TLS Angst Contest Entry

Word Count: 14,543

Pairing: Bella

Title of Story: Oriental Limited

Story Summary: Her hand was promised and her fate was sealed. Not even death could keep her from it.

Note: Historic AU. Although, I do not go into great detail, I strive to be historically accurate.

I do not own Twilight; no copy write infringement is intended.

Thank you for reading.


~Oriental Limited~

Fifty-five…

This life is not what I designed for myself. Had I known what I was in store for, I would have resisted my father, maybe even ran away.

Anything would have been better than this.

Fifty-six…

"I love you," he pants. Cue the gratuitous breast grope.

Fifty-seven…

In that moment, as he plunges himself roughly in and out of me until he reaches his satisfaction, I am grateful, yet again, that he cannot read my mind.

Fifty-eight.

Having an expanded mind does little to help in these moments when my husband…my mate…claims me. Oftentimes I count his thrusts, knowing that it takes exactly fifty-eight strokes, or two and a half minutes, for him to reach his climax.

"Wives obey your husbands." Those words are absolute. Those words mean my daily destruction.

He is my husband, it had been designed this way—not by me; I would not have chosen him had I been allowed to make my own decisions. If my life were ever my own, I would not have boarded that train to Chicago.

~o0o~

September 1918

Seattle has experienced another boom with the expansion of the railroad. The sea of people should have been exhilarating; the foreign tongues and exotic faces are a stark contrast to the great void that is my soul.

As a newly minted seventeen year old, I should have been embarking on a grand journey. No, no matter how much my parents try to convince me that adventure waits for me in Chicago, it comes at a cost that I feel is too high.

My life.

Father has spared no expense. Mother is absolutely giddy over our luxurious sleeping car on the Oriental Limited. She 'oohs' and 'ahhs' at the mahogany paneling and stained glass windows of our living quarters while she unpacks for our nearly three-day journey.

A green velvet armchair calls to me from the Observation Car, and I seek refuge in the crowd of overdressed women in obnoxious hats and stiff, high-collared blouses. Their faces are puffy and dusted with powder, marked with comically rouged cheeks and tightly pinned hair. They prattle on about fabrics from Paris and treasures from the Orient. Talk turns to dinner parties and deals their husbands have brokered, acquisitions made. No one speaks of education and service, literature, or politics. No one speaks of the War.

My life has been used as a commodity so that I can become one of them.

A waiter serves me tea and I open my journal where I have kept Edward's letters, postcards, and photograph. There are nearly a dozen missives, having received one every other week for months. I read them now, hoping to feel something more for this boy who is to be my husband in little more than a year's time.

Reading and re-reading the letters, I am lost in his eloquence and wit. He is funny at times, assuring me that he has the very best methods to elicit roars from the lions at the zoo near his home. My eyes fall to the photograph I have pinned to the page. The stern set of his brow and stoic expression are an obvious attempt to belie his youth.

I have been told that Edward is being groomed to join his father at the elder Masen's law firm. His enrollment at Northwestern's school of law already is set. He is to begin his studies in a year. He has promised that he will be a dutiful husband, but shares with me that he will still enlist even after we are married.

Edward asks me to wait for him. I am to become his wife on Friday, October 3, 1919. Mrs. Masen and my Aunt Millie have already begun planning.

Along with Edward's letters, my journal has fabric swatches and magazine clippings slid between the pages. My mother hopes that these trinkets will spark some sort of stirring in my soul. They do not.

Despite Edward's charm, I do not want any of this.

Washington blurs by just outside our window. The hills and forests are emerald green with specks of gold littered throughout. Times like these make me wish for paints and an easel, for I doubt if I will ever pass this way again. I hope to remember this, the beauty and majesty of my home, for all the rest of my days.

My gaze remains on the scene out the window. I try not to let my eyes fall on my parents, who are sitting close together and smiling softly at one another. Father whispers something and Mother blushes, swatting his forearm. He responds with a resounding kiss to her cheek.

I will never have that.

My pride refuses to allow tears to fall in mourning over the woman I will never be and the love I may never have.

Chancing a glance at my father, he looks happy with his arm wrapped tightly around his bride. Will Edward treat me half as well? He has promised that he will. He has already sworn his devotion after gazing upon my photograph just once. Since that day, he has begun his letters with: My beautiful Isabella.

No longer belonging to myself, I am already his. He has claimed me, and I have no choice but to submit.

Looking up from my plate, I steel my resolve. I must know why father is doing this. Piecing together bits from overheard conversations, I have drawn my own conclusions. With my life handed over to Aunt Millie and the Masen's care in just two-day's time, I feel as if there is nothing more to lose if Charles Swan tells me the truth.

Father lifts his fork to his mouth and pauses when I speak. We have not truly spoken for some months, not since Edward and I began corresponding. I am doing my duty, but not with a glad heart. Not in the least.

His eyes pinch in the corners, making him look much, much older than his forty-two years. "You think I am selling you to the Masens?" His face pales at my accusation.

Of course he's selling me; I cannot think of a word more fitting.

Mother tries to interject and tell me that I am out of line, but Father stills her.

"I regret that you feel this way, Bella, but the least I can do is provide you with the truth." His eyes meet mine and it is there: fear, worry, doubt…dare I say: regret. "We are in dire straits. If we do not find financial backers, Swan Enterprises may not survive the War. Mildred has connections and lots of them, but breaking into that arena is difficult for us Pioneers. The West…Seattle, is still a fledgling settlement compared to Chicago...New York. Your marriage to Edward will propel us forward. It will provide me with open invitations to the upper echelon." He tries to smile but it is disingenuous. He is trying to convince himself, as much as me, of the validity of his words. "They still see us as cowboys and prospectors, complete with pie in the sky dreams of striking gold, becoming wealthy in one fell swoop."

Is that not what this is? Another "Get rich quick" scheme?

I knew this, I knew all of this; I just wanted him to say it aloud.

Mother dabs at her eyes with her napkin. "It isn't as cut and dry as it sounds. You'll learn to love him, just as I have." She squeezes Father's hand. "Things will turn out fine."

Her quivering voice nauseates me. I do not wish to become her, but my path is set.

"I don't care about having money, or if my husband has a fancy title attached to his name. He will be dead before our first anniversary and the Masens will abandon me...you...your deal. Then what will become of me, Father? I'll be an uneducated war widow, probably with a small child on my hip who will never have known his father." I wring my napkin in my lap; it is all I can do to keep myself from crying out.

Anger and disappointment have quickly overtaken any hopes and dreams I once had. That girl is dead.

For my father, I would do this. If for nothing else than to prove to him how very wrong he is about gambling with my life.

I spend the remainder of our journey holed up in our private quarters, pretending to sleep whenever Mother and Father return. I never speak or take meals with them. I am alone with my thoughts, and I allow my light to dim, desiring only hollow emptiness.

The Conductor announces our impending arrival in Chicago. After spending the last few hours packing my things, I am once again dressed as a proper young woman should be. Securing my hat, I head toward the exit.

Deep in the belly of Union Station, Porters meander through the crowd with my entire life stowed in the trunks and suitcases that they carry. Mother and Father silently fall in step behind me, wisely leaving me to my musings. I have to get through one day and night with them here, and then I won't see them again until the wedding next year.

Stepping onto the street, the power of Chicago's heat and humidity assault me. My blouse's stiffly starched ruffles wilt under the oppressive air.

Strong arms and a heavy floral scent surround me, nearly choking the damp air from my lungs before I fully register my surroundings as I am towed toward the curb.

"Bella, you look gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. You're all young Edward talks about now, don't you know? Come come, boy, put her things in the trailer. Quick now." She claps her hands at the tall, coffee-colored man who is probably older than my father.

"Yes, Mrs. Higgenbottom," the man whispers.

Aunt Millie releases me and turns to my parents. "Renee, don't you look well." She kisses my mother's cheeks. "Charles." Aunt Millie offers my father a polite hand, which he takes and kisses.

"Well," Aunt Millie says with a shout and clap, drawing all eyes to her. "Let's get this show on the road."

The Valet helps mother, Aunt Millie, and I into the car, a bright yellow Stanley sedan that commands attention, just like its owner.

