This is my Age of Edward entry. It's a Judges Choice Winner, which is super exciting and unexpected! :) I hope you enjoy.
I'd like to mention Hadley Hemingway, Astro2009 and SunFlowerFran3759 who were vital in helping me make some sense of this. Hadley - is a secret creative genius, who just gives (girl I await your fics), Astro2009 (best eye for detail and super cheerleader) and SunFlowerFran3759 (puts up with me even when I'm last minute Mo) Thank you. You are all amazing!
Story Summary: Damned forever. Doomed for eternity. Condemned to walk alone. Every generation is spent searching for my love but no matter what happens, I don't save her - I can't.
That is my curse.
Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
I have walked this earth for centuries. Years fly past like an avalanche of fire and ice. One moment is safe and then, in a blink of an eye, the future is a brutal torrent forcing you on your knees. Even the most palpable of memories disintegrate over time and the scars burn less for all but one – my memories of her.
Pain that shatters the heart, betrayal that makes the soul burn. Grief that is more distinct than a lightning bolt to the skull. Civilizations have collapsed as I've stood amongst them. Young life has withered before my very eyes, and I've buried those I've loved with my own hands. I've seen the best and worst of humanity and I've wondered if it is worth all of that, to be this wise.
Everything changes, but only one thing remains constant: my love for that one girl. The reason why I walk, my soulmate – Bella.
She comes in many names and forms, but Bella… somehow sticks.
When I first laid my eyes on her, she had no name.
Back then, immortals ruled freely and vampires dominated most of society. We lived in an enchanted world where most of our antics were fair game. Blood, greed and chaos governed but there were indisputable laws to be followed. Laws which, if broken, had dire consequences. Laws about lovers and mates … and humans.
I was unsuspecting when she came to me. It was a sudden change in loyalty but, little did they know, I had no choice.
It was her.
I abandoned my own mate, one of the most powerful faeries in the land, for a mere human of no significance, of no importance, who could be killed on a whim.
I was a traitor.
Cursed from primeval magic by my enraged faerie, I was damned forever, doomed for eternity. Condemned to walk alone in search of my love for generations to come, only to watch her die viciously in front of me as I stand by.
It's a cycle that cannot be broken.
No matter what happens, I don't save her. I can't.
That is my curse.
I hate the eighties.
The socio-political evolution of the sixties was just barely matched by Led Zeppelin and the shenanigans of pot-indulgent hippies then … bam! Hello perms, punks and pink roller skates. There's no denying that this decade is not one made for Edward Cullen.
Shell suits are a no.
Jeans too tight around the crotch are a another no-no.
Spandex? Well, that one speaks for itself.
I smirk, fingering the cassette stack at Brandon's Record Shed. The eighties apparently have made me into a whiney, PMSing woman too.
I've got wild staring eyes.
And I've got a strong urge to fly.
But I got nowhere to fly to.
Familiar lyrics ricochet through the tiny speakers next to a kooky, brunette store clerk. She wiggles her behind completely out of beat, her pink hoop earrings swaying as she dusts the shelf of workout videos with a lemon yellow duster that matches her leg warmers.
My denim jacket hangs over my right shoulder as I scan for music in the quirky, independent store. Bathed in vivid afternoon sunlight streaming through the large windows, I browse lazily. The sun doesn't warm my kind up but still, I appreciate it. Nature allows me to relish moments like this, moments that make me feel almost human.
I turn my head so the sun strokes both sides of my face and start to thumb through the vinyl, concentrating on classical. Mozart, Bach or Giuliani. I've even had the pleasure of seeing many of the 'greats' perform, but I like to buy their music years apart just for the covers, pretending that it's my first buy. After all, there's nothing quite like a first time.
I bend down, blow the dust off the last record and pull it out – Franz Danzi, Symphonie Concertante.
That's when I see her.
She's standing in the next aisle opposite me, two steps to my left in front of a sultry poster of Madonna, flicking through the vinyl in the pop section.
In a shock of awareness, it all makes sense.
Why I've been coming back to this record store so often, even though I've lived in San Francisco for two years and never paid one iota of attention to it before. It's not for the music or the sun or the store clerk who talks too much and tries to set me up with her single friends. It's for this moment ... for her.
She looks no older than eighteen this time. Her hair is dark blonde, untamed, and natural waves curl in loose spirals down her back, falling into designed mayhem beneath her shoulder blades. She wears a Skids t-shirt under her denim jacket and high waisted jean shorts, frayed at the ends. Curvier than when I last saw her, my eyes automatically inch toward the area where her perfectly rounded hips curve outward from her waist.
I can't help but think Bella has caught the eighties with ease. Hell, this wretched decade has suddenly gotten so much better.
The vinyl in my fingers long forgotten, I watch with curiosity as she speedily flicks through the records in front of her with the same hand that she holds a Coca Cola can. A light blue walkman peeks out of the pocket of her jacket, and her head bops to some song resounding through her purple headphones.
Abruptly, she's in front of me.
She picks up the dusty vinyl that I just put down, moves it out of the way, and starts to flip through the rest of them, humming to herself. It's like slow motion.
There are a dozen sun-kissed freckles on her nose.
She smells of strawberry butter.
Perhaps not as classically elegant as the Bella before her, but this Bella has a charged vivacity about her and like a sparking current, I can feel her energy.
Her eyes snap up and her light pink-colored lips curve up as she mouths lyrics to the tune that has her attention.
She changes over the years – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot – but her eyes do not. Always the most vivid moss green, her iris dotted with muted grey and a brilliant purple that I've only seen in Bella's eyes.
If I had a working heart, it would be thumping too hard but, instead, my body simply thrums, just like it does every time. Every single cell on alert, the hair on my arms prickling and standing to attention like tiny soldiers. She looks back down and I try to get a mental hold on myself. This proximity is sending every sense of mine into the red zone.
I drop the vinyl back into its place right next to her hand. I stare. Even her hand is a thing of intrigue. Soft and small, her nails chipped with blue. She likes to bite her finger nails.
Casually I walk to the aisle behind, the home video section, and watch discreetly. She's completely unaware of the world around her as she scans the racks, now tapping her feet to the song and I tune in. I grin.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
From five minutes of observation, I already know how apt her choice of music is.
I want to talk to her, I should talk to her … but my brain can't formulate a rational way to begin.
Hello, I'm Edward.
Have I seen you before?
A brush against her elbow and a comment about the vinyl in her hand.
No. No, that just won't work.
Bella, it's me from all those times we've met before…
I shake my head in frustration.
What is wrong with me?
Not like you haven't done this before, Edward. With the same girl, no less.
But it's different. Every single time is different.
"Excuse me, can you pass me the 'The Number of the Beast?'" someone faceless asks, pointing to a line of records behind me.
"Sure." I pull out the Iron Maiden record and pass it to her. When I turn back, Bella is gone.
