TLS Angst Contest Entry
Word Count: 11,486
Title of Story: Strong Black Vine
Story Summary: The vine provides structural support, holding the temple's crumbling walls together. But it also breaks parts away in a subtle but strong reminder that at any time, the vine can win. Entry for the TLS Angst Contest. M.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.
Strong Black Vine
The bottles clink against each other as my bare feet shuffle them out of my path. An errant thought flitters vacantly through my head, or maybe it's common sense, and it tells me that, logically, there's a broken bottle scattered somewhere among the empties. The dent in the plasterboard and the burst-smatter on the wall are reminders that a dark lady named Stella met her demise there. Stella had many friends, and their broken-bodied carcasses litter my living room floor. Before the night's out, there'll be more.
Loosely holding Stella's sister by her neck, I snatch my cigarettes from atop the pizza box left open on my dining table and step over the pile of laundry that has randomly found itself in the middle of my living room. I should pick it up. I don't care enough.
Shoving the glass sliding door with my shoulder and flinching as my feet hit the bare tiles of the balcony, I put a cigarette to my lips before I've even closed the door behind me. My apartment looks like a bomb's hit it, but I still refuse to smoke inside. Setting down my beer bottle, I spark up and the end of the cigarette glows red as I inhale. I hold the smoke deep in my chest, hoping it will quell the cold stone that has taken up permanent residence in my stomach. But that doesn't happen. It still doesn't happen.
Tossing the cigarette packet onto the small, glass top outdoor table, I collapse into one of the chairs on my balcony and prop my foot up on one of the other chairs. I alternate between the cigarette and beer until the cigarette is down to filter and amber barely covers the bottle of the bottle. The city is still. I let my head fall back and let out a breath. I'm so fucking wasted. I'm such a fucking waste.
"Oh, baby." A soft, sweet voice cracks through my haze. I crane my neck to look over my shoulder, still not caring enough to pick my heavy head from its place against the back of the chair. "Baby, baby."
I squint, blinking to see through heavy-bleary eyes, and swear I see a silhouette half-lit by the table lamp next to the couch. Soft curves softened by thin, gauzy fabric. A skirt that billows a few inches above where her knees pinch her long, slender legs. The silhouette turns side-on, lifting arms to run hands through long, long hair, piling it on top of her head. I let my eyes roam lazily across the deep curves that seem to swing, giving the appearance of a waterfall; the swell of beautiful tits, the curve of her back, and her round ass. I feel myself get hard and adjust in an attempt to relieve the pressure.
"Are you real?" My voice sounds rusted with lack of use.
The figure turns, giving me a delicious view of a cinched waist. There's the sound of laughter. "Do you want me to be?"
"Yes," I answer quickly. "Fuck yes."
She laughs again, her head falling back and waves of hair cascading across her shoulders and down her back. "Then for tonight, okay. I'm real."
I don't ask what she means. Her hips sway, and I'm mesmerized by the way they shift. She steps over the threshold, and I hear the soft click of high heels as her feet touch the tile. As she comes closer, the silhouette takes form, with shadows caressing valleys and light teasing the rest of her figure. The reflected light from neighbouring mirrored-glass buildings is enough for me to make out the features of her face; delicate cheekbones, full lips, and big, big eyes. She leans down to pick up my beer bottle, lifting it to her lips and drawing the liquid down her throat. She sets the bottle down and wipes the corners of her mouth delicately with her thumb. I want to lean forward and put her thumb in my mouth, just to see what she tastes like mixed with beer, but my body feels heavy. Instead, I watch.
"What are you doing out here all alone, Edward?" she asks. Her voice is like water, but it can't cleanse me.
"I have nowhere else to be."
She laughs lightly. "We both know that's not true. There are people who miss you." She tilts her head to the side and pops her eyebrow. "When was the last time you called your mother?"
I snort. "You know how long it's been." This girl knows. She was there. "You're fucking perfect," I tell her, changing the subject.
She steps closer, hips moving at my eye level. I want to grab her hips and pull her closer, burying my nose deep into the dip where her legs meet her body.
"You like?" she asks, running her hands down her thighs to her knees and back up again. Soft fabric creeps upward, exposing bare, pink skin to me. "Do you like my pretty dress? It's new."
"I know," I tell her. "I bought it for you."
She giggles. "So you did." Her eyes close for a moment, and she turns her face up to the night sky. "It's my favourite. I'm never going to take it off."
"Are you sure?" I ask, finally getting use of my hands. I reach out to touch the outside of her thighs, letting my fingers tease around to where they meet her ass. I pull at the skin just a little, enough to get her to shift and open herself to me. I breathe her in. "Do you think I could help you?"
I look up at her, and she returns my gaze with hooded eyes. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she shakes her head. Her fingers pull the fabric to her waist, giving me an uninterrupted view of soft, glistening skin. "I want you to leave it on me."
At the same time I pull her closer, I lean forward, tongue first. With a long, slow draw across her flesh, she shudders against me, her breath coming out in a long, shattered exhale. She tastes better than I remember.
"Yes," she gasps. "Do that again."
Like I'm going to fucking stop there.
I grasp her thigh, hooking in the soft crease of her knee, and set her foot on the arm of the chair. With the extra height her heels provide, she reaches easily. She's wide-spread to me now, and I dive in again. With my tongue flat, I press against her heat and drink her in.
"Hold on, baby," I tell her. She lets the skirt of her dress drift over my head, and I'm cocooned by gauzy fabric, her scent, and her hot, pretty pussy. I cover her with my mouth and lick, and suck, and swirl, and taste until I feel her begin to tremble. I draw back enough to murmur against her clit, eliciting a shiver. "Do you like that, baby?" When she moans, I let my teeth graze her. When she gasps, I slide two fingers in and work them in time with my tongue.
"Fuck yes, Edward. Just like that." Her breaths comes in pants, and I know she's getting close. I feel her heat push into my mouth, and she's so worked up, so wet, that I'm wearing her on my chin. I thrust my hand harder and grip her tighter, and with a soft gasp and a muted cry, she comes against my mouth.
"Come up here," she says, reaching down and palming my dick. She rubs gently, and in a total contradiction, grasps my waistband and pulls. I follow her lead and rise to my feet. Leaving one hand tucked just beneath my jeans, she reaches up to grab the back of my neck. Pulling me closer, she presses her lips against mine and kisses me sloppily, uncaring that I just ate her out.
"Bed." She breaks to kiss under my jaw. "Now." I feel her teeth graze my neck softly before she bites me. "I need you inside me."
