TLS Angst Contest Entry

Word count: 5,814

Pairing: Edward

Title of story: Past Tense

Story summary: On paper, Edward Cullen was never supposed to be mine.

A/N: Thanks to my beta; sorry for the tears.

. . . .

On paper, Edward Cullen was never supposed to be mine. That fact was evident in everything: how beautiful he was. How smart he was. How out of my league he was. How unlikely it was that he would ever, especially in this world, return my affections.

What I never allowed myself to consider was that he would, in fact, be mine for a while.

That, in the end, I'd lose him.

And that, in losing him, a part of me would wish that I'd never had him to begin with.

. . . .

I hate biology. I've always hated science, but I hate biology with a passion. There are dead things suspended in glass jars of formaldehyde around the perimeter of the room, balanced rather precariously on wooden shelves that have been drilled into the off-white cinderblock walls. The shelves, in my opinion, don't look nearly sturdy enough, and the possibility that those dead animals and rotting organs could come crashing down, shattering and showering chunks of putrid, decaying organisms in all directions is something that occupies far too many of my thoughts, considering that I'm averaging a C at best in the class.

As I mentioned, I hate biology. Or, at least, I did. I hated biology with a passion, dreaded going every day, counted down the seconds from the moment my ass hit the metal stool until the moment the bell set me free with the focus of a NASA shuttle launch engineer.

Of course, that all changed the day Edward Cullen moved to Forks and slid into the vacant lab stool beside mine, all long limbs and crazy hair and beautiful, beautiful smile.

. . . .

There's a lone ray of sunlight sliding in through the bedroom window, casting a checkerboard of elongated squares of light on the solid green bedspread beneath me. I cross the room to stand beside the bed and reach out, wanting to feel the warmth on my fingers, hoping with everything in me that the bedding itself will be warm like it used to be beneath the heat of his body, but the sunlight is fleeting, and the warmth doesn't stay. The blankets are cold.

I pull my hand back.

. . . .

"I just don't get it," I groan for what must be the sixth time, shoving my textbook away in frustration.

"Look," Edward says, voice gentle, patient, his warm hand stilling mine briefly before I can send the books cascading to the floor. He pulls them back onto the bed and leans forward, releasing my hand to smooth the top page. "Break it down like this." He hunches over my notebook and textbook, pointing to things with his long, tapered index finger. His thick lashes obscure his eyes, his unruly hair hides his face, and my curious mind wonders if there are other things he hides. When he's finished explaining, he looks up into my face to see if I get it. I nod, the movement oddly jerky and robotic, because the truth of the matter is that I stopped listening when he reached out and touched my hand. In fact, I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing altogether.

Conversely, as our stare passes the parameters of normal, Edward's chest begins heaving slightly as if he's just exerted himself, and I wonder if he feels it too, this pull between us. And I realize, as I look into his eyes, that he's not quite as good at hiding things as I once thought.

. . . .

There's a photo of the two of us tucked into the corner of the bulletin board above the wooden desk on the opposite side of the room. Edward's arm is draped casually over my shoulders – proprietary, affectionate, a pose that could almost look friendly, and probably does to anyone who looks at it. He's a good head taller than I am, and I remember the way I felt like I just about fit beneath his arm, as if I was propping him up almost as much as he was shielding me, and I remember how I loved feeling like we fit together in that and so many other ways.

The sun is sinking behind us, setting his hair aflame and throwing our faces slightly into shadow, and it makes him look almost angelic, as though his hair is a halo. His smiling eyes match his mouth, and I want to crawl back inside that picture, back inside that moment, with his warm arm around my shoulders and the solid, reassuring presence of him beside me, and stay there forever. I curse myself for looking at the camera when I could have been looking up at him, cataloging the moment for real. Committing to memory the line of his jaw, the stubble of his cheek, the curve of his neck, and the hollow of his throat. I want to sew a quilt out of those memories, those tiny details, so that I can pull it tight around me years from now, when the sharpness of the recollections has faded and I struggle to remember them. To remember him.

My beautiful boy.

. . . .

The first time I kissed him, I felt like I ruined everything. His head snapped backward as if I'd punched him instead, eyes wide and jaw slack. I stared at him, a litany of apologies hovering on my tongue but unable to find their way past my lips, and his saucer-sized green eyes stared at me as if he'd never seen me before. I dropped my gaze, staring unseeingly at the rows of text outlining the steps of the cell cycle on the sheet of notebook paper in front of me, trying to steel myself for the moment he kicked me out of his room.

