Chapter 37: This is Goodbye
I roll over to an empty bed. I lay and listen. I don't hear her. The clock reads early morning. I sit up.
I rub my face and crawl out of bed. I stand on the top of the stairs. Silence. I walk to her door and knock. The door creaks open. I push it wider and all is dark. My heart burns. It's missing. I walk inside her room and look around. You'd never know she lived here. There's nothing of hers, except the fragrance lingering in the air. I close the door and go downstairs. There's no trace of her here, either. It's sterile and boring and lifeless. There are no Bella feet swinging while she eats her cereal. No smiles to greet me. No vanilla and butter from pancakes to smell.
And it's over. And Kate needs to rot in the darkest circle of Hell. And everyone who has ever hurt Bella needs to join her. And nothing…nothing I could say or do or try or show, could have changed her. I'm not angry at her. But I'm angry. And my head throbs. And my chest hurts. And the quiet of the kitchen screams in my ears. And this is goodbye.
The shower water has run so long it turns cold. I can't move. It streams over my face and I still can't feel it. All I feel is the hole in my chest. The kick in the gut. The bruises on my face have nothing on this. The cuts and scrapes have nothing on this. And I understand why it doesn't matter to Bella. Why physical pain is nothing to her. It is just that, nothing. Nothing in comparison.
A ghost sits on my bed. She's watching me get dressed. I can see her, but she is invisible. I button my shirt. I tie my own tie. It's not as perfect. I sit and put on my shoes and pause. The front door closes. My heart finds its proper rhythm. But brain tells me not to be stupid. I walk slowly towards the stairs and then faster down them.
"Where the Hell did you go?"
And her face is scared like a child. She holds up a bag. "The Thing wanted Oreos."
There is a gas station bag with a package of cookies inside of it. She still looks scared. I rub my face.
"I'm sorry." I pull her into my arms. The hole goes away. The bag and the cookies press into my chest. I'm probably crushing them since I'm holding her so tightly. I can't help it.
Her voice is mumbled. "I didn't think you'd be awake, yet and I couldn't sleep. This shit is worse than being a drunk, I'm telling you. You want something and it doesn't shut up until you give in."
I laugh into her shoulder. It's relief.
"I'm sorry." I lean away. My palm runs over her head. "Eat your cookies, Sweetheart." I wave to a stool.
She sits down. She already ate some on her walk home. The package has been opened. I grab a glass and pour her some milk. She rolls her eyes, but drinks it nonetheless.
"Cullen?" I look at her. "Where did you think I went?"
I look down to the package. "I thought you left. Because of yesterday."
She dunks her cookie and takes a bite. She's thought about it. I see it on her face. Maybe she is still thinking about it. The words barely make it out of my mouth.
"Are you going to leave, Bella?"
She finishes chewing. She takes a sip of milk. "I should. I should, Cullen."
I open my mouth to protest. She stops me. "I'm not, so don't freak out, Freak."
I need to make sure I heard right. "You're not?"
She sighs. "I told your favorite person in the whole world that I would take care of you… and shit I mean…" she looks me over. "Jesus Christ, you can't even dress yourself, Cullen."
And I can't help but to smile. She rolls her eyes. "Don't smile like that. It's not a good thing. You're seriously messed up in the head, Edward. Only you would want to bring more turmoil into your life. I swear you need professional help." She shoves a cookie in her mouth.
I kiss her cheek. "I have."
She looks at me. Her cheek bulges from where the food is. "Have what?"
"Seen a professional," I clarify.
"You have? When?"
"Jasper wasn't always Alice's boyfriend."
She swallows. "Your sister is dating your shrink? Yeah….yeah you seriously have a gene that is fucked up."
I smile. "He's not anymore and I only saw him a few times after Tanya died. I trust him. I know he would never betray my confidence. Jasper is a good man."
"Speaking of betrayal, have you heard from Rosalie?"
