TLS Angst Contest Entry

Word Count: 13,467

Pairing: Edward

Title of Story: Another Love

Story Summary: Edward had it all... Until he didn't.


EPOV

October 2005

"Tyler! Tyler! Tyler!" The chant echoes over the loud din coming from my apartment.

Music thumps out of our stereo system, the beat reverberating around the small space. I can hear it from the parking lot, so I'm sure the neighbors are pissed.

I drop my keys on the foyer table, shaking my head as I fight my way through the hall. There are people everywhere, and beer bottles line the floor like some kind of obstacle course.

The smell of weed and cigarettes permeates the air, the aroma making my nose twitch with desire. I could go for a hit right now.

Maybe later.

The living room is dim, the only light coming from what seems like five hundred tea lights dotted over windowsills, the fireplace and coffee table. It would look kinda romantic, if I wasn't worried about the fire hazard and if I ignore the spider webs hanging from every corner. With the cigarette smoke creating wisps of cloud through the air, it just looks eerie.

Appropriate, since it's Halloween.

There's a couple passed out on the couch, another making out in the corner. The entire place is in disarray, red cups dotted all over the floor and pizza boxes piled up on the coffee table. The carpet is littered with chips, and guacamole dip has been trampled into the rug. I daren't venture to my bedroom or the bathroom for fear of what I might find there.

Damn Tyler and his parties.

It's not that I'm a bore. I love a good party. I like a few beers and, when the notion strikes me, a joint or two.

Back in freshman year, Tyler and I smashed it up. Our parties were infamous – the best music, the best food and the best weed.

As a senior though, I've tried to rein it in. It's a big year for me, and I need to knuckle down and study hard this year.

Okay, maybe I am a bore.

Tyler laughed in my face when I told him I'd be late to the party because I had some studying to catch up on at the library.

Whatever. He won't be laughing when he flunks out.

I wade back through the mass of bodies in the living room and make my way back across the hall to the kitchen. Tyler's there, doing body shots off some blonde—probably his latest conquest—while a small crowd of people around him egg him on.

I grab a beer from the fridge, popping off the cap with a nearby bottle opener, before taking a long chug. I feel myself relax for the first time today as the cool liquid slides down the back of my throat. I release the bottle with a pop, and hear Tyler calling my name.

"Yo, Eddie! You made it, man!"

"Of course I made it, Tyler. It's my fucking house too," I drawl, my tone dripping with sarcasm. He huffs and rolls his eyes. "I ain't cleaning any of this shit up tomorrow though, man."

"Eddie, Eddie, lighten up, man! Enjoy the party! Jessie here's gonna help me clean it up!" He waggles his eyebrows and motions to Blondie, who is patting at her bare midriff with a towel. She hops off the counter and pulls down her shirt.

"It's Jessica." She huffs, nudging Tyler with her elbow. "How many times have I told you?"

Tyler rolls his eyes at her and pinches her ass. She tries to squirm away from his grip, but he wraps his arms around her and goes in for the kill, planting sloppy drunken kisses all over her face.

Jeez, get a room.

I wander back into the living room, beer in hand, and ponder how I can get people to leave. It's almost midnight, and I have to be up really early.

Okay, yeah. I definitely am a party pooper.

I'm almost knocked off my feet when a hard body stumbles into me. I steady myself to find Emmett McCarty, high, drunk, or both, wrapping his arms around me.

"Cullen! You made it man!"

Why do people keep saying that to me? Am I that obvious?

Emmett and I do the loose, side, male hug thing and he starts prattling on about his football game last week. I'm not really paying any attention though, because I'm distracted by a commotion on the other side of the room.

That smarmy fucker, James, from my Ethics in Education class, has some poor girl pressed against the window frame, his hands wandering down the sides of her body. She looks uncomfortable, her head moving from side to side. I realize he's trying to kiss her and she's resisting.

I'm over there before I even realize I have moved, my hand firm on his shoulder, pulling him away.

"Hey man, I don't think she's interested."

James stumbles, and looks up at me. He's glassy eyed, intoxicated, and his features twist into an expression of sheer confusion. Recognition dawns on his face, and he straightens up.

"She with you, man?"

"Yeah, she is, so back off."

Wait, what?

The words tumble out of my mouth before I realize what I'm saying. In my peripheral vision I can see the girls eyes widening, and I hear a breath catch in her throat.

James mumbles something incoherent and stumbles away.

I turn back; only to be faced with one of the most beautiful girls I have ever laid eyes on.

Huh.

Guess this party won't be so bad after all.

November 2005

"Oh, shit, yes…" I grind my teeth, practically spitting out the words as her nails dig into my ass. Her plump, pouty lips are wrapped around my dick, her mouth warm and wet as she sucks me hungrily; she just can't get enough.

She moans around me, and the vibrations send a shiver up my spine—I feel my tip hit the back of her throat.

Fuck.

I'm so close.

I'm sweaty, the thin sheets below me damp from our exertion. I glance down at her. Her eyes are wide as she stares up at me, a look of pure adoration on her face.

We've only been dating for a month but I can't get enough of this girl.

She's a vision—her long dark hair flows over her shoulders and tickles my thighs, the sensation adding to my excitement. I fist my hand in her hair, massaging her scalp, pushing lightly on her head. I feel her gag, and she pulls back to take a deep breath.

Her gagging on my cock is fucking hot.

Her hands are wrapped around me, squeezing my ass, where I am sure there are going to be fingernail marks tomorrow. No matter - I'll mark her later.

She presses closer from her hunched position over me, running her tongue up and down my shaft before sucking me in deep again. I feel her hard nipples press against my thighs and feel my cock grow even harder at the sight of her ass sticking up in the air.

Giving her hair a gentle tug, I pull her up, and she releases me, a thin trail of saliva dripping from her mouth.

"Get up here and ride my cock, baby."

She doesn't hesitate, as she crawls quickly up my body, straddling me with her silky soft long legs, and grabbing my cock between her hands.

She lines up and sinks down on me with a deep moan.

If her mouth was heaven, her pussy is sweet paradise—warm, wet and tight—and all mine.

I know I won't last much longer with the way she's moving on top of me—alternating between grinding slow and deep and then bouncing hard and fast—so with one hand on her hip, I reach down with my other hand and pinch her clit, the way I know she likes.

She groans, and I feel her clenching all around me.

"Oh, Edward, do it again…" she's breathless, sweaty and fucking gorgeous, her head thrown back and mouth wide open as I feel her tighten around me again.

"Come on, baby, get there." I shift, careful not to slide out of her, and sit up,

desperate to be closer to her. We're chest to chest, slick, damp skin slapping together as I shift my other hand from her hip, squeezing her ass hard before snaking my index finger further down, right there, and tickling lightly.

Her hips buck wildly in response and her moans get higher pitched. We are joined in every way, her hands are clutching wildly at my hair; I have one hand on her clit, the other hand teasing her ass, and my cock so deep inside her that I barely know where I end and she begins. I sink my teeth into the soft flesh of her shoulder and suck hard, marking her, knowing that the pain will send her right over the edge.

It does.

She's screaming and coming so hard around me. Her pussy is tight and clenching, milking my cock, bleeding me dry. My release comes in thick, hot spurts, spilling deep inside her as I ride out my orgasm, my body shuddering and shaking as the bliss permeates every fiber of my being.

I grunt as my thrusts slow, and her head drops onto my shoulder. Her hands in my hair are soft now, caressing, loving, and I feel her plant feather-light kisses over my shoulder and up my neck, before reaching my face.

When she meets my eyes, her face breaks into a wide grin and she plants a sloppy kiss on my mouth.

I chuckle, and lay back, pulling her down on top of me. I'm still inside her, my dick softening. I want to stay connected to her, and I know she feels the same when I feel her clench around me one more time. My dick twitches in response.

