This was an entry for the TLS Angst contest, which contained so many amazing entries. It was awarded a judge's pick and a mention for Best Angst.
Thanks to Astro and Fiya, for everything.
I first met him at a cancer support group held in a community center just as run down as its visitors.
It wasn't a place for hope – there were no motivational speakers or talk of getting better. The words shared were ones of remorse; of anger and regret and hatred. Where there should have been coffee and donuts, there were instead IV bags and nurses on standby, cardboard sick bowls for those still able to have chemo. No family members passed through the door - it was a place of solitude where one could be alone with their hurt and injustice in the company of others who were just as ruined.
The grey walls reflected the bleakness within and yet from the first time I saw him there, Edward shone like a glint of sunlight breaking through clouds. I didn't know what he would come to mean to me; couldn't imagine all that we would eventually share, but even then I knew that he would change my life forever.
It began with a rash on my breast. I thought it was a new shower gel or washing powder irritating the skin, but when it persisted even after changing brands I went to the doctor. He noticed a lump under my armpit and referred me for an ultrasound at a breast cancer clinic. I sat through the scans and the biopsies with a sense of false bravado - I was 24 and healthy, and cancer was for older people who ran their body into the ground. Except sometimes it just happened, the doctor explained as he told me I had stage 1 invasive cancer in my left breast.
The surgery I had to remove the lump felt like it should be a cure, but instead it was the beginning. I spent four weeks recovering from the surgery before the chemotherapy started. The IV that fed drugs into my arm was intrusive and yet I'd long since realized my body was full of intruders anyway - clogged with sickness and foreign matter. There was an ache that accompanied me like a second skin, a bone-deep hurt settled somewhere around my heart and wedged underneath my breastbone. It felt like I could feel the cancerous cells multiplying, the ache growing each day as they did.
The doctor who performed my lumpectomy was the one who pointed me in the direction of the support group - he said that recovery could be tenuous even when you had support around you, and the unspoken implication of what would happen to me without it was clear. I had no real friends to speak of, just acquaintances made through work that had never crossed the boundary into anything more. My family were few and far away. I braved the first week of chemotherapy treatment alone, but the bitter taste it left in my mouth was more than just a side effect of the drugs I was being pumped full off.
The outpatient clinic had an oncology center filled with sick people, and yet it was me they looked at with pity. I was young and pretty - my skin smooth where theirs had wrinkled with age; my mind empty of memories that they cherished. 'She'll die before she's even really lived' was the echo that followed me down the lonely and stark corridors and into the taxi I hired to bring me home after each treatment.
I walked into the support group seeming indifferent, though the desperation for comfort burning an acid path through my gut belied it. I arrived that first week searching for something – something hopeful, something to remind me that there was a life outside of travelling to a clinic three times a week for medicine that made me sick, a reminder that cancer didn't own me or control me. Except that was my first mistake, because the thread that tangled around all our necks and bound us together was disease-ridden from the get go. It was what linked us, a twisted common ground we were all tripping and stumbling across, and I could never outrun it.
The moment I stepped inside, the last embers of optimism burned out. As I stared at people who'd experienced lives I'd barely even begun to dream of, I realized what I hadn't before. There was no glamorous epiphany or light bulb moment, just a sharp jab of realization which made me wonder how I'd been so blind before.
People are dying every moment of every day - it's the fact we all know and like to ignore, yet in a place such as that support group, you're confronted with it. Death is no longer an abstract sort of event to happen decades into the future, but instead something that occurs all around us. Sallow skin, yellow eyes and raspy breaths; people being ravaged by the cells that constitute them. It was there that I realized I was dying - not in the slow, painstaking way of aging, but really, truly dying. It ate away at me in a way the cancer couldn't, and I doubted that I'd ever be the same again.
I first met Edward on the day my hair began to fall out.
I woke up that morning feeling sixty years older than I was, my joints so sore I could hardly bear having them come into contact with anything. I had an ulcer on the inside of my left cheek which kept rubbing against the molar there, the distinctive rust of blood only making the metallic taste in my mouth more prominent. It took me long minutes to hobble to the shower, and once inside, the tepid water felt like daggers poking at my skin. My eyes stung as pain shot through me when I raised my arms to wash my hair, but I forced myself to ignore the ache along my shoulders as I picked up my shampoo.
At first, I didn't think anything of the hair that lined the shower floor. It was only when I went to grab my conditioner that I noticed small bundles collecting around the plughole and blocking it, water piling up around them. I crouched down and ran my fingers through my hair, panic growing inside me when more and more pieces began to coat my hands. They glimmered wetly in the harsh bathroom lighting, clumps lining all the way up to my wrist. I held my sore arms under the shower spray, trying to use the water to run them off my skin. They resisted, though, bending and molding to the contours of my fingers.
I eventually gave up and sank to the shower floor, grimacing when my shoulder blades collided painfully with the back wall. I thought of all the side effects I'd experienced so far – nausea, the awful taste in my mouth, the constant soreness, and yet something as seemingly superficial as losing my hair topped them all. I knew I was sick, but besides the surgery scars, there had never been anything tangible until that moment.
I let the tears fall when they inevitably came, the mist of the shower making it hard to tell whether it was that or my sadness which caused my face to be so wet. I balled my hands into fists, biting my lip when the throb of tender skin against tender skin kicked in. I cried for what felt like hours; my thoughts of a life after cancer swirling down the drain, wrapped around each strand of lost hair.
As I entered the support group that night, I had the same defeated slope of my shoulders as everyone else. I sat and listened to stories of diagnosis, of treatment, of being abandoned and left, of being alone. In a way, that's the worst part about having cancer – not that you might die, but that even if you survive, you're so jaded that you lose sight of what it means to live.
I hovered by the back of the room when the talking was through, raising an eyebrow at the bowls of various hard candies dotted around the tables.
"You must be new here."
I turned to see a man in front of me, his mouth tilted into a small smile. He was tall but thin; a concave chest and thick elbows which narrowed into lanky biceps. He had a black V-neck shirt and faded, torn jeans that rode low on prominent hipbones. His skin was mottled, blotches of red and gray marring the pale cream. He wore a black knitted beanie that tilted slightly to the side, the tip of it jutting awkwardly into the air. He was clearly ill but his eyes were bright, his teeth white as they sunk into chapped pink lips.
He may have been painfully sick, but he was still so beautiful.
"How could you tell?" I asked.
"You're looking at those candies like you're confused by them."
I felt my eyebrows draw together as I stared back at him. "Should I know why they're here?"
"They help with the chemo taste. We go through so many around here I'm surprised they don't start buying them wholesale," he said, his smile wide.