I jog to the spot she was standing a minute ago and stare, like somehow, Hades might have snatched her away from beneath. My senses are vigilant, on alert, as I rotate on the spot. I scan the multi-colored rows of cassettes and vinyl, labelled with neon orange stickers. My hearing zeroes in from person to person across the room, faster and still faster. There are snippets of conversation, the static hum of music and laughter - but I can't locate her.
In the next aisle, a man with back-combed hair wearing a red bomber jacket intently reads the back of a Black Sabbath cassette.
I quicken my pace.
Where is she?
I rush past the dancing store clerk and the cash register overflowing with E.T. keychains, half wondering if I should call out her name and fighting the stinging urge to run at super-speed.
I can't lose her now –
Skidding through the work-out video section, I swing too fast around the corner, and –
"Oh shit! Dude! Shit! Don't people look where they're going anymore?"
As always, I chase her like a blind man.
I take a step back from the soft body I slammed into.
She's glowering in front of me with her purple headphones around her neck. Her blonde eyebrows are furrowed and a delicate rouge spreads like spilled wine across her cheeks.
I don't feel apologetic, I simply feel … relief.
I found her.
I found her.
Bella throws me an odd look at the elated expression on my face. I try to tone down the evident beam to a more sordid smile, but she's not paying much attention. Instead, she's staring at the Coca Cola can in my hand with a look of surprise.
"My drink…" Her eyes fly up to my face in shock because there's no way any human would have caught that can. Still my response was delayed. The can flew toward me and flipped upward, spraying me before I caught it. It's just like Bella to send my heightened vampire senses berserk and into the dark, damned hole.
"I'm sorry," I say, holding the can in front of her in apology.
She opens her mouth then snaps it closed, her eyes narrowing on the spots on my shirt.
"It's all over your t-shirt." She reaches for a tissue from her purse. "Here, let me."
She moves toward me and I take a step back.
"I got it …" I say hurriedly, not entirely sure if I'm ready for her to touch me, even if it is through a shirt.
Sometimes our connection is potent, unequivocally forceful, yet, at other times, a gentle buzz that can barely be recognized. Either way, I can't take the chance just yet.
"Oh, er, okay. I have a tissue." She holds the kleenex toward me a little awkwardly, and I take it from her hands, nodding in thanks and wiping at the few brown spots on my shirt.
She watches me. Not in annoyance nor with concern at the state of my t-shirt. It's complete curiosity. I'm suddenly self-conscious at being the object of her gaze, the receiver of her interest as I dab at my chest.
She doesn't take the can from my hand or move from the intimate position in front of me. Her skin is warm and sweet and and the tips of her sneakers almost touch the tips of mine. When I glance down, she gazes at me from beneath her thick lashes and gives me an unsure half-smile.
I half-smile back and scan my brain for something fitting to say. Now's your chance, Edward.
But my brain has other plans. My thinking capacity seems to be reduced to the equivalent of a bowl of mushy peas.
Not happening. Just going to stand here like a completely mute idiot.
She saves me from my stupor by pointing to the floor with a blue, chipped nail. "Um, your jacket."
"Oh, right. Thanks."
I lean down to pick up the jacket at my feet, but it seems like Bella has the same idea. We grab the denim at the same time and it's a small brush of my thumb against her hand.
It's like a fierce kick in the gut.
Sometimes the connection locks, shocks and enamors - a neon light, yelling here she is! It's a detonation, an eruption of a million tiny bombshells.
Sometimes it's so powerful that Bella knows it too.
She stares down at her hand and her eyes widen to large, stunned saucers.
"Holy cow, did you feel that?"
The world is colder and darker than I've ever known it to be. Advances in technology have meant more power than ever before. Be it human or machine, we all crave control, and a fight for control and power never results in anything good.
All I see is cruelty and war has resulted in insurmountable chaos and devastation. Humans have the numbers, but the machines have the technology. As for immortals, well, we pick the side where it is easiest to hide and be safe. After all, it's about survival and we'll find a way. We always do.
Those that are privileged enough have gone underground, building another existence until it's over. The rest of the population lives on this crumbling earth until they ultimately die from starvation or are killed as collateral damage in this ongoing battle between man and machine.
Most of the game has died out in this burnt-out world and many of the humans are diseased or malnourished, resulting in consequences for our kind too.
It's the final countdown for many of the cast-outs.
I walk past the ferocious fires and noises of vengeance and violence until I'm in the middle of the square. Hundreds of breaths make smoky, grey clouds in the freezing air. Pity overtakes me as rations of flour and oats are thrown into the thrashing, hungry crowd, all battling for mere morsels in order to feed themselves, in competition for their little piece of survival.
This delivery to cast-outs has become a weekly thing. Obviously some sponsor from the underground has taken pity. It's good to know that someone down there still holds enough moral aptitude to want atonement for their sins.
I snort out loud in disgust.
The boy throwing the food into the crowd has 'Black' tattooed on his arm and I can tell he isn't human from his smell – a werewolf. He wipes sweat from his brow, heaving packets out of the truck in rapid succession. The wailing crowd snatches for the food in a pool of desperation and devastation. Next to him, a tall man is unnaturally still, certainly all machine, watching the crowd like a hawk in search of prey. He's an android combatant, a protector of those that live underground. Perhaps a guard for those who venture out of their safe sub-terrestrial sanctuary.
"Can you hold him? I need to get food."
The voice catches me off guard, like a suffocation of air, a metal clamp on a beating heart.
A baggy black top and tattered jeans hang off her sinewy, scavenger-thin body. Her moss green eyes are spotted with a blood-shot red. Her dark, lank hair is tied back, making her features harsher, sharper.
I blink back the overwhelming rush of emotion, an assault of overwhelming anxiety. Dread at her being here, in this time. The need to protect her and mourn for her. How did I let her get this way?
I know it's not within my control, but something deep inside admonishes me.
She's yours to care for and yet, you fail every single time.
She's speaks again, half-looking at me and half at the metal band wagon where the wolf could be a magician throwing white packets of hope into the over-eager audience.
"Please. I need to get food, but I can't if I'm holding him…"
I blink. "Uh. Yes, of course." I take the child from her hands dazedly, holding on to him tightly. Only realizing too late that I shouldn't let her go into the dangerous crowd.
My eyes search for her, but she's already a part of the throng. My attention falls upon the young child in my arms. He must be about two, his head lolled at the side on my shoulder and his stomach protruding from hunger. He doesn't move in my hands, doesn't react to anything, and the recognition makes something catch in my throat.
He's Bella's and he's dying.
In minutes she's back holding a white parcel of life. She doesn't look at me as she takes the child from my arms - doesn't acknowledge anything as her dry, dirty hands brush mine. "Thank you."
Without another look at me, she disappears with her child back into the havoc and misery.
