TLS Angst Contest Entry
Word Count: 7652
Pairing: Bella & Edward
Title of Story: Hollow Veins
Story Summary: A death. A half life. When the past is the blood that flows through your veins, how can you ever live in the present?
Excerpt from transcript of police interview with #Cullen23-45-32
Suspect displays signs of distress. Hands shaking as he smokes. Severe discoloration from lack of sleep is apparent under his eyes.
"Mr. Cullen, perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning?"
Suspect nods. Extinguishes cigarette.
"Where did you first meet Ms. Swan?"
"At the lake."
"Can you confirm which lake you're referring to?"
"This was your first sighting?"
Suspect pauses, rubbing his brow before nodding.
"She was wearing a red dress."
I wrap Archie's leash around my hand, giving a yank to calm his enthusiasm as he paws at my newly painted door. Apple White is a calming color—uplifting, according to the flowery description on the tin. With each brush stroke, the fresh smell covered the scent of loneliness that invaded our empty apartment. I gained a certain amount of pleasure from being able to make a change in my life. Even if it was only to scratch the surface of the deeper problems a wrecking ball couldn't fix.
"Come on. Stop that," I chide him with a smile. His pink tongue lolling from the side of his jowls looks comical, his body wiggling in excitement.
Archie had arrived in a cardboard box, a blue bow around his tan neck, big brown eyes, and fur as soft as silk—a gift from my husband. He was to be my companion, a faithful friend to keep me company. I hadn't realized at the time he would fill a jagged hole in my life. Perhaps that was always the plan.
Without his unadulterated love, the despondency that hangs around me like a fog would encroach. I can feel its cold tendrils reach for me in the desperate quiet of night. It hovers in the corner of my eye, ready to descend if I choose to acknowledge it. But I don't. I smile. I look straight on. I keep myself busy. Blinkered.
I unlatch the door, and he pulls me down the narrow wooden stairs, his nails clicking on the old wood, and out into the sunshine. The summer breeze flutters my dress around my knees as we head to the water.
"Archie. No." I chase after him as he careens along the path, oblivious to my shouts, heading directly for a man sat under the shade of a gnarled lilac tree. Its sweet blooms color the lake and air with their presence.
"Don't worry, he's okay. Aren't you, boy?" The stranger is bent over, stroking my usually hesitant dog as he surrenders onto the grass, belly up. I can't help but roll my eyes at him.
"I'm so sorry. He usually listens to me. I don't know what's gotten into him." I brush my flyaway hair from my face, feeling the heat and exertion rising to my cheeks.
The man looks up, matching my nervous smile with one that tugs at a dormant part of my chest. "Honestly, it's fine. I love dogs."
He's dressed in shorts and sneakers. A runner. His hair is wet, haphazardly pushed back from his face, droplets hang on the tips, a bottle of water on the ground at his feet.
The emotion fighting its way out of my chest and fluttering in my stomach comes hand in hand with the realization I actually feel grateful to this stranger for his kind smile, and how pathetic that makes me feel.
"He's a troublemaker," I joke, grabbing onto Archie's collar and tickling the top of his head. "He seems to like you, though."
"I'm a natural." His smile grows, and his eyes are filled with mischief, their color as verdant as the woods that surround us. "What's his name?"
"Hello, Archie." He reaches down and picks up the tennis ball deposited at his feet and throws it far longer than I ever could, much to Archie's delight.
I laugh, surprising myself, as he screws his face up and wipes his drool-covered hand on his shorts. "I didn't think that through."
"It's an inevitable downside of owning a dog." I point to the trails Archie has kindly left on the skirt of my red dress. As he laughs, his eyes linger on my bare legs for a moment before he returns his attention to the newly deposited ball and attention-seeking dog at his heel.
I know I should make my excuses and leave, but deprived of someone to share my smiles and laughter with, the thin gold band around my finger feels weightless.
I push the thought away into the recesses of my mind with the memories of sleeping alone, cold dinners, and lies. "I guess now you're his new best friend. I should introduce myself. I'm Bella. Bella Swan."
His smile falters, but it's so quick I could've missed it with a blink, so when he takes my proffered hand, I decide I must have imagined it.
His palm pressed into mine, his fingers enveloping, feels like I've overstepped a boundary. Regardless, I can't find it in myself to care. My mother always warned me not to play with fire, or I'd get burned.
