The "Ho Hey" Contest

Story Title: A Lonely Life

Pen name: aWhiteBlankPage

Pairing: Edward & Bella

Rating: M

Word Count: 7833

Beta: SusanQ

Summary: In one hundred years, I have tried seven times to change a woman from a mortal to a monster and been left with nothing but a corpse.


Edward

I want to be young and stupid. I want to be out of control, ruled by my heart instead of my brain and its relentless pragmatism. I want a second chance.

I don't remember what it was like to breathe or dream or bleed. I don't know if I was a decent person. I could have been anyone. I may no longer have a soul, but we all have a history.

I'm an adolescent with a century of life experience and no human memories to speak of. I want nothing more than to remember what it was like to have a heartbeat.

Her hair is wild, her features plain yet delicate. I can hear the blood pumping through her veins and I can almost remember.

She's the only one I've ever truly wanted. She's my obsession.

The walls are pale and not particularly feminine. I watch her from the rocking chair in the corner, barely taking my eyes off of her to scribble down bits and pieces of a forgotten song.

I shouldn't be here. I'm old enough to know better. I'm old enough. To know better.

Although my family is used to my absence while the sun is down, they don't know where I've been disappearing to for the last several months. They don't care. They're too busy fucking in their respective bedrooms all night long.

She tosses and turns in her sleep, tangling herself up in her blankets. When she wakes in the middle of the night, I remain perfectly still until sleep drags her back under.

I stay until the last possible moment. What used to be an hour before dawn has turned into seconds. To think of all of the time I wasted in the beginning when I was playing it safe.

I shouldn't be here. I'll be back tomorrow. I am powerless to stop myself. Today will not be the day I get caught. I force myself to leave.

I walk home. It makes me feel alive.

The old, drafty house is eerily quiet as I ascend the stairs to my room. When I reach the top step I consider turning back. I'm not in the mood for a lecture.

I can see him in the shadows. He's waiting for me. A hundred lies run through my mind.

The door creaks open as I push it to the wall. I throw my coat on the armchair and kick off my shoes, ignoring his presence.

"Removing your shoes when you arrive home doesn't make you human."

"Get out of my room, Carlisle."

"What have you done?" he asks, a subtle edge to his voice.

"I've done nothing."

"Has she seen you?"

He knows. He knows, he knows, he knows.

"Answer me."

"No."

He's up from the chair and in my face. "How can you be sure?"

"Trust me. I'm sure."

"Did you choose her just to spite me? The police chief's daughter?"

"I didn't choose her."

"Edward, we've been down this road so many times."

"This is different."

"Enlighten me. How is this one any different?"

"She's mine."

He laughs as he paces back and forth, back and forth. "She doesn't belong to you." He seems to know the gravity of what is happening, but he couldn't possibly know.

"Do you want to know what I think?" he asks, his tone menacing.

"No."

"I think you wanted to get caught."

"You think wrong."

"She's a child, Edward."

"So was I."

The words are heavy in the room.

"You can't have her. You will not expose this family."

"I love her," I snap.

This elicits a laugh as he mocks, "You love her."

"What, you think I'm not capable?"

"You are capable of so much, and yet accomplish so little."

"I apologize for not living up to your expectations," I sneer.

He sighs, crossing the room to face me. "If you love her, then what are you waiting for?"

"I want to keep her," I whisper, trying to gauge his reaction.

He looks at me in disbelief. "And do what with her? Make her your pet?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"If you love her, you'll let her go." As if I could ever let her go.

"How predictably cliche, Carlisle."

And I've destroyed his patience. He holds my jaw in his hand, like I'm an insolent child. "Never again. You will not go back there." He doesn't know what he's asking of me. "Never again, Edward."

"Get your hands off of me."

"Answer me."

"I must have missed the question," I spit at him.

"You go near her again, and we're gone. Understood?"

That reality is too painful to entertain.

"Get out!"

He releases me with a snap and disappears from the room, the door slamming behind him, caging me in.

My instincts tell me to run and to take her with me. But she doesn't even know me.

I leave the drapes drawn all day. The room is dark and entirely too silent. When I close my eyes I pretend I am back with her in her room. The one thing missing is the sound of her steady breathing.

I am completely and utterly fucked.

I sit with my face in my hands and go over every possible scenario. I will not leave her in this town. I will not leave her.

The first day I saw her she was walking down the street with a boy's arm draped sloppily over her. Not a single one of her friends noticed my lingering stare as they passed me on the sidewalk. I don't remember what it was like to be entirely oblivious to the horrors of the world.

