TLS Angst Contest Entry
Word Count: 3891
Pairing: Edward and Bella
Title of Story: Bella's List
Story Summary: The only thing on his bucket list was to love her for eternity.
"Edward, do you have a bucket list?" Bella's breath was warm on my bare chest as she spoke into the darkness. How she knew I was awake before dawn I didn't know, but I suspected it was because neither one of us had slept very much the past few days.
"A bucket list? Like a list of things you want to do before you die?"
"I meant a list of things you want to accomplish in life, but thanks for the vote of confidence." Her fingers lightly pinched my nipple as she giggled out her words. That's how it was with Bella – optimistic and rarely serious even though the fact of the matter was grave.
My wife was sick. Very sick. What started out as a persistent headache, something that she treated with over-the-counter pain medication, soon became unmanageable and warranted a visit to our family practitioner. Bella was diagnosed with chronic migraines and put on prescription medication, but her symptoms only intensified. Along with the headaches, she started to experience double vision and bouts of nausea. Her prescription was doubled but, even still, the pain of the constant throbbing was barely numbed. The next course of action was a CAT scan of her head.
A week later we were sitting side-by-side in cold leather chairs in Dr. Platt's office. We were ready to hear the results, hoping for a treatable diagnosis to end the pain Bella was in. As soon as we saw the doctor's face we knew something was wrong. My wife reached for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine.
Initially Dr. Platt threw out words that were over our heads, but she made herself loud and clear when she told us in layman's terms. Bella had a brain tumor. Of course, we didn't believe her. At 28, Bella was young and seemingly healthy. She did yoga four days a week. Ran at least once. Never smoked, rarely drank, and didn't indulge in junk food much at all.
No, Dr. Platt was wrong.
We demanded a second opinion and she encouraged us to seek it. She referred us to Dr. Cullen, one of the best neuro-oncologists in the state. Dr. Platt pulled some strings and within days, Bella went for more tests; first an MRI, then a biopsy. That was over a week ago and we were eagerly awaiting the results in the morning.
"So, do you have a list?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know. I've never thought about it before."
In a flash, Bella pushed herself off me and sat up. She turned on the bedside lamp and though the light was dim, it was still too bright for my eyes that were accustomed to the darkness of our room.
Shielding myself, I asked Bella what was doing as she noisily rummaged around in her nightstand drawer.
"Here, write your list." She thrust a canary yellow pad of paper and a pen at me as she fluffed pillows behind her back. Bella brought her knees up and rested her own pad on them. "Number from one to twenty, then list the things you want to do in life."
I grumbled as I sat up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
"Bella, it's like five in the morning."
"Were you sleeping?"
"Did you have something better to do?"
"Well, not exactly."
"So, write your list. Do it for your dying wife."
"Bella." I warned with a shake of my head.
"Relax, I'm kidding. Just do it for me, okay?"
Sick or not, my wife still could pout.
I sighed heavily. "Fine."
As instructed I numbered from one to twenty down the left side of the paper then drew a blank. I really didn't want for anything. There was nothing in life I needed, except my wife by my side. I could live in a shack in a hellhole town without a penny to my name-but as long as I had Bella, my life was complete. That thought led me to fill the empty space beside the number one.
1. Love Bella for eternity.
From there I was stumped. Honestly, nothing else mattered. I needed Bella like I needed air to breath. She was everything to me – best friend, my love…my life.
I tapped my pen on the pad as I thought about what else to put down. Beside me, Bella's eyebrows were knitted together as she penned her list. I smiled because she was taking it very seriously; she looked so cute. When my eyes drifted over to see what she was writing, Bella turned her back and covered her paper.
"Edward! No cheating!" Her scolding me was too adorable so I tugged on her hair to sneak another peak.
"Come on, baby, let me see."
"No. I'll go to the living room if you won't leave me alone."
"No, stay with me. I'll be good."
I sat back and looked at the mostly blank paper before me. Instead of writing, I sketched a picture, which was hard to do in ink when I was used to using pencil, but I made it work. I remembered Bella on our last trip to the beach only a few months before. The picture was clear in my head and easily transferred onto the writing pad. It was a side-profile portrait of Bella, staring out at the ocean, her long hair blowing in the wind. There were strands slightly obscuring her face, her left hand trying to hold them back. I drew on a smile because there was always one playing on those pretty, pouty lips. I closed my eyes, seeing the more intricate details behind my lids and continued to sketch.
