie. He's leaning forward, hunched over the Kleenex box, a tissue grasped in his hands as he stares at Bella. His cheeks are wet.
I cough a couple of times and clear my throat, trying to relax my tight muscles so that I can speak. "Do you have any family or friends that we could call? That could come be here with you?" I ask, my voice gentle.
His red-rimmed eyes meet mine. "No. Everyone's out in Washington. We just moved here. Recently."
And that explains a lot. Answers so many questions I had.
He has no one.
I don't know what to say so I just sit. And think. And consider what this means for this man. How he's going to have to shoulder all of this on his own. How he's going to have to bury his son…
Will he bury him in Washington? Or Chicago?
Does he have money for burial expenses?
It doesn't matter if he has the money or not, I'm going to pay for it. I'll get with the hospital and have them set up a fund for the family. That way it can be anonymous.
Charlie interrupts my thoughts by barking out a non-humorous laugh. I look at him.
"Do you know why this happened?" His voice is angry as he waves his hand towards Bella. "Do you know why she's laying there like that? Because of popsicles. A box of damn popsicles."
I frown. I have no idea what he is ranting about. "Popsicles?" I repeat.
He stands up, pulling his chair next to Bella and picks up her hand. His focus is on her as he begins speaking. "She texted me last night. While I was at work. Seth woke up and wanted a popsicle. We were out of them. He died because of a popsicle."
I'm vaguely aware of a sob coming from him as the walls of the room begin to close in on me, threatening to crush me. My stomach lurches as my heart plummets, falling, spiraling downward. I have to get out of here. I can't breathe. I'm gonna be sick.
The door opens and Mike walks in. Dr. Newton. I stand, desperate to run.
Mike's face shows a flash of confusion. "Hey, Edward," he says.
Mike's a great guy and doctor, but I don't even acknowledge him. Because I have to leave. "I'll be back," I mutter in a choked voice to Charlie.
"You can stay," he offers. There's a wisp of hopefulness in his tone as he wipes his eyes with a tissue.
"Phone call." I can barely get the words out over the rushing sounds of my heart.
I don't wait for him to respond. I race towards the door past Mike as I begin to gulp for air. Stumbling slightly in the hallway, I bolt for the restroom. Once inside, my hand trembles as I lock the door then slide down the wall, my knees to my chest as everything inside of me crumbles. Topples to the ground. A sob tears from my chest as every emotion that I've been trying to keep harnessed in front of Charlie, wrestles away from my grasp and breaks free.
I sob for that disabled boy that died because of a popsicle.
I cry for that lovely woman who lays in a coma.
And I weep for that broken man in the other room who has lost everything.
Slowly, I stand and try to get myself put back together. The water is cool on my warm face as I splash some on it, making sure not to touch the bandage on my forehead and try to slick my hair down a bit. I stare at my reflection as I dry my face with some paper towels. I'm a mess. At least I look how I feel.
Cracking the door, I look down the hallway because I don't want anyone to see me like this and ask questions. I see Maria so I close the door and wait. I pull out my phone. I haven't heard from Rose, which is unusual, so I type out a text to her.
How's work? I miss you. –E
Within moments, I get a response.
A bitch, as usual. I'm leaving early. –R
Want me to pick up dinner? –E
Yeah. Get those sandwiches from the deli. I'll be home in an hour –R
Slipping my phone back in my pocket, I check the hallway again. It's empty so I slip out and walk back to Bella's room. I tap lightly on the closed door.
"Come in," I hear Charlie's voice say.
I open the door. He's still at Bella's side, holding her hand. We lock eyes for a moment before I look down and make my way to the chair beside him.
We sit quietly. I watch Bella's face, watch her eyelids flutter. After a while, he clears his throat and looks at me. "A neurologist is supposed to come by."
I nod at him. He nods and looks back at Bella.
Rose will be home soon so I'm going to have to leave. But I don't want to. I have no desire to go. I don't want to leave Charlie here alone. But I have no choice.
"Uh, I'm going to have to leave. I need to get home."
He lays Bella's hand down gently and stands. I match his movements and grab my coat, slipping it on. "Thanks for staying with me. You didn't have to do that. I really appreciate it," he says as he holds his hand out.
I give him a small smile as I shake his hand. "I'll come back and check on you two. I have tomorrow off, but I'll be back on the night shift the day after."
He gives me a small smile. And I leave the room.
I'm exhausted by the time I get home. Rose and I sit on the couch, eating our sandwiches as she tells me about her day at work. I'm cleaning up the wrappers when she asks, "So, what were you wanting to talk to me about?" She stretches out, sneaking her feet under my arm and into my lap. I toss the wrappers in the bag, leaving it on the coffee table and scoot back, my hands settling on her feet.
