CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: SECRETS

The Town

Before


I am lost. I am cold. I am alone.

Bella has never once locked me out of the house. It's not in her nature. I hate what I have turned her into.

I slide down the door into a heap of defeat instead of knocking. Hands in my hair, I want to blow this house to the ground.

My fingers start to go numb and my whole body shakes, from the cold or this reality, I'm not sure. Slumped against the door, I am the blue-eyed man. I don't want to be him.

I can't stay here on this splintered wood all night. I need to tell her what happened. I need to beg her forgiveness. I need too many things.

I'm on my feet and down the porch steps, running around to the back of the house. She always leaves the window cracked open after doing the dishes. Standing on the spigot for the garden hose, I pry the screen off the kitchen window above the sink and let it fall to the dirt.

After several failed attempts, I'm in the kitchen, battered and bruised.

The house is dark and all I want to do is go to her. I want her to wrap me up in her warmth and promise me that everything will be fine.

I take the stairs slowly and purposefully, convinced that the door to our bedroom is locked too.

One hand on the old wood, the other on the doorknob, I don't dare turn it. Flashes of the blue-eyed man linger behind my eyes and refuse to leave.

I close my eyes and hold my breath as I turn the knob. It doesn't catch and the relief is paralyzing. I hold the door knob perfectly still until I can't stand it any longer.

I open the door just a crack, enough to see her asleep in our bed, the side of her face covered in shadows. Even with the creak of the worn out hinges she doesn't wake, her features limp and innocent as she sleeps on her stomach.

And I just stare at her for the longest time because I can't believe she married me and she's still here.

I kick off my shoes and then my pants before crawling into bed. She still doesn't stir, breathing peacefully against her pillow. I bring my face right up to hers without actually touching her.

I watch her as she starts to fidget in her sleep before she abruptly turns away from me. I'm no longer sure if she's asleep or awake. Either way, she turned away from me when all I want is for her to pull me close. I know I don't deserve it, but I have made a life on wanting things I do not deserve.

Staring up at the ceiling, I want to be better. I want to do better. I ignore the pills that are calling me from the bathroom and eventually sleep shows me some mercy.

I wake in a cold sweat, my hands searching for my wife. She's not here. Her side of the bed is cold. The wrinkled sheets are the only proof I have that she was here at all.

I rub the sleep from my eyes and make my way downstairs, expecting to find her with a cup of coffee and the morning paper.

There is a note instead.

I went to the beach to clear my head. Bella.

I run my fingers over her handwriting, wishing that I could follow her. I could take a cab or a bus. But she didn't say which beach. She wants to be alone.

I stare at her name. And the way she signed it. Like I wouldn't know who wrote the note. Like she's not the only person in my life.

I resist the urge to crumple the paper and throw it.

I spend the day prying up the old baseboards that she wants to replace in our bedroom. There must be hundreds of nails.

An hour of manual labor and I need something to take the edge off. I dig through my hiding place in the bathroom and swallow just one.

My phone buzzes from the bedroom. I swallow another.

I check my phone before I have a chance to imagine all of the things that the text might say.

I'll be back in the morning.

She'll be back. In the morning.

The thought of sleeping alone for the first time in forever makes me want to swallow more than a couple of pills. I throw my phone, but the sound of it hitting the wall doesn't take any of it away.

I sit on the porch, staring at the driveway. The crows have flocked to the tree in our yard, filling the air with their screaming. They are so black that I can't see their eyes or their feathers. I hate them.

"What do you want?" I scream. They only shout louder, flapping their wings without taking flight. As soon as the sun is down, they disappear into the night.

I toss and turn in our huge bed, her absence consuming every bit of me. I have dreams of drowning in the ocean, being pulled under by the giant waves.

I wake with a pounding headache. My entire body aches, but nothing hurts more than waking up alone. I'll be back in the morning.

I lie in bed, looking up at the ceiling. I wonder where she went. Where she slept. If she'll ever sleep in this bed again.

I need just one pill to get me through.

I walk to the bathroom, every step echoing in this drafty house. And then I hear a noise from downstairs and I freeze. She's here. She's home.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look like shit. I pull the drawer open, but I don't look. I just stand there with my hand on the loose knob, staring at myself. I close it abruptly and leave the bathroom before I change my mind.

Standing at the top of the stairs, I can see her sitting at the kitchen table with her back to me. I walk down the stairs slowly, so relieved that she's here and so afraid of what she's going to say to me.

Her hands lie flat on the newspaper, framing the headline.

Homeless man found dead behind Third Street Bakery

I watch the side of her face as the tears start to spill. I watch her features crumple and fold. She startles when my hand touches her shoulder. And it almost breaks me.

Her eyes rimmed with red, she looks up at me, and it's too big of a burden to bear. Her voice is barely a whisper. "His name was Carl. I used to buy him a loaf of bread when I'd see him. The sourdough was his favorite."

The sourdough.

It's the first thing she's said to me since I walked out the front door two nights ago. The sourdough was his favorite.

It's the first thing she's said and I hate him.

I hate myself more.

She brushes the tears away before standing, her eyes filled with an apology that I don't deserve.

"Please don't cry."

I don't ask here where she slept or who she was with even though not knowing is eating me alive.

"Bella, I have a problem," I blurt out.