There was something in her eyes that drew me to her. Living in a world where everyone's minds are so loud, it was a strange reprieve to be unable to hear her. And for the shortest of seconds I could remember what it was like to be alive. I followed her home that day, simply to see if I could feel it again.

She was going to help me remember. My infatuation was immediate and irrevocable.

The creak of my bedroom door brings me back. Alice.

"Get out," I tell her without waiting for her to speak.

"I didn't tell him. I would never," she whispers.

"Get out!" I scream, my voice thundering through the quiet space.

I turn away from her. I don't wait for her to leave before I start pulling all of my notebooks down from their shelves and tossing them all over the floor. When there is nothing left to throw, I begin ripping the pages from their spines.

I destroy everything I can get my hands on.

Esme stands in my doorway and I don't have the heart to scream at her. "Let him have his tantrum," Carlisle tells her over her shoulder, leading her away before closing the door again.

The rest of them leave me be for the day.

As soon as the sun is down, Rosalie appears with her smug face.

"Were you sent to babysit me? Are you my new keeper?"

She considers lying but thinks better of it. "You act like I want to be here."

She scans the room, laughing as she shakes her head. "This whole tortured artist routine is getting rather tired, don't you think? I always thought it was such a waste of time to scrawl all of those lyrics in your little books, but now seeing the floor littered in words I can't help but find it all rather absurd, Edward."

I watch her sprawl out dramatically on the couch under the window. She twirls her blonde hair around her finger for an eternity.

"I suppose you fancy yourself a musician."

"Get out of here and go fuck your boyfriend, Rose."

"I will never understand why you're so bitter, with all of the women that fall at your feet," she sighs.

"I do not care what you understand."

"The last one didn't last a day. Tina was it?"

"Tanya."

"Oh yes, poor Tanya," she sighs.

"Poor Tanya slaughtered twenty people in the span of an hour."

"You wanted her when she was human."

"That's not quite how I remember it."

"Do tell, Edward."

"You brought her home like a trinket and I conceded."

"Well maybe if you had turned her yourself," she snaps back defensively.

"Fuck off."

"You were a lot nicer when you were keeping secrets."

She goes back to twirling her hair, but I'm nearly certain that she's not as vapid as she seems.

"I just want to remember," I try to explain.

"What if you were nothing but a street rat? Have you considered that? You could have sat on the corner playing your guitar for nothing but meager coins."

I don't respond. I pass the hours by cleaning up my room at human speed to distract myself from the one place I'm not. I would give anything to be with the girl in the second story bedroom.

"Are you so repulsed by what you are?" Rose asks, absentmindedly picking at her nails.

"Keep your clothes on, Rosalie. My answer is still no."

She rolls her eyes, but I know it kills her to feel undesirable. Her beauty is her curse.

"There's something you're not saying," she accuses me, as if this is some great revelation.

"There are a lot of things I'm not saying."

She runs her tongue along her teeth before pursing her lips. "I want to know what you see in her. You've never even spoken to her."

"She's different."

"Different how?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"Her eyes are the color of mud. She's not even pretty."

I turn to her, ready to tell her she's never been more wrong, and it's all right there in her expression. "I should have known it was you."

She looks away from me and if I didn't know better, I'd say there's remorse in her pinched face.

"Is she worth risking everything?" she wonders aloud.

"Yes." There is no question in my mind.

She looks wounded for a passing moment. "Then I don't know what you're still doing here."

We stare at each other for a few long seconds before I am gone.

I roam the woods, warring with myself. Carlisle is right. She's not mine. But she belongs with me. I'm sure. I want to keep her, but I will not watch the fire in her eyes burn out.

It's well past midnight, the street covered in overlapping shadows. She's probably been asleep for hours. All of the lights are off in her house and her father's cruiser is missing from the driveway. I consider knocking on the front door but it's the middle of the night and that's not the kind of first impression I want to make. I let myself in through the kitchen as usual.

And then I hear it: a quiet moan followed by the relentless squeaking of a bed. Everything comes into sharp focus while simultaneously crashing to the ground.

I stand motionless in the dark kitchen just to be sure I'm not imagining things.

But it's the kind of moan that brings blood to the surface of the skin, staining cheeks pink.

My first instinct is to run up the stairs and rip her bedroom door from its hinges. But I'm paralyzed.

A male voice destroys any naive hope that she might be alone in there. "Bella, Bella, Bella," he grunts.

Bella.