She ties her denim jacket in a knot around her waist as we exit Cinnamon Brew. The coffee shop is a few stores away from Brandon's Record Shed, heavily decorated in retro art and full of dancers in leotards who have made their way in from the studio across the street.
The conversation is easy and now, as she rams a pink piece of Hubba Bubba into her mouth and chews hard, the silence is just as comfortable. We stroll side-by-side on the sunny sidewalk. The elation of having her here hasn't lessened one bit since the moment I laid eyes on her in the record store.
Almost forty years.
By no means is this the longest length of time that I've waited for her. There was a time when years were spent searching every nook and cranny of the earth, seeking her like a mad man. I soon realized I didn't need to do any of that. She came to me, every single time without fail, wherever I was. If it was only a moment or years of a lifetime, her soul found mine.
A boy on a red skateboard flies past so we're pushed to each side of the sidewalk. A a girl with high pigtails on roller skates follows him, her dark hair whipping in the wind, brushing my face as she passes in between us. Bella's eyes follow the girl with fascination.
"Do you skate?"
"I haven't really tried," I say and add hastily, "I don't intend to."
She responds with animated laughter, a warm caress of butterscotch on ice.
I grin back at her, not fully understanding what she finds so funny until she explains.
"It's you, there's something about you. It kind of feels like you're from a different generation altogether."
I only slightly enjoy the irony of her statement.
If only you knew.
Her hair is blonder in the sun and the freckles on her nose are darker. She keeps pace with me, talking wistfully about how beautiful blue the sky is, then groans about how her feet pinch in her sneakers. When a Pontiac Firebird speeds past, she comments that she'd trade in her loyal pickup truck for it in a second. She observes the world around her with a fearless expression and it's wonderful to see her speak so freely of her thoughts and dreams, like the world is her oyster and nothing will hold her back.
"I'm trying to convince Renee to stay longer. I'm about ninety percent there." She scuffs her shoes as she walks and I notice a healing scab on her left knee, recalling fondly that she's always been a little clumsy. "I like San Fran, I like it too much to leave."
I like San Francisco a lot too. I'd be nowhere else, but that's a lot more to do with the girl by my side than the city itself.
"Remember I told you I want to be an actress?"
I nod, curious as to where this new thread of thought is going. Our time together in the coffee shop taught me that this Bella says what's on her mind. I enjoy that she doesn't censor much at all.
"Thing is, I don't want to be any actress, you know? I want to be the best actress in the world. Kinda like Katherine Hepburn. I know it takes dedication to be that good. But, I want it so bad, Edward. It's everything I want and I'll give it everything I have."
I savor the fire in her eyes. She is on her way to do what she loves and, no doubt, she's going to do it with passion. She's so different from the Bella before her who was molded by tradition and the demands of her kinfolk. Caught in a Civil War between two partitioning nations, she had dreams too, but would never dare defy what she thought fate had laid out for her. Little did she know, her actual destiny was quite different from what had been planned.
"I've been prepping hard for acting school, but I wanted some time out before that, some mother-daughter bonding with Renee before I got too absorbed in it all." She's so enthusiastic, she's almost skipping with each step she takes. "I'm having fun travelling. I haven't been to many places at all and, since we don't have much saved up, Renee suggested we start with the best of America."
"So, here you are in San Francisco," I say, as we walk past an abandoned, grassy park.
She looks at me, her eyes lingering, locking. "So, here I am."
I smile and look down.
If only Bella knew how much she has actually seen.
She's been born on different continents, in large, bustling cities and remote mud villages. It saddens me that she thinks she hasn't seen any of it. It's moments like this I wish she'd have some recollection of before, of what she had experienced herself, the lives she had known with me.
I wish there was an easy way to tell her.
She forgets. She always forgets the memories that stay so rich in my own mind.
"What have you liked the best about this town?"
I'm always interested to know about Bella's interests, where she comes from, her habits. It was bizarre how much they sometimes carried over from her previous lives.
She takes no time at all to reply. "Everything. I love Brandon's, the Golden Gate bridge, hanging out with my cousin at the Wharf, going to Nick's Deli for Sourdough bread, there's so much I like ... but mainly, I love skating around the parks, just thinking up stories in my head."
"Really. A storyteller, huh?"
"Yeah." She picks at her fingernails, her cheeks dimple from her smile. "There's so many stories to tell."
"There are," I agree.
It strikes me that she has many more tales to spin than the average person, lifetimes of them, and perhaps that's why she has such a powerful need to act.
We walk in silence for a few minutes, the balmy breeze picking up, causing her champagne strands to fly into her face.
"I don't normally do this," she says suddenly. She pushes a stray hair behind her ear when I turn to look at her. "I mean … go for a coffee with a random stranger, spend hours with him … and not want to go home afterward."
Dark green eyes search mine and the intensity makes my body tingle, the scorching burn ending at my fingertips.
"I don't either."
She bites her lip and it's like an invitation.
"Anyway," I say, trying to put her more at ease with this odd phenomenon she thinks she's experiencing. "You should stop worrying. We've spent three hours together so I'd probably say we're past the stranger thing."
She's looking at her shoes as she walks. "Hmmm… if we're past the stranger thing then what thing are we in?"
Whatever 'thing' she wants it to be.
For Bella, it didn't matter how far we took our relationship, it was okay as long as I was in her company.
She's still looking at me, her eyebrows raised in question.
I smile. "I guess the next step would be friends."
"I can start with friends."
There's teasing in her eyes and I don't miss the insinuation in her words. She giggles and her expression is mischievous, playful, and already I want this time with her to never end.
I pass a noisy street full of loud screaming and small fires from the aftershock of bombs, then through a darkened alleyway with rats running at my feet. Ahead, she walks steadily, with the child on her shoulder, to a barren yellowed field that stretches on for what looks like miles. He's staring back at me with grey, blank eyes, completely silent as I tail her.
It's like watching death work a spell.
She reaches a disintegrating rock wall and rounds the corner. I follow stealthily, always a few steps behind her. I can't see her.
Then she's in front of me.
Her voice is shaking, but shrill. "I know you're following me." The knife pointed at me glints in the sun.
She holds it with the same hand that she is holding the baby. Her stance causes more danger than she'd be in if she had simply run. If I was any real threat to her, maybe a thief after her rations, I could easily grab that knife and go straight for her jugular. She's too vulnerable, too weak, to put up any type of real fight.
"Keep away!" she screams as I put my arms up in surrender, taking a step back from her.
"I won't harm you…"
"Stay away from me and my baby. Do you hear me? Stay away!"
She turns and starts to run, holding the parcel of food in one hand and the child and knife in another. I watch her race away. She's a sitting duck, a potent-blooded temptress with nowhere to escape. I watch ... until she's nothing but a tiny dot in the wasteland.
"Your place is nice."
