Disclaimer: Not mine.
*I messed around with this after I got it back so all mistakes are mine.*
I fell into bed and flung my arm over my eyes. It wasn't even dark yet, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I wanted to escape from the nightmare of consciousness and slip into the oblivion of a world I could control. I should have known better. I woke hours later with sweat beading across my forehead and the smell of a funeral home burning my nose.
I tried to stop the images of my nightmare from rising to the surface of my mind, but it was pointless. All I could see was Bella, lifeless and pale, lying inside a coffin with her hands resting at her sides, her frail body covered in a black dress. I wanted to call her, hear her voice and reassure myself she wasn't dead. It was ridiculous because I knew she was fine. She was at Charlie's, sleeping peacefully or awake watching old movies like she loved to do. But she wasn't dead. She wasn't.
Kicking off the sheets, I crawled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen. It took two full glasses of water to soothe my parched throat. I braced my hands over the sink and dropped my head. Bella had cancer. I couldn't stop thinking about it. She was always the brightest light in the room. I couldn't understand how something like cancer could touch someone so full of life; so vibrant and stubborn. I knew rationally none of that mattered, but in my head and my heart, it wasn't as easy to reconcile.
Again, I had the urge to see her. So much so, I was already headed to my room to grab my clothes when the beep of my cell phone stopped me. I grabbed it from the counter and unlocked the screen to see I had two pending messages. One from Chelsea and one from a number I didn't recognize. Curiosity got the best of me, and I opened the message from the unknown number.
This is my new number. If you ever want to use it. -Bella.
My heart stuttered in my chest. She was fine. She was alive. I scrolled to the next message and my momentary relief was shattered with guilt.
Hey. Missed you at dinner. Tried to call. Let me know you're okay? -C
"Fuck." I clenched my jaw and looked at the time. It was three in the morning. Chelsea had texted seven hours ago. I didn't want to wake her, but I didn't want to ignore her either. After a moment of indecision, I texted back.
I'm sorry. Something came up. I promise to tell you everything. Dinner tonight? -E
I stared at my phone, debating if I should respond to Bella or ignore her entirely. She made the decision for me when my phone beeped again.
I can't sleep. You hate me and it kills me because it's my own fault. I've never regretted anything more in my life than hurting you. -Bella
My skin heated, and I just wanted her to stop . I wanted her to disappear all over again, but I couldn't bring myself to tell her that. Instead, I powered off my phone and crawled back into bed, tossing and turning until the sun rose.
The next morning after dragging myself out of bed, I downed a cup of coffee and headed to work. There was a message from Chelsea waiting for me when I checked my phone, reminding me she had to work late the rest of the week. After texting back that I'd see her this weekend, I made my way into my office building. Pushing open my office door, I was surprised to find Mike sitting on the sofa with a magazine and a cup of coffee in his hands. I gave him a curious glance to which he just smiled and took a sip of his coffee.
"Jess wants to take the kids to Costa Rica this summer. I need all the billable hours I can get."
I chuckled and dropped my things on the desk. "And you thought I'd be able to provide you those hours?"
"I didn't get where I am by not being able to read people." He set his coffee to the side and rested his elbows on his knees. When he spoke his voice was serious, concerned. "How did it go?"
I wanted to tell him it went fine. That I got the answers I needed and I was done. But throughout my restless night I realized something: I was a dick. As angry as I was, the things I said, I should never have treated her that way. It ate at me like acid. I dropped into my seat and gave a half-assed shrug. "I'm pretty sure this time was worse than the last."
Mike grimaced. "Ouch."
"Yeah." I blew out a heavy breath and decided to skip the small talk. "She has cancer." Saying it out loud caused my entire chest to constrict with such force I thought for sure it would collapse.
I looked at him with wide eyes and recounted my entire conversation with her, not leaving out a single detail. When it was done, I felt almost manic. "She has cancer and she left. She didn't tell me. The things she went though―" I swallowed and wiped my hands down the front of my pants "―she did it alone. She left me. She left and didn't tell me. How could she do that? How could she have cut me out like that? What if she would have died?" I looked away and tried to keep my voice from shaking when I spoke again. "What if she does? This could kill her."