I turned back to one of the bowls, picking a candy and unwrapping it. My stomach turned at the thought of putting it in my mouth – my appetite had been lost weeks before – but I persevered. The lemon sherbet fizzed on my tongue and I startled, a shocked laugh escaping me before I could stop it.
"You have a pretty smile," the beautiful man said.
My cheeks heated with embarrassment, but I rolled my eyes as though his words meant nothing. "Sure, cancer is a good look on me."
He flinched back as though the hard edge of my words had pierced him, and shame sat heavy in my stomach as a muscle ticked in his too-defined jaw.
"Why do that?" he asked, his voice just as steely as mine had been seconds before.
"Do what?" I asked, and if my cheeks hadn't been red before, they certainly were now.
"Act like I was giving you an empty compliment. In case you haven't noticed, we're in a room full of cancer – no-one is judging you for looking sick. If I tell you that you have a pretty smile, I mean it," he said. His eyes were as intense as his words, forcing me to look away.
"I'm sorry, I…" I struggled for words that didn't sound self-deprecating or stereotypical. One look at the way the man's face had softened into sympathy told me he knew where my mind was at, regardless of how I tried to hide it. "I suppose I just don't see much pretty about this anymore," I told him, gesturing toward my face. The earnest, honest weight of those words gathered around my shoulders and caused me to slump.
"There's no shame in being sick," he said. His words were surprisingly soft, sneaking in to my chest and wrapping around my heart all at once.
"I'm not ashamed. I just..."
"Wish you weren't?" he asked, his smile wistful.
"Right," I said, grateful he understood. He let his smile widen slightly before dropping his face to look at the floor.
"My hair started to fall out today," I told him quietly, as though it was something secret. "It felt final, I suppose. I'm not just someone that almost had cancer when she was young anymore. I have cancer. And you never hear of people who have cancer, you know? They battle, or fight, and I've never been that strong. I don't know if I can cope with the things ahead of me. I think of all that I'm up against and it makes me want to crumble, like the force of it all is just too much. I'm 24 years old and I'm having chemotherapy, and I'm so fucking pissed off about it."
"It's not fair," he said. The compassion in his voice both pleased and gutted me – finally someone who understood, who didn't just pity me. And yet he knew how I felt because he had lived it, was still living it, and somehow the thought just made me madder.
"It's not fair that I have to deal with this, and that I'm alone, and that my fucking hair is falling out. It's not fair for any of us to have to sit in this room and talk about how it feels to poison ourselves so we can maybe get better or how it feels to be at war with your own body. I don't want to think about dying, but I have to. I have to think about funeral songs and coffins, and how it'll feel for my father to outlive me."
I had to swallow down the bile that rose even speaking those words, my anger deflating into something much sadder. "I'm so tired of it all, but it's barely even begun. So no, I don't feel pretty. I don't feel pretty on the outside or the inside even, not after this. This cancer has eaten its way through me and ravaged everything in its path, and all that's left is this pain that feels like I'll never be whole again."
My tear-thickened voice became quieter toward the end, my hands moving to cover my face as I tried to keep from falling apart at the seams.
"I think you're strong," I heard, and I looked up to see the stranger with cheeks as wet as my own. "Really, really strong."
"You don't know me."
"No, but I know this disease. I know how it infects more than just a body part, and I know that for you to even come here today shows fortitude and courage."
His words were sweet enough to balance the bitterness raging inside me. I smiled – even though it seemed impossible, even though my lips quivered and shook as they stretched.
"The hair falling out isn't something I can help you with," he said, pulling off his beanie. He had close-cropped brown hair, filled with holes where swathes of bald scalp peeked through. I laughed as he pointed to the bronze fuzz dispersed across the bare skin. His eyes grew warmer as they settled on my face. His arm stretched forward toward me and I took his hand. His skin was dry and his fingers were callused, but nothing mattered except the feel of his warm palm against my own.
"But being alone? That's something I can definitely fix."
The constant knot in my stomach began to unfurl as his fingers curled gently around my own. The sting in my eyes was persistent but so was his smile, and the ever-present ache of loneliness seemed to be just a memory.
I learned that Edward was twenty-seven and being treated for stage 2 testicular cancer. He'd already had surgery and been in remission once, but the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in his lower pelvis. He was halfway through his third and hopefully last cycle of chemotherapy.
Edward and I began to meet up at each support group. He was endlessly optimistic, a perfect contrast to the overwhelming despair I still felt. My body grew impossibly weaker with each round of treatment. Through it all, Edward was there – on the days where every bit of good was tinged with bad, and on the days where I struggled to see any good at all.
He was in remission again by the time my treatment was over. His hair hadn't grown back but apparently he didn't expect it to, and in reality I barely noticed his near-baldness anymore. My own hair had continued to fall out, though any hairless patches were covered easily enough. The chemo left me frail and thin, and looking in the mirror became an awful reminder of all being sick had cost me. I'd aged ten years, it seemed, and I wondered if I'd ever find a man who could accept me for how I looked - brittle hair, sunken cheeks and scarred breasts.
Edward kissed me four months into our friendship.
That week, he'd started to grow stubble on his cheeks and upper lip again, the first signs of a beard reappearing. I laughed as he told me he never thought he'd look forward to shaving, but that he could barely wait now. I ran my fingers over the hairs, downy-soft where I'd expect them to be prickly. The hairs were fine and thin but they were there, and I think that was what mattered most. I drew a pattern with my fingers across the cleft of his chin, feeling the way the hairs brushed from one direction to the next.
I'd just begun to stroke across the bronze wisps lining above his mouth when he moved his face forward, pressing his dry lips feather-soft against the place where my thumb met my palm. I stilled my hand, but my arm shook anyway.
Edward's eyes bore into mine as I let the pads of my fingers graze the side of his face before dropping my hand back into my lap.
"What are you doing?" I asked him, my voice sounding almost hysterical.
My words had been desperate but quiet, my frantic mind still aware of the hushed volume of those around us. Edward reacted as if I'd shouted, though - he screwed his eyes shut and shook his head, as though he could shake my tone right back out of his brain.
"Bella," he said so pleadingly before he moved his face closer to mine, his lips making contact with the corner of my own.
"Edward, please" I whispered, and the relieved noise he made gutted me as I spoke my next words. "Please don't."
This time his sound was sore; so wrapped in hurt that it became strangled. "Let me," he said raspily, his forehead resting against mine so hard, like he could will us together through pressure alone. "Please, please let me, Bella."
He kissed my nose, my eyelids and the apples of my cheeks and I allowed him to, the warm wet of his mouth burning through my skin. He moved his hand to sit across my still-shaking one, and the rub of our bones reminded me why what he was doing was so wrong.
The word I'd meant to say came from his mouth, and I pretended I couldn't feel his tears on my scalp when he buried his face in what was left of my hair.
