Shards of Glass I Couldn't Catch
by Anton M.
I: The Words You Couldn't Say
"The taxi's here."
Quiet sobs rocked his body. He took a shaky breath, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, the same one that travelled to his hair and tore violently. He leaned his back against the refrigerator, resting his elbows on his knees as he sat on the kitchen floor. He refused to look up.
"I—I… Can you… just a moment to—to… where did I go wrong? Just—just tell me. So I'd know how—how I managed to fuck up the best—the best—"
He couldn't continue. He wiped his entire face with the damp end of his sleeve. It was no use, trying to hide his tears, but his eyes were glued on the shards of beautiful blue glass in front of him.
"Maybe… maybe we just weren't meant to be."
"How can you—how can you say that?"
"Edward… shit happens. I'm not going to blame you for what happened. Maybe it was my fault, too. Maybe I should've paid more attention to your needs. Maybe I should've seen that you didn't really—didn't really—"
For the first time since she found the courage to finally do what they both needed—pack her belongings and get the hell out of this halfway disaster—she stopped being so detached. Her hands shook, shook from anger and betrayal and so much hurt. Gripping and blinding and suffocating hurt. She would've never imagined she was capable of feeling so much pain. Physical pain.
"I didn't really—what?"
Unsaid words hung between them, but her whisper was the last thing he expected.
"Want me," she finished, clenching her jaw so it wouldn't quiver. She couldn't appear to be weak. She couldn't.
It was like a fire lit in his eyes, intense and unrelenting.
"Don't—don't tell me. Don't tell me you really believe that."
She took a breath, closing her eyes, because if she didn't, she'd burst into tears in a heartbeat, begging him to take her back. But she couldn't. "It was always a silly—a silly dream, you know? Women are never able to change men, no matter how much we like to believe otherwise."
"You—you changed me."
She swallowed her tears. Her jaw quivered.
"It's not. I guess I… I never should've expected you to stay with me. So it's my fault for being so naïve."
"You—you broke up with me, remember?"
He intertwined his fingers, gripping his hands until he felt his joints crack.
"But what? What, Bella?"
"I saw you."
Edward nearly smacked his head against the refrigerator as he snapped his eyes to hers. As quickly as his eyes locked with hers, they left. An act of guilt.
"It's not—it's not what it seems."
She swallowed more tears. "But it's never really like that, is it?"
He ran both hands across his scalp, with her name a mere whisper in his lips. "Bella…"
"So you want to explain?" she demanded. "Go ahead. I think I'm able to keep up. Is it just that she sat on your lap and you both forgot to wear any pants? Or did she have an itch in her belly? Is that why you haven't touched me for two months? Or why you haven't arrived home before midnight? Alice told me you leave the hospital at around six, Edward. Six. That is six hours before you arrive home. Care to explain that?"
He opened and closed his mouth, gaping, and tore at his hair. Conflicted, he shut his eyes and let out an angry stream of curses.
"You know what? Maybe half of me wasn't expecting to be enough for you, maybe I always expected you to understand that I'm too unsociable, too fat, too unacceptable for your friends for you to stay with me. And on some twisted level, I understand that. But cheating on me? That's so fucking low, even for you. You promised that's something you'd never do to me. You promised. You could've told me that you didn't—that you… or maybe that you never did—" She gulped. "…you know. It would've left me in pieces, but now you just jump on those tiny pieces of my heart I have left. That—that's even worse."
"I—I… I never had sex with Victoria. Please—please believe me."
"Just feelings then, huh?" A stream of tears found their way to her chin, but hurt gripped her, wrapped around her. Suffocated her. She didn't even notice her tears. "You know, I never did feel the need to hear you say the words. Because I saw the words in your actions and how tenderly you took care of me. But for that all to be a lie… I cannot begin to tell you how much that hurts."
"It—it wasn't a lie, Bella—please, please believe me. I promise."
"Promises mean nothing, Edward. Actions mean everything. And yours?"
She didn't answer her own question, and neither did he. A loud clock ticked away in the distance. Finally, after staring at him, his heartbroken face and trembling fingers, she found the courage to tear away her eyes.
She gulped. "So—the taxi's waiting. It was—it… I still—I still want you to be happy. I'm sorry I—I'm sorry I wasn't enough for you."
At the blink of an eye, he got up and stepped around her, between Bella and the front door. "Please." He raised his eyes, but the unmistakable tremble of the corner of his lips gave him away. "I will—I will do anything, anything you ask of me." His voice cracked. "Don't go."
"Edward, I sent you flowers and you thought they were from Victoria. You haven't denied anything that matters. After—after—I can't. I refuse to be with a guy who cheats on me. Never again."