I may not remember what it was like to live, but in this moment, I remember what it was like to die.

I want to tear every limb from this boy's body. I want to watch him bleed out on the floor. I want him to beg for his life in the seconds before I take it from him.

I'm up the stairs before I know what's happening. With my hand on the doorknob, I am ready to murder and maim.

I can hear every vulgar thought passing through his mind and I can't help but imagine their naked bodies as he thrusts into her. I wonder what I've done to deserve this kind of torture.

I need to get out of here before I become the evil inside of me. I run back down the stairs, making no effort to be quiet or invisible.

A large vase filled with fresh cut flowers sits on the table by the door. I lift it high up in the air before letting it smash into a million tiny pieces at my feet.

And then I run.

I run through the woods with the creatures of the night. She's mine. She's not even a little bit mine. She doesn't know me.

I thought loneliness lived in my bones. I thought I knew defeat. But this feeling, this ache, is infinitely worse than anything I can remember.

This couldn't possibly be what living felt like.

I return home long after the sun is up. The family is gathered around the kitchen table discussing my situation, as Carlisle is calling it, completely oblivious to my new reality. They know nothing.

I wait in the foyer, not sure if I can face them.

"You baby him, Esme."

"Someone has to. Everyone needs a mother," she snaps back. Carlisle's intimidation tactics have never worked on his wife.

"Are you going to lurk in the doorway all evening, Edward, or show some manners and come in?" he barks from the kitchen.

Esme gives me a sympathetic pity smile as soon as I show my face.

"I will stay away from her," I promise them all.

"What was that?" Carlisle asks, his eyes narrowed.

"You heard me."

"Why the sudden change of heart?" he wants to know.

"Because you're right. She doesn't belong to me."

They all stare back at me, together in their pairs. My lone, empty chair at the table is all I can focus on.

Alice looks like she's about to cry, if only she was able.

"I'll be in my room."

Nobody protests. I leave them in the kitchen to whisper.

The days pass quickly. The nights are tortuous. I lie alone in my cold bed and wonder if I could elicit those sounds from her mouth. I wonder what her flushed cheek would feel like against my own. I wonder what it would be like to hold her hand, kiss her lips and drown in her scent.

For the most part, the family ignores me. Alice sits with me sometimes during the day. Rosalie avoids me entirely. Emmett and Jasper take me hunting and they pretend like Bella doesn't exist. To them, she is nobody.

She haunts me when I close my eyes, if only for a second, so I stare unblinking.

I wish I could be furious with her for betraying a relationship she didn't know we had.

.

.

.

.

I watch the family from my bedroom window as they load the car with suitcases, like a normal family going on an annual vacation. They say I'm the one longing for a human life.

Carlisle usually insists that we all go, but I think he's rather pleased to be rid of my sulking.

"Are you sure you don't want to go with us?" Esme pleads, her hand on my face.

"Don't worry about me. I'll behave. I promise."

"You know that's not the reason I worry."

I feel a vaguely familiar pang in my chest, nearly able to remember the mother I once had.

Alice tugs on my fingers before flitting out the door after the rest of them. She knows something that she's not giving up. I don't care enough to press her.

The quiet is a relief.

I write bits and pieces of a hundred songs. They're all about her.

Sometimes I stand outside her house, but I don't go inside anymore. Most of the time she's alone. Most of the time.

He thinks she has a nice ass and perky tits and he's all wrong for her.

He's not the only one who can bring her flowers.

I walk back home and try to remember how many days have passed since the family has been gone.

I've run out of paper, so I start writing on the walls of my room.

In one hundred years, I have tried seven times to change a woman from a mortal to a monster and been left with nothing but a corpse.

I can remember their heartbeats, every last one.

The sound of Bella's heartbeat echoes in my ears. But she couldn't possibly be here.

Standing at the window where the drapes let in a sliver of sun, I can see her, walking down the long driveway toward the porch.

She's alone.

I fly to the front door, peering through the peep hole. She stares at the house like it's haunted or like she didn't believe it existed until this moment.

I watch her run her fingers along the banister. I'm mesmerized by the way she moves.

I pull the door open, realizing too late that she hasn't knocked or rung the bell. She startles, taking a step back. I resist the urge to reach out and pull her into the house.

She looks so different in the light of day.

She blinks and I remember to blink too.

We stare at each other for the longest time until she speaks. "I'm Bella. I live at the edge of town. I just..." she trails off.

I don't know how to speak.

Her cheeks flush slightly as she stumbles over her words. "Do I... know you?"