"I can't, Edward. I don't have anything left - not for myself, and definitely not enough for you. This cancer has wasted me. Please, just... just don't ask this of me now, I'm begging you. Let me find who I am again before I find out who I can be with you."
His breaths came like sighs, the heavy weight of them cutting through the painful silence between us. "I don't want you to be alone anymore. I don't want you to have to face these things without anyone to hold you tight," he said so faintly, so sadly that moisture began to push at my lower eyelids. "I don't want anything from you. I just want you."
The smile that contorted my mouth was small but aching. "I know you do, Edward, and that's why you deserve more."
He moved his body away from mine slightly, the millimeters feeling like miles. Tears trickled down the path of his cheeks, flowing delicately through the small hairs that symbolized so much more.
I squeezed his hand one last time before letting it go, suppressing the bubble of panic telling me I was letting go of more than I realized. "If I have a future to promise, then it will always be yours."
His nod was short and choppy but it was there, and relief had never felt so bittersweet.
Though Edward said our friendship wouldn't change as a result of what happened, it inevitably did anyway. Things were just a little awkward, a touch tentative, until suddenly we were two people struggling for something to say whenever we met. Our usual greeting - a hug that gave me affection I sorely needed - now seemed to be inappropriate or off-limits. There was no hand-holding or special smiles, no comforting weight against the small of my back as we found a place to sit, but instead there were just sad eyes and a face so etched with hurt that it made me want to cry.
We would sit side-by-side in plastic chairs, the warmth of his arm feeling like a phantom touch against my own. His body heat would kiss against me and I would burn inside with want, and then I would burn for a different reason entirely when I forced myself to pull away. I had felt lonely before, but this was worse somehow - for this wasn't a loneliness built from having no-one, but rather caused by not allowing myself to have anyone. I sat in a hall full of people, within touching distance of one who had bared himself to me completely, and yet my solitude wrapped around me like a blanket.
Our meetings outside of the support group stopped completely. I spent evenings staring at the television, as disconnected with the shows there as I was with the world around me. I watched shows of people living lives full of sadness or full of joy or somewhere in between. I watched in an attempt to feel something other than the darkness that tainted everything. I watched through glassy eyes and with sticky wetness on my cheeks. I watched constantly – on the street and at the hospital, in cafes and even online, and all around me there seemed to be such life. It felt perverse that I was surrounded by so much, and yet capable of having so little.
For the first time in years, I prayed. I prayed that God would give me something to help me through all the heartache and the hopelessness. I prayed for recovery and for a cure. I prayed that there was something bigger than myself or the universe. I prayed for something to believe in.
Mostly, I prayed for salvation.
I ended my final cycle of chemo on the first day of summer.
The sun was bright and the air was warm as I travelled to the beach that day, my fatigued muscles straining to walk across the soft sand. I stood in the water and stared out into the waves as they slapped and crashed into each other, relishing in the feel of them lapping around my ankles. I stood until I was too tired to stand anymore, and then I sat at the edge of the ocean, feeling like it could swallow me whole.
And it did.
My anger seemed to roll away with the slow ebb of the water, dissipating into the endless sea before me like nothing more than beads of sugar. The tide rolled in, foam-laden and hungry, and then it rolled back out carrying hurt I felt I'd never be rid of.
The nausea that shadowed me constantly was still present, and the water hadn't magically made my hair grow back, but I felt cleansed all the same. I felt a spark of something I hadn't for months as I sat on the wet sand. Hope should have felt like a tidal wave. In reality, it felt like water being poured into a glass full of ice cubes. It didn't push or force but it filled, closing up the cracks that ran deep inside me.
I stayed there for minutes or maybe hours, letting the lullaby of the water coax me into calm. I opened my eyes when a chill began to creep into the waves. My feet were water-wrinkled, creases of skin folding over to create etched lines. I traced the web of them with my eyes and for a split-second, I imagined they were wrinkles formed with age.
As the last warm rays of the sunset hit my face, I smiled.
I worked hard to keep that hope alive throughout the intensive course of radiation therapy that was required after the lumpectomy. The sessions were mentally grueling - five days a week for six long weeks, each one consisting of lying on a table while radiation beams were aimed at the cancerous part of my breast. I visualized the cancer cells dying and shrinking, and as they did, my will to live grew again.
I let terms like 'survivor' replace 'sufferer' in my mind. I began to plan how to live healthily, cultivating my body for its next chapter. 'Post-cancer' became a driving force within my mind because for the first time, it felt like there was a way out. I let the fact that my father hadn't called in months roll off my shoulders. I ignored the fact that Edward and I hadn't even sat together at the support group lately. I put all my energy into getting better; into working on a new person to share parts of with people later on.
And then when all the radiation therapy was finally through, when I was technically in remission and done with treatments, I realized that finding my feet again would be so much harder than I thought. My job as an editorial assistant was technically secure, but I knew that my colleagues would always know me as the girl who had cancer. I liked my apartment, but it was somewhere to sleep rather than somewhere to live. I settled back into my old life full of mediocrity and I promised myself that as soon as I had things more sorted, I would fix things with Edward.
I would look for a new job and a new place to live. I'd become the bubbly, charming person I'd always wanted to be and I'd use my second chance in life, rather than going through the motions as I had been before.
Except that I never got the chance. Three months after being told I was in remission, I found out that the radiation therapy hadn't been wholly successful in killing off all the diseased cells.
The cancer had come back.
I listened as the oncologist told me that I wasn't suitable for more radiation seeing as the recurrence of cancer had happened in the same place as before. I listened as he told me my only option was a mastectomy of the affected breast. I listened as he advised I wait to have a reconstruction of my removed breast so they could be sure the cancer hadn't spread to my lymph nodes. I listened to statistics and figures, and all the while I fell apart inside.
I took another sabbatical from work. I made another budget to stretch my depleted savings through recovery. I seethed again, silently and sorely. I hurt, but I didn't cry until packing for the hospital.
I came across strappy tops and pretty bras, low cut-dresses meant to tantalize. The only thing they teased now was me. I began pulling them from their hangers slowly and then faster, harder as anger began to course through my veins. I ripped them from their place in the wardrobe and flung them across the room, screaming out my pain all the while. I yelled and I shouted as I tore down clothes I couldn't imagine being able to wear again. I moved through the room like I was possessed, and maybe I was - taken over by how fucking unfair it all was.
I continued until my throat was as raw as my insides, and then I collapsed in a pile of fabric. I thought of Edward and what I'd ruined, and I cried so hard I didn't think I'd ever stop.
The oncologist told me that it was imperative they treat the recurrence as quickly as possible, and that was how I found myself in a silent hospital room waiting for a mastectomy just two weeks later. I sat in a hospital bed with stiff sheets and held my own hand as I cried, my stomach twisting further with each nurse who asked if there was anyone they could call.
