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Mirages: Tanya and Tyler.
Except, they're not. They're real, and they're here, in this hidden away place. With us.
Behind them, the setting sun illuminates their silhouettes, giving them this beatific, almost angelic, glow. Ironically funny, because that girl is no angel - but she is my best friend, and seeing her now is like sliding the last piece of the puzzle in.
She comes closer, and she's smiling. So am I.
I glance down at Edward. "Did you...?"
He smiles at me, and I know.
Pushing away from the table, I get to my feet and meet Tanya halfway in a hug. She shudders, and I realize she's also crying. And so am I. Tyler urges us gently along, back to the table, where Edward hugs him and starts making introductions.
"How..." I swallow and wipe my face, knowing my eyes are most likely smudged with mascara. Oh well. "How did you guys know? Did you...?" I glance at Edward and then back to Tanya. "How did you guys plan this out? I mean, you had to, right? There's no way..."
"Edward contacted us about a week ago, from the boat's satellite phone," Tyler explains. "I, um, don't know if he told you...or if Tanya did...we've been with my parents in Charleston."
I nod, remembering Tanya telling me this before they left Seattle.
"Yeah. So...we've been touching bases from time to time since we left, just...making sure we were okay. Making you sure you guys knew we were okay." His eyes flicker briefly to Tanya. "When he told us where you'd be, we agreed to come right away."
Even Chelsea is visibly moved, although, she definitely gets sentimental when she imbibes. Sure enough, her eyes soften as she gazes at Edward. "You're a real keeper, you know that?"
Shrugging, he turns to me and grins. "Had to do it."
A little drunk and really sentimental myself, I suppress the sob building in my chest by taking a long swallow of water. Tanya, whose makeup looks fine despite her tears, hasn't said much, but her watery eyes never leave me. It's as if she can't believe I'm sitting here with her, like if she looks elsewhere I'll disappear.
I know just how she feels.
Her slender fingers wrap around mine, squeezing. "I was so worried. I...we were keeping in touch with Tyler's boss too, so we knew you guys were safe, but I was terrified you wouldn't make it out of there alive." She squeezes her eyes shut, and tears stream down her face. "When Edward called, I just...I couldn't get here soon enough."
"I'm so glad you're here," I breathe. I'm going to be okay. No matter what happens, the people who mean the most to me are here.
Of course I miss Daddy, and Alice and Lauren, but my sister is my other half. And Edward...he's everything. I've come so close to losing them both, close enough that my heart catches painfully in my chest just thinking about the last few months.
Our waiter breezes by and takes a fresh batch of orders: appetizers, salads and drinks. We spend hours talking and catching up, trading stories and asking questions, mending the little tears that all of this time apart has created.
Night falls. Marc and Chelsea leave first, promising to contact us within the next couple of days. They have connections here, people they spend time with and things they do. Their responsibilities, as far as we're concerned, have been taken care of, but it feels good knowing they are close for a little longer.
It's late and I'm emotionally exhausted. Tanya and Tyler are staying at a nearby hotel, someplace a little fancier than the room Edward and I have. After leaving a generous tip to compensate for the ridiculous amount of time, food and alcohol we just blasted through, we step out into the night. It's breezy, almost chilly, and the sky sparkles over head, dark and clear.
After our time on the boat, one would think I'd be used to stars this bright, but it never gets old.
Tan and I fall back as the boys walk ahead. I'm reminded of sunny days and Miami beaches, and seeing those two just as they are now, only in matching uniforms. Taking my sister's hand, I draw her close, leaning into her.
"I missed you every day," I say. "The only thing that made it okay was knowing you were safe. And with him."
She nods, glancing at me. "Me too. I thought about you all the time, baby Bell. Prayed. And you know I've never been religious." Laughing a little, she sniffles and wipes her hand across her nose. "I think I am now, though."
"I know what you mean."
"So...you guys have alter egos now, huh? Married ones?"
Rolling my eyes, I let out a laugh of my own. "Yeah. Amun and Kebi, if you can believe."
"Um, okay." She snorts. "Who's who?"
"Shut up." I give her a shove, and just like that it's like no time has passed.
"All right, all right. For real, though, you guys are pretend-married?"
"Are you going to get for real married?"