"What is it you're more worried about, Edward? That she could lose her life, or that you could lose her?"
"Have you listened to yourself? You're angry about all the things she did to you. Have you stopped to think for a second what she's been through?"
"But she made those choices."
"Right. She chose to have cancer." He shook his head, and the disappointed look on his face made me want to shrink under my desk. "This is classic textbook, Edward. You just need to take a step back and really look at the situation."
I took a deep breath and looked at my hands, embarrassed. "I messed up."
"No. I'm not saying that at all. You were in a situation of extreme stress. Your emotions were heightened. And when that happens, people find it difficult to act or think in a rational manner. Look at how you are now. Could you imagine being in Bella's shoes? Rational or not, she believes she's to blame. In her mind, the only solution was to let you go."
"But it was the wrong decision."
"Says whom? When a child comes to us, scared and confused, do we judge them? Do we chastise and tell them how wrong they were, or do we try to help them understand why they should trust us?"
"Bella isn't a child."
"Doesn't mean she wasn't terrified. Doesn't mean she isn't still terrified. Do you realize how hard it must have been for her to come back here? To face you and own up to her mistakes? We encourage this kind of behavior every day. We counsel and support patients who find their voice, who find their courage. I know this is different from the situations we typically deal with, but the motivating factor was still the same. Fear. Fear and guilt. It makes the smartest person in the world do the most idiotic things."
I hated that he was right. I hated that I had allowed my emotions to completely cloud every single thing I'd learned about human behavior. But it still didn't change the main issue. She broke us. She lied and hurt me. "I can't just let this go and forgive her."
"I'm not saying you should. No matter how repentant a person might be, that doesn't mean they deserve a second chance. But you have to forgive her or at the very least accept the situation for what it is to move on. You can't dwell on the what ifs and what could have beens. You either give her the second chance she's asking for or you walk away. It's not a decision you have to make today or even tomorrow, but you have to make it. You have to in order to truly move on with your life."
I nodded but didn't say anything else. I was drained. The rest of the day, much like the one before, was spent thinking about Bella. When I finally walked through my door later that night, I fell face first into bed and didn't move until my alarm beeped the following morning.
The week dragged by. I spoke with Chelsea a couple of times, but things felt strained. I knew what she was doing. She was giving me space. Time to speak with Bella. I couldn't bring myself to tell her I'd already seen Bella. It wasn't a discussion I wanted to have over the phone, and if I were being honest, I was using the time to let the dust settle. Bella, on the other hand, I hadn't heard from at all. It bothered me more than I wanted to admit.
When Mike invited me out for a couple of beers on Thursday after work, I was more than willing to accept the invitation. Every waking second since Bella returned had been stressful. I wanted to kick back and not think about what came next.
I should have known better.
I'd just got home when my phone beeped. I expected Chelsea, or even Alex, asking where the hell I'd been all week. What I wasn't expecting was a message from Bella. What I expected even less was the content of her message.
I have to go back to San Francisco for a bit. It won't be long, and I know you probably don't care, but I wanted to tell you anyway. I hope you're doing well. -Bella
My mind raced as to why she would be going back. Was she sick? Did she need to see her doctor? Was she starting another round of treatments? Was she leaving me again? Panic swelled to the point of pain as I thought about her leaving with the memory of the last words I said to her. How cruel I was.
I paced the length of my bedroom. It was nothing. She would tell me if something was wrong this time. Wouldn't she? "Goddamn it," I muttered. I jerked when my phone beeped again.
I miss you. I miss your voice. And even though you haven't responded to me, this makes me feel closer to you. I'm so sorry, Edward. I love you. -Bella
"Fuck!" I slammed my fist against the wall before falling on the bed in defeat. I tried not to think about how her words sounded like a goodbye. She said she was staying. That she was going to fight for me. But I didn't want her to. At least that was what I kept telling myself. I closed my eyes and let my arms drop to my sides. I was so sick of over-analyzing every little thing.
My dreams, much like they'd been after Bella told me she had cancer, were relentless. They flowed from Charlie telling me she wasn't coming back to her not making it through her treatments. And just like last time, I woke up sweating and nauseous in the middle of the night. But unlike last time, there was no confusion about what to do. I threw on my clothes and grabbed my keys. It took less than thirty minutes to get to Charlie's, but it felt like a lifetime.