Dawn broke and Bella was still working on her list. Slivers of light peaked out from under our curtains signaling another day before us. The day we were supposed to get the results was starting with sunshine. That had to be a good sign.
Bella laid down her pen, looking proud of herself.
"I'm all done. Let's exchange lists."
I smiled sheepishly and handed my pad over.
"Your list only has one thing on it. Edward, you totally cheated."
I shook my head. "I didn't. There's only one thing I want in life and that's to love you. Eternity's a long time, you know."
"I better hope you don't get sick of me."
"You know I won't, baby." I never would. Never.
I scanned through Bella's list, smiling at things I never knew she had a desire to do. After so many years together I loved that I was still learning new things about her.
A smile tugged on my lips as I re-read her list. I certainly liked number one.
1. Make love morning, noon, and night.
I rolled over, trapping Bella's lithe body underneath my own.
"I was thinking we could start working on your list right now. Number one has potential." I wagged my eyebrows at her.
"I thought you'd like that one. I like to make my goals attainable."
"Oh, it's attainable alright." I tugged her t-shirt up and pressed my lips to her stomach before working my way lower.
Three hours later we were sitting in Dr. Cullen's office. He entered the room dressed in his white lab coat, with Bella's chart tucked under his arm, a somber look on his face. He shook his head and quietly told us he was sorry.
He informed us that not only did Bella have a brain tumor, but it was malignant and deemed aggressive. He advised us she had anywhere from six months to three years to live. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of my chest. This wasn't happening. I wouldn't be done loving Bella in six months, three, five, or fifty years.
Those next few days were a blur of medical appointments and information overload. We learned that due to its size, the tumor was determined to be inoperable. What the hell were we expected to do – wait for it to kill her? Fuck that shit. Bella was going to fight, and I would be by her side the entire time.
We were called upon to make important decisions about the best course of treatment, many of which we found confusing and frightening. Google became the devil and we heavily relied on the doctors and specialists to guide us as best they could.
Doctors Platt and Cullen both worked closely with us, answering our never-ending questions with patience and empathy. The entire process was daunting and completely overwhelming.
Bella chose a course of radiation initially. It completely fatigued her and made her violently ill. Needing Bella to stay strong and focused on her recovery, I took on the brunt of the household chores- fumbling my way through the laundry room and kitchen. We joked that if the cancer didn't kill her, my cooking just might.
Through it all, Bella remained positive. She was confident that her body was strong enough to fight evil and win. We prayed, a lot. Ate a strict diet of only whole grains, and organic fruits and vegetables. Bella ingested a multitude of vitamins and other homeopathic remedies both proven and not to be effective. She was willing to give it everything she had and through it all stayed optimistic.
She was far braver than I.
Every time she threw up and dry heaved into the toilet I felt emptied myself. Gutted and powerless. There were nights I didn't sleep - variations of 'what if' assaulted my brain. What if Bella didn't make it? How could I live without her? It was a stark reality, and one that Bella refused to acknowledge. I survived some days solely on coffee and a prayer that I would stay strong for my wife.
Almost four weeks after her first course of radiation, Bella and I were snuggled together on a lounge chair in our backyard. She was between my legs, her back to my chest, my arms wrapped around her. Her head was tucked under my chin. Bella's hair, though thinning, was still long; smelling faintly of her shampoo. I closed my eyes and breathed in her familiar scent. I wanted to remember those seemingly insignificant details.
We were quiet for a long while, staring up at the sky as day faded to night. Pinks and orange gave way to blues, purples, and finally the black of night peppered with twinkling stars. With summer behind us, the evening air had a crispness about it so I pulled the wool blanket up, covering us fully, and turned my attention to Bella.
"How are you feeling after the treatment today, my love?"
Bella shrugged. "Not bad. Less tired."
"That's good, really good."
The silence once again crept between us. Quiet moments had never been awkward for us because we had always been comfortable together. On this particular evening it was a welcomed blessing after the busyness of a day full of more doctors appointments and treatments.
As I often did, I massaged Bella's shoulders. I'd thought she'd been handling things so well, given the circumstances, but I could feel the tension manifested there. I worked my fingers up the back of her neck, trying to relax the tight ropes of muscles. By way of her deep breaths I sensed Bella was on the verge of sleep so I continued, wanting her to relax and de-stress as much as possible.
