A/N: This was my contest entry for the Lyrics to Life contest. It was also my last contest. Too stressful and too much controversy usually accompany these things. I'd rather write my OS's and post them for you right away.
My girls, Euphoria9 and TheQueenWriter helped out.
I was inspired by 2 things for this: the movie Return to Me and the song, Alive by Adelitas Way
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Before I met her, my life was bleak and gray. After, I laughed louder and loved harder. This woman, who came out of nowhere and was so unexpected, she made me come alive.
With Every Beat of Your Heart
There are days that feel almost completely normal. Days that I don't think about her. When I realize this, part of me feels terribly guilty for not thinking of her. Another part of me -a deeper part- just gets angry all over again.
Turning towards the voice that called out to me, I saw Mike Newton jogging across the parking lot. Mike was an old college friend who settled in the area. We traveled in similar circles, yet never really connected.
"Hey Mike. How ya' doing?" I unlocked my car and placed my briefcase behind the driver's seat.
"Doing good. Doing good." He replied, nodding his head.
"So, what's going on?" I prompted. I really wanted to get home.
"The gang is meeting over at Sam's for poker tonight. I saw you and thought I'd invite you to tag along." Mike gave me his best car salesman smile. This was a pity invite. Besides, his gang wasn't my gang. I no longer had a gang. Most of them had given up on me long ago.
"Actually, I have plans tonight, but thank you," I said as sincerely as possible. Sure, it was a white lie. Well, maybe it was an outright lie, but I did have a plan for the evening.
"Really? That's great," he smiled. "A date? Anyone I know?" he persisted.
"No, I don't think so. Tell everyone I said hello. I have to get moving." I don't think he noticed that I was purposely evasive. If he did, he didn't let on.
"Sure, sure. It was great seeing you again, Ed."
"You too. See ya," I said dismissively. I gave him a man slap on the shoulder and got into my car. Mike turned to leave, looking over his shoulder at me one more time before I pulled away.
"Hey, Jakey!" I was truly happy to see this joyful beast. He was here, every day, waiting for me. He was lonely too.
"You busy tonight?" I asked, giving him a hearty pat on the side of his large body. I sifted through the mail, depositing it on the entry table.
"How about we go for a walk then get some Chinese?"
Jake wagged his tail and barked once. Jake was my date for the night. He was my date every night.
I stared up at the ceiling, the darkness surrounding me. I could still feel her presence, especially in this room. Not sure why, but I had changed very little since she'd been gone. As I waited for sleep to take me, I thought long and hard about the question my best friend had asked me over lunch today.
"How long are you going to live like this?"
That was the question. Desperate for change, I decided that it was time. I told him so the next morning.
"Hey, Emmett." I handed over the coffee I'd bought him on my way into work. "I'll do it."
His head snapped up, eyes wide. "Really?!" Emmett's smile was huge, showing off his stupid dimples. "I'll call Rosie and tell her to set it up." He ran to his desk to call his girlfriend.
"Just remember-friends only, nothing serious," I reminded him.
I had just agreed to a blind, double date. I hope this doesn't come back and fuck me in the ass.
My fingers drummed nervously on the steering wheel as I drove to the bar, and again against my leg as I stood outside the entrance. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, took a deep breath and went inside. This was only dinner. Everyone had to eat, right? I was just going to do it with a woman I had never met before.
I stood behind the partition, gazing at the other diners. I heard Emmett before I saw him. My date was facing towards me and I already wanted to run. She had way too much makeup on.
"Can I help you, sir?" A waiter startled me from my hiding spot.
"Uh, no. Thanks." I gave him a tight smile and started thinking of exit strategies as I walked to the table.
She was loud, obnoxious and jingly. With every move she made, either her massive charm bracelet rattled or it was her chunky necklace. She even had these bell-like earrings on. Emmett threw me some sympathy glances and I was glad that it wasn't just me who was uncomfortable. We made small talk and as soon as I had the opportunity, I bee-lined it for the restroom.
On my way back, I stopped at the bar. Tanya's back was to me, so I figured I had a few minutes to hide here.
"What can I get you?" a soft voice asked.
"An emergency call out of here." I mumbled, before looking up.
I raised my head and found a pair of beautiful brown eyes watching me. I noticed that her makeup was light, just enough to enhance her stunning beauty.
"Yes." I smiled, then swallowed hard. It'd been a long time since a woman had flustered me.
"She is a little, er... flamboyant," the girl chuckled.
"You can hear her over here, can't you?" I asked incredulously.
"I can," she nodded with a smirk on her lovely red lips.
"Can I get a shot of Patron?" I pointed to the shelf above her head, wondering if she could reach it. I spied a sliver of skin where her shirt rose up as she grabbed the bottle.
"It's a blind date and I'd really like to leave," I explained. I had ogled her after all; I should be a little forthcoming with the info, right? I handed her my debit card as she pushed the shot towards me.
"Give me your number and I'll send you a text," she offered.
"You'd do that for me?" I gave her a quick once over, noting that she wore very little jewelry, including no wedding ring on her dainty hand.
"Sure," she shrugged. "You looked miserable over there." The pretty bartender blushed and ducked her head.