When I felt like my only course of action was to gather my books and stumble from the room, apologizing profusely, I felt his hand cover mine on the bedspread between us. The second time he'd ever touched me, and I could feel my heart take flight.

The first time I kissed him, I felt like I ruined everything.

As it turns out, in the long run, I was right.

. . . .

The room is unfailingly tidy, books neatly aligned on the bookshelf, surfaces relatively clear of clutter. There's a dog-eared paperback on the nightstand, and I recognize the title from the AP English syllabus. It occurs to me that the top drawer of Edward's nightstand might be a place he wouldn't want his parents to look, if they haven't already, but when I slide it open, all that stares back at me is a pack of cinnamon gum, an array of pens, a black leather notebook, and a ball of rubber bands. Without thinking, I take out the gum and slide it into my pocket; after only a brief hesitation, I lift the notebook from the drawer and lower myself to sit on the edge of his bed. Running my hand over the cover, I try to steel myself for whatever might be inside: the disappointment of page after page of mathematical equations, the unexpected anguish-slash-elation of lines of Edward's private thoughts. I swallow, tracing a single finger over the spine of the book, trying to imagine Edward sitting here, hunched over, hair falling into his face as he scribbled away.

I take a breath and open the cover; printed inside, on the very first page, in massive, black letters are two words.

PLEASE DON'T.

I close the book and gently return it to its place, feeling as though he's further away than ever. Wondering, as the gap opens, what there is – was – that he never told me. Missing him, with a desperation and an ache and an anger and a pain that feels like it's hollowing me out.

. . . .

It's been a month since I first kissed Edward, and it's been the most terrifying, most exhilarating, most enlightening, most blissful month of my life. I find myself spending biology thinking not about decayed, dead things, but about the very-much-alive boy right next to me, gently pressing his thigh against mine, the corner of his mouth twitching upward each time I sneak a glance at his profile. I spend my nights dreaming about the hot, reckless press of his mouth, the cinnamon taste of his tongue, the stubble of his cheek against my own. And I spend the hours with him discovering everything wonderful I never could have dreamed of, never could have imagined.

"I love you," he breathes, gazing down at me, his blue-green eyes shining in the light of the setting sun. It's just cold enough that the beach is deserted, and I can feel the uneven terrain of the sand pressing into my spine through the too-thin blanket, something that feels suspiciously like a stone digging into my hip. But the discomfort of what's beneath me fades in comparison to the delicious weight of what's atop me, and the hardness of the stone is nothing compared to the hardness of him.

I stare up at him, at this beautiful boy I still can't believe is mine, and I see his eyes darken, his teeth catch his lip, and I realize I haven't responded. "I love you, too," I whisper, the words spearing my chest with their truth. He rocks his hips gently into me, a curl of hair falling over his forehead.

"I want you." He's uncharacteristically bold, atypically forthcoming, and those three little words take my own want from a small flicker to a blazing inferno.

"I want you, too." I don't know why I can't speak in anything more than a whisper, and I worry that my words have been drowned out by the crash of the surf until his face breaks into the most beautiful smile I've ever seen.

"Are you sure?" Even if I weren't, I could never say no to the way he's smiling right now, the most happy, free, unguarded look I've ever seen on his lovely face.

"I'm sure. But, um…I don't have…anything."

"I do," he says, and this time, he's the one whispering. Color fills his cheeks and he looks away, the fire flooding the back of his neck and the tips of his ears.

"Okay," I say, wanting to tease him but unwilling to prolong his unease.

"Okay?" he asks, eyebrows sliding up his forehead as he looks at me, and I nod.

"Okay."

He fumbles with my jeans, reaching cool fingers into my underwear to touch me; I work on his button fly, dragging his own jeans down just enough to free him, running my hand gently over his skin and watching the expression I adore slide across his face. "I need…" He trails off as I tighten my grip, his beautiful eyes falling closed.

"What?" I coax, and he opens his eyes again, gazing down at me with tender, questioning eyes.

"I need to take your pants all the way off. Is that…is that okay?"

"Yes," I whisper, and he slides the denim down my legs, reaching into his pocket and pulling out supplies I can't even imagine him acquiring. I let my eyes fall closed as he touches me, prepares me, slides slick fingers in and out of my body, opening me up in new and wonderful ways I've never felt before. "Edward," I gasp, finally opening my eyes to see him hovering over me, eyes heated and hungry. "Now."