The driveway was empty and all the lights were off when I pulled to the curb of the house. It looked empty, abandoned. I felt sick. Sweat gathered at my temples as I pushed open the car door, and my legs shook as I climbed the steps. I lifted my hand and rapped on the door. It sounded like a gunshot. I strained to hear any movement, but the pounding of my heart drowned out any outside noise. I knocked again. Louder. And again. With every unanswered pound of my fist against wood, my panic increased ten-fold.
Just as I considered kicking in the door, the porch light flipped on and the door opened. Light chased away the shadows as the door opened wider and showed Bella sleep-rumpled and confused standing on the other side.
Relief nearly made my knees buckle. I locked my hands behind my head and stepped away from the door. I had no idea what the hell I was doing at her house, but I needed to see her face as much as I needed the air filling my constricted lungs.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come here so late. I just―"
"No," she interrupted, stepping on the porch with me. "It's fine. It's more than fine. Are you okay?"
An almost manic laugh burst from my chest, and I shook my head in disbelief. "No. I am not fucking okay. I don't know what I'm doing. I feel like I'm losing my mind. Just when I think I've got it all figured out, you come back. Everything is messed up, and I'm so fucking mad at you, Bella. But I don't want you sick, and I sure as fuck don't want the last conversation we have to be the one from the bar.. I can't...I couldn't live with myself if those were my last words to you."
Her face crumpled and twin tears tracked down her cheeks. "I don't want those to be the last words you say to me either. Nor do I want these to be. I don't want to have any idea about what your last words to me will be because they're so far in the future the possibilities are endless."
"Bella." Her name was nothing more than a sigh. I couldn't give her what she wanted.
She shook her head and stepped closer. "Why are you here?"
"I don't know."
She gave me a sad smile. "Liar."
"You do. You just don't want to admit it."
"Could you blame me?" I fired back. "I don't know what I'm doing, but the thought of you leaving and not coming back is killing me."
"I couldn't blame you," she whispered. The low, submissive tone of her voice caused my chest to tighten. "But if you'd stop fighting yourself for one second and think about why the thought of me leaving hurts so much, everything would be clearer. I hurt you. I said and did terrible things. But you know I wasn't being malicious. I thought I was protecting you. Did I handle the situation wrong? Of course I did. I have so many regrets. And I will carry the guilt of knowing it's my fault our relationship was ripped apart for the the rest of my life. But you need to know I never stopped loving you. I wanted to call you a million times."
"Then why didn't you?" I croaked. "Goddamn it, Bella, do you have any idea how many nights I would stare at my phone hoping you'd call? How many mornings I would wake and think you were there only to realize you were gone? Why didn't you pick up the fucking phone? I just wanted to hear your voice. It killed me that some days I couldn't even remember what your laugh sounded like."
"I thought about you every single day." She pulled in a broken breath and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "But I couldn't call you. I couldn't tell you I had cancer and try to fix us while I was fighting so hard to stay alive. I had to take care of myself first. I would have only broken your heart more if I hadn't because I wouldn't have made it. I had to be strong for me."
"Don't say that to me." I saw the image of her in my dreams. The one of her pale and lifeless in a coffin. "Don't make me feel selfish because I'm not the one with cancer. I fucking ached without you. Don't you get it? You were lost to me. I had no idea where you were or what you were doing. Losing you the way I did felt as permanent as death. You ripped me apart. I grieved for you, Bella."
"Edward." She reached for me. Her fingers wrapped around the fabric of my shirt and she pulled me against her. "I'm so sorry, baby. I can't change what I did, but I understand now. I understand loss. I understand losing everything you love. It's something I hope to never experience again. I know you don't trust me. I get it. But Edward, I will never put you through that again. I'll never put myself through that again. Having cancer, the fear of death...those things were nothing compared to living without you."
"You don't mean that."
"Why else would I be here? I left because I thought you would be better off without me. Seeing you, remembering how you looked when I lied and walked out of the home we shared together." She shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. It almost seemed like she was trying to will away the memory. "If I didn't mean it, I wouldn't be here."