"I'd never—I… I didn't cheat on you. I would never."
"Whatever. It's time for me to leave. Please move."
She licked her lips, more of an act of habit than anything else, and locked eyes with his. "Edward, you've broken me in ways I didn't know I could be broken. What—what more do you want?"
"Fuck, Bella. I'm not—I'm not a man of words."
"I didn't ask you to be," she replied. "Can you just move?"
"Fine," she replied. "I'll use the back door."
"No!" In an instant, he was behind her, in front of her, next to her—everywhere. She shut her eyes, taking deep breaths, and immediately regretted it. His scent reminded her of times he wasn't allergic to her presence; times when he at least let his actions speak louder than the words he'd never been able to say.
He glanced at his hands, the precise and important source of his salary, his trembling surgeon fingers that had never in his life trembled. His fingers blurred and his throat burned. One wipe with the damp end of his sleeve, one look at her semi-distant, pained eyes, and he swallowed back the guilt and pain and inability to express himself in words.
She nodded, holding her breath as she sidestepped him and took one last bag to the impatient taxi driver. Edward pointedly didn't help her, he couldn't. Helping her leave? He might as well stab himself.
By the time she returned for her handbag, he was leaning on the kitchen counter, holding his head in his hands. His shoulders shook, and his chin quivered. A stream of tears wet his cheeks.
The sight nearly broke her.
"I'm not—I'm not punishing you for not expressing yourself. I'm not. I sincerely… if Victoria makes you happy, go for it." She took a breath. "I don't regret anything between us. You taught me that… that I'm capable of so much love it's borderline unhealthy, even if you—even if you never…" She swallowed, praying she wouldn't start sobbing. "…you know. I'm grateful you taught me it's possible."
She took one last look at him on the doorway, at his shaking shoulders and the hands that had found their way to his messy hair; hands in their damp sleeves and with their strong yet delicate fingers.
"I'll never forget you, Edward."
She had just opened the front door, letting in a gust of cold spring air, when a voice, now nearly unrecognisable, rasped, "Bella."
She turned, waiting. Seconds passed as she watched his figure, his hunched shoulders and tear-stained cheeks, and acknowledged the rhythm of her shallow breaths. For a long, windswept moment, neither said anything, until Edward stepped closer, slow and careful, and stopped right in front of her.
"Can I—can you…" He swallowed. A man who had troubles being affectionate, showing his feelings in words and sometimes actions, was brought to his knees. "Can I hug you?" he whispered. "One last time?"
He didn't move—he didn't breathe—before Bella tilted her head forward, giving in. He wrapped his arms around her, an act so delicate and tender as to suggest fear of breaking her, and yet, she still felt protected. He rubbed a gentle hand across her back, across her waist, and placed a ghost of a kiss on her neck. Another followed, and his hands started to explore her curves, something he hadn't done for two months.
His hands stopped moving, but his lips on her neck didn't. She could feel his damp cheek.
"I—I… I won't be able to… Don't do this to me. I can't. I won't be able to leave."
Kisses on her neck grew urgent, warm and wet and desperate. She squirmed.
"I don't—I don't want you to."
"I have to."
"Sex resolves nothing."
Soft lips played with her ear, and she could feel his warm breath. "I would like nothing more than to make love to you, but I—I… I broke you." He sighed, holding on to her like his life depended on it. "It's—it's the middle of the night, Bella. And there's too much left unsaid. Just—just ask me. Ask me. I'll answer. That way—that way I'll be able to—to—to... you know. I'll be honest. Anything you—you need to know, I'll tell you. Maybe we just—just need to talk. If you still—if you still want to—to, uh, leave… later, I'll let you. No dodgy business."
She shut her eyes, feeling the warmth of his body under his woollen sweater.
"The taxi's waiting."
Immediately, Edward removed his lips from her ear and took a step back. He glued his eyes on the worn-out doormat, searching for a reason, any reason, not to look at her.
She nodded, licking her lips and watching Edward crack his knuckles, a horrible habit for a surgeon to have. She opened the door, starting to step out, but just as she did, Edward stopped her. For a fraction of a second, she imagined that he'd tell her it wasn't him kissing Victoria, it wasn't him kissing his ex-girlfriend. It was all a mistake and he loved her.
What she wouldn't have given to hear those words from him.
"Bella," he rasped, the edges of his lips quivering. "You—take care of yourself for me. I'll never… I'll never forgive myself for—for…" He ran a hand through his hair, struggling with composure. "You're—you're the most incredible person I ever met."
"As are you, Edward." The faintest of smiles broke through her tears. "As are you."
The front door closed with a quiet click.