I drank down the shot and grabbed a pen from the counter, jotting my number down on a cocktail napkin.
"Thank you." I gave her a warm smile and held her eyes for a moment before turning back to my date from hell.
Ten minutes after I had rejoined my table, my phone chirped. I sighed loudly, making a show out of it. I had taken a drama course in college and it was now paying off.
Here's your chance. Make it good! :) -Bella
"Dammit." I sighed heavily for effect.
"What's wrong, Eddie?" Tanya simpered.
Ed was okay. Eddie was not.
"Work emergency. I have to go, sorry."
"Work? Ed, you're an engineer not a doctor," Rosalie scoffed. "What kind of emergency can you have at 8:30 at night?" I shot Emmett a look and he nudged his girlfriend with his shoulder. This was about to get very awkward.
"It was nice meeting you." I nodded in Tanya's direction. "You guys enjoy your evening." I cast a glance back at the bartender and saw her watching.
"Wait. Don't you want my number?" Tanya asked.
Briefly, I thought that I could take her number and just never call her, but I put on a brave face and told her the truth. New leaf and all that.
"No, that's okay." I gave her a gentle smile. No need to be rude, right? "Have a nice night."
Ignoring Tanya's petulant reaction, I quickly texted Bella and I got the hell out of there.
I headed for home, feeling extremely light and slightly hungry. I hadn't eaten much of my dinner before I left. I pulled into a burger joint, ordering Jake a small plain burger and one with the works for me.
"Seven ninety-six, please." The pimply-faced boy at the window stared at me.
I couldn't find my debit card and immediately remembered that I had left it at the bar, too caught up in the subterfuge that I was perpetrating. I scraped together enough cash for Jake's burger and went home. It was too early to head back to the pub without taking the chance of running into Tanya. The thought alone made me shudder.
"Here you go, buddy." I unwrapped Jake's burger, feeding him a piece at a time.
Left my debit card with you. What time do you close? -EC
I could have looked it up online or in the phone book. Tonight had been surreal and weird, so why do this the normal way? Besides, I wasn't giving up on my plan to change my life. I had no intention of hiding any longer.
We'll be here til midnight. Looks like they're getting ready to leave anyway. -BS
I took Jake for a quick walk before driving over to O'Malley's. When I entered, I had to look at my watch. She had said midnight but the place looked deserted, minus a loud bunch near the back.
One of the men from that group got up to meet me.
"Can I help ye, son?"
He had a thick Irish brogue, a gentle smile, and the look of the quintessential grandfather. I stared at his mustache, almost wondering if it were real. While it was salt and pepper, like his hair, it was thick and large and seemed to have a life of its own.
"I was here earlier and left my debit card." Glancing around, I was disappointed that Bella was nowhere to be seen.
"Sweetpea?" he hollered, startling me. "Get your behind out here."
"Yeah, yeah old man! Keep your shirt on!" Sweetpea responded from an unknown location, probably the kitchen. I looked at him, wondering what his response to her would be. His mustache twitched and rose on one side. He was smiling.
"Did ye enjoy your supper?" the old man asked, turning his attention back to me.
"I didn't get the chance to finish it." I watched his mustache fall so I quickly added, "What I had was great, though."
"Good, good." he slapped my shoulder. "I own this fine establishment, son. My name is Charles Swan."
"Swan? Isn't the name O'Malley's?" I said rather abruptly. He smiled and gave me a wink.
"Yes it is. And a fine Irish menu is what we sell. Swan doesn't exactly sound Irish, though, do it?" he cackled, putting his arm around my shoulders leading me to the table he had previously left.
"Have a seat while we wait on me granddaughter."
The older men at the table made room for me and began piling a plate with food.
"Have some nosh," a grizzled bearded man said, smacking my shoulder. "How are you at Canasta?"
I looked around the table at all the eager, friendly faces. Why these people were so accepting of a stranger, I didn't know. I found that I liked it, though.
"Oi! What do you want, old man?" Stunned, I turned towards the shrill voice and was surprised to see Bella.
All the yelling and brusqueness seemed foreign to the experience I had with her earlier. She saw me and froze, her cheeks flaming.
"Sweetpea. This fine gentleman says he left his bankcard here. Do ye have it?"
Bella stared at me, her mouth opening and closing. Her nose wrinkled in nervousness before she reached into the pocket of her apron, producing my bankcard.
That was the night I fell for Bella Swan and officially rejoined the land of the living.
I became a regular at O'Malley's, though I spent a lot of the time with Charlie and his group of friends more than with Bella.
While she was never rude, I got the distinct feeling that she was hiding behind something. She was reserved and almost shy, but not really. She spoke her mind, adding some colorful commentary here and there. She laughed heartily, but only until she realized it was happening. Then she would suddenly stop and get all red and flustered. Bella acted like it was wrong for her to be enjoying herself.
Charlie seemed to take it all in stride, though. Perhaps this was just Bella. Regardless of her odd behavior, I spent as much time as I could at O'Malley's. The easy, friendly conversation and camaraderie of everyone involved allowed us to get to know each other on safe, solid ground.
Finally, after a few weeks, I gathered the courage to ask her out. I figured that dinner and a movie was a safe bet.
