Acknowledgement: To HollettLA, who is willing to take this trip with me even though it might hurt. As the "social media kids are saying these days…" ILY. xo
Housekeeping note: I play around with timelines a little bit here. In this story, the events of "Twilight" and "New Moon" take place in 1999, not in the 2000s, which is how that universe intersects with the "Remember Me" universe.
"Time can come and take away the pain
But I just want my memories to remain
To hear your voice
To see your face
There's not one moment I'd erase
You are a guest here now."
(Regina Spektor, "How")
"So, you've uh…got everything, then?"
Bella hoists her backpack higher on her shoulder and nods once at her father, whose hands are buried deep in the pockets of his faded jeans. She can tell by the shape of the outlines, the visibility of his knuckles, that both hands are clenched into fists. "Yeah," she says aloud. They don't share many words, she and her father, so she decides on impulse to cram a few more into these last moments. "Think so." Even if she didn't, the departures terminal at SeaTac is hardly the venue to recall a forgotten toothbrush, book, sweater. As if his thoughts have followed the same path as hers, he shifts his feet, rubber-soled hiking boots squeaking on the linoleum floor.
"If not, I can send it to you."
"Okay," she agrees, though she can think of nothing that might still linger in her childhood bedroom that would warrant 3,000-mile, cross-country trip. The things she left behind, she left for a reason. She was able to deflect her father's surprise at her rather minimal luggage with the dual-pronged logic that she hadn't been in Forks long enough to amass that many belongings and that she wanted to travel light, given the distance. The unspoken truth – that she wants to remember as little about her time in the rain-soaked, perpetually cloudy town as possible – would only hurt him, and Charlie is the last person who deserves her resentment. She nods again at her father, goodbye looming large in the space between them and freeing twin balloons in her chest: one of sadness, one of relief.
He mirrors her nod. "Well, all right then." Dark eyes – the same as hers, fringed with the same dark lashes and bracketed with crow's feet she hasn't yet earned – look past her to the line of travelers clutching photo IDs and boarding passes, some as laden as pack mules while more frequent travelers shift their feet and clutch sleek, minimal carry-on bags. "Should probably get a move on."
She glances over her shoulder before bringing her gaze back to him. "Yeah. Probably."
"All right then," he says again. Before she can step away, his hands quick-draw out of his pockets and curl around her thin shoulders, drawing her rather forcefully into his chest. She is thrust unwillingly into a whirlwind of memories of countless similar embraces over the past year, in which her desperate sobs cut through the night as pools of tears drenched the worn cotton t-shirt covering his too-soft, too-warm, too-human chest. "You be careful, Bella, do you hear me?" he murmurs into the space above her head, lips pressed to her hair, words punctuated by the breaths that rain down on her scalp as his last-minute parental advice comes rapid-fire and laced with a barely-there thread of distress. "Be smart. Make good decisions. Take care of yourself."
"I will," she promises, voice once again muffled by his shirt. "Promise."
Charlie's perceptions of predators are the same ones shared by all fathers of teenage daughters: murderers, rapists, drug dealers. His might be ever-so-slightly more specific – and more valid – given his career path, and Bella leans slightly into his chest, memories of red irises and death-cold skin and gleaming white teeth dancing at the back of her mind.
He tightens his hold on his daughter for the space of two breaths before releasing her; she steps back to look into his familiar face, his suspiciously bright eyes. "I'm just a plane ride away," he reminds her, voice rough, and she nods, even though the idea of Charlie boarding a plane and flying across the country is an absurd one. Nearly as absurd as the idea of him traversing the streets of Manhattan.
"Okay," she says again, hitching her knapsack higher once more.
"I love you, Bella," he says, and despite the fact that he looks like he wishes he could pretend he never said the words aloud, his dark eyes are painfully earnest.
"Love you too, Dad."
He gives a resolute nod, as if they have just completed a particularly awkward business transaction, before forcing a cheery smile to his face. "Have fun out there," he says, and his voice is laced with the same false bravado as his smile.
