Though it was early March and the air was starting to lose its bite, I was fairly certain hell had frozen over.
“What do you mean, can I make myself scarce?”
“I mean, I need the room to myself for a few hours. Tyler will be out all night anyway, so it’s just you.” Mike angled his head toward his bed and wiggled his eyebrows.
I wasn’t sure what was more appalling—the fact Mike was getting some or the fact I wasn’t. In all fairness to me though, I could be getting laid right now. I could probably even have a girlfriend; I just couldn’t have the one I wanted.
I pushed those thoughts out of my head. I’d been doing decently enough the past few days since I saw Bella at the bris. When I’d arrived back on campus, I called my counselor, Garrett, and asked if he could see me that afternoon. I didn’t expect him to be any help. I just wanted a place to mourn privately, and told him as much when I arrived. He told me that alone was progress, that letting myself feel the pain was the first step to making it go away. When I explained to him that my usual first step in pain management was lighting my bong, he laughed and didn’t lecture me.
When we did talk, it wasn’t about Bella. Garrett likened counseling to chemotherapy—that there would be times where I’d feel more upset coming out than going in, and that I’d question the value of a solution seemingly more bothersome than the problem it solved. I told him that I didn’t know what I wanted to gain from seeing him each week and that at any given moment, I really couldn’t think and further into the future than the next couple of minutes.
It didn’t help that over the past three months each and every time I closed my eyes, I heard Bella’s voice:
“The sex was amazing, but love? I’m not capable of love, Edward. I thought you knew that.”
The only difference since the bris was that her voice was now followed by father’s telling me my erratic behavior was breaking my mother’s heart.
I didn’t presume to know how or why I deserved what Bella did to me; I only knew that my mother didn’t deserve what I was doing to her. I wasn’t sure if I would ever feel again, but I knew I had to figure out a way to survive.
Mike kicking me out of our room so he could get laid wasn’t helping. I was willing to make myself scarce anyway until he whined, “You used to kick me out so you could be with Bella.”
And that was it.
“The sum of both—that’s right, there were exactly two instances—of the times I asked you for privacy so I could be with Bella equaled roughly one hour. Despite the fact there’s a monsoon going on outside, you’re kicking me out for an entire evening, claiming you need privacy with someone who can’t be all that important to you. Otherwise, I would have heard of her before now.”
“Actually, Edward, you have heard of her. You’ve met her—several times, in fact. Her name is Irina, she lives downstairs, and she’s been to more than a few parties in our room. It’s not my fault you’re too fucked up right now to notice what’s going on around you.”
His words stung more than I wanted to admit, though not for the reasons I would have thought. Four months ago, I would have been shocked that I could have been so rude as to not notice Mike was seeing someone. In my current state, I was shocked that I could have been so out of it as not to notice Mike was seeing someone. I also wondered what else I’d missed.
I felt like a shit human being, but not enough to trek across campus in a thunderstorm so Mike could get some ass. As a person, I may have been self-absorbed of late, but I didn’t feel I owed it to Mike to vacate our room for an entire evening. Especially since he’d often bragged he could get himself off in less than ten seconds. Even if it took this new girlfriend longer, that would still only necessitate my leaving for half an hour.
“Sorry, Mike, but no. I have a paper to write, and I’m not walking to Firestone in this. You’ll have to come up with another idea.”
I ignored his whining and turned back to my laptop. My aforementioned paper wasn’t actually due for another week, but in the absence of any other distractions, I decided to start it after I checked my email. As I clicked the icon in my dock, I reminded myself that there would be no message from Bella—not now, not ever. The sooner I came to terms with that and truly accepted it, the sooner I’d be able to get through a day—any day—without feeling crushed.
From: Edward Cullen
Subject: Before you even ask…
Date: March 10, 2010 2:12 PM EST
To: J. Carlisle Cullen IV
Yes, I went to my counseling appointment. Look, Dad, I know I’ve been a mess lately and I know I’ve been shutting you out. I thought somehow if I didn’t think about it, it wasn’t real. The problem was that I couldn’t not think about it—at least, not without copious amounts of chemical help. You’re right. My behavior has been at best self-indulgent and at worst self-destructive. I don’t really know what to do, but I do agree that I need to do something.
I don’t know who I’ve been the past few months, but it hasn’t been me.
I stared out the window for a while after sending the message. Even though it was still the afternoon, it was dark outside. I wondered how long the storm would hide the daylight, and if the earth had to complete another rotation on its axis before the sun would once again grace campus with its presence. As much of a mess as everything was now, I had to believe it was only temporary. The question was just how long it would all last.
Despite not really having any friends, I’d always liked who I was. I may not have been enough to make Bella happy, but I could be enough for someone—specifically, that I could be enough for myself.
Mike’s voice brought me out of my haze.
“Your issue is really just the weather?”
I gestured to the window. “Can you blame me? It’s apocalyptic out there.”
“But if you had somewhere quiet to write your paper that didn’t require leaving the building, you’d go there, right?”
I didn’t want to go anywhere, but that didn’t matter, because no place like the one Mike was describing existed.
“Yes, I would,” I lied. “Contrary to what you think, I’m not trying to be a dick here.”
“Great. Irina’s roommate Kate said you could go hang out in their room until we’re done. She’s studying, too. It’s quiet; you won’t be in her way.”