I stood in the small, harshly-lit bathroom so I could change into the hospital gown I'd been given. I stared at my breasts. I rolled the weight of them around in my palms. I covered one with my hand, trying to envision how I'd look after the surgery. I pictured the traitorous cells in my chest that were multiplying exponentially, dividing and spreading poison in a body that had betrayed me.
I imagined having nothing where my breast sat, just a line of scar tissue and flat flesh. I let the image seep into my head until I could see nothing else. I began to claw at my skin, unable to do anything but tear at my breasts as sounds worked their way out of my mouth. My nails were sharp and caused red welts across my skin, and I imagined they were surgery scars. I scratched at my skin roughly, as though I could force the cancer right out. I didn't stop until the nurse came in, and even her eyes were wet by the time I was quiet.
"Are you sure there's no one I can call for you, honey?" she asked in an uneven tone.
With my eyes closed and my heart in pieces, I made a decision I should have long before.
"My cellphone is in the cabinet next to my bed," I told her, my voice hoarse from all my shouting. "Can you call Edward?"
The forty minutes it took for him to get to the hospital were spent disinfecting the raised lines of pain that spread across my breast. None had broken the skin, but I felt sure that they'd broken me.
When Edward arrived, he looked nothing like the man I'd met that first week at the support group. He still wore a beanie, though now brown hair peeked from underneath it. Mostly, though, he looked well. His skin was even and bright; his body slightly more filled out. His eyes were the same as the last time I'd seen him, though - bright green and glassy.
He said my name like an oath, a strange mix of reverence and longing, and then his long legs were crossing the room toward me. He stopped just short of the bed, his eyes scanning every part of me.
"Why didn't you call me?" he asked, his voice cracking twice.
"I did eventually," I whispered.
I watched as Edward looked at the welts across my chest. The tears he'd been holding finally fell, running in wet lines all the way down to his jaw. "Oh, Bella," he said. His tone was soft and full of sorrow. "I'm so sorry you had to do this alone."
Everything seemed to fold in on me and suddenly I was sobbing, crying and aching and heartbroken. I gripped onto Edward's hand like it was a lifeboat there to rescue me from the storm I was in. "I know I pushed you away," I told him through my tears. "But please, please, could you hold me?"
His arms were an anchoring weight as he wrapped them around me. He pressed kisses to my hair, and spoke words that felt like they were kissing my heart. Through it all, I clung to him like a distressed infant, winding my thin arms around him until my whole body was touching his.
"I'm scared, Edward," I told him, my voice warped by anguish. "I'm so fucking frightened."
"I'm here, sweetheart," he whispered. His palm moved to cup the back of my head, tilting it forward so his lips could press against my forehead. "I will always be here."
We sat entwined in one another until the orderlies came to take me down to surgery. Our hands twisted together as they wheeled me down the long corridor toward the operating theater. I stared at him as we parted, closing my eyes as soon as we turned a corner and he was out of sight. Minutes later as the anesthetic pulled me under, his face was the last thing I saw.
The first couple of weeks after my surgery passed by in a haze of pain medication, and yet I was always aware of Edward at my side. He wasn't due back at work until October, giving us plenty of time to spend together. We had a few awkward moments, like when I insisted on covering myself with my hands when he helped changed my dressing. He was hurt by my reaction, but I hadn't come to terms yet with how I looked. I needed to accept myself before I could believe he would accept me.
Dressing myself quickly became the worst part of my day. I avoided the mirror until my temporary prosthesis was already arranged inside my bra and then I would look for tops to hide the concave center of my chest. I ended up in hoodies and sweatshirts more often than not, and it felt like another heavy blow to my femininity.
Even more distressing was the complete lack of sensation I experienced all over the left side of my chest. I'd been told to expect discomfort or pain but I had nothing except tightness if I stretched too far. I would run my fingers over the place where my breast used to sit, wishing that I could feel anything there. My doctor assured me that the nerve sensation would likely come back slowly and over time, but I was sick of waiting.
Worst of all, though, was when my dressing finally came off. I had used it as a shield from having to see the scar and what I'd been left with, and once it was removed I had nowhere to hide. I sent Edward out to pick us up some dinner and then I shut myself in my bedroom, trying to work up the courage to look at my own chest. Each layer of clothing I removed felt like the tightening of a noose around my neck until I could barely breathe. I faced the mirror, staring into my eyes and taking comfort in being able to recognize at least one part of my body. I let my eyes trail down past the port that stuck out awkwardly just below my collarbone, down past the curve of my right breast, and then onto... nothing. Nothing but scar tissue and a thick, puckered line surrounded by slightly swollen flesh.
I hadn't expected anything different to what I saw, but it shocked me anyway. I knew rationally that my breast had been removed. I had spent hours looking at mastectomy scars online to prepare myself and I thought I'd come to terms with how it would be. I was so, so wrong.
It looked like the two sides of my chest had been taken from different people and stitched together on my body. I tried to focus on my remaining breast, taking in the slope and the peak, but in some ways it just made what I had been left with on the other side worse. It was like I was constantly being taunted by what I would never have again - not even reconstruction would give me breasts that looked the same.
I had thought I'd be saddened, or maybe disgusted, but what I didn't realize was how mournful I would feel. I stared at my reflection, even when my eyes grew blurry with tears, and I grieved. I grieved for the loss of my breast; for the loss of something that made me so fundamentally a woman. I grieved because I knew I would never be the same again.
Edward returned home to find me sprawled on the rug in front of the mirror, still topless and staring at my mangled flesh. He didn't ask what had happened, just dropped to his knees and cocooned my shaking body within his own. He tried to shelter me, but it was impossible - how do you stop a hurt that starts in someone's heart?
He didn't feed me platitudes or reassurances, just let me bury myself in his lap until I felt like breathing was manageable again. Even when I'd calmed enough to move, he kept his eyes away from my chest as though he could sense that would be ten steps too far. Instead he unzipped his hoodie and moved it on to my shoulders, pulling the two sides together and pressing a kiss to the corner of my mouth when he was done.
"Let's eat, beautiful," he said, acting as if I hadn't just fallen apart on the floor of my apartment.
I don't know if I fell in love with him then, or whether it was just the first time I'd put a name to the inexplicable feelings I experienced whenever he was around - but I knew then beyond any doubt that I loved him, completely.
When the time came to find out my future treatment plans, I leaned on Edward more than ever. I was even more frightened than before - cancer seemed to have grabbed hold of me with no intention of letting go. It was almost ironic to think that I had met Edward because of being sick, and that coming close to dying had given me so much to live for.
