TLS Angst Contest Entry
Word Count: 5,129
Title of Story: If Only
Story Summary: When life gives you more than you can take, how do you cope? Sometimes the escape you desire is the one thing that could crush you. Do you take that leap of faith or do you hold on and weather the storm ... If only … the choice were that easy.
Today was a good day.
I cherish every day, but the good days ... Those are the days I live for.
Bella has been distant, but she let me hold her today.
It was more than I've been allowed to do for far too long; the longest stretch yet. Normally I'm just in the room with her but today I got to hold her.
I miss the simple things, like holding hands, the quick casual pecks in passing, even the nagging to take out the trash. You don't ever think about them. The everyday nuances' that fill voids in our day and we take for granted. They are as natural and common as breathing. I wish I had paid more attention to those insignificant moments because I rely on them more and more to get me through the day until Bella comes back to me again.
Remembering her, remembering us is all I have left to live for.
"Hey Mr. Cullen how are you today?"
"It was a good day, Angela … and how many times do I have to tell you, it's Edward, just Edward." I put on my best smile. Angela is one of the top nurse practitioners in the area, hell, probably the country. I hand-picked her for her expertise and Bella loved her instantly. We pay a pretty penny to keep her, but she is worth every cent.
"You sly devil ..." She smiles at me, "I've missed that smile Mr. Edward. We don't see it often enough."
"What can I say; Bella just brings out the best in me. Always has, always will."
She pats my arm and gives me a reassuring nod as she makes her way down the hall to see Bella.
I hum the tune I've been working on to keep it fresh in my mind. Bella has been my muse since day one, and my music tends to go dormant until Bella awakens it in me again. Today I have this music in my head, and I need to get to the piano before it disappears.
"Mr. Cullen, there you are. You have to take your meds. You know you can't avoid it all night." Nurse Sourpuss hands me the usual cocktail of meds. I wonder why Angela didn't give them to me earlier … I have no time to dwell on that so I knock them back and swallow fast, eager to be on my way.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry anyway?"
"Piano …" I say not bothering to look back.
I finally sit down, and the notes that have been dancing in my head pour out of me. It's been so long since I've had this surge of music I'm practically drunk on the sensation. It's an exciting, uplifting melody.
I play and write and play some more.
Time stood still.
The only thing that would make this moment perfect would be to have my wife by my side again. Memories of our life fill my thoughts as I play.
The sun is setting, casting a glow into the room that is otherworldly and suddenly I'm playing all the familiar pieces that are as comforting as Bella's famous chicken soup on a cold winter's day.
One piece flows into the next and because my fingers have a mind of their own they play all the pieces that remind me of Bella.
Tears begin to well up and blur my vision.
It's a good thing I could play this in my sleep. I don't need to see the keys, so I just close my eyes and let the music wrap itself around my broken heart keeping it together another night.
I take a deep breath feeling the slight electric jolt in my body at her approach, but I keep playing.
It's the music that lured her to me and I don't want her to leave.
"Yes, baby, I'm here."
"Is that my song?"
"You know it is…"
She places one hand on my shoulder, and the other at the nape of my neck as her fingers automatically run the familiar circuit through my hair. It sends the warmest chill down my spine and my skin prickles at the sensation.
"I remember the first time you played it for me. You were so cute, all nervous I was going to hate it."
"I was only twelve Baby, and you could play circles around me. I wanted to impress you."
She bends over and expertly places kisses in all the right places.
"And you did…"
Bella could play any piece of music and make it sound as if you were hearing it for the first time; gifted didn't come close to her talent. Of all the music she has played over the years she always said that my body was the one piece that she played the best.
She was right.
Her hands slid down my trembling arms.
"Don't stop playing." Her warm breath whispered into my ear as I struggled to continue to play.
"It's been so long. I've missed this." Letting me touch her, hold her, was one thing, but to have her touch me like this is another completely.
I melt into her, relishing the feel of it.
It's a good day.
I wake up groggy, the smell of coffee rousing me.
I don't do all-nighters like I used to. I played late last night, long after Bella went to bed, until I physically couldn't play anymore, finally getting to bed well past three in the morning.
I clung to the day for as long as I could, hating to waste even a second of it.
I go through the morning routine with a little more pep in my step than should be expected given my lack of sleep. I was excited to see Bella and I didn't want to miss breakfast with her, hoping to have another day like yesterday.
The usual suspects are on display as I take my breakfast and make my way to our table, but halt in my tracks as I see Jacob Black sitting with Bella.
She's giggling, and he's leaning in close, too close.