She makes herself comfortable on the olive green couch, her feet curled under her as she leans against the cushiony, worn seat. The apartment is decked in 1800s style, with dark, oak wood flooring and high beamed ceilings. The decorative work around the fire and mantelpieces is intricate and my belongings lay scattered around the room in an odd comparison.
Some would say I live like a nomad. I guess I don't own very much in the way of material possessions. The place is almost bare, apart from a small hardwood table, a grand piano, a cloth-draped easel and a glass-paned drinks cabinet. I have all the necessities and, with Bella sitting on my couch, it's everything I need.
I crouch on the cream rug in front of the fireplace. The open design means that it's never really warm in this place and Bella probably needs the warmth. The fire ignites with a growl, flaming yellow and copper orange dance with the shadows in the room.
"You paint, Edward?"
Bella jumps off the couch and moves toward the covered canvas. Brushes and a palette with dried paint are laid out on the small table nearby.
I don't tell her not to touch but I'm not sure if that's a good decision on my part. I have a feeling, despite what I may say today, she'll see that canvas anyway.
So I let destiny take its course, let fate find its way. There's no fighting either of them.
I would know.
She reaches for the cloth and pulls back the black cover fast, like a ripping off a band-aid.
The gasp is audible.
The silence goes on for a time and I think that maybe I did this all wrong. I shouldn't have let her see it.
She's probably not ready.
It's too soon.
What was I thinking?
"Maybe this is a bad—" I begin, grabbing for the cloth.
"Wow…" she cuts me off with a breathless whisper.
She tilts her head to the side, still silent. She's astounded, speechless.
The canvas is a colorful collage of hundreds of different lifetimes, various portraits melding into one another. Some are bright and grand, a beautiful woman standing tall with a jeweled tiara on her head, and another sipping tea, as she sits in embroidered crinoline, in a grand garden in Ireland. Others figures are more faded, an older woman sits in a rocker, silver hair falling over her shoulders, a look of serenity on her face.
They're all Bella. At different ages, in different lifetimes, in her different forms. No matter how she comes, it makes no difference to me. She's always the same girl with brilliant purple in moss green eyes. She's my reason.
This Bella stares, her eyes flicking from one portrait to another, her heart pulsing, one delectable thump after another, better than Mozart's 40th Symphony. Even without touching her, I sense her skin warming like a blush and the small hairs on her neck bristling.
Her smell is compelling, overwhelming.
I want to step forward and press my nose into the back of her neck, so I can devour all of her.
Her reaction is wonderful. She doesn't think I'm a forlorn freak, painting pictures of random girls through the ages. She isn't even confused by these portraits – she's simply entranced.
Slowly, she turns to me and I don't expect the next question that comes out of her mouth. "Is this the same girl?"
I'm surprised at how astute she is. There are similarities, but by no means are any of them the same.
She steps forward, her eyes shining in marvel, her thumb dancing over a girl with a fierce expression, wearing a white stola tunic. Her wavy red hair flows like untamed vines to her waist.
"She's so lucky."
"You think so?"
There was a time when I wondered if Bella was, in fact, lucky. She was the one that died, the one that went away. She didn't ever get to taste the bitter brunt of longing, loneliness – the unremitting ache of the wait.
I've come to realize that we're only lucky when we find one another. As time goes on, her deaths become more violent, more painful – some of the scars even carrying on to the next life. She didn't remember the pain in her next life, but it branded me for eternity.
I remember every one of those times I was with her with more sting, more bitterness than the last.
I try everything to end it, to make it easier for her. To stop the cycle and her gruesome deaths, but to no avail. The only way to stop her painful deaths was to end the curse.
I couldn't even do that.
So I wait for Bella. Soothed by the hobbies accumulated over the years. Hoping that each time I see her, whether it be for a few hours, or for years that pass too fast, it would be a good one.
"Yes," Bella answers, breaking me out of my reverie. "Here, she's a nurse, right?" She's pointing to a muted profile from the 1800s, where a dark haired girl with flaming cheeks looks down at a hospital bed. Her expression is almost blank, but her expressive eyes speak volumes about her grief.
I nod in remembrance.
Gentle hands. Gentle soul. Gentlest mouth.
Bella continues pointing to the others as she goes. "A royal … princess? A baroness, wow … a tribes woman … a servant. She beams and she cries all at once. She must be a great actress."
"I wish I could play so many roles." Her eyes flick from one portrait to another like she can't take in enough.
"Whoever she is, you care for her a lot, don't you, Edward?" Her eyes are wide, like she's figured out a universal mystery.
"Then of course she's lucky, silly."
The alleyway outside her house is dark and reeks of infestation. She lives in a small shack, its broken roots crumbling like the world around her. I can smell the dankness of her home from where I stand. She boils water in a rusty pot, mixing it with some white concoction. She feeds her son who doesn't make a single sound then, in the same soundless stillness, she puts him to bed.
She wipes down the bare kitchen and cleans the floor, then sits at the foodless table staring at who knows what.
I watch her do this day after day.
Feed. Clean. Stare.
Every third day, she carefully tucks the knife in her pants, and goes out to get more rations.
And every night I hear her anguished sobs, as she sits in bed alone and cries.
Bella leaves her jacket beside the record player and presses the button that lowers needle onto the vinyl. Her sneakers and socks are next to the couch as she starts to sway to Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony.
Shoeless, she twirls, tiptoeing and stretching with grand gestures in rhythm with the music. She brushes past the drinks cabinet, slides her fingers across the wall, and twirls around the canvas as she dances. I can't help but be intrigued by how comfortable, how completely at ease she is with herself.
A pirouetting ballerina from Pandora's box.
Fruit from the Garden of Eden that I pick every time.
Because every consequence is worth it.
She's dancing right in front of me. Without hesitation, she touches my hair. Her fingers run through it, skimming my scalp, gentle and tender.
Electricity shoots through my entire body, an aftershock of lust and desire. She abruptly stops moving, broken from a trance.
Her eyes widen. It's only a mere second, but it's enough for me to know that this feeling doesn't belong to me only.
The couch deflates as she takes a seat beside me and turns around, crossing her legs in front of me.
"I'm a little upset."
"You are?" I ask, even though she looks anything but upset.
"Earlier at Cinnamon Brew, I told you everything about myself, my friends, my love of theatre. How one day I'm going to be the best actress of all time and that I'll travel the world so I can learn other people's stories …"
She trails off, so I continue, interested as to what her complaint is. "Yes. You also told me you're a little addicted to Coca Cola, you wish you weren't an only child, and if you could time travel, you would go back ten years earlier so you could have been a hippie with your mom."
"Right," she says. "The only thing you told me was that you work at some burger joint."
"I guess that's true."
"It's not good enough."
My eyes snap to her face, assessing her bold confession. She wants to know more.