"Thanks," Bella replies, mildly amused by his choice of words. Out there, as if she is going to college on Mars instead of on the opposite coast. As if Mars were an option. "I will."
His eyes narrow slightly. "Not too much fun," he amends, and she can see worst-case-scenario imaginings of Girls Gone Wild-style parties and alcohol-sodden hijinks flashing through his cop mind.
"Of course not." She takes a step backward. "See you at Christmas."
"Christmas," he echoes, and she turns to take her place at the end of the security line. Charlie hovers, watching as she hands over her boarding pass and identification, moves into one of the security lines, tosses her backpack on the conveyor belt that will take it through the X-ray machine, and makes her way through the metal detector. It isn't until she is safely beyond the checkpoint that her father, evidently acknowledging that his shift is over, melts into the crowd of people on the other side of the barrier. She stares at the space where he was standing for a few moments, picturing him heading back to his cruiser, his house, his solitary life. A life he had enjoyed rather peacefully until she suddenly returned to Forks eighteen months ago, fell in love with a vampire, got her heart broken by said vampire, and essentially sleepwalked through her senior year of high school before graduating and opting to attend college as far away as possible without leaving the country. A brief pang of guilt-ridden sadness pierces her, and she hopes as she peers unseeingly at the other parents, spouses, children left behind that Charlie can reclaim the relatively blissful, tranquil life he knew before her reappearance.
The gate is surprisingly populated for a mid-morning Wednesday flight, and she weaves her way through the maze of travelers and carry-on luggage to find a seat near the floor-to-ceiling windows, beyond which gray skies leak drizzle onto jets and tarmac and jetways.
"Where are you headed?" comes a friendly voice mere moments after she settles into one of the available leather seats. She looks up to see a boy close to her age peering at her over a magazine.
"New York," she replies, unearthing a paperback from her bag. "You?" she asks, uninterested in the answer.
"Chicago," he replies, and she merely nods before opening the book, not caring that the tacit dismissal might be interpreted as rude. Chicago. Spanish flu. Edward. She squints at the words on the well-thumbed page to bring them into focus, wrestling her mind back to the story like a mother attempting to contain a wriggling, squirming toddler. She takes a breath and shoves the uninvited memories away.
New start, she reminds herself. Don't look back.
She does, though. Just once.
As the plane roars down the runway and drags itself away from solid ground and into the air, she peers down through the lightly misting rain at the exceedingly green landscape shrinking in increments beneath it. For the duration of the plane's ascent, she watches as the vibrant green growth is dulled in degrees by the ever-present gray mist hovering above it, gradually muting the landscape as the distance between plane and ground grows. When the air beneath the jet is the same as the air around it – a dull, unremarkable shade of ash similar to concrete – she sits back in her seat and lets her eyes fall closed.
Concrete jungle, here I come.
Her ears pop, the plane levels out, and she retrieves her paperback from the carry-on stowed beneath the seat in front of her, losing herself in words as the country slides by miles below her.
When she bolts awake one night toward the end of September, sheets knotted and pillow damp, her roommate, Kelsey, is kneeling on the edge of the bed, her cool hands curled around Bella's shoulders, soft voice coaxing her back to awareness.
"Bella? Bell, you're dreaming, hon. Wake up."
Bella swims to the surface of consciousness, neck damp with sweat and throat raw from screaming. She wonders idly how a person can scream long enough to inflame her vocal cords without waking up as she peers through the near-darkness into Kelsey's concerned face, into her searching eyes that, in the darkness, are as black as night. She swallows, wincing as her aching throat protests, and places a clammy hand atop Kelsey's where it still rests on her shoulder. "You're okay," her roommate murmurs, and Bella is immediately grateful for her soothing voice and gentle hand and simple presence as memories from her dream assault her.
Edward. Alice. Victoria. James.