This isn't the first time that Jacob has tried to put the moves on my wife.
I set my breakfast down roughly, startling them, and making my coffee slosh and spill all over my toast.
Not that it matters. I lost my appetite anyway.
"Is something wrong Edward?" I try to give her a reassuring smile, but it was difficult … It was her, but she wasn't my Bella.
"Jacob, a word please," I say curtly, and walk out of the room knowing Jacob would follow.
"Look Edward, I love her and she's not your wife …"
I didn't let him finish because I swing at him hitting him square in the jaw. I was furious he'd ever suggest that Bella was anything but MY wife!
The gasps heard all around alerted the orderlies, and they quickly parted us before I broke his face or my hip.
Had I been thirty years younger I might have killed him.
Now, all I could hope for was that I at least busted his lip.
"Edward! How could you! What did you do that for?"
Bella rushes to his side.
The site is almost enough for me to lose it a second time.
My temper was boiling and I'm sure my blood pressure was sky high.
I wanted to yell at her; to shake her out of it!
To make her see that she is my wife!
She is my love, for the better part of almost fifty years.
We've spent a lifetime in each other's arms, and now … now, not only do I have to watch the Alzheimer's steal her mind, but I have to watch him steal her heart too.
No, I can't … I can't bear it.
I can't watch so before I do something I truly regret I take one last look at her and the affection she clearly has for Jacob Black and walk away.
In the solitude of my room I silently curse the clock for ticking, time for passing over our life far too quickly and bringing us here.
I lived a life I'm proud of.
I loved a woman; made her my wife and we raised a family together.
Where did I go wrong?
What have I ever done to deserve this?
I curse everything and grieve the loss of a life we no longer have control over.
I curl up on my bed and pray for sleep to find me so I can escape the pain if only for a few hours.
I wake too soon for my liking, so I hum softly to myself, Bella's song. I do that sometimes; it helps lull me back to sleep. I'm on the cusp of dreamland when the door clicks open and shut, and I watch as Bella slips into my room and under my covers. I scoot over to make room.
"It's okay Edward. Go back to sleep ..." Her voice is so calm and inviting. The late night finally catching up with me and dragging me back under. I go willingly relieved that she isn't mad at me.
I'm dreaming of a time when life was good, way before Alzheimer's had touched our lives.
Bella just turned twenty-one, and we had just ended finals week.
We got married young and although completing college was a priority, it wasn't the only one. We both knew what we wanted out of life and it seems we've waited our entire lives already. We didn't see the point in waiting any longer. 'It will never be 'the right time'. College, marriage, kids, career, we wanted it all and now seemed as good a time as any to start.
It was busy, hectic and at times we wanted to pull our hair out, but we made it work, and there is no one else I would have wanted to share a life with. Bella was it for me, from the moment she played chopsticks for us at five years old. The excitement in her eyes when she played was infectious.
Everything she touched turned to gold.
She made me want to be a better musician, boyfriend, husband and father.
I had planned to take her out, get her drunk then have my way with her, but she had other plans.
"Edward when was the last time we had alone time?"
I know what she's getting at. I didn't need to think about it. She hadn't been feeling well and between classes, our compositions, recitals, work, friends and family we haven't had any real alone time in weeks. I was feeling the strain too but at the end of the day we have both been too exhausted to do anything about it.
"I don't want to hang out with the gang tonight …"
We are at the threshold of our one bedroom apartment heading out to meet friends and celebrate but Bella has that look in her eye. It's the glint she gets when she needs me. My baby's horny and she wants to skip past the party, right to the end of the night.
It seems I've really neglected my duties.
She tugs my shirt and it didn't escape my notice that she wore her fuck-me heels. They give her the lift she needs to line us up perfectly, and I do mean perfectly. We've tested the theory on almost every surface of our tiny apartment. Her warm breath teases the corner of my mouth as she easily kisses my jaw, right below my ear.
She knows that's my sweet spot.
"It's your birthday baby …" I say returning the favor by lifting her leg and wrapping it around my waist, pressing myself into her, letting her feel exactly what she does to me. "... I'm game. I'll do whatever you want, but you know Alice will be there waiting …"
She lets out an agonizing groan.
"... the cock-blocking pixie will be pounding on our door before we even make it to the bed …"
I chuckle because she knows my sister as well as I do, maybe even better, and Aly will not sit there waiting. She spent weeks scouting the perfect spot to celebrate and was beyond excited to find this new, underground club. Apparently, it's all the rage. She and her boyfriend Jasper have become regulars. She'll show up here and drag our naked asses to the party and force us to have a good time.