But, I don't think I can stand slowly freezing to death, either.
"Hi, Bella. I'm Edward Cullen."
Suspect requests a drink of water. Interview resumes once Detective Markham returns.
"This was the first time you'd met her?"
"But not the first time you'd seen her."
Suspect shakes his head. "No."
"You were aware who she was before that day?"
"Yes. I'd known who she was for a while."
"This was the first meeting of many?"
"Can you tell us when your wife discovered your relationship with Ms. Swan?"
The sugary smell of baking surrounds us as we work together in the kitchen. The time for dinner had already been delayed twice as we waited for our husbands to return from work.
"Mom, do you need me to do anything else?" I ask, pinching the edge of the pastry dough, hiding cinnamon apples, around the edge of the pie dish.
She doesn't respond, as is often the case. I look over my shoulder, and her hands are busy drying a wine glass. Over and over she repeats the process, her gaze fixed out of the window. If I don't interrupt her, I imagine the glass will smooth away, returning to sand that'll fall through her fingers like time.
She places the glass down and moves over to me, brushing a lock of hair over my shoulder as she inspects my crimping.
"Perfect. Why don't you get a glass of wine and go sit down? I can do the rest." The soft lilt of her voice is as familiar as her scent of roses. "I need to take some of the food out of the oven or it will spoil."
"They won't be long." My lie is reflected in the smile on her face.
"Go on. Shoo." She hands me the sparkling wine glass and ushers me out of her way.
She hasn't always been a shadow of a person. I've seen her in full Technicolor on the old videos when her brown eyes sparkled in the sun. She says it was me, shining out of her as I grew hidden under her taffeta and cream lace dress. With my dad's arm wrapped around her waist, their friends cheered the happy couple.
But, those are not my memories.
We get through two glasses of crisp white before the key rattles in the door. No apologies are offered, but I'm gifted a brief press of cool lips on my cheek.
I try not to compare it to the kiss I'd had brushed against my cheek under the lilac tree. The sensations as distinct as the seasons—the cracked frost of winter and warm spring breeze—unmistakable.
"How was work?" I try to liven the question I ask day in day out. My enthusiasm had begun to wane when I only received monosyllabic responses. I can count on one hand the times we've had a genuine conversation over the past few months.
Riley slides his tie from around his neck, such a familiar gesture, and he coils it into a neat circle on his hand. Under the watchful eyes of my parents, he offers me more than an off-the-cuff response, but my father interrupts before his tales of bulls, bears, and indexes can really begin. "Let's not have any more work talk at the table. Enjoy your food."
The words die on Riley's lips, and though he hides it well, I see the embarrassment at being scolded in the set of his shoulders and pleasant smile. He's tried to live up to Charlie's expectations from the moment he landed his dream job working as a junior trader in the same investment bank—the plane on which my father walks like a god. He's worked like a Trojan, doing everything my father asked of him. He even agreed to my keeping my surname when we married, all to feed my father's delusions of siring a dynasty.
I explained to him it's a wasted effort. However much you strive, no matter the blood and sweat you shed, no one can achieve unattainable standards. Not even by marrying the boss's daughter.
"How did your wife react to the discovery of your affair?"
Suspect appears agitated by the question, requesting permission to smoke.
"Do you honestly need to ask me that?"
"Please answer the question, Mr. Cullen."
Suspect bows his head, raking his free hand shakily through his disheveled hair.
His answer is inaudible.
"Please repeat your response so we can all hear."
My mother's knowledge of flowers is indexed in her mind like a library catalogue. Her garden is the one thing that brings her a modicum of happiness when she's not floating around the house, cooking, cleaning, organizing—an invisible hurricane.
In the weeks before my wedding, she'd picked some stalks of purple-headed lavender to display in the kitchen. She explained, her fingers brushing the purple buds to release its heady scent, that lavender was a sign of mistrust.
I saw it everywhere—spilling out of flowerpots, tangled with weeds in verges, hanging dried from ceilings to ward off moths.
Now I see Edward.
He walks past my flower shop every lunchtime, sunglasses hiding his eyes, rushing to his destination in a multitude of suits that fit his frame like a glove. He's in the park, resting in the dappled shade of the trees or visible in the distance, his feet pounding against the road. Each time my pulse stutters a little faster, I memorize another part of him. The width of his shoulders, the slant of his jaw. When I see him on his phone, I want to know who he's talking to. Does someone straighten his tie in the morning, wrap around his body at night?