I don't know how to answer her. "Would you like to come inside?"

She looks around nervously, her eyes wide as ever. "I don't..."

"I'm sorry, that was presumptuous."

"I should probably get going," she stutters, avoiding eye contact. "I don't know what I'm doing here."

"Don't go," I practically beg.

She seems startled by my desperation, but not entirely afraid. She studies me. "You've been leaving flowers on my porch." It's not a question.

I nod, too nervous to speak. The rhythm of her racing heartbeat is hypnotizing.

"Why?"

I belong with you.

I motion toward the porch swing that collects dust. And if I didn't know better, I'd swear I could feel my own heart beating.

I watch her sit. Her fingers grip the edge of the bench as she uses her feet to make the swing sway, a silent smile spreading across her face like she's forgotten where she is and the company she is keeping.

She looks up at me suddenly. "Are you going to sit down?"

I'm so accustomed to watching her from the shadows, that I almost forgot she could see me. I sit as far away from her as I possibly can. I can sense her eyes on me and the feeling is uncomfortably foreign.

"I always wanted a porch swing," she tells me. Of all the things to want.

I don't know what to say to her. So we sit on the porch in the dead of winter and stare at our feet.

Eventually she moves her hands so that she's sitting on them. I do the same. She notices.

"What do you want with me?" she whispers, her breath lingering in the cold afternoon air.

You belong with me.

"I won't hurt you."

"That's not what I asked," she says, her voice trembling ever so slightly.

"You're cold."

I disappear into the house to find a blanket and then I panic realizing that she might have taken the opportunity to disappear into the woods. I fly to the kitchen window and there she sits, her knees tucked up to her chin.

I return with four different blankets, in case she's allergic to down or partial to yellow. Mostly I want them all to smell like her.

She chooses the yellow, covering herself up almost completely and I wonder what the cold feels like.

I sit a little closer this time. She lifts the blanket, offering me one side. I don't know what to do so I do nothing.

Her hand grazes my thigh and it's the most erotic feeling I can recall.

I hold my breath and resist the urge to ruin her right here on the front porch. To bleed her dry. I would never forgive myself.

She keeps looking at me like she's trying to figure me out. I remind myself to breathe.

"Does your boyfriend know you're here?"

Her eyes dart to mine, and she's glaring. I've hit a nerve. "He doesn't need to know my every move."

"So he is your boyfriend then."

"You've been spying on me."

I don't know what to say that won't make her run. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for doing it or sorry for getting caught?"

"You're very forward."

"Only because you're so evasive."

"I don't mean to be," I tell her honestly.

"Then don't," she responds, as if it were that simple. I can't help but stare at her lips. I wonder what they would feel like against my own.

"Do you live here alone?"

"No. My family, they're on vacation."

"Without you?" she asks, her eyebrows raised. She doesn't wait for a response. "Don't you sometimes just want to get on a bus and go?" Her mouth turns up in a smile as she imagines what's out there waiting.

"I never thought about it."

"We could go right now," she teases halfheartedly.

"You don't even know me. I could be a murderer or a rapist."

"But you're not." She sounds so sure. I've done nothing to prove otherwise.

We stare at each other and I want to tell her everything. I want to tell her how much I love her mud-colored eyes.

"Who are you?" she asks.

"Edward. My name is Edward."

"Who are you, Edward?"

"I'm trying to remember."

She doesn't look at me strangely. She simply looks at me like she wants to know too.

We talk about everything and nothing at all. She doesn't want to go to college. Her mother ran out on them when she was small. Her father is a workaholic. She doesn't have a favorite color, but she has a dozen favorite songs.

Her lips carry a hint of purple despite the blanket. I reach out without thinking about what I'm doing. She doesn't flinch. Her eyes stay on mine as my fingers get closer. I need to touch her.

Her lips part slightly the moment before my hand reaches her mouth.

She's still warm. I can feel her pulse beneath the surface. She takes a sharp intake of breath and it's only now I realize she wasn't breathing.

I pull my hand away, suddenly very aware of what I'm doing. "I'm sorry."

She shakes her head but doesn't speak. She almost looks embarrassed.

"Please stay," I beg.

She doesn't answer, but she also doesn't stand to leave. Her heart is racing away. I wonder what it feels like from the inside.

"What's it like?"

"What's what like?"

To live.

When I don't answer, she starts fidgeting in her seat. "I should get home."

I want to force her to stay. Instead I watch her fold the blanket and set it next to me on the porch swing. I don't grab her hand and pull her to me.