"... Edward, you look so good." She nips my bottom lip, clearly still undecided about what to do.
"Bella, it's just a t-shirt and jeans."
She grabs my ass and pulls me impossibly closer to her hot center.
"You know darned well what you are wearing. I've told you it should be illegal for you to walk around in these." Yes, the one pair she finds me irresistible in. She likes the way my ass looks in them. They hug in all the right places, or so she says.
"Well, you should have thought about that before you slipped on those heels." I capture her lips and really give her something to think about. A little more friction and she's moaning into my mouth. The heels or jeans alone are enough to get one of us going, but the combination is almost too much to resists.
"Fuck!" She says shoving me away.
"Let's get out of here and get this over with before I start stripping you naked! A few drinks and I'm faking a headache then you are making good on that promise," she says as she storms away. I adjust myself, laughing as I follow her out onto the street.
We finally make it to the club; in a sketchy part of town. The lights are dim and the music is pulsing a seductive beat. It's like nothing we've ever seen before and Bella immediately starts moving; her body naturally finding the rhythm. She immerses herself, feeling completely in her element. It's a long way from Elvis or the innocence of American Bandstand, but it doesn't faze her.
Bella is way past a few drinks and feeling no pain; no headache in sight. She's letting loose, enjoying how liberating the music and atmosphere is, and I'm the designated driver so I get to enjoy the show ... stone cold sober. She's got me on the dance floor and didn't waste any time grinding into me, the heavy beat adding to her sultry moves.
Bella and music, it's fire and ice. One lights, and the other melts right into it.
It's mesmerizing to watch and that's exactly what I do. I can't take my eyes off her.
She has her back to me swaying her hips, arms in the air, a slight sheen of sweat glistening off her skin. It's erotic as hell, and it's taking every ounce of control not to take her right here on the dance floor. My highly neglected dick is pulsing in my pants to an entirely different beat, dying to be home inside my wife. She knows I like to watch her and she loves to put on a show for me. Her head falls back as she looks at me over her shoulder. Her moves never falter, one hand securing her hair so I don't miss the wanton expression on her face. Her hand slides down her cheek and as her fingers cross her lips her tongue darts out to moisten them, teeth sinking into her bottom lip. Her eyes close as if experiencing something euphoric. I can't take any more so I move in and she leans right into me. Our movements in sync as her perfect ass provides some much needed relief. My hands splay across her hips and travel slowly down to her inner thighs. She reaches up and fists my hair, roughly pulling me to her as she arches further into me. My lips suck the tender flesh of her neck feeling her shutter beneath my touch. We've drifted to a darker corner of the dance floor, away from prying eyes as my fingers dip into her barely there panties to find her silky smooth and soaking wet. It's a good thing the music is loud because I don't hide the groan that escapes my throat. I'm aching to taste the soft, warm flesh beneath my fingers, so I slowly enter her slick heat feeling a slight quiver in her thighs.
"Fuck …" Bella is trying to keep her shit together as I pump into her, determined to have her fall apart.
"I fucking love that I can do this to you ..." I say into her ear. "... That I'm the one, lucky bastard who gets to touch you like this …"
"God, yes …" She pants out, her breathing a little more erratic. I'm grinding into her from behind as my fingers work their magic claiming her as mine.
"… and I fucking love that I'm the only one who has ever and will ever touch you again …"
My eyes shoot open right as Bella comes apart in arms.
I'm breathing heavy and my face is wet.
A moment of clarity hits and I remember ...
Screeching tires …
Glass shattering ...
Metal twisting …
Lots of blood.
"Oh God ... Bella."
"Edward, baby what's wrong?"
She's still in bed with me.
She's here ... but for the first time I notice ... how different she looks.
"Bella, what's happening?"
I'm so overwhelmed; I don't understand these memories that are flooding my mind.
They don't make sense.
"Shh … it's okay." She says.
"I'm scared …" I tell her truthfully.
"The accident …" I start.
Pain fills her eyes as she looks at me.
"Oh God Bella … Please … Please … Don't …" I'm sobbing uncontrollably.
"No … It's not real … We were happy … We have a family … You're here, in the next room …
"Shh … Edward … it's okay … She comforts me like only she can.
"What happened?" I whisper.
I'm terrified of her answer, but I'm petrified of her silence.
"Please … " I beg.
"It was after my twenty-first birthday …"
"No … no … that can't be …" I shut my eyes tight hoping to make this stop.
We had a family.
We had a life.
We were happy.
I chant it over and over again in my head willing the words to be real.