"I don't know, Tan," I say, already exasperated. I shouldn't be, but her questions hit sensitive places, places I've been worrying myself for months. "Are you guys gonna? I mean, is it going that way for you?"
"I don't know," she says thoughtfully. "I could definitely see it. If there's one thing this whole shitstorm has taught me, it's that tomorrow is definitely not guaranteed."
I squint at her in the dark. "Never thought I'd see the day..."
"What?" she grins coyly.
"You. Ms. Independent."
"I'm still independent. I just...get it. Anyway, you're the one making speculations. Ty and I are happy just the way we are."
"Well, that's good."
The familiar, fading Christmas lights strung along the lower level of Shamar Bar appear. Edward and Tyler stop, then gesture toward the pool table before going in.
Tanya eyes the places with cautious curiosity. "What's this?"
"A bar, obviously." Covering my mouth, I yawn so widely my eyes water. The events of the day are catching up to me, not to mention the weeks of travel. "And there are rooms upstairs. This is where we're staying until we figure out our next move."
"Yeah. It's not so bad. Kinda loud, but...clean and right down town. And there's always something to eat down here."
"Are you guys, like, staying long?"
I roll my eyes at her barely concealed snobbery. "Marc and Chelsea know the area well. They're staying for a few days before heading back out...Edward and I will probably head for San Juan then."
"You sure you don't want to just stay with us?"
Ignoring her, I point to the bar, where a sleepy looking bartender is talking to an elderly patron. "Want a beer?"
"I probably shouldn't..."
She has two.
It is darkest, and coldest, right before sunrise. Even in this place, the balmy corner of a beautiful island, the winter wind coming off of the water has a real bite to it. Edward and I know that of course, having spent countless nights in proximity to this. Wrapped in his arms, I watch the sun rise with my sister at my side. Tyler finally dozed off, but the rest of us hold on, the unspoken anticipation of seeing daybreak floating between us. Tanya and I used to do this all the time, but it's been awhile.
I remember New Year's day, the year she left for college.
She'd been so excited to move out on her own, and then so sentimental about coming back for the holidays. We'd had a party that night, nothing big - just ringing in the new year with friends. The later it got, the emptier the house got, until it was just us. We ended up on the back porch, cuddled in blankets, drinking the last of the beer we weren't supposed to have, talking the hours away. We'd watched the sky lighten, blessedly rain-free for once.
This reminds me of that. Well, it's warmer, here. But looking at Tanya, her pretty face gentled by relief and sleepiness, I feel whole and complete and like I can do this thing.
She's staying; they're staying.
Quieted by the achingly beautiful sight of a rising sun, we wake Tyler so he can see what we see. Softly brilliant purples, pinks and oranges blooming over the sky.
It feels like new life, a promise.
"I'm so tired," Tanya whispers, rubbing her eyes as we trudge back to town. "You know when it feels like there's sand in your eye? Because you're overtired?"
"Kind of like now." Yawning widely, I nod. "Yeah. I know."
We walk silently for a moment. Tanya touches my arm. "You're sure you guys are okay, staying there? We could probably call for an extra cot or blankets at our hotel..."
"Tan, we chose to stay at Shamar. It's fine."
"I'm not as high maintenance as you," I interrupt. "And anyway, we're only staying until Marc and Chelsea leave. I told you that."
"All right." She yawns again, which is contagious because then we all yawn.
I kiss her cheek as we part ways, watching tiredly as she and Tyler walk back to their resort. She's been carrying her shoes, and she bends now to slip them back on.
Edward slips his hand into mine. "Come on."
The bar is closed, obviously. It's weird seeing it so quiet and dead when usually it's the most hopping place on the block. Upstairs, Edward opens our door and ushers me inside before collapsing back on the bed.
"I need a shower," I say, yawning yet again. "I'm sandy and gross."
"Mkay," he says, muffled by the mattress.
It's not a long shower at all; I don't even get my hair wet. Satisfied that I'm clean, I hop out and towel dry just as long as it takes me to make it to the bed, where Edward appears to be fast asleep already.
It comes and goes, this feeling of all-right-ness and contentment. Right now it washes over me like a warm wave at the beach, like my world's been set right on its axis.