He doesn't hesitate, sliding against me, latex slippery as he guides himself toward me. "I love you," he says again as he finds the place he's looking for, and as I feel him breach my body, my eyes widen and all I can see is him.

"I love you," I whisper back, utterly lost in Edward.

. . . .

I turn my head to one side to muffle my tears, and immediately I know it was a mistake. I can smell Edward – shampoo and deodorant and sleep-warm skin and boy – and I feel like the scent I once adored is suffocating me. I pull back, desperate to breathe in as much of him as I can, desperate to fill my lungs with him so that I can hold onto the scent for as long as possible, but equally desperate to save myself the pain, to minimize the impact.

I cast around the room for something to distract me, but everywhere I look, it's Edward. The periodic table tacked to the wall beside his window.

The telescope propped on a tripod to the left of the window frame.

The pixel-printed blanket folded over the back of his desk chair and the binary code pillow in his beanbag chair.

The photo of us. Of him. Smiling.

. . . .

I don't wake up to the sound of my phone vibrating on the nightstand beside my bed on an unexpectedly frigid night in April. I don't hear it, don't register the glowing screen, don't even spot the notification that I have two new text messages when I get up to pee sometime around three in the morning. I trip into the bathroom and stumble back, oblivious to the little envelope with the "2" above it on my darkened phone screen as I fall back into slumber, completely unaware that it will be the last good night of sleep I'll ever get. Entirely ignorant of the fact that while I am dreaming of Edward, Edward is telling me goodbye.

Hours later, sleep still heavy in my eyes and my sheets tangled around my hips, I retrieve my phone from the nightstand as early morning sunlight slips through my bedroom window. Edward's first text greets me.

I'm sorry I wasn't brave enough.

I frown down at the message, sent at 1:34 a.m. The words don't make sense, don't really explain much of anything, and I'm gazing down at them in confusion until I remember that it's the first of two messages. Scrolling back to my inbox, I open the second.

I loved you.

My frown deepens, and the muscles in my body tense. Loved? Past tense? Why past tense? Is it a typo?

I don't realize it at this moment, but that single letter will haunt me for years. Was it a mistake? Was it intentional? Did it mean that he had stopped loving me, or was it a promise that he loved me despite everything that came next?

Or was it simply the fact that, as Edward Cullen stood on the roof of the gymnasium of Forks High School, typing out his goodbye to me, his fingers were shaking so badly that he didn't realize he'd hit an extra letter before he pressed send?

One of many questions to which I'll never, ever, have an answer.

. . . .

I lie back on the bed and stare at the ceiling, too afraid to close my eyes. Too afraid that if I let them fall shut, I'll see Edward lying next to me, cheeks flushed and the ends of his hair damp with sweat, green eyes sparkling in the half-light. Even more afraid, perhaps, that I won't. He's already fading, growing duller around the edges, my brain unable to conjure up the exact hue of the green in his eyes, unable to replicate the multicolored hues of his hair. I'm terrified of the day when I'll wake up and find myself incapable of recalling the perfectly straight line of his teeth, the way his Adam's apple would bob when he laughed, the vulnerability in his eyes whenever he'd peer at me through the darkness. The taste of cinnamon gum when he kissed me. The soft, warm feel of his skin beneath my fingertips. I'm paralyzed by the possibility that I'll forget the tenor of his voice, how it was the one thing that could make me feel as though something inside of me had wings, how just the sound of my name on his lips made me happier than anything else ever had. Ever would.

Too afraid to remember, but terrified to forget: such is the language of loss. And love.

. . . .

My three texts to Edward as I get ready for school go unanswered.

What are you talking about? You're one of the bravest people I know. This, I send in immediate response before rising from my bed.

Loved? That had better be a typo, mister. I very much LOVE you. Present tense. This, just after I get out of the shower, water still dripping from the ends of my hair and tracing a line down my neck, shoulders, spine.

Is everything okay? I'm a little worried. This, as I swallow the last spoonful of my Frosted Flakes and dump the bowl in the sink.

On the ride to school, the twinge of concern that has been niggling at the edge of my mind is steadily escalating to full-fledged worry. Edward always replies to my texts, even when he's in class. He'll scold me for sending them during school, but he always, always answers.

It isn't until I pull into the senior parking lot that I see the line of yellow police tape stretching from the corner of the building and around the back. There is an ambulance at the corner of the overflow lot, just to the side of the gymnasium, and a few police cars are parked at odd angles around it. None of the vehicles are running or have their lights flashing, and I take a modicum of comfort from that fact; surely if there was an actual emergency, there would be sirens, and the red-blue-red of spinning lights.