Pain. Blood. Loss.
Her jackhammering heart slows in increments as she attempts to regulate her breaths, and when Kelsey is convinced that she's awake, she smoothes a hand over Bella's hair and peers into her face for a beat before crossing the room to the small microfridge in the corner and pulling out a bottle of Poland Spring, uncapping it as she crosses back. The cold water is a balm to her raw throat, and Bella nods her gratitude, too afraid of what her voice might sound like if she tries to speak aloud. They sit in silence, facing each other in the combined light of the full moon and the faint glow of the city beyond their window, until Bella's eyes begin to droop and Kelsey very nearly tucks her in. As gentle hands fold the sheet and comforter snugly around her form in much the same way as her father did on nights she awoke in similar distress, an unfamiliar knot appears in her aching throat, and she wonders if it's possible to be homesick for a place she never wants to go back to.
The next morning, Bella tells Kelsey about Edward, boiling it down to the most salient of points while trying not to downplay the significance. In this moment, her dream still fresh and vivid in her mind, heart and throat still raw, she feels a sudden, desperate need for someone in her new life to understand – at least in part – some of the scars that remain from her old life. She needs someone to understand that she's broken, even if she's healing.
"He was…perfect," she says, sitting cross-legged atop her comforter, pulling absently at a loose thread. Kelsey is sitting facing her, their postures mirror images, watching and listening intently. "Too perfect for me," Bella adds. "He belonged to a world I couldn't join – his whole family did – and so he left me. Suddenly, with no warning, and I'll never see or hear from him again." Surprising, she realizes, that the magnitude of Edward's all-too-brief presence in her life can be condensed to four short, bare sentences. When she looks up, Kelsey is frowning.
"Like the mob?" she asks, the smooth, mocha skin of her forehead pulled into creases, and if it weren't for her earnestness and the subject matter, Bella thinks she might have laughed.
"Not the mob," she replies. "Though that's not a bad analogy." She makes a mental note to remember that in case she's ever forced to recount the Cullens' role in her life for anyone else's benefit; the mafia isn't a bad cover story.
Kelsey's fine-boned hand reaches out and stills Bella's where it continues to worry the thread of her blanket. "I'm really sorry," she says, and Bella is relieved and grateful that she's not pressing for more details. "I'm really, really sorry that he hurt you like that." She's so earnest, so genuine, so sympathetic, and Bella can feel tears she hasn't shed in months welling up behind her eyes.
"Thanks," she says simply, wondering if there's a similar story – minus the vampires, of course – in Kelsey's own past.
"If you ever want to talk about it," she says, and Bella nods once. "I get that talking's not really your style," she continues, her voice a degree lighter, and the small laugh that bubbles up and escapes Bella's lips does a lot to make the threat of tears recede.
"Thanks," she says again. "It's not, but I appreciate the offer."
"Can I ask one question?"
"Is that why you came to college so far away?"
Bella considers this, the first time anyone's asked her point-blank. She is relatively certain that Charlie – and likely most of Forks – suspected as much, but no one ever came right out and asked. "Probably in part," she admits. "I just…needed a change."
Kelsey nods, satisfied by this answer. "Well, I think you're really brave."
Bella's eyebrows leap in surprise; no one's ever called her brave before. Despite her lack of fear of the blood-drinking undead and the Quileutes-turned-werewolves, no one in her human life has ever implied that her recovery from heartbreak was anything less than expected. And though she'd only ever admit it to herself, there were times that she worried that her exodus to the opposite coast would look more like a coward's flight than a woman's passage to a new phase of life. Correctly interpreting Bella's reaction, Kelsey nods. "It's brave to make a new start, no matter the reason."
"Thank you," Bella replies, voice soft, and Kelsey nods again and squeezes her hand once before releasing it.
"And there are plenty of cute boys in New York," she adds, all gravity gone from her voice as she unfolds her long, dancer-like legs. "I'm sure we can find someone to help you cleanse your palate."