II: Pockets Full of Domino Tiles
She knocked, heart in her throat, waiting for the door to open. It didn't. She could've yelled—it's not like they had any neighbours in this corner of Devon—but she couldn't find the strength. Instead, she tapped the bottom left corner of the door, a place she knew relied on a hardwood stool to lock the door with a hailstorm like this. Like she knew it would, it amplified and echoed her knocks.
After a few seconds of wind's whistling and blowing hail in her face, she tapped on the door again. Her shudders and rosy-cheeked face were now not only a result of collateral damage in her heart. She was freezing.
Finally, when she did hear the unlocking of the door, it nearly blew off its hinges, revealing a cowering man holding onto his wrist. For a brief moment, he squinted. Upon realising who was standing in front of him, he let out a faltering breath, not daring to hope, not daring to forsake hope, not daring to move or breathe.
"Bella," he whispered, staring at her windblown hair, her rosy cheeks and eyes that no longer pierced his soul. Nor did they lock with his.
"It's not—" She took a breath, hoping to numb herself in this less than stellar situation. She had no choice. "We only made it to Okehampton. The storm is getting worse. My driver refused to take me even to Exeter, so can I…" Her voice lowered, sounding borderline desperate. "I just need to use a phone to get another taxi from Exeter."
Edward pursed his lips in a line as his eyes lost the almost-hope he'd almost dared to imagine. He stepped aside. Not until Edward kicked the door closed with his foot did Bella notice the blood, the sheer amount of blood on the floor, dripping from his hand. She let her eyes flicker between his face and hands.
"You didn't… please tell me you didn't do it to yourself."
"No." He let out a weak, humourless laugh. "Just an accident. If I wanted to end myself, slitting my wrists would be hardly effective."
His eyes held pain in them, and he sighed, physically and emotionally spent. His red eyes rested on her face and body and long, straight hair. A sight he'd thought he would never see again.
"You need any help with that?"
"I'm fine," he insisted, tearing his eyes from her figure and rushing to the kitchen. "You know where the phone is."
Without a flicker or a warning, the lights went out.
She sighed, slow and deep and clearly a substitute for cursing. She'd been drained from emotion, she felt too tired to express surprise. So she hummed an obscure response as she lit a few candles in the kitchen. Edward still cowered above the sink, knowing that tap water would cease to flow in five minutes. So did she, and as she silently observed his wrist—blood still gushed out from his wound—she knew as well as he did that he needed stitches. And she needed to do it.
"Where's your kit?"
"Where it usually is," he replied. "But you don't—you don't have to. I'll let it be taken care of in the morning."
"By Victoria?" she asked, void of emotion, as she carefully stepped around shards of glass and found his black suitcase from a top shelf in the pantry. He'd never misplaced it.
Edward's pained face contorted into a grimace, he shut his eyes and pursed his lips together, wishing he could get the words out when he needed. "No."
He wanted to continue, to explain and make her understand, to admit his mistakes when he'd made them, to make her see he'd never truly cheated—not really. Not in his heart.
Bella said nothing. She listened to his quiet instructions and shrugged off his concern about her queasy stomach as she disinfected his instruments. She couldn't read the handwriting on a small bottle in the dark, so she raised it at his eye level, questioning him.
"Christ, no," he replied. "It would be neither legal nor wise for someone like me to have a stash at home. That's lidocaine."
She raised her eyebrows.
"It's perfectly safe."
She followed his instructions and opted for small talk. If Edward felt, even in the slightest, that they were aiming for talking about their feelings or matters close to his heart, he'd shut down.
"Do they even use cocaine for anaesthesia anymore?"
"Topical, yes. Lacrimal canal and nasal surgery, mostly."
She felt the unwavering gaze and the accompanying pride in his eyes as she silently stitched up his wrist. She wrapped, cut and tied a bandage around it.
"Any nausea?" he asked, gently rubbing and admiring her handiwork. She shook her head, disinfected his tools and put his suitcase away. For other women, pregnancy often meant an upset stomach, feeling queasy, having strange appetites. But Bella, who had always been a queasy person by nature, sometimes even vomiting at the mere smell of blood, had to become pregnant to stop feeling queasy. No morning sickness, either. She stopped picking at her food.
It was exactly the opposite of what she'd heard would happen.
"Will you take me to Exeter yourself if the electricity doesn't come back?"
He let out a long breath. "Where did you put your taxi driver?"
"He's a family friend of the McCartys. He's spending the night in Hatherleigh."
"Bella, I really think… You—you should stay the night."