I was too consumed with everything she had to say to reveal anything about myself so I can understand why she's curious.
"What would you like to know?" I ask.
She bites her lip. The pink lipstick has faded, replaced by her natural red. "I've visited most of the burger places around here and I would have noticed you."
"I work at small hang-out called Sesame Seed across the block."
"Do you like it?"
It passes time. It makes me look relatively normal to the inquisitive.
"They sell great burgers but their uniforms suck."
"What do you wear?"
I self-consciously scratch my eyebrow.
"Come on, reveal …" she probes. Her devilish grin gets wider as she catches my reaction.
I groan in defeat. "This remains just between you and me."
"Until the grave." Her face is completely innocent but I don't miss the glint in her eyes.
"A yellow striped apron and a Big Bird hat," I say too fast.
She throws her head back and laughs.
Long and luxurious, her slender throat vibrates. With the roar of her pulse, the scent of her blood so close, so arousing, it takes everything within me not to lean across and put my mouth on her neck just so I can feel her, beating strong and alive on my lips.
"Big Bird?" She giggles in disbelief. She's leaning forward so I can see the grey and brilliant purple specks around her iris. "I'm going to visit you just so I can see you dressed like that."
"I'd rather you didn't."
"Hmm… do you think it will hinder my good impression of you?"
"It's not me at my best," I admit.
"I don't think I'll change my mind about you in a hurry," she grins and, if I wasn't sure before, now I'm convinced that she's flirting.
"So, what's your story, Edward?" She picks at a stray thread on her shorts. "Why do you reside all alone in San Francisco?"
Waiting for you.
Somehow that doesn't seem like an appropriate answer so I choose something else from my repertoire of white lies.
"This apartment belonged to a close … relative of mine. It's been empty for a long time. Two years ago I got bored with Chicago, so I came here."
She purses her lips. "Nice try."
I raise an eyebrow.
Her eyes are lit and the mischievousness is back. "Tell me the real one."
"The real one?"
"The real story, Edward." She waves her hand to the uncovered canvas. "The one with her in it."
After fifteen days from the first time I saw her at the square, she opens the rickety front door and says into the dark night, "You can come in."
I step out of the shadows and we sit at the kitchen table where she normally feeds her son, then stares brokenly out of the half-boarded window.
She looks thinner than when I last saw her. There's no heat in the house and I catch the gentle tremors under her skin. She coughs and heaves and I know it's from the lack of food and warmth.
I stare into desolate eyes which reflect emptiness back at me. Her glass room is already shattered. A lump builds in my throat. I swallow it down with force.
This is unfair. This isn't her fault.
"Bella," I begin.
"That's not my name."
I pause. It's the only name I know her by.
"Why do you watch me?"
"I want to check if you're okay. I want to make sure you are."
"I don't believe in guardian angels."
"I'm not one." Far from it.
She stares at her veiny hands.
"Is there anything you can do?"
I shake my head. "I'm sorry."
She takes a deep breath and it sounds harsh and raspy.
I help her bury him the next day. We find a spot in the barren yellow land and she stands with her hands clasped together in prayer. This time she doesn't cry.
"That's so beautiful," Bella whispers hoarsely as I end my story, the real story with her in it. Her eyes are brimming with big, crystal tears. I watch one escape, its descent from her eyes to the top of her lip, then lose it somewhere in the crevice between upper and lower lip.
It was a bold decision. To reveal without any barriers, speak honestly when she asked me questions. It could have all gone so wrong. Yet somehow, I knew that today it wouldn't.
Today is our time.
I ponder on how truly beautiful and bittersweet this simple moment is as I stroke more tears away from her cheeks.
The shock of energy is still there but it's muted in relation to her emotion.
"Don't cry, sweetheart," I whisper with my thumb on her cheek, then stop myself, wondering if the term of endearment is too forward, even if it's true.
She doesn't notice, or she simply takes it like she takes everything - with a free-spirited acceptance. "It's just … just so heartbreaking."
She wipes her face with the back of her hand. "You've been here, you've walked for years, God, centuries … and she comes and then goes and leaves you … leaves you alone for so long. You must miss her so much."
If only she knew the half of it. I want to tell her how much I've missed her, every day, every moment, every single breath, but I don't.
She seems to intuitively understand this anyway.
Her eyes well with tears and she hiccups into her hand, letting her red lips part. I watch her sadness with fascination. Not many look so beautiful when they cry.
"Shhh … " I soothe. Her tears dismay me, yet her compassion is no surprise. Bella often comes compassionate, sometimes to a fault. "In the end, it doesn't matter. In the end, it's all okay because I always know that she'll come back."
"You don't know for how long," she sighs, holding my hand, interlinking her fingers with mine as we both ignore the static hum that envelopes us. "Sometimes you don't even talk to her – how is that enough, after all of that wait? How is a mere sighting of her enough?"
"None of it is ever enough, but even a tiny glimpse is better than nothing."
She blows her nose on the handkerchief I gave her earlier. "Is it bad that I kind of want to be angry for her leaving you alone, so long, so much?"
"It's not her fault."
She's on one knee, one leg spread away from her, leaning on my arm. "Do you always tell her about you – what you are, why you're here?"
"No," I say, looking down. "She's not always ready to hear."
This sets her off again, so I bring our entwined hands up from her thigh and put the back of her hand against my mouth. She's so warm, it's like a thousand small pinpricks on my lower lip.
"I … I know, it's because of this curse or whatever, but…" she trails off. "Will it ever end, Edward?"
"Yeah. I want you to have a happily-ever-after. Just ... you know, be happy without all the waiting … hey!" She sits up straighter. "Maybe you could make her immortal, like you. That would be a happily-ever-after."
I've been there and tried that.
"I can't. It doesn't work. Every time I've tried, she's died in my arms or during transition. Every single lifetime, her death gets worse. I've spent so many years trying to find a way. There's only one way to end it and that's to find the creator of it. The faerie. Only she can help…" I sigh. "I look forward to seeing her - that's why I live- but the inevitability of the pain I will cause her makes me ready to forgo it. I would give up everything if I could stop her suffering, her violent deaths … and I'm scared, so scared at how bad it might get for her. What all of this might end up doing to her. She already carries so many scars from former lives."
"I bet she wouldn't say that." I watch her eyes, but all I can feel is her hand roaming up and down my arm, her touch a torturous heat, before she hooks her fingers through mine again. "I bet she'd tell you that all the pain in the world is worth it to see you."
I shake my head because she doesn't understand what I'd seen her, Bella, endure.
The brutality of some of her deaths make me want to erase my memories forever.
Nothing is worth that much agony.
It's an expectant kind of silence as she watches our clasped hands, lying still on her thigh. The evening sun has set and the only light is from the blaze of the fire setting Bella's hair alight. Sitting in front of me, she's a long-gone memory come to life. She's a dark blonde, a redhead, the brunette on the canvas who is anything but forgotten; a flaming mirage of beautiful and bittersweet nostalgia.