"Ed, I know the last time was a bust, but Rosie has another friend." Emmett smiled tentatively, and then added quickly, "A much quieter friend."
I had yet to tell him about Bella, but now I'd be hard pressed not to.
"No thanks Emmett. I think I've had enough of other people deciding who I should go out with." Emmett's grin fell. "What I mean is," I backpedaled, "thank you, but I can handle things from here."
"You met someone." He stated, rather than asked.
"I did. And it's still really new and we're going out tonight."
"Come on! You have to give me something. I've been trying to get you out of the hole you've been in for almost two years. Where did you meet her? What's her name?"
I eyed him for a moment, debating on how much to tell him. I felt very protective of this budding relationship, if that's what you'd call it. I didn't want to jinx it.
"I met her at a restaurant and her name is Bella."
"Bel-la," he said slowly. "Sounds exotic. Is she hot?"
"She's beautiful, Em," I smiled wistfully. "She makes me feel things I've never felt before."
I picked Bella up at six-thirty at the restaurant. I had learned that their living quarters were both above and behind the establishment. They had a beautiful outdoor patio area around the side that was hidden by a tall fence while their private rooms were above. I guess Charlie owned the whole building.
"You look fantastic." I smiled and ran a hand over her upper arm. I noticed that she jumped slightly at my touch, but only at first.
"Thank you," she giggled nervously. As I led her to my truck, she wrapped her arm through mine, leaning against me.
We had a short, quiet drive to the restaurant where I had reservations. It wasn't too fancy a place, but still nice.
"Cullen, table for two." I told the host. I felt that his eyes lingered too long on Bella, but I decided not to make a big deal out of it. It had been a long time since I'd been on the dating scene, so I chalked it up to me perceiving it as more than it probably was. Besides, she was gorgeous. Who wouldn't look at her?
"Tell me about yourself," I asked.
We were seated at a quiet table and had already placed our orders. The lighting was soft, casting a glow across Bella's face.
"What do you want to know?"
What didn't I want to know?
"You work with your grandfather, how did that come about?"
Bella sipped her water, avoiding eye contact.
"Well, Charlie practically raised me. My parents died when I was ten." She gave me a small smile. "Car accident."
"I'm sorry. That must have been tough."
"It was," she shrugged. "It was a long time ago, though." Bella took another drink of her water before picking the conversation back up.
"I've been a part of O'Malley's since forever. I really don't know anything else. Besides, Charlie needs me."
"Did you go to school?" I asked, thinking that there had to be more. "Not that you are less of a person for not going, if you didn't." I added quickly. Fuck, I sounded like an asshole.
"No, it's fine. I didn't go to college," she calmly stated, with with a shrug of one shoulder.
"Is there anything that you want to do besides helping Charlie?"
I couldn't read her features as she stared at me for a few moments. As I watched a myriad of emotions cloud her eyes, I wished that I could read her mind.
"Please don't take that the wrong way. There is nothing wrong with you just doing what you're doing. I was only wondering if there was something else you wanted, like a dream or aspiration."
God, this was turning into a fucking nightmare of a first date.
"I know what you meant and don't worry." Bella reached across the table and patted my hand. "I'm not offended or anything."
Just then, the waitress appeared with our appetizers. After placing the deep fried veggie platter and cheese sticks on the table, we fell into a silence that was deafening.
We glanced at each other as we picked at the food. It was almost painful. Looking at my plate, I desperately tried to figure out a way to salvage my sorry ass. Bella's sharp intake of breath brought my eyes back to hers.
"I was sick."
"Sick?" I asked, but Bella held up a finger. She started to speak, then stopped, her lovely eyebrows stitched together anxiously.
I zipped my lip and waited patiently for her to continue.
"I had a heart condition. The doctors say that I was most likely born with it, but it wasn't discovered until I was nine." Bella had been looking at the table, but raised her eyes to gauge how I was dealing with this new information. Not having a clue what to say to her, I reached across for her hand and gave it what I hoped was a comforting squeeze.
"Because of this, I led a very sheltered life. My heart problems progressed through childhood and my teen years until it couldn't take any more, and I was put on the list for a transplant. I'm only just learning how to live like a normal person." Bella's lips curved into a shy smile. "You're my first real date."
"No way. Really? How can that be?" I not only felt honored, but damn lucky.
"Well, the only other date I've had was to my Senior Prom, but I don't think that really counts." Bella blinked a few times and smiled shyly.
"Why is that?" I chuckled. She was so fucking adorable.
"Because Uncle Harry paid his son to take me." Bella let out a nervous giggle, brightening her entire face.
"I cannot fathom why anyone would need to be paid to escort you anywhere." I told her honestly. I was rewarded with more flushed skin.
"Seth and I are like siblings, Edward," she sighed, the exasperation rushing out of her.
"Hey, at least you didn't have to worry about that whole 'end of the night' bullshit."
Bella stared at me, then began laughing a full-on hearty laugh. It was a wonderful sound and I couldn't help but join her.
That seemed to break the ice nicely. Bella relaxed and began to enjoy herself, much to my delight.