She stayed silent. An hour ago, she would've hitchhiked all the way to Bristol if she had to, or found a place to stay at Okehampton, anything to avoid being in the vicinity of her now ex-boyfriend. But as she looked at him, sitting on a stool, his head encased in his hand as the light of all the candles flickered on his face, she found that she didn't mind. Yes, it was painful. But it was naïve of her to think she could have a clean break; after all, when she finally told him about her pregnancy (and she intended to; eventually, when all the turmoil and hurt had passed), she was sure at least a sense of obligation would tie him to their baby. They'd created life together.
But she could not, and would not, let him think that this would cure everything. Baby or not, she refused to be with a man who didn't love her, who couldn't be faithful. That would be a recipe for disaster.
Edward, who misinterpreted her silence, ran his intact hand through his hair. "I won't—I won't—you can have our, I mean, the bedroom. I'll sleep on the couch. Please stay. I'll, uh, I'll drive you in the morning."
"Can I take the couch?"
He snapped his eyes to hers. "So you'll stay?"
With so much hope in his words, she couldn't resist a tiny smile. One that didn't light her eyes, one that didn't mean anything, really, but for a brief moment, it was there, and it set his heart on fire. He could've wept, the sight of her smile lightened his heart to magnitudes hard to grasp. He had to force himself to look away, or he'd try to touch her, a brief kiss on the lips, chin, nose, neck, he didn't care. After three years, he wanted her more than ever.
It was a night of words left unspoken, a night of awkward politeness, unmentioned pain on their faces. It was a brief moment when a fraction of calm settled in Edward's heart. A mere fraction.
He helped make her bed, and when their hands touched, he apologised, but he didn't mean his apology. Not really.
Edward already knew he wouldn't be able to sleep, not with the danger of her sneaking out when and if the taxi returned in the morning, not with the risk of not seeing her again, ever, not with the threat of never being able to explain himself and make her see he wasn't back to his old ways. Because he wasn't.
He desperately needed to devise a plan.
When Bella came to at the wee hours of the morning, she couldn't understand what had woken her, but then she felt a weight being laid on her and the tucking of her bedclothes. A strand of hair lifted from her face, the caressing of her hair followed, and she knew Edward was either sitting on the floor or leaning over her. Would he be able to speak when he thought she was asleep? But no words followed. Just a simple, gentle caress of her hair. He let out a loaded sigh, kissing her hair before he left her side. She raised her eyes, and from the mirror on the wall, saw that he'd made a fire in the fireplace. He added a log and sat on the carpet, resting elbows on his knees and watching her figure.
At one point, he covered his eyes with his bandaged hand, and his shoulders started to shake. He snivelled, wiping his face with a sleeve, but the trembling of his shoulders didn't stop.
It tore her apart. She'd never seen him cry before those last two days, and the fact that her breaking up with him induced such an intimate reaction, it broke her. She wanted to go to him, sit in his lap and talk about the world and Margaret Thatcher and if Compact Discs would ever really replace cassettes. Meaningless, necessary conversation.
She decided to let him have his moment, to sit down with him in the morning, and not leave until he talked. Because he deserved to explain his side of the story, even if it was the hardest thing he'd ever do, or the hardest thing she'd ever listen to.
The next time Bella woke up, another blanket was placed on her, but this time, Edward hovered, only his shallow breaths indicating his presence above her. What surprised her the most, however, was his broken whisper.
"You're my world, Isabella."
The single tear that left her eye preceded others. Not for a second, not for a fraction of a moment had Edward ever expressed his feelings for her. Countless of times, she'd told him how much she loved him, but not once had the words left his lips. She didn't even know what he thought about her appearance because he didn't mention it. And—afraid of the answer—she couldn't ask a yes-or-no question about love. Because lack of answer would be her answer.
Finally gathering herself, she snivelled, too, and turned around to face Edward, his cowering posture next to the fireplace as he stared at the couch so intensely that he no longer actually saw her. So when Bella discovered that Edward had covered the entire floor with rows and rows of upright domino tiles, all circling the couch, he couldn't see her expression until she actually addressed him.
He stood upright, clearing his throat. "Did I wake you? Are you cold? I can bring another blanket."
"No, I'm alright," she replied with a timid smile. "Thank you, Edward."
He offered an awkward smile back to her, rubbing his neck. Electricity had returned hours ago, but he had immediately turned off all the lights so it wouldn't wake her, so it wouldn't make her call before he could make sure he'd done absolutely everything within his power to keep her.
They stared at each other until Bella cleared her throat. "Would you consider sitting here with me? Just for a moment?"
"I—I—I would love to, but can you—" He huffed, already annoyed with himself. "Come here instead? Bring a blanket. It's freezing."
She raised her eyebrows, but said nothing as she tiptoed across the room, making sure not to step on any domino tiles, and stopped right next to Edward. His scent, his wide shoulders, it all surrounded her, and she flushed.