"It's about the accident," I start, feeling a nervous uneasiness hovering over me as I stare at her.
I drag in a deep breath, turning my head away from her so I can keep my eyes somewhere else. They end up on the flat-screen. "When I left the hospital, I wasn't feeling well. I remember being so tired… I actually dozed off once, but caught myself."
I look at her. She sits up, tucking her feet underneath her. I look back at the flat-screen. "The next thing I remember is waking up to an airbag in my face. There was a truck overturned. When I got to them, there was a younger man in the passenger seat. I checked his pulse and…" I look at her again and she's watching my face so closely. So intently. I swallow then shake my head slightly. Her face pales, her eyes widen as a startled gasp escapes her lips. She covers her mouth with both hands.
My gaze drops to the coffee table. "I was able to get the woman out of the driver's side. She was alive but in bad shape. I had to perform a tracheotomy at the scene."
When I glance at her again, her eyes are huge, her chest is heaving as she continues to stare at me. I drop my gaze back to the coffee table as I let her absorb my words for a moment.
I clear my throat. "When I talked to the police at the hospital, they told me there would be an investigation into the accident. But it could take months… before we know exactly what happened."
She grabs my hand. "What does this mean?"
"I don't know," I say as I entwine my fingers with hers.
She leans closer to me. "Do you… Did you fall asleep?" she whispers.
I bite the inside of my jaw as my eyes study her face for a moment before I slowly nod, dropping my eyes again.
She releases my hand, and she's quiet for the longest time. I can see her out of my peripheral vision - she's staring off to the side as if deep in thought. She turns toward me and finally speaks. "Why didn't you tell me anything about this last night?" she asks. And it's the question I still don't have an answer for.
"I was really tired-"
"I can't believe you didn't talk to me about this. You couldn't have stayed around here long enough this morning to tell me? You didn't think this was important enough?"
She's absolutely right. "I don't know. I should have told you."
"That's right, you should have damn well told me. Do you know how serious this is? Goddamn it, Edward! You could get sent to jail for this, do you know that? Have you called an attorney?"
I shake my head.
She jumps off the couch. "I'm calling daddy. He'll know what to do."
I stalk after her. "I don't want you calling him. This is none of his business. This is my business."
She whirls around, her face livid. "We are engaged so that makes it my business as well. And I'm not going to sit by and let someone take my husband away from me." She turns and snatches her phone off the counter.
"Don't." My tone stops her dead in her tracks.
She stares at me, her eyes narrowing. "What is wrong with you? Why won't you call an attorney? Do you want to go to jail?" Her last question isn't meant to be a question at all. It's meant to be a threat.
But I have an answer.
And I know she sees it.
It's there, in my eyes. The answer that I want to lay hidden away in the shadows.
"I can't deal with this," she mumbles as she grabs her bag. "I'll be back later." And within moments, the door slams behind her. I let her leave. I don't go after her. I don't stop her.
Wearily, I sink down onto the couch. Leaning my head back, I close my eyes and sigh. Rose just needs time to cool off. She's angry at me as she should be. But I know she reacted like that because she's hurt. Hurt that I didn't talk to her. And I take full responsibility for that. I was wrong. I should have stayed this morning and done exactly that. And I'm angry with myself that I didn't.
Rose loves me, and I know she's scared. Of course she doesn't want to see me go to jail. And for a moment, I wonder if she sees my not retaining a lawyer as a selfish act. Because it's not, in my eyes. If I'm at fault and there is any punishment involved, I will take it. Without question.
Charlie crosses my mind. And I realize that I'm doing the same thing to him that I did to Rose. Keeping information from him. I'm doing it all over again. And I don't know why.
I'm going to make this right before it's too late.
I drive back to the hospital. It's dark outside, which makes it that much more difficult on me. But I somehow get through it.
As I take the stairs, I think about what I'm going to say. But I give up when I realize there isn't going to be any easy way to do this. I'm just going to have to say what comes to my mind. Keep it real. Keep it honest.
Tapping lightly on Bella's door again, I open it. Charlie's in the same spot, next to Bella. Our eyes meet, and he doesn't move. I don't sit down beside him. Instead, I move to the other side of Bella's bed opposite him. I shove my hands into my coat pockets and clear my throat. His dark eyes watch me, carefully.
I pull in a deep breath. "I have something I need to tell you."
He stares at me, his face void of any expression. It's as if I've not uttered a word because he doesn't acknowledge me in any way. His eyes move to the bandage on my forehead, then back to my eyes. I frown, unsure of what to make of it when he speaks, saying another small sentence consisting of three tiny words that rattles me to my core.
"I already know."
A/N: Edward's got a mess on his hands, doesn't he? And poor Charlie. *sob* So how did he find out that Edward was in the accident?
Please review? Your words inspire me. ;)