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This was my entry for the Smells Like Metallic Roses 90s Contest.
My hugest thanks to everyone who voted for it - Five Minutes won First Place Popular Vote.
February 12, 1991. 9:00 – 9:05.
I don't want to be here.
We were here less than a month ago when they put my mom deep into the dirt and covered her over and we went home without her.
But Dad said we had to come today. It's her birthday—or it would have been her birthday. She would have been forty today. She wouldn't have wanted us to celebrate. She always joked thirty-nine was going to be her last birthday. Maybe God listened to her and thought she meant it.
It's stupid, coming here. While every other sixth grade girl is sitting in a warm classroom, passing notes and trying to hide her giggles from Mrs. Cope, I'm shivering in what has to be the saddest, and creepiest, place on earth.
I look around and I know she's not here. I'm not exactly sure how I know that but I do. It just doesn't feel right.
She'd never hang around here. She would've hated all the grey and white and green. There are so many shades of the same three hues that they seem to become one. Leaves and clouds and rain and snow and misty breath and row after row of concrete headstones. I hate it. I hate the bleakness—Mom would, too.
Mom is—was—sunshine-bright. Not just her clothes, or her jewelry, though they were always so colorful. Her eyes and her smile and her laugh, they were bright and loud and beautiful.
No, she's not here. She's somewhere sunny and warm—definitely not in Washington, definitely not in this tiny rain-drenched town, and definitely not in this graveyard.
Dad insisted, though, so Emmett and I are standing in front of the flimsy sign that marks where my mom's body supposedly lies. I ask Dad why Mom doesn't have a big stone, why her name isn't carved into white rock. He says she will soon, and we'll come visit again once they're finished making it.
Again? How many more times do we have to come here? How many more times do we have to leave pretty flowers to wilt and die, to fade into the same dull colors that surround this place? How many more times do we have to remind ourselves that Mom is gone?
Like we could ever forget.
As if we haven't noticed the way her perfume was fading from the bathroom and her bedroom and the car. Or the fact that Em and I now have to rely on alarm clocks each morning to make it to school on time.
As if we haven't noticed the way the house is so quiet at breakfast time—without her singing along to Paula Abdul and Madonna and Janet Jackson. We always shouted at her to stop, because she couldn't carry a tune, but she'd just laugh and sing even louder, dancing around, her big hoop earrings jangling as she swayed.
I sigh, frowning at the ground.
I'm all too aware that the hand holding mine is too big, too dirty, too rough.
I look at Emmett as he squeezes my fingers. He's been holding my hand since we got out of Dad's cruiser. I don't know if it's to make me feel better or to stop me from running away. Maybe it's to make him feel better.
We stand a few steps back, watching as Dad kneels down, his head bowed. I can kind of hear him talking, but I don't want to know what he's saying. I don't want to hear him cry again—the way he does in the middle of the night when he thinks Em and I are asleep.
A cold gust shakes some snow from the trees as they sway, and I pull my hand from Emmett's, stuffing it into my pocket. He steps forward and squats down next to Dad, his hand on his shoulder. From behind, the only difference between them is the sprinkle of grey that has appeared through Dad's hair in the last few months. They're the same height—they have been since Emmett was fourteen. They have the same strong shoulders, hunched now with grief, the same dark curls, the same thick flannel shirt, the same heavy black boots.
That almost makes me smile, thinking that my Dad—completely on accident—could fit right in with the guys Emmett hangs out with. Sure, Dad's boots are police issue, not Docs, but rip his jeans up a little and he'd look just like one of the crew Emmett takes off to Seattle with every weekend.
I squint up at the heavy clouds. They're so thick today, the sun can't find a way through them at all. Even though it's only early in the morning, it feels like late afternoon—the time of day all the Moms would be chasing their kids inside, time to clean up and get ready for dinner.
But Mom isn't here to chase us inside for dinner, and there's no dinner to chase us inside to eat. The stove hasn't been touched since the day before her accident. The whole time she was in hospital, we lived on takeaway—pizza, Chinese, hamburgers, kebabs—whatever Dad picked up for us on his way home.