I grip her waist and lift her, capturing her lips again as she kicks off her shoes and wraps her legs around me. She grinds as I stumble, and we kiss as I kick the bottles out of the way. When we get to the bedroom, I lay her down on the bed, settling between her knees and kissing her deeply. Wanting to see her face, I pull away and step back. She shifts position, bringing her legs together so her ankles softly touch and her hair fans around her.
"You're so beautiful," I tell her. I let my eyes roam her face, taking in her flushed cheeks, bright eyes, and kiss-bruised lips. Her chest heaves, pushing her breasts forward enticingly, and I silently promise myself I'll come back to them. The soft fabric of her pale dress skims her figure, covers her thighs, and teases her knees. Her calves are toned from running and taper at her ankles. When I get to her toes with their scarlet-painted nails, I stop.
This is wrong.
"What's this?" I ask, but she doesn't answer. I reach out to gently touch the paper tag that's tied to her big toe with string. Her name, written in block letters in a hand that is neither mine nor hers, is accompanied by a date. My mouth falls open, and my gaze re-traces its path back up her body. The soft flush that accompanies life is gone from her skin, and when I look at her face, I lose my footing as I scramble back in an attempt to gain distance. She wears the pretty dress, but her pale hands cross her chest. Her face is ashen, and her beautiful, big eyes are hidden from me beneath closed lids. I feel a sob build as it burns in my chest, and I push my hand into my own stomach in an attempt to quell the pain.
"Baby?" I ask, but she's not going to answer. No breath crosses those lips, and no soft words ever will again.
When I wake in my chair on my balcony, alone and cold-bitten, my face is wet with tears.
"Edward? Edward? Fuck. Not again. Jasper, help me please?" The voice that mingles with the pounding in my skull sounds panicked but resigned.
"Shit. Look at this place. It smells like someone died in here."
"What? He can't hear me. Look — he's out fucking cold…" There's a snort, rich with derision. "…again."
"Yeah, but this time he's bleeding. Just help me, okay?" The voice is suddenly much closer, and a warm hand is cupping my face.
It's not hers.
"Edward? Can you open your eyes for me?"
I crack one eye open, because the other is pressed to the carpet and won't open. I'm pretty sure my cheek is stuck to the floor. "What the fuck do you want, Alice?"
"Oh, big brother," she sighs. "What have you done?"
"It's pretty obvious." My brother-in-law's frustration is punctuated with each bottle he tosses into the trashcan he holds in his hand. "He got so drunk, he couldn't even make it to his bed." He half-gags as he jerks his head to the pile of something rank that's sitting in a pool just outside the open balcony door. "Or the bathroom."
"We'll clean that up later." Alice gently helps me into a sitting position, and the motion makes me want to hurl, not for the first time in the last few hours, apparently. "Right now, I think we need to get him to the emergency room."
Her fingers touch a spot on my forehead, making me wince. When I reach up, I feel stickiness on my fingertips.
"Don't touch," Alice says, reaching to pull my hand down. "I think there's still glass in it."
I don't say anything, but I let Alice and Jasper drag me to my feet. It's mostly Alice that gently guides me to sit on the couch, and she pulls a pair of socks over my feet and ties the laces on my sneakers.
"There," she says. "You're ready to go."
Six months ago, I would have said something about her mothering me. Six months ago, I didn't need somebody to tie my shoes.
The drive to the emergency room is quiet but for the hushed conversation Alice and Jasper have up front. I don't try to listen. I don't care enough. Jasper pulls the car in front, and Alice helps me from the car. As soon as I stand up, I start to sway.
"Just wait right here," she says. I let my weary body flop back into the seat, my legs hanging out. Alice hurries away, and Jasper turns off the ignition.
It's silent for a moment, and then he speaks.
"One day, she's not going to be able to wake you, you know," he says.
I smack my lips together; they're dry. I want a cigarette. "What the fuck do you care?"
He laughs bitterly. "Oh, I don't give a fuck what happens to you. But I care that you're destroying your family. And if you die?" He pulls his shades down his nose. "It'll fucking break my wife."
"Fuck off." My head is pounding. I can't be fucked with this shit. "What do you know anyway?"
"What do I—" he splutters and tears his sunglasses from his face. "What do I know? I know you're a fucking deadbeat that doesn't give a shit about anybody but himself. I know you're letting your brother run your company, and I know you're driving your own father into an early grave with worry." His words are filled with venom as he spits them at me. "You're fucking with my family, and for that, you're an asshole."
At that, he turns around in his seat and stares through the windshield. I glance briefly in his direction, and I can see his jaw twitching. Alice arrives, bringing with her a nurse and a wheelchair, and saves me from the lengthening silence.
The two women put me into the chair, and I let my head fall forward, exhausted. I'm just so tired. Everything aches. My eyes feel like they're trying to extract themselves from my body. My throat is dry, and my stomach feels like it's eating itself.
I close my eyes against the harsh fluorescent lighting, but the motion of the wheelchair makes me feel queasy. Instead, I open my dry eyes and stare at my hands.
"Okay, Mr. Cullen. Let's get you up onto the bed. On my count…" I don't move, but I let two strangers hoist me onto the bed. Some guy in scrubs appears and asks me questions I don't care to answer. They're things I should probably know, like when did I eat last and how much did I drink last night. I shrug, my lips too stuck together and my brain too blank to murmur a response.
There's a discussion about IVs, fluids, and forced detox that I'm not a part of. Alice talks to the doctor. I watch the nurse try to find a vein.
The last thing I remember is blue eyes above a mask and a warm voice promising to take good care of me.
There's nothing but noise — the shrill squeal of tires against pavement; the low, long sound of an air horn; an explosion as metal around me is completely blown to pieces.
Screaming. Screaming my name and just… screaming.
Sirens. More twisting metal. Why does metal, such a strong substance, make such a horrendous keening sound as it tears?
My name. My name.
A low voice. Not hers.
The touch of a soft hand. Not hers.
"Edward, can you wake up?"
The hand squeezes my fingers. There's sobbing.
I open my eyes. She's not there.
"I'm here, Edward. It's okay."
It's not. It's really not.
My eyes feel as if they've been glued together. I force them open and feel upper lashes peel against lower as bright light scorches my eyeballs.
Cool air touches my skin as the warmth of a head next to my arm moves. Big, grey eyes stare back at me. I blink against the harsh light. "Too bright."
"Of course. Just a sec." Alice squeezes my hand, and I hear her footsteps. Then the room is darker. This is not the room I fell asleep in. I don't quite remember when I fell asleep.