Right?

I shoulder my bag and step out of the car; as I do, I spot Alice standing with Rosalie beside a car a few spaces down. They're talking in hushed voices, their faces uncharacteristically grave, and I feel another twinge of unease twist low in my belly. "Hey, girls. What's going on?"

Alice's wide gray eyes find mine, and her expression is enough to make my stomach flip. Alice is peppy, bright, spunky. She's a firecracker, a live wire. Alice doesn't do solemn, doesn't do somber, but in this moment, Alice is doing them all. And, when I glance over at Rosalie, she has a twin expression of grimness on her face. "Someone jumped," Alice says finally, her eyes flicking around nervously.

"Jumped?" I repeat, still not catching on. "Jumped where?"

"Off the roof," Rosalie explains, her eyes dancing around just like Alice's, and it isn't until I see them scanning from face to face that I realize what they're doing: trying to figure out who it was.

And I know. I know before turning to look that Edward's Volvo isn't in its place two rows and six spaces over from mine. I know before scanning the crowd that there's one face that isn't here, that won't be accounted for.

My beautiful boy.

. . . .

It occurs to me as I recline on Edward's bed that I might be the first person in here since the police came to search for clues, for signs as to why, for answers. As long as I live, I'll always wonder why they bothered; surely they have better things to do than to try to solve a puzzle after the main pieces are already missing. What does it matter why, if the answers can't bring him back again?

I wonder if Edward's parents will be mad if they realize I'm in here, but I can't bring myself to leave. I wonder if they'll keep his room as a shrine, if Edward's bedding and Edward's clothes and Edward's favorite things will all gather dust and start to look more like relics than possessions. If Edward will vanish from his room just as he vanished from my life, his scent and his aura and his memory fading and giving way to moths and cobwebs. Or, conversely, I wonder if his parents will grieve and then one day step inside the room with boxes and bags and package up everything that surrounded Edward when he woke up each morning and went to sleep each night, parceling him up and saving a few mementos before turning the room into something innocuous, like a guest room or a study. Perhaps they'll move altogether, and Edward's memory will be just that – memory. They'll live in a house he never lived in, climb stairs he never climbed, mow a yard he never played in, all so that they can go on with their lives and not notice his absence in every empty room, not hear the silence of the words he doesn't speak when it echoes off the walls.

I wonder which will be worse. For them. For me.

. . . .

It comes out in drips, at first. The information. The details. The black-and-white facts about the suicide of Edward Cullen.

Confirmation that he jumped; he didn't fall.

That one of his shoes landed six feet away from his body, and I can't help wondering if it fell off mid-dive, or if it came off with the impact of his body on the ice-cold concrete.

That he had his cell phone on him, the last two text messages sent shortly before the time that the coroner estimated he stepped off the roof: 1:40 a.m.

That he didn't die instantly: despite Edward's genius IQ, brilliant academic record, affinity for science and math, he misjudged the height of the building, and while the fall itself did enough damage to kill him eventually, the cause of death was actually ruled to be hypothermia. Edward froze to death while he slowly bled inside, no doubt in unimaginable pain but unable to writhe in agony because he broke his back. And, probably because he thought it would happen instantly, he was wearing only the blue jeans I always loved on him and the t-shirt I gave him for Christmas that had photos of all the different computer ports and said, "When in doubt, try another hole," beneath a lightweight jacket.

That there was a smooth, black pebble the size of a dime in the front interior pocket of his jacket. (The pocket, the press neglects to mention, is the one that sits right over his heart. The pebble, the press doesn't realize, is the twin of the one I carry in my own pocket, in my backpack, in my wallet, the memento from our first trip out to First Beach.)

There are psychiatrists and experts who speculate about Edward's mental health based on snippets of information they've managed to amass from teachers and classmates and youth coaches and computer camp counselors who knew Edward when he was a kid, a preteen.

There were a few things I never really knew for sure, but always suspected: type-A personality with an inexplicable drive to be successful. Not just successful: perfect. A sense of self-discipline bordering on compulsion. A complete and utter inability to handle failure, or anything he perceived as such. Self-loathing in the aftermath of any performance that fell short of his lofty standard of perfection.

There was the one speculation that I knew to be true better than anyone: Homosexual.

There was the one revelation that I never knew, never really even though to consider: Victim.