Edward offered her a sad smile, rubbing his neck. "I—I just, can you hear me out? But I will—I need to do it my own way, could you—I ask—I ask… you don't have to stay, I won't force you into anything… but I want—I would like you to listen. Will you help me?"
For all intents and purposes, he didn't actually have a stutter. He neither spoke with one at work, nor was he diagnosed with a stutter as a child or an adult. With stuttering, he believed, the anxiety was more a result of a stutter, not vice versa. But Edward—he knew he had it the other way around, he knew the words, nothing physical prevented him from saying them, he wasn't anxious about saying the words, per se, and it didn't sound like a stutter. More like an array of thoughts left unfinished.
Not only was he scared, he was raised to be scared. Scared of expressing his feelings.
"Of course. What do you want me to do?"
He let out a breath. "Listen."
"I've been trying to do that for three years. Even the lines you didn't say."
"I know." His expression softened, but he didn't look at her. "But can you sit next to me and not look at me when I speak? You can ask anything and I'll answer. But I really think, I think it'll be much easier for me to explain myself like this."
She nodded, sat down in her mess of a blanket with Edward right behind her. He removed the blanket from around her, and—placing her between his one outstretched leg and a bent one—he wrapped the blanket around them both.
"Is this okay?" he whispered, one arm wrapped around her, and the other toying with the remaining domino tiles. "I just thought—can I hold you? Maybe just for this one last time. If you—if you—"
Bella felt cherished beyond belief, and she nodded. He kept fiddling with the domino tiles and rested his cheek against her shoulder. She could feel his low voice vibrate against her skin.
"Have I ever told you about my mother?"
She shook her head. She knew it was a painful spot. She'd never pressed.
"She was a woman made of steel," he said. "I've never met anyone, man or woman, quite as determined, as strong, as willing to do anything and everything to avoid discussing emotions. Or feeling them. She wanted to raise a man who'd be made of steel, too. Men don't cry. They're strong. They provide. They don't admit to being weak. They aren't weak. It came to a point where—when I was ten or so—I fell downstairs at school and had a concussion. I lost consciousness, I vomited, my speech slurred, the whole thing. But I knew, I knew I couldn't cry or show how much it hurt. So I didn't. I passed out at home on the carpet, and my mother scolded me for being a lazy kid. It… it was quite something."
She squeezed his hand, and he placed a kiss on her shoulder.
"I don't talk about her. And I don't want to right now, either. My uncle, my mother's brother could get nothing out of me, not my likes or dislikes, or the fact that I was terrified of water but refused to admit it, so he had to save my life when I passed out from shock off the coast of Watchet Beach. But soon, he found a way to get things out of me without me realising it."
"What was that?"
He picked up a domino tile and handed it to her, like a piece of a secret he could only share once in a lifetime.
"Almost," he replied, smiling against her skin. "Playing. When he found me playing, and when he asked me questions, I actually answered, and I answered honestly. That's why there are piles of old boxes of dominos in the pantry."
Her mouth opened in a quiet 'o' as she observed the floor and the circling rows of domino pieces, and she tilted her head back to see his face, his pensive expression. Only for a moment. The level of trust he had in himself, in her, it squeezed her heart.
"Does it still work?"
"It has to," he replied, continuing to set the remaining pieces of dominos into careful rows.
"How come you've never done this before?"
"I forgot. And even with these… It's so hard, Bella. It drains me from energy to not—to try to explain without… I can't—"
"It's okay, Edward."
"It's not," he insisted, huffing. "That's the thing. It's not okay."
"We don't have to do this."
He gripped her waist tighter, feeling her eyes on him but refusing to return her gaze. "We do," he whispered. "I want to—I'm worth it, Bella. I want to show you I'm—I deserve you."
His voice cracked.
"I'm sorry, but I have to ask. Have you been on anything during the last three years?"
"No. I've been clean for thirteen."
"Same," he said, humming, not even remotely fazed by the question. "You have to realise, Bella. There is no halfway for me. If I were on drugs or abusing alcohol, you'd know it."
She let out a sigh.
"I'm relieved," she said. "You have no idea. I feel better that you're at least not messing up your health, even if you have… lapsed into old habits in other ways."
After he threw a log in the fire, he shut his eyes. "I didn't lapse."
But Bella barely heard him because out of his sweater's pocket, the same sweater he'd worn when she saw him with Victoria, fell out a small, black box covered in satin. As if in slow motion, it rolled and turned upside down before landing right side up on the carpet. It narrowly missed a row of dominos. Bella almost felt a sob escape her throat, that's how painful the view of that little black box was.
Three years ago, just after they met, in the middle of a casual conversation, Edward told her that if he were to find a woman he could actually see himself grow old with, he'd spend a maximum of two years with the girl before asking her to marry him.