I haven't had a home-cooked meal since last October—not even for Thanksgiving or Christmas. We spent those holidays in the hospital, piled onto Mom's bed, the doctors promising us that she was improving and that she'd be home by the new year.
My eyes drift across the rows of graves, and I wonder how many other kids are dragged to visit their Moms in this awful place.
I look around, but I can't see any other families crowded around a stone. There is only an old lady, withered and grey like the rest of this place, walking away from the cemetery, her shoulders curled in. I wonder if she's cold, or sad, or if she's just as creeped out by this place as I am.
"Bella. C'mon." Dad waves me forward. "Come say hi to Mom."
I hesitate, my hands in my pockets, my toes kicking at the frozen ground. I think about telling him that I won't, and running back to sit in his car until they're finished here. I want to scream at him, to tell him that she's not here. That neither is he, really, and I—we—need him to be. That it's not fair that losing Mom meant losing him, too.
But I see the tears trailing from the creases of his eyes and into his mustache, and I can't bring myself to make him sadder.
I step forward, squatting down beside him. His hand on my shoulder makes me wobble, and my ankles ache, so I shift on to my knees. I can feel the cold, wet ground seeping through the denim.
"Hi, Mom." My voice breaks, and I feel the stinging in my eyes start, feel my lungs getting smaller. "I m-miss you … so much."
February 12, 1992. 9:00 – 9:05.
Emmett's holding my hand again, but his other arm is around his new girlfriend, Rosalie. I don't mind Rosalie. She doesn't try to act like my Mom, the way his last girlfriend, Irina, did.
She did do my hair for me today, though. She brushed it up into a ponytail on the side of my head. She says it's cool, but it makes me feel off-balance, like my head wants to tilt to the side after a while.
We came without Dad this year, but the big bunch of pink and orange roses sitting on the ground tells me he's already been here. Probably very early this morning, before he started work.
"I m-miss you so much, Mom." Emmett's crying as we stand in this green-gray wasteland again.
I look away, because I don't want to cry, too. I want to be angry.
I am angry.
I don't want to be here. I hate this place. I hate that it reminds me that Mom is gone.
I stare at the big grey stone that declares this the final resting place of Renée Swan, Feb 12, 1951 – January 17, 1991. Beloved Wife and Mother. Neat, even letters that don't match the mess our family's been left in.
I don't want to be reminded that my Mom wasn't here this year, that she's gone forever.
I don't want to remember how she wasn't here in September when I had to stuff my underpants with folded toilet paper when I started my first period. I don't want to remember the way Dad looked like he was going to vomit or faint when I asked him to take me to the store to buy some pads; the way he shoved some money at me and told me he'd wait in the car, like I was contagious and he'd somehow catch menstruation or crazy hormone-driven mood-swings from me.
I don't want to remember the way my stomach sinks to my knees every time Madonna's "Vogue" comes on the radio; that every time my friend Angela starts singing and dancing, I want to throw up because I can totally imagine Mom dancing around the kitchen, pulling the same stupid moves.
I don't want to think about how many dinners I've burnt in the last eleven months, since I decided we couldn't continue to live on takeaway and frozen dinners. I'm getting better, but there are only a few meals I know how to make well.
And I really don't want to acknowledge the women who I've seen sneaking out of our house early some mornings, or the way Dad then spends those days—the days the women have been there—walking around like a zombie, his eyes dead and his face pale.
I pull my hand from Emmett's and take a few steps backwards, like if I can put some distance between myself and that stone, then the memories that are making my tummy churn will take a step back, too.
"Bella." He frowns at me, but Rosalie puts her hand on his arms and whispers in his ear.
He sighs and nods, giving me a smile that looks like it hurts. "I'll just be a few more minutes, okay?"
I shrug. " 'kay."
I stuff my hands into the pockets of my parka and just let my feet move forward, step by step, not really paying attention to where I'm going. I wander in and out of the rows, all laid so neatly, like death isn't messy, like it can be ordered and sequenced, like it doesn't spin the whole world into chaos.
