Thanks be to EBT and MrsSpaceCowboy for pre-reading.
Bella's health deteriorated over the next couple of days. Despite her inability to get out of bed or stay awake for more than three or four hours at a time, her spirit remained positive. She smiled and tried to laugh, not wanting her family to know the pain running through her body at all times.
But Edward knew his wife, the love of his life. He could see the effort she put in to keep their children from watching their mother live her last moments in pain.
On that fateful day, Rosalie had the sudden need to go to church, and Emmett went along to support his wife. Maria was all smiles and giggles as she played with her Aunt Angela while Jasper stayed in bed with Alice as she cried until she couldn't cry anymore.
And so, Edward and Bella were finally alone, pressed as close together as they could be in Bella's hospital bed. Facing each other and holding on to each other in more ways than simply physical, Edward stared at his wife, memorizing her beautiful face again.
"Do you remember the first time I told you I loved you?"
The smile on Bella's face was blinding and absent of any trace of what she knew was merely hours away.
"Everybody remembers the first time you told me you loved me," she laughed.
Edward and Bella had been inseparable for months. They studied together during the weekdays and went out on dates on the weekends. Charlie and Bella had dinner with Edward's family a couple of times, relishing in Esme's home-cooking, and Edward would sometimes stay to have pizza or Chinese with Charlie and Bella after one of their study dates.
Neither Bella nor Edward was ever seen without a smile. That was the effect that they had on each other. And because they kept their promises to remain honor roll students and maintain a balance with family and friends, Esme, Carlisle, and Charlie couldn't help but smile and be grateful that their children were so happy.
"I wanted so badly to tell you," Edward smiled. "But I needed to do something that would make you realize how serious I was."
"That's an understatement," she smiled, thinking back.
Bella had no idea that Edward had been named Drum Major for that year's Homecoming. So when the band took the field for the game's halftime show, she was surprised and fiercely proud that her boyfriend was leading the way. She watched as the band members marched around the field and created shapes and designs as they played their instruments. Bella stood and clapped and cheered as the band, still in formation, took a bow once the performance was over… until they suddenly scrambled their individual positions and everyone found themselves reading "I (heart shape) U." It wasn't until Edward took the microphone meant to announce the Homecoming court that Bella realized the message was intended for her. Edward's confident "I love you, Bella Swan!" was heard throughout the bleachers, causing everyone to cheer and clap, and those who knew Bella turned to look at her in time to witness her blush and smile.
They spent an hour after Homecoming in the back of Esme's borrowed car, kissing and groping and admitting their love for each other over and over.
"We were the talk of the school for a while," she smiled.
"I was so popular," he laughed. "I had braces, wore glasses, and was still letting mom dress me, but I was the most popular guy in school for weeks. It was amazing. And it was all because of you."
Edward looked over his wife's face, taking in every line and wrinkle, and fell in love with her all over again. Because while he knew that other men his age would choose to ogle a woman too young to possess those characteristics, Edward would forever remember the laughter that caused the lines around her mouth, the work and love her hands performed to cause the wrinkles there, and the thirty plus years together as Mr. and Mrs. Edward and Isabella Cullen that went on to create the few gray hairs on her head.
"I knew there was nobody else for me. I had to tell the world. Everything about loving you made me want to bust. Still does. It's the greatest feeling I've ever known."
She cupped his cheek and looked into his tearful eyes.
"I don't know how to be without you."
"You're going to be fine," she replied, wiping his tears with her thumb. "You're the best man I've ever known. Our babies are happy people, because you taught them to never settle for less than what they were worth. Jasper and Emmett love them so much and so well, because they had you as their example. Our family is special and beautiful because of how strong and amazing and loving you are, Edward. You're going to be just fine."
"You're the only thing I know," he whispered before breaking into sobs.
Edward pulled her into him, holding on as tightly as he could without causing her more pain.
"The despair in my soul at the thought that I won't be able to wake up next to you ever again is more than I can stand, Bella," he cried.
Edward had more to say to say to his wife and best friend, much more. But the significance of the moment he was having with Bella overwhelmed him.
Or maybe it was because no words existed to fully express how much he loved her.
So he held her and told her he loved her over and over until they were both too exhausted to continue crying.
Once another round of morphine had been administered and Bella drank as much water as she needed, Dr. Black excused himself, and Edward climbed back into bed with his wife.
"You know that the only reason I'm the best man you know is because of you, right? I'm only the man I am because of you."
Bella smiled at the face she had loved for more than half her life. It amazed her that she had been lucky enough to find Edward, to find the only other person she was ever meant to be with. She had two beautiful and happy daughters, a healthy granddaughter, a best friend who was the sister she never had, and a lifetime of wonderful memories.
"We had a good life together."
"We had a great life together."
Edward tearfully smiled at the yawn Bella was trying to hide and pulled the blankets up to cover their bodies.
"Time to sleep," he whispered.
"I love you, Edward."
"I love you, too, Bella."
Bella passed away at 3:18am. Before Edward finally left her side, he kissed her lips and whispered into her ear.
"Take care of my heart. I've left it with you."
Next week: The end.