Willing this to be the nightmare that I wake up from.
I want to wake up.
"We had a life together until you got Alzheimer's … You're in the next room Bella. I'm here to be close to you … We have a family ..."
The words tumble out.
"No baby … it was a drunk driver … I didn't make it ..." She says it softly, gently, but it doesn't soften the blow.
My whole life … our life … I hold her close because now the pain and fear is so griping I'm afraid I'll pass out and Bella will be gone.
"Edward, you have Alzheimer's Disease baby; it brought me back to you … "
Reality is crashing down on me, crushing me to the point I can barely breathe.
There's a knock on the door and I try to control myself so they'll go away.
"Mr. Edward, are you alright in there?" It's Angela coming to check on me.
"I have to go Edward …" Bella's voice echoes.
"Bella, No … no … no …, please don't leave me. Please don't go." I'm begging softly ... it's a whispered prayer.
"I'll be back Edward. I'm always with you. Play my song baby. I'll be here."
"Can't you take me with you? I'm ready Bella. Please, I don't want to stay here without you. I don't want to live without you.
"It's not your time …" She's fading.
"...I love you…"
"I love you so much it hurts Bella … look what's happened to me ... I miss you so much."
"I know baby … play … I'll come back…" And with those parting words I'm alone again.
I'm a crumpled mess on the floor when Angela finds me.
"Mr. Edward …" Angela kneels and rubs my back as I stare blankly in the direction I last saw Bella.
I want to die.
I want to be with Bella.
I don't know why I haven't done this sooner; why it took me so long to think to of it. I could steal some medication and no one would know until it was too late; how hard could that be?
"I just want my wife and … she's gone."
Angela lets out a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry Edward, but you have people here who love you. They don't want you to die."
Suddenly the door bursts open, "Daddy … oh thank God."
I sit up and rub the tears out of my eyes so I could see.
Bella's face, my eyes, comes rushing in and hugs me tight.
"I came as fast as I could. Are you all right?"
"He had another episode but I think he's okay." Angela replies for me.
I pull back shaking. Memories I thought were lies that my brain cooked up come flooding back again.
I remember more.
Elisabeth … Our daughter.
"Yes, Daddy, it's me." She looks so much like Bella; she always has.
Bella … we didn't know you were three months pregnant.
The doctors gave you a week, but they didn't know you.
You were a fighter.
You held on long enough to deliver our beautiful baby girl … Elisabeth.
I wanted it to be me that died.
I wanted you to live and raise our daughter.
You would have been the perfect mother.
I held our daughter for the first time and she clutched my finger so tight ... like she knew I would fall apart any second. We became each other's lifeline in that moment.
She fussed and whined and I didn't know what to do.
You would have known exactly what to do.
She cried and so did I. This wasn't the last time we cried together.
She grew into an exceptional woman ... just like you.
Elizabeth was the force that kept me grounded; kept me moving; kept me living this life.
But I've given all I have left to give.
Nothing has changed.
I want to be home again, with you.
"Lizzy I'm sorry baby but I'm just so tired."
My father is my hero.
He was my father and my mother all rolled into one. He never thought he was good enough, but he was wrong. As much as I would have loved to have known my mother I doubt she could have done it better.
He loved me enough for the both of them I'm sure, and if my mom was watching she would be proud. He made the most of his life, making a name for himself, becoming quite the composer/musician for the film industry; his work showing up in blockbuster films all over the world. It was the perfect career for a stay at home dad and he always prided himself at being able to provide for me without sacrificing our home life.
It's something he's passed on to me.
According to him I have my mother's talent; music just came naturally to me. So when I decided to become a doctor, everyone in the family including my father was shocked. I think after all the stories about my mother being in the hospital and the doctors not being able to save her, it made me more determined that one day I could spare someone the grief of losing a loved one.
My dad did his best to shelter me from his pain, but I knew when he'd wake up with red rimmed eyes that he wasn't suffering from allergies like he'd have me believe. My father lost the love of his life; his soul mate … and I'm a constant reminder. I guess that's not something anyone ever gets over, least of all my father.
So it wasn't surprising to me that when he developed Alzheimer's Disease and his mind also created an entirely different reality where Bella, my mother, was alive and well. There was a glimmer of life that lit his eyes, and for the first time I was seeing my father in love. It was heartbreaking, and yet so moving to see this side of him.
The disease has given him some peace; some shred of comfort he'd never been afforded. I couldn't begrudge him that, but days like today ... I hate seeing him so broken and I knew when the home called and told me about the altercation with Mr. Black that my mother would be making an appearance and I'd find him … a sobbing, broken, mess. My father has triggers right before moments of clarity. But when the fog lifts and the worlds collide, it leaves him just like this.