Her eyes flare and burn, when she says so nonchalantly that it takes some time for me to process, "I think I'm ready to stop being friends now."
No amount of time can brace me for this moment.
Her fingertips skim my lips and she's leaning into me. Like a lured snake, I move to her dance.
It's soft at first. The skim of a petal blossom across the cheek, the caress of a moth's wing. It's the end of eternity filling the gaping hole in my heart.
The static hum surrounds us like the sound of a swarm of wasps as I push into her and her reaction is a hungry cry. Her fingers grab the sides of my face too hard, her tongue inches into my mouth and then tangles with mine. The shock is feral, an explosion to be savored.
I can taste all of her. She's honey with a hint of tangy citrus and I know I'll never forget the feeling of her tongue.
"Edward…" she moans and her voice echoes through my body and to somewhere deep, deep.
Her fists clench into balls around my shirt and she moves so that her chest beats too fast into my chest.
It's the only noise in the world.
She's alive. She's truth. She is the answer to the oldest question.
Bella's pushing and tugging at my t-shirt like she doesn't know which way to go. I hold on to her tighter, my fists clenched around the material at her waist so I don't hurt her. Her knee presses too firmly into my thigh and her tongue searches every single inch of my mouth, stroking and caressing, exploring.
She wants and I give it all. Every ounce of longing, of need, of love.
She hitches her leg around me, pulling me down with her, and the room spins hard, disappearing around us. She calls out my name in a needy, searing whisper and venom pools into the back of my throat, a reflex to my lust, a sudden reminder.
Reluctantly I pull back. As she moves back up with me, it feels like her heart is about to hammer its way out of her chest.
When her harsh breathes have subsided, she speaks softly, her forehead resting under my chin. "This…feeling… this connection I feel with you is real, isn't it?"
"Yes," I say simply, knowing that I already am drowning.
She looks up at me and all I can see is moss green and wonder and soul.
"I'm her, aren't I?"
I nod and my gruff voice follows. "Yes."
This time the kisses are deeper, longer, with emotion entrenched through the times. I let each of her tears fall to my cheeks, each of her breaths mingle with mine, until they're one, we're one. Our heated mouths discover and remember and so do our bodies, easily lost in the frenzied current of touch.
At first tenderly and then with possessed haste, physical boundaries and forms fade as the intensity surpasses everything real. All of me dissolving until we're nothing but the reason we meet, the reason she is born, the Edward and Bella from the beginning who know nothing else, but each other.
Our friendship is built around an understanding of silence, a companionship of few words.
As the world breaks and falls around me, it's nice to know that another is simply here by my side, and that she might just have my back. Perhaps she feels the same about me too.
This Bella isn't curious, she doesn't probe and she doesn't ask. She just is, she lets me be. Although sometimes I know there are questions in her eyes about me, things that she can't explain, but she just turns and walks away.
It's all she can give and, after all this life has snatched away from her, it's all she can afford.
I take as little as she gives and give more than she can take, cherishing every moment because it's all I'll have for a very long time.
The fireplace rages behind me, as I lay propped up on my elbow on the rug. Bella lies underneath me, her sated body highlighted in orange glow. A red sheet is the only thing that covers our lower bodies. Her legs tangle with mine, her big toe lazily moving up and down the inside of my calf.
My fingers absently play with strands of dark blonde, and she languidly touches my chest. Slowly her gaze shifts to the uncovered easel to her left and she turns to the side to look at it.
"There's so many of me, and each time you've waited for years…" she trails off and I know where she's going with this.
"I'm old, Bella, quite a few years older than you certainly."
"Physically maybe, but my soul was made for yours."
Softly she pushes against me so that her back is flush against my chest. I hold my breath, my hand automatically crawling up the hot skin of her stomach and resting underneath the curve of her breast.
"I come back to you each time so I think we were one part of each other. I think we're the same, we've been around for the same amount of time, and the only difference is I keep leaving."
I smile, dropping gentle kisses against the fluttering pulse of her throat. Everything about her right now is so vulnerable and I can almost taste the potent sweetness of her blood. I won't drink from her as I don't like to do it even when she asks, but she's always so tempting to me.
"That's one way to look at it," I say.
I've researched this over the years because I've had enough time after all. Formed theories about our bond, about what it means. I've started to narrow them down, but one doesn't stand out as the strongest yet.
"It's the only way I see it."
"You see the world with such beautiful eyes."
"Become cynical with age, have we?" she teases, turning back around so she's lying beneath me.
"When you have seen as much as I have…"
"You sound like my dad."
"Now that makes me feel really old and dirty."
She giggles and her hands reach for my face.
"This is really real. You're real. This, this is something I read about in books, the romantic movies I want to star in."
She speaks with such intensity and certainty, that I ache.
"It's all real, sweetheart."
What else can it be?
"You're like… really into me!"
She's so vehement that I have to laugh. "You got it." I playfully roll my eyes. "I'm pretty darn besotted."
"Like I could have a disease, or be ugly gross, or have no teeth or…"
"I must admit I was a little afraid you might have a perm. I'm not quite sure I could have recovered from that."
She laughs boisterously and it vibrates and echoes everywhere. "I wouldn't ever do that to you, Edward."
"Glad to hear it," I whisper, leaning down into her ear.
She turns her face and brushes her lips against my cheek, sweet and easy.
I touch my lips against hers and I can feel her breathing, her heart beating, the run of blood through her veins.
Everything is about her.
"Yes?" I mumble against her lips.
"I don't understand any of this." I lean back to look at the thousands of vibrating colors in her eyes, beckoning me deeper with every breath.
"I wish I could explain it better."
"No explaining. Just speak the truth." Her smile is wide and vivacious as I look at her questioningly. Her eyes turn serious. "Tell me you love me."
I'm amazed at her candor and how ready she is to give it all, everything, to me. It's risky because already something that goes this deep makes me want to cling to her, keep her with me right here forever, but her soul is not for keeping.
It's simple and chaste. "I love you."
She brings her hand to the back of my neck, pulling me until we're nose against nose. "Say it again."
"I love you," I whisper, kissing each perfect freckle on her nose. "I love you." Against her soft mouth, her hot cheeks, her fluttering eyelashes.
I love you.
Again and again, until it's not a voice coming from my mouth, but the sound of my soul, a promise through the ages.
She wraps her arms around her thin body as we walk the burning road on our way for rations. The cold air bites angrily at my face and exposed hands. She's wearing a long black skirt and an unzipped leather jacket I took from someone who had died on the street a couple of days ago. It's too big for her, overpowering her tiny form, but at least she's a little warmer in this cold world.
We walk quietly toward the square and, as we approach the riotous crowd, she does something very unlike her. She takes a step toward me and snakes her freezing-cold hand into mine.