I pause when color catches my eye—it's out of place here.
There's a family crowded at the end of the row I'm standing in: two older girls, and a guy who looks like he's probably around thirteen—my age—standing beside a blond haired man in a suit. All of them are looking at the ground, where bunches of vibrant flowers have been laid.
There's no headstone—whomever they mourn is a new occupant in this awful house.
I wonder if they've just buried their mother, if their lives are about to fall apart the way mine has. I wonder if the tall blond man in his crisp suit is as put-together in her absence as he looks, if he'll be able to keep his family functioning without her.
I shake my head. There are hundreds, thousands of explanations as to who these people are and why they're here on this cold February morning. It makes me feel just a little less alone, though, to imagine that they know what it's like, standing over dirt and grass, missing familiar perfume and soft hands and the kisses that you regret wiping off your cheeks.
One of the girls is dressed in the brightest shade of pink I've ever seen—it was her dress that caught my eye. She looks so beautiful, even from a distance, her bright red hair clashing so perfectly with the fuchsia of her babydoll dress, her legs look so long in her black tights.
I look down at my own too-big jeans, my dirty Keds, and my chest squeezes tight. Mom would have sighed if she'd seen me this morning. Can you put on something a little more feminine, Isabella? she would have said.
Anger spurts through me again, hot and acidic, and I turn on my heel and walk away from this picture-pretty, grieving family to find my brother.
February 12, 1993. 9:00 – 9:05.
I set two bunches of flowers down against the headstone. The daffodils are from Emmett, but I picked out the rainbow of gerbera daisies.
"Hi, Mom." It's easier to talk to her when I'm here by myself. "Happy Birthday."
I sigh. "I know you're not here, not really, but my therapist said I should talk to you as if you are. She said it might help … so, uh, here goes."
I take a deep breath, and I stop thinking and just let everything spill from my lips. Like water tipping from an overturned cup, all the things that have been piling up inside me until I'm so full I think I'm going to burst just pour out of me.
"I miss you. I love you, you know? I do. But I hate this, Mom. It's been harder this year, not having you here. I'm so lonely, Mom. 'Specially since Emmett and Rosalie moved to Seattle. He thinks I don't know that he deferred college last year to watch out for me. Dumbass. He said he was waiting for Rosalie to finish school so they could go to college together, but I'm not stupid, Mom. I know they're not that serious about each other. Not yet."
Hot tears start to burn down my winter-dry cheeks, the sensitive skin stings as the salt washes across it. "Emmett would want me to say he's sorry he couldn't be here today. He had classes he couldn't miss."
I look at the bouquet of pink and white roses. "I see Dad's already been to see you. I'm glad. He misses you, too. He's different now, Mom. He's so quiet and sad and withdrawn. Sometimes I feel bad for him and sometimes I just get so angry. He's not the only one who misses you; he's not the only one who lost you."
My laugh is bitter. "At least he's not sneaking skanks into his bed anymore, right? He's figured out a pair of big tits and a big bleached perm can't replace you, can't make that hole in his heart any smaller."
It feels good to say words that Dad or my teachers would chastise me for using.
"It's shit, Mom. It's total bullshit—having to do this without you. I need you. I need you to teach me how to make beef stroganoff—I've tried so many times and it just doesn't taste like yours. I need you to show me how to sort laundry so I don't send all Dad's undies pink again. And I … I shouldn't have to look at Dad's undies, ever. It's not fair."
I try to pull in the air my lungs are screaming for.
"I need you here to tell me what to do about boys and stuff. There's this boy, Mike, in school. I let him kiss me at Angela's party, and now he keeps asking me out. One of these days I'm going to tell him to fuck off. Kissing totally blows, by the way. I don't know how you put up with Dad kissing you all the time. Or maybe it's just Mike. He was like, licking my mouth, Mom. That's not supposed to happen, right?"