With my fingers tangled in her hair, I scratched Bella's scalp and she melted into me, sighing contently. When I pulled my hand away to repeat the process, I was left with clumps of soft brunette waves between my fingers. I froze. Sensing something was wrong, Bella slowly turned around. Seeing her hair still within my grasp, her brown eyes grew wide.
Until then, my wife had been solid as a rock. Though she had accepted her diagnosis she refused to let it define her. Not once had Bella shed a single tear, because she believed the cancer was merely a roadblock, a test of her faith - one she would no doubt triumph over. But seeing her hair, root and all dangling from my hand, made her unravel.
Over the course of our relationship I've seen my wife cry many times. In anger, physical pain, and grief. There have been tears of happiness and frustration. But I had never seen her cry quite like this. This was her fear of mortality manifested in tears. And it scared the hell out of me.
As the sobs shook her body she was left completely shattered in my arms. My words of comfort fell upon deaf ears; she was inconsolable. All I could do was rock her back and forth, quietly shushing in her ear. How could I tell her everything was going to be okay when there was no guarantee of that?
The more she cried, the more I found it increasingly difficult to hold it together myself. Until then neither one of us had cried in front of the other. We'd both been putting up a brave front. I let my guard down, and together we cried all the tears until we were left with nothing but quiet hiccups.
We marked number two off her list that night, but I'm sure it wasn't the way Bella had envisioned.
2. Sleep under the stars in Edward's arms.
The next morning I shaved my head – completely bald. When Bella saw me she laughed, telling me I had an odd-shaped head. I couldn't disagree. I wanted her to know we were in this together.
Three weeks later, with her hair was rapidly falling out, Bella took the clippers to her own head. I sat on the edge of the tub watching with tears in my eyes as the locks I'd loved to knot my fingers into fell silently to the floor. Bella finished, set the clippers on the counter, and frowned at herself in the mirror.
"Come here." I beckoned her with my words.
Bella shook her head. "No, don't look at me. I'm hideous."
I went to her, wrapping my arms around her. She remained stiff in my arms and refused to look at me. I coaxed her eyes up with my finger under her chin.
"Bella, your beauty has never been limited to merely physical. Even with a shaved head you are still the most beautiful woman in the world to me."
I kissed her then, my eager tongue meeting her timid one. I pulled back.
"Don't do that. Please, don't shut me out."
Bella nodded, understanding my need to love her. She allowed me to lead her back to our bedroom where she trusted me enough to remove her robe. I let it fall to the floor, leaving her naked and more vulnerable than I'd ever seen before. Cancer did that – it made her doubt her beauty. That pissed me off. Cancer could invade her body, leave her with sullen cheeks and no hair, but it would not invade this moment. I would not allow it. This moment was going to be about us – Bella and me, and the love we shared.
Situated on the bed, I covered her mouth with mine and felt her surrender to me, her body submitting to mine. Though there wasn't hair for my fingers to thread into, my hands instinctively went to her head, rubbing the softness of her scalp. Still kissing me, her lips curved up into a smile. Bella's eyes fluttered closed and though she was tentative before, her body responded to my touch.
My hands worked ahead of my lips. I stroked her cheeks, left kisses behind. I cupped her breasts; my mouth covered them a wanton need. Trailing my hands down her torso, I felt the bump of each rib before my hand came to rest on her stomach. For a fleeting moment I was saddened that I would probably never feel the kicks from our baby inside her belly, but I quickly pushed those thoughts away. Like I said, this was our moment and cancer was not invited. I pressed a kiss just above her belly button before making my way a little lower.
My thumb stroked the contours of her hip. I lightly licked the indents on both sides, flicking my tongue against the boney ridges. She'd lost so much weight already.
As I made my way closer to the apex between her legs I heard Bella suck in a breath in anticipation, but I wasn't ready to give her that pleasure yet. Selfishly I wanted to explore her body more. Etch every inch of her into my brain.
I lifted her leg up and bestowed open-mouthed, hot-breathed kisses to her inner thighs, the backs of her knees, and down her shins to her toes. My lips kissed the trio of freckles on her knee before I slowly made my way back up her body. I alternated between kissing, licking, and sucking her delicate skin. Bella's panted breaths of my name were all the thanks I needed.
When I finally joined our bodies, her eyes were open. All I could see and feel was love. All-consuming love. I truly felt as if we were one. I laced our fingers together above her head, stilled my movements, and stared deep into her eyes.