"So San Francisco, huh?" I asked. We had our main course in front of us now but thankfully she still wanted to talk between bites.
"I know it isn't exotic or anything, but it's one place that I really want to go. And it's actually attainable. Sure, I'd love to go to Italy and London, even Russia and Hungary. I don't see that happening, though."
"Is that because of the transplant?"
"Partly, yes. I have yearly exams to make sure everything is working properly and I have to be careful about contracting diseases. That means traveling abroad could be tricky. Even the smallest of infections could cause major issues," she shrugged, looking a little bashful.
"You're what? Twenty?" I asked.
"Twenty-two," she smiled.
"You've a long life ahead of you. Anything can happen, right?" I hoped that I sounded encouraging.
Bella seemed to contemplate my statement before she gave me a bright smile.
"You're right, Edward."
I was worried that all this talk about her health might be too much. I transitioned the conversation to me, I telling her about my work, my parents, and Jake. I showed her his picture on my phone when she asked to see him.
"God, he's beautiful. Is he friendly?"
"He's a sap. He'll love you," I assured her.
After the waiter refilled our water, Bella went right back to questioning me. I was only too happy to answer, and glad that she was interested.
"What exactly does an engineer do?"
"I'm a civil engineer and mostly work for the great state of Illinois." I told her with a wag of my eyebrows. "It sounds more glamorous than it is. The job involves a lot of planning, mostly. We build bridges and tunnels, highways, stuff like that."
"And it's just you, your parents and your dog?"
"Mainly, yes. I work with my best friend. He and I are partners-I plan, he builds."
"How old are you, Edward?" Bella was back to being shy. Her cheeks flamed as she asked her question.
"Twenty-seven. Old enough to know better, young enough to not care." I laughed at myself, wondering where the hell that line came from. Bella only chuckled and continued on.
"Where are your parents?"
"They divide their time between here and the west coast. They have a place in Seattle. When the winters get to be too much here, they get the hell out of dodge."
"What is the appeal of Seattle? It seems more appropriate to go somewhere warm," she laughed.
"You'd think so, huh?"
"Seattle is where they met. I suppose it's sentimental. They both went to the University of Washington. Dad's a doctor and my mother is in social work. My father has a patent on a medical instrument that he created, so they can pretty much do whatever they want."
"Ooooh, independently wealthy huh? Must be nice." Bella laughed teasingly.
"They were just as surprised as anyone. He just thought the tool would make a particular procedure easier," I shrugged.
I told her about Jessica, about that cold, rainy night two years ago. Bella was quiet as she listened, offering her own solace in gentle hand holding. I assured her that I was in a good place with it all. I didn't tell her the rest, though. Even with that dark cloud, we were able to move on and talk of lighter things.
Our dinner was nice, fantastic, even. Once we got the conversation rolling past all the heavy stuff, it never stopped. I felt like I knew so much more about the enigma that was Bella Swan.
"Okay, that movie was horrid!" Bella squealed. "What the hell were they thinking?"
"I'm really sorry. I heard good things about it. Of course, it was Emmett who told me." I grimaced. "The first one wasn't too bad, so I thought it at least had that going for it."
"Well, neither Grown Ups one or two will be entering my DVD collection!" I loved hearing her laugh.
We had arrived at the end of the night in front of a mostly darkened O'Malley's. I heard the faint sounds of music coming from inside along with muted voices of those who were listening to it.
I wasn't planning on doing anything but seeing Bella to the door. This was completely new territory for her and she had already shared so much with me. Imagine my surprise when, after thanking me for a lovely evening, she rose on her tiptoes and gave me a quick kiss on the corner of my mouth. I barely had a chance to react before she was slipping through the front door.
After four months of dating, Bella and I had made the transition to a 'relationship' status. She had met all the significant people in my life and I knew all of hers well. Charlie and his buddies were a great bunch of guys and I liked spending time with them almost as much as I liked being with Bella.
We had progressed to heavy petting and even had stripped down to our underwear, mostly. Bella wore these thin, little tank tops under her shirts and was having difficulty with the idea of shedding it. I wasn't complaining at all. I would never push her for something she wasn't ready for.
I knew that part of Bella's recovery was the psychological aspect of the transplant. The main thing she was dealing with was allowing someone other than medical personnel to see her scars. I had caught glimpses of it, but I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable so I offered that she keep it on, but she said she wanted to do it the 'right' way.
"Honey, there is no right way. Seeing your scars," I paused, placing a kiss right above where the long scar began, "seeing all of you will not change how I feel. It's part of you, who you are." I gave her a soft kiss, hoping that she would really hear my words.
I moved slowly, reverently, taking my time so I didn't scare her. I began with whisper soft kisses along her neck, easing her shirt off as I made my way lower. With tender touches and words of encouragement, I tried making her feel as safe as possible, attempting to alleviate her fears.
I hovered over her, my weight held up by my arm that was pressed into the mattress. I eased one side of her bra off, then the other, all the while keeping eye contact with her. Once it was removed, I continued loving her with my lips and mouth.
"Your skin is so soft," I breathed against the side of her breast. "Jesus, you smell so good, too."
Bella whimpered, gripping my forearm and sliding her leg along mine.