We make our way east, passing vendors with horse-drawn carts, begging urchins, society folk, and laborers alike. Our driver dodges a trolley, jostling us in our seats. I laugh to myself because this scene is just as Edward described. I look up to the sky in search of flags to gauge the wind's direction. Edward warned me about being downwind from the Stockyards in the summer. I must admit I am morbidly curious about that comment.

Our driver presses eastward until we break through the shadows of the tall buildings and there is nothing but blue before us. There is nothing quite like this in Seattle. It is lovely.

Turning left onto Michigan Avenue, we continue our journey north. My eyes remain trained on the rising skyline. Great steel structures are being erected everywhere; some are mere skeletons, while others are partially finished and shine brightly with mirrored glass. Giant cranes hover above us, swinging materials and workers to dizzying heights.

Recognizing landmarks from Edward's letters, I cannot contain my sudden enthusiasm when we pass the gate for the Lincoln Park Zoo. Tapping my father's hand to get his attention, I point and smile. "Edward says there are lions and monkeys. He's promised to buy my cotton candy and take me to the lily pool..."

Father's watery smile silences my words and I sink back into my chair.

He tries to speak, but the car has stopped in front of a stately row house that is several hundred feet from the zoo's main gate, only separated by a grassy knoll.

Men bustle out of the home, tossing trunks and bags onto their shoulders. Aunt Millie barks commands at them and then ushers us into the house. We are greeted by a young woman who cannot be but a year or so older than myself.

"Good evening, I am Cassandra. Is there anything that you all desire, a bath perhaps, before the Masens arrive?"

Accepting Cassandra's offer, she shows me upstairs to my room and begins to draw a bath.

"All the girls are in a tizzy over you and young Master Edward, Miss," she whispers as she helps me to unfasten the clasps down the back of my dress.

"What do you mean? I am no one to envy."

"My mother, she works for the Masens, and has said that Miss Elizabeth is over the moon about your arrangement. I have to say that Mother's recollection of your photograph did not do your true beauty adequate justice, Miss."

My cheeks heat at this girl's compliment. Shaking my head, I dismiss her. I have no interest in gossip or being the center of such talk. There is no way around it, this I know, but I refuse to be a willing participant in such nonsense.

From the first hints of this arrangement I have tried to go about my life as if nothing were amiss. I worked in the store, minding the till, and attempted to behave as I always had. It remains a difficult task, because my soul has been stolen from me and delivered to a perfect stranger.

My skin is peachy and dewy from the relaxing waters. Cassandra helps me dress in a simple, but elegant plum-colored dress. I most assuredly look the part that I am playing.

There is a knock at the door and my mother stands on the other side, looking lovely in pale pink. She has, dangling from her fingertips, a gold necklace. "Your father and I wanted you to have this, keep it near your heart. Remember us, always." Her voice thickens as she speaks. With trembling hands, she fastens the claps, letting the delicate ivory swan rest between my breasts.

Following Mother down the hall, she places my hand in my father's; I feel nothing but emptiness as he places my hand in the crook of his elbow and we descend the stairs to meet my future husband.

Mr. Masen stands tall, pale, and disinterested with his wife hanging on to his arm. Her bright smile is warm and welcoming. Beside her is Edward. He is tall and much more handsome than his photograph. His upper lip glistens with sweat, he dabs his face and neck with a handkerchief while he shifts from foot to foot. His nervousness is comical and I swallow down my smile.

Aunt Millie appears between our two families and makes introductions. Edward senior kisses my hand and welcomes me to the family. Elizabeth yanks me into a tight embrace and whispers her thanks to me for saving her son. I...I don't know what to say to that. Then I am thrust in front of Edward. He cannot meet my eye. He looks everywhere but my face.

"You look lovely, Isabella." His voice is barely a whisper. I like the musical lilt that saturates his smooth tenor. He is much more manly than I imagined, and quite tall.

Perhaps...

Days blend into weeks and things between Edward and I remain cool. Mother believes that his good looks and charm will win me over. However, I still feel nothing except a foreboding doom. Whenever I gaze upon Edward, his face morphs into a pale version of itself. His eyes lack their usual lovely green hue and cease to shine. The pallor of his skin becomes gray and dull. The only way I can explain it is that, in my mind's eye, he looks dead.

Writing off my visions as my status as a war widow being a foregone conclusion, I continue to allow him to court me. As if I truly had a choice in the matter. Aunt Millie questions me, time and again, about my feelings for the boy. What can I tell her? I do not want this life. I am so young and there are a great many things I have yet to experience.

We dine together every Thursday and Sunday. Edward escorts me to and from classes each day. Some Saturdays he joins me for a walk through the Zoo. Those are some of my favorite times with him, even though his mother is never far away; Edward and I are free to be young and carefree as we attempt to goad the lion into roaring.

OCTOBER 1918

I truly love Chicago, so far. Edward does not push my affections. He listens attentively to my wistful musings about traveling the world and helping people. I hope to document my experiences. His thoughts still focus on joining the War, although they now include me.

Edward speaks of us enlisting together, him a soldier and me as a nurse. I am reluctant to admit that the idea actually intrigues me. I can travel and help others while keeping an eye on Edward.

Over the next several weeks, Edward and I grow closer. Outside of Aunt Millie, Edward is my closest friend. I appreciate that he does not judge me for my desires to do more than marry well.

Edward talks enough for the both of us and doesn't seem to mind that I am mostly silent. I fear that if I relax the way my mind and body desire, then I will not only ruin my father, but Edward as well. He is too kind of a soul for me to levy that kind of pain upon him.

Friendship with Edward is easy, and I very nearly forget that being here is not my choice.

My favorite times are walking along the lakefront, just mere blocks from our homes. On this day, we are strolling and watching the sun dance along waves. Edward catches my hand and brings it to his lips.

"I care very deeply for you, Isabella." His eyes reflect the blue-green of the water and they tell me so much more than his words can ever say. I shiver under the weight of it.

He loves me.

"Be my bride."

Not knowing what to say, I snatch my hand away and rifle through my handbag in search of my handkerchief.

"So?" Nervousness overtakes him again, and he fidgets with the hem of his wool jacket.

Is he offering me an escape? Our engagement is sealed already; he has only to place a ring on my finger. I have been measured for my wedding dress. Why is he asking me? He knows that I am his. Is he hoping that I choose him instead of marrying out of my duty to save Father's livelihood?

I school my features and dab at my eyes and nose with my handkerchief. Early October on the lakefront is brisk and the wind is outrageous.

"That is why I'm here, Edward, to be your bride," I say matter-of-factly.

"But, is this what you want?" His eyes plead with me to desire this union as much as he does.

I cannot deny him.

I nod. If he will be my companion, and we seek out adventure together, then yes, I want this. Over these many weeks, I have learned to accept his friendship, perhaps he can help me to be more. I am met with a blinding smile and lingering kisses to my cheeks. His laugh rumbles in his chest as he hugs me tightly to him.

"I promise you won't regret this, Bella. My beautiful, Isabella." His movements slow and he sweeps his thumb over my bottom lip before bending down to place a chaste kiss upon my mouth. His lips are like velvet, smooth and warm. This, I could get used to.

Mrs. Masen's delicate throat clearing interrupts us and I laugh against Edward's lips.

He isn't so bad. A little too serious, but not all that bad.

FEBRUARY 1919

Months quietly pass and things between Edward and I are easy. He is always kind and attentive, and I accept all that he has to offer. He wants me, so I let him have me...not that I truly have a choice in the matter. Father's businesses will fold if I do not. Mother rings to congratulate me, and crows over the improvements and expansions they are now making. The Masens are paying for my life in installments. I congratulate Mother and quickly end the call.

I very nearly forgot that being here is not my choice.

Chicago winters are harsh, much more so than Seattle. Perhaps the ocean keeps the air from cooling so dramatically.

Edward and I trudge through deep snow to get to school, he coughs the entire way, and I worry. My dreams...nightmares...have become much more vivid.

The dull, lifeless eyes of my very dear friend bore into my soul. His hands are so cold; there is no depth to his skin, no wind-burned pink to his cheeks. He is still and stone like.

School is odd; Edward never meets me for lunch. Some of the other students tell me that he was sent home because his father had been taken to the hospital. I knew Mr. Masen had fallen ill, but I did not know him to be so dire. The Tribune says the Spanish Influenza is decimating the city. Could that be what has befallen my future father-in-law?

