"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer." Ernest Hemingway
In spite of myself, I'm still thinking about Jacob's enthusiasm for Edward and Isabella's story—novel, I guess—as I drive across town a week later.
With the wiper blades swishing and squeaking their steady rhythm, my mind is ticking over, wondering if I could do it—if I could share this story with the general public.
My initial reaction is born of the twisting and fluttering in my stomach, the strange nervousness that comes with thinking about anyone reading a story that is so close to me, that is so intensely personal. In fact, it's so personal that I wonder if it's even of any value to anyone else. What could a reader possibly gain from it?
I'm tapping my fingers on the wheel, waiting for the red light to become green, when I realize I'm traveling behind an ambulance. I smile at the symbol painted—or stickered or however they put it there these days—on the back.
My gaze traces the curvy snake twisting around its rod, my smile slips into a frown, as facts and figures regarding childhood cancer, and child protection legislation, policies and services, and information about dealing with grief and bereavement, all begin to tumble through my mind.
Maybe there is some value to this novel.
I remember Edward's words when I baulked at writing Garrett's death. He said, "The people who read your books, they know that pain. They do. All too intimately. And that's why you have to—why you need to write this."
Even then, was there some part of me that was preparing to share it? If I'd written this story solely for myself, then surely it wouldn't matter whether people could relate to it, whether they were familiar with grief and loss, whether they could empathize with Peter, Edward and Isabella.
Still, I recoil against the idea of anyone reading so much of it, of having that much access to something so intimate, so painfully private.
But obviously, on some level, my subconscious was preparing me to share it.
How, though? Should I rewrite it? Change the names? Cut out some of the scenes that I hold too close?
I shake my head, trying to slow the wild oscillation of my thoughts. I know I'm never completely objective about my writing, even about any of the novels I write with the intention of publishing. Even in the stories I intend to share, I know there are parts of me hidden in the words. But this one, a story I've lived?
Jacob is objective. Sort of. He knows good writing, and he knows what will sell, and he knows those things don't necessarily go hand in hand. But if he wants it—maybe there's something in it that will resonate with people.
I'm no closer to making a decision when I pull into my driveway, my car loaded with groceries. And perhaps the fact I haven't already disregarded the idea, told Jacob "thanks, but no thanks," is telling enough.
After a few weeks of constant rain, the downpour eases and then dries up, but the overcast weather lingers yet, grey clouds smothering the sky in this usually sunny corner of the world.
I'm standing on the beach in the early morning, a few weeks before my parents are due to fly out of state. The occasional shiver crawls up my spine when a gust of wind wraps around me. The ocean's breath has become bitter and cold, and I'm missing the warmth of Edward's presence.
"I miss you." I say it out loud, but he doesn't answer. The cruel breeze laughs across the sand, needling me. I won't find him here, in this cold, grey place. I can't even imagine him, hands in pockets, hood up against the wind.
He was always with me in the sun.
I scowl up at the clouds, the dark smudges that insulate the earth. I can see the slightest lightening in the gloom of the eastern sky. That's where the sun is, where it should be pushing through, heralding the morning, warming my skin and returning Edward to me.
Desperation drives me, and I run back up the beach and into the house, unconcerned by the sand spilling across the floors with each step I take. I grab up my keys and wallet and hurl myself into my car.
I hit the road, heading south, chasing warmer weather and bluer skies.
The sun starts to peek out from behind her curtain of clouds on the other side of Los Angeles, and by the time I've passed Anaheim, she's burned them away—the sky is a bright, sapphire blue. Windows down, the breeze pours into the car, whipping my hair around. I push it out of my face, grinning as I feel the rays beginning to warm my face and arms.
Sunglasses on, the coast flashes past as I keep going. Just a little farther, I think. I'm so convinced he will come to me at any moment. I can feel my left arm burning as my elbow rests on the windowsill, and I'm sure the heat of his kisses and the breezy whisper of his voice will find me soon.
I'm rapidly approaching the Mexican border when I finally admit the truth to myself.
He is gone.
He won't come back. No matter how far south I drive, no matter how bright the sun shines, no matter how warm my skin burns. He promised to stay until the last word was written, and he did. I wrote us our happily ever after, I told our tale.
The story is finished, and I'm staring at the back cover.