Bella laughs, feeling lighter than she has in a while. "I don't know that I'm quite there yet," she admits, despite how badly she wishes she were, and Kelsey shrugs.
"Girl, just because you don't want to chase the car doesn't mean you can't bark from the porch."
Kelsey gets to her feet and checks the small digital clock on the dresser. "Breakfast?"
"Breakfast," Bella agrees, feeling for the first time since she crossed the threshold of her dorm room three weeks ago that they have stopped being simply roommates and have become friends.
"Gucci, Prada, Coach." It's an incessant chorus in her ear, a litany of designers delivered sotto voce as Bella makes her way along the sidewalk, eyeballing designer knockoffs as she maneuvers deftly around clusters of shoppers, slightly damp hair twisted and hidden beneath her hat but chilling her all the same. "You want Prada?" The Asian girl standing in front of her is tiny, very nearly dwarfed by the puffy black North Face parka that reaches to her knees, and Bella shakes her head and keeps walking. While she has nothing but time, she lacks the patience today to follow a woman into a back room of some side-street souvenir shop to look at knockoff designer handbags, even if she is behind on her Christmas shopping. She just wants to get Renee's sunglasses and be done with it.
Bella had no idea that when she took her mother shopping on Canal Street during her first visit to New York back in October that she was creating a monster. Renee, while never a label whore, developed a whole new appreciation for designer names when she learned she could acquire cheap imitations that were certainly convincing enough replicas to fool her friends. Lamentably, what Bella never considered when she was urging her mother to buy the five-dollar Dior sunglasses was that the woman who raised her has an unfortunate tendency to sit on, lose, and otherwise mishandle her accessories. This is the third time in as many months that she has found herself being jostled between bodies on the crowded street in Chinatown, looking for the same pair of shades that she's already replaced more times than can be believed.
"Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Coach."
Ignoring the steady soundtrack, Bella glances at each rack of sunglasses that she passes before finally spying a pair identical to the ones she purchased last month. Given that she fully anticipates a repeat performance of this debacle before the end of January, she snatches up two pairs and a third that is remarkably similar and pays for them before slipping the nondescript gray bag into her own purse and making her way back in the direction from which she has just come, eager to be out of the crush of bodies. In just over three months in the city, she has already learned that while Canal Street sucks on a good day, during the month of December, it sucks even more.
Despite the cold and the wind that whips between buildings and creates an effect not unlike a wind tunnel, the sun is bright and very nearly warm enough, so she opts to forego the subway and walk the distance back to her residence hall in the Village. Not having a class to rush to or a pile of assignments to finish, she feels oddly free in a way she hasn't since her arrival in New York at the tail end of August. In those first few weeks before the fall semester started, she was both awed and intimidated by the city that was her new home. Her navigational skills were for shit, especially in the Village, where the streets don't follow the same grid pattern as they do uptown or, in fact, any truly logical pattern at all. She rarely ventured beyond the parameters of the residence hall except in the company of her roommate, who was far more familiar with the city's geography, and once the semester started, she reverted back to the same bookworm Bella she'd been in high school, rarely taking time to explore parts of the city that weren't study lounges, libraries, classrooms, or university buildings. Today, however, with her last exam completed and final assignment ready to be handed in and a whopping four days to kill before she is scheduled to fly back to the West Coast for the winter break, she has nothing but time and freedom.
As she veers right off Sixth Avenue and onto Washington Square West, she lets her mind wander back over the past four months and forward to her pending return to Washington. If she hadn't promised her father that she'd go home for the holiday, she'd likely have opted to remain in the city. Forks, never the most appealing of destinations, looms drearier and drearier with every passing hour; it's amazing how quickly this teeming, surging, bustling city has begun to feel like home. Going back to the small town feels like trying to step back into shoes that no longer fit, and she worries about how painful the pinch will be.