Every time his gaze falls in my direction, I find myself equally wanting to hide and for him to see me. I take the minutes and hours from nights spent alone, mornings in an empty bed, and instead, use them all to think about the man with eyes the color of a forest, wondering what I would find if I got lost in them.
Then I see him in my favorite Chinese restaurant, his skin saturated with red light, accentuating the sharp line of his jaw, the curve of his smile directed at me. The effect halts my steps outside the window, his recognition of the girl out in the cold warms my wind-swept cheeks, as does the wine he buys me when I join him.
"I didn't know you lived around here?" My fingers twist around the fragile stem of the glass, nervous, not at being seen with another man, but that he'll think me plain amidst the glittering dragons and colorful lanterns adorning the walls.
"I've only recently moved. I'm renting a place around the corner. It's small but all I need, really."
He's unshaven, and I wonder if he's been too busy at work or moving house and what the golden bristles would feel like against my skin. I halt the thought before it becomes a desire. "This is the best place to eat around here. I adore their noodles, but I've not had the chance to come for a while."
"Why not?" He cocks his head to the side as if he can't understand why someone wouldn't do something they love.
"Not all of us are brave enough to eat alone." I smile at him over the top of my wine glass, hoping the red liquid distorts the way my lips fall under the weight of the truth.
"You should never have to eat alone." I hear more than kindness in his response.
The way he's looking at me, never taking his eyes off my face, raises the heat of my skin. I tell myself I'm imagining the temptation he so easily offers. That his voice, commanding yet quiet, doesn't entice me to lean closer and catch every inflection and that my fingers don't itch to trace the contours of his face, the small white scar above his eyebrow. That I don't want to understand how he got it or if he has others. That I don't want him.
The moment becomes charged with possibilities. I can hardly breathe until a waiter clears the plates, dispersing the silence thick with uncertainties, assumptions and desire, and we return to easier topics.
He asks me what I do and hangs on to my every word. I've forgotten what it's like to talk to someone who listens. Tucked into a corner of the restaurant usually reserved for couples, the hours flicker by like an old movie reel depicting the beginning of a love story or perhaps just a dream.
I fall asleep that night with a cold space in the bed beside me, the clack of computer keys coming from the lounge. I still feel Edward's lips against my cheek, the scratch of his stubble that left a rose pattern on my skin. I blush remembering the desire flaring, like a bird spreading it's wings within my rib cage, when he tucked a wayward piece of hair behind my ear, and I feel the unfurling of guilt spreading like ivy, twisting and choking around my insides.
But drawn like a moth, I position myself to be near his brightest flame. I think he burns brighter for me, too.
It's inevitable that he becomes my secret solace.
We sit opposite each other on a blustery afternoon, coffees cold and forgotten, hands desperate to touch but unmoving.
"Are you happy, Bella?"
"That's a strange question." I see his eyes linger on my ring, my laugh is fractured with panic he's looking inside me. Seeing the soft white sadness I cultivate in my heart.
"It's just a question." His lips tilt, but his eyes are too precise. He wants me to open up to him. To peel back my layers, searching underneath.
I want him under my skin.
To tell him I was happy would have been the saddest lie, so I choose to surrender my words, placing them into his hands to see whether he will hold them close or let them drift away.
"I wasn't happy until I met you."
"Mr. Cullen can you tell us how your wife found out about the affair?"
"She saw me."
"Saw you where?"
"I was meant to be at work. She followed me to where I usually meet Ms. Swan."
"Did she confront Ms. Swan?"
"No. She never got the chance."
It isn't hard to hide something when you're already invisible.
Riley hardly heard the explanations for my lateness or forgetfulness. He was grateful I wasn't delving too deeply into his.
I'd tried to fall in love with a man who was the opposite of my father. At first, Riley was everything I'd wanted, but soon I'd turned a full circle and was right back in my mother's shoes. I could feel my colors leeching into the ground every passing day, until Edward painted me brightly with his whispered words and gentle touches.
I ask no questions of my actions nor consider the consequences of following Edward into his new home. The need to be near him outweighing my folly.