Edward and I walked into the doctor's office hand-in-hand that day, his solid determination to stick with me as evident as ever. More than anything, I think he feared that I would pull away as I had before if I received bad news. I was so busy trying to reassure myself, that I didn't make time to reassure him and it showed in every action. He was tense and nervous, no matter how much he tried to hide it, and that just made my anxiety skyrocket even more. He had always been the calm one, the one who was together, and to think of him beginning to unravel scared me.
I went in to the consultation with the doctor alone, though the support Edward showed me ensured I didn't crumble. I stayed silent as the doctor told me what he thought was best, mulling over all the implications in my mind. I walked out of his office and straight into Edward's arms. My tears stained both of our faces as I kissed him over and over, letting his lips heal me.
"Baby, what is it? I have to know, Bella," he said, his hands trembling as he cupped my jaw.
I let out a high-pitched sound of relief as I threw my arms around him, knocking him backwards a few steps. "He said it's gone! The cancer is gone, Edward. I don't need any more treatment."
As Edward lifted me off the ground and into his arms, all I knew was joy.
Things moved quickly after that. Edward and I went on dates on his insistence, meals out or day trips somewhere. I realized I'd become one of those people who didn't care where they were as long as they were with their boyfriend - and I loved it, and him, and who we were together. If there was one blessing about the manner in which Edward and I met, it was that we had already seen each other at their lowest. We started our relationship at rock bottom and as our lives grew better, so did what we shared.
One aspect of our relationship that hadn't grown, or even moved at all, was the physical side of things. We kissed and touched freely enough, but it was always confined to 'safe' places rather than anywhere that would lead to more. I was self-conscious but I was still a woman who wanted to feel wanted, and it'd be a lie to say Edward's lack of advances didn't hurt me.
I decided to make the first move on a whim one night when I was staying at his apartment. He had just come out of the shower and had to pass through the living room to get to his bedroom. His cheeks were pink as he did a half-run, half-walk across the floor, muttering apologies all the way. I stood up just before he reached me, puckering my lips dramatically and leaning my body toward him.
I could feel the heat that had spread across his face as he moved in close to kiss me, and his nerves prompted me to finally touch him skin-to-skin. He breathed in sharply as my hand sat awkwardly between his ribs that were still visible. I smoothed my hand slowly down the taut flesh of his side, my lips melding against his softly and so sweetly.
I'd just begun to run a finger along the edge of the towel around his hips when he pulled away, the abrupt movement leaving me off-balance. He studied my face carefully for a long moment before stepping back toward me and kissing my neck lightly, causing my whole body to shudder. He tasted every inch of me with his wet mouth, letting his warm lips work their way across my neck and collarbone and then he kissed my mouth fully. He kissed me in a way I hadn't ever been before, and it made me want so much more than just kissing.
I ran my hands all over his body. He was still on the thin side, but he'd gained a significant amount of weight since we'd first met. I caressed every inch of him that I could reach and when I'd touched all that, I placed my hand over his upper thigh, still encased by the towel. His arms were limp by his sides and his eyes were tightly shut as I bought one of his hands over my shirt to cup the breast I still had. He didn't move it at all once I'd pulled my arm away, instead just letting the weight of it fill his palm. I pressed my lips to his jaw, watching his face all the while.
He began to move his hand tentatively across my nipple, swiping his thumb over it until I gasped. He lightly flicked the hard peak with his index finger, moving harder as I kissed him more brazenly. I moved toward his mouth, licking gently at the crease of his lips.
Until I saw his face. His brow was furrowed into an almost painful expression, his mouth slightly pursed as though he was struggling to keep it neutral. I didn't know what that look meant, but it definitely wasn't pleasure. And then an idea came to me, one that caused my heart to seize before it shattered into a million miniscule pieces.
"Are you thinking of someone else?" I asked, the words so ugly I could barely say them.
"What?" he asked loudly, his eyes finally shooting open. "Fuck, Bella, no! Of course not. Why would you say that?"
"Because your eyes were closed," I replied, hurt wrapped around each syllable. "You wouldn't look at me, not even when I put your hand…" I trailed off as another thought came to me, even more painful than the first.
"Is it because of my breasts?" I asked, the words searing through my mouth like acid. A bitter laugh followed when I realized I'd mistakenly used the plural.
"Is this what you think of me? Really? That I would think of someone else, or… or think badly of you because you were sick and had to have surgery? Jesus," he yelled, running his hands through his hair. "Have I ever given you any indication those things might be a possibility?"
Shame was added onto my heartache as I stared into his face, full of pain and sadness. "It's just that you've never tried to touch me, and when I made you, you ended up closing your eyes for it anyway," I told him, hating how small and weak I sounded. "I don't understand how you could do those things if you want me."
He shook his head violently. "Want isn't a strong enough word, Bella. I burn from the inside out with how much I need you. I ache for you daily. I watch you in your tight jeans or your clingy tops and I imagine you naked and I end up so hard."
His words made me swallow, my arousal making everything seem dream-hazy. "Then why haven't you just touched me?" I asked impatiently.
"Because I'm fucking scared! You aren't the only one who worries about rejection. I haven't been with anyone since my ball was removed. I don't know how you'll react, and it's thrown me. I'm so in love with you, and the idea of something I can't change screwing it up kills me."
"Edward," I said, searching for words that would fix the devastation covering his face. There weren't any, though, so instead I loved him with my hands and lips instead.
I laid kisses all over his bare chest, ignoring the way it heaved under my mouth. I learnt the lines of his body with loving fingers, and when I began to tug on the towel covering him, he let me. I pulled it away quickly, making sure to look into his eyes rather than at the skin that had been revealed, no matter how much I yearned to. One look at the embarrassed and anxious look on Edward's face told me I'd made the right decision.
He leaned forward to kiss me, toying with my breast even better than he had before. Our tongues met just as his thumb brushed across my hard nipple and I moaned into his mouth. He swallowed it greedily before moving his mouth to kiss my neck, behind my ear, anywhere his lips could reach. He pulled back after torturous minutes of teasing me, his face flushed and sweaty.
"I love you," he said reverently, the truth in his tone buoying me.
"I love you," I replied, taking his hand. I led him toward the bedroom, all the while still careful not to gawk at the undiscovered parts of his body now on display for me.
He undid the button on my jeans as soon as we got to the other side of the edge of the bed, his hands gentle but frantic as they stroked across my skin. He pulled on the edge of my top and I ignored the butterflies that felt more like jackhammers. I peeled it over my head slowly, watching his eyes take in the curves he'd never seen before. I was worried he'd be disappointed but instead he was a stereotypical boy, all wide-eyed wonder at the sight of bare skin.
He moved his hands to the clasp on my bra and waited there, pressing soft kisses to my forehead while he let me gather my courage. "Nothing could change how beautiful I think you are, I promise you," he whispered, his eyes making contact with my own.