On the corner of Bleecker, she stops at a street vendor for a cup of coffee to combat the slight chill of the wind; accepting the iconic blue Anthora cup, she hands the vendor an extra bill and continues her trek uptown. Despite being a sort-of native of Washington State, she doesn't doubt that wherever she ends up, she will forever favor the Greek-inspired blue cups over the white ones with the green circular logo that are becoming increasingly recognizable the world over. The truth of the matter is, Bella fits in better in the busy big city than she ever thought she would, feels more at home in a crush of people than she ever did in wide open spaces. Prior to her arrival in New York, she always believed that it took a certain kind of worldly, trendy person to survive in a place like this. She harbored visions of sleek, well-dressed, coiffed professionals marching along Fifth Avenue and bohemian artists reclined in Central Park with classic literature and tomes of poetry propped on their chests. In truth, while those creatures exist, they are in the minority.
What she has realized in four short months is that she is more like the city she now calls home than she could have imagined, could have anticipated when she stepped off a jetbridge and into the arrivals area of JFK.
The elusive truth is that New York City is just like Bella Swan in one very significant way: it is constantly trying so desperately to be what it thinks it's supposed to be that sometimes it doesn't feel like what it is. So many people try so hard to be New Yorkers that the term has lost all meaning; so many establishments try to be quintessentially New York that sometimes it's hard to know where to find the real thing. Similarly, she has spent so much energy trying to become the version of herself that she so badly wants to be – the version that isn't a heartbroken, angst-ridden teenager, the version that never would have been so unceremoniously left behind – that some days she's still not entirely sure who she is beneath the effort she expends.
But then, that's the other great thing about New York: it's always changing, always morphing, and no one faults it for that. It is what it is, and it makes no apologies. She finds that she likes the freedom in that, in being able to say, "This is who I am today, even if I won't be this person tomorrow."
Then, of course, there's the simple truth of population. She has heard it said that the middle of a crowd can be the loneliest place to be; on the contrary, Bella finds comfort in the presence of strangers, people who don't ask anything of you or expect anything from you, but are coexisting right alongside you, traveling orbits that may or may not intersect.
Another of her favorite things about New York: people don't look at you. Unless you full-on collide with someone on the sidewalk, no one makes eye contact or looks you in the face at all; they look past you, intent on their destination. There is freedom, she has quickly learned, in anonymity.
Once she arrives back at her sort-of home, her fingers are cold but not numb, nose and ears pink from the wind. After depositing the now-empty coffee cup in the trash can by the door, she swipes ChapStik over her lips as she dumps her bag onto the desk chair. Wiggling the computer mouse brings the monitor to life; her Buddy List is still at the top right-hand corner of the screen, the away message window just below it. Two messages have arrived since she left: one from Angela and one from Mike Newton.
"Want to catch a movie?" Bella half-turns to where Kelsey is standing just inside the still-open door to the room. She straightens, ignoring the two messages from her former classmates. Each time she does so, the guilt is a little bit less, the decision a little less conscious. Charlie and Jake are really the only people from her two years in Forks whom she has any desire to hang on to; people she wandered the Forks hallways with, went to prom with, people who knew her when she was Edward's – they're just another thing she wants to let go.
"Is there anything good out?"
Kelsey shrugs. "Bounce?"
A frown tugs at Bella's forehead as she tries to place it. "What's Bounce?"
"That Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow one?"
"Oh." She shrugs. "Your call."
Kelsey wrinkles her nose. "I know. It doesn't scream award-winner." She collapses onto the twin bed on her side of the room. "But I'm not even going to see you for a full two-and-a-half weeks, so we're doing something."