. . . .

I realize that the door to Edward's walk-in closet is ajar, and I wonder who left it like that. His mother, putting away clean laundry for the last time? His father, searching for somewhere to cry in private? The police, searching for answers they wouldn't find amid his jeans, his sweaters, the brand new suit his mother bought him for college admissions interviews? I rise from the bed, my new dress shoes squeaking slightly as I cross the room, and I take a breath before I pull the door open. The inside of the closet is so typically Edward – organized, categorized, tidy – that it hits me like a punch. I still haven't gotten used to that, the way the little things I don't see coming can knock me flat. I flip the light switch, the small space glowing suddenly in warm yellow light, and I look around at his clothes, the sweatshirts and jackets and jeans that I loved to peel away from his body. Higher, to the shelves that hold an old lava lamp, a microscope kit, a stack of jigsaw puzzles, piles of binders with school subjects inked on their spines in Edward's careful block lettering.

I close my eyes and sink to my knees, trying to breathe even though here, as in his bed, the smell of Edward is overpowering. I force myself to inhale, to exhale, to focus on the air filling my lungs and not on the fact that it smells like Edward's neck, his hair, the skin of his throat. When I can feel my breathing even out slightly, I open my eyes again and spy a shoebox beside his rack of neatly lined-up shoes, a familiar black box with a trademark white swoosh on the side that makes me frown: Edward never wore Nikes. Scooting forward, I pull the box out and open it; the moment I do, I'm assaulted by memory.

Small scraps of paper with notes passed back and forth beneath a biology lab table.

Ticket stubs from movies he saw at the theater in Port Angeles. With me.

A matchbox from Bella Italia, where we went to dinner on what Edward later sheepishly asked me to confirm was, in fact, a date.

A tight roll of cotton that gives me pause until I pull it out and it unravels and I'm faced with my own t-shirt. I press the cotton to my mouth; it smells like Edward. And me. And I feel something inside of me break.

. . . .

In addition to the police reports, the press manages to acquire the details of Edward's Facebook account, and even more potentially contributing factors become public knowledge, including the last message he got the afternoon he dove off the Forks gym roof and the steady stream that came in the days and weeks beforehand:

Faggot. Everyone knows what you are. You should just kill yourself.

We know you're a homo. How does it feel, to take it up the ass?

You like sucking dick? Watch your back, or we'll see if you like doing it more than once a night.

No wonder you don't like girls. We saw that tiny little pencil-dick in the locker room. Is that why you take it up the ass? Because you have nothing to offer?

Fucking faggot. Go die somewhere.

Just you wait, homo. You didn't realize we were watching you and your little faggot boyfriend, did you? Cell phone cameras are handy things. You really should have been more careful.

The messages come from a fake account, a coward's faceless profile.

The rumors start, the speculation grows, the realization seems to hit the student body that the most likely "faggot boyfriend" is his lab partner, his lunch buddy, his only apparent friend.

This is when people start looking at me differently.

This is when I start to understand why Edward jumped.

This is when I realize that I'm alone now, that Edward's never coming back, that he's left me for good.

This is when I start to blame myself. To hate myself.

. . . .

When the bedroom door cracks open, I bolt upright, hastily brushing the tears from my face. My eyes feel too large for their sockets, my nose so stuffed up that I have to breathe through my mouth, each inhalation forced and faintly wheezy. My lips are cracked, and my cheeks feel tight and crusty with salt.

Mrs. Cullen appears around the edge of the door, and when she spies me in the middle of Edward's bed, her eyes go soft. "I'm sorry," I mumble, shifting to scoot to the edge of the mattress.

"No, please." She lifts a hand and steps inside, her dark heels sinking into the plush gray carpet of Edward's bedroom floor.

"I just…I couldn't…" I trail off, the words refusing to come. There are so many things I feel I can't do, and I don't know where to start.

"I know," she says gently, hugging her torso tightly, her elbows sticking out like wings. I always liked Edward's mom, and I know Edward adored her. I can see the same ghosts in her eyes that I see when I look in the mirror, the incessant Why? Why? Why? and How could he? that never let me go. "Me either." She lowers herself to the edge of the mattress, running her fingers gently over the comforter. "It's funny. People always have gatherings after funerals, but it seems so unkind, to expect a mourning family to host people in their home."

I never thought about that, but why would I? Edward's the first person I've ever loved who died.

Edward's the first person I ever loved.