I'm crying harder now. "Th-that's why I need you … here. I n-need you here to tell me what a … kiss should feel like. To n-nag me about the … boys I have crushes on. I even miss you em-embarrassing me."
The rest of the words stick in my throat—the choking sobs are blocking their way.
I put my head on my knees, wrapping my arms around my legs, trying to swallow down the cries that stick like glass splinters in my throat.
"Hey, um, are … are you okay?"
I look up and I see bright green eyes, lined with the sore red of grief. I think he's the boy I saw last year, surrounded by his pretty sisters and his suit-slick Dad. Even through my crying-blurry eyes, I can see he's really cute. His dark hair, under the hood of his sweater, is too long and all kinds of messy, and his cheeks are pink with cold.
He looks concerned, but not surprised. There's recognition in those glassy eyes, like he knows exactly what it's like to sit in the dirt in the middle of winter and cry.
I wave vaguely at the headstone. "My Mom."
He nods, his hands in his pockets. "Mine, too."
"It would've been her birthday," I tell him.
My cheeks burn a little as I tell him this, realizing he would know this from the dates carved into the headstone in front of us.
He smiles a little, though. He has pretty lips. "Mine, too."
He rocks on his feet. "Can I …?" He nods at the ground.
He sits cross-legged beside me, his knee just touching my thigh. It's nice. I can feel the heat of his body—here, real and solid, and just like that, I don't feel quite so alone.
February 12, 1994. 9:00 – 9:05.
She eyes me like a pisces when I am weak
I've been locked inside your Heart Shaped box for weeks
I've been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.
I have to swallow a few times before the words come out. "Is it Friday?"
Alice smiles lazy, her fingers curling through a sleeping Jasper's hair. "Saturday, I think."
I hum, my eyes drifting up to the ceiling, looking at the little black mold spots that are spreading across it like a miniature universe of grotty stars.
"I'm gonna marry Kurt, you know?"
I look at Alice, and she giggles once, before she goes back to petting Jasper's shaggy head.
I swallow again. "Wicked."
My mouth is so dry, and my tongue must look like a raisin, or a prune. I look at the pile of empty bottles—their labels bright, the glass glittering like diamonds—that clink when my feet move. If I drank all of that—why am I still so thirsty?
February 12, 1995. 9:00 – 9:05.
"I miss you, Mom."
I sit cross-legged facing her headstone, cold fingers curled around the cup of hot coffee-and-sugary-syrup. I hate coffee—even the caramel and cream smothered all over it makes it barely drinkable—but I didn't get to bed until after three o'clock this morning, and I'm still half asleep.
"I'm sorry about last year. I, uh … well I thought it would help, you know? Drinking, smoking up—I just wanted to forget. Forget that you being gone was like living with only one lung. Forget that Dad was spending more time down at the station, or out on the rez, than he was at home. Just … forget that I was forgetting you. It scared me, you know?"
I sip the sweet-and-bitter concoction. "I felt like I was betraying you—not being able to remember how you smelled, or what your smile looked like, or whether you preferred mint-choc-chip or boysenberry swirl. And I just wanted to … not. To stop feeling like that."
I sigh, fiddling with the laces on my cherry Docs. "It didn't, though. Help, I mean. Or it did until it all wore off, and then I was just even emptier than before. I'm sorry."
It takes me a few seconds to place the hottie in the brown leather jacket who is standing in front of me. It's the grass-green eyes that have my lips twitching into a smile.
He smiles back, white teeth against his pretty pink lips. "You remembered."
My eyebrows lift. "As did you."
He chuckles, deep and raspy, and I can almost feel the air vibrating between his lips and my chest. "Touché."
We kind of stare at each other until the smiles have slipped down our faces and the air starts to crackle with the awkward silence cocooning us.
He looks at his feet, one hand sliding through his hair—which I suspect hasn't been cut at all in the three years since I first spotted him staring at his mother's grave. It hangs just past his collar—long enough to tie into a ponytail. Even though I don't usually dig long hair, I find it weirdly attractive on him.