Gratitude, hope, love.
When I awaken, it's to the muted tones of Edward's telephone conversation. He's sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to me.
Still half asleep, I hear enough to know that it's Emmett. Awareness prickles through me and I sit up, pushing my bangs from my face. Feeling the bed shift, Edward glances back over his shoulder, giving me a small smile.
My heart squeezes a little. I get up to go the bathroom, and when I come back, Edward's off the phone.
"How are they?" I ask, diving back beneath the covers. Outside, rain falls, drumming gently on the roof.
"Good. Rose is getting bigger and bigger."
"I bet." I remember her in my mind's eye, how lovely she was. She's probably a goddess now. An unexpected sense of longing settles deep inside of me, catching me off guard.
I realize I want what she has, and that I could probably have it, if things were different. She and Emmett didn't plan to get pregnant when they did, but I know that they were ridiculously excited about it.
Blinking, I focus back on the here and now. Edward's fiddling with something in his backpack. His hair's longer than it's been since I've known him, the ends curling. It's heartbreakingly adorable, as if I didn't already love him like crazy.
He looks up at me, smirking. "What?"
I shake my head slowly. "Just thinking."
"Ah. Gonna be like that."
Straightening up, he stretches his arms up over his head. "Secretive. That's okay. You usually tell me eventually."
"What?" I laugh, reclining back on the pillows. "You're silly."
"I'm not. I just know your faces. You don't spend as much time together as we do and not know faces and voices and shit."
"I was thinking about Rose being pregnant."
"See?" He joins me, sitting close. "You always tell me."
Rolling my eyes, I shrug.
Edward slips me his phone, where Em and Rose smile up at us from a recent picture. Just as I'd known, they are stunning in their happiness, all sun kissed and windblown. Rose is fully pregnant, as in, there's no hiding it now, and so very pretty.
"Where are they?" I ask, tracing my fingertips across the screen.
"Vermont. They want to come down, though."
"Im sure they do. Everyone wants to come here."
"Yeah." He sighs, pocketing the phone. "But they won't come before the baby's born. Em's got legit health care at his job and they're comfortable."
"I thought you guys had plenty of money."
"We have money because we watch what we spend. If I told you how expensive Rose's medical care has been so far, and what it's going to be for the birth, you'd freak. It's better they do it this way, trust me."
"I believe you." Nodding, I look at the window, where the world is grey outside. "It's good they're being responsible."
"Have to be, with a kid on the way."
Emmett and Rose aren't that much older than us. I can't imagine having that extra consideration, shaping every decision.
Edward slides his hand down, squeezing my thigh. "It's why I wanted to be...careful. With you."
His touch alone makes me want him, and ironically, so does the course of our conversation. It's like this primal, biological urge to procreate or something, even though that's the last thing I we need.
"I understand. I should get to a doctor, though. Soon."
My stomach growls, reminding me that my last meal was a long, long time ago. We've slept away at least half of the day, so it's lunch time now.
"I'm going to grab something to eat," I announce, pulling on a pair of jeans that could probably use a wash. "You want anything?"
"Where're you going? Just downstairs?"
"Grab me a couple of those..."
He hands me a twenty, already back on the phone. Wrapping my hair into a sloppy bun, I step out into the hallway, where an older woman looks blearily back at me as she slips into her room. As usual, the smell of fried food gets stronger the closer I get to the bar. I'm starting to recognize some of the faces around here, the regulars who decorate the bar with their pool sticks and beer.
Paco, the guy manning the bar, winks at me. "Hey, mami. Late night?"
"Yeah. And now we're starving."
"That's the way it goes. Que quieres comer?"
"Um..." I squint up at the handwritten menu. "Three...no, four surollitos. And four empanadas."
"You ever had tostones?"
I shake my head, mouth watering at just the mention of some probably delicious new food. "No."
Grinning, he jots that down. "On the house, then. Five minutes, mami."
Some guy I don't know plops down in the bar stool beside mine and proceeds to chat my ear off until Paco returns with my food. Most of the guys around here are open with their appreciation, eyeing me and winking, but no one's been disrespectful. In fact, I feel safe here, which is a lot more than I can say for the States.
Back upstairs, Edward and I eat like kings and wash it all down with Medalla.