Aunt Millie has little news to share, except that Mrs. Masen has too fallen ill. Edward's absence from our daily routine is attributed to his vigil at his parents' bedside. I am forbidden to visit them, and am only allowed to send letters, which mostly go unanswered.

News arrives a few days later that the Masens are no more. Sickness has claimed them all—Edward is dead.

I don't know how to feel. Just as I was beginning to care for Edward, he is gone. Love—no—I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved him, not romantically, but we had formed a strong friendship.

His passing is very hard to come to grips with. I move about in a haze of confusion and sorrow. There are so many tears, some of them I have shed. What will become of me now?

Aunt Millie assists with the arrangements again, this time for the funerals. The Masen's assets are placed in a trust until a relative comes forward. In the event that none does, as Edward Masen, Jr's fiancée, I will inherit the estate.

I have no need or desire for such things. It seems as if Father will get what he was after one way or another. Aunt Millie advises that I remain in Chicago regardless of what Mr. Masen's estate declares.

She promises that I can stay.

Within a few weeks, Millie falls ill and succumbs to influenza herself. I care for her until the end. When the morticians come I am quarantined and treated, although I have no symptoms.

APRIL 1919

Chicago is now filled with nightmares and dread. Millie's exuberance is sorely missed throughout the property. Sickness has driven the household staff away, and I am truly alone. At night, shadowed figures lurk just outside my home. They dodge the streetlamps and keep their eerie red eyes upon me as I move about. Clarence, the groundskeeper, has left me with a small arsenal of weaponry throughout the house since I refuse to leave. He boarded up the cellar door and some of the less secure windows before leaving me alone to decide my fate.

It took the gruesome deaths of those I held most dear to give me my life back. What I did next was up to me and me alone.

Late one evening, as I was packing up Aunt Millie's things, the bell rang. Doctor Carlisle Cullen said he was the attending physician when the Masen's passed away and wanted to relay to me Edward's parting words.

Instead of passing me the weathered page in his hand, he reads from it:

"My beautiful, Isabella. I had not lived until I looked upon your face. I pray that one day you will find what you seek and are truly happy. All that is mine, I give to you. Go–live your life. Do not mourn me. Thank you for accepting my proposal and for being my friend. I am proud to know you. Forever yours, Edward A. Masen, Jr."

Doctor Cullen is a strange, pale man with odd golden brown eyes. In the yellow of the street lamps, he looks sickly. Having no desire for death to return here, I take the letter from him and thank Doctor Cullen as I attempt to close the door.

He turns his head slightly toward the trees as if he was listening, but then places his hand upon the door to stop it from closing. Fearful for my safety despite his kind looking face, I push back, pleading with the man to leave me in peace. "I have had enough heartache, Doctor Cullen. Thank you for bringing me Edward's effects."

"I am sorry to have troubled you, Isabella. It is just that Edward has spoken of you so often. Edward's descriptions pale to your true beauty. I bid thee well." He tips his hat and takes the stairs backwards. I stand in the doorway and smile softly at him as he takes his leave.

Closing the door, I secure the locks and sink to the floor. Turning over Doctor Cullen's words, it seems as if he speaks in the present tense, although Edward has been dead nearly a month. Looking over the letter, I wonder how Edward could have written this note when he was battling for his life. The penmanship is so perfect, his words eloquent and clear.

A few days later, I go to the hospital to pay Doctor Cullen a visit and thank him for being a comfort to the Masen's in their final hours, and also to apologize for being so brusque. Asking the nurse of his whereabouts, I am told that Doctor Cullen resigned abruptly a few days ago and moved away.

Curious...

For months, I remain holed up in Aunt Millie's lakefront home. The school is accommodating and allows me to finish my school year through correspondence. Cassandra passes by and delivers my lessons each day. She keeps me tied to the land of the living, but my mind has been playing tricks on me for some time. Windows and doors open unexpectedly; I hear footsteps throughout the house at all times of day and night. Sleep is elusive, and I am certain that the house is haunted. Leave it to Aunt Millie to keep busy in the afterlife.

The only times I manage to sleep are when the piano would play. I have come to accept this as my life. I will be the crazy recluse. If not for Aunt Millie's wealth, I would be in the gutter with the other vagabonds. Instead, insanity finds me in the lap of luxury.

Mother calls from time-to-time with news, mostly that Father's businesses are floundering. She hints at money, hoping that I will volunteer some of Millie's estate, or even the Masens'. Edward and I never made it to the altar, so there is no money that I can claim, not yet. Millie's fortune is tied up in courts as they determine who is her next of kin.

JUNE 1919

That news comes a few days shy of what would have been Edward's eighteenth birthday. A courier delivers a package from Hausse, Masen, and Brown, declaring me sole heir to Aunt Millie's wealth, this house, her other homes, cars, money. When she had altered these documents was beyond me. The estate should have gone to my mother, but she chose me.

The package also contains my wedding present from the Masen's, the deed to a home near the University Edward was to attend, and five hundred dollars to begin furnishing the home. It appears that this was all set nearly a year ago, once Father and the elder Masen struck an accord.

I pack a bag, walk to the bank, and wire the money to my father with a note that says, "Goodbye."

Joining the war effort was easy. I quickly become a nurse's aide and book my passage to England.

Standing on the ship's deck, I wonder if Edward and I would have made it this far. Finally working up the courage to remove his ring from my hand, I kiss it and drop it into the depths of the ocean. I will do what I promised, but no more. Once this war was over, I will be my own woman.

My sleep is fitful, as per usual, but this night is much more so. The cabin is too cool, the sea air too strong. Perhaps I do not quite have my sea legs. Chancing a glance around the darkened room, a familiar scent hits me and I smile. I do miss him. I almost can hear his voice, humming his lullaby for me.

Rolling over, I cry for the first time since this hellish journey began more than a year ago. I could have loved him, but I built up a wall and kept him at a distance. Edward truly cared for me. Even in his death, he put me first. He tried to make the best of things.

I do not know how to love. I only know duty.

Day breaks and I find myself wrapped in a plush blanket, warm and snug. I have no idea how I came to posses such a thing. Perhaps I have been sleepwalking.

Reaching over to the bedside table for a cup of water, my hand jostles something small and metal. Focusing on the object in my hand, I realize it is my engagement ring.

What the hell?

Yes, I have gone insane. I am certain I stood on that deck and dropped the diamond and sapphire ring into the black of the ocean before I went to bed.

Tonight, I will do it again. I'll keep throwing away his ring in hopes of ridding myself of the last of that life, until it is finally gone.

"Leave me in peace, please," I quietly plead as I toss the ring into the sea yet again. I watch the lights from the deck glint off the stones as it tumbles until it is out of sight.

Another fitful night and I wake to the ring again. If I cannot throw it away, I want to crush it, incinerate it. I just want it...need it away from me. How can I start over if I have this reminder of him, of Chicago, of death with me wherever I go?

After the third try, I give up when I find the ring again, this time on a delicate gold chain with a note attached. Keep me close to your heart.

How am I being haunted as I cross the ocean? I look up to the sky and curse Aunt Millie, Edward, the Masens, my parents, even Doctor Cullen, for their constant torment. Why am I destined to live this hell? They are all dead or thousands of miles away, why am I still not free?

Upon my arrival in London, I settle into a lodging house and set my hands to work. Purple Death had spread quickly among the soldiers. Having survived the Spanish Influenza in Chicago, I am experienced in how to care for those who have fallen ill.

Months go by and for the first time in forever, I feel like I am the master of my own destiny. That is until I see a familiar figure in the hospital halls when I am completing my shift. I give chase, but he is too fast. I need to ask him what he meant by all those things he said about Edward.

Rounding a corner, I sway on my feet before falling to my knees. My breathing becomes labored and the bright hospital lights are soon blotted out and darkness consumes me.

~o0o~

Blunt nails claw at my throat, and I gnash my teeth. My chest heaves from the strain and anxiety. Blinded by pain, it feels as if my heart would burst right through my chest. The rush of blood pumping through my body is so loud in my ears and feels as if it were hot lava flowing through my veins, each beat burning more than the last. Soon there will be nothing left of me, only ash.

Why will no one help me? Please, help me! Make it stop burning! I want to die. Anything to make it stop burning!

My mouth falls open in silent cries. Tears stream down my face, I can smell the saltiness in the air. A sheen of sweat covers my body.

My exposed flesh is blotted with a cool, damp rag only for it to be inflamed again in the next instant.

"Is this normal, Carlisle? Should she be this quiet?" I know this voice...my mind struggles to place it.

The pain is too much for me to concentrate on any one thing.

Hours passed which seem like days. The burn never subsides, only intensifies, and centralizes. A flaming hot box seems to have been inserted into my chest, incinerating me from the inside out.

More agonizing hours pass, and my mind retreats into itself, flipping through my life as if it were a high-speed picture show.

Letters, handkerchiefs, postcards, trains, smiles, laughter, brown eyes, green eyes, bronze hair, beaches, trolleys, lions, cotton candy, popcorn, small touches, soft kisses, pink cheeks, snow, twinkling lights, parties, gowns, engagement rings, sickness, death, shadows, phantoms, ships, ocean, more rings, notes, smoke, soldiers, more sickness, cold hands, red eyes...Burning. Oh the burning.

"Listen to her heart, Edward. It is almost complete," an unfamiliar voice says.

Edward? Edward! Help me, please. Make it stop. It hurts so badly. You are my friend, please help me! My body writhes and trembles as soft moans escape my pursed lips.

"Isabella, my love, all is well. The pain is almost over."

My mind is anguished, overwhelmed with the pain of the burn, and the frustration of my suddenly full and muddied mind.

A feral shriek falls from my lips as my back arches unnaturally from the bed. I fall back with a thud, the act synchronized with my final heartbeat.

The pain is all at once gone and I can relax once again.

Death isn't so bad.

A smile plays on my lips at the thought of not being alone in the afterlife. If Edward is here, then maybe Aunt Millie is here, too. At least I will spend my eternity with friends and family.

Edward is sweet, and Aunt Millie is always entertaining.

My throat aches, burns, as if I am suffering from an illness. Clearing my throat and swallowing a few times does nothing to relieve the pain. "Water," I rasp. The smooth, musical tone of my voice betrays the distress that I presently feel.

"Open your eyes, love," a familiar voice directs.

I furrow my brow in confusion. Everything is askew in my mind and body. Had I fallen ill? Perhaps my fever has broken and I am slowly regaining consciousness. The few months I'd spent as a nurse's assistant provided me with first-hand experience dealing with the Spanish Influenza or Purple Death, as the Brits call it. I had seen many succumb to the delirium brought on by fever only to expire within a few hours. When hallucinations and mindless ravings take over, it is almost always too late. The rare, strong ones fall deathly still as their bodies fight for survival.

It is odd to have such clear and rational thought, I am confident I have expired. What sins have I committed that would require me to suffer as I am? The ache in my throat is agonizing.

"Open your eyes, please, Isabella."

Afraid of the fire and brimstone that awaits me; I shake my head to reject the notion. My nostrils flare as a delectable scent invades my senses. It is rich, warm, and earthy. The burn in my throat increases, as does the flow of saliva.

Intense heat washes over my face, and a soft, velvety fabric brushes against my lips. A thick and rapid heartbeat fills my ears. A pulsation thumps against my mouth. The press of the fur becomes more insistent and I finally relent and open like an infant being enticed to suckle. I grip the source of my relief like a vice, its warm form twitching in my embrace.

The warm satisfaction that floods my mouth is instant relief for my inflamed throat. I bite down harder and purse my lips, creating a tight seal. Sucking greedily, I whimper when my portion is no more.

A tight growl erupts from my chest as the now cold creature is wrenched from my arms. Another warm form is thrust in my face and I quickly release the spent creature in favor of the fresh one. Again, I make quick work of my meal which is traded out for yet another.

I have no idea how long this goes on.

Finally sated and my throat calmed to a dull ache, I slowly open my eyes.

The room is dark, yet I see everything with unprecedented detail. The grain of the wood floor, the weave of the rug, the soft amber of his eyes...

Sitting up with a start, the metal of the wrought iron bed frame protests my movements and buckles against my back.

"Doctor Cullen, are you dead too?"

He smiles widely. Something about it is unnatural and upsetting. I inch back to put more distance between us. He must notice my distress, and moves back to sit on the chaise across the room.

"Isabella, someone is most anxious to see you. Edward, please come in."

Edward appears in the doorway, his eyes an eerie red hue. The same red from my nightmares. I gasp, backing up until I cannot move any farther.

"My love, I'm so glad that you've awakened." Edward is suddenly kneeling before me. He moves too fast, and my expanded mind is reeling as I attempt to recall all the different ways that the afterlife had been portrayed. This scenario is foreign to me.

"We're all dead, then? Where's Aunt Millie? I hardly know Doctor Cullen, why is he sharing my afterlife, Edward?"

Edward looks back at the man. Something passes between them and I am left feeling even more confused that the moment before.

Doctor Cullen shifts in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs, and annoying me. I have only met the man once and thought him odd. Now, he will irritate me throughout the afterlife.

Yes, I am now convinced that I am in Hell.

Sitting against the wall, I cross my arms over my chest petulantly. What had I done to deserve this fate? Surely, I was less of a sinner than Aunt Millie. Pondering this for a moment, I conclude that I reside in my own personal hell. I liked Edward well enough, but Doctor Cullen I am not so sure about.

Edward passed on months ago, maybe Doctor Cullen followed shortly thereafter. The whole scene is odd and unsettling. Something in me raises all sorts of alarms as I inspect Carlisle and Edward with new eyes. Their skin is so pale, and I definitely don't remember Edward being quite so handsome. His youthfulness seems to have diminished. He was always a serious boy, but he looks so much more a man now. His shoulders strong and broad. His jaw sharp and square. His eyes firm and piercing. His lips...are they still soft, tender, and tentative yet possessive? Is his touch still commanding but reverent?

Why are his lovely green pools now crimson?

I ponder these great many things as Edward and Doctor Cullen communicate with a series of harsh glances and hand gestures.

"Please, Carlisle, explain to her as you explained it all to me," Edward pleads. The older man nods and purses his lips as if pondering where to begin. Edward scoffs. "Why are you being so dramatic? Get on with it!" Doctor Cullen laughs and his smile reaches his warm, honey-colored eyes this time.

This image calms me exponentially. Edward notices my more relaxed posture and moves to sit beside me.

He takes my hand in his and squeezes it gently in silent support.

Carlisle leans forward to address us. "Isabella...you know that you were gravely ill, don't you?"

I shake my head, but I have my suspicions. "I didn't make it. I am dead? We're all dead from Influenza?"

"Not exactly, my dear," Doctor Cullen answers, shaking his head. "You remember Edward and his parents falling ill back in Chicago, right?"

This time, I nod.

"You understand that Mr. and Mrs. Masen did not survive, correct?"

I nod again.

"Edward barely made it himself. I saved him."

My face twists into a mask of confusion and incredulity. "But you came to me, brought me his effects. I buried him! I buried them all!"

"Love, please calm down and hear him out." Edward strokes a soothing circuit up and down my arm.

"I am sorry to have deceived you, Isabella, but I had no choice. I was lonesome and Mrs. Masen...she somehow understood that I had it within my power to save her son from death's cold embrace. Edward begged me to save you as well."

"What do you mean? There are hundreds of doctors, why would you be the only one that could cure us?"

"Love, Carlisle didn't cure us...he changed us. I woke to this life and my only thoughts were of you. I watched over you, waiting until we could be reunited."

The shadowed figure, the songs, the strange occurrences…the ring. It was all Edward?

"I don't understand, Edward. If we are not dead or alive, then what are we?"

Doctor Cullen lets out a defeated sigh. "Isabella, what we are...we are vampires."

"Come again?"

Vampires aren't real. They're make believe…myths.

"Vampires, Isabella. I am a vampire. I have been this way for more than two hundred years. You and Edward are vampires as well, sired by me."

I snatch my hand away from Edward to smother my scream. My mind goes to recent events, the warm lush heartbeats, biting, and gulping down large mouthfuls of tangy, sweet satisfaction. I move my hand to my throat as the burn returns.

"Ah, I imagine that your thirst has returned," Doctor Cullen correctly theorizes.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I whisper a question I fear the answer to. "What...will I drink? I can't..." I shake my head again. "I won't murder anyone. I'll kill myself before it ever would come to that."