"Will I see you again?"

She smiles, shaking her head. But it's not a no. "No more flowers, Edward." It's the first time she's said my name.

"No more flowers," I promise.

She turns back twice as she makes her way down the long driveway, her eyes staying on me.

I follow her home. Just to be sure that she's safe.

.

.

.

.

She stands at her window, staring out into the dark woods. I'm almost sure that she's looking for me.

I don't dare go inside.

I usually hide amongst the trees, my eyes trained on her windowpane until dawn. Her father is home most nights and I'm grateful for his presence. He will keep me accountable. Maybe that's what drew me to her. The police chief's daughter doesn't disappear without anyone noticing.

But he's not home tonight.

Her bedroom light has been off for hours. She left the porch light on. I wish I knew why.

I go around back but tell myself I'm not going inside.

I pace and I pace until my hand is on the doorknob and my mind is clouded with poor judgment.

The heat is on in the house. It would be nearly sweltering if I was capable of feeling.

I creep through the kitchen and up the stairs like the vermin I am. I wait at her door until I'm certain she's asleep. I open the door slowly until it's just wide enough for me to slip into her room.

The moon is practically nonexistent tonight. The blackness swallows me whole.

Her room smells like sleep, but not sex. I stand next to her bed and watch her chest rise and fall. She mumbles incoherently before turning over, her arm resting on top of the blankets.

Her bare shoulder elicits such feelings of lust that I don't know if either of us will survive this visit. I'm so distracted by her skin that I don't notice the change in her breathing.

"I know you're there," she whispers, her eyes still closed.

I don't move.

"Should I be afraid?"

"I don't know," I whisper back.

I step into the dark corner of her room without saying another word.

She opens her eyes, searching for me in the black.

I am afraid of this fragile girl and what she has done to me.

She sits up in bed, her blankets pooling around her waist. I want to hold her by the hair and ravage her in her father's house. I press my back to the wall instead.

But she has this way of speaking that makes me forget myself. I end up sitting on the floor next to her bed. She tells me about her dreams while I stare at her breasts through her thin shirt.

She wants to travel. It's all she talks about. The world as she sees it is filled with magic.

"I can't wait to see Paris." But she doesn't talk about the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. "Did you know there are skeletons, stacked in neat rows below the city?" she asks.

I don't tell her that I've spent time roaming the catacombs. The piles of bones always made me feel alive. "I heard the cemeteries had to be dug up after the Plague to prevent further spread of disease. They needed somewhere to put all of those bodies so they stacked them underground."

She looks at me in awe and I wish it was for different reasons. "So you've been," she says.

"A few times."

I lean in closer. I need to breathe her in. She smells like the best memory.

"Are you going to kiss me?" she whispers.

She doesn't know what she's asking.

"No."

She holds the lapels of my jacket in her fists. I imagine her fragile bones ready to snap.

"Why not?"

"Because if I don't leave right now, this will all be over."

.

.

.

.

I go back more often than I should. Only when she leaves the porch light on. She tells me about her childhood and I somehow know that mine was nothing like hers. She asks a lot of questions about things I can't answer.

Night after night after night, I watch her eyes shine and listen to her heart beat away. It is so strange to hear her voice and to believe everything she says as truth because I have nothing to compare it to.

The light is on in her room, but I refuse to wait outside in the night any longer. I ascend the stairs slowly, my mind uneasy.

I push the door open to find her sitting cross legged in the middle of her bed. She's holding a bus ticket in her left hand and I don't know what she's thinking.

"Hi." She looks nervous. Like she's about to confess something terrible. She clings to the bus ticket like it's a lifeline.

"Where are you going?" I ask, my tone sharper than I mean it to be.

"Away from here."

"To do what?"

"Does it matter?"

"I suppose not." The only word I can focus on is away. I could force her to stay. I could ravage her right here and now.

My tongue feels thick in my mouth as I listen to the blood pumping through her veins. She would taste better than any other.

But my fantasy would end with her taking her last breath. I will not turn her into a lifeless pile of skin and bones that needs to buried in the ground.

"You could come with me," she says naively.

"You don't even know me." I don't trust myself.

"You keep saying that."

"Because it's true."

"Alright, well, I'll see you around."

"Bella, please."

"Please what? Please stay here in this podunk town forever?"

I've seen the world and it doesn't hold what you think it does.

"Just stay here. With me."

"Stay here and do what? Sit on a porch swing? You won't even kiss me."