"What time is it?" I ask. The words graze my throat as they leave my mouth. Alice holds a straw to my lips, and I draw in the cool, smooth liquid. It doesn't burn on the way down, which is strange. Most things burn a little on the way down.
"Its 4:15." She sets the glass on a nightstand that's beside my bed and then turns back to me. Her lips smile, but that's it.
I try to sit up, but it feels like something is dragging me back into the bed. I lift the covers. "What the fuck?"
"Catheter," she says. My eyes follow hers to the frame beside my bed. "With the amount of fluid they're pumping into you, it was necessary."
"How long have I been here?" I ask.
"We brought you in on Tuesday."
That doesn't mean anything to me. "Tuesday."
"It's now Saturday."
"Edward," Alice says, and she scoots her chair closer. Resting her elbows on the bed, she strokes my hair. "I thought you… I mean…" she sniffs, and then her voice comes out in a whisper. "I thought I'd lost you, too."
I drop my eyes, shamefaced. Letting my fingers poke at the holes in the blanket, I notice something — my hands are clean.
"I'm still here," I tell her without looking up.
She lets out a shaky breath, and I hear hesitance in her words. "Do you want to be?"
I try to shrug. My body doesn't feel strong enough. "I don't know."
I think she wants more of a response, but she doesn't push. It occurs to me that for the past few months, nobody has pushed me. The vague memory of me taunting my brother comes into my head. I'd practically begged him to hit me, to make me feel any kind of pain other than the one that twists my insides and demands to be quelled with liquor.
He only looked sad, then turned his back on me and walked away.
My sister and I sit in silence, and she asks if I want something to eat. I don't, but I nod just to see her smile. She kisses my forehead swiftly, then skips away. I let my eyes drift closed again, just for a moment. It might be longer. Soft squeaking makes me stir, and I open my eyes.
"Ah, Mr. Cullen. Welcome back." The nurse gives me a kind smile, which is the same smile I think she gives everybody. I could tell her it's good to be back. I don't, because I'm not sure that it is. That and I don't feel like I'm back. I still feel lost.
She busies herself, pressing a button to raise my bed. "You've been sleeping for a while. You must have needed the rest."
Maybe I did. Maybe it wasn't enough.
The cut above my eye has healed, and as I stuff the few items Alice brought for me into a bag, the nurse tells me again how to care for it. She reminds me that I was lucky, that if the corner of that table had hit me just a little lower, I may have lost my eye. I'm sure she's being dramatic, but I shrug and press my lips together. It's the closest I can get to a smile.
The doctor came by this morning to discharge me. My body had apparently started to shut down as a result of the alcohol I'd poured down my gullet. He reminded me that I have my first session with my psychologist tomorrow, one with a nutritionist at the hospital next week, and that a cut above my eye is not the worst of my problems.
He has no idea.
"Ready to go?" Alice says from the doorway.
"He is," the nurse says, folding her hands in front of her.
"Thanks, Shelly." Shelly. Alice must have grown close to her in the past few days. It occurs to me that maybe I should have at least taken the time to learn her name. Just a few days ago, she pulled a catheter out of my dick.
I pick up my bag and follow my sister. I'm at the door and stop. Shelly is stripping the sheets from my bed.
"Um…" I run a hand through my hair. "Thanks."
She smiles. "Take care of yourself, Edward."
Pressing my lips together again, I follow my sister down the halls I don't remember being wheeled through. We reach the ground floor, and she tosses her head toward a hallway. "They're doing construction at the main entrance. I had to come in this way."
Carrying my bag by my side, I follow her down the hallway and through the automatic doors.
This section of the hospital is much busier. I'm nearly knocked over by a few people running toward a room next to me, one pushing a cart, but my brain doesn't work quickly enough to tell me to get out of the way. There's panic, and there's noise. The pace of it all is too fast but too slow at the same time. I can see every detail, smell every smell, hear all of the shouts, and it makes my heart beat faster.
I turn around, and Alice is crying. Jasper's arm is across her shoulder, and Dad is fisting his hair in his hands. I'm confused until I look into the room that the cart-wheeling person rushed into.
At the base of the bed, there are feet with scarlet-painted nails. A voice drifts out of the room.
"She's gone." Latex snaps. "Time of death…"
"Edward?" Alice is shaking me. Or maybe I'm shaking, and she's still. I don't know. "You're okay." I look at her, and her eyes shimmer. "I shouldn't have come through here. I didn't think—"
It's fair to say I'm far from okay. I don't know if I ever will be okay again.
I stand in the middle of my living room and survey the damage. Alice said she hired a cleaning service to come through and give the place a once-over. I think it needed a thrice-over.
The place is mostly empty. It feels bare, and it smells like bleach and disinfectant. It almost smells like a hospital.
Cleaning didn't fix the structural damage, and it can't cleanse the ghosts.
Not thinking, I walk to where the carpet meets the wall, right where a small square had to be cut away last winter to repair the heating. I pull, then pull again, and am a little surprised that it comes up so easily. I shove the dining table into the kitchen, pushing it across the tile. I manage to lift the couch onto the island bench, and I throw the coffee table on top of it. The bookshelf that used to hold so many books ends up wedged between the couch and the refrigerator. The TV is wall-mounted, so it stays where it is. I push the cabinet that holds the DVD player and an Xbox that hasn't seen use in over half a year onto the balcony.
Once I'm done, I keep pulling and pulling until there's nothing but bare boards on the floors and sharp edges around the border of the living room. The carpet I roll, and then I call for a garbage removal and toss it over the side of the balcony. When I sit on the balcony outside, smoking a cigarette with my feet propped up on the TV cabinet, I wonder why the same trick can't work with my own skin. I inspect my fingers, my hands, my arms, and wonder if it's my skin that's all that is holding me together. I want to rip it away like I did the carpet. I glance through the glass sliding doors to where the room is bare. It's all there, a blank canvas ready for me to start again. A fresh start. I wonder if I could do the same with my skin.
How many layers would I need to peel until I'm bare? How many layers until I can start again?
A pen taps. It's getting on my last nerve, but I don't say anything. I know his game. I know he wants me to crack.
I'm already so broken; I can't crack any more.
Marcus caves first. I win. "Tell me about your week."
I shrug. "It's been okay."
"Have you been into the office?" The pen is poised, ready to scribe the thoughts that pour from my head. I wonder if it's a poison pen — the vitriol that is my thoughts would be enough to burn right through his notebook.