Bella laughs at the dramatics; while she was apprehensive about having a roommate, never having been much of a girl's girl nor a joiner, she is increasingly convinced that Kelsey is the perfect one to have. If she were willing to lend thought to the comparison, she would admit that Kelsey reminds her in some ways of Alice, despite the fact that they are at the opposite ends of the physical spectrum – Kelsey's coffee-colored skin and long limbs are a far cry from Alice's translucent pallor and pixie-like size. But she never lets the comparison gather speed, as it inevitably leads her down the road she promised herself never to tread again and makes her break the one promise she made to herself before leaving Forks. Don't look back. "Well, we can do whatever you want," she says, turning away from the computer for good. "I'm in."
Corner Bistro is within walking distance of the dorm building, and when both girls are replete with greasy burgers and fried side dishes, they make their way to the 4th Street station. Once underground, Bella toes the stripe of school bus-yellow paint at the edge of the platform as the piercing sound of steel drums hammers at her eardrums.
"I'm all for artists showcasing their talents beneath the streets of Manhattan if they so desire, but there should be a decibel limit," Kelsey says, voicing Bella's own thoughts at a near-yell to be heard above the sounds of the Caribbean that echo off the concrete platform and station walls at a pitch and volume comparable to the scream of brakes as the Q train slides into the station.
"True story," Bella replies as they step into the crowded car and grab hold of metal poles; she gazes unseeingly at a poster for the new Everclear album plastered above the nearest window. While the idea to eat early was a good one, Kelsey's desire to head uptown to pick out a few last-minute gifts for her parents means they are now facing the unenviable task of sharing the subway with rush hour commuters, and Bella hugs the pole and tries to avoid hitting anyone with her backpack as more bodies pack into the car. "So what are you looking for?" she asks as Kelsey slides her bag down to her forearm.
"No idea," she replies as the doors slide closed with an audible sucking sound and the train begins to move. Bella focuses on keeping her knees bent to allow for the occasional pitch and lurch of the subway car as it picks up speed; Kelsey has one arm hooked around the pole between them, keeping her balance with the crook of her arm as the other rummages in the yawning cavity of her enormous hobo bag, finally emerging gripping a compact mirror whose case appears to be made of broken pieces of floral china. She flips it open and peers into it, pressing her lips together and giving her twisted hair a once-over; Bella is tempted to point out that no one looks her best beneath the harsh fluorescent lighting favored by the MTA, but she keeps quiet. Kelsey, after all, looks good regardless. Another press of her lips and she seems mollified if not satisfied, snapping the compact shut and dropping it back into her bag.
"Did you make that?" Bella asks, nodding toward the gaping mouth of her roommate's bag, and Kelsey beams.
"Yeah! I'm thinking that might be my focus next semester: broken china jewelry and accessories."
Despite being the daughter of an investment banker and a software developer and the younger sister of allegedly brilliant twin brothers who are junior pre-law students at Yale, Kelsey's upper-class upbringing rarely shows, masked by a creative mind and a free spirit that counteract a background that could have made her something else entirely. At first meeting, Bella had been intimidated by her effervescence and rather obvious familiarity with herself and what she wanted; in time, the intimidation gave way to a friendship that was equal parts affection and admiration, and only four months after meeting, if pressed, Bella would identify Kelsey as her best friend without reservation – a title she doesn't give quickly. Losing both Edward and Alice was a one-two punch, and she was nearly as wary of giving her heart to a girlfriend as she is of giving it to a boy, but Kelsey's complete lack of attention to boundaries and simultaneous tendency not to push relieved Bella of her apprehension by force.
"You should hit the Strand while I'm gone," Kelsey says as the train pauses at 23rd Street and a few passengers disembark.
She sighs. "I probably should have taken you before now, but frankly it's not somewhere I can spend upward of an hour, and I suspect you could kill an entire afternoon in there."
"What is it?"
Kelsey shakes her head. "I forget how truly West Coast small-town you are," she sighs, but offers an affectionate smile to cushion the blow of her words. "It's the biggest bookstore I've ever seen. The motto is 'Eighteen miles of books.'"
"Eighteen miles of books?" Bella echoes, and Kelsey nods.
"Right up your alley," she teases, and Bella laughs as she grips the metal pole between them, the tiny diamond pattern pressing itself into the flesh of her palms. "Seriously, if you need to entertain yourself before you leave, that's pretty much one whole day you can draw an 'x' through on the calendar."
"I do know how to entertain myself, you know. I was a pathetic loser with no friends long before I moved here." She tempers the words with a small smile, and Kelsey rolls her eyes.
"Don't talk about my friend that way," she mock-reprimands as the train resumes moving, and Bella's mind flashes momentarily back to the ignored instant messages that have been steadily dwindling since she let the barrage of them go unanswered throughout the fall. Though she is teasing, the description is depressingly true: with the exception of her roommate-slash-new-best-friend and Jake, her parents are pretty much the only other people with whom Bella can honestly say she has an actual ongoing relationship.
They pass the rest of the ride to the 57th Street station brainstorming ideas for Kelsey's parents – a mother whose wardrobe is limited to Fifth Avenue labels and a father whose idea of casual dress is a polo and khakis and shoes with tassels – and upon stepping off the train and heading for the exit, Bella feels not unlike a salmon swimming upstream as she attempts not to get knocked backward down the stairs by the rat racers descending into the station.
Finally emerging into the cold twilight, Kelsey tilts her head in the direction of their destination; after a full four months, Bella still isn't entirely sure of her bearings when she surfaces from underground, particularly farther uptown. "Bergdorf Goodman," Kelsey says, and Bella nods as if a luxury department store in which a pair of shoes costs nearly twice her father's monthly mortgage is a regular destination for her.
"Lead the way."
Forty-five minutes later, Kelsey is carting a small shopping bag holding a tie and a cashmere scarf, and they are headed back downtown in a train considerably less crowded than it would have been an hour earlier. "I'm really going to miss you," she says earnestly when they are sitting in red-orange plastic seats and snaking their way beneath city streets, linking her arm through Bella's.
"I'm going to miss you, too," Bella admits, suddenly uncharacteristically sad about the pending separation, and the realization breaks over her like a wave: she can breathe here. Despite the poor reputation of the quality of air in the city, she finds that she can take a deep breath, feel her lungs expand to their maximum capacity, breathe steady and even in a way she no longer can in her small West Coast hometown, where it feels as though something too heavy to bear is sitting on her chest. Involuntarily, she sucks in a long breath, as if she can somehow make it – and the warm feel of Kelsey's arm linked with hers – last until her sentence is served and she is permitted to come back.
Bella scrolls slowly through the document, rows of type sliding upward on her screen as her eyes crawl left to right, eyeballing the paper once more before she submits it to her English professor. It's the last assignment left before she can officially declare her first semester over, and she wants to be sure there are no glaring errors in the analysis of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
As her eyes traverse the type, looking for errant commas and misused homonyms that the spellchecker might have missed, the themes and overall points of the paper are secondary to her search for more mechanical errors. Reaching the end of the document, she clicks "save" a final time before attaching it to an e-mail and sending it to her professor.
It isn't until she's curled up beneath the covers of her twin bed hours later, her packed bags sitting just inside the door to the room, Kelsey's perfectly-made bed empty against the opposite wall, that her mind wanders back to the paper and its subtheses: that Frankenstein's monstrosity is as much about his unnatural creation as his appearance; that he is a monster looking for someone to empathize with his miserable existence; that his alienation stems from a lack of belonging not only to his community but to himself.
That night is the first night since September that she dreams of Edward, the ethereal, self-proclaimed demon standing against a dreary backdrop, orchestrating his own isolation.
This is the last time you'll ever see me. I won't come back.
It's the first night that she dreams the dream through and doesn't wake up screaming.
It will be like I never existed. I promise.
It's the first time in all the times she's had the dream that she's still standing when he walks away.
You just don't belong in my world, Bella.
It isn't until she's bumping along in a cab headed for JFK the following morning that the realization comes: he no longer belongs in hers, either.