"I love you."
She nodded; a smile lit up her face. "I know. "
"How do you know?"
"Because the way that you're looking at me makes me feel beautiful."
"You are beautiful. Remember that."
I started moving inside her, slowly and unhurried. Though we didn't have all the time in the world, we did have that night.
I unleashed our hands with an overwhelming need to touch her skin, to connect with her on every level. As I touched her body, she ghosted her hands over mine. Down my back, across my chest, firm hands on my hips encouraging me to move faster and deeper, until we were lost in each other. Lost, yet found.
Twenty minutes later, Bella was exhausted and spent; sound asleep in my arms. Tears stung my eyes because I knew she was my forever and I was so fucking scared of losing her. I tightened my grip, holding on for dear life. While she slept, I laid awake, intermittently placing kisses on her exposed skin. A thousand kisses for the thousand of ways I loved her.
If only those kisses could have healed.
Seven months after that night, I said my final goodbye to my wife.
Bella passed away in my arms, my lips pressed to hers as she took her last breath. The doctors and nurses were respectful and let me have as much time as I needed with her. The most painful thing I have ever done was walk away from her. It ripped my heart out. Eviscerated my very core. Bella took my soul with her when she left, leaving me a shell of a man.
Six weeks had passed. Maybe more. Time was inconsequential without her. Days dragged into long, lonely nights in a vicious circle of perpetual darkness.
I finally got around to sorting through some of her belongings. When I came across our lists- Bella's with a heart for a dot above the 'i'- I broke down.
The sketch on my list, the one of Bella looking so carefree with her hair wind-blown and smiling on our beach vacation, only served to remind me of what was taken from me. Clutching the lists to my chest, I sank down to the floor.
I brought Bella's paper to my nose- hoping to catch her scent, but it didn't linger there. She had, however, written with a heavy hand as well as a heavy heart, the words making deep creases in the paper. I finally felt like I had a tangible piece of my wife in my hands. With my finger I followed her script and could almost feel her in the room with me. Almost, but not quite. I closed my eyes envisioning her that morning, remembering her playful nature that day.
When the tears no longer blurred my vision, I re-read Bella's list. Simple wishes she'd hoped to accomplish before she died. It saddened me that we'd only crossed off the first two. I vowed to make all her aspirations come true, no matter the cost. Her happiness was still all that mattered to me.
Numbers three and four took me abroad. In my carry-on bag her ashes came on the journey with me. There was no way I was doing it alone.
First I traveled to Paris, specifically to the Eiffel Tower, where I took the elevator up to the observation deck. While looking at the view I could feel her presence but I longed for my Bella, wishing I could lace my fingers with hers as we admired the spectacular beauty of the city. Instead, I spun my wedding band around my finger.
Next, I headed south to Italy, where I visited the Coliseum and Pantheon. God, Bella would have loved it there - so much history and untold stories. It hurt my heart that we had our own untold stories – that we didn't get our happily ever after. I ached to have her beside me.
Back on American soil, I traveled to the 40 states Bella had not yet visited, checking number five off her list. Had she been alive, I would have argued that 40 states put her way over the twenty things we were listing that day. Instead, I smiled as I put the miles on my car.
Number six I wasn't keen on but I did it. I jumped off the cliffs in the small town of LaPush, her old stomping grounds. I may or may not have cursed her a little. I'm sure she'd forgive me for that.
At each of the above places – Paris, Italy, the 40 states, and LaPush, I left some of her ashes behind so I could honestly say Bella had completed the items on her wish list. It's what she would have wanted.
Through the years I worked my way down her list. The more I did the things she wanted to do, the more I felt like she was near me. I wished there were more than twenty items.
I got 'a small tattoo that means a lot' – number twelve. Bella's name and date of birth inked onto my left wrist. I refused to acknowledge the date of her death. God, the tattoo hurt like a son of a bitch but it was still nothing like the pain Bella endured to give me more days with her. She fought so hard.
I got in a cab and shouted at the driver to "follow that car!" Pretty sure that one would have been a hell of a lot funnier if Bella had been with me to see the drivers shocked face. When he questioned me all I could do was laugh hysterically.
Number seventeen also made me feel like an idiot but damn it, I rocked those belly dancing lessons.
The one thing on her list I didn't have to do was number twenty – leave a lasting impression. Bella did that all on her own. She was forever in my heart and I would love her for eternity.