Just a few minutes, buddy.

We lay there, in contented silence, our breathing slowing as we struggle to catch it. She feels so good in my arms, and I feel like I could stay here forever and die a happy man.

I smile as realization washes over me. It's only been a month, but it feels right. Is this love? It feels like it. I don't think I've been in love before, but I want her around me all the time, and I miss her like crazy when we are apart.

I take a deep breath, and chuckle at the realisation. "God, I love you."

I feel her stiffen in my arms, before she relaxes and sighs happily, squeezing me tighter. I feel the smile in her lips as she kisses my chest.

"I love you too, Edward," she whispers.

December 2005

"Marshmallows and whip on that?" The barista looks bored, chewing gum and staring off into space as she froths the milk for our hot drinks. I nod, turning my attention back to my phone while I wait.

My girl has text me to say she's running late and to order for her. She's always late—such a scatterbrain. My thumb moves rapidly across the screen as I compose a reply.

Okay baby, I have a hot chocolate waiting for you. See you soon, xox

When our drinks are ready, I find a table by the window and settle in to wait for her to arrive. The festive season has well and truly descended upon town. I watch as people sporting pink cheeks and bobble hats trudge through the snow, laden with shopping bags, chatting excitedly about Christmas. Children playing in the street, dodging the occasional car as they chase each other with snowballs, cheering and whooping enthusiastically.

The coffee house is a mass of red, green and silver. The fresh scent of pine needles from the real tree in the corner permeates the air and silver sparkly lights adorn the windows and door frame. Christmas songs playing out of the coffee house speakers are the icing on the cake. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are all that's missing from this perfect Hallmark scene.

I love Christmas.

I'm the type of person that gets excited about Christmas in August, and starts counting the days in September. I already bought all my Christmas gifts in October, so I don't really need anything today.

My girlfriend insisted on going shopping together—she admits she sucks at choosing gifts for people, and wants me to choose something for myself from her. I don't need really need anything, but she's nothing if not persistent.

We've been dating a little less than two months now, but I am bringing her home for the holidays to meet my family. I'm pretty sure they will all love her as much as I do. She sleeps over most nights at my apartment so we pretty much live together.

Tyler is hardly ever there anymore, spending most nights with his girlfriend. He made it a permanent thing with Blondie from the Halloween party. So we get the place to ourselves most of the time. I plan on asking her to live with me officially and rent a place of our own once my lease runs out, but I plan to wait until the summer when we both finish school.

I'm finishing up my Masters in Music with Education and I already have a job offer for the music department at Port Angeles High School, so getting an apartment without my parents help shouldn't be a problem. I have savings, so we might even be able to buy a place together.

The jingle bells attached to the door chime loudly as it opens, interrupting my musings. I glance up to see my girl stumbling toward me, laden down with shopping bags. I jump out of my seat to relieve her of the burden, before pulling her into my arms and burying my nose in her hair.

"Hey baby," she mumbles, chuckling as I slide my nose across her jaw and kiss her neck.

"Mmm…I missed you," I say, before planting a full kiss on her mouth. She whimpers, and I squeeze her tighter around the waist. She pulls away and plonks herself down in the armchair, before taking a huge gulp of her hot chocolate.

"So, successful shopping trip so far?" I ask, laying the bags neatly at her feet.

She looks up at me, smiling. She has foam and a fleck of marshmallow on her nose from her hot chocolate.

Fucking adorable.

I want to lick it off, but I'm pretty sure the way I just kissed her was quite enough of a show for our fellow coffee drinkers. So instead I sweep my finger across her nose and scrape off the confection, before sucking my finger into my mouth.

She giggles, and wipes her face with a napkin.

"Yeah, I got most of what I needed. We need to go get your gift! And I still need something for your Mom! Oh, look what I got for your Dad!"

Her face is alight with excitement as she reaches for one of the shopping bags.

Yeah, I'm really looking forward to this Christmas.

February 2006

She is absolutely striking in red.

I observe her from our table as she walks toward the ladies room.

The vibrant shade of poppy is a stark contrast to her pale, almost luminescent skin. It's a simple dress, with small straps across each delicate, freckled shoulder, the red fabric sitting tight across her small but perfect breasts. Her hair falls in waves around her shoulders, framing her heart shaped face. As she walks away from me, the fabric swishes around her thighs, the flesh exposed there making my mouth water.

Absolutely stunning.

The waiter brings over our drinks order, a beer for me and a French Martini for her.

It's Valentines Day and I want to spoil her tonight. I made her a breakfast in bed of croissants and coffee, before making love to her until noon. I just couldn't resist a day in bed with my beautiful girlfriend.

I smile as I remember her face when she came, shuddering and whimpering underneath me, whispering my name like a prayer.

I can't get enough of her.

She pretty much moved in with me after Christmas. Even though I had initially thought it would be better to wait, when we came back to college after the holidays, we didn't want to be apart.

Spending every day together with my family was awesome, more than I could have hoped for. My parents absolutely loved her, just like I knew they would, and she blended right into my crazy family Christmas.

My parents are pretty laid back, so we didn't have to sleep in separate rooms. Being able to be with her every night was perfect, and seeing her interact with my family and my newborn nephew, Thomas, just solidified everything I have felt for her since we met.

She's the one.

When we got back to Seattle, she packed up her stuff and moved out of her apartment and into mine.

It's only been four months, but I've never been surer of anything in my life. Her smile brightens my day, her touch gives me shivers down my spine. When we are together, I don't have a care in the world.

We just fit.

I realize I am daydreaming when I hear a throat clearing and she sits back down at the table.

"Ready to order?" she asks, smiling.

Our evening passes without a hitch. Our meal is delicious, and my girl is enjoying her dessert when I give the waiter the nod he's been waiting for all evening.

He brings out a bucket of ice with a bottle of champagne in it. She looks at me quizzically but I just smile at her until we have privacy.

"Edward… what's all this for?" she breathes.

"I can't spoil you on Valentine's Day?" I chuckle, expertly popping the cork on the bottle. A little fizz spills from the brim and she squeals excitedly. I fill up our glasses.

"Besides, I haven't given you your Valentine's present yet," I say, my grip firm on the velvet box in my pants pocket.

"Edward, we said we weren't doing presents!" She huffs. "I didn't get you anything!"

She's so fucking adorable when she's mad at me.

I chuckle, sliding out of my chair. I walk around to her side of the table and kneel before her, clasping her hands tightly in mine.

"Edward…" She breathes nervously, her eyes dancing around the room. "What are you doing? People are looking."

"Let them look." I say simply.

I'm so ready for this.

I pull the velvet box out of pocket and hold it out to her. She gasps, clutching one hand across her chest. Her unshed tears light up her eyes, giving them that sparkle that I adore on her.

She knows what's coming.

I take a deep breath. "Baby… I know it's fast, but you mean everything to me. I can't imagine my life without you by my side—for the rest of our days." My voice breaks at the sudden wave of emotion that crashes over me.

"Edward…" She's sobbing now, the tears running freely down her face, mascara streaks lining her porcelain skin. She's never looked more beautiful to me.

"Baby… will you…. Will you marry me?"

July 2006

She squeezes her thighs around my waist as I grip the rope tighter. I can feel her heart pounding and her breath hot on my neck.

"You ready, baby?" I whisper, and I feel her nod against my shoulder. I bend my knees and launch us off the dock. The rope swings about half way out and then SNAP!

The branch cracks, sending us careening into the lake.

"Aaahhh! Edward!" Her high pitched wail is echoed with a splash, her tinkling laughter peeling around the wide expanse of space. I can tell from her giggles that she's not hurt, so I turn and race away, gliding through the clear lake with smooth strokes, the water cooling my skin in the afternoon heat.