I want to sink my teeth into the vein of her neck. I want to taste her until her heart stops beating and I've swallowed her entire life.

She's off the bed and facing me, the fire in her eyes burning so bright. She stands up on her tiptoes. Her lips press against the curve of my neck, as if she's the one who is going to ruin me. I don't dare move.

"Bella, stop."

She kisses my skin like I'm a man and not a demon.

I stay statue still. It's the only way she will survive.

Her arms circle around my neck and her lips hover in front of mine: practically touching, practically kissing, practically destroying everything.

I give her nothing.

She shoves against my chest. "Don't follow me."

For the first time, I don't.

.

.

.

.

I should have gone with her. Carlisle would say I should have stayed. I don't know when his voice became stronger than mine.

The family will be back in a couple of days. I clean up the house because it's all I know how to do right now.

The phone rings for the fifth time and I answer it in defeat. "What?"

"She's on the highway, heading south towards the city."

"Alice?"

"Go!" she screams.

"Damn it Alice!"

I drop the phone and I run. As fast as I possibly can. I run and I run and I run.

I'm nearly alive.

I run through the trees, downing anything that is in my way.

I can smell the blood. I can smell the blood. I can feel the burn in my throat and I hate every bit of what I am.

The bus lies belly up in the culvert, the tires barely visible from the street. There are cries and screams, but none of them belong to her.

The doors have already been forced open, people in different states of dying lie in the dirt.

Seven corpses block the filthy aisle, blood pooled around them. The air is filled with death and gasoline.

I find her without looking. I find her crushed body that wasn't made for such trauma. Her heart still beats in her chest but the sound is so, so tired.

"Bella," I cry.

She doesn't answer, but her eyes say it all.

I drag her from the bus to the dirt, dust surrounding us. She's bleeding out.

I brush the matted hair from her face. And she sees me.

My hands are all over her. Her eyes stay open and she is begging me. She is begging me to save her.

Her lips start to move but there is no sound.

"It's okay," I lie to her. I press my lips to her temple, to her eyebrow, to the dark hollow under her eye.

She holds my shirt in her fists like she's trying to pull me to her. "I'm sorry," she whispers against my face.

"You're not allowed to die." I shake her by the shoulders, but the light in her eyes is already gone.

I scream at the top of my lungs because it's the only thing to do. Screaming is a distant second to crying.

The decision is made in a fraction of a second. Covered in her blood, I sink my teeth into the flesh of her neck, just above the collarbone. She doesn't scream or fight. And I know that I'm probably too late. Her pulse is weak and fading away into nothing. Into nothing.

I can't think. I swallow on instinct, the monster inside taking over. Her body lurches beneath me before going perfectly still, her fingers falling to the dirt.

Her blood burns going down. I feel it dripping down my lips and I don't want to waste a drop. Not one drop.

I will not stop. I can't stop. I am the monster, not the man.

I swallow her warmth until her heart stops beating. It's only when she's lifeless in my arms that I jerk away from her like I've been shocked with a jolt of electricity. The silence is paralyzing.

An elderly man looks on in horror, his hand over his mouth. There isn't even a small part of me that cares.

I see nothing but red. Bella's body lies in the saturated dirt, her legs turned at unnatural angles. I want to shake her awake. I want to scream her into existence.

I brush the wet, matted hair from her pale face. "I'm sorry," I tell her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

I carry her lifeless, pale body the twenty-seven miles home. At some point I can hear an explosion in the distance. I do not think or feel or breathe.

The family stands on the porch waiting for me. Waiting to see if I've brought home a corpse. They all stare and I despise the pity in their eyes. I wish they had stayed away.

Carlisle approaches. "Edward, let her go."

I hold her tighter. "I can't."

"Edward, please," Esme insists, her face covered in concern. "Let me take her."

"No."

The others disappear into the house, out of restraint or respect I don't know.

"At least bring her inside."

Esme leads me to the living room. She has a blanket laid out on the couch. But I'm not leaving her in the living room.

I carry her up the stairs, her limbs hanging lifeless. I carry her to my room and lay her fragile body on my bed. I curl myself around her and I cry without tears. It feels like drowning in the saddest song.

Carlisle looks over her as I cling to her bones.

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

"Edward," Carlisle prods, but I ignore him.

"I'm so sorry, Bella."

"Edward."

"Stop talking!" I scream at him. "Leave us."

"You did everything right, Edward."

"It wasn't supposed to happen like this," I snap back.

"It never is."

He leaves us alone and we are nothing more than a demon and a corpse.