I shake my head, partly to clear it, partly to curb the words that want to flow. "My brother's still running my company."
"How is that going?"
If my shrink is exasperated, he doesn't show it. He's determined. I'll give him that. "Have you had a drink lately?"
It's Tuesday. "No."
I pause. I'm loathsome, but I'm not a liar. "Yes."
"More than one?" Determined fucker. He's got me. He knows it.
"Yes." I fidget, tracing the nail bed of my thumb. I let my gaze fall to his carpet.
"You know one puts you off the wagon." He's scribbling like mad.
I do. "I know it."
"Was anybody with you?"
My brain twists in its cradle as I put myself back in Saturday night. The first of the month is always hardest. The first day in a new year will kill me… if I haven't done it by my own hand by then.
So even then, she was there with me. She always is. I give him the answer that should come from a sane person. "No."
He asks more questions. I answer them on face value, but I don't let him understand everything. I'm reminded of the temples I visited, a warm hand in mine that was removed only to bow low to the monks in their saffron robes before it folded into mine again. The sticky heat surrounded us and it was enough to feel suffocating, like drowning where you stood on solid ground.
We walked and walked, and I felt the souls of thousands of years in the walls. But it was nothing like the temple that stood, still stood, both bound and propped by the strangling branches of the trees that burst through its walls. I'd felt a strange sense of suffocating peace and then let myself sink with the moss and spirits that sang within its walls. I'd wondered if the strong black vines of the fig would eventually cause the temple to crumble or if the vine and temple had learned to coexist. What was it about the temple that stood firm against Mother Nature? Or was Mother Nature sympathetic to the place that brought such peace to so many, so she let the vine mark the temple's walls as a strong but subtle reminder that with time, the vine would win?
I sit here in my therapist's chair, and I think about my own silence. Will the pain and vengeance of my own strong black vine crush me, driving me toward death with stuttered steps, or will it allow me to stand, its branches wrapping around me as a constant reminder of the things I have done?
I test a branch of my vine. "I want to stop."
Marcus suspects he's hit pay dirt. "You want to stop?"
I nod. "Yes."
"Do you think," he closes his notebook and rests it on the side table beside his chair, "in order to stop, you need to start?"
I'm probably looking at him blankly. "I'd say start talking. Tell me about that day."
The vine pulls tighter. It's hard to breathe. "I don't know if I can."
He pushes, and my vine pushes back. "Anything. The first thing that comes out."
The vine gives me enough space to say just one thing. "It's my fault she's dead."
I set down the roller in the tray and step back. My jeans are splattered with white paint, and I'm pretty sure it's in my hair. I stand in the middle of the room on the bare boards and look around. It feels like a moment when I should smile and congratulate myself on a job well done.
The room no longer resembles what it was. I shove the furniture back in place and head for the shower.
I set the water and strip, kicking off my paint-splattered boots to the corner of the room. It's only two seconds before I walk over barefoot and pick them up again, going into the walk-in closet to line them up neatly.
She always hated when I kicked my shoes off.
The heat feels strangely cold, but my body adjusts quickly. I scrub my hands through my hair, feeling it snag where the paint has caused strands to stick together. Reaching for the shampoo, I'm startled by the sound of the last of it squirting into my hand. She bought it. It's lasted longer with only one of us using it. I close my eyes and remember the last time she did.
"Come here," she says, wielding the bottle at me. "You're all dirty."
"You're dirty," I tell her, pulling her slippery form close against mine. She lets out a squeak, a giggle, and then a moan as I wrap her closer. I kiss her hard, letting my tongue explore her mouth as I've done so many times before.
"We're going to be late," she mumbles against my lips. "Your sister will kill us."
Her mouth moves lower, sucking beneath my jaw. "I'll make it worth your while." I gasp when her teeth sink in to my flesh. "But if you leave a mark, my mother will have something to say about it."
"I won't." She trails lower. I let my head fall back when I feel her hand wrap around me and stroke. "Well…" she murmurs against my skin. "Not where anybody can see, at least."
I groan and pull her back up to my level. She helps by hooking her thighs around my waist, and she's right there, hot against me. "You turn me on so fucking much," I tell her. She gasps as I ease myself where she's open for me. Hard flesh meets soft. "Hold on, baby. We don't have much time."
The sound she makes as I lower her onto me almost brings me undone. "Fuck me," she says, breathing the words hotly against my skin.
"Going to," I grunt, pressing her against the wall. The water streams across us both, and her body is wet inside and out. Our mouths open against each other, our breaths came in pants, and I dive into her again, and again, and again. Taking her hand from its grip in my hair, I push it between us. She takes over, and her head falls back against the tiles, but she never shuts her eyes.
I need her to come. She's close. I fuck her harder. "See the stars, baby."
She nods and whimpers, and with my name ringing off the shower's surfaces, comes on me, for me.
I follow close behind, releasing inside her, whispering her name.
After we've actually cleaned up and have mostly dried off, she sits naked on the shut toilet seat, towel-drying her hair. She's wide open, and she's beautiful, and I want her again. I tell her so.
She throws me her cheekiest smile. "Just another reason I married you."
In three stuttered thrusts I come, cock in hand, against the shower tile. And it's still her name that I whisper.
Later, in between cold sheets, I let the pain of everything I've lost drown me. I'm a desperate man as I cast my plea deep into her pillow.
"I can't do this without you, Bella. I need you back."
"Immersion therapy?" I stare back at Marcus like he's just told me I need to relive all the shit that landed me in a shrink's office to start with.
Oh, right. He did.
"In a sense, yes. Except instead of using something like simulation or external stimuli, I'm going to have you recount the experience to me. It can be very confronting, but I think with the work you've already done, you'll be able to handle it."
I don't know what to say, so I just nod. He continues.
"There is the possibility that after the first session you'll… take a few steps back, but believe me when I say we need to break everything down to start building again. Do you think this is something you'd be happy to proceed with, Edward?"
I consider it. He wants to break me more. I wonder if that's possible. And then I figure when I've already lost everything, there's nothing else to lose.
"Fine. Break me, doc. Can we do this now?"
Marcus startles a little. "Are you sure?"
I have to swallow the words before I can say them. "I'm ready."
Marcus stands and walks around to his desk. He flips through a few pages of what I assume is an appointment book, then hits the button on the intercom. "Heidi? Please block out my next hour after Mr. Cullen. We'll be extending the session." Before he returns to his seat, he sets a digital recorder on the table next to me and presses a button, so a green light appears. Then he settles in his seat, removes his reading glasses, and sets them aside. With elbows on his knees and fingers steepled, he leans forward. "Close your eyes, Edward."