Instead of making a U-turn and heading home, I pull off the I-5, taking the exit for La Jolla. Disappointment seeps through me, icy cold, chasing away my just-found warmth.
After traveling at highway speeds, it feels like I'm crawling as I follow the roads through the affluent suburb, heading for the sea. At Windensea Beach, I park and climb out of the car, making my way down onto the sand.
It's cooler here, the sun is bright but the breeze is stiff and the surf is rough. Spray from the pounding waves is whipped across the beach by the wind. Digging my toes into the sand, I shiver a little as I watch the ocean crash against the shore.
"He's gone." I say it out loud, as if giving it voice will make it easier to accept.
My mind tumbles around, like a surfer thrown from a wave trying to find the surface.
He's gone. But was he ever really here?
I start to pace the length of the beach, partly in an effort to keep warm, partly in response to the questions that are unsettling me. My hair tangles around me as the wind torments and teases. I check my wrists for a hair tie, but come up empty. I sigh and stop fighting it, letting the wind blow the strands where it will, and refocusing my thoughts.
Edward wasn't real. I let myself indulge in the fantasy. I let my imaginary love affair consume me, for a time. But now that story has been told. The End. Happily Ever After. And they rode off into the sunset together.
An intricately imagined love affair.
I shake my head, my eyes drifting across the sea, watching the wind blow curls of white foam across its surface.
Why did it feel so real, when it was all in my head?
The beach seems to tilt, the ground beneath me shifting as a long-ago-read scene slams into my mind.
I think of Harry and Dumbledore standing in Kings Cross Station, and Harry asking a most definitely dead Dumbledore if their strange conversation was real or only happening in his head. The old wizard's answer rings in my ears, like he's speaking beside me.
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
I don't realize I've tripped until I feel the sand under my knees and a seashell digging into the palm of my left hand. I breathe deep, flexing my fingers, digging the tips into the grains for a moment, before I stand up again, shaking my head like one who has spent too long underwater.
I turn on my heel and start to walk back the way I came. The wind is now rushing at me head-on, sweeping my hair behind me and misting salt water across my face.
It happened only in my head, but why should that mean it wasn't—in some sense—real?
Edward was not real. He was neither corporeal, nor was he some spirit or spectre haunting me. But something of him really existed in my imagination, and it has had a real, measurable impact on me. This relationship, this affair of the mind, it was fictitious—but his fingerprints are all over me. I can feel their imprint on my soul.
I think about the haughty words I spoke to Eric a few months ago. I was paraphrasing Morgan, who said, "A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face."
In the words of my story—Isabella and Edward's, both on and off the page—I have been able to examine not just ideas and thoughts, but myself.
In many ways, before him, I was still a child. I was being carried along the easy currents of life, I'd never been forced to deal with hardship, loss, or grief—my own or anyone else's. My life was sheltered and easy, and it made me complacent and selfish.
Drawing level with where my car is parked, I walk back up the beach a little, away from the water's edge. Sitting down, legs crossed, I pick up a handful of soft, dry sand, and let it trickle out between my fingers.
As I watch the sea rage, tossing jagged beams of light of its choppy surface, understanding and contentment steal over me. I don't notice until they've settled in my veins, spreading through me like the antidote to emptiness' poison.
I'm okay without him.
The sun is sinking below the horizon, casting red and purple light across the western sky. My hands sit at ten and two on the steering wheel, and Angus and Julia are crooning softly, just audible over the steady hum of the engine.
One final piece of understanding fits into place, and seeing the complete picture causes my breath to catch in my throat and my knuckles to whiten as they grip the wheel.
Yes, Edward was a figment of my imagination. A peculiar manifestation of my subconscious, a vehicle that allowed me to explore and grow, without getting my heart broken. Our relationship gave me comfort and strength, it challenged me, it taught me to compromise, it forced me to face some of the scariest and hardest questions life will throw at me. But ultimately, he was a part of me.
And just as he never truly existed, he is not really gone.
He was—is—a part of me.
With Edward, I felt whole and complete. But that wholeness, that completion, that wasn't because of him. The relationship we had was not a Jerry Maguire "You complete me" kind of deal. And if that's the case, then I do not lack something without him. I do not lack something without another person.