"Because this is about your needs, right? What you want. What you need," I said, freeing myself from her grasp. She was too close. She made me feel too much.
"Yes," she whispered. "It was selfish of me to come back when I promised I wouldn't. But I couldn't bear going another day without you. Just add it to the list of all the ways I've made you hate me."
My shoulders dropped, and I blew out a heavy breath. She was in the wrong about so many things, but I would be no better than her if I let her believe something that wasn't true. "I don't hate you. I want to, but I don't. I'm angry with you―so fucking angry―but I don't hate you. I don't know what I'm feeling right now, but I know it isn't hate."
The soft sounds of nature surrounded us as we stood in silence. It was the most honest I'd been with myself since she'd returned, and I was fairly certain she knew it. After several moments she spoke, her voice low and even, calm. "Are you happy?"
"Now? Not even a little. Before you came back? Yeah. I guess. I don't know. It was the closest I'd been since you left." I gripped my hair again and squeezed my eyes shut. I tried to relax my jaw and keep my temper in check. Drawing in a deep breath, I opened my eyes and focused on her. "You fucked me up, Bella. You had to know losing you would break me in every way possible. Think about how you would have felt if I had left you. Would you have fared any better?"
"No," she choked, her hands balled into fists. "It would have ripped me to shreds. Oh, my God. I was such a fucking fool. I don't deserve your forgiveness, but I can't imagine living without it. You have every reason to be done with me, but you and I, we've never been fans of reason. We're flawlessly flawed. We're the right amount of wrong to make us right. I just need you to remember that."
"Bella." I dropped my hands and moved in front of her. I needed her to understand. "I'm not the same person you left behind. I've moved on."
"If that were true, you wouldn't be here. I'm not asking you to pretend I never hurt you. I'm not even asking you to take me back and act like the last eight months didn't happen. I'm just asking for a chance." She closed the distance between us and cupped my jaw, her fingers pressing into my skin. "Tell me it's over. Tell me you feel nothing for me. Tell me there is no hope for us and I'll let you go. It will break me into a million pieces, but I'll do it. I don't want to hurt you more than I already have. But you have to tell me. You have to say it."
My heart thundered in my chest. My skin burned under her touch, and my words strangled me. I wanted to tell her I felt nothing. I wanted to tell her to go back to California and never come back, but I just couldn't. "Why are you going back to San Francisco?"
Her eyes softened. I hated that I answered her question without saying anything at all. "There are some things I need to get from my apartment and no one has a key. I also want to check in with Rose, my doctor, while I'm there. Everything is fine, but I need to touch base. I shouldn't be gone for more than a week. Two tops."
I nodded, feeling sick at the relief I felt. I lifted my hands and mimicked her position, my hands curling around her jaw, my fingers sliding into her hair. "Just because I can't tell you to go away doesn't mean I can forgive you. It just means I'm fucking confused."
"I'm sorry I was so cruel to you. No matter how angry I am, you're still someone I care about. I wouldn't say to an enemy the things I said to you."
"It's okay. I understand."
I shook my head and gripped her tighter. "It's not okay. Two wrongs don't make a right."
"I'm so sorry for everything, Edward."
"Will you just promise me one thing?" I asked.
"Promise me you're okay. Promise me that you're coming back."
A broken laugh caught in her throat, and her eyes fell shut. "You said one thing."
I exhaled heavily and closed my eyes. After hesitating for a moment, I did what I'd denied myself since the moment I saw her. I pressed my lips to her forehead and let the warmth and smell of her body invade my senses. I let her infiltrate me in a way she hadn't in almost a year. "Be safe, okay?"
I nodded before dropping my hands and taking a step back. Her tear stained cheeks and broken expression tore at me for reasons I didn't want to admit. "Be safe." I jogged down the steps and to my car, ignoring the voice in my head that prayed she meant it, that only wanted one thing: for her to come back.
Thank you Kelly for spending more than an hour with me this morning rewriting that one paragraph. Over and over and over...
Thanks to Packy, Sara, Deb, and Joo for prereading and to ooza for being the amazing beta she is.
The next chapter is 1/2 done. I should finish it this week. Thanks for reading!