I moved to the center of her chest, leaving wet, open mouthed kisses against the angry looking line that ran down her sternum. She tensed up and tried to move me, pushing lightly against my head.
"This is beautiful, Bella. This here," I ran my finger over the scar, "is how you're here. It's why you're alive, baby. Don't fear it, embrace it."
Bella raised her head, her lips seeking mine. Her kiss was full of heat and desire.
"Edward," my name all but danced off her tongue, "you feel so good." A tear slipped from the corner of her eye. "I never knew. I didn't know it could be like this."
I continued touching her in her most intimate places. Her responsiveness only fanned the flames of my desire.
"Oh... Edward. There... yes..." she moaned quietly. Her hands traced the planes of my back, nails digging in when I touched just the right spot.
The air was filled with quiet breathy mutterings of passion. I told her just how good she felt and how cared for she was. It had never been like this for me, but I didn't want to overwhelm her with the words that were dying to get out.
Bella's soft moans and gasps filled me with a manly pride as we became one; I wanted to consume her.
I held back a little with her though, somewhat wary of how much she could take. I supposed this was a learning experience for us both. Our loving was gentle and easy, but it was perfect. We could always work our way up to more.
After we were both spent, we laid in each other's arms, completely wrapped around one another. I almost spoke the words, but I knew it was too soon. I felt it, though. This woman had become my world.
I had left Bella sleeping, or so I thought, to take a quick shower and let Jake out. As I climbed back up the stairs, I heard a gasp and 'oh my god'.
What the hell?
"Bella? Are you okay?" I asked, increasing my speed up the steps.
"Uh, yeah. I just forgot something that I have to do... ," she shook her head as her words trailed off. "Something early in the morning." Bella raced around the room, haphazardly putting her clothes on as she found them.
"You're leaving?" I stood in the doorway watching, yet not believing.
"It's this thing I have to do for Charlie. I'm really sorry, Edward." Bella had yet to look at me. In a soft voice, so quiet that I wasn't sure I was supposed to hear it, she said "so damn sorry."
She was gone so fast my head was spinning. It wasn't until well after she left that I wondered how she had gotten home. Glancing at the clock, it was just shy of eleven PM. I quickly called Charlie, ready to go racing after Bella.
"Hey Charlie, uh... did Bella make it home alright?" I asked cautiously. I had no doubt that he would hand me my ass if anything happened to her.
"I thought she was with you, son. What happened?"
"Honestly, I have no friggin' idea."
"Hold on there, Edward."
I heard some muffled noise before he came back on the phone.
"Yeah, Edward? She just came in; safe and sound."
"Oka-ay. May I speak to her, please?" I asked anxiously.
More muffled noise and a longer wait to hear a voice. I drummed my fingers on the table in frustration.
"Son, I'm sorry. Bella doesn't want to speak to ye right now," Charlie said quietly.
I wasn't sure how to respond to that, so I said the only thing I could.
"Would you ask her to call me tomorrow after you guys are done?"
"Done with what?"
"She told me that she had to be up early to do something for you."
"Oh." Charlie cleared his throat. "Yes, that's right. I forgot all about it. Uh, sure thing Ed, I'll tell her to call you. Have a good night, son."
Well that was all kinds of fucked up weird. What the hell happened in the short time I was away from her?
My texts and messages had gone unanswered for three days. I figured that I ought to give her some space, but not knowing was killing me. Finally getting fed up, I headed over to O'Malley's to confront Bella and find out what exactly the problem was.
It was ten AM and the restaurant didn't open until noon. However, I knew that most of Charlie's crowd would be there. It seemed as if it was their home away from home.
I went around to the back through the personal patio area that belonged to Charlie and Bella.
As I rounded the corner, I saw Billy and Charlie with their heads together. Emily, Billy's lady friend, approached the two alerting them to my presence.
"Oh hey-yo there, son. How's it going?" Charlie was trying really hard to be nonchalant. Unfortunately for him, it was something he didn't pull off well.
Billy discretely moved to stand in front of the back door.
"Okay guys. What the hell is going on?" I knew that I had interrupted a conversation about whatever was up with Bella. You just get that feeling sometimes when you show up unexpectedly; you know you were being talked about.
The two older men exchanged glances and Billy shrugged his shoulders and gave a nod to Charlie.
"Sit down with me, Edward." Charlie gestured to a chair across from the one he sat in.
"Charlie, is Bella alright? I've been so worried."
"She needs some time, Edward." Charlie paused, allowing me time to digest that. "I think that things between you two moved a little fast. She needs to catch up, get her feet under her."
"What did I do?" I said more to myself than to him. "Everything was fine. What the hell happened in the twenty minutes that I was away from her?"
"Well now, that is for Bella to divulge." He cleared his throat nervously. "The only thing I can tell you is that you need to give her some time."
I left feeling bewildered. I must have missed something along the way. There was a tiny voice in the back of my mind that was saying what I had feared since the night of Jessica's death. Perhaps I really wasn't enough.
"Who the hell pissed in your Cheerios?"
"Fuck off, Emmett."
Em's eyebrows shot to his hairline.
"Edward, what's wrong?"