She nods. She thinks she understands but she doesn't understand. I am not the husband who drinks too much on weekends and should stay away from hard liquor. I am so much worse than the man she sees.

"I was thinking a twelve step program. I can go with you if you want," she tries to reassure me.

I shake my head because the words in my mind sound too stupid.

"There's no shame in getting help." She looks so sad, but so hopeful.

She keeps talking but I don't hear her.

I don't know how to do this, so I just blurt it out. "Bella, I'm having a problem with some pills."

She flinches at the word pills, like it's poisonous. "What pills?"

"The ones for my back injury." I can no longer look at her. The seconds tick past and I'm glad I don't have to see her face.

"Edward, that was ages ago. You said your back was fine. Your prescription ran out years ago..."

"I know."

She reaches out and grabs my chin, like a mother does to her child. She wants my eyes and I know that I owe her that much. She is looking for the truth and she doesn't believe what she sees standing in front of her.

I wait and I wait for her to walk right out that door.

See me. Save me. Please.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she asks, her voice crushed beyond recognition.

I'm sorry.

"Edward, why?"

"I didn't know how. I thought you would leave if you ever found out. I thought you would leave."

"Is that what you want?" she asks, wide-eyed.

"Bella..."

"You're my husband, Edward."

"I don't know what that means."

"I know," she tells me. She knows.

"I'm going to stop. I'm stopping today."

"You should call your doctor."

"Bella, I can do this," I promise her.

She won't stop touching me. Like I'm her sick child. "How often have you been taking them?"

"I don't know. But I'm stopping. I promise."

"Don't lie to me."

"I'm not." I'm not.

She bursts into tears and I don't know what to do. So I hold on to her as tight as I can. Like I'm squeezing the life out of her. It only makes her cry harder. I start frantically kissing her face even though it's probably the exact wrong thing to do.

"I feel like I don't know you," she whimpers.

"You know me, Bella."

"Do I?"

"You know me."

I kiss her mouth. I expect her not to kiss me back but she does. She kisses me back and it's too desperate to make either of us feel better.

"I'm sorry," I tell her again.

We find ourselves sitting on the floor of the dining room. The wallpaper peeling all around us.

She makes breakfast and even though I have no appetite, I eat everything on my plate. The photo of the blue-eyed man on the front page of the newspaper stares at me. I want to rip his face in half.

My mind is filled with warring thoughts. I want to laugh and cry and scream.

The crows are back, screaming and yelling among the branches. I wish I had a shotgun.

I can hear Bella upstairs, rifling through the drawers in the bathroom. My heart feels like it's going to stop beating any moment. I should tell her about all seven of my hiding places. I should tell her.

But they're mostly empty anyway.

The toilet flushes and I can hear it through the whole house. If only sins could be flushed away. I feel the rage building up inside of me, taking over my thoughts. I make a mental catalog of every last pill in this house.

The pipes go quiet, and there is no longer any noise from upstairs. Everything is silent except for the crows. I leave her alone. Until I can't anymore.

The door to our bedroom is open. She sits at the edge of our bed and I can tell something is wrong the second I see her. Something is about to rip me open.

I kneel down in front of her, hands on her hands.

"What is it?"

"I know the timing is probably terrible," she says to her hands, like I'm not even in the room.

"Bella, what's going on?"

"I have a secret too." The corner of her mouth curls up. "I think I'm pregnant."

No. My hands shake and I wish I could shove the words back in her mouth.

"You're not," I dismiss her cruelly.

"You don't know that."

I do know.

I don't know how to do this to her. But it's already been done.

I watch her face. Her eyes lock with mine and she thinks I'm trying to take it in. She's smiling and I don't want to be touching her anymore.

I am up and pacing, hands pulling at my hair, and my heart won't stop pounding away.

Everything fucking hurts and I need one of those pills. I need more than one.

"Edward, I'm pregnant."

It's only now that I notice her hands and the way they are covering her stomach protectively.

"Bella, we've been through this before. We've been right here."

With a look of desperation, she clings to the fabric of her sweater. "I know but this is different. I can tell this time."

"You're not pregnant," I insist.

She doesn't speak for a moment, her eyes turning cold. "You're wrong. I am."

"You're not."

"You don't know that!" She shrieks at me, the thunder in my chest getting louder.

"I got a vasectomy alright?" I spit at her.

She shakes her head a little, a disbelieving scowl forming on her face. "You what?" she whispers.

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?"

"I didn't know how to tell you."

I tell her this truth for the first time. There is no going back. I have taken it all away from her. I have taken everything. Her eyes are hell on earth and they will never forgive.

There is so much that I want to say. So much more than this confession. But I can no longer force myself to speak.

I couldn't tell you. I couldn't be who you wanted me to be. I couldn't say no. I couldn't break you. I couldn't be more than this man.

Her face is in her hands and I hate what I've done.

She stood by me when I told her a different truth. She has to stand by me through this one too. She has to.

Sitting in the center of our bed with her knees up to her chest, her sobs fill the room. I want to pry her fingers off of her eyes and force her to look at me. But I can't move. I can't fucking move.

Her cries turn to screams and I'm the reason. I am her hurt and her rage.

And although she is perfect, even in her anger, I can't survive knowing that her pain is because of me.


-HL-