I look at her, surprised.
"I wanted to see what this felt like," she says softly, not looking at me.
She shrugs. "Good."
That's all that's said as we move to the edge of the crowd. 'Black' is on top of the silver truck, a harassed look of concentration on his face as he throws food into the frenzy.
Every time a bag of flour is thrown, a crowd of dirty people scratch and fight at each other to take the package.
Bella's limp hand in mine, we watch the defoliation unfold in front of us.
I've never seen anything so … sad.
As the food lessens, the crowd becomes increasingly hungry and violent.
It's getting worse and I don't want Bella anywhere near the ruckus. "Stay here, I'll be back in a second." I let go of her hand as I make my way into the noise, leaving her at the edge of the square.
I miss a few packets of flour on purpose, allowing an older lady with swollen hands to take one. I grab a pack that flies through the air and give to a young girl with blue, watery eyes.
There's yelling and some crying as more bags of food drop around us. I almost don't do it, until I think about who I'm doing this for.
It's not for my survival. It's for Bella's.
A packet of white flies toward me and I jump just a little higher than everyone else, easily catching the package. Then I grab another flying gift – she's getting too skinny.
I swerve through the barrage of screaming as the crowd starts to close in on me, grabbing at my shirt and my hair. Grappling for the white in my fingers.
"Cheat," a low voice says from behind me and I ignore it as I veer through the snatching, rough hands and berating voices.
A crying woman flings herself at me and I steady her, before moving out of the way in search of the spot I left Bella.
Something familiar makes me cut short my movements and everything around me is like black and white film. I turn in in a blur of movement and haste.
Ancient eyes, older than time. Orange-tinged iris, a deceiving, youthful form - a fairie. My faerie.
The one that knows the oldest magic. The cause of my misfortune, the provider of hope…
I'm frozen in time, a statue of stupefaction.
Her eyes meet mine and we recognize, understand. It's a second that lasts too long. She's turning, her brown cloak billowing in the crowd as she disappears.
I can't move. I clench a fist and take a shaky step forward.
I stumble backward, trying to find her voice.
She's standing just behind me, her hands stretched out like she was trying to protect me. All I see are blank eyes as she falls into my arms, the knife wound on her chest gushing blood.
"He was going to hurt you."
Her eyes glisten as she half lies on the couch, only partially covered in red cloth. I kneel in front of the canvas in my jeans, with a black-based brush in my paint-smudged fingers. The colors in my palette have never blended so well, the strokes have never come easier.
She shows no self-awareness or shyness as she lies on the elbow resting against the armrest. She has the confidence of a priestess in ancient Egypt, her eyes holding steadfast to mine as I paint. Enticing, bewitching.
It's me who's distracted, who buckles under the pressure of her commanding gaze.
Her body mosaics from the fire behind me, light jumps off her skin like scattered diamonds, her nipples a puckered pink, her eyes blinking a million emeralds.
This is Bella.
I've tried everything, but the infection breeds hot and painful.
The bleeding stopped days ago, now simply overtaken by shaking and hot sweats.
I talk to her, try and feed her, sometimes tell her stories of past times.
I'm not sure if she hears any of it.
She suffers badly.
I wish upon a non-existent star.
She doesn't deserve this.
She pulls her t-shirt back on and moves toward me. My hands curve gently around her wrists as she tiptoes to reach me, and we kiss deeply next to the easel.
"I better go."
I free her wrists and she drags herself slowly back, her eyes linger on my mouth and our lips meet again until she's breathless.
Each time she moves back, we're drawn like dazed moths to a dazzling flame. Tender, soft pecks, but still, it's not enough. She tugs forcefully at my hair and my hands drop beneath her waist, dragging her hard against me.
I pick her up by the hips and place her a foot away from me in one smooth swoop. Drastic measures. She giggles.
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" I try not to sound too strained despite the anxiety that slithers up my spine at her leaving. I'll probably see her again in the next couple of days, but I can't help it even if this feeling is unfounded. "I can come with you, take you where you need to go."
"No need. I'm exactly six hours late for my date with my cousin, Angela," she says, pulling her jacket back on. "I'm going to need this journey to explain what the hell I've been doing."
"What are you going to tell her?"
"She won't have to worry about me being so restless anymore. I found my peace."
I don't say anything. Nothing needs to be said.
"Edward, Angela and I are going away to Half Moon Bay for a couple of days. We'll be back Tuesday."
"Okay," I say, pulling at her fingertips and tugging her to me once again. I place one soft kiss on her forehead and half-heartedly let go. If we keep doing this, she'll never get out of here.
She bites her lip and looks at me self-consciously like something is on her mind.
"Tell me," I say.
"Um ..." She shakes her head a light smile on her lips. "I was going to ask you to wait – but it sounds so pedestrian."
I laugh lightly. "I'll wait for you, Bella. I'll always wait for you."
Her delighted expression is only hidden when moves forward to kiss me again, and speaks against my lips. "I'll be back, I promise. Soon this time."
I walk her to the front door and she waves frantically as she gets into the blue Ford Fiesta. Angela leans over, looks at me curiously and mouths 'who is he?'
I wonder how she's planning to explain that as I wave goodbye to her.
I stand until the headlights get dimmer, until they're only two bright pinpricks in the dusky night.
I stand until I hear the collision, the nightmarish screeching of metal and the smell of burning charcoal smoke.
It takes me less than half a second to reach the wreckage, the devastation. Ruby smeared all over the street and, when I reach the car, her last breaths are leaving her mangled, broken body.
I want to close my eyes.
I don't want to see this.
I want to weep so the entire world hears because no.
Her mouth tries but fails to curve into a smile and, when I kneel beside her she speaks in a barely audible, hoarse whisper brimming with a broken future and shattered dreams. "Soon..."
I follow her through the burning city and the copper smell of blood and the incandescent, lit-match smell of sulfur into a pitch-black alleyway that leads to nowhere. I hear them before I see them.
Inky figures grab my arms and throw me against the stone cold wall. It's easy because they are just like me - immortal.
A misty form appears like an apparition, a bright flicker of light surrounding her like a halo. Her fur coat is long and sweeps at her feet. Elegantly, she turns, her hood dropping to reveal her face. Had I been human, had I not known what true evil she was capable of, I would have been disarmed by her beauty.
I've been around long enough to see the most powerful enchantments and that's all this is. That's all she is. None of this is truth. None of this is beauty.
Her voice is the sweetest music when she speaks. "Edward," she purrs and automatically their rock-solid grips lessen from around me.
"Jane." I hear that's what they call her nowadays.
There's no reaction on her pale face. Her head simply tilts the tiniest fraction. I've lived among humans for so long, I've almost forgotten what our real nature can be like. So instinctual, so raw. Inhuman. "You found me."