The warmth of sunshine on my skin, the blue-green of the sea on a clear day, the gentle whisper of the summer breeze—these things will always remind me of Edward. They'll bring the comfort, the secure feeling of being loved. But I don't need him—or anyone else.
I am complete without a complement.
"No fucking way. Your Mom made these?"
I shrug, smiling. "Yeah, she did. She made this as well." I hold out my arms to show her the cardigan I'm wearing.
"That's epic, Bea. Tell her thanks so much." She holds up the little booties and beanie, then spreads the little sweater over her belly. Her smile is huge and a little sappy, and I know she's imagining their peanut wearing the knitted clothes.
"I will. She'll be really glad you like them."
"When do your folks leave?"
"Uh, two weeks, I think."
Em nods. "Your Mom giving you a hard time still?"
"Ugh, she's driving me fu– uh, freaking crazy." I giggle as I correct myself—Liam has been chastising both Emily and me for our foul language, which he claims their baby can hear and will learn.
Em waves me off, rolling her eyes towards the kitchen where Liam is fixing the tacos she started demanding ten minutes ago. "Why's that? She just jonesing for grandkids?" She looks between the tiny clothes and me.
"That, too. But–" I run my fingers through the bangs I'm still not used to, straightening them over my forehead "–she ran into Jasper somewhere, and he and Alice have broken up."
"So, she's all, 'You guys were so good together,' and 'Maybe you should just give him a call—see that he's doing okay.'"
"Subtle." Em rubs her stomach and burps loudly. "Sorry. So, did you tell her to shove it?"
I sigh. "No, I just told her I didn't think I had anything to say to him."
Emily looks at me closely, one hand still circling her belly, which occasionally jerks visibly as their baby kicks or punches or turns a freaking somersault. "So you don't, you know – I mean, there's no what ifs for you?"
I pause, considering. "Actually, no. None. I mean, it's starting to occur to me that even though he wanted kids, and I wasn't ready for them, in many ways he's still really immature. And I – I guess I wasn't particularly mature either, when we were together. We just couldn't—wouldn't—compromise. I wanted him to understand how important writing was to me, he wanted my attention, and neither of us would budge."
"And you think you've changed?" I know from Em's tone that she doesn't doubt me, she's just trying to understand.
I twist my fingers together, and my small smile can't be suppressed. "I've just been thinking about relationships a lot—for a story, you know?"
"I don't know, I guess … to write it, I've been thinking a lot about what a healthy, mature relationship looks like. Compromise and good communication, and what it means to support someone you love through difficult times—what it meant to juggle work and family and friendships."
Em frowns, tipping her head as she looks at me. "You think you can learn stuff through writing? I mean – I'm not trying to be a bitch … just, writing something – it's different from living it."
"No, I understand." I lean forward and pat her knee, chuckling as her belly shakes with her baby's tumbling. "And yeah, of course it's not the same. But, yeah, I do think I learn through writing – same as I learn through reading, you know?"
Edward let me explore questions and aspects of life that I either hadn't encountered or was too insecure to really address. He provided a way I could navigate those questions, and learn without getting my heart broken. He gave me a safe place to explore relationships, and loss and suffering and pain. Hell, I even know more about what I like sexually than I did when I had a man in my bed every night.
Emily pulls my thoughts away from Edward. "What – like researching and stuff?"
"That, too. But I mean, when you read a novel … you meet all these characters, right? And their experience isn't yours – well, sometimes it is, but often it's not. But books—film, art, whatever—they let you see different worlds, different viewpoints, different understandings, yes? You empathize with characters, even though you don't necessarily know what they're going through. You're – I guess, it opens your mind."
I shake my head, tucking my hair behind my ear. "I mean, that's why we write and make films and paint and write poetry, isn't it? Because we've got something to say, a story to tell? We want to express it, we want people to understand us …" I shrug. "I don't know. I'm probably not making sense."
"No, I think I get you. I mean, it's not the same as living it. But I get it. I've read stuff and yeah, it's opened my mind. I think. Like, uh, To Kill a Mockingbird, or that one – something about a dog at nighttime–"
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time?"
She nods. "Yeah, that one."