It had been three years.
"Why did you do it, Edward?"
With meticulous care, he took domino tiles, piece after piece, setting them in rows. "She just found out her symptoms were caused by Huntington's Disease, and it was just the end of the day. I'm not—I'm not excusing my behaviour, or hers. But she—she was so upset, and we ended up talking, and it tore her apart… and—she couldn't—it was too—"
She swallowed her tears. "What's Huntington's?"
"It's a genetic disorder. Just a few years ago, 1983, I think, there was a US-Venezuela Huntington's Disease Research Project, and they think they've located the gene that causes it. But hers, it's pretty bad."
"Is it fatal?"
"She probably has less than ten years to live."
Bella shut her eyes. Victoria would win by default, and Bella didn't even have the right to fight for Edward. She wasn't cruel. "That—that's okay, Edward," she said through her tears. "I—I understand."
He pulled his head back from her shoulder. "What?"
"I said—It's okay. I understand now. When you say you haven't gone back to your old ways," she said, gulping and fighting with the tremble in her voice. "I believe you. She needs you, and you—you're a good man."
She started to shift to get out from his arms, out of his warm embrace, but—confused—he wouldn't let her.
"Bella, what are you—"
"It's okay," she repeated, annoyed by the twitching of her lips. She motioned at the little box, neglected on the carpet, and smiled through her tears. "Will you—will you at least let me be your best man? Or woman, I guess. I'll do it, too."
Edward shifted. His face drained of colour as his eyes landed on his ring box. He raised his eyes to see Bella push herself out of his arms, now visibly yet silently sobbing. At the blink of an eye, Edward jumped up and gathered her in his arms.
"Bella, no. No. Let me—let me finish."
"You wanted to explain," she said, fighting without much effort in his arms. "And you did. I understand. I would've preferred that you—that you broke up with me before landing in her arms, but I guess, I guess—she needed you."
"Bella I—I… Give me a chance to explain. Don't—don't run. Not yet—not before—please." The tremble in his own voice scared him. "Please sit down with me—please. Just until—it's not what you think. Or at least—at least don't leave before you've—I have things to say."
Still sobbing, Bella nodded once, crouching next to Edward, who now frantically tried to find the words he never could. He took a shaky breath, sitting on the floor as he continued to add tiles to the rows and rows of dominos. He couldn't look at her.
"Bella… I wouldn't stop talking about you, how happy you—you made me and how—how wonderful you are. You're—you're—you're—" He ran a hand through his hair. "And that day you saw, Victoria was so upset, and she—she told me that she wanted, just once, to feel as cherished as I must make you feel, so she—she asked me to pretend, just for a minute, that she's you, so that—just once—she would feel what it's like to be—to be as adored as you are. Because—because—I— She knew that I have no eyes for other women. I knew it, too. What you saw at the hospital two nights ago—that kiss only happened once, and even then, she only wanted something to remember when she goes off to fancier hospitals to find treatment… and the entire time… I imagined it was you."
"So that ring, that is for you, Bella." He ran a hand through his hair, dared to look at her, and since she continued to weep, he lowered his eyes and took a breath so deep his lungs hurt. "But if you don't—if you don't want to, I'll understand. I've lost my chance, haven't I?"
"What about all those nights you arrived home after midnight? Were you not with her?"
He let out a humourless laugh. "Sometimes I was. But I was purely a platonic company. Others were there, too. Before she was diagnosed with Huntington's, she was a mess, and she needed to talk. So I… we listened."
"And other times?"
"Other times I was in another department. A&E. I needed the extra money, they needed the extra help."
"But why didn't you tell me, Edward?"
"I trust you, I do. But I—I wanted the ring to surprise you. I wanted it to be as—as— it needed to be— I wanted you to like it."
"Why did you think my flowers were from her?"
He groaned, and after such a stressful night, the laugh felt foreign in his lips. "I was sure she thought I'd finally proposed. Because I told her I would."
"But you—you didn't want me for two months, Edward. You have no idea how much it hurt when I dressed up for you and you—you just… you didn't care. You rolled over and told me we'd speak in the morning. It nearly broke me."
He encased her in his arms, letting his lips linger in the crook of her neck. "Skewed priorities and an old-fashioned focus of an old man." He kissed a spot just below her ear. "You are—you are— never doubt how desirable you are to me."
"You're not old."
"A decade and a year ahead of you, Bella," he reminded her. "Thirty six. Hardly anything to create fuss about, but enough for you to want someone more modern. When you—when you told me you couldn't be with me without much of an explanation, Bella—you have no idea—I thought you realised you wanted someone younger and less, less screwed up."