Half an hour later, I was sulking in the presence of a stranger. Though for the few minutes I’d been there, she seemed normal enough, I was still struggling to put things into perspective and didn’t want an audience in case my thoughts were the impetus for yet another emotional breakdown. Instead, I sat on the loveseat in Kate and Irina’s common area and tried to write my paper.
“You don’t seem too enthusiastic about being here,” she said after my third sigh in as many minutes.
“Is it that obvious?”
I slammed my book shut and made it an even four; Kate looked at me like I was deranged. I realized that as far as each and every person I’d met since Thanksgiving was concerned, this was who I was—angry when not empty, hollow when not broken, breathing but not alive.
“I’m sorry. I’m being kind of an ass. It has nothing to do with you. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you right now; I don’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to spend the afternoon alone, but Mike sort of forced me out of our room. Coming here was easier than fighting with him.”
She raised an eyebrow. “The path of least resistance leads to me?”
“Mike said you wouldn’t mind.”
“I don’t mind, though if you truly want to be alone you could just as easily write your paper at Firestone. Mike and Irina would still get to be alone. You’d get your work done without being forced into socializing. Everyone wins.”
I nodded my head toward the window. “Would you want to go out in that?”
A rumble of thunder punctuated my question.
“Not if I could avoid it,” she admitted.
“There you go.”
She sighed and picked up her laptop.
“See you later, Edward.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Out. Look, I understand you’re here largely under duress, but you need to realize I don’t get off on inflicting pain on others. It’s obvious you’d rather be alone right now. That’s fine; I’m not offended. I’m also not a glutton for punishment. Hang out here as long as you’d like. Help yourself to soda and beer if you want, and maybe I’ll see you around.”
I felt like a complete asshole.
“Wait!” I called after her.
She turned around and held her laptop against her chest almost defensively.
“I’m sorry. I just…” I sighed. For reasons I didn’t fully understand, I wanted her to know this wasn’t me. “I’m not usually this much of a jerk. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.” I paused, realizing my statement was not entirely true. “Actually, I know exactly what’s wrong with me, but I don’t want to bore you with my sob story about how callously the only woman I’ve ever loved dumped me on a holiday. I just want you to know that my bad attitude has nothing whatsoever to do with you. You seem very nice and genuine, and I can’t blame you for wanting to get the fuck away from me just now. God, how many times have I wished I could get the fuck away from myself lately.”
She put her laptop down on her desk and sat next to me. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to even think about it.”
“When I was eight, I had a crush on one of the boys in the neighborhood. He was ten and didn’t really ever acknowledge me, and more than anything I wanted to get his attention and prove that I could keep up with him. There was an enormous spruce tree that he liked to climb, and one day I decided to follow him to the top. I got halfway up the tree when I lost my footing and fell, breaking both my leg and my wrist.”
“That had to suck.”
She laughed. “It did, but everyone has fallen out of the tree at some point. You brush yourself off and get your friends to write silly messages on your cast. Eventually, you try again. You’re slightly wary, of course, but you’ve learned from your mistakes.”
“I’m done climbing.”
“That’s kind of sad.”
I shrugged. “So is a lifetime of broken bones.”
“How long were you with her?” she asked.
I’d yet to talk about this with anyone, not even my counselor. It would feel good to get it out, and she seemed like a decent enough listener.
“Five months, which makes me officially insane. One more month, and I will have wallowed as long as the relationship lasted in the first place. God, I sound pathetic.”
“If you stop wallowing, you won’t feel pathetic.”
She had a point.
“It’s just so hard to let it go.”
“Only because you think that once you stop hurting you’ll lose the only thing you have left to prove what you had with her was real.”
“According to her, it wasn’t real. At least not in the way it was for me.”
“People say all sorts of things; it doesn’t make them true. Did it feel real to you at the time?”
I thought about what she was asking. I’d been lost in my bleak present and nonexistent future for so long, I’d completely forgotten how it felt to be in the relationship I was currently mourning.
I closed my eyes and let my mind wander to the Art Museum and how in only a few minutes of banter she proved herself capable of keeping up with me. I saw her face as she hung on each word I said, nodding slightly to show she understood and how she played with her hair when she was forming her responses. I remembered the smell of her hair and the softness of her skin. I heard her whispers of encouragement the first time I entered her, and her words of love.
“Yes.” Sighing, I rested my head against the back of the loveseat. I opened my eyes when I felt Kate stand up.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Taking your mind off it.”
“I don’t want to smoke.”
“Good,” she said, pulling something off the shelf of her closet. “I never touch the stuff, personally.”
“That’ll change. Six months ago, I’d never touched it either.”
“I doubt it.” She turned around, and when I saw what she was holding, I felt like an idiot for thinking
she’d been reaching for her bong.
“Scrabble?” I asked in disbelief.
“I’d suggest drinking Scrabble, but I think alcohol is the last thing you need right now.”
“You’re probably right.”
She plunked the box down on the floor and sat beside it. I watched her as she set up the board, really looking at her for the first time. She was pretty, I guess, in that classic blonde sort of way. Her hair was pulled back in a sloppy bun and even with glasses on, her eyes were very blue. More than anything, she seemed real.
“Just so you know,” she said as she handed me the bag to select my letters, “I don’t care how bad your week has been. I have no intention of letting you win.”
It confused me at first, but I recognized my responding sound as laughter eventually.