Doctor Cullen responds to my comment with a hearty laugh. "If suicide were possible, young one, believe me, I would have been overjoyed with that discovery. Instead of taking life, I choose to preserve it. We will not feed from humans. Our diet will be animals only. I choose to reside in areas where there is an abundance of open space and wildlife." Doctor Cullen's tone leaves no room to question. Something stirs in me that causes me to drop my eyes from my sire's.

"Edward." Doctor Cullen's tone and gaze are firm. He stares at him for a moment before Edward nods in acknowledgement of whatever has been silently communicated. Doctor Cullen clears his throat as he leaves the room.

"Yes, Carlisle." There were no words exchanged. I did not hear anything. What is Edward responding to?

He releases my hand and removes himself from the bed. "Isabella, would you like a tour of our home?" Edward asks, offering his hand.

Standing, I realize that I am wearing nothing but a mere sleeping gown. Embarrassment washes over me as I try to preserve my modesty. "Edward, I assume this is to be my room. Is there anything decent for me to wear?"

Edward smiles as he moves to the armoire and opens it with a flourish. Inside holds an array of silks and linen, the finest fabrics I have ever seen. There are dozens of dresses in a variety of colors, and for every occasion. In the chest of drawers, I find lace and silk undergarments and stockings. I am confident my cheeks flush scarlet.

"How...who provided all of this?" I stammer.

"Carlisle and I did, of course."

My mouth falls open at the thought of a man purchasing such intimate items for me. Edward recognizes my surprise.

"No, no, Isabella. We commissioned the neighbor's daughter to stock your room. We explained that Carlisle's niece...you...were coming to live with us and needed supplies. You'll find everything you need has been provided for. Should you need anything else, please let Carlisle or myself know."

Edward tries to keep his eyes on my face. His behavior is reminiscent of our first meeting. "I thought that I'd never seen a sight lovelier than Isabella Swan when she was human. Now, as a vampire, you easily are perfection personified."

His eyes search my face and settle on my neck. Brushing lightly up my shoulder, his fingers graze the chain hanging from my neck. Lithely holding the metal between his fingers, he pulls it up from between my breasts. On the end of it is his ring.

"I long to place this back on your finger and make you my wife, Isabella."

Edward's words are confident and determined, and I shiver under the intensity. What else is there for me now, but to be his wife?

Suddenly looking sheepish, he steps away from me and apologizes. "I'm sorry. I was too forward. I shall leave you to your task. Please call for me when you are ready." Edward bends to kiss my hand as he exits the room. "I shall see you soon, my beautiful Isabella."

Standing in front of the large oval mirror, I remove my gown and assess myself from bottom to top.

Always an active and energetic child, my human form was healthy and fit. The creature reflected back at me no longer holds the softness of youth. Her leg muscles are firm and defined. Her hips seem shapelier and her belly taught. Moving further up her form, I notice that her breasts are fuller, and shockingly, even more pert than before. Her neck is long and sinewy. Staring for a moment, my eyes train on the shimmery crescent-shaped mark near her collarbone. My hand flies to the wound, which causes my eyes to marvel at the smooth flex and extension of her arm muscles.

The face of the woman I see is my own, yet not. The shape of the face is correct; the hair color is right, but better. Enhanced. My chestnut locks now have depth, with traces of blonde and auburn running through it. Lovely. I play with my hair, enjoying the silky texture and warm floral scent, all the while avoiding fully looking at my eyes.

A knock at the door reminds me of my task. Flicking through the clothing, I find a simple cotton dress, one that has minimal adornments and buttons—I do not want to risk damaging anymore clothing after already ruining six pair of stockings. "I'll be out in just a moment," I call, answering the knock. My voice carries with it a light, musical lilt. If it were not for the husky undertone, I would have scarcely recognized that it was I who was speaking.

In my nervousness I crush the knob and nearly tear the door off its hinges when pulling it open. Standing in the hallway is Edward, shifting nervously from foot to foot.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," I say softly, bringing a smile to Edward's face. Turning to close the door behind me, I notice the damage. "Oh my. I didn't realize...I guess I don't know my own strength."

Edward lets out a belly laugh; I enjoy the sound immensely and try to remember if Edward was always this happy. "Come, my love, let me show you our home."

The villa we occupy is located on the outskirts of London. The neighbor Edward spoke of lives on a nearby estate. There is very little in the way of traffic near our home. The access road is heavily wooded and almost invisible. I am astounded at how secluded we are, yet I can hear the faint bustle of London miles and miles away.

"Your room is here, on the top floor. Carlisle and I share space on the middle level. The main floor is for human pretense," Edward informs, and I nod in understanding.

"The grounds are expansive, but I suggest that you do not go out alone, not just yet. Believe me, Carlisle will not have either of us roaming around unsupervised as we are so new to this life." He furrows his brow and looks at me with concentration before his face returns to its preciously contented expression.

Not fully comprehending the implications of Edward's words or behavior, I hold my tongue as we make our way to Doctor Cullen's office.

"Ah, Isabella, it's good to see you up and about. Please, sit. I have a great many questions for you." I comply, sharing a small settee with Edward. Carlisle gives the young man…vampire…a stern look causing Edward's posture to stiffen. "Now then, please, tell me what is the last thing that you remember?"

Scanning my mind for a moment before I speak, I find it suddenly cavernous and seemingly empty. There is a small glow in the far corner of my mind that calls to me. I reach for the fading and flickering images, willing them to sharpen.

"I don't really know. I was aware of voices and pain. I thought I was dead. I guess I am dead, but not." Knitting my brow, I shake my head softly hoping to get my mind to settle.

"Yes, my dear, but what do you remember from before the pain?"

"There are some things, but they're just not sharp. Little snippets of things: smiles, letters, trains...I don't really know what it all means."

"Isabella, I've already told you that the Masens and your Aunt Mildred succumbed to influenza back in Chicago. We are just outside of London. Do you have any recollection of how you came to be here?"

I think on it for a moment before some images began to solidify. My mouth falls open in surprise, which brings a knowing smile to Edward and Doctor Cullen's faces. "You died, Edward. I got a letter that said you had died with your parents. Doctor Cullen visited me and then Aunt Millie died...I was all alone."

Edward reaches out and takes my hand. "I was there, Bella, watching over you."

Looking at my fiancée with tender eyes, I answer. "I know...somehow, I just knew you were there."

Doctor Cullen gives Edward and admonishing glare and Edward's posture becomes more formal.

What is going on here?

Weeks pass and I do as I'm told. Carlisle, as I've been asked to address him, esplains that Edward can read minds. That is shocking news, however, I am quickly relieved to learn that my mind is silent to him.

At least my mind is still my own.

I stay in the house, reading. We do not sweat, we do not need to relieve ourselves, we don't need to move, so there is no mess to clean, no food to cook, no real need to launder our clothing unless we have a particularly messy hunt. I have gone through a great many garments before discovering the most proficient way to feed.

Edward's ring still rests between my breasts.

Carlisle has marveled at the calm that I exude. He claims that he has never seen a newborn have such control. Returning to the hospital, Carlisle leaves Edward and I alone for long stretches of the night.

Edward plays the piano, composing lovely tunes for me. Some are silly, most are grand and romantic, but all of them profess his love for me, causing me discomfort.

He has a fantasy built up, and I do not have it in my heart to shatter his dreams. So, I remain as I always have, silent.

"When would you like to marry?" he asks from his seat at the piano.

"What?" I snap. Why is he pursuing this? There is no more deal, no more family name to carry on. We are vampires for pity's sake, what need do we have for marriage. We do not exist.

Edward turns on the stool to face me. "I wish I could read your mind."

I don't, you wouldn't like what you find.

"Do you not want to be here with us…with me?"

I cannot meet his eyes, the red giving way to more orange and brown but still unnatural. Carlisle explained it was because of our diet. "May I think about it?"

Leaning forward, his face looks pained. "What is there to think about? Your hand was pledged to me, you agreed to be my wife. I want to keep that promise." He leans further in and kisses me. "There are no chaperones to tell me to stop," he mumbles against my mouth. "I have longed to taste your sweet lips again." His kisses become more insistent and I am quickly overwhelmed.

Desire is the dominant feeling. Edward desires me, and my body is not my own. I feel so much. The puff of his breath on my skin, his fingers as they tangle in my hair are all amplified and break my resolve.

This is foreign, but not unpleasant. My new mind and body seem to crave his touch. I am powerless to resist. He pulls me down to the floor and hovers over my form. His lips against mine are heavenly; I imagine that there is no better feeling.