I do as he says, leaning back into my seat, feeling both fear and foreboding.
He lets me breathe before he begins to speak. Gradually his words lead me there — into the space I'd long shut off. And I'm back in the day where my whole life changed.
"Bella? Are you ready yet?" I straighten the collar of my white shirt and rub my jaw. I could have shaved, but she likes it this way.
"Just a minute! I'm just putting on my shoes!"
I smirk at my reflection. "Want me to help?"
"No!" she answers quickly. "You helped wash my hair. We're late enough as it is!"
Laughing, I sit down on the couch, taking in a few minutes to look around the room. My mom recently redecorated for us, and her taste is pretty much impeccable. Everything matches perfectly: the carpets, the paint on the walls, the light fixtures, and the doorhandles on the kitchen cupboards. This place was filled with 70s wallpaper and green carpet. It's now a warm home for my new wife and me.
Speaking of my wife, her voice causes me to turn. "What do you think?"
Looking in the direction of the voice, I can't hide the smile that creeps across my lips, and I languish in the warm feeling that hugs itself around my heart. "You're a vision."
Long, lean legs strapped into high heels and a flirty, flowy dress in a pale, gauzy fabric skims just above her knees. It fits her perfectly, and as she turns, I see where it hugs the curve of her lower back, exposing so much skin across her shoulders, her neck…
She's biting her lip, which she knows drives me crazy, and looking at me in a coy but slightly nervous way. I walk across the room and trace a line down the side of her face and rest my fingers on her jaw. "I mean it. You're the most beautiful woman I've seen."
She smiles. "You're biased."
"Maybe." Leaning down to kiss her, I feel like I do every time I touch her — like I'm home. "But I speak nothing but the truth."
She steps back and sways her hips slightly. "The dress fits perfectly. Thank you."
"You fit it perfectly. I knew you had to have it."
In her heels, she doesn't have to pull herself up too much to reach my lips. "Love you."
"Love you, too." I want to kiss her again, but we'll never get out of here. "We better go. We'll be late."
Looping her hand around my arm, we leave the apartment and make our way down to the parking garage. "Yours or mine?" I ask.
"Yours?" she squeezes my elbow. "Driving in these shoes might be kinda dangerous."
I laugh as I look down to the thin spikes that hold her upright. "Sure. Mine it is."
Turning the key in the ignition, I can't help but grin again as I see her in my car, legs out in front and crossed at the ankles. The smell of her perfume and leather waft around me, and I pull my shades down as we head into the bright July sunshine.
"So how many people are going to be at this thing anyway?" she asks, popping down the visor to check her makeup in the vanity mirror.
"I'm not sure," I reply. "Knowing Mom, a couple hundred."
Bella makes an "Mmm" sound, and then the sound of a ringing phone deep in her handbag breaks through the silence. She digs through her bag and answers.
"Hello? Oh, hi, Esme!"
I grin, knowing that the two of them would talk on the phone for hours if they had the chance. I raise an eyebrow at my wife in question but she waves me off, happy to speak to my mom, who is just as much her own. Bella's dad lives out of state, and she lost her mom when she was small.
With an "Okay, see you soon!" she hangs up and puts the phone back in her bag. "Detour," she tells me. "Your mom's car won't start. She needs us to pick her up."
"Your wish, my command." I follow the directions Bella gives me until we reach the store where my mom's car is one of the few parked in the parking lot. When we pull up beside her, I wind the window down. "When you going to trade that thing in, mom?"
She waves me off and opens the door behind me to set her shopping on the seat. Hurrying around the back of the car, she settles in behind Bella. "That's enough from you, Edward. You're not too old to be grounded, you know."
I laugh. "Mom, I don't even live at home anymore!"
Esme leans forward to squeeze Bella's shoulder. "Yes, but your wife is my partner in crime. She'd do it for me."
Bella joins in with my mother's laughter and squeezes her hand. "You know I would," she tells me with all seriousness.
I roll my eyes and shake my head. I've learned better than to argue, especially when the two of them team up. And they do that often. It doesn't bother me. In fact, having heard from friends about how their wives and mothers don't get along, I'm truly lucky that the two most important women in my life are so close.
"Mmm, Bella," my mom muses from the back seat. "I think I need to get back in to see your manicurist again. I'd meant to do it this week, but time just got away from me."
Bella peers at her shoulder, where Esme's hands still rests. "Your nails look fine, Es."
"Eh," says Mom. "I need a pedicure. I like this color, but it needs a recoat."
Bella twists in her seat to look, and I have no idea what possesses me to do the same, but I twist suddenly to check out the apparently damaged color. I catch a flash of scarlet-red on the floor of the back seat, and at the time we both twist, I clash heads with Bella. I momentarily see stars from the contact. Then so many things happen at once.
"Ow!" Bella yells, and at about the same time from the back seat, my mom screams my name.
A horn blasts, and the high-pitched screech of metal tearing rings in my ears. Behind Bella, clear glass turns white and fragmented, and I'm sprayed with sharp diamonds. And then we're upside down. Then upright. Then upside down.
When we finally stop, I open my eyes. I turn to look at my wife, and her eyes are wide.
"Bella?" She doesn't answer, but her eyes stare back at me, and her chest heaves with empty sobs. Her face is cut open and scarlet. I test my voice again. "Mom?" There's silence. I turn my gaze back to my wife, just in time to see her eyes close.
"Okay, Edward. Come back to me. Breathe in and out. In… and out."
My knuckles are white as I grip the arm of the sofa. I'm panting, trying to suck air into my lungs, and when I open my eyes to my therapist's room, I'm bathed in soft lamp light instead of the harsh, red-tinged July sunshine I saw moments ago in my mind's eye.
Marcus gives me water and suggests I shouldn't drive home. I shudder at the thought of getting behind the wheel and what that might mean for the unsuspecting members of the public. I agree with him, and after getting myself together, I leave.
I'm not quite sure how I make it to the train station. I know I'm standing there, and it's busy. The platform is crowded, and I'm jostled. I feel so numb that I barely notice the contact.
Somewhere, an announcement comes across the speaker system, and a thin voice tells us a train is approaching, an express, and to stand back.
I step forward.
I've been going about this all wrong. I was drinking my way to a slow death. I've caused so much pain to so many. I should have chosen a quicker method.
Train now approaching. Stand back, please.
I step forward.