It was time for me to come clean. Obviously, I needed to finally tell my story to someone. Maybe having another person's insight would help. At this point, I'd take anything.
"Can we talk?" I sighed squeezing my eyes shut for a moment. I hadn't told a soul any of this and it was close to eating its way out of me.
"Lauren, hold all calls until I tell you otherwise," Emmett instructed our secretary. He closed the door and sat behind his desk, threading his fingers behind his head. "The floor is yours, buddy."
"Okay, so this is about Jessica." I glanced at Em to which he only nodded. "You are the only person who knows this, or will know. Please don't repeat it. To anyone."
Shit! I sounded like a girl.
"That night, when she died?" Em nodded again, staying quiet while I spoke. "When I got to the hospital, she was already gone. The police officers there gave me her personal effects." I cleared my throat and searched for the right words.
"Her phone was ringing and there were a few new texts. I answered, of course. She had died in a terrible accident," I explained. "Whoever was calling was obviously someone who would need to know, right?" I sipped my coffee then rose to start pacing. "It was a man who sounded awfully surprised to hear me answering Jess's phone. He didn't say much and I only asked who was calling. He hung up, so I looked up his contact information on her phone. His address was there along with his email and another number. There was nothing I could do at the hospital at that point; I had signed papers and answered questions. Plus, I think I was in a state of shock."
"What did you do, Edward?" Emmett asked after I was silent for a few minutes.
"I drove to his house. Something just felt off with that guy. I had to know who he was to Jessica." I cleared my throat again in an attempt to tamp down the anger that was bubbling inside of me.
"Take your time, Ed."
"Jessica had been with him before the accident." I spoke slowly. "He was her 'meeting' that was keeping her late at work that night. Only, the meeting was at his house, in his bed." Saying the words that I held inside for so long lightened me, if only a little.
"He admitted that to you?" Emmett asked quietly, though I noted an angry edge to his voice.
"Yes. It probably helped that some of her jewelry was sitting on his fucking coffee table. Shit that I had bought her."
"Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Partly because I was ashamed and really, I had so many questions; things that could only be answered by Jessica. Where had I gone wrong? Up to that point, I was under the impression that everything was fine between us. I had no idea that she was so unhappy and seeking gratification elsewhere."
"Why are you telling me now? What's going on in your life that suddenly, after two years, you're spilling your guts to me?" Emmett had moved to the front of his desk, leaning against it.
"Bella is acting strange. We were together the other day," I eyed him, making sure he understood what I was saying, "and everything was fantastic. She was sleeping and I got up to take Jake out and grab a quick shower. I doubt that I was gone for more than half an hour." I raked my fingers through my hair, gripping it in frustration. "When I went back upstairs she was rushing around to get dressed and in a huge hurry to leave. Fuck, Em, she didn't even have a car. I had driven that night. She ran out of there and well, I haven't spoken to her since. She won't respond to my calls or my texts."
I went on to tell him about the conversation that I had with Charlie and how both he and Billy were acting strange.
"Let me get this straight. You are making a correlation between Jessica cheating on you and Bella giving you the cold shoulder?" Emmett cocked an eyebrow at me.
"Why? You think that Bella is cheating on you?" he asked suspiciously.
"No." I shook my head vigorously. "She was acting scared; beside herself. I could understand if that happened before, but after? It just doesn't make any sense."
"I think you need to fill me in on Bella a little more. What is her deal?"
"Her deal? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I may be upset with Bella, but I wouldn't stand for anyone talking her down.
"She's really quiet and seems skittish. Almost like she's afraid of her own shadow," he shrugged. "I've been around her a handful of times, without the sex," he smirked, "and she's always been that way. There has to be a reason for that."
Even though it wasn't my story to tell, I had to share this with my best friend.
"She was really sick, Em. Her heart." I looked up and watched him wince. "She had a heart transplant."
He took a few moments to absorb that while I fiddled with a stray string from the cushion of my chair.
"So, does that mean that the rest of her life she has to be handled with kid gloves?"
"What the fuck, Em!" I was immediately enraged and on guard.
"That's not how I meant it." He raised his hands in defense. "Is her system in a delicate condition, like frail and all? Dude, I'm just trying to understand."
I let the rage fade and tried to explain, as best I could, Bella's condition. That while she does have precautions and procedures that she has to follow, she isn't going to break into a million pieces. She's healthy now and working all the time to increase her strength and endurance.
"The biggest thing is that it's a change in lifestyle, much of it psychological. Most of her life prior to the transplant was a life of wearing kid gloves and being delicate and frail. She's really just learning how to live her life fully." I explained.
"Okay, I get it. That's all I was wondering."
I let everything settle for a few minutes giving us both time to digest what was said.
"So what do you think?"
"Well," he crossed his arms over his chest; "I think that something spooked your girl the other night. You're only going to find out what, when you talk to her." He fixed his gaze on me, giving me a pointed look. "As for the other, well... I have to tell you that I never really liked Jessica. I never felt like she gave you the respect you deserved." Emmett frowned. "The way she spoke to you, especially in front of people," he shook his head, "that was messed up."