"You, uh … you've already visited … your Mom?" I make the assumption based on the fact he's not carrying any flowers.
He nods, glancing at me briefly. "Yeah." He looks in the direction of his mother's grave, his brow creasing.
I pat the ground beside me. "You can sit, if you want?"
He smiles and folds himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged beside me on the blanket I brought to protect my new skirt from the muddy, slushy grass. He's so much taller than two years ago. I'm pretty sure that if I sat between his legs, my head would fit neatly under his chin. I shake my head, chasing away the ridiculous—and completely appealing—thought.
"I, uh, I guess I missed you last year," he says, his eyes on his fingers as he shreds a few blades of grass. "We came a little later in the day—my sisters had a big fight and yeah … it sucked ass."
"I wasn't here at all." I admit it quietly, afraid of his judgment.
He tilts his head at me, but his eyes are soft. I don't even know him, but I can see the concern and understanding written plainly in them.
"I didn't come. I was still drunk and high from the night before. I was pretty much either stoned or wasted, continuously, from just before the anniversary of her accident until about a week after her birthday. My Dad came looking for me then—I was staying with a friend of my brother's in Seattle and my school finally contacted him to ask why I hadn't been showing up."
Edward sucks in air between his teeth. "Your Dad's not around much?"
"He is now." I sigh, ripping a few blades of frozen grass from their roots. "He wasn't dealing too well, either. I guess that was kinda … a wakeup call for him, too. This last year's been a lot better. He's dating this chick, Sue, and he's a lot happier. Moving on and whatever …" I trail off, sucking my lip into my mouth.
"Sorry, I don't even know you and I'm telling you my life story. I'm –"
"Hey, it's okay." He cuts my apology off quickly. "I get it, you know? It fucking—oh, shit! Sorry." He shakes his head, looking at me from the corner of his eye.
I laugh and wave for him to continue.
"It just sucks. Straight up suckage."
I chew my lip for a minute. "Can I … I mean, your Mom … how …"
He grabs my hand, surprising me. But as I look at his face, eyes scrunched close, lips pressed thin, I understand. It's not an affectionate thing, more like he needs an anchor as the words start to spill from him.
"Cervical cancer. Aggressive. They gave her three months, but she fought hard and gave us six. We knew it was coming, you know? I guess … we were prepared—as much as you can be."
He falls silent, lost in his thoughts or memories, his fingers still twined in mine.
February 12, 1996. 9:00 – 9:05.
I look at the flowers in the back seat of Edward's beat-up Volvo. "How do you wanna …" I press my already-turning-blue lips together.
He squeezes my shoulder, leaning past me to grab the gerbera daisies and the roses. "How about … uh, do you wanna take a few minutes by yourself with your Mom, and then I'll come …" He pushes his hair out of his eyes with a gloved hand.
"Yeah." I answer the question he's struggling to articulate. "Then we'll introduce each other." It sounds stupid, but of all the people in the world, Edward gets it.
"'Kay." He picks up the three bunches of tulips, then slams the car door shut with his hip.
He kisses my cold-pink cheek, the patchy whiskers that shade his jaw tickling my skin. "See you in a few."
I nod, shooing away the butterflies that never cease to take flight in my belly when his lips touch any part of me. I feel almost guilty for having those feelings—wanting those lips glued to mine—here. With a sigh, I tuck my chin into my scarf and trudge towards the square of grass that I'm all too familiar with.
I set the brightly colored flowers against the square of concrete that commemorates my mother's life, then step back, looking at the frozen grass.
I shift my weight from foot to foot.
"I miss you." It's true, but guilt slides like ice through my veins and suddenly the words are hanging in the frigid air: "I'm so sorry, Mom. I'm sorry I'm forgetting you."
My cheeks are so cold that the tears feel like they're scalding my skin.
"I don't—I don't know how to remember you. I don't know what you'd say about stuff now, you know?"
I lift my shoulder, trying to dry my cheeks on the woolen scarf that's coiled around my neck. My brain runs in circles, trying to think of something to say, something Mom and I would have in common.