I nodded jerkily and suddenly he was unhooking the two pieces, his hands moving the right strap down the length of my arm, and then the left. He was careful to lay it gently on the nightstand so he didn't have to drop my prosthesis on the wooden floor, and the care he showed for me made my eyes water. He pushed me gently until I was lying on my back on the bed and then he kissed the breath right out of me, working his lips over mine until we were both desperate.
"I'm not wet enough," I told him quietly, embarrassed. He nodded though, no doubt well-informed of the possible side effects of chemo, and let his lips lead him down to the place between my thighs.
He licked me tenderly at first, delicate passes of his tongue over my sensitive flesh, and as I grew wetter he began to suck and tease. He shaped his lips to fit over my clit and then he sucked it gently until I begged for more. He licked two of his fingers enough that they were wet and began to push them slowly inside me, forever cautious. Except I felt nothing but pleasure, and then the combination of his tongue on my clit and his fingers working me over became too much. My world seemed to split and then implode as my orgasm wracked through me, high-pitched moans escaping as I remembered how good sex could feel.
Edward was slow as he pressed the head of his cock to my entrance, though his smirk told me this was deliberate. He pressed into me so slowly, letting me adjust to the thick girth. He thrust lightly, working further inside me with each movement. When he was fully inside, he groaned and dropped his head onto my chest, letting the hot slick of his tongue wrap around my nipple.
If I thought I knew completion then, it increased infinitely when he moved his head toward the flat side of my chest. He kissed the raised line of my incision scar a dozen times over. I felt no sensation, and yet in that moment I could swear I felt everything. I felt consumed by love, Edward's driving thrusts only enhancing the effect. He rose up on his knees and moved into me harder, as though he could bury himself inside my body. "I fucking love you, Bella. I'll love you forever."
I let my hands roam over the skin of his back. I hugged him as best I could, and when he whispered that he was about to come I squeezed my arms around him even tighter. He came with my name on his lips and hips that pressed hard into my own.
We basked in a never-ending afterglow, curled into each other's bodies and hearts. We talked of plans for the future now that I was in remission again and speaking of things not in hypotheticals but in real, tangible terms made both our eyes wet.
"You know, I've never been happier to be wrong," Edward said in a sleepy voice, just as we were both dozing off. I didn't bother to reply, instead just raising my eyebrows in an attempt to get him to elaborate. "I thought everything would be ruined when we had sex. In reality, it's so much better."
As I slipped into sleep with his words floating through my mind, I couldn't have agreed more.
I got my wish to move out of my apartment only a few months later. I'd been scanning the property listings from time to time, waiting for something that felt right. When a small two bedroom house came on the market, I knew I'd found it.
Edward was less than enthused about my move. He didn't say anything outright, but he'd been silent whenever I spoke about it and indifferent when I asked his opinions on things like paint. I'd hoped that me buying a house would prompt him to think more about us moving in together, but based on his behavior he wasn't interested in that at all.
Things came to a head one night when I was packing boxes and he was 'helping' - though really, he was sitting on my couch watching a sports show and looking pissed off. He hadn't offered to lift the heavier boxes, even though he was usually meticulous about making sure I didn't overexert myself. He hadn't looked at the paint swatches in front of him, even though I'd asked multiple times for his opinion. He hadn't done anything but look miserable and piss me off, and I was tired of it.
I walked over to the couch, trying my hardest not to stomp like a child, and stopped in front of him. He let his eyes linger at the television height somewhere around my stomach and then he looked up slowly, his head falling back onto the couch cushion as he stared at me.
"Why are you here if you aren't going to help, Edward?" I asked. Watching his face fall made me feel terrible, but I was too angry to stop then. "I'm so excited about this new house, but it feels like you're determined not to be. You seem to go out of your way to not do anything I ask you to if it's associated with the house. I don't understand. I thought you'd be happy for me."
"Happy that you're starting a life without me?" he asked in an incredulous voice, his face twisted into an expression that was nothing like my Edward. "Happy that you're making all these plans that don't include me? Yeah, I'm overjoyed, Bella. I'm so pleased."
I blinked away the tears that came as I moved to sit on the couch. Edward was hunched forward, his head bowed and his shoulders tense.
"I didn't know you felt I was doing those things," I whispered, flinching when Edward laughed loudly.
"Of course I feel like that! You're asking me to pick paints out for rooms that you'll be sleeping in alone, living in alone. I thought our life was together, but clearly I was wrong."
"You weren't wrong!" I said desperately, my voice harsh and hurting.
"Then why would you do this? You haven't even asked if I wanted to be involved. You've just carved out this future, and I can't see myself in it anywhere. You're breaking my fucking heart, Bella."
This time there was no stopping the tears that spilled onto my cheeks or the cries that bubbled in my throat. "You are my future," I said, not caring how pitiful I sounded. "My only future is with you."
Edward looked over at my hand as it gripped the couch cushion tightly and then up to my face, no doubt covered in tears and heartache. He screwed his eyes shut even as his arm came to rest beside my own. He didn't touch me but he didn't have to, his proximity alone filled me with hope.
"So, the house...?" he asked quietly, his muscles taut as he waited for my reply.
"Was meant to be for both of us," I answered, watching as he sagged. He shook his head and I fumbled for words that made sense.
"I thought if I had this great house that you'd had a part in choosing, you'd want to move in with me," I told him, embarrassed by how feeble the words sounded when said aloud.
"The only thing that house needed to have was you. Anything else can be fixed, but I can't build a home that doesn't have you in it."
His words hooked into the soft space beneath my breastbone, stealing my breath and nudging my heart all at once. I climbed into his lap clumsily and threw my body into his. He exhaled hard and pushed me back lightly, breathing heavily.
"Are you okay?" I asked, my enthusiasm replaced with concern.
"Fine, baby. My chest is just tight lately because of this stupid cough," he replied. He brought his thumb up to press against the worried crease between my eyebrows. "Does this mean I should start packing up my things, too?"
I nodded eagerly and watched a smile that matched my own break across his face. "We're really doing this?" I asked, my eyes flickering between his.
"Really really. I can't wait."
I wrapped my arms around his neck, careful not to put too much pressure on his chest. "I love you."
He hummed happily before his lips turned up into a smirk. His hand that had been looped around my waist moved back to tap my ass lightly. "I should think so. Remember that while you make this up to me."
I pulled on the back of his t-shirt hard, indicating that I wanted it off. He was about to get the best make-up sex of his life.
Edward and I settled into living together the way we'd settled into most things together - easily and with lots of love to help smooth things. We'd both overcome the worst of the lingering side effects from the chemotherapy and been back at work for months, but somehow living together made everyday annoyances much more tolerable. We were moving on from cancer, and I hoped we'd never have to meet it again.