"I want you, Isabella. Be my wife." He nips along my neck, swirling his tongue along the way. I am lost to the sensation. His manhood presses against my center, and I cry out stilling out movements.

This is wrong, so wrong.

Scrambling away from him, I right my dress and race out of the house.

"What did I do?" he calls out after me. "I'm sorry!"

Not sure how far I've run, I fall to my knees in exasperation. Even in death I am not my own. He would not let me die. Edward has overtaken the Reaper, and Carlisle is now God, wielding the power of life and death in his hands…his teeth.

What else is there for me? Carlisle says that we are of only a few who do not harm humans. There are others, how do I find them? If I leave, what will I become? a murderer? a human drinker?

It is better to stick to the devil that I know…

Rising to my feet, I realize that it is October 2, 1919. Edward and I will marry tomorrow, just as it was originally planned.

~o0o~

Carlisle recites words from his family's bible. It is older than him and he lovingly caresses the pages as he turns them. His mind has perfect recollection of every drop of ink on the parchment; his desire to read the words is profound. Therefore, I indulge him. I really am not listening anyway.

"Do you promise to hold Isabella above all others for as long as you both shall live?"

"I do."

I count the beats until it is my turn to speak, reading Carlisle's lips and waiting for my cue.

"I do," I say with a nod and unplug my ears. This is all a ruse for Edward and Carlisle's benefit, to protect their virtue...their humanity. I do not give a damn, because even in death I cannot escape our fathers' plans for us.

"Edward, you may salute your bride." Through our stolen kisses last winter, I felt that I could learn to love him. He was kind and charming. Edward never judged me for wanting to be more than an accessory on my husband's arm. We had become friends, very true friends.

I hold on to that now, as he kisses me with a possessiveness that I had not known before. His grip is hard, almost painful and then it is gone. Carlisle is glaring at him again. Their silent conversations are more than I can stomach. "I apologize, my love."

Carlisle has arranged to be away for a few days, giving us privacy. Although we are newborns, as he calls us, he is trusting us. But only before he forced us to glut ourselves before the ceremony.

Racing away toward the sunset, Carlisle disappears into the tree line. I know he will not go far, he is always watching. Edward has moved much of his personal items into my room, our room, where we shall live as husband and wife.

Once inside, he closes the door and stalks toward me. "Take your clothes off and lie on the bed."

I balk at him.

"Take your clothes off, now, Isabella."

I jump at the harsh tone of his voice and unfasten my buttons. He touches himself over his pants.

Crude.

"Edward, there is no need—" His mouth is on mine, nipping at my lips, drawing my venom to the surface as he sucks my bottom lip into his mouth. His tongue pushes into my mouth, flailing around like a headless snake. He claws at my dress, shredding the fabric.

"You are my wife," he says against my ear before biting the tender flesh at the nape of my neck. "I'm ready to have you now."

I cry out in shock and anger. I fight against my instinct to strike him and escape. Instead, I push against him, hoping that he will slow his advances. He does not relent.

"Edward, please!" The crack of my hand against his cheek is powerful, and the sound resonates throughout the room. Our chests heave. I am furious. "I agreed to be your wife—not your whore! If you desire relations, I will do so. You do not have to take it from me."

I have already had everything stolen from me and handed to him. Might I give myself, my innocence, instead of having it ripped away from me?

His nearly black eyes soften to a dark honey. "I am sorry, my love." He kisses my hands, first the knuckles, then the palms.

He takes his time now, gently pulling the ruined fabric from my body before divesting himself of his own garments. Surrendering, I lay supine on the bed, my legs open and waiting for him. His manhood seeks me out and then pushes into me.

The burn is indescribable, akin to when I first awoke to this life. He is met with resistance, and then thrusts surely, pushing past my barrier. I feel a profound tearing deep inside of me. The searing pain is overwhelming. If I could cry, I am sure tears would soak the pillows beneath me.

Edward moves above me, propped up on his elbows.

In and out.

In and out.

In and out.

The pushing and pulling is unbearable. I screw my eyes shut and bite my lip until venom drips down my chin and into the dip of my neck. Edward bends to swirl his tongue there, lapping it up. He moans in satisfaction and thrusts faster, harder.

I claw at his back, which seems to spur him on, so I throw my hands onto the bed, digging my nails into the soft fabrics. Whimpers and whines escape my lips as my husband chases some elusive goal. Growling, he moves even faster still. The pain lessens the more he moves.

Just as it becomes tolerable, it is over.

Edward trembles and thrusts erratically before collapsing on top of me, having reached his fulfillment. He is still inside of me when I feel it happen. The tearing that I felt before begins to stitch itself back together. Edward's manhood does not soften much, but my body is expelling him, leaving only a small part of him connected to me.

"I love you, Isabella." He rolls off me and I wish it would be a perfectly acceptable act for me to sleep. I want to disappear, to vanish, and remove myself from this moment.

The moment when my damnation is realized. The moment when I learn that I am doomed to experience Hellfire daily.

He will never stop, never ask if I am content or satisfied. He will never truly love me, despite what his pretty mouth says. I am his, a plaything purchased for an overindulged child. Perhaps he will one day grow bored with me, but I suspect that is a long way off. Now, I am his only option. His human infatuation with me has carried over into this new life.

Until we mature in this life we are to remain secluded, hidden from human and vampire alike. I don't mind the solitude, but I long for someone else to talk to, a new mind to know.

I continue to wear my mask of indifference and do Edward's bidding. There are no other options for me. If I run, he will find me and bring me back. For my own good, he says. And I believe him.

In 1921, we leave England and find ourselves in Ohio, near Columbus. There, I have my childish wish fulfilled. Carlisle brings Esme home from the morgue after detecting her faintly beating heart. He claims he did not know what came over him, but he could not stop himself from stealing away with her. When she woke, I thought I would have a girlfriend, a companion to pass the never-ending days with, but she and Carlisle are inseparable.

After Carlisle and Esme declare themselves man and wife, Edward became distant. He watches them just as intently as I do.

Most days I watch the new couple wander along the grounds. Their relationship is fascinating. They can scarcely go a moment without touching in some manner. Oftentimes, I extend my hunts to provide them with privacy. The sounds Esme makes when Carlisle takes her are nothing like the ones Edward elicits from me.

The magnitude of their bond is beyond anything I have witnessed in my short life—human or vampire. My parents were affectionate, but when I look at Carlisle and Esme, I see a connection of souls.

I desire that so desperately.

Esme tends to the garden, lovingly cultivating the blooms. I watch her, listening to her happily hum as she completes her tasks. I watch her, and I hate her.

I hate her happiness. I hate the love she and Carlisle exude and try to share with Edward and me. I hate my life. I hate my husband.

I hate that I cannot die.

My fists clench and the need to destroy overwhelms me. Perhaps if I destroy Esme, Carlisle will kill me too.

That isn't fair…Esme is innocent in all of this.

Retreating into the forest, I head for the treetops. I find Edward and Carlisle conferencing deep in the wood. Their faces are serious, but they believe they are alone. Attempting to remain hidden, I sink into my perch and listen.

"But she was my fiancée, Carlisle. As humans, we were to be married. She cared for me then. What is different now? I thought what we are enhances us. Why does she seem to care for me even less?"

"Do you love her, Edward?" Carlisle asks bluntly. His face is placid, as if he already knows the answer.

"But she was my friend, Carlisle. Now it seems as if she hates me."

"Maybe she doesn't hate you, but hates what she is. I take responsibility for that, son. First, your mother pleaded with me to save you, and then you do the same when Isabella faces her own mortality. Perhaps I should not let my emotions rule my decisions."

I hate you all.

"She was chosen for me. Isabella will always be mine." His eyes are desperate and wild as he yanks on his hair.

Carlisle places a hand on Edward's shoulder to calm him, and I try to remain in my hiding place. His words disgust me. His selfish claim of me makes me retch.

"I need her to love me like Esme loves you. I see it in your thoughts. Your minds always go to one another. Pleasant, warm thoughts, sexual…"

"Edward! I've asked you time and again to allow us our privacy."

"You know I cannot help it, Carlisle." He hangs his head. "But what I see makes me realize what I do not have. I see how mates should behave. Perhaps Bella is not my mate as I had hoped."

I clap my hand over my mouth to smother my cry. Their eyes dart up to my hiding place, but I do not believe they see me.