"Oh. I, uh, I have some bad news Mom. You remember Calvin and Hobbes?" I shake my head. "Of course you would, I swear that stuffed tiger was the highlight of your day. Well, uh, it's not—it's finished, I guess. It's not being printed anymore."
"But, you would be happy to know that The Pogues have split up. I remember you shouting at Dad when he'd play their CDs. 'Charlie, would you turn that crap off!' " A small smile curls my lips—it makes me really happy to know that I do, in fact, remember the exact tone that would color her voice when she was getting pissy with Dad.
"I totally get it, Mom. Edward listens to them, too. He's been trying to get me to love them for months, but I'm like, whatever."
Those butterflies flap around again at that admission. I like that there's one small way in which Edward and I are like my Mom and Dad. But the same thought quickly has the butterflies dropping dead in the pit of my stomach.
"It's weird, right? That one of the coolest things in my life happened because of the shittiest. I only got to meet Edward because I lost you—and he only met me 'cause he lost his mom. It feels … I don't know ..." I trail off because I don't want to follow this line of thinking. It feels gross, dirty.
I flounder for a few moments, stuffing my hands in my pockets and tipping my face up towards the heavy clouds; at any moment, more snow will start fluttering to earth.
"I uh, I'll bring him over in a sec, Mom. But, um …" Suddenly my cheeks are burning hot and red, and the words gather speed, spilling quickly. "I'm sleeping with him. Since just before Christmas. It's –" I can't stop the smile or the quickening of my pulse "– it's amazing. I mean, we're totally being safe and stuff. But, like, wow. I had no idea."
My blush intensifies when I see his tall figure loom in my peripheral vision. "Shit."
He pauses, waiting out of earshot for me to tell him it's okay. I toe the ground, breathing deeply and trying to shake the telltale heat from my cheeks. When my heartbeat settles into its usual rhythm, I raise a gloved hand.
He jogs over, his eyes narrowed with concern. He searches my face, and I know he sees the dried tear tracks on my cheeks, just like I see the redness circling his eyes. Ignoring the hand I'm offering him, he slips his arm around my waist and his lips find my temple like they're magnetized, like they're drawn there without him deciding to kiss me.
"Okay?" he murmurs.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
It might just be true.
February 12, 1997. 9:00 – 9:05.
Wiping my nose on the sleeve of my coat, I kick at the ground, scuffing up the grass with my boots. The tall heels and shiny leather were supposed to be my armor, but really, all they're doing is making me feel small—a kid playing dress-up in her mom's clothes.
I wince against the thought. I wish I had some of Mom's clothes to dress-up in, to hide inside. I wish I had that big, ugly red coat she used to wear. I was always so embarrassed when she wore it—I told her it looked like she'd made it out of a sleeping bag. But, fuck, I'd give anything to wrap myself inside it now.
My fingers move automatically to the middle finger of my right hand, twisting the ring with its seven green stones around my finger. Dad gave me Mom's eternity ring on my eighteenth birthday, and it hasn't left my finger since. I look at the emeralds and swallow down a sob, its sharp edges sticking in my throat.
His eyes are almost the exact same color. I shake my head, trying to push him from my thoughts. Today is not supposed to be about him—but how could it not be?
"Mom." My wail, carried on the bitter wind, reminds me of being four years old and getting lost in the mall a few days before Christmas. The tears start to fall again, and I sniff indelicately. I fumble in my pocket for a tissue, blowing my nose with my clumsy, cold-stiff fingers.
"I miss you," I tell her. "And I miss him, too."
I feel absolutely shitty for admitting it, but I can't be here, where I met him, and not think about him. The bruises on my heart were yellowing and fading, until I stepped out of my car and remembered seeing him for the first time, five years ago today.
I kind of hate him for it, too. Tainting her day—my Mom's day—with thoughts of him. All the sweet kisses and bitter arguments flicker through my mind like images on an old slide projector. I hate that it's even harder doing this, being here, without him.