"However, while it takes two to tango and I'm sure you weren't always the prince that you appear to be, you treated her well, Edward. Who knows why anyone strays? You are not defective, though. And while I know you and Bella haven't been together very long, that girl loves you."
My head snapped up from where it rested in my hands. "What?"
"That last time we were out for dinner that girl was hanging on your every word. You could have told me you wanted to lay me over the table and rub my titties and she still would have been mooning over you," he chuckled.
"Jesus Christ, Em. You're so fucking eloquent."
"I know. It's a gift." He slapped my shoulder then went back to his chair. "Bella loves you. Go buy some flowers and candy or some shit and go see her. Don't leave until she talks to you."
So that's what I did. Choosing a dozen each of dark purple, light purple and white tulips, the little old lady behind the counter wrapped them in some nice paper and handed them to me with a smile. I stopped at a bakery and got a box of shortbread cookies that were intricately decorated; Bella loved those.
I gathered my courage and drove over to O'Malley's. Thinking I had a better chance at finding Bella, I went around the back to their patio area. I was only slightly surprised to find her sitting there reading.
"Edward." Her voice wavered as she spoke my name. "How are you?" She asked this as if nothing happened.
"How am I?" I snorted. "Confused, mostly. How are you?"
Bella's eyes dropped to her lap. She mumbled something that I couldn't decipher.
"Please talk to me," I begged.
I sat in a chair across from her, placing the box of cookies in front of me and handing her the bouquet. "These are for you. Whatever it was that I did, I'm sorry. Bella, please look at me."
She looked up finally, tears sliding down her cheeks. "You did nothing wrong, Edward. Nothing." Bella took the flowers, holding them to her face. "These are beautiful. Thank you."
"If I did nothing wrong, then what happened? You can tell me anything, Bella. Please."
Bella visibly steeled herself before she began to speak.
"I want you to know that I'm so sorry, Edward. I really wasn't snooping around. I was just looking at the things in your room; the pictures on your dresser." Bella took a deep breath, pushing it out harshly before continuing. "There was a letter sitting under a picture of your parents," she sniffled. "I recognized the stationery."
"A letter?" I had no idea what she was talking about.
"A letter that a donor recipient sent you."
Oh. That letter. I had almost forgotten about it.
"When Jessica died, the decision as to whether or not to donate viable organs was up to me. She never had anything written down, but we'd discussed it a time or two. I signed the paper for them to harvest whatever they could." I gave a small shrug. It was one of the tedious and unsavory details that you have to deal with at the worst possible time.
"Edward." Bella's voice was barely above a whisper. "When, exactly was Jessica's accident?"
"Just shy of two years ago. It was October 29th."
"My transplant was two years ago." Bella squeezed her eyes shut and said, "October 30th."
"Okay. Your transplant was..." An icy finger ran down my spine as realization set in. "Are you telling me... ?"
"Edward, that letter from the donor recipient was me. I wrote it. About a year after my surgery, I really needed to thank someone." Bella's voice trembled. "You can write a letter anonymously and the donor organization will forward it, that's what I did."
I stared at Bella while she silently cried. What am I supposed to do with this information?
My dead wife's heart is beating in Bella's chest.
"I'm so sorry. I promise that I didn't know," she cried.
A loud drum banged between my ears, my blood pumping so hard it was drowning out all rational thought.
"Thanks for telling me." I quickly stood, the chair scraping loudly across the cement. "I honestly don't know what to say." I swallowed hard as black dots began to pepper my vision.
"Please don't hate me." Bella pleaded.
"I'm going to go. I need to get my head around this."
I don't remember driving home, just that I had gotten there. I opened the door and Jake was jumping and barking, obviously ready to go out.
We walked. For three hours we walked. By the time I got home, the only thing I had decided was everything that was left of Jessica's had to go. I went methodically from room to room, removing all her little knickknacks and personal crap that was still sitting around gathering dust.
When I felt that I made a clean sweep, I gathered everything into trash bags and took them straight out to the curb. The next thing I did was grab a bottle of scotch and flip the television on. Mindless sitcoms and endless commercials later, I was drunker than I had ever been after polishing off the entire bottle. I attempted to make it up the stairs, but gave up on the second step. That is where I woke the next day. My head was pounding, my gut was churning and I had a hell of a crick in my back.
Someone began beating on the door, which only started Jake barking.
"STOP!" I yelled, causing my head to disengage from my body.
I stumbled to the door, barely able to make out who stood on the other side. The sun was bright and my eyes were mere slits.
"Edward, I see you fucked yourself over last night." Emmett was overly loud as he stepped over the threshold. "Charlie called me so I thought I'd come see what kind of fuckery you were up to."
"Close the door behind you." I grumbled, heading for the cabinet near the kitchen sink. I grabbed the bottle of aspirin and was unable to make my fingers work to open it.
"Get this off." I thrust the bottle at Emmett and rubbed my temples while he shook out three tablets. I stuck my head under the faucet and swallowed them down.
"Guess you could use this right about now." I heard the sounds of a paper bag rustling and pried my eyes open wider. "Tell you what. I'll give you this nice, greasy breakfast sandwich if you tell me what the hell happened." Emmett threw me a smile before taking a huge bite out of his own sandwich.
