“She just…” I stared at the elevator doors, not really in shock but not able to articulate my thoughts, either.
Emmett put his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t think she heard you.”
“You don’t?” I couldn’t mask the hope in my voice.
“She didn’t hear you,” he repeated. “Bella’s many things, but she’s not that cold.”
“Do you think there’s a chance she would hear me?”
Emmett paused, knowing I was now talking about Bella’s willingness to listen, not her ability to recognize sounds. “I don’t know. That’s something you’d have to ask Rose. Look, I’m furious with Bella for how she treated you-”
I interrupted him. “It’s not her fault; I knew what I was getting into.”
He talked over me. “…and I honestly have no idea what is going on with her right now.”
I was being a complete asshole. Emmett had just become a father; this visit wasn’t supposed to be about me.
“Can I meet David?” I asked.
I ignored my reopened wounds as I followed Emmett to Rose’s room. Even doped up on morphine, her face lit up when she saw him. I felt a twinge of regret when I realized Bella had never looked at me that way; I doubted if anyone would.
“Edward’s here to see our son.” Emmett lifted David from Rose’s arms and handed him to me. “I still can’t believe I’m a father.”
I stared down at the tiny pink life I was holding. He had a full head of dark curly hair like Emmett, but he had Rose’s eyes. David relaxed in my arms, trusting me completely. In the twelve hours he’d been in this world, he’d yet to learn reason to do otherwise. I wondered how long he would stay this way. It had taken me seventeen years to learn distrust; I hoped David never would.
Emmett stepped out to take a phone call, leaving me alone with Rose. Carefully, I handed David back to her.
“I’m afraid I’ll break him,” I explained.
“You won’t; you’re too gentle to break anyone.” She gestured to the chair beside her bed. “Sit. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I knew better than to argue with Rose, so I complied.
“You mean Bella.” I sighed. “Doesn’t a person have to die to be a ghost? By all appearances, Bella’s alive and well and living on Lees Avenue, just like always.”
“Except that she’s haunting you.”
I shrugged. “I feel like I’m the one who died.”
“I know, and I feel like I’m partially responsible for that.”
“In hindsight, the signs were all there. I should have known Bella was going to panic and fuck everything up. She’s not capable of having a functional relationship with anyone. It’s not just you; I hope you realize that. I encouraged her to pursue you, because I thought you were good for each other. I wouldn’t have done that had I known where she was emotionally. In the beginning, I didn’t know either of you all that well and it seemed like you were just a younger version of Em and me, that if she just got over society’s age bias you two would make it and be happy. As it turns out, Bella has a lot more to get over than that.”
On the one hand, I was grateful Rose didn’t want to talk about how I’d just walked in on her sucking Emmett’s cock. On the other, I couldn’t believe she was finally willing to discuss Bella with me.
“Is your morphine drip still on?”
She laughed. “Thankfully, yes, but what I’m telling you now has nothing to do with that.”
I didn’t believe her for a second. The entire time I was home on winter break, I pestered Rose for information about Bella, which Rose flat-out refused to give me. The only thing that had changed between now and then was that at the moment, Rose was stoned out of her mind.
“Bella loves you, Edward. She did then, and she does now.”
“According to Bella, she isn’t capable of love.”
“She isn’t at the moment, but she’s working on it. That’s something we learn, you know? And it’s never too late.”
As much as I wanted to believe her, I couldn’t. Tyler did morphine once; he’d tried to convince me that a Saudi prince in our class had a harem at the Fields Center. He then proceeded to lead me to it, lighting on fire every lamppost on he passed along the way. I knew better than to put any faith in what Rose was saying.
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Rose.”
And I did; I just didn’t believe her for a second.
“I don’t want you to think any of this has anything to do with you,” she continued. “You’re one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. You didn’t deserve any of this.”
If knowing Bella had taught me anything, it was that life didn’t always do right by us. I stood up and kissed Rose’s cheek.
“I know.” I put the teddy bear in the chair where I’d been sitting and left.
On my way to the elevator, I ran into Emmett again.
“Thanks, buddy,” he said. “I know this was hard for you. I’ll keep you posted on the bris.”
I nodded and waved, but came to a realization when the elevator doors closed.
Bella would be at the bris, and according to Rose, Bella still loved me. If I could get her to talk to me, to admit that she lied, I could get her back. If Rose was wrong, though, and it was just the morphine talking, it would be Thanksgiving all over again. I could face Bella, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Eight days later, I was headed back to South Jersey for David’s bris, Angela in tow.
“You know Bella’s going to think I’m your date,” Angela warned.
“If she talks to me, I’ll set her straight. If she doesn’t talk to me, it doesn’t matter what she thinks.”
“Is this really the appropriate setting? I mean, can’t you just show up at her house?”
I didn’t want to admit to Angela that I’d already done that—many times, in fact—while I was home for Christmas break. I’d always lost my nerve. Of course, when the time came, the bris was no different. Angela and I had been there fifteen minutes when I saw Bella out of the corner of my eye. I felt panicked and needed to go somewhere—anywhere—just to get away from her, so she wouldn’t see me like this. I opened the nearest door and jumped through it, pulling Angela with me.
“Whoa,” she said once the door closed behind us. “Just because I’ve seen it once, doesn’t mean I need to see it again.”
“Huh?” I looked around and saw we were in a powder room. “I just picked the nearest escape route. Sorry. I don’t actually need to go, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Bella just walked in.”
“I’m sorry to put you through all this; I just couldn’t face her alone.”
“I wouldn’t have let you, even if you’d insisted. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I knew coming here wouldn’t be easy, but I wasn’t going to ignore something that was so important to Emmett because of Bella.”
“There are enough people here; you can easily avoid her if necessary.”
The problem wasn’t that I could avoid Bella as much as it was the fact I didn’t want to. As if she sensed I was a only few minutes away from a breakdown, Angela changed the subject.
“Have you ever been to one of these before?”
“No,” I admitted. “I’m a little squeamish about that, too.”
She laughed. “Why? It’s not like you aren’t circumcised.”
“Obviously, but to my knowledge, it wasn’t done with an audience and an open bar.”
“Now you just whip it out at parties.”
“Those were extenuating circumstances. I was drunk as hell and needed to prove a point.” I looked at the locked powder room door, knowing Bella was on the other side of it.
“You can do this,” Angela said, as if reading my thoughts.
“I know.” I sighed. “But only because I have to.”
I opened the powder-room door, only to find Bella standing right on the other side of it talking to Emmett’s mother. Just like at the hospital, I couldn’t find my voice.
Thankfully, Angela found hers. “Hello, Bella.”
“Angela, Edward.” Bella acknowledged each of us with a curt nod.
For the first time ever, I felt like one of her freshmen.
Angela smiled at Emmett’s mom. “Do you need any help with anything, Mrs. McCarty?”
Was she really going to leave me alone with Bella?
“Yes, actually, if you don’t mind. Thank you, Angela.”
I mouthed the word “traitor” to Angela as she and Emmett’s mom went into the kitchen. Bella stared off after them, apparently not even willing to look at me. I used the opportunity to drink in the image before me. It was then that I noticed what she was wearing,
My pants were suddenly too tight in the crotch, and for the first time in months, I felt something other than emptiness—arousal, yes, but also hope. Her choice of attire must have been deliberate, the knowledge of which gave me the strength to speak.
“I remember that suit.”
“I knew you would.”
If it was intentional, why was she being so aloof?
“Are you trying to torture me?” I asked.
“No. I came straight from work. How have you been?”
She had to be fucking kidding me.
“Bella, you really have no right to ask me that.”
“No, I suppose I don’t. I’m sorry. Still, I would like to know.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You care?”
“Yes, I care.”
If she cared, she wouldn’t be just standing there trying to engage me in small talk. She’d touch me and hold me and tell me that what she said on Thanksgiving was a lie.
Unless it hadn’t been.
“Right.” I mimicked her clipped tone. “When were you lying? Then or now?”
All she had to do was tell me she loved me, and I’d be down on my knees begging. Three words were all I needed—a simple “I love you” or even “I lied then” would make me whole again.
Instead, Bella blinked twice and narrowed her eyes, ostensibly giving me my answer. “Huh?”
I clenched my eyes shut, willing myself not to cry. “Never mind.”
She sighed, and when I opened my eyes, she was shaking her head.
“Can we just start over?” She extended her hand to me. “Hi, I’m Bella.”
Start over? Was she kidding?
She’d broken me, and now she wanted to pretend it never happened? Not because she was sorry she hurt me or because she regretted letting me go, but because having mutual friends made our estrangement awkward. Because my pain made for awkward social situations. She was unbelievable.
“No, you’re delusional.”
“Fine, I deserved that.”
She didn’t love me and didn’t want to have anything to do with me–that much I understood. What I didn’t understand was why she was even talking to me when she could have ignored me, like she did the day David was born. Unless Rose was right.
Except Rose couldn’t have been right; Rose had been blitzed.
I folded my arms defensively. “What changed?”
“I don’t understand…”
“Between now and at the hospital, when you wouldn’t even look at me. What changed?”
“At the hospital, I was caught off guard. I didn’t expect to see you there. I’d like to think I would have behaved differently were I not so surprised.”
“Surprised to see me, or surprised I was still in contact with Emmett?”
I took a step away from her, shaking my head. “What do you want from me?”
She never had a chance to answer. The ceremony began thus granting me reprieve, but whether it was from the continuation of my sentence or the beginning of my salvation, I’d never know. I did know that I could no longer pretend that it wasn’t over, that Bella never loved me the way I loved her. It took everything I had not to break down. As soon as the bris was finished, we left. I flung myself into the passenger seat of my car, knowing I was completely incapable of driving. The second Angela turned off Emmett’s parents’ street, I lost it. I turned my face and sobbed into the soft leather headrest.
I knew it was the end.