The rain comes down harder. It's so different here than it was back home in Seattle. It's gentler somehow, tropical. Warm. The kind of rain you play in barefoot. Maybe, if it continues, I will.
"Marc'll be here in a minute," Chelsea promises, easing back on to her towel. "He just had to do a couple if last minute errands before we set out tomorrow."
Marc and Chelsea leave Puerto Rico at sunrise tomorrow. We're spending their last day on the beach, soaking up as much relaxation as possible before they begin their grueling trip back to the States. It's Sunday, and Boqueron Beach (el balenario, according to Paco) is packed, filled with locals and tourists alike.
Tyler and Edward toss a football back and forth; further up the beach, a casual soccer game goes on, punctuated by shouts and cheers.
"Are you guys all packed, then?" asks Tanya, eyes closed as she lounges. She and Ty have become acquainted with Chelsea and Marc in the few days we've spent together.
"Yep." Chelsea sighs, subduing her sun-bleached hair into a knot at the base of her neck. "We keep most of our stuff on the boat, so, it does't take much."
I tune out as she and my sister chat, distracted by a group of little kids crowded around a guy selling ice cream close to the parking lot. I'm kind of in the mood for one, myself.
"You guys want ice cream?"
Chelsea shakes her head, gesturing to the beer she's just popped open, but Tanya grins widely. "Yes, please!"
"You know it."
"I do know it." My sister hasn't deviated from that flavor since childhood. Gathering some of the spare dollar bills crammed into my wallet, I pick my way over to the ice cream man and order a couple of cones.
"What'd you get me?" Edward's voice, super close and warm in my ear, makes me jump.
"Don't be a creep," I laugh. "I almost dropped this, and then you'd be buying me another."
Sliding his arm around my shoulder, he nods toward the ice cream. "Coconut please. And chocolate. Double scoop."
"How you stay so skinny I have no idea."
"I just played football for like an hour, Bella," he laughs, handing the man a five.
"True," I concede, balancing my own cones.
We return to our group, where Tyler and now Marc are sitting as well, downing the frosty brews Chelsea brought in her cooler.
"So we head out in the morning," Marc says, smoothing his mustache. It's a move that reminds me of my father, and for a second, I hurt. It passes quickly...thankfully.
"You guys are all set, right?" Chelsea asks, for probably the tenth time. "You're gonna go to San Juan?"
"Yeah." Edward licks dripping ice cream from his hand. "On Tuesday, probably, or Wednesday."
"You should be fine here, but...be careful. Stay alert, you know?" Marc squints out at the water. "I'll give you kids a call once we're back in Miami and I've checked in with Aro and your father."
"What about my dad?" I ask. "Will you be able to get an update on how he's doing?"
"I'll try, but...no guarantees. Depends on what Aro knows."
"Have you heard anything?" Edward asks, sounding funny because his mouth is numb from ice cream. "About...the dirty cops?"
"Not really. They had a funeral service for Jacob and James, and a couple of other assholes, but other than that...it's been quiet on that front. Cops getting tighter in general, but not necessarily concerning shady stuff. More of a..." Marc gestures, searching for the right words. "Attempt at solidarity. Very, very few of them realized how dirty Jacob and James were, so the majority are mourning the loss."
Imagining those two jerks getting some sort of hero's farewell makes me sick to my stomach, but there's nothing I can do except hope that eventually, with ongoing investigations and maybe even my father's testimony, the truth will come to light.
Dinner that night is a quiet affair. Tanya and Tyler turn in early, leaving Edward and I to eat with Marc and Chelsea one last time. Over fresh fish and fried plantain, we say our goodbyes, communicating how grateful we are to them for all they've done.
We'll probably never see them again.
Back in our guest room, Edward passes out while I stay up online. For the first time in months, I log into Facebook, but as Kebi. It's a new account, and I have no friends, but I'm able to glean bits of info from the friends I have as Bella.
Alice is kissing Jasper in her new profile picture. The rest of her profile's private, but that I can see. My heart thumps unevenly, and I'm glad that they're together - happy, seemingly. Lauren's doing a duckface in hers. I laugh quietly, knowing she's doing it to be dumb. Her hair is longer than it was when I was home. Guess she decided to grow it out.