"Do you understand why I can't handle you cheating on me?"
"If we'd be any closer in age, and we'd met when I was in my early twenties, I would've been one of those assholes you dated. Or so I thought. But I—maybe I wouldn't have been. I wasn't joking when I said you changed me. Because—because you would've changed me regardless of when and how we met. I simply would've been a proper person sooner."
"I promised myself," she said. "Edward, I promised myself I would never again stay with a man who cheated, and then you stopped coming home in the evenings and when I saw you pressing Victoria up against the wall and kissing her like she was the answer to all of your questions… Edward, it—it broke me. I sort of understand now, in a way, why you did it. But it hurt me."
Still not looking at her, he held her against him, holding a single domino tile between his thumb and forefinger. He nearly let it slip, turned it upside down, and let it slip again. He whispered against her ear.
"Is this unforgivable, Bella? Will you leave me—just to prove yourself you're holding your promise?"
She listened to the clock in the other room, she felt his heartbeat against her cheek, she felt him tighten his hold, and she knew he toyed with the domino tile in his hand.
"I love you," she said.
He smiled, a true, wide grin spread across his face, and she felt it next to her ear.
"I love you, Edward."
"So you'll stay?"
"I have things to tell you, too, and if after that you still want me, then—yes."
He wrapped both hands around her, squeezing and pressing his face against the crook of her neck, kissing her skin. She couldn't see his smile, but she could feel it. "There's nothing you can say that could drive me away. Nothing. I don't care that you can't have any children, Bella, I don't care. We can adopt fifty Scottish girls, a hundred African boys, whatever you want." He pulled away, beaming as he picked up his ring box and handed it to her. For the entire duration of the conversation, he'd avoided looking at her, but now he knew he wouldn't be able to tear away his eyes, even if that meant he couldn't get a word out.
"No, I'm not—no pressure. I just—You have to see it. And when—when you're ready… If you—if you think you'd want—you'd want that with me," he swallowed, squeezing the domino tiles in his hand that he'd picked up. "Just open it." He handed over the little box. "If it's dusty or worn out, I'm sorry. I've had it for a few years."
She opened the box, and couldn't fully grasp the moment until she picked up the ring, a perfect, gorgeous ring with a pebble of a diamond in the middle, and an engraving that read,
For the love of my life, Bella. Forever, Edward.
She locked eyes with him, and when tears pricked her eyes, he hesitated. "It's—it's— I don't expect an answer."
For the umpteenth time during the last few days, she swallowed the lump in her throat, but her tears—they were happy and blissful, and she grinned through her tears. "If you'd actually asked me a question, I could give you my answer."
Immediately, he fell on one knee—and let all the domino rows give way to others, releasing a domino effect—taking the (now empty) box from her, and realised he would not be able to actually ask her. It was too important, a crucial moment when he'd either stammer, avoid her eyes, or he'd have to let go of the domino tiles in his right hand. He couldn't risk with the third one or he'd risk with the first two, but before he figured out what to do and opened his mouth, Bella kneeled right in front of him. She grabbed on to the fallen domino tiles on his right, filled all the pockets of his jeans and sweater, and continued to kneel in front of him, beaming.
Bella made it into a game. She made it possible for him to say the words. If this wasn't a sign that they were meant to be, he didn't know what was.
"Bella," he said, just above a whisper. "Will you marry me?"
She sat on his knee, pulling him into a hug. "Pinch me."
He didn't dare to breathe. "Is that a yes?"
She nodded, grinning. "Yes."
He grinned and sat, not caring about the pile of dominos he sat on, and pulled her into his lap, hiding his face in her hair as he hugged her. His heart thumped in his chest, his smile wouldn't leave his face, and his kisses on her neck wouldn't stop.
"There's one more thing."
He squeezed her, ushering her to continue, and rubbed her back, realising she was nervous.
"I'm pregnant," she muttered.
His hands halted to a stop.
"But—but the doctors—you said they told you you couldn't."
"They did. But I am, so it must've been Gale's shortcoming, not mine."
He pulled back, and grimaced; she couldn't fathom the amount of pain in his eyes. He avoided hers. "You mean—you—you would've left without—without—"
Bella sighed. "I would've told you eventually."
"When?" he asked, barely a whisper. "When, Bella? In five years? Ten? When the kid is an adult? Christ." His voice broke. "Bella."
"I would've told you in a month or two," she explained. "I still wanted you to be a part of the kid's life. I thought maybe—maybe if you didn't, you know, love me, at least an obligation would tie you to the kid because—you're a good man." She gulped, feeling how he'd stiffened. She shifted. "Do you—do you want me to leave?"
"No!" He turned her around so that her back was toward his chest, and let both of his hands rub her stomach as he leaned his chin on her shoulder. "Just give me a moment to let it sink in." He let his hands explore her stomach, her waist and under her breasts. Bella squirmed.
His voice filled with wonder. "You—you mean—you're really—"
She nodded. "You didn't notice how I've gained an entire stone?"
"I don't notice stuff like that. You're—you're—" He sighed, getting stuck with words he'd never said. Finally, he whispered, "You're always beautiful."
He could feel her neck warm as she blushed.
"But when? How far along are you?"
"You mean, that time in the kitchen—"
At his words, Bella's entire body flushed. "Isn't it sad that we're getting it on so rarely we can both easily calculate the birth of our baby?"
He smiled, placing a lingering kiss just below her jaw. "It's really bothered you, hasn't it?"
"I thought you didn't want to, Edward."
"I always—I always—I always want you. But I was so exhausted that time you came to me I didn't even realise what I was refusing. Next time, I'll know better when you show up in a sexy costume. Better yet, next time, kiss me until I'm reminded by what's right in front of me and I'm forced to molest you." He pulled her up, eyes on fire, never wanting to let her go. "Now, stand on the couch while I make a call."
"You'll see," he said, and left the room. When he returned, he found Bella standing on the couch, a blanket wrapped around her, mouth agape. She raised her eyes when he returned, and he stepped next to her, opening his arms for her.
"Really, Edward?" she said, the edges of her mouth trembling as she smiled. "That's the cheesiest thing anyone's ever done for me."
"Am I supposed to see a metaphor here? Your rows and rows of dominos, shaped like a heart around the couch. Either you were really, really bored, or you really, really wished to make a point."
He lifted her off the couch, into his arms, and put her down next to the fireplace, settling kisses all over her ears and neck and shoulders, and feeling her flush.
"Next time, when you feel like I've neglected you, will you please tell me? Please? I'm not perfect. I'll mess up again and again."
"As will I."
She nodded, and when she kissed his jaw, he groaned and let his head rest next to hers. "I love you, Isabella," he whispered right next to her ear, words spoken so softly as to reveal a secret too precious for the world to know. "So much," he added, and his voice broke.
"Bloody hell, Edward."
"Not quite the response I was waiting for, but I'll take it."
She laughed, but it was through tears of joy. She couldn't describe the amount of joy she felt this very moment as she let herself be consumed by this precious man in front of her.
"And Bella, next time you want to be getting it on with me, just let me know, kiss me, something."
"Like this?" she asked, raising herself on her tiptoes as she lifted her hands around his neck, breathed on his chin and nibbled on his lower lip before she kissed him, warm and passionate. Immediately, Edward lifted her into his arms so that she could straddle him.
"Yes," he breathed, grinning from ear to ear as he stole more kisses. "Like that."
When nobody answered the knock on the front door, the brown-haired man in acid washed jeans and Doc Martens glanced at his companion, and carefully opened the door.
Nobody answered. The chaos in the kitchen, shards of blue glass all over the floor, made the two men share a look.
"Edward!" he yelled. "Where are you? What happened? Whitlock told me you had a massive quarrel with Bella. And did you know that half of the oak has fallen on your Vauxhall Cavalier and it—oh." His words halted, and a grin spread across his face. They could see the red-haired surgeon, now bare-chested, kiss the neck of his still-clothed fiancé, a girl who was still clad in a giant T-shirt and let out a breathy moan when Edward's intact hand travelled under her T-shirt.
McCarty cleared his throat. "Well, I guess I wouldn't care either if I were busy getting it on with my woman." Edward turned his head while Bella flushed from head to toe, hiding her face in his chest. Edward chuckled.
"Gentlemen, can I help you?"
"Considering the circumstances, I think we're here to return Bella's belongings. Is that correct?"
"Absolutely," Edward answered. "Just leave them in the corridor. You can leave the door open."
"Will do," McCarty said, smirking as they left the room. "Oh yeah, Edward? I expect to be the best man!" His own booming laugh followed him to the front door.
Bella flushed, hiding her face, but Edward tilted her head up with a kiss, and Bella offered a timid smile. "I hope you know that from now on, each pair of your jeans and scrubs will have pockets full of domino tiles."
He let out a whole-hearted laugh. "I'm okay with that."
A/N: If you're a fan of HEA one-shots, I have approx. five one-shots in the works: an argyle sweater wearing professor, a misunderstood murderer, a U.S. Marshal protecting a college girl (witness protection program) without her knowledge, et cetera. Silly stuff. If you're interested, you can subscribe me, you'll only have to tolerate updates for my top priority story.
Thank you so much for reading. It would be lovely to hear your thoughts. :)