I look away, trying desperately to fight the now-familiar sting of tears. "Can I do anything?" I ask, hoping that the tremble in my voice isn't audible as I stare at the periodic table. It's so organized, so reassuring in its classification, in the way it makes sense of the world. It's bullshit, and for a brief, fleeting moment, I want to rip it from the wall.

"You can sit here with me," she says, and I hear an echoing shake in her words. I force myself to meet her eye.

"Okay."

The green eyes she shares – shared – with Edward travel around the room and fall on the photo of the two of us that I'd been gazing at earlier. "My beautiful boy," she murmurs, tears slipping unchecked over her face, creating a faint map of grief in the makeup on her cheeks. I want to reply, to echo the sentiment, to burst into tears, but I force myself to hold it all in, focusing instead on the photo, which blurs through the moisture gathering along my eyelids, making Edward's perfect features a hazy, amorphous blob. I nod, and despite my best efforts, one of the tears breaks free. I duck my head, swiping a finger over my cheek in an effort to hide it, but Mrs. Cullen notices. "Oh, honey." The word, the maternal sentiment, the childless mother – they all conspire to break me.

"I'm sorry," I sob, tears rolling unimpeded down my face now, my breathing coming in desperate gasps. "I'm so sorry," I choke, and I can't breathe at all; I can't breathe without him.

"Shh, honey, it's okay." Esme wraps her arms around me, and I fall against her chest, crying into the black wool of her cardigan, smelling the same detergent I used to smell on Edward's t-shirts, when he would wrap those long, lean arms around me.

"I'm sorry," I plead again, and Edward's mother's warm hand smoothes over my hair, a steady, shushing lullaby echoing in my ear, and I realize in this moment that just as I'll never hold the boy I loved again, Esme Cullen will never hold her son again. I pull back to look into her eyes. "I'm so, so sorry," I whisper, my breath uneven and my voice broken, and Esme's tear-filled eyes gaze steadily back down at me before she shakes her head gently, another tear slipping free.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Jasper. You were such a good friend to my son."

And I can't, I can't not tell her the truth. Not when everything is so raw, when everything hurts so much, not when she's the closest thing to Edward I'll ever have again, the only person with the same eyes that look greener when she's been crying and bluer when she's outside. "He wasn't just my friend."

She smiles softly. "Oh, honey, I know. I know how much he loved you."

And the word, the past tense, the truth, it tears another sob from my throat.

. . . .

"What do you think comes after?"

The clouds are floating lazily overhead, shifting in front of and behind each other like ships on a distant horizon, and I frown at the uncharacteristically blue sky. "After what?"

"After this."

"I think, after this, we put our pants back on and go home." He doesn't laugh at the joke, and I turn my head to focus on his profile. If it's possible, he might be even more beautiful from the side. "Edward?"

"Like, after life," he clarifies, as if I haven't spoken. "Everybody talks about the sky – people become stars, people become angels playing harps on clouds. But what's so appealing about lounging around on a cloud all day?"

I frown at his silhouette. "I don't know. They look comfortable?"

He snorts. "Clouds are made of water vapor. They only look like cotton balls. Plus, on a day like today…what is it, fifty degrees out? It's below zero at 20,000 feet. So it's freezing and wet. It's not the idyllic, sunny, lap of luxury it looks like from down here."

I look at the sky once more, the clouds suddenly looking colder than they had mere moments earlier. "You're too smart for your own good."

"I'm just saying."

"I don't know. What do you want to come next?"

He's silent for a long time. "I want it to be peaceful. I don't even care what it is…water, air, fire, earth…I don't care, as long as it doesn't hurt." I look at him again, but he's still staring at the sky, and in this moment, perhaps more than ever before, I wish he'd look at me.

"I don't think it hurts," I say softly, and finally, finally, he drags his eyes to mine. They're wide and hopeful and asking me to give him a guarantee I don't have, but I offer it anyway. "I think things in this world hurt enough, and I think you get through it, and what comes next doesn't hurt at all."

He stares at me for a long time before turning his focus back to the sky, but this time, he lets his eyes fall closed. "I like that."

I watch his face for a long time, wondering for the millionth time about all of the things that spin around in that brilliant brain of his that I'll never understand. After a while, he opens his eyes and gazes up at the clouds again. "Do you think people we love are there?"

"Yeah," I say immediately, because what would the point of heaven be, if I couldn't have Edward? "Yeah, I think they are."

"I hope so."

I don't say it aloud, but I hope so, too.

. . . .