I climb up the wooden ladder on to the dock and shake the excess water out of my hair. Flopping down on my towel and resting on my elbows, I chuckle at the sight of her arms flailing through the water, swimming a sloppy paddle crawl in my direction.

I had my doubts as to whether the rope swing would take the weight of both of us, but I thought it would be fun to try.

Warm, lazy afternoons by the lake are followed by hot, sweaty nights in our private lakeside villa in Italy. Surrounded by idyllic scenery, lush green hills meet powder blue sky, not a cloud in sight. The valleys dip and sway, the horizon a perfect postcard scene.

Life's pretty perfect.

She's clambering up the ladder now, her white bikini clinging to her wet skin. The barely there fabric hugs her curves and I feel a familiar yearning deep in the pit of my stomach. I lick my lips at the sight of her hips swaying as she walks towards me.

She drops down in my lap, straddling me, before attacking my ribs with her fingers. She always knows the exact right spot to get me, and before long I am giggling and gasping for breath.

"Alright, alright, I surrender!" I huff out between breaths, snaking my hands around her waist and sprawling out on my back, bringing her down with me. Our laughter dies down and she rests her forehead on mine.

"Hey, wifey," I whisper, rubbing my nose with hers, Eskimo style.

She beams. "Hey, husband," she replies, before locking her lips with mine in a searing kiss.

May 2007

I kick off my shoes and drop my keys on the hall table. The aroma of fresh basil and garlic permeates my senses, and I wander through the hall into the kitchen, seeking out the source of the scent.

She's clad in a cute pink apron, her hip jutting out as she stirs a huge pot atop the stove. It smells like spaghetti sauce, and I smile in appreciation as move closer. I shift her hair from one shoulder and lean in to kiss her neck. She shudders under my touch and I press myself close to her.

"Hey babe," she says, her hand leaving the spoon and coming up to run her fingers through my hair. "How was your day?"

My fingers snake around her hips and she arches her back, pressing her ass closer to me.

She's such a fucking tease.

"Mmm… it was long… hard…" I press my erection into her back, my words laced with innuendo. She snickers. "I missed you. How was your day?"

My hand reaches under the apron and palms her breast, and I feel her nipples hard through the fabric of her shirt.

"Uh-uh," she says as she halts my hand with her own. "Go wash up, dinner's almost ready." She goes back to stirring the pot.

After a quick shower, I change into sweatpants and an old college hoodie, and join my wife for dinner. We catch up on our days as I hungrily wolf down my food, before we flop onto the couch, tired, full and content.

She seems distracted, and when I ask her about it, she refuses to make eye contact and her cheeks immediately blush bright red.

"Baby? What is it?" I question her.

"I have something to tell you." Even though she is right beside me, I have to strain to hear her. I arch one eyebrow at her, a sign to continue. She takes a deep breath and word vomit ensues.

"Ok I know we didn't plan on this so soon, but sometimes these things happen, the pill isn't one hundred percent effective and maybe I'm really fertile, Kate misses her pill all the time and it's never happened to her, but I guess we can deal with it, I mean, we can manage, right? I mean, you do want it, right?"

I frown at her, perplexed. She's rambling, but I think I understand what she's saying.

"Baby, what are you trying to tell me?" I ask. I need to hear her say it. My heart just swelled so big it might burst out of my chest, but I don't want to be disappointed if I am misunderstanding her.

"I… I'm pregnant," she whispers.

January 2008

"Damn it!" My wife's voice is cracking, tears running down her face as she finally loses her internal battle of wills with her own emotions. She's never been one to admit defeat or shy away from a challenge, but breastfeeding is proving to be her ultimate nemesis.

Our beautiful daughter, Eve Rose Cullen, was born just an hour ago, by c-section. It was a tough labor, and she was doing so well, but eventually everything started to slow down and Eve's heart rate dropped with every contraction.

By that time, she was so distressed, exhausted and tired, that she gave in to the doctors' advice, despite her previous convictions about a natural birth.

My heart was in my mouth as they rolled her into the theatre, her knuckles white from

her vice grip on my hand.

"Please don't let go, Edward," she'd whispered.

"I'm right here, baby. I'll never let go." I whisper as I'd kissed her forehead.

Throughout the procedure I'd stroked her hair, held her hand and whispered in her ear how excited I was to meet our little girl, what a good mother she was going to be, and how much I loved her.

When Eve was born, my whole world changed that moment. I felt giddy, like my earliest memory of waking up on Christmas morning and discovering Santa had been. The joy I felt when my wife agreed to marry me paled in comparison to the utter elation that overwhelmed me when I laid eyes on the miracle we'd created.

My daughter.

All scrunched up face, covered in that gross mucus stuff, her cry was the most welcome sound in the world. When the doctor placed her in my arms, I broke down, crying real tears for the first time in my adult life.

Now, I've never seen my wife more defeated. A nurse fusses around her, trying to help her get Eve to latch on properly. The nurse is being a little grabby, and my wife winces in pain as Eve's mouth wraps around her nipple.

I feel helpless, there's nothing I can do for them. I fidget with the edge of the standard issue hospital blanket on the bed as the nurse huffs and puffs and mutters something about how it wasn't like this in her day.

The nurse stalks out of the room with a slam of the door and she bursts into tears.

And not quiet, stifled sobs.

I mean loud, wailing, heartbreaking cries.

This sets Eve off and before I know it both my girls are sobbing their hearts out. I pull Eve into my arms, careful to support her head. I walk around the room, rocking my little girl in my arms, singing to her, trying to soothe her. She gurgles a cute little noise and scrunches her face up, but quiets a little.

The nurse barges back into the room, followed by a doctor. They are speaking in hushed tones and the doctor is holding my wife's chart. They pull the curtain around the bed before I have a chance to ask what's going on.

I strain to hear their hushed voices. The doctor is telling her he needs to examine her and for a moment I think it's standard – she did just have major surgery – until I hear words like "scan" and "biopsy". Panic rises in my chest, and I hear her gasp as the doctor explains they need to act immediately.

The curtain is whipped back and the bed is being rolled out of the room. She looks just as confused as I am and I feel a hand on my arm. I turn to see the elderly nurse.

"Mr Cullen? Is there some family you can call to be here with you?" Her wrinkly smile is small, and doesn't quite meet her eyes. She reaches out to take Eve from my arms. I stiffen, tightening my grip on my daughter.

I don't understand what's going on.

"I'm going to take Eve down to the nursery and get her fed," She smiles, and holds her arms out. "You need to go be with your wife, sir."

July 2008

When we got married, I promised my wife that I'd take her back to Italy every year for our anniversary.

Last year, although she was at a stage in her pregnancy where she was allowed to travel, she just didn't feel up to it. We had a staycation and spent our first wedding anniversary in the back garden with the sprinklers on.

For our second wedding anniversary, we're spending it in the hospital.

It's the third round of tests.

Breast cancer in pregnancy—especially at her young age—is very rare, but very, very real. By the time the doctors caught it, my wife needed a double mastectomy.

She was more upset over her inability to breastfeed Eve.

Unfortunately, the cancer spread, and the prognosis wasn't great. The last six months have been a blur, one day blending into the next. Endless appointments with specialists, chemotherapy sessions, and alternative therapy healers have so far proved fruitless. As Eve grows, thrives and develops every day, my wife's body gradually grows weaker, more frail and lifeless.

It's the strangest thing, watching one person you love bloom like a fresh daffodil in spring, while the other person you love wilts like a dying rose in winter.

Life and Death.

Strong and Weak.

Growth and Decline.

Eve is at my mother's house. My mom and dad have been absolute pillars of strength throughout this entire ordeal. I don't know how we would have gotten through the last six months without them.