It's been awhile but it breaks my heart every time.
"Lizzy, I'm sorry baby, but I'm just so tired." My dad utters despondent.
"I know Daddy. Let me help you to bed."
"Will you stay with me? I want to talk to you now that I'm lucid. I don't know how long it will last."
"Of course Daddy. You know I will ... Is she … is she, here?"
He shakes his head sadly. "No, she left."
The way he says that; I don't know … it feels off.
Everything about him is different today.
"Lizzy I need to talk to you about something; it's important."
There's a noticeable change in his demeanor.
"Daddy you're scaring me."
His hand reaches out to hold mine, gently squeezing as if to brace me.
"Don't be scared …"
But I am; my stomach is in knots and there is a steady stream running down my face. He swipes them away like he did when I was just a little girl and I scraped my knee … or when I had my heart broken for the first time and he stayed up all night with me eating ice cream and bashing boys.
"… you know I love you baby, right?"
I nod. "You're my best friend Daddy."
"I'm old and …"
"Daddy, you're not old; the doctors say you are really fit and could live to be a hundred …" I stop when his weary expression turns sadder than I have ever seen him.
"That's what I'm afraid of honey..."
My heart stops as I let that sink in.
"I've lived my life. I raised the kindest, most beautiful, strong and talented daughter, and there...is...nothing, in this world, that I am prouder of, than that.
You are my greatest accomplishment Lizzy; don't you ever forget that."
These are all things people say right before they die and aside from the Alzheimer's my father is as fit as a fiddle which only means one thing ... "Daddy why are you telling me all this?" I ask because I need confirmation before I go off the deep end.
"I need your mother Lizzy. I don't want to wake up another day without her … I have a plan but … but I'm going to need your help..."
I was okay with the Alzheimer's because it meant sharing him with my mother and that made him happy, but to lose him permanently...
I'll never be prepared for that.
"What about me Daddy … I need you too …" I choke out.
I can't … I know he's sad, but this is crazy.
"I know this is hard for you baby. I know I'm asking a lot and if it were me I'd be struggling too but … my life now, isn't my life anymore ...
It's not the life I want to live ... It's time for me to be with my wife.
I need her Lizzy … I need her to be whole again … can you understand that … I'll always be with you just like Bella was always with me … with us."
I'm shaking my head no as memories of my father at BBQs, the park, family dinners, pool parties, places where we were surrounded by couples, slowly creep to the surface and assault my mind.
He always wore the same mask.
The quiet smile that rarely reached his eyes.
The uncomfortable laugh he shared.
The dates he went on at my request but never more than one with the same woman.
The quiet cries behind closed doors, red-rimmed eyes on her birthday, anniversaries, the holidays …
My father spent his life longing for my mother.
Didn't I always wish he'd find someone … to be happy with?
I can see how much he wants this, so I close my eyes.
I don't want to face him; I don't want to face the truth …
I don't want to lose my dad.
He pulls me to him cradling me in his arms. I find comfort in his warmth and I'm five again … wishing he can make the pain go away like he used to.
Wishing there was a way to keep him happy here with me.
As my lids relax and my sobbing turns to quiet whimpers, a vision of my mother appears.
I used to imagine her-talk to her-all the time as a child, but it's been decades since I've closed my eyes to find her there.
"Lizzy …" My mother's sad, far-a-way voice beacons me.
"Don't be sad. He won't leave you. If you need him; he will stay, for you ..."
I've never seen my mother this way.
In every picture, in every dream she's always smiling, happy, and full of life, not a care in the world.
This vision before me is hollow; the light in her eyes has vanished.
She's as broken as my father.
Two soul-mates, stuck in different dimensions, suffering ...
Who am I to keep them apart …
I love them both so much, and to see them so unhappy, so alone.
My world will be a lonely place without him in it.
He had always been the one to lift me up when I was down.
To carry me when I couldn't take another step...
The one who gave me the courage to be who I am.
A deep anguishing sorrow is working its way through my body and I'm trembling with the realization that it was time for me to do the same for him.
My hero, my dad, needs my courage to carry on.
I look at my mother; the woman whom I only knew through stories, pictures and music and I think ...
If Only ...
My chest tightens; my stomach knots …
There's more than this life.
I have to believe that there is more than this life, that there is something else … and that thought gives me peace.
My decision is the right one.
"Take care of him for me …" I tell her.
They deserve their happily ever after.