Lights in the underground station get brighter. The roar of the train gets closer.
I step forward, toes to the edge.
The air sucks in the tunnel, drawing me nearer, like a siren's song. Step closer, Edward. This will all be over. No more pain.
I just want the pain to stop. I want it to be over.
The train's horn sounds, and it's the same as the horn I heard that day.
She wouldn't want it to end this way. Neither of them would.
I step back. And I breathe.
I'm out. I'm at a coffee shop, and I'm sober. It's a strange feeling, but my head feels clearer. The sound of a chair scraping across tile prompts me to look up.
"Hi," I say simply. It seems like a good place to start.
"Edward." My dad sits slowly, as if he's afraid of me. My own fucking father is afraid.
I clear my throat. "How are you?"
"I'm okay. Getting by." It's as much an automated response for him as it is for me. A server arrives, and he orders a coffee. I do the same. While his eyes aren't on me, I look at him — really look. He's aged since I really looked at him last. The calendar says it wasn't so long ago, but in my bones, it feels like an age. "Your sister said you redecorated."
"I had to. It was all her."
He nods and speaks quietly. "I understand."
My chest constricts at the thought that stripping all traces of the woman who painted every wall, chose every carpet, has hurt my dad. I did it again. I don't want him to hurt any more. "I should've—"
He says it again. "I understand." Our coffee arrives, and he stirs sugar into his. "I'll probably do the same. Maybe one day…"
"Yeah," I tell him, because I get it. "Maybe one day."
I look down and notice I stir my coffee the same way my dad does… but we both fold the empty sugar sachet lengthways twice and tuck it under the spoon, just like Mom did. This thought hits me like a freight train, and I lift my gaze to his.
Dad is returning my stare. I can tell he's debating if he should ask, but ultimately, the need to know how your child is wins out. He clears his throat. "How's your therapy going?"
This actually brings a small smile to my lips. "It's going well. Marcus says I'm doing much better. And I've stopped drinking."
My dad smiles. "I'm really happy to hear it. If I can do anything…"
I drop my gaze back to the coffee in front of me and I want to talk to him about all of it, to tell him my fears. But my vine still binds tight. I think he can see it though, because he says something I don't expect. It's like a knife against the strains of my vine nonetheless.
"I don't blame you, Edward."
The truth falls from my lips like a traitor. "I blame myself."
"I know you do." He reaches across the table and rests his hand on mine. "And I know you need to work through this in your own time. But you needn't do it alone." It could almost be my shrink throwing his words from my father's mouth. Knowing what's coming, I decide to beat him to the punch.
"I've been sober for two months."
My words catch him by surprise, and his eyes widen. "Congratulations, son."
I've also learned to smile again. "Thanks," I tell him genuinely.
"Really, Edward. I'm proud of you. I always have been."
The stone that used to sit in my stomach now lives in my throat. I choke to speak around it, and the effort forces my eyes to water. "Thanks, Dad."
We both sip our coffee to save any more awkward words. "How are you really doing?" I ask him.
One shoulder lifts, and it's almost as if the weight he carries is too much to manage two. "Some days are better than others." His eyes move to the window, and the rain streams down the glass on a day that is just so typical for Seattle. "The house is so empty. I'm thinking of selling it." He glances down at his coffee. "It's too big for just one person… and she's everywhere."
My chest hurts. "I know the feeling."
Dad sighs, and I wonder if he still has to remind himself to breathe like I do. "You have another chance, son." Picking up the folded sugar packet, he refolds it and smooths it between his fingers, making the creases razor sharp. "We both lost our wives that day. The only difference is…" He pinches one end, making the paper into a fan. "…you can get yours back."
I sand the floorboards by hand. There are paint flecks and ingrained dirt to get out, but I will them away with every pass I make with sandpaper. I could hire an electric sander and have this done much quicker, but this keeps my hands busy, it gives me time to think, and the residual ache in my back, arms, and shoulders feels like penance.
I hate myself through every moment of it.
Sweat runs down my back as I brace myself on one hand, and the bare boards have bitten bruises into my knees. They look like my heart feels, but I know they're nothing like the scars my actions have caused others.
They're nothing to the scars I caused Bella, because mine will fade. She will forever wear the mark of my stupidity, and it makes the wedding band I wear, the one she gave me as a mark of her love, feel just like my vine, pressing tight into my skin and sinking its barbs into my bones. Its significance is heavy on my soul, and I know that no matter what happens, even if I want to, I can never take it off.
It may be a symbol of her love, but it's also a reminder to me that I can never, ever give up.
I rub and rub at the floor until my knuckles bleed and my knees are so black-purple, I consider blowing across the surface to see if my blood spills. If my blood spills black, tainted with the ache of my actions, then my wife bleeds gold. Honest and pure.
Huffing a breath, I pull my phone from my back pocket. Her number is still listed first in my speed dial. Mom's was second. I haven't been able to bring myself to replace it, so the slot next to it sits empty.
I stare at the screen, and I wonder if it's time. Marcus said I need to speak to her. I know he's right. Like that first horrible experience of reliving that day, I know the first time will be the hardest.
If she even picks up the phone.
I turned my back on her repeatedly. In the worst way, I turned my back on her. When I told Marcus why I hadn't spoken to her, his response was… unexpected.
Marcus stares at me, and I know I've got him rattled. "You did nothing. You let her go."
I twist my fingers together in my lap, and I let my eyes scan the floor for an opening I can throw myself into. "Yeah. I guess I did."
"Not only that…" He does that finger-steeple thing he does when he's getting ready to say something serious. "You told her to go."
My stomach flips, and with its turning, it takes any volume I'm capable of inflecting into my voice. "Yes."
"Where did she go?"
I'm still scanning the ground for that hole. No luck so far. "She went to my dad's. He and my sister looked after her once she was discharged from the hospital."
"And when she was in the hospital?"
My eyes flash to his. "I didn't leave her side. I didn't leave until…" I swallow the bile that is remnant of my own self-hatred. "…until I knew she'd be looked after by people who love her."
"Don't you love her?"
I'm on my feet. "How fucking dare you?! Of course I love her! That's why I left! Fuck!" I shove the side table next to the sofa my ass has embedded itself on these past months. "Don't you get it? If I'd stayed, she'd be stuck her whole life with an asshole who killed his own mother! I fucking disfigured my wife! She's got a scar right down her face, and it's my fucking fault!"
My chest is heaving as I suck air into my lungs, and my hands are in my hair.
"Tell me right now, Edward. Tell me what you want."