No matter what happens, people's lives continue. And as much as I'd love to sit here and feel sorry for myself because I'm sequestered away from my old friends and life, I have to acknowledge how very deeply grateful I am to be alive at all.
two months later
My taxi pulls up to the rather ritzy apartment complex where I've lived with Edward since moving to San Juan. It's in Santurce, surrounded by people, restaurants, and fun stuff to do - perfect for a couple our age so we blend right in.
I pay my driver and slip out of the back seat, looking forward to seeing Edward. We both work close by: me at a hotel near the University of Puerto Rico and him at a resort bar and restaurant. We could easily have lived off of our savings - which, between the two of us, are substantial - but we choose not to. I like knowing it'll be there when we finally go back to the States. Besides, when Aro and Ed sent us off on that boat, they made sure to provide us with plenty of cash, knowing we'd need to stay below the radar as much as possible. We might have fake IDs, but our finances are still linked to our real names, so avoiding banks just makes sense.
And all of that aside, it's important we really make a life here. We don't know how long we have, but waiting for things to change, always living in the in-between, would be stressful. Depressing. So here we are, doing this.
Tanya and Tyler live about ten minutes away. It's weird seeing Tanya so domestic, decorating and cooking all the time and turning their place into a real home. Determined to stay on track with her educational goals, she's been taking online courses since she was in Charleston with Tyler's family. She's even got Ty taking them now too, when he's not working full time with Edward.
Just like old times - I know Edward's glad to have his boy around.
I'd take online classes, too, but I'm not sure how that works in terms of my dual identities and staying hidden. My sister and Ty didn't assume new names, but to everyone here, Edward and I are Kebi and Amun. As ridiculous as that continues to be to us (and to Tanya and Ty, who snicker every time they hear it), we're used to it.
And if I'm being honest, I don't want to take online classes right now. My heart just isn't in it.
The elevator doors open, and I step out on to the fourth floor.
"Did you get it?" Edward asks, the second I walk in.
"Hi to you, too," I murmur, dropping a kiss on to his mouth.
"Hey." He kisses me back. "So...did you?"
I toss my purse down and join him on the couch. "Yup."
"Did it...go okay? Did it hurt?"
I shrug, rubbing my abdomen. Taking our rather unpredictable lifestyle into consideration, getting an IUD had seemed like the most practical type of birth control. I'm crampy now though, and I tell him as much. "And spotting."
"Oh." He makes a face. "That sucks. Do you need anything?"
"Motrin. And...maybe beer." We've been hooked on Medalla and Corona with lime since arriving on island, so there's always plenty in the fridge.
"Done and done." He kisses my cheek and jumps up. "I didn't...I guess I didn't think it would be so..."
"Neither did I," I admit, swallowing the pain killers down with a gulp of beer. "The pamphlets made it seem, I don't know, less hardcore."
Grimacing in sympathy, he joins me once again, sitting close enough to squeeze my knee. "Sorry."
"It's okay." Shrugging, I pick up the remote. "Let's watch a movie."
After being on the pill for so long, I needed something well suited to how crazy my life had become. I spoke to my new doctor about it, and after doing a little reading, decided to go for it. I have to admit, as the days go by, it's nice not having to worry about taking a daily pill.
Edward's just relieved we can't get pregnant. I mean, it matters to me, too - it always has - but it's important enough to him that he doesn't want it happening by mistake.
"My parents planned for both Em and I," he said recently. "And I want it to be something I plan for as well, when it's time. I love my brother, but I wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now. We can't afford to be caught off guard."
He's right, of course. I'm just not as freaked out by it as he is.
After a morning shift at the hotel, I head over to one of my favorite coffee shops for my daily treat. Born and raised in Seattle, I've been a Starbucks girl my whole life but the coffee down here is on a level of its own. I love it. There are a couple of little tables outside, so I take a seat, intent on reading for awhile while I drink my coffee.
The early April weather is mild, a gentle breeze cooling the afternoon sun. I'm a couple of pages in to my book when a shadow falls across the table. Glancing up, I'm met by the charming smile of Victor, this guy I've come to know.
His eyes crinkle as he grins, and before I can say anything, he slides into the empty chair across from me. This is not the first time we've run into one another here, and, an obvious flirt, he always does this.