We laughed as much as we talked, and even when we were silent it was comfortable. I'd never felt unconditional love, but Edward gave it to me so freely. We spent our days working to secure a future and our nights making love, and I'd never known happiness like it.
But cancer has a way of lulling you into a false sense of security before ripping it away again, and that was the cruel trap we fell into.
Edward's appointments had been dropped down to every 2 months as he moved into his second year of being in remission. We looked at each one as a milestone to be celebrated. For his type of cancer, the risk of recurrence dropped massively after 2 years of being cancer-free, and neither of us could wait for that day to come.
He had an appointment on a Monday in late January, when the weather was still bitter and biting. I'd expected to hear from him at some point during the day but hadn't, and I was pissed that he hadn't let me know it had gone well. Panic didn't factor into my thoughts - he checked his testicle regularly for any lumps and hadn't shown any sign of being sick, apart from the cough he'd caught like everyone else that winter.
I made it back to our house early that night, my heart in my throat as I opened the front door to be greeted by blaring music. I removed my bag with shaking hands, hung my coat on its hook just as the first tears began to fall.
I turned the corner to see Edward with a bottle of whiskey in front of him, his eyes so red-rimmed and swollen that it knotted my stomach. His face crumpled when he saw me, his words barely coherent through his sobs.
"Stage 3C. It's in my fucking liver, Bella."
My universe cracked wide open and I fell through the gap. The song reached its crescendo just as my knees hit the floor.
'I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky. But why, why, why can't it be, can't it be mine?'
Edward's diagnosis was as bleak as I'd imagined. He had the final stage of testicular cancer - the cells had spread like venom and taken over his lymph nodes. He was consumed with disease all the way up the center of his body, secondary lung and liver cancer just the tip of the iceberg. His organs were riddled with a minefield of tumors, and our only hope was that they'd caught it before they managed to spread to his brain.
The oncologist was horrified at how quickly the cancer had spread – his last surveillance check had seemingly been fine, and now his body was on the verge of collapse. There were simply too many tumors to consider surgery, so the only option was high-dose chemotherapy that would kill off his bone marrow and in theory, completely halt all blood cell production.
His stem cells were collected before anything could begin, and we had an anxious few weeks where waiting was all we could do. He quit work and I had to cobble together all the leave I could, knowing that it might cost me my job in the process. I worried endlessly over the situation, but not being with Edward wasn't even something I could consider. The treatment couldn't start until he'd recovered from the stem cell removal process, but his body was quickly becoming so ill that it seemed to take twice as long as it should. Finally he was deemed 'healthy' enough to start chemo, and that's when everything kicked into overdrive.
Edward had to stay in hospital for at least the eight days that they needed to carry out the treatment. I packed us both a suitcase, knowing sleeping in our bed alone would be too painful to do. We'd paid extra for a cramped but private room in order to be as comfortable as possible. After the initial blood tests, we were left alone while the drugs were prepared.
"Can I beat this, Bella?" Edward asked in the softest voice I'd heard him use, and I turned around from my unpacking to see him curled into a ball on the bed.
"Yes, baby," I said, trying to push the words past the lump in my throat.
He held his hand out in front of him, beckoning me, and I moved toward him through reflex alone.
He sighed and shuddered when our fingers locked. His eyes shimmered with tears as he looked up at me, the lost expression on his face slicing through my heart.
"What if I can't?" he whispered, his voice gravelly and aching.
"You can, Edward. You have to."
He just nodded slowly and closed his eyes. His tears mapped wet tracks down his face, a puddle forming on the cotton pillowcase. I sat on the edge of his hospital bed and let my own tears finally fall, never losing grip on Edward's hand encased between my own.
The next eight days taught us the meaning of the term 'living hell'. The drugs were delivered through a central line into a vein next to Edward's collarbone, meaning movement was difficult. He had various drugs given at different times of the day - ones that were meant to kill off cancer cells and ones to increase white blood cells; ones that were nothing more than fluids to flush out chemo drugs. The infusions lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to hours, and we had nothing to do in that time but wait.
The first few days were filled with Edward sleeping and me watching him do so, taking in the curve of his cheek or the way he twitched through dreams. I slept in fits full of nightmares, only to wake up and realize I was still trapped in one.
The nosebleeds began during the time it took me to grab breakfast one morning, and I arrived back at the room to find him covered in blood. It was splattered all over the bedsheets and his clothes, streaming in rivulets down his face. It was more blood than I'd ever seen before but I fought off my panic enough to buzz the nurse. The platelets that caused blood to clot had been partially destroyed by Edward's treatment, so stopping the flow was almost impossible. I stood in the corner while nurses brought him a kidney dish in an attempt to save the already-ruined bed from further damage. My heart twisted with each apology Edward gave, his lips coated in red.
Over the course of the treatment, Edward's condition only got worse. The doctors increased his platelet levels but his nosebleeds continued anyway. He had mouth ulcers and bleeding gums, open sores that refused to heal dotted around his mouth. If I thought chemotherapy had made me ill, then Edward's side effects were a sick revelation. He slept almost constantly, only waking to be sick or because the blood flooding his nose had spilled into his throat.
He barely ate at all, his face seemingly growing more gaunt every day. He didn't have the energy to talk or to really even move, but he had enough to look at me. Whenever he was awake, his eyes would be on mine. He studied me carefully, cataloguing every inch of my face and body from between the rails of his hospital bed. I would smile and read to him, or talk about things we'd do together. He'd fall asleep with a light smile on his face and then I would fall apart. I spent hours on the cold tiled floor of his private bathroom, my fears and anger finally released through the form of silent screams. I used the shower as a cover for my cries, and when I came out I would prepare to do it all over again.
On the final day in hospital, Edward's hair fell out. Not in patches as it had before, but almost all at once because of how intensive his treatment was. I cleaned the strands from his pillow, shushing him as he thanked me. After, I stood by his bed and let his near-bald head burrow into my chest, his face buried somewhere next to my heart.
"I don't think I'm going to get better, Bella," he said. My eyes burned with more tears. I couldn't remember the last time I hadn't been crying or close to it, but I was powerless to stop them.
"Don't say that, sweetheart. The doctor said this had a good success rate-"
"He said it kept people from dying. That's not the same as being alive and we both know it. I don't want this. I don't want you to have to clean my blood off the bed or pick up my hair as it falls out. I'm meant to take care of you," he said forcefully, his tears only serving to make his words more striking. "If this doesn't work, I'm done."
I stayed silent even as pure fear rolled through me. I didn't react, just stroked the back of his neck and prayed that it wouldn't come to that.