This should be a happy time, the first six months of our child's life. Every moment should be cherished, every laugh, smile and facial expression catalogued in a baby book with Polaroid's and cheesy captions.

Instead, we've passed her off to my parents so many times to attend appointments and treatments. Mom insists on taking Eve overnight at least once a week so we can have time alone, so that she can rest and recuperate from the ravaging effects of her treatment.

She likes me to read her to sleep, insisting on children's fairy tales. She says she's embracing her inner child. Sometimes Eve will lay nestled between us, sucking her thumb and gurgling. She likes the stories as much as her mommy does.

Both Eve and her mother will slowly fall asleep to the sound of my voice, my wife gripping my hand and Eve sighing softly in her sleep.

It's only then, late at night, that I let myself go, in the shower, my body wracked with sobs. I can't let any emotion show in front of my wife or family, I have to be strong.

"Mrs Cullen? Mr Cullen?" Doctor Jackson interrupts my thoughts as his office door opens and he clears his throat. In his hand he holds a manila folder, which I know, contains my wife's medical notes and latest test results.

A manila folder, that will dictate which fork in the road we take from here.

A manila folder that will dictate life or death.

A manila folder that will seal my future.

Doctor Jackson's eyes are heavy, resigned as he ushers us into his office.

I don't need to hear what he has to say. I already know the answer.

December 2008

"He led her to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented." My voice breaks on the last few words as I close the book.

"Read it again," she rasps, her voice barely a whisper, weak and hoarse. It's an effort for her to talk.

The night is pitch black, twinkles of brilliant white illuminating the sky. She's reclined in the deck chair; I pull the blanket tighter around her. There's a chill in the air, but she insists on sitting outside, she hates being cooped up in the house.

She clings to my hand as she clings to the words I read. Words full of promise; hearts; flowers.

Words that give her hope.

We've spent the last week like this; she was adamant about coming home. Sitting on the porch, drinking hot cocoa, reading, reminiscing and laughing like an elderly couple.

But we're not elderly. We are just in our twenties, and my blood boils with bitterness once again at the injustice of it all.

"Not long now," the doctors had said. "Make her comfortable."

Her gaunt hand wraps tighter around mine, her wedding ring falling loose around her bony fingers. Her face has lost its warm pink hue, her pallor ashen with exhaustion. The illness has been relentless, cruel and without mercy, ravaging life from every cell in her body. Her hair that was once a thick, glossy mane of curls is now just patches on her head.

Yet her eyes sparkle like the stars above us as I open the book, and read her the same story.

Her breathing slows as she relaxes, but it's still uneven, rattly. I think she's sleeping, so I stop reading and watch the sky change, the dark fading as dawn breaks.

They say it's always darkest before the dawn.

Will this be my darkest moment?

Sometimes I sit here in the stony silence and pray, wish, and hope that this is all a dream, that when I wake she will be restored to her former glory, exuberant and full of life, eyes brimming over with possibility. That our life will be just like one of those fairy tales.

The rational part of my brain shuts the idea down.

She startles. "Don't stop… skip to the end… what happens?" Her breathing quickens, then slows again. I can see the life draining from her face and I feel the crack in my heart splinter a little further.

A single soft gurgle comes from inside the house. I incline my head in the direction of our daughter. My wife's eyelids flutter and her breathing halts. In this moment I know that my life is irrevocably changed.

"They lived happily ever after," I whisper, a single tear sliding down my cheek.

~x~x~x~

The slate sky is beginning to clear, just a hint of sun spilling through the black clouds. It peeks through, creating dazzling lines of light along the horizon.

I see the hint of a rainbow trying to form in the distance, and my jaw clenches, my mouth set in a grim line as I ponder what rainbows are symbolic of.

Promises.

Hope.

A future.

The last few days has seen almost all four seasons, the weather flip-flopping, reflecting the intense mix of emotions I have experienced in these last months.

Clouds roll over the sky, the sun peeking out a little further. We tread carefully, black ice having frozen on the road overnight. Glints of the sparse light reflect off the ice, creating a sparkle-like effect on the road.

It looks like a mythical world, a dark fairy tale.

Like a dream.

I wish it was a dream.

I feel the hand of my father-in-law gently squeeze my shoulder. Our arms are interlocked, the wooden box a heavy burden above us. Behind me is my brother-in-law, Garrett, and behind him, my brother Jasper. The rest of the pall-bearers are made up of my father, Carlisle, and my uncle-in-law, Alec.

I try to suppress tears, but then I find that I no longer care, and let them spill freely down my face. My wet eyes cause my vision to blur even more, the sky in front of me appearing even more dream-like.

Maybe if I close my eyes really hard, squeeze them really tight, I will wake up from this horrible nightmare.

I open my eyes. No such luck.

We are nearing the grave-site now, and I feel the procession slow. My face is wet from my tears and I am shaking. I drag in a deep, rasping breath as my feet slow down, but my pain is like a dull ache, squeezing my lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

I don't even remember the short walk from the church to the cemetery, but, somehow, we are here.

It all passes in a blur. One minute the coffin is on my shoulder, the next it is being lowered into the ground. I'm not even focused, my mind running over time with a million and one questions.

Is this real?

How is this fair?

How is this okay?

How did this happen?

Is this what a broken heart feels like?

I can't breathe. The pain in my chest is suffocating me. It's like a sharp blade has sliced right through my chest, gouging through the skin, stabbing at my heart. It hacks my heart into tiny pieces, slashing, cutting, until there is nothing left. Blood is pouring out of me, taking my soul and spirit with it.

Until I am hollow.

Until there is nothing left.

The clouds are clearing now, the rainbow a full, perfect concave.

Promises?

I can't even hope.

You hear of people dying of a broken heart.

I wish I could.

I have to go on.

My daughter needs me.

January ...

Minutes run into hours run into days.

Weeks run into months run into years.

At least that's what it feels like.

Time blurs. I have no concept of day or night. No idea what day it is, what date, what month, and what year.

I am vaguely aware that the weather is shifting. There's a slight change in the temperature, a thaw, but not around my heart. I stare out the window. The sun gleams, shines, its rays reflecting off the rippling lake out front. It mocks to me, calls out to me, showing off its power, its strength.

It seems so wrong for it to be so bright, so light outside, when everything inside me feels so black.

I am vaguely aware of the usual chit-chat from downstairs.

I am vaguely aware that my daughter is crying.

I can't find it in myself to be concerned right now.

I am a robot, merely existing. Hollow, numb, void of anything human.

I take another long drag of my cigarette and blow O's out. They waft above me, the shapes dancing with the beams of the morning sun. I swill my Scotch around in the tumbler and down it in one go.

I pour another. I down it.

And another. The sharp lines of the photograph in my hand begin to blur.

Sweet oblivion.

A sharp rap on wood lifts the dense fog that has settled over my mind.

"Edward?" My mother is peeking her head around the bedroom door. "Come on, honey. Everyone's here."

I close my eyes and inhale deeply. I hold it. I let my mind clear.

What day is it?

Why is everyone here?

I huff out the breath and turn to face my mother. She must read my mind because as soon as she speaks, clarity hits me like a wrecking ball.

"It's her first birthday, Edward. Please…" Her lower lip is trembling and her hands are wrung tightly together at her middle and her eyes are brimming with unshed tears and I'm a selfish bastard.

It's my daughter's first fucking birthday.

I'm sitting here having a pity party for one in this dark room while all my family are downstairs - my brothers, sisters, and my nephews and nieces.

All here to celebrate Eve's birthday, chatting excitedly, popping party poppers and cheering.

I want to scream. I want to hurl my glass across the room.

Could I be anymore pathetic?

I stub out my cigarette, and close the balcony doors. Mom gives me that scowl, I know she doesn't approve of me smoking in her house, but doesn't comment. I set the picture frame back on the table, adjusting, making sure it's just so, and follow my mother out of the room.

Three years later - December 2011

"Daddy! Wake up!"

A whack to my stomach sends a sudden wave of nausea through me. My mouth is dry, parched, like I just ran a marathon in summer heat. The roof of my mouth is like sandpaper and my teeth are furry.

Fucking whiskey.

"Daddy!" Eve bounces on the bed beside me, making my stomach churn even more. A quick glance at the clock tells me it's way too fucking early to be waking up, but unfortunately I can't just roll over and go back to sleep when I have a three year old to entertain.

"Come on, Daddy, I'm hungry!" Eve crawls on top of me and plants a sloppy kiss on my cheek. I cradle her in my arms, breathing in the soft, sweet scent of baby powder. Her dark curly hair tickles my face, and I blink few times, before peering down at her.

Her wide toothy grin cuts my heart in two—she's the image of her mother.

It's been three years now, but every morning I still wake up with those few seconds of ignorant bliss. I roll over in bed, to cuddle up to my wife, and when my hand hits the cold, empty pillow, clarity hits me all over again.

It's fleeting: you forget for a moment, only to be gutted all over again when you realize reality.

Some mornings, Eve is in bed with me. Some nights she toddles in after a bad dream, but I don't realize it until the next morning when I find her beside me. This is one of those days.

Other days, I wake up alone, and Eve is still sleeping in her own bed. She sleeps late some days, wakes early the next. We don't have a solid routine, late nights, early mornings, early nights, late mornings.

Story of my life. I only work part time now, and we live with my parents. Because B died when Eve was so young, I just couldn't cope alone with a young baby. Mom and Dad insisted I stay with them until I got back on my feet, and I'm still here.

On the days I wake up alone, my morning wood is unbearable. I relieve myself in the shower, picturing some nameless, faceless girl, maybe with red hair, or even blond. The slight relief is short-lived, and often the shower washes away my tears along with the traces of my release.

I just feel so fucking empty.

I have this beautiful baby girl, who I created, who loves me completely, relies on me, and trusts me.

Yet sometimes when I look at her all I feel is resentment.

And that kills me, ya know? I love her, God how I fucking love her.

But I fucking loathe her at the same time.

All because she looks like her mother. And it's a constant fucking reminder that my love is not here anymore.

And then that makes me hate myself. What kind of a father am I?

I've always wanted a big family. When she told me she was pregnant, even though it was sooner than we'd planned, I was over the moon. I think I was more excited than she was. I went to every appointment and ultrasound and fussed over her constantly.

I went shopping with her for the baby things, I picked the stroller, I decorated the nursery.

Something changed the day she died.

I still can't wrap my head around it. I try; God how I fucking try, but I can't for the life of me understand how I flip from one extreme to the other in my feelings towards Eve.

It's not her fault. But I get mad. Mad at Eve. Mad at my wife. Mostly mad at myself for being such a pathetic loser.

Some days I cry, deep wracking sobs that I just can't hold in because I just miss my wife so damn much. Other days I'm on top of the world, when it's just me and Eve in our little bubble, watching cartoons or playing piano. Other days I snap at her, she pisses me off by just being a kid and doing stupid kid things because she doesn't know any better.

Those are the days I hate myself the most. She looks at me with those brilliant green eyes, red around the edges with tears, and a sniffly nose. She cuddles up to me and peppers my face with kisses, and tells me she's sorry she made me sad.

What the fuck?

I'm the one who's sorry. I'm the one who made her sad.

All because she reminds me so much of her mother.

"Daddy, can we go to the park after breakfast? I wanna play on the climbing frame! Will you push me on the swings daddy? Can we take bread and feed the swans? I want Nana Esme to come. Can she, Daddy?"

She talks a million miles a minute, just like her Mom did. For a three—almost four—year old, she's surprisingly well spoken, and tall like me, so a lot of people mistake her for a five year old.

I sit up in bed and stretch. "Sure, sweetie. Daddy has some errands today so Nana Esme is gonna watch you. Then when I get back we can go to the park, okay?"

She rewards me with her huge smile, and just like that, I fall in love with her all over again.

x~X~x

The bar is dim, even in the afternoon light. Dark and hazy with smoke, the only light coming from the neon flashing above the jukebox and the dim overhead spotlights.

It's quiet, a lone customer sitting at the bar reading a paper with a beer in one hand.

The bartender is a young blonde—a lithe little thing, all legs and skin and cleavage. One hip juts out and she purses her lips in concentration as she counts stock laid out on the bar and writes in a notebook. She's pretty, I guess, if Daisy Duke is your thing.

Her head snaps up as I clear my throat. She sets down her notebook and sashays towards me, swinging her hips in what I guess is her attempt to be sexy.

"What can I get you, handsome?" I roll my eyes at her suggestive tone.

"Grey Goose, straight up."

She sets a shot glass out on the bar and fills it up. My mouth waters as the scent of the clear liquid wafts into my nose, and I instantly feel calmer.

This is my safe haven.

I down the shot and slam the glass back down on the counter.

"Again."

She quirks an eyebrow at me, but doesn't protest.

It continues that way for the next several minutes, and after six or seven shots I can feel the familiar sense of numb overtake me.

The images that are burned into my brain slowly start to blur, and I can block out the pain that crushes me everyday.

This is how I cope.

Vodka, Scotch, Tequila—it doesn't matter which one.

Widower's best friend.

The anniversary is always the hardest. I'm really fucking mad this year. She promised me forever. She was supposed to always be here. She was supposed to fight back. She didn't fucking fight. She left me. She broke her promise. She fucking ruined everything. Christmases aren't the same anymore, my heart as cold as the December chill.

I down another shot and throw a handful of bills on the counter. With a curt nod to the bartender, I make my way to the men's room.

The blurred lines of my reflection in the mirror are the last thing I remember as blackness swallows me.

~x~X~x

Cold water hits me like a slap in the face.

Literally.

The water startles me, and I open one eye to find Daisy Duke leaning over me, a glass in one hand. She slaps my cheek a few times, causing me to wince.

"Did you hit your head, man?"

"I... uh... what happened?"

Daisy rolls her eyes and huffs. "You came in here like, a half hour ago. When you didn't come back out I came to check on you. Is there someone I can call?"

I blink, taking in my surroundings. A half hour?

Fuck.

"Can I get you anything?"

My stomach rumbles and I realise my error - drinking on an empty stomach.

I rub the back of my head and my fingers rise up over a small bump. I wince, but breathe a sigh of relief when I realise I'm not bleeding. I must have passed out in a drunken stupor. I realize Blondie is still talking.

"... You were snoring, man, so I guess you just fell asleep, you should go home and sleep it off, can I get you a cab?"

"Um... no... I'm good, thanks." I stagger to my feet, pulling my car keys from my pocket.

"Hey, man! You can't fucking drive in your condition!" Blondie grabs my arm to pull me back, and I shrug her off with a little more force than intended. She staggers and stumbles in her stupid high heels, but I instantly feel guilty and grab her elbow before she can fall. Her face softens from a frown to a look of sympathy.

She opens her mouth to speak but I cut her off. Fuck that. I don't need any fucking sympathy.

I stalk out of the bathroom, out of the bar and make my way to my car. I'm late to pick up Eve.

~x~X~x

"Daddy! Come push me, Daddy!" Eve's voice is like a clanging cymbal. I push my RayBans further up my nose and sink deeper into the park bench.

"In a minute, sweetie. Daddy has a call to make," I shout absent-mindedly, without lifting my head. I pretend to be engrossed in my cell phone.

Afternoon drinking gives me the worst fucking hangovers.

When I left the bar, a call from my Mom stopped me from making what would have been a very stupid and potentially dangerous drive across town. I had been so focused on getting out of there to pick up Eve. I had tunnel vision, I just had to get to my daughter, hold her in my arms and breathe in her scent and hear her voice and feel her soft kisses.

Alcohol is a crafty little snake. It's like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. It lures you in, tempting you, goading you, until you finally succumb like Eve in the garden did. It seems glorious, it seems exciting. Refreshing, like the apple from the Tree of Life.

But then it fucks you over good and proper, and punishes you relentlessly.

My Eve is the real comfort.

My keys were in the ignition, my hands on the wheel, when my phone halted me.

Just a call to see how long I would be, but it was enough to sober me. To make me realize what I had been about to do.

I took a cab across to my parents'. Of course Mom gave me her usual stern "have you been drinking again" look, but didn't comment. She knows today is hard for me.

Eve was chomping at the bit to get to the park, so Mom drove us over there. She's gone to get Eve donuts and me a coffee from the nearby coffee house.

Seeing Eve was like a breath of fresh air, but now that I'm here—with the afternoon sun blinding my eyes and making my head pound, the sound of children screaming and whooping piercing through my ears like a fucking fire alarm—I wish I could go home and sleep this off.

I engross myself with the latest level of Angry Birds on my phone, and zone out.

I'm not sure how long I've zoned out for, but I'm vaguely aware that Eve is calling my name. I squeeze my eyes shut and take a deep breath, swallowing my exasperation.

Damn kid.

I guess I should go play with her.

"Daddy!" The high-pitched urgency of her voice makes my head snap up.

It happens at lightning speed, yet at the same time in slow motion. I see it play out, but I can't move fast enough to save her. I watch in slow horror, rooted to the spot as her small hands grapple with the bar. She can't get a grip and her eyes are wide with panic. A cold dread chills me to my very bones as her small body falls from the climbing frame, landing with a thwack and a bloodcurdling scream.

Fuck.

After that, everything is a blur of panicked screaming and blue lights.

And blood, so much blood.

Her leg is twisted at an odd angle, bone protruding through flesh. She's unconscious and bleeding from her head.

The ambulance is here, yet I don't remember calling them. My mother is shaking me but I'm in a daze.

So much fucking blood.

~x~X~x

I pace. I sigh. I seethe.

The pristine white of the hospital waiting room is a stark contrast to my black mind.

The wait is sheer torture. The ambulance ride was a blur, and when they rushed Eve into the E.R. and told me to wait outside, I wanted to commit a crime worthy of death row.

Because losing Eve would be a death sentence.

Yet, death would be sweet relief from the gut-wrenching pain of losing my sweet girl.

Images of black funeral clothes, dark days and empty, cold nights invade my vision.

I can't fucking stand the wait.

"Edward," my mother's hand rests over my bouncing knee. "Calm down, sweetie. You know she's in good hands."

I'm over-reacting. She is in good hands. Dr Carlisle Cullen, my father. Thank God he was on duty when we arrived.

"Edward, she's gonna be fine."

I explode. All of the pent up rage, frustration, grief and anger that has been simmering below the surface for weeks, months, hell, even years, comes bubbling over.

I kick the coffee table.

I slam my fists into the vending machine.

I throw a chair across the room.

Then I fall to my knees and my mother is cradling my head in her lap and whispering soothing words in my ear as I grasp for any oxygen I can find.

"I can't lose her, Mom," I say in small voice I don't even recognise.

"Shh, sweetie. It's okay. It's gonna be okay."

I wish I had her confidence. Since my wife died, I expect nothing. I trust nothing. I have faith in nothing. How can I?

I can't believe in something without proof. I can't just take her word for it, I need to see it, touch it.

What scares me the most is my reaction. I know my mother is right. The rational part of my brain knows what I saw. The climbing frame wasn't that high. She landed at an odd angle, and I saw the broken leg, but that was probably the worst of it.

But the horror in her eyes before she fell.

The scream.

The blood.

It's sheer blind panic, thinking the worst, that she'll be paralysed, or worse, that she hit her head so hard that she'll be a vegetable.

Yet in the same beat I'm telling myself it will be okay.

My mood swings are nauseating to say the least, and scary at the very most.

Either way, it's my fault she's here. I was half drunk and not paying attention, too fucking wrapped up in my own self-pity to care.

If she gets through this, I'll never touch a drop again. I'm a fucking pathetic excuse for a father.

"I know today is hard for you, honey." My mom's voice always calms me. Her fingers are soft in my hair as she talks. "Eve is going to be fine, Edward. She will need some TLC but she'll get through it."

She pauses, and I brace myself to have my ass handed to me. It's no less than I deserve.

"We miss her, too, Edward. We all do. But that little girl needs you. You can't keep going down this path. What happens next time? What happens when you get in the car with her and you're drunk?"

I shudder, little does my mother know how close to the truth she is.

"You guys got married so young, Edward. You still have your whole life ahead of you. You could do so much. It's been three years, honey. You need to take your life back..."

My mother's voice is fading, and my vision blurs. For the second time that day, blackness overtakes me.

~x~X~x

My skin is on fire, and my eyelids are red, so I know the sun is out. I hear waves and seagulls in the distance, so I must be near the water.

I open one eye. A perfectly clear, blue sky stretches for miles with random fluffy white clouds dotting the horizon.

I'm overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity as I stretch out and get to my feet. I'm shirtless, wearing board shorts and flip flops. I run my fingers through my hair, pushing it off my face.

I walk down the tiny beach, and instantly recognise the water in front of me. It's not the ocean but the huge lake near our honeymoon villa.

There is a single, lone swan swimming right in the middle of the lake, the only sign of life except for the seagulls—which I can't hear now.

The lakeside is eerily quiet, and goosebumps rise on my skin as the temperature drops. I raise my eyes to the heavens and watch as the sky clouds over, blue obscured by an angry black smog.

"Edward."

It's a familiar voice. A slight whisper, so quiet I almost can't hear it. Where is it coming from?

"Edward." Louder this time, and my head snaps in the direction of the voice, toward the lake. There's no-one there.

Just the swan.

I move a little closer to the shore, and movement in the trees on the other side of the lake catches my eye. There's a rustling in the leaves, and suddenly I'm watching us on the rope swing, flying out from behind the trees with excited laughter before landing in the lake with a huge splash.

"Edward." Louder again, and I huff. Who's there? I open my mouth to call out, but no sound comes out. I look to the lake again—we don't resurface—and the scene changes. It's like a movie playing out before my eyes in brilliant Technicolor. In the forefront, the lone swan continues to glide around the lake.

I see the night we met, our first date, and the first time we made love.

I see my proposal, you walking up the aisle towards me, our first night as husband and wife.

I see our little house with the white picket fence and swing set in the front yard. I see your belly round with new life and the excited gleam in your eye when we found out it was a girl.

The colors fade, and then the movie is like an old black and white film reel.

I see your limp body, bald head and weak smile.

I see Eve crying, you helplessly trying to soothe her.

"Edward." I startle, the voice is right beside me. I turn, and there you are. Your hair is flowing in loose chocolate locks down your back and your eyes are wide with that familiar mischievous glint.

"Eve is doing well, Edward." I blink, unable to wrap my head around the idea of you standing before me.

"B—" you cut me off, laying your hand on my arm. Your touch chills me.

"She's life, Edward. You need to live for her. You need to go on without me, Edward. Fight harder."

"I don't want to, baby. I miss you so damn much." I open my arms to pull you into an embrace, but you step back.

"I miss you, too. But you will find someone new, Edward. There's someone out there for you. Someone who can be a companion to you, and be a mother to Eve."

"I don't want anyone else!" I'm yelling now, my face wet with the rain that is pummelling down around us.

"Find a woman who reads, Edward. Someone who loves the fairy tales, and that way you will always have a piece of me. Someone who can give you the most colourful life imaginable. Someone who can give you the world, and all the worlds beyond"**

I don't understand your words, and desperately want to ask you to repeat them, but you're fading away before my very eyes, like a ghost.

"Edward! Wake up!"

No, no, no, come back! Please stay with me just a few more seconds. I miss you so much, don't leave me again.

"Edward!"

You're gone, and I'm alone again, just the swan and me. The sky clears, a rainbow peeking through the clouds.

Images of clouds and swans and rainbow and lakes all mesh together and blend into one as they fade away...

My mother is lightly shaking my arm trying to rouse me from my slumber.

What a weird fucking dream.

"I fell asleep?" I mutter, my voice thick and heavy. "What time is it? Any news yet?"

Mom's smile is genuine as she holds up cell. "Your Dad just called. He's just getting cleaned up now and then he'll bring us to see her."

"We can see her?" I jump up from the waiting room bench and smooth down my shirt. I run my fingers through my hair and blink the sleep away. "So what does that mean? Did he say how bad it was? Is she gonna be okay?" I'm pacing the room now.

My mother is silent, looking at me warily.

"Shit, Mom." She winces at my foul language, but doesn't comment. "I'm sorry I fell asleep."

She stares at me for a long time, studying me, like she's trying to figure out the right thing to say. I blanch under her scrutiny, and avert my eyes.

I've been a shit father.

I've been a shit son.

These people love me. They deserve better from me.

When it becomes clear she isn't going to speak, I do instead. "I'm sorry, Mom." This time it's for more than just falling asleep.

She looks away, playing with an imaginary piece of fluff on her skirt and sighs. "It's okay, Edward. We love you. We love Eve. And we're worried about both of you." Her voice is small and sad. "You drink too much, your mood swings are affecting Eve, and today could have been fatal, all because you weren't paying attention."

She gives me that stern look that put the fear of God in me when I was a kid.

She's right.

"I know, Mom." I sit back down beside her and take her hand in mine. "Will you help me, Mom? I can't do this without you and Dad."

Her eyes well up with tears and she smiles. "Of course, Edward. If you want to be helped?" she hedges.

Our conversation is halted as my Dad joins us in the waiting room, explaining that Eve sustained a clean break to her tibia due to the odd angle of her fall and the impact on her leg. She underwent surgery to bring the fragments back together as much as possible, and will be in a cast for twelve weeks.

My baby—in a cast.

She also sustained a blow to the head, but thankfully the result was a mild concussion and a few stitches—no permanent damage.

My father tells me that she will be groggy from the anaesthetic, but that we can see her right away.

My body sags back into the bench, and I feel like I can breathe for the first time today.

Thank God.

~x~X~x

My fingers dance over monochrome, memories flowing from my mind, seeping into my fingertips. The melody echoes throughout the room, a sound straight from my heart.

It's warm, like a dewy spring day.

Light and lilting, like her laughter the day I dunked her in the lake that summer, before making love in the afternoon sun.

The melody changes; a quick pace, staccato notes—as I recall frantic kisses and rushed visits from college.

A sweet, honey like sound, I smile as I remember her walking toward me in white, and later, our daughter's first cry.

Minor chords and dissonance dominate as I remember the darker times, when the illness captured her.

When my heart shattered and my world changed.

"Daddy?" The study door opens, my fingers halt. "Can I play with you?"

Eve smiles and my heart swells a million times over. So like her mother, but it doesn't hurt so much to look at her anymore. She sits beside me, her little fingers tinkling on the high keys.

She giggles. We play a new song.

Its rhythm is fast, strong and sure.

Like my daughter's heartbeat, reminding me everyday why I carry on.

~x~X~x

It's been six months since Eve's accident, and our life has turned around completely.

I gave up my job at the school to work from home. I teach private music sessions a few days a week, and the rest of the time I make the effort to spend quality time with my daughter.

Except on Wednesdays.

Wednesdays are A. A. day.

Alcoholics Anonymous.

Edward Cullen, alcoholic.

Edward Cullen, widower.

Edward Cullen, single father.

Just trying to survive.

Eve's accident was the turning point for me. Up until then, I'd been an empty shell, barely existing. I'd lost my wife, and even though I loved my daughter, I resented her for some reason that I still to this day cannot fathom. Even though her accident wasn't fatal, it could have been so much worse.

The idea of losing her shocked me like a livewire.

My dad arranged for grief counselling through one of his colleagues, but it was me who made the decision to go to A. A. meetings. I've been dry since the day after Eve's accident, but I still attend the meetings every week.

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, right?

It hasn't been an easy ride. In fact, it's been nothing short of hell. I shudder at the memory of countless nights spent shaking, sweating, begging for a drink. Horrific nightmares, the images in which would haunt me for days after. Images of Eve maimed, scarred, invalid. Images of my wife's gravestone, and a new headstone beside it with Eve's name on it. The images would embed themselves behind my eyelids, taunting me every time I closed my eyes.

I still crave alcohol like air some days.

I still miss her so much it tears my heart to pieces some days.

Through my A. A. sessions, counselling, and cognitive behavioural therapy, things are slowly coming good again. I've come to terms with the fact that my life didn't turn out the way I planned it, but I can make a new plan.

I often remember the dream I had right after Eve's accident. My wife told me I should move on. I always believed in soul mates, the idea that one person was inexplicably tied to another person, forever. Now that she isn't here, and I've accepted that she's not coming back, I can't help but wonder what else could be out there.

There could be more than one person out there for everyone.

I fell crazy, madly, passionately in love with my wife, thriving on the excitement of our whirlwind relationship. A cruel twist of fate stole her from me too soon.

But what if I can have something new, with someone else?

Another Love?

The thought fills me with dread and fear. I pictured us forever. The thought of opening my heart and life to someone else sets my teeth on edge.

Yet at the same time, I can't help but wonder, is this it? Is this all I get?

I daren't allow myself to hope.

Hope slithers in, unannounced. It sneaks up on you. It allows you to breathe, allows you the delusion that everything's peachy.

I hoped. My wife hoped. Our families hoped.

For all the good it did us.

Hope kills you in the end.

So I live, day by day, not hoping, not wishing, and not dreaming.

Just getting through.

My mom has been encouraging me to get out more, meet new people, go speed dating, but I'm not ready for that yet.

Baby steps.

I've just come from my A. A. meeting and I'm meeting Eve and Mom at the opening of a new bookstore in town. Eve loves it when I read to her, and she's fan of fairy tales, like her mom was.

So she was super-excited when my mom told her about this place. They hold readings for the kids and the adults can enjoy a coffee and soft armchair. They give the kids cookies or cupcakes and a free mini book every week.

I park the car, turn off the ignition and slip on my shades. It's a typical Forks summer: hot, humid, and sticky. It's been heating up the last few days, the pressure building, and storms are forecast. As I step out of the car I feel the thickness of the air wrap around me like a blanket. I dash across the street to the building Mom described, impressed with the window display of the new store.

As I open the door, a bell chimes and I am instantly assaulted with excited chatter, laughter and balloons; a hubbub of excitement. The store is light and open, all white paint and hardwood floors. There's a staircase right in the middle of the room, which I guess leads to a second floor of the store. There's a balcony, and I can see bookshelves lining the walls.

I step a little further into the store in search of Mom and Eve, but my view is obscured by the mass of people milling around the front of the store. There's a welcome table, with various drinks and snacks, and light classical music playing over the speakers.

This is pretty awesome for a Podunk town like Forks.

I wonder who owns this place?

Inching through the crowd, I pull out my cell and tap out a text to my mother.

Where are you?

Her response is immediate.

UPSTAIRS : ) XOXO

The message makes me smile. My mother hasn't gotten used to the digital age yet.

I make my way up the stairs two at a time, the rubber of my Converse slapping against the shiny polished steps.

What I see when I get up there almost floors me.

Floor to ceiling along the far wall, is a hand painted mural. The most glorious shades of emerald, lime, mint, jade and hunter greens are blended together to create the trees surrounding indigo water. Powder blue sky is clear without a single cloud, and the rustic brown dotted lines are the dock. The lake is bright and clear, a lone swan sits in the middle.

It's my lake. Our lake.

My mind is immediately transported back to our honeymoon. I haven't thought about it in a while. Seeing this mural has opened the memory, like a dam bursting.

I'm not sure how long I stay there, staring at the wall, letting the memories wash over me. I'm not aware of my surroundings, momentarily forgetting where I am. I close my eyes. I can't find it in myself to care that I may look stupid standing here in the middle of the store with my eyes closed.

One thing I am sure of is that it doesn't hurt so much anymore. I've learnt to deal with my grief over the past six months in counselling, and I've learned to enjoy the memories, rather than stamping them down, suppressing them, until they bubble over, blinding me with pain. My eyes feel dry, and before I would have cried reliving these memories.

But all my tears have been used up.

So I linger there, just enjoying the serene calm that washes over me.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" A soft voice breaks me from my trance-like state.

I startle, and turn to my side to see a petite girl, maybe not much younger than me, standing beside me.

Her eyes are fixed intently on the mural, her head cocked to one side. She's studying the painting, almost as if she is trying to find some hidden meaning in it.

I'm struggling for words.

"I… uh… Yeah, it's very, very beautiful." I'm not talking about the mural anymore.

She smiles almost wistfully at the mural and turns her head, peering up at me. "Are you finding everything you need?"

I stare blankly at her for a second, before I realize she is wearing an "employee" badge.

"Uh…" I scratch the back of my head. "I'm looking for my mom. She brought my daughter here for some read-a-long thing."

"Oh! I was doing the kids' reading today. We just got done. They're probably around here somewhere. Can I get you a drink?"

"Um, I'm good, thanks. I'll just wait here, browse the books."

She regards me carefully for a minute, then shrugs and goes back to staring at the painting.

I tilt my head, so that it appears I am looking at the painting, but instead, I watch the girl.

She's small in stature, almost a foot shorter than me. Her thick hair falls past the middle of her back, the ends of it curling slightly.

The sun gleams through the floor to ceiling windows on the adjacent wall, and in the bright afternoon light I can see a warm red glow radiate through her mahogany locks.

Coal lashes frame her wide eyes, which are still focused on the painting. Her plump, red lips are twitching, as if she wants to say something. Her brow is furrowed in deep concentration.

My eyes rake appreciatively over her shapely form. A little on the curvy side, which suits her. A simple white t-shirt perfectly encases her full, ample chest, before dipping into a slim waist. A sliver of skin juts out deliciously over her blue jeans, revealing a hint of the cutest little pot belly. Her ass is round, curvy, and immediately my brain is assaulted with images of her naked and in sinfully dirty positions.

Well, this is new.

A rumble overheard interrupts my musings, and I startle. The thunderstorms have started. Heavy rain pelts down, bouncing off the glass, and through the rooftop windows, I see jagged lines of lightning dot the horizon.

Fuck.

What am I thinking, checking out this random girl standing beside me? Guilt washes over me.

"Daddy!" I don't have time to think about what this means because Eve is running towards me with a huge smile on her face. The sight is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Her leg healed well, and thank God there was no permanent damage.

I live to see this little girl run towards me.

"Hey, baby!" I scoop her up in my arms and she plants a sloppy kiss on my face. "Did you enjoy the story? Where's Nana?"

"I'm here!" Mom is stumbling towards me, her arms laden with books. "I'm gonna go check out with this stuff, okay, sweetie?"

The girl besides me pipes up. "Let me get that for you." She grabs half of the books out of Mom's arms and leads us to a nearby checkout desk.

Eve is eyeing the girl with a huge grin on her face. "Daddy, that's the lady who read to us!"

"Yeah, honey? What did she read?" I nuzzle Eve's cheek with my nose.

"She read the story about the ugly duckling that turned into a swan!" Eve giggles and points to a book on the counter. "Nana said she'd buy me the book!"

"Hey, Mom? I can't let you buy all this for Eve." She shakes her head to protest, but I hold a hand up to halt her. "Go pick something for yourself, Mom. Let me treat you."

Mom smiles at me, kisses both Eve and I on the cheek, and saunters towards the adult book section.

"You want a cake pop?" The girl pulls out a box from underneath the counter, and Eve's eyes light up like Vegas. The girl leans over the counter, propped up on her elbows. The "v" of her t-shirt gives me a perfect view of her cleavage.

My mouth waters.

Fuck.

I blink, and avert my eyes. "Can I, Daddy? Can I have a cake pop? Please?" Eve is bouncing with excitement in my arms now.

"Of course you can, sweetie. Just one, though, okay?"

Eve takes her time choosing a cake pop while the girl bags up our purchases. I pull my credit card out of my back pocket, and her fingers brush mine as I hand it over.

I shiver, and wonder momentarily where the breeze came from. When I look up at her I realize I am not shivering because I am cold.

It may just be a reaction to female contact other than Eve or my mom. I haven't touched a woman intimately since my wife, but there's something about the way her fingers linger near mine, like our hands are being pulled together like magnets, or by an invisible thread that's wound around our fingers. I look at her, her deep brown eyes search mine, wondering, questioning, begging the silent question, "Do you feel it too?"

She blinks, and clears her throat. I don't miss the way her eyes dance over my left hand. I stopped wearing my wedding ring a few months ago, but I still have an indentation there. Her eyes flit to my mouth, and she licks her lips briefly before looking towards Eve.

What the fuck?

"Do you want to take one home for your mom and dad?" she asks.

Subtle.

"My mommy's in heaven," Eve pipes up, before taking a big chunk out of her cake pop, spraying crumbs all over the counter. She seems unfazed by her words. The girl, not so much.

"I'm so sorry, I—" I cut her off mid ramble.

"It's okay... my... uh... my wife died when Eve was just a baby." I'm utterly perplexed at why I'm divulging this information to a total stranger, especially a beautiful woman.

"I'm sorry..." She trails off, swallowing thickly, and goes back to swiping my credit card, drumming her fingers on the counter.

I reach out and close my hand over hers. "Really. It's fine." Her eyes fall to where our hands are joined and I quickly pull away, changing the subject. "So who owns this place? It's a really great set-up."

"I do," she says, her smile is warm. She rips the credit card receipt from the machine.

She looks at the card.

She looks at me.

She looks back to the card again.

"I thought it was you..." she whispers. "Edward Cullen." It's not a question. She can see the name printed on my card.

"I'm sorry... I don't... Do I know you?"

She chuckles, her eyes lighting up with a wicked sparkle. "Nah, probably not. Forks High, right? You were a senior when I was a junior. But I only started school half way through the year, so you'd have no reason to remember me."

My mind is drawing a blank, but there's something about this girl. Something about the way her wide eyes survey me, softly and seductively. Something about the way her sweet voice caresses every word, like a soft feather dancing over my skin. I may not have known this girl at school, but something deep inside me, a yearning, deep in the pit of my stomach, desires to know her now.

I want to know what she likes to read. I want to know what the painting means to her.

I want to know what she sounds like gasping my name in the throes of passion.

She holds her hand out to me to shake.

"I'm Bella. Bella Swan."

A/N

** - Words paraphrased from a quote attributed to Robert Pattinson.