"I don't even know what went wrong." I don't know why I tell her this. Maybe it's because she would have been the person I cried to when we broke up. "But it was six fucking months ago. I thought I was over it. And I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry that I'm here and I'm thinking about him. I'm s-sorry."
Tucking my coat under me, I sit down, my legs too tired to continue to hold me up under the weight of sorrow that's settled on my shoulders.
I pull another tissue from my pocket, and I'm wiping more snot from my nose when I see him.
He shuffles awkwardly, standing far enough away that I know he's deliberately staying where he can't hear me. When he sees me looking at him, he raises one hand in an uncertain wave, his open coat revealing the Evil Empire shirt I gave him for his birthday last year. I watch, my heart thumping in my throat, as his clawed hand rakes through his hair—its damp and darkened with melting snow, and I wonder how long he's been here.
My stomach does a feeble flip-flop when I realize I've probably tainted his day, too. That he's probably remembering the same things I am, feeling the same guilt I am.
Breathing deep, filling my lungs until they feel tight, I lift my hand and wave him over.
"Hey." His cheeks are pink with cold and nerves.
"Hi." I wonder if he can hear everything I'm feeling in that one syllable. I wonder if he can see my hands shaking.
He sits down beside me, and his warmth and his smell blanket me, and it's too much—or not enough—and the tears start again.
Like it's instinct, his arm slides around me, and he pulls me into his side, his cheek resting on the top of my head. "Shh, it's okay."
His words make me cry harder, but he keeps up his soothing murmurs, promising me that he's here, that I'm okay, that he understands.
"Do you? I wipe my nose again, mumbling into my sleeve. "Do you understand?"
I'm surprised he can understand me through the choking sobs. His voice is rough—he sounds hurt "Of course I do, Bella."
With another shaky breath and my eyes on our shoes, I hand him my heart. "I miss you, Edward. I – I still love you."
February 12, 1998. 9:00 – 9:05.
My back arches as his lips find my hipbone, and he chuckles, his breath hot and damp against my skin.
My fingers find his hair as his teeth find the inside of my thigh. Open-mouthed, he drags them across the soft skin, his tongue is where I want it most for a fraction of a second before he moves on, sucking and licking the inside of my other thigh.
"Edward." I'm whining, pleading, tugging at his dark hair.
"Mmm?" His lips are climbing the ladder of my ribcage, one hand tracing too soft circles on my breast.
I moan, pushing my chest forward, trying to force him to increase the pressure of his fingertips on my skin.
"More." The word comes out strangled and high-pitched.
He pulls away, and I whimper at the loss. Every last nerve ending in my body feels like it's standing on tiptoe, like they're straining, trying to burst through my skin to reach his fingertips.
He looks down at me, those green eyes blazing as they drag across my flesh.
"Yes." My head bobs furiously, and one corner of his smile twists with wicked amusement.
A shudder of relief crashes through me as his lips meet mine. His tongue in my mouth, his thumbs on my nipples, my eyes squeeze closed. It's too much and nowhere near enough.
He swallows my grunt of approval as one hand finds it way between my legs, his fingers quickly coaxing me to the brink.
"Bella." He sounds as breathless as I feel. I wonder if his lungs feel too small, if his heart is as swollen with want and need and love as mine is.
His fingers slow their assault as he speaks, his voice rasping against my throat. "I love you."
I want to tell him I love him too, but I'm beyond words. Nonsense flies from my lips, as I buck my hips, trying to force his hand. He holds me on the edge, though, teasing, torturing, until I'm wound so tight I feel unhinged.
"I love you," he tells me again. "I love you."
He curls his fingers and allows me to shatter, and then he kisses me until I'm reformed and whole.
February 12, 1999. 9:00 – 9:05.
"You all right for a few minutes?"
I roll my eyes at him. "I'm pregnant, not disabled."
Edward kisses my cheek, and then hunches over to rest his forehead on my belly. He murmurs something I can't hear, then pulls away. He smiles as I shake my head—I pretend to be exasperated, but really, he melts my fucking heart when he does things like that.