"I want to punch something. I want to run. I want a fucking drink… No… I don't." As soon as I say it, I know it's not true. But I know what I do want… more than anything. My voice is as steady as my declaration. "I want my wife back."
"That. That is what I've been waiting for," says Marcus, leaning back in his chair and setting his steely gaze on me. "Passion, Edward. I knew you had it in you. Now in light of that, I have one important question to ask you."
My feet are rooted to the spot, and I wait for the answer, because I'm ready to hear it. He leans forward slightly and stands still, so I don't miss a thing.
"What the fuck are you waiting for?"
I'm on my balcony, where I spend most evenings, when the doorbell rings. Stubbing my cigarette into the ashtray, I slip into the living room and shut the door behind me. The echo of my feet against the boards gives my caller a hint that I'm coming close. When I open the door, I don't expect the person standing there.
"Jasper." I peer into the hall, looking for my sister. There's no way he'd come here by himself of his own volition. "What are you doing here?"
He shrugs, lifting the boxes he's holding slightly. I only then notice that he brought pizza. "I thought you might be hungry, and Alice is out for the night with friends… And…" He shrugs again.
I stand still for a moment before I gather my wits and stand aside. "Come in."
It's a little awkward as Jasper looks around. "Wow," he says, the word coming out with his breath. "Alice said you redecorated. I didn't know you'd gotten rid of, well, everything."
I run my hand nervously through my hair. "I needed to."
Jasper just lifts a shoulder and looks at me earnestly. "I get it, man." He sets the pizza box on the coffee table and lifts the bottle. "Glasses? I thought coke might be more…" He lets the words trail off, and I'm grateful for his consideration. Jasper's always been a considerate guy, although I suppose his intolerance of my recent behavior meant that I didn't necessarily get to be on the receiving end.
I head to the kitchen and grab a couple of glasses, bringing them back in and setting them down on the coffee table. Jasper pours and I switch on the TV, finding a replay of last night's game that apparently both of us missed. We sit back, eat pizza, and drink Coke.
At one stage, when the pizza is gone, I speak. "Hey." He looks at me. "Thanks."
"No problem." He leans forward and grabs a napkin, wiping his hands off before tossing it into the empty pizza box. "So, how're you really doing?"
I pause, sipping my drink. "I'm doing much better. I'm not completely there, but I can get through the day." I inspect the last few drops in the bottom of my glass, watching as they cling to the sides. "I've been back in the office the last few weeks."
"So Emmett said."
I take a deep breath, and I wonder if I should tell him all of it. Marcus says I need to start letting people in. I figure Jasper might be a good start. "I want to call Bella," I tell him.
He sits quietly for a moment before he speaks. "I think that's a good idea."
"Really?" I ask. "You do?"
"Yeah." He gazes at the TV screen, but I don't think he's really watching it. "Bella's at our house a lot. She doesn't cry anymore, but... But she's not the same without you." He turns to look at me steadily. "I need to tell you something, with complete seriousness." His eyes are ice, and their severity chills me. "If you hurt her again, I'll fucking kill you myself."
I don't waver with my response. "Jasper? I'll let you.
I'm twisting my wedding band around and around. In spite of everything, I never took it off. I'd rather cut off my own hand.
I ate breakfast this morning; bacon, eggs, and coffee. It's such a mundane thing to remember, but it seems like both a moment and a lifetime ago when I wasn't able to remember what, or if, I ate. But today I do.
Small victories, I guess.
Gradually, I've told Marcus why I haven't spoken to my wife in months, why I've learned of her well-being, second-hand, through my family — the people who have been caring for her after I walked out.
Walking out of that hospital was the second hardest thing I ever did in my life. The hardest was staying away from her.
For two days, I sit here, in this uncomfortable-as-fuck chair, beside my wife's hospital bed, waiting for her to wake up.
For another three, I hold her hand, giving her water and ice chips, and brushing her hair. I help her shower, and I don't leave her side.
Today, I attend my mother's funeral. Bella was not allowed to leave the hospital — too much risk of infection after surgery and she can't walk on her broken leg. She cried for the loss of the woman who was as close to a mother she had, and I held her close as she sobbed into my suit.
I sit between my sister and my father, dry as a stone, as they weep for a life cut short, for a woman who would not know her grandchildren, and for a wife who would not sit on a porch in her old age with her husband. They cry for a mother, and my father's heart breaks for the only woman he'll ever love.
I do nothing. I say nothing. Because it's my fault she was torn from them.
At the conclusion of the service, they all go back to our family home, where my mother's friends have prepared a final farewell feast in a house that Esme purpose-built to entertain those closest to her. I excuse myself. I need to get back to the hospital, to my wife. "Of course," they say. "Such a strong girl. Send her our best."
I do go back to the hospital, but I need to make a few stops on the way.
When I walk into her hospital room, she's sitting up in bed and she greets me with a smile. It just makes what I have to do so much harder.
"Hey," she says, tilting her freshly-scarred face up to me. I kiss her quickly, afraid to linger. She notices. "What's wrong?"
"Bella." I can't look at her. I know I need to, so I force myself to scan her face, to soak her up one last time. "I can't do this."
She notices the bags I brought with me. There's too much there for it just to be for a few days, but it's not everything. The rest of her things are packed in boxes and stashed in Jasper's garage. "Edward, what's going on?"
"I think you should stay with Alice. When you get out of the hospital."
"Um, okay..." she draws the word out. "Why? Are you taking a vacation?"
I shake my head. "I know I promised to protect you, but... It's obvious I can't. Look what I did."
She blanches. "You don't want me, because I'm not pretty anymore?"
"No," I answer quickly. "You're beautiful." I drink her in. I need to remember her. "It's because I'm not good for you."
Her eyes widen. "So you're what? Kicking me out?"
"You need to be with people who can look after you—"
She finds her fire, and it makes her voice peak. "Do you even hear yourself right now?" She struggles to sit higher in the bed, but she doesn't have the strength. I took her strength from her. "I'm your fucking wife, Edward!"
I shake my head and clench my eyes shut. "I need you to be okay. I need to go."
"Just like that?" She sounds softer, defeated.
"Just like that."
Something in her registers the look on my face and she nods, sinking back into her pillows. "Well, in that case..."
I step closer, and she doesn't look me in the eye. I have no idea how the words come out, but they do. "I've said I'm sorry, but it will never be enough. I will never be enough. I love you, Bella." I lean in to kiss her forehead, and I breathe her in one last time. "Goodbye."