Even after his treatment ended, Edward's nosebleeds meant they kept him in hospital for another week. I accepted antibacterial gel and hospital food as part of my new routine, ending up on a first-name basis with all the nurses. They were stringent but sympathetic, and often they said nothing of me sleeping in Edward's bed on the nights he was well enough to wrap his tired body around mine.
We spent the night before his final results talking about everything and nothing, the conversation stopping and starting as Edward fell asleep and woke again periodically. His lips were chapped and papery against my own, but nothing felt better than his kisses against my skin. I rubbed moisturizer into the dry, cracked skin of his hands, careful not to squeeze too hard around the tender joints. I became the caretaker rather than the one being taken care of, and I didn't know which one I hated more.
The doctor was grave as he told us the chemotherapy hadn't worked. He said there was a barely noticeable difference between the results before and after, but that there was a possibility of more treatment in a while. He gave estimates that were far too short, but I don't think any measure of time would have been enough. We had maybe a month if he left it untreated, due to the strain on his lungs and liver. Edward stopped him before he could even explain, announcing that he wanted no part in anything more. The doctor nodded and said he'd make arrangements, and then we were alone in the room.
Edward's breathing was labored from the tumors sitting on his lungs, his voice raspy as he spoke. "I want to die at the home we built together," he said, and I broke. Every bit of hurt I had came rushing out until I was sobbing in the middle of the bed, his weak arms the only thing keeping me together.
"Oh my god," I repeated over and over, those words the only ones I could grasp through the chaos in my mind.
Edward was going to die.
"What am I going to do without you?" I begged him, my hands clawing at his back.
"You'll live," he said. His voice was thick with tears but strong, cutting through the silence of the room. "You'll go on. You'll live and love and laugh, and you'll make me so proud."
I shook my head, inconsolable in my grief.
There was no life without him.
We turned our front room into a replica of the room at the hospital. We were offered hospice support, but I wanted to take care of Edward on my own. The time we had left together was short and sacred, and I didn't want to share it with anyone. Edward was on a plethora of pain medication as his body began to shut down, but he was thankfully lucid most of the time.
We didn't speak much, given how strained his breathing had become, choosing instead to spend most of our time lying in bed and letting body contact soothe an impossibly wide void. He'd written down the instructions for what he wanted to happen when death finally beat him, knowing I didn't have it in me to hear words of a time he wouldn't be here pass through his lips.
I slept irregularly, whenever I got time or could make it past the thoughts in my head. I usually woke up while Edward was sleeping so I could get his breakfast ready or his medication prepped. One day in the second week of being at home, however, I awoke to Edward's face hovering over mine.
His skin was yellow from his liver beginning to shut down, his eyes bloodshot and tight with pain, and yet his lips were curved into the most beautiful smile.
"Good morning, sweetheart," he whispered, kissing both of my cheeks.
"Good morning, handsome. Why are you awake?" I asked him, giggling when he nuzzled his nose against mine.
"I'm too excited to sleep."
He pulled his face back far enough to look at me fully before pressing a single, perfect kiss to my lips.
"I want to marry you.
I froze as his words sunk in, my heart beginning to pound as I realized what he was asking. "Yeah?" I whispered, my chest filled with hope.
"So much. I want you to be my wife. I've wanted that since the first time I saw you."
I buried my face in his neck, ignoring the chemical smell to his skin.
"Is that a yes, silly girl?"
"Yes," I said, muffled as it was. Edward laughed, the vibration of his chest feeding through into mine, before he pressed his lips to my hair. We stayed that way for hours, soaking each other in and letting love burst through the sadness.
We married in a short ceremony in the hospital chapel. It was unconventional and not strictly allowed, but Edward's terminal status meant we were granted special permission. The nurses from the oncology ward came down to congratulate us, and I ignored the pity in their eyes as I thanked them all. My dress was white and simple, Edward's suit far too big on his thin body, and yet it was perfect.
Our vows were short, given Edward's breathing problems, but they were heartfelt and said with so much love. I sat on Edward's lap, in the wheelchair he used to get around in, and kissed him endlessly. I kissed him with the longing inside my heart and the ache inside my bones, and he kissed me back just as forcefully. I lay my head on his shoulder, his arms around my waist, and I thanked God for letting me at least have this moment.
Edward died on March 2, two weeks after our wedding.
We lay in bed together that morning, his breathing growing gradually more difficult as the hours passed on.
"I love you," he said through his pants, his voice labored but full of feeling.
"I love you, Edward. You've changed my life."
We didn't say anything else - we didn't need to. We just pressed our lips together and let our love soothe it all.
Our bodies were entwined as the afternoon approached, spring sunshine creating rays across the ceiling. Edward's head found the space between my shoulder and my neck, his shallow breaths hitting my neck with every exhale.
Until suddenly they weren't anymore, the air around me achingly stagnant. I turned my head to the side and kissed the clammy, yellow skin of his forehead.
The late May weather made the air warm as I stepped from my car and onto the grass verge, my shoe sliding around precariously. The showers earlier in the day had made the ground slippery and wet, so I walked carefully across the green and into the rows ahead.
"Are you okay, Miss?" I heard, turning to see an old groundskeeper walking toward me. He held out his arm once he reached me and I looped mine through it, beginning to walk forward again with his support. His other hand came up to sit atop of my own, the heat of it a needed comfort as we walked along the narrow footpath.
"I'm fine. I'm just overly cautious in situations where I might fall," I said lightly.
He laughed, the wrinkles around his eyes getting deeper as he did so. "Well, in that case, I'm happy to help. You know we're closing soon?"
I hummed my agreement, knowing there wasn't long until the gates closed. "I got some important news today," I said, my smile unable to be contained. "I needed to share it with my husband."
The man patted the hand that was under his as I came to a stop in front of a slate headstone. "You take as long as you need, honey. I'll close up after you leave."
I thanked him before walking forward to stand beside the stone, the glint of my wedding ring catching the fading sunlight as I rubbed my thumb across Edward's name.
"Hi, baby," I said, kissing my fingers and then pressing them against the 'Loving Husband' inscription. "I'm going to have to get this changed," I murmured as I ran my fingers over the blank dark grey underneath the carved writing.
I moved my hands to rest on the bump of my stomach. It felt poetic, in a way - that Edward had made a new life before he'd died, and I couldn't shake the feeling that a spark of his soul had passed into our child.
"I'll tell her all about you, Edward. I'll tell her what a good man you were and how you saved me, and I'll make sure she always feels loved. I know you would have given anything to meet her."
I smiled wide as it began to rain seconds after, the drops cleansing the tears from my cheeks. I felt him, then - in the breeze that lifted my hair and in the sun that shone warm on my shoulders. I rubbed a hand over my stomach as our daughter kicked, laughing as sheer joy welled in my heart.
"That's it. Say hi to Daddy, baby."
Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you thought.
"Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion."