"Do you mind if I come over today?" I asked her before she slid into her truck. It had been weeks since her birthday. Since the day what I was-what my family was had almost ended her. I had realized it, the night that we'd kissed for the last time, the night of her eighteenth birthday; that I would have to take option three. Option three; to force her into option one-to remove myself from her life and force her into a normal human life.
It was killing me. Killing me to my core, but I had started to distance myself.
Bella had noticed. There was no doubt about that. I could see the wariness, the hesitation whenever she looked at me. I wanted so desperately to know what she was thinking. Well, I was always desperate for that, but more so than ever. I wanted to know what was going through her head every time she turned from me, expression pained.
"Of course not." Her voice was toneless. She said it without looking at me. It was a mirror of my own tone and actions in the last few weeks. I could see the pain flicker across her beautiful face.
"Now?" I prompted, opening the door of her truck for her. I was urgent to get this out of my head before I dodged it again. I had already delayed far too long. I knew it would only make it harder for her later on, but I just couldn't let her go. She was my world. Every moment I spent with her was a miracle. I internally shuddered at the thought of being separated.
For Bella, I thought for what was sure to be the millionth time, no matter how much pain I'm bound to suffer, I'm doing this for Bella. I glanced at the face of my precious Bella. How perfect she was.
"Sure," she replied, bringing me back to the present. Her voice was even, although uncertainty flashed in her eyes.
I hated to see her like this.
Hated it so much. I wanted to comfort her-wanted to console her. I wanted to kiss her, and stroke her hair, and tell her that everything was all right, and I was sorry, and I loved her.
For Bella. I reminded myself, I'm doing this for her.
"I was just going to drop a letter for Renee in the mailbox on the way. I'll meet you there." I glanced over into the passenger's seat of her truck to spy an envelope. I suspected it had the pictures she'd promised her mother. I reached out a hand and plucked it off the cushions.
"I'll do it," I volunteered, careful to keep my voice quiet and devoid of enthusiasm. I could not let my mask slip now. "And I'll still beat you there." Despite my strict orders to myself, I felt the corner of my lips twitch up the slightest bit. I caught myself mid-smile and didn't let it touch my eyes.
"Okay," she agreed, not smiling back like she usually did. I didn't need to read her mind to know that she loved it when I smiled like that. I shut her door and headed to my Volvo, letting the tough mask slip as soon as her eyes were off me. I felt my features slip into a grimace of pain.
I dropped the letter off and sped to her house in record time, parking in the father's space-I had no intention of being there long, I had so many things to do before her ancient Chevy got there. Why wouldn't she let me buy her something small and quiet and efficient? I cringed away from the thought. I never would get the chance to do anything more for her again.
This would be my last act of love.
I blurred into the house, and found a piece of paper and a pen. I knew Bella well enough to know what I was about to do would hurt her. I knew she would not go straight home. I would take a precaution to that, so if her father returned home before she did, at least he wouldn't be beside himself with worry. I visualized the lovely casual scrawl of Bella's handwriting in my mind, and wrote, letter for letter, in the same hand:
Going for a walk with Edward, up the path. Be back soon.
I sighed and returned the pen to the drawer I had located it in. That was the least painful of the tasks I was bound to complete before the night was done. I flinched again as I went up the stairs (blurred, I'd guess, to human eyes) into Bella's room. Her scent-her absolutely mouthwatering scent saturated the room. But also, it was mixed with my own.
I scanned the room for a half a second before I spied the plane tickets Carlisle and Esme had gifted Bella with to go see her mother. Those would be the first to go. I scooped them from her bedside table. I kept them in my hands as I discovered scrapbook Renee had given her for her birthday lying on the floor. I knew there would be pictures in it. "A clean break" the words echoed in my mind-the engrained speech I had practiced to give to her. "It will be as if I'd never existed."
If vampires were able to cry, that was exactly what I would have been doing as I knelt on the floor beside her bed and opened to the first page. I saw many pictures of my own face staring back at me. The first in her kitchen on her birthday. I saw my flawless face, but paid no mind. It only reminded me of what I was…and of the damage I'd rendered because of it. I sighed in relief as I saw Bella's own face smiling back from behind the camera, reflected in my golden eyes. My eyes flicked to the next picture.
It was of her father and myself in her living room. My face looked so different here. My expression was cold and hard and distant. This picture held no interest to me-the person I was looking for was nowhere to be seen in it. I looked at the last picture the metal tabs held on this page. I was confused for a fraction of a second. Only half of the picture was there-the half of myself, my eyes guarded and distant, as I'd meant them to be. To distance myself-to make the break easier on her. Where was she? I remembered this picture was of both of us.
I took the picture out and found Bella had folded the picture over, placing the half with herself down. Why would she do such a thing? Why would she hide her gorgeous face? Who would want to look at me when she was there? I scowled. I knew why. She thought I was beautiful-an angel. She thought, with me as a comparison, she looked hideous and plain. I almost gagged with disgust at the idea. Not at Bella-of course not at Bella. But at the idea that the words hideous or plain would even fit in the same paragraph as my Bella.
I flinched. She would not be my Bella for very much longer.
At the bottom of the page was a line of writing.
Edward Cullen, Charlie's kitchen, Sept. 13th
I gazed at my name in her beautiful, awkward handwriting. I could practically see the care and love oozing from the letters. She'd written my name neater, more calligraphic than the other words.
A dagger buried itself deep in my chest at that.
I plucked each of the pictures from their holders and gathered them into my hand. I went through the other pages, removing any that depicted my face. I tried not to linger on the ones that had Bella in them, but failed. I stared at her face-her beautiful face, knowing I would never see it again after tonight.
I was tempted to take those pictures too, to have them to gaze at in the lonely nights which would never bring sleep as a relief to the agony I could feel stirring in my chest, waiting for the night to close. But I would leave her with those. I would do nothing that would suggest that I wanted her-needed her as badly as I did.
I straightened myself up. It seemed like I'd knelt on her floor for hours, although it must've only been one minute since I'd arrived here. I popped open the lid of her old beaten up CD player, and found the recording of my piano playing. I wanted to get her an iPod-an 80 gigabyte one that could hold all the songs she wanted. Or at least an MP3 player. She would like that. I shook my head, clearing the thoughts. I was giving her the best thing I could: a normal life. That was all I could do for her now.
I took the CD out gingerly and closed the lid with a muted snap. I felt the dagger in my chest twist painfully. What was I going to do with these? Could I bear to take them, as I'd intended to-leaving her with nothing to remind her of me but her memories that would soon fade?
Yes. That was the rational answer. That was the point. A clean break, I reminded myself. I made a snap decision. I walked to the very corner of her room, behind her desk, and knelt down to the wooden flooring there. With my non-human strength I wrenched the floorboard up, revealing about a six inch space beneath it. This is wrong, I told myself. This goes against the point.
But I couldn't do it. I couldn't leave her with no record of me-of the insane, desperate way I loved her. She would never find these things here, I reasoned.
I placed the plane tickets, the pictures, and the CD in the space beneath the floorboards. Replacing the flooring, I sealed away all the evidence she had that I'd every really been here with her.
I couldn't be sure whether or not I was grateful vampires could not cry.
I was back in my car, trying hard not to think about what I was about to do, when her noisy truck roared up into the driveway. I saw the driver's side door open in my rearview mirror and stepped out of my own car as well. I went to meet her, reading the wary expression on her face. I took her book bag as I usually did, but instead of carrying it into the house as I did on a normal day, put it on the passenger's seat. Confusion and suspicion flashed in her beautiful chocolate brown eyes.
"Come for a walk with me," I suggested in my poker voice. My poker face had been in place the moment I'd seen her drive up. I took her hand, unable to stop myself. It felt so warm in mine. In my head, I sighed, and imagined myself reaching out to stroke her face, again imagining what I would say: I'm sorry, I'm sorry for the way I've acted…I'm sorry, I love you, don't ever leave me: I need you.
But instead I stared straight again into the trees as we walked toward to path on the east side of her yard. I wanted so badly, with the time I had left, to gaze at her face, to memorize it, although I could already see it perfectly clear through my photographic memory. Again, I was desperate to hear what she was thinking.
We'd gone a few steps into the trees, and I decided that I shouldn't go too far in. I should leave her in sight of the house. I couldn't deal with her getting lost after this-not after what I was about to do to her. The dagger buried itself deeper, impaling my still, unbeating heart. I arranged my features into my perfect poker mask before I faced her, leaning against a tree.
"Okay, let's talk," she said. It surprised me how brave, how sure her voice sounded. I took a deep breath. My chest ached. The dagger twisted and went deeper. I didn't allow a wince to leak through my mask.
"Bella, we're leaving." She took a deep breath too. I couldn't understand the expression on her face. There was no pain, only deep concentration. The next words out of her mouth also surprised me. She always kept me guessing…right up until the very end. I shoved that thought from my mind.
"Why now? Another year-"
I countered quickly. I couldn't allow any uncertainty on my part to reach her.
"Bella, it's time. How much longer could we stay in Forks, after all?" I said, making it up as I went. "Carlisle can barely pass for thirty, and he's claiming thirty-three now. We'd have to start over soon, regardless." That should be enough to answer her questions. She was silent for a moment. The expression of deep concentration returned to her face. Antagonizing silence emanated from her mind. And then realization dawned across her beautiful features. There was a hint the pain I'd feared.
"When you say we-" she whispered. She'd though I was talking about her. Pain shot clear and strong through me. How much deeper could the sword go before it punctured straight through my back?
"I mean my family and myself." I said each word with separate clarity. She shook her head back and forth as if she was trying to clear a daze from it. Minutes dragged by before she spoke again.
"Okay. I'll come with you." The agony was worse this time. Twice as strong as all the other stabs put together.
"You can't, Bella. Where we're going…" I deliberated quickly for the right words. "It's not the right place for you." Deny it, the weaker side of me pleaded her silently, deny it. Tell me to stay, tell me to stay.
"Where you are is the right place for me." Thank you.
"I'm no good for you, Bella," I told her truthfully. She belonged in a world of sunlight and blue skies. She didn't deserve the shadows I lived in.
Say it's not true, the weak part of me whispered in my head again. Tell me I deserve you. Tell me I'm good enough to love you.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. It came out as a beg that wrenched my still heart. "You're the very best part of my life." Oh God, how was I going to get through this?
"My world is not for you," I argued. The truth again.
"What happened with Jasper-that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!" That hadn't been Jasper's fault at all. It was mine…all mine. Because of the despicable creature I was.
"You're right," I agreed, "It was exactly what was to be expected."
"You promised!" She said unexpectedly (as always), taking a different route. "In Phoenix, you promised that you would stay-" I could hear every word in my head from that day. Another promise to be broken. Another heart.
"As long as that was best for you," I interrupted, counteracting smoothly.
Tell me you need me. Tell me to stay.
"No! This is about my soul isn't it?" She guessed, shouting. As always she saw straight to the heart of me. Though, I was guiltily grateful. Anger I could handle-could keep my poker mask through. If she started sobbing, I didn't know if I could still act through that. But the words resembled her earlier ones: like a beg, a plea. "Carlisle told me about that," Carlisle? I pushed the new thoughts aside "and I don't care, Edward! I don't care."
Don't do this, the stronger part of me was pleading now, I'm not strong enough for this.
"You can have my soul. I don't want it without you-it's yours already!"
How could I take her soul? Hadn't I already taken enough? She was like the Wizard of Oz, giving away her brain, her heart. All to me. Me who already had a brain-however cynical-me who already had a heart-however silent-me who had no soul to offer back.
Tell me I'm good enough to love you-
I felt ice flood my system, freezing my heart and the dagger in it-freezing the weaker side of me mid-sentence.
"Bella…I don't want you to come with me." The lie came out as smooth as honey, cold as ice. She paused, her face confused.
"You…don't…want me?" She whispered. The words came out as if she was testing them-trying them out to see how her mouth formed them, not a question. But I answered anyway. And out came the most hideous lie I had ever told.
"No." Pain exploded through me. My entire body rippled and shuddered with it, although I did not move. She stared into my eyes. I could see my cold expression reflected in her wide eyes. I reinforced my mask, making sure she couldn't see down into my non existent soul, and see how much I loved her…see how much I needed her.
"Well, that changes things." It surprised me how calm her voice was-like she hadn't grasped what I was saying yet.
Don't believe me. The weaker side broke through the ice, but I shoved it back down, freezing it over again. She stared blankly at me, so I decided to get on with my speech.
"Of course I'll always love you…" forever and ever, my weak side fought its way up. I didn't force it down this time. I allowed it to speak. Even when I am ash and dust, scattered in the wind, every fiber of my being will love you with an intensity the universe has never seen before. Even if I do have a soul, and I burn for eternity in the fires of Hell, it will be your name I scream out again and again. I will always love you, even when my essence no longer exists in this universe, my love with remain. "…in a way."
I couldn't let that go on if I expected myself to get through this without slipping up.
"But what happened the other night made me realize that it's time for a change." That sentence was true. "Because I'm…tired of pretending to be something I'm not, Bella. I am not human. I've let this gone one much too long and I'm sorry for that."
I've hurt you too much. I'm so sorry. I love you too much. I'm so, so sorry.
"Don't." Her voice was only a whisper-a begging plea that made the dagger in my chest burst into flames, charring the wound. Only it didn't cauterize it-didn't stop the bleeding. This was not ordinary fire. It only made the agony sear. I could see the pain suddenly fade into her eyes, like turning the color up on a computer monitor. "Don't do this."
I'm not, sweetheart, Bella, my love. I love you more than the universe, more than anything. Believe me.
I froze the words where the popped up in my head. The emotion in my eyes iced over. I would not make this harder on her.
"You're not good for me, Bella." I flipped my words around so they were no longer the truth.
I'm lying, my Bella, my only love. Don't believe me.
Why couldn't I stop thinking these thoughts? Make them stop, I pleaded, before I do something I shouldn't. She opened her mouth to say something.
Deny it. You know it's a lie. If there's anyone who deserves me and so, so, so much better it's you.
Luckily my mask was not so much a mask now, but a steel wall around all my emotions.
She closed her mouth.
How can you believe that? I wanted to shout at her. How can you possibly think you don't deserve me?
"If...that's what you want." I nodded once. Her face went numb…like she was in denial.
"I"-love you so much I might just die here right in front of you, love you so much I could die so I won't have to live without you, love you so much I could die so you can have a life without interference from me, love you-"would like to ask one favor though, if that's not too much." Courage, purpose flashed across her face, as if she was determined to do one last thing for me. I felt a split second of pain leak through my mask and flicker across my face. I reinforced the walls three times.
"Anything," she vowed.
Stay with me, I wanted to say, hold me, kiss me, love me. Bella, Bella…
I let my walls down carefully, letting the ice melt to my neck, where it stopped. I didn't want to release the ice from the dagger in my chest yet…not until she was out of sight.
"Don't do anything reckless or stupid," I ordered. I heard my voice, suddenly so much less detached. I could bear to lose her this way. Barely, but I could keep breathing in and out, knowing she would be safe, and someday happy. But if I lost her completely…I couldn't stand the world without her in it. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" She nodded helplessly, as if grasping at threads. The pain flared, but I froze myself back up. I would leave her with no loose ends. "I'm thinking of Charlie of course," I lied. I "He needs you. Take care of yourself-" for me "for him." She nodded again, the blank, dazed look of denial still glazing her eyes. I didn't know which would have been worse-this or crying.
"I will," she whispered. I relaxed. I'd made this point to myself hundreds of times since I'd decided to do this-to destroy the meaning of my life. She could not love me as much as I loved her. No one could love anyone as much as I loved Bella. It was physically impossible. Everything inside me-all the extra room in my head that came with being a vampire, the empty caverns of my heart, and all the empty space left behind by the absence of my soul-that was all filled with my love for her. There was no where else to put any more. She would get over me. She would love someone else eventually. She would be happy.
The strength of that thought, however painful, gave me the strength to say the hardest part-my promise. I would promise her one last thing, one last gift she could not return.
"And I'll make you a promise in return." Even to myself the words sounded cold and distant. "I promise that this will be the last time you'll see me. I won't come back." And it will kill me. It will kill me to be away from you. It's killing me to do this-to say I don't love you. Bella, Bella, my love, my life. "You can go on with your life without any more interference from me." You can live a happy normal life. "It will be as if I'd never existed."
Which is what it should have been-I shouldn't exist. It was a fact I had lived with for eighty-odd years. The very fact that I was living and breathing went against nature. Bella deserved someone whose existence did not go against the laws of the universe-a normal human man who could walk in the sunlight with her-someone who could grow old and die with her.
Her knees started to shake, and I heard her pulse speed up.
No, don't do this my stronger side begged; I won't be able to get through this. I won't be able to go. The dagger burst into flames again, twisting and turning, cutting my motionless heart to shreds. For Bella, I did not let it show. Once again, I let the ice melt from my eyes.
"Don't worry. You're human" And I'm not "your memory is no more than a sieve."
Please don't forget me.
For Bella, I scolded myself. For Bella…
"Time heals all wounds for your kind." Someday…please be happy.
"And your memories?" She choked. It sounded as if she was gagging on something-like she was drowning.
"Well-" -nothing would make me forget. I could never forget the beauty of her face, the loveliness of her voice, the brilliance of her smile, the goodness of her heart- "I won't forget." With my photographic memory, it would be physically impossible to forget. Thank God-thank heaven for that. "But my kind" �will only hurt you "…we're very easily distracted." I smiled at her, forcing my walls back up, freezing the solid iron so nothing would leak through. How easily the lie came. There would be no distraction from the…from the agony. Agony I could see flaring behind the hazy emptiness of her eyes.
For the millionth time, I want to run to her, to stroke her hair, to tell her that I was a liar, and I was sorry.
But instead, although I thought it would kill me to take a step
further from her, away from my Bella, my life, I did.
"That's everything, I suppose." You're my everything. "We won't bother you again." She looked up at me, her expression hollow, and dead. But something flashed in her empty eyes.
"Alice isn't coming back," she said to herself, her voice trembling like a leaf in the wind. I shook my head slowly, watching her, wanting to hold her, to kiss her.
"No. They're all gone." They were all gone. Everything in my life would soon be meaningless. "I stayed behind to tell you goodbye." I'd stayed behind to tell goodbye to my life. Because the little four letter word: love was not nearly enough to hold the way I felt for Bella. I loved her. I loved her so desperately, that it hurt to be away from her. And when I was, I was sure I would die, I was sure of it. I knew Carlisle had proved that there was almost no way to kill a vampire, but no one had ever tried to kill from the inside out.
I loved her so badly that I needed her like she needed food. Bella was my world. She was the air I breathed. But unlike the air that did nothing to sustain my life, she was what kept me alive.
"Alice is gone?" She repeated, wrenching me away from my thoughts. How stupid of me. There would be more than enough time for that when my life was over. How could I be stupid enough to spend my last moments with her lost in thought?
"She wanted to say goodbye," I remembered Alice's face when I'd told her and cringed away from it, "but I convinced her that a clean break would be better for you."
My memory drudged up the image of the Phoenix hospital x-ray room. I held Bella's hand while the doctor traced the line of her severed bone. You have a clean break, he'd said, that's good. It will heal more easily, more quickly.
Bella's breathing accelerated.
No, sweetheart, no, my weaker side kept pushing up through the ice and metal. You deserve so much better than me. You need to be happy, and that's just not something I'll be able to give to you.
"Goodbye, Bella," I whispered to her, gazing one last time at the beautiful face of my precious creature.
"Wait!" She gasped, as if she was having trouble breathing. The helpless, horrified, pleading expression almost undid me. According to Carlisle, my self control was unimaginable, but it was just something I did. I could not imagine hurting Bella-drinking her blood. Although, sometimes I was close to slipping, but I always was in control.
This plea was so much stronger than the call of her blood. That choked broken word almost smashed my defenses and I almost fell to the ground in front of her, begging her to take me-to love me. Instead I just unconsciously took a step towards her. But she was stumbling towards me too, horror on her face now. I wrapped my hands around her wrists and pressed my lips to her forehead.
Time moved so much differently to me than it did to her. To her it would have only seemed a fraction of a second. But to me, I stood there for minutes on end, memorizing the feel of her skin against my lips, the heat of her against the ice I was constructed of, the indescribably wonderful scent that radiated from her.
In my mind, I imagined myself pulling her too me, and moving my lips to her own, and whispering I loved her into the hollow at the base of her throat as I made her gasp for air, gave her pleasure from my kisses, made her feel wonderful-like the extraordinary angel she was.
But I didn't.
An angel such as her did not belong with a demon like me.
And I refused to steal heaven from her grasp.
So instead, I just moved my lips to hover beside her ear, and whispered:
"Take care of yourself." My love, my Bella…May your days be filled with sunshine.
And I ran. I ran at inhuman speed away from the little cloudy town that had become my home, away from the forest where I loved to run the most-away from the most important thing of my existence.
And then the pain hit me. I hadn't realized before-I'd been running so fast-that when I'd wrenched myself away from the trail, the dagger had stayed too, as if there was a chain attached to the end of it, tied around one of the ancient trees. I felt hollow, empty. The sword had impaled my heart, I remembered. It must have ripped my heart out with it, leaving a huge, searing hole in my chest.
Maybe the chain wasn't tied to a tree, I reasoned, maybe Bella held-I cried aloud in agony. The thought of her name sent such torture through me, I stopped breathing. I grimaced with the irony.
My heart would always belong with her.
The ragged edges of the hole sent agonizing, searing waves of loss emanating through my body. I fell to my knees, knocked breathless again by the strength of it. I sat, knees drawn up to my chest, arms around them, trying to keep the hole from tearing wider-tearing me into pieces. What was left of me, that is.
I don't know how long I stayed like that. I knew it was dark then, and though no moon filtered through the dense trees, I could still see. How dark it must be for a human, I thought in passing. I didn't dare move. I didn't dare think. I could feel the edges of the hole, rippling, curling in, waiting for me to slip up and think of her.
Far off in the distance, though I must have been at least thirty miles from Forks, I heard the voices of people's thoughts.
Thank God, we found her. That was Charlie. Found her? In his mind, I saw her on the couch-I was careful not to think her name, and I didn't focus on her in the picture I saw through Charlie's mind.
"I want to know if Edward left you alone out there in the middle of the woods," he insisted. I'd left her right by the house. How had she gotten lost?
"It was my fault. He left me right here on the trail, in sight of the house…but I tried to follow him."
Tried to follow him?! Charlie and I had the same thought. Oh, no. I grimaced as the edges of the hole began to burn as I registered her voice-as hollow and empty as it was-still so beautiful. Charlie was about to scold her but she interrupted him.
"I can't talk about this anymore, Dad. I want to go to my room." I felt Charlie's confusion as she dashed up the stairs. I tuned out the frequency of Charlie's thoughts and stared at the dark grass. She wasn't crying. That was a good sign. Maybe she wasn't in love with me, as she thought she was.
A small part of me ached at that, but I was relieved. This way she would move on more quickly. She probably only stayed with me because of the incredible "beauty" of vampires…or the money….or-no. I shook my head. She was not shallow like that at all. I was thinking of Rosalie. She…my love, was kind, and honesty, and unselfish. She saw people for who they really were. But wait, if that were true, why did she still want to be with me…maybe she only thought herself in love with me?
Of course it couldn't be love, I reasoned. You couldn't love someone without a soul.
I wave of pain shot through me as I remember what I'd hidden below the floorboards. She would never find them. I knew it. Why I had done such a juvenile, dim-witted thing?
I was in love.
And now my life was over.
For Bella. For her happiness…for her life. For my one and only. For my Bella. I took the pain without crying out this time, although it was almost worse.
Even as far away as I was, I was sure I could still hear the distant throb of her heartbeat. It was slow and even. She was asleep. Good. I would have guessed it was past three in the morning. Not that it mattered to me.
I couldn't move. I figured I might as well stay here. The hole wasn't acting up right now.
That didn't last long once I heard her start screaming.
I jumped to my feet and, despite my deepest impulse (to go to her and comfort her and love her like no one else was capable of), I ran in the opposite direction of the cries of my love's agony.
For Bella, for Bella, for Bella, I chanted in my head as I ran. The pain was worse than anything I'd ever experienced-worse than the Spanish influenza, worse than James' teeth ripping across my arm in Phoenix (I'd never told Bella of this), worse than the writhing torture of being changed-but somehow I kept running… running… running… away from my everything.
For Bella, for Bella, for Bella.