I shake my head. "I doubt I will anytime soon."
Her face dims. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Bella. Emmett made his bed."
"And I helped him. And thanks to that twat Kate, Rosalie thinks I was fucking her husband. I never did that, you know. It was never like that. I swear."
I touch her face. "I know."
She stares at me. "Cullen?"
"Why are you dressed up?" And it's like time stops. Her face changes like the leaves going through seasons. She knows why. She doesn't like it. She's a child again. A hurt child.
"You're going to see Tanya…aren't you?"
I nod. I see her eyes trying to see my finger. It's still bare. She's wrong. I touch her face.
"I figured out something to say, finally."
Her eyes soften. "You did?"
"I did. If you'd like to go see Charlie, I'll wait while you get dressed. I know you like dressing up when you see him."
I fold my hands on the counter and stare at the cookies. Bella stands and slides in her stool.
"Your face looks like hell, Edward."
I smile, but keep my eyes forward. "It was worth it."
She kisses my cheek and the warmth lingers when she leaves. It's on my face. It's in my heart. It's inside of me and it'll never leave. As long as Bella is here, it doesn't leave. I find a jar in the kitchen, up on the top shelf. I stick the rest of the cookies inside. It's something you would never find in my kitchen. It's something that someone would never eat for breakfast here. I stare at it sitting on the counter and nothing has ever looked more appropriate.
And I don't miss the flowers that used to sit in its place. Peonies. She always loved peonies.
"I love these flowers. You know why, Edward? They are said to be named after Paeon, a physician to the God's. They also say Paeon was supposedly "saved" from the fate of dying as other mortals by being turned into the flower. That's where its name comes from. Maybe your mother should have named you Paeon, not Edward." she smiles, sliding the petals over my face. "You saved me."
I take the flower from her. "Edward happens to mean 'fierce guardian', thank you very much."
She laughs. "Well, then I guess that is appropriate too."
But I didn't and I couldn't have. And I won't make the same mistakes with Bella. I won't try and rescue her if she doesn't want rescuing. I can only nurture her. I can only advise her. I can only be the best man I know how to be and I can only hope that it is enough. I only have that. I only have what I am. I only have what I've become.
And if she accept it, if she wants it, than I have to be more. She deserves more than a shell. She deserves more than to feel second rate. She deserves more than what others have given her. The side-car. The fill in. The replacement for what they couldn't find at home. She is home. This is home. There is a ghost living in it and it's not fair. It's not right. To anyone.
I close my eyes and press my hands together. I don't need church to speak to God. I don't need fancy clothes or shiny shoes. If he is there, he is here. I need strength and guidance and if he can provide them when twenty dollars is in the receiving tray, then I am asking him to provide them when it is not. How does it feel to pray with nothing but your hope? Nothing but your heart. Scary, it feels scary.
I finish and lower my hands. Bella is beautiful. She is a lady and she is someone's daughter. She is the dark hair and light eyes of someone. She is the grace and the shy of someone. She is alive and real and here and needing someone. She is someone.
"You'd make Charlie proud, Bella."
I get up and slide my stool in. I don't grab my jacket. I don't fix my tie. I find my keys and Bella hands over my cell phone when I am looking for it. I flip off the lights and let her walk ahead of me. I glance back at the jar and it still looks right.
I help her out of the car and kiss her hand before we part ways. It's still hard, but I go. I stand and stare at the ground while the words try to find themselves. Bella is sitting on the ground by her father. I see her lips moving. I wonder what she is saying. I look back to Tanya.
"I didn't bring flowers, today. I was going to, but I remembered this morning what they meant. What you told me and I think it's a little silly. Not that you don't deserve them, Sweetheart, but it's a little goddamn silly, don't you think?
"The story of Paeon. The reason you told me you wanted them at our wedding. An omen of good fortune and a happy marriage. It's just silly, Tanya."
I kneel down. My hands pass over the grey and raised letters. "I always loved you, Tanya. In my heart, I'll always have a place for you. I know you were a good person. I wouldn't have married you if I thought otherwise. I have to believe that you married me because you thought the same things.
"I'll never forget you, but I need you to let me go. I won't smite Bella because of what happened between us. I have to believe that you would want me to have her, because I would want you to have someone as good as she is, if the shoes were reversed. I'd set you free. I'd let you go, Sweetheart.
"I'd want you to go. So, please, let me go, too." I pull the box from my pocket. "I'm going to put these under our bench. That's where we began….and that's where we'll end. I love you, but this is goodbye."
The car is silent except for the radio. I hold Bella's hand. We don't go to church. We don't go see Alice or pick up doughnuts. We stop home and grab a blanket and the book she wants me to read to her. There's a tree that needs visiting today, as well. Bella walks beside me. My pocket feels heavy. I stop a few feet away from the tree. She looks back at me.
"I need to do something, first. Take our blanket and book. I'll be right over."
She wants to ask, but she doesn't. She takes the book and blanket and walks away. I turn towards the bench. My feet walk slowly. I stand in front of it. I dig the toe of my shoe into the dirt. There's a decent size hole. The box is pulled from my pocket. I kneel down and place it there. When I stand, I kick the dirt back over it and place my weight so it is compacted.
I see all of it. She was never more beautiful than our wedding day. A white dress was never so captivating and my shoes had never been shinier. She never smiled so much. Or laughed. Or loved me. Or really loved me as much as she did that day. And I didn't either. I can still hear the songs and I can still taste the cake. I remember it now…and I will. My eyes close and seal it away.
Bella smiles as she sees me approaching. Our blanket is laid out. She has the book in her hands, opened to where we left off. My shoes are dirty. I kick them off before I crawl next to her. She leans her head to my shoulder as I read. My fingers absentmindedly stroke through her hair. And I know. I just know. This is where I am. This is where we are. This is where happiness lives and across the field, it dies.
The sky dims. It's about to rain. I kiss her head and close the book. Bella folds the blanket. I take it from her and then her hand. We start off towards the car. She pauses.
"Wait. You forgot your shoes." She nods towards them.
I stare at them for a minute. I look back to her. "I don't really want them."
She's amused. She smiles. She's a little confused. "You…don't want your shoes?"
I shake my head. "No."
Her smile widens. She's teasing me. "Is there a reason why you don't want your shoes, Cullen?"
Her smile dims like the sky. Child Bella returns. Her voice is soft.
"Well…my shoes are dirty, too. Dirtier than yours….does this mean you don't want my shoes, either?" She wiggles her foot at me. This isn't about shoes.
I look at them. Small white sneakers. Covered in stains. She doesn't wear socks. I toss the blanket to the grass. I kneel down and lift her foot to my knee. She steadies herself, placing her hands on my shoulders. I take her shoes off and find mine. I tie the laces together and heave them into the tree. They get dangled on a branch up high.
I scoop up our blanket. "Problem solved." I bend down a little for Bella, offering her a ride.
"Unless you'd prefer to walk barefoot across the field. Yeah, I'm serious."
She laughs a little, but a moment later she is wrapping her arms around my neck. She's on my back and we are running like the rest of the park visitors towards the parking lot. The sky opens and the rain pours. And I can't unlock the door. And Bella thinks it's funny. And I think her finding it funny is funny. And we are soaked and it is not helping my fingers as they slip and drop the keys.
And Bella laughs harder and we try to find them in the puddle around our feet. Her hair is stuck to her face. Her clothes are stuck to her body. She's still laughing. Her face lights up as she feels the ground. She picks the keys up and dangles them in my face. I don't even care. I take her face in my hands and pull her towards me. And it's raining but it's bright. The sky gives us a sun-shower in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. In a town that doesn't have sun-showers.
And happiness lives here.
And love lives here.