I cling to her as if I could will her back to life.

.

.

.

.

I do not dream. You have to sleep to dream. But this feels exactly like dreaming.

I swear I can hear her heart beating.

I run my hand over her face until my palm is resting on her neck. Alice insisted on cleaning her up, but I would not let them take her away. I can feel her pulse beneath her skin.

"Alice!"

My hands are all over her.

"Alice!" I scream again.

She stands in the doorway but doesn't come in. "It's almost time," she says, the trepidation evident in her voice.

"I've never been able to stop," I tell her in disbelief. "I couldn't stop."

"You must have."

She shuts the door, leaving me alone with her.

I watch her lifeless body in disbelief, unprepared for what is about to happen.

I don't remember my life, but I remember the change. I can remember the lust. It's different for everyone, be it blood or brawn or sex. I wanted blood above all else. I wanted blood.

Her eyes open slowly. This is happening. Right now.

She's on her feet faster than I can decide what to do.

Her expression is animalistic. She looks at me like I'm her prey. I will never again see those mud-colored eyes. They're gone. There is no sign of the girl in the second story bedroom.

"Bella?"

She scowls at the mention of her name, tilting her head to the side like I'm speaking a foreign language. She is feral.

She's in my face, staring me down. I want to scream her away.

Her hand runs down my chest and rests on my belt. She licks her lips and I don't know her. She begins to undo the buckle, and it's not blood she is thirsty for.

"Bella, stop. Not like this."

But she doesn't listen. Her mouth is pressed to the skin of my throat and I don't have the will to stop her.

She's so strong and I am not nearly strong enough.

She tears the clothes from my body and I let her. Her lips curl up in a smile as she takes in my naked form.

I grab her wrists, feeling the need to take control, but she frees herself without effort. I am pinned beneath her, pressed to the bed in a passing second.

She doesn't speak. She doesn't say a single word as she takes me in her hand, as her tongue explores my body. She can have me. She can have me forever.

"It doesn't have to be like this," I try to tell her, but I don't know what I'm saying.

It's all so fast. And then we're having sex.

I lie back against the headboard as she works her hips above me. Her fingers press into my chest. While they may not leave a mark, I don't feel like I'm made of stone.

She feels better than any woman I have ever touched and yet it's like fucking a stranger.

In the early morning hours, after I know what it means to be properly fucked by a woman, she looks more like the girl I know.

No longer ravenous, she clings to me. She stares and stares, her naked body flush against mine. I watch the humanity, if that's what one could call it, slowly seep in.

Her eyes are glassy and I know that she has just discovered what it feels like to be incapable of crying.

"What am I?" Her voice is so beautifully strange.

I don't want to tell her. "Does it matter?"

"Yes."

"It will get better."

"You did this to me?" she asks, halfheartedly pounding her fists against my chest.

"I had no choice."

"You always have a choice."

"I wanted to keep you."

She closes her eyes, refusing to see me. "Leave me alone." The heartbreak in her voice is too much to bear.

"It wasn't supposed to happen this way," I try to explain, my voice cracking.

"Please," she begs, opening her eyes for the briefest of seconds. Her eyes are hollow and I don't know what I've done.

I touch her shoulder and she flinches. "Don't touch me."

I leave her in my bed and the world has never seemed so bleak.

Rose stands at the bottom of the stairs. "We'll teach her, Edward. She'll come around," she promises. But she has no right to promise.

"She won't."

.

.

.

.

I leave the town, the state, the country. I get as far away as I can. Because it wasn't supposed to happen. Like this.

She was supposed to love me.

Travelling the world alone without a soul is dull and isolating. I knew it would be the best punishment. Solitude is my curse.

Alice begs me to come home. She begs and I wish it didn't hurt so much. I don't ask her where Bella ended up going and she doesn't mention her.

"You're breaking Esme's heart, Edward Cullen. Come home. Please."

I don't know how.

I find others who are cursed as I am, but nobody makes me want to breathe or bleed. Nobody makes me believe that I can remember the life that came before this endless one.

I fuck a dozen women of my kind. I try to fuck away the way she looked at me. Like I had betrayed her.

.

.

.

.

Weeks or months or years later, I make the long journey home. Having been to hell and back, there is nowhere else to go.

Alice picks me up from the airport. Alone. She hugs me tight. "They're waiting for you."

"I'm sure they are."

She keeps smiling at me.

The family is gathered on the porch as we pull into the driveway. It almost feels as if no time has passed at all. I think some part of me expected them to age while I was away, even though I know better.