Carlisle begins speaking again. "Edward, I know that you had become infatuated with Isabella, even as a human. The idea of having her as your wife was an intriguing notion. She was beautiful and desired, yet she was promised to you. Even early on, when you did not want her, she was yours." The older man patted Edward's shoulder. "It is hard to admit that you were wrong, especially after so much time has passed. Perhaps it is best to release Isabella from her ties to you."

Upon hearing that, I flit through the trees and race home.

Years continue to pass and Edward says nothing. He knows I do not love him. He knows we are not mates, why will he not release me. Why does Carlisle remain silent?

It is 1933, we are in upstate New York when Carlisle finds a girl beaten and violated. He changes her. Her bitterness rivals my own. I have found an ally, if only she could hide her thoughts from Edward.

As our family grows, so does my apathy. I no longer desire for anything, not even death. I will remain still and petrify, if Edward would leave me alone long enough.

I perform my wifely duty multiple times each day, and each time he acts as if he is unaware of the pain he causes me.

Fifty-seven….

My quiet cries are not of pleasure. After all these years he must understand this, yet he continues. I say nothing. I should say something. I want to say something.

Fifty-Eight.

Esme offers me a sad smile afterwards, but Rosalie, she understands. I have no need for telepathy, her thoughts are clear on her face when I emerge from our bedchamber bedraggled and worn while Edward wears a satisfied smirk. She is murderous.

"Why do you allow it, Bella?" Her voice is harsh and acrid.

"He is my husband, what else is there for me?"

"It's 1935, Bella, and you've been Edward's prisoner long enough. Your parents are probably dead. Why do you stay?"

"Carlisle has not said I am free to go." Our Sire rarely speaks to me since Edward and I married. Carlisle funnels information through Edward to me.

"Bullshit. Do you think Edward would have told you if Carlisle has said you could set out on your own?"

No, the selfish bastard would not. And I am a coward.

"Yeah, I thought so." Rosalie gives me a look of sympathy and understanding. Never pity. "These mountains are vast. You could easily make your escape." She goes to her closet and passes me a carpetbag filled with essentials, clothing, and cash.

I hug her tight. "We'll go hunt tomorrow, high in the mountains. Perhaps we will come across a bear or two," Rosalie says with a wink. Her push is what I need.

When we reach one of the many peaks, Rosalie catches a scent and darts off. I don't know if I should continue our escape alone or not, so I stay where I am.

Rose will return and we can continue our journey together. Besides, I am not confident enough to go on my own.

For days, I sit there and wait. Rain and wind whip around me on this lonesome Tennessee mountainside.

Just when I decide to move on, Rosalie is not coming back, Edward breaks into the clearing. "Come home, Isabella."

Now is my last chance, so I pick up my bag and sprint away.

He is too fast and quickly overtakes me. Our bodies crash against rocks, shattering ancient boulders as we fall. I slap, claw, and kick in a desperate effort to be free.

Where was this fervor all those years ago?

"You are not my mate." I yank his hair, pulling his face away from my own. "I need to get away from you, Edward. Get off of me!"

"What will you do?" he growls in my ear as he smashes the back of my head into the earth. "Am I really that awful?"

"Edward, please, you're hurting me."

"Why won't you love me, Bella?" His hand tightens around my throat and the strength of his grip crushes my windpipe.

"Edward!"

He is wrenched away by an unknown force. Rosalie is at my side, cooing at me. I cannot speak, my throat is destroyed.

"You're such an asshole, Edward. Bella didn't ask for this life, none of us did. Why won't you set her free?" she shrieks.

"She's my wife!" Edward lunges toward us, but a behemoth of a man stops him. Edward flails against the other man, but he is no match.

"Stop fighting or I'll leave you here in pieces." Edward stills his movements at the giant's words.

"That's Emmett, my mate." Rosalie looks sad at the acknowledgement of man's place in her life, and mouths "I'm sorry." I pat her hand and smile to let her know that I am happy for her. "Let's get Carlisle to take a look at you." She runs her fingers along my neck, feeling the irregular protrusions and divots as they pop back into place.

We make our way down the mountainside and back to our home. On the way, Rosalie explains why she ran off and all about the connection she has with Emmett. It gives me hope that one day I may find a mate.

Perhaps he will find me when I least expect it.

"It'll happen, just be patient, pick up a hobby," she says with a smirk. I swear she can read my mind.

Carlisle goes to work, making sure that my throat is healing well. "You might not be able to speak for some time. Injuries are unpredictable with our kind."

With nothing more to say or do, he hugs me, and whispers in my ear. "You are free to leave whenever you see fit, Bella. There is no reason for you to stay, other than for us to have the pleasure of your company.

Rosalie helps me from the room, telling me all about her and Emmett. She apologizes for running off, but says, "When you know, you just know…ya know?"

I smile. I don't know, but I hope to, one day.

Emmett stands as a sentinel outside of Carlisle's office, keeping Edward barricaded inside. He paces the room like one of the lions we used to taunt.

I miss that boy…my friend.

His eyes meet mine as we pass. It is all there: worry, pain…regret. I feel it too. I should not have let this go on. I should have spoken up for myself and not gone along with what others had designed for me.

Rosalie and Esme bring me a deer as I lay on the back porch of our home. Esme picks the debris from my hair while Rose helps me hold the animal.

"You know Edward just cannot admit failure," Esme says softly. I nod.

Neither can I, but my silence acted as acceptance.

"I learned the hard way, dear. Silence means acceptance. The Good Book says for wives to submit to their husbands, but we forget what comes next." I look up from my meal with wonder, curious to know when Esme began reading minds as well. "Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church."

Rosalie nods in agreement.

"I didn't know what that meant until Carlisle found me."

"What do you mean?" Rose asks for me, because I'm certain she understands already. She's so much wiser than I am.

"I did what I was told, what was expected. I married a man who was chosen for me. He brutalized me and broke me on a daily basis." Esme's voice gets small as her mind goes somewhere dark. "When my boy died, I felt I had nothing else to live for. So, I chose not to live."

"Yeah, I did what was expected, too. My greatest dream was to marry well and have babies. We all see how that turned out." Rosalie's gaze moves to the house to where Emmett stands. In the short time that I've known her, I've never seen Rosalie genuinely smile. It's nice.

She takes my drained deer and runs to the forest to dispose of it, while Esme goes to find Carlisle. I rub my hand along my throat and close my eyes. I smell his familiar scent before he speaks.

"Please forgive me, Bella."

I sit up in the chair and try to put some distance between us. His hands are raised in surrender as he sits on the seat beside me.

"Don't," I say with a croak. "This is just as much my fault. I should have said something so much earlier. Not nearly twenty years later." I try and offer him a smile to show the sincerity of my words.

"We were friends once."

Yes we were.

"Why did you never fight for yourself? When did you give up?"

That is a loaded question…

"From your first letter."

"But why did you go along with it?" He takes my hand before I can flinch away. I'm not afraid of him, but if he touches me I will freeze and not tell him all that I need to say.

Removing my hand from his, I pull my knees tightly to my chest, resting my cheek on them as I meet his eyes.

I finally look him in the eye and see myself reflected in the sadness of his dark irises.

"Will you forgive me, Edward?"

He scoffs and responds with a look that tells me I have nothing to be sorry for.

Shaking my head, I continue, "I have deceived you from the very beginning. My letters made you believe that I was eager to join you...that this union was desired. My mother and Aunt Mille told me time and again that I must get you to fall, I suppose I was successful."

He smiles ruefully. "Completely and irrevocably, Bella. Your silence has always been intriguing, a mystery I believe we've finally solved."

"I didn't know how else to be, Edward. I was a child...we were children...thrust into our parents' troubles and used as bargaining chips." There is so much pent up aggression, that I unleash it like a great torrent. "My father sold me to Mr. Masen to keep his wife from sorrow and give his son a pretty little plaything."

Edward rises to his feet. His face is a mixture of fury and incredulity. "It wasn't like that at all!"

"You were told your own story, I pieced together mine. We were both pawns, the only problem is that you were innocent in all of this. I'm sorry."

He moves so quickly and has gathered me in his arms before I finish my sentence. Rocking me in his arms cooing and kissing my hair I feel the depth of his love for me, and the heartbreak that I have brought him.