"I'm going to paint that wall a pale grey and leave the rest white. Then I'll have a sofa along there, so I've a view of the park out of the window." He lifts up the creaking sash window, and the fresh green scent of the trees outside swirls through the stuffy room.
"I don't know. I really like the way you've arranged your boxes and sheets."
He chuckles, and his eyes linger on my face, each second a heartbeat lost in him. His laugh is something I want to capture and keep so I can listen to it in the deafening silence of my own home.
Instead, I turn on an old radio, balanced on a bookshelf holding a ramshackle collection of books. The music spills into the room, mingling with the heady silence surrounding us. I feel the heat of him. Closer than he should be. Not close enough.
Picking up a dog-eared copy of Flowers for Algernon, I smile at the familiar words printed on its yellowed pages. "This is one of my favorites."
"I know." I feel his answer lift the hairs on the back of my neck, and I close my eyes as the thrill skips down my spine.
"You do?" I push the worn cover of my old friend back into the empty slot, running my fingers along the colorful spines of other favorites, anxious as to what it will mean if I turn around, yet desperate to find out.
His fingers lace with mine—the caress, a first outside the hazy edges of our growing friendship, is full of emotion overflowing into dangerous waters. "Dance with me, Bella."
I turn into his arms without hesitation, the weight of his palm resting on my back, an anchor. The brush of his lips against my temple, a promise we can't keep.
He pulls me closer until I rest my cheek against the soft cotton of his t-shirt, and we dance. The rise and fall of our chests are the rhythm; the beat of his heart, our percussion—a song I will never forget. I turn my face to the warm skin of his throat. He smells of summer rain and cut grass.
We slow to an imperceptible sway, the honeyed tone of the newsreader on the radio begins, shifting to the weather forecasts, and yet we don't step away through spring showers and mid-westerly breezes. His hands don't release me from his hold, though if they did, I would place them back where they belong.
The movement of our bodies centers in our illicit thoughts. I can see it in his eyes, the parting of his lips, and the tightening of fingers that pull me impossibly closer.
"We should stop this." A whisper full of doubt. "I just don't know how."
I feel the cool air rush into the crevices between our bodies where clothes separate our skin, and I sense he's going to step back. The dread tenses my calves and raises my feet to their tiptoes. I wrap my fingers around his neck, the short hairs at the nape as soft as down, and I tip my lips up until my breath twists and becomes his. "Please don't ask me to stop."
"Bella, I …"
He breaches the distance and gently presses his mouth to mine, lingering as his hands slide up my sides until he cups my face.
I've been balancing on the edge of a cliff since the moment I laid my eyes on Edward. When I taste the coffee on his tongue and feel the fingers tangle into my hair, I let them lead me over the edge. His lips are softer and more insistent than I've ever known, his hands firm and confident in their possession of me. I fall down deeper into him, and I don't care that I may never get out.
He doesn't pressure for more, nor let me go easily, but when, with swollen lips and hasty breaths, we part, I know I have to feel the exhilaration of stepping off the edge again.
And I do. Over and over until I'm in a constant state of free-fall.
"Can you explain the events leading up to the night of July 5th?"
"Mr. Cullen, we need to understand how you ended up here, implicated in your wife's death. Please give us a summary, and we will question you further if we deem it necessary."
Archie runs ahead, sand flying in his wake as he chases the seagulls in relentless circles, never getting close.
I'd managed to avoid spending time with Riley, his workload and distractions keeping him as busy as ever, while I met Edward as often as I could. The searing kiss he'd left me with the last time I saw him was burned into my conscience, the passion and guilt providing the fuel.
The distance between Riley and I is wider than a chasm, and I'd always been the one trying to breach the gap, but he must feel the yawning expanse, as he'd suggested taking a walk along the beach not far from our home.
We walk in an awkward silence interspersed with the small talk of strangers. His agitation with Archie's pig-head dedication to making a feathered friend grinds against me, and our words sharpen and snap.
"Can you just leave him alone? He's not doing any harm."
"He's driving me insane running in circles. Put him on the leash." Riley whistles for him to come back and is ignored. "He's not even trained. What the hell have you been doing with him?"
"He's trained perfectly well, but he doesn't like strangers." I can't hold the snipe in, and Riley's rolled eyes only spur me on more. "He doesn't need to be on the lead. He's having fun. You should try it."
He snorts and narrows his eyes. "What are you implying? I'm no fun?"