I didn't think I ever would.
It's been a long time since I've come face to face with Jane. It was a shock to see everything atrocious that had ever happened to me present itself in a form. She had cursed me for loving another. She was the reason that Bella and I could never be together. Because of her damnation, Bella died violent, torturous deaths that got worse, more dangerous with every passing lifetime. All because Jane had once loved me.
No book, no spell, no amount of prayer could help Bella. I had tried them all over the years. Jane is the only one that can end her torment.
Now that I've found her, with Bella so ill, confronting her is not a choice. I have waited for this moment for too long.
"Come." Jane turns around and starts to stride away.
The alleyway becomes tighter and cramped as I follow her. Nowhere turns into the winding corridors of a dungeon and they twist and turn and try to trip me. I trail her fur coat further down this rabbit-hole, already lost in a nightmare.
Her guards remain outside when we arrive at a large granite-floored room with dome-shaped candles lighting the rough, stone walls. She turns to appraise me in one single dancing movement.
"End it," I say. That's all I want. "End the curse. It's been so long."
"It has been long…" she muses, taking one single step back to appraise me. Her incisive gaze stings like peeling skin."You've changed."
She doesn't just mean my amber eyes. I've learnt so many lessons, how could I not change?
"I'm tired, Jane. You've had your fun. You've punished me for being a traitor. Stop the cycle. I want her to be okay."
Stop her torment. Please.
She looks lazily at me, an evil smirk curving her lips.
"Yes. Now that you mention it, some of it was quite fun."
I force the crackling, ferocious rage back down. She thought Bella's suffering was some type of sport? Only real evil would take pleasure from committing heinous crimes on someone so innocent.
The worst thing I can do is react, even though I want to pounce on her and rip her throat out.
"She's been through enough."
Her eyes narrow, and it's more wickedness than I've seen in a long time.
"You still love her, don't you? I would have thought that someone as fickle as you would be done with the human by now. Sick with all those incarnations that keep you tied to her."
"That's not how it works."
How can anyone be sick of love?
There's silence, apart from the gentle whisper of a breeze, and I think I may have provoked her.
"Apparently not," she finally spits. "I know that now. That was my learning, Edward. You two belong together. It's only natural when you two are."
"Bella …" I begin, my voice cracking.
"Bella, Bella, Bella," Jane mimics, her voice rising, her feet making no sound as she strides around me, orbiting me in fury, her fur cloak twirling. "She's not had that stupid name for some time."
I run my hand over my tired face. All I can think about is the vulnerable girl in a tattered shack, feverish and writhing under her bedsheets. Because of the knife she took for me.
"End her pain. She shouldn't continue to suffer because of my sins. Only you can end this." I'm close to begging now. "I'll do whatever it takes."
Jane's flaming eyes catch mine. "Whatever it takes, huh?"
"Fine," she chortles, shaking her head at me, stopping her circling. "I can end it. I'm getting bored stiff of hearing the news of her birth anyway."
Relief courses through me. I didn't think it would be this easy.
An icy cold finger trails its way down my cheeks and over my lips. I'm shivering all over.
"You have to be sure, sweet Edward." She drops her hand and walks backward like she's floating on air. "There are repercussions you know."
"If I end her deaths, if I end these cycles, this will be the last time you see her. The last time you will be together."
I know my game face has dropped and I don't miss the satisfaction in her eyes.
"You're playing with the most unholy, darkest of magics. Nothing comes for free." She smiles her perfect smile. It's a challenge.
I know what she's asking of me.
Wait for Bella to be reincarnated, only for her to die a painful death over and over until she is a shadow of herself, or part with the other half of my soul just to make sure that she is safe forever?
I pause, envisaging a life without the wait for Bella. A life without hope.
I was stupid to think that I could just put everything right without consequence.
There is a price to pay. There was always a price to pay for being a traitor.
"Choose, Edward," Jane says uninterestedly. "Hurry it up."
"A big sacrifice," she sighs loudly, her eyes wide with wonder now like she's confounded by my decision. "It's not clever, but then it's just like you to be stupid with love." She spews her last words like spitting a ball of fire and rage.
She tries again. "It will be an incomplete life, only half an existence."
Jane almost sounds like she cares.
I don't hesitate. "It's worth it, for her peace."
She stands so still that I wonder if she's a statue.
Her voice is rigid. "Your wish is granted. When this Bella ends, it all ends."
I nod and her eyes flash orange, burning brighter than the sun. "You must remain bound to this earth and she'll find her peace. Your Bella won't be back, ever."
Dread fills the pit of my stomach at her final words, but more than that, I feel relief.
She's free. Her soul is free.
That is my peace.
"Leave." Jane turns away from me and her voice is anger and steel.
As I start to make my way out, I think I hear something that sounds like defeat.
My mouth rests against the pulse in her throat as she takes her last breaths. I count every beat, savoring every last hammer throbbing against her skin as it slows in rhythm. Six, seven … eight …nine …
I wait for eleven.
Eleven doesn't come.
My lips trail from her throat to rest against her forehead as it becomes cold. It's not the first time she's passed in my arms, but this times there's no consolation.
I hold her for so long that time ceases to be.
I grab the edge of the bed on my knees and sob like a wounded animal.
I lie next to her, clasp her cold hand in mine, and close my eyes.
The soil flows from my fingers like tiny droplets of rain as I bury her, knowing a part of me is eternally entombed with her.
It takes me some time to finally walk away.
But I do.
In all my existence, the centuries gone by, all the time that I have waited, I never knew true loneliness. Everything was worth it because, if only for a few hours, I would be complete.
Her memories are vivid and evergreen. When the demon inside me threatens to take over, it's the vibrant sound of her laughter and the brilliant purple in the greenest of moss that keeps me humane.
I finally complete the painting and my canvas travels with me like the most important relic. I revisit parts of the world where I remember Bella best. Cairo, Dublin, Monaco, Amritsar, San Francisco. I am a wanderer who tells stories with happy endings. I am the wise spectator at the campfire, celebrating in the affectionate glow of two young lovers who have eyes for only one another.
When the sun grows hotter and the days get longer, I sometimes let myself dream that the girl with the skip in her step might be her, or maybe the one next to her that watches the world with weary eyes. Or perhaps she's the one whose dark brown hair skimmed my face as she ran past, chased by the boy with ruddy, red cheeks…
I let the dreamer cherish every silly moment because it doesn't last long. There's no euphoria, no elation that one day I may find that missing piece.
I let her go.
I made sure that she'll never discover me again as I stand, browsing in a record store. Even though it's hollow, it's okay, I wouldn't have it any other way. Because it's not for nothing.
It's worth it.
It's all for her.
I've started my own Fic Discussion Group on Facebook. I'll be posting teasers/ bannners/ discussions for my stories. Do come and say hello! Address is on my profile!