"It doesn't matter how we got here Bella, just that we're here. I want you to let me love you. You are not some-thing to possess, and I sincerely regret ever making you feel that way. I hope...I hope that you will allow me to love you."

"Before you...died...I was very nearly there. I was, Edward. But I was holding on to all this anger, wanting everyone to hurt as much as I was. I kept you at a distance because I was mourning a future I would never have. You broke through my defenses over and over and over. In the end, my suffering has been by my own making." His arms are a comfort, his scent a familiar friend that calls to me. I want to surrender. To finally be free.

"I chose not to see your suffering. What can I do for you now, my beautiful Isabella? What is it that you want?"

What do I want? I want my friend back, and I want to go home.

~o0o~

We spend the next few years learning to be friends again. Emmett's addition to the family adds a levity that we all had been sorely lacking. For once I am a girl, a sister, a friend, even a daughter. No longer wife...mate...to Edward, we are friends.

I've made my peace with my lot in life thanks to Emmett. Edward has learned a lot from his new brother's perpetual happiness as well. We're learning together.

Laugther permeates our home now instead of ceaseless silence. I have not felt this alive, even as human.

Making our way back to Chicago to attend to our finances and properties, Edward and I slip into the zoo in the dark of night. Emmett groans at the bears, smacking his lips. Rosalie chastises him and he growls, chasing her around. Her laughter is musical and contagious. Edward catches my hand and brings it to his lips.

"He's good for her," he whispers against my knuckles.

I nod, unable to tear my eyes away from his.

Carlisle and Esme, happily filling the role as mother and father, warn Emmett that we'll be forced to leave if he cannot behave himself. His crestfallen face is comical and Rosalie shoves him, which begins a fit of swatting and tussling. Edward is quickly drawn into the fray.

"Children, please," Esme hisses.

"Sorry, Esme," the two boys say in unison.

Rosalie hooks her arm through mine, practically dancing as she approaches.

"You happy, doll?"

My smile is genuine, and my answer is honest. "I'm getting there, Rose."

Edward has walked ahead, but quickly races back to me. He tugs my hand; the glee in his eyes is unmistakable. "Bella, they have a reptile house now, can you believe it?" He tows me to the building and we press our faces against the glass.

"Damn, I'd love to go inside," I whine after pulling on the doors.

"You wanna see a snake, Bell? I bet Ed will show you his snake," Emmett teases.

Edward turns to him and growls low. We have not been intimate since that last time in 1935. I suppose four years is a considerable dry spell. Promising to rekindle our friendship, we have refrained from anything beyond innocent hand holding and friendly embraces.

"Whoa, sorry kids. I was just joking." He throws up his hands in surrender. "Bella wants to get inside, ask and you shall receive." He deftly picks the lock and ushers us inside.

The space is dark, but we have no need for light. White marble floors reflect the moonlight that filters in from the skylight overhead. It is lovely.

Edward pulls me to the enclosure for a Burmese Python. "These are from South East Asia, Bella."

I laugh at his enthusiasm. "Yes, I know this, Edward."

"We should go there." He tugs my hand and looks at me with a childlike enthusiasm, hoping against hope that I will agree.

"I'd like that very much." The smile I am met with warms my long dead heart. He pulls me close and kisses me soundly.

I have missed his lips.

We find ourselves in Union Station, heading back toward Seattle. Chicago was just a pit stop. Edward and I have enjoyed the few days we have spent here, showing our family around and reliving our courtship...our friendship.

This train isn't nearly as nice as the Oriental Limited, but it is lovely just the same. Being here is bittersweet. In many ways I still regret getting on the train back in 1919, yet if I refused I would not have met such wonderful people.

Edward and I sit quietly in our private car. We are traveling as Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Masen, therefore, we must keep up the pretense of a young, married couple. I have no discomfort when Edward places his hand on the small of my back, or kisses my cheek dangerously close to my lips. He breathes me in when I am close and I feel a stirring.

Placing his book on the seat beside him, Edward clears his throat to draw my attention. I have not been reading my own book; I have been much too busy discreetly watching him. The way his long fingers splay across the leather spine. The way his eyes move deftly over the page and the movement of his lips as he absorbs the words.

I have shared stories of my intimate experiences with Rose and Esme on our many hunts. When I explain of my perpetual virginal state, they are appalled, but assure me that all is not lost; sex with Edward can be pleasurable for both of us.

Looking at my husband in the fading daylight, his skin shimmers as light seeps in through the gossamer curtains; he is a marvel.

"Isabella?" His voice is soft and falters. "There was something—I spoke to Emmett and Carlisle—if you find it agreeable…"Stammering over his words, he rubs a hand along the back of his neck, much like when we first met.

"Yes, Edward. What is it?"

He releases a long breath. "I never want to hurt you, you know that."

"Of course." I move to stand and go to the small dressing table to unpin my hair. The rustling of his clothing as he fidgets brings a small smile to my face.

"Goodness, this would be so much easier if I could read your mind."

My hair falls in thick waves down my back and I look over my shoulder at him. He groans. "Well, I always have been difficult."

"And I like a challenge," he chides.

He's behind me, pressing his body firmly against my own. His nose rubs against the nape of my neck and he breathes deeply into my hair. His arms snake around me, one around my middle, and the other on my shoulders. He pins me to him, and I do not want him to let go.

"Edward." I sigh, sinking into his embrace.

His lips are tentative against my flesh. Bringing a hand up I stroke the back of his head. His tongue swirls along the column of my neck and I moan.

He stills his movements and makes to release me.

"No. No please." I hold his hands on my body and meet his eyes in the mirror. "It's good…so good. Please, Edward. I want to try."

"Are you certain?"

I put my fingers to work unfastening my buttons. Soon I am in a camisole and my skirt is hanging low on my hips.

"You have always been perfection, my beautiful Isabella." He nips at my collarbone and I shiver. His teeth graze my skin, creating stinging wounds that he loving licks closed.

I feel him pressing against me, his hardness there…wanting me. "There are other ways," I whisper, reaching behind me to touch him there. He cries out my name in a way I have never heard before, it is raw, anguished, primal…pleading.

Moving to the small bed, he lays me down and removes the remainder of my clothing before working on his own. His lips find mine and move in a fluid synchronicity that eclipses all my senses.

I want more. I need more.

My fingers find their way into his hair and I press his mouth closer and closer still. His tongue darts out and tangles with mine, languidly stroking as our bodies rock in time with the sway of the train.

As if on instinct, my legs fall open and his manhood finds me. We both still our movement.

Edward hovers above me with trepidation in his eyes. "Emmett told me there are other ways to…pleasure you. I…I would like to try. May I, my wife, may I pleasure you?"

My lip finds its way between my teeth and I nod. He slides down my body kissing along the way. His lips meet my secret place with soft, fluttering kisses and I am lost to this world. Edward kisses, licks, and suckles me there. His moans and growls vibrate throughout my entire being. I claw at his head and shoulders, overcome with pleasure, unsure if I can take much more, but pleading with him to never stop.

He touches me there, pressing firm figure eights in a place that has me rising off the mattress, chasing him, begging for more. A finger slips inside my slick tightness and curls; he adds another and presses firmly and insistently. Edward's mouth finds mine again and he is delicious. I taste myself, tangy yet sweet along with the distinct flavors of his venom. I press my hips against his hand while our tongues caress. Heat unlike anything I have felt before fills my belly and moves to the center of my hips. I buck into Edward's hand and flail about as mewls and moans fall from my lips. My body explodes with blinding pleasure.

I feel alive for the first time as my insides pulsate around his fingers. He reaches further inside and the burn returns, but much less so. I am too distracted by the bliss of these other, new sensations.

He settles himself between my thighs and slowly presses himself between my folds. Edward has somehow made me crave more and I welcome the stretching and pressure. Opening me wider, he seats himself deeper within me. I feel him everywhere inside and out.

Releasing a strangled cry when he cannot press deeper, Edward begins to rock us slowly. His mouth and hands cannot find one place they wish to rest, so he kisses everywhere he can reach.

I welcome this. I welcome him.

Mirroring his actions, I lave kisses along his shoulders and scratch across his chest. I feel him swell inside me as his thrusts become erratic. Burying his face into the crook of my neck, he bites down as he finds his release, and I am filled with a delicious heat all over again. Quivering around him, I cry out as I tumble from my own pinnacle.

For the first time, I am alive. It took my own death to teach me how to live.

~Fin~