"Okay. I'll be right back." He jumps to his feet, scooping up the tulips he brought for Esme. He hesitates, looking down at me. "Are you sure?"
He nods, offers me a small smile and heads across the frigid cemetery. I smile, watching him tug at his newly cut hair as he walks—it's like he thinks if he pulls it hard enough, it'll grow back faster.
When he's out of hearing range, I sigh, looking up at the big white stone bearing today's date. "I swear, Mom, that man … I love him, but he's so damned overprotective of me sometimes."
The baby decides to practice her tumble-turns, and my hands fly automatically to my swollen belly. The diamond on my left hand glitters white and silver, and I wonder how it is that seeing the light catch on it can fill me with so many mixed emotions.
The tears start before I've even begun saying the words.
"I don't know what you'd say to me if you were here, Mom. But … maybe we would've handled this differently if you were. Maybe we would've decided we were too young and … yeah."
I shake my head—because we didn't decide that, I can't even imagine it. Losing our mothers when we were just kids made us all too aware that there's no guarantee we'd get a "later." And so, even though the tiny girl growing in my tummy was definitely unplanned, Edward and I agreed immediately that she was both wanted and loved.
"Dad went postal, of course. But only 'cause he was worried about me, 'cause he cares. He's come around now." I wave my hand, watching the sparkle of the diamond—her diamond. "He gave Edward your engagement ring—to give to me, you know? He told him to use the stone and have it remodeled, but Edward knew I'd prefer it unaltered."
I wipe my cheeks, sniffling a little. "I like to think you'd be excited for us—even if you'd pretend to hate the idea of being a grandmother b-before you were even f-fifty."
A sob crawls its way up my throat and into the frozen air. "I'd give anything for you to still be here, Mom. Anything. How am I supposed to b-be a mom without you? How will I know what to d-do?"
The tears are falling fast now, faster than the cruel wind can dry them. They drip down my face and into my scarf—I can feel the dampness seeping into the wool.
"I don't know how to change a diaper or nurse a baby. I don't even know how to hold one. And when she cries, how will I know what's wrong? How do you tell if she's hungry or tired or sleepy … or if she has colic or something?"
I fumble in my pocket, pulling out the wad of tissues I made sure to grab before we left our little flat this morning.
"I just … I just want you here, Mom. I want you to be able to meet her, and hold her. Fuck. It's just … it's not fair."
As I try to pull myself together, I suddenly wonder if Edward is crying the same tears, feeling the same loss as he stands at his mother's grave. The thought makes my heart throb painfully, but it also helps me to slow my breathing before my anxiety spirals out of control.
I talk myself through deep breaths, my hand pressed over my belly, feeling our little girl kick against my hand.
"I was so convinced you weren't here, Mom. When Dad made us come here that time. I thought there was no way you could be here, that you would have hated this place even more than I did. But … I don't know. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you are here, somehow, in some way. Maybe you and Esme are getting around the place with halos and wings or something …"
I sigh, scrubbing a hand over my face, pushing away the wisps of hair that are trying to escape from under my knitted cap. With a groan, I push myself to my feet. I look past the headstone before me. The white and grey and green I once thought so barren and ugly seem peaceful now, restful.
"Maybe it's just foolish and fanciful, but I like to think you two had something to do with this. With Edward and I finding each other. And finding our way back to each other."
Baby kicks again, and I smile.
"Is that ridiculous? Thinking—hoping—that you had some part to play in bringing us each other, and this little one?"
Warm arms close around me, circling my expanding waist, and the scent of soap and peppermint and Edward fills my nostrils.
"That's not ridiculous at all," he murmurs. The words vibrate through his chest into mine. "I've wondered the same thing for years now."
A/N: BelieveItOrNot betas, teaches, encourages, edits, talks me off ledges, and is pretty much the sweetest friend ever.
We wrote a little story for the Ho Hey Contest. It's called High Maintenance. We'd love it if you'd read it :)