That's when I see her, peering around Rosalie.

She's still here. I wonder what kind of monster she has become. Something akin to anger boils up inside of me at the thought. Because the girl I loved is dead and a demon walks around with her face.

They all smile at me, all except for Bella. Welcome home, welcome home, welcome home, they tell me. Nobody acknowledges Bella's presence among them. Rosalie gives her a knowing look before disappearing into the house. The rest of the family follows silently to find places where they can eavesdrop in privacy.

She's taller than I remember. I try not to look right at her.

"You are free to go. I thought they would have told you," I tell the porch swing.

"Go where?" she asks incredulously.

"Anywhere. I thought you'd be halfway around the world by now."

"No, that was you," she snaps. I feel it in every inch of my bones. She thinks I abandoned her. I suppose I did.

"Rosalie said it would be like this," she says, her tone far from bitter. Her face is carved from expensive stone and yet she still carries her emotions in her eyes. I don't want to see her.

"She said it would be like what?"

"She said you wouldn't want me."

Maybe I do have a beating heart. "I have wanted you since the second I saw you." She has to believe that much.

"I don't understand you."

She turns away from me and I can't help but follow her into the house and up the stairs. I stand in the doorway of my bedroom. She's clearly been living in here even though there are a dozen others.

The walls are still covered in a thousand words and I'm embarrassed to know that she has read them all. She starts gathering her things. She won't even look at me.

"Bella, stop."

"I don't know what I expected," she says aloud, but not to me. With her hands tented in front of her face, I have the strongest urge to go to her.

"Stay. I'm sorry."

She turns to me, the fire in her eyes bright as ever. "What are you sorry for?"

"I'm sorry for making you one of us."

"Oh." She goes back to picking up her things.

"I don't know what you want," I plead. "Tell me what you want me to apologize for."

"I want you to apologize for tricking me into loving you," she says quietly.

"What?"

"You heard me."

"What exactly has Rosalie been telling you?"

She turns to me, her eyes fierce and overwhelming. "She hasn't told me anything. I remember all of it."

She couldn't possibly.

"I remember the girl I was, Edward. I know you probably think that's terribly unfair." It's almost an apology.

I stand speechless, trapped in my own worthless mind.

"I'll be gone before dawn," she says as she goes back to collecting her few meager belongings.

"You're wrong," I tell her in desperation.

Her hands still, but she doesn't look at me. "Excuse me?"

"I would never want to take your memories from you."

She walks to the window, staring out into the night. I wish I was down there, hidden amongst the trees, and she was searching for me.

"I remember standing in front of you, begging you to kiss me. Wanting something so simple and so impossible."

Something so simple. "Not impossible, Bella."

"And yet you wouldn't do it."

"I was scared of destroying you."

She turns her head to the side, her profile lit by the moon. "And now?" she asks.

I cross the room slowly, afraid she's going to flee. She looks past me, her eyes trained on the wall. The wall that's covered in words. I just want to hold her hand.

"You didn't want me," I try to explain.

"You didn't give me the chance."

"You looked at me like I was a monster."

"We're all monsters, Edward."

"You're not a monster," I promise her.

She looks at me like she used to and we are a boy and a girl, alone in a bedroom.

"Can you forgive me?"

She doesn't answer.

"Are we more than this sad story?" I try again.

"That depends where you're standing."

I reach for her slowly, my fingers finding purchase on her bottom lip. She stares and stares.

I drop my hand to my side and watch her pull her lip into her mouth before she releases it. And then she is the one reaching for me, tracing the contours of my face and discovering the secrets of my skin.

I wrap my arms around her, holding her gently even though she's no longer breakable. "What if I'm standing right here?" I ask, my mouth against her ear.

My fingers, unwilling or incapable of staying put, run along her spine. I pull her closer and remind myself that she's not going to perish in my arms. I know it has already happened once, but she still seems so alive.

She pushes me back slowly until my back hits the wall. Standing up on her tiptoes, she is the girl I remember. Her mouth hovers in front of mine, but this time she doesn't wait for me to kiss her. Her lips find mine, featherlight. We are not equipped to be so tame. I kiss her back as gently as I can manage.

I kiss her and she kisses me. It doesn't matter that I'm a monster. It doesn't matter that I don't know who I was before. Because I finally understand what it means to live.

"Why did you stay?" I press her.

She traces the wall behind me with her fingers. When I turn to look, I see the words:

I belong with you. You belong with me. You're my sweetheart.