"No, go on. Tell me what you meant. You always have an answer for everything with that smart mouth, and I want to know what you're insinuating."
"Just drop it, and enjoy the walk, Riley." Thick-leaden clouds roll in the distance, darkening the skies and our moods as the sea grows rougher, the waves higher. Its roar swallows our anger.
"Doesn't like strangers." Riley's voice is mocking as we watch Archie run toward a figure far down the beach, his tail wagging. I make out a runner, and I have no doubt it's Edward. His tall figure and fast pace unmistakable. I swallow back the panic that claws up my throat as he nears us. I daren't look at him for fear I won't be able to hide my reaction.
I call Archie back to my side and see Edward's stride falter when he sees I'm not alone. He slows to a walk as he draws closer with his smile firmly fixed in place and directed at Riley.
"Does he belong to you?" Edward wipes the sweat from his forehead, his muscles bunching in his arm as he rests his hands on his hip. His eyes flick to mine for a second, and my blood heats with the attraction to him. It's incomparable to the cold indifference Riley and I share for each other.
"He's nothing to do with me." Riley's attitude raises my hackles and Archie's, who moves to sit beside Edward.
"Thank you. He'd never want to come back if you kept running with him." Nor would I. I block the words with my teeth afraid they will escape.
"You're welcome. He's beautiful. You're lucky I didn't steal him away." He winks, and I blush like a schoolgirl as he waves and carries on his way.
I watch him get farther and farther along the shoreline, feeling the tug to follow him like the pull of the tide in my chest.
"What the fuck was that?" Riley voice is edged like a blade, and though I try to brush it off, he doesn't let it go until we're both rung out, arguing about problems that neither of us wants to solve.
The heavens open before we can get home, but I'm thankful as the rain hides the tears that stream down my face. I'd thought Edward and Riley meeting would have been my worst nightmare, but it only pushed me further from our marriage.
Riley slams the front door behind him as he stalks into our home, leaving me out on the porch. Rather than follow him, my feet step onto the slick sidewalk, and I leave with no particular destination in mind. I walk into horizontal rain that blinds and howling winds that deafen my thoughts until I find myself outside Edward's apartment.
He opens the door with a shocked reaction that morphs into concern, and pulling me in, he wraps me in his arms. The rainwater soaks his jeans and leaves puddles on the hardwood floor. "Bella, what's happened?"
Even his warmth can't stop the shivers. The rain has seeped too deeply into my bones.
Ice solidifies my veins. Chatters my teeth. I lick my lips, the heat of my tongue a fire against the bluish skin.
"Talk to me. Did he hurt you?" His eyes are a tempestuous sea. His fingers grip my arms and shake my eyes open.
"Let me get you a towel. You need to get out of those clothes." He moves away, but I grasp the back of his shirt, and he spins around.
"I need you, Edward."
My plea hangs in the air.
A panoply of emotions flit across his face, worry, desire, uncertainty
I stand on the knife edge of his indecision. Terrified of rejection.
"I need you."
He responds with a rasping groan and walks me backwards until I feel the press of the wall against my back.
Every hitched breath brings him closer.
He pulls my saturated shirt over my head and captures my lips with his, bringing the blood rushing back to their surface as he pushes my jeans into a pile on the floor.
I see the moment the reality of what we're doing slams into him. He rests his palms against the bare wall caging me in, touches his forehead to mine, murmuring words I can't hear through the blood pounding in my ears.
I reach for him to stop the doubt creeping down and burrowing under his skin. The push and pull of right and wrong is a constant, but passion and lust color us red and my guilt fades, overshadowed by Edward.
I trace the defined lines of his torso, feel the taut silk of his skin under my fingertips. His every touch and caress draws another part of me out from myself and into him.
I willingly give it all.
The cold leaves my skin as his fingers and lips blaze a trail like a comet across my body.
"Not here. Let me take you to bed." I let him lead me, stepping over clothes discarded with my marriage vows across the hall.
He lays me down, feathering kisses across my chest. Sucking and biting, I slide my hands into the soft length of his hair, fingers tightening with every spark that skips across my body.
We're pressed together, skin flush to skin, flames licking between my thighs, as he pulls the last remaining barrier of thin lace, down my legs. We can't turn back from this. I need him like I need to see the sun and feel the breeze.
Edward's touch feathers from the inside of my knee, higher until I tremble under him.
"You're beautiful. So beautiful." His breath dances against my throat where his teeth scrape and lips suck. I clutch onto his back, the muscles of his shoulders straining with the effort of holding himself back.
"I've been waiting so long for you, Bella Swan."
I gasp at the welcome touch of his fingers into the heat building, burning for him.
"I can't go back after this, Edward. I can't."
He silences me with promises of a life spent by his side.
I open myself up for him, pull him down with me and wrap myself around him.
My nails marking his skin. Staking my claim.
Our skin fuses as his weight presses me into the bed. I feel him long, hot and hard as he stretches me wide open.
Baring my soul as he moves, sending me spiraling until I cry out his name, my open mouth pressed against the slick skin of his chest. His own shuddering release is lost in a curse buried into my hair. He repeats my name like a mantra.
I didn't know I was so empty until Edward showed me what it was like to be full.
As we lay wrapped in our secret, I watch the rising sun through the window, its glow catching the petals of some yellow roses in a vase. My mother's words ring in my ears. Yellow roses. Betrayal.
"When did you arrive at your residence?"
"I returned from work around 6pm. She was already crying when I walked through the door. I couldn't calm her down. She said she'd seen me. We argued, and she … I didn't think she'd react like that."
"How did she react?"
Suspect touches the wounds on his face. "She was so angry."
"The coroners corroborate your story. They found blood under her fingernails. When the tests come back, we are expecting that to be yours, correct?"
"How did you react?"
Suspect becomes upset and asks for a moment to compose himself.
"I left her."
"Riley, I can't do this anymore." The words feel like boulders falling from my mouth, crashing to the floor, but he seems not to understand their meaning. His face remains blank, his brow creasing in confusion.
"What did you say?"
I move to sit next to him in our kitchen. The wooden table, bought when we first moved in together, is scarred with the evidence of our lives. It will last longer than us. The pain we've inflicted on each other cannot be sanded away and polished back to a perfect appearance.
"I can't carry on like this. We're not happy."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" His anger makes me flinch, but when I meet his gaze, I see he is scared. It's not enough to make me change my mind, but he at least deserves an explanation.
I tell him about my loneliness. I tell him I saw the receipts in his pocket, and I smelt the perfume that was much sweeter than my own. Then I show him my betrayal.
He repeats Edward's name like a curse, spitting it out with hatred. My first instinct being to protect the man I love with every corner of my heart.
"He's a good man, Riley. He loves me."
"He knew you were married, and he took you from me." His rage is a quiet storm.
"He didn't take me. I went myself."
"You're making a mistake."
I shake my head, dislodging the tears that have built there and wait out while the storm passes. He throws insults and threats like lightning until our tears become the rain that washes what's left of us away.
"Where were you walking to when you were arrested?"
"I was walking home on Hawthorn Drive."
"Can you confirm that Hawthorn Drive is near the address where you often met Ms. Swan?"
"Yes. That's correct."
"The call to the police about your wife was made at 6.55pm."
Suspect buries his face in his hands.
"Yes. When I left her, she was alive."
"That is what we are trying to discern."
I sit on the bench on Delamere waiting for Edward to meet me. My news flitting around my mind from the dark to the light. The ashes of my marriage lay heavy in my stomach, but my hope is not extinguished, and it is this I focus on. I hold on to Edward.
The cicadas sing their song of nightfall as the sun dips behind the building, casting a shadow that creeps toward me slowly, dark and cold like the worry tightening around my heart. The fear wrapped around my throat.
He should have been here two hours ago.
When I can no longer make out the color of my dress, and the cold has seeped into my skin until I shiver in the vain attempt to stay warm, I pick up the small bag that holds my life and flag down a cab to Edward's apartment.
The whole building is blanketed in darkness. When I knock on the door, the answering hollow echo spikes my pulse, and I can feel my heartbeat thumping through my palm as I grasp the handle and open the door.
The empty room drains my blood into a pool around my feet.
I am a ghost.
My calls go unanswered. The operator's voice is a disconnected, tinny sound bouncing off the bare walls. "This number is no longer in use." I slump to my knees onto the hardwood floor, clutching the phone to my chest.
I don't understand.
The sofa we spent stolen afternoons curled up on is gone, scuffs on the floorboard the only trace of its existence. The radio we'd dance along to until we fell into a heap on the floor, laughter turning to desperate hands and lips and sighs, is missing. The only item that remains is the vase on the windowsill where a rose wilts, its sickly petals fallen to the floor. Its water is brown and barely there.
"Bella … Bella …" My mother's frantic voice finds its way up the winding staircase to where I'm still on the floor. My tears falling into splotches on the floorboard where my life lays empty, smashed to pieces around me.
"I'm here." My throat has been cut on my desperate pleas for Edward. They're unanswered, split ends I can't tie together in my head. Nothing fits.
"What happened? Riley called me. He said you left him." She pulls me into her arms, and the burn begins behind my eyes, but I've no water left to give.
"He's gone." The realization freezes the branches in my lungs, constricting my chest and turning my breath to an icy fog that won't clear.
"Who is, darling? You're scaring me."
Adrenaline lifts the mist for a moment and clarity forces me to choke out a question. "How did you know I was here?"
"A man called our house. He wouldn't tell me who he was, but he told me where to find you." Panic is evident in her quick words and hesitant looks around the apartment. "We should leave. It doesn't feel safe here."
"It was Edward." I can barely wrap my tongue around the four corners of his name, every syllable hurts.
"Who's Edward, Bella? Has he hurt you?" She helps me to my feet, and holds my face in her hands brushing the mascara bruises under my eyes.
"I left Riley for him, and he's gone."
"Edward who?" Her tone is edged with a tremor, her fingers dig into my arms leaving fleeting crescents.
Her face contorts into a mask of horror, and she catches a strangled cry in her hands as silent tears spill down her cheeks.
"Mr. Cullen. You are free to leave."
"Yes. A witness has come forward confirming they saw you at the corner of Hawthorn and Delamere at the estimated time of your wife's death."
"The charges have been dropped?"
"Yes, but please remain in the county until all the proceedings have been completed and the case is closed."
"The case is still open?"
"We are recording a verdict of suicide, but we have one more witness currently being interviewed."
"There was another witness?"
"Yes, Mr. Cullen. Your son Edward was the one who called the police to your home."
I sit with my mother under a bough of jasmine, its perfume so strong it's almost tangible, a cloud that's choking me with memories of a childhood that no longer seems to belong to me.
She is a reflection of myself in a burnished mirror, lines blurred and colors faded, but as she speaks, I see her clearly. I see why she moves through life with the grace and fragility of a leaf in a fall wind. I hear her grief in the softness of her voice and see the guilt in the lines of her face and the shadows in her eyes. Remorse surrounds us in the tangle of raspberry bushes, the gold and copper petals of marigolds tucked in her borders.
"We didn't think of anyone apart from ourselves. Not Esme, not Edward, you, nor your father. I was swept away with passion and consumed by the feeling of being wanted. I was selfish and naive, Bella. I met him at a summer fete on the lake. Esme had stayed at home with a headache, of course, your father was at work."
"I think I remember that day. I remember the toy sailing boats floating on the lake."
"Yes. You met Edward, too. He shared his cotton candy with you. You were both covered with it by the end of the day. A sticky sugar pink fairy. You were too young to remember him. You're remembering photos."
Her hand finds mine, and I let her take it. My anger isn't directed at her anymore. I don't know where it should lie. With myself or with Edward. His absence in my life has created a darkness I can't seem to find my way out of without a spark to lead the way, but everything feels damp.
"Carlisle was with me when Esme took her own life." I feel my mother's tears falling onto our entwined hands.
"He shouldn't have been there, but his baseball practice finished early. Edward..." Her voice shatters, the words breaking into sharp pieces that cut too deep into my chest. "He never should have been there."
"Edward, do you feel ready to talk?"
No injuries apparent on the child, but he has not yet spoken to the detectives or social worker. He doesn't appear to hear the question and is focused on the tape recorder sat in the center of the table, clutching a baseball in his hand.
"We'd like to ask you a few question about this evening, Edward. If you feel like you can't answer, you may shake your head, and if you want to stop for any reason, you can let us know. Okay?"
"Will my mom be okay?"
I wasn't going to write to you, but I find that revenge is not as sweet as they lead you to believe.
By now, you will know I have left.
Please don't try and search for me. You won't like what you find.
I hate you, Bella Swan.
I have hated you since the day I sat next to you in a car when I was eight years old. You won't remember, as you wouldn't have remembered me. You were four, and you spilled your juice box over my new baseball cap. I hated you for that before anything else.
I didn't know at the time what my dad was doing with the woman with the dark hair and pretty brown eyes. But I know now. I worked it out a few years after I found my mother hanging from the apple tree in our garden.
I'm sure that is a shock for you to hear. I never spoke about my parents. I couldn't have spoken her name in your presence without you seeing my hatred for you and your family.
Do you understand what my father's greed and your mother's immorality cost me? Everything. They cost me everything. I grew up without my mother and my father. He never got over the cost of his betrayal. They both paid dearly. He began to forget my name when I was fifteen, and when I was twenty, he no longer recognized me at all.
The only people unaffected were your family.
You had a happy childhood. Your mother returned to her marriage. Your father was none the wiser.
I recognized your name in the announcement of your marriage. I watched you from afar, and I decided to destroy you. One broken heart for another. An eye for an eye, but perhaps it's not a fair trade when one is blind and the other all seeing.
It was easy to lure you in. Your proclivities of wantonness I'm sure you inherited from your mother. You never even questioned how I knew so much about you. Where you'd be. The coffee you drank. The books you read. Your favorite music. The flowers.
I made you mine, and you gave your heart to me so easily.
I didn't really have a plan other than to ruin your marriage, break your heart into inconsequential pieces. I thought it would be easy. That was my mistake.
I hate you, Bella Swan.
I hate the way that I was wrong about you.
I hate the way you dip your head and hide your smile so I can't see it.
I hate the way your voice had the ability to make me forget my reasons.
And I hate the fact that I fell in love with you.
I love you so much it hurts, but it isn't enough.
I could never have hidden this from you. Your mother would know my eyes the minute she saw them.
You could never forgive me. I can never forgive myself.
You deserve someone who can love you with all their heart.
I lost a part of mine the day my mother lost herself.
They say blood is thicker than water, but they're wrong. You washed the bitterness and hate from my veins, gave me life when all I wanted to do was take away yours. It couldn't last. You will seep away through my lies, and I will be left hollow.
It's what I deserve.
Please forgive me.
Burnt orange leaves crunch under foot, and I pull my scarf closer around my neck to ward off the chill that rattles the skeletal branches. The paper bag clutched in my hand leaves my fingers ice cold, but I push forward, scanning the writing until I discover the right words.
I find them, but through the tears I try to blink back, they're blurred, unreal, and I allow myself a minute to believe that they're wrong.
Dropping to my knees, I brush away the debris searching for the ground underneath. The grass has been pressed down by the rain and the damp carpet of oak and sycamore leaves, my hands becoming colder as I work.
I pick up a snapped branch, hoping it was broken as somebody paused here with him, but there are no other signs of care, and if it's possible to damage an already shattered heart, it's this thought that turns mine to dust.
I received Edward's letter from the County Sheriff's office. Everything I thought I knew was blown into the wind by each flick of black ink on the single sheet of paper.
I couldn't find myself nor compose my thoughts for months.
I brush pine needles off the top of the granite and press my palm into the cold stone so unlike the burning warmth of his skin.
They told me he didn't suffer. The asphalt was slick with rain from the storms. The corner too sharp. The car too fast.
I can barely breathe when I think of the times I sat beside him, his hand resting on my knee. His caution on the roads.
They told me he was returning to town.
I choose to think he was coming back to explain. Even if it was only to hand deliver the letter they found in his belongings.
It would have taken time. Maybe months, years, but I think I would have listened to his grief and shared his burden.
I dig into the compacted ground, foregoing the inadequate stick and using my fingers, bare of any rings, to create small holes. I fill them with bulbs that will bloom with a little help from the sunshine and the rain that Edward brought in equal measure to my life.
I let his deceit fall from my shoulders, as it was a cloak too substantial to bear. I keep him with me in my heart. The heaviness of loss is always present, but it grows lighter each day, even when I choose to bear its full weight in the dark of night before the new day arrives.
I stand and brush the dirt from my knees, allowing my tears to fall.
Edward gave me the chance for a fresh start, and I'm more thankful for that than he could ever know.
I choose to remember him as the person who brought me back to life, so I won't return to his grave, but as I retrace my steps out of the cemetery, I know that when spring comes and the white tulips push from the ground, Edward will have what he wanted.