Emmett took enough pity on me to make some strong coffee, waiting patiently for it to take effect. He talked quietly to Jake as he led him to the back door to let him out.
"Spill, Scotch boy. You reek and need a shower. I want to know what brought you to this sorry state first, though." Emmett refilled my mug and plopped into the kitchen chair opposite me.
"She has Jess's heart," I stated quietly.
"Huh? Jess? What are you talking about?" He clearly wasn't following.
"Bella has Jess's heart, Emmett. The transplant?" I slapped a hand on the table. "My dead wife's heart is beating inside of Bella's chest."
I proceeded to tell him how Bella found the letter she wrote; the one that was so beautifully written, thanking the family of the donor for her second chance at life. How it was filled with such dignity and promise, how it helped me in a small way to deal with the aftermath of my wife's death. I felt a tear run down my cheek and angrily wiped it away.
"Okay," he paused, "so... that's coincidental."
"Sure as shit, it is."
"And, what? You're going to stop seeing her because of that?"
"What?! No. I don't know." I stood up so fast my chair toppled over. I began to pace and ramble, not really understanding what I was feeling.
"Slow down a sec, Ed. As I see it you have two choices. You either break it off with her and find someone else, or you move past this."
I couldn't fathom losing Bella. The thought of finding someone else made my chest tight.
Emmett's phone rang and I took the opportunity to right my chair and sit again.
"Well, it looks like one of us is needed in the office," his voice laced with sarcasm. "You figure out your shit and I'll take care of the City Planner's meeting."
"Thanks, Em." I looked up from the table as he headed for the door.
"Let me know if you need anything."
The door closed, leaving me in silence. Except it wasn't silent. Emmett's words were reverberating off the walls and resounding in my ears.
Breaking things off with Bella was out of the question. Unless, of course, that is what she wanted.
"I don't." My words were heard by no one, but they were the catalyst to light a fire under my ass.
I grabbed the now cold sandwich that Emmett left for me and let Jake in. After filling his food bowl, I ran up the stairs, inhaling the disgusting sausage and egg concoction on my way.
I showered, dressed, and then I called Charlie.
"Hey Charlie. Is Bella there?"
"Aye, she's here," he said cautiously.
"I'm on my way, make sure she stays put."
"Right-o, 'me boy. I'll do that." Charlie's tone had changed from guarded to elated.
I drove to O'Malley's not in a rush, but used the time to contemplate and organize my thoughts. I needed to be clear and have it all straight in my head when I spoke to her.
Bella, to me, was perfection-her laugh, her smile, the way she scrunched her nose when she was embarrassed. She makes me a better man.
Bella had a good soul. She cared about people and the world we live in. She loved deeply and gave everything to the people in her life. She brightened the room when she entered and left it wanting when she was gone.
My outlook on life in general was infinitely better since I met her. She made me want to live again. To be alive is a wonderful thing. Being alive with Bella was breathtaking and I couldn't see a life without her.
I pulled up to the restaurant and gathered my thoughts. I could not blow this.
Going inside, I blinked a few times, adjusting from the bright outside to the darker interior. It was still early, so the only people in the place were Charlie's cronies. The boisterous voices quieted when they took notice of me.
Emily approached me, linking her arm with mine and leading me towards the back of the restaurant.
"She's back here," Emily patted my arm before walking away. The rest of them hastily vacated, leaving Bella sitting at their table.
"Hey," I said, my voice scratchy.
"Hi." Bella gave me a small tight smile. "Wanna sit?"
Ignoring the chair she offered, I knelt in front of her, taking her hand in mine. She began to speak, but I hushed her with a finger to her lips.
"Bella." Her name came out of my mouth in a sigh. "I need you to know a few things." I gently brushed the hair from the side of her face. "I don't care whose heart is in your chest. It's your blood that pumps through it, your brain that controls it, your actions that strengthen it. As far as I'm concerned, it is YOURS. I don't care where it came from or who it belonged to before you. It doesn't change how I feel about you one bit." I swiped my thumb over her cheek, wiping a tear away. "You have my heart, regardless of where yours came from. I love you. You make me feel more alive than I have ever felt and that is all your doing. YOU." I placed my hand over her beating heart, feeling it thump heavily.
Bella smiled widely, throwing her arms around my neck.
"I don't want to spend any more time away from you," I confessed as I buried my face in her hair.
"Edward." Her smile crept slowly across full lips. "You've helped me to see the world through different eyes and I will always be grateful to you for that. I will always want you. I want everything with you," she sighed. "I love you."
A month after we worked out our issues, Bella was living with me and Jake. She still worked at O'Malley's though; I'd never ask her to leave Charlie. We made plans to redecorate the house however she wanted; my only want was to see her happy.
I arranged the time off of work for us both and booked a flight to San Francisco. Tucking the small white box in the bottom of my carry-on, I knew this would be a life changing trip. When we returned, we would have a wedding to plan.
I never knew I wasn't living until I met Bella and almost lost her. Now, I know what it means to be alive.
End note: Thanks so much for reading! I do have other projects in the works, but I don't see any of them posting soon. Lots going on in my world, but when I can get something ready, I'll post it up.