It's not until I reach the elevator that I hear the heart-wrenching wail and the sound of my wife crying.
It takes me two cups of coffee before I get the courage to call her. I'd picked up my phone at 4am, again at 6:30, and then again at 7:03. I didn't call then, because it's a Saturday morning and my wife—if she still wants to be my wife—likes to sleep in. But it's now 9:17, and I can't wait any longer.
It rings twice before the tone stops, and I wonder if something has gone wrong with the phone. No greeting is spoken. There's only dead air. I check my phone to see if she did, in fact, pick up.
"Hello?" I say to nothing. There's no verbal response, but I can hear soft breathing. "Don't hang up," I beg. "Please… Just don't hang up."
I wait for a word, a sigh, anything, but I get that same empty nothingness. "I… Shit… I knew this would be hard, but I just…" I sigh and try to get my shit together. "I fucking miss you. I miss you so much that everything hurts. And I know I don't deserve you, and you think I'm an asshole, because fuck knows I know that, too."
The faint sound of a muffled sob drifts through the earpiece, and it tears my heart out all over again. I need to tell her in case she hangs up, in case I never get this chance again.
"I'm better. I'm better, and I love you so much. And if there's a chance — the smallest chance that we have hope — just meet me. Meet me at the place I asked you to marry me. Meet me there at 2:00. I'll wait until it's dark if I have to. I'll be there. Just…" My breath catches. "Just give me a chance, Bella. I love you."
A soft click tells me she's gone. I can only hope it's not forever.
I glance at my phone. It's getting late, and the park is pretty much cleared out.
As the last of the day slips behind the buildings and teases the few leaves remaining on the trees, my hope sinks with the sun.
She's not coming.
I twist my wedding band around my finger, and I feel its weight sink in my chest. With heavy shoulders I stand from my ass-numbing position on the swing, and when I turn around, I don't move any further.
She's as beautiful as the day I met her.
"You're not dead," she says. Her words are hard and cold, but they're covering up the myriad of emotions that swim in the depths of her eyes. She flips her hair over her shoulder, and it's longer than when I saw her last. This shouldn't surprise me.
I nod back at her. She's beautiful, even in her anger. "Neither are you."
She huffs a breath and folds her arms across her chest. I've seen her so many times in my own head, lost in rapture as I'm lost in her, that seeing the crease above her eyes doesn't fit.
I'm not sure if my stare becomes too heavy, because she turns her face away from me. "I was sure that was the direction you were heading."
I shudder, because her words ring true. "So was I."
She cuts to the chase. She always did. "Why did you call, Edward?"
"I miss you." The words are automatic and honest.
With a snort, she turns and walks away from me. "Not good enough."
No. Please. "I want a chance to explain."
I implore her. "Please, let me talk."
Still, she walks.
I follow, desperation thick in my voice. "You can't get rid of me, Bella. You can't just shut me out."
She whirls, her eyes flashing with anger. It makes me reel, but at the same time, it makes me hard. She's glorious. "Why the fuck not? That's exactly what you did to me." Her fists curl into hard, white balls. "You wouldn't talk to me! You just got drunk and threw me out of our house!"
"I didn't throw you out! I just wanted you to be with people who could take better care of you than I could!" My stomach is churning, and I let the words spit out one after another. The dam is broken. "I promised to take care of you, Bella. I just wasn't the best person to do it!" I wave in her direction, in the direction of her scarred face. She flinches. "I broke you! How could you trust me after I did that?"
"You lost your mom, Edward! You didn't give me a chance to protect you! You just… You just…" she sobs, and it breaks me all over again. "I needed you. And I know you needed me. You didn't let us heal each other."
Her shoulders sag, and she drags her feet as she walks wearily to the swing set. She sinks into a seat and grips the chain. My feet carry her to where she is, and I sit in the swing beside her. I push at the ground with my boot, setting the swing into a gentle motion. Resting my head against the chain, I turn to look at her. "Then where does that leave us?"
She stares straight ahead, her face glowing with the last of the day's light. "I don't know."
I need to be closer, so I hoist myself out of my swing and kneel before hers. With my palms on her knees, I crouch before her. She tries to push, but I hold tighter. I can feel the muscles beneath the denim. She still runs.
"Bella, look at me." When she makes no attempt to, I shift into her eye line. I'm on my knees. I beg. "Baby. Please."
She blinks, long and slow. For a moment, she forces her eyes shut, her brow furrows, and her face looks like she's in pain. Pain is good. Pain is a feeling. Her lids lift, and she looks at me — really looks. I'm gutted by the pain I see in her eyes, pain I put there. I feel my face crumple.
"Don't," she whispers, cupping my face. "It wasn't all you. It was me, too. I didn't chase you. I just gave up."
I shake my head frantically, because she's wrong. It was me. "I loved you. I loved you every day." Uncaring that I have tears in my eyes, I reach to where her hands are back to gripping the chains of the swing. "I love you now, and I'll love you every day for the rest of my life." She stares back at me, and there she is. My chest feels lighter.
Tears well, and she blinks. One escapes and carves a path down her cheek, naturally following the path of the scar that my actions put there. I wipe the wetness away, because it should have never been there. The scar shouldn't have, either. I never want to see another tear fall because of me, and I want to heal the scars in her heart.
"I know I promised you before I wouldn't leave. I promised you I'd take are of you." I take a breath as I stroke the band on the fourth finger of her left hand. "Til death us do part. Please give me that chance."
She whispers, "You're not dead."
"No." I want to kiss her. I want to taste her lips so fucking bad and then crawl beneath her skin and stay there. "I can't be apart from you. The day I gave you my last name, I gave you my heart." My gaze locks on hers. "It's yours. 'Til I breathe my last."
"Edward," she sobs silently, and her shoulders shake. Bella gathers herself together, and I rest my hand on her cheek. She leans into it. "I've always been yours. I always will be."
I rise to my feet, and with careful hands, I bring her with me. I scan her face, taking in all of the features I've missed for so long. When I look at her, I don't see scars. I see the beautiful woman I married, but this woman's eyes hold a determination that is almost disarming. She has always been my everything. She always will be.
The sunlight beams through a gap in the buildings, bathing us both in brilliant orange-pink light. It warms my face on an otherwise cold afternoon, and I imagine that somewhere, my mother knows… and she forgives me.
"Can we make it?" I ask, stroking her cheekbone with my thumb. Please tell me we have a chance. Please.
"I hope so," she says, and I wonder if the same vine that strangles me has its hold on her. "God, Edward. I hope so."