I finger the pages of my book, wondering what time Edward will be home.
"All done working?" Victor asks, leaning back.
"Yeah; I had an early day." I take a sip of coffee, careful not to look too intently back at him. Victor's ridiculously hot and just as smart, pre-med over at the university. And he's always watching me, flirting when we meet.
"Ah." His eyes dance over my face, flickering down to the necklace Edward bought me a couple of weeks ago.
Sensing that more flirtation is about to ensue, I put my book away and drain my coffee.
I smile at him, then head to the back to get my bag out and clock out.
Victor frowns, sitting up. "Hey, I didn't mean to interrupt..."
"No, it's okay." I smile at him. "I've been here a little while. I should get home."
"It's a beautiful day; you should enjoy it."
Standing, I shoulder my bag and nod. "I have been. Good to see you, Victor."
He falls in step with me, his shoulder brushing mine as I make my way out of the plaza. "You have plans tonight?"
And there it is. My heart skips, but not in a good way. Besides the innocent flirtations of the guys I see all the time, I haven't been so openly pursed in a while.
"Um, not really. Probably just hanging out with my husband."
"Your husband?" He laughs incredulously and grabs my hand. "No ring?"
Shit. "Sometimes I forget to put it back on after showering," I lie.
Frowning dubiously, he releases my hand. "You seem young...to be married."
"Yeah. I know. We hear it all the time."
I don't know if I've convinced him or not, but he backs off. "All right, well...see you around, Kebi."
Startling me, he drops a kiss on my cheek, winks, and walks back the way we came.
For some reason, the encounter stays with me all the way home. I know that on paper, Edward and I are married, but I hate living that kind of lie. I mean, it's not even us that's married - it's Amun and Kebi. We've been living this lie for awhile now, and normally it doesn't bother me. Not much. But I guess maybe I want...more. I want real.
I want to not choke on the word "husband", feeling like I'm compromising on something I always held sacred before.
Edward gets home hours after I do, cranky and tired. Kissing my cheek, he drops his wallet and keys on the counter.
"I just want...to watch TV and fall asleep," he says, yawning. "After a shower."
He disappears into the bathroom, and seconds later I hear water running. Not in the mood to cook, I throw together deli style sandwiches and chips, and set them up in the living room so we can watch a movie while we eat.
Edward emerges a little while later in sweats and a t-shirt. Dropping down on to the couch, he reaches for me, pulling me close.
"Sorry I was such a shit a little while ago. I'm just tired. Bad day."
"It's okay." I kiss his nose. "Let's eat."
Smiling gratefully, he picks up his plate and tucks in.
I'm not surprised when he passes out early. After watching the end of the movie, I clean up, then rouse him long enough to stumble into bed.
"Love you, baby," he mumbles, before falling face first into his pillow.
I'm speaking before I've really given myself permission to. "Edward?"
"I want to get married."
"We are married," he says, barely audible. When I fail to respond, he turns his face and peers at me in the dim light.
"Our aliases are married," I say. "That's not the same thing."
He rolls over, yawning again.
"Do...you want that?" I ask, a flare of anxiety rippling through me when he doesn't respond.
Closing his eyes, he smiles, this sly, sexy smile that makes my insides clench. "Yeah, I want that."
I stare at him, at the curve of his soft, full mouth, at the hands that know just how to touch me, at the skin where his shirt rides up.
"Sure I'm sure."
Now a little unsure myself, I sit beside him on the bed. "Okay."
I glance down at him.
"Grab my pants real quick? The ones I took off tonight."
Because my boyfriend's a slob, his work pants are on the bathroom floor. I toss them at him and he catches them, reaching inside the pocket.
He holds a tiny velvet pouch out to me, and, heart pounding, I accept it.
I do, and a little diamond ring slips out onto my palm. My mouth goes dry, and I don't know whether to smile or cry.
"You think you're the only one?" he asks, right next to me now, his words warm and soft and close. "That feels that way?" He kisses my ear, my cheek, and then my mouth.
"I've been carrying this around for months."
Stay Awake - Madeon & Ellie Goulding
Hayling - FC Kahuna
thank you for reading
much much love, muñecas