"Right. So, yeah, those are books that have a big impact on a lot of people. But then, there are others where the impact is more – subtle, maybe. Maybe it's unconscious, even. A minor character that you see yourself in, a piece of advice you've been given. Or, I guess, it can be as simple as one sentence that makes you look at a sunset differently."
"And that happens when you're writing?"
"Kind of. The characters I write—they don't always do what I would do, or think the way I would. Often, they … they take on this peculiar life of their own and they direct the action where they will it. And that forces me to look at things through their eyes–"
Emily smiles. "Is that weird? Writing a character doing something that you're thinking 'Don't do it!' about. Or having to write something you don't actually agree with."
I frown. "I don't – not weird, no. It often catches me by surprise, though. I read back over something and it's like … where did that come from? I mean, I wrote it, didn't I? So, those words came from somewhere inside me." I reach for my half-empty beer. Em pouts while she watches me drink it, and I chuckle as I set it back on the coffee table. "Self-reflection is always a good thing, you know?"
We sit in easy-silence for a few moments.
"Why was I talking about this?"
Em squints, trying to look back through our conversation to its start. "Um … Jasper. Your Mom."
"Right." Tugging the sleeves of my sweater over my hands, I fold my arms. "Oh. Yeah, so anyway. I think, with this latest story I've been writing, I've had to think a lot about how relationships should work. And, yeah – I think it's changed me."
Em considers me, looking at me closely like she might be able to see the changes I'm talking about. "You seem happier. Lighter."
I raise my eyebrows, smirking at her.
She rolls her eyes. "Not like that, dummy."
I giggle. "I know. I feel it, too."
"And you don't think Jasper might have changed, too?"
"He might have." I shrug. "But that chapter of my life is finished." And so is Edward's.
"That's fair enough. You'll find someone. You're still young."
"Bea–" She breaks off, her brow creased, her blue eyes shining with concern.
I smile to reassure her. "It's – I might, of course. Hell, I probably will. But I've just been thinking, you know … I don't need a significant other–"
"Of course you don't." Em tugs on the ends of my hair. They're other. You don't need to define yourself by whether or not there's someone significant in your life."
"This is what I've realized. Mom is so concerned about me ending up alone, left on the shelf or whatever. But … even if I do–" I raise a hand when Em opens her mouth. "Even if I do—I'm not saying I will. But even if I do—I have good friends and family. I'm not … less. I'm not deficient on my own."
She snorts. "Well, duh." She smiles, her finger still curled around the lengths of my hair. "Bea, I love Liam with everything I am and everything I have. But do I need him? Can I exist without him? I'd rather not. I mean, I pray that I'll never have to. But I could."
I nod, smiling as the man in question walks back into their living room, bearing a tray of tacos.
Emily squirms her heavy body until she's sitting upright, her smile fading slightly when she sees the bottle of lemonade beside the two beers. "Fuckers. That's so not fair." She sighs and addresses her belly. "Time for you to get outta there. Momma's stinging for a beer."
It's nearing twilight when I leave Em and Liam's, walking home by way of the beach. The sand is cool and smooth under my toes, and the waves are quiet as they tug at the shoreline. Lavender and gold light dances on the smooth surface of the ocean, and even the distant screech of seagulls seems beautiful.
I pause, watching as a purple-pink cloud slides across the edge of the sky, blinking as the sun blinds me momentarily. Another cloud moves across the horizon, hiding the sun's face, taking the light with it. The warmth, however, remains on my skin, the heat of a lingering kiss pressed to my forehead.
With a smile on my lips, and a light that could match the sun's shining inside me, warming my heart, my eyes drop to the sand. I watch the steady progress of my feet as I make my way home, my footprints disappearing into the hundreds of other paths stamped onto the shore.
... ... ...
A/N: I really have no idea what to say right now ...
But thank you. Thank you, all of you, for reading and reviewing and tweeting and PMing and following and favouriting and gosh. Thank you.
MissWinkles, dreaminginnorweigen, moirae, IReenH, Pagly - thank you for the WCs and the pretty words and the laughs and the support. You all amaze and inspire me, constantly.
Tam, you were there when I said "I'm going to write a story about a writer who falls in love with one of her own characters," and you were still with me when I asked you if Americans have Plasticine, and said "omg. You know what this means? It's done." Thank you, loveliest love. Thank you.
Love, Shell x